The morning after the night before. Sometimes you’ll do just about anything to make the day more bearable, and sometimes you should have just stayed in bed.
As Jay staggered to the bathroom to take a piss, the last thing he was thinking of was his pickup truck. Why should he? It was, well who the hell knew what time it was, but it was daytime and Jay had just woken up. So obviously his first thought was smoking a bowl. It was always his first thought, but this morning he was feeling particularly crappy. His head felt like somebody hammered a nail into it and his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth. Some weed should do the trick, set him right.
His second thought as he splashed water onto his face and stared at his bloodshot eyes in the mirror was that he should go right back to bed, sleep the hangover off. He had no business doing anything today.
Jay’s third thought, and this was an important one, was what the hell happened last night at Ken and Claudia’s? He had a vague recollection of Jell-O shots and licking Jell-O off his fingers, or at least someone’s fingers, and sucking down shots of Jaeger with some crazy guy named Bob or Rob who just moved to Hermosa Beach. God, the thought of it made Jay’s head spin and not in a good way.
Marco, Jay’s roommate, and his girlfriend Chelsea were going at it behind Marco’s closed door which wasn’t making Jay’s hangover any better. Did they have to be so loud all the time? Jay pounded on Marco’s door as he shuffled by on his way to the kitchen.
“Go away,” Marco yelled from the other side of the door. “I’m busy.”
“Yeah, no shit,” Jay yelled back. “The whole fucking neighborhood can hear you.” He heard Marco mumble something inaudible followed by Chelsea’s high-pitched squeal.
That’s it. I can’t get through this day without some weed, Jay thought. Not with these two clowns here. I just want to smoke a bowl and pass out with the blankets over my head.
It wouldn’t have been so bad if Gina hadn’t just dumped him. Saying she wanted someone more stable. What the hell did she want, an old fart in his forties who sat in a cubicle all day? Sure, Jay was just a bartender at Hennessey’s, but it’s not like he was going to do that forever. He had plans, big plans to be, well to be something that made a lot of money.
In the kitchen, Jay poured himself a glass of water and sucked it down. The green glowing numbers of the microwave clock read twelve-thirty. He noticed discarded wrappings from El Tarasco scattered on the counter top. Hardened cheese and beans were stuck to a plate in the sink. Jay’s stomach churned as he leaned against the counter, staring at it. Was that from last night? Did he eat that?
Jay shook his head and decided he didn’t want to know. He plodded back to his room, trying to ignore Marco’s headboard pounding against the wall, and dug around the pockets of his jeans from last night. No weed. Jay scanned his room and noticed his hoodie draped across the chair. He vaguely remembered flinging it off last night before passing out in his bed. Jay checked both pockets and this time came up with a lighter. That was a start.
Maybe he’d left the baggie of pot in his truck. Kicking aside dirty jeans and button-down work shirts, Jay found a reasonably clean pair of surfer shorts. He pulled them on and added a T-shirt that reeked of cigarette smoke. He must have worn it last night. He burped, tasting onions and hot peppers. Guess he really did eat El Tarasco after the party.
Grabbing his keys and sunglasses, he stepped outside and was immediately assaulted by the sunlight. Jay slapped on his shades and trudged down the apartment building walkway in his flip flops, keys jangling in his hand. It was another picture perfect day in Hermosa Beach. The marine layer had cleared by now, unveiling a cloudless blue sky and a view of Abe’s Liquor down the street. A lone bird chirped a steady beat that pierced Jay’s brain like an ice pick.
He plodded down the stairs and exited his apartment building, wincing as the blue metal gate clanged shut behind him. Jay headed in the general direction of Abe’s Liquor, thinking a Gatorade sounded good until he realized he only had a dollar in his shorts pocket.
By the time he arrived at Abe’s, he also realized something else. His truck wasn’t there. He always parked on the residential street in front of Abe’s, just before the metered parking on Pier Avenue.
What the hell? Jay stood in front of Abe’s and looked around. Families and couples headed down to the beach for lunch or some sun. Kids barreled down the street on skateboards. Cars slowly cruised by, looking for parking at the scarce metered spots. But no silver pickup.
Christ, where was it? Jay traced his steps back, staring at each parked car so he wouldn’t miss it. When he arrived at his apartment building, he paused. He could either turn left and head down the narrow one-way street or keep going towards the basketball courts. He chose the latter.
By the time he arrived at the courts, Jay was feeling a twinge of anxiety. He had to have simply missed it, right? There was no way he’d park this far down. He turned back around and headed towards his apartment building, feeling like a doofus even though nobody was paying any attention to him. Still no truck. He turned down the one-way street at the corner of his building and stopped when he reached Monterey Avenue. He wouldn’t park this far. He might as well have walked home from the party.
Jay toyed with that idea as he headed back to his building. Did he walk home last night? Nah, there’s no way he’d walk, the party was like ten blocks away. Plus he picked up El Tarasco, right? He wouldn’t have done that on foot. No, he definitely drove home. Jay was sure of that. Obviously, wasn’t the wisest choice since he was clearly too messed up to remember anything.
Jay arrived back at his building, and panic was setting in. Okay, relax, Jay, relax. He took a deep breath, smelling the salt air, and exhaled slowly. No problem, it will all work out. Yeah, yeah, okay. He just needed to get his mind clear. Figure out what to do next.
What to do next was score some weed, Jay thought. Once he did that, then he could get his head on straight. Maybe call the cops, report his truck stolen. His Toyota wasn’t exactly brand new, hell it had almost a hundred thousand miles, but she looked good for her age. And he’d just bought a new bed liner. Some jerk stole his previous one so this time, he went all out and purchased a heavy-duty bed liner that fit securely in the bed and on the sides. Now the entire goddamn truck was gone.
Only problem now was that Jay had no way of getting to his dealer’s place without his truck. The guy lived all the way up in Hollywood which might as well be another planet. Cab fare would cost him an entire weekend of tips. And Jay wasn’t even going to begin to try and tackle public transportation in L.A.
What he needed now was a place to score some weed that was walking distance. That pretty much meant it had to be a dealer who was a few blocks away, anything further than that and he’d need a ride. Shit, he didn’t even have a bike.
The only person who came to mind was Bee. His real name was something Vietnamese that Jay couldn’t pronounce so everyone just called him Bee. He never had very good weed but was usually good for a dime bag.
He headed to Bee’s place, a couple blocks south and then a few blocks west towards the ocean. It was a small rundown duplex that was a termite’s dream but at least it was three blocks from the Strand. Hermosa Beach was an eclectic mix of wealthy singles and not-so-wealthy surfers and artists which resulted in some odd-looking neighborhoods. Bee’s place looked like a tree house that had fallen in between a palatial home under construction and one that was literally a glass fortress with lion statues in the front yard.
Jay knocked on Bee’s door and waited. He could hear music inside so knew Bee was home. He pounded louder. Jay turned the doorknob and it was unlocked so he walked in.
Bee wasn’t sitting in his usual spot on the couch in front of the big screen television. Some movie was playing with the sound muted. Wu-Tang Clan’s “Cash Rules Everything Around Me” bumped loudly from the Bose speakers. It reeked of cigarette smoke and an ashtray lying on the stained carpet was overflowing with butts.
“Bee!” Jay turned down the hallway, towards the bedroom and stuck his head in. The sheets were in a tangled ball and the comforter was lying on the floor. A black lace bra was draped across a chair.
He was about to start scrounging around for Bee’s stash when the music out in the living room stopped and someone yelled, “Hey.” Jay walked out of the bedroom to see Bee standing in front of the doorway, beanie on his head, holding a plastic bag with what looked like a soda inside. He was smiling, then when he saw Jay his smile disappeared and he tensed up.
“Dude, you left the door wide open.” Bee held his hands up in a ‘what the hell?’ gesture.
“Yeah, well you left it unlocked. You gotta be more careful. Anyone could just walk in.”
Bee made a noise out of the side of his mouth and shut the door. He pulled the bottle out of the plastic bag. Gatorade. “You look like shit, man.” He took a swig and stared at Jay. “What you doing here?”
The edge in Bee’s voice threw Jay off. “I just wanted to know if you got a dime bag. I’ll hit you back later.”
“Nah, man, I’m tapped out.” Bee capped the Gatorade and set it down on the coffee table. Then he snatched a pack of cigarettes off the table, stuck one in his mouth.
Jay knew Bee was lying. He always had weed. “Not even a quick bong hit?”
Bee lit the cigarette and smoke blew out of his mouth when he asked, “Why you coming here anyway? What about your boy, what’s-his-name? Gonzo?”
“Yeah, him.” Bee pointed his cigarette at Jay. “Why don’t you go see him?”
Jay shrugged. “I was nearby. Just need something to tide me over.”
Bee’s eyes narrowed until they were little slits. “What you really want?”
Jay decided to just come out with it. “Look, I don’t have a ride at the moment. How ‘bout you take me to Mondo’s? I’m good for an ounce once we get there. The guy owes me.”
“All the way up in Hollywood? Past Sunset?”
“I’m busy, man. Got things to do.” He gestured to the disheveled living room as if that proved how busy he was. “Take the bus or something.”
Jay snorted. “Yeah, right. I wanna get there sometime this year.” He had an idea. “How ‘bout I borrow your car then? I’ll bring it right back.”
Bee hesitated, then said, “I can’t.”
“What do you mean you can’t?”
“I just can’t, okay?” Jay watched as Bee started cleaning the living room, but it seemed like he was just picking stuff up and putting it on the floor in another spot. He added, “Someone’s using it.”
Bee said nothing.
“When are they bringing it back?” Jay demanded. He heard someone open the front door behind him and whirled around to see Gina standing in the doorway looking all sun-kissed and smiling. As soon as she saw Jay, she scowled.
“What are you doing here?” she asked. She was wearing jean shorts and a pink bikini top. A tote bag with what looked like a beach towel inside was slung across one shoulder.
“What are you doing here?” Jay asked. God, she looked hot. Jay felt a stirring in his surfer shorts which only made him feel worse.
They stared at each other for a beat and then with flared nostrils, Gina strutted by Jay towards Bee. She dumped her tote bag by the couch and threw the car keys onto the coffee table. Bee put his arm around Gina’s tanned shoulders.
“You’re fucking kidding me, right?” Jay looked from Bee to Gina, back to Bee. “This is the guy you dump me for?” The image of the black lace bra in Bee’s room flashed through his head. It blurred his vision for a second and he struggled to regain focus. “A low life drug dealer?”
“Hey,” Bee began, but Gina flicked him on the head, and he shut up. Clearly, she’d already dug her claws into him, Jay thought. Poor schmuck.
“Bee’s got more going for him than you have in your pinkie finger,” she spat.
Jay shook his head. “That doesn’t even make sense.”
Gina harrumphed and crossed her arms, giving Jay her best red lipstick pout.
“I’m outta here,” Jay grumbled. He shot Gina one last glare and then pointed his finger at Bee. “The bitch ain’t worth it, dude.”
Jay heard Gina cursing as the door slammed shut behind him. That didn’t go the way I planned, Jay thought. All he wanted was some weed and now he had visions of Gina’s bra in Bee’s room.
Jay plodded along in his flip flops, away from the beach towards Pacific Coast Highway, the most congested street in Hermosa Beach that became Sepulveda Blvd. once you hit Manhattan Beach to the north. By the time he reached the local 7/11 on Pacific Coast Highway, he was thirsty and his head was killing him. But he wasn’t getting much with a buck.
Jay debated about returning to his apartment to pick up his wallet but figured he probably didn’t have much money in there either. He could at least get a drink at home. Flustered with indecision, he sat down on the end of a bench to go over his choices.
He heard muttering nearby and turned to see a homeless guy, or what looked like a homeless guy, sitting on the other end of the bench. His back was turned to Jay and he was sitting next to a shopping cart piled with plastic bags filled with God knows what.
Jay realized he was sitting at a bus stop. Maybe it was fate. The sign on the post showed a picture of a bus with illegible writing underneath. Jay got up to check it out, trying not to stand too close to Crazy Bag Man, his smell forcing Jay to breathe through his mouth. He scanned the sign for any mention of Hollywood, but it looked like the only route this bus took was to Long Beach. Wait a minute. Inglewood, Lawndale, Hawthorne, LAX. Jay realized numerous bus routes stopped here and it was like trying to decipher the menu at that stupid French restaurant Gina made him go to on their last date.
“Goddamn it,” Jay muttered. There was no way he was going to figure this out. Just then a bus pulled up, creaking and groaning, and the doors swung open. Jay waited until a few people disembarked, brushing past him, before he poked his head in to see a fat black lady sitting at the wheel. She turned to Jay with a look that made him flinch. Man, what was she so angry about?
“You coming on?” she demanded.
“Uh, I don’t know.” God, this woman made him nervous, giving him flashbacks of Mr. Burndell calling on him in seventh grade math class. “Where does this go?”
“Uh, I – I just want to go to Hollywood.”
“Well, I don’t go to Hollywood. You can take this to LAX and then a shuttle to the Metro Station on Aviation. Then take the Green Line to the Blue Line.”
This was much more complicated than Jay could have ever imagined. “The what to the what?”
“Mister, you coming on or not?” She was clearly finished with helping Jay.
Jay decided to hell with it and stepped onto the bus. “I – I have a dollar, is that enough?”
“It’s one fifty.”
Jay scrounged around in his surfer shorts knowing full well he didn’t have anything else and shrugged. “All I got is a buck.”
“Then I suggest you find fifty cents or step off.”
“Come on, can’t you cut me a break here?”
“If you don’t have one fifty, you need to please step off.”
Jay glanced at the few people sitting in the bus who looked either pissed or bored.
“Mister, I need to ask you to please step off.”
“Fine, fine, I’m stepping off. Jesus.” Jay exited the bus, and the doors almost clipped him in the ass before they sealed shut with a hiss. He whirled around to cuss her out but the bus was already pulling away.
“You spare a quarter?”
Jay turned to see the homeless guy looking at him. Only it wasn’t a guy but a very ugly woman. Or was it a guy? Jay tried not to stare at the sunburned face covered in some kind of crust peeking out of a curtain of stringy hair. He almost gagged as the ripe smell wafted into his nostrils.
“A quarter?” the person repeated.
“Uh, sorry,” Jay mumbled and turned away, heading north on Pacific Coast Highway. Maybe he should just go home. Call it a day and admit failure. Navigating through Los Angeles was just way too complicated without a car. You had to have a PhD just to read the bus signs.
Jay pressed the walk button at the crosswalk and waited, feeling sorry for himself. The green walk signal flashed and Jay was about to step off the curb to cross when he heard a horn honk and someone yelling. Jay turned to see a white limousine careening towards him. It screeched to a stop at the curb. The passenger window rolled down and a guy inside called out, “Jay.”
Jay walked over to the limo and stooped down to see a skinny white guy wearing a suit and tie smiling at him. “What’s up, Jay? How’s it hanging?”
It took Jay a second and then it hit him. The crazy guy he did shots with last night, Rob. Or Bob. “Hey, man, what’s up?”
“Last night was epic, right? Totally epic.” The guy was grinning from ear to ear.
“Uh, yeah. Epic.” Jay nodded, taking in the limo. It was a white Hummer limousine with the words ‘Mr. Kash,’ along with a phone number, scrolled across the tinted windows. “You own this thing?”
“Yup. Well, no. I drive for a company.”
“Let me guess, Mr. Kash?”
“Yup. But gonna start my own limo service soon.”
“Uh-huh.” Jay nodded, scrambling to piece together what they talked about last night. Something about moving here recently. Kind of a drifter. “Sure.”
“So what are you up to, Jay? Out for a stroll?” The guy had a manic energy that was unnerving. And the way he kept saying Jay’s name. It made him uncomfortable.
“Uh, well, yeah. Trying to – “Then it dawned on him what a stroke of luck this was. “Trying to get up to Hollywood, man.”
“Yeah? Well, hop right in, Jay.” The passenger door swung open, beckoning him. “Got a pickup at LAX but after that we’re golden.”
“Cool.” Jay folded his body into the limo passenger seat, air conditioning blasting him, and looked over at his ticket to Hollywood. “Thanks, man.” He turned the vent away, already feeling goose bumps on his arms.
“No problem, Jay. No problem at all.” The limo veered into traffic, and Jay gripped the handle above him. Rob or Bob seemed keyed up on something, he was all jittery. “So what’s in Hollywood? Some sweet piece of ass? Getting some action, huh, Jay, huh?” He nudged Jay with his bony elbow, poking him in the side. The limo swerved to the right and Jay heard a horn honk behind them.
“Uh, not exactly.” Jay didn’t want to tell this guy he was scoring some weed. Then he’d have to share it. “Just visiting a friend.” He glanced out his window to see a guy in a Prius flipping them the bird.
“Gotcha, gotcha.” He tapped his steering wheel with both hands like it was a drum although there was no music on. “So what, you were gonna walk to Hollywood?” He cackled like it was the funniest joke in the world.
“Uh, no, I was – “Jay didn’t feel like explaining anything to this whack job. “Taking a walk.”
“Uh-huh, uh-huh.” The guy floored it and they plowed through a red light.
Jay looked over at his driver. He was bouncing all over the place and sweating. Man, he was on some serious crank or something. Jay wondered if they would even make it to LAX, let alone Hollywood.
The limo veered left and Jay gripped the handle again. He realized he hadn’t even put his seatbelt on so immediately buckled himself in.
“Where you going, dude?” Jay turned to his driver. “LAX is that way.” He pointed in the other direction. “We’re going back to Hermosa now.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” The guy was speeding down Pier Avenue like there were no crosswalks or pedestrians.
“Watch out,” Jay cried, pointing at a blonde guy biking across a crosswalk, maneuvering carefully with a surfboard under his arm. Rob or Bob whizzed by the surfer, narrowly missing him, until Jay heard a thwack at the driver’s side front of the limo.
“Holy shit, I think you clipped his board.” Jay spun around to see the surfer, still managing to hang onto the surfboard, plow into a parked car, and topple to the ground.
“Gotta make a stop first, Jay. Will take two seconds.”
“What? I thought you had to pick up some people at LAX?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll get to them. No worries, Jay. It’s all good in the hood.” They turned down a one-way alley and Jay was jostled around as the guy flew across the uneven pavement at fifty miles an hour.
Jay was about to tell the guy he wanted out. No weed was worth this much. Then suddenly they screeched to a stop, almost skidding into the garage door of a rundown duplex. He turned to Jay and said, “Wait here. Some business I got to take care of.”
“What?” Jay stared into those crank-crazed eyes. The guy was totally off his rocker.
Crazy Rob or Bob said nothing and ran back to the spacious passenger area of the limo. Jay turned around to see him rummaging underneath the seats, coming up with a backpack.
“What are you doing?”
He watched Rob or Bob bound up the stairs two at a time with the backpack, knocking on the front door of the top apartment. He danced around the landing like he had to take a piss. Finally, the door opened and some big Mexican guy with a shaved head beckoned Rob or Bob inside. They both disappeared into the apartment.
Christ, what the hell was he doing? Jay realized he was bouncing his knee up and down and tried to remain calm. God, now he felt like he was on crank too. He thought his heart was going to explode out of his chest, he was so keyed up. What was in that backpack? Drugs? Cash? Was this idiot doing a drug deal right now? Jay looked around nervously to see if anyone was watching them, like cops. A white Hummer limo with the words ‘Mr. Kash’ wasn’t exactly discreet.
Jay noticed the nutcase didn’t even take the keys, they were still in the ignition. He was about to slide over to the driver’s side and ditch Rob or Bob, but the apartment door flew open and Rob or Bob stepped out onto the landing. He waved to Jay and then a shot rang out. Rob or Bob jerked, then crumpled to the ground.
“Oh shit, oh shit.” Jay was frozen with terror unable to take his eyes off Rob or Bob’s inert body.
He heard angry voices, something like “stupid, get him inside,” and then the same Mexican guy with the shaved head stepped out. He reached down and gripped underneath Rob or Bob’s arms, dragging him across the landing and disappeared inside. Then another Mexican guy, this one with tattoos all over his neck and arms and wearing a wifebeater, stepped out onto the landing, looking around.
Jay sucked in his breath and was just about to shrink down in his seat, but it was too late. The guy saw him. He and Jay locked eyes, and Jay’s heart surged up to his throat. He was screwed.
Things happened really quickly after that, and Jay had never moved so fast in his life. While the tattooed guy was shouting, Jay scrambled over to the driver’s seat and turned the engine over. Jay looked up and saw the big Mexican guy, followed by two of his buddies, charging down the stairs towards him. One of them had a gun.
With shaking hands, Jay shifted the limo into drive and hit the gas, barreling down the alley. Shots rang out and Jay heard pinging sounds behind him. Then glass shattered, and he figured they hit the back window.
Jay cornered the limo onto Hermosa Avenue, the main drag for bars and restaurants, fishtailing like crazy. Goddamn this thing was a monster. Jay felt the limo skidding to the left and cranked the wheel hard to the right. He overcompensated and with sick horror, realized he was heading straight for a cab that was pulling away from the curb. Jay slammed on the brakes, but it was too late and he plowed right into the driver’s side of the cab.
Jay stumbled out of the limo, dazed and disoriented. It felt like he was in a dream, a really bad dream. Sirens were going off in the distance and he wondered if someone reported the gunshots. Where were those Mexican dudes? Jay scanned the growing crowd of onlookers but didn’t see them. The cab driver was already out of the cab, yelling and pointing.
“Stop right there, put your hands up.”
Jay turned to see that two cop cars had formed a V behind the limo, blocking traffic. One cop, a burly blonde guy, had a megaphone and was shouting orders.
“I said put your hands up, face the limo, and spread your legs.”
Were they shouting at him? Jay complied and another cop, a stocky Asian guy, frisked him.
“Okay, hands behind your back.”
Jay obeyed and felt the cold metal handcuffs snap on each wrist.
“Hey, wait a minute – “he began, turning around.
“I said, face the limo.” The cop shoved him against the car, and Jay nearly did a face plant.
“You got it wrong, man.” He tried again, this time facing the limo. “The Mexican dudes are who you want. They killed Rob or Bob.”
“This guy has ruined me. Look at my cab.” The cabbie was walking back and forth, throwing his hands around, but nobody was paying any attention to him.
The cop grabbed Jay by the shoulder and roughly spun him around. “Let’s go, dipshit.” Another cop, a female, started reading him his rights.
“What am I being arrested for?” Jay demanded as the Asian cop marched him past the limo.
“That’s the guy.”
Jay stopped and turned to see the surfer who Rob or Bob almost ran over pointing at him.
“That wasn’t me,” Jay pleaded. “It was Rob or Bob.”
“Uh-huh. Rob or Bob. Right.” The cop shoved Jay towards the cop car and he stumbled. “Move it, asshole.”
“Hey, I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“We have several reports of a white Hummer limo with the words ‘Mr. Kash’ on it driving like a maniac all over Hermosa Beach.”
“Look, it wasn’t me.”
“You telling me there’s another white Hummer limo with the words ‘Mr. Kash’ on it driving around like a maniac?”
“No, I –“
“Get in there, doofus.” Jay was shoved into the back of the cop car and the door slammed shut.
The Asian cop climbed in the front and the female cop joined him. The siren went on and they reversed until they were in the middle of the intersection of Hermosa Avenue and Pier Avenue. Then they veered left, heading east on Pier Avenue towards the police station.
Jay tried again. “Look, this is just a misunderstanding. That limo isn’t mine.”
The female cop turned around. “So now we can add stolen vehicle to the charges.”
“No. Jesus, that’s not what I meant.” Jay gave up and sank back into the seat. The car smelled like puke. He gazed out the window as they sped past Abe’s Liquor towards the police station which was three blocks up. As they approached the station, slowing to turn into the City Hall parking lot, Jay spotted his truck at a meter, a ticket tucked underneath his windshield wiper.
“Hey, there’s my truck.” Jay sat up, craning his head around as they cruised by it. He would have pointed if he didn’t have his hands cuffed behind his back. “I found my truck.” Even the bed liner was intact.
“Congratulations,” the female cop said.
Jay leaned back, smiling. At least the day wasn’t a total disaster.
Sarah M. Chen‘s fiction has appeared in the Deadly Ink 2007 Short Story Collection, the anthology Little Sisters, Volume 1 and will appear in the upcoming anthology Death and the Detective by Elm Books. She has served as the Recording Secretary for Sisters in Crime/LA chapter since 2010. Currently, she is working on her first YA novel.