Dangerous Habits by Roy Pickering, Jr.
Her head is topped by the biggest Afro I've ever seen. She smokes, which could be problematic since I have recently quit. But I am willing to overlook this because of the way she taps her left toe in rhythm with the Bob Marley song that is playing. I have a weakness for toe tappers.
I find her quite beautiful in an offbeat way, with her thriftshop dress, postmodern purse, and Jurassic earrings that are almost entirely swallowed up by her dome of hair. I admire the brashness of her fashion sense, even though I'm what you'd call a straight arrow at first glance. No facial piercings, no surreal shade of hair coloring, not even a one-of-a-kind tattoo to proclaim my uniqueness. Can't afford to stand out from the crowd in my line of work.
I take one last look around the café, which oddly enough specializes in both overpriced coffee and sushi. The non-Asian waitresses meandering about are all dressed like geisha. The place is modeled to resemble a Starbucks, an imitation of an imitation, like a mirror reflecting another mirror all the way to eternity.
No impediments present themselves, so I remove the unloaded revolver from the breast pocket of my overcoat. I then point it in the least menacing manner I can employ at the cashier's head. He is about my age, which means we were programmed to be anti-establishment in many of the same ways taught to us by MTV. The cashier possesses the empty glare of a stoner and the lackadaisical air of someone accustomed to life working itself out in an agreeable fashion. I therefore expect his demeanor to be placid in the face of crisis.
He opens the register and begins emptying its contents without me having to say a word. My instinct about was correct. My instincts tend to be accurate. That's why I excel at most of what I set out to do. Some have questioned my decision making. But the execution of my decisions, whether foolish ones or otherwise, is usually flawless. That has to count for something.
This is my seventh robbery. I have no intention of making it a life long career, but for now it suits my needs and exploits my attributes. If the law of averages remains in effect, I would need to pull three more jobs. Then I will have enough cash to move on to phase two of my master plan, founding a surefire internet venture and cashing out before my stroke of original genius is imitated enough times to become a cliché. I believe very strongly in having a master plan of some sort. I don't remember if I invented this philosophy, or if I read it off a bumper sticker.
I take another peek around the café. The offbeat beauty looks up and catches my eye. I flashed her my "I would very much like to see you naked, and I mean that in the most complimentary way" smile. As happens about once in every ten tries, she responds in kind.
The circumstances are less than ideal to kick start a romance. My paper bag has been filled to capacity with the day's profits. One does not stick around to flirt after ripping somebody off. I have no choice but to make a hasty exit.
"Hi. Want to go someplace a little more interesting?"
Then again, I am the embodiment of the American way, which gives me every right to choose what is unavailable to me if I see fit.
"Are you taking me hostage?" she asks in return. Her eyes dance a ballet. Make that a modern jazz routine. Her question along with the direction of her gaze alert me to the fact that I am still holding the tool of my trade. Quickly depositing the weapon in my pocket to show that I want her company to be voluntary, I take another chance and hold out my hand. Much to my satisfaction, though not quite my surprise, she takes hold of it.
We are about three steps from the door when a policeman enters. He cannot be responding to my criminal activity so quickly after its perpetration. His arrival at this moment is just an unfortunate coincidence. I race through my mental catalog of crime caper movie plots for inspiration, but come up empty. For perhaps the first time in my life, I have no idea what to do next.
"Officer, I need to speak to you."
It is my new lady love who has intuitively taken control by grasping the cop by his elbow and leading him back outside. Tempted as I am, I cannot afford to listen admirably to her unrehearsed fabrication. I walk briskly down the block and make a right turn at the corner. Then I enter the vestibule of a brownstone and wait.
To pass the time I count and re-counted my take. Next I read a Chinese take-out menu found on the floor. But what I mostly do is keep an eye out for her arrival.
Ten minutes pass. Is she still talking to the cop? Has conventional sanity begun to take hold of her senses? I continue to wait. Five more minutes drag by. Still no sign of her. I begin to wonder if I should dare return to the café. That would be extremely reckless. But if I believe anything, it is that greatness can only be achieved by taking great risks.
The first major risk I ever took was standing up to my drunken father when I was 14 years old. I caught one hell of an ass kicking that day, but got in enough good shots of my own that he never truly intimidated me after that. Two years later I packed my few worldly possessions and my father's hidden stash of money in a duffel bag and left home for good.
At the age of nineteen I made the acquaintance of Lenora Gatling. We made love before we had even exchanged names, moved in together before I had learned her favorite flavor of ice cream, or that she was allergic to cats. We lived on raw sex, frequent misunderstandings that led to torrid altercations which ended up in more raw sex, pasta, and cheap beer for six months. Then one day without explanation or her share of that month's rent left as consolation, she was gone. The next day I brought home an ill tempered feline to replace the one I got rid of when I shacked up with Lenora. The day after that I left familiar country roads behind me and headed towards near blinding city lights. I had decided to re-invent myself. Seemed that if I was going to make my mark on the world, I didn't require a clean slate so much as a real big one.
No longer willing to sit idly and wait for my fate to work itself out, I abandon my safe positioning in the apartment building vestibule and step onto the sidewalk. My search mission is a brief one. No sooner am I outside than she turns the corner and heads straight towards me. Her smile welcomes me to the rest of my life. It tells me that we are destined to carve a small space out of the universe for our use only.
"That's a dangerous habit," I say, right before removing the cigarette from her lips and taking a deep drag. Like I said earlier, I've quit smoking, but this occasion seems to be as good a one to make an exception of as any. It isn't as if there are champagne flutes handy for us to toast our future with. After I exhale, she responds by standing on her tiptoes and plunging her tongue into my mouth. It darts and swirls and delights my senses. She then takes a step back and looks at me like I've never been looked at before, as if she is trying to calculate the difference between the amounts of trouble and bliss I will cause her from here on out.
"What other kind of habit is worth indulging in?"
"I don't know," I honestly reply. Then I think of a good question to ask her in return. "So how do you feel about cats?"
Roy L. Pickering, Jr. has granted Scorched Earth Publications non-exclusive rights to display this work.