Louie and Craig were already at Brando’s when I arrived, seated at his dining room table staring at their phones and smoking weed. A cloud of blue-grey smoke enveloped them.
“Clean off your boots,” Brando shouted from the kitchen.
“Sammy, what’s going on?” Louie said, almost bursting out of his blue plaid shirt, his unkempt beard and brows piratical.
Craig, in a thick white turtleneck, nodded. A heavy, voluble drinker, when sober he had little to say and always seemed to be agitating for something. Likely his next drink. But I wasn’t one to talk. I’d been through the Oxycontin ringer myself—already two rounds of rehab—and was barely hanging on. The thirst for a buzz could cripple you at times, make you a puppet to your jones. It was a constant struggle to stay clean. The second I felt the hornets of stress circling me, I wanted to get wasted. It was a minute-to-minute battle, with no armistice foreseeable.
“You walked?” Brando said, appearing in the living room with two steaming mugs. His barber had lost his shit on his bangs, going for a pageboy thing.
“Yeah, car’s in the garage.”
“You want coffee? Just made.”
“Sure. Hit of cream, please.”
“So Sammy,” Louie said, “wanna know why I called yous here?”
I pulled off my parka. “I’m all ears.”
Craig shot me a sullen look. His pale eyelashes and pink lips gave him a prissy quality I disliked. We’d had words in the past. He could be a real asshole both when he was drunk and when he was hung-over. If he wasn’t one, he was usually the other. No happy middle with him. He was polarized. That said, we’d been friends for twenty years. Loyalty means something. Time means something. You don’t have to love everything about your friends. They seldom love everything about you.
“All righty, then,” Louie said, chewing with his mouth open. He was eating lupine beans from a bowl, between tokes—peeling the skins and popping them into his mouth. As a result, bits of lupine speckled his lips, beard and chest, and as he spoke his crammed teeth troubled me. “Gentlemen, we have a score.”
“A score?” I said.
“Do I hear a fucking echo?”
“What do you mean, like a four-one Leafs kind of thing?”
“No, I mean a score.”
“He means a score,” Brando reiterated.
Louie glowered at him.
“Like the old days?” I asked.
“Exactly,” Louie said, handing me his joint. “Like the old days.”
Brando gave me a thumbs-up. He had on an oversized Chicago Blackhawks jersey that engulfed his slight build. I couldn’t look at his hair without laughing.
Craig nodded with emphasis. He’d always been the wheel man in the old days. Kid could drive back then. Now, not so much. If Louie had pegged him to drive, I wouldn’t have entertained further details. I took a haul of the weed. My head fluttered and my eyes thinned.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Louie said, spitting a piece of lupine skin into his hand. “And no worries, Brando’s gonna drive. He’s been practising.”
“Practising?” I said.
Brando handed me a white mug and flashed his small grey teeth. He was an awful driver. No road sense at all. And he was always high on something, weed, blow, opioids. We never let him drive us anywhere. Last time we’d let him drive, on a fishing trip, he put us in a ditch.
“Yeah, he’s good to go.”
“And Craig’s okay with that?”
“I’m okay with it,” he said, batting his eyelashes.
Louie blew on his mug and sipped the coffee. “Good shit,” he said.
“It’s the Costa Rican,” Brando said. “Got it on sale.”
I tasted my coffee. It was excellent: dark, robust, almost spicy.
Louie proceeded to outline his plan, gesturing with his big hands, now and then pressing a thick finger to the table for emphasis. I half-listened, he could go on at times. He liked to consider himself a man of few words, reticent, steely, like the old Sicilians, but once he got going, there was no stopping him. Long story short, he knew about a warehouse in the west end that had been pretty much abandoned by its foreign owners—Iranian dudes who’d moved back home. Louie wasn’t sure what the warehouse stored, but it was there for the taking—security non-existent, flimsy locks. Easiest score we’d ever make.
It had been a couple of years since something like this last came up, involving a hundred kilos or so of misplaced hashish. I know, improbable. But it happened. I barely recall the details, but it went without a hitch. I remember having to drive to the harbour front and to several storage lockers in the east end. I didn’t even see the hashish, to be honest, and never met the dudes who took it off our hands. But an easy score is an easy score. Being degenerates meant our moral compasses were off, if at all in working order. Short of murder and sexual assault, there weren’t many things too dirty for us to put our hands on.
Not everyone digs the 9-to-5 life, not everyone wants to live that way. I’d made my choices early. I hated being confined and told what to do by anyone, something I shared with the boys. I guess it’s all about exercising your freedom. Getting a gig in the straight world was like doing life for a crime you didn’t commit. Listening to straight people and trying to swallow their seriousness and self-importance was torture. And while I could make nice when I was younger and pretend that everything mattered, that everything was cool, I had long ago stopped lying to myself and the world about who I really was. My bread was poker, and I had a weakness for college football games. While I made a living playing poker, I kept chasing my tail with college games. That left me in limbo. But it was a limbo of my choosing. And I managed—except for stints in opioid hell, I always had a few bucks in my pocket. Nevertheless, it was a clutch-and-grab existence. So when an easy score materialized, who was I to turn my shoulders to it?
“Anyway,” Louie said, pressing his fingers together daintily and pursing his lips, “we’re taking a cruise down there tomorrow night.”
“Gonna snow tomorrow, Louie,” Brando said.
“What, you’re a fucking weatherman?”
“I’m just saying.”
“I’m just saying, I’m just saying. Boys, Brando’s a fucking meteorologist now.”
Craig sniffed a little laugh and half-shut his eyes.
“So the meteorologist will pick you up at like seven, Sammy. Good?”
“Good.” I took another haul of weed. My ears were ringing.
“We ordered a pizza,” Brando said, with a slow nod.