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Dutch Uncle (Hard Case Crime)by Peter Pavia
Strolling Ocean Drive on his third day of parole, Harry Healy ran into Leo, whose last name he didn?t learn the weekend they threw Leo into his cell, at a sidewalk café sipping espresso.
Harry started out just Drunk and Disorderly, but when he landed a left on the chin of arresting officer Kenneth Simms, a pack of O?Learys fell on him and dealt him the beating of his life. They knocked out two teeth and fractured the fourth rib on his left side, and one cop bent his arm so sharply behind his back it separated from his shoulder, still popping out from time to time so that Harry had to realign it himself. That didn?t bother him too much, and neither did the rib after the first eight weeks or so, but he was still pissed about the teeth, holes where an incisor and a bicuspid used to be, making him look exactly like the ex-con he now was.
Leo was Drunk and Disorderly too, and he spent the weekend getting orderly while his father?s attorneys tracked down the connections who got him undone.
Leo was twenty-five or thirty. He had a wiry build that was going soft, a superstar jock who got hurt and had his shot at baseball glory ruined. To hear him tell it, anyway. Leo knew a lot of baseball, good memory for stats, and kept Harry entertained talking about great stars Harry had never heard of. He was an okay guy to spend a weekend in jail with.
Harry squinted into the sun. He asked Leo for a Marlboro.
Leo said, "Why don?t you sit down?"
"Because I don?t have any money I wanna spend here, and I hate those faggy little cups of coffee, and I ain?t all that fond of broiling on the concrete, either."
Leo looked at him from behind his sunglasses and his mouth got tight. He waved his Marlboro and shrugged one shoulder. He said, "Hang out, man."
A brunette sashayed past the table. She was carrying a portfolio and switching her hips, wearing patterned hose over a g-string. Or, possibly, no panties at all. Peering at life through lenses tinted brown.
In the sun-bleached afternoon, Harry missed his shades, the spanking new Ray Bans that were among his personal effects when he went inside, but weren?t when they let him go. Harry made his hand into a visor. He followed the brunette with his eyes. "She?s probably a model," he said.
"You think so? What tipped you off?"
"Look at how tall she is and look at her clothes. And her face, well, you can?t see it now, but she was beautiful."
"C?mon, Flash, of course she?s a model. They?re all models down here. It?s the number one industry in this town. I?m thinking of taking a shot at it myself, soon as I get my book together."
Leo was over six feet tall. He had smooth skin and a pointy chin and a nose that had never been broken, and Harry supposed he was good looking, but no more so than a dozen other guys he?d seen that afternoon alone. Besides, the modeling racket meant getting up when the sun was right and wearing make-up and having somebody blow air at you so your hair went flopping in a certain direction. Not a job for a man, he thought, but he didn?t say anything.
"Harry, what?re you doing?"
"Right now? I?m trying to get back to New York."
"Is that right," Leo said. "How much money you got?"
"I don?t know, I got a few bucks." He knew the amount to the penny, $12.97, but there was no reason Leo had to know it, too.
"You feel like making some?"
Harry didn?t know if he liked the way that sounded. "What do I have to do?"
"When was the last time you saw your uncle?"
"My uncle," Harry said. "What uncle? How do you know my uncle?"
Leo looked at him like he knew a secret. "I?m talking about your uncle Manfred."
"Manfred?" Harry said. "You mean Manfred Pfiser?"
He wouldn?t in a hundred years have paired Leo and Manfred. Manfred was New York by way of Rotterdam, a Euro-wiseguy who dealt with the Chinks, in town two, maybe three times a year, and Leo, Leo was strictly Miami. "How do you know Manfred?"
"I know a lot of people," Leo said. "Now listen to me. Your uncle?s here."
"In Miami Beach? No shit."
"He likes the weather. And he heard about your predicament. As your Dutch Uncle, he feels obligated to lend a helping hand."
"Yeah, right," Harry said, "a helping hand. He?s so fucking concerned about me, where was he when they had me locked up like a dog, just for trying to defend myself against a dozen steroid-crazed freaks? Dutch Uncle, my ass."
But Harry sat down anyway, and after he settled in with Leo?s cigarettes and the ten dollar whiskey Leo was paying for, he figured he might as well hear Leo out. Three things became clear: It was easy, it was illegal, and Leo was cutting him a break. Harry wondered why.
Leo was profiling a lilac-colored Guayabera shirt over a white guinea-t. He pulled a container from the left breast pocket, a canister with the Eastman Kodak logo on its lid.
"After you shoot a roll of film, you stash it like this. On the Beach, it?s the most inconspicuous package you could possibly be carrying. ?A photographer friend took these for me, officer, but since he did the work as a favor, I have to pay to get them developed.? One of these bad boys holds a quarter ounce. You pack like a dozen rolls in a satchel. The live ones you bury at the bottom. You?re betting he doesn?t get to what he?s looking for. That?s if he stops you at all. See what I?m saying? Totally plausible. Specially if you look the way I do. Hi, darling."
Leo waved to a girl. He pressed the canister into Harry?s palm.
"What?s wrong with a paper sack?" That was the Harry did it whenever he was holding something the law would rather not have him holding. In a plain brown wrapper, an ounce of blow or a sizzling .38 might just as well be a tuna salad on whole wheat.
"My way?s more creative. That?s the trouble with you, Harry. You?ve got no imagination."
"I got plenty of imagination, and what I?m imagining is getting my ass busted collecting Manfred?s money and being thrown back inside, only no Dade County lock-up this time, but a big league jolt in a fucking State Penitentiary. That?s what I?m imagining right now." He put the canister down.
"You don?t wanna do it, don?t do it," Leo said. "Suit yourself."
"I didn?t say that," Harry said. "But I?ve gotta be wondering, what?s in it for you? You know what I mean? What angle?re you working here?"
"Let?s just say I was hung up one time and somebody really helped me out. I believe in karma. I believe in giving back."
Harry doubted Leo believed in a single thing outside his five senses. But what were his options? Knock over some granny for her Social Security check? He?d never hurt anybody that didn?t have it coming, and he wasn?t about to start. He could hustle pool, but that?d only be good till the other sharks got wise. Besides that, he had no back-up here, he was way off his game, and what if he lost?
Leo took off his shades and posed, the tip of an earpiece to a corner of his mouth. His eyes were the same green as the ocean beyond the asphalt and sand on Harry?s right. He looked at Harry and waited, the kind of guy who wanted to make you think he had all the answers.
Harry had to admit, he was curious about the Manfred-Leo connection. Maybe Manfred would shed more light on it.
He took two Marlboros from Leo?s box, lit one, and slid the other behind his ear.
Never a hard-knuckles hood, Manfred Pfiser directed a thriving import-export business from several outlets in Holland.
After suffering forty-seven years of Flemish latency, two marriages and three children, Manfred charged out of the closet and threw his arms around a lifestyle he was twenty years too old for. He loved his cocaine, piles of it, though only when he was partying, compulsive behavior he reserved for New York and now, Harry guessed, Miami Beach, the ideal hideout for any late-flowering fag.
He reveled in his reputation, playing the role with relish during his sprees, benefactoring dozens of runaways and beefcake queens who always had something nice for their Dutch Uncle when Uncle had something nice for them.
Harry met him working security at one of Frankie Yin?s events at the now shuttered Wonderland. It was easy work for a hundred bucks a night, and Harry was happy to get it. He wished Frankie Yin promoted more parties.
Manfred made Yin?s scene three weeks running and cruised Harry a bunch of times before he screwed up the nerve to actually speak to him. His opening, "You look awfully lonely back here," was a line he had to repeat twice on account of the thudding blast of Super Sound, and the cartoony accent that made him hard to understand in even the quietest moments. Harry gunned him down politely, letting him know he wasn?t gay, and on top of that Frankie Yin had a strict rule against yapping with the clientele when you were supposed to be working for him.
And that would?ve been it, if fate hadn?t schemed to bring them together the next afternoon at a bagelry near Harry?s apartment. Harry munched eggs and bacon and toast, and a savagely hungover Manfred, bloodshot and wheezing, sipped black coffee and smoked half a cigarette at a time. He concluded the only cure for his misery would be more coke and more booze, and when he asked Harry where he could score and Harry answered "What?s in it for me?" they had the seedling of a working relationship.
Manfred appeared in the doorway dressed in a monogrammed robe that fell just to the tops of his thighs, his sunburnt skin a radish red rushed by Bain de Soleil.
He said, "Harry Harry Harry." A hefty shot of Ballantine rattled in his hand. "So sad to hear of your recent sorrows, but I only recently learned the news, and why, here you are, among us once again." He sounded like every bad actor who ever played a Nazi. "You really must control that temper."
Harry said, "How about we talk inside?"
"Please, please." He did a hop-step and closed the door. He wasn?t wearing underwear, and as he flounced around the room rearranging chairs, his balls were swinging free outside the robe.
"Let me offer you a toot," he said, fishing for a vial. "And a drink, please have a drink. Have a drink with your uncle Manfred."
He got nellier and nellier the deeper he got into a binge. Auntie Manfred. The graying bags under his eyes hinted at about a thirty-six hour jag.
"I just finished one drink," Harry said, "which is one more than I need at four o?clock in the afternoon." He paced to a spot where he thought he?d be comfortable, but he wasn?t comfortable. The darkened room was smoky and frigid, the canned air chemical and stale.
Manfred put the spoon to his nose and sucked up some powder with a wince. "Is this what you call a reunion? Come on, Harry, you can do so much better than this." He acted like his feelings were hurt, but he always did when he didn?t get his way.
"I?ll tell you what I will take," Harry said, "is one of those mongrel Dutch cigarettes in the orange pack."
Manfred said, "Shore," his accent thick with scotch. He shook a cigarette out and Harry took it.
"So," Manfred said, "you found Leo? He?s a good boy, Leo."
"Leo?s a punk. And I?m pissed off with you."
Manfred clicked his tongue and collapsed on the bed. His robe fell open.
"What is this, some late-breaking bulletin? Leo got locked up with me weeks before my court date, and if somebody, you for instance, had coughed up a couple grand, I wouldn?t have spent the last nine months inside. Do me a favor? Put on some shorts or get dressed or do something so I don?t have to have that dick waving in my face. Don?t tell me this is the first you?re hearing of it."
"Five days ago when I got to Miami. I swear, Harry. Would I let you suffer like that?" He was pouting now, and Harry didn?t know whether or not to believe him. He walked to the dresser and slipped on a pair of silk boxers. He said, "There. Feel better?"
"When I get off the Beach for good is when I?m gonna feel better. Leo said something about a package."
"Patience, Harry. Patience, patience."
Harry?s head was splitting. Manfred was annoying him more than ever, and the roaring air conditioner put a pressure on his sinuses that made him dizzy. "Look," he said, "let?s get this out of the way. I?m wasting time here."
Manfred took another slug of scotch. "Your appointment isn?t till tonight. The only product I?ve got now is in this little jar. I?m waiting for delivery."
"When?s that gonna be?"
"Early this evening. No worries, nephew. We?ll have you on your way by nine o?clock."
Nine o?clock. Five hours to kill. Wonderful.
Copyright © 2005 by Peter Pavia
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