Since we were about to leave I ducked into the nearby booth and entered the shadows.
Manny helped me load my bicycle into the backseat of his Regal. He muttered something about his interior, but his heart wasn't in it. The seats back there were faded and cracked vinyl, my bike wouldn't make much of a difference. I even took a moment to use my lock to secure the front wheel to the base of the driver's seat.
"Alright, bicycle's in the back. Now tell me what you think Big El is going to do for us, Bro?"
"Let's call it a hunch. He's a fixer, right?"
"What, so you think he's just going to fix this thing with the Hip? No way, Bro."
"No, nothing like that. It usually means that he connects people, doesn't it? He knows where to find things, and who to talk to, to get shit done. I figure he's the best guy to get on our side here. Can you just trust me on this?"
Manny shrugged, and I continued. "Also, I really need to get some new clothes. I threw away the weed shirt and shorts, and all I've got left is what I'm wearing."
"Shit, Bro. You should have mentioned that, I could've brought some clothes with me. So, you're homeless now, huh?"
"Yeah, I guess so. I slept there last night," I said, pointing to the Highway Star just across the road.
"You slept in that shithole? Damn, Bro. You're lucky you didn't get robbed."
"I had the gun, but yeah I think someone was going to try."
We got in the car, and Manny started it up.
"Well, you can't stay with us, you know that. I do know somebody though. He's kind of sketchy, but he mentioned he was looking for a house mate. He was one of the few customers I had that wasn't a student."
"Great, let's do that later after we talk to Big El."
The early morning traffic was light and the drive was pleasant, and I spent the time filling Manny in on the details. I didn't hold anything back. He was my partner, and he deserved to know. What I'd done might blow back on him, after all.
"Damn, you literally shot him in the movie theater. That's crazy, Bro."
"Yeah, I fucked up and he managed to corner me. These guys are crazy."
I regretted saying that nearly immediately, as I saw Manny's face tense up. Reiterating just how badass the guys that wanted to kill us were wasn't a good strategy, so I changed the subject.
"The park was great though. I sold a lot, and you're remember that cute girl, Juliette?"
"Yeah, what about her?"
"She bought some more, and she shared a joint with me."
I didn't mention that it was my first time, since for all I knew the previous version of me was a big pothead that smoked up with Manny on the regular.
"Whoa, she bought your pot and then she shared it with you. Score, Bro. She's into you."
I shrugged. "I don't know. She said she was just taking a break from that other guy with them."
"Yeah, I get it."
Each of us dropped into silence for a few seconds there, thinking.
"Hey, Manny. If we were to hook up with one of these chicks, how would that even work? I could only date her when I was walking in the shadows?"
"Way of the outlaw, Bro. If you break the mirror with her, what happens when she thinks you're cheating on her? Maybe she goes and tells all her friends who you are in the light and really fucks you over."
"What, really? She can just break the mirror like that?" I asked.
"Nah, not just by telling them. If she's with someone, they both see you, and then she tells them who you are on the other side, the mirror would break. Well, it would if that person knew you on the other side."
I gulped. So that was something that could actually happen. I'd suspected it, but it hadn't been clear until now. My secret identity was more fragile than I'd hoped. All it would take is one person blabbing in the wrong circumstances and it would be gone.
"That's scary, man."
"No shit, Bro. Yeah, don't tell your girlfriend who you are on the light side. Don't break that mirror. Hell, I've read that some outlaws don't even break it with their wives."
I nodded, seeing the logic in it. Simply not revealing yourself to your wife, ever, seemed crazy on the surface. But only on the surface. If you were going to live your life in the shadows, as any kind of criminal, you were handing a lot of power to anyone that you broke the mirror with. If I could rewind time, I would never have done it with Manny.
I pulled up the debt screen, checking to see when we'd meet with Brass Lee or one of the turtle brothers again to pay our vig.
|Loans - "Mack"|
|Debts - "Mack"|
|Creditor:||"Brass Lee"||Amount:||$6,000||Vig:||3.0%/7 days|
|Other responsible debtor(s): "Manny"|
|Next payment of $180 due in 4 days.|
Not long now. I was sure we were close to having the money to pay off the debt completely.
Not long after we pulled into the parking lot in front of Terminator fashions. It was still ridiculously early on a Sunday morning, and the parking lot was empty.
"Hey, are they meant to be open?"
I reached for my non-existent phone to check the time before exerting my will to make the world tell me instead.
San Tadeo, California, 08:49 Sunday March 08, 2020
E Manchester Boulevard and S Hillcrest Boulevard
Walking in the Shadows
"Shit, I don't know, Bro. I've never been here this early Sunday morning. They should be?"
We pulled into the spot directly in front of the doors and could easily see the closed sign just above the sticker with the hours. On Sundays they opened up at 9am.
"Great, 10 minutes," I said.
Manny leaned back in his seat, turning up the music a little. It was a little early in the day for me for gangster rap, but I was finding it helpful to my mindset. If I was going to be a gangster, I wanted to be a proper one. Not just some suburban D&D nerd LARPing. Since I'd already shot my first rival and sold a bunch of drugs, it felt like I was already a few steps down that path.
A few minutes later a car pulled up beside us, something foreign and old looking. It was beautiful, and I vaguely recognized seeing it in a few movies, a silvery gray aerodynamic shape. I Identified it.
|1974 Citroen DS 21||Silver||7AWS256|
The man that stepped out of the car was quite small, dressed immaculately in a black button-down shirt with matching slacks and shoes. His pale white skin stood out under his dark brown hair, curly but artfully coifed. He wore a tasteful gold bracelet and rings on his right hand. In his left he carried a chunky key ring which he spun idly as he walked to the front of the store. In profile, I was amazed at just how large his nose was. It was like the beak of a raptor and rather than diminishing him made him look powerful, despite his size. I identified him.
He looked over his shoulder at us as he unlocked the doors. "You're early. Five minutes and we will be open."
Tedz's voice was tinged with a faint accent, but I didn't quite recognize it.
He disappeared into the shop and a few minutes later the sign changed from closed to open and we were right there waiting.
Terminator fashions looked just as I recalled, although the atmosphere seemed different somehow. I realized it was because instead of music playing in the background, it was completely silent and relatively warm since Tedz had just now turned on the air conditioning.
Tedz was walking away from the door we had just entered, and turned to greet us.
"My, you are eager. How can I help you gentlemen?"
I finally placed his accent, it was French. Much faded into a hybrid Californian/French accent, but still there.
Manny looked at me, and I stepped forward.
"I need to speak to Big El."
Tedz's raised an eyebrow. "It is first thing Sunday morning. My employer does not work in the shop on Sundays. I'm sure I can help you find whatever you need."
I wasn't ready to give up just yet.
"It's not about something in the shop. Big El is a fixer and we need his services."
Tedz looked mildly surprised, looking us both over. I was wearing my slightly smelly jeans and T-shirt, while Manny was decked out in another variation of his wannabe gangster outfit, most of it probably bought right in the shop. Tedz didn't seem impressed.
"I'm sorry, but I don't believe you to be the kind of clients that my employer serves. In any case, those services normally require an appointment. You do not have one. I must ask you to purchase something or leave the store."
Manny reached out a hand to grab me on my right shoulder. "Let's go, Bro."
I shook him off. "Not just yet. Listen, Tedz. I know we don't look like much, but we are the kind of client that Big El serves."
I reached in my right pocket and pulled out my roll. It looked thick and impressive with the hundreds wrapped around the outside but was really only $2,058 dollars. I held it up in front of my face.
"Not only that, we have done business with Big El before. I'd like to ask you to get him on the phone and let me speak to him. I'm sure he'll want to make some time for us."
I returned Tedz's gaze silently as he considered. He didn't even look at Manny, just me, and the seconds stretched.
"Very well, I will call him. If you have misjudged, be aware that my employer is not above barring you from the premises permanently."
I nodded, keeping a poker face.
"That's fine, it won't come to that."
Tedz crossed the store and went behind the counter to pick up a cordless phone. I heard two beeps and Tedz watched us with the phone to his ear, waiting.
When the person on the other end answered, Tedz spoke into the phone in a low voice. I heard my name, and a few words but nothing in English.
After a short conversation, Tedz put the phone down on the counter. "Mack, Big El would like to speak with you."
I walked across the shop and picked up the phone.
"Mack, it's Sunday morning. I'm in my pajamas and I'm about to have breakfast with my family. This had better be good," Big El said, his voice unmistakable.
Tedz watched closely just across the counter.
"I need your services, and I need you to sell me some equipment to hide my and Manny's shadow names."
There was a long silence on the other end. Big El was just not speaking, as I could hear in the background plates and cutlery clinking, and people talking. After what seemed like an awfully long time, he spoke again.
"How do you know about that? Who told you?"
I'm a tech consultant and a part time author (full time during this plague).
I have five books currently on Amazon, my Land of Dreams series and my new sci-fi series The Last Enclave. They're both gamelit/litrpg.
Capo is an experiment to see if I can make gangster a legit subgenre of Gamelit/LitRPG. I hope I can pull it off.