‘Mama, look at me! I’m flying!’ Teresa bounced up and down on the large mattress.
Evelyn chuckled. ‘OK, that’s enough. Time to come in for a landing.’ Teresa slid off the mattress. ‘Are we going to get this one?’ she asked.
‘I like it. What do you think?’ Evelyn turned to Ray. Ricardo stood off to the side just a little. He always knew when to let the customers talk among themselves. Ray sat down on the mattress. ‘It is comfortable,’ he nodded. ‘And it’s a good brand.’
‘It’s got a great warranty, too,’ Ricardo made his first move. ‘It’s one of our best sellers.’
‘Do you deliver?’ Evelyn wanted to know.
‘We sure do. And we take away your old mattress at no extra charge.’
‘Please can we get it, Papi?’ Teresa begged. ‘It’s bouncy!’ Ray and Evelyn looked at each other. Evelyn nodded, and Ray turned to Ricardo. ‘I think you just made a sale,’ he grinned. He and Ricardo shook hands.
After the paperwork was done, Ricardo ushered the family out of the store with a reassurance that their mattress would be delivered the next day.
Ten minutes later, Ricardo heard the jingle of the bell that announced another customer. He was on his way back to check in a load of tables that had just arrived, so he asked his assistant, Manny, to deal with the newcomer.
Manny headed for the front of the store. It was a man he’d seen before – last week, actually. The guy had looked at a couple of desks, but he hadn’t bought anything. Maybe he would today.
‘Hello,’ Manny gave his best host’s smile. ‘How can I help you? Is there something in particular you’re looking for?’
‘You own this place?’
‘No, I’m the assistant. Can I help you?’
“You’ll do. I want to discuss some business with you.’
Manny was sure now that the guy didn’t want to buy furniture. ‘Business?’ he asked.
‘Do you have an office? We can talk there.’ Manny nodded and led his visitor to the small office at the back of the store. They sat down and he looked expectantly at the other man.
‘My name’s Carl. And your place,’ he explained, ‘is exactly what I need.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I need a place that can accept some deliveries for me. I’m not always around, so I need a safe spot to keep my orders till I pick them up.’
It only took Manny a moment to understand what Carl was talking about. ‘I don’t think so,’ he shook his head.
‘Oh, don’t worry, I’ll make it worth your while. And your boss will never have to know.’
‘That’s not it,’ Manny responded. ‘I’m just not interested.’
After a minute’s pause, Carl changed his approach. ‘Look, I need a place for my deliveries. I think we should work something out.’
‘Or maybe Immigration might get a little interested in your status.’
Manny swallowed hard, and his face paled a bit. ‘Give me some time to think about it,’ he finally said.
‘I’ll be back tomorrow.’ Then Carl got up and left. Manny sat there for a while, trying to figure out his options. There weren’t many.
Later that afternoon, Ricardo commented, ‘What’s with you, Manny? You’ve been on another planet all day.’
‘Sorry. I’ve got stuff on my mind is all.’
‘Yeah, yeah, fine.’ Thank God, the bell on the door jingled, and Manny went to wait on the new customers.
Ricardo stopped him with a gesture. ‘They can wait a minute. What’s going on?’ Manny shook his head, but Ricardo didn’t give up. ‘Come on, Manny, it’s me. You know I’ve got you.’
‘Yeah, you do,’ Manny smiled a little. Something in him gave way, and he told Ricardo what had happened. ‘I don’t know what choice I have,’ he finished.
Ricardo’s eyes narrowed as he thought about what Carl was doing. ‘We’ll think of something,’ he promised. ‘For right now, try not to worry too much. We’ll see what he says tomorrow.’
Just as he’d promised, Carl showed up the next morning. He’d chosen his time well; there were no other customers in the store.
‘There’s the guy I’m looking for,’ Carl grinned as Manny came out of the back room. Manny didn’t smile back. He pointed towards the store’s rear doors, where the deliveries came in, and said, ‘Let’s talk.’
Carl didn’t waste any time once they got outside. ‘So, are we going to work together?’
Manny still had no idea what to say. ‘Tell me again how it works,’ he said, trying to stall for time.
‘It’s simple. Some people I do business with have deliveries sent to you. You hold them for me. I pick them up. That’s it.’
‘I guess –’
‘I got it all here!’ Ricardo stepped out from behind a large dresser that had just come off a truck. He was holding up his telephone and grinning. ‘Now you’ – he pointed to Carl – ‘get the hell off my property!’
Carl wasn’t easily put off. He strode towards Ricardo, trying to grab the telephone. The two men grappled with each other, and Carl shoved Ricardo against the dresser. Ricardo stumbled and fell. Carl grabbed him by the neck. A minute later, he crumpled to the ground himself, smacking his head on the dresser as he did. Manny dropped the small end table he’d used to hit Carl over the head. He rushed over to Ricardo.
‘Are you OK?’
Ricardo sat up, rubbing his throat. ‘I will be,’ he croaked. Then they both looked at Carl’s motionless body. ‘You think I killed him?’ Manny wondered.
‘I think so,’ Ricardo wanted to be honest. ‘But you saved my life. That counts.’ He slapped Manny gently on the shoulder. ‘We’ll be OK.’
‘What about the – him?’
Ricardo thought for a minute. ‘They picked up an old mattress from a customer today. It’s in a mattress bag, and I think there’s some room left in it.’