Role With It by Devin James Leonard

Logan is dealing drugs to try and finance Des's movie, but Des's method acting might get them both into trouble.

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When Desmond Renna isn't working as an actor, which is always, he practices honing his craft by playing a fictional character in his everyday life. He jots the roles down on pieces of paper - everything from a custodian to a cop or a crook, landlord to lawyer or landscaper - picks one out of a hat at random and plays the part for an entire month. Ages range between eighteen - Des is twenty-three - to thirty-two. Sexual orientation, medical conditions and other various attributes are separated into their own categories. The last four weeks now, he's been playing a straight (sexual orientation) lower class (social class) criminal informant (occupation) with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a hitch in his left leg (disability).

Nine o'clock Sunday night, in a poor section of downtown Albany, New York, Des Renna limps his way out of the passenger side of a rusted pickup, and repeatedly locks and unlocks the door while nervously muttering, "One-two-three-one-two-three." Again, "One-two-three-one-two-three." And again - three times he locks and unlocks the door before he's satisfied.

Logan Thomas has already left the driver's seat and is waiting on the sidewalk, not the least bit patiently, either. He stuffs his clenched fists into the pockets of his Carhartt jacket while wearing a pout on his big ugly mug that gives him the appearance of a despondent gorilla. As he watches Des waddle over to the curb, with his left leg stiff and dragging behind him, he says, with a grimace, "I thought you said this loony cripple thing ends today."

"It does. At midnight," Des says. He takes in the sight of this garbage-littered street, the road void traffic, and all the buildings unlighted and condemned with plywood in the windows, pops two sticks of gum in his mouth and clacks away with anxious jitters. "Are we here?"

"No, we just got out to stretch our legs," Logan says. "Yes, we're here, idiot. It's a couple of blocks over."

"So we're not here."

"What do you care? You ain't going."

Des's mouth ceases chewing. He gulps, almost swallowing his gum. "I'm not staying here."

"You are, if you insist on staying in character."

"This is a bad neighborhood."

"All the more reason you need to watch the truck."

"And who's gonna watch me?"

"If you're gonna keep on acting the way you've been acting," Logan says, "there is no way you're coming with me while I do business."

"I've been playing this character for the past month. You're just noticing now?"

"Believe me, Des, I've noticed. I only agreed to you coming along because you said it ended today -"

"At midnight."

Logan slaps him across the chest with the back of his hairy-knuckled hand. "And you're wearing a wire, for Christ's sake!"

It's not a wire, per se, that Des has on his person. What it is, it's an audio recording application on his cell. The screen of his phone shows two cartoonish reels of spinning tape, indicating the program is recording. Before they left the house, he turned it on and regularly checked it every five minutes to make sure it was still running.

"I'm a criminal informant," Des argues. "That's what CIs do - they obtain information by means of recording devices to report back to the police in order to get a reduced sent-"

"I know what a CI is, Desmond," Logan said. "You know how many times I've snitched when I've been arrested? A lot."

"No shit," Des says. "It's the whole reason I'm with you - to make sure you don't get pinched again. Also, this is the perfect setup for me to get some real-life experience as an undercover informant."

Logan frowns. "Somehow your mind told you this was a good idea? Being a rat for a real drug deal?"

Despite living under the same roof as three actors and filmmakers, Logan will never understand the mind or the creative process of one. What he knows is money, particularly how to acquire it with little earnestness and no effort. Over the past few months, he's been covering the rent and other various expenses, and saving any remaining funds towards the future production of the movie Desmond and his team are planning. He's likened himself to a film producer, but all he's managed to successfully produce so far is a DWI and an intense drug habit.

Des attempts to change the subject by patting his left thigh and saying, "Did you notice my limp? I wrapped my leg in duct tape for maximum effect. Pretty cool, huh?"

Logan shakes his head. "You're supposed to be the smart one of the bunch, Renna."

"I am smart. The CI is not. It's the lower-class part of the character."

"Drop it."

"No can do." Des has never dropped an act. "Just roll with it, baby," he says.

"Roll with it," Logan repeats.

Des spells it out for him. "R-O-L-E. Role with it."

Logan wrings him by the shirt, two handed. "We're going into a drug deal, Des - a drug deal - do you really think pretending to be an informant is a good idea right now?"

Des chews his gum, blows a bubble an inch from Logan's nose. Smacks his gum, and smirks. "I have till midnight with this character."

Logan lets him go, keeping his hands raised in a surrendering gesture, and starts down the block. "Fine. Mind the truck."

Des scans the sidewalk once more, momentarily dropping his nervous OCD act to tremble with genuine worry. "No - wait," he says, and runs after Logan, hobbling. "Please, let me come."

"I'm doing this deal for you," Logan says. "If you can't quit playing this game for twenty minutes, you're gonna mess this up and get us both killed."

Des grabs him by the shoulder and stops him from pacing. "All right, fine. I'll turn off the recorder. Good?"

Logan considers it and says, "Fine. But lose the OCD stuff, too. All your twitchy fidgeting's making me goddamn nervous."

"I couldn't turn that off if I wanted to," Des says.

"Spit out your gum."


"Because you're chomping like an ox. It's annoying - spit."

Des turns to the road and hawks his gum. "There."

"And the limp."

"I'd have to take my pants off to unravel the tape."

"Forget it."

They walk along the avenue sidewalk, rounding a corner, which is even darker than the street where they started. The streetlights are busted, with glass on the ground, and cars propped up on cinderblocks, the tires missing. Figures lurk within the shadowed alleys. Des hobbles faster to keep up with Logan's non-handicapped pace. As long as he remains close to his drug-dealing roommate, he's safe from any threats. Logan Thomas is as big as an outhouse, with hands the size of boxing gloves, and a face even his own mother couldn't lie about loving. He's dumber than dirt, but brains don't matter when you look like a modern-day caveman.

Turning the next corner, Logan crosses the street and approaches a set of concrete stairs in front of a dark house with boarded windows on the lower floor. By the time Des wobbles over, Logan has already ascended the steps. Des discreetly throws a new stick of gum into his mouth, then he flings his inflexible leg forward and straddles the rusty railing. Once he's made it to the landing, sweating and panting, he asks Logan, who's waiting at the door, "You ring the bell?"

"Thank God you're with me," Logan says, "else I'd be standing out here all night. Yes, I rang the bell."

"How many times?"


"How many times did you ring?"


Des reaches around Logan and jabs his finger into the bell button three times. "One-two-three." Three more times. "One-two-three." And three more times after that.

Logan slaps his hand away. "I think you got their attention."

They wait. Des chews his gum - loudly. Logan rubs his temples, his eyes pinched shut.

"Thought I told you to lose the damn gum."

"Can't," Des says. "It calms my nerves."

"You scared?"

"Stage fright."

Logan sighs. "Fucking actors, man."

The door rushes open with a violent swing, and a young, raggedy-looking broad with red, sleepy eyes bulging from their sockets emerges. She's dressed in a baggy t-shirt, with disheveled hair, and smudged makeup running down her cheeks. Yellow teeth bared, she says, "What!"

Logan gives Des a critical glance, as if to tell him nice going with the bell ringing, then says to the young, beat-up-looking lady, "We're here to see Jerry. He's expecting us."

"Upstairs," the lady says, and she turns away and disappears into the darkness.

They step inside the foyer, Des opening and closing the door three times - "One-two-three-one-two-three-one-two-three" - before taking to the staircase. Not a single lightbulb illuminates the house. It's utter blackness, and Des can't see one crooked step in front of him, let alone Logan climbing the stairs ahead of him. He only hears the frustration in his voice as he whispers to say, "Who are you putting this performance on for? There's nobody here."

"It's all for me," Des says, and continues his ascent, his pretend dead foot thumping against each step.

Upon reaching the top of the stairs, they find the apartment door directly ahead on the landing. Logan knocks three times. Des knocks nine times.

Now that he's arrived at the drug dealer's door, Des's right leg, along with the bandaged one that was already strangled and numb, loses sensation. A wave of fear throws him into a fearful, lightheaded paralysis. He chomps on his gum, his jaw snapping with the strength of a bear trap, as panic flushes his cheeks with red hot anxiety. Des can no longer determine if he is acting or if he has fully immersed himself in his role to the point of developing true neuroticism. Either way, real or performance, Des is shitting his pants.

But he cannot totter away in retreat now, can't return to the truck, like Logan insisted. The pickup is too far away for petrified Des to hike the streets alone. Besides, he wants to prove to himself that he can immerse himself in the role. He must experience the character in a real-life environment. It's the only reason he came along - that, and because he's relying on Logan's drug money to pay the rent and eventually finance him and his friends' movie. And someone has to be here to ensure he doesn't mess it up, like the last time Logan came to Albany. A few months back, Logan made a score and celebrated by getting drunk at a strip club and, on his way home, got pulled over and arrested on the I-90, doing ninety-five in a sixty-five. He had over five grand worth of narcotics on him and tossed it out the window before the cops caught up to him. Tonight, if all goes well, they'll be going home with ten thousand dollars' worth of cocaine.

Heavy footsteps thump from within the apartment, and behind the door, a voice loud enough to shake the paint chips off the ceiling calls out, demanding to know who is there.

Logan answers, and the locks unlatch and the door squeals open. At first glance, Des believes he's staring at a door behind the door that has just opened, but no. What he sees is a vastly overweight man who looks as though he couldn't even fit through a door. Given the lamplight he's blotting out behind him with his rotund frame, Des imagines an airlift through a very large window - like a piano delivery - would be required for this guy to leave his apartment. Logan's drug dealer's wheezy inhalations seem to take the oxygen right out of the air, leaving nothing for the rest of humanity to breathe.

"How goes it, Jerry?" Logan says. "You're looking svelte these days."

Jerry takes a second to stick his face into the hallway - the only part of him that'll fit through the door - and cautiously looks around. "Who the hell let you in?"

"The street walker downstairs," Logan says.

"That's my sister. Told that bitch not to answer the door for me."

Des snickers. "Think we'd be out there till midnight if she hadn't."

Jerry looks at him funny. "How's that?"

"Because -" Des gestures to Jerry's enormous build, the obvious reason.

With a quick, beckoning wave, Jerry backs into the apartment, saying, "In, in, in." Logan and Des proceed inside, and once they're through the door, Jerry slams it shut.

There are three locks on the inside, and when Jerry finishes latching them, Des points and says, "Mind if I -?"

"Hah?" says Jerry.

"I got this thing..." Des waves him aside, and within the confines of the narrow hall, squeezes himself between Jerry's stomach and the wall to reach for the locks on the door.

Jerry swats him off with a quick slap on the wrist. "Don't touch anything," he says, and nods toward the back of the apartment. "Go."

Des mutters one-two-threes to himself until he hobbles into the living room, and now that they're in a lighted area, he gets a clear view of Logan's drug dealer. Jerry's wearing an Albany River Rats hockey jersey the size of a weather balloon, the garment draped from his wide shoulders down to his meaty thighs. Below his knees are two thin, hairless legs and bare feet, and whether he's wearing shorts or underwear under the long shirt, it's hard to determine.

Jerry gauges Des's limping and says, "Who's the gimp?"

"That's offensive," Des says, and adds another stick of gum to the wad in his mouth.

Logan sits in the center of a brown leather couch, and Des, though he'd feel much relief getting off his feet and his constricted leg, remains standing while peering around this morbidly obese man's filthy room. There are weeks' worth of microwaveable dishes and delivery containers set on every flat surface in sight, with empty beer and soda bottles scattered across the floor. The place reeks of wet trash, cigarettes, and dead mice.

Hell no, Des ain't sitting.

Jerry the jersey man takes a seat in the corner, squishing into a Papasan, a round, bowl-shaped cushion held up by what looks like a ring of coiled wicker. When Jerry settles into it, the framework crackles like kindling on fire, the poor chair screaming as if it were alive and begging for mercy.

"Pop a squat," Jerry tells Des.

Des shakes his head, his eyes wandering about the living room. "I'm good. I don't want to touch anything." He continues to look around, curious and nervous, and uncertain which emotion is stronger. He begins to lean toward curiosity now that he starts to limp around the room with his eyes scanning, dragging his leg past Jerry to stick his head in the kitchen.

Behind Des, the Papasan seat squeals, no doubt from Jerry shifting around to keep his eye on him. "See anything you like?"

Des continues to wander. "Nope."

"What's with this kid?" Jerry says to Logan.

Logan spreads his palms. "He's - uh -"

"Guy's got more jitters than a narc."

Des spins around, almost tripping over his own feet. "Who? Me?"

"Only narcs peep around as much as you," Jerry says. "What are you looking for, a quick exit?"

"Trust me," Logan says, "with that leg of his, he ain't getting anywhere quickly."

"I don't like this place," Des says. "It's filthy."

Jerry hooks a thumb over his shoulder. "Seriously, who is this kid? What'd you bring him for?"

Logan sits up and leans forward. "Forget about him. He's just a little jumpy."

"Jumpy? How's he jump at all with that bum leg?" Jerry snickers. Logan chuckles to appease him. Jerry goes on, saying, "What's he got to be nervous about? We're just friends here, right? Nobody got nothing to hide."

"That's right," Logan says. "Des, have a seat."

"I'm just sweeping the place," Des says.

"You wanna sweep, get a fuckin' broom," Jerry says. His voice has grown hard, impatient, annoyed.

"I'm making sure it's just you here."

"Why? You trying to put one over on me?"

Logan's voice climbs with annoyance. "Des, relax. Let me handle it."

Jerry's voice rises. "Why you gotta bring people with you and complicate a simple transaction?"

"I promise," Logan says, "I tried not to."

"Kid's all over the place. He's giving me heart palpitations just looking at him."

Logan sits up straight. "Des, sit your ass down."

Des shambles over to the couch, but doesn't sit. He reaches instead for the lamp on the stand beside it, and turns the light off, turns it on, turns it off. "One-two-three-one-two-three," the room flashing like a dizzying strobe light.

Jerry groans. "What in the hell -"

"One-two-three," Des says, and the light remains off, the room shrouded in pitch black darkness. And within that darkness, the pleading screams of the wicker chair cries out from Jerry pulling his fat ass to his feet.

"Turn that light on!" he yells.

Des turns it on and off again and on again. "One-two-three."

The light remains on. Jerry's in a wide defensive stance, fists clenched down by his hips. He looks like a bull ready to charge.

"Logan, get this moron out of here. I'm not bringing out nothing until he leaves."

Logan thrusts his hand toward the front. "Des, wait out in the hall."

"There aren't any lights in the hall."

"There aren't any in here," Jerry says, "with you going all Rain Man on my lamp. Get out. Now."

Logan springs up off the couch saying, "Goddamn it, Des, what'd I say before we came here? What'd I tell you to do?"

"You told me to get rid of the wire," Des says, and immediately slaps his hand to his mouth as if to catch the words that have already escaped.

"Wire!" Jerry says, astonished. "What's he talking about, wires?"

"It's not what you think," Logan says.

"You wearing a mic?" Jerry lifts his jersey, and Des can see now that, no shit, he is indeed wearing shorts under there. Shorts with a chrome pistol tucked in the front. He takes it out, holding it sideways like a street gangster, and points it straight at Des. "Lift up your shirt."

Logan raises his hands at shoulder height as he steps in front of Des. "Let's calm down here a sec, Jerry. Des doesn't have a wire, okay? He's an actor. He's playing a character."

Jerry wags the gun at Logan. "You, too, Logan, lift up your shirt."

Logan spreads his jacket and pulls up his t-shirt, revealing only a pasty beer belly covered in curly blonde hair. "We're not wired, man, I'm telling you. He's just an actor playing a role. Show him your leg, Des."

Des's heart races. He shuts his eyes so he can't see the gun aimed at his face.

"Shirt," Jerry says. "Let's go. Lift 'em to the nips."

"One-two-three," Des says, "one-two-three."

Logan clutches Des's shirt and raises it to his bare chest. "See? He's just messing around. He's an actor doing a bit."

"A what?"

"A role. Look at him. He ain't wearing a wire, and he sure as shit don't have no gimp leg, neither. He's pretending. Show him, Des."

Des hears nothing but the one-two-threes he's muttering through frantic, terrified breaths. He's too deep in his head. The fake anxiety has melded into reality. It's fake. It's real. It's all the same. Des is panicking.

"Prove to him," Logan says, "you don't have a limp."

"How?" Des says.

"Show him."

"Show him I don't limp?"

"Christ! The tape on your leg!" Dropping to his knees, Logan tugs at Des's pants.

"What are you doing?" Des says, trying to shove him off.

"Show him." Logan unbuckles Des's belt, rips it out of every loop on his pants, and flings it away. Now he's tearing into the button and zipper like he's opening a Christmas present.

Des presses his palms into Logan's face, trying to push him away. Logan holds on,

wrestling with the pants and loosening them from Des's waist.

"Show him," Logan says.

"How am I supposed to show him something I don't have? Stop!"

Des's wad of gum falls from his mouth and clings to Logan's mangy, brittle hair. But Logan doesn't take pause, doesn't even feel the gum stuck to his head. He only strengthens his pull as he drops Des's pants to his knees, forcing Des to lose his balance and fall to the floor on his back. While Des tries to wriggle away, Logan unsheathes Des's jeans down to his ankles, revealing his boxer shorts underneath and his left leg wrapped from the thigh down with duct tape.

"You see?" Logan tells Jerry. Jerry sees, but for good measure, to compensate for his anger, Logan continues to strip Des. He plucks the shoes from his feet and pitches them across the room, removes his pants from his body entirely, and tosses them over his shoulder. Then he rises, huffing, and sends a severe, aggravated kick into Des's bare leg.

Jerry lowers the gun and spreads his arms. "What am I looking at?"

"Fake limp," Logan says, panting. "I told you, he's an actor, practicing for a part."

"This look like a stage to you, kid?"

"The whole world is my stage," Des says. He sits up and clamors along the floor, scooping up his pants, shoes, and belt, and holds them in a bundle against his chest.

Logan grapples Des and yanks him to his feet, his eyes livid. "What'd I tell you? What'd I say?"

"That's redundant," Des says, and Logan shoves him away.

While Des goes to work putting his pants back on, Logan tells Jerry, "Listen, man, I'm sorry about all this. Guy's an idiot, but he doesn't mean any harm. If we can just start over, finish this business, we'll be out of your hair."

"You got gum in yours," Jerry says.


Jerry taps his own head with his pistol. "Gum."

Logan pats the top of his head. "Son of a bitch."

Jerry says don't move as he turns into the kitchen with his chin shaking. Des puts his pants back on, and while sliding his belt around his waist, he watches Logan continue to touch his head.

"Damn, that was my last piece."

"Don't say another word," Logan says without looking at him.

With a few belt adjustments and a couple of leg stretches, Des settles into his clothes, slips his feet into his shoes, and fishes his hands into his pockets. "My phone," he says.

"I said not another -"

"No, man, my phone's gone. Where did it -"

Jerry comes back into the room now, no longer carrying his pistol but a large white brick wrapped in cellophane and tape. He's in the middle of saying something, but stops as something else grabs his attention. Whatever he's looking at is on the floor. Logan looks. Des looks. Lying at the foot of the Papasan chair, where it must have fallen when Logan flung his pants, is Des's cell. The phone lies face up with the surveillance app on full display, the reels spinning to show the audio of the room has been captured the entire time they've been there.

Jerry grunts while bending over to pick up the phone. "No wire, huh?"

Logan chuckles with a fake laugh. "Funny story -" He turns to Des. "Des?"

"You said not to talk," Des says.

Jerry shoves the phone in his pocket, turns back to the kitchen, and says, "Now where did I leave my gun?"

"Shit," Logan says, and retreats backwards, tapping Des on the arm on his way. "Go - now - run."

Des doesn't move. "But he has my -" Logan yanks him away, pulling him down the hall to the door. Jerry's heavy marching footsteps vibrate across the floor. The metallic slide of a pistol cocking echoes. Logan races to unlock the multiple latches and bolts. He gets them open, swings the door back, and grapples Des once again, shoving him straight out the doorway and sending him spiraling toward the staircase. With his leg still constricted, stiff, and ten pounds heavier with the added weight of the tape, the lower-right side of Des's body heaves forward, much faster than the left. The force of Logan's shove spins him round and round like an unbalanced pendulum. His arms stretch out, reaching to take hold of something to catch his fall. But there's nothing there - at least, he can't see if anything is there.

Des grabs nothing but air.

And he plummets.


Down the stairs.

He flips, tumbles and rolls down the bone-crunching hardness of the wooden steps, falling until he hits the downstairs wall with his face. Before one gasping roar can escape his lungs, a heavy object crashes into his back and smashes his face against the wall he's just peeled himself away from.

"Sorry," Logan says within the darkness of the stairway. "Get up."

Des is heaved to his feet by frantic desperate arms grappling him, Logan shouting at him to keep moving as he pulls him out of the foyer, out through the front door and onto the porch. His face burns like a rash, and with his eyes squeezed shut from the relentless pain, he can't see where he's going.

"Move faster," Logan says, and Des feels another shove in his back. He stumbles forward, eyes snapping open as he falls, arms reaching out. He can see this time, but this time there's nothing to see. The rusty railing that he used on the way up is on the wrong side now. All that's there are the concrete stairs. He flies face first over the top three steps. His hands and chest catch the fourth. His face slides and scrapes across the rest until he tumbles onto the sidewalk. A breathless gasp of pain releases from the depths of his winded stomach, sounding like "Oh-ho-ho-ohh!" His face was burning before; now it sears with agonizing grief. Logan takes no precaution in helping him to stand, only wrenching him with the same violent urgency and pulling him across the road, unwilling to let go until they round the corner and are out of sight of the drug den.

Des no longer needs to fake an injury - he limps all over, everywhere except his left leg. If only he'd wrapped his entire body in duct tape, he'd be invincible. He screams in anguish, his face scorching with fire. He needs to stop and take a beat, take a breath, but Logan keeps on trucking and cursing at him to keep moving.

Jerry never appears during their escape. They make it back to the truck, and Logan starts the engine and peels away from the curb before Des can get his door closed.

Hissing and moaning, Des says, "He's got... my... phone."

"You want to go back for it?" Logan says.

Des sinks back in his seat and debates which part of his body he should place his fingertips to first. With no interior lights in the pickup, he can't look in the mirror and assess the damage to his face, what he calls his money maker. He touches his nose first, finds it wet with blood. Licks the inside of his mouth next and tastes pennies. His smooth, baby-faced cheeks are as coarse as sandpaper. Whatever auditions he's got in the pipeline, he can say goodbye to them for a while.

Logan swerves the truck in and out of traffic, flying by cars every which way, and doesn't slow his roll until he reaches the interstate to merge with the late-night northbound traffic. For the longest time, all Des hears are his own exhalations of torment and Logan's caveman mouth-breathing, until Logan says, "Way to go, Des. There goes my supplier - and your movie money."

Des wipes the back of his hand under his bloody nose. "Is it midnight yet?"


"I've about had enough of this character."

"I've had enough of the both of you," Logan says.

"What now?" Des says.

"Strip club?"

"What about next month's rent?"

Logan looks at him, and within the faint glow of the dash, Des sees an ugly face, livid, savage, and thirsty for violence. Also, just the slightest hint of a smirk.

"Just roll with it," Logan says.


  1. “Role with It” is a goofy-buddy movie of a story about two miscreants, one of them weird and anti-social and the other bat shit crazy. When I was at university, there were fine arts students doing exercises like the one that Des was doing here (of course, we Psych students were busily analyzing everyone else’s psychoses, so we had little to boast about) but none of them were quite as extreme as this guy. I happen to know that this prose was based on a true story; you’d hardly recognize Tom Hanks today, right? Seriously, this was a comical misadventure that could only happen in Albany. I enjoyed it and look forward to reading more about Des and Logan. Good one, Devin!

  2. I was worried the whole time... interspersed with "how stupid!" and the like regarding the choices the characters make. It's told in present tense which is effective. Great job!

  3. I think the author has found the next Abbott and Costello. Even a dead Brando doesn't worry about the competition.

  4. I left a comment earlier but it disappeared. To repeat, I’m amazed this is based on a true story. There was so much suspense in the piece. The choices of the “actor” grew progressively more suicidal. It is a fun and crazy ride!

  5. As others have said Logan and Des are a great double act. I'd like to see more adventures with them in it. The writing is gripping, and the present tense helps with the tension - it's also very filmic and I could see this as a series or film, and as Bill says it would have to be called 'Role With It'. I think you've got a great premise here and definitely worth expanding.

  6. Des is a brilliant character!
    A method actor so invested in his method that he commits to “becoming” a role for a week or more and then commits to whatever adventures (or misadventures) befall him.
    I’d love to read a series of his short stories and/or a novel of a longer adventurer.
    Great job!