quick hug, rubbing him softly on the back the way Dane's mother used to do when he was a kid. They walked out to the back of the garage together.
The stink of grease, oil, and transmission fluid struck Dane like an old lover embracing him.
“You need to cut her hours back some,” Dane said. “That one in there.”
“Ah, it's her just her office personality.”
“You ever get any repeat customers?”
“Franny's a sweetheart, but she's got an instinct for trouble. In this place, it comes at her from all sides, makes her a little paranoid.”
Pepe had been a lightweight champ and still moved like he was stepping into the ring. Light, fast, and with his arms loose in case he had to snap a jab into somebody's face. He'd been born in Spanish Harlem, back when there was such a thing. When he was about thirteen his family moved to Headstone City and Pepe fell in with Dane and the other Italians of the neighborhood. He had no Puerto Rican accent anymore, and spoke with the same hand gestures that Dane used himself.
“I'm off at six. We'll go out and have a few beers and get you laid.”
“I've got plans tonight,” Dane said.
“What?” Drawing his chin back and peering into Dane's face, taking a good look, trying to see what could be seen. “You've been in the bucket for two years and there's something else you wanna do on your first night out?”
“It's sort of a matter of necessity.”
“So's getting your pipes cleaned. Okay, so you're not in the mood for fun, you fuckin' killjoy.” Pepe squared his shoulders, a sign that he was serious. “What are you after? A gun? You know I'm not your man for that.”
“I already have one.”
“I should've known.”
“I need a job,” Dane told him.
“You got to have a license first.”
That threw Pepe, made him twist around. His hands started moving all over the place. “How's that possible? You ran over a fuckin' cop!”
“Yeah, but he was only a traffic cop.”
Dane's father had always told him to stay clean because the first bit of dirt he got on him would just keep growing. He'd been right. Dane had been nabbed stealing cars a couple of times in his teens, then got tagged for vehicular assault the day he bumped the traffic cop while Angelina Monticelli was dying in the back of his cab.
Pepe dropped his chin, gave Dane the look he was starting to get used to. “Listen, maybe you shouldn't stay in the neighborhood for too long. For your own good.”
“Did Vinny tell you not to hire me?”
“Not exactly. A guy came around who likes to talk out the corner of his mouth and clean his fingernails with a butterfly knife.”
That'd be Joey Fresco, the big hitter.
Playing with his fingernails, Pepe mimicked him pretty well. “He tells me that if I see you, I should give the Monti crew a call, it would be in my best interest. They'd consider it a favor. If I didn't, it'd be a show of disrespect. Since Puzo's book, that word hasn't had the same meaning for you guineas. So he wags the knife around for a while, scrapes it along his throat like he's shaving. Not even doing the slit slit
motion, no, this guy's too hep for that.” Pepe broke out of the performance, stood there smiling again. “He didn't give me the number though. Like I'm going to walk up to the front door of the Monti mansion and knock. Ask for the hitter who shaves with a butterfly blade.”
“Okay,” Dane said, and started to walk by.
“Wait a minute, I didn't say I wouldn't hire you. Jesus, you're as neurotic as Franny! You should both be in group therapy. I was only explaining the situation.”
“I know, but you don't need to deal with their shit.”
“You're still too sensitive. How the hell did you survive twenty months in the bucket, man?” Pepe thought about it, rubbing his chin, trying to figure every angle the way he always did. “How about this? I'll give you eastern Long Island, all right? The Hamptons and Montauk run.”
It was a