The next day I was sitting on the front porch waiting for Manny when he rolled up just before eight o’clock. The sunrise had woke me and rather than hang out in the filthy house waiting for my ride, I’d spent the time enjoying the morning air on the front porch. I only lacked a cup of coffee. It might not surprise you if I told you there wasn’t any in my kitchen.
Manny was in a good mood that morning. “Bro, ready for another big sales day? We’re going to run out of weed soon at this rate.”
I knew he was exaggerating a bit, but not by much. Between the two of us we’d sold nearly three ounces the previous day.
“How much is left?” I asked.
“I’ve got 84 grams left. You’ve got 56 including the ounce I’ve got in the satchel.”
I did a bit of mental math and it was grim. I didn’t even have enough to pay off my share of the debt to Brass Lee. If it hadn’t been for the job with the LSS, I’d be totally screwed. It didn’t make me happy to be relying on a future payday, but I wasn’t sure what my other option was. Manny still had three ounces left so if we sold all of it, we’d have just enough to pay Brass Lee. Not enough to re-up though.
“Manny, I had to pay rent to my new landlord last night. I’m pretty tapped out.”
“What, that $450 for Smokey tapped you out, Bro?”
I finally had to explain what was going on with my house, and the deal I’d made the previous night with the landlord. I even finally got to tell him the story with Gloria in the kitchen, and it was as funny as I thought it was.
“God damn, how the fuck do you keep stepping in shit everywhere you go, Bro? I mean seriously. We could have just got you a nice studio apartment somewhere.”
“I know, I know. Anyway, that’s what I’m doing. I’m not going to be able to come up with my half for Lee on Thursday. Flattop said it’d be a week or so before we got paid for the car.”
“Is that what you’re worried about? Fuck Bro, we’re good. I’ve got this sweet new ride, these glasses and Buddy. As far as I’m concerned I owe you big. We’ve got enough weed left to pay off Lee and I’ve got about $2k in cash right now. Let’s just sell the shit and pay him.”
“Thanks, Manny. That makes me feel better.”
“Fuck, Bro. You’re driving this boat, I’m just a passenger.”
“Manny, I wasn’t the one driving that Mercedes like a pro,” I objected.
“No way, Bro. That Suburban shouldn’t have got anywhere near me. I’ve got a lot to learn.”
Manny spent the next ten minutes of our drive holding forth on the various statistics of your average Suburban and how because of this and that reason he should have totally left his pursuers in his dust. Maybe he was right, but I didn’t think so. Whoever had been driving, they had been fast. Enough that even Flattop had trouble catching up.
When we got to the shop, I transferred the ounce in Manny’s satchel to my backpack and zipped it up. I’d have some time to kill again, but was looking forward to Guillem’s coffee and food.
“Good luck, Bro. See you after school,” Manny said, and drove off.
Guillem had saved a table for me, and soon after I sat down there was a cafe con leche in front of me. It tasted like Heaven.
“Food?” Guillem asked me.
I nodded with a mouthful of coffee and he left without waiting for any more details. When he came back out he filled the table with churros, a potato tortilla and olives. An odd breakfast, but it was welcome.
After breakfast I sat in the sun and was enjoying my second coffee when Flattop joined me.
“You’re making me look bad, Mack. Before you, I was the early bird,” he said, sitting down opposite. I was little worried about him using my name in public, but all of the old men around us were in the light, and seemed to be trusted locals.
“It’s either show up early or take the bus, so here I am,” I replied.
“Right, you still don’t have any wheels. That’s easy enough to fix. I can grab you something, but I’ll have to charge you for it.”
I shook my head. “Don’t worry about it. I can’t afford anything right now. Speaking of which, when are we getting paid?”
“The Merc? Soon. We’re the bottom of the food chain, so we get paid last. Those guys at the port are solid though. We’ve delivered for them a few times now, and they always come through with the cash.”
“How does that work? You just tell them you’ve got this fancy car, will they buy it?” I asked.
“Not even close. They get an order from whoever, probably some rich guy in Europe or Africa or wherever, for a specific car. Then they farm it out to cliques like ours. We don’t get many of these, but every time we do it’s a nice pay day. They get paid, the car goes into a container and then we get paid.”
I looked up and was surprised to see Hondo crossing the street toward us. Flattop followed my gaze.
“Holy shit, it’s a miracle. Hondo’s out of bed before eleven!”
“Fuck you, early bird,” he replied and sat with us.
Guillem came over, and said something to Hondo in Spanish with a knowing smile.
“Seriously, this is no big deal. Coffee, Guillem?” Hondo asked. Guillem slapped him on the shoulder and left.
“Oh, before I forget. Manny wants to learn some driving skills. Can you help him out?” I asked Flattop.
“Yeah, I can. I had a bit of baby mama drama yesterday but I can try to be here later. Speaking of which, I gotta go.”
Flattop stood up, finishing off his coffee and waving to Guillem before walking back the way he came.
“Baby mama drama?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” Hondo replied. “I don’t stick my nose in. My boy likes it raw dog, and he’s got a couple baby mamas now.”
I was reflecting on this huge cultural gulf between my reality and Hondo’s when Guillem returned with his coffee.
“Thanks, OG,” Hondo said.
“It’s just good to see you out of bed,” Guillem replied. “You know your father was always here for coffee right after I opened, and then to work. You don’t get anything without hustling hard for it, sobrino.”
“Sure, but that’s my dad, Tio. We can’t all be like him.”
Guillem made a noise of disapproval with his tongue. “Maybe not, but you know he’d want you to try.”
“Well he’s not here, is he, Tio? Give me a break, would you? I’m just trying to wake up.”
Guillem nodded and left us.
“Sorry. Family shit,” Hondo said.
“Not really. We call him Uncle but he’s more like my dad’s best friend. They started the LSS together back in the day, and then Guillem went straight for his lady. My dad got pinched, but Tio still looks out for us.”
“Your dad has quite the rep. I hope I get to meet him one day.”
“You will, Homes. He just needs to win his appeal and he’s sprung.”
I nodded. I knew from prior experience this was a sore point for him and I didn’t want to push on it. Flattop seemed convinced that Gato was staying in for his full term.
Hondo took another sip of his coffee and then seemed to shake off our previous conversation.
“What are you doing here so early anyway?”
“Everyone asks me that. I’ve got no car, so this is when Manny can give me a ride. It’s not a big deal.”
“Your hands broke, Homes? Go and get a car. Bring it back here, I’ll get the VINs scrubbed and then Miguel can register it for you.”
“Just go and steal a car?”
Hondo gave me an exasperated look and a gesture that clearly read, “What the fuck did you think I meant?”
“I don’t know man. I don’t even know how I would do that. What, just point my gun at some guy stopped at a light and take his car?”
“You could do that, but I wouldn’t,” Hondo said. “You never know when they’re strapped. Just find something parked and take it.”
“That I definitely can’t do. How would I open the door? Or start it when it’s open?”
“This shit isn’t rocket surgery. Come on, pay Tio and I’ll show you what you need to know,” Hondo said, finishing his coffee and standing up.
Guillem was inside the shop, and rather than wait I tucked a $20 bill under my coffee cup. If it wasn’t enough, I was sure I’d hear about it later. With the old men all around us as security, the money was completely safe.
I followed Hondo across the road, apprehensive but also eager to learn the skills I needed to steal my first car.