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       Breakers, p.1

           Edward W. Robertson
 
Breakers


  BREAKERS

  ~ BREAKERS, BOOK 1 ~

  © 2012

  Edward W. Robertson

  THE COMPLETE BREAKERS SERIES

  Breakers (Book 1)

  Melt Down (Book 2)

  Outcome (Novella)

  Knifepoint (Book 3)

  Reapers (Book 4)

  Cut Off (Book 5)

  Captives (Book 6)

  Relapse (Book 7)

  Blackout (Book 8)

  No waiting for new books—the BREAKERS series

  is now complete. Start today.

  I:

  PANHANDLER

  1

  If he'd known the world had already started to end, Raymond would have kept the drugs for himself. At least that way he wouldn't have to lie to his wife about it. It wasn't the drugs themselves that were the problem—they were casual smokers, Mia would greet the pine-skunk scent with a smile—or the amount, two ounces of weed, no more than he'd handled in college whenever he needed a few extra bucks. Instead, it was what the drugs meant: very soon, they would be out of money.

  He turned away from the overgrown back yard, the wood of the deck creaking beneath him, and finished his lie. "We can even get a dog soon. Isn't that what you've been wanting? To clean stains out of the carpet five times a day?"

  Mia's dark hair fluttered around her chin, the breeze bringing with it a whiff of salt. "I want to get a great big one. A wolfhound. Something big enough to eat you if you kick it."

  "You think I'd kick our dog?"

  "People get up to all kinds of bad things when no one's looking."

  He smiled back. "Gotta run. Interview in Beverly Hills."

  "Look at you."

  "I won't be coming home in a Porsche. The guy just wants some cover art."

  She cocked her head, brown eyes questioning. "He needs an interview for that?"

  "Psychologist," Raymond shrugged. "Don't ask me. But if it works out, he's got some other projects he wants me for." He leaned in and kissed her before she could say anything more. She tasted like fresh peaches, lip gloss sticky as melted sugar. "If I get the gig, we'll go out for Indian."

  Inside the bungalow, he grabbed his wallet and hustled out the front door exactly as if he had a traffic-filled 90-minute drive into the city ahead of him. Wilting heat breathed from the door of his '96 Altima. From the outside, all looked good: crisp white paint, sunroof. Inside, the left turn signal didn't work, the speedometer crapped out half the time, leaving him to estimate his speed by RPMs, and the AC took a solid five minutes to quit blowing hot air. He was sweating before he left the cracked driveway.

  It was a lie, but not one he felt particularly bad about. The details might have been bullshit, but the basics, those were whatever the opposite of bullshit was. Grass, maybe. Or a fine, aromatic meal. Probably not a productive line of thought.

  He did have an interview. Of sorts. In any event, he would soon be handing over $400, borrowed from Kelsey, which he would exchange for two ounces of wholesale weed. He could flip that to his friends and friends' friends for $800. With Mia's part-time, $800 would get them through the month. If he hadn't picked up any extra design work by then, he'd give these guys another call and repeat. Clean. Simple. Low-risk. As loose as LA weed laws were, he doubted he was even committing a felony.

  With the city waiting uselessly to the north, Raymond swung south on the Pacific Coast Highway, cruising past the Thai massage parlors, organic grocers, and colon hydrotherapy salons of the South Bay. Lukewarm air flushed the swelter from his open windows. On the cliffside hills above him, smooth white manors contemplated the ocean, protected from the syrup-thick traffic by winding residential roads, gates, and the inborn social understanding that you have no business there. The lesser hill of the PCH dumped him into Torrance.

  Strip malls and chain shops bordered the boulevard. When he idled at long red lights, exhaust and the smell of hot asphalt poured through the windows. He swung off the PCH, passing a bowling alley, liquor stores. He'd written himself directions from Google and drove in the far right lane, peering for street signs. Pastel bungalows lined the side streets, two-bedroom joints that still appraised at $500K despite the bubble and recession. Not that anyone was buying. When he'd poked around his options for selling the house his mom had left them in Redondo, every realtor in town advised him that unless he was desperate, he should just rent and wait it out for a year or three until the rebound catapulted the old home back up into low seven figures. But Mia had always considered herself a California girl at heart, and from 1000 miles away outside Seattle, finding new jobs sounded perfectly simple, something normal people do every day. They'd moved down.

  Nine months later, Mia was lucky to get 15 hours a week at the clinic. He snagged odd jobs on Craigslist, ebook covers and logo design for website startups, but biddings-wise it was a race to the bottom. In a lucky month, he could cover the utilities and gas for the car. His checking account had died a slow bleed. He didn't even have a credit card. He was reasonably certain they could mortgage the house, but he didn't even rightly know what a mortgage was besides something he couldn't pay. What happened with the electric company in three months? What happened when their bank account was as empty as their fridge?

  He parked in a weedy lot behind a beige rectangle of apartments. When he'd left Redondo, it had been comfortably warm, just a few degrees above cool, but the Torrance heat was almost painful. The difference between coast and inland, separated by no more than five miles of six-lane avenues and CVS pharmacies, could be a twenty-point jump on the thermostat. Transitioning between the two always made Raymond feel insane, as if he'd left not just his hometown, but his entire reality.

  The blacktop shimmered. He closed his door, yanking his hand away from the scalding metal. A couple blocks away, traffic whooshed like surf. A crow cawed, was abruptly silenced by the bleat of a child's whistle.

  Two ounces in broad daylight in an empty parking lot. Bobby had set this thing up for him, and he'd been buying from Bobby since bumming him a cigarette outside a bar on the pier three months back, so it's not like he was worried, exactly, but that wasn't exactly how he planned to do business himself. Ideally, he'd deal out of the house, but Mia was back by 1:30 in the afternoon. He'd have to drive to clients, set his phone to silent to disguise his sudden popularity. On the other hand, why not tell his customers that if they weren't at his house by 1 PM, they'd be out of luck? Telling stoners to be up and at 'em by early afternoon was a little like lecturing a dog to chew with its mouth closed, but he'd be the one with the pot. The power. It'd be his way or the dry way.

  At the mouth of the lot, a gleaming black sedan turned off the road, bass thudding so hard Raymond could feel it in his chest. The car eased into the spot next to his. Engine idling, the passenger window slid down, washing Raymond's face with icy air. A skinny white guy with a shaved head leaned across the seats.

  "You Raymond?"

  He patted his pocket for the envelope of bills. "Are you Lane?"

  "Get in."

  Raymond popped the door and inserted himself in the passenger seat. Cool air rushed over his arms, raising his fine blond hairs. Lane stared at him like a bald basset hound. "Money?"

  "Yeah. Two ounces, right?"

  Lane nodded. Raymond squirmed the envelope from his pocket and passed over the last of his cash, most of which had been borrowed. Lane lifted the flap with one finger, shook the envelope up and down. "Cool."

  "So?"

  The man smiled like a kindergarten teacher. "You never done this before, have you?"

  "Everybody does it their own way."

  "Our way, you pay me the money, I send you to Mauricio. That dapper gentleman up there." Lane pointed to an apartment balcony across the way. Behind the black rails, a fat shirtless man sprawled
in a lawn chair, a silver beer can propped on his gut. "Nobody's straight-up trading money for shit. Anything happens, we're all protected."

  "Sounds like a good system." He raised his eyebrows. "When I sell this through, can you get me more?"

  "There's always more." Lane stuck out his knuckles for a bump. Raymond fumbled for the door handle. Sunshine smothered him; Lane's car backed up and swung for the lot exit, gleaming. Raymond swept sweat from his hairline and scanned for the stairs. Heat roiled from the pavement. Sweat tickled his ribs as he jogged up the balcony to Mauricio.

  "What's up?"

  The fat man dragged a damp cloth over the folds of his neck. "Sup?"

  Raymond gestured at the empty lot. "Lane sent me up."

  Mauricio's shoulders lumped together. "I don't know any Lane."

  "The guy in the car. Shaved head. We were just down there."

  "I saw him. Don't know him."

  "He knows you. What is he, your stalker?"

  The man wriggled upright in the lawn chair, grabbing his beer before it splashed over the concrete landing. "Look man, I don't go into this stuff. I'm an upstanding citizen. But that guy, I think he ripped you off."

  Raymond's face prickled. "You'd be in a pretty good position to know that, wouldn't you?"

  Mauricio spread his blunt palms. "I've just been sitting here. If they made that illegal, I need to go on the lam, man."

  "What if I call the cops?"

  The man's belly shook. "About how you were trying to buy weed? With intent?"

  "I'll tell them Lane robbed me." He blinked sweat from his lashes. "Give them his plate."

  "I wouldn't do that, bro."

  "He's got my money."

  "I just wouldn't do that. That would be rude. But mostly it would be a very bad idea."

  "That was all I had left."

  "Seriously?" Mauricio smiled past his beer. "My first lapdance tonight is going out to you."

  The parking lot's heat thudded over Raymond's skin. He drove off on autopilot, lighting a cigarette—he usually only smoked when he drank; the battered pack of Dunhills had been in the glove box for weeks—sweating, face burning, swearing at everyone who switched lanes without a signal, which was fucking half the population of Los Angeles. The AC pumped hot air into his face. He drove past the turn to his house and parked two blocks from the pier where there were no meters to feed.

  The coastal breeze was a cool hand. He scuffed over the time-fuzzed boards of the pier, past bars and fast food stands and the seafood places with the live crabs clambering over each other in the windows. At the far end, Asians and Hispanic guys lobbed lures into the waves beyond the breakers and waited for a bite. Could he do that? At least they'd have food. It's what his great uncle had done during the Depression—once a week, he and his brother and sister and parents would go to the creek and catch their limit, forty trout apiece, two hundred trout in total, and they'd eat trout until the next week rolled around and they did it again. His uncle had died unable to eat fish ever again, but they'd made it through. How would Mia feel about fish?

  But he couldn't put fish in his gas tank or in the envelope to the water company. Besides, all the time he'd spent down on the pier, he'd never seen anyone catch a single fish. The Depression was another world. There were too many people to live off the land. That was the lesson from the parking lot. This America, you made money or you died.

  Mia had been saving a couple hundred dollars towards a laptop that didn't crash three times an hour. She'd have a paycheck at the end of the week. If they ate beans and rice and left the heat off, he figured they could last about two months. Maybe enough time to find a real job. This economy.

  Gulls bobbed on the swells. A pelican drifted ten yards above the water, then dropped like a feathered stone, tucking its wings the moment before it shattered the surface. Kelp and fish guts mixed in the breeze. He'd moved here for Mia—if they'd just sold the house, even at the current market, neither of them would have had to work for a decade. But she'd wanted the sunlight. The palms. The ocean. A place where winters were only a memory. He'd wanted her to be happy—for them to be happy together. It was time to stop hiding, to give up the dream of design freelancing, or at least put it on hold for a while. It was time to come clean to Mia and work it out together. They were supposed to be there for each other. If he kept trying to go it alone, he'd destroy them.

  He texted Mia to get ready for dinner. He watched the waves a while longer, drove home, changed, and took her to the Indian place down the street. She waited until the naan arrived, then, over the smell of garlic and coriander, asked him how it had gone.

  "I didn't get it."

  She reached across the table, lips forming a concerned O. "I'm sorry, cutie. Next time."

  Raymond nodded, rallying his nerves. Reminded himself that, no matter what happened next, all he could control was his reaction. He took her hand. "What if there isn't?"

  She snorted. "Like what if an earthquake kills us tomorrow? No! I haven't even chosen a cemetery!"

  "We're out of money." He stared at their hands on top of the red table. "I owe money. I don't know what to do."

  2

 
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