Riding a bicycle through the streets of LA isn’t always relaxing. Sorry, that was a joke. It never is.
San Tadeo was no different. You had to stick to the side streets and avoid the major boulevards. Even then sometimes you were taking your life in your hands. Half the time people wouldn’t even see bicycles. At least that’s what they would claim after they hit one. I’d never gotten hit, but I’d seen it happen.
Drivers often seemed angry if bicyclists tried to share the street with them. Careless or malevolent drivers would open their car doors and step out into the street without checking, dooring the bicycle rider as it was called.
What it boiled down to was you needed to ride like everyone was trying to kill you.
Still, even after falling back into that old habit, I had a lot of time to think about the day. I didn’t feel bad about shooting Zeke, but I was also glad that I didn’t kill him. If he had got his way, he would have killed me outright or brought me back to Magnus so that he could do it. Perhaps a lot slower than I would like.
I’d done okay as far as sales went, having sold a bit over half of the ounce I started the day with. It wasn’t the roaring success of the previous day, but still a great result. Tomorrow I’d have to try to find somewhere new to sell, and I wasn’t looking forward to it.
Time passed quickly while riding, and it wasn’t long before I was only a few blocks away from Martin’s house. I stopped and locked up my bike beside a phone booth, got inside and exited the shadows, stuffing the chain in my backpack with the remaining dime bags.
For the first time I’d made it home before curfew, and the lights were still on. I wheeled the bike to the backyard and locked it to a gas pipe, just below the meter. The yard was small and dark, and I could only hope that no one would be too interested in spending the time required to saw through the lock and steel my bike. I’d grown quite fond of it.
When I entered the house, I saw that Martin was sitting at the kitchen table, and he was smoking.
The whole kitchen stank of it, a thick heavy smell that I hadn’t experienced much in my life. Smoking had gotten more and more out of fashion in Los Angeles to the point where smokers were almost complete social pariahs. But still, there he was—smoking. He looked up as I entered.
“On time, that’s good. Come and join me,” he said, picking up his coffee mug and taking a small sip before putting it down again. The ashtray in front of him was about half full, showing me that he’d been sitting there a while.
“Okay, sure. I didn’t know you smoked, Martin.”
“An old habit I thought I’d kicked. Come, sit down.”
I shrugged off my backpack and sat in the chair opposite.
Martin looked me directly in the eye. Where were you today, Francis?”
“It’s Frank. I told you, I was working.”
“Oh, at JMC?” he asked.
The question felt like a trap, but I had to keep up the pretense. “Yes.”
“That’s funny, because I went in there today and the manager told me that you declined the position, and that he hadn’t seen you since.”
Martin took another drag of his cigarette and waited for my response, looking me in the eyes.
“Yeah, about that,” I started to say, desperately trying to think of a new lie.
“So,” Martin continued, rolling right over me. “After discovering this lie, I returned home and conducted a search of your quarters. What do I find, but this.”
He reached into his breast pocket with his right hand and pulled out a folded wad of cash, slapping it down on the table in front of him.
“$1,240 in cash. You certainly didn’t make that working at JMC, now did you? What have you been doing to earn this money?”
I started to answer, but he wasn’t finished talking.
“Not anything legal, that’s for sure. Now you come home stinking of marijuana.”
I had no idea how he could smell that with the overpowering stench of cigarette smoke filling the room, but apparently, he could.
“Sir, I,” I started.
“No more of your lies. I’m going to search your bag now.”
Martin stood up and before I could react had pulled my bag off the floor and was unzipping it. I surged to my feet and lunged for it, but he calmly deflected me and shoved me back a step.
He was older than me by quite a lot, but also a lot stronger. The first thing he found was the chain, and his expression turned grim.
“A shadow focus. What else do we have?”
He looked in the bag and then upended it onto the table. Vacuum-sealed dime bags cascaded out, skittering across.
“A drug dealer. You are a disgrace,” he said, looking into my eyes. I could see the anger boiling behind them.
“You have fifteen minutes to pack your things and vacate my property. Leave your keys on the table. You’re no longer welcome here,” Martin said.
I was resigned, but not particularly surprised. I had known the situation with Martin was by necessity a temporary one. It’d been damn inconvenient, actually, having to at least make a token effort to abide by his curfew. Now that he was kicking me out, I could find a place to live where I was treated like an adult, instead of a stupid kid at boarding school.
I reached out, extending my left hand for my backpack, and starting to gather the weed with my right. Martin stepped forward, pushing me away from the table and stopping me.
“No, you’re not getting that back. None of that filthy drug money, either. Get your clothes from downstairs and get out.”
“Hold on, that’s my property and I’m not leaving without it. You can keep the shitty clothes, but I’m not leaving my cash or my product.”
“Really? Do you think you can intimidate me? I’ve dealt with little shits like you my whole career. You’re nothing, and while I won’t call the police, I won’t enable you becoming a criminal like your father.”
That was out of left field. He was always talking about Dean, that stranger who had supposedly been my father here in San Tadeo. This was the first time Martin had mentioned anything about him being a criminal.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t know. Your father was criminal scum, just like you. I don’t know what happened to him when we were kids, but he went bad. I had hoped you wouldn’t take after him, but clearly I was wrong.”
“Listen, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it doesn’t matter. I’m taking my stuff and leaving.”
I reached out for the wad of cash that he had left on the table, and almost touched it, but his left hand lashed out and shoved me backwards.
“I told you, that money and your drugs are staying here.”
Something snapped inside me, and before I was aware that I was doing it, I had drawn my pistol and was pointing it at him.
“Put the bag on the table and back away,” I ordered, my voice cold.