“Well,” Pal said while reaching for his first scoop of Maria’s dynamite salsa, “aren’t you just the cock o’ the walk.”
I grinned and scooped up some of the brick-red stuff.
“ARGH!” I said. “Too fricken’ hot!” Maria’s, down in the Lower East side of Santa Barbara, was the most autentico taqueria in town, and featured a variety of delicious salsas for your tacos or whatever, ranging from mild to abdominal bleeding. I was celebrating, so I had the 9-1-1 level salsa, and kept swilling beer.
“That victory was extremely satisfying,” I said. “You shoulda been there to see Mason and Loretta reunite. I was actually touched. She now knows he cares, and he knows she’s through walking on the wild side. You could tell she was sincere. Beautiful. And now the boys have their momma back. I predict the marriage will probably terminate in an orderly fashion, with big alimony for the ex-wife, etc. etc.”
“That’s what you get the big bucks for, Coach,” Pal said.
“Yep. And it was a tough job to the end. I think the LAPD was having fun, kickin’ me around on a quiet day. Took me HOURS to be set free, and they impounded my gun. Why?”
“Just to show they can do it,” Pal said. “LAPD has a built-in attitude problem. Contempt for amateurs – sorry – is part of it. Be grateful you don’t have to deal with them again. I hope.”
We finished our chips and dug into a couple of tacos – Mexico style, with fresh heated tortillas, not fried ones.
We gabbed about Maria’s, and then Pal got down to business, as I knew he would. He is a cop, after all.
“Y’know, Dick …” he began, “you did a good job of tracking people down. Everybody admits that. And you did everything right when the drug dealers closed in on you. You didn’t have a lot of choices at that point.”
“Thanks.” I smiled. I had been waiting for days for a few kind words from the authorities.
“But . . . “ he said, “you have to admit that you had a LOT of luck on your side during your Gunfight at the Marina Corral. You were only inches away from leaving some of your gray matter in Marina del Rey.”
I must have looked impatient, because he quickly added, “I know, I know, you’re getting tired of hearing this, but . . . cops too get killed, you know, and you haven’t had anything like the amount of training we’ve had.”
There were some moments of awkward silence.
Then he concluded: “I guess enough said. Good job, Coach.”
He lifted his Coke, this being Friday and still a workday, and we toasted me, who lifted a Pacifico beer. But he had to say it: “Any chance you’ll retire now? Quit while you’re ahead – meaning while you’re still alive?”
I thought for a few moments. Then said, “I’m gonna plead the Fifth.”
“I thought you would,” he sighed. “That means … well … it means what it means.”
I never liked that expression. It was a spin-off of another annoying cliché, “It is what it is.”
I said, “What it means is . . . I’ll think about it and see what jobs come down the pike. I have quite a rep around town to protect now. I’m known as the guy who helps folks out and shoots bad guys. I’m kinda proud of that.”
Pal looked at me a long time while he ate, winced and rubbed his tender stomach.
I finally said, “Don’t get too righteous with me, Pal. You like living dangerously too, or you wouldn’t eat at Maria’s so often.”
He smiled a little and shook his head at my hopeless attitude.
“Yeah, you’re right. What the hell …” he piled some extra Cardiac Arrest on his second taco. “Gotcher Tums with you?”
“Yep,” I said. “Mexican dessert.”
“Well . . .” he concluded, “you’re obviously getting older, aren’t we all, and Ma Nature will get you to slow down pretty soon. If you’re careful . . . you might just make it into the Old Folks’ Home.”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of. That’s why I keep runnin’ - me and Forrest Gump. And as Forrest said, ‘that’s all I got to say about that’.”
“You win,” he said. “Unlike your lady friend (I had told him about Margie, my sort of Lost Love), I’m almost getting used to your close calls. I’m not wishing you dead, you understand. I’m just curious about your next adventure.”
“So am I,” I said.
My mind drifted off for a while as we munched and belched. I had survived a damn gunfight! Talk about excitement! If I trained my mind to be a little more careful, I could probably always get the drop on a typical hoodlum and …
# # # #
Gene Cates is a Santa Barbara writer, author of a series
of crime novels involving Dick McNabb, private investigator. McNabb is a retired teacher with a craving for excitement -- which he finds.