Forced Perspectives – Snippet 32

Vickery yawned widely. “Excuse me. I probably could have made a living at it, even with Galvan taking forty percent, as she did. It seemed almost natural at first — remember when it first started happening, you seemed to have a body, in the visions? That turned out to be just a projection, like a visible phantom limb, and it wore off, but it did make the visions less disorienting. Yeah, I got sent to offices to see documents that had been on a desk an hour earlier, and rushed into empty restaurant booths to try to read a number off the cell phone of some guy who’d just left — one time some guys with guns grabbed me off the street and took me to a corner in South Central, and just wanted to know if a certain car in a parking lot had been there for more than an hour. It had — I could tell by the shadows — and I said so. I wonder if I saved somebody or got ’em killed.”

“Good lord.” Castine shook her head. “I never let anybody know I could even do it. People just thought I had mini-strokes sometimes.” She was looking east down Eighth Street, and she shivered. “I should just wait for you here. She doesn’t like me.”

The crosswalk light had turned green, and they started forward.

Vickery glanced at her. “Who, Galvan? Well, no. I’m not sure she likes me. But we saved her nephew or cousin or something, a year ago, remember?”

Castine smiled in spite of herself, and nodded. “He was going to jump down into the Labyrinth, try to close the hole between the worlds, but lucky for him we’d already closed it.”  She actually laughed. “He had a parachute.”

They stopped, waiting to cross Irolo.

“And what,” said Vickery, “holy water grenades? And a gun with silver bullets.”

Castine shook her head pityingly. “Much too conventional for that place.”

Galvan’s yard had no sign, but Vickery could see the green netting over the chain link fence ahead, and as they drew closer he saw that the gate had been slid back from across the driveway.

“She’s still in business, at least,” he said. “Or somebody is, anyway.”

“Last time we were here,” said Castine nervously, “we stole one of her taco trucks. And left it in the Labyrinth.”

“And she only ever carried liability insurance on her vehicles. But we did save her damn nephew — and probably her and all of her family that lives in L.A.”

Castine nodded. “According to poor old Laquedem, anyway.”

They had reached the driveway, and Vickery let his gaze sweep from the rows of cars to the old Silver Airstream trailer at the far end of the lot on the left, and on to the long car-maintenance bay, and finally to the two-story office building with its windows painted over white. Galvan’s office was in there, and he led Castine across the asphalt in that direction.

The door of the trailer on the other side of the lot was open, and a heavy-set bald man in a sweatshirt leaned out. “Can I help you?” he yelled, not in a friendly tone.

“Tom! It’s me, Vickery!”

Tom was the yard manager, and his round face was puckered sternly now as he plodded down the steps to the pavement. He squinted at Vickery for five seconds, then burst out, “You got no pay coming, so forget it — you owe her heaps for taking that truck.” Then he visibly recognized Castine. “You brought her here? You better just get lost before the boss sees you.”

Several drivers and mechanics had stepped out from the shade of the maintenance bay and were watching curiously. Vickery could see one of Galvan’s super-stealth cars, guaranteed to keep passengers invisible to all supernatural attentions, parked in the bay.

“We want to talk to her,” said Vickery, with a wave toward the office building.

Tom hesitated, then stepped back toward the trailer. “I’ll call her. You wait right there, and when she tells me to throw you out, I’ll get the guys to do it.”

He climbed the steps again and disappeared into the trailer.

“Now we get beat up, I think,” said Castine quietly.

“She’ll see me. I’ve been as much profit as loss to her, over the years. Probably. You want to go over there in the shade and get some coffee?”

“No! He said stay here!”

“Suit yourself.” Vickery began walking toward the maintenance bay, and Castine hurried to catch up. A cart with a coffee urn and a stack of styrofoam cups on it stood by one of the big steel door frames, and Vickery nodded to one of the mechanics and filled two cups. Castine rolled her eyes, then took a cup and shook sugar into it from a greasy canister on the cart.

The familiar smells of gasoline and Mexican food, and the burnt taste of the coffee, made Vickery almost relax.

“This wasn’t a bad job, actually,” he remarked to Castine.

Castine, who had worked for Galvan one day last year, said, “I never cared for it.” She sipped the coffee and made a sour face.

“Vickery!” came a call from behind them; “and Betty Boop!”

Vickery recognized Galvan’s voice, and he remembered that Castine had used the name Betty Boop in their dealings with her last year. He turned around with a smile, and there was Anita Galvan, just as he remembered her — not tall, but stocky, with a broad brown face and short-cropped black hair. She was dressed, as usual, in cargo pants and a khaki jacket, and her protuberant and piercing brown eyes twinkled with unpredictable merriment.

“You come to steal another one of my vehicles?” she called as she strode across the asphalt to where Vickery and Castine stood.

Vickery waved toward the office building. “I wanted to ask you about something.”

“You can talk out here. I don’t like hallways sometimes.”

“Uh…” Vickery glanced around — none of the drivers or mechanics were nearby. “Okay. You remember that guy that came in here eight months or so ago, asking about objects with ghosts fossilized in them –“

“Oh, Vick,” said Galvan, with an almost pitying look in her big eyes. “For this you came here?”

“I need to know more about him. I know he left you a business card that was a phony, but –” He paused, wanting to give the woman a plausible excuse for knowing more than she had told him in February. “I was thinking maybe he got in touch again, after I went away, and gave you some contact information for him.”

Galvan shook her head, then said, loudly, “Contrata.”

Vickery’s heart sank as he heard steps behind him, and Galvan went on, “Both of you put down the coffee. With your left hands you will take out any guns you carry, and lay them on the coffee cart. After that, Ramon will frisk you, and I’ll be angry if he finds a gun then.”

Vickery had twice seen this contrata move before, and participated himself in one of those times, and he knew that at least one of the men behind him was standing to the side and pointing a gun at him and Castine.

He set his coffee cup on the cart, then pulled the flat little Glock out of his jacket pocket and laid it down beside the cup. “What the hell, boss?”

Castine gave him a wide-eyed, accusatory look as she clanked the revolver next to it. A pair of hands from behind them quickly and expertly patted down Vickery, and then Castine.

“Guess,” said Galvan. “And step back behind that Honda.”

“You’re selling us to somebody again,” said Vickery.

“Yup,” she said.

Vickery recalled that, because Galvan’s drivers weren’t supposed to be armed, he had left a .45 semi-automatic on a shelf against the back wall last year, with his name on a tag tied around the trigger guard. It was a spare, with a dubious legal history, and he had never picked it up, and in any case other drivers sometimes carried guns and left them checked and tagged on that shelf while they drove fares.

When he walked into the bay and around the back end of the tan Honda, he took a few extra steps, and was now within reaching distance of the shelf. Castine seemed to guess that he had some sort of plan, and stepped wide.

He glanced over his shoulder to check Ramon’s position and balance — and saw that the shelf was empty.

Vickery’s mind raced. “You’re selling us to the guy who you told about the book, back in February, right? Maybe you sold him the information then, but that’s blood under the bridge. You know why he suddenly right now wants to get hold of me?” The story was taking shape in Vickery’s mind as he spoke. “Why I showed up here within, I bet, days of when he contacted you?”