Brooklyn & Mednik: Hot Ice
His design was to whirl her around, grab the jewels, stick out his tongue, then run home
Music resounded from an open door. It was early 50's Rock and Roll, which was not remarkable considering it was 1954 in the Maravilla Housing Projects of East Los Angeles.
Published on LatinoLA: September 24, 2012
Sammy Letarnez had just left the front steps of his sweetheart, Susie Trípaz. They had stared longingly into each other's eyes. She whispered something. He whispered something. It was then that Sammy was moved to promise her a big St. Valentine's Day. She gave him a peck on the cheek, and then quickly closed her green door.
Sammy now sighed as he stared at the open door emitting the rolling piano and high-pitched wah-wah's of Fats Domino singing, "The Fat Man." The house with the open door and blaring Rock and Roll held the path to Susie's heart. But Alex Masicón and his hefty cuerpo were in the way.
He asked the open door Dónde diantres was Alex. He and the pepino shared a secret that was the road to Susie's heart. He figured a secret between camaradas was kept even at the cost of sangre. Yet, here was Alex playing loud music all over the Projects. Someone could call the cops. They could become house guests of the L.A. County Sheriffs.
"Are you looking for my brother?" said a penetrating voice from somewhere behind Sammy. He jumped and turned simultaneously, resembling a paunchy ballerina. The source of the voice was Alex's little sister, Mabel. She was nine with the code of a snoopy vieja, thought Sammy.
"Yeah," he said, eyeing her guardedly.
"Really?" she said.
"I said it, didn't I?"
"You know," Mabel said in a sing-song voice, skipping in a circle, "I think you are doing something muy malo."
"You have a point. I am talking to you."
"You're not funny. I didn't even smile."
"You never smile. You're a little girl and you never smile. Why?"
"Never at you."
"Give you a quarter to call Alex."
"That's fifty cents."
"I always said you were Alex's smartest friend."
Sammy dug into his pocket. Nothing came out.
"I'll give it to you payday."
"You don't have paydays."
"Well, next time I see you."
She turned to leave.
"Wait," he said in desperation.
He checked his wallet and saw three Ones. He felt a need to protect them as if they were his defenseless little children.
"Okay, here's a One," he said painfully.
She snapped it from his shaky hand then turned to leave.
"You owe me fifty cents."
"You made me wait so it cost you a dollar."
Just like Alex, he thought. Offer them fifty cents and they go for your wallet.
Sammy needed Mabel, for Alex's mother had conferred upon Sammy the Project's notorious double title of malvado y bien sin vergüenza and chased him off her porch.
Mabel quietly reappeared.
"My brother went somewhere."
"To Michi's store?"
"No, to a tía who lives faraway."
"Faraway near Ford Boulevard."
"That's not faraway."
"Is to me."
"What street does she live on?"
"Ask my mother."
"You know I'm a chinche to your mother. Besides, you have to return my money."
"You didn't get Alex."
"You are a mentirosa. He's home. Fats Domino coming from your house says he's home."
"My abuelita is playing Fats Domino. When she really wants to roll, she plays Little Richard."
He grabbed for her but her scrawny frame pushed by a favorable wind put her out of reach.
Then a pint-sized fellow named Tony Wallace walked up behind him with a chipper, "¡Órale!"
Sammy jumped up for the second time. Tony jumped for the first time.
"What's the matter?" said Tony.
"We're dealing with a thief," said Sammy, collecting himself.
"Alex. He ran off with the, you know."
A blip failed to appear on Tony's screen.
"THE HOT ICE!!!"
"What hot ice?"
Sammy looked at Tony as if he had just said, "Quack-quack."
"Alex, the bato with the jewels, is not home. His little sister, the pimple, says he is at his tía's. I think she lives on Fisher. The tía, not the pimple."
"Let's go find him."
Sammy and Tony began to walk toward the corner of Brooklyn and Mednik toward Fisher.
"How come your name is Wallace?" said Sammy.
Tony hunched his shoulders.
"I mean, you're a Mexican, all dark and skinny, how'd you end up being called Mr. Wallace?"
"No one's ever called me that."
"Probably never will. I meant, how'd you get a name like Wallace?"
"From the hospital."
Sammy looked at Tony as if observing a two-headed snail.
"What's your mother's name?"
"I mean her last name, toad."
"Since before she was born."
"She's darker and skinner than you. How come you're Wallace and she's Jones?"
Arriving on Fisher Street, Sammy looked for Alex or at least someone who would have the misfortune to look like him. Failing, they returned to the Projects.
They proceeded to their thinking spot, Belvedere Park. Sammy had taken several trips around the park with Tony, like a loyal mutt, at his side when Jerry Mashida came running up.
"I'm late for work but I know something," Jerry said, enjoying vague statements, like a cat toying with a mouse.
"What is it you know?" Sammy said, knowing you had to play along with Jerry.
"Alex got arrested. My sister Karen is best friends with Chola's neighbor, Donna Wistermuller. And you know who Chola is."
"Alex's huiza. So?"
"Alex called her from jail."
Sammy and Tony took large Maravilla gulps, one each, for a total of two.
"How come you look scared?" Jerry said.
"Because we are," said Tony.
"Not scared. Concerned," said Sammy, protecting his Maravilla image.
"Okay, I'm the only one scared. Scared shirtless," said Tony.
"Why do you care about Alex?" said Jerry.
"He is from the Projects. It's like we're in the same Army or something," patiently explained Sammy.
"Oh." Jerry then ran off as quickly as Mabel had.
Sammy knew Alex to be just a notch above Tony in brain juice, but much more devious. He was sure Alex did not have the jewels on him when picked up. Alex was the type of person cops engage out of merry habit. He'd been cited and/or picked up for J-walking, noisy mufflers, loitering, drinking in the park in front of a deputy followed by spitting on that deputy's shoes.
They decided to go visit the incarcerated Alex.
"Órale," said Alex in the visitor's room.
"Órale," said Sammy, following proper decorum.
"Why you here?" said Alex.
"You know the stuff you borrowed from me, where…"
Sammy was thankful of the barrier separating them, for he wanted to pull Alex's head out by the roots and merrily kick it around the jail. He fell into deep thought then resurfaced.
"You know your sister Mabel, right?"
"Since she was a baby."
"Well, she told me you took stuff to your tía's."
"I didn't take anything to a tía."
"Where is the anything you didn't take to a tía?"
Alex's face went blank.
"You had something special."
Alex's face went from blank to vacant.
"Two minutes!" a guard said from somewhere in the void known as L.A. County.
Sammy stared at Alex and Alex stared somewhere over Sammy's head.
"Aren't you going to ask me about the ice?" said Alex.
Sammy was sure this was how a proud papa felt on hearing his baby's first, "Dada!" Tears formed in his eyes.
"Tell me, m'ijo."
"Where? ¿A dónde? Tell dad…I mean Sammy, where oh where does your bonnet lie?"
"What are you on, ese?"
"You were going to tell about the…the…"
"They're safe in my chante. And I go before the juez tomorrow."
"What'd you in for anyway?"
Alex was carted off.
Only Alex would go shoplifting after finding jewels, thought Sammy. Tony and Alex almost made one functioning brain.
He recalled how they had trekked along Coyote Pass and up a steep hill to the abandoned shack. His eyes beheld radiant necklaces, rings, stones, bracelets, pendants and cuff links in a cardboard box. They took one small stone to two jewelers and a pawnshop. Each individual looked at Sammy, Alex, and Tony with glazed eyes, as if he were gazing upon Three Wise Men asking about a babe in swaddling clothes.
Then his thoughts floated to Susie with her angelic face. She made him feel like Audie Murphy, Superman, and Art Aragon all in one. Sammy thought how nice Susie would look covered in jewels from crown to toes.
Now any thought of Susie glittering evaporated.
"Why would Alex go shoplifting after striking it rich?" Sammy asked Tony.
"Alex gets bored easy. I remember the time he was dancing with this ruca at a party Mona Tumba gave. It was the song "The Clock" by Johnny Ace. Alex fell asleep on the ruca and knocked her on the floor. He was snoring all over her. I think it was Angie Bastanos. Anyway, she slid from under him and started kicking him. He didn't wake him up until she landed a patada on his head. Then he got up and started swinging and hit a bato. Then, some other batos jumped in. Mona's mother called la jura and we all split a la volada. It was Mona's fault, man. She had just seen The Song of Bernadette so she got all religious and invited everyone, throwing people together that could start pedo. She said she wanted everyone to like each other. That's like inviting a bunch of North Koreans and South Koreans to a boda."
"What does that have to do with Alex hiding the jewels from us?"
"I don't know."
"Think of the jewels. We had them, he has them, now we don't have them."
Tony gravely nodded his head at Sammy's logic as if Max Planck himself was kicking around his quantum theory.
"I know they're hidden somewhere in that house," continued Sammy.
Sammy went home and enlisted his sister Lupe. He asked her to bake a cake for Alex's birthday. Lupe had a crush on Alex, so she baked a series of cakes until one, the fifth one, looked like one.
Lupe followed by Sammy and Tony made a parade to Alex's house.
"Who's the cake for?" said Mabel at the door while Rock and Roll rocked and rolled behind her.
"It's for your brother," said Lupe with a smile.
"It's not his birthday."
"It will be some day," said Lupe persuasively then stared at Alex, annoyed.
"I'll take it. My birthday just passed."
"I'll give you a mud pie to the face," said Sammy.
"¡Cálmate!" said Lupe, "She's just a little girl."
"She's a midget with a colossal lengua."
On cue, Mabel stuck out her tongue at Sammy. Before Sammy could stick his out, Lupe spoke.
"Let us take the cake inside so we can show it to Alex," she said.
"Alex isn't home."
"Where is he?"
Mabel hunched her shoulders.
"Can we come in and share it until he gets home?"
"¿Como qué no?" said an ancient voice. The Rock and Roll stopped simultaneously.
An elderly woman came forward, leaning on a thick, decorative cane. She smiled joyfully at the cake.
"Pásele-pásele," she said, continuing to wave them in as if directing traffic on the corner of Brooklyn and Mednik.
"Gracias, Doña Ester. ¿Y la señora?" said Lupe, asking for Alex's mother.
"Se fue al trabajo. Siéntense, siéntense," Doña Ester said impatiently while eyeing the cake.
Sammy and Tony sat down while Lupe took the cake to the kitchen, followed closely by Doña Ester.
Mabel eyeballed Sammy and Tony.
Lupe served cake and lemonade to everyone except Doña Ester who had sliced her own generous piece.
"Mabel, let's go out on the porch," said Lupe, hoping to see Alex.
"So we can see the birds while we eat our cake."
Sammy looked over to Doña Ester who was eating her piece of cake as if it was set to leap off her plate. He looked over to Tony who was eating his as if it was ready to join Doña Ester's piece.
"Doña Ester," Sammy said, "trajo el Alex algo aquí…como un costal de yonke?
"No," said Doña Ester.
"Are you sure?"
"Sure," she said, rising to get another piece.
"I'll have another pedazo," said Tony.
"No kidding?" said Doña Ester.
"We gotta find a way to look around," whispered Sammy in Doña Ester's absence.
"Where do we start?" whispered Tony.
"In Mabel's room," whispered Sammy.
"Here Tony," said Doña Ester loudly upon returning, handing him an inconsequential piece.
Doña Ester returned to the kitchen.
Sammy darted toward the bedrooms.
Doña Ester returned with her own second bountiful portion.
Sammy entered Alex's bedroom. It reflected Alex's personality: bare walls and diverse debris. One book rested on the floor entitled, So You Want To Be A Saint, Do You?
He could not have been more surprised if the title had been, So You Want To Be A Seamstress, Do You?
At the same time, Doña Ester was wiping her mouth with one hand and pushing herself up out of the chair with the other.
"Where's the other one?" she said.
Tony was not known for quick thinking. In fact, he was known for his incredibly slow thinking. At the moment, his mind flashed brightly.
"He went home."
This time his brain merely flickered.
"He didn't tell you?"
She took his empty plate. He looked over to Sammy's plate. A full piece of cake arrogantly occupied it.
"You would take your friend's piece of cake?" said Doña Ester upon returning.
"His sister makes cakes en bonches."
"Leave that one alone," she said.
He obeyed, for he reasoned she had kitchen knives and rolling pins within reach.
Sammy had passed Doña Ester's room with musty odor and venerable décor. He continued on to Alex's mother's room. It had the aroma of perfume, thick carpeting, and custom curtains. Her jewelry box contained fine necklaces, brooches, earrings, and pendants but none equaling the dazzling jewels he had beheld.
As Alex neared Mabel's room, he heard her chirpy gibberish. He made a dash to the restroom. He closed the door while she skipped in one direction then back in the other.
"Here it is," he heard her say mirthfully.
She was squealing about jewelry, Sammy was sure. He flung the door open then himself. His design was to whirl her around, grab the jewels, stick out his tongue, then run home.
Mabel turned in response to his thundering hoofs. He grabbed then ran while clutching a meowing kitten. He stopped.
"What're you doing with this?" he scolded.
"What're you doing with it?" she scolded back, grabbing the kitten.
"Come show me your gatita," said Lupe who sat in the living room, looking at her brother, mystified.
Mabel walked over to Lupe.
"What were you doing back there?" said Doña Ester.
"I had to go."
"Tony said you went home. He also wanted to eat your quequi."
Mabel handed her kitten over to Lupe while training her eyes on Sammy.
"How come he said you went home?" said Mabel.
"He thought I did."
"He doesn't think," she said, pointing at Tony as if singling out the accused in open court.
"Let's go," said Sammy, feeling thwarted and rebuffed again by Mabel.
Sammy and Tony left but not before Sammy and Mabel exchanged model tongue projections.
A tall, thin man who appeared to have camel in his family tree strolled by them and up to Alex's. He knocked. Like a junkyard dog that is ever ready, Mabel flung the door open. The man entered then soon exited. He was carrying Doña Ester's cane.
"Did you see that?" said Sammy, giving Tony a quick eye exam.
"Yeah," said Tony, passing with flying colors.
"You know what that means?"
"The jewels, man."
"They're in the cane."
"Sure. Why would a vieja like Doña Ester give up her cane unless it was to pass jewels? She takes that cane even to church when she wears that dress that shines and lights up the church, acting like a holy vision or something. She just sold our jewels!"
Sammy followed the man. Tony likewise. The man walked to the Kern bus stop on Mednik. He sat regally, grasping the cane tightly.
Sammy wanted desperately to separate man from cane.
"Ese, Sir," said Sammy has he approached.
The man turned to Sammy and looked at him as if surprised human sound came out of him.
"Do you speak English," repeated Sammy since the man stared imperiously like a double-humped Bactrian.
The man made no reply.
"Do you talk?" said Tony, widening the inquiry.
"I speak Dutch, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, and English."
"Why?" said Tony.
"Fancy cane," said Sammy.
"Yes, I saw this woman with it on First Street and I had to have it. It's a rare 1915 Russian Kovsh carved entirely from a single piece of Siberian nephrite. I offered her a generous price but she said she would think about it. She gave me her telephone number and told me to wait a week. Well, the week has gone by and the price trebled."
"She gave it to you for nothing?" said Sammy.
"She sold it to me for a large sum," said the man with some irritation.
"Man, you should have just used a rama like my Abuelo Santario in El Paso," advised Tony.
"Pfft!" pffted the man.
The bus arrived. The man was relieved since they were speaking a language outside of the eight upon which he had a firm grip.
As the man alighted, Sammy grabbed for the cane. The man swiftly struck him on the head with the cane and Sammy fell back, grabbing his head.
"This cane is made of hard matter that will shatter an anvil. Your head was the true test," proclaimed the man as the bus doors closed.
Sammy held his head in a dramatic display of confirmation. He wobbled back to the Projects.
Doña Ester came walking past, sporting a plain replacement cane.
After she passed, Sammy gave Tony another eye exam.
"Did you see her dress?"
"Like a Christmas tree. You know what that means?"
"She likes attention."
A cab pulled up and Doña Ester sped off.
"She's wearing Susie's jewels," said Sammy in a death rattle.
Doña Ester soon migrated to an exclusive area of Mexico City. Alex got out of jail and told Sammy and Tony that he had hid the jewels in his abuelita's cane. It had a removable handle.
And they would still be there had not the man coveted the cane, Sammy told Alex. That caused her to examine it. She found the jewels and sewed them on and all over her well-squinted dress she had worn to misa for years.
Sammy bought Susie a box of dulces for St. Valentine's. He received two pecks, one on each cheek.
It is from the series I'd like to continue set in 50's East L.A. Maravilla Housing Projects.
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