Another Scene 6
Just south of the red brick apartment building past a few other very generic Los Angeles apartment buildings there was a grocery store which changed owners every few years, but the employees were always the same, and the produce was excellent. Outside it said “Carniceria” and most of the advertisements were in Spanish. Everyone just called it the Rancho market. Only the hipper residents of the street actually admitted to shopping there. Most everyone else still shopped there occasionally, they just didn’t admit to it.
Leonard shuffled down the main aisle of the market, back towards the meat counter, which was already closed. In the front of the store his sister Leticia was chatting with the cashier in Spanglish, that curious mix of Spanish and English that quite a few Latinos spoke more fluently than they spoke either of it’s parent languages. He grabbed a can of Corned Beef Hash, the kind with the maroon label. Brought it up to the counter and reached into the bollillo bin and out two in a bag. He put it down on the register next to his sister’s items.
“This’ll do for tonight.” He told his sister. “I’m not too hungry.” She looked down at his pitiful addition to the counter.
“You gotta eat more Leo. I’ll cook you something.”
“Nah, don’t worry. I’m fine. Mikey’s coming to pick me up anyway.”
“Why’d you come with me then?” He didn’t have an immediate answer. He just shrugged his shoulders and shuffled out the door pausing by the kiddie-toy vending machines to buy a gumball for a quarter. Lettie met him outside the market and walked back to the apartment building with him.
“I don’t understand you Leo.” She started in on him again.
“What’s not to understand Lettie? I’m pretty simple you know, day in and day out, it’s the same old shit. You got a smoke for me?” She fished in her purse and pulled out a half crumpled pack of Newports. She drew the last two out and began the ritual of lighting them both.
“You’re so fucking smart mi hermano. You could be so much better than this.” She waved her hands up and down indicating that she was referring to his entire existence. They reached the front of their building.
“It all comes back to Tennessee Williams.” He said cryptically.
“What the fuck does that mean?” She took a drag off her menthol. Before he could answer Michael pulled up and honked the horn of ’73 Maroon Gran Torino. It was the same make and model as the car Starskey and Hutch drove only a couple of years early.
“Later Hermana.” Leo said as he opened the door and sat down. “Don’t wait up. Hey Mikey what’s happening?” She could hear him say while they drove off into the dusky twilight.
“Looked like you were getting into it with your sis. She bugging you again bro?” Mike asked after a few minutes. Leo took the last drag of his smoke and stubbed it out in the overflowing ashtray. He coughed twice and spit the result out the window.
“Yeah, same old shit man. She doesn’t understand me.”
“Do you understand you?”
“Fuck you. Where we goin?”
“You wanna throw some darts or play pool?”
“I dunno you want somewhere that has both?”
“Yeah. Whattya think?”
“The Red-Head Lounge in Culver City. Next to the toy store, they got three tables and a couple of dart boards.”
“Let’s go see a red-headed woman then.”
The Stones were playing on the jukebox, Mick wailing on about not being a Beast of Burden. The bar was a dive. It was Seven o’clock in the evening and only a couple of barflies were to be seen. Despite the name of the place, the bartender was a brunette in her late fifties with a beehive that hadn’t been in style for at least 30 years. Her uniform top said "Beatrice" but that wasn't her given name. She pulled a drag on her Winston and greeted Leo and Mikey.
“What can I get you boys?”
“Whatcha got on tap?” Leo elbowed Mike.
“Dude, don’t be a beer snob. Two Cuba Libres please.” He took off his glasses and cleaned them on his t-shirt.
“You wanna throw or shoot stick?” Mike motioned to the pair of empty pool tables then to the dartboard. The bar had a real Bristol board, unlike most dives that had the electronic darts with the safety plastic tips. They wouldn’t have wasted money on one of those machines anyway; they felt like they had some standards.
Leo didn’t reply as the bartender who was mixing their drinks entranced him. It wasn't that a Cuba Libre was all that difficult, it was Rum and Coke and a lime. She wasn't taking her time either, but she was giving Leo a bit of a show.
“Leo, whatchoo wanna play man?”
“Hunh? I don’t care man. Whatever.”
“Five bucks boys.” She said as she presented the two glasses. Leo proffered a crumbled up ten that he conjured from somewhere on his person.
“Keep the change.” He creaked.
“Thanks sugah.” She smiled broadly at him. Leo stepped lightly over to the pool table with a drink in each hand. Mike had already picked out two cue-sticks and exchanged one for his beverage.
“Rack ‘em son.” Mike said with a draw. He had lined up several quarters on the edge of the table. Leo picked up two of them and slotted them into the level, then pushed it in releasing the balls from within the table. Leo had loved the sound of the spheres rolling down the chutes towards the ball return ever since he was a little boy and was allowed to play with the pool table in his Great-Uncles game room.
He pulled out the triangle rack and spun it with a flourish then set it gently on the table. After he filled it the rack with the balls he quickly rearranged them so that the one-ball was at the top of the pyramid, the eight ball was in the center and the other balls were neatly patterned stripes and solids intermixed. He removed the rack with the same twirl and slammed it back into its slot in the end of the table.
“Maestro, if you please, the break.” He gestured broadly imitating a great showman.
“What’s with the act Leo?” Mike said before he shattered the rack with a thundering boom of a break, a break that sank exactly zero balls and simply pushed the balls in chaotic mess across the table.
Leo mused as he chalked the end of his cue-stick and eyed his shot. He just smiled. Then he sank the two ball in the side pocket. He re-chalked the cue as he stood over the table confidently. Reaching over to take a sip of his drink he paused.
“Ahh,” he said after his slurp, “that was a great break there Mike. Left me perfect for a nice long run.” He looked over to the bartender who he had noticed was watching their game. He thought he saw a sparkle in her eye and that emboldened him further. “Four in the corner.” He pointed with his stick and struck the cue ball perfectly, which pushed the purple ball slowly to the corner where it dropped softly. Leo swung around the table and lined up the six, which was now in a "can’t miss" position.
“I got this one too.” Leo said with a little bit of arrogance, though sink it he did. He sunk the next three as well leaving him with just the five and the eight. “You’re gonna owe me another drink.” He boasted. The standing bet was whenever either of them ran the table; the other had to buy the next round. “Make it a couple of Long Islands,” he hollered over to the bartender, and then he sank the orange ball. Seconds later he potted the eight and snapped his fingers.
“Just like that buddy, rack ‘em. Sometimes life is streaky. One minute you’re eating corned beef hash on shitty bread, the next you’re drinking Long Islands next to a pretty lady.” He said that last part as he accepted the highball glass from the woman whose hair had definitely added four inches to her height. She’d come out from the bar to serve their drinks because she was bored.
“Name’s Millie.” She said.
“Leonard Jesus Velazquez at your service my dear.” He actually bowed and kissed her hand.
Mike rolled his eyes as he whipped out a twenty from his wallet. He paid Millie and smiled at her. It’s going to be a long night, he thought to himself.