In the following two days, the frenzy of our extremely complicated case swirled us wildly around. We did a thousand exciting things: we ate ice cream, licked lollypops, drank Coca-Cola, rode a merry-go-round, drove bumper cars… We even hopped on a scary train ride at the carnival and held hands, scared! The only thing we actually didn’t do was have sex, although the entire time I was sure we would eventually go there. Alas, there was no sex at all or even a fleeting blowjob, but it didn’t matter. All the other things were fine too. At some point, I even felt happy about my life, which usually happens when I have a small amount of money and no work to do. Unfortunately, though, it’s a well-known fact that human happiness is transient, and it often falls victim to insatiable and fanatical human ambitions. That was exactly what happened in the end.
One beautiful late morning, after a quick stop at a gas station to refill the tank, we were peacefully driving along the highway—and by the way, driving turned out to be real fun, and I only scratched the car twice—when Lara grunted ominously, “I’m hungry!” I turned my head to look at her and shuddered involuntarily because I sensed trouble. She was all grumpy, and she had her eyes fixed on the road ahead, her face as dark as a thundercloud. We were just returning from the carnival, where we couldn’t stay because it had been moved, but I knew that wasn’t the reason for her bad mood. She had been like that since the previous evening, and I suspected she had slid into the doldrums again because we hadn’t done anything to find her sister. She was actually so nervous that I had the feeling she would burst open and a baby Tyrannosaurus would pop out of her. On top of that, my gun was still in her pants pocket!
I turned my eyes back to the road and dejectedly took the off-ramp to swerve the car into the suburbs. I didn’t know what to say to her. It was a big city, and her sister was a tiny little needle in it; I had no idea how to speed up the finding process. Soon we entered the outskirts and crawled along the canal, which led us through a chain of miserable neighborhoods where people were even poorer than I was. Some of the wretches here had no home, and they lived in an improvised slum under the highway overpass, where they had gathered cardboard and wooden boxes to shelter from the wind and rain. The place looked like a dumping ground, and the homeless crowd kept gnawing at us with hungry eyes as we passed by them.
“Here! Stop here!” my assistant shouted unexpectedly only a minute later, startling me so much that I literally jumped up from the seat while still driving. I nearly made a headstand on the steering wheel because of her! Naturally, in this situation, I totally lost contact with the brake pedal, and I had no way to stop in time if I needed to, and since such a need had already emerged, I just closed my eyes and let a pile of garbage cans deal with it instead of me.
When the accident was over, I timidly opened my eyes and saw a horrendous-looking cow’s head perched on the front hood of our car—a 1963 Ford Galaxy 500 XL—right where a Mercedes would have had the three-pointed star logo. The head gazed at us—eyeless and sad—probably thinking that after being chopped up and thrown in the garbage and after the stray dogs gnawed it clean, nothing more terrible could happen to it. Well, it was wrong; I had just proved it. Now, its skull had a brand new fracture, which, given the circumstances, wasn’t likely to give the head a headache or something, but anyway, it still looked nasty.
Since Lara’s finger was still pointing at something, I worriedly turned my eyes to the left because I was afraid she wanted us to make friends with the bums under the overpass. It wasn’t the case, though. There was a mobile cart on the sidewalk, not far from us, that had obviously caught her attention. It raised white smoke like Popocatepetl, and on the tent above it, it read “The True Hotdog”. Behind the cart, I saw a seven-foot-tall specimen who looked exactly like a bounty hunter from the British-Afghan wars in the last century. His nose was as huge as a pelican’s beak, his enormous mustaches were longer than the Great Wall of China, and his remarkable beard was denser than the wildest parts of the Amazon jungle. I actually felt a little uneasy at the prospect of buying anything from such a monster, but since we had already crashed our car and Lara had already jumped out of it, I had no other option but to get out and reluctantly follow her.
My assistant briskly approached the man, and soon she stood in front of his cart, still silent. From up close, the guy looked even scarier. He had a shitty-looking apron on—maybe brown, maybe just dirty, because its exact color was impossible to tell even with the most sophisticated colorimeter—and in his massive hands, he held an enormous plunger, which was definitely a more appropriate tool for unclogging toilets than serving food to people. His olive-black eyes glowed zealously.
“You want to try the true hotdog, yes?” The creature suddenly opened his bearded mouth and roared louder than Zeus the Thunderer. The nearby houses immediately cracked, and big chunks of plaster fell on the sidewalk, raising clouds of dust in the air. Then, without even waiting for our reply, the monster repeatedly thrust the plunger into some hole in the cart, making the latter scream like a puppy dog that had just lost its mother. I had the feeling it was actually loaded with true rebar for concrete slabs instead of true hotdogs for people, and it would distort out of shape any minute now. The entire time, Lara kept looking at the scene, fascinated.
Eventually, after almost a minute of diligent work, the Central Asian Goliath removed the plunger and showed us its other end with pride. Two enormously big sausages—the size of a middle-range ballistic missile each—were stuck there, dripping hot water and threatening to explode from the sheer heat.
“Here!” Ali Baba shouted triumphantly in an intonation between rage and awe. “Have you ever seen such a wonder before?”
“Never!” Lara cried ecstatically, trying to indulge him. “I’ve never seen such a wonder!”
“I have seen it,” I shrugged, grumpy because I didn’t think it was right to encourage the jerk. Besides, I didn’t like the man at all. “It was in Saigon in 1971—just before the end of the bloody war!” Of course, I was talking bullshit. I hadn’t seen such a “wonder”, and I couldn’t have seen it even if I was Marco Polo or Odysseus. Plus, I had never been to Saigon, let alone participated in wars there.
My two snack pals just looked at me, surprised and scandalized at the same time. I thought they were definitely overreacting because, even though my claim wasn’t true, it was funny, at least. Obviously, I was the only one who thought so, though.
“You know what you seen, mister? You seen my bare ass!” Naturally, the Afghan took offense, bellowing like a wounded bull. It startled me quite a lot, and when he grabbed a knife almost as large as a machete, I nearly threw myself at his feet, apologizing. Thank God, instead of splitting me in two, the hotdog vendor just split a loaf of bread and started shoving all sorts of salads and toppings between the halves. There was cabbage, carrots, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, mayonnaise, mustard… everything! He literally grabbed it with his hands and pushed it there.
I prudently took a step back to save my life and avoid potential damage to my freshly washed shirt, but Lara decided to stay in touch—probably because she still hadn’t bothered to change her clothes yet. She had been wearing the same set from the moment we met for the first time, and I actually suspected she wasn’t so much into hygiene.
“Selling hotdogs runs in my family, mister!” The Afghan slayer roared as he worked. “My great-grandfather was first to serve the Indian Sepoy Army in 1920. Then my grandfather supplied the soldiers of Kashmir in 1949 during the Indo-Pakistani conflict. My father was the next in line to sell true hotdogs in East Pakistan when it separated in 1971, and here I am now—selling true hotdogs on the shitty streets of America!” Soon he finished with the salad, grabbed the bigger of the two sausages, and plopped it between the bread halves. Then he squirted an entire tube of ketchup over it and squeezed everything between his monstrous paws. Eventually, he handed Lara the result of his work.
“So don’t dare tell me you seen something like this, you western cholak! Nobody except my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father, and I ever made a true hotdog in the last two centuries, and none of us did it in Saigon!” And after shouting all this, the wonder-maker promptly took on the preparation of his next culinary miracle. He followed the same procedure as before, but now his gestures were far more vigorous and abrupt because… well, excessive pride also ran in his family, obviously.
As the Afghan, or whatever his nationality was, was still working in a huff behind Lara’s back, she turned around, happy, and showed her amazing gastronomical acquisition to me. It seemed really tasty—I had to admit it. By just looking at the hotdog, I could feel my saliva bubbling out of the corners of my mouth, but I quickly swallowed it back so I wouldn’t look weak. Nevertheless, my assistant was well aware of my true feelings and kept teasing me. She opened her mouth and pointedly bit at the thing to demonstrate what I was missing. Naturally, given the circumstances and all the ingredients trapped inside, the end closest to me immediately split open, and I had only a second to anticipate what would happen. And one second wasn’t enough time!
Oh, my Gosh, it was such an enormous disaster that I didn’t even have a proper name for it! Such organic mayhem I hadn’t seen even in the craziest zombie movies, and I had the feeling Aswan High Dam’s walls had just broken, and its muddy waters had poured right over my new shirt. In fact, I doubted that even the entire Nile River would have been enough to produce devastation of such a scale because I literally had ketchup and mayonnaise in my nostrils!
Right after she made the mess, Lara looked at me from behind the hotdog and giggled—very amused—as if she had just sprinkled a tiny little droplet on my cheek. Unabashedly, she opened her mouth to have another bite, but since the pressure on my end had already been relieved, it was her shirt that took the hit now. All the remaining stuffing was poured all over it. Not that it mattered, actually; her clothes were already dirty enough, and besides, she didn’t care at all. Instead of getting sore about it, she just tried to reach her hand into her pants pocket to take something out of it, but a streak of ketchup crawled down her forearm, so she had to stop. Eventually, she handed her food treasure over to me and wiped her hands on her shirt. While she retrieved the picture of her sister, I used the chance to sink my teeth into her property.
“Since when have you been selling the true hotdog in America?” She then turned to the Asian, using her smoothest and most charming voice. He was still spraying ketchup all around him.
Goliath stopped his work for a moment to look at her, surprised.
“Since I first came here—since seventy-nine!” he grunted.
“You’ve been doing this for so long?” I felt the sudden urge to cut into their conversation in a very inappropriate way, and I confidently did it. “You’ve worked all your life as a street hotdog vendor and never tried anything else?”
Lara, who hadn’t given him the picture yet, angrily turned her head to me because I was obviously getting in her way, and she wanted me to stop. Since my mouth was full of food and I was trying to talk at the same time, I let her enjoy a bunch of flavors from the tip of my tongue, showering her face and neck with salad. A little piece of sausage also broke free and landed right into her bosom, but she didn’t see it because the monster behind her suddenly exploded with rage and made her turn around, startled.
“How dare call me a street vendor, you stupid American pig!” The Asian yelled seriously offended again. “I’m selling the true hotdog—the one and only in the world!”
“You’re selling a hotdog, yes, but whether it’s true or not, it’s not quite clear because of all the ketchup and mayonnaise you’ve soaked it in. And the shit is all over my brand-new shirt now!” I decided to dig my heels in because the jerk’s brazenness really annoyed me. I kind of felt offended for all the Americans and all the pigs in the world. “Maybe you should just call it ‘The True Hotdog Ketchup’ instead. This way, it’d be more descriptive, and people would know what to expect!”
In fact, I wasn’t entirely right to pick a bone about it. The hotdog was really fine, and although the stuffing was a bit too much for my taste, it was still delicious. I simply didn’t like the guy. Nevertheless, even if I wanted to unring this bell now, it was too late, so I just waited to see his reaction. It didn’t actually take him too long to demonstrate it.
“I’m not to blame that you eat like a pig, you kus modar?” the Asian terminator suddenly roared, out of his head with rage. “You aren’t a true American! You always put your blames on me!”
I looked at him, puzzled and confused, because I couldn’t really grasp what he meant. Why wasn’t I a true American? Was it because I ate like a pig, or because I put the blame on him? If it was the first thing, well, I couldn’t be more American than this, obviously! And if it was the second thing, who else was I supposed to blame? Jesus fucking Christ? Either way, I wasn’t happy to hear a foreigner judge my Americanness in the middle of America!
“You know what?” I finally lost my temper, determined to give the jerk a piece of my mind. It was partly because I had run out of arguments as well. “These are really awful hotdogs you sell here, man! They really suck! They actually suck so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if the revolutions in India and Pakistan actually started because of the sandwiches of your relatives!” I deliberately used the word “sandwiches” just to tease him.
Right after finishing my statement, however, I realized I might have gone too far. After all, the man was quite dangerous-looking, and, as a precaution, I decided to step back. Lara, who still stood too close to the monster with the picture in her hand hanging stupidly between them, suddenly turned her head to look at me again. The expression on her face clearly indicated that I had to apologize to the Asian. Naturally, I wasn’t ready for such a big step yet, and instead of it, I stared at her with an expression on my face, replying that she was a fucking traitor.
“These are not sandwiches, you filthy go khor! This is the only true hotdog your smelly little country will ever know!” Quite expectantly, I heard an ominous thunder behind my assistant’s back, which promptly made her turn around to face Goliath. His eyes sparkled with rage, and his hands clutched the mobile cart so hard that it squealed mournfully and one of its wheels broke loose, rolling away in terror.
“Okay, okay, let’s cool it off a bit, pal!” I reluctantly had to back off, even though I didn’t want to give up on my hurt feelings. I was just afraid the guy would depopulate half the city because of me. “I’m only saying this as a customer, you know; it’s for the sake of your own business. After all, some of your sons might want to become hotdog vendors someday!”
Here, I finally stopped teasing him, but somewhere in my mind, I suspected it was too late. The Asian stared at me dumbfounded, and, at first, he couldn’t believe I had called him a “hotdog vendor” again! Then he took a very deep breath, almost sucking half of the Earth’s atmosphere into his huge lungs, but he never actually went to the point of answering me. He just couldn’t find the right words for it. Instead, he started throwing punches all around and kicking like mad, still holding the unfinished hotdog. At the same time, he shouted that he was about to smash everything and if by “everything” he meant the tools with which he earned his living, he had already done it. Soon the mobile cart twisted out of shape, tumbled down, leaked hot water from every hole it had, and spilled boiled sausages around the pavement.
Truly frightened now, I drew further back and wondered why Lara still stood so close to the raging nutcase. Soon I realized it was because of the picture of her sister, which she wanted to show him. In one of the pauses, when the fucking Taliban with the filthy apron stopped to breathe, he suddenly noticed the photo and grabbed it from her hand, thrusting the half-done hotdog back into it. The jerk clearly mistook the picture for a bill, and with his gesture, he actually demonstrated that the market economy rated well above family honor in his system of values. A few moments later, just before the man tucked the paper into his pocket, he looked at it and roared even louder because he realized he had been tricked. The Asian crumpled the photo into a ball and hurled it angrily at me, after which he just walked away, furious. He left his every possession in our filthy Western hands, including his broken mobile cart, his disgusting apron, his ridiculous plunger, and all of the sausages, salads, and various sauces.
Meanwhile, he summoned all the Islamic leaders for a holy jihad on us, and he called us: idiots; complete idiots; completely dumb idiots; chauvinistic pigs; imperialistic cunts; fascistic dogs; fucking xenophobes who weren’t worthy to lick his shit; destroyers of centuries-old moral values; destroyers of centuries-old family businesses; and a whole lot of other things of that sort. He also informed us that he was going to leave America, leave the West, return to Bangladesh, and live with his mother and her fourteen brothers and that he was never coming back. He also said he would quit selling the true hotdog, and no one on this miserable planet would ever taste it again, and it would all be our fault. In the end, he informed us that every other piece of hotdog in the world was just an imitation and that only his product contained tender puppy meat. I guess he mentioned the last one just so we would know what a terrible loss to humanity we were causing.
“Do you think he was joking about the puppy meat?” I asked Lara after the Asian disappeared in the distance, and we felt safe again.
“I don’t know,” my assistant shrugged, rumbling unintelligibly because she had already started eating. “You could’ve at least let the guy finish my hotdog before driving him into exile,” she grunted, unsatisfied. In an attempt to avoid the bombardment of salad pieces coming out of her mouth, I bent over to take the violated picture from the ground and put it in my pocket.
“If I knew he would overreact so severely,” I rumbled back, returning fire in Lara’s face, “I would’ve kept my imperialistic mouth shut!”
And to demonstrate how exactly I planned to do that, I really tried to close it, but unfortunately, it was impossible. My mouth was so full that even an Indonesian bus would have been ashamed! Unsuccessful “passengers” hung in clusters from everywhere—mostly pieces of cabbage and carrots high on an overdose of mayonnaise—and I was worried I would choke.
“It’s a little late to feel sorry now, don’t you think?” Lara let me taste a bunch of flavors right off the tip of her tongue, spraying mustard on my forehead. A few streams of ketchup slowly trickled down her chin and neck, clearly heading for her bosom to look for the piece of sausage I had sent there a few minutes ago. “I really doubt you’ll manage to get to the airport in time to stop him!”
I hummed inarticulately, intending to give her another witty remark, but then I accidentally looked behind my back and saw something that made my hair stand on end. The situation under the overpass had changed significantly, and I realized we had to hurry with our meal before we turned in a meal ourselves. The problem was that a pack of hungry bums already lurked toward the cart, their greedy eyes fixed on the sausages around us. I worriedly poked my elbow into Lara’s ribs and nodded toward the crowd, and she hadn’t even raised her eyes to look at it when more bums crawled out of their improvised slum to reinforce the vanguard. Seeing this, we frantically stuffed our mouths with food and ditched the rest, after which we retreated toward the Ford because we simply stood no chance of surviving this battle. Unfortunately, our maneuver came out a little too late, and when we reached our car, we realized we had actually been ambushed.
Startled, we stopped there and stared at the lonely “hero” who had obviously left the flank of the stinking army to block our way. He was a peculiar-looking fellow, and he seemed very determined. The man wore a long leather coat, and he had horrifically entangled hair, a mighty beard, and a pair of small, kind of crazy eyes. Naturally, I had seen the guy before, but at first, I didn’t recognize him because I didn’t expect him to be there. The tin basin on his disheveled head gave him out, though. I really doubted there was another dude in the entire fucking world wearing such a weird thing!
The bum looked at us with curiosity, and he obviously recognized us too. His yellowish eyeballs kept ping-ponging tensely between Lara and me, examining us from under the edge of his “hat”, and about half a minute later, they suddenly stopped moving. Then he blinked twice, and his hidden mouth appeared in the middle of his facial bush. I knew very well what he was about to say, but out of courtesy, I waited for him to say it.
“Listen to,” he paused, “my unfortunate,” he paused, “and sad,” another pause, “life story!”
Just a second before Lara had hissed, “I don’t give a damn cunt about your unfortunate life story!” I quickly cut in, “And how about a bowl of strawberry and blueberry ice cream instead? Caramel and chocolate sprinkles included, of course!”
The wretch blinked again and swallowed a couple of times, probably picturing the ice cream in his mind. Then he cast a scared look behind his back as if the milk bar was just around the corner and not more than fifteen miles from here. In the end, he mumbled nervously, “I’d like to, but it’s impossible now. She fulfilled her threat at last!”
“No way!” My assistant suddenly came alive when she heard someone had suffered violence that would make a funny story. “Don’t tell me she really beat the shit in your asshole into shitty sprinkles!”
I turned my head to look at her reproachfully because I found it inappropriate that she focused on that part of his story. After all, we weren’t on a hunt for sensational news here! Lara didn’t give a damn about what I thought, and she didn’t even look back at me. Instead, she kept her eyes fixed on the bum, demanding more details. Our bearded friend neither confirmed nor denied her speculation. He just rubbed the surface of his basin as if it were his skull, and it hurt terribly.
“Okay, what’s the matter with you and the stupid cunt, anyway?” Miss I-wanna-know-everything didn’t give up on her sick impulse. “What’s her fucking problem?”
“She’s just mad at me because I don’t let her score,” the bum admitted after a short hesitation. “I mean, I don’t let her ride the bicycle, if you know what I mean!” And he winked meaningfully at us.
“You mean you don’t let her screw you?” I asked him really surprised because firstly, I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to sleep with this stinky skunk, and secondly, I couldn’t see why he would complain about it. While wearing this weird potty on his crown, his love life was hardly flourishing!
“And why should I?” The man just shook his head without explaining anything.
“Well, it’s because you’d want to grease your old joystick, for example, or you wouldn’t want to forget how it’s done!” I explained the possibilities to him. “Or maybe you’re just grateful for having ice cream for free!”
The bum looked at me and slowly took the basin off his bushy head, wiping his wet forehead. I had never seen him without it—not even for a moment—despite the high temperatures lately, which made the air at noon as hot as boiling soup. However, in light of the events we witnessed at the milk bar a couple of days ago, I thought he had every right to be cautious.
“As a matter of fact,” he went on after a while, smearing sweat all over his face, “I never go there hoping to get ice cream for free. Every time I mean to buy it as a respectful citizen would do!”
We looked at him rather distrustfully.
“Yes, I do. I really mean it!” He vigorously nodded and reached into one of his numerous pockets to retrieve a handful of coins. “Unfortunately, though, she beats the crap out of me before I even have the chance to finish my order, and then she feels sorry about it and brings me a bowl of ice cream to redeem her aggressive actions. What can I do in a situation like that, huh? Would you give it up if you were me? I mean, after the harm has been done?”
“Yeah, that’s a tough one,” I admitted, trying to put myself in his shoes.
“And if so, why do you always go back and take more beatings?” Lara asked an utterly reasonable and to-the-point question. “Are you a masochist or what?”
“Well, isn’t it obvious? It’s because of the benefits I’ve had so far! Unfortunately, everything seems over now. The last time, she trashed me as usual and gave me nothing in return. I suspect she’s seeing someone else!”
And then the bum sighed heavily—far more than the illustration of his tragic experience required—after which he put the potty back on his head. His dirty face immediately broke into a sweat again and shined like the skin of a Congolese pygmy who was lavishly oiled and ready to attend a jungle wedding. I had heard that bums were never hot, but this one was clearly different. The sweat quickly trickled down his temples and vanished into his heavy beard.
“Well, come on then! Tell us about your unfortunate life story!” I reluctantly urged him when I saw he wouldn’t say anything else and we might lose his attention.
This time Lara managed to cut me off in time.
“Oh, come on! I wouldn’t want to listen to the dickhead’s bullshit story right now!” she snapped, annoyed. “It’s hot enough already, and besides, we’ve been doing nothing lately except monkeying around. We should go now!”
I tried to look at her reproachfully again, and I made sure she noticed it this time. It was true that the “dickhead” was a total dickhead, but even dickheads like him had some rudimentary feelings, and her vicious remark had probably hurt his.
“Don’t worry about it!” The bum shrugged when he saw I was embarrassed about my assistant’s behavior. “My unfortunate life story is just a marketing trick anyway. I tell it to people just to make them throw me a cigarette butt or two. Do you have any, by the way?”
I turned my eyes to Lara.
“No, we have nothing!” She snarled and stuck her hands deep into her pockets, demonstrating what a hopeless miser she was when it came to drugs!
“Never mind!” Our new friend went on resignedly when he realized he wouldn’t get anything from us. “My sad story actually boils down to this: I was born in the middle of the forties and had an indulgent childhood, but my growth as a man was rather harsh. At a very young age, I realized I didn’t want to work, and somewhere at the beginning of the seventies, it led me to the point when I stopped even pretending I was trying to fit into society. From this moment on, my life became a lot easier: since then, I sleep on the streets, I have no responsibilities, I have no goals to chase, and I don’t worry about the future. It’s wonderful not to worry about the future, you know. You should really try it! If you taste this way of life, you’ll never want to give it up!”
“Yeah, I’m certain of that,” I mumbled thoughtfully, imagining my future without Lara. It would definitely be worth the inconvenience of sleeping on the streets and maybe even rummaging through dumpsters! “Tell me something else, though! Where do you actually find money to get high?”
The loon suddenly darted a suspicious look at me, swallowing dryly a few times. Every sign of craziness in his eyes disappeared instantly.
“How do you know I get high?” he asked, alarmed, after deciding there was no point in denying it.
“Relax! We’re not cops. The ice cream fairy told us, remember?” I was quick to soothe his suspicions and win him back. “We’re investigating journalists, and we write an article about the young blood spilled every year on the evil altar of narco-trafficking!”
This time it was Lara who turned her head to look at me reproachfully. My poetic effort was really lame, and it was unlikely to convince even a cretin suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, multiple personality disorder, and schizophrenia—all at the same time. The bum didn’t buy it either.
“Well, I have my channels for obtaining cash,” he mysteriously replied and theatrically looked aside. “How far did you go with your investigation, by the way?”
“Not too far. We just got off the highway, and now we’re stuck,” I answered evasively. “We’re looking for snitches. Would you like to sign up?”
“Thank you very much, but no!” The owner of the tin hat decisively shook his head. It made his potty rattle softly. “I don’t believe you can put me under witness protection. Even the cops can’t do it, let alone you! You know, I, too, watch police movies sometimes.”
I nodded understandingly, wondering where the heck he was watching them. Meanwhile, I felt Lara was getting nervous again. She obviously wanted us to move because we were wasting our time here, but I considered her nervousness stupid because we didn’t have anywhere to go. Besides, it was simply impossible to waste something you had so much of!
“Listen. I’ve been wondering why you always wear this weird thing on your head.” I said just to hold the guy a bit longer and see if he knew anything about the local drug dealers. Street rats like him usually did. At the same time, I was desperately trying to break free from my blonde assistant’s grip. She was attempting to make me move away from the wacko and was putting all her efforts into it.
“Because he’s a nutcase!” She hissed, irritated, in my ear.
“This isn’t a hat,” the bum ignored her completely as if she weren’t here with us. “It’s a radio-frequency shield, you know. It’s very dangerous to walk around the streets bareheaded these days, especially if you do what I do for a living. I spend too much time outside, and my exposition is pretty high, but with this shield—”
And he meaningfully knocked his knuckles on the potty without finishing his sentence. The basin rattled again, probably to bear testimony to his high level of exposure, and judging by the noise it produced, the danger had to be really significant!
In the meantime, Lara was already hanging on my shoulder, using both hands to pull me away from the guy. Even if only to tease her, I held my position. Then I surprisingly tucked my fingers into the pockets of her pants, which were completely unguarded now, and I quickly checked their contents. I was sure I would find at least one joint inside because I couldn’t imagine she had come all the way from Cheyenne with only two cigarettes. I was totally right. I found a couple more and extracted one along with my gun. I dropped the latter into my pocket, and the first, I held out in my open hand.
What happened next happened extremely quickly, and it soothed my damaged ego as a man who hadn’t been in charge for a while. The two junkies nervously fixed their eyes on the wrinkled cigarette, which looked even worse than a stepped-on worm, and then they tried to launch forward in a desperate battle for it. I was ready, though. I maneuvered my hand, and the bum remained drooling and jumping around like a boxer in the super lightweight category while Lara hung on my other arm, squealing and unable to get to her property. To prevent her further attempts, I used an old but very effective Jiu-Jitsu arm lock on her, and she froze in the yoga half-moon pose—embarrassed and totally helpless.
“Can you deserve the treat?” I curtly asked the crackpot without specifying the treat because it was obvious.
He got my drift right away, and licked his lips, ready to spill. “What do you wanna know?”
“Where do you get your dope from?”
“I already told you! I beg my way to it using my unfortunate life story!” His nervous eyes kept switching between the cigarette in my hand and my face. He clearly thought I was setting a trap for him.
“You can’t beg for drugs from people!” I snapped, annoyed. “Even if it happened once or twice, you just can’t do it every time!”
He remained silent for a while, thinking.
“You’re very good, you know! You have it in you,” he licked his lips again and nodded approvingly. “You’re nothing like the bag over there!”
I suddenly felt Lara’s hand dancing wildly in mine, and she squirmed so jerky that I had to squeeze her tighter to prevent her from breaking loose. If she did, the bum was dead meat; she would have literally cracked his poor head with his own basin!
“Tell me quickly everything you know because if I let her go, the beating with little chairs upon your radio-frequency shield would look like a Christmas fairytale to you!” I urged my smelly friend to be more cooperative.
The crackpot quickly assessed the scope of the situation: he was either being smashed like a slug trying to cross a busy highway or getting a treat. Lara’s eyes had already turned bloodshot, and she foamed at the mouth with rage, which, by the way, was probably directed at me too.
“You should go back to the highway,” the bum said vaguely. “Ask there!”
At first, I didn’t understand what he said. I glanced back at the nearby overpass, uncertain. Some of the scum who lived there surely did drugs, but I doubted they knew the guys I needed. Plus, the ghetto residents were quite busy right now—looting the Punjabi’s hotdog cart—and I didn’t want to disturb them. Then I realized he couldn’t really talk about the actual highway.
“What do you mean by that? Is this a club or something?” I asked.
“You said you had been there. Didn’t you look around yourself?” He sneered at me, and I suddenly grasped the reason behind our misunderstanding. When I told him we had “just gotten off the highway” earlier, I meant that literally, but he hadn’t taken it this way.
“Okay, we’ll try the place. But who are we looking for? Give me some names!” I waved the cigarette closer to the bum’s beak to motivate him further. He started drooling again, and he swallowed a ton of saliva in front of my face before answering.
“I don’t know any names. I just hung out outside to pick up the leftovers because they wouldn’t let me in. I can’t follow the dress code, you know.”
I nearly burst into laughter, picturing him in a fancy suit. However, I decided to push him a bit more before allowing him to have the cigarette. “We need midlevel dealers,” I insisted. “They’re black guys with lots of jewelry on their necks and many tattoos on their skin!”
“Yeah, you should definitely try The Highway. Or even better, go to Eternity. Everything starts there!” the wacko repeated inarticulately, and after that, it was unavoidable for me to toss the joint in the air because I felt I couldn’t hold Lara on a short leash any longer. The street junkie immediately launched after the cigarette like a male Doberman jumping on a horny Maltese female dog, and he grabbed his treasure right at the peak of its trajectory, trusting it greedily into his mouth and chewing it. Then, even before he landed back on his feet, he was already sprinting up the street, running like a devil. I couldn’t even believe a man could move so quickly—he was literally breaking Olympic records one by one!
After he was gone, I sighed dejectedly and prepared to release Lara. Since I couldn’t think of a harmless and safe way of doing so, I just loosened my grip, ready to take all the beating the bum was supposed to receive. Surprisingly enough, the blonde-haired meat grinder, who had been in a terrible fit of rage until just seconds ago, only rubbed her bruised wrist and contented herself with shooting an angry look at me.
“You should pray the scumbag hasn’t sent us on a wild goose chase,” she grunted viciously. “If he has, you’d be wearing the radio-frequency shield of the lousy sexist!” Then she turned around gloomily and walked to our car.
I shrugged indifferently and apathetically followed her to the Ford. It was still the middle of the day, and the air was sizzling like oil in a frying pan, so I wasn’t exactly in the mood for a fight. The only thing I wanted was a cold drink, and since we were heading to the right place, I decided to ignore Lara’s threats completely. Besides, I had my gun back now, and the thought of it was giving me peace of mind. I wasn’t her little puppy anymore!
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