Beauty, like ice, our footing does betray; Who can tread sure on the smooth, slippery way: Pleased with the surface, we glide swiftly on, And see the dangers that we cannot shun.
- Dryden, English Poet, Dramatist, and Critic (1631-1700)
Chapter 6: A Joint Partnership
The blunt had been smoked and Johnny was high. It was a totally different high than any he’d ever had, the complete opposite of a Friday night when you’re just looking to just get faded and forget everything. Tonight, taking drags off the blunt with the body in front of him and the gravity of the situation hanging over him, getting high made things seem a whole lot more real than things had seemed earlier when he was sober. Those first few hours he had been on autopilot, not thinking, just reacting, the reality of everything only crashing down on him in sporadic waves. Now he seemed to be fully awake. Not paranoid like you could sometimes get, but more . . . aware of everything.
He took off his shirt and began wiping the place down, looking for any trace of anything they might have left at the scene, then he went in the bedroom, with his shirt covering his hand, he started opening drawers until he found the sock drawer. He grabbed two balls of socks, tossed one to Carlos and said, “Here, use them like gloves, lets sack the place and make it look like it was a robbery.”
“It was a robbery.”
“You know what I mean.”
“This guy’s got nothing in here worth stealing.”
“Just throw some shit in a pillow case and lets get the fuck out of here.”
When they were done quietly sacking the place, they tossed their hand socks in the bag and headed for the door. Johnny covered the knob with the pillow case and pulled the door open for Carlos. Johnny followed behind him, holding his sack just up off the ground and a bit bent over, like some Quasimodo Santa creeping behind. Stoned and just a bit too focused on pulling the door back closed silently, it was a full three seconds before the door was shut and Johnny turned to notice Carlos intently pointing his finger directly across the way at a couple in front of the other corner apartment, standing there frozen, the neighbor holding a joint of his own.
Carlos’ finger pointed in a silent, clearly spoken threat (“don’t even think about moving”) while he buried his face into his outstretched arm to conceal himself the best he could. Johnny set the bag down quietly, pulled his shirt up over his nose and then with a motion that was slow and theatrical enough to make sure it was noticed, he swung his right hand around to his left hip, making as if to grab for a gun that wasn’t there. Carlos picked up on Johnny’s pantomime immediately, reaching out with his other hand as if to hold Johnny back and say no need to pull your gun out just yet. Still holding the imaginary gun, Johnny felt how exposed his face was and thought about how his shirt up over his nose was a sorry excuse for a mask or even for a bandito’s bandana, but it was the best he could do.
Had the couple across the way not been so young and unwise to the world, this was the point where they would have known to bow their heads away and hold up their hands to show they had no desire to ID anyone. Instead, they just stood there, frozen and gawking. The guy with the joint held his mouth slightly agape and it was easy enough to read the single thought he held in his head, “Whoa . . . dude . . . I can’t believe we’re witnessing a robbery.”
His eyes still fixated on the couple, Carlos continued pointing and then with the hand that was holding Johnny back, he brought the universal sign for a phone up to his ear while shaking his head slowly (“don’t even think about using your cell phone”) and then with the outstretched hand and a single finger, he motioned for the couple to turn around (which they did.)
Johnny and Carlos headed forward, walking swiftly, keeping their eyes the couple’s backs. Johnny watched for the faint light of a cell phone to flick on were one of them were to try to dial 911 on the sly, hoping neither of them would be reckless enough to make a run for their front door and force them to make a run for it as well.
A new moon shone no discernable light behind them. The building lights overhead were soft and far between. As Johnny turned his attention towards the stairs, he figured that if things were reversed and he was the one asked to describe the couple to a sketch artist, his description would be vague at best. She was early twenties perhaps, a white girl with long black hair, her face pale and oval but hard to define in the soft shadows. He looked like he might have been white too, kind of hard to tell . . .
They reached the stairs, descended quickly and then quietly slipped out the front doors. A car passed in front and their attention was drawn immediately to the blue and red flashing lights of a police car farther down the street. “Motherfucker,” Johnny whispered. The cops had pulled someone over on their side of the street, opposite where Johnny’s car was parked and about forty yards further down. It was about a quarter till one and most likely the cops had found themselves someone trying to drive home safely from the bar, and not succeeding at it.
“Ditch the bag and act cool,” Carlos said.
Johnny paused. His first impulse was to say there was no way they should be leaving evidence behind like that, but then he realized their improvised “sock-gloves” should have prevented any prints from showing up on the goods they’d grabbed and that ditching the bag wouldn’t make it look any less like a botched robbery.
He set the bag down. Up the street, no one was outside the cop car and the cops were probably focused on the DUI and running the driver’s license and they probably weren’t going to worry about or even notice any jaywalkers half-a-block behind them, so they did their best to jog casually across the street.
They made it to the car, Johnny opened his door, brought the seat forward, Susan squeezed back behind Darren and Carlos got in back. “Susan, Darren, this is Carlos,” Johnny said, sliding his seat back in place. He got in and drove off, watching the cops in the rear view while trying to look as cool and unconcerned in his driving as possible.
After they exchanged their what’s ups and hellos, Susan asked, “What happened in there, what the hell took you guys so long?”
“Ah, we just sparked a blunt, got a little high,” Carlos said.
“What???” Susan said, disbelieving.
“Hey homie,” he said back to Johnny. “I’ve gotta get me something to eat. There’s a Norm’s up just a few blocks from here,” Carlos said.
“You guys were up there just hanging out, getting stoned?” Susan continued on.
“Yeah, and I’ve got me a serious attack of the munchies.”
Johnny couldn’t help but laugh at how completely unfazed Carlos was with everything that was going on.
A few minutes later they pulled into the parking lot of Norm’s. As Johnny and Susan began getting out, Carlos said, “Hey wait, wait, wait . . . I got another blunt here, let’s smoke this thing,” Carlos said, doing his magic trick again and making another blunt appear from his front pocket.
“I’m fuckin’ high as a kite,” Johnny said laughing.
“Come on, close those doors, let’s hot box this thing.”
A couple minutes later, they rolled out of Johnny’s car like Cheech and Chong coming out of their van in a cloud of smoke. As they walked in, all four of them looked very high. They blended perfectly with the rest of the 1 a.m. crowd.