25th Avenue and Sheridan
It didn't really register the first time I passed — just a smear of pink and blue neon on a low-slung, run-down storefront squished in among the pawnshops, bail bondsmen and neighborhood bars. But then, coming back, it caught me: palms read, tarot cards, psychic readings. There was no name, no signage other than some blow-ups of the classic tarots, done poster-size and stuck to the wall about head high.
I slow down. There's an OPEN sign, again done in buzzing neon, burning on the only door, and I figure, what the hell. Maybe, just maybe, whatever poor voodoo woman pulled the Tuesday-night shift could give me some guidance — or at the very least, tell me someplace I could go for a decent cup of coffee and some chat.
But when I get to the psychic's door, I chicken out; something, some nervousness or internal governor of unwise impulses, stays my hand. Below the open sign is a smaller sign. KNOCK HARD. I don't. I keep walking, making another long circuit of the block and consider my options, noticing without really making anything of it a crowd clustered around the 7-Eleven across Sheridan. Weird, I think. Wonder what they're all doing. My second time ghosting the psychic's front door, I actually make it so far as to lay hands on the glass before stopping. I look over my shoulder. That group of guys is still hanging around on the corner, and I make a sudden decision to stall, convincing myself first that if there really is a psychic working inside, he or she would already know I'm out here, meaning I don't really need to knock hard. And if there is a psychic working inside, how she would probably appreciate it if I showed up with cash rather than plastic.
There's an ATM at the 7-Eleven, so I cross the street, passing the knot of guys on the corner. The first thing I notice is that they're all dressed alike, and not like a street-corner doo-wop group or a bunch of teenagers trying to pool their cash for a case of beer.
The second thing I notice are the guns.
And the third thing I notice is that I know two of them, which, I grant you, is somewhat strange but not inexplicable, seeing as how I am an insomniac and a night creature and spend many of my nights out at diners and after-hours places. The population of dedicated late-nighters, even in a city the size of Denver, is still fairly small, the places where we can go limited. As a result, I know some unusual characters — strippers and prostitutes, cops and criminals, cab drivers, vampires. In this case, it's a bounty hunter and his wife who I recognize — him standing there shuffling papers in his big hands, looking angry, a black, short-sleeved shirt stretched across his significant frame with FUGITIVE RECOVERY stenciled across the back in large white letters.
There are eight of them in black jackets, black button-downs, black leather gloves, black body armor and with matte-black automatic pistols on their belts. Then there's my friend's wife in a nice maroon sweater and tight slacks. She is the one I say hello to and make a joke about us always bumping into each other in the strangest places. She smiles, and I don't make anything of it when she quickly boxes me off from the fugitive recovery team and herds me back a couple steps. Her husband never even looks up.
We talk about restaurants, of course — where to get good Italian, good pizza — while the boys pore over their paperwork, look for a phone book, fuss with their gloves and shout at a car full of Mexican kids with a bumping stereo to turn the music down. As they pull out of the parking lot, the driver mouths "Fuck you" to the guys, and one of them says back, "Yeah, there's a good idea. Say 'Fuck you' to the eight guys with guns." Another takes down the license plate number. Another walks out of the 7-Eleven holding a couple of paper bags. "Check it out," he says. "Taquitos. Two for a dollah."
I ask my friend's wife if they're starting work or coming off, and she tells me they're just starting, then asks me if I know a good place for cheap Mexican food. I ask her who they're going after. "Oh, just some woman," she says.