By George Ashford
His alarm clock is beeping. Just like every other morning for the past few years, Alex is overcome by half second stress response learned from being rudely awakened at an ungodly hour by the same noise every day. A rush of blood through his veins, a brief moment of adrenaline before he has to drag himself out of bed. The most exciting part of his day. Alex reaches up to turn on his bedside lamp, every second a lethargic battle for consciousness. He knows that once he gets downstairs the thermostat will say, but the house always feels frozen when he gets out of bed this early. He pokes apathetically at his perfectly scrambled, grade A, organic eggs, the same thing he eats every day. At 6:57 he’s out the door, strolling to the bus stop past large houses with tastefully landscaped gardens. Boring.
He walks dreamily, like he does every other morning, trying to trick himself into a more interesting existence with his music. His nose and cheeks are cold, and he burrows his face into the collar of his $300 winter jacket. As he sits down on the bus, his hand goes instinctively to his pocket and pulls out his brand new iphone, tapping on the folder full of the games he’s played hundreds, maybe thousands of times. He compulsively opens one, but then realizing his disinterest, sighs and puts his phone back in his pocket. Closing his eyes, Alex tries to imagine himself somewhere else.
Despite his inner beseeching, the bus arrives at school at the usual time, but something is different. Red and blue lights flash on the brick walls and a large group of squad cars are visible in the early morning sunlight. The last time the cops showed up was a few months ago. Some kid got busted for drugs or something, but this time, there are a lot of them. As the bus comes to a stop, the students hastily disembark, cellphones in hand, preparing to film whatever might be happening.
Upon entering the school, he is met with a cafeteria full of kids who wish there was something to see. There is no body, no meth lab, no fight, nothing of interest. This school is so lame, he thinks to himself. The police are still stalking the hallways in large numbers, accompanied by intently snuffling dogs and sensors. An announcement comes on ensuring the students that everything is under control and instructing them to go about business as usual. It is always business as usual. Alex heads to the nearest bathroom to relieve himself. As he sits down in the stall, he notices a small drawstring bag in the corner. Someone must have left it.
On his way out, he grabs the bag. Perhaps he will give it to the lost and found during lunch. The police are leaving, trickling out the door into their cars to take their investigations elsewhere. He walks to class, preparing for another meaningless day spent in windowless rooms making meaningless marks on meaningless papers. His classmates are talking excitedly, but he doesn’t join in on their conversations. Almost a year spent in this class but he barely knows any of them.
“The biggest dealer in the county…yeah I heard someone snitched…they didn’t find his stash though…”
The teacher passes out report cards for second semester, smiling at Alex with a murmured ‘congratulations’ as he passes Alex. Alex scans the paper. He had taken the exact number of classes required to graduate and gotten A’s in every single one. He would be going to a small, expensive, college in Washington, with a relatively low acceptance rate. His parents would cover his tuition in its entirety. Pulling out some homework, he rummages around for a pencil in what he thinks is his backpack. His hand brushes something smooth and rounded, with a slight give to it. Looking down, he sees that his hand is not in fact in his designer backpack, but in the bag he picked up in the bathroom. He bends down over it and opens it a little more. Alex’s heart explodes into rapid activity. He has never seen cocaine before, but based on every movie and TV show he’s ever seen, that is what he’s looking at. A busted LED light fixture above his head flickers on.
All day he sits, blocking out everything that comes out of his teacher’s mouths. His head is spinning. There is a full bag of cocaine under my seat. The thought fills every corner of his mental space, he wants to scream. The bell. He has been sitting in class for eternity. He grabs both bags and walks quickly out of the school, walking quickly. The butterflies in his stomach have become giant bats that increase exponentially in size as he approaches his house.
His hands are shaking so badly he struggles for a few seconds to fit the key in the lock. “Helloooo!” he calls, his voice shaking from anticipation as he enters. No response. His parents must be still at work. His brother must be at a friend’s house. Alex runs up to his room and carefully unpacks his backpack. His eyes are focused on it, every bone in his body itching with something he usually only feels for a half second in the morning. Carefully cradling the package, he brings it to the bathroom and pulls out a scale. 2.2 pounds. A few minutes on his computer, and he has all the information he needs.
Street value of 20 to 30 thousand dollars.
A minimum of 15 years in prison.
In his free time, Alex spends a lot of time watching TV and movies, always envying the gangster, the criminal mastermind, the mob boss. Ordinarily, Alex could only dream of being like them, hardened criminals who had to commit crime just to get by. Ordinarily that is. But today, he thinks, today I have a chance to transform my painfully rich white life into one of action, adventure, and tortured antiheroes. He makes a decision.
The next week he spends listening to conversations in his classes. There’s a party happening, this weekend. He listens more, and makes some discreet inquiries amongst his acquaintances. Finally, he gets the phone number he’s looking for, and begins a text conversation.
Hello, I understand you’re hosting a party on Saturday
Yeah lmao who this
I would prefer to remain anonymous for now
Lol ard what do u want
Alright I’ll get straight to the point
Would you be interested in purchasing some cocaine for your party?
Oh shit. Is this fr?
Why the hell not
Where should I meet you
Just show up at the party with the stuff I guess
Your shit is pure?
Find me on Saturday
Sounds like a plan
He puts his phone down and closes his eyes. He is doing this. He is going to be a kingpin, a crime lord, an emperor of the underground. He connects to his bluetooth speaker and plays the Narcos soundtrack at full volume, imagining all the respect and money that lays in his future. They’ll make a movie about me someday. The music washes over him and he breathes deeply, taking it in.
Saturday rolls around, and he spends all day pacing back and forth, checking and double checking that the drugs are split up into proper portions and in the right bag. At 7:00 he tells his parents he’s going to dinner with some friends and gets on the bus to the party. He arrives at around 7:30. Alex rings the doorbell, and the door swings open, wafting beer and music out into the street.
“Are you the guy with the stuff?” The boy is tall with black hair. He is wearing a polo and khakis, and has a look of faint amusement on his sharp features.
“I suppose I am.” he says in reply. Wow, Alex thought, I’m the guy with the stuff.
“Dope. Follow me”
The boy leads him up the stairs into a bathroom. Alex opens his backpack and pulls out a few ziplocks full of cocaine. The boy’s eyebrows shoot up.
“Damn dude how much do you have?”
“A lot. How much do you want?”
“Shit I don’t know, how about fifteen grams to start. Pretty big party.”
He hands the boy ten small bags. “That’s 900.”
“Yeah, I had people pay at the door.” The boy hands Alex a large wad of cash. “You a real bless my guy; apparently the old plug just got bagged. Feel free to stay if you want. Shit is about to get wild!”
He shakes his head. “Thanks, but I’m not one for parties.” They walk downstairs and Alex heads out the door, walking in rhythm to the theme song of the movie they will make about him one day. He hears the music cut out, someone giving a muffled announcement, and cheering. Alex smiles, and walks towards the bus stop. That’s when he hears it.
Sirens. Getting louder, and coming from the direction he’s headed. His head is racing. How did they know? Is there a snitch? Are they reading my texts? He hopes it is a snitch. The scenes where the gang takes care of the traitor are always his favorite. He starts running, his feet slapping on the pavement, his breath heavy in his ears. Turning a corner, he keeps running, past the party, music still thumping from the house. One more block. He turns another corner. One more block. He turns another, and stops. They must have gotten noise complaints about the party. They’re not after me. The adrenaline is flowing out of him quickly. He bends over, his hands on his knees, panting.
The bus ride home is uneventful. When Alex arrives, he examines the 3D printer his grandfather got him for Christmas a few years back. He’d never used it before. He sits down at the computer, and in a few minutes he has multiple schematics for different varieties of 3D printed guns he found on shady websites downloaded and up on his screen. Bad. Ass.
A few months later, Alex sells off the last of what was in the bag. People know who he is and what he does, and he has to bring his highly makeshift gun with him wherever he goes now. A drawer in his dresser is stuffed with cash, only a thin layer of clothes on top.
His alarm clock goes off. The stress response never went away, but Alex doesn’t long for it these days; his new racket allows him to pump out more adrenaline in a week than some people get their whole lives. As he eats breakfast, he looks down at his brand new watch, the one thing he has allowed himself to buy with the $24,000 in his room. His parents didn’t notice, they probably would have bought it for him if he had asked. It’s way cooler this way though. He walks to the bus, barely hearing his music. His mind is full of dreams, harebrained schemes, and half cooked contemplations. His breathing is deep. Alex walks onto the bus, and sits in his own seat. These days, he gets to sit alone. Leaning back, music in his ears, and eyes closed, he can practically taste his own power.
School creeps by as usual, anticipation making it slower. In Alex’s binder, in a fat envelope behind some arbitrary school papers is $10,000. The phone in his pocket buzzes continually, forcing him to turn it off. His customers are looking for their fix.
Last night, Alex had made a spontaneous decision to resupply. In the past he has slept on big decisions, weighed outcomes, considered risk vs reward. Not anymore. Last night he knew what he wanted and he decided he would get it. He smiles in the way he thinks a gangster should, a sort of knowing smirk.
After school, he catches a bus and heads to a part of town he doesn’t frequent. He turns his phone back on and texts a hard earned phone number that he is on his way. The address is a small brick apartment complex. There are clothes hanging out over the cramped balconies and graffiti on the walls. Alex knocks on the door.
A young man opens the door. His eyebrows shoot up when he sees Alex. “You’re him? Alex?”
“Yeah.” They’re always surprised it’s me, he thinks. Makes it even cooler.
“Alright. Come on in my man we, got your shit right here.” The man is amicable, easygoing. Alex trusts him, and follows the man into the apartment. The door shuts quietly behind him. The man lifts up a couch cushion, revealing the more cocaine than Alex could have imagined someone owning. “Half a ki you said?”
“You got the money then?” Alex digs through his bag and pulls out the cash.
“This stuff is pure right?”
“Hell yeah, straight from Columbia man.” The man pulls out a bag of coke and places it on a scale sitting on the coffee table.
The sound of wood tearing from hinges rolls across the room like a tsunami. The man whips out a gun with a desperate intensity, as Alex dives behind the couch. The sound of shots and heavy boots on a worn out carpet slowly fade from his consciousness. He sits behind the couch, rendered practically immobile by the adrenaline in his body. He can feel the cheap plastic trigger of his homemade firearm against his index finger and practically nothing else. He waits, every second an eternity, as the shooting stops. The boots are approaching him, thump, thump, thump. They are so close now he can hear the clicking and jingling of top notch tactical gear strapped to kevlar. He closes his eyes and breathes in. All he can feel is fear, regret, and frustration at his own stupidity All he can think is: not worth it. Definitely not worth it.