The diffused light of the sun woke me—a much gentler awakening than I had experienced in quite some time. A warm, yellow glow suffused the newspaper plastered to the floor to ceiling windows and flooded the room with light. Instead of snapping awake because of the tension of the situation I was in or because the overhead lights had come on, I'd just... woken up. It was wonderful.
Curious, I approached the window and peeled off bits of newspaper. The view of the neighborhood I exposed wasn't spectacular. I could see the pools in our neighbors' backyards, their decks and barbecues. What was stunning, however, was the sun over the horizon. I'd missed the sunrise, but not by much. It was clear that I'd have a spectacular view of it when the newspaper was gone.
In any case, that was for another time. I spent a while going through the piles of clothing on the floor until I found something to wear. As expected, the jeans fit but I had to roll them up as the legs were a little long. I found a blue t-shirt with faded lettering on it from some music festival in 2010 and put that on. Job done. I even managed to find an unopened toothbrush in the bathroom wreckage and put it to use. Score.
Once I was ready I made my way downstairs into the quiet house. I was hopeful Gloria hadn't spun some tale to Smokey about how I'd tried to bang her and she'd valiantly fought off my advances. Nevertheless, I was strapped. The ground floor was deserted, most of the lights from the previous night still on.
That reminded me of the bills I'd found in the kitchen, and I went back to the island. The stack of paper that had been there was gone, leaving a suspiciously clean spot where it had been. I was going to need to have a talk with Smokey about our bills. I didn't want to move in just as our electricity was shut off. He had looked pretty desperate for my cash. Maybe he wasn't as flush as he'd made himself out to be.
My stomach rumbled at me so I went over to the double fridge built into the wall and opened it up. A few condiment bottles, a pair of ancient looking plastic containers with what might once have been Chinese food and a single beer in a clear glass bottle. Not exactly bursting with food, Smokey's house. Did he only eat takeout?
Even if there had been anything to eat in the fridge, it wouldn't have done me any good. If there were any clean dishes not stacked up on the counters and in the sinks, I'd be surprised. I'd have to get something near the shop.
I didn't know when Manny was going to come by to get me, but I knew it could be a while. It took a bit of prowling through the bottom floor of the house before I spotted the phone. It was in the "conversation pit", partially hidden under one of the pillows. I stepped gingerly down into the pit onto one of the large, flat pillows lining the outer ring and heard a distinct crunch as my weight came down.
I lifted up the pillow and saw that I'd somehow managed to put my foot down almost directly on a small tube of glass, breaking it cleanly in half. It was about five inches long with a spherical bowl on one end. A pipe.
I carefully picked up the two biggest pieces, looking them over. It was heavily stained, a dark brown color. I was pretty sure you could smoke all sorts of things in a pipe like this. Marijuana and hash, sure. This didn't look like that kind of pipe though. It was something else. I sniffed at it, and that same faint vinegar smell was there. What drug smelled like vinegar?
Rather than leave the bits of broken glass in the carpet of the pit, I gathered them up and put them all into the fireplace.
Watching my step, I crossed the pit and pulled the phone free. I should have been surprised but somehow wasn't when the phone didn't have a dial tone.
Ten minutes later I'd not only traced the cable to the wall—confirming it was plugged in but just not working, but also found another phone in the kitchen behind a stack of plates. The house didn't have a working phone line.
I was seriously considering rousting Smokey out of bed and demanding some answers when there was a knock on the front door. It was Manny, so I let him in.
"Bro, I know I'm early but I wanted to give myself some extra time to get to Compton and back here for school," Manny said.
He was dressed in his usual outfit, with the additions of his Sunshrouds and the expensive leather satchel.
"No problem, man. I'm hungry anyway and there's nothing here," I replied.
"Cool. I've brought you another ounce. I know I said I'd bring the weed and the scales here, but this place is sketch as fuck, Bro."
I nodded. I knew what he saw, because I saw it too. I wasn't an idiot. What he didn't—maybe couldn't—see was what this place could be. Sure, it had a seriously cheesy seventies vibe to it, and Smokey had turned it into a roach-infested shithole. Even with all of that against it, it still spoke to me. This could be my palace, it just needed some work. Alright, maybe a lot of work.
Manny waited downstairs while I grabbed my bag and Sunshrouds out of the bedroom upstairs and padlocked the door behind me. I wasn't leaving anything valuable behind—this time—but I'd need to get into that habit if I was staying with Smokey. If it wasn't him that had tossed the upstairs, it was one of his 'friends' after all.
When I got downstairs with the bag we transferred the new ounce from my bag to his, and I counted what I had. 41 grams.
It seemed like a lot to me, but maybe the area around the LSS shop would be busy and I'd sell a lot. With how low my cash had gotten, I needed it to be. I was pretty resigned to no longer being able to pay off the whole nut to Brass Lee this Thursday, but I wanted to get ahead of the game.
"Alright, let's go, Manny," I said.
I locked the door behind us, we got in the car and drove off.
I was tempted to ask Manny about the pipe I'd found, but with his opinion of my new place already so low I didn't want to hear any more about it. I'd ask Hondo or Flattop instead.
"Hey Manny, you alright? I mean, are you feeling better now you've got the new car and the shades?" I asked.
"Sure, Bro. All good," he replied.
"Really?" I pressed. I had trouble believing that.
He glanced over at me, and although I couldn't see his eyes behind the shades I thought I could read something on his face. A bit of shame, or maybe embarrassment.
"Actually, I really had fun yesterday, Bro. That shit with Big El and then the car. Damn, Bro. You have no idea how much fun that was."
On my side the car chase hadn't been that much fun, but I hadn't been the one driving the Mercedes. I just nodded in understanding and Manny continued.
"Selling weed is pretty cool, I guess. The money's good and hey, I like to smoke. I don't think it's what I want to do, though. When I was running from those dudes in the SUV, it felt like I was finally driving properly, Bro. Like the way I'm doing it right now is just all wrong, and I'd finally realized it. I fucking loved it. I want to do it again."
"Maybe you should be a Wheelman then, if you love driving that much. I'm sure Flattop will help you unlock the class, if you ask him," I said.
"I don't know, Bro. I can't let my family down. I need to go to college, and become an engineer or a doctor or whatever. Something respectable, and in the light. What the hell does a Wheelman do, anyway?"
"Getaway driver, I guess? I think Flattop uses it to help him steal cars," I replied.
"See, I can't do that, Bro. My moms would kill me if she found out I was stealing cars or I got arrested. My aunts would never let her live it down, and that shit would all come down on my head."
"Manny, I don't know what to tell you. You're going to have to decide. Maybe you can find a light-side way to use Wheelman skills? Like you can be a race driver or something? Is that respectable enough?"
He glanced over sharply, like he hadn't even thought of that. "Shit, maybe? I don't know."
We spent the next ten minutes talking about racing. For someone who'd suddenly discovered a near-obsessive interest in driving fast, Manny didn't know much about it. Neither did I, which made our conversation where we each tried to remember how various motor sports worked quite funny in hindsight. Was there really a race where they went for 24 hours? Maybe. What about the one where you turn left for a few hours? Or where you raced on dirt roads in the countryside?
Manny resolved that he'd hit the school library today and find out everything there was to know about racing as a profession. He was beyond hyped about the idea.
We pulled up in front of the LSS shop, the street already bustling with activity. The gate to the yard was closed, and I didn't the see the Javelin within. I got out of the car and slung my backpack full of weed over my shoulder.
"Good luck, Bro. I'll see you after school," Manny said.
"Thanks, man," I said. I slammed the door and he peeled out, the Crown Vic's V8 roaring as he rocketed away.
Across the street old men were gathered outside a coffee shop around small round tables, sipping their coffees and enjoying the morning sunshine. The small sign above the entrance told me it was called "The Ball and Bean." The old men looked over and looked back to their friends when they saw that I was walking in the shadows. Not in fear, more in disinterest.
I walked up to the gates and peeked inside. The yard was empty, the garage sealed up and silent. A padlock the size of my fist was holding the gate closed on the other side, and there was a small hole in the fence to reach your hand in to unlock it. The Soldados weren't at home.
I briefly considered just setting up shop and trying to sell, but the smell of coffee wafted across the street and filled my nostrils. When I saw one of the old men eating, all of my resolve was broken. Breakfast first.
There was a single empty table at the edge and I slumped down into it, grateful to have got the last seat. The old men at the neighboring tables carefully didn't look my way, continuing their conversations.
A brown-skinned guy wearing a white apron came out, carrying a tray full of coffees and food. He was an older guy with deep wrinkles around his eyes, and close cropped salt and pepper hair. He looked my way and frowned, before dropping off his coffees. I straightened up, trying to get his attention by raising a hand slightly but then he was gone again. I slumped back in disappointment.
The next time I was ready. My stomach was grumbling loudly and I needed at least a coffee to quiet it down.
When the man came out again, I raised my hand high in the air and spoke loudly. "Hey, some service?"
He looked my way, frowned again and dropped off the contents of his tray before coming over to stand in front of me. His expression was anything but friendly. Once he was closer I could see he was heavily muscled, his knuckles and arms covered in crudely-drawn tattoos in a faded blue.
"You're in the wrong neighborhood, esse. You'd better leave now, or things will go badly for 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.