In observance of today’s unofficial holiday (4/20), I’m posting a short story from my archives that shares its theme. I first wrote The Dealers back in 2000, gave it a complete rewrite 10 years later, then published it on a previous blog in 2012. Though the subject of today’s holiday is a major theme in this story, what really makes it tick is the relationship between the two main characters.
Shane was walking along upper Haight Street in the middle of a sunny day then felt someone from behind throw his arm around him. He quickly turned around and saw it was Tommy. “What the fuck, I thought you were a cop!”
“Relax, Shane, I’ve been trying to find you.”
“And I was looking for you, where you been?”
“I came up with a new plan,” Tommy said.
“Better be good,” Shane replied, “we’re running out of funds quick.”
“Trust me, you’ll like it. Let’s go get a coffee.” Tommy pulled Shane into a sparse, nondescript coffee house. They got their coffees and sat at a corner table in the back. “Check this out,” Tommy said as he reached into the front pocket of his hoodie and pulled out a small paper sack.
Shane moved in closer. “What is it?” Tommy carefully opened the paper sack and and showed it to Shane. He peeked inside the sack and saw a clear plastic square container of green sprouts. “Alfalfa?”
“We’re going to sell alfalfa?”
“No, watch this.” Tommy reached into the sack, popped open the container, and ripped off a chunk. He pulled out his hand and squashed the alfalfa in his fist. He opened his hand in front of Shane and revealed a compressed green substance. “What does it look like now?”
Shane picked the green nugget from Tommy’s hand, looked at it closely, then smelled it. “It looks like bud, but it doesn’t have the aroma, won’t fool an expert.”
“We’re not going to sell to experts,” Tommy said, “we’re going to sell to tourists, and you know how easy they are to spot.”
“And then they’ll come after us.”
“C’mon, it’ll work. You were the one saying we got to get some funds quick so we can get out of here.”
“Yeah,” Shane replied, “but I want to get out in one piece. How did you come up with this idea anyways?”
“One of my cousins pulled the same scam. All we have to do is sell a few bags of this for 30 each and we’ll have some much needed cash.”
“I don’t know,” Shane said, “whole idea seems whack.”
“Well you got any better ideas?”
“I’m an honest scammer, and this is the kind of thing that can get us in trouble, just like that shit you pulled on Willie, we’re in trouble if he finds us.”
“Fuck him,” Tommy said, “he’s not a problem. The only reason we need to leave is because this city in unbelievably expensive, how does anybody live here?”
“They got the big bucks,” Shane said.
“We should have been born rich.”
“Life ain’t fair, now let’s think this over before we do something stupid.”
“I’m telling you, Shane, this plan is our ticket,” Tommy said, “it’s got to be easier somewhere else. How much longer do we have to sleep in Kyle’s van, and after all we’ve moved for him, we’ve got to shake things up.”
“A van ain’t much, but it’s better than the park,” Shane said.
“But I’m sick of it,” Tommy said. “You know, I thought by now that we’d find some cool person who would let us crash at their place for a while, but nobody wants to help you out here, they won’t even let you sleep in their attic or basement. Hell, I’d be happy in a tent in someone’s backyard.”
“Enough dreaming, everything is all rented out at top dollar,” Shane assessed, “I’d say we’re stuck.”
“I was at least hoping to find an abandoned building we could claim,” Tommy said, “you could sure find those back home.”
“Yeah, but where was the excitement?” Shane pointed out. “Can’t say it’s been boring out here, a lot more fun than the Central Valley.” A familiar, imposing, and burly figure walked into the coffee house and went to the front counter. “Uh oh, look who’s here.”
“Aw shit, it’s Willie! Let’s get outta here!”
“No, he’ll see us,” Shane cautioned, “let’s just wait.”
Willie ordered a coffee to go and paid for it. As he waited he looked around the coffee house. Shane and Tommy stayed in the far back corner and hid behind other customers as they watched him. Willie got his coffee, looked around one last time, and left.
“What do you say now?” Tommy said to Shane.
Shane thought for a moment. “So where are we going to put these together?”
“I haven’t told Kyle so we shouldn’t do it in the van,” Tommy said. “I was thinking of Buena Vista Park, at the top of the hill. It’s pretty hidden up there, and we only need to make a few.”
“Okay, I’m in.” They finished their coffees and Tommy put the paper sack back into the front pocket of his hoodie as they left. They looked down both directions for Willie, then they walked quickly east down Waller Street toward Buena Vista Park.
“You know,” Tommy said, “I was thinking that we should go into business for ourselves.”
“Isn’t that what we’re doing now?”
“I mean for real,” Tommy said, “we know Kyle’s guy, we can talk to him.”
“We know where he lives,” Shane replied, “but he barely knows us, and he’d probably tell Kyle that we’re trying to cut him out.”
“It’s just business, what does he care who he makes a sale to, and he’s the source.”
“How do you know?”
“He lives up north, in the woods, he has to be a grower,” Tommy said, “and I had a talk with him. He said he always needs help during harvest time.”
“Is he harvesting right now?” Shane asked.
“He says in about a month.”
“So we’re going to show up early?”
“He’s cool,” Tommy said. They walked quickly past the close together three story, yardless Victorians and storefronts until they came to end of Waller Street at the green hill. They walked up the white concrete steps to a pathway that went up the the grassy park. “If nothing else maybe we can sneak in one night and lift some of his stash. I bet he’s got plenty, he wouldn’t miss a plant or two.”
“He’s also got guard dogs, probably some trip wires, and you know he’s armed,” Shane said. “Most people in the country have guns, especially if they have a crop to protect.”
“Well, we got to do something,” Tommy said. “Why can’t it just be legal?”
“If it was everyone would grow their own, and then what we do?” As they came to the top of the hill they entered a grove of trees that filtered the sunlight. They found a small clearing, looked around to make sure there was no one around, and then Tommy set the paper sack on an overturned log. Shane kept a lookout while Tommy pulled out the alfalfa container and some cellophane bags onto the log. He quickly pulled off small clumps of alfalfa, rolled them in his hands, shaped them with his fingers, dropped the green chunks into the bags until they filled the bottom of the cellophane. Tommy’s hands moved rapidly while Shane looked around the clearing and down the hill. Shane saw a couple of women slowly coming up the path while chatting. One of them was walking a dog and two children were nearby running around on the grass.
Tommy noticed Shane looking down the hill. “Is someone coming?”
“Just a couple of moms,” Shane said as he looked down toward them. They stopped and one of the women let her dog off the leash and the dog ran around. “They just stopped.”
“Almost done,” Tommy said as he filled the fourth bag and then rolled the excess plastic around the counterfeit cannabis. He put the four rolled up sacks in his pocket and then picked up the paper sack and the container of remaining alfalfa and tossed them behind a bush. “We’re ready.”
“Let me look at them,” Shane said. Tommy pulled out rolled cellophane bags and showed them. Shane picked up one and looked it over. “A little dark, but looks enough like the real thing.” He gave it back to Tommy.
“Sure does,” Tommy said as he put them in his pocket. “All we have to do is find a few naive chumps and fleece them, and what could they do anyways, go to the cops?” They chuckled to themselves then walked out of the clearing and onto the path that curved down the hill. The two women were still chatting and watching the two playing children while the dog ran around them. As Shane and Tommy walked near the women they stopped chatting for a moment, looked cautiously over at them, and then went back to talking after they had passed.
As Shane and Tommy descended the hill wisps of clouds raced over them and the cool wind whipped around them. They went down the concrete steps to Waller Street, then up a block, crossed Haight Street and headed west. Pedestrians moved in both directions and decreased and replenished as people walked in and out of the colorful storefronts. Panhandlers and street musicians were stationed along either edge of the sidewalk as Shane and Tommy looked around to get a feel for the scene. A police car cruised along slowly in the single line of vehicles and passed by Shane and Tommy. They tried to appear calm as they kept their eyes on the car. It moved along farther down the street then drove out of sight and they both let out a breath of relief.
Once they felt sufficiently immersed into the human traffic they looked around for a sale opportunity. They spotted a couple that was walking toward them and the man appeared to be looking around cautiously. Shane and Tommy kept their focus on the man and waited for the approaching couple. “Buds,” Shane whispered quietly as they passed each other. The couple kept walking and when Shane glanced around he noticed that the couple did not look back. Shane and Tommy kept moving forward and they spotted a pack of college students who were wearing sweaters from a southern California university and swaggering toward them. “Buds,” Shane said quietly as they passed each other.
A couple of the students looked back at them. “Already got it covered,” one of them replied. Shane and Tommy then came across a group of shoppers. Shane quietly solicited them and they kept walking forward.
“That happens every time I come here,” one of them said irritably to the other. Shane and Tommy continued to look for potential buyers and solicited a couple more people with no success. They then were approaching a man who appeared to be in his late twenties, of conservative appearance, and was looking around the neighborhood searchingly.
“Buds,” Shane whispered as they passed each other. The man looked over at Shane and Tommy, turned around, came up along side them and they walked together.
“How much?” the man asked.
“Cheap,” Tommy said, “only thirty an eighth.”
“Is it Mex?” the man asked.
“No, just low grade green,” Shane said, “but it’s stony.”
“I’ll give you fifty for two,” the man said.
“Okay,” Shane said. They kept walking until they found a narrow space between two buildings, looked around quickly for police, and ducked inside. Tommy pulled two cellophane bags from his pocket while the man pulled out his cash and counted out some bills. Tommy handed the bags to the man with one hand while he received the bills with the other. Tommy and Shane quickly counted the money, two twenties and a ten, while the man stuffed the bags into his pocket.
“Thanks,” the man said. He exited quickly and headed east on the sidewalk. Tommy shoved the bills into his pocket and they warily left the enclosed walkway. They glanced to their left, saw the man disappearing into the crowd, turned the other way and headed west. They felt a rush from making their crooked sale and their pace quickened as their excitement grew. They darted across the street at an angle, hooked a left at Cole Street and ran for two to three blocks before they slowed down while still feeling exuberant. “So what do you think?” Tommy asked between breaths.
“Easier than I thought,” Shane said as he tried to catch his breath, “we just have to make sure we don’t run into that guy again.”
“For sure,” Tommy said. “Let’s get something to eat.” They looked around and found a corner market. The florescent lit store had three narrow aisles that went to the refrigerator glass doors that made the back wall. The cashier was on the right next to the entrance and next to the front counter was a small produce section up against the wall. Shane and Tommy went to the produce area and looked around amongst the premade sandwiches in saran wrap. “These are only a buck fifty,” Shane said as he looked at some burritos.
“Those are big,” Tommy said as he reached for them.
“I’ll get us a couple of sodas,” Shane said as he tapped Tommy on the arm and then headed to the back of the store.
“Excuse me, sir, do you have a microwave?” Tommy asked the cashier.
“Right next to you,” the middle aged cashier said.
Tommy noticed a gray steel box next the clutter around the front counter. “There it is.” He lifted the side handle and the door popped open. He tore open the plastic wrapping around the two burritos, placed them inside, and closed the door. He pretended to press some of the flat buttons on the microwave. “This microwave doesn’t seem to be working.”
The cashier came out from behind the counter and went to the microwave. “Let’s see, so you have two burritos in here?”
“Yes,” Tommy answered.
The cashier pressed one of the buttons then pressed the start button forcefully until the microwave turned on and began humming. “It’s an old machine so you have to press it extra hard.”
“Thanks,” Tommy said and the cashier went back behind the counter. Shane returned with a couple of sodas and they waited by the microwave until it dinged. They pulled out the hot burritos and went to the front counter.
The cashier rang them up. “That’ll be five-sixty-nine.” Tommy pulled a ten dollar bill from his pocket and gave it to the cashier. The cashier hit a button on the register and the cash tray rolled out. Shane and Tommy looked at the stacks of bills as the cashier placed the ten on top of the other tens. He pulled out four ones and some coins and handed them to Tommy before he shut the register. He then put their burritos and sodas into a paper sack.
“Thanks,” Tommy said as he grabbed the sack. They left the store and moved quickly out of sight. “So what’d you get?” he asked Shane.
“Two Budweiser tall boys.”
“Where?” Shane lifted his sweater and revealed a can in both of the front pockets. “Nice!” Giddy with excitement they broke into a sprint. They ran across Stanyan Street to the corner of Golden Gate Park, found a pathway into the park and kept running along the curving paths through trees and over grassy fields until they were in the middle of the park then slowed to a walk when they felt adequately far enough. “What a score!” Tommy said excitedly.
“I hope I didn’t shake these around too much,” Shane said as steadied the cans underneath his sweater.
“Let’s crack them open.”
“Not here in front of everybody,” Shane reminded.
“You’re right, I’m starved anyhow.” Tommy took out the two burritos from the paper sack he had clutched in his hand and he gave one of them to Shane. They peeled back the plastic wrappers and ate the hot burritos while trying not to burn the inside of their mouths. They opened their sodas and drank them as they strolled through the park eating and drinking while passing along by dog walkers, Frisbee throwers, hackysackers, picnickers, musicians, homeless, and clusters of other transient youths scattered around the park. They came to a more secluded spot, went over a grassy knoll and found a hidden place past a ticket of trees. There was a little bit of debris and evidence of a former encampment, but was unoccupied. They sat on a log at the edge of the clearing and continued eating.
“You know,” Tommy began, “we should head over to Berkeley, maybe we can pull the same scam.”
“Are you joking?” Shane responded. “They’re connoisseurs over there, no way we can fool them.”
“We should at least try to sell the other two. I think there’s a rally in downtown today, there’ll be a lot of people there.”
“Bad idea. If there is a rally it’s going to be teeming with cops, let’s just try another neighborhood. Before I forget, can you give me one of the twenties?”
“Sure.” Tommy reached into his pocket with his free hand, pulled out a crumple of bills and held it up to Shane. Shane picked out a twenty dollar bill from the pile, rolled it up, and stuffed it into sock. “Now can we open up those beers?”
“Of course.” Shane and pulled the two 16 ounce cans of Budweiser and gave one to Tommy. They opened up the cans and small sprays of foam hissed out. “Guess I shook them a little.”
“Success,” Tommy said as he held up his can. Shane then tapped his beer against Tommy’s and they drank up. “Ah, that’s good.”
“Been a few days since I had one of these,” Shane said. “Hey, you got any real bud?”
“Yeah, I think so.” Tommy searched his pockets then pulled out a pipe with a screw on lid and a lighter. “Right here.” He lit the pipe through a small hole on top of the cap, inhaled, then handed the pipe and lighter to Shane.
“Thanks,” Shane said. “You know what else I was thinking, we should go farther up north, past Humboldt and into Oregon, maybe all the way up to Seattle.” Shane took a hit from the pipe and held in the smoke for as long as he could before he exhaled.
“I don’t know about Seattle,” Tommy said, “too much rain.”
Shane handed the pipe and lighter to Tommy. “Yeah, but it has to be easier to get by. This place may have the nice weather but you got to pay for it through the nose. I hear things are cheaper up north, we might even be able to get jobs.”
“Doing what? The only job I ever had was at a Burger King, and they fired me after two weeks.” Tommy tried to inhale but only got a partial hit. “I think this is dust.” He unscrewed the lid to the bowl.
“I used to work at a car wash, I could get a job doing that, hook you up with a job, it’s easy, even you could do it.”
“But seriously, you know cost of living cheaper anywhere but here,” Shane said, “between the two of us we could scrape up enough money to get a roof over our head.”
“It would be nice to live indoors again.” Tommy rolled up some green cannabis flakes into a little ball and stuffed it into the bowl. “Little bit more,” he said as he took another hit then handed the pipe and lighter to Shane. “We sure swindled that poor bastard, didn’t we?”
“Wonder if he’s found out yet,” Shane said.
“He’s going to be pissed when he does,” Tommy said laughing.
“Maybe he’ll smoke it and not even notice!” Shane joined in the laughter.
“Yeah, what an idiot,” Tommy said and they laughed louder. Their laughter continued helped along by the alcohol and the cannabis until it subsided and left them happy. They finished the bowl and drank their beers while becoming lightheaded, relaxed, and unaware of the busy, crowded city surrounding the park.
“I’ve got an idea,” Tommy began, “let’s try the beach, that’s where the surfers are, and you know most of them are stoners, maybe all of them.”
“I don’t know, beaches are wide open, we’d be exposed. Let’s stick to the park, lots of people out today, and we only have a couple more bags to sell anyway.”
“All right.” They downed the rest of their beers, stashed the empty cans, soda bottles and burrito wrappers into the paper sack, tossed it underneath a tree, and stumbled their way from the small grove and onto a secluded foot path.
After a few steps they were suddenly grabbed from behind and pushed to the ground. Startled, they tried to get away but were quickly piled on by two bigger guys and panic shot through them. “Hey, what the fuck’s going on here!” they yelled out as they struggled.
“Let’s have it, all of it!” one of the guys barked.
“What? We ain’t got nothing, we’re broke!” Tommy yelled out.
“Bullshit!” a third voice sounded behind the other two guys and moved in closer, “we heard you talking about some bags to sell, now let’s have them and the cash.”
“We only got two left!” Shane yelled.
“Don’t jerk us around!” one of the tackling guys said as they leaned heavier onto Shane and Billy. “Now give them up!”
“Okay, just get the fuck off of me so I can get them,” Tommy said. The two guys released their hold cautiously as Shane and Tommy turned around and saw the three severe bigger guys loom over them threateningly. Tommy reached into his pocket and pulled out the two cellophane bags and gave them to one of the guys who pocketed them.
“And the cash,” one of the guys said.
“C’mon, man, you got our weed.”
One of the guys violently grabbed Tommy by the collar. “Let’s go!”
“Okay, okay,” Tommy relented as pulled out his wad of bills and handed them over.
One of the guys looked over the bills. “That’s it?” He looked at Shane. “You, hand it over.”
“I ain’t got shit!” Shane said angrily.
The guy got into Shane’s face. “Bullshit, now let’s have it!”
Shane pulled his empty pockets outward. “See? Broke!” He brusquely started to pat down Shane. “Hey! What are you, queer?” The guy picked up Shane by his shirt and yanked him up. Shane grabbed his arm and tried to break free. “Get your fucking hands off of me!”
“Let’s get out of here,” the third guy said. The guy who was holding Shane dropped him back to the ground and the three of them ran down the path and disappeared around a bend.
Shane and Tommy were left sitting on the ground. They stared at each other in shock. Tommy’s heart was racing and Shane felt a rush of adrenaline. They sat for a while more until they calmed down, then silently got up and walked away. They meandered through the park without speaking and made their way toward the beach. Tommy felt something wet on his forehead. He touched it, and saw a smear of blood on his fingertips.
“Look what those fuckers did to me,” Tommy said to Shane and showed him the scrape at the top of his forehead, “must have happened when they knocked me down.” They found an old public restroom and went inside. At one of the sinks and Tommy splashed water on his forehead and wiped off the blood while Shane also tried to clean himself up. They looked into the dirty mirror and their gaunt, unshaven faces stared back at them.
When they were done they left the restroom and continued through the park until they crossed the highway and were at Ocean Beach. They sat down on the sand, looked out across the ocean while the sun stood above the horizon and silently watched the crashing waves.
“I suppose if I call my mom and beg her enough, she’ll buy a bus ticket for me back home,” Tommy said, “I’ll just tell her I was robbed, I’ll leave out the other details.” He got up to leave. “The road sure is a hard place,” he said. “If you want to come back, you can stay with me for a while.”
“You know, Tommy, I think I have an idea,” Shane said. “Now I don’t blame you for wanting to go back home, but how about one more shot in a different locale?”
“I don’t know, where would we go?”
“I was thinking,” Shane began, “we can hitch a ride down the coast to Santa Cruz.” Tommy looked at Shane quizzically and appeared unconvinced. “Seriously, it has everything we need, tourists, surfers, college students, drunks, hicks, and you know that between the Occupiers and the gangs the cops have their hands full so they probably wouldn’t bother with a couple guys like us. What do you say?” Shane looked up at Tommy expectantly. “That one horse town won’t know what hit them.”
“But we’re busted, those motherfuckers took everything.”
“Not everything.” Shane reached into his sock and pulls out the rolled up twenty-dollar bill. Tommy looked at the bill, then looked out onto the horizon over the Pacific Ocean as he wondered what to do. He dropped down on the beach next to Shane. “So how do we get there?”
©2015 Robert Kirkendall