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the van was still there.
Dick Miller glanced through the blinds again, looking for the pizza man. No pizza, but the white Time Warner Cable TV van was parked about fifty yards away, in front of a house across the road. It had been there for at least forty-five minutes, since Dick had started looking out the window. Something about that van didn't seem right. He would be glad when it was gone.
He let the blinds drop back into place.
He was out at Fat Sam's place in Stinson Beach. The house was a tiny saltbox shack that sat, beaten by the Pacific winds, high on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Sam had ripped out the back wall of the old house, and replaced it with a huge bay window. Next to the window was a sliding glass door to a small wooden deck Sam had just built. The house was so small that Dick could stand by the front door and look out the back window. You could not beat that view. As Dick watched, a white speedboat came into view, cutting from left to right across his field of vision. If the view wasn't enough, you could leave the deck and walk a quarter of a mile down a sandy trail to the beach.
A full hour had passed since they ordered the pizza. Nothing. No delivery. Just that cable van. In the meantime, Dick returned to the living room couch. He had been sitting on the couch since this morning, smoking grass, counting money, and drinking beer. His mind floated somewhere above the task. His stomach growled. He hadn't eaten all day.
Business was good, and getting better. It seemed like it could go on forever. They had so much goddamn pot, they couldn't keep it at Dick's place in town anymore. They had rented an extra apartment under the name of Sam's grandfather, just to have a place to store the stuff. They had a voicemail drop where their dealers (Sam called them "associates") could place their orders for the next day, and they had another voicemail drop where their special customers--their money people--could place orders. Two weeks into January, and it looked like it was going to be their biggest year yet.
Dick had so much money, just counting it made him tired. He finished the joint he was smoking, and lit up another from the small pile on the weathered coffee table. He smoked them back to back these days, high-quality shit. Success had gone to his head. He sucked this latest one deeply.
The more grass he smoked, the more he got to thinking about the strawberry blonde girl Sam had with him. She was a bouncy little thing, looked like she was made of hard rubber or something. That girl made him nervous. She had come in from the beach a while back wearing a bikini, but now she paraded around the place, wearing nothing but a tiny pair of white panties and a T-shirt that showed her belly button. She kept floating in and out, laughing about some damn thing or another. She was deeply tanned, that girl. She moved around the living room, shaking to the constant beat of the jungle rhythm music Sam liked so much.
Dick couldn't take his eyes off her. His eyes had a mind of their own. They followed her around like two orphaned puppies. The thing about her was her face. She was so beautiful it could make a man cry.
"Hey Sam," Dick shouted. "You think we could turn down this music for a while? I'm trying to do something here."
He'd been trying to count the money for a long time. It was hopeless. Music shrieked from the speakers, the sexy girlfriend danced around, the pizza wouldn't come, there was a suspicious van parked outside, and twenty plastic baggies of grass sat in front of him on the coffee table. Pounds and pounds of grass were bundled into white Hefty kitchen bags and piled up like a small mountain in Sam's spare bedroom. Add to all of that the joints Dick had smoked, the beer he had drank, and the spectacular view out the bay window. He just couldn't concentrate.
There might've been nine thousand dollars in his hand. There might've been twelve thousand. Stacks of money sat across from him on a chair, waiting patiently to be counted. They were rich. He didn't know how much money he had. He didn't care.
"Sam! Turn down that fucking music!"
Fat Sam came out of his bedroom, wearing a pair of tight red nylon shorts. He must have stuffed a sock or a washcloth in there. No way was Sam sporting that bulge. He stood about five feet eight inches, and weighed well over two hundred pounds. His Buddha stomach hung out over his waist. He was covered with sweat, and he was breathing hard. He lit up a joint almost as fat as his stubby fingers. He had a hairy chest and back, like a bear.
He stood in the doorway, smiling and playing invisible drums. "I love this music," he said. "It's so primal."
"Well, turn it down, will you? It feels like somebody's banging a goddamn sledgehammer against my skull."
Sam smiled again. He was having a good time. He turned the stereo all the way down. Now the house was silent.
"Dick, what are you upset about?"
"I'm not upset. I'm hungry. I'm tired. I want to get everything done here, call it a day, and go home." He lowered his voice. "Let me ask you something. That girl in there? She looks like she must be fifteen years old. I mean, what are we running here, a daycare center? I tell you what. You're gonna bring a Mann Act beef down on your head when she runs home to Idaho and tells her parents all about her forty-year-old boyfriend."
Sam cut Dick off with a calm wave of his hand. "Hey, Dick. What are you putting me in my grave for? I'm thirty-eight."
"You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know. I know how you like to save everyone--stray cats, old ladies, derelicts on street corners. But I'm here to tell you that not everyone needs saving. Chili in there? She knows what she's doing. Anyway, she's an adult. She must be, because I met her in a bar." Sam placed his right hand over where his big fat heart must be. "I play it strictly legal around here, partner. You know that.
"And I'll tell you something else," he added, flashing that aggravating, ear-to-ear smile. "I think she likes you. I know she does. She told me herself."
"Oh yeah. She says you're cute. Thinks you look like an actor."
Dick sat back on the fluffy couch. He stroked his chin with the money in one hand, and took another sip of his beer with the other. The joint burned on between his middle and third fingers. He was like a one-man band, all the things he could do with his hands at the same time. What Fat Sam was saying could be true. The girl had smiled at him a few times already. She could want him.
"I don't know, Sammy."
"Why not? Just go ahead. She's in there, waiting for you. It's all in fun, anyway." Sam took a mighty toke on the joint, then held his breath, letting all that good smoke seep into whatever was left of his brain.
Dick stopped. "You know what? Nah. I mean, are we in business here? This is a business, right?"
Sam let the breath out, and laughed, a short, rasping bark.
"You're too much, bro. Too fucking much."
Dick laid the money on the table. He'd have to start over again, the next time he got straight enough to think. The way things were going, there was no telling when that would be. He got up to use the bathroom. There was a heaviness in his bladder that hadn't been there a minute before. Chili stood in the doorway to the bedroom now. Her nipples thrust from the ends of her firm young breasts, practically poking holes through the belly shirt. She had her hands behind her back and a shy grin on her face. She was a beauty, all right.
Dick had to figure out a way to get rid of her.
"Your eyes are so blue," she said. "Did anyone ever tell you that you look like a movie actor?"
"James Dean," he said. "But bigger. That's what they usually tell me."
She frowned. "James Dean? I don't know . . ."
"I think he was before your time."
He went into the bathroom and shut the door.
At that moment, the doorbell rang. It was loud, and Dick could still hear its echo for several seconds afterward. The house had become awfully quiet since Sam turned the music down.
Chili squealed on the other side of the door. "That must be the pizza. Sammy, can you get it? I'm not decent."
"Yeah, babe," Sam said. His voice moved away. "Let me just grab a beer."
Dick stood in front of the toilet and let out a long, steady line of urine. It was good to be alone in the bathroom with the house finally quiet. He noticed the tension in his neck and shoulders. There was tightness all down his back. He and Sam had been going nonstop, ten hours, twelve hours, every day. Working too hard. Maybe he needed some time away. Hawaii. Yeah, that was what the doctor ordered.
The doorbell rang again, more insistent this time, and it occurred to Dick what bothered him about the cable van. He had gone for a walk two days ago to work some kinks out of his legs, and to get some beer at the general store about a mile down the road. On the way back he had glanced in one of the windows of that house where the van was parked. Just a glance, no more than one or two seconds, but that was enough. The house was empty. Stripped to bare wood inside. There weren't even any curtains on the windows. Nobody was living there at all.
"Sam!" he said. "Don't open that door."
Dick stepped out of the bathroom, and Sam bolted past him, moving fast for a big man, his eyes wide, his mouth gaping like a fish on a hook.
"What is it?"
BOOOOM! The front door blasted off its hinges, sending huge wooden splinters flying just inches from Dick's face. The door came to rest on the carpet, and he blinked at the dusty haze that remained in the air.
"AVON CALLING!" someone shouted, and half a dozen cops burst into the room. They were big guys, with short hair and bulletproof vests. Their vests were black. They carried shotguns and baseball bats, and wore baseball caps on their heads.
Dick looked back at Sam, who had managed to wedge himself halfway through the bathroom window, then get stuck there, no chance of sliding his fat ass through that tiny opening. His legs hung down, his feet dangling off the floor.
Dick glanced past the cops, through the kitchen and out the back window, catching a last look at the green and brown hills sloping gently down to the Pacific Ocean. The water was a dark, sparkling blue. The whole peaceful scene might as well have been on another planet, or in a painting. That's how far out of reach it was. Fifteen minutes before, he could have walked out there and enjoyed the view as much as he liked. He could've even strolled down to the beach and gone for a swim. Three cops stood out on the back deck now, peering through the sliding glass door.
Dick turned his back on what might have been.
He stepped into the living room. He toyed briefly with the notion that he might be invisible to these cops. The pot in his brain told him it might be so. It seemed the only explanation as to why they hadn't grabbed him yet. Already, they had pulled Sam down from his perch, and slapped the cuffs on him. Already they had put some clothes on Chili, and were leading her out. Dick alone remained free, and nobody noticed.
A young cop leveled his shotgun.
Dick looked into the cop's beady eyes, squinting down over the enormous barrel of his weapon.
"Hands on your head," the cop said. "Or I blow it off."
Dick laughed, and the sound seemed natural. He felt good. Business was over. Now that it was gone, he already didn't miss it. A new chapter was starting right in front of his eyes. He put his hands on his head. The cops swarmed him, and he made no attempt at resistance. They handcuffed him, and the cold steel of the cuffs bit into his wrists. They sat him down on the couch.
At some point, a young guy, pimply, skinny, maybe in his late teens, walked through the open front door. He carried a red imitation leather pizza warmer and a sixty-four-ounce bottle of Pepsi. He navigated his way through the giant cops. He looked around in wonder.
"Anybody order a pizza?" he said.
The cops looked at him, then looked at Dick. Dick nodded. "Here."
"Whaddya got?" said an older cop, a guy with a graying flat-top haircut, like a Marine.
"One large pepperoni," said the kid, poring over the order slip like it was a final exam. By the looks of him, he was none too bright. "And one large with onion."
"We'll take them."
The head cop reached over onto the coffee table and picked up one of the hundred dollar bills lying there. A couple of the other cops guffawed and clapped each other on the back. Fucking cops. They knew Dick was looking at a mandatory five years for possession with intent, and that the judge would have very little leeway in sentencing. They knew he was going to sit for the next two days in a county lockup with nothing to eat except lukewarm baloney on stale white bread, and nothing to drink except orange-colored sugar water. The cops were all the same. They'd steal the pizza from a condemned man.
"Looks like it's your lucky day," the cop said to the kid. "Keep the change."
Copyright © 2007 by Patrick Quinlan. All rights reserved.
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