“As he should.”
“Come by later. Gavin has my keys. He can show you around. I don’t have anything valuable. Not even a TV. I’m not worried. Someone should be there anyway.”
Tina stood up. “That’s very generous of you. I’ll give it some thought.” She lifted the clipboard. “So what do you think? Art therapy or no art therapy? We could heckle the other patients.”
“Tina, you are so bad.”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t wager on my being here longer than two weeks.”
“Yes, put me down. Hopefully I’ll get loose of the bed today or tomorrow.”
“Still peeing in a tube, eh?” She glanced at the end of the bed.
“I’ve given up on being embarrassed about it.”
“I’ll come by later.”
“You want me to go down and find your parents in the cafe?”
“No way. Let me have some peace.”
She laughed. “Will do.”
I lowered the bed as soon as she left, feeling more exhausted than I cared to admit. But my spirits did rise having her around. I needed allies. Tina seemed like a good one.
I stripped off the new mechanic’s shirt and pulled my own sweatshirt over my head. I was stalling. I absolutely did not want to walk down the street to Tony’s.
Mario poked his head around the corner of the breakroom. “Bud cleared me to leave for a bit. I’m good to go.”
Having Mario go along was a good call. It would help me keep the emotion out of it. Until I knew for sure who Manuelito belonged to, I didn’t want to be manipulated. I realized how little I knew Rosa.
I stashed the shirt in my backpack. “Not sure I’m ready for this.”
“This is any man’s worst nightmare.” Mario grinned as he said it but forced a serious face when I glared at him. “You’ve got to see the irony of this. You stick with hookers for years to avoid entanglements, and you end up with the biggest sand trap of them all.”
We walked through the bays and out into the weak afternoon sun. Fall had come full force, and the wind on our faces was a cool relief to the inner turmoil.
Mario’s relaxed stride slowed us down, which was fine with me. He wanted to greet everyone who passed, mothers with strollers and teenagers walking home from school. I’d never been one to randomly chat with strangers. Corabelle had been all I’d known growing up, and after her, I sought out relationships I could control. Or thought I could.
“Let me start,” Mario said as we arrived at the hole-in-the-wall pizza joint. “You look like you’re going to jump somebody.”
“I feel like it.”
“Precisely.” He jerked on the glass door.
Rosa and Manuelito sat in a booth along one side. She had bought him a slice of pizza but not one for herself, and suddenly I worried she was here without much money or ability to take care of the boy. God, how was I going to manage this?
Mario headed straight for her and slid into the seat opposite them. Rosa seemed startled by this and looked to me with a question.
He said something rapid in Spanish to her, part an introduction but who knew what else. I disliked this a lot. I felt completely out of control now and wished I hadn’t brought him.
Rosa’s face bloomed red and she argued with him for a moment, pulling a card from her purse. Mario looked at it and gave it back, then turned to me. “So, she’s here on a borrowed border pass. We have her over a barrel if you need that leverage.”
“Jesus, Mario. I don’t want that.”
He shrugged. “Just saying it’s an option if it turns out the kid isn’t yours.”
Rosa clutched at Manuelito, who chewed the pizza slowly. “Who is this friend?” she asked me. “Some sort of policia?”
“No. He works with me.”
“Why you bring him?”
“He’s just a friend helping me out.” I glanced over at him. “And being a jerk about it.”
Mario laughed. “I’m not nearly the jerk you are. And Rosa here can handle it. She spits fire.”
“You should see her with a Glock.”
Mario whipped his head around to stare at Rosa again. “Damn.”
Rosa released Manuelito, seeming to understand the situation now. “So you are not policia?”
“Hell no,” Mario said. “I just wanted to know how you managed to get over here to disrupt my friend Gavin’s life.”
“You are a tricky man,” she said.
He chuckled. “I am indeed.”
I wanted to know what was next. “So I guess we need to find a place that can test him.”
Rosa nodded. “Yes, that is good. How long it take?”
I shrugged. “I can ask.”
“I don’t know either,” Mario said. “You may have to go back across and return. Not sure they can do it in 72 hours.”
“I take the risk,” Rosa said. “I stay. When they see my boy is his, we can stay.”
“Still have to do paperwork,” Mario said. “Unless lover boy here marries you.” He elbowed me.
“He has girlfriend now,” Rosa said. “Too busy for marriage.”
Mario’s expression changed. “So why are you here then, if not to try and snag him?”
Rosa looked thoughtful. “Snag. What is snag?”
Mario said something in Spanish that sounded like “tramp.”