THE MEETING - ROBERT CRISMAN
It’s always good to tie up loose ends before you blast on into the ozone.
They’d picked this low-rent Denny’s-type place in Tukwila that used to be a Sambo’s or something, right on Pac Highway South. Ramon had wanted the 13 Coins out by the airport, but Eddie looked like a weed needing pulling, so this fucking place.
You had the old chewed-up gum ground into the rug, and the walls were brown plastic pretending it’s walnut. With pictures of flowers and stuff strewn around on the walls that the cheapo who owned the place picked up at Thriftko. The place was half-full, waitresses running around, the cook shouting orders, silverware clacking all over the place, but everything seemed to move slowly, and all the noise sounded like cows clopping around underwater. It was as if there was invisible dust in the air, tamping the decibels down. The place was tired as a Mexican village and the busboys sweeping the mugs and the plates into brown plastic tubs must have wondered sometimes if God plays sick jokes, and if so, on themselves or these go-nowhere gringos.
Eddie and Dennis were crammed in a booth at the left of the entrance. Ramon was back in the can. Dennis was slopping the last of his eggs. Eddie looked out at the rain.
Ramon had been back in the can for 10 minutes. He was the one who set up the meet. He’d cooked up the deal to begin with. He was the jefe in this little business, a Yakima dopeman and doing quite well, with guys in houses out here in Seattle and down in Tacoma. Dennis rode herd on the guys in the houses. Eddie, Dennis’s old road dog, was here because they’d wanted a third guy on this deal. Ramon’s other guys had stuff to do and Dennis had figured that Eddie would make a good fit.
It was nine days before Christmas and it seemed to be raining all over the world.
Dennis finished his eggs and leaned back and belched. “Gimme a smoke.” Eddie tossed one over and said, “Here, mooch, get cancer.”
Dennis broke off the filter. “Fuckin’ Tareytons, man. You must be the last guy in the world smokin’ these things.”
“I’m just the last one buying them. You don’t like them, start buying your own.”
“Gimme a light.”
Eddie tossed him some matches.
Ramon came back from the can with his jaws in a knot. He shot a look back toward the end of the counter where you turned to head back to the bathroom.
Ramon was one pretty dude. Looked kind of like de la Hoya the boxer. All the mamas wanted to kiss him and take him on home, until maybe they looked at his arctic-ice eyes.
He was sharp as a tack. He had on this pink shirt of white pumiced cotton, set off by black onyx cufflinks and a blood-red silk tie. Also, a gray houndstooth virgin wool sportcoat and gray flannel slacks that broke like smooth waves on the tops of his shoes. The shoes were Church’s black lizards, shined to perfection. His black cashmere topcoat, soft as a dream, lay draped on the backrest beside him.
Ramon in the wind? The very air bled, he was that fucking sharp...
Eddie and Dennis? They looked like guys who get bird-dogged in malls by the gendarmes.
Eddie was one of those guys, you saw him you figured, there goes an eight-ball, one of those get-loaded, get-stupid, get-busted yoyos you see getting popped on that TV show Cops.
He was 5’9”, 160 or so, about the same as Ramon, but with dirty-blond hair cut way short and mussed up. Deep-set brown eyes that looked like he’d lost too much sleep. He was mid-30s like Ramon and Dennis, sharp-featured, pale, with a mug that could look like he’d never once smiled or relaxed in his life. His hands were always picking at something, his mustache, his hair, or whatever; they were never at rest. Same with his eyes, always darting this way or that, at something or nothing. Meanwhile, he’d chew the insides of his lips or gnaw at his nails or some goddamned thing. He could not sit still. Except when he got a skinful of dope. Then he was a corpse and peace was at hand.
He hated the face nature gave him. He thought he looked like a Nazi at Auschwitz or something. He’d wanted to look like Mel Gibson once but Mel’s face was taken.
He didn’t look nearly as bad as he thought. A little harsh for a sexual icon perhaps—but there was this girl who’d seen A Clockwork Orange at this movie revival one time. She told him he looked like Malcolm McDowell playing Alex the Droog, the guy in the derby who fucked people up in the movie. She seemed to think that Malcolm was sexy. Eddie held onto that one for years.
The thing about Eddie, he came on like kind of a hard guy but really, he wasn’t. That was an act he’d drummed up way-back-when to keep the wolves off him. He didn’t push it—sell wolf tickets, man, and some dog with teeth will sure enough buy one—but he did have this air. It was like, fuck with me this time, there’s always Round Two, and that’s when the rules change. The first change is this: your ass on my wall and I burn your house down.
He liked to point out that, in fact, there are very few bad motherfuckers, outside of prisons, the SEALS, and graveyards these days. Those few on the street? Weapons and creeping were made for those guys.
All the huff-and-puff wannabe hard dudes? Who gave a rusty rat’s ass?
Dennis was hip to this act and some of what lay behind it. But he also believed that Eddie was standup at nutcutting time. Good thing for Eddie. If Dennis bought that, he cut you some slack. If not, no slack at all.
Dennis was one of those guys that weapons and creeping were made for, if that’s what it came to. He logged in at 6’5”, a no-fat 250, with muscles he’d ripped off of some goddamned bear. Just watching him walk, you knew he could move. He had a face like Walter Matthau’s, beefed up like Bluto’s. Black sandpaper beard, button nose, bushy eyebrows, cold hazel wolf’s eyes. You ever caught him sizing some dude, believe it, you were glad it was that dude and not you.
Why wouldn’t cops dog them? Here was Eddie in daylight, skanked out for days in a ratty-ass, ripped-out brown leather jacket, crusty black sweatshirt, and crumpled-up jeans. Old clapped-out sneakers, perfect for 40-degree weather. Dennis looked better: his black leather pimp coat cost bucks, like his black Tony Lamas and Calvin Klein jeans. It was just... he looked as if he’d been bused in from the cellblock.
Ramon picked away at his napkin. The waitress came over, poured coffee, shot a glance at Ramon, turned quickly and split.
Ramon jerked his head toward the can. “I go in there, take a leak, right?” he said. “They’ve got no soap to wash your hands with. I go to dry them off, they’re all out of towels. What kind of a fucking place is this? I go looking for the manager. He’s back by the kitchen, leaning against the wall, picking his fucking teeth, scratching his balls, like he’s got nothing whatever to do, and already I don’t like this cocksucker, and I’m thinking about drying my hands on his face. So I say to him, ‘Hey, your bathroom back there. You’re out of soap, you’re all out of towels, what kind of place are you running?’”
He leaned forward, lips actually tight, eyes burning the back of the room. He’d get this way over things that most people let pass.
His voice was a hard, low monotone now. Pretty soon he’d be talking right through his teeth. His hands had just started chopping the air along with the rhythm of his words when, bam—there was this crash at the other end of the room. A waitress had dropped a shitload of dishes. She was standing there numbed, like this was her 10th major fuckup that day.
“Perfect,” Ramon said. “Guy’ll probably give her a raise. Part of the fucking floorshow around here. What a fucking place.”
Dennis grinned. “Foxy little broad, though.”
Ramon snorted. “That’s why he hired her. Blowjob Mondays. Friday, back office, he bends her right over the desk, soon as the shift’s fucking done.”
Dennis laughed. “No overtime either, I bet.”
“This place? Not hardly.” Ramon lit a smoke. “So anyway, I’m back there, right? And pencil-dick gives me this look. Like I’m some kind of wetback he’s got in his kitchen. Fat prick. Shirt’s all unbuttoned, his t-shirt’s hanging on out there, and he’s got this big old fat belly, patches all over his face where he forgot to shave this morning or something, a hangover, man, and he’s looking at me like I’m shit? He gives me this look, tells me he’ll take care of it, snotty, like, ‘Who the fuck are you, coming in here, bothering me with this shit?’ I just look at him and then I walk away before he says something really stupid and I put my cigarette out in his eye.”
Dennis laughed again. “Ah, lighten up, Homes. Guy’s makin’ nine an hour, his ol’ lady hates his ass, he can’t get it up, his kids all think he’s a fuckin’ jerk. He’s havin’ a bad fuckin’ day, too.”
“He’ll have a bad day.” Ramon said this softly, with a sub-zero inflection that sat Eddie up. This motherfucker would decimate continents, man, if he had a reason and means. Eddie blinked.
Dennis said, “Why don’t you bring Eddie up to speed on Mizell?”
Ramon flicked a last stinkeye back toward the kitchen and said, “Yeah. Okay, like I told you, he’s my ‘amigo.’” He smiled, cold and tight as the glint in the eye of a man who is owed something someone can’t pay. “He’s a punk’s what he is. Thinks he’s the druglord of Shoreline or some fucking thing. Sells to this bunch of dinks, all his high school buddies and shit, and the whole fucking class must’ve gotten turned out, because he has people coming in and out of his place, seems like twenty-four-seven, and he’s raking bank. The guy, though, he’s got no sense, I swear to God. His daddy gave him some money a couple of years back and he got into dealing and now he thinks he’s the king of the dope pushers.
“First time I met him, Manny’d been dealing with him, right? Guy had some money, rich little white boy, he was looking to set up and—he’s some kind of computer geek, man. Talking about some shit he’s got going with some dude he knows. They’re going to start up this software thing or some shit, and he’s going to make billions and hang with Bill Gates and then go buy Europe or some fucking thing. Then hotshot around like the king of the world. This here we’ve got going, him and me, it’s a ‘sideline,’ you dig it? ‘Capital inflow.’ I couldn’t believe it. We’re out at this place and he’s talking to me and I’m going to be his connect and he’s, like, now what I am is along for a ride in the history books. I couldn’t believe it.
“Talking to me like I’m Pancho, you know? I go out to his place the next week, we’re in business, I’m dropping off and the guy’s, ‘Hey, amigo!’ And he’s all, this and that, talking real estate, stock market, fly to the moon, on and on and, I’m on a schedule, man, right? So I told him, ‘Hey, here’s the deal. I bring the stuff, you give me the money and don’t fuck around.’ He’s like, huh, huh? He starts to say something. I told him, ‘Shut the fuck up.’ Time for some attitude adjustment in this fucking camp. I told him, he doesn’t waste my time and he doesn’t talk to me like he’s patting my head. I’ll cut him and fuck him and sell his ass out of the trunk of my car. His eyes get all big. I look at him, man, and all of a sudden he knows I’m not playing and this isn’t the boys on his block now that he’s got to deal with. He turns six shades of yellow and goes and gets the money. Told him I’d see him next month. We got the relationship straight.
“Software, shit. He never did shit. What he does is deal my dope. He’s my boy.”
Ramon smiled like he spit on somebody. “Still, though, he thinks he’s hot shit. Not around me, but it’s there. Like he thinks his dick weighs 12 pounds, you know what I’m saying?”
He laughed. “The wrong guys come along, they’ll take his shit and ram a stick up his ass. Put lipstick on him and take him around.”
Dennis grinned. “Sounds like our kind of guy.”
“He is, believe me,” Ramon said. “The thing, though, he’s dipping now, the last month or so, looks like to me, and he wasn’t before. And this means we have to get going on this, because if we don’t, he’s not going to be around long anyway.”
He paused, lit a smoke. “Okay. So. He stays in this big old house out close to Shoreline out in the north end. It’s on this block and it’s like something out of the ‘50s or something, it hasn’t been built up yet. It’s almost like it’s out in the dingles. Lots of bushes around, trees, no houses real close, big old corner lot. And it’s him and his old lady in there, and they’ve got a baby. God save the baby. They’re always out in the living room, watching TV and eating bean dip or something. House fucking stinks, man, the bitch doesn’t clean shit. Fucking kitchen, fucking food on the floor, dirty, nasty-ass dishes piled all over the counter. Sink’s like some jungle, mold on the fucker... Dead rats and winos jammed in the broom closet... Fucking toilet, man, I don’t use it after the first time I was there. Fucking air in there’s green, swear to God. I go take a leak, my whole dick drops off, some wild animal jumps out the bathtub and eats it. That is one skagged-out, no-housekeeping bitch, man, I tell you. And he doesn’t give a rat’s ass.
“Now. Like I said, he has people coming over there all the goddamned time. Keeps the dope in his basement and thinks he’s safe as a baby in church. He’s in Disneyland, man. People in and out of there like it’s COSTCO, some geek motherfuckers, too, and he’s like it’s one big happy family of dopefiends or something.”
Dennis looked ready to drool. Even Eddie had brightened a little. The guy sounded too good to be true.
“Really,” Ramon said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, hey, Juan, they’re cool.’” Ramon did the dopefiend’s wheeze to a T. “That’s what I tell him my name is. Shows you how fucking stupid he is. And he’s going to be sitting around in there loaded sometime, and a whole boatload of badasses are going to come in there, they heard it around from his dumb dipshit buddies he’s fat, and they’re going to come in there and just fucking take it. Unless the cops get his ass before that, which, give it some time and that’s going to happen, so we have to move. I don’t want to go in there a day late and all he has left there is bean dip or something.”
Eddie had a complaint. “I don’t like it he’s got all his friends coming over and going in and out all the time. You know, we’re in there and all of a sudden we gotta throw down on his high-school reunion class? You know what I mean?”
“That’s no problem,” Ramon said. “I told him when I first came around there, I don’t want those people around when I’m there. He listens to me now, you know what I’m saying? So don’t worry about it.”
“Well, yeah, man, okay,” Eddie said, “but, uh, dopefiends don’t always follow instructions, you know? You say stay away, you know, they get sick, gotta have it, or, you know, whatever. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” Ramon said. “Somebody comes over, we’ll give him a reason to turn right around and go home. How does that sound?”
“Alright, man, okay,” Eddie said. “It’s just, you know, whatever...” He shrugged.
Ramon flicked him a look. “Anyway, one thing,” he said. “He has this shotgun in there, big old Mossberg. Keeps it under a blanket down on the floor by the side of the couch where he always sits. He showed it to me once. Trying to impress me. But one of these times he’s going to reach for the thing and blow his own dick off. All you have to do is remember he’s got it there under that blanket.”
“One shotgun,” Dennis said. “Make a note.”
“You do that,” Ramon said. He looked at Eddie as if Eddie was going to have something to say. Eddie just looked glum and picked away at his hair.
“So,” Ramon said, “he has the shotgun. And then, he has this dog. A rottweiler, man. The fucker will eat your ass up. He’s always lying around like he’s half asleep over by the TV but he isn’t. You make any sudden moves around him, they’d better be good ones. He’s your first order of business.”
Eddie really didn’t like this news. He’d tangled ass with a rottweiler once, going into a house where the people weren’t home at the time. The scuffle and subsequent trauma changed his mind about burglary as a viable career option forever. “Man, Ramon, damn! A rottweiler? Dude might as well have a leopard in there! What’re we supposed to do, go in there and throw the fucker some poison meat and wait for the fucker to die? Damn, man!”
“Hey, man,” Dennis said, “would you chill the fuck out? It’s a dumb fuckin’ animal, for Chrissake. We’ll shoot the fucker. Let’s get to the rest of it.”
Ramon gave Eddie an appraising once-over. “Yeah... Anyway, that’s the basic layout. The guy has the dope right there in the house, plus long stacks of money, and it’s all down there in the basement. In a shoebox, man, can you dig it? I saw him take the thing out once and he had it—the thing was crammed full of fifties and hundreds, right up the ying-yang, I swear to God. I told him he should spring for a safe, and do you know what that dumb motherfucker told me? Said he knew this dude, had one, and some dude comes into his place and just took it. Whole safe, man, carted it right out the front fucking door, on his back or some fucking thing. Junkies sprawled all over the house, it’s three o’clock in the afternoon and—dude said he lost something like $65,000. He couldn’t believe it.
“So a safe’s no good. Shoebox, that’s the ticket. Nobody’d ever come in and haul off a shoebox. Guccis maybe, but homeboy buys Florsheim’s or something. What a fucking moron.
“So. Don’t miss the shoebox. And in the meantime, he’s got the shotgun, the dog, and you can handle all that.” He tossed Eddie a quick look. “Go in, take him off, the easiest thing you ever did in your life. Pimp-slap his ass, he’ll cry in your lap like a baby and take you right to it.”
He sat back and waited to see what they’d have to say.
As if on cue, Eddie said, “Well, it sounds like a walk in the park and all that but, what do we do, you know, to like—do we just go up there, knock on the door, guy opens up and we’re like, ‘Uh, hi, Mr. Mizell, we’re the Fuller Brush ladies and—“
“Hey, man, for Chrissake!” Ramon looked at Dennis as if to ask him, who is this clown? He looked back at Eddie. “Look, man, I told Dennis all this. Don’t you guys ever talk?”
Dennis said, “Hey, man, we just—“
“Fuck it,” Ramon said. “Look. Like I told Dennis and now I’m going to tell you. The guy’s shopping around for a gun. Something he can stick in his pants and pull out and surprise people with if the wrong guys come through the door. You know, like if he can’t get to the shotgun quick enough. I told him I knew two guys, friends of mine, have just what he needs. We set up a meet, you play like you’re king of the gunrunners, you’re checking him out—it’s like you’ll be putting him inside the movie. Cat loves that shit. He’ll cum in his pants. Then all you have to do is, go out there and do it.”
Eddie looked as if he had more objections.
Ramon rolled his eyes. “Look, man,” he said. “Don’t worry about it, okay? Time comes, I’ll let you know, we’ll go out there, you guys will be with me. That’s how you get in. It’s no problem.”
“Piece of cake,” Dennis said. He had a cold, hard grin on his face.
“Like I said,” Ramon said, “we have to do this. He’s a sitting duck for any asshole who wants to go in there. And if they don’t do it, and the cops don’t get him, that bitch of his is going to fuck him up six ways from Sunday. She’s wasted all day, every day, and then, all the shit he’s powering down now. That’s fucking money out of our pockets. And then, you have somebody like that around, even if you’re straight, which he isn’t, they have a million ways of putting your ass in a crack.
“This broad is the ultimate bag bitch. Last month, I went up there, right? And he’s telling me how he’s getting ready to pack it all in and move to fucking Belize. He’s figuring six, eight months. Shit. This is deep Disneyland he’s coming from now. He’s going on, how beautiful it all is, only country in Central America never had no death squads, and the beautiful ocean, beautiful beaches, no taxes, free blowjobs, fucking paradise, man. He’s going to go down there and computerize the government or some fucking thing and wind up running the country. Ain’t that a bitch?”
“And meanwhile, his bitch, she’s there on the couch, gowed out of her mind, head down on her lap, and she’s drooling and stuff, robe’s all gapped open, and her fucking legs, man—bruises and abcesses and track marks and shit, and they’re purple and green and six shades of blue, and there’s blood running down where she just got done fixing and—I’m telling you... Six months from now, assuming the cops or the robbers don’t get him, he doesn’t OD or something like that, that bitch’ll have his ass dead or under a jail. I don’t even like going around there anymore, because it’s, you can just see the whole thing’s getting ready to go up in smoke. Like a time bomb.
“So that’s why I’m saying, we’ve got to do this.”
He looked at his watch. “Okay. Anything else?” He looked at Eddie. Eddie was back to chewing his lips and had nothing to say.
Dennis nodded. “Good to go, looks like to me.”
“That’s it, then,” Ramon said. “Now. I’ve got to get to the bank and drop some stuff off. I’ll call you guys Thursday, let you know where we’re going to meet. Ciao.”
He got out of the booth, grabbed his topcoat, and split.
He chewed matters over as he drove down the road. Were all loose ends tied down? Insofar as things ever do in this business?
Well, maybe. That fucking Eddie, though, man...
He’d just have to see how things went.
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall.