When Bishop started the car, the engine backfired louder than usual. Everyone standing outside the bus stop near where he had stopped at the curb to talk on the phone hit the deck. They believed some gangbangers had caught them in the middle of a drive-by shooting. Rick laughed his head off as he steered the worn out Corolla into traffic, leaving a dense cloud of blue smoke in the car’s wake. But he didn’t laugh long because the engine misfired badly, and after only a block, the temperature gauge on the dash climbed. What now, Bishop wondered? He knew he needed a new ride, but that wasn’t an option at the moment. First, to impress his girlfriend Koko, he’d recently blown all his ready cash and taken out a loan from a friend on top of it to pay for an extravagant vacation for them to Bora Bora. The other thing was he still owed twenty-two payments on the 4Runner he’d owned and wrecked before buying the Corolla. Then, after the crash, Bishop discovered his insurance company had canceled his policy because he’d missed two monthly premium payments. So not only did Rick have to absorb the loss of the 4Runner, but was also still paying off the car loan. His loan officer at the bank had already told him the bank wouldn’t finance another car for him until he paid off the loan on the wrecked 4Runner.
The car’s engine overheated. Steam rose from beneath the hood when Bishop nursed the Corolla to the curb in front of his office building and shut off the engine. Then, right on cue, Mrs. Wong flew out the front door of her herbal shop like an angry bull leaving a rodeo chute, wagging her finger at Bishop. Rick got out of the car, and his landlady intercepted him on the sidewalk.
“Mr. Rick, how many times I say you park in back. Front for customer only. You hear, Mr. Rick?”
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Wong,” Bishop said contritely. “I had to park it here because the car overheated. So I couldn’t make it to the alley in the back. But, I’ll tell you what, Mrs. Wong. I’ve got a surprise for you.”
“What surprise?” Wong asked suspiciously.
Bishop smiled and pulled his checkbook out of the inside pocket of his jacket with a flourish.
“I just collected from a client, Mrs. Wong. And since you’ve always shown such patience when I’ve fallen behind on the rent a few times, I’m going to pay you next month’s rent three whole days early.”
Mrs. Wong clutched her hands to her ancient, sunken chest.
“You pay early?” she asked in astonishment.
“Yes, Mrs. Wong,” Bishop said, slapping his checkbook onto the trunk lid and writing out the rent check.
Once he finished filling in the check, Rick tore it from the checkbook and handed it to his landlady. The older woman’s eyes had taken on a glassy stare, and a tiny rivulet of drool ran down her wrinkled chin from the corner of her open mouth.
“You okay, Mrs. Wong?” Bishop asked with genuine concern. “Do you need an ambulance?”
“I fine, Mr. Rick,” Wong stuttered. “You move car by morning, or I have towed.”
With that, Mrs. Wong turned and staggered like a drunken sailor back inside the herbal shop.
Jeez, I hope I didn’t cause the old girl to have a stroke, Bishop mused. Then he headed upstairs to his office.
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