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Looking Cold

by Stanton McCaffery

 

Ricky looked at the photo held to his visor with a rubber band. The girl in the photo had the biggest brown eyes he had ever seen. Had they changed as she had gotten older? He didn’t know.

He parked behind the abandoned grocery store, under the only functioning streetlight in the rubble parking lot. Luiz got in the back seat like he always did. Few people felt safe sitting next to Ricky.

He folded the visor up, took a wad of cash from Luiz and counted it.

“Thin this week,” he said, looking at Luiz through the rearview.

Luiz was rubbing his thumbs together and fidgeting all over, trying not to look at Ricky’s gaze in the mirror. “Competition, I think.”

Ricky said nothing, asked nothing, allowed the silence to do the intimidation.

“I mean, I didn’t hear about any of our customers kicking the bucket or leaving town,” said Luiz. “Must be they’re getting from someone else.”

Ricky hit the unlock button, waited for Luiz to get out, and drove off.

#

“You look cold,” Ricky said.

“Looks can be deceiving,” she said.

He nodded, assessed her again as she stood on the street corner, and he sat in his car with the heat up full blast. “Yeah, but common sense, though. It’s cold out.” He reached over to his right and opened the passenger side door, patted on the seat. “Come in. I want to talk to you.”

Her coat was substantial, the large sleeves brushing against the gear shift and center console when she sat down, but she wasn’t wearing gloves. Ricky smiled when she rubbed her hands together in front of the vent on the dashboard. She was a redhead and had blue eyes, not brown, but still, her projected toughness and independence felt familiar to him. Her presence had within seconds filled a void.

“Who you with?”

“Who’s asking?”

Her jeans were dirty and frayed, and not in the fashionable way. Her business on the street wasn’t whoring. She would be dressed flashier or would be in much worse shape, skinnier, strung out. This girl wasn’t an idiot. She would have at least put makeup on, if it was herself she was selling.

He shook his head at how brazen she was.

“The fact that you have to ask that tells me you either out here all by yourself and that your operation is all your own, which is badass but also fucking stupid, or that you are in with some real dumb pendejo.”

She shrugged. He was scolding a child, he realized. He put his hand on her shoulder. She stopped rubbing her hands together and looked at him. With his other hand he pulled cash from his pocket, handed her three hundred in twenties. “Give me whatever you have.”

She handed him an ounce of coke, a baggy with three tabs of acid, and a bottle with a few Oxy. The bag of coke had a red skull stamped on it that had smudged. He’d seen it plenty of times before.

“Tell me where you live. I’m driving you home.”

#

Her name was Brandy. Ricky rolled his eyes when he learned. Name and all, the kind of life she was on course for was not pretty.

He looked at the picture stuck to the visor, rubbed his thumb on it. It was 4 AM. He folded the visor up when Luiz got in the back.

The man handed Ricky one of the fattest wads of cash he’d seen in months.

“Competition vanished, man,” said Luiz. He caught Ricky’s sinister and knowing smile in the mirror and widened his eyes. “But you know that makes us the only focus, right? It’s easier to hide if shit’s crowded.”

Ricky jerked his head around and glared at Luiz. “Sometimes you got a moral obligation to do shit.” He stared at Luiz, didn’t blink or smile or breathe or move. Then he turned around, unlocked the doors. “Get the fuck out.”

He slept in his car for two hours. When the sun started to rise above the dormant factories across the bay, he adjusted his seat, put the car in drive, and stepped on the gas.

He pulled up in front of Brandy’s apartment complex and she got in, this time with a bookbag.

“All I want to hear is that you did your homework. And I don’t want to hear about no bullshit when I pick you up at 3.”

 

 

Roger writes fiction under the pseudonym Stanton McCaffrey. His short stories have been featured in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Between Worlds, and Heater. His novel, Into the Ocean, is available from New Pulp Press. He is the Editor-in Chief for Rock and a Hard Place Magazine. He works in communications for a UN agency.

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