Krist was living a dream for the week, even if it was someone else’s dream. Venice Beach. House on the canals. Neighbor was the guitar player from Incubus or maybe the Red Hot Chili Peppers or maybe it was Pauly Shore. Regardless, someone who made shirtless 90s rap rock come to mind. A bygone era when a house on the canals ran just six figures.
Krist knew his friend, Thom, whom he was house sitting for purchased the two-bedroom, 1.5 bathroom rambler on the murky water for well into seven figures. The guy could spare it. He had already started and sold two companies by the age of 40. Something to do with pharmaceuticals or apps. Possibly a combination of the two. Krist didn’t really know, or care.
Either way the result of it all was Krist walking Thom’s malamute around the canals and waving at temporary neighbors who all looked like they belonged in luxury car commercials. The woman was always better looking than the man, but not absurdly so, and they never wore clothes with any logos or writing on them. They reminded him of the yuppy neighbors in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Remember when we used to make fun of these people instead of aspire to be them? He thought to himself.
Thom gave Krist some ground rules for house and dog sitting. No smoking in the house. No drinking. No guests. The dog gets a walk in the morning, a walk at night, and one cup of dry dog food around lunch time.
Krist had already violated the first two orders and was game to violate the third if the opportunity came up. He figured Thom knew that, but just gave him the orders because his second wife was within earshot. Thom had been best friends since they were five-years-old playing grab ass on the playground in Carlsbad. He knew he would do whatever he wanted to do.
Bending over and picking up fresh dog shit with his hand stuck into a Ziplock baggie was not something that Krist wanted to do, but there were way too many of those Gen X versions of yuppies with their logo-less get ups around to just leave it on the sidewalk. Krist held his breath, bent down, and grabbed a still-warm piece of shit.
Thom had told Krist to his face he thought Krist was a sociopath, but the world was lucky he was too lazy to actually follow through on it. Krist thought picking up another creature’s shit out of love could combat the theory he was a lazy sociopath. He loved other creatures. See.
Krist followed up on his good Samaritan gesture with another, picking out a jumpdrive stuck in the turd and keeping it in the bag until he got back to Thom’s house.
Well, rescuing the jumpdrive may not have been completely selfless. Krist had spent the first night of his assignment digging through every single box in Thom’s bedroom and spilled a box of random junk all over the floor. The drive must have fallen out and been eaten by the dog at some point.
Krist’s intrusive search was anything but selfless. A major piece of gossip in their group of childhood friends was the reason Thom’s first wife left him was because she found a jumpdrive of sex videos Thom made with previous girlfriends and hook ups. Sure, watching your own friend have sex couldn’t have been more awkward, but Krist was still very intrigued. He may have found his holy grail in a pile of digested organic dog food.
Krist couldn’t have been more disappointed when he opened up the jumpdrive (on Thom’s laptop) and discovered it was just a business plan. He wanted to throw the thing out into the dirty canal out the window, but figured he should put it back in one of the boxes in the closet to cover his guilty tracks.
Krist fought through his disappointment and decided to at least give the plan a quick glance. He was glad he did within just two slides. The PowerPoint deck was for some medicine, called Thomacex and the deck promised it would cure just about anything, including the world’s toughest plagues – common cold, anxiety, depression, even stomach aches.
Thomacex seemed like some kind of miracle drug. Krist couldn’t believe he hadn’t heard of it. He wasn’t even fully through the slide show yet and he already thought it was good enough to where Thom should have already sold it for enough money to buy every house on the canals.
Krist Googled as hard as he could, but he couldn’t get anything about Thomacex online. He was able to go back to the deck and find a url – www.thomacex.com. He threw it into the Wayback Machine website. He got a hit back in 2010 which showed when the website was active.
There was barely any information on the site. Only a placeholder with a company name, the same logo that was in the deck, and a 310 phone number.
Krist tried the number. He couldn’t believe when it actually rang. He couldn’t believe when someone actually answered – a guy named John who sounded a bit older, and rather unhappy.
John wouldn’t give him any information. He wouldn’t confirm if he knew Thom or not. All he would do is give Krist an address in Culver City, a time, and instructions to review the Test Page of the deck.
Krist fought his nerves with some black rum and falernum. He felt his lazy tiki cocktail was perfect for the Venice canal vibe and trying to soothe his nerves while he studied for a test for the first time since…well…ever.
The test was right up Krist’s alley. It simply asked to think about your favorite song and what you think the meaning is to you. Krist cued up the video for Sweet Child O’ Mine on YouTube on Thom’s laptop and cranked the speakers as loud as they could go then listened to the epic tune over and over again.
The Tattle Tale Room was a dive bar that was actually a dive bar. It reminded Krist of the bar from either It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
John didn’t tell Krist what he looked like. He said he’d find him. Krist didn’t know how, but that was the promise.
The promise was delivered. Krist was halfway into drinking and pulling the label off his Newcastle when tall, sturdy man of about 60 years of age with a shaved head and intense blue eyes sat down on the stool next to him.
“You must be John,” Krist said while initiating a handshake.
John slapped Krist’s stupid hand away.
“Don’t do that shit. Just drink your beer. I’ll drink my beer and we’ll talk,” John said as he flagged down the bartender with his eyes.
“Budweiser,” John ordered, impressing Krist.
John sized up the bar. In Krist’s head he was doing the math on if there was anyone in the bar he couldn’t beat in a fight.
“Are you one of those grown men who ride around on skateboards?” John asked Krist after another long look at John and his long locks of light brown hair.
“Not really,” Krist lied, he was. “But really, I’m just interested in Thomacex.”
John took a very long drink of the frosty Budweiser the bartender had just dropped down in front of him.
“How did you find out about it?” John asked.
“Would you believe me if I told you I found a jump drive with the business plan in a pile of my friend’s dog’s shit?” Krist asked.
John looked Krist up and down for the third time since he sat down.
“Yes,” John answered.
The drinks perfectly paced their conversation, keeping it from getting too intimate. They stared forward at the dusty bottles of bottom shelf booze lined up behind the bar as they spoke.
“But let’s get into why we’re here,” John went on. “You prepared with the test?”
Krist nodded and started searching his brain for his thoughts on the greatest rock hit of the 80s.
“I’ve always loved the lyrics to Sweet Child O’ Mine, but it wasn’t until recently that I realized it’s a super painful song,” Krist started in and made eye contact with John.
The smile was gone from John’s face, replaced with a thin-lipped tight look Krist couldn’t read. Krist went on, unsteady, his words unconfident.
“It’s about how someone you fall in love with reminds me of your childhood because that’s the last time that your life wasn’t painful, but at the same time it’s only a matter of time until those memories push forward to when things got dark and chaos ensues, and you don’t know where to go. That’s why the first two verses of the song are beautiful, but then it has that chaotic, jarring outro with the heavy guitars,” Krist explained.
John finished his first beer, seeming to enjoy Krist’s lecture, then ordered two double whiskeys.
“And that’s why they just keep singing ‘where do we go now?’ over and over and over again at the end of the song,” Krist finished his thesis.
“I’m pretty sure they actually did that because they thought they had a classic first two verses of the song, but Axl Rose didn’t have a great third verse in him, and they sang that as a placeholder, but were never able to fill it,” John said.
“That sounds more likely,” Krist responded.
“Yeah, my buddy is actually friends with Gilby Clarke,” John said with a hint of pride.
Two double whiskeys arrived. John wasted no time in diving into his. Krist did the same.
They realized they didn’t cheers before their first drink. They exchanged one and another hard drink.
They both slammed down their thick glasses, empty.
Krist woke up in Thom’s house. The place was trashed. His head was aching. He had no memory of what happened after he started drinking with John.
He was horrified. It was the first time anyone had trusted him with anything in quite some time and he had failed miserably.
He first scrambled around, picking up the trash he had strewn about, trying to glue back together the lamps and plates and glasses he had destroyed. He did all of this poorly.
The ringing of Krist’s cell phone rescued him from trying to rescue Thom’s house. He was relieved to have something else to focus on when he answered the call from the 310 number that wasn’t saved in his phone, especially when he heard John on the other line.
John needed to talk to him right away, in-person, at his office, in Playa Del Rey. As soon as possible.
Krist cleared his busy schedule and checked out one of those scooters to get to John’s office. He almost crashed four times on the way. The commute took 16 minutes.
John’s office was in a bland office park that seemed abandoned, but Krist eventually found his office in the back of the place – JBI Inc. was written on pebbled glass next to an early-2000s sedan parked in the spot in front of it. Krist thought it reminded him of the office for the shady lawyer he had once who was able to get his D.U.I. reduced to reckless driving on a technicality.
The door opened when Krist knocked on it like it was a horror movie. He was instantly greeted by the smell of thick must.
There was John, sitting behind a MacBook with a large monitor, A.C. unit blasting him out of the window behind him, totally focused on whatever was on his screen, his tongue sticking out of his mouth in concentration. Krist just stood there in the doorway looking at him for a few seconds, getting no reaction.
“John?” Krist asked even though he knew it was definitely John sitting in front of him.
He got no answer from John. He just typed away on his computer and looked closer at the screen.
“What happened last night?” Krist asked.
John responded by stopping his typing and looking up through the glasses he wasn’t wearing the night before. Krist winced in pain, his brain feeling like it was shrinking inside of his skull because of the hangover. He sat down in the single chair across from John’s desk.
“You don’t remember?” John asked.
Krist didn’t know how to respond without coming off like a dick so he said nothing, just kind of squirmed in his chair.
“Of course you don’t,” John cracked and machine-gunned a laugh.
Krist correctly pegged John as one of those people who get off on constantly keeping you on edge. He wasn’t quite sure what the term was for it. A dick? Yeah, that works.
“What was the deal with the meaning of the song test lyrics thing? Sweet Child O’ Mine?” Krist asked, figuring a less-direct question would help get things started in a non-confrontational manner.
John finally gave Krist his full attention. He closed the porn he was watching and leaned back in his chair, trying to look thoughtful even though he was just thinking about the female performer in the video he was just watching more than anything.
“Yeah and I figured you would have questions. That’s exactly why I called you here,” John explained. “The song meaning thing, just a random question we figured would be a good way to get new customers talking and loosen, and open them up. It worked with you.”
Krist started to loosen up. He sat up and ran his hands through his shaggy hair. Good job.
Then Krist jumped in before John could say anymore, genuinely excited about something for the first time in a long time.
“I had a lot of questions about this Thomacex thing. I mean the thing I was reading on the jump drive described it as like a miracle drug, like it could make you live forever, like what’s that thing in that movie, Bradley Cooper movie, the drug?”
“Limitless, not the same thing,” John shut him down.
“Probably right, but I was just curious, is that stuff that you said about it true?” Krist asked.
“You will know soon enough,” John said with a slight smirk.
“You took a pill last night. I put it in your beer, but you probably don’t remember. The number one side effect of the drug and one of the biggest reasons it never went to market, extreme memory loss,” John said.
Krist sat up in his chair just a little bit more.
“Consider yourself immortal,” John went on.
“Yeah, well, that is if you keep taking the drug. You need to take one a week. I only have like nine thousand-five hundred-thirty-two of the pills left. I can sell them to you though,” John revealed.
“And it won’t work if I don’t keep taking them every week?” Krist asked.
Krist thought about how much money he had in his bank account. He had four thousand dollars and change in his savings account, just about enough to pay rent for the next three months.
Almost as if he could read his mind, John gave Krist an offer.
“I’ll sell you everything I have for four thousand dollars. That will last you for about 60 years, after that you’re on your own. I know some guys in China that have some. Some down in Florida. I swear I sold some to Donald Trump’s people before he ran for president. You can find it on the dark web too,” John went on.
Krist thought about the offer for a second.
“I still don’t know how this stuff didn’t get on the market. I think big pharma shut it down because we were going to put them out of business. I wouldn’t talk to Thom about that though. The guy was on the floor for a week after the F.D.A. flushed us down the toilet. He doesn’t want to talk about it, I bet, or he’ll just dismiss it all, but I know he has a stash of it. I bet he still has more than ten thousand of the little pills somewhere in his house. I promise you that, but I already told you that, last night,” John finished with another slight smirk, this one just a little bit bigger than the last.
Krist thought about it for a second.
“Hell, if you find Thom’s stash, you probably won’t even need to buy these from me,” John said as he pulled out a big clear bottle of little yellow pills.
Krist and John marveled at all the pills.
“Why don’t you take them?” Krist asked.
John just laughed.
“I have two ex-wives, a son who I swear is half-retarded, and two bad knees. I found Thomacex too late. Sure, I’d live forever, but it’ll suck. I assume you still have enough gas in the tank to where living and breathing doesn’t feel like a chore,” John said.
Krist looked around the rather sparse office. It was unclear what exactly John might do in the space. It could have been anyone’s office.
“Well, what do you do now these days anyway?” Krist asked.
Another laugh from John.
“I just hide out from the third wife in here. Anyway, you’re welcome to come or turn down my offer about the pills in hopes you can find, and steal, Thom’s stash. He probably has enough for you and him to live forever. Won’t hurt my feelings one bit. I don’t even need the four grand. Just come back here next Thursday, don’t come on Wednesday, I don’t work Wednesdays, if you still want them. Free of charge,” John said.
Krist thought about Thom and his chances of taking a pill that made him invincible. Thom had survived a horrible car wreck a few years before, where the other three people in the accident all died. He watched Thom take a bad wave surfing the previous Summer and it took him four minutes to come out from under the water, but he was fine when he did. It was very possible Thom was taking the pills. He also never remembered Thom so much as having a cold or a flu in recent years.
“I’ll take you up on the offer. I’ll be back tomorrow if I don’t find them,” Krist said.
Krist left the office and found a new scooter to ride back to Thom’s house on the canals. The world around him felt completely different. He weaved in and out of traffic on Venice Boulevard without a care. He ran red lights. He did a few bunny hops before he got back to Thom’s place.
The mess back at Thom’s house was no longer a burden when Krist got back, just a challenge.
He found a jar of the yellow pills, indeed twice as big as John’s, on the floor in the hallway, just outside of a closet.
Krist put the pills in his backpack and cleaned up and repaired everything in the house until it actually looked better than when he moved in. He needed to do the right thing for the first time ever.
Thom and his wife showed up an hour later than they were supposed to, just before sunset. They came home to find Krist on the couch watching reruns of Bar Rescue and not looking hungover, or stoned, for the first time in a long time.
Krist told Thom he wanted to thank him for his generosity and treat him to a couple of beers down on the boardwalk at sunset. Krist agreed even though he could feel his wife fuming about it. The trip hadn’t been good. He needed to get some air and the Coors Light he was sure that Krist was going to buy would help him relax.
Thom was shocked when Krist bought them two Stella Artois’ with the promise of more to come. That must have been what Krist thought was “fancy” beer, Thom correctly thought.
“So how’d it go?” Thom started in once they had finished their toast, their first drinks of the beers Thom assumed Krist didn’t realize cost $10 at the “dive bar” they were at by the beach.
“Good,” Krist paused for a second after his one-word answer.
Krist had been thinking about what he was going to say next for more than 24 hours.
Krist didn’t end up saying anything though. He took a few of the Thomacex pills out of his pocket and held them out at Thom.
Thom was stunned, swallowed his tongue, but he fought through it and shook his head.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Thom asked, feigning ignorance.
“Oh come on, I know I’m admitting to going through your shit, literally, but I found your jump drive that had the PowerPoint for Thomacex on it. I read it and called the number on the old website, and talked to John,” Krist explained.
Thom cut the charade. He suddenly looked pissed and he rarely looked pissed. He waved away the server when she came over to ask if they wanted any food.
“Okay, what do you want?” Thom asked, now feigning exhaustion.
“I just want half of your pills,” Krist said.
Krist laughed, eerily in the same way John did, Krist thought.
“You really think that shit works?” Thom replied.
“I’ve seen you defy death at least a couple of times already. Oh, and didn’t your wife have some like cervical cancer scare, but survived it, and that’s like a death sentence,” Krist fired back, starting to get animated.
“It was an ovarian cyst,” Thom said, now starting to look defeated. “But shit, I’ll give you the fucking pills, but I promise you, they’re just a placebo, they don’t do anything. It’s basically Tyllenol,” Thom said.
“Then can I have all of them?” Krist asked.
“I can’t do that, I’m keeping some in case anything ever happens with it again, but I promise the whole thing was a scam. Basically what we were going to do was sell people the yellow Tyllenol as a monthly subscription thing in hopes that we could actually eventually make a pill that could cure a lot of things,” Thom said.
“Then just give me all of them other than a few, like ten,” Krist reasoned.
Krist watched as Thom started to break down right in front of him and cry into his Stella. It was unnerving given how usually reserved Thom was. He was the kind of guy who it was impossible to get a rise out of, even if you gave him 10 beers. Krist always thought his ability to be unflappable must have been one of the reasons he was so successful in business.
“Lauren’s fucking somebody else,” Thom said louder than Krist could believe, loud enough to where every table around them must have heard him say it.
“I’m sorry man,” Krist said, genuinely.
Krist put a soft hand on Thom’s back as he leaned down onto the table and started crying into his $10 beer.
“Worst fucking part is I made her partner in my business, so she’s still going to get half when she leaves, which is going to happen soon, and she’ll always have half,” Thom went on.
Krist winced and quickly downed some more beer.
“Fuck man, take all the pills. I don’t give a shit. I’ll get two million, maybe two-point-five when Lauren makes me sell the company. I’ll put it in a fucking C.D. that will barely make me shit, but I’ll move to Donner Lake or something and ride it out,” Thom seethed.
Krist suddenly could feel the bottle of pills resting in the inside pocket of his jacket. It had a newfound weight.
“Seriously man, I’ll split them with you,” Krist reasoned and put a soft hand on Thom’s shoulder.
Thom softly swatted away Krist’s friendly reach.
“Well what do you want then?” Krist asked.
Thom thought about it for a few seconds. He drank some cold Stella and looked out at the sun setting on the beach through the windows of the bar past Krist’s dumb mug.
“Just be my friend man,” Thom said, still shaking his head.
Krist gave Thom a handshake. It was a promise he could keep.
10 years later
Kendall was shocked to see a homeless man lurking on the Venice boardwalk in broad daylight. She heard the horror stories of how bad it used to be, but those days were long gone before she moved there. She could walk from her condo to the beach and not even have to bat an eye at anything that wasn’t perfectly pleasing.
Yet, here she was, walking down her street and having to avoid the leer of the kind of dirty, rotten hobo she thought only lived in the worst parts of downtown L.A. at this point.
“Excuse me,” he said upon approach.
Oh no, he was coming up to her.
She scanned the scene. She was the only person in sight. It was the middle of a cold February weekday so no one was really around.
On closer inspection, the man looked like he might not be homeless, just a grungy hippy. He was a little dirty, but his clothes were normal enough, and his face looked sober if you could get through the long greasy hair in his eyes. He looked to be around 45.
“Would you like to live forever?” The homeless man asked her. “Well, at least never get sick again?” He seemed to doubt his own pitch practically before it came out of his mouth.
She felt sorry for the man and mostly because she didn’t think he was actually a mentally ill homeless man. He seemed more like a lost soul who didn’t know how to live life and probably didn’t even really have a good excuse, and here he was, trying to sell her magic beans in Venice Beach.
Lucky for him, she was a trust fund girl who had more money than she could ever do anything with and an impulsive flaw. The man reminded her of her troubled younger brother who overdosed on Fentanyl just a couple of years before. She wondered if the universe somehow sent this man at her to give her a chance to make up for not giving her brother the attention he needed when he needed it.
And she was prepared to make it right on this cloudy Wednesday afternoon.
He pulled out a baggy of little yellow pills and showed it to her.
“How many of those do you have?” She asked before he could continue his shitty pitch.
He almost looked thrown off by her asking a question. He thought about it.
“Probably around seven thousand,” he answered.
“I’ll give you ten thousand for them,” she offered.
He blushed. Why did he blush? She thought to herself.
“I can’t do that,” he said while deflating. “I can maybe sell you half for five thousand.”
Now she was more than intrigued. This guy really wasn’t willing to part with what looked like dyed Tyllenol?
Maybe these were magic beans? They probably weren’t, she thought, but keep in mind the details about her having a bottomless bank account and an impulsive streak, the same streak that killed her brother, and was blocking her brain from thinking about how it was a pill that took his life.
“I’ll be fair. I’ll give you ten thousand for half. I’ll Venmo you right now,” she said as she took out her phone.
“Shit, I don’t have like a phone or like an account. Can you just give me cash, maybe a check?” He said.
She started to walk away. He shouldn’t have given her the time to think about it just a little bit more. She thought better of it and he did too.
She would be back around again and she would be willing to spend more down the road. He knew it, and he had all the time in the world to wait for that day.