The El Camino was jacked so low that Felipe was surprised not to see sparks following along it. The paint job was a sweet metallic purple up front that faded to a dark jade flecked with something that shimmered like mother of pearl in the back. The only thing Felipe thought was missing from it was some kind of art on the hood. Maybe a sweet ass mamacita with a huge rack. Maybe the Blessed Mother. Either would be pretty dope. He could hear the bass cranking out from the ride. It was something fast and heavy.
The car stopped in front of the house and Felipe pushed off the chain link fence he had been leaning against. He crushed out a cigarette on the bottom of his boot and slid it into the pocket of his oversized and baggy jeans. He walked over to the curb and stopped to wait.
The hydraulics hissed as the car rose. The driver side door opened and Felipe watched as Lalo got out and walked around the front of the car over to him. Lalo was shorter than he remembered, but 12 years was a long time. He definitely spent time working the irons though, probably to make up for his height. Lalo’s white muscle shirt showed off arms painted with tattoos. He had a tightly trimmed black beard that met up with a thick goatee. A wide white bandana covered from his eyebrows up to the top of his head and his black hair was slicked back behind it.
Lalo nodded his head once at Felipe and they slapped hands when he got close.
“What’s up ese’? Long time, eh?”
“Yeah man, long time.”
They stood there silent for a few seconds.
“Nice house you got here Flip.”
“It’s mi abuelita’s. Come on in.” He opened the gate and Lalo walked through first. He stopped at the foot of the stairs and looked into the house.
“I’ve got some Coor’s in the fridge,” he pushed past him and walked up the stairs and opened the front door for Lalo.
“Nah, I’m good, thanks. Why’d you call me man?”
“We were tight back in the day, yo? Not even a letter? That’s cold.”
Lalo didn’t say a word, just stared at him.
“Yeah. Anyway. I heard about you. I need your help. You have to believe me but I didn’t spray those kids. I mean, I did bad shit, and I deserved Chino but I didn’t never shoot no one like that. I’ve changed and it kills me that she thought I did that.” Felipe’s eyes were wet and a real tear trailed down between the black tattooed ones. “Can you help me?”
“I don’t do that shit anymore. Not since Victorville, five, six years back. Sorry man, I can’t help you.”
“Don’t do me like this!”
“She left you this house, man. She was cool with you. Let it go, eh?”
“You owe me. I saved your ass. I did time at juvie for you. Tell me you didn’t forget when you said you’d make it right. This will make us square, Lalo.”
Lalo turned and looked around the small house. The walls were papered with pictures in a variety of frames. He looked in close and noticed that in many of them a face was cut out. He looked at one of a Boy’s Club baseball team and smiled when he saw himself at 9 years old. Felipe’s arm was around his shoulder but if Lalo didn’t remember that he wouldn’t have known who it was. Felipe’s face was the one that missing from all of the pictures. Lalo looked over his shoulder at Felipe and took in a deep breath.
“Okay man, I’ll do it. Swear on her soul that you didn’t do it. Look me in the eye and tell me straight up that you weren’t tripping balls at the time and maybe just forgot.”
“I swear on my own mother’s soul” he made the sign of the cross “that I didn’t shoot those kids.”
Lalo sighed. “Why didn’t you say something before? Why take the fall?”
“I was fucked up, and I did some shit, I told my PD but she was a dipshit so I took the plea.”
“Alright I’ll do this, but then my debt’s clear.”
“Okay, park on the couch and no matter what happens Keep your mouth shut and don’t move.”
Felipe walked over to the couch and sat down.
Lalo walked around the room stopping to pick up a few different small nicknacks and examining them closely before putting them back. Finally he picked up an old white rosary.
He began to whisper softly to himself and reached up and pulled his bandana off his forehead. Felipe saw there was something sewed into the inside of the bandana but Lalo slipped it into his pocket quickly as he closed his eyes.
When Lalo opened his eyes the world had shifted to a washed out version of it. Everything was whitewashed like an overexposed photograph. He heard a soft weeping coming from the bedroom and walked toward the closed door. He opened it and staggered back as if buffeted by a strong wind. The weeping became a wail and his hands covered his ears but couldn’t block out the sound. He forced himself to enter the room and in an instant the whitewashed world went the inverted blacks of a negative.
A tiny woman sat on the couch with her face buried in her hands. Long white hair whipped around wildly caught up in the tempest of her despair.
“Abuelita.” Lalo’s voice was a whisper but he knew she would hear it. She looked over at him.
“Eduardito? Is it really you?” Her voice shook. “What did I do wrong? How did he go so bad?” She shrieked again and flickered for a moment as she did so. “Why would he kill those babies especially after his mama.”
“Why are you here, Abuelita? It is long passed your time.”
“I tried Eduardo. When she died, I tried to raise him right. I took him to mass every Sunday. I keep thinking of the things I could have done. I keep trying to go back but I can’t.” She flickered again, softer this time.
“He didn’t do it.” She looked at him. “And he’s changed. I know him like a brother, abuelita, and I know his heart. It breaks because he thinks you believe he shot those kids. He didn’t. If you don’t believe him, believe me. Look at me.”
She looked up from her hands from the first time and he saw her change. “You are beautiful, Lalo. Are you an angel?”
He couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “No, far from it. Your Felipe, he has a good soul. It is hard to see, God knows I forgot myself. He saved my life when we were young, abuelita. Did you know that? I did some stupid things and when the cops came he said he’d get me. I remember, he said ‘you’re too soft for juvie. They’ll break you there. They’ll make you like me.’ He saved me in ways I don’t even know.”
The woman got up off the bed and walked toward him. The blackness began to crack like an old mirror. She began to fade as she walked toward Lalo and when she go to him she was only slightly more than a shadow. She grabbed him by the cheeks and gave him a kiss. She spoke into his ear. “You were always a good boy, Lalo. Look in the bottom of my jewelry box. There is something for him there. Thank you.” She was gone.
Lalo took in a deep breath and opened his eyes. Felipe was sitting on the couch watching him intently.
Lalo walked into the kitchen. He wasn’t in shape for this kind of thing anymore. He hadn’t realized how weak he had become since Victorville, but decided it didn’t really matter because he was done now for sure. He took the bandana out of his pocket and made sure that the symbols were aligned correctly before tying it back on his forehead. He opened the small fridge and took out two cans of beer. He walked back into the living room and tossed one Felipe, who caught it out of the air. He started to say something but Lalo held up his hand. He was still too tired to talk and wasn’t exactly sure what he would say.
Instead he walked into the bedroom and when he came out he had a small jewelry box. He sat down on the couch next to Felipe and handed him the box.
“She said there is something in there for you. On the bottom.” Lalo opened the beer and drained it down.
Felipe opened the box and pulled out the jewelry and sat it on the coffee table. There was a small folded photograph which he pulled out with shaking hands. He opened it up and smiled at the picture of him and his abuelita on the beach and the tears flowed freely. He showed the picture to Lalo. “She took me to the beach after my mom died. She said she had to remind me that even on the worst day, there is beauty in this world. The ocean is God’s way of showing us of that.”
“She never lost hope in you. She couldn’t cut this picture.” They sat on the couch in silence.