Friday, March 31, 2017

There Isn't One Chapters 13-21

This is where I stopped, about halfway through chapter 21. Ideas? Thoughts? Thank you for reading!
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Chapter 13: Sloppy Seconds

We ended up staying until the first train in the morning.  Randall entertained us with stories of wild parties and getting into trouble with his ex-wife.  Henry managed to escape now and then and join in on the adventures.  I always wondered why Henry would often disappear on Friday afternoon and return always on time for work on Monday.  Mom said he was sick.  I guess I could quit feeling sorry for him.

“Heavy shit, man.” Molly broke the silence between us.

“Huh,” I shrugged “It explains a lot.  I just wish I didn't have to wait until thirty fucking six to hear it. I guess I sort of knew shit wasn't right but I didn't have the courage to ask any questions.”

“Your mom seemed like the type of person who didn't like questions.”

“No one in my family liked questions. That's why they're so good with money.”

“I don't get it,” Molly looked at me quizzically.

I grunted a reply. I was too tired and high to explain it to her.

The sun was high in the sky by the time we walked back to Molly's apartment. She poked at her phone angrily. “It's not even noon yet and that asshole wants shit I don't have.”

“What asshole?” Someone picked the wrong time to be a dickhead.

“Ryan.  I owe him money and I have it but...”
I grabbed her shoulder. “Ryan, the douche canoe from the party?”

“Yes, the douche canoe from the party.” Molly's face flushed. “I don't LIKE dealing with him but right now he's the only supply and I have a customer base who would be really unhappy if I suddenly was out of stock.”

We had finally climbed up the stairs and threw ourselves on the couch.  Molly hastily rolled a cigarette. “What kind of drugs are we talking here?” I asked pointedly.

“What makes you think it has anything to do with drugs?” Molly seemed genuinely insulted.

“What else do people freak out about not having? Fucking grapes?” I don't know why I picked grapes.

“OK OK OK, yes it's drugs.  But don't tell anyone.”

My palm hit my face with alarming speed. “One: who do I know?  Two: Obviously your customers know. Three: RYAN knows and he's a total douche.”

“Good point. Points, rather” Molly sighed.  

“So you owe him money.  Simple enough, pay him and move on.”

“It's not that simple.  Just...oh here!” Molly tossed me a worn out school composition book. “Every back and forth deal we've done is in there.  Everything involving everyone else is in there too. It's how I keep track of who owes what but lately it's become a total mess.”

I thumbed to the first page.  I was a trained accountant after all.

After about an hour and more than a few cigarettes, I finally figured out Molly's problem: she was too damned nice.  The book was filled with fronts and trades that more often than not left her with the short end of the stick. “Do you ever think that maybe, just maybe, people buy shit from you because they know they can get some sort of a sly deal?”

“I was hoping it was because they liked me.” She looked as if she was going to cry.

“Honey, I hate to tell you this but people don't often buy drugs from people they like.” Even I knew this.

“Yes, I KNOW,”  She punched my arm playfully, “Problem with these people is that once you give them one deal they always expect it. I'm terrible at saying no.”

That much was obvious from her continued dealings with Ryan. “I can say no. I've got to do something with myself, right? You keep doing your acting thing and I'll fix this little issue of yours. Pretty soon we'll have more money than we know what to do with.”

“You'd...muscle people around for me?”

“Mom was right about one thing, you have absolutely no clue when it comes to dealing with money.”  I suddenly felt bad for being so blunt.

“I can't argue with you there. I only got into this because sometimes acting just doesn't pay the bills and mom's checks only go so far. I mean you saw dad's place.  How do you think he managed that? It wasn't from alimony that's for fucking sure.”

I shrugged, “Well maybe the belt needs a bit of tightening in that direction too. Grandma had a curious saying: 'Exploitation begins at home.'”

“Some people would call grandma evil.” Molly shuddered.

“That may be,” I mused, “but she never, ever was out of money.”

“Maybe we can find a balance.” Molly floated about the apartment while changing clothes. “I have an audition today.  Do you think you could deal with Ryan and maybe talk to Bradley about an alternative supply? Make sure it's clear to Ryan that we are done.”

I sighed and lit a cigarette.  “We may not have grown up together but you're my baby cousin.  I got your back, girl.” I hoped that I wouldn't have to punch Ryan in the face again to get my point across.

Molly hastily ran out the door. “I'm so fucking LATE! Ryan will buzz up, here's the cash” A rain of bills scattered around the room.

“Break a leg,” I shouted after her.  

I stood in the middle of the room for a few minutes, and sighed deeply. Molly certainly wasn't making things easy for me but when compared to the rest of the family, she was positively helpful.  I methodically picked up all the money, counting it as I did.  Molly had tossed at least $1000 around her apartment. No matter what drugs she was buying, I felt like Ryan was ripping her off.

Suddenly, the buzzer went off impatiently. “Yes?” I answered.

“Is Molly around?” The disconnected voice sounded annoyed.

“No.” I figured I should start out with honesty.

“She said she'd be here, damn it!”

“I'm prepared to deal with you.” Maybe I could have been nicer.

“Say what? Bitch better have my fucking money!”

“Come on up and find out, bitch muffin.” I immediately wished I had a filter between my brain and my mouth.  The buzzer clicked off angrily.  I put the cigarette out and sat lazily on the couch.  Ryan burst through the door.  Once he saw me, he stopped dead in his tracks. “

Hey, lady. Had I known I was dealing with you, I wouldn't have been so rude.” I was kind of glad he didn't remember how our first evening together ended.

I leafed through the pile of cash casually. “You mentioned something about money?”

“Yeah, I did. She owes me about a grand but I'll let it slide for $950”

“You're so kind but I believe it was $750” I hoped I knew what I was doing.

“No fucking way, $750! You must be high.”

“Well, for one the shit was short.  People weren't too happy either. I'd rather we settle this for $800 and part ways amicably.” I really hoped he didn't know I had no idea what I was doing.

“You know what? Fuck it, fine. I'm tired of Molly's shit anyhow.” He seemed anxious to leave.

I peeled off the requisite amount and handed it to him wordlessly. He hesitated for just a second before taking it and stalking out the door.  I could hear his footsteps echo through the building.

“Mission accomplished.” I muttered to the empty room. I rolled another cigarette.  I felt that I deserved it.

Chapter 14: Selective Sources

Molly thundered through the door, waking me from a blissful snooze on the couch. “I got the joooooob!”

“Congrats!” I sleepily emoted.  I was no longer annoyed at getting woke up.  

“I'm going to be in a pudding commercial of all things.” Molly was positively radiant.

I laughed out loud. “Pudding! That's pretty funny.”

“I don't see you getting any acting jobs.” Molly threw her sweater at me. “Did Ryan stop by?”

“Yup.  Things are square.” I handed Molly a wad of bills.

Molly's mouth hung open.  “But...but I barely left enough to pay him off.  What did you do?”

“Nothing other than be polite and charming.  I talked him down and I made sure he'd never come back.”

“I thought you were good but I didn't know you were THAT good!”  

I smiled. Maybe there was more to life than simple accountancy.

A few hours later, Bradley showed up with customary flair. We smoked and joked for a while before the subject of business came up. “I managed to finally drop Ryan today.” Molly tried to be casual.

“Huh,” Bradley scoffed, “For real or like the thousand other times you dropped him.”
“Well, admittedly I didn't drop him.  Juliet here is quite the...businessperson.”

“Oh, really?” Bradley seemed impressed. “How did you manage to pull that off?”

“Like I told Molly, I'm an accountant after all.  Money, drugs, it's all the same really.”

“See, THIS is why we should have figured out how to tap into your family's talents a long fucking time ago.” Bradly embraced me in a half hug.

“Yeah yeah yeah.” Molly puffed on a cigarette. “Now the question is, who do we go through if we aren't dealing with Ryan?”

“We are in San Francisco, not Windhaven.  There has to be more than one distributor.” I didn't even know what we were supposed to be distributing.

“Everyone is so damned expensive, though.  We can't be paying eight ball prices on keys.”

“That's what Ryan was charging you,” Bradley observed.

“What exactly are we dealing with, here?” At that point, I didn't care if I looked dumb.

“Blow.” Molly and Bradley both glared at me.

“How in the fuck did you work out a deal with Ryan if you didn't know what you were dealing?”

“Molly, I told you.  Drugs, money, it's all the same. Everyone responds to a haggle.”

“You've got a point, girlfriend.” Bradley held up his hand for a high five.  I unemotionally returned the gesture.  

We sat on the couch without saying a word, passing around a cigarette.  It appeared as if all of us were completely out of ideas. Suddenly, Bradley stood up. “I've got it! Why don't we take Juliet to Cherry's!”

“Take me to where?” I didn't like where this was heading.

“Bradley, that place is terrible.  I can't imagine exposing her to that kind of debauchery could do any of us any good.”

“But she successfully dealt with Ryan twice now.  That's a better track record than either of us.”

“True.  Very very true.”

“Where the fuck and or what the fuck is Cherry's?” I was tired of being talked about.

“It's uh, an alternative lifestyle nightclub,” Molly offered.

“It's a gay bar,” Bradley continued.  “The hottest gay bar in the bay, at least if you believe what's printed on the coasters.”

“Why would I want to go to a gay bar?” I wasn't sexually attracted to women and I wasn't entirely sure I was attracted to men, either.

“Because, gay men in San Francisco do a LOT of cocaine.  If anyone in this town knows of a a non-douche bag source, it's the patrons of Cherry's.”

I glared at Bradley. “Why don't you ask these people?”

“Because they know I roll with Molly and they know she rolls with Ryan.  He's a cock nose.”

“And that has what to do with the price of tea in China?”

“He's a cock nose with a lot of influence.  If he found out that someone in the Cherry's circuit was selling Molly cheaper supply, he'd bust a man-tit and get all violent.  No one down there wants to deal with his drama crap.”

“Great.  Pin tail on the stranger.  Thanks a lot, guys.” I sunk further down into the couch  sullenly.

“Juliet, it's not like that. You can cut out our entire problem AND make us a lot of money!” Molly handed me a cigarette. “You did offer to help.”

“That I did.” I wasn't about to go back on a promise.

“Let's get you dolled up!  We can kick this problem in the ass tonight!”

I wasn't sure I trusted Bradley to doll me up.

Chapter 15: Cherry's

We rattled into a dark parking lot sometime around 10. Bradley pointed to a building glowing with gaudy neon light and surrounded by the biggest group of pretentious looking assholes I had ever seen. “That's the place.”

“Great.” I groaned, “As if I didn't already feel awkward as fuck.” I wasn't sure if my clothing would be considered manly but beautiful or feminine but handsome.  Bradley insisted that I looked like the pinnacle of butch beauty, whatever that meant.  I wasn't sure how I was going to blend in well enough to make any sort of deal.

“OK.” Molly handed me a phone, “Take this. Keep us posted by texting the number labeled Janet.”

“You're going through a lot of trouble for this.  How much of a penis wrinkle is this stupid ass Ryan guy?”

Bradley giggled, “More of a wrinkle than the biggest twink in the old folks home.” I didn't really understand the joke.

“We'll be sitting right here.  If anything goes sideways, text '911' and we'll rush in.  Try not to take too long.”  Molly grabbed my shoulder as I worked my way out of the car, “You can do this.”

I wasn't sure I believed her.

I casually strolled up to the line and settled into a spot in the back.  A pair of men dressed very much like women sashayed in front of of me.  They twittered and clucked like women but their voices were decidedly low.  One of them had a very pronounced Adam's apple.  I tried not to stare.

“Hey, baby.” A woman behind me grabbed my ass.

“Whoa, hey!” I contained my outrage.  I was there to make deals, not enemies.  

“You're cute.” The woman was laying it on thick.  She was attractive but definitely not my type.

“Th th thank you.” I stammered.  “I'm flattered but I'm waiting for someone and...” I was hoping that she would get the hint.

“Oh that's all right, baby.  If you get stood up, you know where to find me.”  She then turned around to chatter with her group of friends.  I sighed and turned around.  This was shaping up to be an interesting evening.

After a long, boring wait behind the wonder twins, I finally made it to the front door. I was surprised to face the towering hulk known as Curtis.  “Ahh, Miss Maywether.  A pleasure to see you.” He had an excellent memory.  

I handed him a couple of twenties. “Do me a favor. If it seems like I'm in trouble...” Having insurance never hurt.

“Not a problem, ma'am.”  

I walked through the door and was suddenly assaulted by terrible music.  I wasn't sure if the music was terrible because the speakers were trashed or if it was the other way around. I felt the first twinges of a headache wrap around my skull.  Whatever I was going to do, I had to do it quick.

The dance floor was full of people in all manners of dress and undress.  People in costumes mingled with mostly naked people who in turn mingled with several patrons in business suits. It was impossible to totally tell who was female and who was male. For some reason, this made me feel a little more comfortable.

I didn't quite know who I was looking for. I kept reminding myself that drugs were just a different kind of money.  People had tells.  The first place I stopped was the bar. I hoped that I would get lucky and the mark would come to me.

“Whatcha want?”

“Beer, the best one you have.” I wanted people to know I had money.

The bartender disappeared and reappeared quickly. He (she?) set down a pint glass full of a dark lager.  It smelled subtly sweet. “15 bucks.”

Shit, this stupid place is expensive.  I handed the bartender a $20. “Keep the change.”  The bartender shuffled away, annoyed.  Entitled prick.

I took a couple of sips and surveyed the room.  My eyes settled immediately on a group of  flamboyant men dressed in designer clothes. There was a very expensive bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice on the table.  They were loud, demanding and they threw money around as if it was going out of style. Just the group I was looking for.

I beckoned a waitress to follow me and walked confidently to the table. I didn't have any real confidence to speak of but I was rather good at faking it. “Hey, fellas.  What do you all have?”

“Nothing from you, honey.”

“You rude asshole, she's offering us a drink!”

“Yeah, let the lady pay for a round, you prick.” I was starting to like these guys.

The group ordered drinks from the waitress.  I handed her a couple hundred dollar bills. “Don't worry about the change.” I said.  She smiled and gave me a hug.  At least she knew how to be appreciative.  

“Please, sit down.” One of the men gestured to the empty spot beside him.  He was wearing a pink smoking jacket and sunglasses even though the club was almost pitch black.  He extended his hand “I'm Chazz”

“Juliet.” I firmly shook his hand. His grip was strong but his hand felt soft and smooth, like money.  I was hoping this lead would pan out and I could go home and smoke.

“Juliet. Interesting but not surprising in this city.” What the hell was that supposed to mean? “What brings you to this little slice of sinfulness?”

“Looking for someone like you, honestly.”

“Hmm, like me?”

“Someone who likes to have a good time and likes sharing that good time with others for a somewhat agreeable price.” I hoped my half-assed code was getting through.

“Sorry, honey you don't got what I like.  Unless you do.” He eyed my crotch seductively. Son of a bitch.

“I'm not talking about sex.” I wasn't about to sugar-coat the situation.

“She's talking about coke, you stupid prick!” One of the other guys at the table shouted.  Way to be discreet, idiot. I wondered how he knew exactly what I was talking about.

“Oh, OH!” Chazz was suddenly all business.  “I have my sources.  You have to buy a key at a time.”

“How much?”

“2.5 K each unless you want more than three and I can cut it to about 1800 or so.”

“Not bad.” I was hoping not to deal with too much but when in Rome. “Do I get a cut at six?”

“Six I can do you for 1500 if you can meet me tomorrow.” $9000 by tomorrow, great. I had it, but how in the hell was I supposed to get it without raising suspicion? I had a feeling it would be a pain in the ass and probably illegal.

I sighed. “I can make it happen by close of business tomorrow.” I wanted to try and cut a better deal but his body language suggested that I could either take this deal or shove it up my ass.

“Perfect. I'll text you at 5 with an address.”

I wordlessly wrote Molly's number on a bar napkin. Molly changed phones more than some people changed underwear so I wasn't too worried about giving it out.  

“Thanks for the drinks, cutie!” Another member of the group pinched my ass as I got up. Some people's kids.

I quickly made my way to the door, gulping my beer.  I silently set the glass down on a trash can as I made my way outside.  My head suddenly felt clearer and I could breathe a little bit easier. “Enjoy your evening,” Curtis called as I rushed out.  I spotted Molly's car sitting right where I left it.

“So,” Molly got out of the car to let me in, “How did it go?”

“Well,” I grunted as I got inside, “I got us a steady supply.  Problem is I have to figure out how to get $9000 by five PM tomorrow.”

“Excuse fucking me?” Bradley looked pale.

“How in the flying fuck are we going to do that?” Molly looked a little more pale.

“Do you two think I would have opened my mouth unless I knew what I was getting myself into? I'm technically the head of an accounting firm.  Laundering $9000 without suspicion is surprisingly easy.” It was naive to think my family had gotten all of their money legitimately.  Being the principle stock holders of an entire town had its advantages.

Bradley embraced me in a hug from the back seat. “You are ridiculously amazing!”

“No, Bradley.  What's amazing is how much I got us for our magic $9000.”

“Two keys, maybe three?” Molly was suddenly hopeful.

“Nah.  Six.” I beamed.
“You walked into that club not knowing a fucker in the place and scored us six fucking keys for the lowest price I've seen since I was sixteen!”  Molly gave me a hearty smack on the shoulder.

“I guess I'm charming.” Everyone in the family was.

Chapter 16: Back Alley Duck

We got back to Molly's apartment quickly. Even though it was midnight, I could get the next day's process started thanks to the internet. I would rather deal with a computer than some asshole on the phone.

“I still don't understand how in the hell you're going to get that much money without someone freaking out.” Bradley looked over my shoulder.

I typed a familiar address.  “Basically I'm going to transfer a payment from a long term client and have it paid directly to me.  This client is notorious for not trusting bank to bank transfers.  I go to the bank, which fortunately isn't the one I use, grab the cash and it will go into the company account, at least that's what the statement will say. Moving money around silently is pretty easy when you are silent partners with a bank” My grandmother may have been crazy, but she was criminally insane with money.

“Shit, no wonder dad wanted to get away from Windhaven.  Everyone is a criminally greedy bastard.” I glared playfully at Molly. I guess it's hard to understand unless you've grown up around it.

“Transfer initiated. Tomorrow, we go to the bank and get a massive wad of cash.”

“I think I'll stay out of this one.”

“You're a bitch.” Molly and I said together.

Molly and I rose early and walked to the appropriate bank.  Thankfully the local branch was relatively close.  

“How are you going to walk around with all that money without someone noticing?”

I unzipped my jacket.  The inside was lined with multiple pockets, perfect for hiding large amounts of cash. “Briefcases full of money can get stolen.  It's a lot harder to get robbed this way.”

“Why do I get the feeling you've done this sort of thing before?”

“When I was in my 20s, Grandma suddenly figured out a way to make the company double in size. She'd send me down to the post office full of cash.  I'd go to a back room and empty out my pockets.  In return, the postmaster would hand me a box addressed to grandma. This happened at least a couple of times a month.  I never asked where all the money came from and I never asked what was in the box since it was none of my business. None of my business...” I trailed off. Maybe my upbringing was kind of screwed up.

We stopped outside the bank. It was an upscale sore thumb on the hand of a poor neighborhood. Molly hesitated. “I think I'll keep an eye on things out here.” She seemed afraid of the place.
I mustered up my confidence and walked in. “Miss Maywether!” How did the teller know who I was? “Fancy running into you here!” The teller was starting to seem familiar.

“You worked in the Windhaven branch,” I suddenly recalled. I was in and out of there a lot but I never really talked to anyone. I suppose if anyone would have a talent for remembering faces, it would be bank tellers.

“There is a cash transfer waiting for you.  This way.” She led me to a somewhat hidden back room. Some people were just used to this sort of thing, thankfully. A large envelope sat on the lone table in the room.  “I'll let you count it.  When you are ready, come up to the front desk and sign the receipt.” The teller quietly left the room. At least this part was easy.

I counted the money as I tucked it away.  It was all there, of course. I felt a giddy little thrill at the fact that I finally was making deals for myself and not just being a mule. If I was going to do something illegal, I might as well be in the driver's seat.

“Mission accomplished, yet again.  Now, we wait and see if this Chazz character is reliable.” Part of me wasn't sure he was the real deal.  Drunk talk isn't exactly the most reliable source of information.

“What exactly are we waiting for?” Molly asked.

“He's going to text your phone with an address.  We're going to go to said address and hopefully exchange this insane amount of money for an even more insane amount of drugs.”

“I only wanted to sell a little bit of coke,” Molly sighed.

“No one buys, sells or does just a little coke,” I replied. Even in Windhaven, apparently.

“You make a good point.  Let's go smoke and pray we don't get our asses shot.” Molly didn't seem to be the praying type.  I wasn't either but at the moment I couldn't argue with asking for a tiny bit  of divine intervention.

At precisely 5 PM, Molly's phone lit up with a single line text message. The address was for a warehouse in the waterfront. “I know that place,” Molly said. “It's that creepy building with a huge metal duck out front.  There's been a couple of parties over there.” At least one of us was going into familiar territory.

We rattled into the parking lot.  I wished that Molly's car was a little more inconspicuous. She maneuvered the beast into a shadowy parking spot and we both stepped out to have a smoke by the large duck statue.  I guessed it was as good a place as any to make a large drug deal.

After a few tense minutes of silence, a Mercedes pulled into the lot. Chazz and two of the men from the club gracefully exited the car.  

“Molly! Figures you'd send someone into Cherry's to do your sniffing,” he said as he stepped into a pool of light.  The deal was starting to make me nervous.

“Chazz. You know I would never waste your time with small time bullshit.” Why didn't Molly mention that they knew each other?  Probably because I failed to mention who I ended up talking to.

“Your friend made a pretty hefty promise.  I would hate to see someone so charming have, what would you say, an alligator mouth.”

I swiftly pulled the money out of my pockets. “It's all here.  I sincerely hope you don't have a hummingbird ass.” Molly glared at me.

One of Chazz's associates took the money from me and counted it slowly.  I could hear the subtle slap of the bills hitting each other and a tiny bead of sweat ran down the side of my face. How did grandma deal with this shit week in and week out?  She must have had crazy nerves of steel. “Nine large,” he finally declared.

“I'm impressed, Molly.  Where do you get such wonderful friends?” Chazz gently took my hand and kissed it. His lips were as soft as his hands.  Coke money really does help maintain good skin health.

“I'm her cousin,” I said matter-of-factly.

“Well well well!” Chazz laid his charm down even thicker. He signaled to his minions. “Get the shit pronto pronto!”  One of the guys pulled a large backpack out of the trunk of the car and tossed it to me.  I quickly opened up the bag and counted six identical bricks of a white powdery substance.

“I want to check it,” I said. Appearances can be decieving and I wanted to make sure I didn't spend nine grand on baking soda.

“Of course.” Chazz tossed me a very expensive looking pocket knife. What a gentleman.

I poked a tiny hole in the top brick. I put a  few grains in my fingernail and tasted it.  I resisted the urge to gag. My tounge suddenly went numb and I could feel my vision blur ever so slightly. Yup, this was the real deal.  I smiled, “This has been a very pleasurable transaction.”

“People were wrong about you, Molly,” Chazz kissed her cheek. “I guess that's why I shouldn't trust gossip from coke dealers, right?”

“I  gu gu guess not.” Molly seemed suprised that things had gone so smoothly.

Suddenly, a large truck came bareling through the lot. The lights obscured the driver, but I could see the glimer of a gun barel sticking out of the passenger window. Instinct took over and I grabbed Molly and Chazz and threw them behind the duck statue. The lot became filled with the sound of automatic gunfire.  Bullets bounced off the ground, off of Chazz's car and off the statue in a haphazard pattern. This asshole needed to learn how to aim.

“Jesus fucking Christ!”

“You don't say no to me, Molly!” A voice rose above the cacophany as the truck sped away.  Ryan, fuck.

“How did that fucker know I was here?” Molly started to cry.
“That's a good goddamned question.” Chazz replied. He suddenly sprung to his feet. “Where are my boys? Boys? Oh shit oh shit oh shit!”

One of Chazz's men had been hit in the upper leg. He was bleeding profuesely but the wound didn't look fatal.  The other employee was holding a shop towel over the wound.  

“Fuck. Ing. A.” I said as I tore a part of my pant leg off with the knife. I held the cloth to the wound. “There, this might work better.  I need something to tie this off.”

“Where did you learn first aid?” the man stammered.  

“Shit, I don't know.” I'd guessed I had always been prepared for this kind of emergency.

Chazz brought me some strips of cloth. I tied off the wound as best I could but the man clearly needed to go to a hospital.  I didn't want to be the one to explain the situation to the staff. “Shit. Shit shit shit.” I fished around in my pockets.  “Here's about a grand or so. Go to the nearest hospital and pay someone to keep their mouth shut.  It's the least I can do.”

“Your cousin is all right, Molly!” Chazz exclaimed as he helped his man get into the car. It was full of tiny holes.

“You might want to swap cars before you go to the hospital.” I offered.

“Good idea.” Chazz hesitated, “Look me up again.  This may have gone tits up but I like you. Lets meet at a less dangerous place next time.” He sunk into the car and it sped off.  Well, that could have gone a bit better.

I picked up the backpack.  Thankfully the product hadn't been harmed. Molly still was crying. Clearly she had never been involved in a drive-by shooting before. I hadn't either but I was impressed with my own ability to handle the situation.  Nonetheless, I didn't ever want to experience that sort of thing again.  Unfortunatly, violence and drug smuggling goes hand in hand.  It wouldn't be my last rodeo.

I embraced Molly's shoulders. “Lets get the hell out of here.”  I let her slide into the passenger seat.  She was in no condtion to drive.

Chapter 17: Salesmanship

The first thing Molly did when we got home was call Bradley.  The first thing I did was a line from my own supply.  I considered it hazard pay.  Molly chattered to Bradley while she rolled a cigarette. I didn't know how she managed not to drop the phone, tobacco or weed.  She must have had a lot of practice.

“How can you deal with that stuff now? I'd be bouncing off the fucking walls.” Molly was off the phone, finally.

“It relaxes me.” This was entirely true.  I wondered if grandma had put the shit in my food sometimes.  My mouth always felt vaguely numb at the oddest times.

“Bradley is coming over.  He can't believe what happened!”

“I'm not sure I believe what happened.” The whole episode seemed surreal.

Bradley barged through the door. I love how he never bothered to buzz up. “Holy fucking crap are you both ok?”

I snorted another line. “I'm fine. I got the shit and I didn't get shot.  Pretty successful night if you ask me.”  I was begining to feel a lot better.

“Oh my god, Bradley it was Ryan! Fucking asshole dick sucking puss bag douche pimple Ryan!” Molly's description was apt.

“Calm down, hun. Calm down.” Bradley comforted Molly.

“He'll get his.”

“How do you figure,” Molly sniffled.

“Something tells me that this Chazz fellow is a pretty big upline around here. Small potatoes don't have six keys just sitting around.  I think we may have inadvertantly made Ryan piss in his own punch bowl.”

“Wait, what?” Bradley was confused.

“Think about it, Molly. Where do you think Ryan was getting his supply from? How do you think Chazz knew who you were?”

Molly's jaw dropped. “Oh my god, you're right.” I had always been good at putting two and two together.

I rubbed my chin thoughtfully. “Even though Ryan is down a supplier, he's still going to be on your ass like stink on shit.  We're going to have to move our supply quietly and or out of town.”

“Quietly I can do,” Bradley mused, “But out of town, I don't know.  We may have to travel somewhere and cultivate some down line contacts.  We don't want to deal with smalls risking our ass, though.”

I suddenly had a good but crazy idea. “Windhaven.  When I left, there were still people interested in our product.  If I can cut a deal, we can sell most of this shit large scale and then keep a couple of keys for small sales and personal supply.”

“Juliet, you are a fucking genius.” Molly gave me a hearty hug.

“Define deal.” Bradley was all business.

“Well shit.  We got it for $1500 a key.  If I can convince people that three large a key is a good deal, we get rid of 4 keys for twelve grand and already we're in the green.  If I can maintain this kind of flow, we can sell the smalls at $60 a gram and be living like royalty even while re-supplying on the regular.”

“You aren't worried about getting caught?”

“Not in Windhaven.  Everyone is related to me, remember?”

I would have to make a phone call. I suddenly felt guilty that the only reason I was calling Henry was because I wanted to move a large amount of drugs. Part of me knew that Henry would understand.  If anyone was completely aware of how things ran in Windhaven, it was him.  Knowing this didn't make the phone call any easier, though.

It was the middle of the day so I dialed the office.  “Maywether Tax and Bookkeeping,” Henry, predictable and professional.

“Hello Henry.” I couldn't think of anything else to say.

“Juliet! I assume since you're calling the office that you have a proposal to discuss.” God, I loved that man.  No pretense, no bullshit.  Straight to the point without all the frivolities.

“I do.  You know I couldn't be anywhere and not fall into some sort of business.  I managed to maneuver my way into some inventory.”

Henry sighed, “You know we haven't dealt in much inventory since your grandmother died.” That was what, three years ago? Regardless, I had a feeling that the need was still there if one asked the right questions.

“Just because mom had a problem with it doesn't mean we have to look a gift horse in the mouth.” Mom had way too many problems over way too many things.

“I was kind of hoping something like this would happen, honestly.  Your mom, god love her, really had no idea what she was doing. We've been bailing water out of this boat since you left.” Lovely.

“Well, shit,” I muttered. “OK well, hopefully this will help.  I've got a regular supplier willing to cut me a good deal on bulk orders.  I can afford to let it go at eh, $2800 a unit.” I was screwing myself slightly but I was dealing to my own father after all.

Henry's tone brightened slightly. “How many units do you have right now?”

“Five.” I couldn't let money just walk away.

“I'll put a transfer request through and send a car tomorrow morning.  I wish I could get away to see you but I have to stick around here and uh, clean the warehouse.” Smart man. “Be sure to check the account to make sure everything balances out.  I assume you are at Molly's?”

“Yes.  Have the driver buzz up. I'll prepare the units for shipment.” For once I was the one sending a box to the post office.  I suddenly felt giddy.

“Juliet, you're a life saver even when you aren't around.”

“I learned from the best.”

I swear I could feel him smile through the phone.

Chapter 18: Hotel Party

The next morning, I got up earlier than Molly and used her computer to check my accounts. Henry had transferred $15,000, to my mild surprise.  A finders fee wasn't too much skin off his nose and he likely could double his money if he was careful.

“You're up unusually early,” Molly stumbled out of her bedroom.

“Making sure the numbers floated to the correct place.” I arranged the bricks into a shipping box.

“So let me get this straight. You took money from an account owned technically by your company and used it to buy six keys of coke. You then sold five keys for almost double what you spent to your company which transferred money to you.  What the actual fuck?”

“Eh, there's a couple of stops on offshore accounts along the way.  Plus some minor paperwork here or there.  It all works out very tidily, doesn't it?”

Molly rubbed the back of her neck. “If you were anyone else but a Maywether, I'd swear we were going to jail.”

“I'm convinced our family has been dealing drugs for generations.  How else would I know my way around?”

“OK so what now?”

“Driver buzzes up at precisely 8 and will come take this lovely box of coconuts off our hands.”

Molly rolled a cigarette and loaded the coffee machine. “Huh, well I think we've made our monthly expenses.”

I was struck suddenly by a stupid idea. “Your dad said he'd whore out the second floor of his building for a party, right?”

“I guess but why would we want to do that?”

I was tired of meeting douches at bars.  I also figured a social gathering would be a good place to establish a reputation for reasonable generosity.  It never hurt to be friendly with a bunch of people, especially when your primary enemy is a nut job.  “It would benefit us to establish a social circle outside of Ryan's sphere of influence.” I finally said.

“I think I understand.  We throw a little thing and hopefully we get a reputation in Oakland. They may be savages over there but they are loyal as long as you aren't a complete twat.”

“Precisely.”

“I'll call dad.” Her business sense was improving by the day.

The buzzer squawked just as Molly left the room.  “Yeah?”

“I'm here for a package.”

“I'll meet you in the lobby.” It would be unwise to let an untested employee know exactly where we lived. “Half information keeps people honest,” Grandma often said.

I descended the stairs and was greeted by the sight of a familiar gargantuan beast.  “Curtis you gigantic jackass, is there a job you don't do?”

“Only ones that don't pay, Miss.”

The whole tangled web of my life often made absolutely no sense. “Well, obviously we know each other.  Are you free a weekend later this month?”

“I can be for a price.” He drove a hard bargain.

“Well, when you deliver this box of goodies to Henry, have him give you my number.  Your services would be appreciated.”

Curtis took the box from my hands. “Of course, Miss.  A pleasure, as always.”  He turned on his heel and exited the building.  Nice and tidy indeed.

“Dad is down with the gathering,” Molly twittered as I walked in the door.

“Good, good.  I figured he wouldn't have a problem.” I flopped down on the couch.

“The only question is, how are we going to set this up? The only production crew I know is run by a big dick head.”

“Bradley has to know someone and we have a friend in Chazz.  I have a feeling those two big mouths could whip up a party.”

“Time to make more phone calls,” Molly sighed.

A few weeks later, we stood at the entrance of her dad's building.  Crews of people were hauling sound equipment and various bits of decoration frantically up the stairs. I was impressed at how quickly the whole thing came together.

“You've gone from nobody to a major promoter in just a couple of months. I swear, you aren't human.” Bradley punched my arm.

“I'm probably not.” I muttered.

“Ahh the magic of coke money.  Fuel of the party scene since the dawn of the party scene, or the dawn of coke.  Whatever.” Randall bounded out of the elevator.  “Molly, why couldn't you ever get this sort of shit together?”

Molly playfully kicked her dad square in the ass. “Because, I'm not charismatic enough to score a huge deal nor am I connected enough to do anything useful with one.  I blame mom.”

“Your mom is in movies, you can't blame her for lack of charisma.”

“How much charisma does it take to be in a movie about bow chicka wow wow?”

“You shut your damned mouth, Bradley Knox or I'll shut it for you.” I wasn't sure if Randall was playing or if he was serious.

“I'm playing old man. Don't have a heart attack.” Bradly ruffled Randall's hair. I wondered who among us was really the alien.

“Ladies. Mr. Maywether. Brad.” Curtis approached out of nowhere.  The man was stealthy for a behemoth.  

“Welcome to the party.” I gestured towards the elevator.  “Park down here and only let decent people up.  I know you have a discriminating eye.”

“How did you get the best bouncer in town?” Bradley may have not liked Curtis, but he did respect him.

“I'm magical,” I replied flatly.  I turned back to Curtis, “I expect Ryan to show up.  If he wants to be civil, let him up.  Make sure he isn't carrying and only allow two of his cronies to come with him. I don't want the place packed with his flunkies.” I slipped a hundred dollar bill into his pocket.

“Huh, magical.” Bradley scoffed.

“Why are you entertaining the thought of talking to bastard fungus?” Molly seemed hurt and offended.

“I want to work out a situation where he wont shoot at us, for one,” I hugged Molly's shoulders. “For two, I want to make it absolutely clear to him that if he keeps making things difficult for you, I'm going to crack his skull open and use it for a cereal bowl.”

Randall whistled.  “Maywethers don't fuck around.”

“No we do not.” I lit a cigarette.  The night was already turning out to be interesting.

Several hours later, the second floor was packed to the walls with all manners of high and drunk people. The bartender we hired could barely keep up and had to go chasing after more alcohol several times. I was considering letting the guy keep the entire bar take.  He'd earned it.

I sat in a booth in the back corner.  It was relatively isolated from the booming sound and completely isolated from the cacophony of party idiots.  I preferred to supervise the show from far away.  Bradley suddenly slid into the seat next to mine. “Good news! We're up five grand AND we still have half a key!”

Huh.  That guy really knew how to deal when he really wanted to. “You get a gold star,” I patted the top of his head.

“You're a real prickasauras sometimes.” He replied sullenly.

“Who got all this shit together?”

“Yeah yeah yeah, your majesty.  So, any word from Captain ass cheese?”

Rumor had it that Ryan was expected at any moment.  Rumor also had it that he wanted to at least pretend to be a civil human being. “He's supposed to be floating this way like a turd that wont flush.”

Bradley sighed, “As long as you can keep him from fucking with Molly.  That guy really rubs her the wrong way.”

“He rubs everyone the wrong way.  She's just nice enough to put up with it longer than anyone else. Unfortunately, being nice in this game usually means your ass either gets fucked or shot.  Usually both.” I suddenly was sad that I usually ended up having to be the asshole in most situations.  Sometimes the game really pissed me off.

An unfamiliar guy in a wife beater and shorts approached the booth.  “Ryan is here.”

“Send HIM over here. If he has anyone with him, offer them a line and a drink and keep them out of my hair.”  The guy hurried off.  At least some people listened to direction nowadays.

Several minutes later, Ryan came and sat down. Bradley politely excused himself, presumably to keep Molly occupied.  “Can I offer you a drink?” I summoned a waitress.  We had spared no expense , after all.

“Whatever is clever.” He lit up a smoke.

I sent the waitress off for a bottle of something relatively cheap.  I wasn't going to waste money being polite to an asshole who didn't appreciate it.  “We have much to discuss,” I finally said after the waitress returned.

Ryan poured himself a drink, “That we do.”

“That stunt you pulled at the waterfront.  Very classy.”

“I don't like people saying no to me.”

“Was it worth pissing all over your supplier?” Might as well play my cards early.

“Admittedly, no.” He sipped his drink calmly.  For being an emotional loose cannon, he had a good poker face.

“I'd really rather we be friends instead of enemies.” I hated the guy but he had needs I could fill for a price.

“Friends how?”

“You aren't done with the trade, are you? Just because you have a little supply problem is no reason not to stay in the game.”

He scoffed, “I bet you have just the deal to keep me in supply.”

“I know I have enough influence to make things go either way.” Maybe I did, maybe I didn't. He didn't have to know that, though. “How much was Chazz charging you?”

“Why should I tell you that?”

I laughed, “How am I going to be able to make an offer without a credible baseline?”

“Make one anyway.” He was starting to get pissed off.

“Eh, two and a half large?”

Ryan gulped down the rest of his drink. “You'd do that? Even after I uh, flew off the handle?”

So, Chazz was ripping him off.  Excellent. “I'm the generous type my friend.”

He sighed. “Well, I admit that since the incident, I've been dry and my clients are becoming impatient. When can we do this?”

Chazz was somewhere at the party, hiding from Ryan and his associates.  “Leave me the cash and I can get it to you before the party is over.”

Ryan pulled an envelope out of his jacket pocket. “Here's 10.  Do what you can do.”

I smiled.  It isn't every day you turn an enemy into a $4000 profit. “Enjoy the show and come see me in a few hours.”

“Don't fuck me.” He got up sullenly.

“I wouldn't want to get that close.” I muttered as he walked away.

Chapter 19: Wizard Fingers

I suddenly had another problem.  Chazz may have been around but I wasn't sure he could get me four keys by the end of the party. I had faith in my magic but very little faith in anyone else. Well, I wouldn't get anywhere if I didn't at least try.  One of these days, my fat mouth was going to get me a one way ticket to the morgue, or at least jail.  I caught a glimpse of Bradley and Molly dancing by the DJ booth.  I summoned a random party goer and told him to send Bradley over.  Molly didn't need to be dealing with this shit.

“How did it go?” Bradley's grin was a lot bigger than I had remembered it.  Someone must have been generous.

“I need to find four keys by the end of the night.”

“Ex ex excuse me? Do you have the money?”

I patted the envelope. “He trusted me with the full amount. Whereas this would be the perfect opportunity to profit off of a dip shit, I'm a much better businessperson than that.”

“I'll see if I can find Chazz.  I still say we take the money and run, though.”

I glared, “Maywethers don't do business that way.”  Even if we did, we didn't.

“OK OK, you don't have to yell.” Who was yelling? Bradley sulked off to find Chazz.  

Chazz stealthily sat down. “I hear a rumor that you want to discuss something with me?”

“Someone wants four keys for ten large.” I sipped a soda. Someone had to stay sober.

“Is that someone a flaming pile of shit?”

“Might be,” I said noncommittally.

“I'm not directly doing business with scum.”

“What does it matter to you? I know you get this shit for less than fifteen or else you wouldn't be that nice to me.” I was getting annoyed.

“I want an extra thousand.” Chazz twirled the drink in his glass.

“Fine.” I wasn't in the mood to argue.

“And, you have to come with me. My up line is curious to meet the woman who burst into town and faced down the mighty prick.”  So, I was getting a reputation.  Not bad for less than half a year's work.  

I summoned Bradley over yet again. “Make sure things keep going smooth.  I have to go run an errand.”

“At one AM?”

“Isn't that when all the fun errands crop up?” Idiot. “I'll be back as soon as I can. I trust you to keep things running here.”

“No problem, boss!” Bradley saluted and wandered off. I hoped that I wouldn't be coming back to a disaster.

Chazz and I rode the elevator in silence.  This was either going to be a productive evening or I was coming out of it in a body bag.  Either way, I at least showed some people how to have a good time.  Meteoric rises always are followed by rapid falls. I hoped that perhaps I could enjoy a minor plateau but considering the past twenty years or so, I wasn't too optimistic.

Curtis' large frame greeted us as the doors opened. I handed him another hundred dollar bill. He was doing an admirable job, after all. “Miss.  Chazz.”

Chazz grunted and made his way past.  What was everyone's problem with Curtis, anyway? I've paid more for respect.  I thought his rates were rather reasonable.

We made our way to a Mercedes parked out front.  How many of these things did this guy have? I got in the back seat.  Cushy.

“Thankfully my associate isn't too far from here.  Business is somewhat easier in Oakland.” Chazz said from the front.

“I can't imagine why that is.” I said sarcastically.

“You're funny.”

“Humor breaks up the tension.” My life had been pretty tense.  I had to have some way to deal with it other than being wasted all the time.

After a few minutes, we parked in front of a dilapidated office building. Did anyone fix anything in this shit city?  With all the money being slung around, I had hoped that someone would use it to make the neighborhood a bit nicer.

“His office is on the first floor.”

“You're not coming with me?” Suddenly this seemed like a very non-advantageous situation.

“He said he wanted to talk to you alone.  Whatever, I still get my cut.” Chazz leaned back in his seat. “Don't keep him waiting.”

Great, just great. I turned on my heel and walked towards the entrance. It was guarded by a pair of surly looking men in suits and ties. I suddenly felt self conscious in my jeans and sweatshirt.

“Miss Maywether. Our boss is expecting you,” one of the guards boomed.  The other guard held open the door for me.  If this boss of theirs was going to murder me, he at least had the courtesy of making sure I was treated politely.  Nice touch.

I walked through a marble tiled foyer.  The whole inside of the building screamed money, unlike the crappy exterior.  This guy just might know what he's doing. I worked my way towards an office blaring classical music.  The door was firmly closed but the music was completely audible from the outside.  Coke heads.

I lifted my hand to knock but the door opened, almost if by premonition.  A short man dressed in a very 70s cut suit stood in front of me. “Jeffery Berkovitz,” he extended his hand, “You must be Juliet.  I've heard a lot about you.”  Wonderful.
“Well I can't say I've heard much about you,” I replied honestly.

“Of course not.  June had a habit of not telling anything to anyone and Henry, god bless him wanted to keep you away from certain...particulars.  That really ended up working out, eh?”

“It's probably genetic.” Everyone liked jokes, right?

Berkovitz laughed, “Yes yes yes!  Come in, come in!  I'll turn this abominable noise down.”

I sunk down into a plush leather chair. This was turning into a long night.

“So, Juliet, we meet, finally.” Berkovitz sat down and lit a cigar. “I've heard good things about you.”

“I learn from the best.” Henry had taught me as much as he could.

“You do, you do. My family and your family has been in business together for a very very long time.  I am honored to continue our wonderful relationship.”

“What exactly does this relationship entail?” All of the information hidden for my protection was really starting to piss me off.  

“Well to make a long story short, your family came from Germany.  My family did too but they were somewhat on opposing sides. Despite this, both families figured out that making money together was better than wasting money on fighting. What a wonderful gift to us all, am I right?”

“Well, we aren't broke, that's for damn sure.”

“Anyway, everyone likes drugs, especially in America.  Our forefathers came here and started a tidy little empire in New York.  They soon found out that it was easier to sell drugs in California and well, here we are.”  

“Here we are,” I agreed.

“That's right.  Now to the reason I asked you here.  Henry tells me you're the best the company has to offer.”

I didn't know exactly what he was talking about. “I guess.  It didn't take me long to figure shit out around here, that's for sure.”

“No, it did not.  You're a lot classier than that asshole Chazz and you're better at math.”

Mom never called me classy.  “I uh...well, thanks.”

“You're welcome. Anyway, we need some numbers sorted out around here. I'm terrible with numbers and I'm better at the supply end of things. It's pointless for us to push drugs and money around back and forth when I can just pay you in cash and product to balance our books and make sure Johnny Taxalot doesn't climb up our asshole. Is this something you can do?”

I didn't see why not. Handling product was making me nervous. I was always more comfortable dealing with invisible numbers.  “Easy peasy”

“Good!” Berkovitz handed me a large box overstuffed with papers. “First thing is getting this rat's nest sorted out. Call me when you're done.”

“Well...I...uh...”

“The four keys for shit-for-brains is already at the party. I trust you have the money?”

Was this asshole telepathic? “Yeah, I have it right here...”

“Keep it.  That's payment for your current project.  I'll take care of Chazz later. He can wait, impatient prick.  Now get out of here and enjoy your show.”

I stood up and walked out of Berkovitz's office, cradling the large box. He slammed the door and turned the music up again.  Coke heads.

The large guard politely held the door open for me and managed to open the car door too.  I shoved the box into the back seat.

“Everything cool?” Chazz seemed curious.

“Berkovitz said he'd take care of you.” I slipped some money out of the envelope. “This one's on me.  If he pays you a second time, just keep your damn mouth shut.”

“You're going to pull a fast one on Berkovitz? You've got balls.”

“Nah, I just do the books.”

Chapter 20: Paper Trafficking

As the months passed, I settled into a routine. I set up a small office in my room at Molly's and spent most of the day pouring over various types of paperwork.  Berkovitz had given me free reign and I used that autonomy to set up an air tight network of in going and outgoing transactions that to the untrained eye seemed entirely legitimate.  Meanwhile, I had taken over paying all of Molly and Randall's bills which improved their relationship significantly.  They had started a band or something and often held parties at Randall's building.  I had even managed to figure out how to get that place making money.  All in a year's work, I suppose.

“Wasn't coming here supposed to be a vacation?” Molly leaned against the door frame.

“This is a vacation,” I mumbled as I scanned a spreadsheet.
“How do you figure? You hardly get out of the house any more.  I think you're getting pale.”

“Shit is just...easier here.” I didn't think it was possible but my productivity had doubled.  Maybe it was the environment. Maybe it was because I actually knew what I was looking at.

“You are coming to the beach with Bradley and I,” Molly declared.

“I have shit to finish,” I protested.

“It will wait.  Besides, someone wants to see you.” I hoped that Molly hadn't tried to set me up with a date.  Her previous attempts had all become disasters.

“OK fine.” I didn't really need that much convincing.  It was about time for a break anyhow.

Bradley met us downstairs. “So, it comes out of the cave, it does!”

“It does,” I punched Bradley's arm.

“Bradley and I are going to go grab a coffee.  Why don't you head down to the dock?” Was Molly trying to get rid of me for some reason?

“We are?” Bradley was as confused as I.

“Yes,” Molly hissed as she grabbed Bradley's shirt.  “We'll catch up with you later, Juliet.”

I made my way to the dock.  What the hell was this all about?  As I approached the water, a familiar form emerged.  I could recognize the slight hunch and beer gut from a mile away.  I ran towards the shape. “Henry!”

“Juliet!” He embraced me in a warm hug.  

I felt a tear fall down my cheek as I pressed my face into his chest. “I missed you, Henry.”

“I missed you too.” Verbose, as always.

“What brings you up this way? Don't you have an office to run?”

He sighed deeply, “That's why I came up here.  The office isn't doing too terribly well.”

That was impossible. “What do you mean the office isn't doing too well? I'm running the numbers and it seems to be doing just fine.” Having my credibility questioned even by Henry was infuriating.

“On paper, everything is fine.  In reality, your mom left us in a heap of trouble.” More secrets, more lies.

“Don't sugar-coat this, Henry.”

“OK OK, I won't.  I guess your mom isn't here to bitch so I can lay it to you straight.” Henry proceeded to tell me how mom and grandma had gotten into an argument over the nature of our business right before grandma died.  Mom still wanted to stay in the drug game but wanted to go somewhat more legitimate in her dealings. She tried to cut the Berkovitz's out of the loop, favoring investments in various pharmaceutical companies. This of course assured her a ready supply of opiate drugs and a bit less conspicuous a paper trail. Unfortunately for her, people who run pharmaceutical companies are less trustworthy than cocaine dealers. The companies she invested in managed to foul up the books so bad that our company was being indited for tax fraud.  They'd not only completely screwed up their business, but also threw our company under the bus.  Mom spent her remaining days trying to fix the problem, all the while hiding it from everyone in the company, including Henry.

“Fucked by opiates, again.” I muttered at the end of Henry's story.  “They killed her and now they are going to kill our fucking business.”

Henry put a hand on my shoulder.  “Not if I have anything to say about it.  The important part is that we know what's going on now and we can do something to fix the situation.”

“If mom was trying to screw the Berkovitz's, why is that Jeffrey character so damn nice to me?” I suddenly had to know.

“Because, Jeff is an old friend of mine and Randall's.  Plus his dad was more than friendly with your grandmother if you know what I mean.”  Was everyone fucking everybody?  Who could keep track of this nonsense? “Besides your mom wasn't out to screw anybody.  She just was uncomfortable around cocaine.  I suppose because her mom was so damned dependent on it.”

I never really noticed that grandma was a raging coke fiend.  I she must have hidden it well. “So now what?  Isn't there a way to just throw enough money at the IRS to make them go away? It isn't as if Berko...Jeffery's business isn't doing well.” I had personally seen to that.

“It isn't that simple.  The IRS wants to ask questions that I don't think any of us are prepared to answer.  Besides, I'm dying.” Absolute impeccable timing as always, Henry.

“Wait, what?”

“I have cancer.  I was diagnosed before your mom died but I didn't think hearing it then would have helped you.”  It sure as hell wasn't helping me now, either.

“Telling me now seemed more appropriate?”

“As messed up as it is I wanted you prepared for the fact that I can't help you. The hounds at the IRS know I can't make the hearing in Sacramento. Unfortunately for them, they don't know you exist.”

“They don't?”

“When your mom died, the company fell to me, at least on paper.  You've been quote living on a trust fund unquote since you were 16.  That way no one had to pay taxes on you as an employee.”

Smooth.  “What does that mean for us now?”

“It means maybe you can convince the IRS that we can make right on years of tax fraud without any of us going to jail.  If someone doesn't go to that hearing, we are all screwed.”

I sighed. “That's that, then.  I guess I'm taking a trip.”

“A car will come pick you up Monday. Call me the second you have any information one way or the other.”

“So, that's it then.  You're just going to go back to Windhaven and die?”  I suddenly felt like a total asshole.

“It doesn't have to be like that.” For the first time in my life, I witnessed a tear welling up in Henry's eye.  “I could stick around for the weekend.  Maybe we can catch up.”

I wasn't sure any amount of catching up was going to make up for thirty three years of bull shit, but I couldn't fault Henry for trying.  Out of all the people in Windhaven, he was the one that consistently tried.  For that, I was eternally grateful.  “I'm sure Molly wouldn't mind a guest.  Even if she does, I'm paying the bills so I can tell her to shove it.” I laughed.

“Taking over wherever you go.  That's my girl.” Henry grasped my shoulder lovingly. I embraced him in a sincere hug.  Just because the past was shitty was no reason to give up on the future.

Chapter 21: Father Dearest

Henry and I walked up and down the beach and talked. He told me the story of how he met mom in high school and how he always felt that she was troubled. He felt a need to help her in particular but he couldn't really figure out why. It was part of that Maywether charm and charisma, I figured.  They developed a physical relationship in secret because grandma would fly off the handle if she found out.  Obviously, due to my existence, she found out anyway.  

“I don't regret what happened one bit. Your grandmother was a complete bitch over the situation and it almost cost me my job and my future but at the time it didn't matter. It still doesn't matter, really. Even though your mom was bat-shit crazy and is giving me a headache from beyond the grave, she still helped create the most important thing in my world.”

I felt my face turn beet red. “I never knew you felt that way. I mean, I always wondered why you were always around and why you kept trying to teach me things even though mom and grandma gave you no end of shit for it.  A weaker man would have given up long ago.”

“I always kind of figured I'd only get one chance when it came to kids.  When your mom told me she was pregnant, she was way more upset than I was. I was glad to find out your grandmother was very much against abortions.  If it was up to your mom...” He trailed off.

“I think everyone knew how mom felt about me.” It wasn't as if she kept it a secret. “I'm sad that she always seemed to want to punish you.  Now I guess I know why she treated you so badly even though you were a model employee and a good friend.”

“She blamed me, of course. What's funny is even before you were born everyone figured she'd drink herself to death eventually.  Having a kid meant someone would continue the business which was in Windhaven's best interest.  I think part of her wanted the business to fail to spite her mother.”
“Grandma would have never let that happen,” I mused. “Even after grandma died, it took mom working literally to death to even make a dent.”

“Well, it might be more than a dent but that isn't going to stop us, especially now that we can work together openly.”

Eventually, we ran into Molly and Bradley sitting on a bench feeding crackers to seagulls. “Henry!” Molly leaped up and bear-hugged Henry.

“Molly!” Henry seemed genuinely happy. “It has been way too long.”

“Yeah it has.  I'm glad you decided to stick around a bit today.”

“Juliet has convinced me to stay for the entire weekend.  I might even go to Sacramento with her on Monday, if she'll have me.”

I was beyond overjoyed. “Your company is always welcome, Henry.”

“Good good.  Now what does a man have to do to get a smoke around here?”

We wandered back to Molly's apartment.  Randall was sitting on the front steps, puffing a cigarette. “Henry, you old dog! I was wondering when your ass would show up.”

Henry grabbed Randall in a bear hug. “You think I'd come all this way and not see you, you big dumb asshole?”

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