“Hey kid, you wanna make twenty grand?”
The offer came out of the blue. Well, sort of, because this neighbourhood wasn't exactly esteemed for its middle-class wealth. Growing up poor as Tony Thunderbottom did in a city where his cousins resorted to the export of certain cacti, he wasn't unfamiliar with the offer. However, Tony escaped Yuma for a better life, for a city in which he could have a different legacy than as a peyote mule. The move didn't go as planned, and that realization led him to this very bar deep in south Los Angeles. Until this guy dressed in blue approached, Tony hadn't even cared what gang territory he wandered into. Purple hair seemed safe to travel with, throughout both Crip and Blood blocks. No one shot him yet, anyway.
“Doing what, exactly?” Didn't hurt to ask.
“Dealing coke. It's not a bad gig. Ever done something like that before?”
“Need the money?”
Understatement. Having been kicked off the couch Tony surfed, best case scenario entailed finding a new place to crash tonight. However, as late evening turned into the wee hours, that dream yielded to prospect of the street. “How long would it take to make it?”
“Depends how fast you move. A month, maybe?”
Twenty grand would last a long time, if Tony conceded to this temporary job. He took downing the rest of his drink to consider it further. Alcohol made it easier to shrug away nagging concern. “Sure. Why not?”
His approachee extended a hand. “Nikko P.”
Rather than stumble his way through one of the clandestine shakes Tony witnessed on daily occasion, he gripped dark skin no differently than someone written about in Forbes magazine. “Is that your real name?”
“You were born with it, though?”
“Do you want my birth name or a nickname? Or do you want a name at all?”
“Whatever you wanna give me, but I gotta call you somethin' now, don't I?”
“Tony, then. Does this make me a Crip?”
“It will. C'mon, let's get out of here. We'll get you loaded up.”
Heading deeper into Watts off Alameda Boulevard, Tony mirrored Nikko P by glancing over his shoulder every third step or so. The wail of sirens barely registered anymore with Tony, but he certainly paid attention to them now. Affiliated with one of the warring groups—even if he didn't consider himself a Crip, he still walked with one—exponentially increased his chances of being senselessly killed. A street cramped with nearly dilapidated houses, out-of-commission cars, and chain-link fences was broken by the expansive lot where some old factory used to provide the area with an honest income. In dim light, Nikko P's flat, broad nose appeared more like a serpent's beneath his cap brim. His eyes, narrowed by caution and situated beneath a heavy brow to begin with, only reinforced Tony's imagination. Tall and thin as the man was, Tony noted a bulge beneath starched jeans. A gun would protect them more effectively than muscles, of which Tony boasted neither. If he planned to deal, that might need to change.
“Weird to see someone as white as you around here,” Nikko P commented. “Where you from?”
“Arizona. Just got here a few months ago.” Tony resented being called white; the winter months only made it seem so. Tony's skin colour fading so drastically in comparison to the rest of his family hinted toward who his mother had hooked up with before she too abandoned him. He already earned enough slack from his cousins back on the reserve for his relative paleness.
“You look more like you should be hanging around the Thirsty Dolphin, with all the Ratts, Night Rangers, and Motley Crues of the city.”
“No offence, but what's it to you?” Tony liked the glam aesthetic, and he'd spent some time further north upon initial arrival. However, with all the coke and booze going around, holding onto his already-tight money wasn't exactly easy.
“That's actually why you stood out to me. That's a good market, well worth tapping if you can find an in. All those suburban kids looking for a good time. . .they don't know what a good price can be, since everyone charges and cuts so much.”
“So basically, you're going to fill up my pockets and send me up to Sunset?” Tony liked the sound of that; he'd much rather go where he could blend in than get stuck on a corner. Dealing with desperate addicts wasn't exactly an exciting prospect either.
“Something like that. Got a car?”
“Whatever I got, you're looking at it.”
“Hm. Work your way up then, I guess. You get a place up there and a way to get back and forth, and we'll be in business.”
“You willin' to wait, or what?”
“I can't move it so well down here, and you're honestly the closest I've gotten to that.” Nikko P fished into his pocket for a pack of cigarettes. The flash and crack from a match led to an orange dot floating beside Tony. “Eventually getting out of Watts would be good.”
“You're putting a lot of your eggs in one basket.”
“Meh. Why, you gonna let me down?”
“I'll try not.” Tony shrugged. “Never dealt before. Don't really know what you're expecting from me.”
“People want drugs, they don't care where they're going to get them from so long as the price is right. That's where you come in.”
93rd Street drew them, and then a house with a rotting porch and door lacking a functional knob. Music came from inside; lack of insulation meant the volume barely changed when Nikko P led Tony inside. Creaky floors and dirty walls contrasted to what came in sight in the living room. Atop a glass coffee table situated a mountain of cocaine. A couple pistols littered the floor beside where a couple more guys with faces obscured by bandanas stared at the newcomers. The whites of their eyes disappeared under weight of suspicion.
One pulled his bandana down around his neck. “The fuck you thinkin', Nikko P? Who's this?”
“We're gonna move this shit, is what I'm thinkin'.”
“Better fuckin' well. Coulda spent my money on a good load of angel dust for what this cost. Least that shit, folks can afford.” The man eased some off-white powder into a small baggie.
“Can't blame us for tryin', huh?”
“Told you there wouldn't be a market.”
“Whatever, nigga. Got any ready to go, or what?”
Cocaine-dusted fingers gestured to Tony. “C'mere.”
Rather than fill the pockets of his vest as suspected, a couple lines were made along the glass. Tony didn't budge when indicated toward it. “You want me to do some?”
“What're you, a wuss or a cop?” came the response. “You wanna stay up long enough to sell? Then fuckin' do it.”
Of course coke wasn't new to Tony, but this much? Hoping his heart wouldn't instantly seize, he bent down with the provided straw and withstood the burn of his nostril for at least double the dose he'd normally take for a good time. When the lines' ghosts replaced the powder itself, Tony frantically wiped his upper lip. The muscle in his chest pounded in tune with trembling highways of nerves. “Fuck.”
“Sit still,” Nikko P instructed Tony as he and his partners shoved the baggies into every possible crevice of his clothing. Outside in the cool night afterward, Tony was directed back east. “There should be a bus coming by, soon. Come back when you've sold everything. We'll figure out what portion of the profits belong to you, then. The faster you return, the more you'll get.”
“Right.” Tony became a different person on coke; rather than the misfortunes of his past weighing him down, he felt capable of conquering this entire city before the sun rose. He could approach anyone, sell anything, and if someone shot at him the bullet wouldn't even permeate his skin. In fact, while at the bus stop, he'd already lightened his load of three packets. Only when he considered the means to protect himself, should some junkie get a stupid idea, did Tony discover a pistol amongst the contraband. The idea of accidentally shooting himself in the ass, had he not noticed it sooner, sent him into a fit of giggles.
What the hell did he worry about, earlier? Not only didn't he have to sleep on the street, he didn't have to sleep at all. He'd hit the parties up north. . .even if all the gigs ended for the night, he'd make a killing. All he needed was the powdered confidence thrumming away in his veins.