Author of Poetry and Prose
The Federal Penitentiary on McDonough Blvd in Atlanta was not the friendliest of places, but it sure beat his old house on the Southside of Chicago for comfort. Mickey Riley was sent there five years ago for selling cocaine; a Southside Irish kid in the land of Dixie. Needless to say it was hard to survive.
Mickey was a smart kid with a quick wit and a penchant for learning languages. Unfortunately, in his neighborhood you only had two choices: become a cop or become a crook. So after being transferred to Atlanta he had to quickly learn how to maneuver in a prison where he had no natural allies. He focused on learning Spanish with a Puerto Rican working in the library and bonding with a local white guy.
Butch Odom was a small time meth lab geek from Snellville, an almost suburb of Atlanta. Mickey convinced some Mexicans not to beat him to death by speaking Spanish and invoking the name of Ramon, his Puerto Rican tutor. Butch was eternally grateful and they became inseparable. By the time Butch was released for time served he had shown Mickey everything he needed to know to get by in the pen.
A year later, Mickey found himself standing in front of the prison waiting for Butch to pick him up. He was anxious to meet his friend and even more apprehensive about their plan. They agreed to live together in Snellville and start their own business. Prisoners are always sharing pipe dreams while locked up and few ever transition into reality, there was always the chance that this one would follow suit.
Just when hope was about to fade, Butch showed up in his old 1998 Ford Escape to pick up Mickey and take him down the road to Snellville.
“You look like shit!” Butch shouted
“You look like a cunt! Mickey fired back
“They say you are what you eat.”
“That’s not what I remember you eating inside.”
“Prison gay doesn’t count, I only eat pussy now.”
“Alright big boy, let’s get this party started.”
After that lighthearted exchange Mickey jumped in the car and they took off trying to get as far away as they could from that place. In the back of their minds they were both somewhat worried that the government might regret releasing them.
They drove through Stone Mountain on their way home and took a moment to visit the local street walkers behind the hardware store. Butch was in the front seat while Mickey was in the back seat, both getting ridden hard and fast. It was a quick and dirty lay but after five years Mickey was happy for the release. He could never be “prison gay” like Butch and the others, something in his upbringing would never allow him to surrender to the system like that. So masturbation became his rebellion.
As they wiped their money makers clean the hookers asked the boys if they wanted to buy some meth. Butch thought about it but Mickey quickly interjected to decline the offer.
“What gives, it’s time to party. My treat…” Butch protested
“I’m done with that, and so are you. Thanks for the squirt but we are both clean as of today.” Mickey said
They weren’t going back to jail as long as Mickey had a say in the matter. He knew his friend would never have that kind of self-control and it was up to him to lead the way.
It was a short commute from there to the house behind South Gwinnett High School. The neighborhood was older and the homes a hangover from the ‘70s, but it was rent free and far better than a prison cell. Butch inherited the house from his mother who died while he was in prison. The home that saw him grow up would now protect him from himself.
The house was as empty and unclean as only a tweeker would have it. The kitchen counter was turned into a full bar and a carton of cigarettes was off to the side.
“We won’t need any of that.” Mickey whispered
“You just got out, let’s get shitty!” Butch cried
“No, we do this 100% or not at all.”
“Well shit. What now?”
Once he accepted that Mickey was serious; butch grabbed a bottle of the only non-alcoholic thing he had, cranberry juice.
After a quiet and painfully boring glass of cranberry juice Butch showed his new housemate to his room. He couldn’t stand to stay in any other than his childhood room, so he gave Mickey his mother’s old room. He felt weird staying in the room of a dead old lady but he was grateful nonetheless.
“Good night Reverend.” Butch quipped
“Down here in the South you’re a Reverend.”
“Fair enough, good night jackass.”
It would be Mickey’s first peaceful night’s sleep since graduating high school. Butch on the other hand went back into the kitchen and did his best to drink himself into a stupor.
The grass was wet and cold when Butch woke up on the front lawn. He had that sinking feeling in his stomach you get when you want to be sick but aren’t still conscious enough to actually do it. Somehow he went inside to find Mickey cooking eggs and reading the paper. Something about those eggs finally set him off and he barreled into the bathroom.
“I told you to stop!” Mickey shouted out
“Aaaaghhh!” was the only reply
Eventually, Butch regained composure and ventured into the kitchen. Mickey was kind and greeted his friend with a full Southern breakfast.
On their way out Mickey took a moment to look around. It was a nice neighborhood, much unlike the Southside ghetto he was used to. This one was closer to lower middle class with typical Southern brick ranch houses. The neighbors were the diverse modern American mix of people, and they seemed nice enough. Parent’s going to work and kids waiting for the school bus. Normal, something he had never known.
Butch had already gotten in contact with an old friend who worked for the management company in charge of a small strip mall on Main Street across from the Methodist church. He took what was left of his inheritance and rented a retail space. Mickey still wasn’t clear as to the plan but he wanted to see the space anyway and humor his friend.
It was the first strip mall in Snellville but was not maintained with any sort of historical reverence. In short it was a shithole. But in this life you take what you can get and run with it.
“So here is my plan: I run an office supply store and you have an office in the back to provide translation and clerical services for the Mexicans.” Butch explained
“Not all Hispanic people are Mexican.” Mickey offered
“Whatever, you know what I mean.”
“How much money do we have?”
“Enough for two months’ rent and absolute minimum inventory and furniture.”
“Thrift stores and friends?”
“Yep, that’s the only way this is going to happen.”
“Okay, let’s do this.”
After a couple of weeks of cleaning and putting together whatever they could get on the cheap, Butch’s Officeland was open for business.
There was no money for advertising so it came down to friends, old fashioned flyers and social media. As expected, things were slow to start and for the first month they spent every day just hanging out at the store. Then one day the man who owns the business next door came in to by some stationary. Afterwards Butch acted as if he won the lottery.
“This shit is gonna work!” He belted
“You’re an idiot.” Mickey replied
“Hey, we take this one day at a time. At least something happened.”
“Okay, don’t mess your shorts.”
Nothing else happened for the rest of the week. But they expected that at the beginning.
Business started picking up on the following Thursday after lunch. The guys were so frustrated with the lack of movement that they decided to close the store early and just go home. Before they could shut off the lights a Filipino man cautiously opened the door and stumbled in.
“My name is Ed Marcos, and a friend told me I could get Spanish services here”
“You want to talk to the Reverend.” Butch replied
“Don’t listen to him, my name is Mickey. How can I help?”
“My neighbors are selling dope out of their house and harassing my kids.”
“I think you are confused with what my work actually is.” Mickey answered
“My friend told me you’re an ex-con and you speak Spanish.”
“My neighbors are Mexican and I need someone to talk to them for me.”
Just as Mickey was about to say “No”, Butch pulled him aside and convinced him to take the job. They needed the money and Butch could help.
“Okay, $500 each for my friend and me.” He offered Ed
“You got it!”
They got the address from Ed and went home to put on their roughest street clothes and arm themselves.
The neighborhood was a working class area on the edge of Lilburn, and when they arrived at the house it was obvious what kind of people lived there. There was trash in the overgrown yard, music blasting out of the broken windows and two guys guarding the front like extras in a cheap action flick. This was going to be fun!
Walking towards the front door they were greeted with a familiar voice.
“Mickey! My old friend.” Ramon welcomed them
“Hey man! When did you get out?” Mickey answered
“Yesterday, I was going to look for you and get some business going.”
“Damn, it’s good to see you. But we need to talk…”
Ramon was surprised by the quick slide into business, but he knew them. Mickey was his friend and Spanish student from the joint; he could get away with being abrupt.
An hour later the three men walked over to Ed’s house and paid a neighborly visit. Ramon apologized for the behavior of his crew while he was in prison and promised to be a respectful neighbor. In return Ed promised not to complain to the police. Once they were agreed, Ed paid Mickey and Butch; and they said their goodbyes. They were now officially in the Miscellaneous Services business.
It wasn’t long after that little adventure that word spread throughout Snellville, Lilburn and Stone Mountain. If you need help and you can’t go to the cops, then go to Butch’s Officeland on Main Street and ask for the Reverend.
Nonetheless, all this newfound notoriety did little for the store. They were still struggling to sell inventory and pay bills. Some small odd jobs came Mickey’s way, but without the store making a profit it was still hard to live.
Things were not looking good until a few months after their meeting with Ramon. On a Tuesday morning a well-dressed gentleman walked into the store and asked to see the Reverend. Butch politely took him to the back office to meet Mickey.
“Good morning Mr. Riley.” He said with a slight Mexican accent
“Yes sir, what can I do you for?” Mickey joked
“Before we start, please take my card.”
Mickey wasn’t used to such diplomatic formality but he responded in kind. They were broke and this guy looked like he could pay well. When he looked down at the business card a cold shiver went up his spine, it read: H.E. Jaime Monje Contreras, Consul General of Mexico to Atlanta.
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