Todd the God never saw it coming.
x x x x x
Venice Beach is on everyone’s short list of must-sees in the Los Angeles area. It’s the personification of the legendary southern California lifestyle: sun, fun, Muscle Beach… where tourists mingle with hucksters as far as your sunglassed eyes can see –- fortune tellers, jewelry sellers, chainsaw-jugglers, Elvis impersonators, professional sand castle-builders.
But in Venice, the Chamber of Commerce, vendors, and locals know something you don’t know. And don’t want you to know. You see, Venice has a dirty little secret.
It’s called nighttime.
The street gangs and the police have a long-standing, though unspoken, yet binding, agreement: the daytime belongs to the la touristas. But if you’re in Venice after dark, well, what’s for ya is what’s for ya. And that included a bandito they called The Menace of Venice, known for a ski mask and a very big gun.
x x x x x
Todd looked like a Todd. Small for his age. Glasses. Brains. All the red flags of adolescence except the “kick me” sign on his back. The “God” addendum was a joke, a cruel joke really, a condemnation actually, permanently soldered to him by the C- high school football players the day Todd had the nerve to actually try out for the team. The coaches laughed too, not even bothering to wait until he turned his back. But still, they recognized his commitment and work ethic and mental toughness since he didn’t run away or cry at his thorough humiliation, and they realized they could use a kid like that, so they named him “player-manager” which translated to “you will come to all the practices and pick up the wet towels afterwards, and on Saturdays you can put on a uniform but you will never, ever, ever play.”
And this eternal damnation, and not the Menace of Venice, was what was on Todd’s mind as he took a shortcut through one of the city’s dozens of seemingly deserted alleys. With his iPod strapped on, blaring Weezer directly to his brain, Todd was alone with his thoughts until a young Latino man, much bigger than he, walked right up next to him and put his hand on Todd’s shoulder, stopping him.
“Hey boss, you got a cigarette?” the Latino Man asked.
“What?” replied the iPodded Todd.
The Latino Man sighed.
“Esse,” he said, “Headphones.” He mimicked taking them off, since he knew Todd couldn’t hear him.
“Oh,” said Todd, removing them.
“Do you have a cigarette?” the Latino Man asked again.
“Oh. No. I don’t smoke.”
“Damn!” lamented the Latino Man, genuinely disappointed. “Nobody smokes anymore.”
“It’s bad for you,” offered Todd helpfully.
“You gotta die of something,” pointed out the Latino Man.
“Sorry,” offered Todd.
“That’s all right,” sighed the Latino Man and he pulled an empty pillowcase out of his pocket and carefully opened it up. He nodded at Todd the God’s headphones. “I’ll take those instead.”
He held the bag open in a way that made Todd the God think of kids at the door at Halloween.
Todd wasn’t getting it. The Latino Man clarified. “The phones, homes,” he said, pleased. “Hey, that rhymes.”
Todd stated the obvious.
“These are mine.”
The Latino Man did the same.
“They WERE yours. Now they’re mine.”
Todd drew a line in the sand.
“This was my birthday present. I’m not giving them to you.”
Cue the smaller Asian Guy coming out of the carport shadows.
“We can take ‘em from you if you want.”
The Latino Man seemed genuinely irritated. “There ain’t no ‘we,’ vato. There’s just me.”
The Asian Guy was way calm.
“That’s not what I see. He got the headphones, you want the headphones, but he still got the headphones.”
Todd joined the convo.
The Latino Man glared at Todd. “And who asked you, white boy?”
Todd was irked. “Do you have to bring race into it?”
“White boy’s right,” said the Asian Guy.
“You too?” demanded the Latino Man.
“When he’s right, he’s right,” insisted the Asian Guy. “This is business, why make it personal? Making business personal –- that’s just bad business.”
“Yeah,” seconded Todd the God emphatically, though he wasn’t quite sure what he was agreeing to.
The Latino Man was losing patience.
“Listen, you Jackie Chan-looking motherfucker, take your slanty eyes someplace else, this is my alley.”
The Asian Guy stood his ground.
“I don’t think so. Wetbacks have the Marina. That’s the other side of Washington. This here, this is Jackie Chan-looking motherfucker territory.”
The Latino Man was having none of it. “Hells no, this is the Marina.”
“We are not!” insisted the Asian Guy. “I feel bad for you, man. You’re ugly AND you’ve got no sense of direction.”
The Latino Man looked at Todd.
“How far down are we, do you know? You got a map?”
Todd shook his head.
The Latino Man scowled.
“Oh, man, what good are you?”
The Asian Guy jumped in.
“YOU got a map?”
“No,” admitted the Latino Man.
“Then what good are YOU?”
“Yeah!” added Todd.
“Shut up!” they both yelled at him.
The Latino Man tried a different tack.
“You know the Menace of Venice?”
“Yeah,” replied Todd.
“That’s me,” said the Latino Man.
“BullSHIT,” interjected the Asian Guy. “That’s ME.”
“No way!” insisted the Latino Man.
Todd the God was getting a little impatient.
“Listen, um, I don’t want to rush you or anything, but I’ve got a curfew.”
The Asian guy looked at Todd. “Fine. Just empty your pockets.”
“Because one of us is robbing your ass, we just don’t know who yet.”
“Me,” insisted the Latino Man.
“Me,” corrected the Asian Guy.
But Todd the God didn’t do anything. He just stared at them.
“Why should I give you anything?” asked Todd.
“Because we will kill your ass,” replied the Asian Guy.
“Look,” said Todd the God, ”I’m not stupid. I have like a future and stuff? I’ll give you what I have. But I’ve got to make sure this rip-off isn’t a rip-off. I need to see a gun. Show me a gun, it’s all yours.”
The Latino Man quickly pulled out a knife. Only moderately threatening.
“There!” he said.
The Asian Guy produced a knife of his own. Bigger and scarier.
“THERE!” he said.
Todd was not impressed.
“Those are knives,” he pointed out.
“Two knives equal one gun,” offered the Latino Man unconvincingly.
“Yeah!” added the Asian Guy.
Todd was having none of it.
“Nope,” he said. “THREE knives equals one gun,” he said. “Everybody knows that.”
The Latino Man and the Asian Guy exchanged a look.
“Really?” they asked each other.
Todd pulled out a knife. Bigger than either one.
“Whoa,” said the Latino Man.
“Now what?” asked Todd.
“White boy’s got a point,” observed the Asian Guy.
“Since you have no map, it makes sense that you two will eventually offer to split my stuff 50-50.”
“I was about to say that,” said the Latino Man.
“But how about this,” he said to the Latino Man. “You and me, we rob HIM instead, and I give you two-thirds.”
The Latino Man looked at the Asian Guy.
“Wait-wait-wait!” said the Asian Guy to Todd. “Why don’t you and I rob HIM and I’ll give YOU two-thirds? Then you’re in profit, and I still get a little somethin’ somethin’.”
Todd looked at the Latino Man.
“What’s your offer?”
“Okay. You and me, we rob Jackie Chan, and I give you three quarters. That’s more than two-thirds, right?” He smirked at the Asian Guy. “Beat that!”
“Just for that,” replied the Asian Guy, turning to Todd, “You and me rob the pollo loco here and I give you EVERYTHING.”
“That is so wrong!” protested the Latino Man. “That’s bad business!”
“There’s more to life than business,” said the Asian Guy.
“Like what?” demanded the Latino Man.
“Like fucking you over!” replied the Asian Guy.
The Latino Man reminded them, “I got a knife!”
“Two knives against one,” said the Asian Guy. “You’d get one of us, but the other one is gonna get you, mos def.”
The Latino Guy looked at one, then the other. “DAMN!” he finally said, as he emptied the contents of his pockets into the pillowcase. “This is my only pillow case! I took it off my pillow!”
Todd and the Asian Guy shrugged. They didn’t care.
“DAMN!” said the Latino Man, who emptied his pickets into the pillow case and offered it up to Todd the God.
“And the knife,” said Todd.
“Oh come on, man!” said the Latino Man. “It’s brand new! Haven’t even cut anybody with it yet!” Todd and the Asian Guy extended their knives towards his throat. “All right, all right!” he said, dropping it into the bag. “But don’t come across Venice.”
“Washington,” corrected the Asian Guy.
“Wherever!” yelled the Latino Man, as he ran down the alley and disappeared.
“That was some good thinking,” said the Asian Guy.
“Thanks,” replied Todd the God. He extended the bag to the Asian Guy. “Here.”
The Asian Guy took it and smiled. “Dude, this is rightfully yours.”
“Yeah,” said Todd the God. “Put your stuff in it.”
The Asian Guy wasn’t quite sure what he was hearing and actually smiled. “You’ve got balls,” he said to Todd the God.
“Actually I’ve got a gun.” And he drew it from his waistband and put the six-inch barrel one inch from the Asian Guy’s head, right between his eyes.
“YOU’RE the Menace of Venice?” asked the Asian Guy.
“I guess,” said Todd the God.
“I have an idea,” offered up the Asian Guy. “Why don’t I put my stuff in here?”
“Good idea,” Todd agreed.
And so he did.
Plop into the bag.
“We good,” said Todd the God, and dropped the gun from the Asian Guy’s face. Within seconds, Todd was alone in the alley, as the Asian Guy’s running footsteps echoed in the distance.
Todd the God tucked the handgun back into his waistband, put his headphones back on, and dropped his knife into the pillowcase and flung the whole thing over his shoulder.
And as he headed home, he thought about his future. Wet towels here, wet towels there, wet towels everywhere.
R.J. Colleary is a writer who doesn’t hang in Venice at night. But he has three daughters, making him an expert at picking up wet towels.