The last shots from the 40 caliber Smith & Wesson still ringing in his ears, Johnny ‘Red’ Lawrence bent to retrieve the bloody envelope in the hand of his one-time employer, Hector Rodriguez.
Twenty-five large, Rodriguez had said earlier. Take this envelope to Mister Quintana downtown, then come back and see me.
Roaming the streets of Reading since he was 12, since crack cocaine became prevalent and his mom discovered its joy, Johnny Red had cut his teeth in the drug business. Slow in speech, Red was thought to be slow in mind, but things aren’t always as they appear. The boy was sharp, street smart and fiercely loyal to his boss.
“You want to make some money today Johnny Red?” Rodriguez had asked. “Cus I got a job for you if you do.”
Born in Puerto Rico, Rodriguez ran the drug trade from Penn street down or he thought that he did.
Lawrence shook his head in agreement, “What you got Hector?”
“Take twenty-five large, downtown and give it to Mister Quintana,” Rodriguez said, “This one could be trouble.”
Quintana was the unlicensed pharmacist practicing in the bottoms. Lawrence knew the man well.
Smiling a fucked up sort of smile, Lawrence replied, “I ain’t afraid Hector. You know I’d take a bullet for you man.”
“What’d I tell you boys,” Rodriguez said to some of the others in the abandoned building, “I put my best man on this.”
Rodriguez and the others nearby laughed. Lawrence didn’t.
It was cold and shitty outside of the unheated building, Lawrence pulled on a heavy coat to face the icy sidewalks outside. Rodriguez put his arm around the boy in walking to the door, “I’ll see you tonight Johnny Red and you watch out for my money huh?”
“Don’t you worry about nothing Hector,” Lawrence said, “I’ll see you later hear.”
Rodriguez laughed under his breath as the steel door slammed behind the boy, “Sure you will Johnny Red. Sure you will.”
Johnny Lawrence didn’t know a world existed much farther from the dirty streets Reading Pennsylvania, but he knew that he liked the good things, Patron, gold and women. Never one to turn down work, the boy excelled on these forgotten streets. Lawrence removed a pistol from his waistband and cycled the action. Got to be ready for whatever the street, throw at you, he thought.
Making the unfinished garage on 5th with the cash, Lawrence entered through a broken gate and yelled, “Mister Quintana, you in here?” His voice died away in distant echo on the first level of the unused building.
Music played from a car radio somewhere in the back, Lawrence recognized the song.
“Are you in here Mister Quintana?” Lawrence asked again, “It’s me Johnny Red. Hector Rodriguez sent me.”
“Johnny Red,” a familiar voice said from the shadows of the darkened building. Lawrence recognized it also.
“What are you doing here Hector?” Lawrence asked, “I thought I was supposed to meet Mister Quintana and give him the money for you?”
Removing the envelope from the boy’s hand, Rodriguez explained, “Now Johnny, you know I don’t have the money to pay Mister Quintana.”
Lawrence shook his head, “Then why you send me down here in the cold Hector?”
Rodriguez went on, “It needed to look good Johnny. The cops wouldn’t think shit about a fucked up black kid found dead in here.” Laughing, Rodriguez added, “Just another drug deal gone bad Johnny Red.”
“Alright,” Lawrence said, stepping back to think, to give his employer some room here in the cold building. Glass from discarded pipes and broken bottles crunched under foot. “So it’s going to be that way huh?”
Rodriguez didn’t answer.
“Why Hector?” Lawrence asked, a stray tear running down his frozen cheek. “Why it got to be this way man. I’ve always looked up to you, you my family.”
For a moment Rodriguez didn’t answer. The Puerto Rican only shook his head, “This is business Johnny Red. You know that.”
Without removing the Smith & Wesson that Rodriguez had given on a birthday so long ago from an overstuffed coat pocket, Lawrence emptied the magazine into his employers gut.
“I said I’d take a bullet for you motherfucker, not from you.”
The cops wouldn’t think shit about a fucked up drug dealer found dead in here. Just another drug deal gone bad.