Actually, It's Jesus, 8: Labor
Two days later Jesus was navigating his battered old truck over Highway 4 with Tony in the seat next to him. Tony had spent the past ten minutes riffing on variations of how the truck made Jesus a redneck, hick, farmer, countrified, and similar derogatory references to rural living. Jesus gave back as good as he got, or tried to, but Tony was on an unstoppable roll.
When Tony finally seemed out of ideas, Jesus switched topics. “So before we get there, I’ve gotta talk to you about Houseboat Jason. You said the other day something wasn’t right about him…”
“Well, he’s white.”
“Oh, SHIT!” exclaimed Tony, laughing. “Ah man, that’s fucking funny. He always talk like that or was it just because he was talking to me?”
“Oh no, he always talks that way. Don’t ask me why either, dude grew up Marin County rich.”
By this point Tony was laughing hard enough that he had to mop his eyes with a corner of his shirt. “So you’re saying, this guy’s even whiter than you are. Oh man…” and his words drifted off into more howls of laughter peppered by various exclamations. Eventually he regained the ability to speak. “I just talked to him on the phone when he told me about the car, it was like thirty seconds. But even then something wasn’t right about how he talked. Man, that dude is trippin.”
“I thought you’d be offended,” Jesus said.
Tony eyed his friend for a moment before answering. “See, it’s like this: is it offensive that some white dude tries to talk like he's Black? Fuck yeah it is. Am I gonna let some dumbass white dude offend me because he does that? Fuck no. How am I gonna let some dumbass get to me like that? Him being a dumbass ain’t my problem and as long as he doesn’t fuck with my money it won’t be my problem either. Know what I’m saying?”
“Alright, so change of subject. You ever been to Sunnydale?” Now it was Tony’s turn to inform.
“If Charles is as organized as he always is, we won’t have any trouble there. What you need to know is that there’s two cliques up that way and they’ve been going at it hard for a while. The line between the two is basically Hahn Street which we’ll avoid, I hope. Long as you ain’t close to that line things are pretty chill most of the time. But you gonna stand out there, no two ways about that. I think that Jason dude is trying to get you killed. If it weren’t a Charles thing I would have told you not to go.”
Jesus nodded, hoping to remember the name of the street they were to avoid.
They came over the second crest of the Richmond Bridge, took the first exit, and drove over Sir Francis Drake. San Quentin managed to both squat and sprawl to their left as they came down into Larkspur, its massive yellow buttressed walls with slit windows and guard towers overlooking a sort of small village just to the east. If the design had been intended to scare people and keep them from a life of crime, it more than managed the first goal.
After a short trip down Highway 101 they found themselves in Sausalito. Tony looked up the hill at houses speckled among eucalyptus and redwood trees, with bay windows actually overlooking the Bay. It was definitely pretty, he thought. No wonder people were willing to pay so much to live there.
As they turned into the pothole-filled parking lot by the dock Tony spotted another battered old pickup truck, but this one had a gun rack with a rifle and a confederate flag sticker in the back window. He sighed. Didn’t matter where you were or how pretty a place was, there would always be people there to make it ugly.
This time when Jesus started toward the dock, the guy with the massive shoulders got up before he and Tony were even close. He stood astride the entrance, arms folded, and did not make any attempt at smiling.
Jesus walked right up to the man, who he had begun thinking of as “Shoulders” and waited. After half a minute he gave up with the staring contest. “Well?”
“Well, what?” replied Shoulders.
“I’m here to see Jason, same as last time.”
“Both of you?” asked Shoulders, looking pointedly at Tony.
“Yes, both of us.” Jesus was starting to get pretty irritated. “You going to let us in or should we head home and let Charles know you were the reason the thing fell through?”
“Whatever,” grumbled Shoulders. He went back to his bench and glared at Tony as the two men walked on down the dock.
After another check at the boat Jesus and Tony were escorted into the cabaret. Jesus introduced Tony to Jason, who did everything in his power to make everyone else in the room feel uncomfortable, attempting a complicated handshake, discussing a fraternal relationship from other mothers, and in general trying to ingratiate himself to Tony by effectively parodying how Tony actually was in his day to day life.
Tony responded by offering Jason a firm, traditional handshake. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir. Shall we get to business?” Jesus had to make an effort not to gape at his friend, who spoke to Jason in a tone that reminded Jesus of old-timey radio people, an accent the reader might recognize as the “Mid-Atlantic dialect,” spoken by people educated in the ways of wealth in the past, but never a native dialect spoken at home. When it was still in use it was for public speech only. Or for Tony on this day, when talking to Houseboat Jason.
Jason was too full of himself and his excitement at meeting Tony to notice the jab, although some of his toadies stirred uneasily. He instructed Jesus and Tony to bring a pile of stuffed Army duffel bags to a specific address, talk to Marcus, exchange the duffel bags for cash, and return to get paid. When Jesus asked how much cash Jason explained that it was a bagful and so long as it was cash in there Jesus didn’t need to worry about how much it was.
After another awkward attempt at fancy handshakes with Tony, Jason bade them get on with it and left the cabaret. Jesus and Tony hefted the duffels which looked like and were Army surplus gear. Fully stuffed as they were, they were each about four feet long and a little over a foot around. No wonder it was a two-person job, Jesus thought. Each bag weighed probably close to thirty pounds, so with both men carrying two bags they could make it wherever they needed to go in one trip.
When they got to the end of the dock, Shoulders was standing in their way, his back to them, facing the parking lot. No way he didn’t hear them coming, thought Jesus, who said “Hey.”
“Hey what?” Shoulders replied without turning around.
“Can you move?”
“Only if you say please.”
Jesus missed the look of warning from Tony, his temper rising. “Fuck off. Please.”
Shoulders turned around and walked right up to Jesus, standing inches from him. He stood there for several seconds before saying, “Of course! Y’all have yourselves a great time. See you soon!” and very slowly went to his bench.
As they were throwing the duffel bags in the back of Jesus’s truck, Jesus began to vent. “What the fuck is wrong with that guy? We didn’t do shit to him, why’s he fucking with us that way? ASS fucking HOLE!”
Tony looked at his friend, decided he wasn’t up to explaining to his oblivious friend something so obvious, and instead said, “Doesn’t matter. Let’s just do the job and get paid.”
The job itself went without a hiccup – Tony knew the address on the note and said it was far enough from the border that there wasn’t much concern about conflict. Once they got to the right street in Sunnydale, two men stepped off the sidewalk and stood in front of the truck. Jesus stopped and one of the men came around the side to talk through the window. “Why you here?” he asked.
“Came to see Marcus.” The man at the window looked at Tony, the duffel bags in the truck, and then to his partner who gave a brief nod. Jesus was given instructions on where to park, where they were met by Marcus and another man. Marcus gave one of the duffel bags a whiff, handed over a smaller bag that was heavy with what proved to be cash, then he and the man he was with took the duffel bags and left. Jesus backed the truck out and he and Tony were on their way in no more than two minutes.
The drive back was calm. They took Geneva up to Interstate 380, merged on to 280, and then began the seemingly-endless parade of stoplights that is 19th Avenue and Park Presidio. The bag of money sat on the bench seat between the two men, who left it untouched during the drive.
As they started across the Golden Gate Tony said, “That dude with the tie-dye? I don’t want any trouble with him, you hear? Let him be the asshole he wants to be, let’s just not fuck around with him. We’ll get paid and get gone.”
Jesus thought about arguing, then thought better of it. Tony was of course right – whatever chip was on Shoulders’s shoulder, it didn’t need to be their problem. Still, it was hard for him to let go of his desire to stick up for his friend. This in itself puzzled Jesus. While he and Tony had been good pals in high school, they had both carried with them an attitude of “your mess, your problem.”
For that matter, he found being angry, like actually truly pissed off, to be a new thing. His usual response to someone who had got under his skin was to flip them off and walk away forever. The few times he’d been in a scrap had always been instigated by the other person – he’d defend himself when he had to but starting a fight was a foreign concept to Jesus. This was in fact one of the traits Charles appreciated about him – many of the jobs he had needed someone with just that kind of cool demeanor, almost impervious to anger.
Jesus thought about the murder chamber in Moscow. He’d felt rage, complete rage, and said as much to the KGB officer. Sure, it was a dream and all, but the feeling was just as real. And in a way, he felt like his anger was liberating – rather than be passive and let the world roll over him come good or bad, he was actually staking a claim on something. Not that it did any good in Moscow.
These musings ended as Jesus pulled into the parking lot. This time Shoulders was joined by another of Houseboat Jason’s toadies. Jesus didn’t know if the second guy was there to help in case of more trouble or simply to help keep an eye on the bag of money, but in any case the four men walked together all the way to the Black Ferry.
Once Jesus and Tony had boarded Shoulders peeled off and went back to his bench. Gerald, for that was his name, had grown up on a ranch in western Marin County, a rural area much like any other, and his family had not been shy about instilling some fairly obnoxious ideas about race – his was the truck Tony had noticed with the stars and bars earlier that day. Growing up, he did a great deal of hard work around the ranch and quickly gained a reputation for his strength. Watching Gerald McHenry buck hay was a vision of strength and endurance, one often enjoyed by the neighbor’s daughter. Gerald didn’t fail to notice the attention and had hopes of someday making something of it, but then the Vietnam War came along and he drew a low number.
Off to Vietnam Gerald went, not to fight, but to continue bucking heavy items. During basic training he proved to be poorly-made to be a soldier: he was slow to react to situations, was not a fast runner, and had just barely earned his marksman qualification. On the other hand he was easily the strongest man most of the instructors had ever seen and was good at following orders. Thus, Private McHenry was given the title of Materials Handler and was sent off to serve his enlistment working as a two-legged forklift in a place a few miles out of Saigon called Camp Davies.
Given his strength Gerald was typically assigned the most physically demanding tasks, which irritated him to no end. Why, he wondered, was he always assigned the shit jobs when the skinny Black guys (he thought of them using a different word, of course) got to sit their lazy asses in a forklift and drive around all day? To Gerald, this was some kind of twisted thing where the Black guys got it better than he did because of their skin color. He assumed it was due to affirmative action. It never crossed his mind that the people in charge looked at the massive guy who could lift two hundred pounds without breaking a sweat and the skinny guy who couldn’t do more than five push-ups and made intelligent decisions on how to most efficiently get the work done.
About six months into his stint Gerald went to Saigon on leave and, as was his habit, made a beeline to a brothel. While sipping a drink and waiting for a girl he liked to come around, Gerald got into an argument with a Marine, who resented the fact that Gerald got to sit on his ass behind the lines while he was out there in the shit trying not to get killed by the enemy or the environment. The argument quickly escalated into a fight which attracted the attention of a pair of MPs who were on duty patrolling the area. When one of them tried to intervene Gerald laid him flat on the pavement with one punch.
Gerald left Vietnam with an Article 128 dishonorable discharge and a three-year stint of hard labor at Fort Leavenworth. Upon his release from that castle, he returned home in disgrace. His parents took him in but with no warmth. His younger brother was off fighting in Vietnam, never to return, and the girl who used to watch him buck hay had gone off to college in Los Angeles. He worked odd jobs until his parents sold off all of the ranch but the house and retired to Arizona, leaving him to rattle around in the big empty ranch house with nothing much to do but drink beer and listen to AM radio.
Houseboat Jason met Gerald (aka Shoulders) when the latter was working as a bouncer outside a tourist bar in Bodega Bay. He watched Gerald lift a drunk up by his collar one-handed, walk him out the door, and pitch him across the sidewalk and into the street. He offered Gerald the chance to do the same work for double what he made at the bar, and daytime only. This suited Gerald just fine, so every day he would put on his tie-dye shirt (which he didn’t much care for but regarded as work clothes) and mostly just sat on his bench in the shade watching the residents of the other houseboats come and go and challenged any strangers to state their business. It was easy work and it was steady.
He didn’t mind Jesus but wasn’t happy about the other guy – in his mind Black people needed to be in their place, and that place was somewhere else.
Meanwhile, Jesus and Tony met up with Houseboat Jason, who greeted both men enthusiastically, doing nothing in the process to change Tony’s impression of him. Jesus took the money and sat down at a coffee table, piling stacks of $20-dollar bills in front of him, counting as he went. The one thing Jason had learned from his father was never to let anyone else count your money – they can help look after it, but the counting was the responsibility of the man in charge and he, Jason, definitely felt that he was that man.
Once the counting of the stacks had been done to Jason’s satisfaction he put all but four of them in the bag, handing two each of those four to Jesus and Tony. With enthusiastic thanks, more dubious suggestions of family relationship to Tony, and a slightly less awkward handshake, Jason said goodbye and Jesus and Tony stepped off the Black Ferry, their pockets bulging with their earnings for the day. Jesus noticed the tide was nearly out and was happy to get away from the dock before the mud had time to bake in the sun.
Jesus looked down at the end of the dock and there was Shoulders, somehow looking bigger than he had before. There was a hardness to his eyes that neither Jason nor Tony liked the looks of.
“You good?” asked Shoulders.
“Yeah,” replied Jesus. “All good.” He kept walking down the dock, but Shoulders didn’t move.
“I wasn’t talking to you!” he shouted. “I was talking to your coon buddy from Marin City there. How ‘bout it, nigger, you good?”
Tony’s eyes widened. This was not a thing to ignore, but also he wasn’t near enough to his comfort zone to know how to respond instantly. He was working his way up to it but Jesus got there first. “The FUCK did you just say to my friend, you fucking Nazi asshole?” Jesus stomped up to Shoulders, who grinned in expectation and wriggled his shoulders slightly to loosen them up. But when Jesus got close to Shoulders the big man just threw Jesus sideways onto the shore with one hand and squared up with Tony who was both trying to defuse the situation and also keep his guard up. He could hear people running off the boat behind him, but kept his focus on the strongman in the tie-dye shirt.
Jesus picked himself up off the ground and ran full-tilt at Shoulders, hitting him just above the small of his back and knocking him clean off the dock. Shoulders fell face-first into the mud, his feet flipped over his head, and he landed heavily on his back with a loud squelch. Jesus looked up to see Houseboat Jason, staring at him, his face purple with rage. But before they could say anything, Jason looked up past Jesus, and then they all heard a police siren whoop twice. Two cops jumped out of the car, guns drawn, and started screaming at everybody to get down.
The cops immediately put Tony in handcuffs, treating him to language not much better than Shoulders had, before putting Jesus in cuffs. Within a few moments three more black-and-whites and a plainclothes car had arrived. The cops put everyone in cuffs and sat them all on the edge of the parking lot. It took three of them to haul Shoulders out of the muck next to the dock before he too was placed in cuffs. Jesus noted with satisfaction the Swamp Monster look the guy had taken on as a result of faceplanting in the mud. Although one of the cops wiped his face off a little, he was still filthy and no doubt would stink all to hell for the next week. For his part, the big-shouldered swamp monster glared at Jesus and Tony with seething rage.
As the cops were walking down the line getting everyone’s info, a black BMW M5 came skidding to a halt in the parking lot not far from the police cars. One of the cops went over to talk to the driver, then waved the plainclothes officer over. The three of them had a brief conversation, then the plainclothes went over to his car to make a radio call. After a minute or so, he got out of his car, walked to the BMW, and said something to the driver who drove away. The plainclothes cop then began a sort of chain-reaction conversation with the cop nearest him, who walked over to another cop, who then beckoned another cop over and so on until they all had the same information.
Jesus could hardly believe what happened next: the plainclothes cop went over to Houseboat Jason, removed his handcuffs, and shook his hand. The rest of the cops began releasing people until only Jesus and Tony were left cuffed, although one of the cops had enough sense to stand over Shoulders and make sure he behaved himself.
Jesus and Tony were hauled to their feet. As they were being walked to their patrol cars, Jason walked alongside Jesus, talking quietly. He asked Jesus if Jesus knew who had been in that car and when Jesus said he didn’t, Jason replied that that had been his dad, and they both had one message for Jesus and Tony:
They were fucked.
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