Ray smiled, seeing him and Manny. The short kid wore a surplus army jacket, and the tall, skinny kid had a black leather jacket with duct tape over one elbow. A car went by at speed, and the big kid flipped it off, screaming something Ray couldn’t hear.

Manny covered his mouth with his hand and leaned toward Ray. “What do you think?” He put sugar in his coffee and stirred.

Ray kept his head down, talked to the table in a low voice. “About Rick? I think I don’t know anything about him except he’s got a jones.”

Manny said, “Or a bruise on his arm, supposed to make us think he’s a hype. I could try to see Harlan, see what he says.”

“Yeah, maybe, but if Harlan is jammed up he’ll just lie. What does he have to lose?” The waitress came over and poured more coffee. They watched her go. Ray shrugged. “We need the third guy on this one. The thing is I’d rather have a junkie than a cowboy, if that’s my only choice.”

Manny nodded. “Some idiot who’s shooting just to hear the gun. Scaring the shit out of the citizens.”

“For a junkie it’s a straight line. Money’” Ray drew a line in the air with his forefinger. “’Dope. The cops come, he runs away. What do you want, some guy’s going to make a stand, shoot it out with the bulls? Get his name in the paper?”

“Fuck that.”

“Yeah…” Ray said, but thinking: What am I, then? Not a junkie, not quite, or not yet. Not a cowboy. He used the gun, but didn’t love it. He thought of himself sometimes as a professional. Or as acting like a professional, if there was a difference.

He and Manny had been robbing dealers for about a year. Had been in the life for a long time before that, of course. Stole cars, broke into houses. They had met in Juvie, a place called Lima, out in Delaware County. Taking off dealers wasn’t something you could do if you didn’t know who was who, what to look for. You had to score dope to know dope dealers, or know people who did. Where to go, what to watch for. Manny had been in rehab and knew people who were out copping every day.

They were careful, in their way. They would watch the houses they picked out for a few days or, if they were really hungry, a few hours. Watch the traffic, get a feel for how many people were in the place, who might be carrying. The trick was to go in strong but not crazy. Take control of the situation. Ray had found them the windbreakers with DEA in yellow letters on the back at a flea market in Jersey. They bought badges at an army surplus store in Connecticut and hung them on chains around their necks. It calmed the dealers down. No one wanted to get tagged, but only a stone retard was going to throw down on a Fed. Only when they were down on the floor, their wrists bound with plastic wire wraps, would they begin to get it. Who they really were, Manny and Ray. Why they were there.

At least the older or more experienced ones would get it. Then they would curse, spit, roll around, put on a little theater for their girlfriends, but it was over already by then. Manny would have the pump gun pointed at their heads, and Ray would be looking under the toilet lids and in the freezer.

The dealers made Ray feel like he had his life together. Dealers had their wives and mothers and girlfriends and kids in the houses with them holding dope and cash. He would tell them they were lucky he wasn’t some crazy Dominican there to cut throats. They’d be cooking meth and poisoning their own fucking brats in the next room, the air full of charcoal smoke and acetone mist. Speed cookers, small- time Mexican coke dealers with Scarface posters on the wall. Hillbilly tweakers with wide eyes and bad teeth, what they called now meth mouth. Big crosses around their necks, smoking dope to calm their racing hearts. When they were in the cuffs, they’d sing hymns and cry and call down Jesus Fire. It made Ray want to laugh’conjuring up a Tweaker Jesus in his head, a Jesus with gray teeth and unwashed hair, tattoos reading born to lose and born to die.

MANNY WALKED RAY to his car, looking at the dark sky. “More rain?”

Ray went into the glove compartment and pulled out a short stack of twenties and put it in an envelope. He made a show of licking the gum and sealing it. Manny laughed and shook his head, let his long frame settle against Ray’s car, leather jacket flapping open. With his arms folded he looked even more like some great bird poised to erupt into the sky in a blast of lost feathers and rushing sound.

“Fuck you.” Manny put the money in his jacket. “Ever since you gave up smoking you fucking delight in being a hump. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about holding the money.”

Ray held up his hands. “Hey, anytime you want it…”

Manny looked at his hands. “The thing is, I asked Sherry to move in.”

“No shit. Huh.” Ray raised his eyebrows.

Manny stuck his hands in his pockets, awkward. “You think I’m making a mistake.”

“No. No I don’t. I like Sherry, she’s a good kid.”


“Just, does she know, you know. Where the money’s coming from.”

Manny smiled. “She knows I ain’t a house painter.” A dig at Ray, who in a moment of panic once told this dumb- ass lie to Theresa, who then spent hours on the phone digging up painting jobs around the neighborhood. “She knows I got money and don’t work. She’s been around the block. Shit, we met in rehab. Anyway, she knows not to ask too many questions.”

“Great, then. She can dole out the money, get the rent paid and keep you from getting your legs broken by Dickie Lagrossa when the Sixers tank. What you owe him now, about twenty grand?”

“Oh, stop. It’s a couple thousand. Anyway, I got a system.”

“Yeah, how’s that working?”

Manny pulled a medal from inside his shirt and kissed it. “And I got Saint Bernadine on my side.”

Ray said, “You and Arnold Rothstein.” He squinted through the smoke from Manny’s cigarette. “You’re the one asked me to dole out the money. Hey, though, you got to love that there’s a patron saint for gambling degenerates.”

Manny waved his arm expansively. “There’s a saint for every fucking thing. My ex- wife’s cousin, Deborah?”

“The good- looking one.”

“She says there’s a patron saint for meth cookers.”

Ray held a palm up as if to stop the flow of bullshit. “Get the fuck out.”

Manny held his hand across his chest, cigarette out. “I swear to Christ. Saint Cosmas, she says. He’s like the patron saint of people who work with chemicals. She was dating that guy, you know the one. Jacques or Jocko or some shit.”

“I remember. He’s in Graterford now, right?”

“When she moves in and finds out he’s dealing, she goes to the priest and asks what does she do. You can imagine that conversation.”

Ray smiled. “He’s cooking in the house, the kid’s there…”

“But deep down he’s a good guy.”

“A sweet girl, not a smart one.”

“No. But the priest comes up with Saint Cosmas. And of course that she should dime Jocko.”

“Which she does.”

Manny gave a half- shrug. “Of course, the asshole is also beating her and her kid, so…”

“Well, wherever he is, I’m sure Saint Cosmas is looking after him.”

They stood in the lot for a minute. Ray watched tiny waves cross a coffee- colored puddle. “So… the Rick question.”

“You really think the cops would get onto us and try to put a guy inside?”

“Don’t seem likely, huh?”

“What are we, the Dillinger gang? I think we run into trouble, it ain’t going to be that kind. I don’t see nobody calling the cops.”

They both thought about that. You could only do this shit so long. Someone was going to recognize them, or follow them, or just do something brainless when they came in the door. They wore the cop jackets and badges and they moved with purpose and told themselves they were smart, but there was only so much luck and then it was gone. At the end of the day they were as doomed as the goofy bastards they were ripping off. Manny and Ray would do lines in the truck before they went in, getting their edges sharp, making their minds fast. It couldn’t go on

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