Manolito behaved as if it were perfectly natural to invite someone along to a transaction where gunfire might break out. But I wasn't comfortable with weapons and was appalled he expected me to be the one doing the shooting. My knees turned to Jello when I realized the restaurant was full of unsuspecting families having dinner and that his casual deal could have resulted in a bunch of people wounded or killed. I didn't want Manolito to think I was some wimp, though, and he thanked me for watching his back. After our meal at his home, he threw his arm around my shoulder and gave me a big bouche of blow for my trouble.
Not long after that, Celia invited us to a first-communion celebration for one of Manolito's nephews. Maritza and I were dazed by the garish opulence. It was a steak-and-lobster deal at the Sonesta Beach Resort, with bottles of Dom Perignon and Chivas Regal on every table.
We had to enter through a gazebo covered in flowers, and all the women were met by the lad-of-honor's mother, who pinned orchids on lapels. The men received gift-wrapped silver Zippos engraved with the six-year-old's initials and the date of his communion.
A gaudy carousel circled inside the banquet hall while professionally coifed and made-up children dressed in tuxes and gowns rode on it, screeching giddily. A private suite for the men was stocked with a full bar, a porcelain soup tureen full of cocaine, and a gaggle of escorts hired to keep everyone entertained. Rooms had been reserved for most of the kids and their families. I heard that the bill ran into the tens of thousands, and I remember thinking Manolito's boat had definitely come in.
Around town the lure of easy cash was leading friends to dabble in the drug trade's quick-strike opportunities. Guys I knew who were perennially broke and literally stealing food from the backs of parked Holsum bread trucks weeks earlier would drop by my job in brand-new BMWs, waving their Rolexes in the air. Some had been driving coke shipments to New York or Chicago for their employers, others had been unloading boats by moonlight. It was remarkable how they shrugged off the risks and bragged only of the money.
While visiting my father in California, the winter before I began working at the Mutiny, I'd been in a car accident and sustained a back injury. When the insurance settlement came through, Maritza and I decided to get married and throw a fancy party to celebrate with our friends and show off our sudden wealth. The money from the accident didn't compare to some of the scores our friends were making as part-time dopers, but we stupidly pulled out the stops to make an impression.
My shoes alone, a pair of custom-fit, burgundy-toned Martegani's I bought at Eppy & Eppy's on Miracle Mile, set me back 300 bucks. We rented the Presidential Suite at the Four Ambassadors and were informed by the concierge that Richard Nixon had signed some laws on the same desk where we were going to fill out our marriage papers. "Damn, that's really outta sight," remarked Pupi, our lesbian notary.
Everyone got so ripped that when we woke up the next morning, we found about twenty friends passed out on couches and in the suite's other rooms. Once everybody was awake, we were starving and decided to scrape up the leftover booze and headgear and caravan it over to the McDonald's on SW 32nd Avenue and Coral Way for a postnuptial brunch. While waiting for their Egg McMuffins, friends snatched up the small plastic coffee spoons from the counter because they made such sweet snort scoops.
We had done it up big and still had enough drugs to cap the bash at home with the hard-core stragglers we knew wouldn't disappear until the coke had dried up. When I went to the photographer to pick up the wedding pictures, he confessed he'd been so lit he shot eight rolls of film without taking off the camera's lens cap. Ay, Dios mio, I thought. The only cash left was the $150 deposit the photographer returned. As far as wedding swag, it amounted to one crystal ashtray a cousin gave us. All of our friends had shown up with dope, and we mowed through it instead of saving a stash. Over the weekend, we'd blown $5000. We never had a honeymoon.
Soured on the crazy scene, I left the Mutiny after nine months and ended up driving an ambulance for Randle Eastern. The company had been on a hiring binge, advertising "career opportunities in the emergency healthcare field" and accepting applications from people with no experience. I remember thinking it would provide a wonderful chance to learn a vocation and maybe go on to become a firefighter or a paramedic.