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.
Monday, February 18, 2019
Saturday, March 3, 2018
Switchblade Issue III boasts a number of contributors familiar to anyone who follows the small press crime scene, writers like Eric Beetner, Morgan Boyd and Preston Lang. As well, there are a number of writers I know mostly from their Twitter feeds and the occasional scuttlebutt. I realize it's still early on in Switchblade's career, but it's safe to say they've become prominent in a short time. All told, editor Scotch Rutherford has put together a well-done and entertaining issue here.
Some highlights include the aforementioned Preston Lang, who gives us "Press it Down," a story about a former musician turned mayhem artist, a granny who turns out to be skilled in the use of a golf club. I've found his stories always deserve more love than they receive: he's well-published, but merits further recognition, and kudos to Rutherford for recognizing that and giving him a spot in multiple issues.
In "Burning Snow," Morgan Boyd writes about how even a simple job like shoveling snow can become a criminal web of intrigue and violence. Told by our narrator Max, who's got a secret or two himself, the story ranges across the snowy landscape, artfully and simply revealed, to an unforgettable description of a fat man in flagrante delicto. The ending is a punch in the gut that tells us what some of us could still stand to learn: some people never have the luck.
Eric Beetner's piece, "Family Secrets," about a child who witnesses a gruesome crime and is forced into a criminal act himself, is something I've found typical of Beetner, in novel or short story mode. His work is well-paced and deftly written, always in service to the narrative, not flashy. It's solid prose exemplified by lines like "I didn't buy the fake sincerity in Mom's voice when she told me Dad would be okay. But beyond wondering if my Dad would live or die, I tried to figure out how in the world he ever come to be shot."
Other stories are largely successful but not necessarily my bag. I recognize the effort each of the writers here, though, and I appreciate too the effort it takes to put out a quality journal several times a year. It's an often Herculean effort sustained only by the love you get from writers and occasionally from readers, and certainly not in monetary rewards. The kinks in the production process notwithstanding, I expect Switchblade to have a long successful career highlighting the best the small press crime scene has to offer for as long as Rutherford can keep the magic going on the back end.
The stories are out there waiting, and I see the job of small press crime journals like Switchblade, Pulp Modern and Tough to bring them to the forefront and provide an alternative--however the individual journals define that-- to the larger venue/larger payday every writer generally shoots for. Our job is to get large in vision, but stay small in practice, to highlight writers before they reach mainstream success, and to bring attention to those mainstream writers who still need the boost. Their success is our success. Every Switchblade issue, every Pulp Modern issue, every story, every time we get our names out there in the small press crime scene, is a success for all of us.
Monday, August 28, 2017
I couldn’t rouse Big Dave as the fire spread through the living room. He had been up for days smoking crystal and drinking cheap beer before falling asleep. I yelled and punched him, but he remained unconscious as the flames leapt around us.
Nate and my girlfriend Tiffany had safely exited the burning house. Tiffany screamed from the front lawn for us to get out. I tried dragging Big Dave, but he was too heavy. The smoke was thick, and the heat unbearable. Begrudgingly, I left my friend and roommate, and crawled on my hands and knees out the front door as a wall exploded behind me into red cinders. In the distance, sirens approached.
Nate, Big Dave, Tiffany and I rented the three-bedroom house near Portola Drive on the Eastside. Our friends called it the Bro-Hive because we partied there night and day. When we weren’t partying, we were surfing Pleasure Point.
Big Dave was an enforcer, controlling the peak at Sewer’s. He’d dunk or chase off anybody that dropped in on us, so we always got the best waves. Nate and I were sponsored, and destined for the pro-circuit. Tiffany worked at a nearby retail shop, selling over priced t-shirts and sunglasses to tourists. She had long blonde hair, blue eyes, a little button nose and just the right amount of curves in all the right places. During bikini season, I felt like the luckiest man alive.
Tiffany told the firefighters Big Dave was still inside. They suited up, and made their way into the burning Bro-Hive. After several tense moments, two firefighters appeared through the smoke, carrying Big Dave. We stood over our friend to see if he was okay, but he wasn’t okay. Big Dave had burned to death.
“Ryan did this,” Nate said as I coughed and hugged Tiffany. “He’s as good as dead.”
We’d been friends with Ryan since middle school. We grew up together surfing the Eastside. Ryan was one of the boys in our pack, and we spent countless nights knocking back beers and burning green bowls with him. The trouble started when Ryan’s parents bought him a jacked-up four-runner for his eighteenth birthday.
He pulled up to the Bro-Hive in his new ride. Nate and I hopped in with a twenty-four pack of beer, and we headed to Hollister Hills for an off-road session. Ryan did some donuts, and then he gunned the engine, launching from a huge dirt mound. He hit the jump off-center, and less than twenty-four hours after his parents bought him the truck, Ryan rolled it. Nate wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and was thrown from the vehicle. The truck narrowly missed crushing his scull by a few inches, but his right arm wasn’t so lucky. I also wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and broke my back. Ryan was strapped in, and didn’t get a scratch.
Rehabilitation took almost a year. When I finally paddled into the lineup again, my skills had diminished. I couldn’t snap off the lip or punt for big air anymore. Nate never regained full mobility in his damaged arm, and our surfing dreams evaporated faster than saltwater.
The firefighters doused the inferno, contained the destruction, and halted the threat of the flames advancing toward the neighbors’ homes. When the blaze was extinguished, the Bro-Hive was gone. Like Big Dave, only the charred frame of what once was remained.
The police and arson investigators interrogated us for several hours, but it was all a blur. I was grieving the loss of Big Dave, and coming down from meth. I wanted to forget everything and sleep for a week. When the authorities finally let us go, we walked to Nate’s mom’s place. She lived in the trailer park behind the 7-11 on the Eastside. She bought us several frozen pizzas for dinner, and went to bed. I wanted to crash too, but instead we stayed awake, smoking crystal.
We weren’t always meth-heads. I never touched the stuff before breaking my back. Ryan introduced us to the drug. I can’t speak for Nate, but a profound depression rattled me to the core while rehabilitating. We lost our sponsors, and the lack of physical exertion drove me crazy. The meth got me through those low points. Before long, Big Dave and Tiffany were also smoking, and we began selling for Ryan to supplement our income.
The fallout with Ryan had escalated over money. Ryan owed Nate for a surfboard, but Ryan snapped the board on his first session in the water, and refused to pay. Nate and Big Dave went to Ryan’s mom’s garage where Ryan lived, and demanded money. When Ryan refused, Big Dave knocked him out. They went through Ryan’s belongings, and took his cash and crystal. After their confrontation, Ryan said he’d kill Nate and Big Dave. Nate wasn’t taking the threat seriously, but he was laying low.
We stayed up all night at Nate’s mom’s smoking meth. At dawn Nate pulled out the hide-a-bed in the couch. I didn’t like the idea of Tiffany lying next to Nate. At one point I dozed off, and when I woke, I suspected they were groping under the blanket. Nate’s mom left us a box of donuts before she went to work. I nibbled at an apple fritter, but after smoking more meth, I lost my appetite. Nate went into his mom’s room, and returned with a .38.
“Let’s find that fucker,” he said. “There’s a swell in the water. I bet Ryan’s at The Point.”
“What are you doing?” Tiffany asked.
“Payback for Big Dave,” Nate said.
“But you’ll go to jail.”
“It’s him or me.”
“Severn, please talk some sense into him,” Tiffany pleaded.
“What is there to say?” Nate asked. “Dave was your boy too. You just going to sit there and let Ryan punk us?”
“We should think about this,” I said. “Before doing something stupid.”
“I’m taking my mom’s beach cruiser to Pleasure Point,” Nate said. “You can either get out, or use my sister’s mountain bike, and come with.”
Tiffany should have taken the pink mountain bike, and Nate should have given me a pump on the cruiser’s handlebars, but instead, Nate boosted Tiffany, and I rode the pink mountain bike. We pedaled to Pleasure Point. The tide was low, and the swell was up. An offshore wind hollowed out the curls, making for ideal conditions. Sewer’s Peak was beyond crowded. Back in the day, Big Dave would have managed the herd, and we’d have feasted on the best waves.
“See him anywhere?” Nate asked.
“Nope,” I said. “Maybe he’s surfing the Westside.”
“I’m not rolling over there,” Nate said. “He’ll show up eventually.”
Tommy approached us, and said he was sorry to hear about Big Dave. Nate wouldn’t talk to him because Tommy was Ryan’s boy. I asked him if he’d seen Ryan around, and he said he hadn’t, but there was something in his response that made me think he was lying.
“Come on guys,” Tiffany said. “I’m getting cold, and I have to go to work. Do you think I can borrow some of your mom’s clothes Nate?”
“I don’t see why not.”
We pedaled back to Nate’s mom’s trailer. Nate went into the bathroom, and didn’t come out for a longtime. When he finally reappeared, Tiffany exchanged a glance with him, and also disappeared into the bathroom.
After Tiffany left for work, I called my mom. She heard about the fire and Big Dave, and was concerned because she hadn’t been able to reach me. I asked her if I could visit. She seemed hesitant, but said Scott would pick me up in front of the 7-11 in half-an-hour.
“New ride huh?” I said as my stepfather pulled along side me in a cherry red BMW.
“Don’t slam the door,” he said when I entered. “We saw the fire on the news. I hope you don’t think you’re moving back in with us.”
We didn’t talk much on the drive. It was no secret Scott and I didn’t get along. He thought I was a lazy bum, living off my mom’s money, and I thought the same thing about him. Scott was an alcoholic. He had one of those veiny red noses old people acquire after years of drinking. I never understood what my mom saw in Scott. As we drove through the Capitola Village, I thought about the falling out with my mom.
I had bought a new surfboard with the money I saved working as a security guard at the boardwalk. The next day Scott took my new surfboard out of the garage, and left it on the lawn overnight. In the morning it was gone. I was furious, and demanded he buy me another board, but Scott laughed in my face, so I took my skateboard, and smashed out the windshield and headlights of his truck. He had a conniption fit, and we came to blows. It was the last straw for my mother, and she booted me. I hadn’t been back since.
Scott parked in front of the two-story house my grandfather bought fifty years ago. The house sat on the edge of a bluff over Soquel Creek. Before my mom married Scott, she told me that someday the house would be mine. Scott had other designs. He didn’t want her to leave the place to me, and was constantly pressuring her to sell.
I went straight to the refrigerator, and opened one of Scott’s Sierra Nevada’s. I didn’t see my mom anywhere inside, so I went out back, and found her working in the garden. She gave me a suspicious look, and then she took off her gloves, and gave me a hug.
“Sorry to hear about your friend,” she said. “How are you doing?”
“Still in shock,” I said. “Fortunately I have a great girl helping me through.”
“Why didn’t she join us?” My mom asked.
“Is there anything I can do to help? What do you think of Scott’s new car?”
“I’m all right,” I said.
“I know you don’t want to hear this right now,” she said. “But Scott and I have decided to sell. We found a nice ranch out in Corralitos, and with the extra money we can retire.”
“But you said grandpa’s house would be mine someday.”
“I know, but plans change,” she said with a hurt look in her eye.
“This is bullshit,” I said. “What about me?”
“I can help you out with school.”
Scott sat on the couch, watching a local news channel as I stormed into the house.
“Don’t slam the door,” he said.
“This beer tastes like shit,” I said, and hurled the bottle at his head.
He ducked, and it shattered against the wall.
“Get the fuck out,” he demanded, standing up.
I slammed the front door as hard as I could, and walked back to the Eastside in a rage, snapping parked car’s antennas along the way. When I arrived at Nate’s mom’s trailer, Nate and Tiffany sat side-by-side, but they moved apart as I entered.
“Ever heard of knocking?” Nate asked.
“What’s wrong?” Tiffany asked.
“I thought you were working,” I said.
“They felt bad, and sent me home,” she said.
I told her my mom was selling the house. Tiffany tried to console me, but the more I thought about it, the angrier I became. We smoked meth, and Nate said he had something that would cheer me up. He took a smart phone out of his pocket, and turned it on.
“Do you remember this?” He asked.
“You’re old phone,” I said.
“Yup,” he said. “The one I got before my I Phone.”
“So don’t you remember?” He said, and turned it on.
He found a video, and hit play on the screen. I watched the scene unfold on the tiny monitor. Several years ago when we were still friends with Ryan, we had beef with a Westsider named Jerry Fields and his buddies. They thought they could surf wherever they pleased, and tried to muscle in on our peak, so Big Dave sent them packing. After the incident Ryan discovered ‘Westside’ spray-painted across the windshield of his mom’s car. Later that night, Ryan bought a gallon of gas, and we rolled up to Jerry’s parents’ house. Jerry’s green Cadillac convertible was parked at the curb. Nate took out his phone and started filming as Ryan doused the Cadillac’s interior with gasoline.
“Adios motherfucker,” Ryan said to the camera, striking a match, and throwing it over his shoulder into the Cadillac.
The image on the phone went completely white as the fireball exploded.
“Whoops,” Nate said when the video ended. “I accidently sent this incriminating evidence to the police.”
Tiffany was scared that Ryan would retaliate, but Nate assured her that the best defense was a proactive offense. He said Ryan’s hands would be full explaining the video to the police, and that if he went to jail, that meant he wasn’t on the street trying to kill us. Tiffany wasn’t buying it, but there was no arguing with Nate, so she dropped the subject.
Tiffany’s father was on a business trip for a few days, so we stayed at his apartment near downtown. This worked in our favor because Nate’s mom was growing weary of us. Nate scored twelve hits of acid from a UCSC student, and bought a twenty-four pack of beer. After we each dropped two hits, the walls in Tiffany’s dad’s living room rippled in an imaginary breeze as we ploughed through the beer.
Nate gave me twenty bucks, and told me to buy another twenty-four pack. I didn’t want to leave the apartment, but after several hits of meth, I felt up to the challenge. I borrowed Tiffany’s dad’s beach cruiser, and set out for the liquor store. As I pedaled onto the street, a Honda Civic sideswiped me. I went down on my head, and when I got up off the asphalt, I felt half-flattened. Blood dripped down my face. The Honda pulled over, and a young woman exited from the driver’s side.
“Oh my god,” she said. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t see you. It’s like you appeared out of nowhere. Are you okay?”
“I think so,” I said. “The bike seems okay too.”
“Thank god,” she said. “Here, take this.”
She handed me two twenty-dollar bills, apologized again, got in her car and drove off into the twinkling haze. I climbed onto the bike, and continued to my destination. When I arrived at the liquor store, I felt fuzzy. I grabbed a twenty-four pack of beer, and stood in line.
“What happened to you?” Tommy said, tapping me on the shoulder, as I was about to pay.
“This chick hit me with her car,” I said. “She gave me forty bucks.”
“No way,” Tommy said. “What are you all about?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Just dosing over at Tiff’s dad’s place.”
“Yeah,” I said, and paid. “See you around.”
Holding the case of beer with one hand in my lap, I held the handlebars with my other hand, and pedaled to the apartment.
“What happened?” Nate asked, popping a beer.
“Are you okay?” Tiffany asked.
“I’m already tired of telling it, but some chick hit me with her car. She felt bad, and gave me forty bucks.”
“Who else did you tell?” Nate asked.
“I ran into Tommy at the store.”
“What did you say?” Nate asked.
“That we’re tripping at Tiffany’s dad’s apartment.”
“Jesus Severn,” Tiffany said. “He’s been here before.”
“What the fuck,” Nate said. “You know he’s Ryan’s boy.”
“I didn’t think it was a big deal,” I said as Nate grabbed the .38 out of his backpack.
We spent the night chugging beer, and arguing about what to do. Nate paced the floor paranoid that Ryan would find us. At sunrise, the acid was fading, so we dropped the rest of it, and walked to the park. We lay in the grass, smoking cigarettes.
Eventually we grew restless, and returned to Tiffany’s dad’s apartment for more meth. When we arrived at his second floor landing, the front door was wide open. Inside, the place was trashed. Tiffany was furious. She cussed me out, and hit me several times in the chest. I apologized, but she ignored me, and went out onto the porch to smoke.
It wasn’t safe at Tiffany’s dad’s place anymore, so we walked back to Nate’s mom’s trailer on the Eastside. On the way, we passed the remnants of the Bro-Hive. The sight of the burnt out house angered Nate. He gritted his teeth, and said he’d get even with Ryan. I wasn’t thinking about revenge. I was thinking about Big Dave. I missed him, and felt vulnerable without him.
We stopped at the 7-11 for supplies. Our money was getting low, but I still had the forty-dollars from the woman who’d hit me with her car. We bought more beer, cigarettes and some frozen burritos. I was coming down from the acid, and the left side of my head throbbed.
Screeching tires flooded our ears as we exited the convenient store. A pickup truck bore down on us. I grabbed Tiffany, and got out of harm’s way, but Nate got tagged, and tumbled onto the truck’s hood. The impact caused the beers under his arm to explode as his body shattered the windshield. The truck stopped, and Nate crumpled down the hood onto the asphalt. Tiffany screamed, and tried to run to Nate, but I held her back as the truck revved its engine. Slowly, Nate sat up. Blood dripped down his face. He looked confused, but then his eyes focused. He reached for the .38, and fired several shots through the busted windshield as the truck peeled out, and crushed Nate under its tires before climbing the curb onto the street. The truck passed, and I saw Ryan behind the wheel. Our eyes met, and he pointed at me before speeding away.
Nate lay crumpled on the ground, laboring to breath. Blood trickled from his mouth and ears. Tiffany cradled his head in her arms and sobbed as sirens approached. The police made Tiffany and me get down on our stomachs while they searched us. Medics arrived, and Nate disappeared into the back of an ambulance.
Tiffany and I were cuffed, taken to the police station, and interrogated separately. I came clean, and described to the police the events of the last several days. Nate and Ryan had a dispute over a surfboard. Ryan wouldn’t pay for the board, so Nate stole Ryan’s drugs. Ryan retaliated by burning down the Bro-Hive, which killed Big Dave. Nate returned the favor by texting the police the video of Ryan setting fire to Jerry’s Cadillac, and Ryan struck back by trashing Tiffany’s dad’s apartment, and running down Nate in the 7-11 parking lot.
I told them that Tiffany was my girlfriend, and that we were friends with Nate, but that we had just been caught up in the dispute, and hadn’t wanted to get involved. When I was done explaining things, they held me for most of the day, but didn’t charge me with anything, and eventually I was released.
I didn’t know where to go. My mom’s was out of the question, so I walked to Tiffany’s dad’s apartment, but nobody answered the door, so I walked to Nate’s mom’s trailer, and found Tiffany packing a bag. She said Nate was in critical condition, and had been medevaced to Stanford. His mom would be home from work any minute, and they were driving to the hospital. I said I’d go with them, but Tiffany said no. I tried to console her, but she pushed me away.
“Come on Tiffany, you’re my girl,” I said.
“No I’m not, and I never was,” she said.
“You’re fucking him aren’t you?”
“I’m not stupid,” I said. “I know what’s going on.”
“I’m not beholden to you,” she said, trying to get by me.
“Yes you are. You’re my girl.”
“No I’m not. Let me go,” she screamed.
I grabbed Tiffany by the wrists, but she struggled free, so I hit her, and she collapsed onto the couch. She held her cheek, and kneed me in the balls, so I wrapped my hands around her neck.
“It should have been Nate,” I said, looking into her wide eyes as I squeezed. “Not Big Dave. Had it been Nate, everything would be okay. We’d still be together.”
Her face turned purple, and spittle dripped from her mouth. I loosened my grip when she went limp, walked into the kitchen, and opened the gas on the stove. Returning to the living room, I lit a smoke, and stuck it between my girl’s lips.