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Now he had to get to making those calls. He had a dilemma regarding whom to call first. He was supposed to call Ramón Alvarado first, but after witnessing the conversation in the coffeeshop today it was urgent to call Peter Stouffer.

He thought a moment, until he had wasted important time that could go into making calls thinking. He decided that it was best if he get into the AALL card thing with Peter right now.

Peter Stouffer had a blonde Beatles cut with blue eyes and freckles, and he would wear red-and-white-striped T-shirts. He spent much of his time listening to techno music, and always walked or stood around with a pair of headphones on. He even had with headphones on when he was out doing things with Steve. Seeming so inwardly drawn and complacently poppy by his immersion in his music, it was hard to believe that Peter was also a private detective. He spent much of his time as a self-employed, freelance magnum machine. With an amateur lab in his basement, and a computer that had databases of birth records, missing persons and all sorts of stuff downloaded from the Internet, he had been able to singlehandedly foil a cashier who was stealing from his own store and baffled police by solving a murder on Richmond Avenue.

Steve dialed Peter’s number and heard his telephone ringing. Peter picked up the telephone and lowered his headphones to around his jaws. "Hello?"

"Hello. Peter?"

"Oh, hi, Steve."

"Peter, listen. I was at Zettolo’s today and I heard these four men who were sitting at a table . . . they were talking about stealing AALL cards."

"Oh, no!"

"They said they were going to meet on St. Charles Bridge."

"St. Charles? All right, I’ll be sure to watch out for it. What time?"

"Time? Oh. Uhhh. I don’t remember what they said. They said it was . . . tonight".

"Do you have a description of them?"

"Two of them were really bulky. They were drinking these mochas when I saw them. Two of them looked Caucasian, two of them looked definitely Caucasian, there were two who may have been Hispanic, I couldn’t really tell, they had this straight dark hair. Two of them had moustaches. One of them’s name . . . Lee. I think Lee was the one wearing the plaid shirt."

"Any distinguishing marks?"

"Well, there was one with dark brown hair who had a prosthetic eye. Not a glass eye -- one of those artificial eyes that can actually see."

"All right."

"I really hope you can stop them, Peter."

"I can’t make any promises, but I’ll do my best."

"Good. They said they had thumb prints with them to go with the AALL cards."

"Well, I’ll be sure to look for any thumb prints then. Oh, check it out, this is a really great part of the song." Peter lifted the headphones up to the speaker and played a piece of techno.

After a while he lifted them down again. "Wasn’t that great?"

"Sure was. Is there anything else you need to know?"

Peter replied, "Yeah, actually there is something else..?"

"Anything, you name it."

Peter laughed. "Never tell a private dick that you’ll do anything. What are you doing later?"

Scratching his head, Steve answered, "I’ve got to return several calls and figure out what I’m going to do to better my dismal life."

"In that case, chuck the calls and the drama and come on the stakeout with me tonight. My partner, Dan, is tied up with a missing persons case."

Steve sighed. "I guess I can’t say no....can I?"

"Negative. Meet me at the foot of the bridge 10 minutes before sundown. And bring the food and drink. I’ve got the technology."

Before Steve could reply, he heard the ding that signaled the cellphone call ended.

He walked up to the one-page-a-month calendar on the wall. On April 14, he wrote "ST. CHARLES BRIDGE, 10 MIN BEFORE SUNDOWN".

He thought about what food and drink to bring. Hawaiian punch sounded nice for a cold night on the bridge, but cranberry-hibiscus blend held over better on those long drives to the bridge. And what were they going to eat? Could they hold onto a banana long enough to still be able to operate the videocameras? Speaking of videocameras, what "technology" were they going to use, anyway?

All this thinking about food made him think of his call to Ramón. As we would have to do today, he dialed Ramón’s number.

Ramón picked up his own cellphone. Ramón was dressed like a skater, in his shorts and his baggy shirt. With black hair that revealed his Hispanic ancestry, Ramón was supposedly closely related to some deposed Cuban druglord who made killings in money, back before Cuba legalized drugs.

"Hello?"

"Hi."

"Listen, Stephan. I’m in the mood for some Swirl 360's right now. Nothing can stop this craving, man. I want my Swirl 360's."

Swirl 360's were one of the psychedelic candies that came out in the twelveties. Ramón had a major passion for these psychedelic candies, like Schatz and Lava Stix. And he liked them in large amounts.

"I can buy some from Kristofferson’s today," Steve said, referring to the local grocery store.

"When are you going to bring them in? Can you get them in by 6:30 today?"

"I don’t know. I have to be at St. Charles Bridge later tonight."

"But I need my Swirl 360's. I need them now." And his friend knew the voice. It meant that Ramón was going through pain.

"I can go buy them after I’m done with all my cellphone calls if I make my calls real quick. I’ll drop them at your crib immediately. How does that sound?"

"It sounds swell," he said, drawing out the word "swell" in a long Cuban accent. "And can you bring in some of those candy necklaces where the pieces are shaped like little cylinders? It reminds me of cocaine."

Steve sighed. "I don’t think Kristofferson’s carries those. Just the Swirl 360's should be able to carry you."

"Good enough, kid. And thanks."

"You’re welcome." They then terminated their conversation. Even though Ramón was snappy and irritable, unpredictable in fact, the two remained friends nonetheless.

With cellphone still in hand, the next call was to Ricardo Fernandez. Richie and Steve had been friends ever since they were 5 years old and watching Cotton Candy Castle together and playing with the old Sit & Spin in the garage. Richie was the one he could share jokes with (including the dirty ones), and was the one who had helped him make it through the trying experience of puberty during those cold, long nights. They stood together through break-ups with seven different girlfriends, and could always meet in the bedroom when a break-up got too bad to stand. Richie’s bedroom would always be there. Richie stood at 5'7" with unkempt black hair. He was soft, with a suburban inside-the-house sort of warmth to him. They had gone on summer vacations together for the last seven years. Having been friends with Steve so long, he really didn’t have anyone else.

Richie picked up the telephone on the cord at his house. He was sitting on his sofa, wearing a striped polo shirt and a brown jacket with khakis.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Richie." And his friend recognized the voice immediately.

"Oh, Steve. Guess what I wanted to tell you today? I got a new job at Harburg’s."

Steve was really excited now. "Congratulations!"

"Yeah, now I get to go there every day from 4 to 6. I didn’t know if they were going to give it to me, but they gave it to me."

"That’s great. I guess my interview tips helped."

"Yep. I looked them straight in the eye and said, ‘Good morning, Ms. Anstruther, I’m Ricardo Fernandez’."

"All nice and formal."

"It wasn’t a formal atmosphere. I showed up in a striped polo and khakis."

"Well, I’m so enthused to hear that you finally got that job. Is that why you called me on my cellphone?"

"Yes, I wanted to tell you that, and I wanted to tell you that my aunt Marita’s going to have a new daughter. They’re expecting a baby now."

"Aw. Seems like everybody her age is having a baby now. Uncle Gordon and Aunt Michaela are having a baby too." He paused. "What are they going to name it?"

"The amnio said it’s a boy, so they’re thinking of David or Remijio."

"Remijio?" Steve stuck out his tongue. "How’s Stephanie doing?"

"She’s doing fine. She’s still dating Andy."

"Never broke up with him."

"Yeah."

"I know they’ve been going out for a long time. They were still together summer vacation of last year."

"Yep. It’s been for over a year."

"Are you going to the party at Sharon’s?"

"A party?"

"Sharon Moran’s opening a party at her house on the nineteenth. I’m going to be there."

"Then I’m definitely coming."

"Good."

"Grilling," Richie said, using the twelveties slang for cool.

"She’s going to have the hot new videos playing nonstop on the videogram, and there will be punch and sapodilla juice, maybe even drugs."

"Will there be Bleach?" Richie asked, referring to his favorite band.

"She has all the hottest new songs of the year. She’s gotta have Bleach".

"Good. Do I know any of the other people there?"

"There’s going to be Jessica Bunce, Adrian Kerekes, Jocasta Lin, Greg Erikson . . . a lot of people we know are going to be there."

"All right. I’ll be there on the nineteenth?"

"Yeah."

"All right. Good-bye?"

"Good-bye". And the cellphone dinged.

Breathing heavily, he called the number for Sandy Olson.

Blonde, blue-eyed Sandy was sitting in the deckchair in her house, wearing jeans and a black tank top. She had a piece of gum in her mouth.

"Hello?"

"Hello", Steve replied.

"Stephan? Will you be able to check with me if I did my taxes right? The instructions are so screwed up that I really have no idea what I did." Sandy chewed on her gum as she spoke.

"Sure, Sandy. I’ll be able to tell."

"That’s good, because I don’t know much of anything about what I’m supposed to give ‘em. I know I don’t have any kids and that’s about it." Sandy had a stringy voice.

"Well, I’ve got my form figured out all right. I guess I should be able to do yours."

"You better be able to do mine, because this is my first time and I don’t know what to give them. Want to come over tomorrow?"

"Sure. Anytime."

"Will you be there at three? You better not come until three, because the maid’s coming over between lunch and three, and she does every room in the house."

"I can do three. I’ll write that on my calendar."

"Good. My cat’s playing at my feet."

"Is she on your favorite chair?"

"Yes she is, that cute little thing. She’s playing with her electronic mouse."

"I’ve never seen her mouse toy before."

"I got it from the pet store. Only $5.30. Oh, isn’t that so cute? She just curled up at the base of the chair and now she’s beating at the pillow."

"So three, tomorrow?"

"Yeah."

"All right. I’ll see you Sandy."

And she said good-bye, still with her gum in her mouth.

Steve let the handset drop into its cradle, and shook his head. That girl was a strange one. They’d been friends for a long time, but he never ceased to be amazed at how much gum she chewed. He often teased her, saying that she was keeping Wrigley’s in business with her chewing habit. He sometimes called her The Masticator - that one always earned him a shoulder punch. He laughed, and rubbed his poor arm.