Friday, May 29, 2009

DRUNK ENOUGH TO TALK

Tokyo was right. That restaurant was good. Beer and burgers. Even better because Mrs. Nerd paid. And kept paying as we put away beer, beer, beer. I hoped the booze would lubricate her tongue. There were details I wanted, something about the Nerd breaking the rules of marriage. I knew it would take me to the next level, but she was talking all around it, like she was on fucking Oprah. She doesn’t hold her beer as well as Trey and got the swimming eye. And sad. Not a happy drunk or a brawling drunk. Dad was always ready for a fight. Four beers to a fight.

I get horny. It wasn’t easy to sit in that crowded place and listen to Mrs. Nerd slur on her sap. She grew up somewhere in Florida, went to college and met the Nerd. It was her motor that pushed them out of the sticks and into the big time. She never wanted to go back home and she lit a fire under his ass to work on his theories and software they built the best life on the best side of town. I’ve never been to Florida, but I’ve seen enough Cops to know that there are some real shitholes out there. Doubt she came from that. Mrs. Nerd’s gotta be straight outta the ‘burbs. Whatever. She made a life and then it all went downhill when the Nerd stretched himself too thin.

It’s her fault, too. Didn’t tell her that. But if she was the one who powered them to the top, how did she let him fuck it up? I won’t make that mistake. When I’ve got my payoff from this bullshit, I won’t let it slide out of control. Hold your money tight. That’s what my dad always said. She got lazy.

And she was almost crying into her beer, talking about a divorce doing no good because there isn’t any money except the house and it kills her to think about living somewhere else. I told her I never lived in a house. And now, I don’t own shit except my good looks and wits. That perked her up a little. Good thing, too, some of her friends showed up at the bar. Mrs. Nerd puts on her happy face and introduces me as the Nerd’s cousin from Chicago. Yeah, I tell them, I just graduated from Yale and I’m taking some time off to travel and see the world and spank as many bitches as I can.

No, asshole, I didn’t say the thing about spanking bitches. I’m sure you think I’m stupid to hang with Mrs. Nerd while the payday is looming somewhere out there. I’m not dumb enough to set fire to the roof over my head. And, despite what you think, hanging with Mrs. Nerd is the smartest thing I could’ve done.

Told you I was waiting for the confession. Time and beer and Trey’s attention, it greased her gears. Walking home, she’s staggering and leaning on strong, reliable Trey, she gives it up.

The Nerd’s cheating on her. Been doing it for a couple years. The Nerd’s a terrible spy. A homeless dude from out of state caught him. It didn’t surprise me that Mrs. Nerd knew about him slipping it to another chick. But I was surprised she never called him on it. Women are weird. She didn’t want to make waves. Let him screw around, as long as her perfect world isn’t stained. But isn’t him fucking around a stain? I don’t get it. Maybe when I get a ton of money it’ll make sense.

I play the conversation like I’m on Mrs. Nerd’s side. How could he do something like that to her? After all she’s given him? Now she was really spilling. She first found out about it because of the Nerd’s cell phone. One strange number kept showing up. Then she checked the credit card bills. Some restaurants and fancy spending that she wasn’t around for.
This guy is an idiot. It’s like he wanted to get caught. I started adding money to the price he was going to have to pay for the black bag. Dumbass tax.

Or I might not have to deal with the Nerd anymore. I figure the whole deal with the black bag and thumb drive full of identities and Rodeo must have been set up outside of work. The Nerd works at a software company, why would one of his coworkers turn him on to a deal? They’d take it for themselves. The hook came from somewhere else. What better place than the bitch on the side. I’ll bet she knows Rodeo.

And I have her name and address. Mrs. Nerd let it slip while telling a story about how she followed the Nerd after work one night when he said he had to stay late. He drove to a condo building near the park over the bluffs. I’ve slept there a couple of times and know enough about the area to prod Mrs. Nerd with a couple of questions so I get the specific building. Then I throw out a couple of names, “Candy, Suzy, Lizzie…” like they’re all the sluts on the earth. Mrs. Nerd spits out the name, confides in me because I’m the best friend she has.

Mrs. Nerd is sleeping now. My bag is packed with my clothes and her food. That was the last time on the comfortable bed. My boots are laced. This would’ve been a nice house, if it wasn’t burning down.

I’m off to find the mistress.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

THE SEED

Last night, Mrs. Nerd said something, like a seed, and I’ve got to stick around until she lets it grow. I can’t pry it out of her. She wants to tell me. It’ll take time. And the payoff will be worth it.

Her wedding ring had clinked against her glass of wine and she nearly spilled it in the bed. “It’s not cheating if he already broke the rules.”

That was the seed. I wanted more. I kept it smooth. “Dude’s a fool not to treat a woman like you right.” I knew the details could be money for me, but she clammed up and watched the Lakers game as if she cared. Like she didn’t think I had heard what she said. But I did hear it, and she spoke it out loud. Now I’m the patient priest, waiting for the confession.

Meanwhile, I’m wearing a pair of pants that would have my friends in Ballentine laughing their asses off. And if they saw the shirt, complete with buttons and a collar, they’d squeeze out a brick. But who gives a shit what dudes think?

Mrs. Nerd insisted on paying for a nice shirt and pants for me. Guess she didn’t want to see me in jeans and a t-shirt anymore. And before you start thinking that Trey’s hooked, let me cool that idea.

I clean up slick. Believe it.

Tokyo thought I looked good. I could see it in her eyes.

Trey’s on the loose today. Almost too loose, like on the end of a noose. Mrs. Nerd had to keep up appearances and met the girls for their weekly golf game. No way am I going to sit in that house alone, not with these clothes on.

Don’t worry, I brought the dagger with me. Still fits down the inside of my left leg and I keep the shirt untucked.

It had been a while since I had been down to my old park. Nothing changed. None of the garbage had missed me. I kicked around in the plants behind the bench, hoping for a note or some communication from the Nerd, or even Rodeo. No luck. Just dirt.

I’m still holding the bag and someone’s going to pay.

Who knew that a shirt with a collar was bulletproof? Walking away from the park, I was caught out in the open. I heard it first and didn’t have anywhere to run. Besides, running makes you look guilty. I kept my strut and felt the growl of the Valiant approach. Stay cool, I told myself. I’m just a dude out on the street in fly clothes. They’re looking for dirty Trey.
I told you I clean up good. Sig drove right by and didn’t recognize me. Didn’t even look at me. But I saw him. He was in the passenger seat, strung out. Red eyes and white knuckles as he gripped the chrome around the open window. Keep looking Sig. I’m right here, asshole, and when you find me, it’s going to get ugly.

Driving was one of his North River fucks, Mike. Everyone calls him The Eagle. Don’t know why. In the back seat, looking like he was asleep, was Big Wes. Not to be confused with Little Wes, who works at the porno shop in Ballentine. The heaviest hitters of the North River Gang are in Los Angeles looking for me. Wanting me dead. They can want ‘til it hurts. Maybe I want things from them. Maybe when they find me, it might not be as easy to kill Trey as they think. I have a score to settle, too, you see. Could be them that winds up dead.

Or I’ll get my payday from the Nerd or Rodeo, both maybe. When that happens, I’ll get my revenge on Sig by living well. Big house and spread of land. Set for life. He can rot, looking for a Trey that doesn’t exist anymore. Hard to just walk away, though. There would be satisfaction in watching Sig bleed to death.

Trey put his smile back on after the Valiant rumbled away. Looking this good, it was time to put my slick on. I walked right into the clothing store like I belonged in the richest neighborhoods. Too bad I didn’t have a big douchebag watch, but my cuffs looked sharp. Place was empty and I got the immediate eye of Tokyo.

That girl is wise. All kinds of smarts and smart ass in her eyes. And she likes what she sees. I could tell. I get the up and down, quick and subtle. She pops her hip to one side, slides her hand over her glossy hair.

“Can I help you?” she says, like this is all business.

“Yeah, I was hoping you could give me a hand.” Confident smile, I’m cool as a bullet before it’s shot. “I’m from out of town, staying with a friend in the neighborhood and need a good place to eat.”

She named a couple of joints I had passed on the street. I saw the tables from outside the windows. The bread baskets looked like car wrecks with shards of something sticking into the air. “Yeah, that’s the kind of place my friend likes," I said. "But I was hoping for something with a little more body and soul, you know what I mean?”

Tokyo did know what I meant. Saw it in her eyes. Sharp, man.

I couldn’t stop myself. I said, “I don’t do yoga.”

Got a laugh out of her. Unguarded and low. The kind of laugh she gives her friends, smoking a cigarette with one hand and holding her rum and coke with the other. It wasn’t a laugh for the customers. Trey wins.

She gave me the name of a place nearby and I thanked her. If I wasn’t staying at Mrs. Nerd’s place and wasn’t hoping to squeeze the Nerd or Rodeo for a couple hundred-thousand dollars and if Sig and his shitbags weren’t looking to kill me I would’ve offered to take Tokyo to that place that night. Instead I’m a wanted man and my plans could get me dead. So I thanked her. I held her eyes longer than I needed to. Drink it up. Then she frosted over and I saw that a real customer came in the front door. Tokyo’s armor. The girl protects herself. I respect that. I gave her a wink and headed out into the bright sunlight.

There, I proved it. A little cleaned up, Trey has a shot with Tokyo. More than a shot. That’s all I needed to know. It could happen. But it never will.

Back at the nice library. Cool, clean Santa Monica. Feeling like my wallet’s stuffed with money, even though its full of mummy dust. Soon. There’ll be money. Mrs. Nerd will talk tonight. I’ll get the information she wants to leak. Trey will get what he wants.

Friday, May 22, 2009

CLEANED UP

Nothing like spending someone else’s money. Even when it’s money he doesn’t have. Mrs. Nerd didn’t care. As time passed and there was no call, no contact from the Nerd, Mrs. Nerd took on a thick candy-coated shell. She wasn’t pissed, she smiled the whole time. We went shopping.

Sears. That’s what suits me. She thought about some better places, but I’m no douche. Give me clothes that’ll last years and I’m happy. The Nerd’s credit cards paid for a coupl
e pairs of Levis, t-shirts, socks, underwear and a sweet Carhartt jacket. A backpack to put it all in and a new pair of shoes. It was like back to school shopping.

Except I don’t think back to school gear is for sleeping outside, hiding a dagger and maybe fighting my way out of Los Angeles. And if I had a mom to shop with, she wouldn’t have been checking out my ass in the jeans the way Mrs. Nerd did.

She kept laughing. Talked about how she was going from North of Montana Ave. to the northern border of Montana state. Mr. Nerd stretched himself too thin. Investments, real estate, loans to friends. Then the economy splashed into the toilet and he went with it. Stock market, bad banks, that crap never mattered to my dad and me. Everyone always wants their weed. But Mr. and Mrs. Nerd, they’ve got nothing left but the credit cards. Guess that’s why he didn’t cancel them when I swiped his wallet. He’s clutching to everything he can. She’s smiling until the luck runs out. Could be soon.


Mrs. Nerd didn’t know anything about the deal or the drop. There’s a lot he doesn’t tell her and she doesn’t want to know. I’m not telling her either. I only probed a little and could tell that she was done with his bullshit plans and fuckups. Seems the lady only cared that he brought in a paycheck and kept her high-price life afloat. Now that he’s missing, it’s like she’s dancing on air as she walks the plank.

I got some new clothes out of it, a couple of good meals. I’m at her computer writing this. I palmed a little digital camera I found in a drawer. The Nerd still hasn’t ca
lled. I know what you’re thinking. Trey’s getting soft. The good life is going to get him killed. But I ain’t stupid. My bag is always packed. I leave my shoes on inside the house.

This ain’t the good life. This house is burning down all around me. Sig and his North River fucks are out there. I’m buying time. Soon as the Nerd surfaces and I make my deal, Trey is moving on. But when Mrs. Nerd opened the good wine and we got take-out Indian food and she got that hungry look at a fine piece of man like Trey, even a bed as comfortable as hers didn’t keep Trey through the night. Sorry, Sarah, her bed’s more comfortable than yours – probably cost more than a car. But after the action, I take the couch, jeans on and dragon slaying dagger at my side.

And this ain’t no sex blog – so you make up the details, perv. I will say that Mrs. Nerd is a live one.

But when she’s alone, when her bedroom door is closed, I can hear her crying. That’s what she’s doing now. That gives me time. Time to catch you up. And I can finally plug the flash drive in. I almost looked in it a couple of days ago, but Mrs. Nerd came dancing through the room and insisted on getting me some new clothes and who am I to say no. I’m checking the flash drive now. Let’s see if it crashes the computer.

Nope.

I thought it might be some blueprints. A tank or helicopter or top secret supersuit. What could be so important to drop in the bushes for Rodeo? It had to be good if the Nerd was willing to stick me with his middle-earth dragonslayer. How about the floor plan for the Vatican? Religious conspiracy that proves that Jesus was an alien with a laser powered cock?
I’m pissed. Fucking pissed. The Nerd wanted my blood for a goddamn list. Looks like the white pages. Hundreds of pages of names. Addresses and phone numbers and other numbers.
There it is. Social Security numbers.

That’s the business. Each listing it a complete person, ripe for the picking. Rodeo’s gotta be paying big for this. He’ll be paying more now that Trey is holding the goods. Fuck the Nerd. I’m cutting out the middle man. I need Rodeo.

You know anything about computers? I just yanked the flash drive without doing the eject thing. Will that fuck it up? Mrs. Nerd opened her bedroom door. Floorboards in the upstairs hallway creak. I got the drive out and closed the computer window before she saw it. Hope I didn’t lose what’s on the drive. Hell, even if it’s blank, I’ll get Rodeo to pay for it.
Right now, Trey has to pay for his room and board. Mrs. Nerd has that hungry look again. No candy, though. Angry. It’s going to be rough.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

IN THE DOOR

Sig isn’t reading this. That inbred motherfucker can’t read. But he can sniff. He’s been circling around this town like a shark in that Valiant.

Someone tipped him. Don’t know who, but I have ideas. Sons of bitches. If Sig finds me, it won’t be some lame stab with a Hobbit dagger. He’s all business and I’ve seen him handle a 9mm.

And he’s fucking up my plans with the Nerd. I figured on hanging at the park where the drop went down in the first place. The Nerd would show up eventually, tail between his legs and finally want to make a deal. Every time I camped out, though, I heard the rumbling of the Valiant.

In Ballentine, that sound brings out the high school boys like the ice cream truck. Sig was rolling with the bud. He’s selling the good stuff and everyone was buying. I never liked hearing his Plymouth. We had tangled a few times, over a girl or a motorcycle we each wanted. He won every time. It wasn’t enough for him. Seemed like he’d never be happy until I was out of town. Maybe I’m too sexy. No doubt.

Finally I’m out of town and he comes chasing. Circumstances changed. It isn’t about who’s taking Shelly to the lake anymore. It’s about payback. We both have a score to settle.
I’m in no shape for a showdown with Sig. He’s rolling heavy and I have a stupid-ass medieval dagger. Not much of a fight. But I can’t run. Still looking for my payoff. So I bounce from spot to spot, always hearing the Valiant like the thunder of a coming storm. Two parks are off-limits. The lumber yard where I sometimes get work is too exposed.

You’re telling me to get out of town or hide in one spot until he leaves. You don’t know Sig. After what happened in Ballentine, he’s not going to leave until he has my scalp. Or I put him under.

That means I can’t wait for the Nerd to come to me. I have to flush him out. When you hit a man, hit him where it hurts. Mrs. Nerd.

“I told you I have a gardener.”

He hadn’t called. She was thin and ready to snap.

“This isn’t about the trees.”

“I’ll call the police and we have neighborhood watch and someone’s already seen you.”

“You’re not going to call the cops,” I gambled. “Because you don’t know what kind of trouble he’s in and you don’t want to make it worse.”

Her eyes turned into slits, like she wanted to saw me in half like a tree and count my rings. I held up the Nerd’s driver’s license. Then her eyes got wide.

I started slow, so she’d listen. “He’s into some heavy shit and there are a lot of people looking for him. I’m one of them. But what I want is quick and simple. If he deals with me, the machine kicks into gear and everything runs smoothly again.”

I knew I had her when she looked over my shoulder, checking to see if anyone was on the street and saw us. They weren’t. So much for bullshit neighborhood watch.

Mrs. Nerd moved aside and let me into her house.

The door closed and she was all questions. Where is he? What is he wrapped up in? How did I get involved and how long will this last? I kept her in the dark, said it was for her own safety. But I did tell her I was the one who put the bruise on the Nerd’s face. She took a step back and finally looked at me, dirty and hungry (but still good looking) in her fancy living room.

She was worried again, like I had lied my way into her house and now I was going to kill her or worse. Trey has plenty of experience with the ladies, but I never had to put on my smile and tell one how it was a good thing that I punched her husband in the face.

“I had some trouble in Washington state,” I started. “Some bad guys forced me out of town. So I’m down here and trying to scrape up work, but it’s a tough town. Couldn’t even find a friend or get enough money for a roof over my head. I was sleeping in a park. And that’s when I saw the drop. Small black plastic bag in the bushes. My father was in the army, fought in Vietnam. I’m an American and the idea that someone was spying on our land was too much to take. I grabbed the bag, thought about giving it to the cops or the Feds. Then I saw the guy that came for the drop. Badass. Probably has the cops on the take, so Trey has to lay low. Then I see your husband, looking for the bag because the Badass probably told him there was no drop and that means no money.

“Your husband looks like a decent guy and I figure he’s in over his head.” That got a knowing shake of the head from Mrs. Nerd. He must always be over his head and she’s the one that has to do the laundry. Didn’t seem like she had a job or wanted one. Never knew a woman who could afford to not work. I guess maintaining her image in this rich part of town took up all her time. With a screw up like the Nerd, messing where he shouldn’t be, keeping up appearances would be a full time job. We were simpatico, both on common ground with the Nerd. I had her hooked and reeled her in, “Maybe I could help him. I followed him to his work and got in touch. We meet and I tell him how I can be an ally in all of this. He’s a soft dude and I’m hard from rough living. We could make a good team and get what we want from the buyer and make a good deal from everyone. And secretly, I’m thinking about a way for your husband and me making money, then turning the bad guys over to the cops. Everyone wins. Except the spies that are fucking up our country.

“But your husband got other ideas. In our second meeting, he comes at me with a silver dagger.” Mrs. Nerd blinked here and I knew that she had seen that knife before and wondered what the hell her husband was doing with it. I was rolling and had to finish the story. “I wasn’t going to let him kill me. I fought back, landed a right into his face and he ran. He left his wallet behind, that’s how I found you. And if I can find him, we can wrap all of this up. I understand why he got scared, but I really want to make this work out best for everyone.”

Her eyes went narrow again. She digested. And what do you think she did? Call the cops? Pull out a .357 and put a hole in me?

To answer your questions, let me just say that Trey is freshly showered, free-balling it in the Nerd’s sweats while my clothes are in the wash. I’m writing this on Mrs. Nerd’s laptop computer and she’s fixing me a sandwich. I’m about to plug in the flash drive from the black bag.

The dagger is on the desk, just in case.

Friday, May 15, 2009

WOMEN

This library is a dump. The last one was nice. Small. Like being back in Ballentine. I found it after leaving Mrs. Nerd alone, so I could figure out my next move. No sense in pushing her, making her scared. She might call the cops, and that means that you don’t get to hear from Trey anymore. I said my polite goodbye to Mrs. Nerd and had no idea what to do next.

I found the nice library and caught you up. Sometimes, writing this down helps me figure out how to turn this whole mess my way. It’s like swimming and pushing a battleship sideways.

At the library near Mrs. Nerd, everyone was all smiles and the kids section had the small tables and short shelves and someone was reading to a group of teeny people. This fucking library is like a bomb shelter after they drop the bomb. This ain’t Santa Monica. The bums here stink worse than me. Crazy dudes. We’re close to the VA.

My dad went to the VA in Spokane a few times for checkups. All the rubbing alcohol and Lysol couldn’t sanitize that place. Just breathing made you want to go crazy. Never got to my dad, though. He was tougher than that.

I had to get out of Santa Monica to find this library. Can’t cycle through the same locations anymore. Things have changed.

I told you I was trying to figure out my next move. It found me.

How do you always fuck up? If you’re a guy, you know the answer. If a girl is reading this, I’ll tell you how you always fuck up. Women.

Tokyo.

I think she’s Japanese. I’ll call her Tokyo. Don’t know her name. Her hair is so black. Shiny like she’s enameled. Or like she’s a black widow spider. Could’ve killed me.

On the way back from the nice library, after I saw Mrs. Nerd, I needed something to eat but knew no place in this neighborhood would serve me. Had my head down, thinking. Needing the next step. Gotta find the Nerd. Sell him the black bag and I’m out of here. So how do I find him? You have any ideas? Can’t sit outside Mrs. Nerd’s place and wait for her to get the call. Not with those expensive houses on the street and private security crawling around. Maybe I just wait for the Nerd to get back in touch with me. I have what he wants. Rodeo wants it, too. They both might pay for it.

But why doesn’t the Nerd just make another thumb drive. It’s computer stuff, you can just copy more, can’t you? You’re reading this on a computer, must know more about them than me. Can’t he just copy a new one? But if he could do that, he wouldn’t have tried to skewer me on the dagger. Fucker. Should’ve kicked him when he was on the ground.

All this shit’s running through my head with no answers. I’m thinking about what to write you next, how to tell you I’m stuck but not giving up. You’re my only friend. And you had better be on my side.

Hardly looking at the traffic, I cross a street. Stroller bitches are sucking on smoothies and dudes with big watches are checking out their asses. I don’t care about those screws. My problems are bigger.

And getting bigger all the time.

I’m outside in the sun and something in one of the clothing stores catches my eye. You know it by now, Trey notices things. Tokyo was wearing a pink sweater and black pants. She walked through this clothing boutique and looked like a deadly butterfly in the window. That black hair in a pony tail. She’s shorter than me, but has strong shoulders. Like she can handle herself. Tokyo could handle some Trey in her life.

There was a look on her face, above it all and sharp eyes like she could cut anything apart in front of her. But she wasn’t one of the rich women from this neighborhood. Mrs. Nerd was one of them, exercise at the gym every day and read the paper and meet for lunch. Tokyo works for a living.

She moved through the store, putting clothes away on racks. A tall blonde and her taller friend came in to shop and Tokyo helped them with a smile that looked real to everyone but me. I get her. She doesn’t know it. Yet. Or maybe never. Wish it could be that way.
You see, everything’s changed. The next move found me.

I heard him before I saw him. Fucked-up Plymouth Valiant chugged like a steam train. Took me a second to remember it, but I snapped to quick and ducked around the corner. I almost didn’t make it. Tokyo almost did me in. I was staring at her so long, like I was hypnotized. Or trapped in her web. Easy prey for the Valiant. You reading this Tokyo? You didn’t even see me looking at you, but you almost got me killed, just because you’re sexy. But Trey was on top of it this time. I didn’t get killed. He didn’t see me. This time. But I saw him.

Sig. Riding shotgun. One more dude in the back seat. All the way from Ballentine, Washington.

How the fuck did he find me? Did you tell him? Or are you reading this, Sig?

If you’re reading this, Sig, fuck you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

GOLDEN DELICIOUS

$43.

That’s it. No wonder the fucker is willing to deal with crooks. The Nerd is broke. Not as broke as me, but for a guy in a suit, who works in a building with security and lives in fancy Santa Monica, $43 is bullshit. That’s all the cash he had in his wallet. He must be one of those dumbasses who lives on credit and lets the bank run their lives. No bank for Trey. Me and my dad were our own bank. Green cash or green bud. No credit or loans or promises. It was all real. I left Ballentine in a hurry, didn’t have time to grab any of our stashed cash.

And the Nerd’s not bankrolling me. Not yet. He’ll pay. Now he knows I’m a mean business motherfucker. My price went up. Two hundred thousand. As soon as I can get in touch with him. He didn’t show up at his work this morning. I watched. Couldn’t sleep and paced around his building all night.

That dagger sure feels useful in your hand. Straight blade, good handle for killing goblins and saving maidens. Those dorks did something right. Makes you want to start sticking people. I should stick the Nerd after he pays me. He wanted my blood. He can learn what it’s like. When he ran, he dropped the sheath, so I’ve stashed the blade before I draw any blood.

Thought about using his credit cards for a hot meal or to buy one of those beach houses below the bluffs. But Trey isn’t stupid. No footprints. The credit cards went into the trash with his wallet. I kept the cash and his driver’s license. It has his address. He might be home.

You’re probably thinking I should take the $43 and get the hell out of town. That’s what you would do, let it go and move on. But you’re not me. Homeless and on the run. It’s like there was an earthquake in Ballentine and the ground crumbled and ate everything I had. I got nothing. So you say, “You got nothing, then it can’t be worse somewhere else. At least there won’t be any spies and nerds with daggers who want you dead. Nothing to lose.”

Then I say, looking you straight in the eye with my hard look, “I got nothing but my name. Passed down from my father. He crawled through tunnels in Nam to bring that name to me. My mother didn’t want the name and blew out of town one morning after dropping me off at kindergarten. Fuck her. She never got to know how cool I am. I’m so cool that I keep my word. And if anyone fucks with a friend of mine, they make an enemy of me. And if anyone fucks with me, they’ve got trouble.”

The Nerd has it coming. He’s going to pay good money when I find him. He’s going to pay.
Nerd ain’t going to be easy to find. Punch to the face scared him good. After haunting his office building, I slid north to the nice neighborhoods. Some of the streets have numbers and the others have names. Trey is sharp. I’d seen the names from some of the parks where I sleep. One park is on the bluffs over the ocean. The Nerd’s street ran right into that park.
Never ventured into these neighborhoods. Don’t think they take to homeless dudes, even ones as good looking as me. Tall eucalyptus trees. Green lawns must take a thousand gallons of water a day. Up in Washington, you get a lawn whether you want it or not. Here, everyone works for them.

I stayed low key, no trouble and didn’t see any cops. Saw a lot of big houses. Expensive cars. But no one walking on the street. Just me.

Golden Delicious. When I saw the Nerd’s house, I almost cried like a girl. Golden Delicious. Two trees, one on each side of the front door. Some asshole didn’t know how to prune them and they were dancing like ornamentals, but the trunks were strong enough to support fruit. You know anything about fruit trees? If you did, you would’ve cried, too.

When I get my place in Oregon or Canada, I’ll have fruit trees. Apples and pears and if the soil and air is right, I’ll plant vineyards and make my own wine. You’ll drink my wine and no one will know the money came from the drop I intercepted and no one will know what happened in Ballentine.

Dagger sheath is thick leather. It was inside my waistband and down my left leg. Just the handle of the knife was sticking out, under my shirt, and I could pull it fast if I needed. I knocked on the Nerd’s door and waited. If he tried to off me at the meet with a dagger, I didn’t think he’d answer the door with a gat.

The Nerd didn’t answer the door. Mrs. Nerd answered the door.

A lot of the housewives in Washington still look like homesteaders. Clothes are a little old, got some wrinkles on their faces and are tired all the time. Mrs. Nerd wasn’t young, but she wasn’t cracked from hard living either. Didn’t have kids, didn’t look ground down enough. This woman was fit and probably had a personal trainer every day. Tight body and the mean eyes of the rich.

She was tired, though. I could see in her face. Something had been wearing on her for a couple of days. The Nerd, no doubt. She couldn’t know everything he was up to, though. If she did, no way would she open the door.

Mrs. Nerd looked me up and down quick and got ready to scream or call the cops or try out some of her yoga fighting moves on me. Thought about tangling with her, thought it might be fun. But Trey can be a gentleman.

“Sorry to disturb you, ma’am.” I even said “ma’am” like some fucking kid selling Christmas cards. “I’m an arborist and I noticed the apple trees in your front yard could use some maintenance.”

“I have a gardener.” She said it like it was all I needed to know and would I please burst into flames now and leave her to her problems.

I’m part of her problems. “Golden Delicious. Those are Golden Delicious trees and your gardener doesn’t know what to do with them. If you hired me, I could guarantee you a great crop this year.” All through the talking, I’m looking past her into the house. Nice place, lots of space and furniture. She had her cell phone and landline on the coffee table in front of the couch. She was waiting for a call.

The Nerd wasn’t there.

Friday, May 8, 2009

DRAGONSLAYER

It’s not the first time someone tried to kill me. Won’t be the last. As you can see, I’m still alive.
And fucking pissed.

Don’t they know that I’m the hardest motherfucker out there? You don’t try to kill Trey. Fools keep coming at me and I keep knocking them down. They gotta learn. I will put them all down.
And if that librarian gives me the stink eye again, I’ll knock her the fuck out. But I gotta be cool and I’ll let her live, this time.

I let the Nerd live. Should’ve broken his pencil neck.

We arranged the meet at the park where he made the drop in the first place. Not too creative, I know, but this is a big town and without a car, you don’t have a lot of options. And I don’t want to be another homeless dude on the bus, getting stared at. Imagine being a homeless guy on a bus with a bag full of one hundred grand. Like a baby seal at a shark party.

So it’s night at the park. Late and no one’s around. All the joggers and teenagers are long gone. Even the smell of the cheap bud from the parked cars has drifted away in the dry air. Still not used to no rain. Feel like a cactus in this town. Gotta find water wherever you can. Water and money.

That’s why I wanted to squeeze every drop from the Nerd. Get my cash and get out. An honest deal. Trey is a straight up guy. I make a deal and stick with it. I was ready to hand over the black bag.

I could’ve been disappeared by now. That kind of money would get me real far and forever gone. If the Nerd had dealt straight up, I would’ve been set. But he thought he was harder than me and I’m still broke. And fucking pissed.

I heard him coming in the quiet park. Even in lame-ass high-tops, the Nerd bounces and scuffs and a deaf dead guy would know he was there. But all I cared about was the bag. Duffle bag with the name of the software company written across the side. Subtle motherfucker. The bag looked heavy and that worked for me.

Nerd looked nervous as hell and glanced all over the place. His jaw was clenched shut and he had to talk through grinding teeth. “You have the drive?”

Hard and cool, I made it look easy. “Let’s see the money.”

He stalled and shook like a shiver ran up and down his back.

I’ve bought and sold weed hundreds of times. It’s illegal, in case you don’t know. Never had a problem. One person has the money, the other the weed. Trade one for the other. Smooth. I’ve been there. I’ve handled worse. Much worse.

I understood that the Nerd was nervous. This was foreign territory for him. But that stall wasn’t just virgin nerves. Virgins are no fun. I’ve been there, too. Couple of times. One time, I’m ready and lined up and she’s laying back and then puts her hand on my shoulder. I knew then it was over. The look in her eyes. The other virgins were ready in their eyes and their bodies just needed to relax. This girl, that little stall told me she had other ideas. Stop.

No more virgins for Trey after this. I saw the same look in the Nerd’s eyes as that girl. He had other ideas. But he wasn’t going to call off the deal. He was going to change it. “I’ve got the money right here. I want to see the drive.”

“You don’t trust me?” Why should he? He doesn’t know that Trey is a straight dealer. You need to know that. I never wanted things to get out of hand. I just want my share and to get gone. I never asked for any of this. I could still be in Ballentine.

He said something about not knowing me and how I stole the drive in the first place and why should he trust me. I told him to open the bag, let me see the money. Once I see it, he can drop it on the ground between us and I’ll tell him where I stashed the black bag.

Except for his hands, his whole body clenched up. His hands were shaking. And that look in his eye. I knew I would find out his change of plans soon. He could barely grip the zipper on his duffle. It opened slowly and he reached in.

I was ready. I told you it wasn’t the first time someone tried to kill me. I’ve looked down the barrel of a gun and I’m still sitting here to write this. In Nam, they tried to kill my dad all the time. He made it back. He raised me and now I’m as hard as him.

The Nerd went into the bag and I expected him to come out with a Glock and start pumping. Trey isn’t stupid. I set the meet up next to a tree and stood my ground when the Nerd had come with the bag. Now, with his hand coming out and his eyes wide with fear, I jumped behind the tree and waited for the caps to pop.

Instead I hear the Nerd swearing and scuffling and running around the tree toward me. I dodge away and see what’s in his hand. No gun. A motherfucking dagger. Are you kidding? Where did he get a shining silver dagger? Like he’s fighting dragons away from princesses. But instead of an orc, it’s me he’s trying to skewer with that thing.

And he’s mumbling about how the buyer’s going to kill him if he doesn’t deliver the drive because they’re ruthless and it’s all my fault and we’re both fucked and I have to give him the drive.

When someone’s trying to put a seven inch piece of steel through me, I don’t want to do what they’re asking. Fuck them. Fuck the Nerd.

Running’s what got me to Los Angeles. Don’t want to run. I let the Nerd make a play for me. He was sloppy and wide and looked like a drunk girl pissed at her boyfriend. The dagger never had a chance. Neither did the Nerd.

I grabbed his wrist and yanked him into my fist. One in the face. I didn’t have time to soften him up in the gut. He needed to know I meant business. Don’t think the Nerd’s ever been punched in the face before. He didn’t handle it like MMA. Dude went down. Rolling in the dirt and holding his face and coughing and heaving like he was going to puke.

I picked up the knife and felt his clammy sweat on the metal handle. He was still squirming and I thought about putting him out of his misery, but Trey isn’t a cold killer. Just because he wanted me dead doesn’t mean I’m going to bleed him while he’s on the ground. Hell, his play for me was more like a joke.

The joke was on me. And I’m sure you saw this coming. The duffle bag was filled with junk mail. It was his fucking recycling.

At least the Nerd was man enough to get off the ground. He flinched when I came at him. There was a blood and a good welt on his cheek. That’ll take some explaining at the office. Maybe you work with him. You’ll know where he really got it. Or maybe you’re his wife. I saw the ring.

And I have his address. With the knife to his throat, I got his wallet. He tried to tell me how the buyer was furious and they’ll skin all of us if they don’t get what they were ready to pay for.

“Your fault,” I told him and pushed him back into the dirt. The Nerd was learning to hurt and got back to his feet faster. And he ran into the dark neighborhood at the edge of the park. Let him go and be scared and maybe he’ll be ready to deal again. For more money. Now he knows I’m serious.

He thinks the buyer is ruthless? Trey is ruthless. If he had just paid me like we had agreed, it would be cool and he could sell to the buyer and everyone would be happy. But he fucked up and now I’m not happy.

I’m fucking pissed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

FIRST DATE

I made him buy me a hot meal. And not another burger. Fish. It was fried, not grilled like my dad and I used to do it, but at least it wasn’t fast food.

The Nerd was nervous. He wanted to get to business, but I was holding all the cards, and the thumb drive, so I took it slow. We walked along a pier I had seen from a distance but had never gone to. Wasn’t even summer and there were tons of people. An arcade, some rides. I thought the Nerd was going to jizz his pants he seemed like he was on a first date and couldn’t wait to get her home.

But Trey likes a nice dinner before getting down to business. Basket of fried fish and a big soda, I took my time. For the first time since getting on a train outside Spokane, I sat down and ate a real meal. Could’ve used a beer, but we were probably breaking other laws and I didn’t want attention.

I ate and he looked at me, at the people passing by. I was on the lookout, too. Rodeo was the only face I watched for. He was the dude that could fuck things up. Didn’t see him, finished my meal and jonsed for a joint. Something to calm me down.

It wasn’t cold, but the Nerd’s teeth were chattering. It made his cheeks shake, like a dog. He ate well every night. Soft face and thick fingers. No scars on his knuckles and red lines on the inside of his eyelids. Didn’t look like he slept much. Or saw any daylight. Or lifted anything heavier than a phone or computer mouse.

He asked if I looked at the thumb drive, did I know what was on it.

Hell no. Don’t care what’s on it. Just want to deal for it. After that, he can have all the trouble he wants for whatever’s on it.

And then the fool asked if I had it on me. Like he could buy it right there.

I told him that he doesn’t walk around with the kind of money I want. And I don’t walk around with the black bag in case some asshole gets the idea to put a hot one in me and take what he didn’t pay for.

With a belly full of food or starving for three days, I could still take the Nerd apart. If that cupcake tried anything, I’d start him in the soft belly, just to make it hurt. Then the face to show I meant business. Stepping on his hands would crush them like potato chips. I let him know all this with a look. A hard look. My dad would’ve laughed if he saw it. No one was harder than my dad.

How did a marshmallow like the Nerd get involved with a spy deal in the first place? The dude looked like he would liquefy at any moment. He waited for me to make the plan and that’s how it must have been with Rodeo. That guy probably held the Nerd’s hand through the whole process. But he didn’t cover what might happen if a badass from Washington state showed up and pulled the bag before Rodeo got it.

So now it was my job to tell the Nerd what was up. We set another meeting. This time, I’d be ready to give him the black bag and he’d be ready with the cash. How much cash? That’s the fucking thing about blind negotiations. He could be selling the black bag to Rodeo for sixty million dollars and I’m only asking for ten grand. Am I asking for too little, too much? I threw out a figure to see if he’d blink.

Hundred thousand dollars.

He shrank like someone was trying to stuff him into his own pocket. But he didn’t blink. The money wasn’t too large. It was a pain in the ass and would cut into his profits, but I didn’t bid myself out of the game. Should’ve asked for more.

The Nerd made a move to try and talk me down, but I gave him the hard look again. Dude was really stuck. Didn’t even try to negotiate. Now I’m the hardest man I know.

While I’m writing this, with some grandmother at the computer next to me, trying to figure out how to e-mail some picture of a meatloaf to her daughter, the Nerd is getting one hundred large together.

This grandmother might be the last nice person to see me alive. She even smiled at me when I told her what button to push. But she doesn’t know what I’m doing. You do. Tell her what happened. Tell anyone you want and maybe someone will throw some dirt on me. But if this deal goes like it should, and you’re in Canada and you see a good looking dude with solid gold sunglasses and a big smile, you’ll know where I got the money.

Friday, May 1, 2009

THE NERD

Stink eye from the bitch librarian forced me out before I was done. Can’t afford trouble. This ain’t her shift so I might have enough time to finish before going to the meet. And this might be the last you hear from me. But don’t worry. I’ll be set, pockets full of money and weed and hot ass in my car. You won’t recognize me. I’ll be someone new.

And it could happen soon. Trey handles his business. You think you got it covered, sitting in your cubicle with your phone and e-mail at your side? Think you could handle what I’m doing? All it took was time. Waiting again and I thought of my dad being patient enough to stay alive in the tunnels. Can’t rush it. I blended in with the bushes of the park again and watched the drop spot. One day comes and goes and then someone shows up for the bag. I’ll call him Rodeo. Big, stupid belt buckle he didn’t earn. Expensive shoes with leather soles. Jeans with the holes already in them. I could live for a month on what those jeans cost.

He was cool at first. Walked past the plants behind the bench. Sat on the bench, turned around and looked hard into the dirt. Saw him get frustrated. What he wanted was in my pocket. Still is. Rodeo even got the knees of his expensive jeans dirty looking for the black bag.

Rodeo was pissed. He kicked the plants out of the dirt. Then he walked and I followed. He wanted it and I had it. He’d pay for it. Then I could really disappear. But it was Rodeo who disappeared. The son of a bitch was fast. He ran to his car. Black Mercedes. I yelled at him to stop–not too smooth—but the engine was growling and he didn’t hear me. Dude put the hammer down and that car was a rocket. Didn’t even stop at a stop sign.

Fuck. My payday was going to have to come from someone else. More waiting. Rodeo was so pissed he’d make some calls. The deal was fucked and someone had to try and fix it.

That’s when the Nerd shows up. He had the nerd walk and I was watching him before he even went to the bench. Dude bounced across the park, head down like he was falling forward the whole way.

The Nerd is no spy or crook. I was kicking myself for not spotting him before. This was the guy who made the drop in the first place. He got into my park and buried the black bag in the plants and got away and I didn’t notice. Maybe I was at the drive-thru across the street. They don’t let me into the place, but they’ll sell me burgers if I walk through the drive-thru. I missed him the first time. But the Nerd didn’t sneak past me when he came back to the drop.
He went right to it. Like I said, he’s no spy. If he was being followed, which he was by me, he would’ve been caught. But I didn’t care about arresting him or holding him until the cops came. No cops. They’d be more interested in me than the Nerd in the Men’s Wearhouse pinstripe.

After a few minutes of digging through the dirt and scratching his head and looking at the sky as if the answer to his problems was going to be written by God up there, the Nerd took off. No black bag for him, no answers.

The word of God came through me. I followed him out of the park and up the street. I kept waiting for him to get into a car and leave me in the dust again, holding the bag and nothing else. But the Nerd kept bouncing. And he kept looking over his shoulder. But no one sees the homeless in this town.

Even if I’m not a bum and twenty years old and not one-legged vet or complete crazy, I faded in that coating of Los Angeles dust and dirt. Doesn’t take long out here to become invisible. Just stand outside for a day and you’ll get covered in dust. Up north, where I’m from, the rain’ll wash you off. Like my dad. He’s washed clean.

I’m still dirty. But it was the perfect camo and the Nerd kept walking and never saw me. We got away from the park and through some streets with business buildings and condos or apartments. There was a new building with glass and concrete and thin green bamboo all around it. Don’t know how anything grows out here. Too bad they can’t water it with sea water.

The Nerd bounces past the glass doors, nods to the security dude at the desk and disappears into an elevator. His face was red and distracted, like he was chewing on a pinecone and couldn’t understand why it hurt so much.

Here’s how I figure it. The Nerd makes the drop, then goes away to wait for his money. Rodeo shows up for the black bag, doesn’t find it and refuses to pay. The Nerd panics, goes to the drop to make sure Rodeo didn’t miss something. But the black bag is gone and the Nerd has to go back to work and regroup. He wasn’t counting on Trey following him to the fancy building, the black bag in his pocket.

If I could talk to the Nerd, I could squeeze him for some dough. He’ll pay me for the bag, then sell it to Rodeo. Everyone’s happy.

Except security. He stands up as soon as I walk into the building. Black dude, cocked and ready. No shit this guy could take me apart. Let him think I’m crazy. I start talking like the bamboo is taking over the city and I try to get to the elevator. He steps in my way and I say I want to see my dad. He wants the name. I don’t have one. I say the guy that just came in. The Nerd raped my mother and I’m his son and he owes me a 16th birthday party. And it worked. The security dude let it slip. The Nerd’s name. He said it like it was the craziest thing, thinking about the Nerd raping someone.

But he didn’t let his guard down and looked like he wanted an excuse to break my neck. I warned him about the bamboo and got the hell out of there. With the name. And the name of the software company that was written in big metal letters in the lobby.

Everyone has cell phones. I used to have one, up north. Lost it. It’s hard to find a payphone in Los Angeles, but I got one and it stank like shit. 411 gave me the number to the software company. It wasn’t easy dropping the coins in the phone, but I knew the jackpot could be big. It was an investment.

The receptionist sounded sexy. I asked for the Nerd by name and she wanted to know who I was. I told her I was a 16gb thumb drive and he wanted to talk to me. I was right. In a few hours, I’m meeting him in a public place. This could be the jackpot. If it isn’t, at least you know what happened.