-Strange – 6 Pages –
“Get out before I toss you out on your fat ass,” my wife shouted at me during one of her frequent tirades. Smart man that I am, I obeyed. To tell you the truth, when she got in one of her dark moods, it was always best to put some distance between us. Luckily, the local watering hole, Eddie’s, was only a half a mile away – plenty distance enough for me. Incidentally, my ass really isn’t all that fat; not that it makes much of a difference to this story, I just thought you ought to know.
I rode my bicycle down there, locked it up outside, and strolled into Eddie’s a mere ten minutes later. The bar was sparsely populated that day. Save for a few tables of regulars, mostly all of whom had wives similar to my own, it was just me and the barkeep, the aptly named Eddie.
“The usual, Max?” he asked, already mixing my aridly dry Martini.
“Yep,” I said. “But go easy on the vodka. Lucy’s awfully pissed this time, so I may be here awhile.” Eddie poured the glass half full. Of course, I saw it as half empty – a mighty sad thing to behold, let me tell you – and I promptly had him fill it all the way. Anyway, I figured, the drunker I got, the easier it was to handle the missus. That is to say, when I did finally make it home, I’d quickly pass out and be blissfully unaware of her.
“Why do you stay with that crazy broad, anyhow?” Eddie asked, after I’d taken my first delightful sip. Then he graciously stored my heavy jacket in the stock room.
“Cause I can’t sleep here,” I answered, without a trace of sarcasm. Though if Eddie had a cot in the back, I might have given it some thought. But really, deep down, like Marianas Trench deep, I did love my wife. Plus, she had all the money. And purse strings bind tighter than nylon rope. You see, I hadn’t worked a day in many years – a blessing as well as a curse. Of course, far be it from me to share that little tidbit with the likes of Eddie.
Anyhow, an hour later, and with three martinis nicely warming me up, I’d almost completely forgotten about my need for escape. I’d also forgotten to grab a sandwich on my way out the door. “Hey Eddie,” I shouted down the bar. “Got any pretzels or something?”
“In the back, help yourself,” he yelled back, as he escorted one of the drunker patrons out the front door. Eddie was two hundred pounds of pure muscle, so tossed was more like it. I’d learned that lesson the hard way.
“Okay,” I said, stumbling around the bar and into the storage room. I’d been back there before. Eddie trusted most of us regulars. We knew full well he’d probably kill us if we ever tried anything funny with him. And funny was the last thing on my mind as I looked around for something to eat. But funny is exactly what I found, though not funny ha-ha. Funny strange was more like it.
Eddie had a nice-sized stock room. Bottles of booze took up most of the space, but he did have a couple of shelves of finger foods, mostly pretzels and nuts. Plus he had a small desk, a coat rack for himself and some of us regulars, and in the corner were a few cleaning supplies. I’d seen all this before. But now, for some odd reason, he also had two cases of coffee beans.
Oh sure, Eddie always had a pot of coffee brewing, but in all the time I’d been coming there, I couldn’t recall seeing anyone drink any of the stuff. So why would he need so many beans? And why would he grind it himself? Seemed like an awfully big waste of time and money to me. Then again, my time and my money both belonged to a foul-tempered lass I called my wife, so who was I to judge? In any case, I found a bag of nuts and hightailed it out of there. Snooping, I assumed, would be a big no-no with Eddie.
I ate the nuts, drank a couple more martinis, and an hour later I rode my bike home – no easy feat mind you, but a hell of a lot safer than getting behind the wheel of my car. Thankfully, Lucy was in better spirits, or at least it seemed that way. Then again, my world was sorta fuzzy around the edges by that point. The tree outside my front door seemed like it was in a good mood, too, if that tells you anything. Still, Lucy wasn’t shouting anymore, so I assumed my time away did the trick. A short while later, I passed out, as expected.
I woke up the next morning, and everything was back to normal. Well, as normal as my life ever was. I suppose it’s a relative term. I did try to stay out of Lucy’s way, though. Why rock a boat that was already in rough waters, I figured. And with a house as big as ours, it was sort of an easy thing to accomplish. Still, a mere couple of weeks later, I managed to piss her off yet again. Lucy was like the tides that way. And when the waves came crashing down on the shoreline, I was out the door and back at Eddie’s – my hovel away from home.
“Nice to see ya, Max,” he said, as he handed me my drink and hung my windbreaker up. The routine never grew old. Eddie was good at his job, and I, for my part, was a nice, if fairly unobtrusive, customer. Most of us regulars were like that. After all, as the saying goes, you don’t shit where you eat; not the most appealing visual, but you get my point.
“Hey, Eddie,” I said, a short while later, “got any of those peanuts? I’m starved.”
“Damn,” he grunted. “I clean forgot to order any this week. Can you watch the place while I go to the store and grab a few bags?”
It was kinda like having the rats watch the cheese, but I said sure. Anyway, all of us had filled in at one time or another. Eddie was always forgetting something, or running quick errands. We trusted him with our livers, he trusted us with the shop. No biggie. A minute later he was out the door, and we all just sat there, drinking our drinks and commiserating about our good-for-nothing wives.
“Hey, Max,” one of the regulars shouted over to me, “see if Eddie’s got any of them pretzels in the back. I gotta eat something here.”
“Yeah, yeah. Keep your shirt on. I’ll go check,” I grumbled. Though, to be honest, I was hoping for an excuse to go back there. The coffee bean thing had been nagging at me since my last visit, and with Eddie gone I could have an uninterrupted look.
Sure enough, the stock of coffee beans was still sitting there, only this time there were three crates instead of two. For some reason my stomach lurched at the sight of them. Granted, that might have been the booze and lack of food I’d had, but it was also the fact that something wasn’t right with this picture. So what did I do? I opened the top crate and had a look inside. “Coffee beans,” I whispered. No surprises there, right? I also peaked inside the other two. Same thing: coffee beans. Maybe Eddie was gonna turn the place into a Starbucks. There were only two on the street already, so what was one more?
But then a little voice inside my head told me to delve deeper. I’m of course speaking figuratively here. I really don’t hear little voices inside my head. Usually. In any case, I reached inside the top crate and rooted around. “Coffee beans,” I said again. “Uh oh,” I quickly added. The box, it appeared, only partially contained coffee beans. The top half was full of the familiar hard beans. The bottom half felt soft and pliable beneath my searching fingers. So I grabbed whatever it was I was feeling, and I pulled it out.
“Uh oh,” I echoed.
“Hurry up with the pretzels, Max,” the guy yelled from out front. “I’m starving.”
“Hold your horses,” came the familiar voice of Eddie. “Start on these peanuts.”
“Uh oh,” I echoed, yet again, starting to sound like a Swiss yodeler. I knew I only had like a split second before Eddie came back to hang his jacket up, and if he caught me with my hand in the coffee beans I’d be a goner for sure. So I shoved the bag of white powder inside my own jacket, quickly closed the crate, and ran from the stock room, with my jacket hung over my arm.
“Leaving so soon?” Max asked.
“Oh, um, yeah. Forgot, I gotta go to the grocery store and pick up some Coke, er, um, soda for Lucy. She’ll kill me if I forget.”
“Oh, okay. Well thanks for watching the place, see you soon,” he said, looking at me suspiciously. I think the stammering and the by-then profuse sweating may have clued him in that all was not okay. I ran out of there quick as a wink, so as not to draw even more attention to myself, and I didn’t look back.
But that’s when I noticed it. Or, that is to say, didn’t notice it. The key to the lock on my bike was no longer in my jacket pocket. It must have fallen out when I slung my jacket over my arm. Luckily, the baggie was still snugly in place. Or, that is to say, not so luckily. Okay, as you might have guessed, my head was reeling by that point.
What the hell was I gonna do? Maybe, I prayed, Eddie would never notice the missing bag. The entire bottom of the crate felt like it was full of them. That meant there were probably dozens of baggies in all three crates combined. If he emptied them out simultaneously, he might never notice that one had seemingly vanished. Though given the size of the bag in my jacket, I seriously doubted it. I’d just have to think of a way to sneak it back into the crate. Either that, or leave the state. Or the country. At best, I figured, I better leave the parking lot. But without the key to my lock, I had no bicycle. Needless to say, I practically ran all the way home.
“Why are you sweating so much?” my wife asked, fifteen minutes later, as I ran inside the house and bolted the door behind me.
“It’s hot outside,” I answered, peeking through the curtains to see if I was followed.
“It’s forty degrees out there, Max,” she said.
“Oh. Maybe I’m coming down with something then. I should go and lie down.” Which I did. I crawled under the covers, shut my eyes, and tried to clear the bad thoughts from my addled brain. But that was kinda like trying to erase permanent ink from a wipe board. The bad thoughts kept swirling around my head all willy-nilly like.
Firstly, even I, naïve middle-aged man that I was, knew that drug dealers concealed there stashes in coffee beans to hide the scent from drug-sniffing dogs. Which meant that, secondly, in my jacket pocket there was now a rather large bag of an illicit substance. Which meant that, thirdly, I had stolen a bag of an illicit substance from a rather muscular drug dealer. Which meant, lastly, that I was most likely a dead man. Had I had much of a life, it would have probably flashed before my eyes right about then. But when I opened my eyes, all I could see was the barrel of the gun that was pointed at me.
“Hi Eddie. What’s up?” was about all I could come up with.
“You dropped your key in my stock room,” he replied, with his finger pressed dangerously tight on the trigger.
“Oops. That’s me, Mister Butterfingers. Thanks for bringing it back to me, you really shouldn’t have bothered.”
“And you really shouldn’t have taken my drugs.”
“No, I suppose not,” I said, as I slowly raised myself up on my elbows. The gun raised right along with me.
“But you know how that hindsight thing is.”
Just then, my wife entered.
“Oh hi, Lucy,” I said, trying hard not to pee the bed. “You remember Eddie, right?”
“Hard to forget a man that comes running through my home with a gun, Max,” she said, cool as the proverbial cucumber. I envied her calm. Actually, I envied the lack of a gun pointed at her smug face.
“Give me back the bag, Max, and I might not kill you,” he said, as the tip of the barrel brushed my nose.
“Might not?” I asked.
He paused before answering. Maybe he hadn’t given it much thought. “Nope, I’m gonna kill you,” he finally replied. So maybe he had given it some thought.
“Well, okay, the drugs are in my jacket. But please don’t kill my wife. She didn’t have anything to do with this.”
Max shouted over to Lucy, “Go to his jacket and bring me the bag.” The gun stayed rested on my schnoz. Lucy walked over and retrieved the bag, and then tossed it on the bed.
“Now let him go,” she said.
“You know I can’t do that,” he said.
“I said, let him go,” she reiterated.
Max slowly pulled the gun away from my face. I breathed a small sigh of relief.
“Okay, Lucy. You’re the boss,” Max said.
“Huh?” was about all I could manage, but then added. “You mean figuratively, right?”
“No, Max,” Lucy said, and then took the gun from Eddie. “He means it quite literarily. I’m his boss; and yours, in a way. You’re the one who’s been bringing him the drugs every two weeks or so. I stitch a little into your jacket, we have a fight, and you go down to the bar. Eddie hangs your jacket up, and then removes the drugs. Then he stashes them in the cases of coffee beans, sells the cases, and sends me back the money through your jacket. You can hide a lot in a windbreaker, you know.”
I sat there stunned. I thought my wife stayed at home all day watching soap operas. Then I asked, “So this house?”
“Drugs,” she said, and nodded.
“And my clothes?”
“Drugs,” she said, and kept nodding.
And our cars?”
“Drugs,” she said, and then added, “It’s all bought with drug money, Max. All of it.”
“But I thought your parents gave you the money,” I said, since that is indeed what I thought. Oh stupid me.
“Nope, my parents send me the drugs. It’s a family business. Welcome to the family, Max.”
“So Eddie’s not gonna kill me?” Now she nodded her head no.
“And you’re not gonna kill me either?” Again with the no.
“Because?” I had to ask.
“Because you’re my husband, and I suppose I love you.”
Hmm, the day was just full of surprises. “So,” I said, “I guess I’m a drug runner now, huh?” Both Lucy and Eddie nodded and smiled at me. I smiled back at them and added, “Well, it beats getting shot in the face.”
And that’s how I joined the family business. Well, only temporarily, really. Like for ten minutes. After our little conversation I went and took a much-needed leak, and then I excused myself and went for a much-needed walk. Yep, I strolled right on out of there and went directly to the police station, where I promptly told them the whole story, including where they could find three cases of drugs, a home with two drug dealers and at least one gun, and a list of addresses of Lucy’s immediate family. I loved my wife, too, but not enough to go to prison.
Oh, and one more thing. Drug running wasn’t the first crime I ever committed. That would be embezzlement. Over the years I’d taken quite a bit of money from our joint checking account and hid it all in a private storage locker. So, when the cops came and hauled my wife away, and then the government took our home and Eddie’s bar, I was still left with a considerable nest egg. Now I live in Boca Raton in a small, but cozy, bungalow overlooking the ocean, which I share with a much younger and more honest women named Jenny. I paid cash for the place, by the way, which I now own – lock, stock, and barrel.
Originally posted 10/04/2005