California Dreamin, a short story by StevenHunley. Date added: 2010-02-09. Times viewed: 1974.
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- Intro: drug addict steal for their habits
I've got nothing against returns, unless someone expects me to do the stealing. I'm no good at it. Two misdemeanor charges for shoplifting convinced me of that fact years ago. But when somebody else is boosting I have no objections. It's their immortal souls that are at risk, not mine.
Henry Pockets was the one doing it, not me. I was in the parking lot in the car, waiting. Right there I was, outside of Mervins. As usual, he was taking his time. Then I saw a well-dressed stick figure appear at the edge of the lot. It was him, and he was headed my way. When the door opened I could see he was in a rush. I can't say exactly what he looked like but I will say this. You know how, after you watch a magician in a tuxedo making doves appear, his clothes seem a little baggy? That's how he looked when he left the car. Now, coming back, he looked normal. The coat he had on was cheap. But it had dollars' worth underneath it and stuffed in his marvelous expandable pants. He looked like a business man or just another mall employee on break, real normal and all. That was his intent. He said nothing, and was in a hurry. That was good news.
"Where we goin'?'' I asked, though I knew the answer.
"Dash to Debbie's."
That was good news too.
Deb was a young housefrau with two small kids. At this time of day they'd be at school. She relieved her boredom by doing Stuff. That's how it was with her. She had a good figure, but even more important, an innocent mug. She was good at appearing helpless, and had that angel's face which was just the icing on her personal cake. She'd be doing the returns. She was made for it.
She ran out of the house just when we pulled up, slamming the screen door behind her. She was in a good mood, already counting her chickens. That's good. It's always good to be positive about such pursuits. A good clerk or manager can smell defeat or nervousness all over you, so attitude is real important. With her, playing the ingénue wasn't hard. With her, it was real.
Now it was my turn. We dropped onto the 805 then came down into Mission Valley, swinging onto the 8 west. I began to quiz her. But first, I took off my gold ring and slipped it on the third finger of her left hand.
"Now, little girl, what's your story?"
"It‘s a gift from my mother to my husband for his birthday. She didn't know his size. I matched it up with his clothes in the closet to see if it fit, and found out he's already got one, so I want a refund."
"Already got one what?"
"One whatever it is. Shirt, pants, sweater, whatever. What is it this time Henry? Let's see."
He did a bit of shuffling, then produced two pairs of pants, skillfully folded. She pressed them with her hand to smooth out the wrinkles.
"Real nice Hen, real nice. Look, they're forty-five bucks each!"
"Of course they are," he answered matter of factly, "You know Mervin's limit is $100.00 without the receipt."
"Why don't you have a receipt?" I asked Deb.
"Like I said," she countered, "they were a gift."
She had it down. I don't see why not. It wasn't her first time.
We were entering Fashion Valley West. They had a Mervin's here too. We knew every Mervins from the Mexican border to Carlsbad I guess. Then we parked, and it was me and Hen's turn to wait.
What was my job? I was the coordinator. I made all phone calls, scheduling, picked the spots, or "cased the joints" as Hen put it. Parking, exits, were up to me, as well as keeping score, reporting changes in store policy, and making sure Henry always had a sharp pair of toenail clippers for the security tags. Call me J. T., short for Jack of all Trades.
"Your job is easy Jay," Henry once told me, "All you're here for is to pick up the pieces."
I was hoping then, as I always did, they'd be none to pick up.
The smile Deb had on her face was visible from the other side of the lot. She was walking toward us as if she had money in her pocket. That was good. Before she'd even got in, Hen started the car. She handed the money to me.
"I count only seventy-seven," I said, "why seventy-seven?"
She answered right away, "At this store they're on sale, 15% off."
"Oh," was all I could say. I'd check later. A girl like Deb could always nickel and dime you to death when she had a good story, sometimes even when she didn't. That Cool Angel Face didn't snow me one bit. I wouldn't allow it.
Now Mike was driving fast. When I looked over, he was gagging in anticipation. I never could stand seeing him driving like a bat out of Hell and gagging at the same time. It worried me. It was just so unseemly.
He sped down the 8 west, then to the 165, straight to downtown. It was Sherman Street he was heading for. I'll admit I was a little bit exited myself, and I didn't even have a habit. He stopped at the corner of Coco and Sherman in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood. This was the most dangerous stop. Deb and I nervously searched the horizon for black and whites while Hen went inside. The house was having a sale; five balloons for the price of three.
Hen was in, he was out. We were on our way.
When he got in he handed the balloons to me.
He wouldn't trust Deb. Last time she "lost" one in the car. We tore it apart the next day looking. Of course we didn't find it. That's how it was with Deb; she always had something up her sleeve. You had to watch her.
The balloons from the 99 cent store were from China. Appropriately colored, they were Chinese red outside. Inside that were ones of blue. They'd been double wrapped for quick disposal just in case. Inside the blue was the Brown. They were tiny party balloons. Each one was guaranteed to contain a tiny party. Then we were rolling again, and I should have felt safe, but I had a feeling, as I stared at them, that we had started down a one-way street in the wrong direction, and what was worse, we were in a hurry to get "there" yet didn't know exactly where "there" was.
We had the Greek god Morpheus imprisoned in a Mexican brown dirt jail surrounded by a red Chinese balloon guard. We had to be careful with him and cautious as well. I knew the truths he provided could prove to be elusive because they contained dreams. And I would learn one other thing from him... eventually. You don't mess with the Gods.
Unfortunately for many who choose to abuse this drug, this proves to be their ultimate lesson in life, their first lesson in death. The admission fee to the University of Heroin is too costly for many. Some will pay the ultimate price, whether they pass, fail, or even drop out. If I were you, I wouldn't sign up, not even for a nickel bag, not even for free. Don't spend the rest of your life dead.
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