Stiv was a cynical and miserable bastard but one could almost detect a bit of joy in his voice when i placed the call and told him to start the engines. My first order of business was to get things kicked into high gear and it seemed as if my faithful clientele must have penciled in my return on their calendars because it didn't take long for my phone to start blowing up. Now i needed to do some collecting so the money would be straight and i could re-up. Now when it came to my crew moving weight it wasn't much of a problem, the Five Pound boys had to pay upfront for the discounted rate and except of course for the Billy Goat, all came cash in hand to lug away their gear. Collecting mainly meant rounding up all the guys moving pounds or half pounds on the front to pay up or bring me what they could. It was always amusing to hear the stories about why they were short... actually it wasn't and like a boss or a dad i had heard every excuse under the sun and i had perfected a rather nonchalant yet menacing gaze as i listened which usually made said fuck-up develop a stammering problem as they apologized and told me how quick they'd make it right. I didn't always pull out the stare, usually just for the repeat offenders but it was a useful tool.
I was doing my best to give Veronica some space, to let her sort out her feelings on this whole matter we'd begun. I knew where i stood. The last thing i wanted was for it to stop but i also realized how horribly unfair that was to the women involved in the situation, the one who knew and the one who didn't. Yet as one rises up the ranks of hoodlum one doesn't much worry about what other people want or feel, yes it might cross the mind to those of us who aren't full blown sociopaths but in the end the power and money begin to have an effect. Still the minutes felt like hours and the days like weeks as i waited to see her again. The best cure was the business and being gone for just a week had put this large and hairy hamster (me) on a fast spinning wheel. No rest for the wicked as they say and i threw myself into slinging. I arrived home on Thursday afternoon, spent Friday rounding up money and by Saturday morning i was hopping in my $400 car and heading to Stiv's to pick up the new load. Stiv it seems was more eager than i had thought and had done the service of going up before i even got back to pick up a new supply. I grabbed 25 pounds in my trusty black duffel bag, a bag now fairly bursting with the so-called Devil's Lettuce and headed home. By the time the day had ended i had moved roughly half of what i picked up.
On Thursday after dropping Veronica off i headed the few short blocks to my place, took a deep breath and went up the steps to my apartment. The Waitress was sitting there watching the telly, somewhat happy to see me but the impression i got was that she didn't miss me much, i for my part laid it on thick, attempting to get misty-eyed as if i had missed being home when in fact if there was mist in my eyes at all it was because the trip was over and i was wondering what would happen between Veronica and myself. Chivalrous is not the word for our hero, cad is probably more apt, for the act i was putting on. Needless to say it had no effect on the Waitress who went back to watching a soap opera while i unpacked and sorted things for the laundry i would need to get done. The happiest residents to see me at my place were my cats who gave me the look of "where the fuck you been?" before returning to the cleaning of assholes. Home sweet home.
Saturday night (after a busy day) i took the night off and i spent the evening with the Waitress at the local boozer drinking beers and throwing darts. It was the routine and gave the existence a bit of what one might call normalcy in a not so normal lifestyle. At the same time it lacked excitement and most of the night i felt only partly there, wondering what Veronica was doing, when i'd see her. The rest of the weekend was spent moving product and even Sunday, usually a slow day for me, was busy as all the weed heads were overjoyed that the connection was back! I had started to trim the amount of business i did out of the apartment, i had a limit of five nickel dimers before i would move to the bar but on this day i made an exception. Still eight or so people coming and going on a street in one of the posher hoods of the Steel City and on a Sunday to boot was always dicey. Luckily i had some college kids living below me and while they were a colossal pain in the ass sometimes i appreciated the cover they gave me. If any neighbors thought something shady was going on they would point the finger at the troupe of guys who lived on the first floor and not the nice couple on the second.
By Sunday night i was lovesick. I needed to see Veronica. There was a mini-mart a couple streets over from my place, a five minute walk, and i usually went there at least once a day, sometimes multiple times. I made an excuse and took a walk to the store, the fall air creeping in, the rustle of leaves in city alleys, i dialed her number and listened to the phone ring, when the machine picked up i began to leave a message, it's me i said, and then i heard her voice. She was half-asleep and her voice was luxurious. I didn't mean to wake you i said, just wanted to see how you were doing? She was good she said. It was strange to be back and she was hoping to pick up shifts at the club but they'd given most of hers to a new girl. She was on the hunt for a new bartending gig and had a few places she was going to hit this week. I asked if i could stop by tomorrow night, she paused and said yes i could, that honestly she wanted to see me but was still conflicted over the whole situation. I was smiling as i stood in the fluorescent glow, the wind beginning to nip a bit. I'll have to take care of some business but i could come before that or after, whatever she preferred. I'd give her a call when i left the house, that most likely i'd be posting up at the Little Corner Bar. When we hung up i took a deep breath, relieved and elated i'd see her in roughly twenty four hours.
Walking into the cold and dusty warehouse that Monday was like returning to prison. What the fuck was i doing here? Throwing around boxes of pipe fittings and PVC, dealing with fucking morons and half-wits, not all of them mind you but enough of them. The economic facts were that my weekly check from lugging boxes and breaking my back was roughly $360 before taxes, after it was closer to $250, i'd make that in a night at the bar not to mention that every time one of my Five Pound crew showed up the deal netted me a cool grand if not more. I made at least one five pound deal every week, usually two or three. The math wasn't hard to figure the only thing hard to figure was why i was still doing this shit. But our protagonist is a strange bird and my feeling was still i needed a regular gig, to keep me level and focused, to not end up like Cowboy Dan or Hippie Jack or any other number of half-assed hoods who fell by the wayside. The mantra was "i'm a professional" and i aimed to keep it that way. Somehow having to get up and drag my hungover ass across town five days a week justified, in my own head, my modus operandi. It was like a security blanket. The thinking being that it kept the neighbors believing i was an upstanding citizen and would somehow fool the Fuzz and give me a legit income should any sticky situations arise. Of course the facts were in the late 90s early aughts it didn't matter. The Tough On Crime pols had passed the kind of draconian shit that pretty much fucked said perp no matter what. The Clinton years saw more people go to jail for grass than any other administration before or since. The war on drugs always made for good political fodder while for years the human toll was swept under the door mat. They turned people into numbers, into commodities, to stock their prison cells.
Sitting in my car i dialed her number and pulled to the end of my street. This time she picked up before the answering machine and i asked when she would like me to stop by. It was up to me she replied and so after some thought i told her i'd get my business taken care of and then swing by, she said okay and then added she was looking forward to seeing me. I headed to the Little Corner Bar and started slinging. Monday nights were always slow at the bar, maybe a few Monday Night Football fans all hoping their team covered the spread. It was a fairly busy night for me but i told people i had a lot to do so be on time and don't fuck about. The perks of being The Man is that you don't really have to wait for anyone. If i'm late? so what, i have the gear. If the customer is late, well depending on my mood they might get a talking to or told they'd have to reschedule. Generally i was pretty easygoing when it came to slinging but on this night i was distracted, i knew the earlier i finished the longer i'd have at Veronica's place. I hit the bar a little after 7pm and was breezing out the door by 9:30, an extra quarter in my pocket as a gift to Veronica.
I parked out front and rang the bell. She buzzed me in and the butterflies kicked in as i bounded up the three flights of steps to her place. She opened the door, a radiant and shy smile, it was like we were starting over in a sense. I stepped inside and we paused for a second, an awkward hello and then we through our arms around each other. We kissed, we talked, we sat on the couch giddy as strippers at a coke party. She said she was still confused and that she felt guilty about seeing me but that she couldn't stop, that she needed to see me. She asked if this was possible and i told her very much so. We sat and talked. We kept our clothes on. We listened to music, i asked about her job prospects, she said she needed something to come through because she was broke. I told her if she needed money i could help but she said she didn't want to do that. I explained she wasn't doing anything it's just what people did for those they cared about. She paused, looked at me and grabbed me head kissing me intensely. She stopped and then said she'd wait and see and that she appreciated the offer. She asked when we could hang out and i said whenever. Friday? she smiled. Sounds good i said. As i made my way down the steps i felt if i tore my shirt open there'd be a big fucking S on my chest. Hitting the cool and windy street i looked up at the stars. The world could be a beautiful fucking place.