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The Baker Brothers

Ryan Leone has the luck of the Irish.  

But only if the Irish have really bad luck. 

The Baker Brothers by Ryan Leone

JP was a senior when I was a freshman and he had all the attributes of a cool kid. He had movie-star looks, surfed crowded beaches, and drove a BMW. JP was also the biggest drug dealer at our school; legend had it that he sold pounds of weed to support his family, because his dad was a degenerate gambler who had run out on the family to chase cards.

JP wasn’t my friend but he was always nice to me. After high school, I had drifted into the throes of heroin addiction and was running any scam I could to get by. There’s a small college town outside of Santa Barbara called Isla Vista; it has beach front apartments stacked above the roaring Pacific. Kids move here from the East Coast and the first thing they buy is a surfboard that they’ll never use. The boards act as a prop that they leave on their front porches, as some sort of lame solidarity to Southern California culture.

My friend used to drive me around in his pick-up truck late at night and I’d go door to door and steal the surfboards. We‘d sell them at Pawn Shops, Play-It-Again Sports, or Craigslist. It was a good hustle—usually $75 a board, enough to sustain a modest smack habit.

One night, I hop out of the truck and go to retrieve a board. I’m grabbing it when I look to my right and see a guy at the next apartment over. He’s wearing a hood and creeping up to the porch to grab a surfboard. It becomes clear to me that this guy is doing the exact same thing that we are. I crouch down and wait for a moment, his face illuminated by the street lamp as he’s walking away. I realize it’s JP! I hurry out to the sidewalk with the surfboard tucked under my arm.

“Yo,” I whisper. “JP.”
He turns around. This is awkward. We both have stolen surfboards.
“Brian?” he says.
“It’s Ryan, man.”

It turns out that JP got the poker bug just like his dad. He’s become a full-blown criminal, committing burglaries, robbing people, even stealing fucking surfboards in the middle of the night. We become inseparable hustlers. I watch him blow thousands at the casino. He watches me shoot dope. And we steal every day.

JP ends up meeting a guy at a poker tournament at the Hustler Casino in Los Angeles. This guy starts flowing JP cocaine. Naturally I become the runner. It started out small. JP would get a quarter ounce and break it into gram baggies, bringing me with him to the night clubs in Santa Barbara and having me stay in bathroom stalls to sell it all night. We start making more money selling coke than we ever did boosting shit. 

 JP starts putting me up in motels around town. At this point we start selling ounces. He’d give me a quarter pound for $1,800. That’s $450 an ounce; I’d sell the ounces for $600 to the college coke dealers around town. In theory, I should have been making $600 off each quarter-pound that I sold. But I’m such a goddamn junkie, that I’d end up injecting too much of the coke and barley break even. The thing about shooting coke is that you have to do it every ten minutes. Your arms become spoiled looking, with blotches of blue and purple bruises. And you become intensely paranoid.

Although I usually only brokered a few ounces a day, I became fucking convinced that “they” were on to me. I don’t mean cops or feds; my fear was greater and more faceless than that. I would sit in my motel rooms and stare out peepholes. I would stand in the corner and peek out the blinds for hours at a time. Every couple of days I would call JP in the middle of the night in paranoiac fits, convinced people were after me, demanding that he switch me to a different motel.  In three weeks I had exhausted every motel option in town and JP wasn’t happy about it. The cocaine had altered my physical appearance drastically. I was pale, emaciated, and my arms were different colors. I looked like I had a low T-cell count. JP gave me a speech about how my using was unacceptable and that I was replaceable.

“I’ll put you in a sober living house,” he said. “I know you can’t just stop doing heroin but around those rehab people you’ll have to stop doing all that blow. You can’t work for me and be all geeked out anymore. I’m going to give you a full kilo this time for eighteen grand; you can sell it for 23. All in one shot, all you have to do is deliver it. I already got the dude lined up.”

I was pissed and I didn’t want to do it but there was no way I was going to pass up making five thousand bucks for one delivery. I wouldn’t even need JP after that. So I played along.

At the time, I was driving a shit-colored ’85 Volvo. I went to the sober living house for a couple of days, leaving the kilo out front, locked safely in my trunk. JP told me that I had to drive the coke out to Ventura, which was about thirty miles away from the sober living house.

As I was leaving, a black guy came up to me. “Ay man, where you off to right now?” 

“I’m already late, “ I said. “I’m headed all the way out to Ventura.”

“My moms lives out there. Can I catch a ride?’’

He was your cliché thug, walked with a limp, and wore baggy clothes. He looked like a composite sketch from FOX News. Basically the last person you want to have in your car when you’re driving around with a kilo of fucking cocaine.

But I said yes, a word that sort of sums up my entire twenties.

When we got in the car he said, “My name’s Black Chris.”

I nodded and turned up the radio and tried to drive as calmly as possible.

Of course when we got to Ventura my guy wouldn’t pick his phone up and Black Chris’ mom wasn’t home.

We waited for a couple of hours and decided to drive back.

I got a bad feeling and turned the radio down, “Hey, you got anything on you? I’m on probation and I have a little bit of dope in the trunk.”

“Shit, I on parole. All I got’s a piece.”

“You have a gun on you?”

He pulled a 9 mm out of his waistline and rested it on his lap.

It was the first time I had ever seen a gun in real life. I was petrified.

“Mind if I stash that in the trunk, man? I’m not trying to get searched.”

“Nah, I don’t mind one bit.”

I pulled off on the next exit. He handed me the gun, which felt way heavier than I would have expected. I took it to the trunk and hid it next to the brick of coke under the spare tire.

“We good?” he asked.

“Yeah, we’re good.”

As soon as we got off the freeway exit to go back to the sober living house, I saw the unmarked police car behind us. I made a left and they made a left. They were following us. I already knew it was the Baker Brothers, two of the most infamous narcotics cops in all of Santa Barbara County.

“The Baker Brothers are following us,” I said calmly.


“They’re cops.”

Black Chris started to panic; he actually started talking blacker. I felt like I was in a fucking Rush Hour sequel. And they were right behind us.

“I ain’t going back! I just got out that motherfucker!”

“Calm down,” I said. “I have a kilo of coke in the trunk.”

“Y’all got a motherfucking bird in yo’ trunk?!”

I made a right and they followed. We were in a residential neighborhood now, only a few blocks from the sober living house. I knew that I was busted. I was already on probation for a felony possession charge. If I got caught with that much coke and a firearm, I was going away for a very long time.
I pulled up to the sober living house and they parked behind us. We sat there as they approached the car. They had police badges dangling from silver chains.

“Santa Barbara Narcotics, how you doing?”

“Fine.”  I said.

“Either of you on probation, parole, anything like that?”

We both said that we were and they asked us to step out of the vehicle.

They made us sit on the curb with our legs crossed so that we couldn’t get up and dart away suddenly. And then they searched the car. They started with the front and made their way to the back, latex gloves on the entire time, ripping everything apart. Black Chris couldn’t even watch; he was just looking down, shaking his head.

They went for the trunk. My heart was thudding, my stomach was weightless. I saw him look through it and just as he was going for the tire his radio hissed with a static voice. He went to answer it and stopped looking at the tire. After he responded, he went to the duffel bag and removed a digital scale that was covered with white powder; it was over.

The cop came up to me and said, “What’s this for?

“I’m enrolled at the culinary school at the city college. I use that to cook.”

“Oh yeah?” he said, “Well, what’s the difference between baking and cooking then?”

“That’s easy. Baking is a science… and cooking is an art.”

He put the scale back in the trunk and handed me my keys.

And in my most triumphant moment, the cop actually said, “Have a nice day.”

Ryan Leone wrote the cult classic novel, Wasting Talent, while serving time in federal prison for his involvement with an international drug cartel. He has worked extensively in television and his essays, poetry, and short fiction have appeared both online and in print. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and son.