Square- A Short Story

October 2004

A light bulb moment brightened my naive 19 year old brain. In that sweet glimmer of blinding shine I thought “you’re square looking enough to get away with this. Grannies think you’re the sweetest thing since their famous cherry pie.” Despite not having a clue to the steps I would need to take after saying “let’s do it” to my friend on the other line, I was full of optimism. What else could I be?

I should have been scared. Worried. You enjoy the taste of freedom after having it for as long as I have, not that I’ve been alive for very long. But if you get caught doing this that freedom will tongue kiss you goodbye and be replaced by several men in orange suits making you kiss their booty holes. They love fresh meat. And hey, you’re square looking enough to not report rape.

“I don’t have any money, though.” I said as a howling wind swept dead leaves from the cement sidewalk, whisking them further down the block.
“I’ll front you. But I want half when you’re done.”
“How much?”
“A brick is a G.”
“A brick…”
“…Coke.”
Right.”

There I go looking like a square, not knowing which drug he’s referring to. But I’ve seen weed in what appears to be stacks of bricks. Do they not call it that…

“When can you have it by?” I eagerly asked.
“Two weeks. I’ll call you when it gets in.”
The line went dead.

Flipping the phone closed, I clutched it in my left palm until my hand swelled. The pain woke me up, got my gears working. In two weeks I’ll be in the drug game. Never thought I’d be in this situation; a guy like me. Never thought I would also be living in a homeless shelter, either. But here I am. I have to do this. No income coming in, my family and I are practically ready to cut one another’s throats. Can’t communicate with my older brother on anything- our relationship seemed to have taken a nose dive ever since he broke up with his girlfriend. But that was 2 years ago.

Brushing dirt off the seat of my jeans while walking to the Q44 bus stop I could see my mom’s face as clearly as if she were standing in front of me. How her face seemed to have permanent frown lines yet she still maintained her youthfulness. How she’s always scratching her calves, eventually scabbing herself- my skin, I’ve come to realize, is the same as hers. I’ve seen the look of disappointment drawn upon that woman’s face all too often. This would be the mother of them all, no pun intended.

She’s no longer the breadwinner. From now on I can see she will be relying heavily on my brother and I- a burden I don’t know if I’m ready for. I mean, I’m just a kid. I’m not ready to be a man yet. Time to start acting like one…

The two weeks passed quickly. School took up most of it. My friend, whom I’ve known since high school, called the night before to set up a meet the following afternoon. Location: Central Park.

He and I sat on a bench while Caucasians jogged along with strollers or spouses, or both. A woman feeding pigeons reminded me of the chick in Home Alone 2. Kids ran in the grass, some fell, some cried whilst standing, some tried throwing toy balls or a Frisbee- all were unsuccessful.

“It’s at my place. It’s safe. This weekend you’re gonna come over and we’re-” he stopped talking as a crowd slowly jogged by us. Looking in both directions as they left, he then leaned in and said “you’re gonna come by and we’re gonna cut it. Alright?”
“Yea. Sure. Thing is, I can’t be out too late. This place has a curfew.”
“That sucks. When do ya have to be home by?”
“Midnight.”

He contemplated this, then said “come by about 10am. Here’s my address.” He then took out his phone, punched in several keys, and then moments later my phone vibrated in my pocket.

“Listen, I know you’re taking a huge risk doing this-”
“Don’t worry about it, man. I understand. Way I see it, if I were you, you’d be doing this for me.”
He was right. Nevertheless I said, “thanks.” We slapped palms and then parted ways.

The setup was just as depicted in New Jack City only we weren’t walking around in just our underwear- my friend provided plastic aprons, face masks, shower caps. We finished most of the work that day with my friend saying we can finish the rest soon.

“I never asked, but, how do you plan to distribute?” My friend asked through his face mask. It had been a question on my mind since agreeing to turn to the dark side. I go to a community college in The Bronx- not much of a demand for coke on campus. Weed was the drug of choice for the youth of the 5 boroughs. An idea came to mind while taking a dump at home:

“This past summer I worked at Rye Playland. Saw a couple white kids doing lines in the bathroom a few times.”
“No shit?”
“No shit. Figured I’d head up to the Westchester Mall and see what kind of damage I can do.”
“Want some company? I could do a little shopping.”

After spending five hours surveying the mall we knew it would be our best starting point. My friend set up a beeper for me at one of the electronic stores. At the MetroNorth station we got our first buyer. By the end of that first week I had sold a quarter of my stash, paying my friend his portion in installments so as to not stiff him when the money got serious and my ego got the best of me.

Just before finals I had to skip two days worth of classes just to make runs. I asked my friend if getting another guy would be a good idea. “Not yet. Still not making enough. You won’t see a profit just yet. Buy your own brick and then see how that goes. You still wanna do this, right?”

I got the number of my friend’s connect to buy my next brick, essentially cutting my friend loose. He wanted out anyway- the first brick was a favor. He did, however, allow me to use his place to cut the product and set up for distribution. No charge.  By my fourth brick I was turning a decent profit but also beginning to attract attention- the kind you don’t want brought on by lips of those who can’t seem to remain shut. I’m talking about women. Cassandra. Why did I ever get involved with her?

Cassandra was a five feet two Hispanic woman with a psychedelic pussy and a motor mouth. Because of her I had to do something I feared- start packing. The cold steel of the Beretta on the small of my back was never comforting. Some nights I wanted to knock Cassie’s teeth in with the butt of it. Other nights I wanted to load one copper bullet in the chamber and end it all. Home life was getting no better. My mother’s health was deteriorating, and my brother and I had our first fist fight. Wasn’t pretty.

On the night of my mother’s first heart attack I held her frail, sandpaper skinned hand in mine while she slept. My brother worked nights so I remained at her bedside until his shift was over. Just after 2am one night she began to stir in my light grasp, then coughed. Tipping a bendy straw to her lips my mother took generous sips.

Smacking her lips she said, “I know what you’re doing, honey. I want you to stop. I’m not mad at you. But please, stop. Do it for your mother.”

I knew I should never have doubted her ability to find out. She wasn’t stupid- she had to know the money I was giving her came from somewhere since I didn’t have a job. Without a word I kissed her hand. With a slight grin I said, “okay mommy.”

Three days later my latest brick had been completely sold and a quarter of the money I made went into an envelope my mother kept in one of those old lady laundry bags found at every dollar store in the five boroughs- a flimsy rectangular picnic table clothed pattern bag that looked cheap but was actually quite sturdy.

I broke things off with Cassandra- it was easy since she didn’t know where I lived. Nobody did, not even my friend. My ties to the drug community, small as it was, were severed the morning I dropped my Beretta in a sewer drain in Staten Island, fingerprints wiped and all. My time in the drug game lasted seven months. I never had to kill anyone, never got arrested but was questioned on more than several occasions. No charges stuck- I didn’t even need a lawyer. Being a student of law had its advantages.

I guess Huey Lewis and the News were right after all.

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