Selling at the college
Not long after, we were back in the Regal and cruising again. The gun wasn’t comfortable in the small my back, but it wasn’t like it hurt me either. The holster did its job well.
I only had the most vestigial of knowledge about how to use the gun. I’d seen them hundreds or thousands of times on movies and TV, but I’d never actually had one myself. At least not one that wasn’t a toy.
“Manny, is there anywhere we can go, like a gun range or something where they’ll teach me how to shoot this thing?” I asked.
“Uh,” He said, thinking about it. “Yeah, I guess there is. I never thought about that. I think you gotta pay them something, but for sure there are courses. Second Amendment, bro. The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, and all that.”
“We should do that. You with your .38 and me with this thing. If we ever have to use these guns, we should know how. Don’t you think?”
I could almost see the fear warring with the logic in his brain. The obvious answer was yes, of course we need to know how to use the guns. Fear was telling him that he wouldn’t need it because he needed to go and hide. Eventually, the logic won out, as I’d hoped it would.
“I’ll ask Mr. Vitek today, you know how he is about guns. He’ll know where to go.”
“Mr. Vitek?” I asked.
“I know you haven’t been gone that long, Bro. Shop teacher.”
“Oh, yeah right.”
I was getting worried about this knowledge that Manny expected me to have. Like who our shared teachers were in high school. If he got suspicious it wouldn’t take much for him to simply lay a trap for me. That could’ve been one, right there. Mr. Vitek, he’d say, and I’d agree that of course he was our shop teacher. If Manny had been fishing to see if I was still me, I would’ve stepped right into that trap. I didn’t know what to do about that. Eventually I’d have to leave Manny behind, come clean with him, or hope he’d never lay one of those traps for me.
I decided to change the subject. “We going to the college now?”
“Hell yeah, Bro. Money here we come.”
“You sure there are no gangs this time?” I asked. Missing obvious gang tags was a mistake I was determined not to make again.
“Hey, give me a little credit. I’m only going to make the same mistake once or twice. No tags.”
We drove in the early morning sunshine, listening to rap on the Regal’s stock stereo system. It didn’t have a CD player—I wasn’t even sure those existed—and the tape deck was empty. It was just the radio, and it was surprisingly good. There were a lot less commercials, and the music seemed better. Maybe I was just getting into gangsta rap, San Tadeo style.
Ten minutes later we were there. Massive parking lots full of cars surrounded huge buildings, and hordes of students milled around. Mesotonic Technical College.
I didn’t recognize the name, but I did have a faint memory of there being a technical college at this spot in Los Angeles. It just wasn’t called Mesotonic. Another one of those strange discrepancies.
While Manny was looking for a parking spot, I was scanning the walls and sidewalks of the campus we were passing. Nothing that looked like a gang tag jumped out at me. There were the remains of painted over graffiti, and plenty of places where the walls were plastered with posters for gigs elsewhere in the city. It looked like Manny was right, this area was unclaimed.
A beat-up minivan left a spot just ahead of us, and Marty maneuvered into it like a pro.
“Got one. I’m going to skip first period and make sure everything’s cool before I leave you here.”
That sounded good to me. Despite my new wardrobe, I wasn’t sure any of this would work.
“You just have to get the Job, and then you can start training up the skills.”
“What is the Job, anyway? You keep mentioning it, but you never said the name.”
“Shit bro, that’s because it’s lame. It’s the Dealer job, but the first level title’s Corner Boy. It sucks. I hate that title. Can’t wait until I rank up.”
I chuckled. Corner Boy definitely wasn’t a flattering title.
“How do I get the Job?” I asked.
“Sell $100 worth of drugs, and you’ll unlock the Job. That’s it. The low rarity jobs like Dealer are super easy to unlock. The higher rarity ones take a lot more doing.”
I thought about that. Big El had been a Fixer (C2). That had been that was the rarest job I’d seen on display yet. Even Martin’s job as an officer on the Light side was only D rarity.
“All right, Bro. Let’s do this. We’ll set up over there,” Manny said, and pointed to a broad walkway leading to a packed parking lot. One side was the mostly blank wall of one of the campus buildings, and the other was the street. Trash cans and concrete benches were distributed on the sides of the 40-foot wide pedestrian walkway, and it seemed like a great place to set up.
We walked over, looking for and then finally finding what seemed like the best spot. Right in the middle, a concrete bench and the wall at our backs, facing the road. I looked to Manny and he shrugged.
“I’m not doing anything. It’s all you.”
Manny sat on the bench, and I set the kitty duffel bag beside him. I distributed dime bags throughout the pockets of my cargo shorts.
“Smart. But don’t leave this bag here. At least not when I’m not here. You do that, someone’s likely to snatch and run. That’d be a lot of money to lose.”
I nodded. It was one of those reasons that having a car or someplace nearby to stash the drugs and cash would be important. Soon, I vowed.
Finally, I felt ready. I slung the duffel bag back over my shoulders. It was lighter now. The students came in waves roughly every ten minutes, either to the parking lot or from it. Between the waves, students trickled in ones and twos. Quite a few of them looked my way, but no one approached.
I’d never sold anything before. The thought of asking someone to buy my product was terrifying, even putting aside that what I was doing was illegal. The time was ticking away, and I didn’t want to disappoint Manny. We were in this jam because of me, and I needed to help make things right. I had to sell.
When the next pair of students eyed me for more than a few seconds, I swallowed my fear and approached. “Weed?”
That first pair of young guys shook their heads and kept walking, but having done it once it was easier the second time. It only took three more times before I had a bite.
“What you got?”
This was where the next part of my brilliant plan would come in. For some reason, this element of weed culture hadn’t made it over to San Tadeo and I wanted to see if it would work here.
“I’ve got dimes of our finest Green Monster. A Mellow high with no paranoia. It won’t kill your focus. Interested?” I said, showing the kid the dime bag in my right palm.
His eyes widened at my sales pitch. I heard Manny shift behind me.
“You serious, no paranoia?”
“Yep. They bred it out. Isn’t science wonderful?” I said.
“How much?” he asked.
This next part was what caused my guts to clench a bit. I still had no idea what baseline prices were like, I only knew our costs. For all I knew, when Brass Lee sold weed he sold it for $30 a dime. After all, his cost of acquisition might be a lot lower than what he sold to Manny for. I couldn’t worry about that. Our costs were our costs. What I wanted to be selling was not just weed, but primo weed. It didn’t matter whether what we had was actually that good or not. I honestly had no way of knowing, as I didn’t know shit about weed. I suspected, however, that very few other people did either.
“50 bucks a dime. It’ll be the best $50 you ever spent.”
The kid hissed through his teeth, but a second later he pulled out a wallet and extracted a $100 bill and handed it to me.
“Two dimes,” he said.
I dug another dime bag out of my right front pocket and handed both of them to my first customer. The vacuum-packed weed disappeared into the front pocket of his hoodie, he nodded and kept walking to class.
Job Unlocked – Dealer (F) (Shadow)
Accept this Job?
It was like Manny had said—Corner Boy, the first rank of Dealer, an F rarity Job. I smiled and was about to accept when I had a scary thought.
“Manny, I’ve unlocked Dealer. If I take it am I stuck with it forever?” I asked.
“What? Hell no, Bro. You can switch whenever. It just means the skills linked to that Job don’t earn anymore. You can evolve some Jobs too, but I don’t know if Dealer is one of those. You have to max it out and then there’s special things you need to do. Evolution is one of those secret things, I don’t know much about it.”
Secrets! How refreshing. The Internet had basically killed secrets and they were back here in San Tadeo.
“Great, thanks,” I said, and accepted the Job.
|Skill Unlocked – Customer Identification (F)||Level||1/5|
|Every 60 seconds, determine with a 10% success rate if the person you are looking at is a likely customer for what you are selling.|
|Skill Unlocked – Fast Count (F)||Level||1/7|
|Quickly count up to $100 cash in your hand with a brief period of concentration.|
Manny stood, slapping me on the back. “Congrats, Bro. You’re a natural. And $50 a dime? Damn. What was all that about it not making you paranoid?”
“All part of the sales pitch.”
“Well shit, good work. Not sure it’s true though. I haven’t smoked any of this, yet. It might be no good.”
One thing I knew about marketing was that your product didn’t actually need to be good. It needed to be seen as good. Lots of times, that was all about signaling. Via price, packaging, or marketing. If people thought the product was good, they’d excuse any flaws they found with it, because obviously the product was good, everybody said so.
We weren’t quite there yet, but I had a suspicion this approach would work for weed as well as it did for everything else. I couldn’t imagine this was unique approach for drug dealers.
“It doesn’t matter, you’ll see. I got the Job. I’m a Corner Boy now.”
I brought up my stat sheet, and there it was.
|“Mack” (Walking in the Shadows)||Job:||None|
Nothing about how much it would take to level up though. I concentrated on the Job part of my sheet and another sheet popped open.
It looked like leveling up my Job would take a while, but it was doable. I wondered what would happen when I finally did level it up. More skills? Stats? Another question for the list.
Both of my new skills were at zero dollars earned. I assumed that if I used them to sell some pot, those numbers would tick up. Again, it was one of those rather fuzzy systems. I could definitely envision the existence of skills that wouldn’t be easy to tie to direct income. How did those work? It was like in some tabletop games where you’d only get experience for kills or quests. Healers and other support classed got screwed when they did their jobs. It was a bad design, and I hoped that my new world had a better system.
“Congrats, Bro. Just use Customer ID every time it cools down. That cooldown gets shorter as it levels up and the success rate goes up. You’ll see. Fast Count just use it every time somebody pays you. It goes up fast.
“Oh, and remember you’re showing your new job title right now. If you want to hide it, you just have to want it, like everything else. I’d hide that shit, Bro.”
He was right, I didn’t much like the Job title. Maybe the next level title would be cooler. I willed it to go away and felt something change as it did so.
I nodded. “I think I’ve got this, Manny. You going to get to class, or stay out here with me and sell?”
I could see he was tempted. In his mind, Manny the drug dealer fought Minh the good boy for supremacy. Minh won out this time.
“Nah, Bro. I can’t ditch too many days. I’ll come back after school and pick you up.”
He pulled me in for a bro-hug and then left me there. A few minutes later he waved as he drove by, and there I was solo on my first outing as a drug dealer. The newly-minted Corner Boy.
I continued the approach I’d been using, eyeballing passersby and trying to psychically determine whether they were actually buyers or not. This triggered the Customer ID skill without me even having to think about it. There was no button to press, or phrase to shout. I thought that would be pretty funny, honestly. All these poor students walking by a guy dressed like a crazy weed clown shouting “Customer ID” at them over and over. A great video to post, if they’d had that here.
Instead the skill just worked seamlessly. I could feel when it fired and when it was on cooldown. I spammed it as often as I could, and it kept failing.
I sold four more dime bags to four different customers. I started to notice they had a look. A hungry, appraising look when they saw my t-shirt. Not once did Customer ID trigger successfully.
Fast Count, of course, went up quite quickly. The small amounts of money I was dealing with weren’t enough to cause it to fail.
My sales approach seemed to work quite well. I just wished I knew if what I was promising them about the weed was true or not. It didn’t seem to matter, but if I was going to continue to sell here, I didn’t want angry customers. I wanted repeat customers.
I heard the rumble of an engine and looked out to the street. A beautiful 70s muscle car was driving by. I didn’t recognize it, but it looked to me kind of like a Mustang. It was long and low, with sweeping, muscular curves.
|1971 AMC AMX||Big Bad Orange||AMCJVLN|
It was a beautiful, bright orange color. The nameplate said it was Big Bad Orange, and it certainly was that. The tires were fat, and white walled with shining chrome rims. I was so entranced by the car and the sound it made it took me a moment to recognize that both of the men in the car were looking me over as they drove slowly by.
The driver was a light skinned black guy with close-cropped hair. I caught a glimpse of gold and lean, muscular arms shown off by his muscle shirt.
The passenger was a bulkier, darker black guy with a medium sized afro. His face was broad, with a long scar down the left side. He was dressed like Flattop, but I caught the glint of silver around his neck.
Flattop and Hondo. They were staring at me, but didn’t look hostile. The feeling I got from them was that they were serious guys, but it wasn’t the oppressive, overwhelming presence that Magnus or Big El had. In any case, moments later they stopped looking and the AMX drove away, engine burbling delightfully. I was soon distracted by my next customer, Customer ID succeeding for the very first time.
“Hey there, weed? The finest Green Monster. A smooth, mellow high with no paranoia.”
My first successfully identified customer forked out the $50 quickly and kept walking toward the parking lot. It was weird, I had just looked at him and suddenly was utterly convinced he was interested in buying weed.
After the sale I felt a strange sensation, an odd tingling feeling in my head. I pushed the feeling aside when someone spoke.
“Not a good idea to sell here, Mack,” a voice said to my right.
I saw Flattop and Hondo walking from the direction of the parking lot. I tensed, cursing Manny inwardly. Had we somehow missed another set of gang tags? Was I breaking the Rule of Turf, yet again?
Now that they were out of the car I could see that Hondo was short, but much bulkier than the lean and wiry Flattop. Around his neck was a thick silver chain and a chunky medallion with the shining red, yellow and green shape of Africa on the front.
“Yeah, why is that?” I asked, turning to face them. Both of their hands were in full view, and the Rule of Escalation was running through my head. As much as I wanted to put my hand on the butt of the pistol at the small of my back, I knew it would be an escalation.
“Because of the campus pigs. You can only sell here if you pay them and I doubt you have. The second they notice you here, they’re gonna come down on you like a ton of shit,” Flattop said.
“Yeah, it’s not like they’re going to have to look real hard. Never heard of blending in, white boy?” Hondo asked with a chuckle. When his mouth opened gold flashed in the sunshine.
“No turf issue then?” I asked.
“This is nobody’s turf. Campus cops won’t let you tag, even if you pay them,” Flattop said.
“Wait a second. Mack?” Hondo said, slapping Flattop’s shoulder. “Shit, Flattop. This is Mack. He’s one of those guys pissed in the Hip’s cornflakes. You are, ain’t you?”
This was another one of those things that annoyed me. In a game, I would have been forced to pick a unique name. Mack was short enough that I doubted that I was the only one in the world, or even in San Tadeo that had picked it. But somehow, they could use it to ID me? How the hell did that work?
“No, I-” I started.
Flattop interrupted me, waving his left hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. There’s no snitches in the LSS. We’re not going to sell you to those hipster fucks. Just wanted to warn you that it’s not a good place to sell.”
“Yeah, screw Magnus and his butt boys. He’s got a real hard on for you though,” Hondo said, chuckling.
“Thanks. What’s the LSS?” I asked.
“Lyle Street Soldados. That’s us,” Flattop said, indicating him and Hondo.
“Represent,” Hondo added.
“We’re not in the drug game, but we can hook you up with a ride if you need it,” Flattop said.
“And you got the cash,” Hondo added again.
“Yeah, cash is important. Anyway, you should go before they notice you’re here. If you need us, you know where to find us.”
Flattop extended his fist and I dabbed him. Hondo just waved and they walked back toward the parking lot.
I wondered how legitimate the warning was. Did I really have to worry about the campus police? They had ignored me so far. I really didn’t want to abandon the spot if I didn’t have to. It didn’t seem like a place to sell with lots of traffic was easy to come by. At least not one that was wasn’t already claimed by some gang or other.
I decided to risk it a little while longer. I was a stupid dumb ass.
I sold five more dime bags and was feeling good about myself. Customer ID had actually worked another two times, with one of the activations being negative. I’d felt totally certain the dude wasn’t interested. The roll in my pocket was starting to feel thick. I restocked my cargo pockets, leaving the duffel with just a few grams left inside of it.
That strange tingling feeling hadn’t gone away, and it was bugging me. An itch at the back of my mind. When I scratched at it, I got a popup.
|Fast Count Leveled Up to 2/7|
Fast Count had leveled up. That explained the tingling sensation earlier. It was a relief. I never had to worry about the scenario where I leveled up in a fight or something and the popup got me killed.
I brought up the skills page, curious to see what it would take to get to the next level.
|Customer Identification (F)||Level||1/5|
|Every 60 seconds, determine with a 10% success rate if the person you are looking at is a likely customer for what you are selling.|
|Fast Count (F)||Level||2/7|
|Quickly count up to $200 cash in your hand with a brief period of concentration.|
That was interesting. Fast Count’s first level up had been $250 earned, and the next would be an additional $500 earned. The amount needed had doubled. I tried to calculate in my head what that would work out to at the end and failed. I wasn’t one of those guys that could do complex math in their heads without even a pen and paper. I’d have to work it out later. It was time to return to work.
Flattop’s warning was still in the front of my mind. The campus cop cars still drove by occasionally and the cops driving were still ignoring me. I had just begun to relax a bit when the trap closed around me.
One of the steel doors in the wall to my left opened loudly. I looked over to see a cop in a campus police uniform walking toward me. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored aviator sunglasses like he was a refugee from a 70s cop show.
“Hey, what you doing there?” he shouted.
Shit, time to leave. I turned and began speed walking in the opposite direction. Toward the parking lot, and away from the campus. I didn’t have anywhere particular to go, just away.
I heard the crunch of gravel as the cop broke into a run behind me, so I did the same. The mostly empty duffel flapped against me and the sandals were terrible for running. Still, I poured it on as hard as I could.
I could hear the cop gaining on me. It didn’t matter, because I’d just reached the end of the walkway before the parking lot started when a second campus cop stepped out from behind the building and snatched me off my feet. He pivoted and slammed me back-first into the hard concrete wall, knocking the breath out of me. The holstered gun in the small of my back dug deeply and hurt like hell. I wheezed, trying to catch my breath.
The one that had slammed me pinned me to the wall and kept me from collapsing. I IDed him as I struggled for breath.
|Wayne Garman, Rookie (E2), Mesotonic College Police Department|
The first cop thundered up a second later and then they were both right in my face.
“You’ve been selling weed in my territory, scrub. I don’t know you. You haven’t paid me my tax.” The first cop said. His nameplate appeared without me thinking much about it.
|Robert Cardry, Patrolman (E3), Mesotonic College Police Department|
I struggled to speak, and finally coughed out. “I’ll pay, I’m sorry.”
“No, that’s too late. You’ve disrespected Wayne and I. I’m not sure we’re ready to forgive you for that just yet.”
“Let’s see what he has, shall we?” Wayne said.
They found my roll first. Wayne pulled the kitty bag from my shoulders. He unzipped it and looked inside.
“Three little dimes, all neatly packed. We’ll take these,” he said.
“Roll’s a little light,” Rob said, holding it in his hand.
“Let’s see what else he’s got. Pat him down,” Rob said.
I knew they’d find the gun. Each of them was armed, and they were even wearing body armor. I didn’t want to escalate, especially not with cops. Not even bullshit pretend cops like the ones that work for college campuses. I really didn’t want to lose my gun the first day I had it, and my pockets were full of weed. Time for a desperation move.
I hunched over, retching. One of my hidden talents was the ability to fake vomiting very convincingly. Wayne obviously had had a lot of people vomit on him, because he immediately let go and shoved me away.
I launched off the wall, snatching my bankroll out of Rob’s left hand as I smashed my shoulder into Wayne and sent him stumbling backward.
Instead of running like an idiot toward a parking lot where I had no escape, this time I ran straight into traffic. On the other side of the busy four lane street there were houses. Fences, yards and alleys. Plenty of places to hide. It was more luck than skill that kept me from being pancaked by oncoming traffic. Some kid driving a Civic locked up his brakes to avoid smashing into me, and I weaved, not even pausing. A moment later I was on the other side of the road, with a slight lead on the cops chasing me. Unlike me, they had a sense of self-preservation and didn’t just run blindly into heavy traffic.
I was on the front lawn of a house, a small California bungalow. I stuffed my roll into my front pocket and kept running.
There was a gate leading into the backyard. I slammed into it and scrambled over, not having time to find a latch. I landed on the other side, grateful not to twist my ankle. Behind me I heard a siren and the roar of a revving engine. One of them had started up the squad car I’d missed and peeled off to intercept me. I didn’t stop running.
The yard was a small, well-groomed square of grass. The wooden gate behind me shuddered as the chasing cop slammed into it and fumbled for the latch. I dashed across the grass and scrambled over the next fence and into the alley.
With no idea where I was, I had to choose a direction randomly. Left it was. I bolted and then turned right into the first yard. The fence here in the back was low, and I hopped it without issue. It was a bigger yard than the last, full of landscaped shrubbery and flowerbeds. On one side of the yard hedges took the place of the fence with the neighbor, thick and bushy. I saw my opportunity and I took it.
I sprinted across the yard and dove into a slight gap in the greenery. I wormed my way through, branches poking me and scratching. A branch hooked the straps of a sandal and I was struggling to free it when I heard noise at the fence that I’d hopped. I stopped moving, willing the branches to stop quivering.
Rob stalked into the yard, looking around. His eyes behind the mirrored lenses passed right over me, hidden in the deep green of the bush. I knew he couldn’t see me, but it felt like he should be able to. He was looking right at me.
After a long moment he looked away, and jogged towards the front of the yard. He muttered something into the mic on his left lapel.
As soon as he wasn’t looking, I tried to will myself back into the light. Nothing happened and I felt some resistance. I kept trying, pushing against it until finally a minute or two later the resistance gave way and I slid back into the light.
I took off the chain and stashed it in one of my cargo pockets, extracting myself from the hedge.
I made my way to the street, walking slowly and carefully. I headed back toward the college a few blocks over. I’d only been walking a minute or two when Rob and Wayne drove past me. Their eyes skipped right over me, failing to associate Frank and Mack. I almost gibbered in relief.
Since it was still fairly early and I didn’t dare return to my spot, it was time to take the bus once again.