The next day, we all had lunch together. Bekka and I had ridden out putts, so there were four outlaw Harleys parked in front of the Mongolian barbecue place to give passers-by a vague sense of unease. Jane was somewhat annoyed she was missing out over a trivial thing like the first day of school. After we ate, we cruised. Our first destination was SDSU, at the request of Peaches and Barbie. For three years running, San Diego State University had been ranked number one in Playboy's list of top ten party schools. Yeah, there's a ranking a college wants to have. What the hell, pitch it to the parents of incoming freshmen: "Beer flows through student housing like gutter water, all manner of recreational drugs can be obtained within fifteen minutes, the fraternities have more political influence here than our own board of trustees, the number of unwanted pregnancies among underclassmen continues to skyrocket, local bail bondsmen consider us a Happy Hunting Ground, the frats have organized and turned date rape into a league sport, and the county Department of Public Health has set up a satellite office and clinic on campus, as venereal diseases tend to spread through our student population faster than a prairie fire. Oh, and our football team was 8-5 last year. Go Aztecs!"
We stopped for a few at the foot of the pedestrian mall which leads into the heart of campus. We'd already cruised around the school and surrounding area, including Fraternity Row. Peaches was absolutely appalled by SDSU's frat row, but that was no surprise. It looked like one of those run-down neighborhoods in Detroit, only with more German cars parked at the curbs. Anyone whose house looked like the ones on frat row would find themselves constantly plagued by building inspectors, cops, and the fire department, all issuing nuisance citations and summonses. "Oh my God, at Cal Poly, the school has the power to shut down a fraternity if they feel a frat is creating a sufficiently poor image. A Cal Poly frat who let their property look like the ones here would get the boot within a week, and they'd petition the fraternity's national organization to have the chapter's association revoked. I don't even want to know what those places look like on the inside."
"Every bit as bad as you're thinking," I told her. "I was delivering pizza in the area when I was nineteen, so of course the frats were customers. Empty beer cans everywhere, trash and filth everywhere, holes kicked in the walls, terrible odors.... But in the middle of everything would be a pristine stereo system and one of those keg coolers, the special refrigeration units. And no matter what time of day or night it was, the frat brother answering the door would be drunk."
We wandered a bit before returning to the bikes. Barbie and Peaches agreed, this looked like a campus where partying took precedence over study. "The UC system looks down on the State University system. Yeah, UC schools have more money, but jeez, it's like this place wallows in its low budget image. I get the impression that people who are students here aren't trying to get an education, they're just delaying adulthood for another four years."
We cruised Old Town, Presidio Park, and Balboa Park. The girls had already said they wanted to do one serious tourist-y thing: visit the zoo. The San Diego Zoo really is world class, so I didn't blame them. Doobie and Terry had work obligations the next day, so Terry would loan her hot rod Nova to the girls for the day, which Barbie (having seen the Nova) found hilarious. "At age eighteen, every white guy in Whittier is issued a car just like that!" she said.
The girls, intrigued by Terry's descriptions, wanted to check out Ocean Beach some. In other cities, a place like O.B. would be the sort of neighborhood described as "funky." O.B. however, due to the mild poverty and meth habits of its residents, would better be described as "odd" and "vaguely disturbing." There is an undefinable meanness to the place. We anchored the putts at Terry's apartment and went in to freshen up with the glass pipe. Peaches and Barbie had never smoked their dope before, they'd only snorted, so they found this method of consumption a novelty. They liked it. No burning sinuses.
We decided to hit the local bar for a few rounds, a dive called The Wheeler. The Wheeler didn't ID customers. The waitresses treated you like you were an annoying interruption to their day. Patrons would openly snort drugs off the shellacked surfaces of the tables. There would always be someone asleep at the bar, snoring loudly. And the juke box was still loaded with disco singles from 1979.
"Will the pay phone at the bar take incoming calls?" Bekka asked Terry.
"Yeah, but you'd better be close to the phone if you're waiting on the fucker to ring," Terry answered. "Fuckin' jackoffs like to answer it and talk shit to whoever is calling. Why?"
"I thought I'd page Velvet, see if he feels like having a couple beers. I know this place will serve him."
"What the fuck, why not."
We took a table at the back, near where the pay phone and bathrooms were. Bekka paged Velvet, and the pay phone rang before we'd even received our first beers. Bekka spoke with Velvet and hung up. "He said he'd be here in under a half hour. He's got a neighbor who will give him a ride anywhere in the city during daylight hours for $20. He sounded inordinately pleased that Becky Page had called and asked him to socialize."
We nursed our first beers very slowly. Velvet walked in the door twenty minutes later, in a blue track suit today, attache in one hand. He looked around, and flashed his gold teeth when he spotted Bekka and Terry. He approached, and introductions were made. I waved for the waitress, who glared like I'd flipped her the bird. We ordered another round, Velvet requesting Coors.
Velvet said, "Well! Ms. Page, I am delighted to again be in your presence. Terry, you're looking lovely. I'm very pleased to meet all of you, although I must confess, you, Lenny, will probably be the biggest focus of my curiosity. What Becky and Terry told me about you when we first met was intriguing. Doobie, it's nice to see you in a social situation, not one involving business. So, you young ladies attend Cal Poly? How go your educational endeavors there?"
Peaches and Barbie looked at Velvet wide-eyed, in mild shock. By his appearance, one would assume his greeting would have consisted of three words: "Yo, whassup, niggaz?" Peaches snapped out of it first and said they were going fine. She was a junior, Barbie was a senior, even though they were the same age. Peaches had taken a year off between high school and college. Barbie was a business major, while Peaches majored in American Literature.
"If I may pry, how did you occupy your time during your year-long sabbatical?" Velvet asked Peaches.
She looked embarrassed and stared at her wine cooler bottle. "Uh.... I was in Europe."
"Indeed. For an entire year? You had the resources to do this?"
"Um, yeah, sorta. It was only nine months. Uh, my mom's father, my grand-dad, is pretty well-off, and he wanted me to see the world, or at least parts of it. I was staying in hostels and private rooms, I wasn't staying in hotels, okay? I traveled by train, not air."
"Still, nine fuckin' months in Europe?" said Terry. "Holy shit."
Sighing, Peaches said, "I know. I feel like a spoiled bitch telling you guys, like I'm bragging about my family's money. Grand-dad is pretty rich, yeah, but my immediate family isn't. We're okay, but we're not rich."
With his Spock frown on, Velvet said, "You sound as if you expect to be judged based on your grandfather's fiduciary strength. I would not do such a thing. Your grandfather made you a generous offer, you accepted, and I'm sure your life is all the richer for the experience. There should not be shame in having had the experience."
Barbie nudged Peaches and said, "Come on, you had the opportunity and you took it. It's not like you spent the nine months in Amsterdam living in a hotel, hanging around hash bars and dosing on Ecstasy at raves every night. You told me about your trip, remember? You were on a pretty tight budget, from what you said."
"So what countries did you visit?" Doobie asked, edging the subject in a different direction.
Peaches said, "Um, Sweden, Germany, Holland, France, Spain, and Italy. I really loved Italy." She got a bit pink. "Heh, I visited a nudist resort while I was there...."
"Lake Como?" I asked.
"You know the place?"
"Not personally, but our friend Jane visited there over the summer. She was traveling in Europe with a man who really is just plain fucking rich, he preferred traveling by chartered jet, if that's a hint. Yeah, Jane was there for five days, and at the end of the five days declared herself a nudist, she says she feels trapped while wearing clothes now. So Bekka and I have a naked seventeen year old girl wandering around the house all the time."
"Did you run into any friction there as an American?" Bekka asked. "Jane said that people would hear her American accent and assume her primary purpose in being there was to get laid, just be really sexually predatory.... Which is an accurate description of Jane, God knows."
Peaches said, "Yeah, some people were a bit stand-offish with me. I speak some Italian, and would explain that I was there alone, I had a boyfriend at home, and I simply wanted the experience. God, it was weird. I'd see these older women walk by and I'd think, 'I will commit murder in order to have my butt look that good when I'm sixty,' It's kind of a strange place, they're really anal retentive about sex there. I learned that if I wanted to ask someone a question, to approach family groups and ask them. Walking up to a single man would get me a lot of strange and slightly hostile looks, even though I'm just asking if he knows where to find a bus schedule."
Conversation wandered along. Velvet prodded me about my career, and asked a question I hated with a passion: "What is your creative process?"
I stared at the table, then leered, "I sit and stare at a poster of Wendy O. Williams, smoke cigarettes, and try to think shit up."
Velvet raised his eyebrows and replied, "I have never viewed any of your films, but I am told they are truly intelligent, engaging examples of film-making. Surely there must be more involved."
"Well, yeah. Then I have to type out the shit I thought up." I paused. "Okay, it's not that easy. Whatever story I come up with has to be structured where sex, and lots of it, will flow through the movie without interrupting the story, the sex needs to feel like an organic part of the plot. In other porn features, the sex is tacked on, it's an interruption to the story. In my stuff, if you edit out the sex, the film will make no sense, because there is action and dialogue missing. So I end up rejecting ideas because any sexual content would have to be shoehorned in. and not have much connection with the story. So, sit and stare, smoke, think shit up again."
Bekka said, "You might be able to answer a demographic question for me. Straight up, do black guys dig Becky Page?"
After a pause, Velvet said, "Yes and no. You are appreciated as a sexy and beautiful woman, of course. However, if you are asking if black men are purchasers and consumers of your media, I have seen no evidence they are. Pornography is not as popular of an indulgence among blacks as it is among whites. Why not, I don't know. One issue may be the scarcity of black women appearing in hardcore porn. I know black men will appear, but mostly because of the supposed endowment black men have."
"Supposed?" Bekka queried, grinning and cocking an eyebrow.
"Yes. All right, it must be said that if a black man is endowed, he is endowed very well. However, just as with white men, this is not a commonality. How do I know this? Imagine being eleven years old and walking into your house late one night. You find every male over the age of fifteen for three houses in either direction in the living room, nude from the waist down, waiting their turn to utilize a crack-addicted prostitute on the sofa. At that age, you can't help but stare at the spectacle for a few moments. In fact, I was trying to decide what to do with myself. At this particular residence, I did not share a room with another child, but had been relegated to the sofa to sleep on. The sofa was occupied, and probably would be for a while. So, I left the house again and walked to the park, where I slept inside a play structure. In the morning I returned to the house, where the first thing I did was flip over the sofa cushions.
"Later, seeing black men in pornography, I compared what I was seeing in the video with my memories of the lascivious activities that had happened when I was eleven. To a man, none of the males present that night measured up to the black males in pornography. The idea that all black men are well-endowed is a fallacy. So is the idea we all seem to suffer from near-terminal priapism. The source of these fallacies are a mystery to me, and I don't really want to know anyway."
"Thank you," Bekka said. "You actually answered two questions. I was curious about Becky Page''s popularity, because it struck me a while back: in all this time, I've signed exactly one autograph for a black guy, and he was our limo driver. Huh. All right."
Peaches delicately asked about Velvet's name. He gave his explanation, that yes, it what was printed on the birth certificate, and was due to poor judgement and worse taste on the part of his parents. He was saddled with a name more suitable for a pimp in an old episode of "Starsky and Hutch." He concluded with, "So my parents named their son 'Velvet.' I am an only child, so I can only puzzle on what names my siblings would have received. Would I have a brother named 'Burlap?' A sister named 'Rayon?' Who can say, perhaps somewhere in the world I have a cousin with the moniker of 'Cotton/Polyester mix.'"
"So how's business?" asked Terry.
"It goes," replied Velvet. "My pool of loyal, steady customers continues to expand, and sales are steady, thank God. I have actually reached a point where there is a base line on what I will earn daily, I can always count on that minimum. Nonetheless..." He paused. "If it weren't for the number of customers who depend on me greatly, I would change locations to an entirely different area. Perhaps Mission Beach, or certain sections of Balboa Park. I fear I'm becoming paranoid. Every vehicle which enters the parking lot at Dog Beach is scrutinized. Passers-by all seem to be concealing service revolvers and badges. I fear a customer will rat me out if apprehended holding a product of mine. The level of dealing I engage in is both the riskiest and the worst-compensated in the trade.
"What I would love to accomplish would be the acquisition of a false ID and Social Security card, ones that would show me to be over the age of eighteen. I have probed into doing this, but have been very disappointed with the samples I saw. They were made to fool a dimwitted bouncer in the dim light of a nightclub, not be scrutinized by an employer. That is why I wish to have this false identification, so I may gain legal employment and no longer deal. At my age, I can hold a paper route, full stop. No reputable employer would give me the time of day, they would simply query why I'm not in school. The lack of a permanent address and the absence of any legal guardian would also be strikes against me. I am the one in a million case of child labor laws not being such a good thing, I guess. Legal employment shall elude me until at least the age of sixteen."
"Huh....." I said, absently scratching at my cheek. Then I said, "What about illegal employment?"
Velvet frowned and waited a couple beat before saying, "I suppose it would depend on the endeavor. I would not wish to be part of a band of thieves or robbers. Even helping to operate a bunco scheme would not sit well with me. What do you have in mind?"
"The germ of an idea, a notion. Absolutely nothing I could say would happen, it would depend on other people..... Tell me, how are your math skills?"
"I can do arithmetic. I have the skills to balance a checkbook, I know my multiplication tables, I can do long division. Anything more advanced is a mystery. To me, an algebra problem is nothing but random gibberish."
"Huh." I kept scratching. "Bekka, could I talk to you alone for a minute?"
We stepped outside the bar and lit fresh cigarettes. Bekka said, "I can hear the gears whirring. What sort of cunning stunt is rattling around in your head?"
"I think we should get Boss to take him on as a lab rat out at the Ecstasy labs. When they were handing out brains, that kid got in line twice. He's pretty much unflappable, from what you've told me. He may be fourteen, but he's no teenager, he's way past that. Okay, he'd need training, but the labs are practically an assembly line, this kid could probably pick up a particular task in an hour. You said, and he reiterated, that he wishes to live a sedate life. Well, shit, living at a fucking dope lab in either Needles or Clark County would pretty much guarantee that. You said he knows how to drive, we'll get him a car, so he could get to the nearest market or whatever. So long as he doesn't drive like an idiot too often, nobody would notice him. Or, depending on where he was, we even get him an apartment in Vegas or Berdoo. It's rented to us, he pays the rent, he'd be making enough money working for Boss to rent a studio and save for the future. What do you think?"
Bekka chewed on her bottom lip briefly, then said, "Half of me says you're a fucking idiot. You're talking about giving a fourteen year old boy a job at a dope lab, it's a moronic idea. The other half reminds the first half that we're talking about this particular fourteen year old boy, the one who acts and behaves like a thirty year old. Shit, I don't know.
"Do you think Boss would even consider it? I mean we'd basically be walking up and saying, 'Hey, we got this borderline homeless teenage black kid who's currently working as a street dealer. Give him a job at the labs.' I think Boss would see certain flaws in that idea. Hell, what would Angel and Vinny say if they went out for a visit and saw a teenager at a facility?
"And as a sheer pragmatic thing, let's face it, he'd probably be the only black dude in fifty miles, at either facility. He'd be noticed, not because of any racist bullshit, but he would just be a visual anomaly. He goes to the local town or market, people wouldn't be wondering, 'Who's the nigger?' More like, 'Huh, a black guy. Never see those around here. I wonder who he is, and why he's here?' He keeps showing up, sooner or later a local is gonna ask who he is, where he's staying, where does he work, blah blah blah. Sure, he has a cover story, duh. But it's a way, however small, that a facility might be noticed."
I shrugged. "Hey, he might turn the offer down, thinking the living conditions would be too ghastly to deal with, no matter the pay rate. He'd be stuck in the desert for long periods of time with no real diversion except the TV, and talking with other lab rats, who may find relating to a black teenager difficult, even if he does talk whiter than William Buckley.
"You know what? Fuck it, I'm gonna lay it on him halfway. I won't tell him what he'd be doing, just the working and living conditions. That could be the end f it right there."
I stuck my head in the bar and called for Velvet to join me. He hopped out of his chair (attache in hand, as always) and came out the door. "Yes, sir?" he said.
"How well do you deal with isolation?" I asked.
"Well," he answered. "When isolated, your external input is nothing but indifference. I have spent too much time in my young life having hostility and anger directed at me, which has made me wary of people in general.. I always assume a stranger will be hostile, right from the outset, since that's what I experienced when younger. No, isolation does not bother me. I can keep myself company."
"Ever spent any time in the desert?"
"No, sir. Never."
"Okay, slightly longer question, a hypothetical. Say you were asked to bake cookies. You've never baked cookies, so someone is going to show you how, step by step. It's a multi-step process, but each step is simple. You're not allowed to take notes, but the recipe is written down and posted up where you'll be working. You're only going to be allowed to watch a single demonstration, so you have to learn the process right the first time. Do you think you could pull it off?"
Velvet made his Spock frown and asked, "Am I allowed to ask questions during the demonstration?"
"Absolutely. In fact, it's encouraged, because they want to make sure you know what you're doing."
He waited a couple ticks, and said, "Yes, I could learn how to bake cookies. Any task or process can be broken down into individual steps, and I understand that style of logic, so it would be easy for me to learn cookie-baking.
"If I may be so bold, would I be safe in assuming these cookies are commonly sold on the street in quarter gram amounts? And instead of flour, a base ingredient would be ephedrine?"
I stared at him silently for several moments, and said, "Yes. Spot on."
With a small smile, Velvet said, "I am, conditionally, willing to operate a methamphetamine lab. I know almost nothing about its production, other than correctly making a full batch requires a few days, and there are points when explosion is a very real danger. Another assumption I will make is that I will be stuck in a travel trailer in the desert, alone, for days at a time. I'll plan ahead and bring plenty of books."
"I don't want to give you too much detail, but I will tell you your last assumption is wrong. You would be working in an actual pharmaceutical processing facility, complete with safety measures, ventilation, all that happy horseshit. And there would be other people around, but they've got their own jobs to do, so you're not going to have much chance to chat.
"You'd be on site seven days at a time, then seven days off. There's a lot of logistics we'd have to work out, like where you'd live on your off time, and getting you there. While you are not locked in during your seven day shift, leaving is very highly discouraged. Anything you want can be requested, runs are made into the nearest town to purchase supplies for workers. Do you have any habits? Like, are you using anything you also sell?"
Shaking his head, Velvet replied, "No, I have no habit to feed. The consumption of any of my products is a very rare event. I have tried them all --- youthful experimentation --- but none of them had sufficient appeal to draw me in to chronic use. I will sometimes smoke marijuana with a few people I regard as friends, but this is seldom more often than a couple times a month."
Pushing on, I asked, "Can you keep secrets? Are you good at keeping your mouth shut?"
"There are many aspects of my current enterprise which require it. Believe me, I know many things about many people in this neighborhood which would be damaging if found out. I will not betray a trust."
I wiped my mouth and stated, "Okay, loosely, you'd be working as a lab rat in a very large facility which makes a huge amount of illegal drugs.... And it's not meth, either. As you can guess, a mega-lab is something that only a very large and powerful organization could create and run. These people are heavy, okay? They're gonna watch you at work, and you're probably gonna be watched on your free time and never know it. You'd be paid very well, but you'll also be expected to not only do your job flawlessly, but also maintain a front, a fairly large cover story about what you do for a living. You cannot deviate from the cover story, period. Your days are fairly long, you'd be in the middle of Piss Puddle, Nevada for a week at a time.... And to be honest? I'm not sure what to do with you when you're not working. You can't even drive legally, much less rent an apartment. Whatever, we'd figure something out. Also, it would be expected you'd be a loyal employee for at least three years, and when you do leave, you can never tell a fucking soul what you've been doing, you stick with your cover story until you're six feet under.
"The security is very intense. They want people with no spouses, or even lovers, no one to engage in pillow talk with. Really, your love life will suck so long as you're working. If you take this on,you're making a huge commitment, and part of that commitment will last your entire life. You will essentially be trading a lot of your life and autonomy for very, very good pay. Save your nickels, and you're gonna have quite a bit of money by the time you move on. I feel weird I'm even making a first overture for this gig to a fourteen year old kid, but..... Shit, you 've got the brains, and you sure as hell don't live or act like a teenager. Any thoughts on what I've said so far?"
Velvet's mouth was open slightly, and he was staring off into the middle distance. He finally said, "First, may I trouble you for a cigarette? I rarely smoke, but doing so would help me focus at the moment."
I gave him a Marlboro and lit it for him. He puffed briefly, then said, "I am willing to make that commitment. Given the life I currently live, to indenture myself would be an improvement. Going by what you have told me, I will take it for granted this would not be something which would go into action in a week. Fine. I pride myself on patience. Yes, I am amenable to this endeavor. Feel free to get the ball rolling, and I will hope I am selected." He let a few seconds pass. "Tell me, what prompted you to offer this opportunity to me, of all people?"
I told him, "Because right now, kid, you are totally fucked. You're a walking bust, and that's a when, not a maybe. And ten years from now you'll be an ex-con, just another nigger on parole. One with a fifth grade education. If you keep your nose clean, you'll be working a shit job for shit pay, pushing a broom or stocking shelves. Or you get back in the game, get busted again, back to prison, wash, rinse, repeat. You're too smart for that, your brains shouldn't go to waste. I want to get you out of the path of the shit-storm you're currently aimed at, just because it's the right fucking thing to do. If I can get you on as a lab rat, and I pray I can, you can get your GED and go to junior college or trade school and have whatever career you've chosen. And you'll be able to afford taking classes without worrying about holding a job at the same time, you'll have earned the money to do so. Shit, kid, I don't wanna see you be just another wasted life, okay?"
Velvet stared at me, then Bekka, then at the sidewalk. He muttered, "You say my intelligence is valued. I question my intellect, i have been a fool. I am fully aware of the folly in my current enterprise, I know I will see arrest, and incarceration.... Yet I soldier on, willfully ignoring the inevitable.... Demonstrating the obstinacy displayed by all adolescents, I suppose." He chuckled and gave me a crooked grin. "Yes, it's perfectly rational to believe an underage black youth can deal drugs out of an attache on the streets of a white Southern California neighborhood for four years straight, and not once have any interaction with law enforcement and the courts. There's no flaw in that logic, now is there?" He sighed. "Rubbish. While my spiritual faith is best described as agnostic, I will nonetheless pray I can engage in this endeavor you've offered me. Three years? This means I will spend the bulk of my adolescence working as an indentured employee, forfeiting the indulgences associated with youth. Pardon the vulgarity, but big fucking deal. I will visit those indulgences while attending college, I suppose. But to not take this opportunity would mean my youth would be spent in a cell anyway, another dope-dealing teenage nigger who got busted. Lenny, please do what you are able to make this happen. And I truly thank you, for your concern if nothing else."
We shook hands, a good solid white man's handshake. Then we went back inside the bar.
As we headed to the table, Velvet said, "Thank you again for inviting me here, Becky. I socialize infrequently, and that is usually with other young men in my neighborhood. Their talk is the same gossip one expects from post-menopausal biddies, only with the word 'motherfucker' inserted frequently. And the local young women believe me insane, so they will not engage with me.... Except for a few, who are aware of my enterprise and would wish to chisel me for drugs and money. They are spurned. Friendly interaction with those from a different social culture, who have also reached adulthood, is very welcome, a breath of fresh air for me. My inclusion is appreciated."
Back at the table, Terry said, "So what the fuck is going on? What's up?"
I said, "Terry, you'll understand the gravity of it if I told you I'm going to try and get Velvet a job working for Boss. Get me? Don't explain to the others what I'm hinting at, please."
Terry stared at me briefly, then nodded her head and said, "Oh. Oh, okay. Wow. Holy fuckin' shit."
Peaches and Barbie looked at Terry, saying, "What? What?" Doobie was probably aware of who Boss was, and knew he was a dope cook, but would have no inkling of the massive scale of what Boss was up to these days. He just gave me a curious, slightly suspicious gaze.
"Don't worry about it, it ain't none of your fuckin' business," Terry told the girls. "And you don't want it to be your fuckin' business. Ignorance is bliss, okay? It's also a lot fuckin' safer."
We settled back in. The awkward cow of a waitress brought fresh beers, clearing away the empties. We talked about this and that, telling Velvet about our weekend, which he was amazed by. How the cops and various locals treated the Angels particularly amused him. He smiled at Doobie and exclaimed, "Visigoths! Huns! Marauders! Savages! Yes Doobie, your fraternal connections do have a certain reputation, don't they?"
Doobie chuckled and said, "Shit. Most of the time when you hear about H.A. fucking shit up, it's just a couple drunk idiots letting their tempers get away from them. A couple drunk Angels will go into a 7-11, get into it with the clerk over something stupid, and trash the place. Then they end up sitting in Chino for two years. Stupid assholes."
Velvet told humorous tales of the idiocy he witnessed in his East San Diego neighborhood. "There are a few young men who have decided their fortunes lie in fencing stolen car stereos. Pure folly. Would anyone, if offered an Alpine stereo for $100, not assume the stereo was not purloined? So there is blame to share with their consumers as well. Still, I would hate to believe they think their venture is sustainable for the long run. If they do, they are demonstrating willful ignorance on a level usually associated with mules and goats."
A couple beers later, Terry proposed it was time to give Peaches and Barbie the grand tour of Ocean Beach, the tour being conducted on foot. We invited Velvet to come along, which he gladly accepted. We went down the main drag, Terry pointing out places and things where different bits of oddity and silliness had happened. We walked the pier. I glanced in the snack shack, to see its usual occupant, a Rastafarian named Lester, wasn't working that day. Lester didn't care much for me. He didn't like it when I told him I considered Rastafarians racist, homophobic, misogynist, violent knuckleheads, and to give Dawn the money he owed her. He told me to get lost. I ended up getting my point across by putting a couple shots into the snack shack, effectively murdering his deep fryer, then pointing the gun at Lester. He came up with Dawn's money.
We were walking off the pier when we heard someone shouting, "Dude! Dude! Dude! Dude!" We turned to look, to see a guy in his early twenties jogging towards us. He'd held onto the same fashion sense as a high school stoner kid. He ran up to Velvet saying, "Fuckin' awesome, you're here way early today!" He looked at the rest of us suspiciously, then said, "Hey, can I talk to you alone for a minute?"
Velvet nodded to him, then said to us, "Pardon me a few moments." Him and the stoner stepped to a space between the foot of the pier and the sidewalk. They conversed briefly, then Velvet dug in his attache. A quick exchange was made, the stoner began marching down the boardwalk, and Velvet rejoined us, rolling his eyes. "A regular," he explained. "A meth customer. He was relieved to find me present, and willing to conduct business. If we hadn't, he would have been faced with the awful specter of possibly having to eat, or even sleep soundly."
We poked around on a few more streets, then went down the boardwalk aiming at Dog Beach. Terry and Bekka both wanted to see if Drummer was around, see how he was doing. We found him at a picnic bench between the parking lot and the jetty, gazing blankly out to sea. Terry and Bekka stepped up to him, giving him greetings. The rest of us stayed back for a few moments, so Drummer wouldn't feel crowded. In a low voice, Velvet said to me, "I am familiar with this man. His alcoholism has not diminished his faculties the way one would imagine, I consider him a very clever and wily fellow."
Drummer was working on a bottle of Coke. Bekka gestured us closer, and introductions were made. Looking at him, it was clear he was sober, and was not terribly comfortable with it. He said to Bekka and Terry, "Yeah, dry over a week now. Been hard. Not sleepin', shakes, no appetite, whole nine yards. Shakes are gone now, and I been getting some food in me. I hit a couple meetings every night. I go to the rescue mission and eat supper, then hit a meeting. Hour after that one breaks up there's another about four blocks away. Then I catch the last bus goin' this direction." He guffawed. "Damn and shit, one thing that changed is me keeping clean. I didn't realize how bad I stunk. Four days dry, I woke up and wondered what the hell I was smelling. Then I realize it was me. Damn and shit. I dug through my crap and found some stuff from the mission I hadn't worn, then went to the public lav on the beach, they got a shower there fer the surfers and swimmers to get the sand off, y'know? Hell, I just stripped down and washed as best I could with no soap, and to hell with anybody who don't wanna see some old souse's pecker fer a couple minutes. Done that a couple more times since. Same duds, but they ain't gettin' too whiffy, 'cos I ain't whiffy, you know? I gotta panhandle up some kale so I can go to the laundromat."
"So, you thought over what I offered?" asked Terry. "Just give me two days to pick up a bed and a little fuckin' furniture, the room is yours. You can crash on the fuckin' sofa until your room is ready. And yeah, I can't smell you, fuckin' right on."
Drummer stared at Terry for a couple moments. He said quietly, "Young lady, I will accept your offer, and I thank you kindly. Gotta wonder though, why the hell you want some old souse sittin' around in yer place? I ain't good fer much of anything, all I can promise is that I won't make a mess."
"Well, shit dude. You're a righteous motherfucker and you're a cool guy, you shouldn't be on the fuckin' street, especially at your age. What the fuck, I got the space, I got the ducats to keep us both in fuckin' food and cigarettes, and I think you're better fuckin' company than you give yourself credit for. Why shouldn't I help you out? Remember though, you're on the fuckin' wagon. I ain't gonna put you on the curb if you slip, but I'm gonna give you a ration of shit for it. And if you do stay drunk, I will bounce you out. Fair enough?" She laughed. "Look at the fuckin' bright side, too. The shower in my place has hot water."
A genuine smile went across Drummer's face, and his eyes got wet. "Terry, I thank you again. Let me know when you're ready fer the local booze hound to show up at your door."
Terry pondered, and said, "Friday morning. I got a house guest right now, but I'm taking her back up to fuckin' Cal Poly Thursday. I got work Friday afternoon and evening, but get to my fuckin' place in the morning and we'll get you set up. I'll have a door key ground for you, so you can come a nd go when you want. Sound cool?"
"I can definitely live with that. I'll be there, bindle in hand."
Bekka said, "Drummer, I'll make sure to give Terry the money for a bus pass every month. I'm very happy you're going to AA, and I want you to keep going. Also, what size shoe do you wear? I'll pick up a new pair of boots for you."
Drummer thought, and said, "Size tens. I thank you very kindly, Becky. Not boots, though, sneakers. With my feet I need somethin' kinda soft."
"Get him a pair of ten hole Doc Martens," I suggested. "Those should do him right, comfortable and strong."
We hung out a while longer, Drummer catching Terry up on local happenings. Two of the Mongols who lived across the street from Terry had been arrested and would be going away for a while, as they'd violated parole. The other two in the apartment were moving, they couldn't afford rent on their own. A guy named Whitey was starting to sling dope in a big way, but the traffic in and out of his place was sure to get him busted. The two hippie chicks at the end of the block finally got their van fixed. Someone had been breaking into cars in the neighborhood with surprisingly low aim for theft: they'd take the change out of ashtrays, and that was it. And some damn fool had tried to hold up the bar, but went away empty-handed, as the bartender looked at the gun, then at the guy holding it, and told him to fuck off. The guy just split.
As we walked away, Velvet announced his plans to stay. "I shall loiter at my bench, provide my wares as usual. A long day for me, I'm here hours earlier than usual. I shall go to the pizzeria in a while for dinner, then return to the grindstone."
I told him to expect a page from me in two days, I'd have some news for him. Also, call from somewhere he could have have a bit of conversation. He shook my hand and said, "I thank you again, Lenny. I hope this proposed endeavor is fruitful for me, that I am accepted as an employee. I shall not disappoint, I will prove your faith in me was valid, and I shall work hard for my new employers."
"Perfect," I said. "I'll do what I can. They can use people with brains and guts, you have both. Your age is gonna throw people off, but I'll state your case as powerfully as possible."
As the rest of us walked towards Terry's place, Peaches said, "Oh my God. That is just too crazy. A fourteen year old black kid, living in a broken RV, no parents, no adults at all. He sells drugs for a living, and I guess he's done well. And the way he talks! Why does he talk that way, do you know?"
Bekka said, "He told me that at the age of ten, he made the decision to change his inflection and general style of speech so he wouldn't sound, and I quote, like another street nigger. He said he would spend all day and evening in the local libraries when he was younger, because he had no place else to go, and didn't want to be in whatever house he was living in. That would explain his vocabulary. How he picked up his inflection, the way he sounds. I have no idea. It's like he's channeling George Will."
We went up to Terry's apartment for a few more puffs off the glass pipe. Peaches announced her plans for the evening. "Doobie and I are going to go back to his place, and I'm gonna fuck his brains out. Then I'm gonna make him buy me dinner."
"So are all college chicks as horny as you?" asked Doobie with a grin.
With a feral look, Peaches said, "College girls have sex. Then I got together with you, and I actually had really awesome sex, it was better than I'd ever had. Baby, you shook my rafters, and we've only got a few days, so I'm jumping on you at every chance!"
"You're not so shabby yourself, girl," said Doobie. "Look, I won't lie, Id heard college chicks were kinda, uh, repressed or something. Totally dead, no action."
"Those are the sorority girls," said Peaches. "From what I've heard, dating a sorority girl would turn out to be a necrophiliac's wet dream come to life."
"You'd think they'd have some talents, keeping all those frat boys satisfied," suggested Bekka.
"Hah! Satisfying them is a little too easy. I dated a fraternity brother for a little while. He was a case study in premature ejaculation. I'm surprised he didn't come while we were still eating dinner. No, it's my understanding the frat guys are finishing just as you're getting started."
Bekka and I said our goodbyes, then headed home so we could hear about Jane's first day as a high school senior.