Authors: Joe Curtis
A Shark in Calle Ocho
By Joe Curtis
Copyright © 2013 Joe Curtis. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping, or by any information storage retrieval system, without the permission, in writing, of the publisher.
To my grandfather, Abraham Carson Ritchie
Larry Matthews’ mother had warned him about the “big city,” but in his small Iowa town there wasn’t much to do except to dream about the bigger and “better things.” The endless cornfields were not calling his name like they did his father. The quiet nights did not attract him. Yes, he was a dreamer of “better things.”
“Better things.” How stupid that sounds now. What are the better things? Cars, homes with pools, women? It was all promised to him by the Shark—all the good things in life—but none of it came quick enough for Larry.
“Dear God, please get me out of this,” Larry whispered, staring up into the dark warehouse ceiling. This was the first time he’d prayed since leaving Iowa. Sweat was streaming down from his hairline. It was mixed with hairspray that held the golden hair that covered his head, and it burned his eyes.
Larry had done the unthinkable—he’d stolen from the Shark. It would have been better to take his wife, if he’d had one, than to take any of his precious things. Now he’d have to die in this dusty hellhole of a warehouse on the docks in the middle of a humid Miami night.
Larry had come to Miami with high hopes and big dreams. He was five-ten, medium build, with pale Iowa skin. He hoped to change everything about his bland life by coming to Miami. He thought the city would give him his dream job, and the car and house would follow. His dream job was a dispatcher at a cab company. His car was the same old ’85 cougar, and his dream home was actually an apartment shared with a Latino named José. His dream seemed out of reach until he met Ramone, who was from some Midwestern town himself, and his story of hard times in the city was similar.
Ramone told him about the business Shark was in. It certainly sounded shady, but what harm could it do?
He could hear their footsteps getting closer. Larry knew the end was near. Strange things go through people’s minds right before death. Larry didn’t think about home or past lovers. He didn’t think about his past childhood experience, where he was running through a field of wheat. He wondered what was in the boxes he was so desperately hiding behind, if the merchandise was valuable and could be sold.
Larry laughed, which quickly turned into a whimper.
“Once a thief, always a thief.”
“Shark doesn’t think this is too funny,” Tauton said, breaking the silence.
“Jesus,” escaped Larry’s lips as he tried to back away from the menacing statue of one of the Shark’s henchmen. Involuntary tears mixed with the sweat. “Oh please, one more chance,” he begged.
Tauton’s response was a deep, barely audible dark laugh. This was his life, what he was best at—and he knew it. Reaching into his coat, he grasped the gun warmed by his body. Feels so good, he thought, as inviting as a woman’s body. He pulled it from the holster and pointed it at the squirming Larry, who was now reduced to a blubbering heap.
“Such a simple career, yet so fulfilling,” Tauton said through his smile.
“Please no—” were Larry’s last words as the silenced gun went off in the dark caverns of the warehouse.
Three grunts, as Tauton called them, appeared out of the shadows. They had only been in the Shark’s services for three months. This was their first kill job, and they were here to clean up. As they went about their jobs, Tauton became the teacher.
“Notice where the bullet hit the body,” he said.
“The face,” an obedient grunt answered. Tauton didn’t know his name. Didn’t matter—he was a grunt.
“Good,” he responded. “Less struggle with the job. No need to run after shots are fired.”
The grunts listened carefully as they cleaned, with the hopes that one day they’d be able to shoot someone in the head for the Shark.
“Bill Gates once again tops the world’s richest list, according to
magazine,” announced the starched newscaster.
Antonio LaCruz let the smoke drift from his mouth while enjoying the spicy smell of his hand-rolled Cuban cigar. As the last of the cigar exhaust left his mouth, the crime lord gave a low joyful grumble.
Antonio knew the publisher of Forbes personally. He knew the magazine didn’t include everybody in its top ten list. If it did, he and his “business associates” would dominate it.
“Experts say Gates’ vast wealth will continue to rise as new products hit the market this quarter,” the talking head continued from the plasma TV.
He surrounded himself with things of excellence. From hardwood floors to murals of dragons on the ceiling, things that were out of reach during his poor childhood filled his modern day castle. His mother cleaned homes like his when he was a child. He recalled going with her and seeing all the abundance. He would run his finger along the staircases, marvel at the china, and be in wonder at the electronic gizmos. Once he was staring at a doctor’s watch collection a little too long.
The doctor quietly crept up behind him, sternly placed his hand on his shoulder and said, “They’re pretty, aren’t they?”
Antonio could only nod.
“Would you like to have one when you are older?” Antonio again nodded.
The doctor whispered, “Trash like you will never have such nice things.” The doctor patted Antonio on the shoulder and walked away laughing.
Taking another drag from the Cuban, Antonio rose from the overstuffed leather chair and strode over to a full-length mirror. It was framed with red mahogany wood. He loved the mahogany. It was clean, dignified, and spoke of success—unlike like the little Havana community he grew up in. He gave himself a careful inspection. His dark feathered black hair was still thick and had hints of gray along the sides. He kept a yearlong tan thanks to his Hispanic heritage. No middle-age bulge affected Antonio’s waist yet, and his light colored suit fit him well. Antonio approved of what he saw in the mirror and thought,
I guess you were wrong about trash like me, Doc.
Carnival time was a kaleidoscope of laughter, color, and emotion. Outsiders invaded the small community, bringing their lusts and greed. This was a place of escape if only for a few nights—where the white collar, church deacon, father of three could recapture his youthful college years before the bills and responsibility choked out his life. He’d leave his cares at carnival and bring home a venereal disease. It was the nature of the beast.
Over the years, the Calle Ocho festival has brought hundreds of smiles to thousands of people. Block after block, people from all over pack into Little Havana to form a river of cultures. Various T-shirts and food stands line the blocks. Proceeds go to help Cuban families brought over from the island. Throughout the years, music from such artists as Willy Chirino, Oscar D’León, El Gran Combo, Celia Cruz, The Barrio Boys, and Gloria Estefan and the Miami South Machine have shared the air with the smells of
, saffron rice, and hot dog
Back in 1965, ten-year-old Antonio LaCruz walked the streets. He was a shark, a predator in this sea of sidewalks, trash and good times. He was short for his age and had jet black hair that covered his ears. He wore one of his three ragged T-shirts. Dirt had become mashed with the cotton fibers long ago, changing the white color to a shade of yellow. His faded blue jeans were ragged at the edges and a half inch too short at the bottom. This was the price for growing up poor. The shirt and pants didn’t bother him—it was when he looked down and saw his battered slip on sailor’s shoes. One of the soles had a hole at the ball of his feet, and it hurt when he stepped on the occasional rock, bringing a curse to his lips. This was a new language he had recently learned from his mother’s newest boyfriend. Maybe next month’s “uncle” would be a better guy.
Carnival was the perfect time for a shark of the street. There were thousands of partygoers in a drunken frenzy, their bellies full of alcohol, their hearts full of passion and their pockets full of money. No one even looked twice at the shark, who looked like a helpless beggar boy but inside felt no emotion for the sea of people before him. All he saw was sustenance. He didn’t see their families, their bills or mortgages. He saw the wallets and purses full of money or the gold around their wrists and fingers. Sharks had no feelings, only hunger.
, Anthony,” José said with a raised hand.
“Don’t speak Spanish to me,” Anthony said with cold eyes. Sharks have the coldest eyes. They are black and unblinking with a fiery intensity that is equal to no other predator.
José was Anthony’s closet friend—his only friend. José was a plump eight-year-old. He walked with a waddle, with arms slightly spread out from his body. He was clumsy and not as skilled as the shark. José’s belly peeked out from under his dirty Ocean Pacific shirt, and his Goodwill Wranglers were uncomfortably tight as they cut into his soft waist. He had a small scar under his eye that originated from a drunken encounter with the grandfather he lived with. As he talked with the shark, he nervously played with his hair, which was overdue a cut.
Anthony laughed to himself. If José was a fish, he wasn’t a shark but a blowfish.
“And don’t call me Anthony anymore. Call me Shark,” he said staring coldly into José’s eyes.
“Okay, okay,” José said. “Come on, let’s make some money.” The two went off into the sea, the shark and the blowfish. It was carnival time—feeding time.
There he was, all 250 pounds of middle class wealth. Shark and Blowfish had spotted their next prey. He was white, with a receding hair line that he tried to cover up with a combover. He was wearing a loose fitting white button-up shirt that barely covered his protruding stomach, and his khaki pants barely hung on to his hips. Shark spotted the bulge of his wallet in his unbuttoned back pocket. Shark’s mouth watered, butterflies danced in his stomach, and his senses were heightened. The street was filled with laughing and near naked carnival women gyrating to the beat of Hispanic music. The smell of alcohol hung low in the air. It was a hurricane of senses swirling around everyone, but it was just a faded background to Shark. It was just him, the pocket bulge and the sweaty blowfish.
Blowfish went up to the white man and started speaking quickly in Spanish. The man turned to the boy, spilling a bit of his drink onto the hot concrete. The white man still had his arms raised and was still swaying to the hypnotic beat.
“What . . . what are you saying?” the man stammered.
Blowfish, trying hard not to laugh, kept up with the Spanish banter. Shark went in for the kill. Easily, like he was born to do this, Shark slipped out the wallet. He was about to walk away when something caught his eye. Another bulge, this one in the front pocket. Just as easily, Shark slipped his hand in the pocket and pulled out a gleaming dagger-like knife . . . and walked away.
Shark simply walked away, no emotion showing. Blowfish ran. Blowfish were different from sharks. They have feelings like nervousness or fear. Sharks do not—even when they are only ten years old.
“Shark,” Hector said. The sound of the name seemed so appropriate for Antonio. “We’re set up for the latest shipment. It’s coming in a few days.”
Black market diamonds were Shark’s favorite business. It seemed so clean, unlike his drug business. He loved to put the diamonds in his hands and let them fall between his fingers. They were so beautiful, so precious and so profitable. Shark didn’t care that he was responsible for helping sponsor war in countries like the Republic of Congo, Liberia, or the Ivory Coast. He knew diamonds persisted as a major black market commodity at the cost of thousands of lives in part because conflict diamonds can be easily smuggled across African borders with forged certificates.
He’d made many trips to places like Liberia and Angola to trade weapons for diamonds. Trading weapons for diamonds was like trading water for gold. Shark had a near endless supply of guns. Whatever the warlords wanted, Shark had. The warlords respected Shark. He was a good customer. His weapons were top-notch.
The upcoming shipment was especially close to Shark’s heart. It was to be his largest load of diamonds yet, worth millions. This would make Shark one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in America. This shipment alone would supply the rebels in Liberia with months of resources to fight their rebellion. It was the largest load of diamonds that Shark had imported, and it would come into the country right under the government’s nose.