The heart of the matter
“I’m telling you. His heart – boom! Popped right out of his chest.”
“You’re kidding me right?”
“I never joke about death. Or sex,” said Shana Gomez. “Anyway, this ain’t no joke. I swear it was his heart – red, fleshy, pulsating – on his sodding lap.”
“On his lap…” Jesse Daly’s words tailed off. “Jesus, Shana. Is it always like that out there?”
“Not by a long chalk, kiddo. The stupid thing is, it was an easy encounter. We had three SUVs – the ram car and a pair of Viscerators. The bad guys had three too. But dregs, you know. Shoulda been a cakewalk.”
“A cakewalk? We lost our leader!” Jesse’s voice was shrill, and a few of Dexter’s other patrons glanced in their direction.
Shana took a long draught of beer.
“Sure, but we shouldn’t ‘ave. No way. We’d knocked out two of them and Jimmy was trying for a bead on the last Flame. The bastard was jinking everywhere so Enrique radioed if we needed help. Jimmy told him to back off. I guess being new and all, he thought he had to impress us.”
“Maybe he was just trying to impress you.” Jesse’s grin was halfway to a leer.
“Whatever. I’d just about lined him up when Enrique vectored in. He must’ve been doing 50. He spun the wheel to sear the Flame and just clipped our wing. ” She shook her head. “Goddamn it, Jimmy was unlucky. A gentle nudge like that and next thing you know, his freaking heart explodes.”
Jesse lowered his voice. “They say that this was no accident. They say that Enrique was pissed that the Vanguards called Jimmy up from Badlands after Earl died. They say…”
“What, exactly, do they say?” Jesse froze. Behind him, limned in the red light of the setting sun, Enrique Oquendo stood, massive hairy forearms folded across his muscled chest.
“Jees, Enrique, You could give a guy a heart attack, sneaking up on ‘im like that.”
“I’ll ask again. What, exactly, do they say?”
“N-nothing, Enrique.” said Jesse. “No-one says nothing,”
“Then what were you lot talking about?” Enrique glared around the dim bar. “And don’t tell me you weren’t all listening.”
“I’ll tell you want people are saying, Enrique,” said Shana. She looked straight at Enrique with clear, green eyes. “They’re saying the collision was no accident. They’re saying that Jimmy wasn’t unlucky. They’re saying that you killed Jimmy to take his job.”
“Are they now?”
“They are.” Shana held Enrique’s gaze for long seconds. She heard the steady thud of her own heartbeat, the loudest noise in the entire bar.
Enrique broke first. He leaned forward and planted two fists on the table.
“Well, you can tell anyone who cares to listen this: Jimmy weren’t no leader. He could shoot straight. Nothing more. He never knew how to prepare an ambush, or avoid one. How to fix up a car to get us home after a fight. How to drive and how to lead. Jimmy was a one-trick pony, and he’d’ve gotten us all killed.”
He straightened. “Jimmy was no more leader than you’re Lady goddamn Godiva. But let me ask you this, Shana Gomez. Even I had’a done it on purpose, and I ain’t saying I did, would you not, deep down in that pretty little breast of your, be glad that the Vanguards are being led by someone who fought for the job? And won.”
Enrique spun on his heel and strode through the double doors of Dexter’s, leaving Shana behind in silence, and not a little confused.