At loose ends

Since the technical college was nearby, it was easy to find a sizable bus terminal, and a bus headed in roughly the direction I wanted to go.

Five minutes later that bus showed up and I got on, flashing my pass. It wasn’t as bad as my previous trips had been, as the bus was mostly students and not jammed to the rafters.

A group of friends chatted happily to each other at the back of the bus, talking about their classes and the girls they liked. That life seemed so far away. Back in LA, that would’ve been me, in a year or so.

I drifted off into daydreams, reminiscing about my previous life and thinking about the new one I was starting. Because of that, I almost missed my stop. The driver was just pulling away when I noticed where I was and bolted to my feet, running for the door. He stopped and opened the door for me.

“Thanks,” I yelled as I dashed outside.

The stop wasn’t right by the library, so I had a short walk ahead. I was in Maywood again. In my previous life, libraries weren’t places I spent a lot of time in. I could get anything I needed online, so why go to a library? If I wanted a book, I could buy that online too.

I walked a few blocks and realized I was dying of thirst. The sun wasn’t hot, but I hadn’t had anything to drink since breakfast. I spotted a little convenience store, a family-run joint simply called corner convenience. At the front door I realized that I didn’t actually want to go in. My gut was clenching, as I remembered the last time I’d been in store like this. It hadn’t ended well.

The presence of the gun in the small my back was a comfort, if a small one. I still didn’t know how to use it, and probably wouldn’t hit anything I shot at. That’s assuming I could even figure out how to get it ready to fire. Sure, theoretically I knew that I needed to chamber a bullet and make sure the safety was off. I just hadn’t ever actually done that.

I swallowed the irrational fear and pushed my way inside. An electronic bell rung as I opened the door. I relaxed when I saw that the shop was nothing like Mr. Kim’s.

A young blonde dude looked up from his magazine behind the counter, his long surfer hair tied back in a ponytail. He looked me over once, grinning slyly at my bright green and yellow shirt.

“Nice shirt,” he called out.

I nodded at him and went to the coolers. I picked something in a 16oz bottle that looked like it might be what I wanted and returned to the counter. All of the brands were unfamiliar, so every drink was a new gamble.

I put the bottle on the counter and Surfer Dude rung me up. Without even thinking about it—it had become second nature now—I used customer ID, and it succeeded. This guy definitely wanted some weed.

He confirmed it for me a moment later. “One dollar. Hey bro, you cool?”

I handed him a $10 bill. “Can I get some quarters in my change?”

I hadn’t answered his question because I wasn’t quite sure what he meant. Was I cool? Was yes the right answer there? Combined with him pinging as a weed customer, I thought that probably meant he was asking me if I smoked marijuana. I was tempted to sell to him, but it didn’t seem like a good idea. I was walking in the light, after all.

“Sure, here’s your change,” he said and handed me four quarters and some bills. It was the only coinage I’d seen so far. Most prices so far had been in neat one dollar increments. There was no need for a $0.99 coin in this world.

I took my drink and left the store. Directly outside on the corner was a blacked out phone booth. I needed to call Manny.

It was still early, but I was hoping this would work. I entered the phone booth and dropped a quarter to make my call. With Manny’s card in my left hand, I dialed with my right and it began ringing.

“Hello?” A voice answered. I thought I recognized the voice as Manny’s mom.

“Hi, is Minh home?” I asked.

“Minh’s at school. Who is this?” she asked.

“Hi, this is Frank. Can you tell him to meet me at the Maywood Library after school?” I asked.

“I can tell him. You tell me, Frank. Why you not in school? It school day.”

Her English was a bit rough, but I could understand her just fine. “Yeah, I’m out of school for the rest of the year since my dad died.”

She made a sympathetic noise. “I not know, you poor boy. You come over soon. I make you food.”

That felt good. “Thank you, I will. Goodbye.”

“Goodbye Frank,” she said, and I hung up.

I hoped that Manny would get the message before he got in his car and started driving to where I had been. I was feeling a bit of time pressure. I had sold a fair bit that day, but my encounter with the cops had really short-circuited my plans. At the rate I had been selling I felt like I could have sold the full ounce. That would put us well on our way to paying off Lee. I reached out to open the phone booth door and return to the street when a thought hit me.

There was no point leaving money on the table. I returned the chain to my neck and willed myself back into the shadows.

I entered the store again, the bing of the bell announcing me. Surfer Dude looked up and gave me the same sly grin as he saw my shirt. No compliments that time. It made sense, in a world where all the criminals walked in shadow, you wanted to make sure you were extra polite to those people. Just in case.

The store was empty, and even if it hadn’t been I’m not sure I would’ve beaten around the bush. I walked straight up to the counter.

“Can I help you?” He asked. There was no trace of the informal jollity he’d given me when I’d been in the light.

“You want to buy some weed? Green monster, the best shit. A smooth, mellow high with no paranoia.”

I was still working on my pitch, but some combination of that approach seemed to work fairly well.

His eyes widened, and he looked around the empty store.

“Shit, how’d you know? I was just thinking I’d love to get high. How much?”

I pulled out one of the dimes and held it up, the dark green and purple bud within the vacuum sealed plastic catching his eye immediately.

“Fifty bucks a dime,” I said.

“Damn, that’s a lot.”

I started to lower my hand and put the weed away.

“Hold on, hold on. Fine, this better be good shit. That’s almost twice what I normally pay.”

He cracked open the till, and pulled $50 out in fives and tens and handed it over. I gave him the weed and he made it disappear underneath the counter.

“Enjoy,” I said, and left the building behind a little richer.