?Good morning, Jason, Socrates,? Marty Gonzalez, the senior store manager said.

Fulbright and Fortlow had to turn away from each other in order to return the greeting.

?Mr. Gonzales,? Jason said.

Socrates merely nodded. He liked the fire plug manager. Marty had once shown Socrates a pocket watch he carried that held a picture of his great-grandsire, Ernesto Gonzalez, pasted opposite the timepiece. He remarked on how much he looked like his ancestor from Sonora but how little like him he was.

?I don't speak Spanish,? Marty had said. ?Been to Vietnam but never to Mexico. My wife was born in Denmark. My kid has blue hair and thinks that Taco Bell is all he needs to know about Chicano culture.?

Now he stood between them.

?What's happening?? the dark-eyed manager asked.

?I don't know what the heck's going on to tell you the truth, Mr. Gonzalez,? Jason began.

He was going to say more but Marty cut him off. ?Uh-huh. Hey, Jason, why don't you go and make sure that the twins did a shelf count and order form last night??

?Okay, Mr. Gonzalez. If that's what you want.? Jason fixed his brown and red striped tie and gave the two men a questioning stare.

?Yeah,? Marty said, clapping Jason on the shoulder. ?You just go on and check out the twins' work.?

The twins were Sarah Shulberg, a Jewish girl who lived on Spalding Drive, and Robyn Craig, a light-skinned Negro child whose father was a plastic surgeon with an office on Roxbury. Sarah and Robyn did everything together. They dressed alike, talked about cute boys. Their mothers took turns driving them to work and home again.

?I swear I'ma break that mothahfuckah's head right open he don't get up offa me,? Socrates said loudly as Jason walked away.

Marty gestured with both hands for his employee to lower the volume.

?I know,? the manager said. He was broad but short and had to look up to address the big man. ?He's a prissy prick.?

?You better talk to him, Marty,? Socrates said. ?He come up here sayin' that my watch must be busted, that I better get on a earlier bus. Man, I take the first bus leave in the mornin' an' I ain't ever even owned no watch.?

?It's okay, Socco. Jason's just a kiss ass. He don't know.?

?He gonna find out soon enough he keep on fuckin' wit' me like that.?

?What's bothering you, Socco??

?Nuthin',? the big man said. ?He just made me mad, that's all.?

Marty nodded and looked down at his feet.

?Yeah, he's a bitch all right,? the manager said. ?Why don't you'n me and Hector unload the big truck this mornin'? Give us somethin' to do.?

Socrates liked unloading the big truck that delivered on Monday mornings. Tons of groceries had to be pulled off onto the loading dock at the side of the store. It was hard work but Socrates was a strong man. More often than not he was the strongest man in the room.

He lifted and toted, stacked and wheeled thousands of pounds off the truck that day. Hector La Forna and Marty Gonzalez had to take turns just to keep up with the big, bald, black man. He worked until the sweat was glistening on his head. He knew he'd be sore for a week because even though his muscles were strong they were still old and reluctant.

?Lets break for lunch,? Marty suggested at eleven fifteen.

?Lunch ain't till twelve twenty for the seven forty-five shift,? Socrates reminded him.

?Fuck that. Let's get some corned beef sandwiches from the deli and go over to the park. I'll tell Jason that he can be in charge while we're gone. That'll give him such a hard-on that his wife'll send me a thank-you card.?

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