A Tom Boyle Mystery by Alec Cizak
I’d snagged action shots of a yuppie from Noblesville stepping out on his wife. The wife paid cash. A thousand bucks. Offered a little nookie on top. Good-looking woman. Mid-thirties. Green eyes. Wore a tight violet dress like they’d invented the color for her. Quoted Dorothy Parker a lot. I declined her generous gratuity. She questioned my allegiance to the home team. I let her ego run with it. She didn’t need another swipe at her confidence.
Truth is, I love women.
But I love heroin more.
Once the dope from that gig metered, I scraped together some change helping a chump from Greenwood drive Kodak nails into his matrimonial coffin. Headed to College Avenue to see Huey, my personal pharmacist. Parked my Buick on Broadway. Major bummer when I arrived. Left side of his duplex, one of those Amityville Horror joints with two windows peeping from the attic, had a For Rent sign taped to the mailbox. I knocked on the screen door to the other half of the house. Asked a light-skinned young woman in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre shirt hanging below her naked thighs if she knew what had happened.
“They took him away.”
“Black rubber bag.”
News of someone your age feeding worms takes a few kicks to get past the ears. Especially when it’s someone you’ve known since grade school. Huey, in addition to being a reliable dopeman, had been a friend. An old friend. The kind you don’t treasure until it’s too late. “Excuse me?” I said.
She said, “Me and Puddles watched from the sidewalk. You could see into the living room. Dudes, EMTs, I guess, dressed like Michael Myers, you know? But without the mask. Or maybe Jason, after he became a zombie, you know? Anyway, they beat on his chest, trying to wake him. Cops called in two guys in nice shirts and jackets. They took pictures, took notes. Made jokes. I didn’t find them funny. They couldn’t fit him into a normal-sized bag. Had to call for a bigger boat, so to speak. That’s what a cop on the sidewalk told me. Then she told me to go back inside and mind my own business.” The young woman’s cat, a black and white number with a Charlie Chaplin mustache, leapt onto her shoulders. “Four men carried him to the wagon.”
Well, that sounded like Huey. Making himself a nuisance, even in death. We used to hang out in public, wasted. Anybody coming off uptight, giving us a sneer, looking down their snouts? Huey’d give them a sentence or two. He’d sniff under his arms. Pick his nose. Make them blush. Nudge their focus elsewhere.
“Any ideas,” I said, “on how he cashed out?”
“Big guy like that?” The young woman let the cat pitter-patter down her arm and into her hands. “Pretty sure it was a heart attack.”
“You recall when it happened?”
Her eyes probed the ceiling. “Easter,” she said. “It was Easter. Puddles busted a ceramic ashtray the night before, while I was cooking. Knocked it off the kitchen counter. I made that ashtray for my mom when I was in high school. I could have strangled her. I was so mad at her.” Before she shut the door, she said, “Were you ah, looking?” She pantomimed jabbing a needle into her arm.
“Why do you ask?”
In fact, I did need a fix. To distract the yearn, I drove downtown to the library on Penn. Computer stations crowded the center of the periodicals room. A formaldehyde odor buttressed the scents of homeless men and women zombied to the screens. Oak shelves lining the walls stored archived copies of The Indianapolis Star. I flipped through an edition from the day after Easter. No picture of Huey on the obituaries page. Just a thin paragraph between ads for Hardee’s and Kohl’s:
Hugues “Huey” Robert McDowell, 41, passed away April 4, 1999. On Thursday April 8, there will be a visitation from 6 p.m.~8 p.m. at Haverford Mortuary Chapel. Burial services will be on Friday at noon.
The paper didn’t mention Huey’s mother, who’d checked out two years earlier. No next of kin, apparently. No quotations from friends or family. A man who’d provided artificial escape for Butler-Tarkington’s doomed and desperate for two decades. A saint.
I heard my father’s voice:
Nobody said life’s fair.
He carted out that bumper sticker any time he etched crimson streaks across my back with his fancy leather belt. “You got to learn,” he’d say, huffing and puffing, belt hissing like a viper, “there are consequences for bad decisions.”
What bad decision had Huey made? He’d earned quite the consequence.
I doubled back to the mortuary near Broad Ripple High School. Spoke with a young woman named Koko. Jeans skirt and a spaghetti-red turtleneck. She opened a file cabinet covered with magnets from national parks. “You guys don’t use computers?” I said.
“No plans to.” She whisked summer blonde hair from her eyes. “I don’t know if you’ve heard,” she said. “Whole system’s going to crash on New Year’s. Whammo bammo, socko poof! A blink, and back to the stone age, my friend. Lickety-split. And not the good kind.”
I said, “How’s it going to crash if you don’t even have one?”
“All the computers are going to crash.” She pulled a manila folder from the drawer. “Water, electricity, the whole grid. Kaput. Brokesville. R2-D2 nothing but a trashcan.” She walked to the counter. Showed me the only item inside the folder. A carbon receipt stapled to a work order. “Looks like they planted your friend in Crown Hill. Must be some sweet cabbage shaking off the family tree.”
I got a peek at the signature on the receipt. Shannon something. Couldn’t make out the last name. “Sounds like the twenty-first century’s going to suck.”
“Why wouldn’t it?” The young woman returned the folder to the file cabinet.
“Government’s been closing in since they capped those Nazis in Idaho. Boom boom, sorry for your loss, Cletus. They burned up those religious freaks in Texas, let them know exactly who’s in charge of Armageddon. You think some twinkle-dick from Michigan took a bite out of that building in Oklahoma on his own? Come on, man. You see that stupid look in his eyes? That’s no mastermind, let me tell you. And those dingleberries who shot up that school in Colorado last week? Trench coat mafia? No-ho-ho. More like trench coat morons. It’s all Uncle Sam, my friend. Prepping us for the big lockdown. Notice how they got everybody hankering for safety, security?”
“Sure.” I had no idea. I didn’t watch the news. I didn’t have a computer. Didn’t care for the Internet. Had no intention of buying one of those portable phones I’d spotted yuppies yapping on while they drove their SUVs on the highway. Maybe Koko knew something. Maybe technology existed for the sole purpose of toppling civilization.
“That’s how they’re going to turn normal upside down,” said the young woman. “That’s how they’re going to break dance all over our freedoms.”
“Freedoms?” Oh, the optimism…
I enjoyed few spots in town more than Crown Hill. A cemetery bigger than a golf course. You could walk among the dead for hours. I angled the Buick into a spot near the business office, a red-bricked number one might confuse for an old train station. Inside, a codger in suspenders and spectacles wide as drink coasters hobbled to the counter. “What can I do you for?” The sound of an agitated AM radio preacher grated under the buzz of a space heater.
“Looking for a specific grave.” I gave him the name. He disappeared into a back room and returned with a black three-ring binder. Took his time rolling one laminated page after another.
Finally, he pressed his finger to the plastic covering an entry for my deceased pharmacist and friend:
“Looks like he’s in the Welker mausoleum.”
“What’s that mean?”
The old man adjusted his yellow bowtie. “Was I putting nickels on the matter, I’d wager he was hooked in with the Welker family. Yes sir, that’s how I’d call it.”
“Who decides who gets put into a mausoleum?”
“Another family member, I reckon.” He said he couldn’t tell me who’d signed off on burying Huey with one of the wealthiest clans in the city. “Official words ain’t always public words, young fellow,” he said.
Two years away from forty, and this fossil called me young. Nice.
I negotiated a maze of tombstones near the cemetery’s gothic chapel. Jagged spires pointed at the gray sky. The Welkers stored their dead under a marble dome. The names of their ancestors, carved into a stone tablet posted near the heavy, brass door. Huey’s had been chiseled in a different font below several others awaiting their dates of departure:
James Danforth Williams
Beatrice Elaine Welker
Shannon Elizabeth Welker
Ronald Daniel Ward
Meghan Elizabeth Welker
I needed to hear a professional tell me Huey’s death could not have been avoided. I cruised south on Meridian, to the city-county building. Left the Buick at the market across the street. A girlfriend from the days my libido functioned worked for the coroner. Felicia Hill. She grew up in the same neighborhood as Huey. I snuck in a side door. Hurried down concrete steps to the frigid basement.
“You…” she said when she saw me. Her white coat, jeans peeking from underneath, and canvas sneakers should have made her look ordinary. The uniform couldn’t hide the fire in her almond eyes.
“Why didn’t you tell me Huey passed?” I said.
“Figured you knew.”
“You see the report?”
“Huey was a dope fiend,” she said.
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“His lifestyle answers your question.” She beckoned with her finger, directed me to follow her into a room lined with metal, industrial shelves. “He couldn’t take a walk every now and then, get his big butt into shape? I’m surprised his heart lasted this long.” She rifled through files crammed onto the shelves. Studied a few manila folders before pulling one bearing Huey’s legal name. I reached for it. She slapped my hand. Opened the folder. Spoke as she read. “Heroin, surprise. Cocaine, surprise. And…Xanax. Lots of Xanax, apparently. Says here he did not have a prescription. Again, surprise…”
“It’s for anxiety.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know what it is. I’m trying to figure out how a pro like Huey would make a mistake like that.”
“He messed up.” A hint of her peach-scented perfume hovered between us. “It happens.”
I nodded. Not that I agreed with her. I didn’t want to alarm her. The city dismissed Huey’s demise as a cardiac episode induced by obesity and narcotics. Misadventure, they called it.
I sat in the Buick, idling in a White Castle parking lot, munching thirty-five-cent burgers. Wallpaper jazz on the UIndy station droned from the car’s tinny speakers. Couldn’t think of one junkie to call. Had I counted on Huey spending the rest of his life peddling heroin? I’d gotten complacent. Expected things to stay the same.
Huey’s neighbor had asked if I needed anything. I’d reached the point in dope sickness where risk didn’t exist. No concern of getting tossed over the wall if the young woman turned out to be a narc. I put the Buick in gear. Gobbled the remaining sliders on the journey north.
It took the young woman a moment to get to the door. She stared at her feet. Scratched her arms. Tell-tale signs of a habit in bloom. “What we talked about,” I said, “before I left this morning. You remember?”
She stepped aside. Unfurnished living room. Just a hardwood floor with a mini-boombox on a windowsill. The meandering, sludge-infused disharmony of Hole polluted the air. In the corner, a sleeping bag lay open. A smudged spoon and lighter occupied a dinner plate near an empty fireplace. The young woman rested her palms on her hips. “So,” she said, “you need it, or what?” She said she’d hook me up if I bought her a square. She said, “You got a car?” I pointed to my Buick, parked down the street. She spit half a laugh. “That thing still runs?”
“It’s only fifteen years old.”
She dialed a phone attached to the wall in the kitchen. Dirty pots, pans, and plates cluttered the counters. More evidence she’d just started using; no junkie would spend so much energy making food. As she waited for the person on the other end to pick up, she cupped the handset and said, “Sorry about the mess. Looks like Cujo tore through here.” A lethargic voice on the other end said hello. “Hey,” she said into the handset. “It’s M. You seen Lawrence?” After hanging up, she scooped her cat off the floor. “Puddles goes with us, just so you know.”
I followed her to my car. Opened the passenger door for her. As I fired up the Buick, the young woman fiddled with her seat belt. “The catch,” I nodded at the broken buckle on her side of the seat, “long gone.”
“You know,” she said, “they’re getting ready to pass a law about this.”
“Maybe that’ll convince me to fix it.”
“Or get a new car.” She stroked Puddles’s neck.
She guided me to a joint on Winthrop. Another duplex. One-story. Puke green. We could have walked. I said so. She said, “I’d get tired of carrying Puddles.”
“Maybe you could leave the cat at your place?”
“Are you crazy?”
I parked a block from the house. The young woman complained. Suggested her arms might tire from lugging an animal the size of a small purse. I said, “Never leave your car in front of a dope dealer’s house. If the cops are watching, they’ll snap a picture, make a note.”
“I guess.” She held the cat over her shoulder, like a mother burping a baby.
We dodged broken glass on fractured concrete leading to the front door. Guy named Andy answered. Hippie. Orange, shoulder-length hair. Grateful Dead T-shirt. “You Huey’s friend?”
“Since time began,” I said.
He let us in. Dark living room. Shades barely slit. Shag carpet stained every color in the crayon box. Reeked of bong water and patchouli. He introduced his wife, a petite blonde in torn denim shorts and a long-sleeved flannel. “This is Julie. We’re married, unofficially.” He pointed at a tattoo of a grinning skull drawn around his ring finger.
Julie struggled to lift her head. No danger of her being a cop. At least, not an honest one.
“What’re you searching for, bro?” said Andy.
“Something for M…correct?” We both looked at Huey’s neighbor.
“That’s right,” she said. “Everybody calls me M.”
“And if I could get one, that’d be great,” I said. “And a few for the road.”
“No sweat.” Andy chiseled a tiny brick on a plate. “You still snorkeling?” he said to M.
Andy prepared a syringe with the needle removed. Passed it to the young woman. She tilted her head and let the liquid drip into her nostrils. She pinched her nose, forcing the drug to seep into her capillaries. Huey’d taught me that routine when I started using heroin.
“Only a matter of days,” Andy said to her. “You’ll be plugging your veins like the rest of us.”
“And be all Night of the Living Dead?” she said. “No thanks.”
“Clean rocket’s an extra five bucks,” he said to me. I told him that would be fine. I didn’t bring my kit. Sure didn’t want to catch AIDS from a hippie. He removed the orange cap from a new syringe. Cooked some dope, drew it into the needle, and handed it to me.
Things equalized as I lifted my shirt and found a greenish patch on a cable running up the side of my stomach. I let my head rest for the first time that day.
M said her cat needed to pee. Andy pointed to the door. “Take it outside,” he said. “House stinks enough.”
The Dead noodled a chord for twenty minutes on boombox speakers big as microwave ovens. Andy and his girlfriend lit cigarettes. Blue, roiling smoke colored late afternoon sunlight slicing through the blinds. Andy said, “Shame about Huey.”
“I’m going to find out who killed him. Take care of the sonofabitch myself.”
“Word I heard is heart attack,” said Andy. “Plugged a speedball. Cashed out.”
“Except,” I said, “he had Xanax in his system. Enough to OD on that alone.”
“I didn’t know you could OD on Xanax.”
Julie raised her head, opened her small, turquoise eyes. “Not the first time somebody around here’s been stupid.” Her words trailed as she nodded off once more. She rubbed her nose with her skull ring tattoo.
“But…” My words scaled an abyss. “Huey wasn’t stupid.”
“Maybe Willy knows something,” said Andy. “He was Huey’s connection.”
My expression must have conveyed my confusion.
“Willy Floyd,” said Andy. “An old shitkicker…”
“Oh,” I said, “I know Willy. Used to hang out with him and Suzanne. Back when they lived above that pawn shop on Westfield. I heard he’d gone down to Kentucky. Got smoked in a gun deal.”
“Bogus rumor, bro,” said Andy. “He’s in Brownsburg. Has been for about six years now.”
Andy drew a map on the back of a blood-dotted napkin. I called Willy Floyd from a pay phone inside the Broad Ripple McDonald’s. He agreed to see me if I could make it west before midnight.
He lived in a ranch house near a dog park, dog parks being a new thing around Indianapolis to accommodate middle-aged singles using pets as surrogate children. Willy must have been who they had in mind. Two Great Danes the size of ponies molested me on the walk up his gravel driveway. Slobbered on my wingtips and slacks. Willy emerged from a one-car garage, shouting at the hounds. No shirt under his Oshkosh overalls. No shoes on his feet. “Been a long time, brother!” He invited me inside the house. “My God,” he said. “I think the last time we chilled, Jesus, must have been the night Bubba won. 1992. Remember that?”
“We just about tore the town to the ground,” I said. “Remember thinking he’d be any better than Bush?”
“Yeah, well…” He shook his head. “White House looks like a toilet for a reason.” He closed the garage door. Led me to the main entrance. The Great Danes jumped me from behind. I grabbed one by its jaw until it retreated.
“Not a dog person?” Willy knocked my chest with the back of his hand. If I’d worn a wire, he would have felt it. Would have suggested I skedaddle. Or killed me.
“Not a fan of bestiality,” I said.
He howled as he locked the dogs outside. “Those mutts are a frisky pair.” He offered me a beer.
“I’m good,” I said.
“Weird to hear from you, brother,” he said. “I thought Huey supplied the north side.”
“Huey cashed out.”
“Oh, Jesus,” he said. “Not Huey. That cat was like the Incredible Hulk. Immortal.”
“I don’t know that the Hulk is immortal.” I told him they found him on Easter.
He said, “Jesus, I saw him the night before.”
“Picked up some tar and a little snow.”
“I’m curious to know how Huey got all the way out here without wheels.”
“He always borrowed a car,” said Willy. “Same car, I ain’t mistaken. Sky blue Chevy. Malibu, I reckon. Maybe a ’74, ’75. The kind that look like tanks now.”
“Any idea whose car it was?”
“Brother, you sound an awful lot like a cop. You ain’t made peace with the pigs, have you? Gone back…”
“I think Huey was killed,” I said. “Any information you have might help me figure out who, maybe why.”
Willy chewed on his lower lip, revealed he wore dentures. I made a joke about it. He said they pulled the last of his teeth in ’96. “Got these hillbilly genes,” he said. “Held on to my chompers ten years longer than my pops did, I’ll say that.” He disappeared for a moment, returned with a stack of Polaroids. Shuffling through them, he said, “I snap photos of everybody who pulls into my driveway. Safety, right? I can’t take risks.” He handed me a picture of a battered Chevy Malibu. Pointed to numbers and letters written on the bottom of the white frame. “That’s the plate number, brother.”
I slept well that night. Plugged a square. Put my CD of whale songs on repeat. A warm blend of electric blues and yellows splashed in gentle rhythms through the windows. Moonlight unscathed by thin, scattershot clouds. I dreamt of being naked, floating on waves in oceans I’d never visit in my waking life. Felt the water against my body. Stirred memories of a libido long lost to junk.
After my morning fix, I headed to the library. A hairy librarian named Ted made me sign up for a card before allowing me to use one of the giant computers in the periodicals room. Like so many from the next generation, he’d clung to the lumberjack look made famous eight years earlier; not that I could blame him. I hadn’t purchased new clothes since 1985.
Homeless men and women occupied the periodicals room. As I sat at a vacant computer and typed in the numbers and password Ted assigned me, I held my nose. Ignored the glares of a woman next to me. Hair falling out. Potato sacks under her eyes. A map of injection bruises dotting her arms. We worshipped the same god. She must have resented me for maintaining the habit and a roof over my head. Her problem, not mine.
Retreating from my conviction to never surf the web, as youngsters and others riding the zeitgeist to its natural, doomsday destination called it, I logged on to the Internet. I’d never witnessed anything but trouble from this latest leap in technology. Priceless seconds of my life passed as I waited for various screens to load. My limited knowledge led me to a search engine called Yahoo! I typed in the license plate number scrawled on the bottom of the Polaroid. After clicking on the first result, a site called FindEm.com, a list of attributes scrolled down the screen for a person named Shannon Elizabeth Welker. Blue text indicated a link to more information. I clicked on one promising DMV files. A picture of the Chevy and the matching license plate took its time developing. A jog back to the previous page and I found the woman’s address. For nosy people, professional and otherwise, as well as stalkers, it appeared the Internet might be useful after all.
Shannon Welker lived in a Tudor-style home on Buckingham. Cream-colored A-frame. Cedar support beams. Middle-class. Quaint for an heir to the Welker fortune. The Malibu from Willy’s Polaroid sat in the driveway under a spotted blanket of fresh bird poop. Dead, knee-high grass arched across the front walk. Chipped paint flaked off the outer door when I opened it to slam a brass knocker against the Medieval door behind it. A full-figured woman in a Fleetwood Mac tour shirt and pink sweatpants arrived a few seconds later. Straight black hair. Serious, emerald eyes. Kind of woman I would have romped with in my younger, healthier days. She squinted, as though she hadn’t seen sunlight in a decade.
“I’m Tom Boyle.” I showed her my license to snoop. “I was friends with Huey McDowell. I wondered whether we could talk?”
Her forehead contracted. “What about?”
“I’m not a cop, if that’s what worries you.”
“Why the hell would I care if you’re a cop?” She retreated inside. Beckoned me to join her. “Huey was the criminal, not me.” She stepped over piles of laundry in the main hall. Led me to a breakfast nook dominated by a round table. “Hope you don’t mind the mess.” She rifled through a cloth purse on a counter in the kitchen. A fusion of mildew and old food seasoned the air. Summoned a yearn for another square to distract my senses. She found a pack of Carlton 100s and a red lighter. Held the pack in my direction.
She pointed to a wooden chair at the table, the kind of arts and crafts furniture found in Nashville, Indiana, where culture meant bluegrass and basket weaving. After sitting on the other side, she said, “I told him the reaper was itching for conference.”
I wanted to ask about her family. Her wealth. Or the lack of it. “You stashed Huey in the Welker mausoleum. Why?”
“You sure you knew him?” She worked on her thin cigarette. “Huey was a sonofabitch for leaving us, but he was still the father of my child.”
“Twenty years ago, Huey used to trade, you know, this for that.” She shrugged. Ashed into a half-full Flintstone’s milk glass. “I went to Berkeley, see. Scholarship. Dude from the Bay turned me on to heroin and that was that. I flunked out. Came home. Got this nice house and an allowance from Mama and Papa. A way to sweep me into the shadows, see. Huey and I hooked up. Before anybody knew about AIDS, so, you know, we didn’t think much about protection. Moment I heard my child’s heartbeat, I got help to go to rehab. Huey, obviously, not so lucky.”
She said she needed coffee. She rummaged through refuse on the counter near the sink, found what she required to make a pot in a machine so stained I couldn’t discern its original color. “I’ve yet to meet any of Huey’s friends who knew about me or Meghan.”
“You know her?”
“Saw the name on the marker, the mausoleum.”
She told me the big guy used to come home for holidays—Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. “I mean,” she said, “we’re all baptized Catholics. We got to celebrate, right?”
“Is Thanksgiving a religious holiday?”
“You know what I mean.” She said Huey’d show up, eat a nice meal she and her daughter prepared. If the holiday involved gifts, Huey brought something for Meghan. “Usually, a trash bag full of toys already opened. Like he got them from Goodwill. Or maybe his clients traded them for drugs. I don’t know. Early eighties, when Meghan was barely out of diapers, he gave her a busted Millennial Falcon and some tiny Battlestar Galactica action figures. They didn’t even fit in the seats in the cockpit. I mean, he couldn’t even match the toys. He thought his daughter wanted to play with spaceships. Good God. The mind of a junkie…”
She poured coffee into a ceramic mug with #1 Mom stenciled in white around the side. “Meghan really loved him when she was little. By the time she got to high school, he’d disappeared. Well, except when he borrowed my car. I guess I didn’t want him to stop working. End up homeless. Anyway, Meghan, teenaged Meghan, she’d comfort me on Christmas Eve. Sweet little girl. Got into horror movies sometime after her father left. I always figured it was her way of coping. I bought her a kitten. Thought it might fill the hole Huey’d left in her heart. Turned out, I was the one couldn’t cope. My sister Betty made me see one of these head-shrinkers. Weasel named Cunningham. He said I had depression. Like I couldn’t figure that out on my own. He put me on all manner of pills. I don’t take them, though. Only drugs I put in my system are nicotine and caffeine. I mean, a girl’s abandoned by everybody she loves, she’s got to have something, see?”
“Meghan’s old enough to be on her own.” She lit another cigarette. “I told her she could stay here, but she said she couldn’t stand the memories. She called them ghosts. Said the house felt like some movie, The Changeling, I think. Said she couldn’t stand seeing me cry like a baby every Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever. Between you and me, I think she’s got anger issues. And I think I don’t blame her.”
“You haven’t seen your daughter in…how long?”
“Oh, she comes around.” She sipped her coffee. “Spare change always mysteriously vanishes from the jar by my bed. She takes some of my pills every so often. Mostly the Ativan. Sometimes my Xanax. Never touches the Prozac. Must already know a thing or two about chemicals.” She ran her finger along the rim of the coffee cup. “I still got little reminders of her. She took ceramics in high school. Made me all sorts of knickknacks.” She lifted the cup, displayed it like a model showing off a diamond ring. “Made me this here trusty vessel for my caffeine, see?”
It’s easy to cast stones every which way in this hostile world. I suspect some might be tossed in my direction when folks learn how I dealt with the murder of Huey McDowell. I stopped off at a drugstore near Illinois and purchased a box of clean rockets. I ducked into the hippie house on New Jersey, spent time listening to Andy and his girlfriend debate the quality of the Grateful Dead before and after Brent Mydland. Bought a handful of squares and promised more business in the future. Then I strolled over to Huey’s duplex. His neighbor answered on the third knock. How had I missed the resemblance? She said I woke her. “Went to see Ravenous last night,” she said. “Downtown. Union Station. You ever been there? They serve pizza. You can eat it while you watch the movie.”
I told her to have a seat.
“What’s going on?”
“Got something for you.” I pulled a square from my pocket. Unpeeled the cellophane around it.
“You don’t owe me anything.” Her pupils dilated. The embryo of a junkie unable to conceal the yearn.
I squatted by the plate with the spoon and lighter on it. “Get us some water.”
She gave herself a second to feign caution. Her tiny stomps into the kitchen, no doubt, meant to convey resistance. A dance none too different from any other romance. She returned with a full glass. I fished two fresh needles and a cotton ball from my jacket pocket. She said, “I don’t plug, just so you know.”
I popped the orange cap off one of the rockets. Pulled in the first cook. “Things change.”
She stuttered. Probably wanted me to think she didn’t understand.
“Have a seat.” I took off my belt. Thought of my father, taking off his. Telling me to move my hands when he hit me. The strange paradoxes, hypocrisies, and lies parents subject their children to, preparing them for the insanity of pretending to be an adult. She didn’t budge. I grabbed her elbow and forced her to the floor. She said:
“Oh my God!”
Hyperbole. Bad faith. And poorly acted.
I looped the belt, forced it around her bicep. “Make a fist,” I said. She tried to shove her hands under her thighs. I closed her fingers for her. “You draw in your blood first…” I jabbed the needle into a bulging vein in the crook of her elbow. A strand of red snaked into the syringe with the heroin. “Then you plug it.” Her mouth opened. Maybe she wanted to scream. Maybe she wanted to protest, argue. Try one last time to believe her life wouldn’t go the way her father’s had. The way her mother’s almost did. I plunged the junk into her system before her throat formed whatever sound she sought. Lawrence did his job—dropped a pleasant one-ton load onto her shoulders. Her body slouched. I removed the rocket from her arm. Sat next to her as she accepted the drug the way God intended.
“How’d it go down?” I said.
Bones in her neck crackled as she raised her head. “Huh?”
“How’d you snuff Huey?”
Her chest collapsed. She slumped backward. Rested sideways against the wall. “I don’t…”
I prepared another square. “Don’t bullshit me…Meghan, correct?”
She gawked at me as long as she could before the dope coaxed her half asleep once more.
“We’re not taking this past this room,” I said. “I just need to know my friend wasn’t dumb enough to cash himself out like that…” I found something resembling a vein near my wrist. Joined the young woman in that carefree space between the grave and the stars.
“He never saw…” She lowered herself all the way to the sleeping bag. Rested her cheek on her palm. “He never saw Mom crying. Every Christmas. Every Easter. Throwing stuff around the house. Cussing at me, like it was my fault he didn’t know how to be a man. He never cared. Even when I moved in next door to him, he acted like I didn’t mean so much.” She rubbed her nose. Her eyes fluttered. I tapped her with my knuckles.
“Stay with us.”
“I told him I’d make him dinner,” she said. “Like the old days. But I seasoned it with some pills.” She used the wall to climb to a sitting position. “He ate the chicken. Chicken, you know, because that’s all I could afford. So, he ate the chicken. Said it was delicious. Even said he missed Mom on nights like that. I watched him cook the dope, the cocaine, put it in the same rocket, and plug it.” She snapped her fingers. Possibly in slow motion. I couldn’t tell at that point. “Just like that, he faded. I didn’t know what to do. I went home. Pretended it was a dream. Somebody must have come looking for drugs on Easter. Must have alerted the cops. Starsky and Hutch were there when I woke up. I couldn’t believe it…”
I patted her on her leg. Dropped four clean needles onto the plate with the spoon. “There you go, sweetheart.” I gathered the energy I’d need to walk out the door, get in my car, and drive away. “That’s how it is now.” I pointed at the fresh rockets.
A sneer dragged the young lines on her face toward the earth. I saw her father, that moment, frowning from the beyond. He wouldn’t have liked what I’d done to his daughter. I didn’t like what she did to my old friend. Even if by accident.
An unfair chapter in the biographies of everyone involved.
Bio: Alec Cizak is a writer and filmmaker from Indiana. His collection of crime fiction short stories, Nobody’s Coming Home, is currently available from ABC Group Documentation. Cizak is also the editor of the fiction and pop culture digest, Pulp Modern.
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