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  1. OPENING SCENES: Introduce gritty tone, protagonist, antagonists, setting juxtaposition, and foreshadows primary conflict. Episode 1: Uncle He was pocket-sized, with a needle mustache and a paper face. He didn’t look like a biker, but his colors were showing. He walked in, throwing two fat duffels to the floor. “Twenty-two hundred a pound.” His voice was gravelly—too big for his little body. He took a seat at the table, kicked a muddy boot in front of him, then leaned back with his fingers linked across his chest. “There’s twenty there.” He nodded at the bags. I glanced at them, then Rolo’s washed-out face. I’d never seen him so white. This was his first rodeo, but it wasn’t mine. “Call me Uncle.” He looked at Rolo. “Got it?” Rolo nodded. “Alright, man.” His voice was different. He scratched the back of his neck. “I … I don’t have that kind of cash right now.” “I’ll be back every week to collect.” Uncle’s eyes were like glass. Just like D’s. “This is a cuff. You good with that?” Rolo could’ve choked this guy out with one hand, but he wouldn’t dare. All he could do was nod. I knelt to unzip a bag, then pulled out a shrink-wrapped pound. I turned it over with one hand, and dragged my cigarette with the other. The weed still had a smell, but it was faint. “Get me a knife,” I said to Rolo, plopping my ass down across from the tiny biker. My heart rattled around in my chest. Rolo brought one over. I sliced the bag through its gut. The buds were pungent, fat, and long, dusted white with little red hairs. “Looks good.” I handed one to Rolo. His fingers shook. He smelled it and handed it back. “Alright,” I said, turning back to Uncle. I smiled, then rested forward on my elbows. “So, you’re D’s little foster sister.” We held eyes. I nodded. “You heard from him?” he said, sitting there like he owned the fuckin’ place. “Not since last week.” “Fucking kid.” He looked around Rolo’s apartment. It was less than impressive. I waited, studying him. They looked nothing alike—D was a mountain of a man with tattoo sleeves and jagged teeth that were rammed in tight. But those eyes. Like father, like son. “He fucked up,” he finally said. When wasn’t he fucking up? “Why, what happened?” “I sent him out with a hundred pounds, and he decided to stop at a titty bar is what happened.” Those eyes cut into me. “He got shitfaced and brought a dancer along for a joyride. Smashed into four parked cars, that dumb prick. With all my shit in the trunk. In broad fucking daylight, can you believe that?” “Shit …” I sat back. “He’s fuckin lucky. Left the car at my friend’s garage and took off.” Uncle leaned forward. He folded his hands on the table. “You’re sure you haven’t talked to him?” He glanced up at Rolo, and Rolo couldn’t look innocent if his life depended on it. I crossed my legs. “Not a word.” I took a long drag, then blew a gray cloud at the ceiling. “You’re still staying at your Gran’s, right? At 423 Palm?” He didn’t wait for an answer. He didn’t need to. “And you, your mom and sister are at 63 Grenville.” Rolo went another shade of white. Uncle stood. “I’ll be back Thursday, same time.” He adjusted his belt. “Don’t fuck me.” His tiny frame went back through the door. We sat quiet, waiting for his Harley to growl down the street. Rolo shot me a look with huge eyes. “Twenty pounds? How am I supposed to get rid of this in a week?” “You wanted green, I got it for you. Don’t worry about it. I’ll send some guys your way.” “At twenty-two? It’s a rip-off!” “Everything’s dry right now, what do you want? Plus, he’s giving it to you on cuff.” “Yeah, and I have to give you a cut too.” I butt out my cigarette, grabbed my purse, and stood. “I’ll negotiate a better price. Give it a couple of weeks. If there’s still an issue, pay him and move on. I gotta go. Need to get hold of D to find out what the fuck is going on. Call me,” I said, as I walked out the door. Outside, the air was thick. I caught my breath before dropping onto my Lincoln’s hot seat. My ass burned. I rolled down the windows, then looked up and down the street with a fresh cigarette in my teeth. What were the chances that twiggy bastard was watching? I paged D. He called me right back. “Just saw Uncle,” I said as I lit up. “And?” “And he’s looking for you,” I said. “The fuck you doing?” D breathed into the phone. “You can’t make it through a delivery without stopping for a drink?” “I took an E before he even called, Bets. Don’t know what that shit was cut with, but it fucked me up. Bad.” “Anyway.” I flicked an ash out the window. “Anyway,” he said, “gonna let him settle down.” “Where are you?” An ash flew up into my eye. “Goddammit.” I tried to suffocate it under the lid with tears pouring down my cheek. “What’s up?” “Nothing.” I examined it in the mirror for a second then pulled onto the street. “I’m at a friend’s,” he said. “We’re gonna head to Miami tomorrow to see a couple guys. They have some nice stuff.” “Yeah?” “Yeah. You comin’?” “How much? Do they have green too?” “Don’t know. You’ll have to talk to them.” “Alright, you drivin’?” “No, my boy’s driving. We’ll pick you up at Gran’s.” “Alright.” “Yeah.” I turned up Gran’s little driveway, then made my way through the kitchen side door. She was there in her dressing gown, sipping coffee with a newspaper in her face. She was our foster mom—took in me, Big D, and my other brother, Lando from a group home. I’d been staying with her ever since. We paid her bills. She looked the other way when we stored shit in her basement. I plopped down on the chair across from her, then scooted forward for the ashtray. “What kind of trouble you up to?” she said without looking at me. “All sorts.” I lit up and sat back against the wall. “Sounds about right.” She put down the paper, her glasses dangling around her neck. She studied me as I puffed away, then tapped the page in front of her. “He’s going after Iraq now, Bush is.” She placed her glasses back on her nose and read, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.” She looked for my reaction. “They’re saying they have weapons of mass destruction.” “What’s that mean?” “You have cotton between your ears or something?” She scowled. “They want to blow us up!” she sniped before putting her face back in the paper. I left her there to creak down to the basement with a box of beer that clanked and rattled with every step. There wasn’t much down there—just an old couch and an older TV. And my money. I went to the side closet, grabbed a stepladder, then steadied it under a rusty ceiling tile. I climbed, pushed it up and aside. There it was staring back at me. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough. I grabbed a couple of tightly wrapped bricks, tossed them on the coffee table, then settled in my ass groove on the couch. Talk shows were perfect for day drinking. They were meant for each other like biscuits and butter. Or cigarettes and beer. I lit up, took a long pull off a cold one, and stayed down there the rest of the day and night. * * * The guys showed up early. I ran around collecting my things until I had the essentials—slutty outfits, dark makeup, and twenty thousand. I skipped it all down the front steps, then into the backseat of a jacked Denali. “Yo.” D turned around in his seat. “Blondie, this is Ponytail.” D only called me Blondie around other people. Imagine that, I thought. This guy had a ponytail. He was lean with a good face and bright white teeth. I pushed my bags over before pulling the heavy door shut. D’s jacked shoulders spilled off the sides of his seat. “Hey, what’s up?” I said. Ponytail watched me get settled in the rearview. He raised an eyebrow at D. D shook his head. “Don’t even.” Ponytail smiled as he clunked into gear. “Alright, boys and girls, let’s get out of this shithole.” He wrapped an arm around the back of D’s seat to back us out on tall tires. He gave me a wink, cranked it into Drive, and we were off. You felt every pebble under those thick treads. We bounced around for four goddamned hours. D had wasted no time passing me a zip-top baggie. I scooped out bumps with a long nail. D was first. He sniffed over his shoulder. The long-haired driver was next. D held the wheel while I stabbed the guy in the cheek and chin, bobbing over the tight suspension. “So, who are these guys?” I said, finally doing my own. That shit was like a gunshot to the back of my throat. I did the other nostril for good luck. “They’re cool,” Ponytail said, pinching his nose. “They’re cousins. They do car stereos. Did all the work in here.” He had a Kenwood deck and screens in the backs of the headrests. He reached over to crank up the system. My face and my insides vibrated to the beat. Ponytail’s eyes distorted in the rearview. His mouth was moving, but I couldn’t hear shit. “What?” I leaned forward. He turned it down. “Nice, right?” “Jesus, my bones are shaking.” “Anyway, we’re gonna meet them at Capital Grille at eight. So, we’ll drop our shit off at the hotel and head over. Hope you brought something nice.” I crossed my legs and tapped the air with my foot. My eyes were pinned open. It was good coke. I was good and ready to get out of that tin can by the time we pulled up to the hotel. I needed a drink. We wheeled across marble floors to a desk clerk who handed us our keys. “There are three pools on the east side of the building,” he said. “There”—he pointed with two fingers—“and the casino is down that corridor.” He pointed again, like a stewardess at the front of a plane. D shot me a look. “Calm your tits, Ginger.” It was dangerous bringing me to a casino, and we both knew it. “Alright, Ace,” I grinned. Casino was our favorite movie. I wheeled along behind the guys. Ponytail had a way about him, walking tall beside D’s wide frame. By then, all I wanted was another line. I was coming down, and the long halls crushed in on me. My room was fresh and new. I threw my bags on the bed, did a bump, and got to work. I painted my eyes black, and my lips pink. I squeezed into a little black dress, jacked up my tits, then steadied on tall stilettos. I examined myself, turning side to side in the long hotel mirror. I looked good. I downed a tiny bottle from the minibar before buzzing my way over to D’s room. The two of them sat there with beers, passing a dusted mirror back and forth. “Jesus, girl.” D spouted as he stood. “Finally.” A smile crept to the sides of Ponytail’s face. We rode down the elevator without a word, then I clicked along behind them past the row of faceless clerks. Women scowled at me and their husbands. It was the same at the steakhouse. The hostess led us past contorted faces and heavy mahogany. She had a cute little ass. I wondered if mine was as nice. “Here you are,” she said in an even cuter voice. Six suits looked up at us. They were all dressed the same: dark pants, crisp collars, and gaudy gold jewelry. They got up one by one to shake hands and pat backs with D and Ponytail. “Baldy, this is Blondie.” Ponytail introduced us. Baldy had mocha skin and a bald head that glowed under the dim lights. He took my hands, looked me up and down. “Well, aren’t you a sight,” he said, kissing my cheeks. “And this is Pretty Boy,” Ponytail said. “Hello, love.” Pretty Boy stepped over to kiss me too. My stomach flipped and burned. He’d earned that name for a reason. I took my seat next to D and got deep into the red. I sat mostly quiet. I knew better than to be anything but eye candy. I’d have to wait for some time alone with the cousins.
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