For most of the time Jeff worked under Carlos, Jeff’s cousin Slim also had a pretty prominent spot in the operation, except on the distribution side of things. With the cousins set up in different parts of the organization from the start, their paths rarely crossed. Outside of the occasional evening call for some 2K, share a blunt and a bottle of Henny, the two lived totally separate lives, especially when it came to the business.
That is, until the day Jeff received a call from Carlos to meet him at the warehouse out in West Kendall.
“For what?” Jeff said, exasperated. “You told me I had the day off.”
“It is tu primo, cabron,” he said. “Slim.”
“What about him?” Jeff asked, bristling as he sat up on his couch.
“You will see.”
Twenty minutes later Jeff turned into the warehouse parking lot, pulling up next to Slim’s dark blue Chevy Tahoe. He walked in and took off his sunglasses, waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim gray sunlight filtering through the dusty windows high on the walls. When his vision cleared, he saw his cousin strapped to a chair with Marcus—one of Carlos’s other enforcers, an overall decent guy from what Jeff could tell—standing over him. Marcus was wearing gold knuckle grips, big ones that fit around his giant fingers. He was using these gold knuckle grips to lay heavy-bag punches directly into Slim’s rib cage.
Carlos stood off to the side, watching solemnly as Slim cried out with each blow. The door to the warehouse slammed shut behind Jeff just as Marcus delivered a particularly resounding thump, the crack of it echoing through the large open space. Jeff flinched. Marcus and Carlos turned to him. When Marcus saw Jeff’s face, he stepped back from Slim, lowering his bloody fists to his side. Marcus avoided Jeff’s eyes. Carlos looked directly at him, walking over to Slim’s chair and placing his hand on Slim’s head and pushing it back so Jeff could get a good look at the damage. Slim’s eyes were swollen shut, his lips bruised and split, two of his top teeth missing.
Carlos let Jeff study his cousin for a moment then pulled his hand away, Slim’s head falling so his chin rested against his chest, a string of bloody drool dribbling to his lap. Carlos nodded at Marcus and Marcus gave Jeff a pensive glance before winding up and slamming his gold knuckles into Slim’s jaw. The smack was wet and loud, like a large slab of meat slapping onto a counter. Slim let out a deep guttural growl then passed out again.
Marcus stopped, looking down at the man sitting in the plastic chair in the empty, dingy warehouse. A pile of newspapers lined the floor, spread out in a blood-spattered fan around the chair. Marcus prepared to deliver another blow and Carlos raised a hand.
“Give him a minute,” Carlos said, still studying Jeff. “The man needs to rest, let him rest. Nice of you to join us, Jeff.”
“What’s this about?” Jeff said, trying to keep his voice even.
Every familial instinct in Jeff screamed to blast Carlos and Marcus, grab his cousin and run. But right then Jeff got to also thinking about his mother approaching him that day outside of his apartment, the skeletal look of her face.
Send you back to God, you don’t give me my goddamn medicine!
“That is a good question,” Carlos said, pointing at Slim. “Tu primo thinks it is okay to give away my product. For free.”
Jeff glanced at Slim. Slim’s head lolled, his tongue flicking against his cracked lips.
“All this ’cause he gave away some product?”
“Twenty keys,” Carlos clarified. “A una mujer.”
“A what?” Jeff asked.
“To a woman, cabrón,” Carlos said, motioning towards Slim. “For pussy, all of this for pussy.”
Slim came to and groaned some more, his words barely intelligible. Carlos took a step closer, leaning in with his ear near Slim’s mouth. “Que?” he said. “What was that?”
“I can get it back,” Slim said, his voice gravelly.
“He can get it back,” Carlos said, letting out a barking laugh.
“Is this really necessary?” Jeff asked. “I could’ve covered it.”
“That is not the point, Jeff,” Carlos said, waving a finger at him. “You know that is not the point. It is the principle.”
Jeff stayed quiet. Carlos eyed him, then turned and placed a hand on Slim’s forehead, tilting it back. Slim groaned, his swollen eyes rolling into consciousness.
“Please,” he whispered.
“You see, Jeff,” Carlos said. “I do not work for credit. Credit is for Fortune 500’s, y credit card companies. Not me. I do not care if it is your mother and she is begging for life.” He faced Jeff. “This is not allowed.”
“I just think we could’ve handled this situation a little differently,” Jeff said, eyes focused on Slim’s bruised and bloodied face.
Carlos nodded, then in a swift single motion reached around his back and pulled a chrome pistol from his waist, pointed the pistol at the side of Slim’s head and pulled the trigger. The other side of Slim’s head exploded outwards, bits of brain and skull landing on the newspaper and ground in front of Marcus. A small chunk landed on Marcus’s left shoe, and Jeff was immediately thrown back to the day Briggs died, the first time he ever saw La Sombra. Willing himself to stand still and not react, Jeff fought through the sinking feeling in his stomach that had accompanied him during the entire car ride here, a feeling that had now expanded to his chest and balls. He looked at what was left of his cousin, felt his gorge rise and looked back at Carlos. What he saw made him wish he hadn’t.
Carlos was staring at him, but his normal green eyes had been replaced by two oily pits of darkness. As Jeff stared, the grayish sunlight coming through the windows darkened to a deep purple, like the air surrounding the window was suddenly bruised. The long rows of florescent lights overhead flickered on for a moment then shut off again. Marcus glanced up at them but didn’t move from his perch a few feet away from Slim’s body, seemingly not noticing the dead man’s brains on his shoes.
“I’m sorry,” Carlos said, his voice rumbling with bass. “This is a distraction?”
Jeff remained quiet, frozen in place. He hoped his facial expression didn’t belie the fear that suddenly gripped his throat like a vice. His fists clenched involuntarily, nails digging into his palms, he focused his stare on a hole in the wall across the room, just above Carlos’s head. Carlos walked over to Jeff, stood in front of him and looked him up and down. Jeff willed himself to stop trembling. Marcus remained off to the side, standing stoically next to the dead body, his face expressionless.
“I like you Jeff,” Carlos said. “I have known you since you were young, the annoying teenager always causing trouble. I take you in because I see something in you. Loyalty, this is what I see.” He pointed his gun at Slim’s body. “That’s why I bring you here. So you can see. He is not your family anymore. Family is loyal.” He pointed the gun at his own chest, then towards Marcus. “I am your family. We are tu familia. Anybody hurts la familia, la familia way of life.” He pointed the gun back at Slim.
Jeff lowered his eyes finally, focusing on Carlos’s face. The man’s eyes had reverted back to their normal green, the wrinkled lines in his forehead standing out like knife slashes. Carlos turned to Slim’s body and Jeff noticed surprise in his stare. Carlos tucked his gun back at his waist, glanced at Marcus then nodded at the his dead cousin.
“Get this cleaned quickly,” he said. “Both of you. And hurry, Marcus. I need you for something else tonight.”
Marcus nodded. Carlos gave Jeff a long stare then walked out of the warehouse. Jeff stood completely still until the door slammed closed, then let out the breath he’d been holding. The silence that followed was suffocating. Marcus eventually turned to Jeff and motioned towards Slim, still avoiding Jeff’s eyes. “I’ll take care him,” he said. “Just clean up the newspaper.”
Jeff opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. So he just nodded, turned and stared at the closed warehouse door, listening as Marcus grunted through picking up Slim’s body. Jeff didn’t turn to face the plastic chair until it was empty.