by G. Neri
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Make eight hundred dollars for one day of work. Who wouldn’t do that? Boyce liked easy cash. Liked holding it, liked spending it. Problem was, he never had any.
So when his cousin Lannon called him over to the apartment in Venice Beach and offered him a quick gig, an in-and-out job that paid more money than he’d earned last summer at his uncle’s restaurant, Boyce got excited. It was the first-time he’d felt good since dropping out of Santa Monica High three months ago. He had been having big fears ever since, waking up drenched in sweat, his hands shaking. Boyce didn’t know what he was going to do with his life, other than surf. His parents told him he had till his eighteenth birthday to get his act together. He got a rash instead.
But for the moment, he put his worries aside. Boyce ripped a massive hit off of Lannon’s bong that made his eyes water. Exhaling, he said only “Dude…..”
Boyce stared at the ceiling, the sunlight pixelizing into fairy dust. His fears began to ease, run off by the pot fairies who smiled at him peacefully.
“This rips, dude. Boyce chud.” he giggled. “I mean, choice bud.”
“Told you. Told you it was the crip.” Lannon smiled, half-lidded. He took the bong, fashioned from a plastic buddha, and inhaled a whiff of its lascivious aromas. “We’re gonna sell out for sure. All you gotta do, cuz’, is bring back the dinero.”
Boyce watched Lannon spark up. The weed flamed, the bubbles erupting into smoke as it gathered in the holding tube.
“You sure this is gonna be easy?” asked Boyce.
Lannon choked, handing the bong back. “Man, after you bring the money back to L.A., you’re gonna be good ta go, brah.”
Boyce still had doubts. He needed another hit. He sat up to inspect the bowl. Only a small ball of hooch remained.
Lannon offered a refill. “Look man, I need you. I gotta get to the Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam. I can’t be flying back to LA. And I can’t take $80,000 with me, not to a foreign land. That leaves you, cuz.”
Jesus, that’s more than dad makes in a year, thought Boyce as he sparked the bong.
Lannon smiled. “You do good on this, then we can talk about a steady gig, ya know? You can mule the product and bring the cash back. Make some real money. Maybe enough to surf the rest of your life away without ever wearing a tie. How that be?”
Boyce thought about how that be as he exhaled. That be good, he thought. The promise of a short career and early retirement sounded sweet to him. But then again, what choice did he have? With no high school diploma, the best he’d get is maybe (and this is after five years of hard work) maybe assistant manager at the Taco Bell on Pier Avenue. He shook that vision out of his head.
“You trust me with all that?” Boyce asked.
Lannon got serious. “I know where you live. You even think about taking it, and I’ll be paying a visit to your pops.”
Boyce blanched. He was just asking.
Lannon smiled and put his hand on Boyce’s shoulder. “Don’t worry little man. It’s your first time, I know. But you’re a minor. You get caught— it’s just a slap on the wrist. It’ll be easy, you’ll see.”
Boyce took another hit and thought of better things. Keep your eye on the prize, his guidance counselor used to say to him. He had a prize in mind.
“Dude….maybe after a couple years of this, after I got a goodly amount of cash, I’m gonna move to Mexico, build a little house by the beach, get me a coupla bonita chickitas…and surf the rest of my friggin’ life.”
Lannon grinned. “Now you’re talkin’, Boyce. Chickitas named Juanita.” He burst out laughing.
Boyce couldn’t keep from laughing either. “Juanita!!” He laughed himself silly—eyes bulging, forehead turning red, until he started hackin’ up phlegm.
In Boyce’s head, he was already off in Mexico, busting a tube with his bonita chickita Juanita. Juanita smiled at him as he sliced down the face of the wave. She was holding a mai tai and hanging ten while Boyce steered his mighty board across the face.
But the dream came to an abrupt end when the wave closed out, sending him and Juanita into the darkness below…
Suddenly, he felt sick.
Lannon nodded knowingly. “Forgot ta tell you about the bad after taste, cuz…”
Two days later, Boyce was wrapped neck to foot in athletic tape. The tape held big wads-o-cashola to his body. He was somewhere in Orlando. Told his mom he was going on a quick little surf trip with Chiba and the crew, and would be back tomorrow. Instead, he came to the land of Mickey Mouse, flying alone for the first time. It made him feel kinda grown-up.
Lannon was nowhere to be found. He had delivered the product, made his sale, and split for Amsterdam. Before he left, Lannon had reminded Boyce that he wasn’t technically committing a crime. It wasn’t Boyce’s money. He was just the delivery boy. And nobody gives a damn about the stupid delivery boy.
But as Boyce stood there in his long johns with a stranger strapping drug money to his body, he began to have doubts again. For sure, people got sent up for this kind of activity. He vaguely remembered seeing a news report that half of all felons were in jail for possession or trafficking of drugs. Or maybe he just heard that on CSI: Miami.
Randy, the buyer dude in Orlando with the red-headed ‘fro, was wrapping his last wad of hundreds in cellophane. He wrote a big 5 on it in red then strapped it onto Boyce.
“You sure about the metal stripes?” Boyce had heard that all paper currency had a metal stripe hidden inside it and that if you had more than $10,000, it would set off a metal detector.
Randy was a monotone kind of guy. Didn’t like to talk much. “Chill, man… don’t matter.”
“But I heard—” Boyce had to catch himself, try to play it cool. “I thought that anything over a 10 sets off the detectors.”
“You heard right.”
Boyce thought for a moment. This was a trick answer cause, for dang sure, he had more than 100 g’s strapped to himself.
“Dude, what’re we saying here?”
Randy smiled, which he rarely did on purpose. Usually it was ‘cause he was stoned off his butt and smiling like a lazy summer day. But this smile was different. It was a playful, toying smile.
“We saying we gonna be alright.”
“Randy, dude. Man. Look, dude. I go through that thing with a hundred, and it beeps, I’m gonna die—”
“It’s Boyce, Randy. Boyce.”
Randy took a giant swig of Mountain Dew, closing his eyes and letting the bottle drain. Satisfied, he smacked his lips as he trembled like a junkie getting his fix.
“Dang, the dew is mighty fine this morning!”
“Bryce, how long you been outta school?”
Boyce opened his mouth, but all that came out was, “What?”
“When did you graduate?”
Boyce looks at his feet. “Well…”
There was a long silence. Randy knew.
“Bryce, there’s no shame, dude. No shame. I myself just barely got out, only because the assistant vice principal had a penchant for the herb. I just helped him through the hard times, ya know.”
Boyce quietly relived all the mornings he ditched, trading Hemingway for a ride inside the green room. A wistful smile came to his face.
“You eighteen yet?” asked Randy.
Boyce shook his head. “Seventeen and a half.”
“’Cause when you been around as long as I have, and I’m twenny-three, so I know what I’m sayin’, you learn to trust the money. The money knows all, guides you through the craziness and back again. Trust the money.”
“Randy…what does the money say about metal stripes?”
Randy tossed the empty Mountain Dew bottle. “If the detector goes off, don’t sweat it. They’ll just pull you aside.”
Boyce wiped out in his head, his fears returning in force. And he must have had an idiot expression on his face ‘cause Randy was smilin’ again.
“Chill, brah. They’ll wave their magic wand over you, but they won’t register nothing. You smile and walk.”
Randy knelt to tape the last wad of cash to Boyce’s thighs.
“See, the stripes only work if you read it as a whole, like the metal detector. But the wand is too specific. There’s not enough metal in any wad to set it off. So they can wave all over you, stick it up your butt and back again, they won’t find nada. Pretty tight, huh?”
Randy started winding the tape around Boyce’s leg, slowly cutting off Boyce’s circulation.
“You sure? I mean really? No one ever got copped?”
Randy shrugged. “Feds might come down on you, but they can’t arrest you. They’ll confiscate your cash, that’s all. Then it becomes a write-off.”
Boyce licked his lips, unsure.
“You’ll learn Bryce, you’ll learn. Being a mule is easy as pie, as long as you take the right precautions. Look at me. This is my fourth year, man. Cuatro!” he held up four fingers and wiggled them like worms in a blender.
Boyce was sure he was gonna die.
Boyce splashed water on his face again.
It’s cool, dude. Chill out. What’s to worry? This is easy friggin’ money. Better than working as a stupid busboy again.
He looked at himself in the mirror and saw a stranger, someone who looked like his dad—a guy with short hair and glasses. In a suit, fer christ sake.
Was it really worth this? The humiliation of looking like every other corporate zombie assbite republican? Was cutting off his beloved locks worth eight-hundred dollars?
He tried to stay focused. He thought of the board he was gonna buy with the new money: A Jimmy Sweet Strato 3. He had seen it hanging above the counter at Dewey’s Surf and Turf shop. Now it was gonna be his. Tasty.
“There’s no shame, dude,” he said to himself. Boyce straightened his tie. The disguise was complete. If she weren’t dead, his own mother wouldn’t recognize him. He could be anybody. Bill or Sam or Richard Blaine of Steely Automotive Supplies or Dean, the kid on his way back to college or Chuck, just out of the Army. Heck, he could even be his dad, when he was twenty (if he ever was twenty, the bastard).
Boyce hadn’t worn a suit since his mom’s funeral. In fact, he hadn’t worn this suit since his mom’s funeral (it was his only one). His dad had given it to him. It was the only gift he’d ever gotten from the old man. But that was a long time ago, almost two and a half years, a lifetime to a baby and then some.
Back in the day, he had made a promise to himself, a promise never to wear a tie, cut his hair, or have a real job. And here he was, wearing a suit, with short hair, on a job. But the beauty of it, the irony as his English teacher used to say, was that it was all part of the scam, a disguise to fool the corporate sheep who would surround him on the plane. The hair cut, the fake glasses, the suit, the Ann Coulter book he carried in his pocket, the phony wedding ring—all this was part of the master plan. He looked like he was twenty-one, maybe older. A young business grad on his first corporate jaunt.
Boyce figured himself to be, at that moment, a spy, a man undercover, his secret identity known only to himself, carrying over $80,000 in thin stacks of tens, twenties, fifties, and hundreds strapped to his stomach, arms, and legs. That was more money than he had ever seen in his whole life, let alone earned.
And now he was about to step out into the real world, on a mission, a mission that would change his life forever, for better or for worse.
Yes, he was about to become a mule.
It was a small airport, away from Orlando International, never busy. A fly-by-night operation that looked like it was stocked with all the rejects or laid-off workers from the real airport. Everyone seemed to move in slow motion, cooled not by central air, but only by fans, like what Boyce imagined an airport in, say, South America, might be like. But that’s why it was chosen. Even after 9/11, nobody bothered beefing up security here. Anyone wanting to bomb this place would be welcome to it.
Boyce walked out into the corridor with all the heroics of a mouse. There, down the way, were the metal detectors. Two very bored security personnel sat glumly listening to the fans and picking their fingernails.
Boyce stood alone in the corridor and began to walk calmly toward the security guards. He wanted to turn around, to find, if possible, a way out of this mess before he was royally screwed for the rest of his life. But he felt turning around would somehow give him away. If they could see past his seemingly calm demeanor and hear the screaming that was going on in Boyce’s head, they would be on him like, well, like two guards busting a flunky. Which he was about to be. In about thirty seconds.
Boyce could see the exit signs all pointing in the opposite directions in which he was headed. The two bored security zombies hadn’t noticed him yet, caught up as they were in the rhythms of the fans. He could break for it, hide back in the bathroom, maybe smoke a joint to calm his nerves.
Don’t be such a friggin’ wuss, dude! You’re a pirate. You are in control. You are going to walk through that gate, past those dumb dipweeds, and wing your way back to L.A. Now shut up and do it!
Boyce shook his head vigorously and regained his focus. Play the part, he thought, assuming the role of a bored traveler. I’m boring, I’m boring, bored out of my gourd… He lost his train of thought.
As he approached the security check, he could feel the money against his skin, $80,000 worth, pinching and sweating, the tape cutting off his circulation. One of the security people, a Pakistani woman in her fifties, looked up to see Boyce approaching the entrance. She gave no sign of recognition, alarm, or satisfaction in seeing him. In fact, she could have just been looking at the mural behind him.
The other security guard, a black man checking out his fingernails, ignored him completely. But maybe it was all just an act. For all he knew, this was how they caught criminals off guard—the old undercover-act-incompetent-but-really-I’m-a-DEA-super-agent trick.
Boyce’s heart raced as he reached his final destination. He quietly placed his briefcase (which was filled with decoy magazines like the National Review, the Atlantic Weekly, and Reader’s Digest) on the conveyor belt and watched it disappear into the black box where the Pakistani woman glanced blandly at it through the x-ray.
Boyce took one last breath, smiled and walked through the metal detector.
It was either the sound of Boyce’s heart stopping or the metal detector had gone off. Boyce looked over to the black guard with a nervous grin and sweat beading on his forehead.
The guard stopped checking his nails and wandered over with his wand.
“How ya doing?” Boyce asked with all the politeness of a local farmer. Inside his head, he was already plotting the death of the guard and his companion. He wondered how long it would take for the dogs to be unleashed on his trail.
The guard didn’t smile. “Step to the side please.”
Boyce looked around. There was no one else that was trying to pass. He stepped aside and the guard motioned for him to spread his arms.
As Boyce lifted them, his breathing increased, his heart rate shooting up like a Chihuahua in heat after having been injected with 300cc’s of coffee. Boyce glanced at the other guard, who sat staring. She registered his presence now that she stopped chewing her gum.
The black guard slowly waved his wand over Boyce’s arms. Nothing.
Then the wand started down his chest, towards the $80,000 of illegal tender. When it reached his hips, the wand went off.
This time, Boyce’s heart did stop. He only had a fraction of a second to kill them now, or go straight to jail. Obviously, the wand waver would go first. Maybe crack him over the neck like he’d seen in so many Jet Li movies, then knee him in the face like –
“Do you have any keys in your pocket?” the guard asked without a trace of suspicion.
He had no idea. He usually had the keys to his family’s house, but he was sure he had left them behind. Suddenly, he thought about home, about growing up in Santa Monica. He missed it now. All he wanted at that moment, was to go back in time, like it had been before his mom died, before he dropped out of school, before all of this—
Boyce reached in his pocket, searching for anything, and then suddenly remembered. A genuine smile grew across his face. He felt something in his hand, something cold and metallic.
He pulled out a pin. But not just any old pin.
It was a Young Republican pin honoring the Convention of ‘04.
Boyce tried to smile. “Forgot about that.”
The guard looked in his eyes for a moment. Boyce returned his gaze, worried. The wand waved again.
Boyce let out a sigh. “Here,” he said as he handed the pin to the guard. “Keep it. I’m not gonna need it anymore.”
He grabbed his briefcase and walked quickly towards the plane, sweat running down his neck. Boyce had $80,000 strapped to his body, more money than he’d ever seen in his life, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to get on that plane and get home in one piece.