“Who?” said the man occupying my new apartment.
“Tres Navarre,” I said.
I pressed the lease agreement against the screen door again so he could see.
It was about a hundred degrees on the front porch of the small in-law apartment. The air-conditioning from inside was bleeding through the screen door and evaporating on my face. Somehow that just made it seem hotter.
The man inside my apartment glanced at the paper, then squinted at me like I was some bizarre piece of modern art. Through the metal screen he looked even uglier than he probably was—heavyset, about forty, crew cut, features all pinched toward the center of his face. He was bare-chested and wore the kind of thick polyester gym shorts only P.E. coaches wear. Use small words, I thought.
“I rented this apartment for July fifteenth. You were supposed to move out by then. It‘s July twenty-fourth.”
No signs of remorse from the coach. He looked back over his shoulder, distracted by a double play on the TV. He looked at me again, now slightly annoyed.
“Look, a$$hole,” he said. “I told Gary I needed a few extra weeks. My transfer hasn‘t come through yet, okay? Maybe August you can have it.”
We stared at each other. In the pecan tree next to the steps a few thousand cicadas decided to start their metallic chirping. I looked back at the cabby who was still waiting at the curb, happily reading his TV Guide while the meter ran. Then I turned back to the coach and smiled-friendly, diplomatic.
“Well,” I said, “I tell you what. I‘ve got the moving van coming here tomorrow from California. That means you‘ve got to be out of here today. Since you‘ve had a free week on my tab already, I figure I can give you an extra hour or so. I‘m going to get my bags out of the cab, then when I come back you can let me in and start packing.”
If it was possible for his eyes to squint any closer together, they did. “What the f^ck—”
I turned my back on him and went out to the cab. I hadn‘t brought much with me on the plane-one bag for clothes and one for books, plus Robert Johnson in his carrying cage. I collected my things, asked the cabby to wait, then walked back up the sidewalk. Pecans crunched under my feet. Robert Johnson was silent, still disoriented from his traumatic flight.
The start of Big Red Tequila, by Rick Riordan