Willie the Weasel, was rumored to be smuggling exotic animals he later sold to eager folks for a fortune as pets. His real name was Ben Dover, but nobody ever dared call him that anymore. Not since high school. He had fought several fellow students over the Bend over joke. Ben rebranded himself, Willie Dover. It worked for a while until one of his high school friends said he sniffed everyone like Willie The Weasel. So, Willie the Weasel it was.
Amongst these pets Willie the Weasel smuggled were poisonous snakes, including cobras and the Gaboon Viper, the snake with the largest fangs in the world. It is said Willie the Weasel’s best supplier, was a preacher man by the name of Rob Kadivar. The preacher man was said to spend a good part of his earthly life traveling the globe spreading the good word and smuggling the best and most exotic pets the world could offer.
Preacher man Rob Kadivar, always quick with a smile and an eye for the good things, hid his precious merchandise in the spine of his bible. Lord, have mercy. He had this Gideon Bible, which was leather-bound with an extended thick spine where the little merchandise was tucked in, to sleep throughout the journey from its natural dwellings, until it woke up and found itself in Willie’s pet shop. It is said the merchandise was put into sleep mode, either by being injected or tricked into hibernation. Rob Kadivar had an array of secure hiding places, including the heel soles of his cowboy boots and his belt. He was Willie’s supplier of Gaboon vipers.
The Gaboon Viper, a thick, stubby snake with beautiful diamond patterns running the length of his slithering body was popular with collectors. The Gaboon viper measures an average length of six feet when fully grown. Its favorite meal includes rats and cats. The Gaboon Viper harbors the most potent venom in the world, capable of killing thirty men in one go. And the largest fangs in the world, measuring three inches long, gives it an advantage over other poisonous snakes.
Willie the Weasel had sold several Gaboon vipers to private collectors who preferred to do under the counter deals and remain invisible to the authorities’ radar.
Willie the Weasel was thin, bony to be exact, with just enough flesh to keep his pasty skin from touching bone. His eyes were shifty as if they were always searching for something. Willie had an irritating habit of sniffing customers who happened to walk into his basement pet shop, THE PET SHOP & PET HOME.
At the entrance, somebody had sprayed the word IT over the letters OP and the word HOLE over the word HOME so it now screamed: THE PET SHIT & PET HOLE.
And walking into the pet shop you were left with the feeling of being sucked into a hole, a black hole, until the electric lighting inside awoke you to stare at the array of cages housing exotic pets in all shapes and shades. The air inside was stuffy, full of all the stale odors left behind by all the pets that had once adorned the pet hole’s numerous cages. And it hit your nose sharply, despite the ceiling fan’s relentless effort to stir the air and dilute the continuous mix of the assorted smells of pet feces and urine.
Or as Tim later said, it was as though I was walking into a burrow, with all the many exotic pets arranged in cages stacked on top of each other to form a wall on either side of the passage that led you twenty feet deep into Willie’s dungeon. Unexpectedly, you’d find yourself at a dead end and in front of you stood Willie the Weasel, sniffing the clammy air tirelessly as he grinned as though he had something good on his mind. Willie didn’t like Tim. Well, Tim concluded this after Willie sniffed him, frowned and said, “What do you want?”
“A pet,” Tim said quickly, trying hard to look serious like he had enough money in his pocket to buy the most expensive pet in the shop. But Willie the Weasel wasn’t buying it. He suspiciously sniffed Tim, again, his flesh-starved face showing disdain as a snarl scratched his face, his eyes probing Tim for hidden clues. “What pet? And kid - Don’t touch anything. Show me which pet you want and I will tell you the price. Okay?”
“Am I allowed to look around?”
“As long as you don’t go and upset the pets. Look, but don’t touch!”
Tim’s eyes widened. He was about to walk out when a girl in her late teens walked in and passed Tim. She was so close he could smell her familiar perfume and feel her slim body brush by. Things he would rather not experience began to happen in that brief encounter with the girl along the passage of the hole.
The girl blew him a bubble gum kiss and followed it with pursed lips like she was a tease. Tim felt the blood rush through him like he wanted to faint. The girl wore nothing save for a skin tight pair of ripped jeans and a T-shirt that showed her small breasts pressed tightly to peer at Tim’s underage eyes. She released a laugh, embarrassing Tim for having been caught looking.
Tim fought his anger, directing his eyes to look at a rare albino Goliath bullfrog in a cage close to the counter. I could shove it down her throat and it would do her good to choke on it. The girl leaned over and planted a real kiss on Willie the Weasel’s lips. Tim felt a stab of jealousy and envy fry his brain as he couldn’t believe the weasel could pull a tight chick with all his sniffing pestering. What the hell did she see in Willie the Weasel?
Willie the Weasel whispered something to her and left in a rush, bumping past Tim like he wasn’t even there, almost knocking him down. Stupid jerk!
“What are you looking for?” the girl said to Tim and blew him another bubble-gum kiss, her eyes pained to remain open. She must be high on some drug. Tim frowned. He didn’t answer her. He wished she would just disappear. She was, after all, too old for him. Besides, uncle Robby had once told him girls who were too pushy were most likely infected with the disease. Anyway, he didn’t have time for girls. They were the least of his problems.
“You’ll be looking for a pet or what?”
“Oh, yeah,” Tim said much too quickly and raised his chin, turning away from her. He tucked his hands into his pockets and stole glances at the doorway, hoping the weasel would hurry back. She could do things to him and give him the disease. Tim grinned and said, “Do you have any fleas?”
“What?” she frowned and he could see her eyes open wide. She ran a hand through her hair and scratched her hair. Tim’s grin widened.
“Fleas, they usually hang out on pets. Some guys collect them as a hobby.”
“You kidding me? Fleas! Yuck, who would keep such horrible, little, itchy things? “
Tim’s smile broadened. He licked his upper lip and said, “I do keep fleas. I have the type that caused the Black Death. Do you know this little flea was responsible for over 20 million deaths across Europe in the fourteenth century alone? It wiped out half of the people in the city of London in the seventeenth century and over 12 million people in China in the nineteenth century. An awesome little killer, if you ask me!”
She had stopped chewing her gum. Her mouth fell open and her eyes widened. She took a step back and looked at him with a screwed up face. “You’re serious?”
“I do collect fleas. Look, I have a bottle with the black fleas if you would like to see.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the tiny dark brown bottle. “Here, take a look. Careful not to open…” and he stretched out a hand to her, offering her the flea-bottle.
The girl shrieked and jumped a step back behind the counter. “No! Stay away from me!” She was shaking, her mouth had added an ugly twist like she had chewed bitter gum. Wrinkles had collected between her brows. She threw a protective arm across her body, covering her breasts and tightly clenched her other arm in a self-embrace.
They heard the front door burst open.
In came Willie the Weasel running like his life depended on it. He rushed past Tim, pushing him out of the way, almost knocking him to the ground, again. Without stopping, he jumped over the counter and disappeared behind.
Why is he hiding? Tim puzzled as he steadily regained composure and tucked his little bottle back into his pocket. He was about to complain when he saw a police officer come running into the hole, his gun raised ready to fire.
The officer looked at Tim, then frowned as he looked beyond him towards the girl behind the counter. She blew him a bubble-gum kiss and said, “Hello, officer, how may I help you?”
The police officer walked towards where Tim was standing, then stopped about three yards before. He took a step forward and stopped. The police officer looked confused. He moved to put his gun back in its holster, but something made him hesitate.
“Miss, did you see a guy run into this shop? A thin guy, mid-twenties, about five eight, dark hair, shoulder length, with an untidy beard, dressed in jeans and jacket?”
“No, I don’t believe I did, officer,” the girl said, chewing the gum slowly like she was thinking in case she remembered ever seeing such a guy.
“Are you sure, Miss?” The officer had stopped halfway from the doorway. He was now studying the exotic creatures caged all around him, in case he could be lucky and spot his guy hiding in one of the cages.
Tim looked up at the officer and said, as if it was the most casual thing to say, “Officer, I have been in here for the past thirty minutes and I haven’t seen your guy.”
“Maybe, try the next shop, officer,” Tim heard the girl say. This time she spoke with added confidence like she was a good law-abiding citizen willing to help the police.
“Okay, thanks,” the officer said. He turned around and left.
“Phew, that was close.” the girl said after a minute.
“Hey kid, thanks,” Willie the Weasel said from behind the counter. He remained hidden, and Tim felt like laughing.
“What pet are you looking for?” Willie asked, still remaining hidden behind the counter.
“I will let you have it for free, just this once, as long as you want an ordinary pet. Nothing fancy.”
Tim smiled. Now, The Weasel was trying to be nice? He must be in real big trouble with the law. “Can we talk,” Tim said, relishing the moment, wanting it to last. Willie shot up from behind the counter and gestured Tim to come closer to the counter. Willie the Weasel sniffed him like he had something to hide and said, “Ok, let’s talk…”
Miguel Adriano ate his meal slowly. He sat alone at the far end of the airport canteen. The place was now empty since the lunch hour rush had long left.
Miguel was careful not to mess up his white shirt, for he didn’t want another fight with Margarita. Of late, she was spoiling for a fight at the slightest provocation. Staining his shirt with ketchup or French fries was one sure way of provoking her. Margarita was twenty years old and his fiancé. She was fully pregnant. In between fights, he would watch her every day like a fascinated child as she swelled with his seed. She was now seven months pregnant. Her belly looked like it would pop any minute. This alone, frightened Miguel so much he couldn’t and didn’t want to upset her, least she went into labor and popped up right there. For starters, he wouldn’t know what to do or where to begin.
They lived in a one-bedroomed apartment with neighbors who kept to themselves. The last friendly neighbor, an old lady who lived two doors away, was found strangled to death in her rocking chair.
Miguel and Margarita, both worked hard. She was a waitress at a nearby breakfast diner. He was a customs officer at the airport’s arrival section. The swelling belly had put a pause to Margarita’s waitress job. All the more reason for her to be irritable. Loitering at home alone was not her idea of spending a day, Miguel concluded, coolly. He wished he could do more to help make her comfortable. But his job was demanding. His duty was to stop people from smuggling in undesirable goods into the country. Miguel loved his job almost as much as he loved Margarita. Theirs was a simple routine whereby Miguel would drop off his wife at work and rush through the building traffic to the airport. Now, everything had changed.
Margarita would wake up to vomit every morning. Next, she would stare at herself in the mirror, and check her swelling belly, careful to pick any changes in her body. For someone who never dreamt of having a baby before she was twenty-one, Miguel’s insistence had worn her down. He wanted a baby. Her dreams of hitting the catwalk had long vanished. The mirror routine gave Margarita the itch for a fight. After bathing, she would be back, to parade herself in front of the mirror. She noted every change in her body, from head to toe. She had demanded he buys her the full-length mirror as a birthday present when they started living together.
By the time she was done with the mirror routine, Margarita would be fully charged, annoyed and spoiling for a fight. She would pick a fight with Miguel for spoiling her body with his seed. She had wanted to wait. Miguel Adriano always tried to soothe her with promises of good things to come, as soon as she has the baby. He had even promised he would take her on a surprise vacation and she scoffed at the idea, saying if they couldn’t afford it now how would they afford it then, with the baby and all?
What he didn’t tell her was that he was earning extra dollars helping Willie the Weasel smuggle exotic pets into the country. It earned him a good four thousand dollars every month. This money he was depositing for them to buy a place of their own. He kept his little secret from Margarita in the same way he kept his other little bad habits away from her. Habits like his love for visiting strip joints after work, like the Naked Bar, his favorite, on Biscayne Blvd. Here, he always ended up hooking up with one of the regular girls and they would hike the Appalachian Trail.
The day Miguel never came home for the first time in their living together as a couple was the day the Federal Anti-Smuggling Special Unit raided their home.
They searched the place as Margarita sat sobbing and absorbing the full meaning of discovering another Miguel. Miguel was last seen leaving work an hour earlier to meet someone in the red-light area near downtown on US1.
His lone friend and work mate, Gauge Edges, a giant of a man with a boy’s heart explained between sobs. Miguel had simply told him he was going to the red light district to meet someone who had promised to give him some money for some deal he would explain to Gauge later. Gauge Edges first learned from the feds about Miguel’s double life and smuggling deals. He felt deeply hurt and betrayed.