“So what do you want me to do about it?”
The question startled me. The sheer bluntness of it gave me pause – what did I want? I wanted to get off this e.mail distribution list, certainly. Ideally, they’d be redirected to the Tony Noland who has some connection with Tonka football. I’d tried being polite, I’d tried being direct, I’d even tried bad poetry. Nothing seemed to work! I just wanted to be left alone!
Beyond that? Did I want to get nasty? Was I out for revenge?
“Uh, nothing harsh, sir. I just want the e.mails to stop. They’ve got me mixed up with some other Tony Noland, and I just want them to get it right.”
He tapped the ash from his cigarette onto the floor. It was that kind of a bar, his kind. I tried not to look down.
“You come to me just to get these e.mails to stop? Is that all?” His tone was level, as though he were inquiring about the weather. “And how shall I accomplish this? Shall I send them an e.mail? A polite telephone call? You think that perhaps a simple request from me would be more, what, effective?”
“Yes, yes, that’s it. I don’t want anyone, uh, damaged or anything. I just want…” I trailed off, not wishing to repeat myself. He might regard that as a waste of his time, and I did not want that.
“Well, Tony my little friend, I do not make simple requests. When Manuel Calabreja involves himself, he makes his presence known.” He drew, then dropped the butt onto the floor. It was only half-smoked. He made no move to step on it, though it was still smoldering. “Memorably.”
“But, I don’t want anyone… that is, I just … Mr. Calabreja, I was just hoping that a note from you might -”
“Save your breath, Noland. This matter is in my hands now. The e.mails will stop.”
I broke into a fresh sweat. “It’s just that… something too, uh, extreme, may not be called for, and I -”
“Are you questioning my judgment?” He asked the question so quietly I almost didn’t make it out. His huge, scarred hands were folded in front of him on the table. He looked the very image of quiet tranquility. All but his eyes. He regarded me through the smoky haze. He seemed to go in and out of focus as my heart pounded in my chest.
On the third try, I worked up enough spit to answer him, “N,no. No, Mr. Calabreja.”
He stood, moving smoothly. He was not a tall man, not above five feet, eight inches. The room fell silent as he leaned forward, placing his fingertips on the table as he spoke.
“I will make an example of this, little Tony. I will visit these Tonka football people, and I will stop these e.mails. Do you wonder why will I do this? Wonder why I will make an example of them?”
He straightened. “This isn’t about them. They are obviously making a simple mistake. It is you who have made the big mistake, and it is you who will be the example. You dare to come to me, to ME, with these foolish little problems?” His voice rose to a shout, spittle flying from his lips. “No, Tony Noland, you will stand as a warning to anyone else who even considers using me as a flyswatter for their petty grievances. You have unleashed el hurricano de Calabreja and you will know the full fury of it. After I finish my work in Minnesota, I will come back here and I will deal with you, you pathetic dog, and women for the next three generations will beg their husbands not to bother important men with trivial matters.”
He lit another cigarette, and said, “I do this, Tony Noland, as a public service for my brother princes of the earth, so they will not have to deal with worthless fools like you.”
He walked out. The shaft of bright sunlight from the bar door lit the murky interior with a flash. I squinted against it, then let my eyes close fully. The sweat ran down my neck. I sat, unmoving, for a long, long time.