“I don’t want to hear you breathe,” he said.

“Which Santa Monica are we going to?” I said softly.

“Joke again?” he hissed. “What did I say about jokes?” He punctuated each word with a sharp jab. I groaned.

“Is there a plethora of Santa Monicas?” Marco asked, over the engine and my groaning.

“I only know one and it’s not in Nevada,” I said. “You’re heading east.”

Marco hit the brakes, sending us into a skid. We slid sideways into a muddy hill and stopped. Marco turned his thick, round head to face us over the seat. The rain streaming down the windows cast dark, quivering lines on his face. He did not look happy. He did not look angry, either. What I saw in that massive face and black eyes was a dangerous fear.

“I told you we shouldn’t have come here,” he said. “We don’t know this place. Things are going wrong already. It’s going to be calamitous.”

Costello looked at Marco’s frightened face and then past him out the window. “The Japs are not going to land here and they’re not going to bomb Los Angeles. We just do our job and get out and nothing is going to happen.”

Marco’s eyes met mine and then turned dangerously to Costello. “Who said anything about bombs?” he said. He pointed a massive finger at himself. “I ask you. Did I say anything about bombs?” His hand moved inside his coat.

“Crap,” sighed Costello, looking out the window at the passing traffic. “You’re just scared. I know what you’re scared of. I listened to you for ten hours on that plane.”

“You shouldn’t denunciate me in front of strangers,” Marco said dangerously.

“Shut up and drive out of here, or brother-in-law or no brother-in-law, you’re going to be through when we get back to Chicago,” Costello said.

I could see by Marco’s eyes that this was the wrong tack. “I don’t think the Japanese are going to land here or bomb,” I said evenly.

“See,” said Costello.

“On the other hand,” I said almost to myself, “we are due for a major earthquake.”

“I don’t like it,” Marco said, looking out the back window for enemy Zeroes.

“We had no choice,” Costello said, looking at me. “He told us …”

“We could have declined,” answered Marco. “We could have procrastinated.”

“Talk English and drive,” said Costello, taking the gun from my kidney and bringing it in front of him in the general direction of massive Marco, who was, if nothing else, an easy target at this or any distance up to a hundred yards. Rain shadows did a mocking dance on Marco’s frightened face. He took off his hat to pat a sweating bald head. Then his fear turned to anger. A gun pointed at him was something he understood.

“I don’t like where that gun is pointing,” Marco croaked.

And I didn’t like the whole damned conversation. In a few seconds I could be sprayed all over the backseat, the innocent victim of crossfire between two feebleminded refugees from a remake of Scarface.

“I’ll tell you how to get to Santa Monica,” I said. “I know a shortcut.” I was in desperate need of a more sane level of kidnapper.

“Roosevelt ain’t so sure they won’t bomb,” Marco went on, staring at Costello. “If he is sure, why’s he want to move the factories East? And what about this earthquake stuff?”

“Politics,” said Costello.

“Just turn the car around and go back on this street,” I tried.

Marco and Costello were eye to eye.

“Palm trees all the way,” I said. It had no effect, so I tried, “Isn’t someone waiting for us?”

That moved them. Costello nodded, and Marco turned around. The gun found its way back into the nook it had carved in my kidney.

“Politics has nothing to do with it,” Marco said, turning the car around and almost causing a collision with a truck. “Politics are irrelevant to the situation.”

Nothing much more happened on the way to Santa Monica. We did stop for tacos and Pepsi at a stand I like. Marco went in while Costello and I peered through the drizzle in search of palms.

“I don’t see the damned mountains,” Costello grumbled.

“When the sky clears, you’ll see them, and we’ll go through some in a few minutes.”

Marco ate five tacos and I ate two. Costello wanted me to pay for my own but we couldn’t get the bill straight, so Marco said it was on him. He asked a few questions about earthquakes and we continued on our pilgrimage, three buddies out for a lark on a Monday afternoon.

It was almost two in the afternoon when we got where we were going. The rain had stopped, but the sky was dark, and disgruntled thunder rumbled over the ocean a few blocks away. We were in the parking lot of a new low white brick building, a one-story affair with a few construction company trucks still around to provide finishing touches. Costello led the way through construction rubble and into the building through a double wooden door marked Delivery Entrance.

Marco breathed tabasco sauce on my neck as we moved into the damp half-light. The lights hadn’t been installed yet, and the building had that new smell of mud and clay with a touch of garlic. Something moved in the corner, and three men stepped forward from the shadows of the broad room we were in. A boom of thunder shook the walls.

“You do a little sightseeing on the way?” said the man in the lead, with a slight accent I couldn’t place. He was about fifty, with thin, dark hair and a mottled complexion. He was wearing a clean white smock and had his hands in his pockets like a doctor approaching a troublesome patient. The two men behind him were also wearing white smocks and serious scowls. One of them carried a large plate.

The guy with the bad complexion stepped forward and looked at me. I seemed to be what he expected. I’m about five foot nine, weigh about 160 and have a nose smashed flat by fists and fate. I look as if I’ve seen it all and it has seen and danced on me.

“Mr. Lombardi …” Marco began with what was probably going to be an apology, but Lombardi cut him off with a stare and clenched teeth that made it clear Marco had made a mistake in using his name. He held the glare for about ten seconds and then held up his left hand. One of the two guys in white, the one with the plate, stepped forward. I was sure there would be a dagger on the plate and I was about to be dispatched, with Marco following me in a matter of seconds.

“Try this,” said Lombardi. He took the plate from the guy on his left and held it out to me. There were slices of pastrami, corned beef and salami and something else on it. I reached for the salami and took a bite.

“Well?” said Lombardi.

I looked around at Costello and Marco and the two guys in white while I chewed. They were all looking at me.

“Good,” I said.

“Just good?” said Lombardi. “Try the pastrami and the tongue.”

I tried the pastrami.

“Very good,” I said. This guy had gone through a lot to get my approval of some cold cuts, and he didn’t seem like the type who would respond well to criticism. I finished the pieces of meat and accepted the offer of a slice of pickled cow’s tongue. I don’t know how it tasted. It was a little hard to taste anything with Lombardi’s face inches from mine, his right eyebrow up, his tongue a little out, waiting for my reaction.

I smiled and nodded in appreciation as I gulped down the tongue slice.

“See,” grinned Lombardi, “a native likes it.”

We were pals now. He put his right arm over my shoulder and led me into a corner away from the others.

“I got this idea back East,” he whispered into my ear. “A guy I know said the delicatessen in Los Angeles was awful, couldn’t get a decent pastrami, no smoked fish, lox, nothing. So about a year ago I decided to move out here, semi-retire, open a kosher-style factory.”

“Kosher-style?” I asked sweetly.

Lombardi nodded and pointed back at the guy in white who had held the platter of meat. “Stevie’s old lady

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