A TRIP FOR NOTHING - ROBERT CRISMAN
Management rule number one: keep a sharp eye on the troops.
Dennis went down to Tacoma to collect some money from Luis, head staff at Ramon’s eastside dopehouse. Chief cook and bottlewasher, too.
At 6’5”, 250, and attitude with it, Dennis was just the guy for the job.
Eddie, Dennis’s old road dog, drove him down there on Pac Highway South. Why not? He looked like a getaway driver. Mid-30s like Dennis, he was 5’9” and lean, with deepset brown eyes and a pale, sharp-featured face that looked like he’d never once smiled in his life.
“Where to?” Eddie said.
“Out to 56th. Go left on Portland.”
On Portland, Dennis hit Eddie up for a smoke.
Eddie said, “We have to stop.”
“There’s a place up ahead on the right.”
Eddie pulled in and went into the store. They didn’t have his brand.
Back on the road, they lit up some skank GPCs. Eddie was bitching about it.
Dennis told him he ought to quit smoking.
“Right,” Eddie said. “Don’t want you catching no cancer or nothing.”
They hit 56th. Dennis told Eddie, go right. Another right on McKinley, two blocks, then a left. Dennis said, the second house on the right.
Eddie said, “How long’s this going to take?”
“Luis? Coupla minutes, Quick in an’ out.”
Dennis went up and knocked on the door. No answer. He came back to the car with a frown.
He thought for a moment. “Get back on 56th, an’ go right. He’s over at this broad’s place.”
A couple of miles, and Dennis told Eddie, go left and park.
Dennis went to the fourth house on the right side. A little two-story frame job. The house needed paint. A plastic tricycle sprawled in the walkway. The lawn was from Dogpatch.
The whole block was like that, more or less. Three houses up, there were pieces of Harleys strewn all over the yard. The patches of grass you could see were black as the dirt.
The guy there, bent over a bike frame, had a wrench in his hand and a beer can nearby. He had shoulder-length, greasy black hair, and cellblock tattoos on his neck. Tall, rawboned Okie. He turned from his work, saw Dennis, and gave him the stinkeye. A Post Office mug: eyes sunk deep as a mineshaft, mean slash of mouth, scraggly-ass beard, smallpox scars on his sunken-in cheeks.
Crystal meth freak of the week. Measuring dick size with Dennis. Dennis just deadpanned his dumb ass. Guys like this who fucked with him inside? Infirmary meat, if they didn’t get to protective custody first.
It looked like the guy got a clue, decided he didn’t want to get wrecked, and went back to what he’d been doing.
Dennis hopped over the trike and went up to the door. After a moment, the door cracked open an inch. An eye peeped out and went wide. The door closed again. Whoever it was unhooked the chain and then opened up wide. Dennis walked in.
Inside, it was strictly low-rent. A twenty-watt bulb in an old stand-up lamp made do for the light. The dimness could not hide the tack, though. The furniture was Levitz’s basement, from around 1960, the TV, a garage-sale special. The rug on the floor looked as if it had been fished out of a kennel and hosed off last March. A picture of Jesus hung on one wall, and a black velvet one of a mariachi band graced another.
The whole fucking place was cheese heaven.
The guy who’d opened the door kind of went with the place. He was bony, and shabby as hell in a wife-beater t-shirt and rumpled-up khakis. The t-shirt had egg stains. The guy had no socks, sallow skin, and strategic teeth missing. His beard dripped some of the egg that mottled his t-shirt. And his hair... What happened there? Presumably goats.
The guy was around 35, but most guys look better at 50.
He was blinking and yawning and futzing, like he’d just come out of an opium coma, trying to remember if it was Tuesday or what. He was also trying to paste a shit-eating grin on his face.
A woman came to the entry that led to the rear of the house. She was built wide and low to the ground. Her face was dumb as a Holstein, except for the wide, spooky eyes. She’d apparently forgotten how to breathe. She wasn’t ready for company, for sure. In a blink, she was there and then gone.
The guy watched her go, then turned to Dennis and said, “Que pasa, man?”
“Ramon asked me to come out,” Dennis said. “I went by your pad. He called you, right?”
“Man, no. It’s tomorrow night. I called Carmen, told her. She was supposed to let Ramon know. Otherwise, I’da been there when you came.” Rattling this off, he looked like a beggar who thought he just might get slapped. His whole fucking posture made Dennis just want to slap him.
Plus, this wasn’t the news Dennis came for. “Tomorrow?”
“Yeah, Dennis. The guy, he couldn’t get in from the peninsula. Something, I don’t know. He left the message with Phyllis. He’s coming over tomorrow. Carmen was supposed to tell you guys.”
Dennis chewed it over. The guy started rubbing his hands on his pants.
He looked at the guy for a moment, then shrugged. “Fuck, tomorrow it is, then. Trip for nothin’. Okay. I’ll tell Ramon.”
He started to the door, then stopped and said, “Look, you call him. I’m runnin’ all over the place, an’ he needs to know. Get him at my place around three.”
“Yeah, Dennis, I’ll do that, man.” Another taste of the shit-eating grin. The guy was bobbing his head like a toy plastic dog on a dashboard.
Dennis went out. The guy stood and stared at the door, chewing his lips. The shit-eating grin was long gone.
In the car, Eddie said, “You look like you got something on your mind, man. What’s up?”
“Luis back there didn’t have what I came to get. Says it’s supposed to be tomorrow, an’... I dunno, somethin’. He looked loaded.”
“No shit. An’, you know, sometimes... I dunno. Won’t be the first time somebody got stupid. Luis better hope I was seein’ things, an’ that things’re okay. Otherwise, he’s got problems. We’ll see.”
“Yeah, man. Getting loaded... Ramon’ll hang him.”
“Luis’ll wish that’s all that’ll happen.”
Management rule number two: Your guy’s fucking up? Could be it’s time for a personnel change.
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. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.