Meeting Marvin goes as arranged. He’s standing by his open driverside door. Talking on cell phone. Smoking cigarette. Latino complexion, around 5–10, goodly muscled. Conspicuously stylish. Short black hair, expertly tousled. Thin meticulous goatee. Snug white shortsleeve button-up, mirror sunglasses hanging from breast pocket. Black jeans, brown dress shoes. His only visible embellishment a simple band tattoo about an inch wide above left wrist.
I walk toward him. Stop a few feet away. Take off my backpack. Place it between my legs. Marvin shows me his eyes, raises a hand to say he’ll be right with.
The morning is bright and warm. A clutch of new arrivals emerge from the bus depot. Dispersing every which way, suitcases in tow.
Marvin peaces out. He drops his cigarette and steps on it. Back pockets his phone. Extends his hand.
We shake, exchange pleasantries, get in truck. Very clean, almost no clutter. A wooden crucifix on a beaded cord hangs from the rearview. Colorful miniature Mexican turtles with wobbly heads on the polished dash. The stickshift surmounted by an inverted 8-ball (cue ball with white 8 in black circle). Top of the line CD player. House music turned low.
Marvin’s talkative, endlessly smiling, instantly likeable. Between phone calls, which he keeps short, he touches on an array of light topics. The good weather and what it does to make women even more beautiful than they already are. Sports, music, the coming weekend. He’s quick-tongued but easy-going, relaxed yet buoyant, bristling with continuous excitement. Candid without being self-indulgent.
Skirting the shorter older buildings of downtown our general bearing is south-east. Lane closures and manic traffic have no discernible effect on Marvin’s mood. He’s utterly relaxed behind the wheel. Window down. Relishing the moment.
We drive through Chinatown, an industrial sector, hit a main artery servicing what looks to be a lower middle class residential neighborhood rising the ranks.
Food markets, restaurants, diners, cafes, bars, corner convenience stores, laundromats, dime stores, bakeries, butchers, pawn shops, florists, secondhand stores. Old school merchants. Some appearing to have been around forever, some with a touch of modern flair. A cinema, a hardware store, a firehall, a gallery or two, a bowling alley, a poolhall. The strip is short of nothing, save chainstores and car dealerships.
We park out front of a dry cleaners. Marvin turns off the engine. Checks his phone.
‘Ten twenty-three,’ he says. ‘A bit early yet. Give me a moment.’
He makes a call.
‘It’s Marvin.… Out front.… Yes.… Will do.’
Marvin turns off the phone.
‘We’re just gonna hang a few minutes.’
The phone rings. He checks who’s calling.
‘Gotta take this one. The girlfriend. You okay in here for a bit?’
I say I’m fine.
‘Sher-ee!’ he answers, gets out, closes door, walks around back of truck and onto the sidewalk.
In side mirror I see him toe the curb. I turn my attention to the turtle heads, now still, the big eyes painted on top seeming to stare at me.
After a couple minutes Marvin’s beside my window.
I open the door. Roll up the window. Grab my backpack.
‘You won’t need that.’
I stow the backpack on the floor.
On the sidewalk Marvin tells me he’s got some business to tend to. With a guy named Reg.
‘Here’s how we’re gonna play this. I’ll hold the door for you. You walk in. Stand in front of the counter and let me pass. Reg will be at the back table. I’ll sit across from him. You sit beside me. And just so you know, I won’t introduce you. Reg is a bit old-fashioned. Straight-laced, if you know what I mean. Not much for strange faces. Sound good?’
I nod. Marvin pats me on the shoulder and adds to his smile.
‘Here we are.’
Al’s Deli. He holds the door. I head in. The service counter takes up the majority of the space and runs the length of the public part of the shop. Along the right wall four tables, each with four chairs. A large man in butcher whites sits at the first table with his back to the window. He’s scanning a newspaper, pays me no mind.
‘Big Al,’ Marvin exclaims upon entering.
The large man looks up. An approximate smile distorts the fleshy contours of his big face.
‘Mar-vin.’ Said like he hasn’t seen Marvin in a long time. ‘Good to see you, my friend.’
They clutch hands and Marvin bends down for a half embrace.
‘You look good,’ Marvin says.
Big Al waves him off, ‘You’re a terrible liar.’
Marvin taps a finger against his nose.
Big Al leans heavily in his chair, gaze peering over the counter, barks a name I can’t quite make out. From the depths comes a greying-haired woman, wiping hands on a white apron.
Marvin appears delighted.
‘Sophie,’ he says as he scuttles over to the counter. ‘Beautiful as ever.’
They hug over the counter. Kiss cheeks.
I look at the tables. At the back one sits a man facing the door. Reg, I take it.
Marvin taps my arm, scoots by. I follow.
Reg is eating a cookie. He’s balding and thin. Wearing old suit and poorly executed tie. Big frame glasses. There’s a dark fedora on table.
Marvin stops at the table.
‘Reg,’ he says, offering his hand.
The small man stays seated. Shakes Marvin’s hand. Doesn’t say anything and doesn’t took at me.
Marvin sits opposite Reg, against the wall. I take seat beside Marvin.
Reg finishes cookie. Napkins his mouth. Pushes plate aside. Reaches to his feet. Puts leather valise on table. Unbuckles, pulls out ledger book, opens fully onto table, lifts glasses onto forehead, leans forward, licks finger, flips pages with snap, fastidiously runs finger down entries, find what he’s after, double taps entry.
‘Here we are.’
Sits back, glasses back down on his nose.
They talk deliveries and pick ups. I look at the walls. Faux brick panelling to about four feet. Above that a muted yellow to the exposed ceiling. Looming over Reg a blank flatscreen tv. Not on. Centred above our table a small grey and white picture in a dusty glass frame. Of telephone pole, cables, trees. Can’t tell if it’s a photo or a painting. Tag tacked to wall beside reads $50.
To Reg’s right a washroom door.
I hear classical music. The sound of Big Al flipping pages of his newspaper. I do my best not to look directly at Reg. He’s got hair coming out of his ears. Below the corner of his jawbone, a piece of toilet paper with a tiny blot of blood. His neck sinewy, the skin sagging. Dandruff on the upper reaches of his suit jacket.
His voice is droll. Marvin’s is toned down—I can hear that he isn’t smiling.
I look at the $50 picture. See it’s a street scene. Cars parked on the road. A streetlamp. Scattered cloud caught in a burst of sunshine.
Eventually I hear Marvin perk up.
‘O-kay,’ he says.
Reg closes ledger. Marvin stands. They shake hands.
As I get up, notice Reg glance toward front of shop. He takes off his glasses. Puts on fedora. Busies with valise.
I follow Marvin. He calls out a farewell to Sophie, who’s not in sight. As we near the door, Big Al lifts himself up. He embraces Marvin, who’s about the same height but much thinner, and then looks at me, nods, holds out his right hand.