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Barry Gifford
Online Exclusive: The Exception

The Exception

One of Buck’s closest associates was his poker buddy, Chino Valdes, who owned the Oriente Bank in Ybor City. Chino’s real first name was Nestor, but everyone, including Roy, called him Chino because his narrow, slanted eyes gave him an Asian appearance.

“Know why I’m called Chino?” he asked Roy.

“No, why?”

“’Cause my grandmother had a little yen.”

Chino was a partner in a nightclub on the outskirts of Tampa named El Paraíso Bajo las Estrellas, where he and Roy’s uncle often met. Buck took Roy along with him to El Paraíso several times in the afternoons, letting his nephew sit at the bar and order Coca-Colas and watch the showgirls rehearse while he and Chino discussed matters of mutual importance.

It was on one of these afternoons at El Paraíso that Roy was present during a murder, an event about which he was sworn to secrecy by his uncle and Chino Valdes.

This incident occurred the day before Roy’s twelfth birthday. He and his uncle arrived at El Paraíso shortly after two in the afternoon. Chino was already there, sitting at a table by himself, sipping Methusalem rum on the rocks. Roy and Buck walked over to Chino, who stood up and shook hands with both of them, then sat down, as did Buck.

“Go watch the girls, Roy,” said Chino, and handed the boy a five dollar bill. “It’s educational. The drinks are on me.”

Roy smiled at Chino, thanked him, and went over to the bar and climbed up on a stool. He placed the fin down in front of him and when Alfredito, the bartender, came over, said hello and ordered a Coke. Roy liked Alfredito, a short, thin, baldheaded man with a mustache that looked like two caterpillars crawling towards one another. Alfredito never charged Roy for his drinks. The five dollar bill that Chino gave Roy, as he did every time Roy came in, was to be left on the bar as a tip for Alfredito.

The dancers were on the stage, practicing their routines. Most of them were coffee-colored Cuban girls. They wore short shorts and little tops that left their midriffs bare. Roy thought they were all beautiful.

“How come you never look at the dancers?” Roy asked Alfredito. “You always keep your back to them.”

“I’m an old man, chico,” said Alfredito. “I have grandchildren older than some of these girls. It is for their sake that I don’t turn around. When they look at me, I see pity in their eyes. I want to spare them the pain.”

Roy remembered a story his uncle had told him after the first time they’d gone

Copyright © by Barry Gifford, 2012. All rights reserved.
May not be reproduced without the permission of the author.