Pablo Escobar comes to pick me up from my house at 11:30 on the dot, just like we planned. He’s always busy, so he values punctuality. Even with his schedule, he always finds some time to spend with me. He drives up in a brand new Rolls Royce with bulletproof tires.
“Do you like it?” he asks sheepishly, diverting his gaze.
“It’s a bit… much. But yes,” I answer. “Let’s take my car to lunch instead.”
He looks downtrodden for a moment, but perks up quickly. “That will be lower profile anyway,” he says warmly.
Pablo Escobar is playing the new Selena Gomez album from his phone, which is connected to my car’s stereo by a crappy aux-to-cassette converter.
“Whenever I’m with the rest of the cartel, they don’t like to listen to music like this,” Pablo quietly remarks.
“That’s why it’s good to have a friend you can be yourself around.”
Pablo smiles as he bobs his head to the beat.
They’re doing roadwork in downtown Medellín, and I try an alternate route to avoid the bulk of the traffic. I drive over a manhole cover and it makes a sound like a gunshot. Pablo Escobar jumps in his seat as all of the blood drains from his face.
I hastily say “sorry” while Pablo shifts in his seat. He tugs at his collar and a bead of sweat collects on his forehead.
“No, it’s okay. At least you understand.”
I decide to avoid as much roadwork as possible – Pablo gets nervous when he sees police cars.
I can’t find a place to park, and Pablo Escobar is getting frustrated.
“Why is it always so crowded downtown? I just want a fucking sandwich.” He fiddles with his trusty switchblade in the passenger seat while I try to stay cool-headed about the parking situation.
“Gentrification, man. All of these suburban kids are finding out how good our sandwiches are,” I tell him. The corner of his mouth turns up, just as I spot an empty space.
“There! There!” Pablo shouts and gesticulates wildly.
I don’t tell him that I saw the space before he did.
“Let me buy your lunch,” Pablo Escobar says quietly as we get out of the car.
“You don’t have to do that. I can buy my own lunch,” I reply.
“No, I insist. Money isn’t an issue for me – I’m just glad we get to hang out for a little while.”
“It’s not about the money. Well… I guess it is about the money. But not like that. I just don’t want to be that friend, you know?”
Pablo nods solemnly. “You’re no mooch. I’m still buying your lunch.”
Pablo Escobar and I stand in line at the deli’s counter. I already know what I want, but I study the menu intently anyway. Pablo just stares at his shoes. There’s a cute girl at the counter who asks for our orders.
“I’ll have the chicken salad on rye, please,” I reply.
“Turkey avocado on ciabatta for me,” says Pablo. He pulls out his wallet to pay, and a little baggy of cocaine falls onto the tile floor. I reach down and grab it before anyone sees, and Pablo mouths “thank you” while the cute girl prints our receipt. She hands us a table marker with the number “69” on it – Pablo and I make eye contact as we turn away from the counter and burst out laughing as we walk to our usual booth.
I can’t stop watching the cute girl behind the counter. I stare at her, and every time she looks towards me I avert my gaze. Pablo Escobar notices.
“You have to get her number when she brings us our food,” he tells me.
“She probably won’t even bring it. I bet one of the kitchen guys will bring it.”
“Well, you have to get it anyway! Before we leave.” Pablo seems far more excited than I do.
“Maybe, I don’t know. I’m not as confident with women as you are. Plus we come here every week. If she rejects me I can never order a sandwich from her again.”
“You take things too seriously! She’s cute, you might as well try.”
“Her hair looks like sunshine,” I say aimlessly.
Pablo Escobar and I find room for small talk in between huge bites of our sandwiches. We each try a bite of the other’s sandwich, even though I hate mayonnaise and he doesn’t like chicken salad.
“How’s the freelance work going?” he asks.
“Same old, same old. It seems like everyone and their dog is a web developer these days. How’s the… ‘shipping and receiving’ business treating you?”
Pablo smirks. “Same old, same old.”
I drive back home quickly. Pablo Escobar has an important appointment with another drug cartel at 1:30, and he hates being late. We have plenty of time, so he’s not stressed out at all.
“I’m glad we got to do that again. If things calm down, we should get lunch every week. Like we used to,” Pablo tells me.
“I would like that.”