I left the Ball and Bean, after trying to pay for our earlier coffee and Mexican donuts breakfast. Guillem refused payment.
"That doesn't mean I won't charge you tomorrow!" he assured me.
The street outside was significantly busier now with lunch time approaching. Early eaters were gathered outside the taco shack, which lay just inside LSS turf. They were only hanging on to this one last block, but it looked like it would be a good one.
The weight of the weed in my pack concerned me, though. It was almost two ounces, and represented a lot of money that I really needed.
Across the street, the gate of Gonzalez Automotive Restoration was open. The yard beyond was empty but I could see the main garage door was open and hear the faint sounds of someone inside working. Hondo was back at it.
Crossing the yard I stood in the open garage doorway. In the back amongst the machining tools I could see Hondo wearing hearing protection and safety glasses as he set one of the machines up. He didn't notice me.
"Yo, Hondo!" I yelled, and waved. He looked up.
"Hey, Mack. Why you here so early?"
I laughed. "Dude, it's 11 o'clock. I've been here for hours."
He shook his head at me. "Crazy. The brain needs sleep. I tell Flattop this all the time, he don't listen."
"I'll work on it. Anyway, can I leave some of my weed here while I'm out there selling?"
"Uh, yeah, I guess so. How's it packed?"
The question seemed like a non-sequitur to me, but after a moment of confusion I answered. "It's sealed in plastic, one gram per."
I pulled the backpack off my shoulder and produced one of the little packs to show him. "See?"
"Vacuum sealed. That's perfect. Here, put whatever you want to stash in here," he said, handing me a stained plastic grocery bag.
I put thirty grams into the bag and handed it back to him. He tied up the opening and hung it beside a fifty gallon drum nearly full of thick, black oil.
"I'll keep it right here, and if I see some cops I'll drop it in this barrel with something heavy on it. They probably won't dump out the barrel unless they know it's in there. Too much mess."
That made sense to me. Even without that, the dirty plastic bag hanging in the shop blended in perfectly. If someone wandered in and had a look around it would never draw their eye. Hidden in plain sight.
"Great. Thanks, Hondo."
"It's all good," Hondo said, and returned to what he was doing.
Unlike the first few times I'd sold, I wasn't actually feeling nervous. I wasn't in someone else's turf, or trying to avoid campus cops. I'd been given the semi-official blessing of the local gang. They weren't just some gang that had come in and claimed the turf either, they were the OGs. They had history on this block. The people knew them, and either respected or feared them. Maybe it was Gato they respected, but that still worked for me.
When I posted up near the taco shack the owner looked me over and nodded before going back to his business.
Customer ID was as unreliable as usual, only successfully activating a few times. I was pleasantly surprised when it finally leveled up.
|Customer Identification Leveled Up to 2/5|
|Fast Count Leveled Up to 4/7|
Just after noon I'd sold a couple of dime bags to a pair of mechanics on their lunch break when I heard a voice echo down the block. "Five oh!"
It took me a minute to remember what that meant. I put my roll away and zipped up my backpack just as the STPD cruiser pulled up in front of the taco shack and stopped.
Two cops got out, and for a moment I had no idea what to do. I had the gun and the weed. Should I run or just walk away? Stay put?
My hesitation may have saved me, as the two cops walked up to the taco shack and had a friendly conversation with the owner while they ordered food. One of them scanned the crowd, but his eyes skipped right over me. I was feeling pretty awkward the whole time, as I was the only one there not eating or drinking. Still, if the cops noticed they didn't make an issue of it. Five minutes later they had their food and were gone again.
After lunchtime my sales slowed down and in the gap I ordered some tacos. The owner took my order, and I IDed him.
|John Lopez, Hustler (D1), Owner, Tacos de Lopez|
|Mutually Allied With: Lyle Street Soldados|
Another LSS ally. This guy didn't seem like a gangster, but Gato had obviously spent quite a lot of money bringing the local business owners into the fold. His helper had gone off on a smoke break and as it was just the two of us I couldn't resist asking him a question.
"Can I ask what you see when you ID me?" I asked. Since I was in shadow and he was in light, would the Allied marker even work? How could it?
He looked a bit surprised, but answered me. "Nothing but shadow and your Allied marker."
It made sense, when I thought about it. It was leaking that bit of information, but it was still protecting my identity. If I was walking in the light it wouldn't show me as an ally of the LSS. At least, I assumed it wouldn't. If it did, the system was broken. I wanted to experiment with it and figure out the limitations and quirks, but I'd do that when I wasn't working.
I ate my lunch and got some more weed from the plastic bag in the LSS garage. The afternoon was slow but I'd sold a bit more when Manny rolled up, speakers thumping. He stopped on the street directly opposite me, his arm hanging out the open window. Buddy was sitting on the passenger seat next to him, tongue hanging out.
"Hey, Bro, how's it going?" Manny asked, raising his voice to be heard over the music.
"Good," I replied, but not loudly enough to be heard over his music.
"Just go park," I yelled back.
He nodded amiably and zipped up the block, V8 burbling happily. He pulled into the yard and parked there.
A few minutes later he ambled up, Buddy at his side on the same faded rope leash. I stooped to give the dog some pets, and he gave my face a cursory lick of acknowledgment. He was friendly, but he was Manny's dog and he made that clear.
With the dog was in front of me again I was reminded of the fun that must have happened when Manny brought it home.
"How'd your mom take it when you brought Buddy home?" I asked.
"Oh she was pissed, Bro. You have no idea. We've never even had a cat. My mom thinks it's like having another kid, but one that'll never grow up and give you grandchildren."
I laughed. "Shit, she's right there. So what did you do?"
"I just told her I'd be leaving for college next year anyway and I'd take Buddy with me, but I wasn't getting rid of him," Manny said. "I also might have mentioned that you got a house and I'd crash with you if it was really a problem."
"I don't, though. Not really," I said.
"I know, Bro. It's not like I'd want to stay in that shithole anyway. No offense. Anyway, that worked. I've got to take care of Buddy, buy his food, all of that. Plus take him with me when I'm 'tutoring' students."
That didn't seem like that bad of an idea, really. Having what looked like a vicious German Shepherd next to you while you sold weed might scare off some of the more timid scumbags trying to make trouble.
Something in my gamer hind-brain had been tickling me, and it finally surfaced. A hole in the system.
"Hey, hold on. When you switched back to the light, did Buddy still know who you were?"
"What? No. He started growling and barking like he was doing back in the yard. I had to break the mirror with him. It was trippy, Bro."
"What? You broke the mirror with your dog?"
"Yeah. It was so weird seeing his name pop up on the screen, but as soon as I did that he calmed right down."
Did that imply that Buddy could understand English? No, it didn't on further reflection. Whatever the Karmic Mirror was, it was all about intent. Manny would have just needed to project his intent with Buddy, rather than expecting the dog to understand the words.
I marveled at the scope of protection the mirror offered. It seemed to imply that if the cops were tracking you with dogs they'd lose your scent when you switched to the other side of the mirror. Logical, but still magical.
After that we got down to business. Flattop was gone somewhere, so couldn't mark Manny as an ally. Without that protection, it didn't feel safe to have him anywhere but right nearby.
I let John, the taco shop owner, know that Manny was another ally but just hadn't been marked yet and we set up on either side of the shack.
After sunset, Lopez Tacos came alive. He turned on the external lights and large groups rolled up to eat. For several hours both Manny and I were selling steadily. I had to return to the garage to get the last of the weed. By ten o'clock when the taco shop was closing, I was out of weed and so was Manny. Fast Count had leveled up again and I was happy to see the progress on my Dealer Job.
"Bro, that was insane!" Manny said, nearly yelling. I pulled him away from the shack, shushing him.
"I sold the full ounce, Bro!" Manny said, lowering his voice.
I couldn't help but be just as excited. It'd taken the whole day, but I'd manage to sell every bit of weed I'd brought, all 41 grams.
John waved to us as he left the locked up taco shack. The street around us was a lot less busy than it had been.
"Hey, let's go settle up with the LSS and get out of here," I said.
"Oh yeah, that's right. Fifteen percent."
Flattop still wasn't back, but Hondo was still in the shop fabricating something. The tarp was off the Jaguar and the long hood was up. He looked up as I banged on the half-open garage door when we entered.
"Hey, Hondo. We're going to go, but we wanted to give you the LSS cut."
"Alright," he replied.
He put the piece he was working on down on the bench and came to the front of the shop, closing the sliding door behind us.
"How'd you boys do?" he asked.
I was kind of surprised by how trusting the LSS were. If it had been me, I'd have been paranoid about us cheating them. Hondo was willing to take our word on it. Compared to our score the other day, though, the amount of money me and Manny had made today was nothing. A lot of work for not even $2k after we paid the LSS their cut. After we paid off Brass Lee, I needed to think about how to scale this up.
"I sold everything I had, 41 grams. Your share works out to $310. Actually it's $307.50, but I don't have change," I said, and handed over the cash.
"Sweet," Hondo said, fanning the cash in his hands. "What about you?"
"Sold like gangbusters, Bro. Brought an ounce, sold an ounce. Boom!"
Manny had already done the math and handed over an even $210.
"Not bad," Hondo said, rolling up the cash and tucking it in his front pocket.
"It was crazy, Bro. They were real thirsty out there."
"It's been a while since anyone's sold here, so it might get slower once the novelty wears off," Hondo said. "The Blades are selling near the park about four blocks away. That used to be LSS turf, but we let it go last year."
That was a bit worrying. "Do we have to worry about them?"
"Nah, this is just one of their little satellite chapters. They're affiliated but they're real new. If they try to start shit we'll fucking end them. The LSS are coming back up!"
So the gang that was nearby was like a new franchise of the Blades, but not one of the older more established ones we had to worry about. I knew that if we were going to stick with the LSS that we might end up clashing with them, but that was a problem for another time. I was beat.
"Hondo, we should go," I said.
"What? Fuck no, white boy. Sit and have a beer with me, both of you. What, you going home to bed at 10 o'clock? Past your bed time, is it?"
Sufficiently shamed, Manny and I sat and had a beer. I told them about my morning in Guillem's basement and my encounter with him.
"Guillem's not to be fucked with. He's retired, but he's an OG. You see his job?" Hondo asked.
"Mechanical Engineer? Yeah," I replied.
"He picked that up in the joint. He used to help my dad with builds, but I think he mostly uses it to do gun smithing jobs on the side."
After the second beer, we begged off any more. The three of us got in the Crown Vic, Buddy taking the middle of the front bench seat. Manny backed out of the yard and we roared off into the night buoyed by the thrill of a successful day.
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.