Stories by Emily Hoover
  1  Surge
3  Angelo Loves Tammy
El Brutál
5  Real Fun
  6  Tectonics of Time
  7  Some Kind of Saint
  8  Snitch
  9  Demolition
10  Reflections at Aqua Key West

  About the Author  |  |  Summer 2021 Fiction Issue

El Brutál

Federico’s body made contact with la jara and he grunted, stifled an insult. His rib cage throbbed, and as the officer jerked him around, he could feel the frame of the car rub up against his also-throbbing hipbone. Tasting blood almost immediately, he knew he’d bitten his cheek, hard, when the officer decided to test the law of inertia on him only seconds before.

“Hands on your head where I can see ‘em, boy,” the officer said, his cracker-ass accent sharp against the Spanish that rang out in the nearby baseball field.

Rico placed his hands on his head and looked up at the Florida sun, hidden beneath a cluster of wispy clouds. He prayed for rain. The officer frisked him for weapons and drugs. When he found nothing, he frisked Rico again. Twice. Rico ran his tongue against his cheek, bit off the chunk of soft flesh hanging there, and cringed at the pain as more blood seeped into his mouth. He recognized the sound of his sister Ariana’s voice in the distance. It seemed she was laughing—not crying for once—and he hoped she didn’t notice him. Being stopped by the cops wasn’t a cause for outrage, for that was an everyday occurrence in Eaton Park, especially for people who had hair and skin and lips like him. What was outrageous was being stopped for no reason and then being shot on the street, so Rico kept silent, just like his ma had told him countless times.

“I’ve seen you work this corner, boy. Give it up.” The officer struck him again, this time in the back of the head.

We all look the same to him, the fucking pendejo. Rico sucked his teeth. “Come on, man,” he said. “I don’t have anything.’”

“Not this time, huh?”

“Not ever.” Rico was annoyed—no, fucking pissed—because, as usual, he hadn’t done anything to warrant the excessive force. All he’d done was walk from his house to his Tía Lourdes’ house, down the street, and then back again. He had a basket of her bomba-ass pastelillos de carne to prove this, but the blanquito cop hadn’t given a shit. As soon as Rico offered him one as a sort of white flag, the officer “confiscated it,” which consisted of tossing the basket of crispy fried dough onto the asphalt and stepping on them like you might step on a fire ant infestation. Rico wondered: if he had been carrying a box of sweet domplines instead of pastelillos, would el gordo have reacted the same way?

“What are you doing ‘round here?” the cop asked.

“I told you already: visiting my tía, eating pastelillos, enjoying this fine weather.”

“Yeah, uh-huh.” The officer wiped some sweat from his brow, and Rico could see he was leaking from the armpits, too.

“Can I go now? I gotta go and pick up my sister.” The lie slipped out of Rico’s mouth like an ice cube on summer-stained hands. “She’s waiting for me. At the bus stop. Am I free to go?”

“No, you’re not free to go, boy. I got a call for a poisoning, and it just so happens the suspect fits your description. But you knew that already. Hope your little sister has some legs that can walk her on home.”

Rico’s arms tingled and his face warmed. “What do you mean, poisoning? I didn’t do nothin.’” He was telling the truth, but he began sweating anyway.

He should have known it would end up like this. La jara de los perros had started following him as soon as he stopped to talk with Monica. She was washing her father’s Toyota. “Hola, Monica.” He undressed her with his eyes. “Your boyfriend still hanging around or no?”

“Shut the fuck up, Rico.” She washed the side-view mirrors quickly. “I’m tired of your shit, for real.” She smirked. He couldn’t kiss her goodbye because her old man was watching from the front window like some kind of fucking CO, but he told her he’d stop by her room later.

Rico caught the two-toned cruiser in the corner of his eye as he made his way down her patchy-ass lawn. When the red and blues came on soon after, surrounding his body in light, his first instinct was to run for the palmettos, curl into a ball, and hide. He stopped walking and threw his hands in the air.

Rico declined when the puertorriqueño cop handed him a can of Surge. The interrogation room in the police station was bare except for mirrors, and he half-expected the cop to offer him a cigarette, like in the movies. Rico crossed his ankles and his bare calf rubbed up against the chilled metal of the chair.

“Suit yourself, then.” The blanquito cop, who had played volleyball with his body only an hour prior, reached for the Surge, pushed the tab open, and guzzled down half the contents.

The puertorriqueño cop—Rico knew he was Boricua—sat down across from him and opened a can of Coke. “So. Mr. Sanchez.”

Blanquito gulped down the rest of the soda and paced around the table.

Rico resisted the urge to turn around when he heard Blanquito step behind him. “Can I just get some water from the fountain or something?” he asked.

“I’m on it, Detective.” Blanquito walked to the door, knocked.

Boricua nodded as Blanquito exited. Rico knew this shit was rehearsed.

“So where were we, Mr. Sanchez?” Boricua took a sip from the Coke.

“I’m not sure.” Rico locked eyes with the detective for a fraction of a second before Boricua looked away. “Your friend brought me down here after ruining all my tía’s pastelillos.He’s been going on about some poisoning. I don’t know anything about no poisoning.”

“Uh-huh,” Boricua said. “Shame about those pastelillos, though.”

“You’re telling me. My ma’s gonna freak.”

“So what exactly do you do, Mr. Sanchez?” Boricua clicked his pen.

“Like for work? I’m a cook at my tío’s restaurant.” Rico watched him scribble notes into a green memorandum book.


“And sometimes the neighbors let me detail their cars for cash.”

“And?” Boricua looked up from his notepad.

“And…I don’t know, man. That’s all I got.” Rico knew better than to let this chota coach him into admitting something he didn’t do.

“Doesn’t sound like a lot of money to pay the rent.”

“It isn’t. Luckily for me, I live at home.” Rico smiled.

“Lucky for you.”

Blanquito walked in, put the Styrofoam cup of water in front of Rico, and left soundlessly. All that remained of him was the yellow smell of his BO.

“Why don’t you tell me how you got to be in here?” Boricua asked.

Rico took a sip and sighed. The shit was exhausting. “Your boy out there is the one who brought me in. Maybe you should ask him.”

“Maybe I should ask Ruth Burke.”

Rico frowned. “Who?”

“Ruth Burke. You know her?”

“We went to high school together,” Rico said. What he didn’t say was that he and Ruth used to be fuck buddies, until her father, who worked for the city attorney’s office, found out. But he had a funny feeling Boricua knew this already.

“Seen her around lately?” The detective moved the can of Coke closer to him, the aluminum scraping against the table. It left a slug’s trail of condensation.

“Nah. She don’t live in the neighborhood.” Rico was sure Boricua knew this much.

And come to think of it, Rico hadn’t thought of Ruth since he last saw her at graduation a year ago. He remembered walking up to her after the mass-long ceremony—the way her blond hair curled around her collarbones, how the navy-blue graduation dress looked against her pearl skin. As soon as he approached and congratulated her, her mother grabbed her by the wrist and dragged her to the car.

“But you still see her around, yeah?” Boricua narrowed his eyes.

Rico felt jolted into the present. “No,” he said.

“That’s funny because I hear you’re real close.”

“From who?”

“From a little birdie.”

The two men stared at one another for a moment, and the air conditioning pushed a gentle hum into the room. “Look, Mr. Sanchez,” Boricua said finally, “we know about your little cocaine business. And we have evidence to prove it, too.”

Rico swallowed, his throat dry. Boricua was bluffing, but it wasn’t like Blanquito was above planting evidence. Rico took another sip before answering. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” His restraint was practiced, though not without fear.

“I thought you might say something like that.” Boricua finished the soda, crushed the can. “We have everything we need to take you down on possession with intent to distribute, including witnesses.”

Ruth’s dad was behind this; Rico could connect the dots. Or was he just being paranoid? “What do you want me to do?”

Boricua smiled. “Well, you see, the interesting part about this case is the particular strain of llelo. I don’t know who’s been cutting your powder, Mr. Sanchez, but he isn’t a trained professional if you know what I mean. Your girl, Ruth. Well, you see, she almost died. She’s allergic to aspirin, and it looks like you sold her a whole shit load of ground up aspirin instead of cocaine.” Boricua chuckled and Rico felt his stomach drop. “Know what that means, Mr. Sanchez?”

Rico just stared at the space between the detective’s bushy eyebrows.

“Attempted murder. Manslaughter at least.”

“It wasn’t me.”

, . It never is.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“You just fucking admitted it.”

Rico knew he should have asked for a lawyer a long time ago. In fact, he hadn’t even been read his Miranda rights. “I didn’t admit nothing. I asked what you wanted me to do. There’s a difference.”

Boricua stood abruptly and knocked on the interrogation room door. It opened and he moved outside.

Rico tried to calm himself, focusing at first on the sound of his breath. He hadn’t admitted anything, he knew, because he didn’t do it, but they sure were making him sweat. He finished the water, gripping the Styrofoam cup tightly and trying to keep his hand from shaking. He tried to think: who did he know who sold cocaine? He pictured the neighborhood and his street and soon after, the kid’s face appeared in his mind: dark brown mushroom haircut, yellow teeth, beady eyes, skinny arms—El Brutál, they called him, the loco white boy who beat his little brother an inch from death two years ago after catching him dressed like a girl. Rico remembered the sick fuck trying to sell some weak shit, aspirin or some shit, around the neighborhood maybe a month or so ago. He wondered: were the cops just trying to get him to rat out Phillip, or was Ruth’s father trying to fuck him over for good? He could believe either scenario.

The door opened and Boricua came back in. He stood behind his chair, grasping the back of it with small, hairless hands.

Rico remembered what it felt like—in his gut—when he watched his own ma clean the dried blood off Phillip’s brother’s face right after the beating, which was with a fucking baseball bat. Daniel was around the same age as Angelo, Rico’s único hermano, when it happened. Daniel just sobbed there on the pull-out couch in his mamá’s lingerie, trembling. It was some sad, horrifying shit, and Rico couldn’t get it out of his head. He didn’t normally chotear, but then he thought about the fuck he was snitching on. Someone who deserved it, that’s who. And it didn’t matter to Rico whether the prick actually did it or not.


  © Emily Hoover, 2021

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