Ten minutes later I was waiting on the corner near the 24/7 Maximarket and not long after Manny pulled up and into the parking lot, roughly on time.
“Hey, you’re in the light. Where’s the jersey?”
“That thing was killing everyone around me slowly. I had to get rid of it.”
“True that. Sorry.”
“Did I need it?” I asked.
“No, it’s just that now you look like a narc. Don’t worry, Bro, we’ll get you some fly new threads tomorrow. You brought the chain though, right?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said and pulled it out of my pocket.
“Go use that booth before we go. Not smart to mix shadow and light sides, Bro.”
I ducked into the booth beside the Maximarket and came out shortly after as Mack and jumped into the Regal. Manny pulled out of the parking lot and back onto Florence and we were on our way.
“I can’t stay out too late tonight, so I didn’t bring that much. Check it out though, it’s in the bag at your feet.”
I looked down and nearly under the seat below me was a beat up pink and gray satchel with the faded remains of some cutesy Asian cartoon cat on the front.
“Nice bag, Manny.”
“In the bag, Bro. It was my sister’s, okay? It was the only bag I could find that wasn’t being used.”
I took it off the floor and into my lap and the contents rustled softly with the whisper of plastic against plastic. I peeled back the satchel’s flap and looked inside. Insider were dozens of vacuum sealed packages, each two inches square. They reflected the streetlights overhead as we drove. Each one contained a small cluster of green bud.
“Cool, huh? Vacuum sealed, Bro. I found a spot to get the little dime bags. I think it looks way more professional. No one’s going to keep a dime around for long, but when it’s all vacuum sealed like that it’s a mark of quality, don’t you think?”
I had to admit it was pretty cool. This was the modern answer to the plastic zipper bag. The dime bags were stiff and felt substantial despite their minuscule weight.
“It looks good. So, this is an ounce?” I asked as I looked through the bag’s contents.
It seemed like a lot. Twenty-eight small packages of weed nearly filled the satchel just with the sheer volume of plastic packaging.
“Yeah, I still have to package more. There’s no way we’ll sell all that tonight. I was thinking I’d give that to you to start you off. That way, you can go and sell whenever you want.”
“I can’t take it man. I don’t have that kind of privacy at my uncle’s.”
The thought of trying to sneak a bag of weed into Martin’s house and then find a spot to hide it from him wasn’t appealing. He’d promised he’d be inspecting my “quarters”, after all.
“Okay, no big, Bro. I just thought you might like that. I’ll hold onto it. We can meet up every morning and I can give you some weed to sell that day. You don’t sell everything, and I’ll take what’s left back that night. Cool?”
“Cool,” I agreed.
“Now, let’s talk price. We want to do a 100% markup. Technically speaking, that would make those dime bags forty-two and change. But that’s a shitty number, so let’s round it down to forty bucks even. That way our customers give us two twenties, we give them the weed. No bullshit with change.”
That made sense to me. Insisting that your pot smoking clients have exact change didn’t seem like a good business move.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“There’s this spot gets pretty jumping right about now. It’s just a parking lot, but a couple food trucks like to show up there every night. They draw a small crowd, and I figure we could try to sell to them. It’s mostly hipsters, but they’ve got money.”
The parking lot wasn’t far. I had been expecting a lot full of cars. Instead, it was full of people. Two large food trucks had pulled in and were taking up a decent amount of space, but the rest was people. They were milling around, talking, drinking and eating.
One truck was selling gourmet hotdogs and fries, while the other seemed to be Indian food. The smell was amazing, drifting across the parking lot toward us.
“Jump out, I gotta find a spot on the street to park. People come from all over for this, so it might be a couple blocks away. I’ll be back in couple minutes.”
I jumped out and left the bag of weed on the seat beside Manny. The Regal trundled away carefully, avoiding the knots of people wandering out into the street either going to or from the food trucks. The nearby streets were packed with parked cars, and I wondered just how many of them were from the crowd in the parking lot.
The neighborhood we were in was a mostly residential one. I could see at least a few vacant lots full of nothing but weeds and trash. Behind the parking lot was a two-story brick building, several hundred feet long. Some kind of factory or warehouse. That entire wall facing the parking lot was covered in graffiti. Most of it seemed to be random, unintelligible scribblings of paint. A few of the more artistic types had gone for something more beautiful, but their efforts were slowly being obliterated by fresh scrawls of paint.
I saw one of the patterns repeat a few times, a simple sequence of letters that I couldn’t actually puzzle out. The bright bluish-white paint looked fresh, unfaded by the California sun.
The crowd around me weren’t paying any attention to their surroundings. A diverse crowd that generally had one thing in common—none of them were poor. Hipsters and foodies from all over San Tadeo had come to sample the delights on these trucks. If it had been LA, they all would have been on their phones taking pictures of their food for their social media, but instead they seemed to just be legitimately enjoying the food and the impromptu party atmosphere in lot. I caught a whiff of marijuana from somewhere in the crowd, mostly disguised by the strong scent of curry.
I pushed through the crowd and checked out both the food trucks while waiting for Manny to return. The food looked good, but the wait to order was insane. It wasn’t cheap, either. I wondered what the point of ordering food from a truck was if it was more expensive than a cheap restaurant? Maybe I just wasn’t a food truck kind of guy.
A few minutes later I saw Manny at the edge of the crowd looking for me and I made my way back toward him.
“Smells good, Bro. Anyway, follow me. I’ll set up and you can watch how it’s done. This shit’s not hard.”
At either side of the parking lot were houses, although only one seemed to be occupied. Manny went to the side with the empty, darkened house. It had a tall wooden fence separating the parking lot from its yard and Manny leaned back against the faded grey wood, not far from the street. The fence itself was covered in more tags, and I saw that repeating pattern once again. Whoever that tag artist was, he certainly lacked imagination.
Manny settled back and scanned the crowd without speaking. It wasn’t what I’d expected him to do, and after a minute with no change I spoke up.
“What are you doing? You’re just gonna stand there?”
“Yeah, Bro. I’m using my-” he started and then interrupted himself.
Manny straightened up and strode into the crowd to touch the arm of a tall, skinny guy with a man bun. Manbun had black, square framed glasses and was scarfing down a hotdog dripping with mustard and caramelized onions. He stopped and looked at Manny quizzically.
“What’s up?” he asked, his voice muffled by the hotdog still in his mouth.
“Weed?” Manny asked. His voice was pitched low, and I could barely hear it even though I was somewhat close.
Manbun faced Manny and swallowed the bite of hot dog. “How much?”
“$40 for a dime. It’s good stuff, real potent,” Manny replied.
Again, this was one of those strange things. In my world, back in LA, telling someone you had weed to sell them would just trigger questions. What breed was it? What flavor notes did it have, what kind of high did it give you, that kind of bullshit. I knew nothing about weed other than it was green and got you high. If you were a marijuana buyer in LA and went to a dispensary you’d be pissed if they didn’t have a weed sommelier to help you pick your perfect smoke.
All that said, I was amazed when Manbun didn’t ask any follow-up questions. He simply produced two twenties and faster than I expected, he was moving on with one of our vacuum sealed dime bags, and Manny was $40 richer.
Manny returned to the fence and resumed what he had been doing, which looked a lot like loitering aimlessly to me. A few people nearby had noticed the transaction but hadn’t seem particularly interested or alarmed.
“What the hell was that?” I asked.
“Sorry, Bro. I was about to say that I’m using my skill. Customer Identification it’s called. It’s unlocked with my shadow Job. It’s not very high level yet since I didn’t really have to use it when I was selling in school. When it works it shows me if the guy I’m looking at is interested in the product I’m selling. I got a hit on that guy, as you can see.”
“That’s basically magic,” I protested.
“Hah! Maybe, Bro. Anyway, it works. All you need to do is unlock the Job and then you’ll be able to use the skill. It won’t work very well at first, but the more you use it the more you’ll earn, and it’ll level up eventually.”
“Earn? What, you mean like earning XP?”
Manny looked puzzled and took his eyes off the crowd for a minute to look at me. “Huh? XP? What’s that?”
“It’s a role-playing game thing. Experience points. You know, the more you do something, the better you get at it.”
Manny snorted derisively. “Yeah, that is not the way the world works, Homes. Not even a little. If it were, you could just sit on a bench and watch everybody that went by and see if they wanted whatever it was you were selling. You’d just sit there leveling up forever. Nah, Bro. The universe doesn’t give a shit how much you do something. It’s all about how successful you are. You gotta earn, son. Dollar dollar bills y’all.”
“So, you’re saying that you level up the skill by earning money with it?” I asked.
“You level up everything by earning money with it, Bro. Seriously, how do you not know that? I mean, some of my clients smoke so much weed they’re basically brain dead and they probably still know that shit, and you don’t? But you don’t smoke and you’re not dumb. What’s up?”
Manny looked concerned and a trifle suspicious. I did my best to deflect.
“I just thought maybe it wasn’t a universal principle. My bad, I’m new to shadow and all that.”
My heart was in my chest, but I relaxed when I saw that he seemed to accept that explanation, as far-fetched as it might be.
“No. It’s universal. If you’re a doctor or a drug lord, it’s the same. Cash rules everything around me.”
I chuckled. Even though back in LA I didn’t listen to a lot of rap, I knew that reference. I was amazed that simple philosophy of the street was the root principle of the new world I’d found myself in.
I didn’t have the opportunity to incriminate myself further with yet another newbie question before Manny lunged out into the crowd and stopped another hipster. This one was dressed like a lumberjack, complete with the long black beard and unkempt, shoulder length hair. I say unkempt, but it looked like he’d spent a lot of time getting it exactly the right degree of mussed.
Lumberjack Hipster declined the weed after asking the price, but a pair of guys beside him overheard the conversation and each bought a dime bag. I’d been sticking close, hovering just close enough to hear what Manny was saying to the customers. It wasn’t much, usually. The most basic of sales pitches.
One of the hipsters spoke up as he was paying Manny. “You’re not the usual guys.”
“No, it’s a free country and all that, Bro. Enjoy your smoke.”
The two hipsters left, and we returned to the fence. Now Manny looked a little nervous.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I can’t tell, but I think we might be in somebody’s territory. Keep an eye out for serious looking guys, would you?”
Serious looking guys. That wasn’t much to go by, but I got what he was saying. I scanned the crowd; the sea of mostly male hipster faces far from serious. Almost everyone I looked at was walking in the light. The few that weren’t seemed more like they were doing it ironically. Their shadow names were things like “The Littlest Prince” and “Marvelous Dan”. Maybe that was just how hipster gangsters rolled but looking at them they didn’t set off any kind of alarm bells. Lack of Street Cred, maybe?
It felt strange to be able to see everyone’s name while I knew that the majority of them couldn’t see mine. Manny and I crouched by the fence like two ridiculously dressed lions surveying herds of gazelle. Manny’s last two customers came back and pointed us out to a blonde girl and her redheaded friend. They were both quite attractive, although the blonde was wearing the de rigeur problematic glasses I was growing to hate.
“I hear you got weed?” The blonde asked, looking back and forth between me and Manny.
“Sure do. Forty bucks for a dime,” Manny replied.
“So pricey! Can you do us a discount? Please?” The blonde asked, begging in a cutesy voice at the end.
Manny hesitated, and I could almost feel his will weakening. The girls weren’t looking at me at all, and when the redhead joined in cajoling Manny, I thought for sure we’d be giving them a deep discount. Both of the girls were touching his arms gently and were right in his personal space, wheedling to save twenty bucks that probably meant nothing to them. Just a simple exercise of their power. I looked away, my eyes skipping over the sea of similar faces until I landed on one that wasn’t.
I stopped and focused on the man. Superficially, he looked same as the crowds around us. Beard, long hair and from what little I could see of his clothing, flannel. He was big, but there were some tall guys here. He was at least a head taller than most of the men around him. There was just something about him that caught my eye. I projected my will and his nameplate appeared.
|“Magnus” , The Fatally Hip|
He was in shadow, and the name didn’t seem jokey. More important to me was the feel I got from him. Like he was dangerous, and I shouldn’t fuck with him. Magnus was scanning the crowd the same way that Manny had been, moving slowly through it.
His expression was completely neutral, neither smiling nor frowning. Someone approached him, a man, and Magnus immediately showed a brilliant white smile. They started talking, and I saw something change hands. There was no way I could be sure from that distance, but that looked like a drug deal to me.
I turned back to Manny, who had two dimes in his right hand and what looked to be about $45 in his left. I could see that the girls had almost broken his resolve and got him to sell two grams of our weed at a fraction above cost. I slapped him on the shoulder and broke the trance. The girls stopped what they were doing and looked at me, frowning slightly.
“Manny, over there. That guy looks like he’s selling. You see him? The guy who looks like a hipster but not really? Magnus?”
Manny looked through the crowd until he saw the man I was talking about. He frowned. “You sure he’s dealing?”
The two girls looked at the same time, and the redhead giggled. “Hey, it’s Magnus. You guys don’t know him?”
“No, should we?” I asked.
“He’s our regular guy. One of the Hip. This is their territory. You’re not with them?”
I shook my head and Manny didn’t say anything. The blonde snatched the money out of Manny’s left hand. “I thought you were wearing that ridiculous get up ironically!”
The redhead pulled her hands away from Manny’s arm. “Ewww, gross.”
The girls stormed off into the crowd, headed directly for Magnus in the distance.
“We should get out of here, Bro.”
The girls approached Magnus and caught his attention. The blonde looked over her shoulder and pointed us out. The smile that had automatically pasted itself on Magnus’s face quickly faded and he looked in our direction. He made eye contact with both of us briefly before looking back at the girls and saying something to them. They disappeared behind him in the crowd and he began to make his way through the crowd toward us, almost casually.
“Manny, I don’t want to say this, but I think I might be afraid of that hipster. Let’s go.”
Manny shoved the two dime bags back into his satchel and we started to push our way toward the street. We’d only just got onto the sidewalk and were ten feet away when a deep, masculine voice stopped us in our tracks.
“Hold it, fellas.”
Both of us turned and looked over our shoulders at Magnus, who was twenty feet away standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Fully visible outside the press of the crowd he was intimidating. Where all the male hipsters in the parking had been soyboys pretending to be real men, it was clear that Magnus was a man pretending to be a soyboy pretending to be a man.
Everything about Magnus was intimidating. His hands were enormous, and his face looked carved out of stone. Broad shoulders and thick, heavy muscles were only barely concealed by perfectly tailored flannel and denim. A sleek black leather man purse was draped over his broad shoulders. For some reason his belt buckle caught my eye—a shining oversized silver skull with sparkling red gems in the sockets. The skull’s ruby eyes seemed to glow with an internal light.
I found myself hoping that Manny knew kung fu, or whatever martial art it was that Vietnamese people had.
“Some lady friends of mine told me that you were selling here. This is my territory, fellas. I can’t have that.”
“Sorry, Bro,” Manny said. “Our bad, we didn’t know this was somebody’s territory. We’ll just leave, no harm done.”
“I’ll be the judge of that, Manny. You say that you didn’t know this was our territory? I have real trouble believing that. Our tags are all around you. You would have to be blind to miss one.”
Magnus started to slowly close the distance between us. I was desperate to ask Manny if he had his gun on him, but Magnus was too close. He’d hear every word.
“Really? What does it look like?” I asked when Manny said nothing for a heartbeat.
Magnus switched his focus to me, still slowly walking forward step at a time. Behind him a gaggle of curious hipsters watched, perhaps hoping for a fight.
“Look down,” he said.
I looked down and saw the same tag I had seen all around the space, the three unintelligible letters in bluish-white spray paint on the sidewalk under our feet. Now that I knew what it stood for, I could see it. TFH – The Fatally Hip.
“You’re right, we should’ve seen that. Seriously, our bad. Let’s go, Manny.”
Manny nodded, and we both started to back away from Magnus.
He didn’t stop walking, and we turned and began to walk a bit quicker. We weren’t running, mind you. We were power walking. That’s it. Not fleeing, just moving rapidly to our next destination.
“Where’s the car, Manny?” I asked, sotto voce.
“It’s a block up.”
I jumped slightly when behind us, Magnus let out a piercing whistle. It was incredibly loud.
There was movement in the shadows on the other side of the street about 200 feet ahead of us. Two men emerged from an alley. I quickly identified both of them.
In the scant light I could make out traces of the hipster uniform on the two men. Shadowy beards, glimpses of flannel.
“I see them. Keep walking. Rule of Escalation applies here.”
I glanced behind us and saw that Magnus had been keeping pace with us. He’d only had to lengthen his stride slightly. Instead of power walking like a mall-dwelling senior citizen he fairly prowled after like a lion on the savannah. Again, I had to wonder if a skill was being employed. There was no way I could tell since back in my real life I’d made it a point to not get into situations like this. Was this fear a natural reaction or was it some skill of Magnus’s?
Magnus had heard Manny’s last statement and spoke up, his voice carrying easily to us.
“Yes, Manny. You are right. The Rule of Escalation does apply. More appropriate in this case is the Rule of Turf.”
I cursed internally. Another rule. I needed to try to find a book the next time I went to the library. There had to be something in this universe to give me my complete tutorial experience. Even while I made that mental note, I couldn’t resist a snappy rejoinder.
“I’ve heard it’s really more of a guideline,” I offered.
In the distance I could see the silhouette of Manny’s Regal, half illuminated by a streetlight. The two hipsters on the other side of the street from us were keeping pace with us, sticking to the shadows.
“I think of it as an ironclad rule, Mack.”
I glanced over my shoulder again and saw that Magnus was slightly closer than he had been. The gaggle of hipsters behind him had dissolved—returned to the parking lot or to their cars. The street around us was dark and mostly deserted. Quiet homes with curtains closed or empty, black windows. In short, the worst possible place for us to be.
We’d just reached the front of the Regal when the trap closed. Manny had his keys in his hand and was moving toward the driver’s door when two more men came out of the shadows near the rear of the car. They had the same look as Magnus—serious men pretending to be weaklings. I identified them instantly out of sheer habit.
All four of Magnus’s men were moving quickly to block our escape, but they weren’t the problem. Magnus moved as quickly as a striking snake and closed the distance between us faster than I thought possible. His enormous right hand clamped around Manny’s spindly neck and Magnus lifted him effortlessly off the ground. Manny’s feet kicked fruitlessly at the hipster giant’s legs and at the front bumper of the Regal, making hollow metallic thumps. Manny made choking noises and both of his hands scrabbled at the veiny, tree trunk of an arm holding him up.
“The Rule of Turf is an ironclad one, fellows. Thou shalt not trespass,” Magnus pronounced, looking into Manny’s eyes as he struggled.
I could hear and almost feel the two men closing in behind me ready to commit violence. Since it seemed clear that Manny didn’t know any kung fu, it was up to me.
I dove onto the hood of the Regal and scrambled across it toward Manny’s back. Magnus looked at me and raised an eyebrow.
He started to speak, most likely to make an ominous promise of my doom. I cut that short when I pulled Manny’s holstered .38 free and in one motion pressed it up underneath Magnus’s jutting stone shelf of a jaw.
I was standing on the hood just behind Manny with my left hand braced on his shoulder.
“Let him go,” I instructed, my finger on the trigger.
Magnus opened his massive meat hook and Manny fell, crashing down into the hood of his car and onto the asphalt with a painful sound. He choked and wheezed as his body tried to get air back into his lungs.
“I’ve released him. You have escalated, Mack. Do you think that was wise?” Magnus asked.
I wasn’t feeling like I was in a secure enough position for banter as much as I was tempted. I didn’t dare to look at the guys behind me. Without taking my eyes off Magnus I could only see one of his four goons, Zeke. Zeke was holding a gun in his hand, a boxy black automatic pistol. It wasn’t quite aimed at me, but it wouldn’t take much to raise it. If Zeke had a gun, I had to assume that the rest did as well.
Magnus spoke again after I didn’t respond to his opening. “Let me make this easy for you. My friends and I will take Manny here and leave you to go about your business. As long as you don’t trespass on our territory again, all will be well. You have my word.”
Manny straightened up, his coughing starting to die out. “Bro,” he croaked out.
I shushed him without looking at him.
“Here’s what’s going to happen, Magnus. You’re going to tell your guys to back off, and all three of us are going to get in Manny’s car. We’ll leave the neighborhood and once we’re sure that no one has followed us, we’ll let you out. Then we’ll make sure never to trespass on your territory again. How’s that sound?”
Magnus smiled. His teeth were perfect, a beautiful expanse of straight white enamel. That smile never reached his eyes, which were cold and calculating. I could see my death in them, if I let him.
“You’re not a killer, Mack. I bet if I were to tell my boys to shoot you right now you wouldn’t even pull that trigger. Isn’t that right?”
“That’s a high stakes bet, Magnus. You really want to make that one?”
I tensed up, ready to pull the trigger if it seemed like he was going to give the order. I had some idea that I would shoot him and then dive roll across the hood into cover. I’d come up shooting, kill the goons and save the day. Magnus must’ve seen it in my eyes—the ridiculous insanity of a young man with a gun in a hopeless situation.
“No. Gents, put the guns away. I will be accompanying these gentlemen on a short ride. It should go without saying that if I don’t return you should find Manny, Mack and both of their families.”
That was a little chilling. Other than Martin who was a stranger, I had no family. But Manny, that was a different story.
Zeke made his gun disappear into a concealed shoulder holster and stepped back. Manny staggered around the front of the Regal, avoiding Magnus as much as he could.
Magnus raised an eyebrow at me, as if asking me “What next?”
“Turn around,” I ordered.
He turned around to face directly away from me. I kept the gun pointed at the back of his head I stepped down from the Regal’s hood. I rested my hand on his left shoulder and pressed the muzzle of the .38 to the base of his skull.
“Now slowly walk over to the passenger side of the car and get in. You’re taking the front seat.”
Everything went smoothly. Magnus moved slowly and carefully around the car, opened the door and sat down. I climbed like a spider monkey into the backseat directly behind him. I kept the gun on him the whole time, my finger on the trigger. I was glad that he didn’t try to pull any Krav Maga ninja shit.
Manny coughed and started up the Regal. In the shadows of the street around us there were now six of the Fatally Hip. Two of them had rifles. I couldn’t see them clearly, but they were black and scary with large magazines.
I began to worry about who it was we had tangled with. Was it really possible that hipsters were a serious gang here in San Tadeo?
Manny pulled out and drove carefully down the shadowed. None of the men standing around us moved to follow. I kept the muzzle of the gun pressed to the back of Magnus’s head, hoping that we wouldn’t pass by any squad cars. The Hip’s leader was such a big man that I wasn’t certain the .38 would kill him if I shot him through the back of the seat. I’d seen lots of movies where people took multiple rounds from a .38 and kept coming. At least with a headshot I was reasonably certain he would no longer be a threat.
“Manny, don’t get too close to any squad cars.”
Manny just nodded, not saying anything. He rubbed his throat and put his hand back on the wheel.
I kept my left hand on Magnus’s shoulder, scanning all around to make sure that we weren’t being followed. Traffic was still pretty heavy, as it was still quite early in the evening. If someone was following us, I didn’t see them.
“My boys have their instructions, no one will be following.”
“That’s good. We’ll drop you off and we can both be rid of each other.”
“Oh, not so fast, Mack. I really don’t expect this to be our last meeting.”
I sighed. “Why? Because you’re gonna hunt us down and kill us for the crime of selling a little weed in a parking lot that you pissed on? Some of your turf? Is that it?”
Manny shot me a warning glance. The content was something like stop pissing off the crazy guy in our car, but I ignored him.
“Exactly that, Mack. You have made an enemy of me. I would’ve been happy to merely take what you brought into our turf and dish out a little punishment to you and Manny here. But you escalated, and then you escalated again. Well done. Now you have to live with those the consequences of those actions.”
“Fucking hipsters,” I cursed. “If that’s the case, Magnus, why don’t we just take you somewhere quiet right now and put a bullet in your head? Tell me why I shouldn’t do that?”
“Escalation again, Mack? That appears to be your favorite method of dealing with a problem. I admire that, honestly. If you were to escalate in this matter yet again, my instructions to my compatriots would go into effect. They would find you, no matter what rathole you found to hide in. And once they found you, they would find your family. Once they were sure they had found all of your family, they would gather as many of them together as possible and make a fine spectacle for you.”
“Jesus. Are you really this psychotic, or this all an act? I get it, you’re scary. You’re Fatally Hip, whatever the fuck that means. We were selling a little weed. Get over it. Nobody has to die.”
“Debatable. Now, have you made your decision, Mack? Escalation, or not?”
As much as the hardened gamer side of me was telling me that I needed to kill this guy it felt wrong. I couldn’t just murder Magnus in cold blood because of what he might do in the future. Sure, he was threatening me and Manny in rather creepy detail, but he hadn’t done anything yet. The worst thing was that I was pretty sure that Manny was willing to follow my lead on this whatever I decided. Dragging him into a murder didn’t seem right either.
“Manny, pull into that alley up there,” I instructed, pointing with my left hand.
Manny nodded, evidently still not trusting his voice, and pulled off the street we were on into a side street, and then turned left into the alley I’d indicated. It was just wide enough for two cars to squeeze past each other, paved but rough. A motley assortment of garbage bins and cans lined both sides of the alley. The back fences of houses on either side of us mostly hid us from view.
One of the houses on the right side had a garage set back slightly from the alley. At my instruction Manny pulled into the open space in front of the closed double doors.
“If you’re going to kill me, Mack, there are much better places to do it than here.”
I shook my head slightly, amazed at the balls he had. Either he was toying with us and realized there was no way I was going to kill him, or he really was that much of a bad ass. Neither one of those options was something I liked.
Manny looked at me for further instructions.
“We forgot to search him. Take whatever he’s got.”
I had to give it to Manny. Magnus was a monstrously scary psycho that had just nearly killed him, but Manny swallowed that fear and searched him anyway.
“You’re going to rob me as well, Mack?”
I ignored Magnus. Manny turned up a silver automatic pistol, a thick roll of cash, and a long straight blade. It was at least ten inches long, but thin. It didn’t look like a hunting knife so much as a stiletto, or a small dagger. He’d had it in a narrow sheath on his right boot.
Manny handed the everything he found to me and I set them beside me on the back seat. Magnus’s pistol was quite a lot larger and heavier than the .38 in my hand, but there was no way I was going to distract myself enough to equip it, not with Magnus in the front seat. Better stats or no, I’d make do with what we had. This wasn’t a game where I could instantly equip and be familiar with a new gun.
Rather than searching Magnus’s man purse, Manny unclipped the strap on one side and looked inside before he handed the whole thing to me in the back seat. Magnus grumbled slightly, a deep low sound that I felt through the seat I was resting my right hand on.
“Weed in there, looks like seven dime bags.”
It went on the seat beside me with the rest of our loot.
Magnus chuckled. “You two are in so over your head.”
He wasn’t wrong. It felt like the water was so far above my head now that the surface was just a memory.
“Yeah, yeah. Manny, let’s go. You know that industrial area just east of Maywood where you dropped me at the library? There.”
Manny nodded and pulled back into the alley. A minute later we were back in traffic.
We drove for fifteen minutes in relative silence. I kept the gun hidden as well as I could and was thankful it was so small. Manny did his part by keeping us well away from any cop cars. Just like in Los Angeles, the cops where everywhere.
Traffic thinned out and then almost disappeared as we entered the industrial area. The streets were wide here, accommodating the large semi-trailers that would often come in and out of this area. Warehouses and small-scale factories of various types filled the large lots. Interspersed between the buildings were equally large parking lots, dimly lit by infrequent lights and completely empty at this time of night. A perfect place to kill someone.
Magnus obviously thought the same and I almost thought I heard a note of nervousness in his voice when he spoke again.
“Mack, I’ve been thinking. Perhaps I was rash to threaten you and Manny with such dire consequences. You’re new to this life. You’ve transgressed against me, but perhaps I can accept a lesser penalty.”
“Oh, is that right? What do you have in mind, Magnus?”
“Let’s call it the return of my property and a stiff monetary fine. A tax on your actions. $20,000 should cover it.”
I almost laughed but restrained myself. $20k, is that all? Sure, where’d I leave my wallet? Did he really expect us to pay him that much?
Even putting aside the matter that Manny and I couldn’t afford it and wouldn’t be able to for some time, I didn’t trust him. He was trying desperately to make a deal. A deal that would prevent me from doing the smart thing and just shooting him in the head. He’d say anything to save himself and I had no idea what kind of man he was. Was his word good for anything? Could we trust him? The safe answer my mind, was no.
“Over there, Manny.”
The space I’d pointed out was a long, narrow parking lot between two hulking warehouses. Several of the lights were out and it was mostly in darkness. Manny nodded and pulled in and stopped in the deep shadows.
I scooted over to the far corner of the backseat, keeping the .38 trained on Magnus’s head. I was fairly confident I could hit him at this range. After all, how hard could it be? Point-and-click, right?
“Get out, Magnus. Then face the wall and walk forward five steps.”
“What about my proposal?” he asked. The calm confidence that had suffused his voice the entire time seemed like it might be wavering.
“Do it, now,” I ordered.
In the movies, that would’ve been where the stupid character would cock the pistol to emphasize how serious they were. The pistol that until now hadn’t been cocked. Luckily for me I was wasn’t tempted as the .38 in my hands didn’t have a hammer.
Magnus hesitated, and I could almost see the calculations being made. Was I going to kill him? Could he get to me before I shot or at least before I managed to land a fatal hit? His shoulders tensed and I got ready to fire, steeling myself to pull the trigger and keep pulling it until Magnus stopped coming.
After the three of us spent an interminable moment on the threshold of sudden violence the tension flowed out of Magnus’s shoulders. He opened the door of the Regal gently and stepped out. He left it open and facing the wall of the warehouse walked forward five steps.
I exhaled as quietly as I could manage after I realized I’d been holding it in.
I climbed out of the backseat and gravel crunched under the soles of my shoes. The .38 in my hands never wavered. I’d seen how fast he could move.
“Get on your knees and put your hands behind your head.”
Magnus knew the drill. He dropped slowly to one knee and then the other before lacing his fingers behind his head.
“Mack-” he started to say.
Whatever it was, we didn’t get to hear it. I flopped into the passenger seat beside Manny and gestured for him to go. He didn’t need any prompting and stomped the accelerator pedal. The old Regal’s engine roared and we surged forward. The passenger door slammed shut and we peeled out of the parking lot and onto the deserted streets. I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw Magnus slowly coming to his feet and watching us leave. He receded in the shadows, and soon we left him far behind us.