Across the street, Cindy Dunbar and her boyfriend left the restaurant arm in arm. He held her tight. Goosed her. She yelped, both pleased and embarrassed. They stopped for a kiss. By the time they reached the next corner the blond man was twenty feet behind them.
It was close to nine o’clock as the threesome strolled up Mission, one tagging carefully behind.
The barrio, the Mission, its main drag a wide avenue bordered by towering old palms, was filled with music and mothers with bands of crying small children at all hours. South of downtown, separated from the business center of the city by lines of railroad tracks, it had its own businesses, sometimes tended secretly, but tended well. Here, behind curtained doors and beneath cellar entrances, were sweatshops, where needlework was stitched, clothes were assembled—and drugs were broken down into smaller and smaller packages late into the night.
There were also hardworking families in the three- and four-story buildings that housed thousands in warrenlike apartments. Churchgoing, respectable, they had too many children in too few rooms to ever really be comfortable.
But it was better here than where they had come from. Many of the residents of the Mission were illegal aliens working without green cards for whatever they could earn to support their families here and to send back home to Mexico, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua. Here there was always work, if a person was willing to do it, with shelter and plenty to eat. Here there was a chance.
And there was life and laughter in the streets, the young mustachioed Spanish men in their uniform black and white showing off their cars to one another and to the scores of young girls who gathered on street corners, the girls taking great care with their dead-white eye shadow, purple lipstick, and layer upon layer of thick black mascara.
A fleet of gaudy, chrome-covered cars popped and revved at the corner of Twenty-fourth and Mission as Cindy Dunbar and her boyfriend waited for the light.
The man following them let them cross ahead. He didn’t want to crowd them.
He thought they were going back home, but a few doors up Twenty-fourth they turned into a coffeehouse.
He walked past, stopped, debated. It had been almost a week now that he’d been on her tail. Had she spotted him?
Screw it. He was cold. He’d been standing on the street a long time. A cup of coffee would taste good.
Once inside, he saw why they would pick the place. Full of their own kind. Blacks with long braids huddling over steaming mugs. A weird white girl with a star on her cheek snuggling up to a spic. Hippies, dykes, freaks.
He didn’t see the oak tables, the French movie posters, the espresso machine, a marvel of chrome and copper tubing imported from Italy. He didn’t appreciate the homemade brownies and blondies, the twenty-two kinds of coffees on the menu, the herbal teas. The overstuffed faded chintz sofa and chairs grouped as if in a living room didn’t appeal to him. Nor did the camaraderie of the painters, sculptors, and dancers who lived in lofts on the fringes of the neighborhood in former industrial buildings and had designated this as their meeting place.
As he looked for a spot to sit, as far away from Dunbar and her boyfriend as he could find, someone brushed his arm. Coffee slopped onto his jeans.
“Hey, man, I’m sorry. Here.” A tall, young Chinese man with hair cropped half an inch long was offering him a couple of paper napkins. A spiral of red dye crawled around his short hair. Purple sunglasses shaded his eyes. In his left earlobe was a parade of ten rhinestone studs.
“Fuck you!” the blond man growled.
“Well, pardon me,” the punker minced. “Creep,” he added under his breath, and then he turned and ran to the back of the café.
The blond man rose to follow him, then sat back down.
This wasn’t the time. He didn’t want to attract attention now.
But he hated to let the freak get in his face like that. Nobody got away with that shit.
He gulped down what was left of his coffee. He had to get out of this place. It was getting on his nerves. Niggers, spies, Jews, gimps. Scum. The world was lousy with them.
But some of them weren’t going to live too long.
He pushed up the sleeve of his black leather jacket and stared at the characters tattooed in blue on his forearm. They always calmed him down.
Then he stood, without even looking at Dunbar and her friend.
He didn’t need to wait around any longer. He didn’t need to walk them home.
He knew where she lived.