(Note: I know, two posts in one day.. amazing what a job I actually enjoy can do for the creativity. This one was written in less than an hour with little-to-no editing, so forgive the grammar/spelling mistakes when you see 'em)
Noise. Loud noise.
I cinch up covers and try to ignore this intrusion. Rolling over tells me last night’s bed guest decided to am-scray.
No biggie, not the first time by any means.
What was her name? Leslie? No,.. wait, was it Linda? Shit, can’t remember.
She was cute. Pity she got embarrassed about last night and left.
Hope she caught a cab; Hill Street’s not the place for a nice Saturday night stroll.
I’m sure she did.. girls at her bachelorette party will probably look for her, what with the wedding today and all.
Holy fuck, why are they still yelling downstairs? I can hear Sledge, no surprise. Sledge’s voice has that Barry White resonance that lets you hear him no matter how softly he speaks.
Dammit, Yuri’s yelling back? What a dipshit. Gotta look into this.
Ass-spin to a sitting position on the bed.
Bad-fucking-idea. Drank way too much last night. Brain makes an attempt to escape via the left eyeball socket, forcing closure of both lids. Stomach shoots off a warning belch, lets me know a response will be swift and severe if these actions continue. Only one cure for this..
Slowly lay back down and blind reach into mini-fridge near bed. Fumble around and grab a can of Coke. Open, sip…
Bleah! Too sweet. Stomach has started pushing forces to the esophageal border.
Quick and gently reach on nightstand for mini-bottle of Jack. Open and poor into can. A couple of swirls, then drink. Much better. Improves when used to drown a fistful of Tylenol. Start to feel like I might survive.
More yelling downstairs.
Fuck these two. Noise will stop one way or another.
Stand up, reminding legs they serve a purpose. They still forget, and the bed draws my ass back like a paperclip to a magnet.
Second try has more success. Walking is another matter. The room is not spinning so much as it’s resting on invisible ball bearings during an earthquake. It’s a small miracle I make it to the stairs. I three-point walk down, pausing after each to push back any gastro-intestinal advances.
“You ignorant sap!” Sledge yells at Yuri. “Do you know how much trouble this could cause? It’s one thing for a couple hundred, but three thousand?”
Yuri for his measure, is pink, although I don’t know if it’s anger, embarrassment, or falling asleep in the sun. As usual, he has already sweat through his collar.
“Zshoo not tell me to do dis,” Yuri’s accent gets heavy when stressed. “I jus’ to take the card from cus-toe-mars an’ give them moneys.”
It’s true, Mikael Andreakopf made me hire his cousin as part of his condition to not squeal about my felony record to the liquor licensing board. After failed attempts as a bouncer (Yuri’s only slightly more intimidating than a bowl of apples), bartender (couldn’t figure out the twist-off tops on the beer bottles), and janitor (still trying to forget what happened to the urinals), he had found a job he could do – enter the exact amount the customer’s ask for and hand it to them once their card is approved.
“What happened?” I ask, louder than I should have. My cerebellum renews its attempts at freedom.
“Yuri allowed a customer to charge three thousand dollars.” Sledge says, as calmly as he can muster.
“Okay, he allowed Beta to charge three thousand dollars on a card.”
“I not know this man,” Yuri sputters, talking directly to me for the first time. “How I know this not his card?”
“It was an American Express platinum, and the name on the card was Laura Nguyen,” Sledge says while holding the card receipt as if he intends to shove it down Yuri's throat. While his volume has not increased since I entered, Sledge’s tone shows he is seething with rage. He walks over to the side door and opens it. Sure enough, Beta and his buddy Oscar are sleeping next to my dumpster, a bottle of recently purchased and even-more-recently consumed vodka lying empty next to Beta’s leg. “Does he look even mildly Asian to you?”
Yuri is now looking at me, at a loss for anything resembling an answer. I know I can’t harm him lest I bring down the wrath of his cousin. Yuri also knows this, but he can see I’m contemplating if it’d be worth it. A big-dollar credit card fraud like this brings police investigation, which brings light to my little dark corner of the world, which endangers my livelihood (such that it is) as owner and proprietor of Dirty Jake’s Titty Bar and Pool Hall.
“How much money do you have, Yuri?” I ask. Yuri is like most recent immigrants, carrying a huge chunk of money with them at all times, sure they’ll be kicked out of the country and forced to leave whatever they’ve earned behind. After hesitating for a beat, Yuri pulls his money clip from his jacket and hands it to me. Even I am surprised for a moment until I realize Yuri’s been slinging dope for his cousin. I’ll have to worry about that part later.
I peel off the three thousand dollars, think about it, then take another grand. I hope Ms. Nguyen will be the understanding type. Heck, the name even sounds familiar. She might be a regular guest of the club. Give her the card and her money back, plus a grand for her trouble. She couldn’t report it stolen then, right? The power of positive thinking flows outward as I go to wake Beta and Oscar.
Beta has been a regular guest on my premises, and by “Guest” I mean he’s allowed to rummage through my dumpster for recyclables and sleep in the back area on two conditions: he doesn’t bother the customers and he isn’t visible from the parking lot or the street. Oscar is lazy, even by bum standards. He never climbs into the dumpsters, never is seen carrying the bags of cans and bottle to the recycler, and never does anything but mooch off those around him. I’d be ready to rudely awake both just based on where they’re sleeping, but am now thinking about giving them both a five-knuckle alarm clock. I decide I don’t want the risk of a skin disease and turn the hose on the sleeping pair, doing my part to keep the city clean.
“Wake up. Beta,” I say as I kick his legs.
“M’name’s not Beta,” he slurs. It’s true of couse, but Beta’s never told anyone his name as far as I know. He does habitually wear a ruined smock from the old Alpha-Beta Supermarkets, so he’s had the name for as long as I’ve been around.
“Yeah, whatever,” I answer. To let him know I’m serious, I give him a slight kick to the hip. “You need to show me where you found this credit card.” I pull the half-exposed credit card from the pocket on his smock. It's already smudged with a brown film I hope is old chocolate sauce but fear is fresh dog shit. This gets Beta’s attention, as he looks at me with a worried gaze.
“Wazn’t me, ‘t was Oscar,” he murmurs. Turning on his friend while he sits right next to you, what a classy act.
“Ok, but you and Oscar need to show me the purse where you got the AmEx,” I’m getting frustrated, but I also want to keep my distance. Fleas can leap a long way, I hear.
It takes a few minutes and a threatening look from Sledge, but they eventually stand up and tell me they found the purse in a trash can near Pacific Church of Christ’s Office of Homeless Services, but only took the credit cards and cash. Worried they’re lying just to make a run for it, I make them show me.
After a couple of blocks fighting against wind changes, Beta points at a dumpster. Panicked and fearing a beating or worse, I can forgive them for not noticing the police tape cordoning the area around it. I have more trouble with their failing to notice the woman obviously tossed inside like so much garbage, one arm bent over the side as if she made a last attempt to climb out. A half-hour later, the crime scene techs lift her out, and I see Laura Nguyen for the first time since she left my bed this morning.