Whoever said that you can tell a lot about a man by what he wants for his last meal never met Jonsey Patoniak.
"Spaghetti and meatballs? You serious?" Webb said.
"Sure," Jonsey said, "the carbs give you lots of energy, and the tomatoes in the sauce are anti-oxidants."
"What about the meatball?"
Jonsey spit a pistachio shell through the car's open window.
"You don't need any more protein than what comes in a cut about the size of your hand. The number of meatballs you get is just about that."
"I thought you were on one of those low-carb diets."
"Whole-grain pasta and turkey meatballs."
"For your last meal."
"You're a piece of work, Jonsey."
"You should see me in the morning."
Jonsey popped another pistachio in his mouth, worked his tongue for a moment, and bit down. A second later, the shell fragments flew out the window. Webb suppressed a shudder as he thought about what that would be doing to Jonsey's teeth, or how his gums would react to a stray piece of shrapnel from a bite-down gone bad.
"Hey, is that our guy?" Jonsey said.
A man wearing a canary yellow and albatross white track suit came out of the government office building and walked across the parking lot in uneven, jerky steps. His head whipped around as he walked, and every few seconds he would crane his neck and jump.
"That'd be him." Webb said.
"Is it too late to leave?" Jonsey said.
"It was too late when we got up this morning."
Jonsey grunted and rolled up his pistachio bag. The crinkling caught the ear of the man making his way across the lot; he changed direction and headed for the car.
“Hey, I'm Roth. You guys my ride?”
“Yeah,” Webb said, “come on in.”
“Awesome,” Roth said. He jerked the back door open and slammed it shut. “Thanks again for getting me out, no other bail bondsman would talk to me.”
“Thank Mister Mortimer for that, when you see him,” Webb said. He grinned until Jonsey shot him a look , where he then tried to suppress it, not succeeding.
“It's what we specialize in, Roth,” Jonsey said.
They drove out of the parking lot. Roth slid from one side of the back seat to the other, looking out of each window for a second before changing views.
“Hey, this isn't the way to my house, guys,” he said.
Jonsey said, “We gotta stop by the office and have you do one more thing before we can take you home.”
Roth scrunched up his face and slapped his forehead. “Aw, come on, guys! I already signed like fifty thousand papers and listened to Mortimer's sermon while I was in lockup.” He rocked forward and poked his head between Jonsey and Webb. “What else I gotta do?”
“Talk to Mister Mortimer about it,” Jonsey said. “We're just the hired help, okay?”
Roth flung himself back and folded his arms.”Fuck.”
Webb glanced back at their charge and turned to Jonsey with a hint of a smile. “We should ask him.”
“No we shouldn't.”
“Ask me what?” Roth said.
Webb raised his eyebrows at Jonsey. Jonsey rolled his eyes and threw up his hands. Jonsey grinned and turned to face Roth.
“Did they feed you in lockup?” Jonsey said.
“What was it?”
“I don' t know, some kind of biscuit with a bunch of chicken and gravy on it. Had some nasty carrots and peas floating around too. Like someone fucked up a pot pie and got it inside-out.”
“Was it any good?” Webb said.
“Hell no, I had to dump a bunch of salt and pepper on it to even take a bite.”
“Was that all there was?”
Roth ping-ponged to the other side of the car. “There was some salad shit, but they didn't have French to go with it.”
“Missed out on vitamin E, calcium, some fiber too, probably,” Jonsey said.
“Let the man talk,” said Webb. “Any dessert?”
“In lockup? You kidding?”
“What'd you have to drink?” Webb said.
“How much?” Jonsey said.
“A few cups. Why the hell you want to know?”
“You're gonna be dehydrated as all get-out,” Jonsey said.
“Like I care. I'm going to have like a ton of beer as soon as I get home anyway.”
“See, Jonsey, the man has a plan.” Webb said. Jonsey looked at Roth in the rear-view mirror and muttered to himself. Webb grinned. “Jonsey's got a weird sense of what good food is. He thinks whole-grain spaghetti with turkey meatballs can't be beat. He lives in the health food store -- don't ya Jonsey?.”
“I don't live in a health food store, I live above one,” Jonsey said.
“Same difference,” Webb said.
They turned a corner and passed a flashing school zone sign. A group of kids in school uniforms clambered over a jungle gym, swung from chain swings, and chased after each other around the lone adult. Roth slid over to the window and watched the kids on the playground. His body went rock-still save for his head which slowly turned as the car moved on. Then his head whipped around and he pointed at a white truck on the other side of the street.
“The ice cream man! Let's stop.”
“No, Mister Mortimer's expecting you at the office,” Jonsey said.
Webb smiled. “Actually, he doesn't know we're on our way. I could go for an ice cream myself.”
“You know what he's charged with, Webb. No.”
Roth began flopping forward and back in the seat.“Aw, come on, man, I ain't like that! They got nothing on me! Innocent until proven guilty! 'Sides,I just told you that I didn't get no dessert.”
Webb slowed and pulled the car to the side of the street. He turned to Jonsey and arched an eyebrow. “He didn't get his dessert, Jonsey.”
“You are a terrible human being, Webb,” Jonsey said. He turned around to Roth. “All that fat and artificial flavoring wrecks your digestion, don't even get me started on the glucose spike.”
“I'm sure he'll be fine,” Webb said. “You two stay in the car, I'm buying.”
“None for me, thanks,” Jonsey said.
After Webb came back with the ice cream, he sat next to Roth sat on the car's back bumper. Jonsey placed himself between the car and the school. A breeze carried the spicy scent of fresh cedar chips from the playground. Roth bit into his ice cream and made little contented sounds, sending the car bouncing as he chewed.
“I don't know what this stuff is, but it's awesome,” Roth said, “thanks!”
“I thought you might like it,” Webb said, wiping a bit of chocolate shell fragment from his chin and sticking it in his mouth.
“How come you didn't want any?” Roth said to Jonsey.
“Yeah, they had lemon ice,” Webb said.
“High-fructose corn syrup and yellow number three,” Jonsey said. “I'd rather drink bear urine.”
Roth started chocking on his ice cream bar. Webb pounded his back, nearly knocking Roth down. When Roth recovered, he turned to Webb.
“What's his problem?”
“Jonsey lives as if a pissed-off lion is going to jump out of an alley at any given time.”
“Why not buy a gun and eat whatever the hell you want?” Roth said.
“An excellent question! Jonsey?”
“Because you can't take a gun everywhere. The only thing I can count on is what's inside my skin.”
“Be prepared, huh? Like a boy scout?”
Jonsey tilted his head to the side. “You know a lot about boy scouts, Roth?” He smiled, then put his hands out was Roth stood. “No wait, don't answer that.” Jonsey said.
“Fuck you. What about you, Webb?”
“I carry a gun.” He took a last bite from his ice cream and flung the stick into the bushes. “Because I like ice cream. You done, Roth?”
“I could go for some more,” he said looking over Jonsey's shoulder.
Jonsey shifted to block Roth's view. “Forget it,” Jonsey said.
The car ride took another fifteen minutes, passed mostly in silence apart from the whisper of Roth's butt sliding across the seat as he switched windows. They walked Roth to the front door of Mister Mortimer's office and handed him off to a woman dressed in tactical gear as if a riot might break out at any moment..
“Best of luck, Roth,” Webb said.
“Sure thing, man,” Roth said. “And thanks for the ice cream.”
“Least I could do,” Webb said and waved.
As they got back into the car, Jonsey shook his head at Webb.
“That'll be us one day,” Jonsey said, “It's just a matter of time before Mortimer decides to send us in the arena.”
“Yup, and I plan on living as much as I can from now until then. Heck, I may even get lucky and survive.”
“You're a cruel bastard; that ice cream is going to come right up when he hits the floor.”
“What's he going up against, a razor maw?”
“No, a blood maggot.” Jonsey said.
“He's got a chance. They're blind, right?”
“They hunt by sensing motion. The last thing he needed was that ice cream.”
“It was his last meal.”
“It was cappuccino chunk. You may as well have ordered him cyanide surprise.”
Webb shrugged. “Fuck him if he can't take a joke.”