From The Streets Of Chambers Lane
Chapter One - Jose Luis
When Jose Luis woke up, the putrid stench of the room filled his nostrils. He had lived in this squalid room at the local Motor Inn and Lodge for the past six months because the weekly rentals were cheap, and the motel manager did not mind if Jose Luis missed a week or two at times. There were not many renters and business was slow. If Jose Luis paid any missed week’s rent in another week or secretly passed the manager a little bit of that doja they were both very fond of, Jose Luis was allowed to stay. Although the motel advertised room cleaning services on a weekly basis, the maids rarely came to clean the rooms or tidy up the motel. Jose Luis did not mind. He was used to the stench. He could no longer discern the commingled smell from the dark aqua green carpet (that hadn’t been replaced in over a decade and which was repeatedly soiled from the dirt and debris endlessly tracked in from outside) with the aroma from the unsanitary water closet. The water closet's rusting and slightly broken porcelain throne betrayed its purported grandeur. The air was dank and unrecycled. The motel room stunk of body odor because all of the windows were tightly nailed shut and never opened, even though that was in violation of municipal ordinances.
Candy wrappers, soda cans, and other sundries were strewn all over the floor or tucked underneath the dark purple and orange floral comforter that covered the lumpy, full-sized mattress that was barely big enough for any traveler taller than an average height. A slight humming from the brown, Absocold compact refrigerator with its fake wood-look grain filled the confines of the diminutive room. A generic faux painting of the Appalachian landscape was askew over the bed at the far-left corner. Multiple dark, placid holes in the stucco betrayed where other picture frames previously hung but were stolen by past patrons. The long, vanilla drapes prevented what little sun that was out from entering the room. The burnt sienna door, which gave Jose Luis a false sense of security, was double-bolted.
As Jose Luis sat up on the edge of the mattress to pull on his faded skinny jeans, he noticed the blinking red light from the hospitality telephone that indicated he had missed a call and a voicemail message awaited. He pondered who had called and why he had not heard the phone ring. But then he remembered that the last night’s festivities not only clouded his mind and memory, but also left a lingering and pervading smell of marijuana on his undergarments. He could barely smell it, but that was because the smell was too familiar to him and faded into his memory. Though he stayed up late that night watching several movies, the call must have come really early in the morning after he was deep in sleep and he was no longer cognizant of his surroundings; the escape he so longed for. He struggled to put on the tight, black shirt that no longer fit him. He still wore the shirt because he had no money to buy newer clothes. He was too proud to visit the local YMCA for free used, donated clothes. He also put on his light blue plaid jacket with the hoodie that he never wore unless it rained. He then pulled the handset to his ear, pushed the necessary buttons to get the message, and listened attentively.
“Hey Junior. It’s me, Daniel. Sorry to call you so early. Something has come up. I really need to talk to you. Call me.”
The voice was recognizable, but Jose Luis rarely heard it these past three years. He and his younger brother stopped speaking because Jose Luis was mad at Daniel for siding with Maria, their older sister. Daniel agreed that Jose Luis should move out of Maria's house and get his own place. How dare he take Maria’s side?!! Didn’t Daniel know how hard Jose Luis was trying to find a second job and how much money he was working as a commissioned sales associate at Sears in their appliance department? Jose Luis occasionally sold mattresses at a higher commission. He was very proud of the extra money that he earned. It didn’t matter that Jose Luis only was slotted to work ten hours a week for the past few months. If he could earn a full week’s pay in commissions as he oftentimes claimed, why should he have to work forty hours like those seemingly foolish employees who were not as good or successful as he was? Jose Luis thought of himself as a hard worker and would let anyone know it if they were willing to listen to him speak about it endlessly. Jose Luis believed that he could sell anyone anything, especially elderly couples who blindly trusted him with his fast and slick purported understanding of their needs. According to Jose Luis, money was pouring in hand over fist even if no one in the family believed him. But that certainly was not a reason why he had to move out and be on his own and pay for everything himself. At least that was what Jose Luis truly believed. He was perfectly content with living with Maria and her husband even though she was not.
Jose Luis Mendoza was a tall, strapping Puerto Rican male in his mid-forties. He towered over the other members of the family at six foot one. No one knew why he was so much taller than the other kids in the family. Some relatives suspected that it was because he had a different father. He also did not have the button nose that his mom, Maria, and Daniel all had. Jose Luis had a hawk nose that appeared to look pointed when viewed from the side. It made him look different from the rest of the family. However, Jose Luis apparently looked identical to his namesake, which is why everyone called him Junior. The thought that he was not related was often dismissed, but occasionally resurfaced sometimes over the years. Because he had given the only family picture of his father to his first girlfriend, Gladys, no one could actually confirm that Jose Luis looked like his father. That did not matter to him.
The handsomeness of his youth had dimly faded, but in Jose Luis's mind, he was as handsome as ever and every woman knew it. But he had gained significant weight over the years. His slick, black hair was styled in a mini ponytail that hung just passed his neck and that was tied with a crusty, red rubber band that he refused to replace. He no longer sported the sparse goatee that he wore in his early thirties. He still had his thin mustache that was really a collection of peach-fuzz hair, which he often contemplated darkening with mascara to give himself an older and wiser look. Even when he was indoors, he would wear dark shades perhaps to conceal his never ceasing bloodshot eyes. He simply claimed that it was to make himself look younger and that no one could really handle the suave, but unsophisticated attitude that he exuded.
In his younger days, Jose Luis had an 80's sweat-locker look with a black leather glove that he wore on his right hand as if he was trying to emulate Michael Jackson. At times his wardrobe reflected the star of his favorite cult-classic movie, Purple Rain. Jose Luis wore the same flowing big hair but without the white, ruffled shirt or Apollonia at his side. He even still wore mascara on his eyelashes and faint eye makeup because one could see the smudges underneath his eyes when he woke up this morning. Jose Luis had poor dental hygiene and rarely brushed his teeth or flossed resulting in dimly yellowed teeth that he thought no one noticed. Smoking pot did not help with the discoloration.
No one believed a word he said because his comments were belied by the persistent pungent yet skunky smell of marijuana that pervaded his body with its indistinguishable crisp and sharp undertone that some mistake as the smell of an elderly person’s home. It was often worsened by his refusal to regularly shower or change his clothes and his increased perspiration. He often layered his clothes even during hot summer days. Jose Luis thought that he could mask the putrid smell by religiously spraying his outerwear with cheap, water-downed cologne and using Listerine breaths strips as if they were candy. But it was of no avail.
When he had finished dressing, Jose Luis pondered whether he should call his younger brother back. Though they were separated by less than a year in age, their personality differences were such that people did not believe that they were brothers or even related. Even Jose Luis felt that estrangement. The recent years of separation made it worse. Because Jose Luis was the cause of that separation, his resolved waned. But just then a slight rapping at the door disturbed his thoughts. He looked towards the door worried that it may have been someone asking him to repay them money. Jose Luis would often borrow from his friends under false pretenses. He would also swindle money from his family with glee. Despair would overcome him once his family and friends learned of his thievery. Jose Luis would then feign outrage to desperately divert from his scoundrous ways.
Who could it be at the door and what did they want? He pondered not opening the door and pretending that the room was empty. Had it been the often unseen maid service, she would have opened the door by now with her own master key. So it was clearly not the maid. That thought made Jose Luis even more anxious and suspicious. Then he heard another rapping and tried to stealthily walk towards the door to see who it was. He dared not open the drapes for fear of being revealed. The door lacked a peephole. Perhaps if he drew near, then he could hear any rumblings outside and discern the mysterious visitor's intention.
"Open the door. I know you are in there. I can hear you moving around. Don't think you are being slick about it!"
"What do you want?"
"Didn't you get my voicemail message?"
"Yeah, but you never said that you were coming over."
"It's important and I was worried that something was up once you never called me back."
Jose Luis unbolted one lock and then the other and opened the door. Now askew, the opened door let some of the fresh air into the room and released some stale odors along with it. Daniel knew that familiar, reeking smell. He despised it and the expected forthcoming shenanigans. But the day's events were required, and his purpose predestined.
"I see that you are already dressed. That's good."
"Like I need your approval."
Daniel did not wait to be invited in. He pushed the door wider, walked deeper into the room, and paced a little, while trying to avoid the trash and clothes strewed on the floor. Daniel's eyes quickly gazed around the motel room with hopes of discerning his brother's state of mind. Daniel also wanted to gather information about anything that could be used against Jose Luis if the situation required it.
"Anywhere. You must be exhausted from the drive."
Daniel pushed some filthy clothes off of a chair and looked down before sitting.
"Want anything to drink? I don't have anything but soda." Jose Luis opened the small fridge, took out two cans of Diet Coke, handed one to his brother, and then gulped down the other one.
Daniel watched this whole ceremony wondering what would be next and what horror story would come forth as yet another excuse that Daniel would have to endure and then recall years later as evidence of Jose Luis's persistent denial and lies easily unwoven and unraveled.
"I see that you are still stealing spoils from your job." Daniel was referring to the Coke cans.
For seven years, Jose Luis had worked for Coca Cola as a driver delivering merchandise to the various stores and restocking the shelves. He loved the job because it gave him unfettered access to each store with little to no oversight from his employer or the store's local management. Jose Luis could walk in unnoticed and unsuspected, inspect the floor for missing product, unload what that store needed for the week, and then go on his merry way. If it took him three hours to complete his route, Jose Luis would bill eight hours. No one was the wiser. Who could know where he was or what he was doing? Most of the time he was actually just playing video games in his room when he claimed that he was working.
But this time, things were different. In some ways, Jose Luis was excited that his brother was here and that he could explain it all if Daniel would just listen and be supportive.
"I can no longer work there."
"Not again," Daniel muttered to himself. "Did you quit?"
"No. They fired me. That's what I want to talk to you about. You're a lawyer. Don't you know any lawyers here in California?"
"I only know a few, but I can ask someone to recommend one if you really need one."
"I do. I think I have a great case. So great that you should take it." Jose Luis grinned in excitement.
"I'm pretty selective of the cases that I take. Besides, I'm not licensed to practice in California. Only in Arizona." Daniel did not bother to say that he was also licensed in Nevada. It did not really matter in the end. He already knew that, whatever his brother was going to say, Daniel did not want to get involved in it. "Yes, a referral is all that I'm going to do. He is family. At least he won't be able to say I never helped him," Daniel thought to himself with a slight sense of pride.
"After you hear this, I'm sure that you will want to take it. We're going to make a lot of money. We'll be rich." Daniel doubted that but did not say so because he wanted to appear objective. He also did not want to prejudge the situation even though he was skeptical.
"Tell me what happened."
"Well, I went into Von's at Figueroa and Central to restock the Coke products. One of the managers stopped me and told me that this female employee complained that I cursed her out. I told him that I didn't. But he insisted. She was lying and he believed her over me. So I was fired for that."
"Why? Doesn't your manager like you?"
"Well, he isn't my manager. He is the store manager at Von's. He works for Von's, not for Coke."
"If he works for Von's, then he can't fire you."
"He didn't fire me. He called Coke and complained and then I was fired."
"What did you tell your manager at Coke?"
"I told him that she was lying, that she always lies and wants to get me in trouble."
"Why would she do that?"
"I think she likes me."