Harry hired a Puerto Rican bounty hunter to go after the sixteen five this guy Warren “Chip” Ganz owed him. Warren Ganz III, living up in Manalapan, Palm Beach County.
“Those homes up there on the ocean,” Harry said to the collector, “with the boat docks across the road, on the Intracoastal? They have to go for a few mil, so you know he’s got it. The guy phoned in his bets, NFL the entire season, some college basketball, NC double-A and NBA play-offs… You know I’m out of business. So my sheet writers are closing the books, checking the slow pays, I find out this Warren Ganz was using three different names. He’d call up to place a bet and say, ‘This is Warren.’ Once in a while he’d say, ‘This is Cal.’ Most of the time, though, he used Chip. Call up and say, ‘This is Chip.’ One of my rules, forty years in the business-going back to the syndicate days-twenty years running my own book, you have to always know who you’re doing business with. Lately, though, I’ve had things on my mind you might’ve heard about-those people trying to whack me out, for Christ sake. It can shake you up, take my word, somebody after you like that. I’m trying to retire and I got these loose ends to take care of.” Harry said, “So how about fifteen hundred?” Which represented the vig, the profit Harry would have made if Chip Ganz paid off on his bets like everybody else. Harry said, “A bounty hunter, Christ, you shouldn’t have any trouble.”
The Puerto Rican, a slim, good-looking guy with dreamy eyes and a ponytail he twisted into a knot, said he was no longer a bounty hunter, but still knew how to find people. His name was Roberto Deogracias and was known as Bobby Deo and Bobby the Gardener.
Bobby said, “This guy’s name is Cheep?”
“You got it,” Harry said. “Chip Ganz.”
He loved guys like Bobby Deo; they’d do anything for a price, whatever you had to have done.
A couple of days later Bobby phoned Harry at his apartment in the Della Robbia Hotel on Ocean Drive, Miami Beach.
“The mother of this guy Chip Ganz owns the house where he’s living. The father, Warren Ganz, Junior, paid two hundred thousand for it in sixty-five, died and left the estate to his wife. Two point three-five acres on the ocean worth four to five million now. That’s an estimate, comparing it to places along there sold in the last few years.”
“How do you find that out?”
“You call the office of the Property Appraiser.”
“They tell you all that?”
“They have to, Harry. Is no secret.”
“So he lives there with his mother?”
“The mother is in a nursing home in West Palm, but I don’t know if there’s something wrong with her or she just getting old or what. I have to check, maybe go see her. So Mr. Chip Ganz, I’m pretty sure, lives there alone. Nine thousand square feet, man; swimming pool, tile patio, the house white with a red tile roof they call Mediterranean, Harry. It could be a beautiful place, but it’s in bad shape.” Bobby the Gardener speaking now. “I mean the property is overgrown, needs to be landscaped. You can barely drive into the place.”
“Maybe,” Harry said, “it’s for sale.”
“Maybe, but it’s not listed. When I went up there he wasn’t home, so I walk around the place, look in some of the windows at the living room, the dining room. There almost no furniture in the downstairs. Like he’s selling it, maybe a piece at a time and his mommy don’t know about it. Big three-car garage has a Mercedes-Benz in it, ten years old, needs some bump and paint work.”
Harry’s voice on the phone said, “Shit. Well, it doesn’t look like he’s gonna have my sixteen five, does it?”
Bobby Deo said, “Let me see what I can do.” And drove back to the Ganz estate: along Ocean Boulevard past walls of flowering oleander and wind-blown Australian pines to the spray-painted sign in the vegetation that said PRIVATE DRIVE and below it KEEP OUT. Bobby backed into the drive, eased his Cadillac through the vegetation growing wild and stopped when he heard it scraping the car. He got out and walked along the drive through sea grape, palmettos, sabal palms, past an old gumbo-limbo spreading all over the place, through this jungle to the house with no furniture in it. He looked again in windows to see the rooms still empty before walking around to the ocean side of the property and was pretty sure he’d found Mr. Chip Ganz.
In a lounge on the red-tiled patio, reading the paper and smoking a joint, ten-thirty in the morning.
Bobby’s first impression of Chip Ganz, he saw a skinny guy in his fifties trying to look hip: the joint, a full head of hair with gray streaks in it brushed back uncombed, and tan. Bobby had never seen an Anglo this tan and thought at first Chip Ganz was lying there with nothing on but his sunglasses. No, the guy was wearing a little swimsuit, a black one. Or it was his underwear. Bobby had some like it with the name Bill Blass on them; he had them in red, blue, green, different colors. This Chip Ganz was the kind wanted you to think he was cool: the way he lowered the paper now and looked this way, but not acting surprised to see a person he didn’t know watching him.
Bobby said, “How you doing, Chip?” and took time to look around, notice the sea grape taking over the frontage along the ocean. “Your property needs a lot of work. You know it?”
The guy seemed to be interested, putting the paper down and pushing up to lean on his arm, the joint pinched between his thumb and his finger. He said, “Is that right?”
“I use to work as a gardener,” Bobby said.
“Yeah? What do you do now?”
“Harry Arno ask me to come by. You know what I’m talking about?”
“I have a pretty good idea,” Chip said to the guy coming toward him now in a white guayabera shirt hanging starched over his waist-but the real thing if he was doing collection work. The guy standing at the lounge now looking down at him.
“You want to check me out, call Harry. Ask him is Bobby Deo here to pick up what you owe him.”
An accent to go with the Latin-lover look. Chip took his time. He said, “NBA championship, I’ve forgotten the line, but I seem to recall I took the Knicks, put down five against the Rockets.”
“You put down five three times under different names,” Bobby said. “You owe fifteen plus the fifteen hundred juice and another fifteen hundred for expenses, driving here from Miami.”
“That’s eighteen big ones,” Chip said, giving the collector a thoughtful look. “Which I don’t happen to have at this point in time. Or even the sixteen five I actually owe, if you want to look at it, you know, realistically.”
“Look at it any way you want,” Bobby said, “I know you can get it.”
Chip opened his eyes to look innocent and a little surprised.
“I can? Where?”
“From your mommy.”
Bobby watched Chip Ganz draw in on the joint and then swing his legs off the lounge to sit up; but when he tried to rise, Bobby stepped in close. Now Chip had to lean back with his hand supporting him from behind to look up. He offered Bobby the joint and Bobby took it, inhaled, blew out a cloud of smoke and said, “Jamaica,” handing the joint back to him.
Chip shook his head, saying, “Ocala Gold, homegrown,” in that strained voice, holding the reefer smoke in his lungs. He tried to get up again, but Bobby stood there, not moving.
“I want to show you something.”
“I saw it,” Bobby said. “You don’t have no furniture. So what happen, you lose all your money and your mommy won’t give you none, uh?”
Chip’s head was almost waist high, his face raised. “She lets me live here and that’s about it.”
“She don’t love you no more?”
“She wigged out on me. Has hardening of the arteries, Alzheimer’s, I don’t know. She’s in a home.”
“I know, I went to see her,” Bobby said, “find out if she want some landscaping done. She don’t say too much that makes sense, does she?”
Bobby had to wait while Chip toked on his reefer again, acting hip with his tan and his long hair, the guy creased and weathered up close, showing his age, in his fifties. He blew the smoke out and shrugged before he spoke this time.
“So you see my problem. Lack of funds and a mommy who won’t give me any. Christ, who barely communicates. But Harry knows I’m good for it. I’ll pay him as soon as I can.”
“You got it wrong,” Bobby said. “I’m your problem.” He took a fistful of Chip’s hair and pulled up, the guy straining his neck and hunching his shoulders, eyes coming wide open. “You get the money and pay me by the day after tomorrow, forty-eight hours. How does that sound to you?”
It wasn’t a question Bobby expected the man to answer, so he was surprised when Chip said, “Or what?” For a few moments then Bobby stared at the face looking up at him, waiting for him to answer.
“You think I’m kidding?”
It was a question the man could say yes or no to if he wanted, but this time he kept quiet, didn’t change his expression.
“What I do,” Bobby said, “I told you I use to be a gardener? I’m an expert at trimming all kind of shrubs so they look nice. Like what you need done around here-is so overgrown.” Bobby reached behind him, beneath his shirt hanging loose, and brought out a pair of pruners from a leather sheath on his hip, held the curved cutting blades in Chip’s face and squeezed closed the red handles that fit his grip and felt good in his hand. “So I use this for pruning. You don’t pay me the day after tomorrow I prune something from you. Like what do you think, this part of your ear? You don’t need it-you don’t wear no earring, do you? Okay, you still don’t pay in two more days, I prune the other ear. You don’t look so good then. Okay, you still don’t pay then I have to prune something else like, let me see, what’s a part of you you never want me to prune? What could that be?”
Chip surprised him saying, “I get the idea.” Pretty calm about it.
Maybe it was the weed let him talk like that. Bobby said, “It’s not just an idea, man, it’s a promise, every time you don’t pay.”
“That’s what I mean, Bobby, I believe you.”
Using his name now, like they knew each other.
Bobby let go of his hair and Chip sank back down to rest on his arms. He moved his head in a circle, like he was working a stiffness from his neck before he looked up again. This time he said, “You stand to make three large, right? Fifteen hundred representing Harry’s vig and another fifteen you added on yourself, that Harry doesn’t know about. For coming up here, you said. What’s it take you, an hour and a half?”
Bobby waited, not saying anything, because the guy had it right about what he was making.
“Let me ask you something,” Chip said. “When you’re not doing Harry Arno a favor, what do you do, strictly collection work?”
“What do you want to know for?”
“I’m wondering if I might be able to use you.”
The guy kept surprising him, sounding now like he was in charge. Bobby said, “Yeah, how do you pay? Sell some more furniture?”
“Indulge me, okay? I’d like to know how you make your living, how you deal with people. I’ve got something going that might interest you.”
Bobby hesitated. But he was curious and said, “I do collection for Harry once in a while. Harry, or different shylocks call, they want me to lean on some guy. I was a repo man also and a bounty hunter. I did work for bail bondsmen, went after people who took off, didn’t appear in court when they suppose to.”
“Defendants that jump bond,” Chip said.
“Yeah, I bring them back so the bail bondsman don’t lose the money he put up. The bail bondsman goes after most of the ones himself, but there some others-a guy leaves the country, say he goes back to Haiti or Jamaica? Those the ones I went after.”
“What if you couldn’t find the guy? Or for some reason you weren’t able to bring him back?”
“I went after a guy,” Bobby said, “he was mine. There was no way he didn’t come back with me.”
Chip said, “You mind if I get up?” Raising his hand he said, “Here,” and Bobby took the hand and pulled him up from the lounge. It was okay, not like the guy was telling him what to do. Bobby saw they were about the same height, though Chip Ganz seemed taller because he was so thin, flat in front from his chest down past ribs you could count to the bump in his swimsuit, skinny with round, bony shoulders. The guy looked at the joint, what was left of it, dropped it on the tiles but didn’t step on it, Bobby watching him. Now he started across the patio toward open French doors and what looked like a room in there with white furniture, Bobby following him. When he was almost to the doors, Chip stopped and looked back over his shoulder.
“How come, if you were this star at bringing back fugitives, you don’t do it anymore?”
“They have a law now on the books, nine oh three point oh five, a convicted felon isn’t allow to do that kind of work.”
“You’ve done serious time,” Chip said, nodding then, telling Bobby, “That’s what I thought,” before he turned and went in the house.
Bobby reached the French doors before Chip paused again, glancing around to say he’d be right out, and continued through this sunroom, all bamboo and wicker furniture with white cushions. Bobby watched him open a door to what looked like a study, all dark wood paneling in there. He caught a glimpse of a big TV screen and a guy he believed was Phil Donahue before Chip went in and the door closed.
Bobby stood looking at the door in there across the sunroom. It was okay. The guy said he’d be right out and Bobby believed him.
What was he going to do, leave? Sneak out the front? Skinny middle-aged guy living off his mommy? What could he do?