I was going out of my mind in this place.
And now, after a long and comfortable silence, Frankie wouldn’t stop talking.
Swallowing pills and shooting up and drinking and talking.
I finally accepted one of his warm beers just to quench my thirst. It went down pretty well so I had a couple more.
Frankie kept talking.
I closed my eyes and just let him go.
“I rented a garage from the old lady that lives next to my mom. I kept my GTO there. 50 bucks a month. She offered it to me for free, but she was getting meals on wheels delivered every day and I felt like I should give her a little something.
And I would cut her grass once in a while and put her trash cans out and shit. She was a nice lady. She was really good to my mom when she got sick.
There was this old fucked up, rusted out, piece of shit Volkswagen Beetle in there that belonged to the lady’s son. One day I was working on my car and she comes out to tell me that her son had died a couple of years earlier and if I wanted the Beetle, I could have it. I thought maybe I’d turn it into like a dune buggy or something, so one day I dragged it out of the garage and I open up the engine compartment and there’s no engine, but there is this old Scooby Doo lunch box wedged in there. So I yank it out and open it up and there’s a fucking loaded Glock 9mm and a kilo of primo heroin staring up at me. A full brick, plus about 50 little 20 dollar bags cut with Similac or whatever and ready for sale.
I was shaking with excitement but then reality hit me. If somebody came looking for this shit, it wouldn’t be hard to put 2 and 2 together and come up with me.
Before I could be comfortable claiming the treasure, I had to find out a little bit about the history of this stash. I asked the old lady some questions.
Nobody else used the garage.
The car had been parked in there for at least 10 years.
Her son was somewhat of a jail bird and fell in with some bad people, and he died a year or so ago from hepatitis.
That made me feel much better.
Not that he died, but that nobody is really looking too hard for this dope…”
He jumped up and ran to the window, peering carefully through the dry and dusty curtains.
“Did you see that?”
I sat up straight as if I wasn’t half asleep, “See what?”
He didn’t answer, just slowly backed away from the window and stood in the center of the room.
Then he started pacing back and forth and resumed his story.
“It wasn’t easy having all that shit around. First of all, I had to keep myself from O.D.ing 24 hours a fucking day and second, I didn’t want to be a drug dealer. Especially smack. I knew there was some good money to be made, but I really wasn’t looking forward to dealing with dope heads, man. A bunch of fucking desperate junkies making plans for my murder and robbery? No thanks. I learned that lesson from Reggie Schwinn. They didn’t call him Reggie Veggie for his dietary philosophy. About 10 years ago, he was dealing coke and some so called friends came over to cop. One of them hit Reggie upside the head with a ball peen hammer for a half ounce of blow. Fucked his shit up good, too. You see the way the left half of his face is kind of droopy? And he stutters and shit and once in a while he seizes out and pisses his pants. It’s fucked up, man. That wasn’t gonna be my fate.
I had that Glock though. That was a nice gun and I was gonna use it if I had to.”
He walked to the window and looked out again.
“So having this kind of weight was bugging me out a little bit. I’m not a fucking drug dealer and I’m not the prison type so this was going to be a tricky process. Besides my girl, nobody knew I actually had the kilo. I put down some story about a dude I met who knows a guy who knows a guy who can get some cheap, high quality heroin. All my junkie friends were interested because they all hated copping on the street in the shittyest neighborhoods in the city and often talked about how cool a local connection would be. I went so far as to go through a whole routine when someone wanted to score. “I don’t know, man. Let me make a phone call.” Or “Good timing, the dude will be here in about fifteen minutes. Let me know what you want and I’ll pick up for you.”
I made up a name for him: Doctor Vine. I made up little stories and anecdotes about the mysterious half Irish, half Chinese, half African smack dealer. And when I realized I could charge more for this really good shit, I just blamed that son of a bitch for raising his prices on me. And since nobody thought I had a lunchbox full of shit, nobody was beating my door down at 4am.”
He took a breath and a long swig of beer.
He looked over at me to make sure I was still following.
I guess he was satisfied, so he continued.
“A fucking kilo. One kilogram. 35 ounces. 1,000 grams.
The first ounce went really fast. I showed incredible will power and I didn’t do more than snort bumps. I was afraid to shoot it. It was so much purer than that street shit, and I had to constantly remind everybody of that fact. Kathy didn’t do so well. She went over to the dark side in a hurry. She O.D.’d on me more than once and finally I had to cut her loose. I gave her an eight ball and five hundred bucks and put her on a bus to Florida with plans to meet six weeks later. Six weeks came and went and… well, you know.
So, long story short, I got over my fear of the needle and ended up completely strung out. But without some of the hassles of the average dope fiend. For one thing, I never ran out of dope.
Good dope. As clean and pure as you’re ever gonna get. I knew exactly what I was putting in my body.
And I always had a couple bucks in my pocket.
But when it ran out, and it finally did, I was in a bad way. Getting hooked on the street shit is one thing. Getting a habit on that kind of purity? Bad news.
Street smack didn’t do it for me, so I ended up chewing pills by the handful. Oxycontin mostly.”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I got up and walked over to where Frankie sat at the table.
I stared at him blankly.
He stopped telling his story.
“Hey, you ok, buddy?”
I took one of his beers without asking and went to the door.
“We’re not supposed to go outside.”
I put my hand on the door knob.
I opened the door and stepped outside. The fresh air felt strange on my face as I gulped it in.
A short path led down the hill to a clearing in the trees where there was a small garden and a bench.
I sat and looked up at the grey sky. A few brave stars burned through.
In my dream I was in Hell. It wasn’t evil and horrible, just really hot.
A loud snap, crackle and pop woke me up. It was hot and my shirt was wet around the collar. A weird light danced across the dark garden. I was a little disoriented and it took me a minute to realize that the cabin was on fire.
I ran up the path to the raging inferno. Orange and yellow waves of flame erupted from the eaves and crashed on the corrugated metal roof above.
I didn’t see Frankie.
I couldn’t get close enough to the cabin to look inside, so I circled around a few times and yelled for him but I didn’t see him anywhere.
I went back to the bench and watched it burn.
The cabin was small and dusty and dry. Everything was super dried out.
The air was dry. The curtains, rugs, furniture, wallpaper and floor boards seemed almost brittle. A stray spark would send this place up like a Christmas tree in March. A thought that raced through my head every time Frankie lit a cigarette with his tarnished, spark throwing Zippo.
There was no TV or radio and I didn’t bring a book. The only reading material was an old Sports Illustrated from the 70s. Yellow and dried out, it fell apart as I tried to read about the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association.
More tinder for my inevitable funeral pyre.
There was nothing else to do but wait.
And listen to Frankie talk.
And talk and talk and talk.
Just when I thought he couldn’t talk anymore, he found an old can of coffee in the kitchen and brewed up a pot. It smelled stale and funky but I nursed a cup. Frankie drained 3 or 4 cups and the talking hit a higher gear.
Pretty soon he was going on about drugs again and I looked over to see him tying up his arm and fixing a shot.
I must have had a weird look on my face because Frankie felt the need to say, “Hey man, take it easy. You knew I got a habit.”
“No, it’s not that.” My eyes were focused on the Zippo lighter, open and flaming and balanced upright on the rickety wooden table.
Frankie ignored me and kept on with his insane conversation. He defended his habit.
“Why was I drawn to this shit in the first place? I don’t know, man. I was born a musician, to musical parents. I was always around musicians and artists, idolized them, mimicked them. They all did drugs of some kind. My old man used to shoot cocaine and wail on his big old baritone sax.”
But what is it about musicians and artists and actors and drugs, man?
They are all fucked up inside somehow. The good ones, anyway. They all need to get out of their heads, you know?
Again, I didn’t answer, and again he went on as if I did.
“Why was I curious about heroin? Why not ask Charlie Parker, Jimmy Page, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, John Lennon, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Jerry Garcia, Slash, William S. Burroughs, Gregg Allman, Steve Earle, John Belushi, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Sid Vicious, David Crosby, Ozzy Osbourne, James Taylor, Steven Tyler, Kurt Cobain, that dude with the big mustache from Three Dog Night and Bela fucking Legosi why they were all curious about heroin?
Think about all of the great music that was written or played by stone cold junkies, man. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, ‘Layla’, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. Those early seventies Rolling Stones albums, the best Stones albums. The Mick Taylor stuff. Mick the T couldn’t hang with Keith in the drug department, but that dude was a nasty guitar player!”
I happened to agree with this last statement and normally would be overjoyed to converse with a fellow music nerd about all of the fascinating details and idiosyncrasies of the various Rolling Stones albums and eras, but I kept silent.
“And speaking of the Taylor Clan, how about James Fucking Taylor?!?! Probably your mom’s favorite, right? Sweet Baby James was smacked out to the gills! Me and my buddy Tommy Tritone seen him at the Greek Theatre or someplace. He was so high that he fell off the stage. Honest to God, he went head first into the orchestra pit.
Look what happened to Guns n Roses. Junkie street punks turned it up and rocked! Then those guys cleaned up and couldn’t be in the same room with each other anymore and the music suffered. They suck without drugs, just terrible!
Think about the evolution of Aerosmith songs: ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’? ‘Love in an Elevator’? Come on! Are you fucking kidding me? That shit was garbage, man. That’s how you knew they were clean, by the shitty music they were making.
‘Draw the Line’, ‘Back in the Saddle’, ‘Sweet Emotion’? That shit was fucking tasty, and that’s back when they here high as shit.
And their version of ‘Come Together’? The ultimate junkie anthem, man. Fucking great.
Heroin made Aerosmith what they were. Heroin was the sixth member of the band! Aerosmith should have changed their name to Heroin. No! better yet, Aerosmith should have become street slang for heroin. ‘Yo, Holmes, I’m looking for a bundle of the Aerosmith’. Ha Ha!!!
But really, what happened to those guys? Did they just get old and give up? In their prime they were lean and mean and they swaggered and staggered and they were shot out and high as fuck and they were America’s coolest band, maybe second to the Ramones, but that’s it!
I’m telling you, it’s the heroin! Because after they sobered up they went soft. It’s a shame really. I kind of wish they could have given us 2 or 3 more classic albums and then flamed out in a blaze of white powder and hard feelings. I mean, I really don’t give a fuck personally about Joe Perry and Steven Tyler’s health. They don’t give a fuck about me. They care about my consumer dollars, sure, but they don’t know me, don’t care to and wouldn’t cross the street to piss on me if I was on fire. So why should I care if their personal lives are a big fucking mess? I don’t have to live with them. Get as fucked up as you need to be boys! Cozy on up to the edge of death and fucking Rock the fuck out in a studio in Morocco or the South of France or whatever. Just gimme a big fat kick ass double album for Christmas!!!
I guess the flip side is Kurt Cobain. Nobody will ever say, ‘Damn, Kurt Cobain. What happened?’ He didn’t stick around long enough to lose his mojo and have to go on tour with an orchestra or do a whole record of Doris Day songs or some other embarrassing shit.
It’s a fine line. A balancing act.”
I just sat there and took it all in. Sleep deprived and buzzing on the shitty coffee.
Then I noticed that it had been quiet for a little while.
(end of Part One)
Four days we walked in the cold rain
Every so often someone dropped off
We were busy with shovels
Burying bodies takes lots of time and energy
The column got shorter and shorter
Twelve made it into town
Twelve ate steak and drank wine and slept in dry beds and vowed revenge against the enemy
55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55
I smelled smoke seconds before the fire truck’s wail
I looked around and saw no smoke or flame
I got on my bike and followed the sirens across the neighborhood
A house was burning down
Vinyl siding melted and dripping
Family huddled under blankets, sobbing
I can’t handle drama
I turned around and rode home
55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55
What was it that brought you around to this religious awakening?
Could it have been when you saw this or did that?
This is my friend the priest
Nice to meet you, come up and see me sometime
Maybe I will
How did you come upon that lost space age civilization?
Television and feature films
55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55
We took the high road
The air was crisp and the sun a pale yellow
My horse was surefooted
I napped in the saddle and woke up eager for entertainment
Not a mile from the gate
A mother and child stood on the roadside
I took her head, sold the baby to a traveling circus
55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55 55
I gave it all to the orphanage
Clothes, furniture, toys
There were some pictures
I burned them
A sheet of notebook paper with a couple dozen names and phone numbers, some written in black pen, some in blue pen or pencil
I put it in my pocket
I took her money and signed the deed
They call Colorado the Grasshopper State.
I don’t know if that’s actually true or not, but in this day and age of omnipresent, hyper-saturated, multiple information streams literally at my fingertips, I have no excuse to be ignorant of such things. I mean really, all I have to do is hit alt-tab and Wikipedia is right there. In five minutes I could give you the complete history of Colorado and sing you the state song to boot, but I’m not going to do that.
If it’s not true then I don’t want to know. I wish it to be true. I believe it into being. It’s true because I want it to be true.
Really, I just thought it would be nice to begin a story with:
They call Colorado the Grasshopper State.
Or they used to.
Maybe the Indians called it that?
Or the Mexicans?
I don’t know. This isn’t about that any of that.
This is a story from New Jersey about death and drugs and sex, and whatever else grabs the kids attention these days…
Joey stood at the top of a 10 foot stall stepladder wrestling with a heavy cardboard box full of books.
“There’s no way these things are less than 50 pounds.”
He said it under his breath, but of course his (possibly bipolar or maybe on meth or steroids) asshole motherfucker of a boss Harry heard him.
“I’m running a fucking warehouse here, not some… pussy boy scout thing!”
He always paused before his big cursing punch line. As if searching for the right blend of anger, degradation and cleverness.
He never came up with anything good.
“If I say we fill a box to 65 pounds, that’s what we do and I don’t wanna hear about it. Quit being a… pussy boy scout.”
For emphasis, and just to be a dickhead, he banged his hand truck into the ladder as he walked by. A big box of hard cover chemistry textbooks (weighing in at about 62lbs) slipped from Joeys grasp. As he instinctively reached out to keep the box from falling, the ladder moved. Joey’s heart jumped and his life flashed before his eyes, ending in a broken, ugly mess on the hard concrete floor.
He abandoned the box in favor of the ladder but his fingertips gave the box a little flip, changing its trajectory ever so slightly.
Joey stabilized the ladder just in time to see the 62 pound box of hard cover chemistry textbooks crash into the back of Harry’s head. It drove his skull into the floor with all the force of the finger of God.
Easy as a child squishing a bug.
It flipped him face down so violently that his feet shot up behind him and Joey saw the soles of his shoes. Followed by the awful sound of flesh and bone on concrete and the metallic clatter of the empty hand truck as it spun away.
And then silence.
Pete finally piped up from behind a pallet stacked high with boxes.
“What in hell was that? Everybody ok?”
Joey was frozen in shock, still grasping the top of the ladder with both hands.
Harry wasn’t saying anything, but if the blood pouring from his shattered face made a noise it would have sounded like the ocean.
Pete came out from behind his stack of boxes and looked up. His smile faded when he saw the look on Joey’s pale face.
“Hey buddy, what’s up? You see a ghost?”
“I think I just made one.”
“Made one what?”
“I think I just made a ghost.”
The two co-workers stood over Harry’s lifeless body, mindful of the blood. His neck was broken and head smashed in. Seeing his familiar features in such grotesquely unfamiliar configurations, and swimming in all of that blood, there was no way that he wasn’t dead. They didn’t check for a pulse or even talk about it. Harry was as dead as it gets.
The silence was heavy.
Besides Harry’s skull, the box had also broken open and there were several copies of the hard cover chemistry textbook scattered in a perfect arc around his head. I wish I had a picture to show you. The way that the bright yellow books contrasted with the deep red blood was beautifully artistic and the composition exquisite. A temporary monument to the sudden violence of science.
Pete opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. He looked at Joey who was still pale and shaky. He put a fatherly hand on the young man’s shoulder and Joey looked at him with flat, dead eyes,
“What are we gonna do?”
Normally, Pete would have come back with, “Whatta you mean WE?!?!” but this wasn’t a cat stuck in the dumpster or an overflowing toilet in the men’s room.
He just looked nervously at his watch and tried again to speak but this time he was cut off by the sudden and unholy racket of the automatic garage door opening. Sunlight poured in to the warehouse followed by the sound and smell of a diesel engine.
The forklift pulled in and stopped, leaving a long shadow that pointed directly to the gruesome scene.
A tall, lanky guy jumped off the forklift and hit the ground at a jog, his frantic shadow bouncing off of still ones. He stopped suddenly at the proper distance.
“What the fuck?”
Todd had half a smirking smile on his face as if he wanted in on the joke. He looked from Pete to Joey and back to Harry. They weren’t smiling.
Pete tried to say something but again he was cut off, this time by Joey who let it all out in a rush of adjectives and pantomime and half sobbed apologies.
When he was done they all looked down at Harry and there was a moment of silence, once again broken by Todd in a less than graceful manner, smirky smile in full bloom,
“I can’t believe I missed it!”
He started to unzip his pants.
“What in hell are you doing?” asked Pete.
“I hated this fucker with a burning passion and now I’m gonna piss on his corpse.”
Pete took a step towards Todd but stopped short of the blood. “Christ in a can, boy! What is wrong with you?!”
“I always said I was gonna do it one day and I figure, you only get one shot at that kinda thing so…”
Todd put himself away and sulked.
Pete walked over to the telephone that hung on the wall, keeping a hard eye on Todd. He picked up the receiver and started to dial.
Pete was thinking out loud. “Should I be dialing 911? It’s not really an emergency. He’s not coming back from that.”
“Call the morgue and a maid!” shouted Todd. Get this mess outta here!”
Pete hung up the phone.
“I think I’ll call the regular number for the police department. I have to go look it up in the office.”
He walked back across the warehouse, keeping his distance from the mess in the middle of the floor.
“Todd, why don’t you give Joey a ride home. I’ll take care of this. I’ll wait for the cops.”
“Won’t they want to talk to me?” said Joey, his eyes fixed on Harry.
“If they do, I’ll let you know
Go home and relax. Have a drink or three. What you saw was terrible and you can’t ever un-see it, but if you need someone to talk to, you can call me.”
“Pete was in Viet Nam, he’s seen way worse. Probably done way worse.” Todd was talking to Pete but looking at Harry.
“Ok Todd, he doesn’t want to hear about that. Now go and get him home safe and I’ll make sure you both get paid for the whole day.”
Pete ejected the CD from the dusty old computer and wrote on it in black Sharpie: BEACH BOYS, DON HENLEY, STING
He put the CD in a paper sleeve and then typed a few things on the keyboard. He watched all of the security camera footage of the accident one last time before erasing it. Then he made a phone call.
“Harvey, it’s me. I got something for you.
…Its best if you come here.
…less than an hour ago.
…The heart stopped at about 10:45 and the soul departed at precisely 11:23:03.
…Yes, I know. It put up a little fight.
…no, I’ll be keeping that. The rest is all yours though.
…there was some blood loss, but that was not the cause of death.
…about 6 feet, average weight, good health as far as I know. Didn’t drink or smoke.
…ok, I’ll see you soon”
He picked up the CD and fanned himself with it.
“And tell Road Dog I got something for him too.”
Riley finally came back with the drinks.
He sat down and pushed a gin and tonic and across the table to his friend.
“So, get back to this story about how you killed a guy.”
“I didn’t kill anybody. I wished a guy dead and he died.”
“Whatta you mean exactly?”
“I dated a girl and I was in love but she dumped me and then married this guy named Stewart. Nice guy and all, kind of a dork, but a decent guy. Made a lot of money as an online stockbroker or something.
And they were that annoyingly happy couple with the perfect life with beautiful intelligent kids, and blah blah blah.
But I couldn’t get over her. I was obsessed.
I couldn’t accept that they would be married forever and that she was unattainable.”
“And your only chance to get her back would be if he was dead?”
But I didn’t kill him. I didn’t have anything to do with his death at all. He went mountain climbing on Denali and had a stroke in the thin air.”
“A stroke? That’s a classic psychic attack. Powerful stuff. You’re pretty good.”
“No, it’s not like I had a voodoo doll or cast a spell. But anyway, that’s technically not what killed him.
He was awake and alert after the stroke but couldn’t walk. A rescue party was bringing him down the mountain and a rope broke and he and another guy fell a thousand feet to the rocks below.”
“So you killed two guys?”
“No! I didn’t kill anyone!”
“But you wished him dead.”
“And him and another guy died?”
“So you did have something to do with his death.”
“It’s just a coincidence, right?”
“I don’t think so. If it’s not your fault, why do you feel so guilty?”
“It’s just coincidence.”
“There’s no such thing. You wished, it came true. Cause and effect, plain as day. Thoughts are things, and a sharp thought can be like a knife.
You killed a guy with a thought knife. Two guys, actually.”
There was a long pause.
“Did you get the girl?”
“Yes and no.
After her husband died she moved back to Columbus, Ohio with her parents.
About 8 months later I had to go to Pittsburgh on business and I got in touch with her and we arranged to meet.
For three days we had a blast and it was like old times.
When we were saying goodbye, she told me that she had a boyfriend back in Columbus and it was getting serious.
I haven’t seen or spoken to her since.”
“Sharpen your thought knife. Maybe you can get rid of this guy too.”
My cousin Jimmy is my Uncle Icepick’s son by his first wife.
Icepick’s third and final marriage was to my Aunt Judy, who is my mom’s sister, which makes Jimmy nothing but a quasi-friend and drug dealer, really.
One day Jimmy called and asked to borrow my car, which means he’s going to Philly to score heroin. Usually he takes a complicated series of buses, trains and subways but sometimes he bums a ride or borrows a car.
I had the day off and I was in a good mood and I knew I shouldn’t have but I let him borrow my car.
For my trouble, he usually gave me a nice bag of weed or a handful pills and I’d get stoned and go to the coffee shop across the street and check out the girls and pretend to read. But this time Jimmy wanted me to wait at his house to sign for a FedEx delivery.
I was 99 percent sure it was going to be drugs, just not sure what.
Jimmy’s life was drugs, his business was drugs. His bedroom closet was like a little pharmacy.
If you wanted it Jimmy had it: weed, acid, mushrooms, cocaine, Vicoden, hash and Valium. Sometimes he would get ecstasy or opium, and if you didn’t mind paying extra or having your bag pinched, he would cop some smack for you in the city. He also owned two vicious and stinky ferrets and took them to different veterinarian’s offices so he could steal ketamine (special K) and whatever else he could get his hands on. He kept all of his drugs in a big plastic tackle box with all of the various pills and substances neatly stored in the little compartments.
Jimmy was old school in a lot of ways and he weighed everything on an old high school chemistry class triple beam scale.
There was probably a hundred dollars’ worth of white powder just caked and crusted on that old scale. Jimmy always had good pot, but often there would be a little bonus, a sweet spot where some coke or smack or animal tranquilizer or who fucking knows what had rubbed off on the herb.
I had an hour or two to kill in Jimmy’s shitty little house. He didn’t own a television or much of anything really. Everything worth any money had been pawned. All the money he made selling drugs he spent on more drugs.
He did have a vintage 1960’s hi-fi stereo system and a pretty good record collection, so I spent a little while listening to scratchy old Captain Beefheart and Little Feat albums while browsing through a stack of ancient National Geographic magazines.
There was a knock on the back door. Must be the FedEx package, I thought. I opened the door and there she was.
It was kind of weird.
“Are you looking for Jimmy?”
“It’s OK, Jimmy is my cousin. Come on in.”
She came inside and it was still weird. Then she looked me in the eye and said in a hushed and concerned tone, “Please tell me you’re not here for pills.”
“No, no. Jimmy had to go out for a little bit and he’s expecting a Fed Ex delivery so he asked me to hang out for a while.
Jimmy’s the guy I was telling you about. My medicine man.”
“He’s the guy I was telling you about!”
We laughed and she reached out and touched my arm.
(Good body language. Positive touch. Eye contact. Medical grade marijuana.)
In the living room, we sat on the floor and started going through Jimmy’s records.
“Jimmy has great taste in music”, she said.
I had to agree.
We talked about favorite songs and bands and albums and sampled Jimmy’s collection. A few minutes went by before she asked, “So… where exactly is Jimmy anyway?”
“I don’t know… well I kind of know but I don’t really know, you know?”
“Yeah, I think I know.”
She pried off her shoes and got comfortable.
I produced a fat joint and a lighter and offered them to her. “Ladies first.”
“Oh, no, she said, “you get it going. Whenever I light up a joint it always burns down one side and everybody gets mad at me.”
“When it canoes”? I asked.
“Yeah, you know, when it just burns down one side and gets all lopsided and hard to smoke. Wait, what did you say?”
“We always called that canoeing.”
“Canoe? like the boat?”
“Yeah, it burns the top part and leaves the bottom kind of burned out like a canoe.”
“I can see that. That makes sense.”
“Remember that Robert Plant song, ‘Burning Down One Side’? I always hear that song in my head when that happens.”
“I wonder if that’s what they were talking about? Burning down one side of a joint?”
“Maybe. That was a pretty cool song. Remember ‘Big Log’?”
“Was Robert having trouble with song titles?”
“Sounds like it.”
We smoked and laughed and continued making small talk, which became sillier and sillier as the joint got smaller and smaller with generous helpings of “no way!” And, “I forget what I was just saying”.
High as a kite, the awkwardness was gone and it felt nice to spend time with Alice in a non-professional setting.
Between the stoned rambling and laughter, she did ask a few questions about my health and recovery but for the most part I was finding out more about her. Besides being a physical therapist, she was studying religious art at the community college and for some reason she was really into bands from Minneapolis:
Husker Du, the Replacements, Prince and the Revolution, the Jayhawks, Babes in Toyland.
How could I argue?
She also liked old books, good weed and hopefully not Jimmy.
She was telling a story about travelling to Europe and I was feeling nice and relaxed when the front doorbell rang. She froze mid-sentence and we stared at each other like a couple of panic stricken stoners.
I whispered, “None of Jimmy’s people use the front door. Everybody knows that.”
Then I remembered why I was there in the first place.
Again we laughed and then…
I suddenly remembered that I really wasn’t too keen on this whole operation to start with-and suddenly i felt even more paranoid-and the place reeked of pot-and it’s the home to a minor league drug king pin-and…
Alice noticed my hesitation and the doorbell rang again followed by three strong knocks.
“Should we get that?” She asked.
(She said “we”. Another positive sign)
“Uhhh yeah.” I opened the door and checked out the FedEx guy. He wore mirrored shades and had a crew cut. A set up for sure. He handed me his little computer thingy and I scribbled a fake name.
Can you spell your last name for me?
I forgot what I scribbled.
This was it, the bust was happening. Fifty cops ready to storm the house.
“Ummm, Johnson. J-O-H-N-S-O-N.”
“That’s supposed to be a J?”
Why wasn’t I being handcuffed?
“Yeah, Johnson with a J.”
He gave me a sideways look as he typed it into his keypad, then handed me the package.
I watched him get in his truck and pull away, nothing happened. I scanned the area for s.w.a.t. teams and black helicopters, saw none and ducked back inside without incident.
The box was small and kind of heavy. Too heavy and too small to be just herb. Maybe hash? If it was cocaine, it was a lot.
Or maybe it wasn’t drugs at all, maybe it was books or coffee beans. Or ferret paraphernalia. A replacement part for his mini-bike maybe. But it was probably drugs.
I’m pretty sure he didn’t have a mini-bike.
I put the package on the kitchen table and we sat down. We resumed our conversation, but I was distracted by what might be in the box.
After a few minutes, Alice went into the bathroom and I gave the box a thorough inspection.
The handwritten return address of Ben Dover, 222 Shoe Avenue, was obviously fake. I wondered how the sender could be so careless as to attract the slightest bit of attention to such a package.
I shook it, I sniffed it, I weighed it in my hand, about two or three pounds I figured.
I don’t know, I’m not good at estimating weight.
Wait, isn’t that about equal to a kilo? I can never remember metric conversions either.
Alice returned and we talked some more and I wondered aloud what was taking Jimmy so long when the phone rang with a rude clatter.
After four rings, the answering machine picked up. Jimmy’s whiny voice says, “Heyyyyy!!! Its Jimmy!!! Dude if you’re still there, pick up. It’s really important. This is my one phone call, come onnnn!!!
I knew I shouldn’t have but I picked up the phone.
“Dude I got picked up picking up. I need you to come bail me out.”
“With what? I’m broke.”
“There’s a shoe box full of money under my bed. Bring three grand. No! Thirty-five hundred.
I’m in the city jail on 66th street.”
“How am I supposed to get there? You have my fucking car!”
“Take the train.”
“The station is over a mile away! It’s fucking raining! Isn’t there somebody else that can get you out?”
“Nobody I trust with that money, man. I fucking trust you dude, you’re family.”
“We aren’t, really, i mean…”
“Come on, dude! Call someone for a ride or something. I need to get out of here and cop a.s.a.p. or I’m gonna get sick. I’m freaking out over here! Please dude.”
“O.k. ok. I’ll get there somehow.”
“Aww, thanks man. You’re the best.”
“All right, all right. Where’s my car?”
“Yeah… about that…”
“Where’s my car, Jimmy?”
“Um… dude they impounded your car.”
“And threw your keys down a storm drain.”
“What the fuck, dude?! “
“They said it would be $150 plus $60 a day to get it out.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Jimmy!”
“I’m sorry man. I’ll make it up to you.”
“Did that, uhh… thing show up?”
He turned suddenly hostile. “The reason you’re at my fucking house, asshole! Did you sign any fucking autographs recently?!”
I don’t know why, but I said, “No.
No, it didn’t get here yet.”
“Shit! Goddamn! All right, shit!
I’m gonna be sick soon. You gotta hurry. But the package is really important too.”
“Well whatta you want me to do?”
“Wait twenty minutes and then come. No! fifteen.”
I hung up the phone and told Alice what was going on and she offered to drive me to the city.
“I don’t know. I should let him fucking rot. He got my car towed and lost my keys, then called me an asshole.”
“You have a spare key, right?”
“That was my spare. I lost my keys a couple of months ago and never got a new one made. It’s gonna cost me $250 plus whatever a locksmith costs. And I’m fucking broke.”
“I can lend you some money if you want.”
“Come on, really. I can’t take your money, we hardly know each other.”
“I see you all the time at P.T.”
“Maybe I’m really ‘so long sucker!’ kinda guy.”
“No, you’re good for it. You’re a good guy.”
(now I’m trustworthy and good, too?!)
“Maybe I was just acting like a nice person to get into your pants.”
“Lucky for me I’m wearing a skirt.”
“Look, you came over here to pick up something, right? I mean, please tell me that you didn’t just come over here to hang out with that asshole. Or worse…”
“Let him get into my skirt?”
“Don’t be gross. Jimmy is a train wreck. No, I just came to pick up some weed.
He’s got the best medicinal stuff around and that’s it. That’s all I have going on with Jimmy.”
“How do you know him?”
“My best friend Betsy used to date Jimmy. That’s how I met him.”
“Oh yeah! I remember her. Ew, that got ugly.”
She was with him pretty much just for the drugs, then after a while she got a little fucked up and he was really rotten to her and they broke up. So now I have to score for her.”
“I hate that asshole.”
“Everybody hates Jimmy. I usually bring someone with me when I come over. He’s so creepy. He’s hinted a few times about trading sex for drugs.
But he’s so gross, there’s no way I ever would. Gross or not, I mean… drugs just aren’t that important to me.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
Alice followed me upstairs to Jimmy’s bedroom. She sat on the edge of the bed as I located the shoe box among the dust bunnies and stray socks under the bed and opened it. It was full of money alright. Mostly ones and fives. I counted it. There was 172 American dollars and 100,000 Japanese Yen. Not enough to bail out Jimmy but almost enough to have a key made and get my car out of impound. Maybe I could get some sushi in the city with the yen.
There was also a yellowed piece of heavy paper, folded in half.
I took it out and looked at it. It was a map drawn in a cartoony style, with writing across the top and down the left side.
It looked like a treasure map.
I put it back into the box and threw it on the bed.
Then I pulled Jimmy’s mobile pharmacy out of the closet and sat next to Alice.
What did you need?
Well, just the weed, but… geez! what’s he have in there?
I grabbed a generous handful of sticky buds and put it in a sandwich baggie and tossed it at her.
“This seems like something Jimmy does when he wants to have sex with me. I’m not having sex with you for this, am I?”
“No, it’s on the house.”
“I can’t do that.”
“OK, OK you can have sex with me if it’ll make you feel better.”
“Come on, you know what I mean. I can’t steal from Jimmy.”
“You’re not stealing anything. I’m stealing from Jimmy, and giving it to you.”
“And who are you? The Robin Hood of drugs?”
“Look, Jimmy’s jammed up big time. This makes the fourth or fifth time since last summer that he’s been arrested. I think he’s still on probation, so he’s probably going to jail for a while.
He doesn’t have the money to make bail or get my car out of impound. This box of contraband is all he has that’s worth anything, so by turning some of it into cash, maybe I can at least get my car back.
Need anything else? Want some coke?”
“Never touch the stuff. And you shouldn’t either!
I really just came for the weed but… are those THC lollipops?’
Alice grabbed the bag of taffys and took a deep sniff.
“Mmmmm, sure are.”
“OK, I’ll take ’em.”
“We could split them.”
I pulled out all of the various baggies and pill bottles. Alice was amazed at the depth and breadth of Jimmy’s arsenal.
I pocketed a whole bottle of ten milligram Valiums.
“I feel bad about this.”
“He’ll never know you were here.”
“Let me pay for the something. I’ll just leave the money and a note on the bed.”
“I’m telling you, he won’t be back to collect it. And if by some miracle he doesn’t rot in jail, he’ll know you were here and think you had something to do with what I’m doing.”
“What are you doing anyway?”
“I don’t know yet.”
I put everything back in the tackle box, including the treasure map and closed it up.
I sat next to Alice on the bed. “Can I ask you a huge favor?”
“Is there a safe place you can put this for a couple days?”
Her smile faded a little bit and she suddenly seemed uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry. Forget I asked.”
“No, no. Its just, um… wow! That’s a whole lot of trouble right there.”
“You’re right, its crazy of me to even ask.”
There was an uncomfortable silence. She took a deep breath.
“I’m a licensed health care professional, I don’t dress like a hippie, my hair is clean and free of dreadlocks and my car is new and free of political and band stickers.
I don’t have a criminal record or any points on my license.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry.”
“No dummy, I’m saying that I’m perfect for the job. No cop would dream of asking me to open my trunk. I’m in on the caper.”
I put Jimmy’s stash box and the Fed Ex package in the trunk of Alice’s car. She dropped me off at the impound lot and we made plans to meet later.
She kissed me for luck. My face was starting to hurt from smiling so much.
According to the patch on his greasy mechanic’s shirt, the guy that ran the impound lot was named Clancy. He had one weird, solid white eye and I couldn’t stop looking at it. He smelled like old cigar and wet dog.
It turned out that the cops didn’t toss my keys in the sewer. Jimmy was high and crazy and delusional so who knows?
I got in my car and it smelled like Clancy. I put all the windows down and drove to the jail where I asked the desk sergeant for the details.
Jimmy got popped with a deck of heroin in a school zone, then fought with the cops on the street and again at the jail. He kicked one of them in the balls after he promised to calm down and cooperate. The cop had a vasectomy about a week before and was less than a good sport about it. The officer went to the hospital, not for his swollen junk but for the fractured hand that he broke on Jimmy’s skull.
Besides possession in a school zone and assaulting an officer, they piled it on with multiple charges of intoxicated in public, disorderly conduct, making terroristic threats, etc. etc.
He needed ten grand in cash to get out or stay in jail until his court date. Murderers get out for less.
The desk sergeant started talking about bail bonds but I stopped him.
“I’m not here to get him out.”
He asked me if I wanted to see him. I said no, but asked him to describe Jimmy’s new face. He smiled at me and said, “He’s ugly with walnuts now.”
I had no idea what that meant but it sounded funny and I laughed and walked out of the police station.
I never saw Jimmy again.
He did 18 months in jail and died of liver failure a few years later.