MORAN WAS WATCHING Monday Night Football on television, Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears fighting it out for the obscurity award, Moran trying to decide if he’d rather be a wide receiver or a free safety… whether he should have another beer and fry a steak or go to Vesuvio’s on Federal Highway for spaghetti marinara and eat the crisp breadsticks with hard butter, Jesus, and have a bottle of red with it, the house salad… or get the chicken cacciatore and slock the bread around in the gravy… The phone rang.
Moran got up out of his chair and walked barefoot across the vinyl tile floor. It felt sticky and he thought again of carpeting the living room, redecorating the place and getting rid of the dumb furniture that was here when he moved in: the jungle floral print, black and pink and green, curved bamboo arms on the chairs and sofa. He could hear the wind outside, that overpowering ocean pounding in out of the night. Sometimes it made him feel daring to live on the edge of it, fifty yards away watching a professional football game in color. The phone was on the end of the high counter that separated the kitchenette from the rest of the room. He said, “Coconut Palms…” and expected to hear the voice of a secretary calling from up North somewhere.
Jerry said, “George, could you come in the office a minute, help me out here?” Then a silence, waiting.
It was Jerry’s voice but it didn’t sound like him. His tone was quiet, cold sober and that wasn’t Jerry’s sound after six in the evening, even when he was doing the books.
Moran said, “What’s wrong?”
Jerry said, “There’s a party here looking for somebody. I don’t know they’re registered or not.”
There was an innocence in this voice that was not Jerry. Jerry knew everything.
Moran said, “Hang on, I’ll be right there.”
Outside he felt the wind through his T-shirt and looked for stars. There weren’t any. Tomorrow it would continue to blow and the secretaries would moan about the weather. Their apartments were dark, only the amber porch lights on. Number One showed light behind draperies drawn closed. It surprised Moran. The second night in a row for the lovers. Here all night-they’d left sometime this morning and were back at it. Couple of alligators. Moran couldn’t picture them saying romantic things to one another. He imagined the woman scowling, impatient with the piano player, telling him what to do as the poor guy tried to service her. Moran walked past the warm underwater glow of the swimming pool and approached the office. Through the window he could see Jerry behind the registration desk that was like a narrow counter, Jerry shaking his head, saying something past the two men who were leaning on the counter close to him, not meeting their gaze, nervous, evasive, not like Jerry.
Both of the men wore lightweight jackets with open sport shirts, the collars folded out flat. One dark, with thick hair and Latin features, a mustache that curved down around the corners of his mouth. The other older, pink-skinned, heavyset going to fat; he wore dark-framed glasses and pushed them up on the bridge of a pug Irish nose as the door opened and he turned from the desk.
Moran’s first-glance impression: Miami Police.
Jerry was tense, frowning. He said, “George, do we have a guest name of Prado staying with us?” He had a stack of reservation cards in his hand. “I don’t recall that name. Less they checked in on my day off.”
“Let me see,” Moran said, coming around the counter now, playing the game with Jerry for whatever reason he was doing it, but knowing one thing for sure, before they said a word: They weren’t police. Jerry and the police were buddies. Moran took the guest cards and started going through them. They were old ones, from last season.
The Latino younger guy was staring at Moran, weighing him and apparently not impressed. He said, “Come on, what is this?”
Moran said, “What was the name, Bravo?”
“Prado.” The younger one reached across the counter, held his arm extended and snapped his fingers.
“Give me those. Come on, let see what you got.”
Jerry said, “I told him, George, they’re private property. I’m not supposed to show ’em.”
The heavyset Irish-looking guy put his hand on the younger one’s outstretched arm. The arm went down to the counter and the heavyset one pushed up his glasses again. He said, “George, we’re not getting anywhere fast here, are we? Looking through cards-what’ve you got, maybe two units rented, three? You got five cars outside counting mine.” He turned to the windows that looked out on the courtyard and the illuminated pool. “You got lights on in one unit I can see. Maybe they’re in there watching the ball game, which I wish I was home watching right now myself. But I know this fella we’re looking for doesn’t care too much about the NFL or who goes to the Super Bowl next January, so he’s probably doing something else in there. We can go down and knock on the door. We can knock on every door you got here, but I don’t want to disturb any your guests might be sleeping. Cause a commotion, give the place a bad name. That’s where I stand. What I want to know, George, is where you stand, why you’re being uncooperative.”
Moran didn’t say anything. He was trying to think of the phone number of the Pompano Beach Police.
“He owe you rent money?”
Moran still didn’t say anything.
“That’s a pretty easy question, George. You don’t have to scratch your head on that one, do you?”
The Latino one said, “Come on, George, cut the shit. What room is he in?”
The heavyset one turned to look at the Latino. He said, “Corky, go on outside, okay? Go on, I’ll take care of it.”
The Latino took his time, reluctant, but went outside toward the pool.
The door closed and the heavyset Irish-looking guy said, “Fucking spic. Somebody told ’em they have hot blood, they have to live up to it. Don’t worry about Corky, I’ll put him on a leash I have to.”
“Or I can call the cops,” Moran said.
The heavyset man sighed. He dug into his rumpled size-44 jacket, brought out a business card and laid it on the counter. “Jiggs Scully. I used to be a cop myself. City of New York, borough of Manhattan, George. I bet I can talk to ’em better’n you can.”
Moran picked up the card. “Business Consultant…”
“That’s correct,” Scully said, “I’m a consultant. See the address? New World Tower, Biscayne Boulevard. I advise people on business matters, act as a go-between, bring people together that want to make deals… things like that. You want to know any more, come by my office we’ll have a coffee sometime. Okay? Right now I’m going down to see Mr. Prado. Where you come in-I’m gonna knock on his door, he don’t open it then I might have to kick it in. I mean the business I got with him is that pressing. So you can give me a key and maybe save yourself a door. What do you think?”
Moran said, “You can knock on the door. But if he doesn’t open it you don’t go in. You can talk to the cops and we’ll see how good you are.”
“Oh, man,” Jiggs Scully said, sounding tired, leaning on the counter again. “I notice that thing on your arm. Once a Marine, always a Marine, uh? Gonna stand your ground. Okay, pal, he don’t open the door I’ll go home, watch Monday Night Football. How’s that sound to you?”