“The Pros of a Matchstick”—Installment III – 5 May 2014
The first post of the month is the third post of this series. Here’s installment three.
Linwood went out back to find Jamieson standing on the stoop there, smoking another cigarette and defogging his glasses with his shirt. Like a gangly penguin he huddled under the concrete awning to stay out of the rain. “Boss’s lettin’ me go out on the long haul today,” Linwood told Jamieson as he pulled up his hood. Out of the pouch-pocket on the front of it he pulled out a thickly-rolled joint, then a match from the case, striking it on the sleeve of Jamieson’s jacket.
“Balls-and-guts test? Right on, right on.” Jamieson flicked the butt out into the rain. “It won’t be borin’ that’s for damn sure.” Linwood passed him the joint and he took a pull. “Question. Why’re you always usin’ those fuckin’ matches? You really oughta invest in a Bic, man.”
“It’s classier, usin’ these strike-anywheres. Like the name says, strike ’em anywhere dry and boom, ya got fire.”
“A lighter makes fire anywhere,” said Jamieson matter-of-factly. He passed the joint back to Linwood and hooked his glasses on his collar.
“Whatever. Four perfectly valid points: A, they’re cheaper than a Bic; B, I don’t like tastin’ lighter fluid; schwa, I just like ’em better; and most importantly, people don’t lift my fuckin’ matches.” Jamieson laughed at the imitation as Linwood took a pull, then released the smoke in a slow stream. “I got a question for ya. How many lighters you go through in the past year? How many, ballpark?” Linwood took another pull and let the smoke do its work, the marijuana shoring up his stance of match over lighter. He passed the joint back.
Jamieson thought honestly about the question. “Maybe a dozen. dozen an’ a half. Christ, that’s a good fuckin’ point, man. Hell, they don’t even hafta die or get pinched, if I leave ’em at home I jus’ get another one from a boodega wit’ a pack’a smokes. Point, Linwood.” He took a pull. “Listen—” Jamieson choked on the hit and Linwood laughed, his voice echoing down the alley above the sound of falling rain and Jamieson’s hacking. He coughed up the smoke and spat out a loogie, then took another pull, a better one. “Listen, I’ve done the twenty-four run before. It’s… interestin’ but shit can go down in a hurry, so ya—”
“I gotta stay sharp to stay safe. Trust me, I understand. I do, Jamieson,” Linwood reassured the unconvinced look on Jamieson’s face. They passed the joint back and forth in silence for a few rounds.
Linwood watched the rain fall, thinking about his train ride into work. “I saw this girl on the N today.”
“Huh?” Jamieson was lost in his own thoughts, watching the paper burn away from the lit end of the joint, still stuck on the pros of matchsticks.
“I said I fucked a sheep in my apartment this mornin’ and charged five bucks a head to watch. Jesus, pay attention, you pothead.” Jamieson passed the joint back to Linwood. “I ran into this girl on the train today, right? She had…— And her face was…— And… and her body!?” His gesticulating and stammering served to confuse Jamieson, who wore a puzzled look stretched down his long face. “She had it, man,” Linwood said simply. “I’m tellin’ ya. I stood next to her and I felt something, somethin’ powerful.”
“Three guesses what that somethin’ was,” Jamieson said with a smirk.
“Don’t get me wrong, she was hot. But she’s more than some cockteaser, man. It… it’s kinda hard for me to explain.” Linwood shook his head with a smile and took another hit, exhaling the smoke up toward the unbroken bank of clouds.
“So let’s play then,” Jamieson said.
“Yeah, alright,” Linwood said. He passed the joint back to Jamieson. “You start.”
“She was… about five-five, two-seventy, wit’ tits like cannonballs in a windsock an’ teeth like Indian corn.”
“Come on, man.” Linwood rolled his eyes.
“Okay, okay. She was about… five-seven.”
“I was thinkin’ thirty.”
“Red hair? Dyed red.”
“Good guess, man.”
“Nah, most dudes think they’re in love wit’ a chick wit’ red hair. That’s why she dyed it.” Jamieson took a hit and exhaled the smoke, thinking of his next question. The roaring of engines in the garage passed them by, almost unnoticed. “Um… perfect tits in a tight T-shirt?”
“A tight sweater, but God, yes.”
Jamieson offered the roach to Linwood, but he declined it. “She was… white?”
“Nope, Dominican, I think. Or Puerto Rican, maybe.”
Jamieson took another hit. “She… stood in front’a you an’ rubbed her ass cheeks on your cock.”
Linwood made a buzzer-like sound. “She stood next to me and rubbed her tits against my shoulder. Then she whispered in my ear.”
Jamieson repositioned the roach in his fingers to keep from burning them. “What she say?”
“‘If you told me you were starin’ at my tits how do you think I would have reacted?’ Word-for-fuckin’-word.”
“Jesus. Whatcha say back?”
“Nothin’. That’s when we got to Thirty-Fourth and… she got away from me. Worst of it is I hadta hide the fuckin’ boner she gave me from two old ladies, man.”
Jamieson laughed. “She stiffed ya wit’ a stiffy and you let her get away? Pussy move, Linwood.” Jamieson took one final pull on the roach and cast it out into the alley.
“What was I supposed’ta do, whip it out right there? It happened so fuckin’ fast I couldn’t think straight.”
“Fair enough.” Jamieson took a deep breath and slipped his glasses back on his face. “She sounds like a solid seven to me, man.”
“Fuck that. More like a nine.”
“I’ll give her a seven-point-five, you seem so sure. But this is all sight unseen on my part, so don’t think into it too much.” They both pulled out cigarettes and lit them with another of Linwood’s matches. “Come on, man, let’s go. it’s kinda wet out here.”
“Like your mother, man,” Linwood said.
“Yeah, like my mother, Linwood.” Jamieson chuckled.
When they returned Reggie and the two other cabbies had already been dispatched on their first fares of the day. Ricky and Dennis were the only ones left in the garage.
In his mid-fifties, with short gray hair cut close to the scalp and a sharp, weaselly salt-and-pepper moustache on his upper lip, Ricky Wolfe was short, thin as a rail, and always pale and sweaty even on the coldest day of the year. He had accusatorily blue eyes that looked at everything and everyone with suspicion, and he constantly fiddled with the wedding band on his left hand. He was a cabbie well past his prime, strung out on cocaine most days. Ricky-when-wired was so close to Ricky-when-sober that it was too much of a hassle to determine which was which. Most people who knew him assumed he was coked up anyway and kept their distance.
Dennis wasn’t most people. He was the only one who felt anything for Ricky, which was why he kept him in the garage at all, and at a loss to the entire operation. He knew Ricky’s family, knew him as an equal from their days as drivers together, knew he was a man struggling mightily against the bonds of his cocaine addiction, and did all he could to keep Ricky from drowning in it. Only Dennis knew why he fiddled with his wedding band that way—he had hocked it at least a half dozen times for money for food for his family, or for coke if he was feeling particularly selfish at the time.
“Look at these fuckin’ guys,” Ricky said, catching sight of Jamieson and Linwood. “Out back smokin’ that shit again. You two are gonna turn into a fuckin’ weed, you ain’t careful.”
“Wish it was still ’83, don’tcha Scarface?” Jamieson taunted him. He made a snorting sound through his nose which made Linwood laugh and Ricky bristle.
“Cut it out, you two. Christ, it’s like bein’ in fuckin’ high school ’round dis place sometimes,” Dennis snapped. “Jamieson, you go to Alphabet City. Linwood, you go wait for a fare in da Circle. An’ rememba what I told ya, got it? Now both’a yous get out. You,” he said to Ricky, “come wit’ me.”
Linwood walked past Ricky and slapped him on the back. “Take it easy, man. No needta get so snippy, right?”
“Fuck you, newbie,” ricky said, grabbing his crotch. “Let’s see how brave you get when a tranny and her boyfriend’re holdin’ a straight razor to your fuckin’ throat, you little shit.” He turned to follow Dennis into his office, giving Linwood the finger as he walked away. Linwood didn’t show it, but Ricky’s words had cut to the quick.
“Fuck him,” Jamieson said. “Givin’ us grief over some grass when he lives’ta cram that shit up his nose? I’m surprised the bastard still has a fuckin’ nose, tell ya the truth.”
“Yeah, well, we all got vices, man,” Linwood said, crushing his cigarette out on the concrete floor. “Whatever. We got a job to do, so let’s do it to it.”