Chapter 19

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He looks 30, going on 18, trying his best and failing at blending in with the college crowd. Kurt Cobain haircut. Light beard. Something resembling a cross between skinny jeans and pajama pants. Doing his best to look disinterested, as if he just received a call rejecting his audition for a boy band.

Standing on the porch of a two-story house that's looks like it lost a 50-year fight with its inhabitants, he greets Zandra before she steps foot off the sidewalk.

"What?" he says.

Zandra stops in mid-stride and looks up at the man. His attempt at looking disheveled blends in well with his surroundings. She hardly noticed him.

Am I looking at Dvorak?

"What do you mean, 'what?'" Zandra says, knowing full well whoever this is isn't alone at the house. It's a trademark of houses of ill repute. He may be Dvorak, but he might also be a spotter, a lackey trading his eyes and fists for the good graces of the dealer. Or dealers.

Amanda gave Zandra a name, Smith, but she doesn't use it now. It's probably a fake anyway. "Smith" seems purposefully generic.

"I'm looking for something," Zandra says. She's never bought drugs before, so she's unfamiliar with how this exchange is supposed to work. "Can you help me find it?"

"Depends," the man says. He leans against a rotting post. "You looking for a person or a thing?"

That's when it hits Zandra. "Smith" isn't the name of the person with the Dvorak typewriter. It's a code word. She doesn't know the name of anyone inside the house. She only knows enough to buy weed.

"Smith," Zandra says. "He around?"

"Hang on, I'll check," the man says. He leaves Zandra for a moment, heading inside to shout at someone. She hears loud footsteps coming down a flight of stairs, followed by the parting of a curtain in one of the windows.

They're scoping me out, seeing if I'm a worthy customer. I know the feeling.

Zandra rubs her palms together, feeling for where the lawnmower knife is sheathed up her sleeve. In its exhausted state, the knife will probably illicit more laughs than scares, but it's her only protection. For a brief moment, she considered buying a handgun, but the waiting period turned her off, and it would take too long to learn. No, the lawnmower knife will do, even if it only provides the illusion of security. It's fitting for someone like Zandra.

The man returns to the porch.

"I don't know any Smith," he says and shakes his head.

"Are you sure?" Zandra says and clears her throat.

"Yeah. Now fuck off," the man says.

Zandra doesn't budge. "No thanks. I think you do know a Smith."

The man's patience isn't as long as his hair. He storms off the porch and marches toward Zandra. Her first instinct is to draw the knife, but she fights the urge and channels the energy into meeting the man halfway. He isn't expecting that from someone who looks like Zandra, and it throws off his timing enough for her to get the first word in.

"Listen, you little shit. You know why I'm here. Give me what I want before I call my friends down at the police station and they send you to a place where long hair is used like a handle," Zandra says, thumping the man in the chest with her finger.

The man doesn't appreciate that.

"Bitch, you need to leave," he says and gives Zandra a hard shove. She stumbles backward and falls to the ground. It's an awkward angle, putting pressure on her recovering ankle. The pain isn't as bad as it could be, but it's enough to inject the adrenaline Zandra needs to get right back up.

"Fine," Zandra says. "But if I have to come back here, you're not going to like what happens."

"Whatever," the man says and walks back to the porch. "Crazy bitch."

Zandra dusts herself off and heads back down the sidewalk. She'll need a change of plans if she's going to get inside the house. One comes to mind as she turns a corner out of the neighborhood. Just as promised, the man with the long hair isn't going to like it.

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