“Well if it ain’t the undisputed champions of Texas!” Detective Arturo “Chip” Bruno declared as he stood in the middle of the quiet bar like he owned the place.
In fact, he did not own Maggie McGee’s. It was owned by the establishment’s namesake, who so happened to be Bruno’s girlfriend.
Champ and Tex looked up from their game of chess at the sound of the familiar, booming voice. They were the only ones in the place because it was early morning and they were waiting for the delivery truck to arrive.
“Detective Bruno!” Champ shouted with glee and then ran over to hug his favorite member of law enforcement.
Tex allowed himself a slight smile as he slowly wandered over to their visitor.
“I don’t get it,” Tex confessed. “Who are the undisputed champions of Texas?”
Bruno raised an eyebrow and looked at him like he had three heads.
“Ya don’t get it?” Bruno questioned. “The two of ya are Tex and Champ. The undisputed champions of Texas. Look, ya ain’t gotta use it if ya don’t like it.”
“Champ loves it,” the older employee assured his boss’ boyfriend. “Champ thinks it’s a damn good nickname.”
Tex just shrugged and leaned against the table like he really didn’t care.
Truth be told, Tex was still unclear as to how to behave around Bruno. During their first meeting, the imposing detective had frightened the hell out of him. Tex had literally been scared straight by the guy, who had later gotten him some much needed reward money and then hooked him up with his current job.
Tex worried that Bruno would always see him as a screw up, who had almost been duped into a life of crime by a bored, retired mobster.
“I know it ain’t so good of a name as Astro Cowboys, so I ain’t gonna be offended if ya don’t decide to have tee shirts printed up,” Bruno needled him.
Champ laughed. The old man adored Bruno, so as far as he was concerned, everything out of the detective’s mouth was pure gold.
Tex, on the other hand, cringed at the mention of his old band’s name.
“Anyways, Maggie says some money’s gone missing from the bar , and we all know it’s gotta be the new guy, with the shady past, so I’m here to bring ya in,” Bruno stated sternly and took a step towards Tex.
Luckily for Tex’s heart and nervous system, Bruno quickly dropped the charade and let out a long, loud laugh. That was quickly joined by Champ’s deafening cackle.
“Seriously, though, if ya ever do steal from Maggie, I’ll shoot ya. I ain’t gonna waste no time arresting ya cuz that’s too much damn paperwork. We clear on that?”
Tex just nodded. Clearly, he was never going to feel comfortable around Bruno, so he was determined to just keep a low profile so he could avoid getting shot.
“Champ’s glad to see you, but what brings you here?” Champ finally asked.
“A little birdie told me one of ya needs a new place to live,” Bruno explained. “I got the perfect place, but ya gotta do a favor for me first. Kinda like a squid pro quo, but there ain’t nothing fishy about it,” Bruno clarified.
“Champ thinks you mean quid pro quo.”
“Ain’t that what I said?” Bruno barked. “Come on. The favor’s upstairs.”
Champ followed the imposing detective obediently. Tex hesitated, but as scared as he was of Bruno, the man had done right by him. Plus, he really needed a new home.
The natural light from all the windows illuminated the stacks of boxes, old furniture, and myriad of unexpected miscellaneous items (a quick first glance by Tex revealed three tires, several construction pylons, and an old subway station sign) that cluttered the space.
“Maggie’s been on my ass to clear out this space, but I ain’t got no time and no interest in doing it,” Bruno explained. “The two of ya should be able to do it in a coupla three hours. Take the trash to the dump and the rest to a storage space I rented…”
Bruno handed Champ a key with the name of a storage facility and the number of the locker printed on the attached ring.
“How do we know what’s trash and what should be kept?” Tex asked the logical question.
Bruno shrugged. “Guess ya gotta figure it out.”
“How are we supposed to get it from here to the dump and the storage unit?” Tex tempted fate with a second question.
Bruno tossed Tex another set of keys, this one with the name of a national car rental company printed on the chain.
“When ya finish, return the truck and call me,” Bruno told them. “I’ll meet ya back here and tell ya about the new place I found.”
Champ could see that his friend wasn’t exactly sold on this plan.
“Don’t worry. Champ’s going to help you.”
Champ patted Tex on the back.
“I know it ain’t the greatest way to spend a day off, but think of it that ya ain’t gonna hafta turn to a life of crime to put a roof over your head,” Bruno laid it out in easy to understand terms.
“I gotta go arrest some dirt bags now,” Bruno told them in ways of a goodbye. “Trust me, this deal is gonna be worth it.”
Champ shook Bruno’s hand and walked him to the door of the room.
Tex looked at the mess in front of him and sighed.
Sunlight filled the room. There were gorgeous hardwood floors beneath their feet. They even discovered a working toilet and a shower in what they thought was a closet.
“Cleans up real nice,” Bruno said as he admired their work. “The original owner lived up here, so that’s why it’s gotta bathroom and all the radiators to keep it warm. Ya done good.”
Bruno then handed them each a hundred dollar bill.
“Champ doesn’t understand,” Champ remarked as he stared at the money.
“I’m a hard ass and a prick, but I ain’t gonna take advantage of my friends,” he clarified with a smirk. “Gotta admit, though, it was fun making ya think I wasn’t gonna pay ya.”
Tex was totally confused.
“So does that mean the promise of the apartment wasn’t real?” he asked despondently.
“I’m a hard ass and a prick, and not for nothing, but ya coulda jumped in to disagree with that harsh self-assessment,” Bruno feigned annoyance. “I ain’t no liar, though.”
Bruno tossed Tex another set of keys.
“What’s this?” the befuddled musician asked.
“The keys to that door,” Bruno replied as he pointed to the door to the room. “Don’t ya like your new digs?”
Tex jaw dropped as he looked around the massive area and realized what Bruno had said.
“You’re letting me live here?” Tex asked because he needed to be sure.
Bruno nodded. “Maggie’s letting ya live here. As soon as Champ said ya needed a place, she said this was it. Now she has added security with ya living right up here, and ya can’t beat the commute to work. Put some furniture in here, and ya got quite the bachelor pad.”
Champ smiled brightly because he was thrilled for his friend.
“How much is the rent?” Tex asked and hoped he could afford it because the space was quickly growing on him and he wanted to move in immediately.
“There ain’t no rent,” Bruno answered like it was the stupidest question ever. “Maggie says you’re like family now, and Champ don’t shut up about ya. We take care of our own.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Tex confessed.
“Just promise me the next time ya find yourself in a bind, ya ain’t gonna do nothing stupid. Just come to me, and we’ll figure it out. Deal?”
Bruno held out his hand. Tex shook it. Champ, giddy from all the camaraderie, added his hand to the top of the others.
“Deal!” Champ answered on Tex’s behalf.
Champ’s cackle echoed through the wide open space.
TO BE CONTINUED…