Manny’s Morale Breaks

Manny found his voice again once we’d been driving for five minutes. He signaled and pulled over into an empty parking spot and put the car into park.

“Bro, what the hell,” Manny said. His voice was hoarse.

“I mean, sure, thanks for saving me from that asshole, but shit.”

I knew what he meant. Things had gone a little pear-shaped. What should’ve been my nice, easy tutorial to selling weed in a parking lot full of harmless hipsters had turned into a standoff and then a kidnapping.

“You alright, Manny?” I asked.

He nodded. “Why didn’t you take his deal, Bro? We just needed to sell the weed, buy some more and in a couple months we’d have paid him off. No sweat.”

“I didn’t believe that. He was only trying to make a deal because he thought we were going to kill him.”

“Shit, Bro. I thought you were going to kill him.”

“Yeah, sorry. If you didn’t think I was serious he might’ve picked that up and made a play for the gun. Then we’d both be fucked, for sure.”

“Seems like we’re pretty fucked now, Homes. What if those guys find us?”

“ST’s a big city, Manny. We’ll just avoid their turf and try to keep our heads down. What else can we do?”

“I can get rid of this car and never walk in shadow again. That’s what I can do. You can do that too, Mack.”

My reaction came swiftly from deep in my gut. I almost shouted my rejection in his face before I swallowed it down.

“And do what, Manny? Work at a chicken joint? No. Ride the bus? No, fuck that. I’m done with that.”

I couldn’t explain to Manny that this world was a fresh start for me. Whether it was a coma dream, the afterlife or I’d suddenly become the protagonist of an ee-sky novel, nothing changed. I was going to live exactly how I wanted to live. That did not include getting a sensible job, earning a steady paycheck and living a life of quiet obscurity.

“Instead you’re going to get yourself killed? You saw that monster.”

“Manny, we won. We won! That doesn’t mean we’re gonna win all the time, but tonight we won. We’ve got to celebrate that!”

Manny looked at me like I was a little mental.

“This isn’t a game, Bro. This is real fucking life. Those guys can find us.”

“Look, Manny, let’s just take it one day at a time. We’ll pay our debt to Brass Lee and then we can see where we’re at. Cool?”

I could tell it wasn’t. The encounter with Magnus had really shaken Manny. Magnus had said that he just planned to punish us a little bit, and then I had escalated the situation. I didn’t believe him. I’d brushed shoulders with death that night and felt nothing but elated. Whatever fear I’d been feeling earlier was gone, banished by the sweet taste of victory. Manny wasn’t feeling it.

“I don’t know, Bro. I’ll come by tomorrow morning to give you the weed, but I can’t bring my family into this. Selling was supposed to be a little bit of part-time fun. A way to bank a bit of extra money. Not a way to get my entire family killed.”

I didn’t want to force Manny to continue doing this when he really didn’t want to, but I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice. I had nowhere to keep the weed, no car, and despite my crazy actions earlier, I didn’t even have any of the skills that Manny had. I needed Manny until I could sort my shit out.

I got on my knees and reached into the back seat to grab the wad of cash that had been rolling around back there, nearly forgotten in our rush to leave Magnus behind. I took it and the gun and sat back down.

“I get it, Manny. You want out, fine. Let’s just pay off Lee. I’ll have a go at selling tomorrow and we can use this cash towards our debt.”

The bankroll was thick, but I had no idea how much money was in it.

“Give that to me and I’ll count it,” Manny said.

I handed it to him and expected him to peel off the rubber band and slowly count through it while we sat there. Instead, Manny gripped the roll in his hands for a moment before tossing it back to me.

“$2215,” he said.

“How the fuck?” I began to ask and then realized. A skill, of course.

“Fast Count. I’ve got that one leveled up a bit, unlike Customer ID. If there had been more than $2500 it wouldn’t have worked.”

The skill made sense. If you were a drug dealer, you’d want to way to be able to count the money people paid you without taking a lot of time to do it.

“Great, so we’ll put that toward our debt, and we’ll sell as much of the rest of the weed as we need to get Lee off our backs. Cool?” I asked.

Manny nodded. Lee was a problem we didn’t need in addition to Magnus and his psychos. Once we paid Lee off Manny could leave the shadows behind forever if he really wanted. I was hoping this was just a phase. I really didn’t want to do this alone.

“I’ve gotta get home, it’s getting late. See you tomorrow morning before school,” Manny said and put the Regal back in gear.

I looked at the clock on the dash. 9:45. I had missed lights out and blown my implied curfew. I hoped Martin wouldn’t be a dick about it.

Manny dropped me off on the street in front of Martin’s darkened house. I left the roll of cash and the gun with him. It wouldn’t do for Martin to find me holding any of that.

My keys worked and I let myself in through the side door. I was downstairs through the darkened basement and in my room before I realized I was still wearing the chain and walking in shadow. I whipped it off and reentered the light. I would’ve really been screwed if Martin had confronted me for blowing curfew as I snuck in.

I stashed the chain under my mattress, got undressed and went to sleep.