The phone velcroed to the van’s dashboard vibrates twice and the screen lights up. Where? Peco taps back 14th, 57th. He punches down the accelerator with a foot wrapped in a battered moccasin and the van scoots across the Avenue as a wall of oncoming traffic plunges down the hill. The CV joint click-clicks as he cranks the wheel and shoots down a narrow side street.
Seventy-five seconds later and he’s at the inter-section. Sees baby-carrier cat lady waddling down the sidewalk, fat old tabby held out in front of her, white hair floaty in the breeze. Stomp-stomp in orthopedic shoes with soles scuffed down to rubber nubs, wearing that empty baby carrier slack on her.
She runs up to the window with a dollar in her fist. The cat looks Peco in the eye. “Two dreams, big ones. Colorful.” She tips her head to look around the tabby and smiles with smeared lipstick. Peco slips the baggie out the window, takes the dollar, punches the gas. He wheels the van across 14th in a smooth left and sees her running back towards a white t-bird with rust in the rockers and mismatched rims. She’s left the window open and the engine running. No way she’ll wait until she gets home to use. She’ll be up all night, tears on her cheeks.
White van, dented in the right places, windows that you can’t see into, working man. Peco in the background of busy town life, the phone buzzing. The question is always: Where? He taps back to any and all. Burger King. Basketball courts. Behind the Catholic school. He slides in and if there’s someone with money in their hand he stops long enough to exchange a baggie. The wheels stay warm and Peco rolls on.
A silk suit in a BMW offers ten for enough light-hearted hope to get her through the weekend. A high school junior glares at him through acne scars and greasy hair and gives him two bucks for the will to live one more day. A gray-haired couple in a dented pickup and second-hand flannel trades him a crisp twenty for a warm remembrance of what they first saw in each other.
Peco stuffs the money into a travel mug on the dash, pulls baggies from a paper sack sitting on the floor between the seats. He’s old jeans and too-big moccasins and a chambray shirt he may have gotten from his dad. The cracked vinyl of the seat fits him just right and he slouches there, an elbow on the armrest and a hand slung over the rim of the wheel.
Sometimes he’s hungry and he rolls up on the taco truck parked on Market. A giant kid shuffles out with a fish burrito, even exchange for a day-and-a-half of quiet introspection. He’s the only customer for that one.
Nighttime, he moves to the bars and the clubs on the other side of town, trades for what he can. A PBR tallboy from a bearded twenty-two-year-old in need of unrelenting mental superiority, three cigarettes from a marketing analyst who needs some back-in-my-college-days deliberate personal destruction, a baggie of bathtub speed straight across for a baggie of let’s-get-fucked-up-and-start-a-fight from a blonde-haired, red-eyed construction worker.
He rolls on, warm night breezes passing over his bare forearm cocked out the window. The young lovelies flag him and he doubleparks and does his deals in the street. He pushes out baggies of sexy-as-hell and who-gives-a-fuck-what-you-think and I-guess-I’m-calling-in-sick-tomorrow. The lovelies gesture with fingertips and catcalls and desperately waving arms as they stumble into the street. He lets the van idle at corners while the stream flows past him, hands passing promises and baubles into the window. He dips into the paper sack and pulls out fistfuls of baggies, hands them out by feel and intuition.
A cop walks straight up to the van, long striding blue coming up big in the windshield. Peco taps the grips of the .44 under the dash with his fingertips, but the Man just requests a good hit of personal fortitude to fight professional malaise. He offers two 9mm shells from his shirt pocket, but Peco waves him off with a lipless smile and five-O takes his dose on the house.
Dawn and the streets are rolled up, wrung out, empty, wet. Peco whispers along, the big V-8 under the hood loping along at idle, a bare thrum echoing against the closed storefronts and dark-windowed houses. The van is just a swirl behind him, lightless and black, empty. The paper sack sags, almost empty, the travel mug in the dash overfull with stained currency. Peco rolls on.
A slight man in factory blues sees him, puts out a hand. Peco stops at the curb, leans over as the worker sidles up to the window.
Peco shrugs. “What’re you looking for.”
“You got angry, or bitter and disappointed?”
Peco shakes his head. “Nah, sorry. No demand.”
“How about had enough? Got that?”
Peco slips his hand into the sack, lets his fingertips glide over the leftovers. Cold and flat and almost empty, mostly, but there’s one. Warm to the touch, fat, solid. It gives way when he pushes on it, his fingertips dimpling greasy plastic. He pulls it from the sack, looks at it in the orange of early daylight. Thick and white, trapped air slowly bubbling through. The ziploc just holds, ready to pop, spill its guts.
“I got better days coming. That work?”
The worker puts his fingers on it, tests its weight. “Yeah, okay.” He takes it from Peco and looks at him, old eyes and clenched jaw rising above stained coveralls. “How much?”
Peco shakes his head, steps on the brake, puts the van in Drive. “It was a good night. You have that one on me.” Smiles with straight white teeth and slowly pulls away from the curb. Rolls a red light at the avenue and heads north as the sunrise crests the rooftops and lights up the world.