“Quan!” cried the teenage barista from behind the counter. “I’ve got a half-skinny, triple mocha foam whipped decaf with a mango-guava-nutmeg infusion on ice for Quan!”
“Finally,” Rosie said as she approached the counter. I joined her, surveying the scene and looking for potential threats. You’ve got to keep your head on a 360-degree swivel in my line of work. Failure to do so can be hazardous to your health.
My partner accepted the beverage, but frowned at the wrapped straw that had been offered with it.
“Oh,” Rosie said.
“Something wrong, ma’am?” the teenager asked in a squeaky, changing voice.
Rosie peaked at the lad’s name-tag. “Liam?”
I looked at the straw with anger. Rage. Rosie knew me well enough by now to know all I could think about was stomping this kid’s face into hamburger meat.
Rosie flashed a badge. Liam stuck his hands straight up into the air immediately. “Oh my God! You’ve finally come for me!”
“What?” Rosie asked.
“The 9,000 hours of Croatian queef fetish porn I downloaded on my computer!” Liam said. “Oh God, oh God, oh God! Mom said it was only a matter of time before the cops busted down my door and hauled me away if I kept looking at that but I couldn’t help myself!”
The kid was a mess even before my partner got to him. Eyeliner. Really? Call me old fashioned, but the only time it is acceptable for a male to wear eyeliner is if he’s into witchcraft, or the founding member of a Boy George tribute band. At any rate, the boy’s tears made his makeup run.
That’s right. You heard me. I said the boy’s tears made HIS makeup run. Crap on a hot stick, I hate this decade. It can’t end fast enough, as far as I’m concerned.
“It’s an addiction, I tell you!” Liam shouted. “It’s not my fault! It’s an addiction!”
Customers dropped their exotic coffee preparation to take in the show. The hipsters took a break from their keyboards, thus increasing the audience.
“Oh, no,” Rosie said as she took the coffee, leaving the straw in the boy’s hand. “I’m not here for that, Liam. You’re fine.”
“Whew,” the kid said. “What a relief.”
Rosie pulled a pamphlet out of her pocket and set it down on the counter. The front cover featured a drinking straw in a cup, surrounded by a circle with a slash through the center. The title? The Straw Law and You: 101 Ways to Avoid Running Afoul of the D.C. Straw Ban.
“Is your manager here?” Rosie asked.
“Kelly?” Liam asked. “No, sorry. She’s off sick today.”
“Could you do me a favor and see that she gets this?” Rosie asked. “I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the straw ban went into effect citywide January first.”
“Oh no,” Liam said. “Am I in trouble?”
“Not at all,” Rosie said. “There’s a grace period. We’re allowing restaurants and food service businesses to wind down their straw inventories, so you can keep passing them out until July 1. After that, you’ll have to go with a plastic straw alternative, or forego them altogether.”
“Wow,” Liam said. “I saw that on the news but I didn’t know it was here already.”
“Sure, you didn’t,” I grumbled.
Rosie flashed me a pissed look, letting me know she had the situation under control. I disagreed.
“Sorry,” Liam said.
“That’s alright,” Rosie said as she pulled out three more pamphlets and dropped them on the counter. “Here, share these with your co-workers. The rules might seem complicated, but you’ll get the hang of it. I’d just hate to see someone get fined over something as silly as a straw.”
Something as silly as a straw. If my soul was a tin can, Rosie’s words had just cut through it like a flaming hot knife. So many people had been duped by the anti-straw ban lobby. Even my partner, it seemed.
“OK,” Liam said.
“Very good,” Rosie said. She popped the plastic dome off her cup, then threw it in a nearby trash can. She took a sip, then licked the foam from her lips. “Mmm. You make a hell of a half-skinny, triple mocha foam whipped decaf with a mango-guava-nutmeg infusion on ice, Liam.”
“Thanks,” Liam replied. “Sorry it took so long. Our mango-guava-nutmeg infuser has been acting up lately.
“No problem,” Rosie said as she turned and walked away. “Have a nice day.”
“Hold on,” I said.
My partner faced me. “Smasher. We pass out pamphlets. We warn businesses about the straw ban until July first. We start issuing fines after that. That’s all we do.”
I lifted my shades and stared the little twerp down.
“Smasher,” Rosie said. “Come on. Let’s go. No need to complicate things.”
The boy looked at me like I was death himself, come to drag him away to the next life, long before he was ready. “Suh-suh…something wra-wra…wrong, sir?”
“You tell me, scumbag,” I said. “Why are you so nervous?”
“Really?” I asked. “What’s with the stutter, then?”
“I dah-dah…don’t know.”
“Why don’t you get the dick out of your mouth and start talking like a man before I slap it out for you?” I inquired.
Rosie lost it. “Jesus! Smasher! Let’s go!”
“Sir,” Liam said. “I’m suh-suh…sorry.”
“You’re goddamn right you’re sorry,” I said. “But you haven’t even begun to make amends.”
I took the straw out of the kid’s hand. I unwrapped it and held it an inch from my face. I studied it. Pinched it. Bent it in the middle, then straightened it out. Sniffed it. Licked it, running my tongue up and down its entire length.
“Oh yeah,” I said. “That’s genuine plastique alright.”
“No shit, Sherlock,” Rosie replied.
“Made in…China?” I took another lick. “No…definitely Taiwan.”
“We’re done here, Smasher,” Rosie said.
“How old are you, kid?” I asked. “Fifteen?”
“Young,” I said. “Prime of your life. The world’s your oyster right now. A life full of hope and promise. Society’s non-stop no machine hasn’t run you through its ringer, crushing every dream you’ve ever had only to leave you a pathetic, quivering pile of jelly on the floor of a bus station bathroom in Hoboken, slurping on a ding dong for a ticket back to whatever burg you were gestated in.”
“That’s…um…uh-uh-uh…oddly spa-specific,” Liam said.
“I’ll say,” Rosie added.
“You think life’s a game, son?” I asked.
Liam shook his head no.
“I can’t hear you.”
“Are you bebopping around on one great, big chess board, where in your mind, you’re the kind and we’re all just your lowly pawns that you can sacrifice at your whim?”
I felt Rosie’s hand on my shoulder. I liked it, but not enough to cave. I chuckled, like a sad clown on the last night of the circus. “Ha…ha…ha…ha…ha.”
I stared at the kid. He stared back. Our eyes converged. Finally, I grabbed him by the collar and slammed his head down on the counter. “Where’d you get the straws?!”
“Oh, fuck no!” Rosie shouted.
That’s when the cameras came out. Hundreds of cell phones. All snapping, recording, capturing, preserving and streaming. Everyone’s an amateur Scorsese these days. I miss the old days, back when a camcorder was so big you had to hold it on your shoulder. A cop could really get away with some shit back then.
“Huh?” Liam asked.
“The straws, you little puke!” I said as I held the kid’s head flat against the counter. “Where’d they come from?”
“I dah-dah…don’t know!”
“You dah-dah don’t know?” I asked. “What kind of language is that? Do you speak English, shitheel?”
“Good,” I said. “Then listen to me carefully, maggot. The next words out of your mouth had better be stutter free. I want to hear the king’s English. Flawless. Got it?”
“Sir,” Liam said, instantly cured of his fear induced speech impediment. “I swear. I honestly don’t know where the straws come from. My manager handles all that.”
“You don’t know anything?” I asked.
“No. Please believe me.”
“You know more than your little pea brain thinks it knows,” I said. “Think, dipshit. You know something. Search your mind.”
“I really don’t…”
“Aw, fuck this,” I said. I reached into my holster and drew my gold-plated Desert Eagle, switched off the safety, then pressed it up against the kid’s head. “Howsabout now, Liam, my boy? Does this jog your memory?”
Rosie looked pale. “Smasher? What…are…you…doing?”
“Relax, doll,” I said. “Men are talking.”
I cocked the hammer. “This is Thunder, kid. I’ve got another one. Lightning. When you infuriate Zeus, he’s going to rattle the heavens and make it rain, capiche?”
“Smasher,” Rosie said. “Let him go and walk away.”
“No can do,” I said. “He invited the devil when he spat in the face of straw law just now, and I’m going to teach him how to tango.”
“Please,” Liam said. “Don’t kill me.”
“You want to live long enough to see a naked woman, kid?”
“Fall in love. Hold hands. Walks in the park. Get her to queef that stupid look off your face?”
“Then so help me God, you start talking about what you know or I’m going to let Thunder do my talking for me, but let me warn you. He is one long winded motherfucker.”
Ever so slowly, Rosie set her drink down on the counter. She pulled the bottom of her blazer to one side, then rested her hand on the butt of her glock. “Smasher, if you hurt him…”
“I know,” I said. “You’ll pop my head like a ripe casaba. Fair enough. Kid?”
“Sing me a song,” I said.
“Arjax!” Liam said. “No! Awax?”
“Shit!” I said. “It’s those sons of bitches at Ajax Restaurant Supply Company, isn’t it?”
“Their truck stops here once a month,” Liam said. “I helped unload it three days ago. Straws, cups, napkins. That’s all I know. I swear.”
“Rat bastards!” I said. “Delivering straws during a straw ban! I ought to break down their down, douse their whole operation with gasoline, drop a lit match and force the owner of that dump, Mr. Ajax himself, to watch while his livelihood goes up in flames.”
“Then, I’ll gouge out his eyes and skull fuck him until he…”
I turned. Suddenly, the reality of all those cameras sunk in.
“You got what you wanted,” Rosie said. “Let him go.”
“Nah,” I said as I pulled out my cellphone. “Time to double down and go all in. Ready for a round of high stakes poker, kid?”
“Not really,” Liam replied.
With my free hand, I pulled up a series of photos of animals who had been injured in the wild thanks to those no good, dirty rotten straws.
I held the first photo in front of the kid’s eyes.
“No!” I said. “Do not look away! You feast your eyes on this!”
“OK,” the kid said.
“This is a bushy coated North American beaver who got impaled on a straw,” I said. “Little guy was just trying to build a damn when a straw, just like the one you tried to give my partner, floated up to the surface of the river he was in and stabbed him in heart, rupturing his aorta, leaving him there to bleed out in front of his beaver wife and five beave babies. Do you see?”
The kid nodded. “I see.”
I swiped right. “This is a baby seal. Can you fathom what it must be like, to be such an adorable little creature, swimming along when all of a sudden, a plastic stick of death flies out of the ocean, up his nose, stabbing him in the brain? You can’t, can you?”
“Do you see?” I asked.
“I see,” the kid said.
I swiped right again. “This is an artic penguin. This fucker had just one day left until his retirement as a penguin when he decided to take a dip. You know what happened to him?”
“The little bastard got fucked in the ass by a straw,” I said. “All you dirtbag food service workers, just shuffling along through life without a care in the world, handing out straws like they’re going out of style, oblivious to the plight of water dwelling creatures like our little penguin friend here, whose guts are being ripped apart by straws handed out like pimply faced pricks like you on a daily basis!”
Rosie gave me a final warning. “Head for the door or I’ll draw and shoot you where you stand.”
I released my grip on the kid. He backed away instantly. I switched on Thunder’s safety and holstered him. I walked toward the exit.
Rosie let go of her sidearm, then grabbed her beverage. “I’m sorry,” she said to Liam. “It’s probably inappropriate for me to grab this, but you know, it was like, eight bucks.”
As I neared the door, I heard Rosie address the crowd. “Mack Smasher, everyone. M-A-C-K…S-M-A-S-H-E-R. Direct all complaints to Captain Braddock and uh, if possible, mention I tried to stop this. Thank you! Have a nice day!”