“It’ll never work.”
“It’ll work, I’m telling you. He keeps his shit in that little plastic box with his scale.” Jeff envisioned it, a fat sticky lump of Mexican heroin. Enough to keep him, Ricky, and Crystal high for days.
“What if the door is locked?”
“I have the goddamn key to the front door. I made a copy last week when he sent me out to the store for cigarettes. Fucking asshole, making me fetch him shit like some kind of gopher. Serves him right.”
“I mean, what if there’s a deadbolt or chain or something on the door?”
“So what? Then we walk away. He’s not gonna wake up, that’s for sure. That prick sleeps like he’s dead.”
“What if he’s not alone?”
“He’s alone. Who the fuck in their right mind would sleep with that arrogant piece of shit?”
“I dunno, man. Sounds risky.”
“Risky? Ricky, are you kidding me? Fuck this asshole, he takes our goddamn money everyday, makes us wait forever, treats us like children. Do you wanna get well or not? I got Crystal waiting for me at home and she’s gonna wake up sick and I’m not coming back to my baby empty-handed.”
“Yeah.” Ricky’s tone was sheepish.
“All right then.”
The two junkies walked up the marble steps and studied the intercom bank for a button to push.
“Pick one on the third floor.”
“What if they walk down to check?”
“Just fuckin’ pick one and stop being such a chicken-shit.”
Ricky hit a random button on the third floor. No response. He hit another. Same. Jeff reached past him and, using all four fingers, hit four at once. The front door buzzed. They were in.
They walked down the first-floor hallway, light on their feet. They could hear sounds of life from the other apartments. TV, dishes clamoring, a small dog yelping. The apartment they wanted was toward the back of the building.
They came to the door. Jeff turned toward Ricky and whispered, “I work too hard hustling all day to keep giving this prick my money for those tiny slivers of dope. He might as well just factor my goddamn dignity into the price.” From his pocket he pulled out a single bronze key. He slid the key into the lock and turned the knob. They were met with stale cigarette smoke, body odor, and darkness.
With a plastic disposable lighter for a torch, they entered the dealer’s apartment. Jeff knew right where the dope was stashed, beside the computer monitor in a pale green plastic box. He put away the lighter and picked up the box. He opened it up, felt inside for the lump of dope, and found it. Ecstatic, his heart skipped a beat. The lid to the box fell loudly onto the keyboard in front of the monitor. The blank screen flashed on brightly, illuminating their horrified faces.
“Shit,” mouthed Ricky.
“Hello?” They heard a voice say. A female voice. “Hello, is there anyone there?”
The two junkies froze.
The bare lightbulb above their heads flared and they stood looking at a woman with a small silver handgun pointed toward them. She was in one of the dealer’s ugly paisley dress shirts, unbuttoned, no bra, no panties.
“Crystal?” said Jeff. It was his girlfriend, fiancé in fact, the love of his miserable life. It wasn’t registering, his mind raced to find a reason for her to be there. Maybe she was doing what he was doing—working hard to bring home some dope so the both of them could have wake-ups tomorrow. Working hard—with no panties.
“What the fuck?”
She said nothing.
The two junkies knew at once they weren’t going to be shot. But it didn’t matter. Jeff looked like he’d already been shot.
“C’mon!” said Ricky. The two fiends ran out the front door of the apartment, down the hallway, and out into the cool night air. It was blocks before they slowed down to a walk.
Ricky finally said it.
“You’re right, Jeff, dignity is factored into the price.”
Tom received his education firsthand on the streets of San Francisco. His work has appeared in Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir, Punk Globe, Darkest Before the Dawn and others.
He’s also a popular contributor at SF’s reading series Lip Service West. Contact him at: http://tom-pitts.blogspot.com/