Donuts and Despair

My eyes snapped open of their own accord and I was alarmed for a moment, but everything was quiet and calm. I’d woken several times in the night—the Highway Star motel was far from a quiet place to sleep. After Jimmy had told off Juice in front of my door, no one else had bothered me. That was good, I had needed the sleep.

My room was dark, with a tiny bit of purple light peeking in around the blackout curtains. I concentrated my intent, needing to know the time. The mirror rewarded me.

San Tadeo, California, 06:10 Sunday March 08, 2020

Highway Star Motel, Room 26

Walking in the Light

I turned on the light beside my bed and looked around the room. It was just as dingy and unimpressive as it was when I’d gone to sleep. There was a faint smell in the air, something like mildew crossed with dust.

It was a little early, but I was done sleeping. What I really needed was some coffee and a little later I’d call Manny. The luxurious Highway Star didn’t boast phones in the rooms as one of its amenities.

I sat up and got dressed in my dirty clothes. It felt a little gross, but I’d sort that later. There was a coffee and donut place across the street from the Highway Star and I wondered if they would be open this early. It was worth a shot. It was still a little too early to call Manny’s house, so I needed to kill some time. It was going to be a busy day.

I felt better after I splashed water on my face and gave it a quick scrub. My teeth were feeling furry, but I couldn’t do much about that without a toothbrush. Another thing to add to the list.

When I was sure I hadn’t forgotten anything in the room, I moved my barricade out of the way. Despite my undisturbed rest and the utter silence outside, I still peeked out the window and was fairly certain no one was waiting outside before I opened the door.

The parking lot outside was deserted, completely quiet this time of morning. The sky above was a bright purple and rapidly lightening as the sun came up. Wheeling my bike over to the office I was unsurprised to find that it was locked up and dark. I dropped my keys into the drop off slot and silently thanked Jimmy for the port in my storm.

It turned out the donut place, Pat’s Donut’s, was open. I sat down with a couple of treats and a large coffee. I was still in the light, as that seemed safest for now. In the cold light of day, it didn’t seem likely the cops were looking for me. I hadn’t really done anything to Martin. Nothing criminal, anyway. I’d pointed my gun at him and taken my stuff back. No, what I had to worry about were people in the shadows. It was a lot riskier to be Mack than it was to be Frank right then.

The two chocolate eclairs disappeared quickly, with the coffee following nearly as fast. I stared out the window at the gradually increasing traffic, nursing my mediocre coffee until it was time to call Manny.

I ventured outside to the phone booth attached to the donut shop, dropped my quarter and dialed Manny’s number.

Shortly after one ring, Manny’s mom answered.

“Hello?”

“Hi there, it’s Frank. Can I talk to Minh?”

“Frank, you missed a good party. I get Minh,” she said.

She set the phone down and I heard her yell. Manny picked up the phone a few seconds later.

“Mom, I got it,” I heard him yell and a second later I heard the click of Thuy hanging up.

“Hey man,” I said.

“Hey, Bro. What’s up? How’d you do yesterday?”

“Yeah, okay. Lots happened. I need you to come get me, and help me out today. I’ll tell you what’s going on when you get here, alright?”

“Uh, sure. I guess. Meet you at the Maximarket?”

“Nah, I’m not there. I’m at a Pat’s Donuts on Western Avenue, just south of Redondo Beach boulevard. It’s across from the Highway Star motel. You can’t miss it.”

“Damn, bro. What you doing way out in the hood? All right, when I finish my breakfast, I’ll come get you,” Manny said.

“Thanks, man. Oh, wait. Bring all the cash, alright?”

“Sure, Bro. See you soon,” he said, and hung up.

Back inside Pat’s, the people behind the counter had been giving me the evil eye as I sat there with an empty cup of coffee and no food. I was sure they thought I was one of the local homeless, so when I reentered the shop I ordered a new round of donuts and coffee.

Manny showed up forty minutes later, his Regal pulling smoothly into one of the parking spots.

He entered the donut shop and spotted me quickly, hustling over to sit down opposite me in the booth.

“Bro, what you doing in the light? I told you, it’s not good to mix them.”

There was no one around us, so I felt free to fill him in.

“One of the guys from the Hip ambushed me yesterday at the movie theater. I had to shoot him. I don’t think I can be Mack right now. They’ve got a reward for my location. Probably yours too, man.”

Manny sputtered, taking it in.

“Shit. Wait, hold on, Bro.”

Manny looked around before continuing in a whisper, completely pointless but understandable. “You shot somebody? Who, Magnus? Did you kill them?”

“Nah, it was one of his guys. Zeke. I think he’s still alive. I saw the paramedics load him into an ambulance and he was still good. I don’t know though, maybe he died later.”

“Jesus,” Manny said.

He took a moment to compose himself and began again, lowering his volume.

“You stuck around for the ambulance? What the hell is wrong with you? Did you at least ditch the gun?”

“Yeah, I wiped it down and tossed it in a storm drain. I’ve got Zeke’s now.”

Manny looked a little mollified. “Okay, that’s not so bad. If they don’t catch you with the gun in your possession, they can’t really pin that shooting on you. Not unless Zeke testifies which I doubt he would.”

I nodded in agreement. Without the gun they didn’t have shit on me. I hoped I was right on that one.

“What you doing out here anyway?” Manny asked. “You just have a hankering for donuts or what?”

“That’s the other problem. Martin found the cash I stashed at home, and he figured out I wasn’t working at JMC. We got into it and he found the pot in my backpack. It was a whole thing. Anyway, he kicked me out and tried to rob me. I pointed my gun at him and got my stuff back.”

Manny rubbed his hand down his face, disbelieving. “You got into it with your uncle, too? Pointed your gun at him? Shit, Bro, who the hell are you? You shoot some guy and threaten your uncle on the same day. What the fuck, Bro?”

“I know, it was a fucked-up day. In my defense, he was trying to rob me”

“Still. He’s your only family, Bro. No brothers, no sisters, and no parents. Just him. How could you do that your blood?”

I could see where he was coming from, but the truth didn’t work here. I couldn’t tell him that up until less than a week ago I’d never met Martin before.

“Yeah, not everybody gets along with their family like you, Manny. Martin hated me even before our falling out. He was just looking for an excuse to get me out of there.”

Manny shook his head sadly. “That sucks, Bro.”

I left it at that, changing the subject. I hoped to never see Martin again, to be quite honest. Telling Manny that didn’t seem like the best way to get him on side, so I didn’t.

“Anyway, Manny, what we really have to worry about are The Hip. They’re offering a decent amount of cash for our locations. Somebody ratted me out at the movies the other day, and for all we know somebody is already calling and telling them that you’re here now. I don’t know what we can do about that, but we’ve got to do something.”

Manny didn’t answer, seeming to chew something over. After a moment, he spoke up.

“How much did you sell yesterday, Bro?”

That was a weird change of subject, but I rolled with it.

“I don’t know, about half the ounce, something like that. I went back to the park after the movies and did some good business there. It was dead for that.”

“Damn, Bro. You shoot some guy and then you go back to the park and sell like it’s no big? You got balls of steel or what?”

“Nobody saw me shoot him, except Zeke. I didn’t have the gun anymore, and I even ditched the outfit. How were the cops going to connect me? It’d have to be someone in shadow that saw me and snitched.”

“Nah, Bro. Not true. A cop with the right skill can see your shadow name, you know that.”

Shit. That was news to me. Of course, it should have been obvious. The other side would have counters, skill-based or not, for the protections of the shadows. It was just good game balance.

“Do only cops have that skill? What about security guards?”

“What, mall cops? Fuck, no, Bro.”

I let out the breath I’d been holding. Carl didn’t ID me, so as long as there hadn’t been an undercover cop nearby with the right skill, I was golden. I hoped.

“Why’d you ask about the sales, anyway?” I asked.

Manny looked away.

“I’ve been thinking about our situation. You’re born for the shit, Bro. That thing with Magnus, and now you shoot some guy. It doesn’t even seem like it’s a big deal to you.”

He paused, looking me in the eyes. I thought of objecting, telling him that of course it was but I didn’t. It didn’t seem like I’d had any other options, but I was tired of justifying my actions, so I said nothing.

Manny continued. “You are, but I’m not. This shit with Brass Lee and those hipster fucks is eating at my guts. I want out. So, I’ve got a deal for you. I’ll give you the rest of the weed, as much cash as I can and my car. In exchange you will take sole responsibility for our debt. I’ll walk into the light and never think about the shadows ever again. Lee and those hipsters will never find me or my family.”

I seriously thought about it for a good ten seconds. It really was a generous offer. With all the money in my pocket, plus the cash we’d taken from Magnus and whatever Manny had we were probably pretty close to being able to pay Lee off completely.

That would leave most of the weed still unsold. With the added bonus of Manny’s Regal on top, it was a killer deal.

There was one big problem with it. I’d be losing my only real friend and ally in this world. My partner. I just couldn’t do it.

I grasped for a wispy, uncertain possibility that had been in the back of my mind and held it tight.

“Hey, hold on. Don’t bail on me yet. I have an idea that might help us out of this. Let’s go talk to Big El.”