It was the end of a long week for Sheila and me, and, as the Romans might have said, all roads lead to Machado’s.
The door was opened briskly by a retired boxer – Hamfist Harry – who was dressed in what appeared to be the uniform of a Honduran field marshal. We went up to the maitre’d’s station and were greeted by Joe “Kneecap” Weiss. Joe’s previous occupation - I’ll call it bad debts negotiator - while perfectly suited to his muscle-bound frame and deceptively ferocious appearance, was abhorrent to his basically kind and indolent nature. Tony Machado had given him a job as a table scout and Joe was taking it seriously. Too seriously. Apparently he was under the impression that maitre’d’s were all French, and so he had tried hard to acquire a patina of “class”.
“Bone swah, messue et madamoyzell” (He was inordinately proud that he knew the difference between “madamoyzell” and “muhdamn”). “And where would yez like to park yezselfs tonight?” Joe gave me a quick smile, before dismissing me entirely for the purpose of staring worshipfully at Sheila. Whenever he saw her, he was like an ox contemplating a golden angel who had appeared out of nowhere, miraculously, to pull the plug on the butcher’s electric hammer.
She gave him the smile that tied a thousand tongues, and patted him lightly on the arm. She had always had a way with animals.
“No table tonight, Joe. We’re just going in to the bar for a couple of drinks.”
“Ok, Miss Sheila.” And he bowed her out of his domain, like Essex handing Elizabeth into the royal coach. Actually, more like a gorilla who’s just spotted a banana on the ground. But you get the idea.
We climbed aboard the leather-upholstered bar stools and ordered our drinks (Sheila had a glass of Drambuie. I ordered a scotch and soda on the rocks, but told the barkeep to hold the soda. And the rocks, too, while he was at it).
Just as we were getting on the outside of our drinks, a fellow of what’s known as “Middle Eastern” appearance took a seat on the other side of Sheila. Sheila suddenly sat bolt upright and gasped. The newcomer looked at me from behind Sheila and smiled.
“Ha! Detective Paco, nazrani pig! Now I have you and your dhimmi whore both! I am holding a knife at her back, Paco – the sword, or rather, the pocketknife of justice - and you are going to watch her die, and then you are going to die!”
I looked directly into Sheila’s eyes. “You ok, baby?”
She was scared, but she was game. “I’ve suddenly developed a sharp pain in my lower back, but yeah, other than that, I’m just dandy.”
I looked back at Farouk. He had obviously tried to “blend in” with what he took to be the nightclub scene, but must have gotten his notions of fancy dress from somebody’s 30-year old home movies of the senior prom. He was wearing a blue velour tuxedo with a clip-on red tie, and black patent-leather shoes. He looked like a melodramatic guy who would want to draw things out. I decided to play for time. I took a cigarette out of the pack on the bar and perched it on my lower lip.
“Well, Farouk, long time no see. So you didn’t like the tropics, eh? How did you get away from Guantanamo this time?” I pretended to pat myself down for matches.
“It was simple to get away, dog of an unbeliever. In the morning, when we were out picking chickpeas for the daily ration of hummus, I slipped through a hole in the fence, stole a 1954 Hudson, and paddled to Key West. There, my brothers concealed me. And now I have made my way here. Just to see you.”
I gave him a resigned smile. “Well, now, looks like you’ve got us dead to rights. But your Allah is a compassionate god, right? He wouldn’t begrudge me a last smoke, would he?”
He grinned malevolently. “A last smoke? Sure, Paco. Maybe a blindfold, too, huh?”
“No, just the smoke will do.” I began to reach toward my inside coat pocket, when Sheila gave a little jump.
“No tricks, Paco!” Farouk muttered.
“Relax, Farouk. I can’t find any matches and I just remembered that I’ve got a lighter in my pocket. Don’t worry. I know when I’m beat.”
He eased back on the knife, as Sheila exhaled with momentary relief. And then she gasped again as I filled my hand with a .45 cal. pistol, which I pointed directly at Farouk’s head.
“I’m not likely to miss at this range, Farouk, so unless you want a flat-top down to about nose-level, drop the knife.”
Farouk’s face twisted in indecisive rage, but I had him figured right. He could kill Sheila, but he’d never get me, and that wouldn’t do at all. He’d try his chances another day. He dropped the knife.
Just like in the movies, the cavalry got there after it was all over. Joe came lumbering up.
“What’s goin’ on here, Mr. Paco? Is this punk givin’ yez trouble?”
“Just a little, Joe. Do me a favor. I’m going to call the FBI. Now, I know you’re out of the business, but, for old times’ sake, how’d you like to take this guy out back and give him a little workout while we wait for the Feds? He threatened Sheila’s life, incidentally.”
The faithful old dog’s eyes flared, and his lips curled, and I’d almost swear that he growled.
“Wit’ pleasure, Mr. Paco!”
Ten minutes later, Smedley from the FBI and two of his boys were bundling up a strangely chastened and very much bruised Farouk, and hustling him out of the bar. Sheila and I were left alone.
“Well, Paco, that was a close one. I’m glad you didn’t have to try and shoot him. You might have missed and hit my drink.”
“Wouldn’t have done much damage if I had”. I turned my wrist and pointed the barrel of the .45 at the end of my cigarette, pulled the trigger – and drew deeply as a little flame popped out of the barrel’s “front sight”. Sheila’s baby-blues rounded in shock. “Eddie! Bring me another Drambuie! And leave the bottle!”