The wind blew hot through Long Beach that summer. It was an annual event, this dry air coming from inland, rushing toward the ocean, known as the Santa Annas unless you were raised around there and then they were called Santanas. It remained hot even at night.
Fredrick knocked on the front door and Ramone peeked through the small grate. “Hey, bro. C’mon in. Long time no see, pard.” The men did a ritual clasp of fingertips that slid into a palm press with thumbs hooked which gave way to a curled finger tug that collapsed on itself in an embrace, a hug of friendship. “Lance and some new dudes in the living room toking. You looking to score?” Ramone thumped Fredrick’s back several times.
“Yah, Donna sent me to get a lid. Got any shit for sale?”
“Indeed we do, we do indeed.”
Fredrick thumbed over his shoulder, turned in the doorway before Ramone could shut it behind him. “Nice ride. Whose is it?”
The house was set quite a ways back from Redondo Avenue and the cement driveway was long and double wide. There were two beaters and a pickup as well as a nice looking machine that was completely out of place. “Oh, yah, the Jag. Lance landed a sweet Hollywood deal.”
“Some movie star?”
“Stella Stevens. He’s painting her short with psychedelic paisleys.”
Fredrick took the information in without comment.
Lance was sitting on the couch so Fredrick plopped down beside him. The room was dark and smoky with tobacco and marijuana as Janis sang “Ball and Chain” in the background. A hissing sound alerted Fredrick to the joint, half gone, being passed. Of the six people in the room, all but one was comfortably ensconced in one of the many overstuffed chairs or pillow mounds. This one man rested in the center of the room on his haunches in a position Fredrick, who was athletic and considered himself fit and limber, thought might be impossible to achieve let alone hold for any length of time. The man in the middle took the roach, sucked a long lung full, passed it to Lance who was unaware it was coming his way. Nonetheless, he was pleased to draw on it before he passed it on.
“S’good shit,” Fredrick said through clenched teeth. Exhaled smoke filled the air in front of him. “So, I need to cop a lid,” he said.
Lance’s eyes were at half mast as he nodded in agreement. “Price went up today. Twenny a ounce.”
Fredrick did a double take, said “What!? Twenty dollars! Why? How come so much? It was fifteen last time I was here.”
“Like you said, s’good shit. This is opium dipped Thai stick direct from Bangkok. Boys here say they can cop a key or two for us, but it’s expensive. Dipped in opium, right Mark?”
The man squatting in the middle of the room had a muscular body that appeared sculpted by weight training. He wore a tee shirt and Fredrick could see a tattoo on his arm just below the shoulder, but he could not read the insignia surrounding the drawing.
“That’s right, only the best shit. We can get ten keys if you want,” Mark replied with a winsome smile. He appeared comfortable in the unusual resting position, his tail dropped down behind him, his elbows resting on his knees. He began to sway back and forth like a swing. “We can get you a hundred keys. A thousand keys.”
“One to start,” Lance said in a businesslike tone. “We’ll see how it goes after that.” He removed several flat oval shaped dry green leaves from a baggie in his lap, opened his mouth and filled his cheek.
“Whatcha got there, Lance?” Fredrick asked.
“Coca leaf. We’re seeing if it’s any good and if we want to import it.”
The roach was across the room when Lindsay, the only woman present, said, “Hey, don’t Bogart that joint. Pass it over to me.”
“Nice lyrics,” a voice from deep within a pillow pile said with a laugh. “Family of Man, right?”
Mark said, “Kerry Dane knows all the songs on that album. We used to sing ’em in camp.”
“What camp?” Frederick asked.
“Fire base along the DMZ.”
“Fuckin’ Nixon. Fuckin’ Nam,” the voice from the pillows remarked to no one in particular.
Fredrick was impressed. He had spent the last three years dodging the draft as a student. Here were men who had actually been in the war. “You guys did a stint in Vietnam?” he asked as the joint reached the guy lying amid the pillows.
“Me and Mark, yah,” the man identified as Kerry said sitting up in the soft mound. “We were in the Marines, did a tour in country together. Got our DD-214’s last month, so it’s official. Thought we’d make some money off our connections is why we’re here.” The joint was no longer viable, but he held it at an angle between thumb and forefinger, the paper not quite touching his lips because what was left was hot, and sucked air past the ember long and loud. When he finally stopped making the noise, he held his hand high above his head and, with a flourish, brought the other up just as he let go the charred stub. His palms met in mid-air where the ash should have been, slapped together with a loud clap and swished a couple of times as if he was knocking off dust. It was a display of disdain toward the possibility of pain and of impunity with regard to the condition of Lance’s multiple layers of carpet covered floor.
Like a magic trick, the ash disappeared; nothing fell to the ground. Kerry had consumed the entire roach right out of existence.
“Come the revolution, smoking dope will be free for everyone!” he exclaimed.
Michael, who was seated across the room, said to no one in particular, “Yah, I’m in the Guard.”