excerpt from 'Split Decision'

     The pharmacy was south of McCarran airport. Traffic on I-15 was light. Clouds put a grey tint on the back side of casinos rising to the left.
     Commercial buildings in the south side bloomed like weeds, all bearing the same gritty DNA. Light industrial one-story tilt-ups. 4-wheel drive after-market parts shops, floor covering stores, outlets for kitchen and bathroom tile. Non-descript, low profile, month-to-month.
     988 Wagon Trail Avenue was tucked in the corner of an industrial park just west of I-215. Just the number, no other identification on the cement. Four parking spaces in front of the glass door entrance. A beep sounded when I walked in. The woman who came to the counter was under thirty, tank top, heavy arms, lots of tattoos.
     “Picking up for Bando.”
     She disappeared down the corridor into the shop. Two small point-of-purchase displays were on the counter, nothing on the walls. No chairs. The POPs held flyers, one for a tattoo convention a month ago in Bullhead City. Another advertised a concoction promising ‘Energy Surge! Improve your Sex Life! Non-Prescription!’ A big V-twin motorcycle fired up from one of the parking stalls down the lane, then another.
     The woman came out holding a brown paper bag and put it on the counter and rang up a charge. I gave her Freddy’s credit card, signed the slip, and held up an index finger.
     “Freddy asked me to take this up to Doctor Hue. He didn’t have the address, though. He said you’d have it.”
     She cocked an eyebrow, didn’t say anything. I wanted to ask her if she’d finished school, had more than the word “yeah” in her vocabulary, if she even knew the words on the silly tattoos covering her arms and what the little loops of metal were doing wrapped around her lip. Her nose. All over the tops of her ears. I waited.
     “What?” she said.
     Two words in her marvelous vocabulary. I wanted to stare in to her eyes until she began to think. That might take a while. I took a flyer for the herbal erectile dysfunction cure from the display and showed it to her.
     “This stuff any good?” I said.
     Her lip began to move, chewing on her metal piercing.
     “My boyfriend uses it sometimes.” She flicked the nose ring with her finger. “Not because he has to, you know.”
     “Oh, yeah. Hey, sometimes you crash hard and you need something to, you know, wake everything up.”
     She giggled, through the nose, not moving her lips.
     “It’s big in strip clubs. Some of the girls order it.”
     “I bet those corn-fed boys from Iowa probably have trouble even finding their damn things.” I gave her the knowing eye.
     “My boyfriend, he don’t have that problem. Sometimes, you know, he just needs a little help.”
     “Your secret’s safe with me.” I gave her a crooked smile and a breathy low voice. “How about this Dr. Hue. You have his address on file somewhere?”
     She turned and walked down the corridor. On the back of the flyer were listed various therapeutic uses of “Buoys Up”, the super non-prescription potion that cured constipation, erectile dysfunction, hemorrhoids, prostate symptoms, general male plumbing malfunctions. If I had to buy a product like this just to get Hue’s address, and charge it on Freddy’s credit card, I’d be subject to a lifetime of abuse. The boxing world was unmerciful. Maybe Dave would come though with a location and spare me the stigma. Spare me having to come back and engage the tattoo lady, listen to stories about her old man coming down off meth or booze, the miracle of over-the-counter erections. I heard a door close down the hallway. Interrupting momentary thoughts of tattoos and piercing and fleshy desires.
     It was a guy this time, skinny, black t-shirt with skulls and gothic script and a shaved head. Something scrawled on his forehead up where his hairline would be.
     “Help you?” he said.
     “I gotta get this stuff to Dr. Hue’s office. I forgot the address.”
     “Hue doesn’t live out here no more. Who are you?”
     “Delivery guy. You know where he went?”
     His eyes, a pair of red-tinged slits set deep in dark sockets, locked in on mine. Whatever was on his forehead was written backwards. Tattooed. I could make out “Jesus” in reverse, like it would look in the mirror. I leaned closer.
     “Do you know where he went?” I said. The block letters on his forehead was a prison tattoo, something a guy would do behind bars after losing a bet.
     “How about you check in your file? I’d appreciate it.”
     “How about you get out of here.”
     Jesus in My Life Every Day was the tattooed message on his forehead. What he’d seen in his five-inch prison cell mirror, his last chance, his only prayer. Three of my fingers were on the brown paper with the receipt stapled to the top. Inside the bag, the coagulants, Avitene, epinephrine. Everything I needed to stop the bleeding.
     “I’m just delivering this stuff,” I said. “Come on, man.”
     His bloodshot slits hadn’t blinked. Until now, when he blinked fast three times and moved his head down an inch, his left arm out two. I slapped both hands on the counter and vaulted, a hand spring with both legs swinging left, up over the counter, rolling into the guy, slamming us onto the cement behind the counter, up tight against the wall. I had a hand around his neck and a hand on his mouth. I got right into the rheumy eyes and six inches from Jesus in My Life.
     “I don’t want to hurt you.” I could feel the wetness of his mouth.      “I’m going to look in your files, and you’re going to keep quiet.” My guess was he was on parole, no room on his record for another police report. “Move your head a bit if you understand me.” His head moved. I looked under the counter for a tissue box, paper towels, something to stuff in his mouth. Nothing but a stapler, paper clips, a blue bottle of cleaning product.
     “We’re going on the honor system. If you say anything, I crack your head until your mouth shuts. We clear?” He moved his head. I squatted on his chest, held a hand over his mouth and pulled out my phone. I dialed Freddy. Come on, Freddy. . .
     When he picked up I told him to call the pharmacy, the girl would answer. “Talk to her. . .talk to her for a couple of minutes. . .What?. . . Just do it, okay?. . .Tell her you’re interested in the male enhancement product. . . No, Freddy, not for you. . . . No time, man. . .Things are a little tight here now. . . Have her go in the back and check a shipment or something. . .Talk dirty to her, she’s a skank.”
     Thirty seconds later the phone rang three times. I heard the girl talking.
     “Show me the files,” I said to the guy. “A phone directory, whatever. Do it now.” He was skinny, weak, probably malnourished, living off drugs and sex and coffee and late nights. I clamped the hand around his mouth and twisted his arm behind his back and shuffled him around the counter. I locked the front door. We went into an office off the corridor and he pointed with his free arm to a computer.
     “Pull up his account. Do it fast.”
     He logged in, typed some strokes, waited. The girl was calling out something. I put my finger to my lips. He nodded, didn’t say anything. He hit a couple of key strokes.
     I could hear the girl. Loud. Saying one word at a time. I pointed at the guy, held up one finger.
     “I’ll open the door, and you say ‘Just a minute, I’ll be right there.’ Say any more, you got a huge headache.”
     I opened the door a foot. The guy called out just what I said, the girl yelling back “Shut up, I’m on the phone.” The most she’d said, just about, since I’d come in. I closed the door. Freddy had a way.
     The guy pointed to the screen. I walked around. Hue’s account was on the screen, green letters and numbers. Phone numbers, address, shipping addresses. Credit cards. I copied as much as I could in a minute onto a pad on the desk. I pulled him up and shoved him out the door and into the front, stood him at the end of the counter.
     “Here’s what I’ll do,” I said. “I’ll let you forget about this and you’ll never think about it again, never remember it. Or I call the police right now. I’ll even stay right here. And you can explain the operation, what I’m doing here, what I did, let them search the back and find out all about Buoys Up and whatever else is shipping out of here. Your choice.”
     “Get the fuck out of here.”

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