Ian looked at the man in front of him. His rugged face looked almost as soulless and lifeless as the tattered neighborhood itself.
“Frogman 4 5 4 5,” Ian said nervously while realizing how weird it sounded when he said his chatroom name out loud. He didn’t want his goofy-sounding screen name to discredit the seriousness of his situation. “I have the $2000 ready for you right now.”
The man looked at him as if he was just another pawn or a client that he disliked. His skull tattoos on his arms intimidated Ian – as if only tough criminal guys who could beat the hell out of anyone they choose have the right to skull tattoos. Interesting what body art can emote.
“Going to need the money then.” He said without breaking eye contact. There was another man in the room inside nearby watching the transaction. He seemed to be rolling up large pieces of paper. Ian reached in his wallet and gave the guy, who was probably Jebon, twenty $100 bills. They could tell him to leave right now and there wouldn’t be a damn thing he could do about it.
The man counted the money. “You’re $100 short.”
Ian specifically counted 20. He gave him $2000 just now and now he’s somehow $100 short? What could he have expected – he’s meeting a dark web guy at a shady location to do a crime to avoid getting caught for another crime he did. He gave the man another $100.
“Alright. Follow me,” the man motioned Ian to come inside. The living room’s blinds were closed and very little daylight actually made its way inside. Instead, the only visible light sources were a hanging incandescent hallway light, a desk light on the table where the other man rolled his large papers, and a few flickering computer screens.
The living room had a few chairs and couches – mostly torn and broken. Without warning, the man with the skull tattoos violently shoved Ian against the wall. His heartrate increased as he gasped in shock. “Arms out,” the man said. Ian complied. The man patted down his sleeves, shirt, sides and waist. “Turn around,” he said, though he didn’t need to say anything – he violently pulled Ian’s shoulder and forced him to face the wall. Ian stood there with his arms out, his nose touching the greasy musty wall. The man patted down his ankles, then legs. When he got to his pockets, he said, “Empty your pockets.” Ian nervously reached in and pulled out a keychain with keys to his apartment, car and mailbox. In the other pocket, he pulled out his wallet. The man took his wallet and searched it thoroughly – every pocket and crevice. “He’s clean.” The man said as he stuffed Ian’s wallet back into his pocket.
Afterwards, the man walked away and Ian stood there, still, against the wall. “You can put your arms down now,” he said after Ian remained facing the wall with his arms out for almost a full minute. “Make yourself comfortable,” the man said. “Your guy will be here soon.”
Your guy? Ian looked at the man with the skull tattoos thinking he was Jebon. On a second thought, there was no reason to believe any of them would be the ‘Jebon’ he was looking for. “Do you mean Jebon?” Ian asked, trying to conceal his nervousness.
The man moved a bag from atop a table to the floor. He looked at Ian and smiled deviously. “Sure” he said. Ian uncomfortably sat down on one of the tattered chairs in the living room. His heart began to race as he realized he may have walked into a trap. He had no idea who these people were. He got patted down thoroughly as if they were very aware of the risk of having an undercover officer try to infiltrate their operation.
He looked at the front door at the other side of the living room where he had entered. He didn’t notice initially but the man had locked the door with a key right when he came in. He was trapped. All he had was a stolen laptop, and the clothes on his back. No weapons and no way to defend himself if something went wrong.
Ian looked around some more as he fidgeted in his chair. There were boxes stacked up against the wall – big brown cardboard boxes as well as a series of plastic crates. The two men mumbled something to each other as they handled more documents and papers on the table. After more observation, Ian noticed that both men had guns strapped to their waist.
There was a mute TV screen nearby propped up in the kitchen area where it seemed to display a news channel. He squinted to try to make out what was on it, hoping he didn’t see his name or any coverage on him. It displayed what looked like a drug bust that happened in Denver. Though it had nothing to do with him, Ian was too nervous to feel any sort of relief.
The two men by the table were shuffling papers around and moving boxes as if they were planning something completely unrelated to Ian’s need to change his identity. In fact, they barely acknowledged his existence after the man said ‘Sure’ in a not-so-reassuring way.
Ian lost track of the amount of time he spent sitting on the chair in the living room waiting. He imagined what his parents would be feeling. They would be so scared for him – hell, they probably were scared for him still. Ian closed his eyes at the thought but once he did, he heard a door open at the other end of the hallway.
Another man came through a doorway. He was black, muscular and had a backwards hat. He met eye’s with Ian immediately and started walking towards him. Ian propped himself up.
“Frogman?” The black guy asked.
“Jebon?” Ian said back.
The black guy laughed and said, “Yeah you’re Frogman.” He held out his hand for a handshake. Ian obliged at the odd kindness. “No I’m not Jebon. He’ll be here soon though. Do you have the cash?”
“I already got it from him,” the other man with the skull tattoos said from the table.
Ian still felt nervous, as if he could have been shaken down for more money at any moment. The black guy looked back at him. “Well you’re here early then. Relax, dude! You’re looking at me like I’m gonna fuckin’ rob you or something,” he laughed. Ian smiled nervously. “We don’t do that shit here. We handle business professionally.” He looked around and mutually acknowledged the tattered and trashed state of his surroundings. He shrugged. “Don’t judge by this place. We’re in the middle of a transition. Our next place is gonna be fuckin’ pimp.” He walked to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. “Want a beer?”