It’s 6 am and my head’s pounding like a jackhammer on cement. Too many whiskey sours and not enough sleep. All I’ve had to eat is the crumbly saltine I found in my jacket pocket. Ham and eggs sound good but Alhambra’s a long way from Hollywood and it’s time to work. Business before breakfast.
I get out of the car and saunter toward the Mission-style house up the street. A garbage truck rattles in the distance. I pause at the front door to adjust the .45 holstered on my ankle.
I check my surroundings and notice the lawn sign. It reads: I BUY COMICS – 510-845-8821. The dealer I’m calling on sells rare comic books on the side. Not sure why. Out here in the ‘burbs, Funny Papers earns big. Dope, Oxy, Special K, you name it. But he owes Derek thirty large, which is why I’m here so goddamn early.
I’m about to knock when the front door swings open. A chunky French bulldog trots out on a leash, followed by an athletic brunette. She sees me standing on her front doorstep and jerks back on the cord. The dog yelps. The brunette’s dressed from head to toe in hot pink activewear and reminds me of an ex I’d rather forget.
She pulls out a .22 and sticks it in my face. Hidden in her Lululemon waistband, no doubt.
“Who the fuck are you and what do you want?” she says, checking behind me for anyone else.
I show her my hands, palms out.
“Take it easy,” I say, “Derek sent me to collect. I’m looking for Funny Papers. Is he home?” Her pomegranate-scented perfume makes my head swirl.
“I’m Funny Papers, asshole. How do I know you work for Derek?”
The bulldog tugs against his shortened leash, panting hard. He just wants to say hi.
“Interesting,” I say. “Derek never mentioned Funny Papers being a woman.”
She cocks her gun. “Call him right now and ask him.”
“He’s still asleep,” I say. “You’ve been short the last 3 months. No more IOUs. Where’s the money?”
I catch another whiff of her sickly sweet perfume and get nauseous.
Stretching his leash to the limit, the dog reaches my shin and starts humping like there’s no tomorrow. Funny Papers tries to peel him off me.
“Peppermint, stop it,” she says.
I lean down to handle the little guy when my guts twist into an ugly knot and the world spins. My insides erupt like a Mentos tablet dropped in a bottle of Fanta: a soupy mix of orange bile and saltine chunks. It splatters all over the dog and the welcome mat in front.
Peppermint shakes it off, sending puke flying everywhere—the front door, the walls, and all over Funny Papers.
“What the fuck?” she says, frozen in place.
Peppermint laps up my vomit from the ground. Funny Papers is covered with lumpy orange clumps in her hair and on her outfit.
I wipe my mouth and check the damage. “Christ, I’m sorry.”
She’s red in the face. “This is an Ernest Leoty top, with Lululemon pants. Now they’re ruined.”
“I’ll make it up to you. Where’s the money?” I say.
“You’ll get it,” she says. “At least let me get this shit off me.”
She waves me inside with the gun. I step over my own sick. She closes the door and takes Peppermint off his leash. He runs into the back.
I look around. “You could give me the money now. Anybody else here?”
She leads me into the bedroom, puts her gun down, and undresses.
“Just us.” She flaunts her naked body. “How about we fool around and you forget the money?”
“Tempting,” I say. “You got five minutes to clean up.”
“Suit yourself.” She prances into the bathroom and shuts the door. The shower comes on.
I grab the .45 from my ankle and chamber another round. Derek’s orders.
The dog scampers up to me so I offer my open hand. He licks my palm like it’s an ice cream cone.
“Nothing personal, Peppermint,” I tell him. “Business before breakfast.”
I push the bathroom door open and move to the shower.