We hit Vegas in February and they found Cudjo’s decomposed body eleven months later in the desert. Sometimes, sitting in the Mini Cooper, I cry. Sometimes I gasp for air.
When we arrived, it took us a week to find the bridges. They connect one casino to another on the second floor so the tourists don’t even have to walk down to the first floor to cross the street. Something about maximizing profits, I don’t know. The bridges are this no man’s land on the Strip because it’s just sheeple walking across in a flowing stream that never stops, all day, never stops, and no security guards ever.
So I buckled down and got to work tossing the molly, right there on the ground, Cudjo keeping lookout, and a shrill whistle meant the rent-a-cops were coming. I had known Cudjo since we were in first grade together and he forged my mother’s signature on a note saying I had been bad. In junior high, we had devised a system for cheating off each other’s tests. Cudjo had always been something of a magician, and by 18, was dreaming about a career as a big-time Vegas showman. I told him I’d buy the rhinestones. Problem was, now all the magic acts are four-walled, meaning the casinos don’t put up the money anymore, they just rent out the space. You have to hire the crew, bring in the illusions, advertise, market, place the butts in the seats, and that takes some serious green. But that dream still burned like a flashpot in Cudjo’s heart.
After high school, he was the one who taught me the molly, which he’d learned from an older guy on the pier. The ring finger is the key, that and acting like you’re stupid to get people to bet. Wear horn rims, he said. Act blind. It was Cudjo who knew we could take the molly on the road, make a career of it.
Our first hour on the bridge, we pulled down $1800. Second day, two different bridges, we sunk down to $375, but then $5400 the next day. We were on our way. There are risks, of course, like when you pry hard-earned cash from their cold, dead fingers. One guy threatened us with a Planter’s pop top lid, another with his bodybuilder brother-in-law. But we could handle the heat. Our policy was, Run fast.
A month had passed and we were living large, renting a 3-bedroom place and fighting over who gets to store their new purchases in the extra room, although I always let him win because magic props take up space and I was pulling for his four-wall.
“Hey,” Cudjo said one morning, his hair like a bird’s nest if the bird had been a total slacker, “did you know my old man lives here?”
“Your old man?” I said. “I didn’t know you even had an old man.”
“Yeah. And I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have told him I hated him when I was six. Like maybe I should apologize? Because it was my mother who told me to say it after the divorce. I’ll never forget his face. Like, crash.”
Cudjo hadn’t seen the guy in 14 years, but one day, he blows into the apartment with so much excitement you could’ve bottled it and sold it as an energy drink that some 11-year-old boy drinks seven of and dies of a heart attack, that’s how jumped up he was.
“He wants me to move in with him,” he said. “Dude, we can start all over again.”
So I’m left alone in this big cavern of an apartment, his magic tricks still taking up space in the third bedroom, the Head Twister and the Zig Zag Girl, but at least Cudjo was happy. Turned out they both liked the angry music of Imogen Heap, both couldn’t stand nature, and both liked cranking it up to over 100 on freeways when the cops weren’t looking, although trust me, dude, they’re never not looking.
“It’s like discovering your twin,” Cudjo said. “He was like me before I was even me.”
One night four months in, Cudjo and I are in the Mini Cooper and he pulls out a paper bag from his pocket.
“You’ll never guess what I found in my father’s shoe.”
It’s this motherhonkin’ bag of brown. Cudjo said that tar was going for $170 a gram now and that this was a pound or more, and that this was the thing that could get him started four-walling. His eyes were singing and dancing like Footloose Redux.
“He’ll never miss it, dude,” Cudjo said. “His whole closet is filled with shoes like this.”
[This story is fiction.]