Six Feet Over Carlos Cleats
by Bryan D. Catherman
appear in this issue.
|part 1 of 4|
Julie’s mind wasn’t set when she drew the revolver, but knowing it was loaded and feeling the wood and steel, glassy like ice, against her jittery hand, she knew she could squeeze the trigger if she must. The weapon was like a sixth finger. Her blood flowed into the gun, giving it life, and then back again to her heart. Her pounding chest nearly woke her husband but that wouldn’t matter in ten seconds, although she prayed he didn’t open his eyes. She could never look into his eyes again.
It wasn’t always this way, Julie and Mick. They were lovers, real lovers. They shared the same air, but something changed when he came home from Mexico.
* * *
On their first date, Julie hoped to end it soon. The boy was a bum, a real loser. He called her nearly fifty times begging for a second date. When she ran out of excuses, she finally just said, “no.” The next day Mick showed up at the bakery. Her co-workers giggled as she untied her apron and went out to see him. To her surprise, he was charming. Mick, on his knees, begged for another date. He had a single carnation and a boyish smile. She agreed to a cup of coffee after work, but nothing more.
His black ’93 BMW waited out front at 5pm. He was leaning against the hood, arms folded, cigarette lightly hanging by his lower lip. Who does this guy think he is, Julie thought, James Dean? Mick bounced up and moved over to open the passenger-side door. Prince Charming was the approach, but his greased back hair and leather jacket dripped with bad-boy. His scrawny body added the word wannabe. A wannabe bad boy is what he was. He knew it; she knew it.
They drove in silence. “Where are we going? We’re almost out of town,” Julie huffed as the miles added up. She wanted off this date already.
“You said a cup of coffee. I know the perfect place. Trust me. We’re almost there.” He smiled at her. Mick really liked Julie. He loved her simple face and always wanted to know what she was thinking. Julie was worried as they left the last evidence of the city and turned onto a dirt road. She fruitlessly attempted to cover the fear in her eyes. Julie just knew they were going out to the middle of nowhere so he could rape her and then leave her body where nobody would find it.
“It’s just around those trees,” Mick said. “You’re going to love it.” They turned at the bend into what looked like an Italian countryside vineyard. “Here it is.”
“What is this place?” Julie asked.
“It’s my family home. We came in the back way. The main entrance has a big stone and iron sign. My grandfather built the vineyard when he came over on the boat,” Mick said with pride.
“Yeah, Capri. It’s an island. I use to go there a lot when I was a boy. I’m going back this summer for work.”
Mick turned the car toward a small area of buildings. A narrow road took them through rows of grapes. “What do you do for work?” Julie asked, realizing that didn’t come up on their first date.
“I’m in the import-export business, but I haven’t been doing it for long.”
Julie giggled. “I didn’t think anybody was really in that business. Isn’t that what gangsters and drug dealers do?” She instantly regretted the question.
Mick laughed. “Something like that.” He paused. “Right over there,” Mick said pointing, “is the press. My family makes our own label here and stores it for a year in that building over there. Then it goes to market.” He fingered another building across the vineyard. “We use the same barrels my grandfather did when he started in 1939. He hired immigrants fleeing from the war, and then he went over to fight it himself. He helped translate for the Allied Forces and then trained the Italian underground. The staff kept the grapes going. When my father took over, he opened up the bed and breakfast. Here we are.” They parked in front of a bakery-style coffee shop that looked as if it were transplanted from the heart of Capri.
Looking across the vineyard, Julie noticed seven tombstones south of the vineyard. “Is that where your grandfather is buried?” she inquired.
“No, we took him back to Capri four years ago. He’s buried there.”
Julie and Mick walked through the door as the small bell jingled. A thin but beautiful older woman moved around the counter to hug and kiss Mick. “Mickey,” she bellowed, “How is my baby? Where you been?” Mick shrugged. “What, you can’t call your mama when you get back in town?” She turned and eyed Julie. “Who’s your lady friend? She’s nice.” The woman turned to Julie and whispered. “He doesn’t date much, but he’s a good man.”
“Ma!” shouted Mick. He moved around the counter and poured two cups of coffee. The small mugs had little white handles. He placed them on saucers and put a spoon on one side and a dark chocolate square on the other. “Julie, would you like something to eat? It’s all baked right here,” he asked. Mick waited for her answer, eager to serve. She smiled and gestured toward a lumpy pastry.
“Nobody uses saucers much anymore,” Julie pointed out. “It’s charming. The chocolate is a nice touch, too.”
They enjoyed the conversation and looked deep into one another’s eyes. From that point on, the date went well. The next went even better. By the fifth, they were in bed. They were lovers by the eighth. Julie and Mick married fifteen months later. She knew his work was hazardous and it took him all over the world, but that didn’t trouble her too much.
Julie’s father knew she was lying when she said “He’s in the import-export business,” but he never questioned her about it again.
Julie baked bread and pastries on the family vineyard and gave birth to their son, Max. As the many harvest seasons came and went, they built their own cottage on the vineyard and had already buried a dog in the pet cemetery. Mick carved the headstone himself. Max cried for two days.
Julie worried every time Mick went away. Mick spoke Italian, Spanish, Greek, and English and he could fit in comfortably in any country that spoke one of his languages. Normally, Julie didn’t know where he went for weeks at a time, but he always came back. Once, he returned home with a three thousand dollar Gucci purse. Another time he returned with five uncut diamonds that he had a local jeweler make into a bracelet for Julie. He wore Armani suits. Max enjoyed an oversized sombrero on his fourth birthday. Mick arrived within an hour of the party. He and Julie had a fight about it, but the make-up sex smoothed things over. For the next birthday Max unwrapped an African tribal mask.
Julie became concerned after one particular trip. Following that excursion, Mick began keeping a loaded pistol between the mattress and box spring where he could get to it quickly. After another trip, they installed an extra deadbolt on the door and better locks on the windows.
On a dry fall day, a Mexican came to the vineyard to chat. Mick and the villainous looking man walked out to the middle of the vineyard before they spoke even one word. Mick kept a pistol tucked into his pants and a knife strapped to his arm under the cuff of his shirt; there was no telling what firepower Poncho Via was packing.
Julie watched from the window. Nothing was said about it afterward. For Mick it was business, but for the first time, he had brought his work home. They made love that night and Mick assured Julie, “Everything is alright. It comes with the job, but the Family won’t let anything happen. That’s just how it is, baby.” She didn’t feel any better.
In the spring, Mick packed for one of his usual trips with unusual worry. “Honey, where’s Max?” he shouted out to the living room.
“He’s out with Micah in the grapes,” Julie said as she entered the room. Max loved playing with the workers’ children.
“Good, close the door. We need to talk.” Julie shut the door behind her and sat on the bed. Mick glanced out the window and turned back to Julie.
“I’m going to Mexico. I’ve been there nine times already over the last two years. If anything happens, you need to know this name. Don’t write it down; just memorize it. Carlos Cleats.”
Julie didn’t like what she was hearing. “What’s going to happen? Don’t go if you think this is going to be bad.”
“Don’t worry; I’m taking the good wine. Nothing ever goes wrong when I take it. I don’t think anything is going to happen anyway, but just remember the name. Carlos Cleats. Carlos Cleats.”
“I’ve got it. Carlos Cleats,” Julie repeated. “Just give this one to someone else. Don’t go. Please, for me. Don’t go.”
“I can’t do that. I’m on the inside. They know me. I’ve got wine and the money. It’ll be fine; this is what I’ve lived for. The big one. The one we’ve been working on for two years. There’s a lot riding on it. I have to go. We can talk more about it when I get back. It’ll be okay, baby.” Mick zipped his bag closed and kissed Julie. “Remember that name.”
Max saw his father placing his luggage and two cases of wine in the trunk of the Lexus. Mick cocked his head as if to say, “Get over here, boy.” He lifted Max off the ground and crushed him in his strong arms. “I love you, Max. You make me really happy.” He lowered his son to the dirt, adjusted the pistol in his jacket, and got behind the wheel. Tears ran down Julie’s face as the dust settled in the driveway. She was scared, more so than ever before. Mick was gone.
* * *
A week later, a thick framed man in a slick black suit and dark glasses walked through to the coffee shop door. Julie looked up at the sound of the jingling bell.
The man spoke. “Mrs. Gelletie? Are you Mickey’s wife, ma’am?” The man’s voice sounded uncaring. Nobody except her mother-in-law called her husband Mickey, nobody she knew anyway. “Ma’am, if you’re Mrs. Gelletie, we need to talk. In private.”
“Do you see anybody else in here?” Julie asked looking around.
“There’s nobody in the back?”
“No.” Julie kept rinsing little white cups fresh from a soapy sink. “There’s nobody. What do you want?”
“I’m with the CIA.”
The man paused before he spoke. “Something’s happened.”
Julie tried hard to cover her fear. “Is Mick okay? Is he dead? What happened? Where’s my husband?” She was frantic for information.
The man held up a hand to stop her questions. “Mickey’s in Mexico, we think. Something fell apart. Maybe the cartel figured out he was CIA, but we’re not sure. Our last communication was three days ago, but it was broken and left us little information. We believe he’s alive and will remain alive. We are doing everything we can, but it’s best you remain calm and continue on as normal.”
Julie remained silent for a moment. She found it difficult to breath. “My God...” Hand to her mouth, Julie’s mind started going wild as words still struggled to leave her plain lips.
“Ma’am. My name is Agent Tollman; but please, call me Mike. I will remain here with you and your family and we will request police patrols from the local authorities.”
The words started coming to Julie’s mouth, fast now. “Why? Why do you need to stay here? Why do we need to be normal? What happened to my husband?”
“I’ve already booked a room,” said Agent Tollman, “I’m in number 7, but I would prefer 2 for the better view of your cottage. We believe that if the cartel identifies your husband, they may try to come here to gain leverage. They want information that they believe Mickey has. But don’t worry ma’am, we will keep you and your son safe; and if Mickey does his job, he’ll be fine too.”
“Please stop calling me ma’am,” Julie said. ”I will get your room switched, but it may not be tonight. I have work to do, Mr. Tollman.”
* * *
Copyright © 2007 by Bryan D. Catherman