The Angel in the Breakdown Lane – From Chapter One

Posted on 12.01.07 9:11PM under Read an Excerpt

With the car back under control now, Benjy was enjoying his last puffs on the cigar when his head snapped left at an angry buzz out the window, like a flight of giant bumblebees. He put the perfecto in the ashtray. Four Japanese compacts with noisemaker mufflers and baldhead punks at the wheel swarmed around and past him. They were rolling buzzbombs, slammed so low they threw up sparks from scraping on the pavement. Like those gangsta movie computer games, Benjy thought. Or was it gangsta computer game movies? No matter, he decided. This is what happens when life imitates art after watching cartoons.

Up ahead, the buzzbombs swarmed a brown Buick with a “Retired and Loving It” bumper sticker. The noise sent the Buick’s driver into a wartime flashback of diving into a slit trench as Mitsubishi Zeroes strafed his position. He stomped on the brakes to let the attackers go by, sending Benjy swerving into the breakdown lane to avoid smashing into him. Benjy looked up, and he started hallucinating, too. An angel was standing there. Straight ahead. A long-legged beauty in dark glasses, her shimmering hair and designer silk dress lifted by a steamy breeze stirred up by passing cars.

I can’t be dead already, can I? wondered Benjy. Going on instinct, mashing and feathering the brakes at the same time to keep from locking them up, he saw the angel looking at a broken Jaguar with one wheel down at a crazy angle. Now she was waving one hand, with the other held up to her ear. Wait a second, he thought. Angels don’t wear shades or talk on the phone, do they? Now she was turning to face him, arms outstretched, beckoning. Or not. Slowing fast but running out of room, Benjy could see the angel’s lips moving and her hands held up in front of her. She was shouting “Stop!” Benjy cranked the wheel to the left, yelling, “I’m trying!” as the Mustang almost swapped ends and shuddered to a stop, sideways, in a dirty cloud of tire smoke.

Benjy gathered himself, took a deep breath, stretched and prepared to jump out and help the stranded angel. But the near-collision and stomping on the brakes to avoid it had turned his legs to rubber. They buckled when he stood up and he fairly fell over the driver side door. He held on to it. The angel was screaming at him.

“Are you crazy?” she shrieked. “You almost killed me, you maniac!”

Benjy couldn’t speak. He burbled something unintelligible, let go of the door to point at the highway and his legs buckled again, sending him down in a heap for the second time this morning. When he came to, he sensed the angel standing over him, her beautiful face inches away, her fresh scent washing over him, her summer silk dress rustling with a fragrance of jasmine and baby powder on soft skin. So I am dead, and this is heaven, he thought.

“Wake up, dimwit,” the angel said. Seeing Benjy stir, Delia Torres stretched to her full height, arms folded, sunglasses dangling from her hand. She was runway-model tall, with sculpted legs pulled tight in high heels and curves a man could get lost in. Most wanted to.

Delia shook out her auburn hair, narrowed her hazel eyes a little and pursed her lips into a skeptical pout. She patted her side pocket where she kept the pepper spray, then reached out a stylishly shod toe and prodded Benjy with it.

“Hey, take it easy,” he said. “I just had a near-death experience.”

“Not as near as the one I had,” Delia said.

“But you’re alright, aren’t you?” asked Benjy, vision clearing, seeing the answer was yes, indeed, much more than alright.

“No thanks to you. Don’t any of you down here know how to drive?”

“Well, yes. Some of us. Didn’t you see? I was avoiding the guy in the Buick.”

“Can’t prove it by me,” she huffed.

“Anyway, my name’s Benjy Bluestone, and I’m really sorry,” he said, reaching up a hand and smiling a boyish smile that usually worked wonders with women he’d just met. “Do you need any help?”

“No, thanks,” Delia said. She’d never been hit on by a man lying in the street before. But this one didn’t look dangerous, and his name did sound familiar. He was kind of cute, actually. And, she was standing alone on the highway waiting for a tow truck. “Are you with Bluestone, Pinter and Katz?” she asked, reminding herself not to judge a book by its cover, even here in Miami, where there often is no book, just a cover.

“You’ve got me confused with somebody else,” said Benjy, still reaching up and smiling his winningest smile.

“My mistake,” Delia said, moved by his smile to help him up anyway. He was shorter than her, but well-built, with dark hair and dark eyes that had a roguish sparkle to them. She could see he’d started the day well dressed. But now his shirt was hanging out, streaked and spotted with bits of gravel and tar that also adorned his tie. He looked like a wrestler who’d just lost a match with the pavement.

“Thanks,” Benjy said as he pulled himself upright, still smiling and looking at Delia. He went a little glassy-eyed as he held on to her hand for a few extra, awkward seconds. One pants leg, hiked up to the knee, fell down as he let go.

Delia dropped her freed hand to her side, feeling for the pepper spray. In this town, something bad could always happen.

“Hey, I’m colorful, not dangerous,” Benjy said, putting up his hands and laughing.

Delia wasn’t totally sold. She gave him her first smile since they’d met, a slightly fake one. “So who are you?” she asked. “Bluestone’s an unusual name, and this isn’t that big a place.”

“Well, I am a lawyer,” Benjy said, his smile turning impish as he brushed himself off. “I’m not with B, P and K, but I will admit I’m related to the guy who started it. My father. He’s retired now.” That should cover it, Benjy figured. Whatever B, P & K was up to these days, it wasn’t the Bluestones’ fault.

“You must be very proud of him,” said Delia, her features softening a little. Most lawyers she knew were as safe as they were boring. “I’m Delia Torres,” she said.

“Encantada,” said Benjy, holding out his hand again.

Delia accepted it and gave him a firm, brief, businesslike handshake. She concluded she’d just met another loopy son of a famous father. Miami was full of them. Most were harmless eccentrics who led lives of quiet dissipation. He could wait with her.

“You know, B, P and K has quite a reputation,” Delia said, staying safe and boring as she folded her arms again and looked out to the highway. “I’m working with my uncle on a project they’re involved in.”

“Who’s your uncle?” asked Benjy.

“Oscar Torres,” she said airily, leaning back on her left hip and sticking out her right toe, tapping it to some private music. “He’s the Mayor of Bayview. Do you know him?”

“A little bit,” said Benjy, admitting less than he knew. “So why haven’t we met before?”

“I just moved here, for one thing,” Delia said, implying others.

“Lucky me,” said an unfazed Benjy.

“Not just a smooth driver,” Delia deadpanned, “but a smooth talker as well.”

Benjy rewound and started over. “Are you sure you don’t need any help?” he asked.

“I called the dealer before you exploded on the scene, and they said they were sending a tow truck.” Delia was checking her watch and starting to sound impatient. “But it’s been almost an hour and I’m late.” She glanced from the watch up the back of a graceful hand, inspecting a nail she’d broken grappling with the jack in the Jag’s trunk.

“Don’t worry,” Benjy said. “Nothing starts on time here, not even a burial.” He assumed Delia was on her way to the Cruz funeral. If she was working with her uncle, he’d want her mingling with the county’s power elite. And they’d all be there. “Come on, you can go with me,” he said.

“What burial? Go where with you?” Delia asked warily, wondering if he was a psycho after all.

“The funeral? Eusebio Cruz?”

“Oh, that’s right,” Delia said with relief. Benjy mistook it for enthusiasm. “No thanks, I’m not going to the funeral,” she said. “I’ve got prior commitments.”

That’s odd, Benjy thought. On the other hand, one good look at Delia and old Eusebio would have understood if he didn’t make it either. “Can I drive you somewhere else, then?” he asked.

“In that thing?” Delia was looking at the Mustang like it was a garbage truck.

“Hey now. This is a classic.”

“What happened to the top?” Delia asked, pointing at the twisted spikes of metal sticking up from behind the back seat where the hinges used to be.

“It’s a long story.”

“Give me the short version.”

“A wrecking ball ripped it off a little while ago.”

Delia stared at him for a second. “Taxi,” she called out, raising her right hand and looking away.

“You should’ve seen the car behind me,” Benjy said.

Delia scanned the highway, still hopeful there might be a tow truck about to pull up. There wasn’t. “Well, I do have to pick up a loaner,” she said. “I’ve got to meet a client.”

“What do you do?” asked Benjy.

“I’m in real estate, commercial real estate. I’m working on a development deal.”

“Isn’t everybody?”


© Alan H. Rolnick
All Rights Reserved


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