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.
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
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?”
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
“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.”
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.
me where you live. I’m driving you home.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
writes fiction under the pseudonym Stanton McCaffrey.
His short stories have been featured in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, BetweenWorlds, 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.