Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Last Call, Last Stand Part 11

I've found, in the Stygian social tomb that is the greater drug culture in good ol' Indiana, that only three kinds of people really smoke rollies-stoners, cheap bastards and old wannabe cowboys. Note that none of these categories is mutually exclusive. The stoner has papers, is comfortable rolling joints already, and has no problem with an unfiltered smoke. That distinctive zeppelin shape is their tell-even their cigarettes look kind of like joints, fat but even and twisted at the ends. Cheap bastards are another story-they want a real cigarette, but the prices are too high, so they roll their own. They usually use those rolling machines, even those insertable filters-a straight, neat smoke that almost looks like a real one. And the third category is easy to spot too-they are the only ones that make rolling a cigarette look like a hardass move, like rolling a quarter across your knuckles in a dime western. Their cigarettes usually have that pregnant bulge that comes when you roll one up on the fly while pretending not to be watching it-fat towards the front with a retard taper at the back.

You know how some chinese guys in old kung fu movies can tell your style and your master right away, by watching you throat-chop about a dozen of their henchmen? Jon Mackey is that guy but with cigarettes. Everything I needed to know about Cristobol, I knew by watching him break up tobacco from a pile of cigarette butts and stuff them down in a rolling machine with a scrounged filter. He was in the cheap bastard camp for sure.

Well, okay, not quite everything I needed to know. As I came up to the counter, rain dripping off my goatee, I noticed a notched machete and a sawed off double barrel sitting openly on the counter, right next to where his hands were. He was also smoking inside-a no no due to city ordnances, but something in me told me that the EXISE cops weren't going to be busting any balls today. And thank God for that.

"How much for a carton?" I said. There weren't many cartons left behind him. I wanted to think that there were boxes waiting to be unloaded in the back, but I doubted it. With my damp finger I pointed to a carton of Marlboro smooths up at the top, still unopened.

"Three hundred bucks," he said. He didn't sound happy about it either, but he was breaking up cigarette butts into a rolling machine; I couldn't find it in me to be mad at him. Still, I was given cause to ponder, at that strange moment while I rummaged through my pockets for an empty cigarette pack containing my cash, just how quickly the ol' free market catches up. It was a signifigant chunk of my not unlimited ready cash; I had about four grand in that ubitiquous petty dealer denomination-crumpled twenties. But I'll be damned if I would touch another of those god awful unfiltered rollies I'd been smoking while I watched Phebe sleep.

She had woken up less than an hour ago; I want to say the lack of filters on my cheap rollies was intolerable, but it was really that I couldn't take looking at her any longer. I had shaken her awake-this was just before 6 am and dawn was rising to stare coldly at us through my barred windows-and told her I was going out for cigarettes. I had strapped on a belt with my bowie knife in a sheath and tucked the pistol mexican style in my pants, but in truth nobody bothered me as I slogged three blocks through the rain to get more cigarettes. She hadn't commented, but I could see my own failure in her hurt gaze as I left her groggy and alone. God knows how tired she must have been-but her ass in the air in front of me was driving me just as batfuck crazy as that god awful brown rollie film that lingers on your lips after you smoke one.

"You didn't even flinch," Cristobol said with a grin. He took down the pack, counted my money, and tucked it into his pocket. All things considered, I don't regret not saying a thing when he bypassed the register entirely. "Been a hell of a night, mang." He lit up his own ersatz cigarette, a veritable melting pot of detrius wrapped in white paper and set aflame-much like our fair city. I lit one up as well, tearing into the pack like a virgin ass in prison.

"Supply and demand, man," I replied. Cristobol glanced towards the storefront windows approximately every seven seconds. Funny the things you notice when the adderol is still raking your brain hard with all 951 of it's alertness inducing claws. Taking a deep drag, I considered the machete. The notches were not ritual-they looked like hard use notches, and the black was worn off the blade in a few places. "Guess some people take that price bitching too far."

He sat back on a stool and ashed on the floor; again, I never thought less of him for it. Then again, when you've recently started repenting the lifetimes worth of abuse you have heaped on your fellow man (and woman) I find you aren't as likely to cast stones. That greenhouse glass shreds you to ribbons as its falling. Discretely I popped an atavin; I was going to be crashing out again really soon. Meanwhile, Cristobol leaned back, stretching his legs. "Not yet, but the TV says everybody is..." Here he looked up towards the TV, which was showing the emergency broadcast system. "Well, the tv don't say shit now. Off the air."

My own harsh laughter surprised me; guess the old Jon Mackey never wandered too far. "They got CBS, huh? I wonder how that fat fuck pundit did when theory became fact." Cristobol's return look was blank; I don't think he was following me and in truth I wasn't following myself that well-lack of sleep, stress and a delicate cocktail of uppers and downers was impairing my debonair wit. Then again, why would I waste my debonair wit on a dime store clerk?

He was looking at my pill bottle with some interest. "Gryffa?" he inquired, and I shook my head. I rattled the bottle to indicate it was pills. 'Gryffa' was a rare term for most mexicans I have found-'mota' is much more commonly used, but a lot of south americans use it. Just another little rumination on the sick culture I have immersed myself in-not mexicans, dopers.

"I have a little though-you want to make a trade?" He finished his cigarette at the same time as me; we both dropped the butts into an empty soda can with a hiss.

"Whatcha want?" He gestured to the store, but it was mostly empty.

"Mmmm. Another carton would do-you got more smooths?"

A pause as he turned and looked under the counter. "No-some black labels under here though. Salems."

"Ugh, that's a douche cigarette. What else?"

"Parliment lights? American Spirit Yellows?" Still listening, I groaned at those two choices, lit another of those fucking candy tasting smooths, and took a deep, dry drag. "Um, Kool milds?"

"That'll do," I said. "What do you want for a carton?"

He considered that one for a moment. I took the opportunity to study him. Big motherfucker, at least six feet, with some bad tattoos but not gang or prison tats. About 35, a veterano for sure. Some long pink scars that were a red flag-almost all on the hands and fingers. Getting a little soft around the middle, but Jon Mackey's number one rule when dealing with Mexicans is "Don't fuck with the ones who have machete scars." He was known to me, of course-I came to this bodega a lot; they never asked questions about rolled up bills. I decided I could trust him on his word.

"How 'bout a QP?" he said probingly. I laughed in his face; I could tell a bluff.

"Ain't no weed trucks comin' in either, ese," I said. The smooths were like a crisp mint encased in dry ashes as I sucked it down, so glad for a proper filter that I was setting a record for my own chain smoking.

He backed off that one immediately. "How 'bout an O?"

"An O is more reasonable, but still-even pre flood it would be worth what you're gouging for these motherfucking cartons." Looking around the store, my eye flickered to something in the back corner. "What about the carton, and that right there?" I pointed towards a rack of beef jerkey, still mostly there, all price marked up to forty bucks for a package.

It was Cristobol's turn to laugh at me. I didn't mind; I understood the game we were playing now. Jon Mackey on the field of glorious battle was a joke, but Jon Mackey in the smokey backroom negotiation was motherfucking weapon X. "Shit no, starving motherfuckers all over this city, holmes. Price'll only go up."

"Maybe, but you can't eat money, or smoke it either." I didn't really have an ounce on me-it is a fool that carries that kind of weight for no reason-but I made a production of zipping my shoulderbag up anyway. He had a pretty good poker face, but I could see his eyebrows twitch like he wanted to frown; he was considering it.

"Fuck it," he said finally. He started to hand me the carton, but I declined.

"Let me go get my shit," I said, elation riding like a herd of elephants across my brain. There were probably forty or fifty one pound packs of jerky on that rack; Phebe would be pleased at the addition to our food supply, and perhaps best of all, we could go a little longer without starving-maybe enough enough time for me to really get to know her. Weird, how important that sounded right now.

Cristobol looked over to the windowagain, eyes never still. It looked like he had had an interesting night, all right. As I got up to leave, he didn't offer to shake my hand, and I didn't offer to shake his-my daddy always used to say that between real men, a nod means as much as a handshake. I read once that a handshake started out as a way to make sure a guy didn't go for his gun when you greeted him. But we both had guns and there we were, agreeing on a deal anyway.

The rain dampened my cigarette as I stepped outside and started hoofing it immediately. It sounds lame, but I rehearsed how I was going to tell Phebe about securing the extra food-for one, she didn't know about the whole 'scumbag ho smackin' drug dealer' thing, and for two, I really really really needed to impress her after my, um, lackluster performance last night.

Man, I could practically hear my dad rolling in the aisles over that one.

So she kind of caught me off guard when I saw her outside, still trying to decide between "Hey" and "What's up?"

She was piling a ten gallon bucket on top of another ten gallon bucket, and sealing the middle with some inner tube. She didn't notice me in the driving rain, as I leaned against the rough damp bricks and watched her for a few moments. It was nice; the air was getting bitterly cold and steam was rising from her red face while she struggled to get the inner tube around the buckets.

"Whatcha doin?" I inquired politely, making her jump. One hand was on her glock in that shoulder holster. I noticed the shotgun we'd "salvaged" after our previous little adventure leaning up in the doorway as well.

She relaxed slowly-unsurprising, I'm sure her nerves were as ragged as mine. "Oh. Jon. I'm, uh, rigging up a water filter. Check it out." She tilted the two buckets over some and showed me; there was a small hole at the bottom of the top bucket, with something covering it at the bottom. Water was already gathering in there and trickling down into the bottom bucket. "I couldn't afford a good one, so I just bought some of those replacement filters and kept this around ready to rig up."

Smoke rolled around my face through the rain, though the cigarette was so wet that I really wasn't enjoying it anymore. "Why the inner tube?" I pointed to where the inner tube was rolled up and tightened around the area where the two buckets met.

"Keeps dirty water from getting in through the cracks," she replied, and shivered a bit. It was getting much colder. The reptile part of my brain was drawing my eyes to her hard nipples under that tank top.

"Good thinking I guess. Why now, though?" I was looking elsewhere by now, watching my cigarette butt float down the sidewalk, gently down the stream between my feet. When it was gone I focused on my soggy toes.

She grunted, rolled the four foot tall contraption upright, and turned to face me. "Brown water from the tap-and a sewage smell. They're on the radio advising people not to drink tap water since there are a bunch of busted sewer lines now. So did you get your cigarettes?"

My stomach queased a little at the idea of the mayhem that little development would probably cause, but really I was feeling good about my chances now that I had cigarettes. "Yeah, and I am about to go trade the guy for a few more-and a rack full of beef jerky." Briefly I explained about the inflated prices, Cristobol and the gas station. I left out that I was trading for mota, and she didn't ask-really she was too busy trying to get that monstrosity to stand up in the rain and high wind. As an afterthought, I grabbed a couple spare, um, magazines for my pistol on the way out.

It turned out to be a good idea.



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