I drove across town last night for the first time in weeks. I had been doing that a lot, going to the bar before I scored as if trying to prove that I’m really all right — a bar guy not a fuckin’ addict. Just, you know, maybe a little sad.
Lately I’ve had some ready cash, so I have been staying in. Having it delivered. Junkie takeout. I was waiting for Teemu, top of my supplier A list, when I decided to head over to the bar. I used to read my work over there in the old days, when there was work, before all the hours of every day went away in the smoke. I still had the car so I left. I called Teemu as I drove and told him I would be back in a couple of hours. He said it was all good; he was just getting it together anyway.
I meant to go along Broadway but without thinking too much about it, I hooked a left on First and stopped in McDonald’s for a coffee to go. I used to score in the parking lot in the old days but times had changed even if the clown face in the window was still the same man-in-the-moon gargoyle he had always been. Scared me every time. I couldn’t imagine what it did to kids but then again I had eaten there so I figure old Clownie boy had just eaten his first Happy Meal.
It was raining like it always does and the whole place was soft around the edges. The coffee was lousy like always and I was scanning the lot for old friends. I saw a familiar Malibu pulling out just as I went over that way so I was stuck with the original plan. I pulled out, spinning the tires on the slick pavement, irritated that I missed the hit, irritated that I wanted to score, irritated that I was down and generally pissed at the whole thing. I crossed Main in a foul mood and it didn’t get any better when I saw where I was.
When you cross Main you hit Terminal, named for the railway terminal that stands at the head of the street. Once the terminus for a breathtaking cross continental journey it stands nearly empty, hunkered down, waiting for renewal like the faded city works sign says. It’s been saying that for ten years, maybe more. Once it was a sign of better times but the truth was the whole neighborhood was long gone and had been for almost 50 years.
Life had never been easy down here and it had only gotten worse as the factories and warehouses emptied out and moved out of town. Down here along the tracks the factories are closed, the greenchain is shut down, the windows are broken; it is the size of things down, a grand scale of ruin that remains to remind us of the smokestack fundamentals that once made this town one of the busiest resource ports in the world.
The buildings may have been closed but they were alive with the walking dead and the wanna-be hipsters looking to score. Every junkie in the city knew that the doors are never closed, that anyone could check in but, like the song said, very few could ever leave. A 24-four-a-day pharmacy and hotel, a warehouse filled with liquidators selling the remnants of lost dreams, auctioning off innocence at ten bucks a rock. You could crash here and stay dry and you could stay as long as your money or your stash held out. The police came here under protest and nobody was keeping score unless you owed them cash or dope and then it was a race between your dealer and the coroner. In the end they both won.
I figured I would find Teemu in here since I knew he sometimes scored here. I pulled into the lot behind the building. The air was filled with the smell of the harbor and the fishing docks, of oil tankers and lumber barges and piss was everywhere. The rain came down in straight sheets out of a black metal sky. It was going to be a bad night. I saw Frenchy coming out and asked him if he had seen Teemu. He shook his head as he went past.
I used to deal with Frenchy all the time but his stuff was shit and his prices were lousy. We argued about it and he told me “dat if you don like it, you fuck off.” Which I did. Teemu probably wasn’t there though; Frenchy was afraid of him and he wouldn’t lie about it if it meant that Teemu would lose business. A guy needed to have ethics, right?
The truth was Frenchy and I were heading toward a showdown since one of his girls was living in my house and wasn’t tricking anymore. Frenchy wasn’t her pimp but he was her main supplier and he made a lot of money from sales to her clients. If she wasn’t working that was a dent in the cash flow and what made it worse was that he liked her, as much as any dealer likes a hooker, and thought I was “no good” for her.
It was true of course but not for the reasons he thought. Now wasn’t the time but we both knew some kind of junkies’ OK Corral thing was coming. My problem was that he was a killer or so it was rumored and I was a junkie with a fast pipe and no moves to speak of. If it came down to real I was going to need to figure something out in a hurry.
It was getting on and I was getting wet. I decided that I was going to the bar and would wait on Teemu. It wasn’t on me real bad for the moment and besides a draft with a Jack back would ease the edge. I went over the trestle bridge that hid a world of its own but not for me. At least not then. I made the bar in five minutes, hit the rail and was into the second Jack when I heard Teemu saying, “Hey bro’, we got to talk.”
I grabbed my drink and we headed off to the hallway. He told me that he wants me to do him a favor. I look at him like he’s nuts. I’m a customer not a player, I told him. He said, Yeah, that’s true but that’s why he needs me.
I said, “Hey, I am barely out of harm’s way as it is.”
He said,” Look it’s just a ride.”
“What do you mean a ride?”
“There’s this guy I know who needs a ride.”
“Not for me, Tee,” I said.
“Look he’s clean, no drugs. It’s a political thing. He’s not from here.”
“Oh, fuck, Teemu, what are you talking about? Where’s he from, fuckin’ Columbia?”
“No that ain’t it. Look we got to get out of here. I’ll meet you at the bridge in 30.”
And with that, he’s gone.
I was back at the bar with another drink and thinking about what just happened. Teemu wasn’t a bad guy if you overlooked the fact he was a crack cocaine dealer. He didn’t use, kept fair count, didn’t get heavy and had a brain. How he got to the street and why he did what he did is probably a penetrating look into American capitalism in the 90s but he didn’t appear to be crazy. We used to talk about what I was doing there but that would have to wait for another time.
I had to admit I was curious as to what he wanted. And it didn’t take but a minute for to figure out that if I could work it out then maybe Teemu would help me solve my Frenchy problem.
I left the bar and headed towards the “Bridge”. It sat astride the railyards. If the last gaspers didn’t make the pharmacy on factory row, the bridge was the next stop. And more likely than not, the last stop. I’d been down there when there was nowhere else to score. I figured it was safer in the open. Dopers have an amazing calculus when they’re out of dope, when the sickness is on them, knowing that they need something now. I always believed the romance that junkies were fallen angels, had danced the Nutcracker, were just down on their luck, a day or two away from getting their “shit” together.
Mostly though, they stole my wallet and my drugs and then they helped me look for them. That’s what angels do. I went back more than twice. Tonight I just kept driving. Of course, it was still pretty early.
At the top of the hill there was a hotel called The Royal Arms. It was an old four story brick structure that sat solid on the corner even though it had seen better days. It could’ve used paint, some light bulbs in the sign and maybe a whole new clientele. I was sitting at the light when I noticed two figures in a third story window. One of them bent down to open the window while the other came up behind her and embraced her from behind.
I couldn’t really tell if they were both women or a man and a woman. Not that it mattered. As the light changed they spun off in dance, heads thrown back. I could almost hear them laughing. The wind caught the curtains and they billowed out into the night air, mixing with the mist, clouds rolling across childhood’s sky, a moment, expectant, a held breath. The corner was a harsh place, unforgiving of the innocent and fallen alike but even so the picture felt like love beginning, like refuge. Like time out.
It struck me as the light changed that I might get home without making the calls, that tonight the beast would sleep and I might get a free pass. It didn’t happen often these days.
I said to hell with it and drove home by the Southside route. Didn’t meet up with Teemu. When I pulled up to my house I noticed that the tree in the yard had little green buds. I don’t suppose that it meant anything but as I went into the house and past the telephone on the desk I remembered the dancers in the window. I passed the phone by, got into bed and went to sleep for awhile.
Later, the phone rang. It was 6:30 and the rain seemed to be leaking from the usual iron gray morning sky. I was happy to hear from him. I hadn’t met up with him but he didn’t seem pissed. Hell , I was his first sale of the day. You know what they say, ain’t no free lunch, ain’t no free pass. Last night was gone and it was all beginning again.
I didn’t know then that by the time it was over I would find a world of hurt unlike any I had ever known; a frozen hell where angels weep and saints are a ten-dollar rock away. The place where the lucky ones died while the rest of us lived with the sure and certain knowledge that death was waiting impatiently, working steady, leaving no trace of what came before; a modern Inferno, one broken body, one lost innocent at a time.
“warten mit farden” pixelspin @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
“Dark angel” pixelspin @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.