Contraband

It is late at night. Your body is screaming, “I need it. I have to have it. I’ll do anything to get it.”

You check the billfold of your wallet: Five dollars.

Not enough.

You open the glass jar where your wife throws her pocket change. Eighteen quarters. One dime. Six pennies. Total cash on hand: Nine dollars and sixty-three cents. Still not enough.

Silently … surreptitiously … you tiptoe to your wife’s purse in the living room. You unzip the main compartment, delicately fish out her wallet, and remove two tens, five twenties, and six ones. Then you replace, re-zip, and reposition all that you have touched. New total: One hundred and thirty-five dollars and sixty-three cents.

You return to the kitchen and put sixty-three cents back into the change jar. You check your pockets for your car keys.

Quietly … ever so quietly … you exit the backdoor of your house. Anticipating your midnight excursion, you had parked your car down the street, in front of Jerry’s house. When Jerry is in the same grip of need as you are, he parks in front of yours.

Ever since … what was his name? When you asked, he just grinned evilly, shook his greasy head, and snarled, “Call me Mr. Fry. Yeah. That’ll do, because I’m your fry guy.”

You choke back a knot of fear.

Fry. Isn’t that another word for die? As in execute. As in electric chair?

Fry.

And is that why Mr. Fry disappeared? Is that what happened to him? He’s been gone now … how long? Ten days? Two weeks? Jerry found a new supplier last night. As of tonight, he will be your supplier, too. Another guy on another street corner in the same sordid section of town.



You accelerate slowly, your car tires barely whispering over the pavement as they distance you from your safe suburban home. The engine purrs. The wheels turn. Your body’s cravings overcome your sense of caution. You drive faster. Your mouth is awash in saliva; your heart is racing; your palms are sweating on the steering wheel.

Fifty-Second Street. Forty-Third Street. Thirty-Ninth Street. There it is. Up ahead: The intersection of Thirty-Eighth and Third.

You can smell it through your pours. Anticipatory ecstasy floods your body. You pull over to the curb.

A skinny man with a pockmarked face motions your forward; he is smarmier and greasier than the last. You roll down the window. He shakes his head. You open the driver’s side door and get out of the car. He motions you forward again.

“What am I getting into?” Your mind protests feebly as you think back to the days … just months before … when only the dealers, suppliers, and distributors paid the price. Then the activists started to scream. Then the laws started to change. Now, users get arrested, too. Bank executives. Bus drivers. Stock brokers. Surgeons. Politicians. Actresses. Kids in college. All of them. All of us.

You follow him down a narrow alley, and feel a wallop of need in your gut. The dealer stops, turns, and says just one word: “Order?”

Your juices start to flow. Your blood starts to pulse. You answer, “Double whopper. Triple-thick chocolate shake. Egg McMuffin.”

He waits. You add, “Chicken McNuggets.” You pause. He grins. It is a malicious grin. He knows his customers. He knows you.

You surrender. “A large order of fries.”

He nods and holds out his hand. You give him fifty dollars. He grunts. You add two twenties. He snorts derisively. You add another ten. His fist closes around the dollars and he disappears. Ten minutes later, he returns and thrusts at you three white bags.

You hurry back to the car, fling open the door, slip behind the wheel, and slam the door. You tear into a bag, take out a package wrapped in white wax paper, close your eyes, and raise it to your lips. You think that you might swoon.

This is rapture. This is heaven. This is what life is all about. You take a bite. You chew. You swallow. You sigh. You disengage your jaw for a second exquisite mouthful.

Then you see a shadow. You hear a harsh rap against the car window. You turn to your left. A body blocks your view of the street.

You sputter, “Who … what?” But you already know who he is and why he is here. Before he is finished with you, your name will be broadcast on the news and posted on the Internet. You will lose your job, your reputation, your wife, and your family. Life, as you have known it, is over. A new world looms ahead. A world of celery sticks, tofu burgers, compulsory meditation, and asparagus spears.

TRUTH IS STRANGER THAN FICTION:

From Slate.com. July 31, 2008: “The war on fat has just crossed a major red line. The Los Angeles City Council has passed an ordinance prohibiting construction of new fast-food restaurants in a 32-square-mile area inhabited by 500,000 low-income people.”

From Reason Magazine. December 10, 2010: “Surprise! ‘Temporary’ Fast-Food Ban in South L.A. Becomes Permanent.”

From The Times, London, UK, February 27, 2007: “The Prince of Wales told a nutritionist in Abu Dhabi today that the ‘key’ to people eating healthily was to ban McDonald’s fast food restaurants."

You are still in your car. You are still terrified. A large man is still looming in the opening of your driver’s side window. In one hand, he holds a badge. In the other, he holds revolver. The barrel of the gun is pointed at your heart.

He barks, “Food police! Hands on the dashboard. Put down the Big Mac.”

Shelly Reuben has been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is an author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit www.shellyreuben.com.

Copyright © 2011, Shelly Reuben

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