Romeo set Geo up in a room with a cold beer and plenty of clean towels then went out to check on the kid. Geo had told him a couple of stories about Slappy's behavior on the drive out that had him wondering if he wasn't in bad with the Boss after all. Why would he send out such a little bastard?
He thought back to what the Boss had said – "He'll need a lot of training, but he's one of ours, absolutely devoted. I think you'd be a great role model for him, Romeo."
And more worrying still: "Really, he's a wonderful boy, he's just been through a lot and he's, well... I guess you could say sort of special."
He glanced around the courtyard, saw that it was empty, then noticed the dogs standing by Geo's car in the driveway looking in the open driver's side door. He walked over to the car and looked in, too. Slappy was half upside-down under the steering wheel, fiddling with the wires in the fusebox.
"What do you think you're doing?" he asked.
The kid jumped slightly, but kept at it and didn't look up at him. "I'm getting the hell out of here," he said.
"Oh, I get it," Romeo said peering in at his fingers, "you think you're hot-wiring the car..."
"You're gonna be laughing outta the other side of your face when the engine starts to roar," he mumbled, grunting slightly as he tugged on a wire.
"Well, if you continue fiddling with those wires like that, the only thing you're going to accomplish is making sure Geo can't use his blinkers to signal politely."
Slappy scowled at his hands and shrugged. "I'll figure it out, I figure everything out eventually, so scram and leave me alone."
Romeo stood there, wondering what to do. He could drag the kid out and beat him, but he had a feeling that wasn't what the Boss had in mind when he said training. He sighed a little inward sigh. Fuck, it was another test. Losing his temper with this one would just feed his fire. He thought about his brother Angelo's slow, patient smile and silently prayed for his help. He had to figure this weird kid out and turn him into a useful worker. But first he had to get him stop messing with Geo's car and decide to stay. He knew one thing for certain, he wouldn't be able to make him stay against his will. The dogs wandered off to lay down in the shade.
"Hey, kid," Romeo said.
Slappy paused and glared up at him. "Quit calling me 'kid!' It's ridiculous for a guy who's only a couple of years older'n me to call me 'kid!'"
"Hey, Slappy," Romeo said, "you want me to show you how to hot-wire this car?"
Slappy rolled his eyes, "Don't yank my chain, you're not gonna show me shit..."
Romeo shrugged. "Sure I'll show you. Its my job to show you, that's why the Boss sent you out here, to learn how to do useful things. Move over."
As Romeo moved in, Slappy begrudgingly squirmed out of the way. He sat up on the seat and crossed his arms.
"Ah, Jesus, you undid the brake lights," Romeo muttered, putting the wires back in order. "The Boss told me that he thought you could be trusted more than any ki... guy... he knows. He wants us to work together on something important to him." He glanced up, Slappy was staring off stubbornly through the windshield.
"He didn't tell me he was sending you out here against your will."
Slappy tried to pull his legs up, but his hurt knee made him suck air, "Ow, fuckin' hell! You didn't have to crush my kneecap, you know. What the hell am I gonna do now with a bum leg?"
"Should have thought of that before you pulled a knife on me. Come over here and look." Romeo took out Slappy's knife and beckoned for him to move closer. "You can't just mess up the wires, you also need a screwdriver, or in a pinch, a knife. It goes like this, watch," he said and made the engine turn over.
He sat up in the seat, closed the knife and held it out. "Here. You ever pull that thing on someone again, you better go ahead and use it or you're going find out how easy it is to die."
Slappy just looked at him with his brows furrowed and a look in his eyes that Romeo couldn't quite figure. "Take it back; it's yours isn't it? I bet the Boss gave it to you, didn't he?" He turned it over, admiring it. "He's got good taste. You want to see something he gave me?"
He tossed the knife in Slappy's lap and dug into his pocket. Slappy closed his hand around the knife and held it tight, watching Romeo with that same odd expression, a mixture of distrust and hopefulness. Romeo held up his watch and smiled. "This is the most beautiful thing I've ever owned." He held up the watch and opened its face. "This side is a pocket watch, gorgeous and very useful. But then you turn it over and the other side is a compass." He opened the compass and turned it back and forth so the kid could see it.
Slappy was impressed and reached out for it.
"Sorry, I don't let anybody touch it," Romeo said, pulling it back gently.
"I let you touch my knife," Slappy said.
Romeo raised an eyebrow and stared down his nose at him. Slappy shrugged and looked away, but couldn't keep from looking back to the gleaming bauble.
"I promise I'll never try to kill you with my watch," Romeo said drily as he closed it up and put it back in his pocket. He put the car in gear, closed the door, drove around and parked in front of Geo's room.
"The Boss just sent me out here to get rid of me," Slappy said suddenly, the hurt in his voice plain to hear.
Romeo nodded. "I could see why you'd think that, but I don't believe it's true. Just for the record, I wasn't too pleased to get here myself."
He shut off the car and opened the door, then paused to pull a key out of his pocket, setting it on the front seat between them. "Here, you got room number one, right over there." He pointed. "It's too goddamned hot in the middle of the day to do anything. Usually I go for a dip in the pool, then take a nap. There's cold drinks and food in the kitchen." He pointed to the lobby. "You do what you want."
He got out of the car and walked away.
Slappy sat there in the hot car holding his knife for a long time before he finally slipped it into his pocket, picked up his room key and got out. He looked around at the motel as he limped over to his room; the place looked small and boring. His knee hurt, but it wasn't so bad.
"I'd have to be out of my mind to stay in a dump like this," he mumbled to himself as he opened the door and went in.