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The Problematic Virtue:
Brian learned late Wednesday night that Miguel had left the bridge unharmed. He learned from a friend, because Miguel had not returned Brian’s phone calls the last two days and seemed to give him the cold shoulder in the living room. The last time Brian had seen Miguel, there had been several guns pointed at his head. When his friend strutted through the front door with the bag of ice in each hand, a wave of relief had washed over Brian. Now, he just had to deal with Wiles.
This will be much less pleasant.
Brian entered, then a few minutes later, Wiles followed into Maria’s bedroom, and Wiles sat on the bed while Brian took a seat at a rickety chair in front of an antique desk. The pastel bedspread highlighted the shadowiness of Wiles’ attire. “Maria’s not here, right?” Brian said.
“Hell no. You think Miguel would throw a kegger with her in town? She’s visiting family somewhere.”
“That’s good. I mean, it’s a little weird being in her room, so it’s good that she’s not here, with all this chaos. And speaking of chaos, what was all that with Tyson out there?” Brian said. “I thought you two were cool.”
Wiles turned his palms upwards, as if he knew nothing about it. “I guess so, I mean, we used to kick it a bit. Tyson was up on the Hill last weekend, and his car got rear-ended, like a hit and run, and he acts like I did it.”
“Did you?” Brian said. The question had slipped out and Brian immediately regretted asking.
Wiles elected not to answer. He flung a canvas messenger bag onto the bed and unbuckled the lid. “Right here is that evergreen shit I was telling you about,” he said. He beckoned and Brian joined Wiles on the bed, the bag between them. “You’re going to love it. I sampled some yesterday, it’s like that creeper we had last year. You know, mellow at first, heady, and then it comes on strong. It’s some gourmet shit.”
Brian struggled to invent a deflection. Maybe today was the day to bring up his exit strategy. “I don’t know about that, Derek, I still have about a q.p. of the other stuff to get rid of. I know I’ve had it forever, it’s just taking me longer than I thought it would take.”
“I’m not worried about that,” Wiles said as he handed Brian a large Ziploc bag of bright green pot. “I know you’ll take care of it. This is some level two shit right here. Everybody is gonna want some of this, so don’t worry so much about the schwag weed. I need you to move this stuff right here by the end of next week.”
Brian marveled at the vast amount of pot before him. The spongy fillings pushed the limits of the baggie. “Holy crap, Wiles, this is enormous. This has to be at least a pound. How am I supposed to sell all of that in a week?”
Wiles, still holding the bag, gripped it a little tighter. His lips pursed. Brian’s apprehension seemed to upset him. Maintaining a steely gaze with Brian, Wiles said, “it’s a half a key, so it’s just over a pound. Things are going to be complicated with Ray and them now, so I have to scramble a bit.”
“I’m not so sure about this stuff anymore.”
“You’re not sure? After what just happened, I thought you would be ready and willing to step up and help me out. Don’t you think?”
Brian lowered his head, unable to meet Wiles’ cold eyes. Brian had thought it better to face this conversation than to run, but that did not lessen the distastefulness of the moment. “I know you’re right; I know we need to talk about what happened at the bridge. I don’t know exactly what to do, but I know I need to make it right. I’ve been thinking about it, and I have some ideas…”
Wiles cut him off. “Stop it. I don’t want excuses or some line of bullshit like I’m a girl you’re trying to bang,” he said, his tone calm. “I don’t want you to worry about it. What’s done is done. I’m ready just to let it go and move on.”
Brian stared at him, unclear what meaning to take. Wiles’ last two statements seemed contradictory. Maybe he was looking a gift horse in the mouth, but he could not help but ask, “what do you mean? It was my fault; I’m the one who messed it all up. How can you just let it go?”
“There is one thing.”
Brian swallowed hard, readying himself for Wiles’ punishment.
“Just tell me,” Wiles said, “why did you ask Miguel to come with you?”
“I was nervous. I don’t like going to meet people I don’t know, when I don’t know the reason why.”
“‘The reason why’ was that I asked you to go there.”
Brian ducked his head again like a shamed animal and focused on the bedspread, because he had no idea how to respond to Wiles’ last statement. Brian traced his fingers along the quilted stitching. He wanted to ask Wiles why Ray blew up over nothing. He wanted to ask why Wiles sent him to meet with someone so unstable. However, Brian said nothing.
“Forget about it.” Wiles said and laid the bag on the bed. The buds were enormous and cylindrical, like hydroponically grown weed. Skunky. Top-quality stuff, and rare around Boulder. “Did I ever tell you about my dad? My real one, the cop, not my douchebag stepdad?”
“I dunno,” Brian said. “I guess, I mean, not really. You’ve mentioned him before. I know you have one, but you’ve never actually told me anything about him.”
“Well, I told you that he was a cop. My old man was usually too busy getting drunk and beating my ass to tell me much of anything about anything, but not long before he died, he told me about his partner. His partner and him had been together for a bunch of years, right? He said he trusted this guy with his life; he trusted the guy to take a bullet for him or run into a burning building for him, but at the same time…” Wiles let the words simmer before delivering the grand finale. “He wouldn’t leave him alone in a room with my mom.”
Brian was not dumb; he knew the story had a lesson for him, but the message eluded him. Brian downed a swig from his cup of beer to break the tension. He kept his eyes steady on the bedspread, waiting for Wiles to continue.
“You’ve always done right by me before,” Wiles said, “and I won’t forget that. Peaks and valleys. It’s all good because everything evens out eventually.”
Brian murmured in agreement, confused. He had expected, at the very least, to spend several minutes showering Wiles with apologies. He had also prepared himself for a baseball bat to the head, which was not out of the realm of possibility.
Wiles thrust the baggie towards Brian. “Can you do this for me?” Wiles’ tone was still composed, but with an edge that precluded any further discussion over the matter. A persistent mantra echoed through Brian’s thoughts: Tell him, Do it. Do it. Do it now.
“I can’t,” Brian said.
Brian’s pulse quickened. “No, Derek, I can’t do this. This isn’t what I signed up for, all this gangster stuff. I had a gun pointed in my face and I don’t ever want to experience anything like that again. I don’t want to let you down but I’m not cut out for all this serious stuff. I need to focus on what’s best for me right now, and that’s trying to get my grades up. I’m really sorry.”
“Stop apologizing,” Wiles said. He narrowed his eyes, but then laughed. “I never had anybody try to quit on me before. I don’t even know what to say to you.”
Brian focused on taking slow, even breaths. He visualized this conversation concluding with the result that he wanted. “I got hooked up with this guy, a guy who owns a recording studio in town. I’m going to start doing some work for him, you know, playing guitar and stuff for bands in the studio. Part-time stuff, but the money’s good. I can make the same money I’m making now, but it’s only a few hours a week.”
“Who is this guy?” Wiles said.
Brian tried to look Wiles in the eyes. “His name is Kevin Werner. He owns the 28th Street Studios.”
Wiles flicked a thumb back and forth across his chin. “No.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean no. You can go play guitar all you want, but you can’t stop working for me. You’re too good, and you owe me. After what just happened the other day, you owe me… and you know it.”
Wiles stuffed the weed into his bag and held it out to Brian.
Brian tried to think of a better argument; something that would change Wiles’ mind. Before he could, the room flooded with shadows of red and blue lights, and then a yelp from a police siren. “I was wondering when the cops were going to show up,” Wiles said. “I told them to keep that motherfucking music down.”
They bolted through the door, out into the living room, as the multitudes of underage drinkers and weed smokers stampeded towards the back door. A chubby kid in front of Brian, who ran while he desperately clung to a few bottles of beer, let one slip and it cracked on the floor. Brian leapt over the mess and he exited the house, just as Alex and Heather climbed the back fence, to freedom.