The inspector said he’d be ther by noon. It was three. Pancho stood by the circuit board, whapping a screwdriver handle against his palm.
“Shit! I can’t have you guys just sittin’ around. Satch? Arnold? Go ahead on home. Me and Shawn’ll rewire back to the old circuits. I’ll call you later and let you know about tomorrow.”
A lot of people might have left the house dark and blamed it on the inspector. Not Pancho. He wanted his clients – the Mendozas – to lead as normal a life as possible. After he was done, he handed Shawn what looked like a chunk of obsidian, pitch black and shiny.
“That’s from the old mast. Aluminum wiring. Got so hot it melted the electrical tape into... that. No reason at all to use that shit. Cheap bastards. Wanna hit the Queen?”
They followed a maze of industrial streets to the Emerald Queen, an old-fashioned paddleboat steamer parked in the shallows off the Port of Tacoma. Shawn looked forward to seeing which arthritic band was playing there next.
“K.C. and the Sunshine Band. Whoo-ee!”
“Yeah,” said Pancho. And check the undercard.”
“Steppenwolf?! There is no God.”
Shawn veered right at the entrance and dumped five bucks on his favorite nickel slot. If you lined up three fishing lures, you got to pick from five anglers on a video screen. Shawn picked the blond farmboy, who reeled up a tin can worth five nickels. He didn’t last long after that, and found Pancho at the three-penny slots, dispensing with his last two bucks the slow way. He looked like he was about to fall asleep.
“How you doin’?”
“Tiny victories, tiny losses,” sighed Pancho. “Much like life.”
“Thank you, oh sensei. Hey... I been meanin’ to ask...”
“Why you don’t have more to do?”
“Exactly. Yesterday, I finished the entire New York Times crossword. I feel like I’m taking money I’m not earning.”
Pancho pulled a button and lined up three angels, for 27 cents. “Contractor crews are like SWAT teams. You don’t often need every man, but when you do, it’s critical. I like to have one guy I can pay a ridiculously low sum – say, a starving musician – to be that extra pair of hands. Don’t worry, you’ll soon have days when you’re working too much. Plus, we’re charging man-hours, so my boss makes twelve dollars every time you make eight. So relax.”
“Okay,” said Shawn. “But it might take a while. God, I never thought I’d miss housepainting.”
“By the way, if you do get a housepainting gig, take it. I’m flexible. Besides, when he’s not meeting with his parole officer, I’ve got Richard, too.”
“How’d you get so smart, Pancho?”
“Used to hang with my dad’s crew when I was a kid. They used to send me into the crawl space to hunt for wires. Said I was a good mouser.”
“Speaking of crawling, how’s married life?”
“Very funny, bachelor-boy.” His machine rang out another jackpot. “See? The angels are with me. Things are going pretty well. Wild hormonal swings. I’ve learned to take an hour or two away when I can. Oh, and you’ll enjoy this: Wendy wants us to start going to church.”
“Ha!” said Shawn. “The Christian girls always go back.”
“Hey, I don’t think it’s a bad idea. Let’s face it: Wendy’s got issues. Church might provide a little stability before she goes raising the next generation. What’s your trip about religion, anyway?”
“Some Christians market their beliefs like they’re selling fucking Amway. The other night, there’s this guy handing out leaflets on Sixth Street. I figure it’s flyers for a nightclub, so I take one, and there’s a picture of Jesus, and the guy asks me if I go to church. I say no. He asks me if I’d like to talk about it. I say no. He plows on ahead into his Good News spiel, the road to salvation, yada yada. This infuriates me. This guy has so little respect for other people that he’s willing to stop strangers on the street and question their beliefs. Isn’t that... violent?”
“I wouldn’t call it violent.”
“How about dreaming up a place where you send everybody who disagrees with you to burn in eternal fire. Is that violent?”
“You got me there. So what did you do with the leaflet guy?”
“I crumpled up his flyer and threw it into the intersection. As I walked away he yelled out, ‘God loves you!’ I yelled back, ‘Well I’m not too crazy about him!’”
“I’m sorry I missed all this.”
“So what about Tacoma?”
“She seems... to accept my beliefs for what they are. Once she told me I was more ‘Christian’ than most Christians. The way I treat people, that kinda thing.”
“I’d have to agree.”
“On the other hand, look at Wendy. You can’t trust ‘em. Sooner or later, they’re going to start praying for your soul. I guess that’s why I don’t feel fully invested right now. We’ve tried the thing twice and it doesn’t seem to work. I’d like us to have three easy months. Then I’ll jump in.”
“Sounds reasonable,” said Pancho. “Here, let me kill this off.” He punched up his last 25 cents, got ten devils and one good-for-nothing angel.
It was their weeknight Wednesday. He lay in Tacoma’s bed, waiting for her to drift off before he left. He was thinking about Angie. How he had promised to take her to that wedding and that’s exactly what he was going to do. And he wasn’t going to tell Tacoma, because he didn’t want the drama. Three easy months. But fibbing to Tacoma was, to borrow the old expression, like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster.
Her eyelids rose, amber sparks of iris.
“Can’t sleep,” she said. “Gears clicking. Big factory full of gears. Wassamatta?”
A lot of answers for that. He picked one from the bunch.
“I was thinking how... when I first found out you were bipolar, I thought I was going to be the strong one, and just handle it. I think I underestimated the effect it would have on me. Here’s this woman I’m crazy in love with. One night she shows up, and she’s somebody else. That’s... disconcerting.”
“Poor honey,” she mewed, and kissed him on the neck. “Did I tell you about the guy at the literacy clinic?”
“He was a teacher there, nice enough guy. He asked me out, and we exchanged numbers. But I thought I should let him know about the bipolar. When I told him, he asked for his number back.”
“God! What an asshole.”
“‘Salright. Some guys aren’t up for it. I’m glad I found out early.”
“No,” said Shawn. “No one should treat you like that.”
“Time for Bubba to leave?”
“Yeah.” He kissed her and went off to get dressed.
“Thanks for the kite,” said Shawn, sipping Shelly’s coffee.
“Not my idea, originally.” Her eyes rose, blue-gray sparks of iris. “After the Rosie Affair, I couldn’t let go of the betrayal for years. So I went to a counselor, and she said, You know what you’re doing? You’re sandbagging. Whenever you and your husband get into a conflict, you pull up all these things from the past and throw them between you until you’ve built a nice big wall. He’s tied up by guilt, you’re tied up by resentment, and where have you gotten yourself? So, she said, whenever things get tense in the household, I want you and your husband to go to the park and fly a kite. And I want you to imagine that that kite is your marriage. It only flies by the consent of you, your husband, and the weather. And should you decide to tie a sandbag to its tail, it will plummet to the ground.
“We spent an awful lot of afternoons flying that kite. Of course, we didn’t call ours ‘Spermie.’”
Shawn held up his hands. “Not my idea.”
“I know, dear. It’s cute, though. Your own little fertility rite.”
Richard came up the stairs, hair still wet from the shower, and they headed out to Shawn’s car. He squinted at the bright sky.
“Were you guys talking about fertility rites?”
“Kites,” said Shawn. “We were talking about kites.”
“Oh. Did the inspector show up yesterday?”
Photo by MJV