A Novel

Chapter 25: Buried, Empty Secret

Six o'clock the next evening » Sunday, September 13, 1987 » Fernando drove to De Pue » small town on a backwater lake off the Illinois River » sign on the Catholic church: "Confessions in Spanish" » little Mex children played in the streets » Delaney was right. Delaney was right just so far: lots of Hispanics. But no farther. I might be Hispanic, but I am not them; I am not that.

Blondie gave him the address of a man, Alejandro Escovedo, who fenced automobiles. Escovedo owned an autobody shop at the end of Main Street.

The autobody shop had been a gas station at some point. The store-front windows were covered by beige, Venetian blinds. On the side brick wall, barely visible beneath flaking, white paint, were the words "Shawmut Oil" and the head of an Indian chief.

An empty, concrete fuel island stood in the middle of the empty parking lot. At the edge of the parking lot was a fillport with a rusty, crosshatched cap. Fernando wondered if the fuel storage tanks were still buried beneath the parking lot.

Fernando walked from his car to the open garage entrance. Inside, a middle-aged Mex stood at a work-table, petting a cat and speaking to it in Spanish. The man looked up when Fernando entered; the cat jumped off the work-table and ran away.

The man stared suspiciously at Fernando. The man sized him up. The man asked, "Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for Alejandro Escovedo."

"I'm Alejandro."

"My name is Fernando Pedrosa. Blondie DeSoto me habló de ti. ¿Usted compra autos robados? Este coche no es robado, y se puede tener de forma gratuita. Sólo quiero que el coche desaparezca. Es un Mercedes Benz. 1985. Llámala y pedir."

"Pero yo no confío en ti. Hablas como un gringo. Don't come here speaking your school-boy Spanish to me. I don't know what you're saying in any language, and I don't fence anything. Fancy-pants Puerto-Rican, aren't you? You think I can't spot a plainclothes cop just because he has brown skin and speaks some Spanish? We do honest work here, flatfoot, so unless you want your fender fixed, I think you should leave; go write yourself some parking tickets."

Fernando was surprised by the man's hostility. "Call Blondie if you don't believe me."

"Blondie, eh."

"She said you'd know her; she said you owe her. I can tell her you think she's a stool pigeon if you want me to."

Alejandro walked into a windowed office, picked up a telephone, and turned his back to Fernando. Through the office window, Fernando could see a poster, "Otatoclán es Hermoso" over a photograph of rugged mountains and blue sky. Three minutes later, Alejandro reentered the garage: "She says you can pay a lot of money."

"She did? Well, she told me that you are a fence. So which is it?"

"I am whatever I want to do. I don't know if you stole the car, or if you own the car, but I think it will be trouble whatever it is. She did not deny it."

Fernando was becoming impatient, "I want the car stripped of all identifying marks."

"Twenty thousand."

"You can have the car, plus ten grand."

"I want the car and fifteen."

"Fine. But if the car is ever identified I will have you killed."

Alejandro smiled, and said, "That's fine. And if you try to trick me, I will make you spend a few hours wishing you are dead. Then, if I feel nice, maybe I will have you killed too. Todd Menocken says so; tell Blondie that."

Fernando didn't know Todd Menocken, and didn't really care. "In any case," he said, "It sounds like we understand each other. Now, I can't bring the car to you." He handed Alejandro an envelope. "The keys. It will be parked at the Wagon Wheel hotel. In Elmville. Your fifteen thousand will be in the trunk."

Alejandro took the envelope.

Fernando said, "I want the car gone by next Saturday. Anytime before then is fine, whenever you can, whenever you won't be seen. You don't need the license plate number—it's the only Mercedes in the lot. I don't mean to repeat myself, but if you take the cash and not the car, consider yourself a dead man."