“Hello Ray” I was awash in her blue eyes from the moment I saw her. The people in front of her got there food but I have to admit that I barely remember making it.
“Emily.” I paused, searching for words. “Your hair is red!” I regretted those words. This was definitely a time when being at a loss for words are better than the words you find.
She smiled. “I see you have not developed the ability to stop yourself from speaking before thinking. Yes my hair is now red, very observant.”
“Can I make you something?” I ask in an attempt to not sound like an idiot.
“Well I am hungry and I noticed your menu has morphed since I last visited. Surprise me and then make something meaty for Ava because she is here as well.” Her smile widens at my flinch at the mention of her green eyed twin’s name. “She will be on her best behavior. Probably.”
I stared after her as she walked away. I had tried to convince myself since we last spoke that my crush on her had faded. I was now very aware how wrong I was. Once she was too far away to stare at I began cooking.
When I brought the food to the tables I saw that Ava sat facing me and Emily sat with her back toward me. Several people were wandering around the area and clearly had no intention to eat. There was nobody else anywhere nearby. These two women were still very important people in the crime world. A lot of people had no idea who they were but they weren’t taking chances. As I neared the table I was intercepted by a bulky, angry looking guy. “I need to check the food.” He barked.
“The Hell you do! You touch this food and I will make sure you die choking on it.” I was serious when it came to food and this reject was not touching something I made for someone else. His response was to step closer and I made ready to make good on my threat.
“Back off Roland; Emily says he is fine. Am I clear?” Ava barked at him. He sneered at me and made the watching you sign by pointing at his eyes and back to me.
“I guess you live Ruby.” I whispered as I passed him. It wasn’t my best insult but I knew it would piss him off. As expected he huffed loudly. “Well I do declare! Ava, my knight in shiny armor, will wonders never cease?”
She rolled her eyes in response. “I have a French dip for you, my champion. I have the salmon topped stir fry for you, Emily.”
“Sounds good, Ray. What else do you have there? It looks like more than 3 dishes.” Ava asked. I was stunned that she was talking to me so politely and interested sounding. I blinked for a few seconds before answering.
“I was worried I wouldn’t choose right so I brought extra.” I began putting things on the table as I told them what I had.”This is my twist on a Panamanian tamale I learned about from a friend who lived in Panama for a while. I also brought half a roasted chicken with coconut rice and vegetables, lavender pork fried rice, and the last slice of my tres leche cake.” I watched as they ended up taking a little of everything. Then I grabbed what remained of the chicken and rice dish. The most boring sounding dish but the citrus based marinade I roasted the chicken in works well with the coconut rice. We were quiet for a while as we ate. When I was done I sat and watched the ladies enjoy their meals. They ate slowly and occasionally commented on a seasoning or the texture.
“Hey Ray,” a voice from behind me spoke, “we are all heading to Tom’s house. Do you think you might be heading that way tonight?” It was one of the other cart owners. A friend and this was his way of checking in. He had asked several questions with the one question he voiced. He made sure I was okay, he was wondering if he should sit down, he wanted to know if I was going to get friendly with the ladies later, he wanted to know how long I was staying and he wanted to know the answer to the question he actually asked. I did my best to answer him.
“Probably not Jim, have a good time. I can hit the lights and close the gate when I leave.”
“Thanks Ray, have a good night. Ladies” He bent his head toward them before taking his leave.
I looked around and saw that they were close to bringing up the reason for the visit. I started to get nervous and my mouth started flapping. “Ava, this has been a very confusing night for me. I never felt the urge to flee while you sat across from me. Does this mean we can become besties?” Her response was a laugh.
“Ray, shut up.” Emily said.
“You know I suck at that. So can we move on to business?” I asked.
“Not here; lock up and meet us at the Nines.” Ava said. I nodded and they took their leave but I noticed Roland stayed a bit longer to glare at me. I maturely flipped him off.
As I walked around the grounds making sure everything was secure my mind started racing. I had no idea why they were here. The last time we were all 3 together I was sure I was going to die. I hadn’t, obviously, but I was still never sure how long until they changed their minds. That thought led to more troubling thoughts. Suddenly I could see the warning signs that meant certain death. Emily was less then friendly to me and when we last spoke she was. Ava, the person who tried to kill me quite often was being nice and that was really scary. I slunk back into my trailer and poured a tall glass of Great King Street whiskey for courage and polished off quickly. Then I locked up and headed toward the exit, shutting off lights as I passed through. I locked the gates and hustled down to the max station and barely caught the train before the doors closed. It was at that moment that the whiskey hit and I had to sit down and quell my stomach. I took a hit off the water bottle I had in my jacket and that helped relieve the nausea. After a short ride I found my exit at 5th and Morrison.
I let the Max pass and stood facing the hotel. It was big and I was sure it was expensive. I had never made it into the place before and I suddenly wish I was not due inside at the current moment. It was when I was starting to walk that the attack came. I knew before I saw him that it was Roland come to deliver my comeuppance. I had learned a few things since getting tangled in the twins turf war and I managed to roll with the punch and lessen the damage considerably. The punch had enough power to refocus my whiskey soaked brain. I turned toward him as he grabbed me and I head butted him hard and felt Roland’s nose break. He hollered out and I did it again two more times. He fell to the ground dazed. Our scuffle had garnered a crowd and I decided to make myself scarce for a bit. I elbowed through the crowd right into another of the twins guards and he escorted me toward The Nines. As he did so he handed me a towel to wipe Roland off of my forehead. “Good moves kid. I figured Roland would try something after you made him look stupid so I came out to make sure it didn’t go too far.”
“Wow. How nice, you were only going to let him kick my ass a little bit! You sure are swell.” I looked at him as he grinned like an idiot at me. He was at least a half of a foot taller than me and he was twice as wide; solid muscle of course. I was not going to Roland this guy. Yes my new term for humiliating someone is to Roland them. “How long until you dragged him off me?”
“I guess we weren’t meant to find out that answer sunshine. Now try not to make the ladies shoot you.” With that he knocked on the door and disappeared. I realized I had missed the entire hotel. I also realized that the alcohol had settled back in to fog my brain. I decided to lay my head against the door, temporarily forgetting that the solid chunk of marble that had whisked me to the room had knocked. As I leaned in, the door opened and I fell right into Ava’s chest. I had officially made my entrance.