Sneak Peek: To Fetch A Thief (Background On Ratko)
“Uncle Rio’s,” said Bernie, backing into a little parking space in one move, smooth and easy. Driving with Bernie: always a pleasure, unless the tools had to come out. “You’ll like this.”
I was liking it already. Me and Bernie together – what was not to like?
Uncle Rio’s was on a dark street not far from the fairgrounds. The only bright lights around were the top of the ferris wheel, spinning slowly in the night, and the neon signs in Uncle Rio’s window. It was a bar, of course: I can smell them from miles away, miles away being kind of far unless I’ve missed something. What do bars smell like? Stale beer, burned grease, puke. Hey! They go together! A strange thought, not my usual … I wondered …
And was still wondering when we went into Uncle Rio’s. It turned out to be one of those dark skinny joints, a long bar on one side, a row of tables on the other, a little dance floor at the end. No dancing happening at the moment, probably a good thing, since dancing sometimes gets me going. There was only one woman in the place, drinking down at the end of the bar. A few big guys sat by the beer taps, big guys with cut-off denim jackets, maybe bikers. The bartender serving them had a tattoo on the side of his face; a cigarette dangled from his mouth even though I was pretty sure there was no smoking in Valley bars. He looked at us, saw Bernie, and said, “You son of a bitch.”
The big guys turned and gave us tough-guy stares. The biggest said, “Want us to take care of this dude, Rio?”
The bartender laughed, one of those booming laughs that came from deep inside. Women don’t have that laugh and neither do most men, but no time for that now. I got ready for trouble, but no trouble happened. The bartender said, “Why’d I want you to do that? Bernie here would mop the floor with you assholes and then the cops would come and make me put out my smoke.” The big guys looked confused. The bartender hurried around the bar and threw his arms around Bernie. They banged each other on the back real hard.
More banging. “Bastard never comes in here,” Rio said. “Too snooty now for a dump like mine?”
“You know the answer to that,” Bernie said.
Rio stepped back. “You’re in shape.”
“Want to stay in shape, here’s my advice – never run a bar,” Rio said.
“Imagine you running a bar.”
“What’s so odd about that?”
Rio didn’t answer, just laughed another one of those boomers. He had a big belly and it shook; I always like the sight of that. And maybe because I was watching him, he suddenly noticed me, an interesting thing that happens sometimes with critters of all kinds.
“Hey,” he said. “Is this Chet?”
“How do you know about Chet?”
“Ratko Savic was in here last week.”
Ratko Savic? Hard to forget old Ratko, with his long drippy nose and his fondness for knife play.
“What’s he doing out?” Bernie said.
“Early parole,” said Rio. “Have to ask yourself what the world’s coming to when a menace like Ratko scores early parole. But nothing for you to worry about – he’s got a healthy respect for Chet, better believe it.”
“Did those skin grafts take?”
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