I tried killing the time by playing online poker, but I couldn’t win a hand. I’m convinced it’s rigged—obvious to any brick-and-mortar player. People play anyway. A great way to get embittered if you’re not already there.
Made some spaghetti with butter and parmesan around four. Needed a couple of hours to digest. Going out on any job with a full stomach is never advised. Even when I’m grinding it out on the poker tables, I like to stay a bit hungry. Makes me edgier, angrier. I play better when my passions are piqued, that is to say until they overwhelm me and I go on chip-spewing tilt.
By six I was feeling very tense, pacing my living room. Had I any Oxys or Percs on hand I would’ve gotten high. I would’ve gotten wasted. I mean it had been years since we’d done something like this. You get puck-shy as you age. You fear for your safety and comfort more than you did in the past. It’s fucked up, but real. So I was thinking, what if things do go south? Unlikely, but no plan is fool proof. Never know what you might stumble upon or against. Did I really want to walk into the dark with Louie? I had done so before, but things change.
Brando showed up as scheduled in Louie’s big red pickup. I thought it looked conspicuous, but what did I know. I jumped in to a sharp stink of cologne. Jesus, I thought, smelling pretty for the boys? Then Brando said he had to make a quick stop. I asked him why now, at this very moment, but he ignored my question and turned up the radio, playing some weak Aerosmith. The snow had started, a few fat flakes hitting the windshield and melting.
“How’s Louie getting down there?”
“We’re picking him and Craig up at Ossington Station.”
“What are they doing there?”
“Too many questions, Sammy.”
Too many questions? A bad feeling crept over me. What were we doing? As degenerate as we were, we weren’t kids. You don’t cross some lines after a certain age. You finally understand that little bromide about consequences. My hands shone with sweat. I rubbed them on my trousers. I turned the music down. One falsetto note too many.
“Hey,” Brando said, “what’s your problem?”
“I don’t know about this, man. Not enough details. It’s all kinda sketchy.”
“No time to get weak-kneed.”
He clicked open the glove compartment, shuffled through the papers and debris stuffed in there and pulled out a pill bottle. He uncapped the bottle, shook several pills into his palm—blue, white, yellow—and inspected them with his finger. He replaced a white one to the bottle, and popped the others into his mouth. Then he pulled a plastic bottle from the cup holder on his console, twisted off the cap and took a swallow.
“What the fuck?” I said.
“Something to take off the edge. And a little something to keep me hard. I’d offer you a smoothie, but I know you’re trying to stay clean.”
I glared at him.
“What?” he said. “Don’t fucking judge me. You kicked. I didn’t. And I didn’t offer you any.” He put the pill bottle back in the glove compartment.
He knew it was a temptation I couldn’t resist. Some friend, I thought, but not without a whisper of hope and relief tickling the back of my mind.
Brando killed the engine and took the keys out of the ignition. He selected a small key from the keychain and locked the glove compartment.
“Okay, man?” he said. “You’re safe. Now let me enjoy my buzz.”
He restarted the engine, hit the wipers and roared off.
Snow fell thickly now. I stared out the window. Snowflakes glittered in the streetlights as they came down; snow covered the trees and rooftops. Some people still had their Christmas lights up. It was February, for fuck sake.
Taking side streets we headed west, then north. I figured Brando had to drop off some weed, but he picked an odd time to do it.
We drove down a residential street, easing over speed bumps, and pulled up to a brick bungalow. The snow really fell now. I could barely read the bungalow’s number. I wondered who lived there. Snow obstructed the soft-lit view through the bungalow’s front window. Brando unbuckled his seat belt. He lifted his leg and produced a lumpy brown paper bag.
“I’ll just be a couple of minutes,” he said.
“Who the hell lives here?”
He jumped out and slammed the big door shut but left the engine running. He trudged up to the front door, pulling up his lapels and ducking his head against the whipping snow. Man, it was coming down. They had called for snow, but not a blizzard.
Nicky answered the door and Brando went inside. Yeah, something was up with those two. I was hoping he’d be quick, whatever he was doing. If it kept snowing like this we’d likely get stuck in traffic. People turned into morons when it snowed. The streets would be clogged. Louie would be pissed. I glanced at the dash clock. It was almost seven thirty. Then I looked at the glove compartment. No way, I thought. No way.
I waited ten more minutes. Then I grew concerned. I checked my phone for messages. Nada. I leaned over to see what was going on in the bungalow, but the whirling snow entirely obscured it. Snowy gusts rocked the pickup. Snow fell so fast and so hard, only slashes of the pickup’s red paint showed.
After five more minutes, I thought I’d better find out what was going on. I zipped up my parka and opened the door. The wind almost blew it back shut again. I stepped out into ankle-deep snow. I shut the pickup door and hustled up the path to the front door. I’d left the engine running; exhaust poured out of the tailpipe like a grey genii against the curtain of white.
I knocked on the door. Nicky answered, in a scarlet kimono, hair plastered to the side of her head. You kidding me? I thought. That’s what he meant by something to keep him hard.
“Hi,” she said with lidded eyes. “Brando’s just in the can. He’ll be right out.”
“Okay. We have to be somewhere.”
“Yeah. He said. No worries, hon. He’ll be right with you.”
“Tell him I’m waiting in the truck.”
“Quite the fucking storm.”
I went back out. A man in a white parka walking a dog, some kind of husky mix, passed the pickup. They momentarily disappeared in the swirling white, then reappeared again in the grey haze of the billowing exhaust. It was something. I couldn’t see down the street. I hustled back to the pickup and got in. I turned up the heat and put on the radio. Layla was playing. Eric Clapton and Duane Allman doing their thing. Seemed like the wrong music for the weather. I switched to a jazz station. Wes Montgomery was playing Polka Dots and Rainbows. Better.
Brando kept me waiting. The snow didn’t relent. It kept blowing. Seemed like the pickup would get buried. Must admit I didn’t mind that thought: getting buried. I checked my phone: neither Louie nor Craig had texted. So much for the big score, whatever it was. Grown men, I thought, behaving like punks. Did it ever get tired, the whole act, the whole nonconformity-degenerate thing? Look at me, I thought. Waiting for a friend high on Oxys and Viagara to finish fucking an ex-con so we could get to some score. My mother, God rest her soul, must have been turning in her grave.
Brando kept me waiting. And then, I don’t know. Boredom? Anxiety? The triggers are many. Too many to count, too many to resist. Fuck it, I thought. I killed the engine, unlocked the glove compartment. I removed the pill bottle and restarted the engine. Even as I popped a few Oxys into my mouth—three or four, could’ve been five—I thought, Don’t do this, don’t do this.
And even as I swallowed the pills and chased them down with a swig of warm, plasticky water, I thought, Don’t fucking do this.
But then it was done. No turning back. And, after a while, ah, it was lovely. No one ever admits that, how lovely it is. My body tingled. My cares fell away. My head felt light and heavy at the same time. The snow fell and fell, a perfect white storm, perfectly white. Brando kept me waiting. The snow kept falling, perfectly lovely, beautifully white. I turned up the heat a notch, leaned my head against the frosted window and made myself comfortable.