Bearing False Witness
№ 7 in a series of stories on their way to a novel.
Note: This is adult literary fiction and not appropriate for all age groups.
“Hot,” Renzo thought when the two tight-uniformed cops came into the bar. “But straight…straight from Hell.” He gave them his phoniest ‘How can I help you?’ smile.
The younger cop glanced nervously into the dark room, gathered up his courage and walked cautiously toward the back. Renzo couldn’t resist checking out his ass before turning his attention to the cop’s tall older partner.
“You Renzo?” the tall cop asked.
“A pleasure to meet you, officer. May I offer you and your friend something cold to drink?” Renzo used his most unctuous voice and threw in a fake Southern accent for good measure. “It must be hot as Heaven out there this morning.”
Intense, but expressionless black eyes surveyed Renzo’s smirking face.
“Gracias,” the cop said, clearly meaning “No, thanks.” Renzo couldn’t help thinking that the cop — if he was afraid of anything — was afraid of getting some faggot disease in a gay bar. The young cop returned.
“Nadie,” he reported. “All clear.”
“Would you like a glass or water, officer? A Coke? A beer?” Renzo asked. A week with me shackled to your bed? Renzo thought, but decided not to say.
“Nada,” the younger officer said. This was clearly not a social call.
The tall cop put several photos face down on the bar. Renzo gave him a wide-eyed look. “Dirty pictures, officer? Are we going to play? I didn’t think you were gay.”
The tall cop grabbed Renzo by the shirt and pulled him up against the bar until they were face to face. If he had been shorter Renzo’s feet would have left the floor. The young cop locked the door. Renzo’s smirk remained. He knew he was safe, that the bar was “protected.” The owner saw to that.
“Necio,” the tall cop said. He released his grip. Renzo settled back down into his position behind the bar as if nothing had happened. He had been expecting this visit, indeed had known about it for weeks. One of the benefits of living on a small tropical island is that secrets are almost as scarce as snow.
The cop flipped over the first photo. “When did you last see this man?” he said.
Renzo picked up the photo, turned it right and left, then upside down, then turned it over and placed it on the bar. “Can’t say I remember seeing this person. He’s not my type. Too hirsute. Looks like he might be short, too — not like that officer by the door. Don’t you make felons shave before you take their mug shots?”
“How do you know he’s a felon?” the cop said.
“Do you have photos with little numbers on them of every citizen? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like this on Facebook. Maybe on CSI: New York.”
“Do you know his name?”
“I don’t remember names, just numbers. So many of them come through this door,” Renzo said. “I do remember dick sizes, but you probably don’t want to know that,” he thought. “Salvi is about six inches.”
“His name is Manuel Salvador Ramírez de Arellano García. Does that ring a bell?”
“It doesn’t ring my bell. Why is it that Puerto Ricans have such long names? Is it because they are short somewhere else?” Renzo winked at the cop by the door.
“Salvi,” the interrogating cop said. “He goes by the name Salvi and you know and I know and my partner here knows that this bugarón is — or was — a regular patron of this fine establishment.”
“Let me see that photo again.” Renzo picked it up and stared at it, his facial expressions changing from quizzical to enlightened. “Ah, yes, officer Krupke, I do remember him now. Talkative sort. Has a thing about tree frogs. An obsession really. I think he may be a zoologist.”
“He may be many things, but I doubt whatever that is is among them. When was the last time he was in here?”
“The honest to God’s truth — and I am not an atheist — is that I don’t remember. Not exactly. It’s been awhile. I wonder if it was something that I said.”
“Would you remember if your car was impounded?”
“I don’t have a car any more, officer. The police are so uninformed these days.”
“Would you remember if my partner searched you and found crack in your pocket? Enough to charge you with dealing?”
Renzo’s flinch was almost imperceptible. He was clean but he knew the drill. Even his powerful boss wouldn’t be able to get him out of that anytime soon and certainly not before an infernal visit to the Seventh Circle of Hell — the prison in Bayamón.
“It’s coming back to me.”
“I thought so.” The cop flipped over the photo again.
“It was a Friday. In the afternoon. I remember I was cutting up cheese and getting it ready to serve the happy hour crowd. The other bartender was upstairs — he disappears for hours — preparing the hot dish or having one of his own. We serve a free meal on Friday evenings — helps the hustlers prepare for the weekend. For some of them it is the only decent meal they have all week.”
“Model citizens,” the cop said. “Go on.”
“Last week we had no electricity…the joys of living in a third world country that has illusions of grandeur. It pretends to be a Free Associated State of the grand ole USA, but it has a bit of a problem with incompetence at higher levels. Just can’t seem to keep things working. We had a candlelight picnic and he was not here. No lectures about symbolic amphibians. So it was not last week.
“The week before we had no water, so we had to close the men’s room — and that really cut into our business. We closed early. I distinctly remember he was not here. I would remember since that would have set him off.
“So it had to be Friday, three weeks ago. He didn’t stay to eat but he did get in a nice monologue about condors and owls and bald eagles. He really is embarrassed about Puerto Rico’s preference for small things, coquís, especially. I really don’t know why. I hear his thing is not so small.”
“That is more than I need to know. Is there anything else?” the impassive cop said.
“No, sir, haven’t seen him since, Scout’s honor.”
“Do you recognize any of these…and don’t shit me.” He turned over each photo one by one.
“Isn’t that Ricky Martin? No, no I’m mistaken. This one looks like Chayanne. Wouldn’t mind meeting this one. But no, I don’t recognize any of them.”
“You passed the test. These are nobodies.” He slapped a card onto the bar. “If you see him, call me. If you remember anything else, call me. If you want to keep you squeaky-clean record — I checked — don’t fuck with me. Call me.”
With that he and his partner were out the door.
“Well if it isn’t Nervous Nelly,” Renzo said in greeting.
Tito glared up at him. “Don’t call me that, bitch.”
“Having your period, dear?”
“Just give me a beer.”
“At ten in the morning? Still in mourning?”
“Don’t say that. Salvi will be back.”
“Have you heard from him?”
Tito shakes his head. Renzo detects a damp shine in Tito’s black eyes and backs off. “Sure he will, amor, he always comes back for more. Remember that time he went to Florida with that gringo hincho? Didn’t tell you then where he was. Thought he would live in the lap of luxury, but then the lap got tired of him, sent him out to cut grass. A total waste of a good piece of ass.”
“Salvi is a top, you know that.”
Renzo looked askance. A hint of smile twisted Tito’s upper lip. “Well, he’s versatile,” Tito said.
“You should know,” Renzo says, then sang: “Let me entertain you, let me make you smile. Let me do a few tricks, some old and then some new tricks, I’m very versatile. And if you’re real good, I’ll make you feel good, I’d want your spirit to climb. So let me entertain you… we’ll have a real good time.”
“A mal tiempo, buena cara.”
“Renzo, you speaka Spanish!”
“You’d be amazed by all the things I’ve learned behind this bar.”
Both men went quiet. Renzo turns to resume stocking the coolers with beer.
“That’s why I am here. I need to know where he is. If anyone knows, you know. Nobody knows. Nobody has seen him since he was here with that pretty americano. The night he sent me away. He said he would meet me later. There was no later. Something is rotten.”
“And it isn’t in the state of Denmark.” Renzo mumbled into the cooler.
“What? Qué mierda hablas? Coño, Renzo, tell me what you know.”
“Tell me what you know and I’ll tell you what I know.” Renzo turned and stretched his long strong arms on the bar, cradling his friend’s face with his hands. “Fuck, tell me what the hell it is that you and Salvi are up to. You both are up to your ass in cash, as far as I can tell you don’t turn tricks any more, you don’t deal drugs. You’re a couple. Then Salvi hangs with some high-class white guy and flicks you off. You don’t panic, you don’t scream like the crazy nelly you used to be. What the fuck is going on?”
“I can’t tell you.”
Renzo cradles Tito’s head. “Then I can’t help you.”
“You don’t want to know.”
“I need to know. Two cops were here yesterday looking for Salvi.” He sees panic flash in Tito’s eyes. “You can tell me.”
Tito pushed free, scraping the bar stool on the floor. He stalked to the back room of the bar, turned on his heel and stalked back, pushing his face up to Renzo’s. “If I tell you, I’d have to kill you.”
“That line is not funny anymore. Wait. You’re serious, aren’t you?”
Tito ignored the question. “What did the cops ask and what did you tell them.”
“Don’t ask, don’t tell, never worked. They wanted to know when he was last here. They knew he comes here. They showed me photos.”
“And you said…”
“I danced around it, I’m good at that. Especially salsa. But they were persuasive. It was a good cop, bad cop kind of thing. The good cop was a doll. Stood guarding the door with his legs spread and his bulge out. I couldn’t concentrate on lying. The bad cop ‘suggested’ that if I didn’t answer he would take me in for possession with intent to sell.”
‘I thought you were clean.”
“I was. I am. He knew that, but he could plant them and he had a witness. I would have been screwed — probably by a gang of syphilitic hoods from Manuel A. Pérez as soon as I got through the prison door.”
“You told them…”
“Friday, three weeks ago, in the afternoon, awhile before the buffet. The day that senator was shot on Las Americas.”
Tito’s look of panic returned. “You told them that?”
“No, mi amor, that bit of news just occurred to me now. I just gave him the facts: Friday, three weeks ago. Maybe I should call him and let him know. I wish the cute cop had given me his number.”
Tito ran his hands through his curly black hair, pulling on them. Renzo observed him closely. “Calm down, I’m just kidding. Anyway, an assassination in broad daylight on an expressway doesn’t happen every day, now does it?”
“He knows,” Tito thought. “What about the pretty gringo? Has he been back in?” he said aloud.
“Kenneth? His name is Kenneth. He used to come in a lot in the early afternoon. Mostly kept to himself. Haven’t seen him since — and you don’t have to plant drugs on me to get the truth. You can trust me. You can tell me anything. Your Aunt Renzo has been through the mill and has come out whole…whole wheat, totally organic. Ten years working gay bars, some owned by mobsters, some owned by politicians, some owned by miscellaneous lily-white money launderers. I have seen everything, heard everything, remember nothing — or almost nothing. Sometimes it pays to remember some things. But I have never divulged sensitive legal or illegal information to anyone. In plain English that means I know the cost of ratting…so you won’t have to kill me if I guessed right.”
Renzo studied Tito’s face; it was hard to read. Not only was there the difference in culture and language between them, Tito possessed something that Renzo could barely understand: he could put the pain and joy of another person before his own. While Renzo grasped only for his own happiness — or at least his own comfort — Tito sought it for Salvi. “I suppose,” he said to himself, “that is what love is.” He surprised himself by not trying to match the revelation with a song lyric.
Tito wasn’t the brightest person Renzo ever befriended, that would have to be Salvi. They made a good pair, Tito’s compact little body against Salvi’s slightly taller, slightly fuller build; Tito’s curly black hair and bronze skin against Salvi’s straight dark hair framing his light complexion; Tito’s ever so light — more delicate than effeminate — bearing against Salvi’s aggressive, macho stance. People, “breeders” he called them when talking with his stateside friends, would assume that Tito was the woman and Salvi the man in this gay couple. Renzo knew that this was just another misconception. Almost all the gay couples he knew were ‘very versatile.’
What intrigued him was the business part of their arrangement. He knew they lived in Llorens Torres, the public housing project just a few blocks away. The place was a world of its own, home to nearly 9,000 people, decent folks, honest laborers, dishonest malingerers, and a scattering of dangerous gang members, gun-runners, addicts and dealers. It is the perfect place to disappear into. Everyone knew each other’s business and everyone knew enough to keep their doors and their mouths shut. It was not a place for a casual visit, not even by the police. Salvi once told him that it was the new Utopia, the ideal socialist state: in each block of the 2,500 unit complex, a lion could lie down with (or devour) a lamb and the neighbors would be ok with it, or pretend it wasn’t there.
Renzo did not think that Tito and Salvi were any of those things. They usually dressed like rich blanquitos, only edgier. They wore the requisite chains, and Renzo suspected that theirs were not gold-filled. They were drug dealer clichés, but Renzo and the police knew they never dealt drugs. Salvi’s only record was for possession of stolen property, a remnant, perhaps, of any earlier career. But what were they up to now?”
“What do you want, Tito?”
“I want to find Salvi,”
“Do you want me to help you?”
“Por supuesto. Why do you think I am here, maricón?
“Then you have to trust me. What is it you do together… other than fucking each other, of course.” Renzo offered his silliest smirk.
Tito didn’t answer.
“Have you considered that he might not want to be found? Renzo said.
“Because of that gringo? Salvi has a thing for gringos, but he would never leave me for one. Not after that Florida fiasco, anyway, or after we…” he stopped short, thinking better of going in this direction. “Salvi is a cocksucker, that’s what he does. It’s not the man attached to the cock that interests him. I hate it, but I have to accept it. I interest him. He is my partner. An occasional pinga on the side gives him pleasure.” Tito paused in thought. “Sí, lo he pensado, pero no son mis cuernos que me preocupan.” He pulls Renzo in for a sisterly kiss. “I know you can help me.
“Okay, so we are back to square one. ‘Help me find Salvi.” He sang, imitating Elvis: ‘I want you, I need you, I love you, with all my heart.’ I get it. I can do that.” But let’s go to square two and try jaque mate, checkmate. What are you two up to?”
Tito took a deep breath, glanced at the door, then fixed his stare on Renzo. “We are partners, I told you that. Let’s just say we have un pequeño negocio, a small business. We are ‘sub-contractors,’ Salvi says. We help people solve their problems and they pay us, pay us well. It is not exactly legal. I will tell you that it involves guns, but that is all I am going to say. It is for your own good, and for me and Salvi’s. What you don’t know can’t hurt you — I think you told me that once.”
“I think I said what you don’t know can hurt you, but I understand. For you, my dear, I’ll talk to my contacts, find out if anyone has seen Salvi, when and where. You take it from there.”
“No, your hot cops are looking for Salvi. Papá said never to prod a hornet’s nest. Nobody’s looking for the gringo, the Kenneth guy, the dick. He’s my man. If I find him, I find what I am looking for.”
Renzo eyes open wide, his mouth wider. “And I thought you were just a dumb fairy! Maybe there is something in that handsome little head of yours besides fresh cum. Maybe you got smart by injection. I’ll have to ask Salvi about that when he reappears.”
“Kenneth. Find Kenneth,” Tito smiled, slipped from the barstool and, in a blaze of morning sunlight, went out the door.
Renzo didn’t have to find Kenneth. The man walked into the bar in the middle of the afternoon asking for Tito, then waited as Renzo called him and told him where they would meet.
Tito was pacing around his car in the parking lot across from the beach at El Ultimo Trolley when Kenneth pulled in next to him. Tito, expecting to see Salvi, danced around the car, peering through the windows, then visibly disappointed, rapped on Kenneth;’s window. Kenneth surveyed the boy. He knew he was not crazy enough to be armed, but he needed a moment to read him, to decide how to proceed, then unlocked the doors and told him to get in.
Tito looked very much as he had when Kenneth first saw him with Salvi in the bar. Well groomed. Well dressed in his fashion. A better class trick. If anyone saw them together in the car they would assume the obvious. That is why he picked that spot.
“Where he is?” Tito asked, his English tripped by his nerves.
“In New York. The last I heard he was in New York.”
“New York?” Tito was confused, It is not what he wanted to hear, although it may have been what he expected to hear. He looked straight ahead. A man running on the track turned his head for a moment and glanced at him as if recognizing him, then ran on.
“What he do there? What is he doing there?” He corrected himself.
“Nothing. Everything. I don’t know. “
“How do you know? You take him?” Tito hugged himself.
“No, I know who he is with.”
Tito glared at Kenneth, trying to decide if he was telling him the truth.
Kenneth looked straight ahead at the center of the field where several men and women were warming up for the track. Even with the windows closed and the air conditioner running, he could make out the shouts of men playing basketball under an open court and somewhere behind him the roar of the sea.
“What you know? Tito asked.
Kenneth looked at him. He wasn’t sure of the question. He knew what he wanted Tito to know, but he wasn’t sure how to give it to him. He looked back at the field. He could feel the boy staring at him.
Alternate scenarios played in Tito’s head. None of them made much sense. What did make sense to him is that Kenneth had something to do with it. How could Salvi abandon him? Well, in truth, he knew he was capable of that. But Salvi was also blunt, frank, and, in his way, honest. He would have told him to fuck off, he was going to celebrate without him. But what about his share of the money? He might run off for a while, but he wouldn’t stiff his partner, his friend, his lover. He must have left in a hurry, stashed our cash, hidden it away until he comes back. But that would be at the flat. At his safe place. And there was nothing there. Then it came to him, hard, like a blow to the side of his head.
“Alfonso. Fucking Alfonso,” It was a statement, not a question. Kenneth could almost see the idea seize him. His hands flew to his face, his narrow shoulders trembled. Then he sat upright, certain he saw confirmation in Kenneth’s face.
“He gave it back,” he said, so low that Kenneth had to strain to hear it. “All our blood money. That bastard was like a cancer growing in his brain. I should have seen it. He would do anything for him. He killed a fucking priest for him.” Kenneth could almost see Tito’s mind unraveling the mystery.
“Alfonso was the client. You work for Alfonso. Fucking Villanueva family. That asshole that almost killed me in Cayey worked for them. The mark on the expressway must have been on their case. And you, gringo, you work for them.” Kenneth said nothing.
“Are you going to kill me? How will you do it? Do you need one of our weapons? They’re yours, Alfonso paid for them. Do it. I’m fucked anyway, Screwed by Salvi, screwed by Alfonso, screwed by you.
“There are still things to do,” Kenneth said.
“Are you offering me a job? Charity case? You need half of a fucked up hit team? Want the governor assassinated? You can get me at a bargain price. I happen to be broke. Salvi may have been the brains of our little operation, but I have the talent. I can hit a bull’s eye from half a mile away. Alfonso’s money paid for the range practice, but turned out I had a natural talent. For sharpshooting, not for driving.”
“What was your share?”
“All together, fifty grand.”
I will double that if you do a job for me. Half in advance. That will give you plenty of cash for a vacation of your own.”
“Jesus, you do want the governor shot.”
“No, politicians bore me. They are more trouble than they are worth. Seriously, this is a job you are going to enjoy.
“I want you to take out Don Miguel, Alfonso’s father.”
Note: This is one of a series about the fictional character Kenneth Houser and the people he knows, loves or kills.
1. Angels and Monsters (Introduces Kenneth, Salvi and Tito).
2. Graves and Graven Images (Kenneth’s Story; Introduces Victoria.)
3. Mineral Memories ( How Kenneth and Victoria Meet; Introduces Alfonso.)
4. Knowledge and Respect (Introduces Don Miguel, Victoria’s Father.)
5. Jesús, María y José (Alfonso and Kenneth bond)
6. Remember the Sabbath (Alfonso and Salvi’s Story)
7. Bearing False Witness (Renza, Kenneth and Tito interact)
Links will be added as stories are posted: More to come!
Please comment in private message or public: I appreciate feedback to improve this serial fiction as it (hopefully) develops into a novel.