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Friday, March 26, 2010 - Page updated at 10:07 AM


Mystery! Mayhem! At the Market!A serial novella by Robert Ferrigno

Emilio Rodriguez felt a pain in his chest, a ... tearing, and knew he was dying. His third ... what did the doctors call it? Episode. His third episode this month, and this one the worst of all. Nothing to be done, they told him. He crossed himself and the pain tore through him again.

"Padrone?" said his sister's oldest grandson, Emilio, one of his many namesakes, each one a weakling or an idiot, each one designed to curry favor with him. All the Emilios and none to call his own. "Padrone, are you all right?"

Emilio waved the teenager back, started walking. If he were to turn quickly he would see the little thief rooting in the cash drawer, but Emilio just kept going. He had no time for such nonsense now. He just wanted to sit in the sun and watch the sea one more time before he died. Sit there and listen to the Stevie the guitarman play "Suspicious Minds." He loved that song. Loved the original version sung by Elvis. Loved even more the version sung by Enrique Guzman, which emphasized the smoldering rage of the suspicious lover and the promise of retribution. Stevie was no Enrique Guzman but he was good enough.

It was hard to breathe, but Emilio kept walking. He slipped through the crowd, lost in the noise and good smells of the Market ... his home for so many years. Over 25 years. So many changes. Fresh mangoes and mamey sapote year round and a grocery specializing in Mexican spices and cheeses. It was 1975 now. New shops. New people ... some from countries he had never heard of, all come here to make a new start. He remembered Mike, who made and sold beautifully tooled bags and belts, with silver buckles that reminded him of his native Mexico. He staggered on, fingering the lucky silver dollar that had changed his life. Without that dollar, Emilio would have moved back to Mazatlan 25 years ago ... would have died young. Americans were lazy, and didn't know how to laugh, but they had very good doctors. His heart condition had been there at birth, a fatal condition, that's what everyone said, but the American doctors had kept him alive.

"Hey, Emilio," said Stevie, in his spot on Western Avenue where he played for tips, a friendly fellow with too many layers of clothes and a beer in a paper bag always beside him.

"Que pasa, Stevie?"

"Only action I've had all morning is a couple hippies had me play practically the whole Donovan catalogue and all they gave me was this." Stevie held up an assemblage of feathers and Popsicle sticks, jiggled it. "It's called a dream catcher."

Emilio smiled. "You catch anything yet?"

"Yeah, man, a whiff of stupidity."

Emilio laughed.

"So, what do you want to hear?" said Stevie.

Emilio faced the sound, the wind stirring his hair. "The usual, amigo."

"You got to broaden your musical horizons, man."

"Maybe tomorrow," said Emilio.

Stevie's fingers strummed the hollow body, played the opening chords of "Suspicious Minds."

Emilio watched the ferry inch toward the terminal, its wake glowing in the sun. A good life. Longer than anyone could have expected, given his busted heart. Yes, Lady Liberty with her two faces had brought him good luck. The very same day the silver dollar rolled against his shoe, Mr. Nishimura who owned the flower stall had given it to Emilio. Given him the whole business. Mr. Nishimura said he and his wife were too old, said they had discussed it since they first met him. It made no sense. Emilio had only been working for them a few weeks, but Mr. Nishimura insisted, said they had no children and his wife was certain Emilio was a fine and honorable young man.

Determined to be worthy of their faith in him, Emilio worked hard; he was the first to arrive in the morning, the last to leave at night. Business doubled and doubled again as his customers told their friends who told their friends. He could have been a rich man, but he had no lust for riches. He could have been a happy man, but for all his good fortune, he had no luck in love. None at all. There were limits evidently to what Lady Liberty could do. Emilio contented himself with sending money back to his relatives in Mexico, financing the education of his relatives, paying for the Quinceañeras of every one of his many nieces. Their photographs decorated his flower stall, faces more beautiful than roses.

The last chord of "Suspicious Minds" echoed. Stevie had a good voice, strong and clear. Emilio winced as another pain shot through his chest.

"Emilio? You OK?"

"Play it again, por favor."

Stevie hesitated, then launched into the song again, eyes half closed as he sang, pleading with a woman to trust him, assuring her that his love was true, desperation and the promise of some imagined bliss.

The ferry was almost out of sight ... almost home. Seagulls screeched overhead, dived at the fast-food wrappers. Emilio watched a bird flap away with a French fry in his beak. Bad for your heart, birdie. Emilio laughed, ground his teeth as the pain shot down one arm.

Stevie finished the song with the flourish that he knew Emilio liked. He leaned closer. "You don't look so good, man."

"Oh no, you're wrong, amigo. I've never been better."

Emilio rubbed the ridged edges of the silver dollar. From the moment of his birth he had been plagued by ill fortune. The heart defect was the least of it. He remembered crossing the border hidden in the trunk of a battered Chevy Impala, terrified, crammed into the sweltering darkness with four other men. It had been Emilio alone who had been bitten on the hand by a scorpion at the very moment the car stopped at the checkpoint. Emilio had kept his mouth clamped shut, for fear he would be heard as his hand burned like battery acid. Bad luck had walked beside him, until the silver dollar rolled up to him that rainy day in the Market and changed everything. Now, even the dollar's luck had finally failed him. No importa. He had no regrets.

Emilio tossed the silver dollar into Stevie's open guitar case.

Stevie looked down at it, then back at Emilio. "That's your lucky dollar, man."

It hurt to smile but Emilio smiled anyway. "Now it's yours, amigo."

* * *

Not more than an hour after the ambulance had taken Emilio away, Davis McIntyre himself had stood there listening to Stevie sing. Davis McIntyre, lead guitarist for Throbbing Rockets, who currently had the No. 5 single in the country. After Stevie was done and the two ladies from Magnolia applauded, McIntyre asked Stevie if he wanted to open for the band on their West Coast tour. All Stevie could do was nod.

Now Stevie stood on the bluff alone, looking out at the ferryboat heading back to Bainbridge, just the way Emilio had done before he collapsed. The silver dollar felt hot in his hand. Was this his lucky day or what?

* * *

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