The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain,
For promis’d joy.
—Robert Burns, “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough”
Ka Pau was humming with gamblers. Coins clinking into machines echoed throughout the casino punctuated by winnings jangling in metal trays.
“Hey, Andre!” Honesto bounced his friend on the arm and leaned over his shoulder to peer at the images crossing the screen. “How yuh goin’?”
Andre looked up from his twenty-five-cent game and grinned. “Not bad. What’s happenin’?”
“Nothing much,” Honesto yawned. “Yuh winning?”
Like clockwork, Honesto showed up at the casino each Friday night looking for his friend. He and Andre had met a few months earlier when he had arrived in Trinidad from the Philippines. Twenty-nine-year-old Honesto been recruited to work in Trinidad as a pharmacist. Andre drove a taxi and was looking for a return fare from Piarco Airport when Honesto had emerged from Customs. Since then, they had become friends, with Andre providing taxi service for Honesto and his Filipino buddies.
“Win some, lose some,” Andre shrugged. “But,” he winked, reaching into the white plastic container for more coins, “mostly winning.” They laughed as Andre pulled the lever, the screen blurring and whirring before abruptly stopping. Immediately coins rattled into the tray.
“Way to go!” Honesto slapped Andre on the back.
“If this keep up,” Andre declared, “I go make my car payment this month. This machine hot. Before you came, I hit three lemons and made an easy hundred. This better than driving taxi.”
“I hear yuh, man. Sometimes it’s like that. Yuh get lucky and hit a good machine.”
The cocktail waitress appeared with Andre’s Carib. He reached into his pot and dropped some coins onto her tray. She turned to Honesto. “Yuh having the same as your brother?”
“Yeah, but he’s not my brother,” Honesto grinned. “He’s not good-looking enough.”
“You lucky to look even a little like me, boy.” Andre scooped more coins, inserted them into the machine, and pulled the lever. Two cherries appeared as coins clanked below. Again Andre fed the machine. When the spinning stopped, there was silence. He deposited more coins. The reels whirled and twirled then stopped. Nothing.
“Hey, you’re losing your touch.” Honesto edged closer. “Let me try.”
“Find your own machine,” Andre replied. “Yuh may be my friend, but there’s no way I’m sharing this cash cow with yuh!” He fed the machine again. The machine hummed like a blender, followed by clattering coins just as the waitress returned with Honesto’s beer.
Honesto reached into the winnings for her tip. “Timing is everything!”
“I need another pot,” Andre bragged. “Go get me another pot. This baby is set to pay.” While Honesto went to the cashier’s cage for the container, Andre dropped more coins into the slot. The reels raced, then stopped abruptly—three cherries on the pay line, more jangling in the tray.
“Thanks,” Andre said, taking the plastic container from Honesto and scooping up the coins. “Stay here and keep my place. Whatever you do, don’t give up my machine. I’ll be right back.” He drained his Carib.
“Hey, man, can I play with your money while you’re gone?”
“Use yuh own money,” Andre retorted, standing the empty bottle sentry-like behind the plastic pots.
“What the hell yuh mean yuh broke? Is payday!”
“You know I send my money home to the Philippines on Friday. Hey, you don’t want to chance letting her get cold while you’re gone, do you?”
“Okay,” Andre laughed. “Just don’t get too attached.” He turned to leave and then stopped. “But what if yuh win with my money?”
“It’s yours,” Honesto said.
“No, no, that’s not fair,” Andre protested. “If yuh pull the arm and win, the money’s part yours.”
“But it’s your money and your machine.”
“Hear what. If yuh win, we go split it, 50-50. How that sounding?”
“You sure?” Honesto asked.
“Yeah. Keep she warm!” Andre grinned. He turned and headed for the washroom, maneuvering among throngs clustered around the slots and tables, drinking beers while waiting for a machine.
“Good evening, good evening, Mr. Persad,” beamed the manager. “How is everything tonight?”
“Real good,” Andre grinned. “Just don’t go resetting my machine before I come back!” They both laughed.
When Andre returned from the washroom, an annoying bell was clamoring like a car alarm. Then he realized that the flashing amber light was above his machine.
“Yes, yes! Honesto! We win!” he shouted, craning to see the face of the machine through the crowd that surrounded Honesto. He caught a glimpse of the manager conferring with Honesto. The manager straightened and worked his way through the crowd past Andre. “How much is the jackpot?” Andre asked.
“Twelve thousand dollars.”
“All right, man!” Andre yelled. He shouldered his way to the machine. Three magenta sevens crossed the pay line. “Hey, Honesto!”
Honesto stopped scooping coins into the plastic container. He jumped up and hugged Andre. “Jackpot!” he beamed, pointing to the screen.
“I knew this machine was going to pay big!” Andre crowed. “Twelve thousand dollars! I calling Mary.”
While Andre was on his mobile with his wife, the manager returned and handed Honesto a check. He shook Honesto’s hand then left. Andre pressed off and shoved his cell in his pocket. He rubbed his hands in anticipation.
“Lemme see that beautiful piece of paper.” Honesto handed him the check. “Hey,” Andre stared. “This check is only in your name.”
Honesto shrugged. “The manager said they only put one name on it.”
“So let we change it now and split it,” Andre said.
“They don’t pay out that kind of cash,” Honesto explained. “That’s why he gave me the check. Monday on my lunch hour I’ll go to my bank and cash it. I’ll give you your half when you pick me up after work.”
“Okay,” Andre answered. “But I really wanted to go home and throw money all over Mary.” They laughed and finished gathering up the coins. On their way to the cashier’s cage, they passed their cocktail waitress. Andre tilted one of the brimming containers above her tray. “Is good luck to share the wealth,” he grinned.
The cashier handed Andre over three hundred dollars for the coins. “We hafta celebrate, Honesto. Where yuh want to go?”
Honesto paused. “Now that’s a tough one—seeing as we can go anywhere we want!”
On Monday, after collecting his boys from school, Andre headed for the San Juan SuperPharm to pick up Honesto. He hated traveling in Port-of-Spain at eight in the morning and three in the afternoon because that was when parents were delivering or retrieving their school-age children. Parents refused to risk possible kidnapping by letting their children travel. Soon the rainy season, with its intermittent downpours, would increase the congestion.
When he finally reached the pharmacy, it was after four. Honesto was not outside. He never waited in the tropical sun if Andre was late.
Andre turned to Brandon and Adam. “Allyuh wait here.
Don’t touch nothing. I’m coming back just now. After I drop off Honesto,” he added, “I go carry allyuh to MovieTowne in the arcade and we go celebrate.” He disappeared inside the pharmacy.
Soon he and Honesto emerged.
“Hi, guys.” Honesto nodded to the boys as he got into the front seat. They smiled back.
Andre slid behind the wheel and turned expectantly to Honesto. “So where my money, boy?” he asked with a smile.
Honesto looked down. “Sorry, Andre.” Andre stared. “What yuh mean, ‘Sorry’?”
“We were really busy today, Monday and all. I didn’t have time to go to the bank.” Honesto looked up. “But I will tomorrow. I promise.”
Andre was silent. He felt a sick churning in his stomach. “I hope yuh not lying to me.”
“Of course not,” Honesto said quickly.
Maybe too quickly, Andre thought. “Because I really counting on that money,” he continued slowly. “Where Mary working, they closing down by the end of the month, and I have to keep up the installment on this car.” He paused. “And yuh know long time we putting off Brandon operation.”
“Don’t worry. I was just busy,” Honesto assured him. “I’ll cash it tomorrow.” They rode in silence for a while, and then exchanged small talk until they reached Honesto’s apartment.
“So I go pick yuh up after work again tomorrow?” Andre asked.
Honesto handed him the fare. “Yeah. Four o’clock at the pharmacy.”
But the next day Honesto was not there. The clerk told Andre it was Honesto’s day off.
“He tell me to pick him up here this afternoon,” Andre insisted.
“One of you must have made a mistake,” the clerk shrugged.
Andre left. He sat in his car dumbfounded. Then he pulled out his cell and dialed Honesto’s number. The phone rang and rang. No one answered, not even voice mail.
“Yuh sonofabitch,” Andre said softly. His jaw set as he started up the car and headed for Honesto’s. How he could stiff me like that? For months I chauffeur him and his friends wherever they want to go, give him priority over my other customers. I invite him to my house for Christmas, not just because he was alone and far from his own family, but because I like him. Mary and the boys and me, we even organize that birthday party for him and invite all the Filipinos. “That sonofabitch,” Andre repeated as he swung onto Jerningham Avenue.
A few cars were parked outside Honesto’s whitewashed, two-story apartment building. Andre pulled into visitor parking, got out, and strode to Honesto’s door. He pounded on the painted metal, then stepped aside so he could not be seen through the peephole. He waited. There was no sound from within. Further down, someone was blasting Machel Montano’s “One More Time.” Andre banged on Honesto’s door again. He in there, all right. He just too coward to face me. Angrily, Andre started back to his car. “He can’t hide from me,” he fumed. “He must go to work.”
“Andre!” Honesto stood, head bowed, in his doorway, a cowering child called to the principal’s office.
Andre turned. “Give me my money now,” he demanded. “I want my money, boy.”
“I don’t have it.”
“What the hell yuh mean you don’t have it?” Andre shouted.
Honesto glanced around the complex nervously. “Please keep your voice down.”
“I go keep my voice down when yuh give me my money.” “It’s gone,” Honesto said quietly. “I sent it home to my mother.”
“No,” Andre said. “Yuh send your money home for yuh mother, not mine. I want my money now.”
“It’s too late. I don’t have it. Besides,” Honesto added defensively, “it was my money. I won it, not you.”
“But we agreed to split it.” Andre’s voice rose again. “Yuh used my machine and my money!”
“But I won. The money was my winnings, and now it’s gone.” Honesto stepped back and reached to close the door.
“Yuh lying sonofabitch!” Andre shouted, lunging at the door. The lock clicked.
That night as they lay in bed, Andre told Mary what had happened. “But he tief yuh money. How he could do yuh that?” she wailed.
“He just do it,” Andre responded wearily.
“To me, all the money was yours,” Mary declared. “It was your machine, and Honesto play with your money.” She shook her head. ”I just don’t understand him. He’s a pharmacist and he working for more money than you, and he won’t even split it. And you was his friend.”
“All he care about is the money,” Andre sighed. “Money is the only reason he come to Trinidad.”
“I still can’t believe he could tief from us like that and get away with it.”
Andre shrugged. “Tell it to the judge, I guess.” “Why not?” Mary demanded. “Why not what?”
“Why not tell it to the judge? Sue Honesto for the money!” “I thinking about doing that,” Andre said glumly, “but there isn’t enough money involved for that. After time off from work and legal expenses, it might cost me six thousand to get my six thousand.”
“Six? Go for the whole twelve! Honesto obviously don’t believe you have an agreement to split it.”
“That is true,” Andre agreed. “But it still risky to sue. There’s no guarantee, and if we lose, we go be in more expense.”
“There must be something we could do,” Mary sighed, turning off the bedside lamp. “Even with all the crime in Trinidad, being victims like this is the last thing I would have thought.”
Andre lay awake, his stomach churning. He tief my money. It was my machine and my money he sent home like clockwork to his mother. And I trusted him, that sonofabitch. My money, and now it’s gone—he stopped. That’s it! Why didn’t I think of that before? Excited, he began to make a plan. Yes, it just might work. Life may not be fair, he thought grimly, but that don’t mean I can’t try to right the wrongs.
The next morning, after dropping Brandon and Adam at school, Andre drove directly to Honesto’s complex. This time he parked outside on Jerningham Avenue. As he opened the car door, a pair of screeching keskidees flew from an overhead wire to a neighboring branch plumb-lined with ruddy mangos. He hastened to the nearest door on the first floor of the complex and glanced at the lock. Kwikset. Then he hurried back to his car and drove to the Priority Mall in San Juan.
In the locksmith shop, a middle-aged woman was seated behind the counter talking on her mobile. “Yuh think I pluck myself and get money? Yuh understand?” she was saying. She nodded at Andre and added, “Customer come. Call yuh later.”
“Where Moony?” Andre demanded.
The woman slowly looked up from putting her mobile in her purse, rolled her eyes, and steupsed loudly. “What? Yuh don’t even say hello? Where yuh manners gone, boy?”
“Sorry,” Andre said sheepishly. “Good morning.”
“That’s more like it. I don’t know what this country coming to,” she continued, shaking her head. “First people don’t have no time to talk with people, now they don’t even say good morning! What you in such a rush for, boy?”
Great, Andre thought. A talker. “No rush. I just thinking ’bout all I have to do today, is all.”
She shook her head. “Yuh going to have a heart attack, yuh keep up like that. This is Trinidad, boy. Nothing can’t wait.” To Andre’s relief she turned and called out, “Moony!” A stocky East Indian appeared from the back room. “Lightning Man!” Leo Moonsammy beamed, giving Andre a bear hug. He and Andre had played football together at San Juan Secondary Comprehensive and remained friends through the years.
After exchanging small talk, Andre said, “Listen, Moony, I need a bump key.”
“What for? Yuh turning to a life of crime?” Moony joked. “Anything gotta be more profitable than driving taxi,” Andre laughed. “Adam lock a door in the house I need to open.”
“What kind you need?”
“Kwikset. So you find is a lot of breakins using bump keys?” “That’s usually what they’re for. There’s a lot of all kinds of crime in this country. If the PNM don’t hurry up and do something about all the homicides, our people going get elected.”
Andre pocketed the key and was soon heading back to Honesto’s apartment. Honesto will be at work all day like the rest of the Filipinos here. No one will hear me banging on Honesto’s lock. By now rush hour traffic had dissipated. Andre tuned in to 91.9 and leaned back to soak up the soca and enjoy the ride. “Tonight I’m in the mood, I want to wine and behave rude / So anyting you want to do, I dare you, I dare you …“
When he reached Honesto’s building, Andre again parked on Jerningham Avenue. No one was in sight. He opened the trunk, pulled the rubber mallet from his sports bag, and hurried to Honesto’s door. Except for the usual symphony of chirping, squawking, and whistling, everything was as still as a Sunday sunrise. Andre inserted the bump key into the lock and banged the key with the mallet. Nothing. He banged again. No luck. He listened to hear if the noise had disturbed anyone. Satisfied that it had not, he pounded again, slightly turning the key at the same time. The lock opened. Andre reached for the knob, then hesitated. This is breaking and entering, he thought. No! Taking back my own money ent no crime. Quickly he slipped inside.
He stood in the tidy kitchen and looked around. “Now where would I put that check?” he wondered aloud. He noticed that everything was orderly. Even the breakfast dishes stood drying in the rack. Impulsively, he opened the cupboards beneath the sink. Each item was lined neatly across the space, three deep. “Backups for his backups,” Andre mused. “Like a buller man.” No, the check wouldn’t be in the kitchen or the bathroom. He walked into the dining room–living room which was as spotless as the kitchen. A light hung above the dining room table with its four chairs. Beyond a black leather recliner and matching sofa faced the wall with the flat-screen TV. On the right was the door to the bedroom.
The bed was made. Remote controls for the portable TV and overhead fan lay on the bedside table, along with a copy of Aelred’s Sin and some journals, Pharmacy Times and dotPharmacy. Andre pulled open the drawer—miscellaneous papers neatly stacked, pens, paperclips, coins, cash. Eight hundred dollars. I ent no tief. He closed the drawer and opened the double doors of the armoire. Shirts hung on the left neatly grouped according to color. On the shelf below was a row of neatly folded underwear, and behind a row of neatly folded socks. On the right was a fold-down desktop. Behind the desktop were pigeonholes filled with envelopes, bills, receipts, and—jackpot!—a Ka Pau check for twelve thousand dollars. Just like I thought, Andre gloated. The check not cash yet. He do everything like clockwork: He always on time, he always stop by the casino every Friday exactly at 7:30, and he always go in the bank and send money home on Friday afternoons.
Andre rifled through the envelopes until he found one that said Republic Bank. Months earlier, he had driven Honesto to the San Juan branch to open the account. He continued rummaging until he found Honesto’s passport. He pulled a chair over to the desk and taking a pen and blank sheet, he began copying Honesto’s signature. The big loop on the H, the pointed n, the squat t with the downward cross. Printed capital M. Over and over he practiced the signature. Satisfied, he copied Honesto’s account number on the sheet, then replaced the Republic envelope in its pigeonhole. He pocketed the check and passport, closed the armoire, and exited the apartment, leaving the door unlocked. I go return soon. It not worth having to bump the lock again.
He drove back to San Juan, to the Republic branch on Eastern Main Road. The Ka Pau check drawn on a Republic account, he figured, so Republic can check funds and cash the check immediately. He knew he was taking a chance going to the branch where Honesto banked, but he thought they would be less likely to question his cashing the check there. He parked on First Street just beyond the bank. “Showtime,” he sighed, removing his aviator sunglasses from his shirt pocket and reaching into the backseat for his Boston Red Sox cap.
As he entered the bank, he noted the uniformed security guard standing by the back wall, and in his peripheral vision, the surveillance cameras. He averted his face as best he could and stood at the end of the short line. Just like I thought. Not many people here at this hour on a Wednesday morning. Suddenly, the security guard was walking toward him. Andre froze. The guard passed and opened the door for an elderly lady. Gotta relax, he told himself, exhaling slowly. It gonna work. Me and Honesto about the same height and coloring. I just a little taller and more built. He smiled to himself. And better-looking.
The woman ahead moved away from the counter. Andre stepped forward. Don’t say nothing yuh don’t have to. He handed the teller the check. “Cash, please.”
The teller looked at the piece of paper. “Do you have an account with us?” she asked. Andre pulled the sheet from his pocket before realizing it was covered with his attempts to forge Honesto’s signature. Quickly he lowered the sheet below the counter and folded it so only the account number showed. Then he placed it on the counter facing the teller. She typed the numbers onto her keyboard. While they waited, he slipped the paper back into his pocket. “I’m sorry, Mr. Manalo, but you don’t have enough money in your account to cover this check. I can deposit the money into your account and you can withdraw the cash after the check has cleared.”
“But why I need to wait?” Andre blurted. Easy, easy, he told himself. “It’s a Ka Pau check written on a Republic account,” he continued evenly. “Why can’t I cash it now since Ka Pau has an account and I have an account?”
“One moment. I’ll ask my supervisor.”
Andre forced himself to appear calm as he watched her walk to the back of the room and disappear. Cool yuhself. The worst that can happen is they won’t cash the check. No, he corrected himself, the worst would be if the manager comes over and sees I’m not Honesto. Andre turned slightly. The security guard had returned to his place and stood idly glancing about. Just then the teller emerged with an older man dressed in a suit. She was showing him the check and talking. The man examined the check, looked across at Andre, and nodded.
The teller returned and slid the check toward Andre. “No problem, Mr. Manalo. Just endorse the back, please, and I’ll need to see some identification.” Andre handed her Honesto’s passport. He picked up the pen attached to the silver chain and stared at the blank back of the check. The teller was waiting. Andre carefully drew the large loop on the H. Pointed n. Short t, down-slanted cross. Hook the final o‘s backwards. The teller took the check and compared the signature with the one in the passport. Andre tensed, ready to bolt. Then she recorded the passport number on the check, stamped the back, and asked how he’d like his cash.
Gleefully, Andre jumped into his Nissan Wingroad. He looked around quickly. No one was watching. He removed the fat stack of blues from the envelope and fanned the bills. One hundred twenty of them. And all his. No way any of this belong to Honesto. He forfeit he right to half the winnings when he try to cheat me. He tossed the Red Sox cap onto the backseat and started the engine. All he had to do now was drive back to Honesto’s, replace the passport, and lock the door.
Is still early, he thought, as he descended Lady Young Road, passed the Hilton, and approached the St. Ann’s rotary. Honesto won’t be back for hours. I have plenty time to drive to Ellerslie Plaza and deposit the money in my Scotiabank account. Better than carrying all this cash around. Is Trinidad. Anything could happen.
Half an hour later, his deposit made, Andre was again circling the Savannah, passing the Emperor Valley Zoo and the Botanical Gardens as he headed toward Belmont. The pink pouis were in bloom, their delicate, fleeting brilliance paralleling his excitement at everything the jackpot made possible. It ent often that justice happen, that nice guys finish first, he reflected. He swung left onto Jerningham Avenue and pulled up just before the entrance to the apartment building. He got out and scanned the surroundings. Deserted. Nice. Suddenly a ripe mango dropped before him. A good omen. Smiling, he stooped to retrieve it.
Andre knocked quietly on Honesto’s door. He waited. Nothing. After double-checking to make sure he was unobserved, he slipped inside. He took the passport from his shirt pocket, marveling at how easy it had been to get his money back. If I wasn’t such a basically honest guy, I might even be tempted— He stopped in the bedroom doorway.
“What the…?” Papers and clothing were scattered everywhere. All the drawers were out, socks and underwear hanging from them. The armoire and its fold-down desk were open, the contents of the pigeonholes strewn about. Then he saw the arm.
“Oh god!” He dropped the passport and walked around the bed to where Honesto lay on the floor. His head rested in a pool of blood—geyser blood from slashed carotids. His throat looked like it had been machete-chopped. Mechanically, Andre felt for the pulse he knew wasn’t there. “Who do this?” he wailed. Call the ambulance. No, the police. He pressed 999 on his cell. Oh god. Who could do this? Motive. Someone who heard ’bout the jackpot must have brought Honesto back to the apartment to steal the money—
Andre froze. Motive. I have motive.
“Hello? Hello?” And my fingerprints all over the apartment. Quickly he hung up and looked around wildly. From the floor he grabbed a shirt and began wiping the armoire pulls and the desk. The pen. The envelope from Republic Bank. The passport—what I do with the passport? Frantically, he searched for the green passport. There it was on the floor. He wiped it furiously and shoved it into a pigeonhole—then stopped. Everyone know, he realized slowly, how Honesto cheat me. I just deposit twelve thousand dollars in my account. And I on the security cameras at the bank—at both banks, dressed in the same clothes… He leaned against the armoire and slid to the floor, laughing uncontrollably.
*This story is taken from: Trinidad Noir Ed. By Lisa Allan-Agostini and Jeanne Mason, ©2008 Akashic Books.