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from Fast Friends I Fred Pfeil Morning, late June, 1998. In his new office on the edge of San Francisco's financial district, next to the famous TransAm pyramid, Ernest is sitting at his desk, staring without focus at the recessed light fixtures above him and forward a little—the ones that would illumine the first person to whom he could offer his services, his hand as a Professional Friend. He is thinking about what T.D. said the last time they saw each other, at lunch at the Watergate. He is thinking about the word siugs. By now there is no name for the huge oppressed class whose only task is to consume; almost no one thinks of social class at all. So slug keeps reappearing, drifting into his mind as he sits at his desk killing time. Slugs. Somehow he never thought about it just that way before. Slug. The taps come so soft he first thinks he has imagined them; but they repeat. His heart flies around in his chest as he calls forth his voice. Come in. The person who whips through the doorway seems to be not more than four and a half feet tall, from his battered black boots to the Budweiser hat that flips off his wavy black hair into his hand, fast and smooth as jujitsu. You Goodman, right? Acquaintance man? Thees the right place, hah? Ernest's eyes sweep the man's round olive face—narrowed eyes, drooping moustache, wide frowning mouth—and squint tensely back. Right place? Maybe. Name's Goodman, anyway. Acquaintance man. You? The Chicano's arms hang action-ready at his sides. Paco Ramos ees what I am called. Ernest leans back in his chair, throws out his legs, plops his feet on the desk Henry-Fonda-style, imperturbable. Beckons a hand to the padded chair across the desk: Well, Mr. Paco Ramos, what can I do for you? Paco approaches; sits staring a long time into his steeled face. Then kicks his boot against the desk's imitation wood front, hard. What ees thees sheet weeth the desk? You want to make me feel like I comeeng to you for a job or what? It is nothing, he says through flattened lips. Almost says eet for if and ees for is. It's just the way it came. You ought to change eet then. Slowly his round head turns, glaring at the entire room. When he looks back again at Ernest, his smile is a swift flash of teeth: You won to smoke a number? Why not, he says, turning his hands palm up, curling a corner of a lip. The Missouri Review · 233 Paco bends over, reaches into a black boot, pulls up a bag. Soon they are passing a fat joint, some sort of strong homegrown, back and forth across the desk. Wisps of blue smoke curl past the expressionist prints you and Charlotte picked to warm the room. San Francisco sunlight spills onto the carpeted floor like some light cooking oil. . . safflower? Can NASA, T.D., have referred this guy to you? So, he says, smiling brilliantly, hitting the record button under the desk with his knee: What brings you here? Paco exhales; his brown eyes stay opaque. I get around. I hear theengs. Somebody tell me you was new in town, what you do. You make frens for money, right? Ernest flips him the grin again. You could put it like that. The wide mouth moves into something close to a snarl. You theenk you could be my fren? He leaves a pause, then shrugs. Who knows? I don't know anything about you yet. Like who referred you, for starters. Paco laughs mirthlessly, slaps his hat against his hand. Referred? he says. What ees referred? I know thees city like veings ronneeng blood through me. Understan? I am een a certain place at a certain time and somebody tell me, Hey, new hustle from the east office off Montgomery, do thees fren theeng. I don't remember who, where. Thass how I stay alive and well, understan? Okay, he says. So what is your hustle then? Oh, Paco says, smiling lightly...


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pp. 133-154
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