Miranda had never seen a Gucci eye patch before. Funny how that was the focal point of her attention. The patch. Not the ginormous pile of cash on the table. Not the musclebound tattooed man who was counting it. Not the naked woman snuggling with the pitbull on the leather sofa. Not the oblivious little boy tapping furiously on the Xbox controller. All these storylines were riveting, but it was the designer patch that the monocle of her consciousness was fixed upon. She wondered if it was a fashion accessory or a medical device or both. The aspiring author and English Lit major in her needed to know.
Still tingly and warm from the blunt on the ride across the bridge, she followed with hooded eyes as its wearer rummaged through kitchen cabinets in search of a scale. He caught her staring and paused. The sculptured mustache and goatee that framed his mouth pulled back into a diamond- and platinum-encrusted scowl. “Yo Nick, you sure this bitch ain’t troll?”
Uncertain which was more offensive, being called a bitch or a troll, she felt her face redden with indignation as she sputtered to assemble a lethal riposte . . . something Katherine from Taming of the Shrew might serve up in her icy Shakespearean tone. Nice eyepatch . . . are you wearing matching Gucci panties?
Two things stopped her: the small arsenal of urban warfare weapons stacked on the coffee table and Nick’s firm hand on the small of her back.
“I’m positive,” he said, in that deep, confident voice that made her forget her outrage, forget she was standing in a trap house, forget the world, forget herself.
“Well she looks like troll.” Eyepatch found his scale and set it on the counter. “Like one of them redheaded CSI bitches. I don’t trust no redheads . . .”
Nick removed his hand from her back and ran his fingers through his dark unruly hair. His palm left an impression, hot against her skin. A thermonuclear handprint. “Come on, Gucci,” he said. “You know I don’t fuck with twelve.”
Miranda stifled a giggle. His name was Gucci? Was Gucci, the company, like, secretly sponsoring drug dealers or something? She thought of her sociology professor, Dr. Bonilla, and his fiery disquisitions on consumer culture and materialism. He would choke on his own mustache if he ever crossed paths with this walking designer brand billboard.
“She ain’t gotta be twelve,” said Gucci. “She could be an informant. How do you know she ain’t wearing a wire?”
Nick glanced down at her. His eyes were dark chocolate caged in black lashes. A secret smile played at the corners of his mouth. “Because I watched her get dressed.”
His words seemed to hang in the air. She blushed, suddenly as exposed as the naked woman snoring on the couch. Gucci appraised her from over his scale. Fitting, because she felt like she was being weighed. His one eye moved up and down her body. Apparently the MeToo movement had not yet reached the criminal underworld. She wished Nick would put his arm around her.
“Don’t bring nobody else over here,” Gucci muttered as he pulled apart the Ziploc and began heaping Boi onto the didgies with a silver spoon.
Boi and didgies.
The arrival of Nick Archiletta on the timeline of her life had brought a strange new lexicon of colloquialisms and street slang. Words that did not appear in the pages of her beloved Random House College Dictionary or even the online Urban Dictionary. Sometimes it was as if he was speaking an entirely different language.
Miranda loved words. She grew up doing New York Times crossword puzzles with her dad and was a self-proclaimed etymologist by the time she reached middle school. Her plan was to write a novel after the fall semester and midterms, maybe a gritty romance she could self-pub and market herself. The bad boy patois of Nick’s urban ecosystem would make for snappy, realistic dialogue. This was perhaps the sexiest thing about him. True, he was lean and handsome with just the right number of tattoos. True, the danger was thrilling, the passion was electric, the money was fast, and the drugs were convenient. But take all that away and his vernacular alone was worth the price of admission. Especially to a word-nerd like herself.
The dope was the color of Gulf of Mexico sand, a growing anthill atop the matte black digital scale. Gucci added a little, then more, then grunted, shook his head, and sliced off the tip of the mountain, transforming it into a mesa. Satisfied, he spun the scale.
Miranda read the display. 28.7.
“Can I put some cut on it?” said Nick.
“You better.” Gucci shook a Newport from his pack and fired it up. His teeth dazzled beyond the flame. “You know how we rock, bruh. This is that good Frank white shit. Pure as your bitch.”
She winced. He pronounced pure like purr. Calling her rude names was one thing. But lazy mispronunciations she could not tolerate. They circumvented her filter, triggering a response that was almost reflexive.
“I believe the word you’re looking for is pure. P-U-R-E. All you do is take the possessive your and stick a P in front of it. Pyour . . . Pure.” She enunciated with the exaggerated patience of a kindergarten teacher. “You try it.”
He stared at her for a solid ten seconds. He even pursed his lips. Then he looked at Nick. “What is this crazy-ass bitch jaw-jackin’ about?”
Nick shrugged. “She takes off like that sometimes. I think it’s a college thing . . . here.” He reached in his jeans pocket, grabbed a roll of bills and tossed them across the kitchen.
Gucci caught the money, removed the rubber band and began to count.
“Everything good?” said Nick, when he reached the last hundred.
“Better than good.” The one-eyed dope dealer looked up and smiled for the first time that day. “Everything’s Gucci.”