SHAME SHAME SHAME

1.

The beauty parlor, Peluquería Mi Amor. I’m assaulted by hot air thick with hair spray, spicy Caribbean love ballads, and three brats screaming in chorus.

Behind me sweltering Barcelona heat. Bochorno.

This joint. Belongs to Sócrates Sánchez. He’s a pal of mine from many moons ago. We used to sail together. Merchant marines. Across this mudball. A thousand ports. A thousand venal dens. The language of Russian roulette. And I’m not talking about putting a rod to your dome in a Cambodian gambling parlor, though I’ve seen that too. I’m talking pure chaos and cesspools of vice.

Sócrates is like a brother. Went through some hard ass luck together. That’s why when he left me a message at the hotel saying he had trouble, I came right over.

Gypmeisters, guiris in distress, they can wait. Only so much Kovaks can do.

Sócrates is doing pretty good for himself. After twenty some odd years he retired to this burg. Opened this hair styling joint for one of his ladies. Peluquería Mi Amor, near the Santa Caterina market. Now he’s got Peluquería Tu Amor, Peluquería Su Amor, and Peluquería de Usted. But Peluquería Mi Amor is his baby. It’s his hang out.

Those screaming kids. They’re his. He’s got twenty-eight in all. The ones he knows about. Sócrates. Always been a big hit with the dames.

Bachatas. Blasting so loud I can’t hardly think. Warbling lyrics about amor. That’s all I know. The barbress is this broad with a nice big round karina. I nod to her, ask for Sócrates. She looks up from her work. A head full of half finished braids.

Hooola, mi amol! Señor Kovaks, Sócrates eeen da back!”

I walk by three chairs occupied by three kids. No more than a year or so apart. They’re playing those electronic dinguses kids are always playing with.

Past the cloud of hair spray and spicy love ballads. Groggy from the fumes, I swipe back a beaded curtain. Multicolor. Sócrates is sitting next to a fan on maximum. At a round formica table. Playing dominoes with a couple older guys. Seen them in the barrio.

Anyway, Sócrates. He’s about as big as I am. About 200 pounds of brown Caribbean brawn. Thick guy with a gray afro and round gold spectacles. His aura lives up to his namesake. But his grandfatherly looks belie his other side.

He owns this beauty parlor. But he’s also a pimp since retiring from the mariners. Owns one of the busiest bordellos in this burg. Frequented by Catalan oligarchs and guiris and garrulos.

The two old guys get up and leave me with Sócrates. He says:

“Larry! Hermano. Qué hay viejo, you want some rum?”

I say why not. He reaches behind him and lifts the lid to an industrial freezer. He pulls out a bottle of Brugal. Cold steam rolls off it. He pours me a tumbler. I thank him.

“Yesterday I send you a mensaje, viejo, because me having problemas …”

I sit down in one of his flimsy folding chairs.

“… you see my house with the girls, Isla de los Melocotones. Los hombres, they be dying.”

I swish the Brugal around the old bocarino. Syrupy. Like nights in the DR. My nostrils flare. He goes on:

“It start for two weeks …”

Two weeks ago, I think he meant.

“For two weeks this hombre, he come in. Un viejo. German old guy. Eighty or something.”

“Even seniors gotta get their kicks.”

“My girl Katy take him because the girls no like the old mans. Ella es professional. Chingadora. She make …” he makes an O with his right hand. Strokes an imaginary skin flute. “… she make even estrella del porno happy in ten segundos. I call her magic hands.”

Old Sócrates rolls with laughter. Ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha! So much he almost falls out of his folding chair. He wheezes. The bachata in the parlor switches to another track. Sounds exactly the same. Brats screaming in the background.

“So what gives? She couldn’t play Mozart’s magic flute?”

Sócrates removes his spectacles. Dabs his forehead with a rag he took from his pocket.

“Ah Larry, viejo. This day, She about to chingar with her magic hands and the old guy he falls down …”

“Must have been her melocotones.”

“No Larry. He dead. But still parada like bull, with big smile.”

I nod. Lift my hat and swipe sweat from my forehead.

“Maybe the old bag of bones was happy to go out like that.”

“This not it, brodel. Another, he also die. La policía asks too many questions. Demasiadas.”

“Both old guys?”

“No. El otro un tigre..”

“A tiger?!”

Un jovencito. A younger.”

I nod my head. Pull the last drops of Brugal, then say:

“And they both died like that? Big smile and …”

Sócrates thrusts the underside of his forearm at me and slaps it. “Like that!”

I slide my glass towards him. So guys are kicking it while doing the dirty. Once happens. But three in a row. That’s suspect. While he pours me another rum he says:

“I want you to check my house. Isla de los Melocotones. I must to stop this.”

I take my drink and tell him I’ll get the dope on this affair.

It’s a damn dirty shame.

“Sócrates, my brother. Kovaks is on it.”

I pull a pack of Ducados from my coat pocket. Slide one up and offer it to him. He refuses. I tip the filter to my choppers. Light fire to it.

Behind the curtains. Bachatas blaring. Screaming brats. Mucho amor.

***

Read the rest of this story in Larry Kovaks’ book, City of Crime, available now in print or in e-book format. You can also preview the book here.

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