Fiction: Tomorrow's Gonna Go Off
By John Brady
Dicky walked out to the end of the Venice pier. He set the knife down and peered over the railing toward the night ocean.
Lots of water moving tonight. The swell was building. Dicky didn’t really need to see the waves to know that. He could sense it. Feel the power vibrating right up the concrete pylons. It would be going off in the morning. Jake would have killed it. Shredded those richie-rich kooks right out of the water. Fuck them for crowding up the waves. They didn’t belong here. Not like Dicky and Jake. This should be their patch.
Dicky glanced down at the knife. Against the railing’s dried gull droppings and weathered tags, the blade gleamed softly. He didn’t want to touch it now. Jesus, Jake, he thought, why did you have to be so goddamn dumb?
“Hey get your hands off him, you little shit!” The lifeguard bent close and hissed the command. There were a couple of moms with their small kids a bit down the beach, and they didn’t need to hear him cussing out the boys, even if they were only little grommets fighting about whatever beach rats like them fought about.
Dicky ignored the lifeguard. He was intent on choking Jake to death. He never wanted to be called Dick the Prick again. He never wanted Jake to snake him on another wave again. But his small hands couldn’t deliver on the malice lighting his heart on fire. He had to settle for digging his fingernails into the soft flesh of Jake’s neck. Dicky just about shivered with satisfaction at the howl of pain he scratched out of Jake.
The lifeguard’s blow was well placed and well calibrated. Quick too. He kicked sharp and short from the knee, catching Dicky in the stomach right below the ribs and hard enough to make him gasp and loosen his grip.
Sensing that the advantage had swung his way, Jake pushed Dicky off and lay there rubbing his neck. Dicky panted next to him, holding his stomach. By looking at them, you couldn’t tell they were both 12. They would have been in the same grade too if Dicky hadn’t been held back because he couldn’t figure out long division. Dicky was a full foot shorter and 25 pounds scrawnier than Jake. But small as he was, the little prick fought hard. Jake had to give him that.
Nursing their wounds, the boys watched as the lifeguard turned back to the two moms. He wanted to see if they had seen the violence and if they understood and embraced its purpose: to enforce the boundaries between people like them, people who belonged and who should be here, and people like these asshole kids, people who deserved to be cursed at and kicked. The moms saw his look and, pleased by it, momentarily forgot the small children building castles at their feet and the husbands coming home to them that evening and smiled their excitement at the possibility, however remote, of more and, just as importantly, that they understood why what had just happened needed to happen.
Without a doubt, Dicky and Jake were white trash remnants of Venice’s poorer past, low-class barnacles clinging to the neighborhood’s last run-down stretches as the scouring tide of gentrification rose without pause around them. Their homes were broken and helmed by adults who had been forced to raise themselves, done so poorly and were now visiting that same fate on the next generation. Any access to culture they enjoyed was unlocked by the buttons on the TV remote. They lived crimped lives where the promise of opportunity glimmered faintly far off on the horizon and really was only a mirage. Yet this didn’t mean they didn’t understand the ways of the world. They couldn’t forgo this knowledge; they didn’t have that luxury. Attuned to the codes of the adult world, they sensed the signal that sparked between the young man and the two women. They knew what it meant. And because the codes they were learning included the code of cruelty -- how to inflict it and how to survive it -- they knew how to turn that fleeting exchange of looks to their advantage.
“Ooooh, Lover Boy,” Jake crooned in a just shy of puberty falsetto. “Looks like he wants to suck some rich, white lady titties.”
Dicky giggled as the lifeguard wheeled back around to them. He twisted his face into an exaggerated grimace of menace, a mocking mirror of the guard’s own look.
Jake, lowering the pitch of his voice and adopting a reasonable tone, suggested, “Hey, why don’t you leave us alone and go try and fuck them. That’s what you want to do anyway.”
The guard took a step toward them and made to kick again. The kick wasn’t coming from the knee this time. Incensed by their knowing insolence, the guard wound up from his hip, hoping to put this foot right through Jake’s chest. The lifeguard was fast, but Jake was faster. He sprang up and threw a fistful of sand into the guard’s eyes. Blinded and surprised, the guard’s blow went wide of the mark and the momentum of the missed kick took him off his feet. He flopped hard to the sand.
Jake didn’t laugh with the triumph of having gotten away with something. He laughed with the satisfaction of having delivered something richly deserved. He said to Dicky, “Come on, dipshit, we gotta go.” Dicky liked the sound of that weand scrambled to his feet and ran after Jake.
The two moms, disenchanted, turned away from the guard and, shading their eyes with slim, smooth hands, watched the boys go instead. As they ran farther away from the water -- chattering, laughing, weaving the threads of their just shared experience into a new bond -- the sand got hotter and Dicky and Jake’s strides got longer, their touches on the sand shorter. To the moms, they looked like fauns flitting, even flying, toward some momentarily carefree place.
Leaving the beach, Dicky and Jake headed to the boardwalk and started goofing on people in the crowd and the merchants selling shitty souvenirs. Walking along, they’d stop short in front of groups of tourists, hands on hips and their bare, skinny chests defiantly puffed out. They’d refuse to move out of the way and then laugh when the visitors, either irritated or befuddled, were forced to walk around them. Jake sauntered up to an incense stall and asked the owner if he had any incense that smelled like farts. Dicky did him one better and asked for the pussy-scented sticks, laughing hard, despite his sore gut, as the owner cursed them out and told them to piss off. They skulked around the edge of the crowds gathered around the buskers, looking for couples. They took turns daring each other to pat the women on their asses, trying to trick them into thinking their boyfriends had done it, seeing if they got all mad or copped a feel back and not knowing themselves which they wanted to see more.
Then after a while, Jake started getting ahead, tugging steadily at their connection and making Dicky jog to catch up. He wasn’t really listening anymore either. When Dicky asked him who his favorite Laker was, he said, “Horace Grant” and didn’t even react when Dicky told him no way did he believe him about that because who says Horace Grant and not any of the much more obvious and true choices.
Jake had gone ahead again and Dicky took some quick, skipping steps to catch up. He grabbed Jake’s arm, “Hey, let’s go get some food. I’m hungry.” Dicky liked Jake's reply, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.”
Dicky was the one to jump ahead this time. “Come on, follow me,” he said over his shoulder. “You got any money,” Jake called after him, following Dicky’s lead. Dicky laughed, “Don’t worry about it, Brah. I got it handled.”
Dicky hit the door on his way out so hard that its little bell didn’t tinkle. It squealed. Racing past Jake, chip bags clenched under each arm and a six pack of soda in his hand, eyes as wide as his grin, he laughed, “Come on, dipshit, we gotta go!” Jake knew a shoplift when he saw one and tore around the store’s corner after Dicky. The two boys ran up the street, Dicky leading the way whooping, running fast, even almost skipping with excitement and accomplishment. They both looked back to see if they had any pursuers. No one materialized to follow them and after a while they slowed to a trot and then soon after walked.
“You live around here?” Dicky asked.
“Yeah, just a few blocks.”
“How about we eat this stuff at your place?”
Jake shrugged, “Sure.”
Dicky moved some dirty dishes out of the way and spilled the chips and soda from his arms onto the little round table in the apartment’s kitchenette. He flopped down into the metal folding chair next to the table and exhaled loudly. His excitement from the heist hadn’t burned away and on top of that he was now curious about being in someone else’s place. He wasn’t the kind of kid who got invited over to other people’s houses. He was poor, but not in the way that elicited the pity invites from the middle-class kids and their parents. The line of dirt that would appear on his neck and persist for days at a time ensured that. The other end of the middle school social spectrum was equally indifferent. Those kids -- the occupants of the problem child lane -- thought he was too scrawny and too much of a pest to be invited to join their juvenile schemes or participate in their practice crimes.
He tore open the chip bag with an eager pull and thrust a handful into this mouth. Between chomps, he gestured to the lack of any other furniture in the kitchen and asked, “Where do your parents sit?”
Jake, who had been standing stock still in the middle of the adjacent living room, walked over and separated a soda from the plastic rings. Holding it, he said, “It’s only my mom and me and she’s not around much. She works a lot.” Then he gave the can a couple of vigorous shakes and opened it inches from Dicky’s face, drenching him and the wall behind him in a spray. He put the can down and got close to Dicky’s dripping face. He wasn’t laughing. “Don’t ever do that again.”
“What? What?” Dicky, who was too perplexed to be mad. “I can’t ask where you sit?” He almost laughed out loud. It was too funny. Why would Jake give a shit about that?
Jake didn’t join in his almost mirth. “No, dumbass, don’t ever steal like that.”
Dicky did laugh this time, finally wiping the sticky soda off his face. He had thought he had blown it by breaking some rule of being in someone else’s house and here was the real reason -- a reason he could hardly believe -- Jake was just a chickenshit.
“Why not,” he laughed. “You never stolen anything?”
Jake reached for the can, and Dicky wondered if he was going to get doused again. Jake swirled the last remnants and swallowed them. He belched. “What do you think? Of course, I’ve boosted shit. But I don’t steal from that store and you don’t either if I’m around. My mom shops there.”
Dicky, pretty sure the soda showers were over, wasn’t having it. “So who cares if your mom goes there. You afraid of your moms?”
Jake stood still again and his eyes flickered briefly with fear. “My mom doesn’t hit me too much, but when she hits me she hits me hard. And if she knew I stole from that store, she’d hit me hard. Understand?”, and as he asked, he took a short, sharp step toward Dicky, his fist balled and raised and made like he was going to punch him.
Dicky didn’t flinch. He was indeed a tough little prick. Unusually though for him, he was quiet and thought for a bit. “You want me to go?”
Now Jake did laugh. “No, dipshit, you gotta help me eat the evidence. He glanced at the wall clock, “And Cops is almost on.”
The dawn came through the blinds gauzy and gray to fill the small apartment. Salt air, not yet spoiled by the off-gasses of an awakened, busy Venice, slipped in through the open window too.
Jake’s mom, done with work and home now, stood by the just-closed front door. She was too tired to appreciate the cool softness of the moment. Swaying slightly, she surveyed the living room. Her gaze came to rest on Dicky, hands clasped across his bare chest, his body pressed into the couch against the morning chill. He slept soundly. Who’s this, she thought as she closed quickly over to the slumbering child. Brushing aside an empty chips bag with her foot, she poked him awake hard. “Wake up.”
Jake’s mom’s nails were sharp, and Dicky came out of his dreams fast, turning and propping himself up on his elbows. The low light, blurring the room’s edges and corners, did not do the same favor for Jake’s mom. The wrinkles around her mouth were tight and sharp. Her eyeliner traced a heavy black line across her lids. Her nearness overpowered the ocean air with smells Dicky knew well: cigarettes and liquor and musty sweat cut with the acrid odor of glass sanitizer. She smelled like exertion and a bar.
Jake’s mom stood over Dicky. Her arms at her side. “Why are you here?”
“I’m Jake’s…” Dicky stopped. He rubbed more of the sleep out of his eyes. He thought briefly about telling her about how Jake and he had watched TV late into the night. After Cops, a bunch of those prank shows with the jackasses before finding some Hong Kong karate movies. They finished trying to ape the best kung fu moves, facing each other on the coach, bouncing on the tired cushions while throwing mock kicks and punches. It had been a lot of fun. Instead, he said, “I’ll get going.”
“Good. You do that. Go back to your own mom.”
Dicky paddled lazily, pulling for one or two strokes before trailing his toes in the cool water. He let himself be rocked by the nascent waves flowing on beneath him. He turned to watch them roll toward the sand. Then he closed his eyes and let his face be warmed by the sun. The warmth felt good. He liked it.
Then turning away from the sunlight, he snapped his gaze back to the horizon. He wanted to catch waves and gawking at the shore and sunbathing wasn’t the way that worked. He looked for those ripples that promised rides. Skimming over the top of a bulge of water, he saw a tasty bit of wave approaching from the end of the pier. Padding for real now, he drove his board through the water, arced into position and felt that delicious tug that meant the wave wanted him and that he was a breath away from freedom and speed. As he was popping up, an anticipatory grin already growing, a shape flashed into Dicky’s peripheral vision. “On it,” a guy shouted and dropped in and stole Dicky’s wave. Surprised, Dicky hesitated and the moment, his moment, was gone forever.
Waves have no heart. This one included. Only a second ago, it seemed ready to open up and deliver Dicky pleasure; instead, it turned and punished him. Exploiting Dicky’s hesitation, it clutched him and then threw him forward. Pursuing Dicky, it pushed and spun him through the water. After the wave was done with him, Dicky surfaced to watch the guy who had snaked him surf right to shore. He stepped off his board in the shorebreak. With a fluid motion, he picked it up and, knowing what he did and the value of what he stole, he turned to find Dicky. The saltwater sting in his eyes almost as irritating as the sting to his pride, Dicky made it easy for him, raising his arm high and flipping off the fucking thief. Board under his arm, the guy smirked at Dicky like he owned the place. Which of course he didn’t and which he was, to Dicky’s great delight, about to learn.
Jake had spied Dicky as he neared the tideline. It had been a while since he had seen the little shrimp around. Jake stood his board on the wet sand, leaned against it and watched Dicky. He saw what Dicky saw: the wave coming down from the end of the pier. He saw Dicky scratch for it and admired how fluid and fast he was. He also saw what Dicky didn’t see: the other guy, the one who was setting himself up to cheat Dicky out of a ride. Maybe he won’t actually do it, Jake thought. He’s just playin’ around. Dicky’s in position. He sees that. He’ll respect it. Then Jake watched as the guy didn’t. He watched him steal the wave and ride it to the sand. He watched him turn and seek out Dicky, and while Jake didn’t see the smirk, he didn’t need to. He could sense it the way the guy held himself. Whoever this barn’ was, he wasn’t from around there. Jake saw that. And when Jake saw that he knew the guy was a cocksucker who needed to learn a lesson. He put his board down beyond the reach of any thin, delicate fingers of water and foam that might wander up the beach and then he trotted quickly toward the guy, accelerating in a blur as he reached him.
Steadying himself in the white water, Dicky watched Jake run at the guy from behind and slam into him. Dicky took special pleasure in watching the kook’s head snap back. The force of the blow knocked him forward into the shallow water and Jake was on him in an instant, pinning him down. Grabbing a fistful of hair with one hand, he punched and punched the guy in the head. Then he stopped and grabbed some hair with his other hand and methodically ground down on the guy’s head. Face underwater, nose and mouth pressed hard into the sand, the guy panicked, flailing his arms and bucking his body trying to get Jake off him. Jake sat on him a few more precious seconds before standing up and taking a few steps away. The guy came up sucking for air. Jake looked on until his long, ragged gasps shortened and it seemed he could pay enough attention to listen. “You don’t belong here. If I ever see you out here again, I’ll make sure you don’t get any waves and then I’ll follow you in and finish what I started. Now, get out of here.” The guy turned away, retrieved his board and walked up the beach away from the ocean. Satisfied, Jake returned to his board and then headed out to join Dicky.
When he paddled up to him, he said, “Heya, dipshit, you can’t let dudes snake you like that.” He chuckled when Dicky stuck his chin out and pounded his chest. “I was going to take care of it. You didn’t have to.”
Jake laughed again, “Sure, sure.”
“No lie,” Dicky said, “I could have taken him.
“Hey, I know you can fight. How about just saying thanks.”
Straddling his board, Dicky sat upright and saluted a stream of water flying off his hand in a flourish, “Thank you, sir!”
“Whatever,” Jake said, aiming a splash of water at him. “Come on, tough guy, follow me to the other side of the pier, and I’ll introduce you to some of the other guys.”
The tin can out by the balcony’s railing: that was the sign. For the last few years, the process had been the same. If Dicky pedaled past and saw it, Jake’s mom was going to be out for a good long time and Dicky should go steal some stuff to eat and then come by. Jake’s mom used those cans as ashtrays. She’d stand at the balcony, the door open behind her so she could hear whatever was on the TV, leaning on the railing and smoking. She never ashed over the railing onto the pavement below but only ever in the can. She didn’t throw her butts over the side either. She’d crush them out with care against the can’s side and drop them in before taking it inside and putting it by the sink. Jake asked her once why she used those smelly cans at all when she could just ash outside and flick the dead cigarettes out into the gutter. The street was that close. He even made the motion with his arm and hand, hoping to show her how easy it would be. It’s something my mom taught me, she told him. People think smokers are dirty and you don’t need that. Because people think if you’re dirty, you’re probably bad too. That was her advice. Always said be neat with your cigarettes. Use an ashtray, and as his mom said this, she jiggled the can with a shrug of her shoulders as if to acknowledge that that can wasn’t quite fulfilling her mom’s mandate but it was close enough. His mom went on, “She even gave me a cigarette case once. Pretty fancy, his mom laughed. Gold. Even had my letters carved into it.”
“Do you still have the case?” Jake asked. He couldn’t remember the last time she had told a story about her own mom. Waving his curiosity away, she answered, “Nah, I pawned it. Didn’t get as much as I could have the pawnshop owner said on account of my initials. ‘Definitely, hurt the resale value,’ he said.” She turned back to the street, took a drag and lost herself in the stream of cars going by so near.
They were watching a Charles Bronson movie or something like that on one of the ash can evenings when the inspiration hit. It was early in the movie and the bad guys were robbing a bank. They all had shotguns. Those pump action kind. It was the moment in any movie robbery when the thieves have to establish their dominance, to let everyone know that they mean business. The leader of the gang strode to the middle of the bank with calculated, almost cartoonish menace. Instead of using both hands, he held the gun with one hand on the deep brown forestock and with a strong, practiced up and down snatch of the arm chambered a round. Then he shot a guard right in the belly. The movie was from the early 70s before they got the color of blood right. Instead of a lifelike crimson, it was a bright fireplug red and the director went all in. It sprayed everywhere.
Jake, who had watched intently as the robbers’ leader walked across the bank’s marble floor, jumped to his feet shouting as the pellets hit their mark. He climbed onto the coffee table, scattering chip bags and packages of jerky, as he pumped his arm up and down in an imitation of the robber. “Did you see that! Such a fucking boss move.”
Dicky tried to look around him at the TV. He wanted to see if the guard was really dead. He thought so. There was so much blood, but it was also the movies, so you never really knew, right? Maybe he had just enough life left in him to take out his gun and take a shot at one of the gang. Jake’s antics commanded his attention. He had jumped off the table and was now imitating the gangster’s rolling strut across the bank floor.
“Get out of the way. I can’t see,” Dicky tried to command.
Jake stopped right in front of the TV, turning to Dicky with his hands on his hips. “You don’t need to see anymore. That was it. That was so fucking cool!” And he again went through the motions of chambering a round and emptying the shotgun into the guard. Quickly and with exaggerated precision. His eyes shone and he was breathing heavily like he had just thrown some punches.
Dicky lazily waved a hand away. “I don’t know. It sorta looks like you’re jerking off.” And Dicky repeated the gesture, but closer to his crotch and screwing up his face in a look that was simultaneously ecstatic and murderous.
His breathing slowing, Jake barked out a laugh as he watched Dicky continue his jerky gun cocking. “Dude, seriously, we should get a gun and steal some money or dope or something. Not just shit like this,” and he gestured to the mess of food and cans of soda strewn around the couch.
Dicky stilled his arm and thought for a moment. “Yeah, okay.”
Jake was caught off guard. “Yeah okay, what?”
“Yeah, okay, let’s steal for reals. My dad’s got a shotgun in his closet. He thinks I don’t know, but I do.”
Dicky had drained all of the comic, macho and sexual energy out of his face. He sought and caught Jake’s eyes.
Jake blinked once and then said, “Yeah, let’s do it.”
“Yeah, let’s do it.” Dicky repeated.
“Star Wars? You’ve got to be kidding me!” Jake hissed as Dicky strolled up carrying the gun heavily wrapped in a bed spread festooned with Jedi Knights, light sabers and wookies. He would have shouted it but for the old lady waiting too at the bus stop. Dressed like she was going to church, even though it was only a Tuesday, she had pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes when Jake had rolled up in his torn jeans and dirty t-shirt. He flashed the same sweet and absolutely disingenuous smile he always flashed at teachers and other authority figures and then flipped her off when she turned away to look up the street for the bus.
“It’s all I had,” Dicky hissed back in protest as he saw Jake shoot a warning glance in the old woman’s direction. “What else was I supposed to use? My parents’? What if it got dirty and they asked why? Then I’d be busted for sure. I was using my head, Dude. Got to think ahead. That’s what criminal masterminds do,” he ended on a superior note.
Jake pulled Dicky further away from their future fellow passenger. “Yeah, well Mr. Crime Boss…” he trailed off before going on, “Wait, that’s your blanket? You still sleep with Luke-fucking-Skywalker? How old are you? Eight.”
“Fuck you,” Dicky said voice raised and then got quieter as the old woman looked their way. “16, same as you. And why not use this blanket? A blanket’s a blanket. It’s not like my parents are going to get me a new one. My mom says it still works.” He poked Jake in the stomach with the blanket-wrapped shotgun. “She’s right. It’s plenty warm.”
“Jesus, careful. You’ll shoot me.”
“Maybe I should, you asshole. I got the gun didn’t I? Like I said I would. What have you done? Where’s the car? Why we got to take the bus?”
“You know why. I don’t have a car. And you don’t neither.”
Their stalemate was interrupted when the old women turned to them, “Bus is coming, boys. Get your money out. This driver likes it when you have your money ready. Keep things flowing nice and smoothly.”
They both mumbled their thanks and dug in their pockets for change, Dicky squeezing his lethal bundle with one arm.
Jake flashed a glance at Dicky. Wrapped in the blanket it looked like a gun and it didn’t look like a gun. “Just don’t hold it like a gun, and I think we’ll be ok. If anyone asks, we’ll tell ‘em it’s a lamp,” he said.
Not really listening, Dicky nodded. What was Jake so worried about? When did anyone ever bother to ask them anything?
Lost in their individual worlds, none of the other passengers paid them any mind as Dicky and Jake marched to the back of the bus to sit down.
“What should we call ourselves,” Dicky asked Jake after a while.
They were headed to the Valley. They wanted to go somewhere where they most definitely wouldn’t be recognized. The Valley was about as far as their imaginations could go. They figured they’d find a 7-11, storm in, flash the gun and get out of there with all the cash they could carry.
Jake snorted. “A name? What do we need a name for?”
“Because it’s cool, you dumbass. Like in all those kung fu movies. All those gangs have bitchass names like the Blood Dragons or the Death Grip.”
Jake thought it over for a bit. “Okay, how about the Bitchin’ Villains?”
“Yeah, I like that,” Dicky enthused. “Hands up, it’s the Bitchin’ Villains,” and he made pistols with his fingers, dropping the gun with an audible thump of its stock against the bus floor.
Jake and Dicky froze. They waited for the probing stares of their fellow passengers. Consumed with seeking out the signs of progress toward their various destinations or scrolling through their phones, none of them bothered to look up. Dicky lifted the gun and hugged it tighter to himself.
They strode quickly into the store. Jake racked a round and yelled, “Hands up!” while Dickly yelled for good measure, “We’re the Bitchin’ Villains, motherfuckers, and this is a hold-up.”
The teenager behind the counter who wasn’t much older than the two of them didn’t seem phased. This wasn’t his first robbery, and given the general seediness of the surrounding neighborhood, would not be the last. Jesus, he thought to himself, the life of crime starts earlier and earlier these days. He knew the sound a real gun made and that shotgun was real for sure. He definitely didn’t want to get shot. He had a girl to hook up with after this shift.
“First time?” he asked as Jake leveled the gun at him.
“No,” he said and then quickly, “Yeah.”
The counter kid smoothed his apron again. “Thought so. I’ll give you a bit of a head start before I call the LAPD.” He opened the register and started putting the cash on the counter.
“Cool.” Jake lowered the gun.
“And maybe next time you do this bring a pillow case instead of a blanket. You know. To carry the money.”
Jake nodded as Dicky stepped up to scoop up the cash.
They tore down the darkened street and up a nearby alley. Dicky had tied the blanket around his neck so he had his hand free to carry their haul and it flapped sluggishly behind him. “We need a car,” he said.
“And a smaller gun, Jake said, the shotgun heavy in his hands.
The kid leaned against the back counter relieved it was over and watched them flee across the parking lot and around the corner. Those two weren’t hardened criminals. Jesus, Star Wars, he grinned to himself. They were more like run-of-the-mill skater kids tired of their boards who were trying some robbery on for size. That’s probably what he would tell the cops. “You know, officer, they were kids. Normal looking. Maybe a little thin. Kinda bad skin. Blonde hair a little on the greasy side.” Dealing with the cops couldn’t go on all evening. He wouldn’t say anything about the blanket. That would just lead to more questions. He didn’t want to miss his girl. He was pretty sure he was almost close to getting laid with her. Nope, no stories about Obi Wan bedspreads. Bitchin’ Villains was a pretty dope name. He wouldn’t tell the cops that either, though.
Jake and Dicky got a car thanks to the criminal justice system.
Marty leaned over and pushed the car door open. “Hop in, ya kooks, let’s go down to Huntington. The waves will be tasty there today.” Jake’s mom had a new boyfriend and he surfed. Or at least he thought he did. Marty also apparently thought being a surfer was a thing women were impressed by. And, at least in the case of Jake’s mom, one of them was.
Overestimating his powers as a waterman or not, Marty wasn’t like the other men Jake’s mom had inserted into their lives. To a dude, the others had always ignored Jake. They knew what they wanted and a kid hanging around in anything approaching close proximity was not it. Jake’s mom also made it plenty clear that buttering up Jake wasn’t going to get them into her pants any faster. Jake didn’t feel rejected by all of this inattention. He felt relieved. He didn’t want to be connected with his mom in these men’s minds. Because if he were and if -- really, when -- they got frustrated with her, chances would be high that when they unloaded that frustration, they’d be sure to take some of it out on him. And he knew that would hurt.
Marty seemed to have missed Jake’s mom’s memo or didn’t understand when he got it. Perhaps he was on some trip to play the age-defying fun-dad surrogate, a role made harder to play by, among other things, the soft roll of fat, tanned tawny as it was, that spilled gently over the waist of his board shorts.
Jake and Dicky contemplated Marty’s smiling face and the car’s open door, a combined expression of an invitation that they had until now successfully avoided answering. Not this time, though. Jake had warned Dicky. “We have to go with Marty,” he had said. Dicky wasn’t having it. “No way, fuck that, Brah. He’s such a douchebag. And he can’t even surf. All he does is piss around on that long board of his, getting in the way.” Dicky was right about all of it. Marty had a sweet longboard made by some big-time, old-school shaper down in San Diego. Didn’t matter. If there had been any magic in that shaper’s hands, none had flowed into the board. Marty still surfed like shit. Paddled around and around, catching only the small little tweeners and panic scratching to the horizon like a scared poodle whenever a big set came in.
Being right didn’t matter, though. Jake’s mom liked to hit, but she liked to pinch more. When Jake pissed her off or sometimes even if she just wanted to make a particular point, she’d twitch her arm out -- she was fast, so blindingly fast -- and pinch him. She wasn’t particularly choosy about where she pinched just so as it was soft skin and that it would hurt hard.
Jake grabbed Dicky’s arm and dug his fingers in. Jerking his chin in the direction of his other arm and the two bright red gouges in his bicep, he ordered in what sounded like a combination of drill sergeant and his mom, “We’re surfing with Maaaarty and that’s final.”
“Okay, okay,” Dicky shook himself free. Dicky was quick and caught the flicker of fear in Jake’s eyes. Rubbing his arm, “Just because your mom’s a bitch doesn’t mean you have to hurt me.” As he said, it stepped outside the radius of Jake’s fists.
“My mom’s not a bitch,” Jake replied, hands staying quiet at his sides.
Dicky didn’t bother to argue. He spit and asked, “Where does he want to go?”
“Down to Huntington . . .”
“Okay, but you sit up front and talk to him. I’m sitting in the back.”
“Yeah . . . okay.”
“And no classic rock on the radio. That shit is lame.”
“Anything else, your highness?” Jake asked.
Dicky paused in thought, a serious look crossing his face. “Yeah, if it turns out the real reason he’s doing this isn’t about making your mom like him more but because he likes boys, you’re the one who’s sucking his dick. Not me.”
Jake laughed. Dicky didn’t. He remained serious. “You just never know these days,” he said.
Jake came home one afternoon a few months later and found his mom sitting at the kitchen table. She was paging through a magazine. Jake flopped down on the couch. “Is Marty around? I saw his car in the parking lot as I came up. Dicky and I want to go down to Trestles. It’s supposed to be good this weekend. Can you ask him if he’ll take us?”
Jake’s mom kept her eye on the pages flipping by. “So having him around hasn’t been so bad, huh?” Jake reached up to move the curtain and glance out of the window above the couch. He couldn’t see as far as the blue reached. “I guess not. He’s a stupid kook in the water and always will be. Cool getting rides to good spots. That’s for sure. It’s Friday. You going out with him? Can you ask him?”
“No, we’re not going out. No, I’m not going to ask him. No, he’s not going to drive you anywhere. No. No. No. No more Marty. No more goddamn men. Just fucking, no!” She let her negation reverberate through their small apartment. Then she closed the magazine and placed both hands on it like it was something precious.
Jake didn’t say anything for a while. He glanced out the window again, but a rare cloud had floated in and he couldn’t see very far up into the sky.
“Did you like him?”
“I liked being with him.”
He found himself interested in who was responsible for this turn of events. “You tell him to go or did he tell you?”
“Nope, the cops picked him up. He was dealing, and they caught him with a lot. He’s going to be gone for a long time.”
Jake thought about that for a few minutes. His mom got up to look for her cigarettes and as she opened the door to smoke outside, he asked, “Can we use his car?”
“Don’t see why not. He left the keys here, and he’s not gonna use it where he’s going,” Jake’s mom said as she closed the door.
They didn’t use the car to rob stores like they had planned which had to do with how they got the gun.
They were coming back from a session north of Malibu when Marty’s future incarceration was only an apprehension he had to push down whenever he dealt. Uncharacteristically, he had surfed well. He had been feeling his board and caught some nice long rides. To celebrate, he stopped and bought some beer, jaunting out of the gas station an open can in hand and the rest swinging in their plastic rings at his side. Back in the car, he slipped two of the cold cans out and handed one to each boy.
Jake put a look of shock on his face and was about to strenuously protest when Marty cut him off. “Knock it off, buddy, it’s not your first and won’t be your last.”
The knowingness in Marty’s voice caught Jake up short. He and Dicky had accustomed themselves to Marty as a talkative goof. In the car after a session, he’d steer them home while narrating all of their waves. “And then Dicky stroked like a hero into that six footer, taking the drop like a true hellman before pulling into the sickest tube ever seen this side of the Banzai Pipeline,” were things that he would say, pitching his voice like a sportscaster with the boys as his reluctant and the roadway’s other drivers as his oblivious twin audiences.
When they surfed without Marty, Jake and Dicky would gleefully imitate his patter. They’d puff out their chests and deepen their voices and comment on their respective rides with sonorous calls of “Nice barrel, Bro!” and “That was a monster drop” and “Best ride bar none by Dicky Nickles.” They wanted their prattle to be cruel and anyone who heard it would have recognized two not-quite-yet young men who were reveling in being assholes about an older man they thought they hated. And if the listener was more sensitive than average, he might have heard something else in Dicky and Jake’s calls. Something quieter and softer and from longer ago when the boys were small but that they had forgotten or learned they had to ignore. This listener would have heard a desire to have someone like Marty out there to see that they were trying to live up to those words and surf that fast and well because they craved his attention and wanted to please him.
The drive back was slow, and they had time to feel the beer. Well into his second can, Dicky blurted out if Marty knew where to get a gun.
Glancing in the rearview mirror, he asked, “Why do you think I would?”
“I dunno. Before today I wouldn’t have,” and then he held up his beer and waggled it in the mirror so Marty could see, “But maybe I got you wrong and you’re cooler than I thought.”
Marty heard the sincerity in Dicky’s voice and breathed in. “Sure, I know a guy in South LA. Used to run with him in high school.”
Dicky belched loudly and Jake turned around and tried to punch him, “Jesus, you pig.” Dicky avoided Jake’s swings and belched again. Louder and longer this time.
Marty cut in, catching Dicky’s eye in the mirror. “Anyways, why you want a gun?”
Dicky finished his beer and dropped the can on the floor. He made pistols with his hands, spread his arms and started shooting -- bam, bam -- out the car windows. “Guns are cool, man!” And he told Marty about the Charles Bronson movie they had seen.
“Charles Bronson,” Marty repeated. All of the sportscaster was gone from his voice. He didn’t sound exactly fatherly. More like he was trying to sound like what he thought fatherly was. “You know that stuff isn’t real, right?”
“Yeah, shrug all you want. Guns only complicate things,” Marty said. “Believe me.” Anything fatherly was drained from his voice, and all that was left was the echo of the experience of knowing.
Jake had turned back to the front. He was sipping his beer, watching the beachfront homes go by. They didn’t look like much from the road. One plain garage door after the other. On the other side, he supposed, they must be something. And it must be something standing in the spacious living rooms or on the roomy balconies and gazing out on that wide, seemingly limitless horizon. He put his beer between his legs and turned to Marty, “Okay, they complicate things.” he said, “But what’s the name of your friend and where does he live?”
Marty told him.
“You two surf, huh.”
They had, in fact, been surfing. Down south in Seal Beach. Which had meant that they had to join the crawl up the 405 to get home. They had been suffering through one particularly slow patch when they approached an exit ramp. Whipping the car out of traffic, Jake accelerated down the ramp, saying in response to Dicky’s questioning look, “Come on, let’s get that gun.”
Now they were standing on the stoop in front of a well-kept house on a street with nothing particularly special about it in South LA talking to Desmond, Marty’s friend, through his screen door. Desmond had a hand on the screen door’s knob, and it wasn’t clear if it was there so he could open the door or hold it closed. He didn’t look like what Jake and Dicky had expected. Not that they had come into the transaction with a clear idea of how gun dealers dressed. Despite whatever prior vague associations they had about the personal appearance of weapons merchants, if they had been asked how they supposed they dressed, they would have been able to clearly state, “Not like this guy.” Desmond was wearing a robin’s egg blue terry-cloth polo shirt and gray polyester slacks with black loafers that had shiny gold buckles. He wasn’t wearing socks and that seemed to be on purpose. He looked like a teacher. Although one of the spiffy ones who taught art or French.
Jake, answered him, “Yeah.”
“You ever surf in San Diego or Baja,”
Dicky cut in. “Sure, all the time,” he lied. “Hell yeah, we surf up and down the beaches in Baja.”
Desmond appraised him. Blonde hair, bleached white by the sun and long, it was still damp from the ocean and had wetted a ring around the neck of his dingy t-shirt. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, each caked with a muddy ring of sand from the beach, as he waited to see if his lie had landed. Desmond knew he was lying and Dicky looked like he knew Desmond knew. Desmond saw that in his broad, open face and blue eyes, pale and wide like the winter sky. It was a face that Desmond would have said belonged to a nice kid except the kid with the nice face was standing at his front door telling lies.
It was hot on the stoop and Jake was growing impatient. Marty had probably been blowing smoke. This guy didn’t sell jack shit. “Why you ask? You want to paddle out with us or something?”
Desmond turned to Jake and assessed him too. A face of sharp features that didn’t look like they had ever softened but that had turned mean plenty of times. He stood there, feet wide, hands thrust into the back pockets of his faded boardshorts and his arms ropy and tense. How many boys and men like these two had Desmond come across? Life’s extras. Never in the center of the scene. Only at the edges. They moved in and out. There and then gone. You didn’t see them long enough to even be able to forget them.
“Holmes, how many homies you see out in the waves?” Desmond’s question wasn’t aggressive. Merely matter of fact.
Jake scratched a hand through his spiky hair. “Not many?”
Desmond heard the rise in his voice. “You asking or telling? Don’t you know?”
“Alright. Not many,” Jake said flatly.
“Not many? Where you locals at?”
“Venice pier,” Dicky broke in. “That’s our wave.”
“Venice? Shit. No blacks dudes in the surf there for sure.”
Dicky and Jake didn’t say anything. Dicky looked down at his hands and Jake stared off into the middle distance above the house.
“Might be advantageous to me that the two of you surf,” Desmond said. “Tell me first, what brought you to this part of the beautiful City of Angels?”
Jake kept any inflection out of his voice, “We heard you sell guns.”
Tightening his grip on the door, Desmond replied, “Huh, where’d you hear that.”
Dicky jumped in, offering, “Marty told us about you.”
Desmond didn’t just chuckle. He laughed out loud, taking his hand off the doorknob and leaning against the screen. “How is that guy?”
“He’s in jail,” Dicky said.
Desmond kept laughing. “Of course he is.”
“How did you cross his path?”
“He took us surfing,” Dicky said.
“Must of liked you then,” Desmond remarked. “He usually didn’t do stuff like that with, and pardon me for saying this, young ones like you.”
“It wasn’t us he liked,” Dicky assured him.
Desmond rubbed a hand over his face and started to grin again. “Which of your moms was he sleeping with?”
“Mine,” Jake said.
“She miss him?”
Jake shook his head.
“Good for her. Marty’s a good guy. Not a dependable boyfriend, though.” Desmond let that judgment sit for a second before he went on. “Why you want a gun?” He watched as his question wound Jake up tight.
“Hey man, I don’t think it’s really any of your business. You got one or not?” Jake huffed.
Desmond was in no hurry. “Thing you have to understand is that I have to do some due diligence. To answer your question, I do sell guns. But I don’t just sell to anyone. I have to look out for myself and my interests. I sell to someone and they get into too much trouble, it might just come back on me. You can understand that I don’t want that. From what I know, people get guns for two reasons: money and pain. They either want to use the gun to get money or to hurt someone.”
Dicky had been following Desmond closely. He wasn’t impatient like Jake. He liked listening to this guy. “Yeah,” he interjected after Desmond offered his thumbnail sketch of gun customers’ motives, “That makes sense. What do you make of kidnapping? Lots of times that starts out about money and ends up with somebody dying. What about that?”
Desmond seemed impressed and considered for a moment. “You’re on to something. I suppose sometimes it’s both. So really there are three reasons.”
Jake had had enough of this bullshit talk about outlawing. They’d get a gun somewhere else. He grabbed Dicky’s arm, “Let’s go.”
Dicky brushed him off. “Well, we want a gun for the first reason. We want to rob stores.”
“Tough way to make money,” Desmond said.
Jake had retreated off the stoop and was letting himself be pulled slowly to the car. Dicky stood there alone bouncing lightly on his feet. Desmond continued, “What if I had a way for you to make money another way than robbing stores.”
Conscious of Jake receding, Dicky waved him back toward the house. “I think we’d be interested. Still, we want a gun either way.”
Desmond opened the door. “Come on in. Let’s talk then.” Dicky turned and glared at Jake. “Come on!” he ordered before following Desmond into the house.
Dicky was walking back from a session when Desmond rolled up on him in a station wagon. It was an old one with fake wood paneling on the side and white wall tires with woven wire rims. Old, it was also immaculate. No dirt and the chrome gleamed so much it was almost hard to look at. It looked like the car a particularly fussy grandma would own.
“Hey there, Dicky,” Desmond said through the open window as the car slowed to match Dicky’s leisurely pace, “Seen Jake around?”
Dicky kept walking because Desmond hadn’t asked him to stop and because he wanted to get home. “Nope,” he said. He wasn’t lying either. Jake had made himself scarce. Which was strange. The waves were going off and had been for a few days. Normally, Jake would have been out there first thing. Dicky had swung by his place earlier, but it was dark. No can, no lights in the window. Nothing. Marty’s old car was gone too. Dicky didn’t play detective very long. There were waves and if Jake wasn’t going to claim his, Dicky would surf enough for both of them.
Desmond told the driver to pull over and then motioned for Dicky to stop. “Why don’t you get in the car, Youngblood. I’ve got something I’d like to discuss and the sidewalk in the middle of Venice isn’t the best place. Topic’s a bit sensitive,” he finished with emphasis.
Dicky gestured to the board, “I’ve got this.”
“And I’ve got this,” Desmond replied, sweeping with his hand to indicate the wagon. “The board’s short enough. It’ll fit in the back.”
In the three years that Dicky had been working for Desmond, this was the longest conversation they had had since that first day when Desmond told Jake and him what he wanted. After they came into the house that day, he had them sit in the living room. They sat on a big sofa that was covered in plastic while Desmond took a nice leather La-Z-Boy next to them. He didn’t rock in it or recline it, but sat forward, arms on his knees and focused on them the whole time. He only got up once to get them some lemonade. It was some of the tastiest Jake or Dicky had ever had. When Dicky smacked his lips in delight at the sweet sourness of the drink, Desmond told him that was none of that powdered stuff right there. I’ve got a special lemon tree in the back. “That’s the nectar of fresh Meyer lemons right there, young men,” he explained.
“I’m in deliveries,” Desmond told them.
“You mean like Fed Ex,” Dicky said, wanting to keep the dynamic of their porch conversation going.
“Prolly more like drugs,” Jake broke in.
Desmond didn’t flinch or otherwise react to Jake’s surly addendum. Instead he took it seriously. “Yes,” he went on matter-of-factly, “Sometimes the deliveries have drugs. But it’s rare. Very rare. And,” he held up a finger, “That’s missing the point. It’s not about whether what’s in the package is legal or illegal. That’s not why my customers choose me. They want discretion. That’s what they’re buying.” He looked at the two of them. “You know what that means?”
Jake answered first. “Dude, we’re surfers, not idiots. It means those customers of yours have secrets and they want them kept.”
Desmond winked at Dicky. “Your friend here . . .” and he wagged his finger in Jake’s direction, “Is a bit of a hard boy, but he’s right. He’s not dumb. My customers don’t want attention. And I’m always on the lookout for couriers who can blend in. Thanks to Marty, I think I maybe found two today. I do a lot of business up and down the coast. Laguna Beach. Newport. La Jolla. Even down in Baja. Now if I or one of my associates from around the blocks here were to go there . . . Well this country being what it is, and by that I mean, deeply racist, we would stand out. People don’t expect black men there. They’d notice us. You two, though? Two white boys, even scruffy ones like you, looking for waves? You’re as common as crickets on a warm summer night. No one would pay you any mind. And that is exactly what I need. I’d pay you for each delivery. Even pay you a mileage allowance. And once you were done, you could go ahead and surf all you wanted. How does something like that sound?
Turned out, it sounded good and was easier money than robbing corner stores would have turned out to be. At first, Desmond kept them on a short leash, sending them on quick deliveries. As they showed they knew how to get from point A to point B without fucking up the packages or anything else, he started to give them longer trips. Jake would usually pick up the package and then grab Dicky on the way to wherever it was. They’d call Desmond to let him know when they had dropped things off and then they’d go surf. Sometimes Dicky would go with Jake to pick something up. If Desmond saw him out in the car, he’d wave. Not always, though. And he certainly didn’t come out to shoot the breeze like he seemed to want to do now.
After Dicky put his board in the back, he slid into the backseat. “Head toward LAX,” Desmond said to the driver as they pulled away from the curb.
When they were just past the airport, Desmond pointed toward the ocean and told the driver to turn. The road they got on was wide and straight. Desmond slapped the driver on the shoulder and shouted, “Gun it! Let’s race some planes.” The wagon resisted at first and then all that old Detroit metal heeded the demands of internal combustion and they sped toward the water. Faster and faster they went. Dicky rolled down the window and watched as they pulled even with a plane starting its lumber down the adjacent, parallel runway. The wind whipping tears into his eyes, Dickly leaned out the open window and threw his arms wide. Faster, faster, he thought. Drive faster until we fly too.
They crested a small rise, and for a second, it felt like they really had left the earth. Desmond, whooped, “Goddamn that’s some driving,” and then quickly added, “Slow down, slow down, you’ll miss the turn. There, there,” he pointed, “Turn there.” Braking hard, they fishtailed onto a bumpy service road as the plane they were racing pushed loudly into the sky above them. They slid to a stop in front of a chain link fence. Desmond was laughing hard.
He calmed down and turned to Dicky. “Come on Dicky, let’s go for a walk.” Still chuckling as he left the car, he said to the driver, “I’ll be back soon.”
“What is this place?”
“Never been here before?” Desmond confirmed as Dicky shook his head.
They ducked through a hole in the fence and started up a winding road. It looked like any old suburban street, except the asphalt was riven with cracks. Tall grass browned by the sun grew out of them like lashes. “This used to be one of the most desirable neighborhoods in LA,” Desmond started to explain. He stopped and cast his arms wide. “Imagine this place, Dicky, before there was an airport. It was just dunes and sun and ocean. Every single day. Some of the biggest houses were here and the richest people lived in them.” They topped a small hill and could see the other streets along the ridge. “Notice how the streets curve. When you’re rich, Dicky, you don’t need straight streets. You’ve got time to wind through life because other people are hurrying on your behalf. That’s the place to be. Other people having to move fast because you can tell them to.” A jet rumbled overhead and Desmond paused. “You know before the jets like that came, I bet people really liked living out here.” He swept the empty development. “I bet they sat out on their patios and under their verandas and watched the planes flying off to the horizon, propellers spinning, the sun glinting on the aluminum skins of their wings. That must have been beautiful. That gleam. That’s what progress and the future looked like and they got to watch it every day” Another jet flew over them, drowning out the excitement in Desmond’s voice. “But then the jets came along and it got too fucking loud and they moved away.”
Dicky followed the jet as it turned south. He pointed to the plane. “Do you think they can see us?”
“Huh, no. They’re not paying attention to us. They’re thinking about where they’re going and they’re all excited and happy. Or maybe they’ve just left and they’re sad and crying. And some of them are scared shitless and gripping the armrests real tight like. The two of us down here? Nah, we don’t matter. Those passengers are going someplace. We’re still here.”
They came to a cul-de-sac, walked to the end and stood on the curb. Dicky saw the lines of swell streaming to the beach. Christ, it was going to be so good tomorrow. Even better than today. Desmond put his hand on Dicky’s shoulder and Dicky was reminded how tall Desmond was. His grip was strong.
“Why do you surf, Dicky?”
Dicky lost himself in the sea’s liquid rhythm for a moment before answering. “I dunno. It’s fun. Why do people do fun things?”
Desmond looked out to the ocean as hard as Dicky was, trying to see what he saw. “Fun’s a good reason. Can’t be the only reason, though.”
Dicky counted the waves in a few sets. “It’s constant. The waves never stop. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes they suck. But they are always there. I like being sure of that.”
Desmond nodded. He stood with Dicky for a minute or two and they both watched the waves wash in and listened for their distant crash. Compared to the jets overhead, the sound was no more than a whisper. They both tried to hear it anyway.
“Okay that’s enough. It’s been good to talk with you Dicky. I’ve enjoyed it. Now I’ve got work to do,” and Desmond pivoted and drove his fist into Dicky’s stomach. Dicky doubled over and Desmond kicked his legs out from under him. He put his knees on Dicky’s chest, holding him down. “You and Jake were supposed to bring me a package yesterday. A very valuable package. You didn’t, did you? Where is my package Dicky?” and as Desmond asked he put all his weight into his knee.
What was Desmond talking about? They didn’t do a delivery yesterday. The last one was a week ago and it went off without a hitch. They took a package down to Newport. A repeat customer who gave them something to take back to Desmond. The surf hadn’t been all that and Jake had something to do, so they’d gone straight back to South LA and dropped off the stuff for Desmond. Dicky had seen it with his own eyes. Now he’s talking about a package from yesterday? Dicky motioned for Desmond to let off of his chest. He couldn’t talk and it felt like his ribs would break and stab him in the heart.
He rasped, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. We didn’t make a run yesterday.”
Desmond stood up. “Talk to Jake, Dicky. Get me my stuff by tomorrow or you’re both dead.” He kicked Dicky quick and sharp in the stomach and started to walk away.
Balled up on the ground, Dicky called after him, “I don’t have it!”
Curled up against the pain, Dicky felt the crumbled asphalt and dry weeds tickle his cheek. He hurt too much to get up. He lay there and eventually he fell asleep.
He woke up to turbines screaming overhead. It was dark and against the blackness, the plane seemed impossibly close. With a metallic whine, the jet strained to gain altitude and fly away into the night sky. As it flew further out over the Pacific, Dicky watched it. He didn’t know if he wanted to see it fall from the sky or not.
The scent of kerosene wafted down and this forced him to struggle to his feet. He hated that smell. He started walking slowly back to Venice.
When he got to Jake’s place, the complex was quiet. It was late, but how late? Dicky couldn’t really tell. Maybe midnight. He had stopped at home to get something but hadn’t looked at the clock. And he had no idea how long he had been asleep after Desmond kicked his ass and told him he would be dead tomorrow unless he figured out what the fuck was going on. He looked up to the second floor and saw the soft blue glow of the TV around the window of Jake’s apartment. He climbed the stairs and knocked. Nothing. Had Desmond gotten to Jake already? He doubted it. Desmond had made it pretty clear that this was Dicky’s problem to solve. He knocked again. “Hey Jake, open up.” Still nothing. He pounded harder and kicked the door for good measure. Loudly now: “Open up. I know you’re in there.” He didn’t care who heard him. Fuck the neighbors. He was about to scream when he heard movement from inside. He stepped back as Jake threw open the door. Jake didn’t say anything. He dropped his hand from the door and turned and walked passed an open duffel bag on the living room floor and into his room. He came back a moment later with a pile of shirts and placed them in the bag. The TV had a movie with a car chase. The sound wasn’t even on.
“Going someplace?” Dicky asked.
Jake looked at him like he was stupid. “Looks like it, don’t it.”
At any other time, Dicky would have jumped all over Jake by now. Probably would have done it right when he opened the door. He had done it all his life. Fought quickly and as hard as he could. When he was younger he did it because he was small and people didn’t expect it. He’d catch them off guard and would be well on his way to stomping their balls before they had the presence of mind to fight back. He got older and shed his scrawniness but he still negotiated with the world through his fists.
Tonight was different. He was tired and he still hurt from Desmond’s blows. He hadn’t had to do Dicky that way. Dicky would have listened to him and tracked down the package even if he hadn’t beaten him. He didn’t have the chance to tell Desmond. He left too quickly. He would find out, though, and he told Jake the story. Not the whole story, just the important part.
“Desmond said he’s missing a delivery from us. That don’t make sense. I told him we delivered the last package a week ago. He didn’t believe me though. Said we owed him another package. Dude, what’s going on?”
What was up with Dicky? Jake wondered. Maybe he didn’t need to hide the gun in those t-shirts. Dicky didn’t sound mad. He sounded confused. Like he didn’t know what was going on or had been going on. Like he really wanted to know about the package.
“Do you know what we were delivering all these years, Dicky? Did you ever wonder?”
“Not really. I figured it was like Desmond said at the beginning. Stuff people wanted to keep quiet. Drugs probably. Guns. Money. Shit like that. He always paid us. That’s all I needed to know. We weren’t supposed to look anyway.”
“Yeah, we weren’t supposed to, but I did.”
“Yeah, when. I never saw you open a package.”
“You didn’t see all the packages.”
“What are you talking about? I was always there.”
Jake watched the realization inch across Dicky’s face. He moved closer to the duffel.
“You did deliveries without me?”
“Ladies and gentlemen, your local genius: Dicky.”
If there was a time for Dicky to fly off the handle and reach for Jake’s throat, the bettors would have said this was it. They would have lost money. Dicky didn’t move. He stood there, his back to the door. His next question came slowly. “Why, Dude?”
“Because I’m sick of this place. I’m sick of my mom. I’m even sick of waves. And I want to go someplace else. I figured that there’d be something in those packages that would help me. Something I could use or sell or turn into a ticket outta here. And I was right. Desmond was expecting me to bring him back a lot of money today,” Jake said. He patted the duffel and went on, “Instead, I’ve got my stake and now I’m leaving.”
“What do you mean you’re leaving? We got an easy gig. Desmond’s not a dick. Money’s good.”
Jake knelt down by the duffle and started to arrange his clothes. “What do you mean We? There’s only me and then there’s you. Like surfing. Only one guy gets the wave and this is my wave.”
“Where you planning to go?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere that’s not here.”
“Not know?” Dicky’s voice rose. “You can’t just disappear. You have to have a plan. Desmond isn’t going to let this go.”
Jake nodded and put his hand on the duffel. “You’re the plan. I figured Desmond would think that you did it and come after you first. And from the way you limped into here, it looks like I wasn’t wrong.” Jake didn’t need to add what he said next, but he was tired of this and wanted it to end. “He always thought you were the dumb one.”
“Bullshit. He didn’t think I was dumb.”
“Sure he did. Called you Dick the Prick like everyone else. Thought of it himself. I didn’t even have to tell him that was your name.”
Lulled by Dicky’s previous composure, Jake didn’t see that he had lit the fuse. He didn’t have a chance to reach for the gun as Dicky whipped the knife out of his waistband and finally sprang at Jake, screaming “That’s not my name!”
The knife had gone in surprisingly easy. Like butter really. Dicky hadn’t expected that. He thought it would be much harder.
He picked the knife up. Turned it over in his hand and then dropped it into the water. It glinted briefly as it spun through the sodium glare of the pier’s lights. Then it was gone. “Jesus, Jake,” Dicky breathed. Then he was up and over the railing following the knife into the black water.
John Brady, despite leaving LA and washing up in Portland, OR, still dreams and writes about the waves in Southern California. He is the author of Golden Palms, a noir about LA politics. It’s funny too. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in various other outlets, including Allium, Exposition Review, pioneertown, Big Windows Review, Drunk Monkeys, the Los Angeles Review, Pomona Valley Review, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Punk Planet, and on National Public Radio. His writing is also available at johnbradywriter.com