SOME GUYS DON'T KNOW when to quit. That's your problem."
It was Fontana's voice. I heard the voice before I felt the hand on my shoulder. When I looked up he was standing behind me, hazy in the smoked glass of the mirror on the back bar, out of prison three years early.
"You think you've seen it all," he said, the hand gone. "You think you've run your course, but you can't quite bring yourself to cash it in. So on you go: another day, another drink. What you really need is to find some noble exit. Some way of going out in a big blaze of glory."
The kid behind the bar had been filling sample glasses and letting me taste each one. The place made its own beer: raspberry, India pale ale, one that tasted like molasses. You could see big copper vats behind a glass wall.
"Let's grab a table outside," Fontana said. "You have to get out in the sun, or what's the point? This is Miami."
When I got up he was already walking out to the patio, wind catching his jacket. I couldn't see if he was carrying.
"Check it out," he said when we were sitting down.
I thought he meant the girl on the Jet Ski, but he was looking at a rust-bucket freighter coming toward us down Government Cut. The harbor pilot went on ahead. A tug stayed behind the pilot boat, slaloming through the chop, dragging the freighter backward out the ship channel.
Fontana put on a pair of sunglasses. He had binoculars with him: civilian ones, out of a sporting goods store.
"You could drop that baby in the mouth of the channel and shut down this whole city for a week," he said, looking at the freighter. "Three days, anyway. The cargo port. The river. Half the cruise ships in North America."
I didn't know if we were bumping into each other or it was something else. He picked up the field glasses, and I caught a flash of holster leather underneath his jacket.
"You'd have to make sure it swung sideways," I offered. "Before you blew it."
"Or after." He put down the binoculars. "How you liking retirement, Matthew? Or I guess it's semiretirement?"
"Fine. Same as you, right?"
"I don't think so. Anyway, that's not what I hear."
The freighter was passing us now, about sixty yards from the patio. A woman at a table nearby was showing a little boy how to wave. There was a man on the freighter's bridge in a white shirt with blue epaulettes on the shoulders. The man dragged on a cigarette. I got one out myself.
"So you're living down here again?"
"It's a great town," he replied, not exactly an answer.
I looked at him the way you do with people, trying to get a good, full look when you think they won't catch you doing it. He was thinner, and I could understand why he wanted to be outside: he was very pale. I noticed caps on a couple of teeth.
"How long you been out?"
"Three weeks and three days," he said, taking off his sunglasses and cleaning them with a napkin.
"How was it?"
He blew on his glasses and kept rubbing. "How was it? That's a great question, Matt. Well, let me see: how was it. Do you know what a blanket party is?"
"I've heard the term. What do you say we just drop it?"
"They bring you down the cell block the first day, all the way down and back up the other side, their version of a perp walk. Then they open the door of a holding cell and in you go. All the cons are waiting to meet you. It's the neighborhood welcoming committee. A couple guys stand up, taking their time. They hold a blanket in front of the bars, and the next thing you know, another one of 'em gets around behind you and hits you with something sneaky, maybe a soup can stuck in a sock. You go down, and that's when the fun begins. They take turns with you, Matt, that's what they do, three or four guys holding you down with a towel stuck in your mouth, everyone else helping out and taking turns. That's a blanket party."
Copyright © 2005 by Sean Rowe.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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