It went really well for a long time. We were the kings of Felixstraße and the position of the king is to be respected. I was taken up by evil, and I took it up and the occasion to rise, probably because I finally felt important enough to assign myself an identity. If your voice has consequence with others, then you probably automatically think that you are one of god’s chosen. People knew my name and I didn’t know theirs. They said to me on the street, “Hey, Nat” “All right, Nat?”; “What about you, Nat?”; I was by far not as well known as Ätz, whom almost everyone knew down the whole street; but some knew “Nathaniel” the friend of the white rabbit and the put respect for him on display. I even received small gifts. Nothing fancy.
I mentioned, for example, one that my headphones broke and one of our customers took a new pair with him. They were better than my old ones and more expensive too.
“If I took them from work, nobody will miss them, but you own me, Nat”, he said when he gave it to me, “if you need anything else, let me know”.
I don’t know what his real name was, I called him “Birdie“, but Birdie’s headphones were A-OK. I knew it wasn’t really about me. I radiated no respect by myself, 1.80 meters tall, weighing 62 kilos, but Ätz provided his charisma to me and I was happy to be his right hand.
“You’re the smartest guy I know” Ätz once said to me.
“Me?” I asked in disbelief.
I smiled. If it was just flattery, then it was a good one at that. We were a team. On working days, we’d sit together and sell all day. We counted the money, hid the cash in our apartments, and once a month deposited a small portion into our accounts after shooting it through slot machines. That’s what we had to do.
The biggest opponent of any goods trafficker is the financial police. While drug selling didn’t get a cop out of his chair…pray to your God for mercy, if you cannot explain where all the money comes from and why you did not pay taxes. These bureaucracy bucklers are our herpes, Ätz told me. You’d think they’d be born with a tax code. Every unexplained cent too much on the account was a blood stain that attracted these sharks. So, we spent a day a month in front of the slot machines. I didn’t lose much money there. I gave it to Ätz and had it done by him. If it was 50/50, you could be sure that Ätz would be wrong. But for that, he rolled sixes, one after the other. There were evenings when I saw him rob the one-armed bandit. I took my money out early with a little profit, but Ätz couldn’t stop when he was ahead.
He spent several nights in front of the vending machines in the betting Café’s next room. I sat in the chair next to him and watched the profits pile up. He just could never stop. He just didn’t know when. If he won huge sums early in the evening, you could be sure that if he left, he would be happy to pay his drink bill.
If he couldn’t pay them, he called me. I had paid his bill twice before. Ätz liked to drink imported beer from Scandinavia when he was in a good mood. The camp wasn’t cheap. I was correspondingly angry, especially with the knowledge that he only had to stop earlier, but he dined me off with the knowledge that if he had only had one more thaler in his pocket, he would have been able to pay for the drinks and his taxi home himself. I believed him, lent him a few tries after I had paid his bill and the game started all over again. At least he paid his debts to me that same evening, but he left the café with empty bags anyway.
One night, he left his apartment early. The siren song of the gambling machine called out to him and I agreed to take over the last customers. He took the cash from his stash. “Just come along later and bring me the apartment key” he said to me as he pulled his jacket over his shoulders and shoes on.
It all went well, I sold, and then two guys came in. I didn’t know those two. I left the door chain inside when I opened the door for them.
“Ätz?” they asked me.
“We get it from you then?”
I closed the door, took out the chain and let them in. One was taller than me, both thin. The big one had short cut hair, the other had unruly blond undergrowth on his head. I sat down on my chair to merchandise.
“What can I do for you?”
They were walking around in the apartment. The tall one stopped in front of me, the blonde one I looked around. He opened the door and stuck his head in every room. He nodded to the big guy and he stood in front of me.
“Say, have you ever been mugged?” he asked me.
I looked at them. I couldn’t mess with either of them, pulling the knife myself seemed like a stupid idea. I didn’t see a gun on either of them, but that didn’t mean they weren’t carrying one.
“Give us the weed and the money”
I gave them the bag without a word and the money lying around the table and they were gone faster than they had appeared. I waited ten minutes. I was neither nervous nor intimidated. It just didn’t feel like a robbery.
I locked the apartment door and set off for Ätz. As expected, he was sitting in front of the slot machine. I asked him to stop and come out front with me. He looked confused, got his remaining 48 Euros from the machine and followed me out.
When he heard what happened, he almost had a seizure.
“WHO DO YOU THINK ATTACKED YOU? WHO?”
“A blond tousled head and a big military cut”.
“Who’s that supposed to be?”
“I don’t know”
“Man Nat, you bottler, why didn’t you just wave the knife around and intimidate them?”
“Because I don’t want those motherfuckers to stab me?”
“That was all the money I had left, you complete tool”.
“How would I know that, please? If you stopped being robbed by bandits every night, you might still have something left” I rebuked him and then assured him “They don’t have everything. I’ve got enough left at home and the little something we reserved for ourselves”.
“WHAT’S THE POINT?”
“Can you keep it down here man, or do you want the whole world to know that I made a mistake”.
“Oh, fuck it”.
Stubborn and almost running, he went towards the apartment. I caught up with him, but he set one foot after the other so quickly that I could not quite keep his level of velocity. I walked a little way behind him. I put my hand on his shoulder to get him to talk to me. He pushed it away and let his elbow flick backwards at me.
I slowed down, let myself fall way behind.
“I’m sorry” I mumbled.
“Really, it wasn’t…”.
He wouldn’t answer me. We walked side by side, I looked at him, waiting for him to look me in the eye. He looked straight forward the whole time. A fixed gaze. Lost in his thoughts. I sighed. He kept quiet all the way and I kept quiet, too. He punished me with silence, but I did not let him punish me with guilt. I really didn’t care anymore.
Arriving at the apartment, he searched every nook and cranny for remnants. I watched him and smoked a cig and shook my head in shame.
There was a knock on the door.
“Who’s that?” asked Ätz.
I looked through the spy. Chang was out there. I loosened the chain and let him in.
Look what I got. He presented his new smartphone. It was one of Apple’s. I believe the latest model.
“Cool” I said half-assed when he took his shoes off. He went into the living room.
“Hey, Ätz, look here”.
He held the iPhone in the air. Ätz looked at him. His eyes were burning, he stood up and walked towards him.
“Chang, where’s my money?”
“Ätz I have…”.
He grabbed him by the wrist. The iPhone fell to the ground. Ätz let go of his hand and took it off the floor.
“How much did it cost? Mmm?”
Chang didn’t answer him.
“I asked you a question”
“I didn’t think you…”
Ätz went to the window.
“What are you doing? Ätz?!?”
He threw it as far as he could. It crashed against the house wall across the street.
“YOU FUCKING MENTALLY ILL STREET NIGGER”.
“What are you gonna do to me, gook? I don’t have a dog or a math test to embarrass me with”.
“I’LL KILL YOU”
Chang stormed him, but he didn’t land the blow. Instead, Ätz hit him first. He went down. Why was I standing next to him? He kicked him in the sides. Over and over again. Chang didn’t stand a chance.
“WORRY. ONLY. ABOUT. MY. FUCKEN. MONEY”.
When he had realized that his foot knocked on an empty home, that Chang had passed out, Ätz sat down next to me on the couch and looked down at the motionless body. I got up and went up to Chang. He was still breathing. I turned him on his stomach (so he wouldn’t choke on his tongue).
“Was that necessary?”
“Fuck you Nat”
“Go fuck yourself, Ätz. He’s our friend”.
“You know what, if you want to suck on his little yellow knob so bad. I’m out of here”.
Ätz was out the door and I sat there, putting a cushion under Chang’s head. He was bleeding on his forehead and the pillow was soaked. I waited until he woke up. For half an hour I looked at him and wondered what I could have done. When he woke up, he didn’t talk to me. He held his ribs, washed the dried red stains off his head in the bathroom. When he came out of, he looked at me, his lips were moving, but he didn’t say a word. Chang grabbed his stuff and was gone.
I sat alone in Ätz’s apartment for a few hours, watched TV shows thinking, then Ätz walked through the door. He seemed calmer, said nothing, took off his shoes and stood in front of me.
“I don’t want to say I understand…”
“Bullshit, you get it. Feelings are feelings. You can understand it, but you don’t feel it yourself”.
“I’m sorry I let these dudes go with everything, too”.
“You have nothing to be sorry about. You did what you thought was right”.
We talked again, but it wasn’t the same. I wanted to smoke a joint with him and talk, but he went into his room and left me sitting in the living room alone. I put the prepared joint in my pocket and drove home.
Three months later, Chang’s money was in an envelope in the mailbox. I asked Ätz to call him to apologize to him as well, but he was not persuaded. The Chinaman was gone.
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