To steal a line from the great John Peel, the life of a weed dealer is a bit like a Fall album, always different, always the same. And so it was that i settled into a new routine, a routine that involved seeing Veronica as much as i possibly could. On the nights she worked i'd finish up business and head down to the strip club to hang out. The nights she was bartending i'd sit at the bar and we'd talk between her serving drinks, she'd spend most of her time down near my corner seat and the Sad Sack Crew would grumble that i seemed to occupy all her time. There was also the fact that i wasn't sitting at the stage tossing money around though i'd still amble over and tip the dancers once or twice while they were onstage... and not just a dollar like most of the guys in this joint. As mentioned before Anthony's was like your uncle's basement. It wasn't a flashy or posh club just a door on a main thoroughfare in the east end of the city. It was basically one big room, the bar to the right when you walked in and the stage to the left, some tables at the far end near the men's pisser where every now and then you'd walk in and find that some rookie had taken a shit in the urinal because they didn't realize that down the one hallway that was straight back which led to the dancer's dressing (or undressing) room were two other bathrooms, one of which was the ladies room and one of which had an actual toilet and the word men on it. This was the one the Sad Sack Crew usually used, i think it made them feel special.
If i thought my schedule before Veronica was hectic now it was damn near inhuman. Good thing i believed i was uber-mensch. The business kept ramping up and now the standard order that i picked up from Stiv was approaching forty pounds of weed every week. I was a one man industry. When Stiv first broached the subject of upping the weight each week i was cautious. I knew how uptight we was about getting the cash back to his boy and i told him i can't force people to buy it and didn't want to be sitting on it for to long so that he would be giving me shit about getting the money. Stiv suggested that i could just pay out of my "savings" if need be to which i roundly told him to fuck off, if that was the case why couldn't he pay out of his "savings"? As i pointed out i wasn't the one making four bills on a pound and besides i stated, i didn't have as much money as he thought. In poker one would call this a bluff, the money was piling up for both of us we just didn't want to have to pay up front and understood that one moment of bad luck and we were back to being broke, be it cops or enterprising hoods tossing the monkey wrench into the works. The relationship between Stiv and i was becoming more contentious as we struggled with the power dynamic. We both needed each other but the fact was i could always get by as a nickel-dimer at this point, back to my roots selling eigths and quarters and ounces. Without me Stiv had a great connection and no way to move it and no one he actually trusted to do so. Yet i needed Stiv in the sense that his connection gave me the means to be neighborhood kingpin, make serious bank and eliminate the supply problem faced by most mid-level dealers. Not many people in the game would have put up with his high-strung anxiety bullshit but unknowingly i had honed my people skills to Zen master levels. Do the math and project out the numbers and Stiv and i both had six figure incomes.
And yet it seemed as if i could sling weed in my sleep. I was now five years into my latest stint and when added to my previous three forays into the game i was now going on almost eight years of experience in the weed game, a fucking lifetime in this business. The business was rolling right along and expanding at rates some might consider as exponential, other than a few collection problems, see the Billy Goat (more on that later), it was running smoothly on all cylinders. Supply keeping up with demand and demand getting higher all the time, no pun intended.
The real issue our hero had to deal with was Veronica and what to do about her. Things between them had become comfortable, a pattern of meetings at her place that almost always involved sex, nights spent gazing starry-eyed at each other while she worked the club, but in the comfort there was an unsettling feeling that came over our protagonist, meaning me. There was the age gap. That decade gave me sweaty palms and for all my cocksure posturing as the ranking hood of North Oakland i was worried. How did i hold onto her? I knew quite well that at twenty i would not want to be settling down with some older woman who hid me from the world because it threatened the foundation to her business. The fact was i'd want to be out partying and having a grand old time which is what a normal person that age would do. It's not like at thirty i was a grand-dad and the truth was i could party most young bucks right into bed and keep going for another day or two but i knew the routine we had fallen into could be a threat to my fragile kingdom. One could say i was vulnerable... and it scared me, vulnerability being a serious threat in my current occupation.
And so i continued to ignore any signs of cracks in the foundation. At this point Veronica seemed more than happy to spend a night in with me where we regularly took Ecstasy and rolled around in her bed. She seemed pleased when i showed up for an afternoon or early morning session but the fact was i could see how this could see how this looked. I didn't consider her some kind of sex toy but it very much be construed that way. I was addicted to her. To the way she looked when her body was racked by orgasm, the dilating pupils and faraway expression that washed over her, i was addicted to her touch, to her lips, to her being and yet somehow i wouldn't throw it all away in the name of, for lack of a better word, love. Power will darken the soul and each passing week the power seemed to grow and that soul of mine got a little darker. Maybe the only thing i really loved was the business. Maybe i was no better than a fucking robber baron interested only in lining my pockets and ruling my little corner of the world. Hood famous. If Veronica walked there would be another woman to sleep with other than the one i lived with, i knew it, she knew it. I was viewed as a bit of a prize down at Chez Anthony's, info that would come to light later on, of course that didn't matter at the time, all i wanted was her.
Amazingly i was never worried when Veronica would tell me about her nights out at the after-hours clubs. She had a moral compass and a sense of ethics that she brought with her from that small town. How does an ex-stripper turned bartender who is involved with a weed dealer who lives with his girlfriend have ethics? Easy. It was apparent in my pursuit of her when she had her hoodrat beau, she wouldn't return my advances though she enjoyed them and she explained that she was not one to play around. If there was any corruption of her lovely soul it was due to the company she kept, me. One could dub me a bad influence or just another asshole male wielding power in his world, taking what he wanted and leaving a path of destruction in his wake. At the time it made no difference as long as i was satisfied.
But things were beginning to bubble up... there was more talk about how she wished i could stay over, to sleep at her place, about the guilt that she sometimes felt knowing she was the so-called "other woman", how we had to be careful when we were out other than when she was at work... i, of course, did my best to placate her and turned on the charm offensive, would tell her i understood and that i was trying to work things out, never saying i had some sort of exit strategy from my current relationship but vaguely hinting at it. A fucking lie as my main concern was always the gig. I wanted everything and felt i was entitled to it. I wasn't but i didn't fucking care. My casual way to end these talks was to kiss her while moving her towards the bed or couch or whatever flat surface i could find, fulfill my carnal needs, get dressed and slip out the door before the conversation started back up. And for awhile it worked.
November in the Rust Belt is a grey and dreary time, the days getting shorter and colder, the leaves all dead and brown. This whole affair had started at the end of summer, my favorite time of year, the gorgeous and warm days of September that gave way to cool and pleasant nights. It continued into October and the vivid and vibrant turning of the leaves, the deep greens turning to fiery oranges and passionate reds. The seasons were driving us, which direction i didn't know but i knew that change was always coming, for better or worse i didn't know... but i knew that somehow it would encompass both, better and worse. The November clouds had gotten lower and were moving closer, turning my gaze towards them the stinging wind made my eyes water.