Cream City Hustle. A Personal Finance Thriller. Available at Amazon
A listing of released installments can be found at the end of each installment
I will be sharing a half chapter or so of my first personal finance thriller each Sunday. Check back on Sunday, May 22nd for the next installment.
Glancing around as he quickly conducted his transactions, he noticed a new face. Giving him a long, hard stare, the stranger made it clear he was not interested in minding his own business, or conducting any with Marcus. Holding his gaze, Marcus followed his movement up the street until he rounded the corner. Marcus had been in the game, and this neighborhood, long enough to know when it was 5-0 and when it was some other form of danger. The new face definitely wasn’t 5-0, which meant there was a good chance he was some other kind of danger. What kind, he didn’t know. Marcus had taken a mental snapshot of the new face and he made a mental note to speak to Train, see if he could run down any information.
Before he got tied up any longer, he rushed upstairs, taking two steps at a time to the second floor, changed and sent a text message: to Train – hit me back when you have a min we need to talk. Walking over to the printer in the corner of the living room, he released the obscure latch on the back. Hollowed out, it served as a pretty good hiding place for his weed. He wasn’t crazy about the idea of keeping the weed in his apartment; however, he felt more comfortable with it here instead of someplace else. Double-bagged and vacuum sealed, he figured it was as good a spot as any.
Grabbing 20 baggies, he transferred them into his backpack and headed out the door to make his deliveries. All dealers knew you tried to avoid carrying around small baggies, with or without weed in them. If ever stopped, multiple baggies indicated intent to sell. Like a lot of states, good old Wisconsin didn’t play when it came to intent to sale. If he was not mistaken, the cultivation or intent to distribute 200 grams or less included a fine of up to $10,000 and up to three and half years in prison. “Yep, serious business,” he whispered under his breath.
When multiple deliveries needed to be made, a trip home between each sale was worth it when it could mean the difference between a misdemeanor or a felony. Even though he understood the potential ramifications, he had too many deliveries to make, over too large an area, so he was going to have to take his chances. He didn’t have time to run back to his place between every sale, or even every two sales.
No sooner had he walked out his front door, turned the corner, headed toward North 18th to meet Train, when he spotted Gwen, a former client, across the street. Bowing his head and picking up the pace, he hoped she wouldn’t see him. She had been blowing up his phone lately trying to get back onto his good side. He had four cardinal rules that he absolutely enforced, no exceptions. Break one of the rules – get busted, ask for other drugs, constantly pester or show up unannounced – and you had to find a new dealer.
If a client got busted, even if it wasn’t their fault, they were toxic. Kind of like that black mold. Who knew what deals may have been made with 5-0 or if they were still being watched. Once busted, Marcus didn’t want to be seen with them under any circumstances. Marcus prided himself on being strictly a marijuana dealer. None of that other shit. No rock, no meth, no pills, no smack. Once a client started soliciting him for heavier drugs, it was time to cut them off.
Text him more than a couple of times a day, soon he would cut you off. He didn’t appreciate being pestered. Once he indicated he would get to you, he would. A barrage of text messages and constant pestering wasn’t gonna make it happen any sooner. He didn’t have time for people who couldn’t practice patience.
The most sacred of his rules was showing up unannounced. Marcus learned early on that limiting foot traffic was one of the keys to not getting busted. Moreover, he simply didn’t like people showing up at this doorstep, at the place he used to escape the things out on the street. The place he laid his head at night. He only gave permission to a few trusted clients, who had unique situations, to visit him at his apartment. Everyone else knew it was strictly prohibited. No exceptions. None! Over the years, Marcus had experienced each of his rules being broken by a client. Gwen’s mistake was getting busted.
No luck, she spotted him quickly.
“Yo, Marcus, let me holler at you for a minute,” she called out as she crossed the street, breaking into a slow trot. And Gwen, at a slow trot with those massive titties, was not a sight soon forgotten.
“What up, Gwen? How you been?”
“You know, just trying to stay employed, make rent and live life. I sure the hell ain’t livin’ the American dream. Why haven’t you been returning my calls or responding to my text messages? I’ve been a loyal customer, never caused you no headaches.”
“True,” Marcus agreed. “However, like I said before, once someone gets busted, I can’t work with them anymore. It’s too dangerous. You know how this works.”
“Man, I hate trying to score from Freddy. His prices are too damn high, the quality is shit and he’s always hard to get a hold of.”
He really didn’t have a good response for her. “Look, Gwen, I really gotta go. I’m running late and Train is waiting on me. Let me give it some thought and I’ll let you know. Quit blowing up my phone though. Please. I’ll reach out to you. Cool?” With that, she headed back across the street and Marcus picked up his pace. “Damn, I hate running late,” he cursed under his breath. While he hated to mislead people, he had no intention of taking Gwen back on as a client. With any luck she would lose his number and find another source. Or both if he was lucky.
If nothing else, eventually she would get the message and stop contacting him. You had to be careful. Scorned customers could be your worst enemy. They know where you deal, who you run with, everything. It wouldn’t take much for one to get mad and rat you out to 5-0. On second thought, maybe he would let her back in the fold. Who knew? He couldn’t worry about it right now. Just then he got a message: from Train – can’t make it 2night renee’s fussin’ about spending some time.
Damn, he thought to himself. I really wanted to run my encounter past Train. See what he thought. Oh well, they’d have to hook up later. It looked like he was on his own.
Eight deliveries that afternoon. Based on the various locations, he figured the most efficient way to hit all eight in the shortest period of time would be to start with Robert and finish with Estelle. That worked out nice since he liked spending a little time with Estelle. They always had good conversations and she always gave him something new to think about. A white, sixty-something grandmother, she certainly wasn’t the stereotypical weed user. You certainly wouldn’t see her face on the evening news when they were presenting a profile of a typical user. More likely, it would be a face like his. Black and young. However, she suffered from a lot of lower back pain and like a lot of people who appreciated the medicinal qualities, she swore by the drug.
Getting through the first seven deliveries without any drama and making good time, Marcus headed to Estelle’s, over on North 26th Street. Turning the corner, he thought he caught a glimpse of the stranger from earlier that day reflected off the plate glass window of the Dollar Store. Glancing back quickly, he didn’t see anything. Maybe, like Trevor, he was getting a little paranoid. Stay in this game long enough and that would certainly be the case. A few steps later, he shot a quick glance over his left shoulder. Nothing. His paranoia satisfied, he rubbed his hands together for some quick warmth and continued on to Estelle’s.
As was customary, she offered him a cup of coffee soon after he had taken his coat off, placed her two baggies on the kitchen counter and settled on the couch. He normally only had one cup of coffee a day in the morning, maybe two. He could never refuse her offer though.
“How are things going?” she asked. “Anything new happening at McDonald’s?”
“Not really,” he replied. “Just trying to keep my head low and stay out of Vanessa’s crosshairs.” She knew as well as he did that keeping the Mickey D’s job was paramount. Not only was it a source of income for funding his savings and investment accounts, all kind of suspicions would be raised if he was steadily contributing to the accounts with no legally recognized employment.
“If all goes as planned, I will be ready to quit that job and make my move within a year.” She was aware of his emergency fund, so he shared that he had recently made the final deposit to reach his savings account goal.
“Congratulations!” she said. “Too many people underestimate the importance of a solid emergency fund and end up using credit cards when the unexpected, or unplanned, happens. I know it happened to me on more than one occasion when I was younger. Seems like 100 years ago.” Marcus laughed, almost spitting out a mouthful of coffee.
“Combine that with buying too much shit they don’t need on credit and debt becomes a serious issue. You’ll never reach your goals if you’re constantly struggling to pay for products or services you bought years ago.” Marcus chuckled a little as it was rare to hear Estelle curse, even a pretty tame curse word such as ‘shit.’ He couldn’t even imagine the ‘F’ Bomb falling out of her mouth. That would be too much. Way too much.
The conversation about debt made him think of the Will Rogers quote, “Too many people spend money they haven’t earned, to buy things they don’t want, to impress people that they don’t like.” Too true! They chatted for another 15 minutes or so, about the weather, and the Packers of course, as Marcus prepared to make his exit. Train had texted while they were talking and he really needed to talk to his friend about his encounter earlier with the stranger.
As he began to excuse himself Estelle said, “Just a minute. I will be right back.” A few minutes later she returned with a small medallion on a silver chain.
“What is that?” he asked.
“This is a Saint Joseph medallion. Not only was he the husband of Mary and the stepfather of Jesus, he is the Patron Saint of work and workers. As you go about your work, in an effort to pay for college and secure your financial future, may he watch over you.”
“It belonged to my son. You have been very kind to me. The marijuana provides me great relief, and more importantly, I have come to very much appreciate your friendship and our conversations. As you put forth the effort to reach a better place, you may need a little luck here and there. I hope this provides it,” she said as she handed it to him.
“Thank you,” Marcus said. “I don’t know what to say. I know this means a great deal to you. I’m touched. It has been a long time since someone gave me anything.”
After they exchanged a long hug, he excused himself and thanked Estelle for the coffee and the Saint Joseph medallion. She had told him previously about her son, who died in a car accident at the age of 23. It meant a great deal to him that she thought enough of him to entrust him with it. She thanked him for the weed and the company.
“Take care, Sweetie,” she said as he walked out the door, heading over to Qdoba Mexican Grill to meet Train.