I rented a little house in midtown. Instead of a lawn, the yard had those shitty red rocks out front, which suited me just fine because the rental fronted as a meth lab, so I didn’t want the hassle of lawn maintenance. My crew worked nights and early mornings concocting crystal in the rental’s bathroom. Ferral was my chemist. He was a timid man, balding with long strips of thin blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. Donny and Rachael made runs for me at the various drug stores, buying the required common household supplies. Donny was twenty years old, and from Sacramento. His cheeks were covered in freckles and acne. Rachael was twenty-two and from somewhere in Southern California. At a distance she looked pretty, but upon closer inspection, too much makeup failed to conceal red blotches on her face.
I grabbed my car keys for a McDonald’s run. I kept my crew well fed, and not because I was a nice guy. If somebody wasn’t eating, they were getting high, and that was a no-no. As I left the house, I noticed a toppled gray statue of a cherub holding a birdbath in the front yard. I crunched through the red rocks, and helped the angel back to its feet before unlocking the door of my pickup truck.
Everybody wants the American dream. A big house, a fast car, a blonde wife with big tits and a couple future Olympians for kids, and I’m no different only I’m on the fast track to prosperity. What all these hardworking schlubs, toiling nine to five, don’t comprehend is they’ll never climb that mountain. Hard work is the path to debt and nowhere town, enslavement. The only people reaching the promise land are the ones pulling the rug out from under the suckers. And that’s me, yanking like hell.
Upon returning home from McDonald’s, I noticed a commercial van parked in front of the house. Walking through the red rocks with greasy fast food bags, a bad premonition enveloped me. I envisioned half a dozen feds crammed in the back, tapping my phone line.
A beautiful woman stepped down from the stoop of my rental. She looked fortyish with long silky blonde hair. The pale yellow power suit she wore struggled against her vivacious curves. She smiled as we passed, her high heels clacking along the path, her hips swaying to and fro.
“Who was that?” I asked, coming through the door as Ferral and Rachael swarmed the McDonald’s bags.
“Said her name’s Sally. Sells vacuum cleaners,” Donny said, lighting a cigarette.
“She’s giving us a free demonstration.”
“With the vacuum?” I asked, looking at the rancid floor.
Soda spills and cigarette ash blackened the mauve colored carpet. Dollar store dishes and plates dominated the sink and kitchen counters. Refuse from supplies littered the bedroom. Streamlining prosperity was by no means cleanly. The only immaculate area in the house was Ferral’s bathroom laboratory.
“She’ll be back in twenty minutes to demonstrate the cleaning power of the … what did she call it?” Donny asked, flicking cigarette ash onto the carpet. “The Hydro-Vac.”
“It’s one of those water jobs,” Rachael said.
“I don’t care if it runs on vaporized plutonium,” I said.
“That would be a serious fire hazard,” Ferral interjected, licking his fingers.
“I don’t give a shit,” I said, smashing an unwrapped Egg McMuffin with my fist. “Why didn’t you follow procedural protocol, and tell her thank you, but we aren’t interested?”
“Procedural protocol? You sound like my old manager at Wal-Mart,” Donny said.
“Donny thought she was cute,” Rachael said between slurps of orange juice.
“Look at this disgusting carpet,” Donny said. “Why not have a beautiful mature woman clean it for us?”
“Because she might not really sell vacuums, dumbass,” I said, stuffing a sausage biscuit into my mouth, and washing the dryness down with carton milk.
“No way,” Donny said, lighting a cigarette. “A babe that smoking. No way she’s a pig.”
“Did you see the van out front?” I asked. “Classic stakeout wagon.”
“You’re paranoid,” Donny said, flicking his cigarette ash on the carpet.
“Eat something,” I said. “Ain't you hungry?”
“Maybe if you hadn’t smashed my dinner,” Donny said unwrapping the flattened Egg McMuffin.
“You better be right about her,” I said.
“Find out in twenty minutes.”
“Getting low on supplies,” Ferral said. “Time for a run.”
“You heard the man,” I said to Donny and Rachael. “Get to work, and be smart about it. Change up the stores you hit. Don’t draw suspicion.”
“What about our meal?” Rachael asked, rubbing her stomach.
“It’ll be waiting for you when you get back,” I said.
“Cold McDonald’s,” Rachael said. “Brutal.”
Donny lingered in the living room while Rachael exited the backdoor, and pedaled away on her bicycle.
“Get going,” I said.
“What about Sally?” Donny asked.
“What about her?”
“I want to see her vacuum the floor.”
“She ain't getting through the front door, Donny,” I said. “I’m sending her ass packing the moment she returns. Now get on your bike, and do your job.”
“But what about the vacuum? I bet it’s heavy, and she’ll have carried it up the porch.”
I lit a cigarette, and stared at the floor. Reluctantly, Donny slung his pack over his shoulder, and slammed the back door. That kid was standing frontline for an ass whooping. One more fuck up like that and he was toast. I’d gone through countless dumb shits in this operation, and Donny was no different. I couldn’t understand why people like him struggled with the simplest of tasks? If he didn’t pull his head out of his rear, I’d kick him to the curb, and find another stooge.
To calm myself, I sat in a cracked and plastic off-white lawn chair, and strummed several songs by The Beatles on my Martin Rosewood Grand while smoking. The guitar was an heirloom handed down from my grandfather. Besides money, it was the only thing I cared about in this world. Twenty minutes passed, and my mind shifted to cashing in my chips. The first thing I’d do is fix my teeth. Chicks dig straight teeth. Thinking about ladies reminded me of the vacuum broad. Maybe she wasn’t a cop. Maybe she was a nymphomaniac. Maybe she went door to door fucking men. Hell, if Donny returned and found me bedding down with the vacuum lady, it’d teach him a lesson far more powerful than any beating.
“Did Sally come back?” Donny asked when he returned from his errand.
“If you ever invite a stranger inside again, or draw attention to us by slamming another door in this house, I will trounce the living piss out of you, and throw your ass to the curb. Got it?”
Donny didn’t like what I was saying, but I wasn’t running a feel-good resort. He stormed into the bedroom, and I returned to the lawn chair, my grandfather’s guitar, and the cigarettes. I was working my way through ‘Black Bird’ when somebody knocked on the front door.
“Who’s that?” Donny asked, reappearing in the living room.
“How the hell should I know?” I said, setting down my guitar, and tucking my gun into my waistband.
I opened the door, expecting a gorgeous blonde, but instead a tall, barrel chested man, wearing boots, blue jeans, a white collared shirt and a cowboy hat, loomed in the doorjamb, holding a massive vacuum. Before I could speak, he stepped passed me into the living room.
“Whooee,” the cowboy said with a whistle. “Damn if this ain’t the dirtiest rug west of the Mississippi. Like its been drowned in motor oil or something. Howdy partner, name’s Carl. I’m sure glad you signed up for our free carpet cleaning demonstration this evening because this floor will test the limits of a vacuum, but I tell you what. When you see the Hydro-Vac’s results, you ain’t gonna be able to refuse my offer, no way, no how. You’ll be so impressed, you’ll buy another one for your mama.”
“We don’t need a demonstration,” I said, hoping I wouldn’t have to use my gun. “Thank you. Be on your way.”
“Hold on there a minute partner,” Carl said, plugging the chord into the wall socket. “You know I’ll do you square. Won’t take but a few minutes, and I’ll have these badlands looking like the pastures of heaven in no time. They say you can’t polish a turd, but boy, I tell you what.”
“Where’s Sally?” Donny asked as Carl turned on the vacuum.
The Hydro-Vac sounded like a Boing 747 coming in for a landing. A torrent of hot air burst forth from an exhaust valve like jet propulsion, knocking Carl’s cowboy hat off the back of his head. His head was bald and lumpy with bright red patches on his scalp like cracks in a dry riverbed.
Ferral and Rachael came into the living room upon hearing the vacuum’s sonic boom. We gathered around the carpet’s perimeter, watching the cowboy work. Sweat dripped from his brow as he wrangled the mechanical beast. I figured he’d only plow a small patch of the toxic waste, but Carl pushed that cleaner up and down the entire width and length of the living room.
We pitched in, moving lawn chairs, so he wouldn’t miss any spots. The vacuum’s first attempt morphed the carpet from tar black to ash gray, but on the second flyby, the floor regained its original mauve luster. The cowboy arched his back, and stepped on the cleaner’s off switch. The growling motor slowed until silent. Carl wiped the sweat from his forehead, and searched for his cowboy hat. Donny handed it to him.
“Thanks boy,” Carl said, unplugging the vacuum. “What do you think? That was some clean job. I didn’t know the carpet was purple before the Hydro-Vac washed out all that crud, did you? Now it sparkles like new, and it’s all thanks to the magic of this incredible marvel of the modern world.”
“Carpet looks nice,” I admitted.
“Glad to hear it,” Carl said, reaching out to shake my hand, and exposing a massive sweat stain under his armpit. “This machine can be yours for eight easy payments of one hundred dollars, and you’ll never have to go back to living atop a tar pit again. Don’t that sound nice? I know you ain't got no vacuum in here. Take a hold of this beast.”
I didn’t want to touch the vacuum, but the slick-talking cowboy thrust the hose into my grip.
“Now you got the eighth wonder of the world in the palm of your hand.”
“I’m not buying this vacuum,” I said, handing him back the nozzle.
“That’s cold mister,” he said, tipping his hat back. “I bust my butt floating your floor, and you do me like that? How you missing out on this spectacular deal? Tell you what. Act now, I’ll knock fifty bucks off the price, and throw in a Hydro-Handheld for free.”
“I’ll pass,” I said. “Now if you’ll be on your way, I’d appreciate it.”
“Well shiit,” Carl said, looking around the room. “You play guitar?”
“Know any country?”
“Hank Williams,” I said.
“That’s my bread and butter.”
I strummed the chords to ‘Long Gone Lonesome Blues,’ and Carl yodeled the lyrics.
“You sing in a band?” I asked when the song ended.
“Nah, just karaoke every chance I get,” Carl said. “You sure you wont buy this here vacuum?”
“Positive,” I said.
“Shiit,” Carl said with a sigh. “Just another no good, worthless, cheap ass, son of a bitch.”
“Pardon?” I asked, reaching for my pistol.
Before I drew, a shotgun appeared in my face.
“Fucking move,” Rachael said. “And I’ll blow off your goddamn head.”
“Nice work, baby girl,” Carl said. “Your mama raised you right.”
“This prick’s your dad?” I asked.
“I’m warning you. Don’t move,” she said. “You’re a real piece of shit. And I’d have no problem offing you.”
Carl slugged me in the gut, knocking me to the floor. It felt damp and smelled scented. He disarmed me, and kicked me in the ribs.
“Do exactly what we say. Be a shame to dirty this freshly cleaned carpet,” Carl said. “Not sure how well the Hydro works on brains.”
Rachael made Donny and Ferral stand in the corner with their hands up, facing the wall.
“Don’t kill me,” Donny said. “I don’t want to die.”
“Then cooperation is imperative,” Carl said.
“Yes, sir,” Donny said, peeing his pants.
The front door opened, and the vacuum saleswoman entered with rope.
“Hi mama,” Rachael said, and helped Carl hogtied me like a calf at the rodeo.
“Hi baby girl,” the vacuum saleslady said.
“Parents?” I asked Rachel.
“Yep, and Rachael ain’t my real name, neither,” she said in a southern drawl.
“And you’re not from Southern California.”
“I’m not from California, but I’m from the South.”
“You done good, baby girl,” the vacuum saleslady said. “Mama’s real proud.”
“So’s pa,” Carl said. “Be a sweetheart and gather up the goodies.”
Rachael or whatever her name really was ran into the bedroom, and came back with two large clear Ziploc bags filled with crystal meth.
“Well shiit,” Carl said. “You boys been busy. Now where’s the cash?”
“He knows,” Rachael said, pointing at me.
Carl kicked me in the chest, and smashed me in the face with the butt of my own gun.
“Go fuck yourself,” I said, dripping blood onto the carpet.
“What if I kill him?” Carl said putting the gun to the back of Donny’s head.
“Please don’t,” Donny pleaded.
“I don’t give a shit about the kid,” I said. “He’s the one let you in.”
“That’s not entirely true,” Carl said, pointing the gun at Ferral. “Where’s the money, or Dr. Weird gets a hole in his noodle.”
“I can find another chemist,” I said.
“Then what about this here guitar?” Carl asked. “Be a shame to break it on your head.”
“There’s an air vent on the floor in the bedroom. Unscrew the grate, and feel around,” I said, and Rachael disappeared into the bedroom.
Several moments passed, and Rachael returned with several large wads of cash.
“That it?” Carl asked, and kicked me in the ribs again.
“Yeah, now put down my guitar.”
“I said it’d be a shame to break your head with it. I didn’t say I’d put it down. Now don’t take it too personal. You got a hell of a clean carpet out the deal, and that’s something you can be proud of.”
“Come on little bro,” Rachael said, and Donny turned around.
“She’s your sister?” I asked.
“The boy’s good ain’t he,” Carl said.
“Thanks pa,” Donny said, shedding his California accent, and kicking me in the ribs. “Who’s ass whooping who, huh?”
“Least I didn’t piss my pants,” I said when the kicking stopped.
“I didn’t neither,” Donny said. “I used a bottle of water to make it look real.”
“Like I said, the boy’s good.”
“How about you Ferral?” I asked. “You related to these assholes?”
“No, but they got a real laboratory. No more working out the toilet for me.”
“Don’t get any wild hairs, and come looking for us,” Carl said as Donny stretched out a long piece of duct tape.
Sally removed the floor attachment to the vacuum. Rachael thrust the nozzle into my mouth, and Donny taped it to my head. Carl picked up my guitar, and put his cowboy boot on the vacuum’s on switch.
“Damn, this sure is a nice picker,” Carl said. “I power up the Hydro-Vac, and your lungs, stomach, intestines and soul become the property of this here vacuum. Last chance to buy this beaut. Got a hell of a suction.”
“Okay,” I said as best I could with a metal hose jammed into my mouth.
“Well shiit,” Carl said. “Looks to me like we got ourselves another satisfied customer.”
Carl raised his boot to stomp the vacuum’s on switch. I winced at the thought of my organs leaving my body in such a violent manner, but instead Carl stepped back, and strummed my grandfather’s guitar.
“She’s long gone, and I’m lonesome and blue,” he yodeled. “Awful fine picker.”
The cowboy and his family, my guitar, my meth, my money, and my chemist exited the house. Donny slammed the door. For a moment there was silence, but then the grinding sound of boots, walking across red rocks, crushed the skeletal remains of my American dream into an immaculate carpet.