The Lost a novel by P. H. Madore copyright notice: DO NOT FUCKING STEAL MY WORK, I WILL KILL YOU.
COPYRIGHT 2005-FOREVER P. H. Madore see freemadore.info for more information about the author
any case, no regrets!”--Parisian Grafitti, May 1968 Chapter One 12/2/06
He knew it was a bad idea. Even as he thought it, he fought it. His body, though, was giving him no other option. He was in the middle of New York City. He'd be in more trouble if he stopped and went in an alley. Few things went unnoticed anymore with cameras everywhere. Where there wasn't surveillance, there were cash rewards for all who reported crimes, varying amounts depending on the crime. And he'd have to answer the question as to why he did not use a public restroom, they were everywhere. Which was what he didn't see a choice about doing. th On 55 Street he stopped his little Honda outside a McDonald's, rushed in, and found on the men's room door a sign that read: “Patrons must make a purchase before using this facility.” A little electronic slot near the knob supported a much smaller sign: “Insert Receipt Here.” He felt his bladder beginning to explode in protest to this artificial delay. Pain danced through his veins. His legs gained an odd strength from jugular weakness. Digging into pockets, he whispered the serenity prayer quickly, hoping he had some cash having canceled all his credit cards two months before. Somehow he always managed to get by in spite of having committed that unthinkable crime against consumerism, but right now money was imperative. He came out with a bill, a five, which had been neatly folded six times. He smiled at the irony of feeding the problem at hand further by purchasing a soft drink. The shop wasn't busy and, as he'd hoped, the small drink was fourninety-eight after more than a dollar in tax. He tried to walk calmly away from the counter when he realized he'd not gotten a receipt to use for the bathroom. He nearly screamed hurrying back to the register where he returned the sweating paper cup to the counter. The McWorker addressed him in the same fashion he had before, as if he had not just purchased the drink less than a minute before. “May I help you, sir?”
“I just told you, I need a receipt for this Coke!” he shouted, even though he had not said anything. He was under a barrage of stressors, and the truth wasn't as important. The employee carried on his act of having never seen the man. He held the cup up and said, “I need a receipt, any receipt,” then he heard himself shouting, as if an out-of-body experience were occurring: “so I can use your filthy bathroom you stupid sonofabitch!” He readied himself to toss the drink if the kid did not comply, at least go out with some real noise. The McWorker's eyes widened as he said, “Oh, you mean that small Coke. Right. I apologize, sir, I'm tired is all,” he said, handing him a receipt. Not bothering to show false gratitude, he hobbled without his drink to the bathroom and jammed the receipt in the slot. The door buzzed and he pulled it, rushing inside. A sign posted above the urinal seemed to demand he read it, fearfully as he may have during the long drainage that soon ensued. In order to flush this urinal you must hold your thumb pad down to the button located to the right. He had no need to wonder why. A simple solution came to him as he zipped his pants and walked away from the urinal, deciding not even to wash his hands, and made his way to the door. He just wouldn't flush. Why hadn't anyone thought of this? It didn't say anywhere that one was obligated to flush, so do it when it was such a superb risk? Except it did, he found in dismay, read exactly that on the inside of the door he had worked so hard to open. Door will not open unless toilet has been flushed and sink has been used. “Fuck,” he said, and did as was required, thinking as he left the restaurant of the two choices he now assumed were in front of him: fugitive status in this alien world he seemed to re-awaken in each day, or the standard three-year prison sentence. Chapter Two 7/13/06 He didn't have much time because there would soon be a knock on his door. Leaving McDonald's, he wondered if the DEA wouldn't be at his door when he got home. He'd heard that in the three years since the passage of the “Public Protection Act” that testing of urine samples had gone from taking twelve hours down to taking less than three. Many of his friends had been nailed the same way he was sure he was about to be, by a lapse in judgment via the use of a public restroom. Obviously they would have him on use, barring a fluke. If he was quick enough he could prevent the use charge from doubling up with one of possession. He had two options. He could go home, dispose of all his contraband (his large stash of pot, which he had been dealing on the side; his bag of coke; all his pipes and papers) and wait for the agents to arrive. The mandatory
sentence for use of any drug had become two years in prison and a minimum year in Narcotics Anonymous (a program which, through federal funding, now had branches everywhere, and was anything but anonymous—one was required to surrender identification before being allowed into the mandatory meetings). Two years for a stupid mistake, he felt his heart sinking as he lit a cigarette on the drive home. Or, he could run. Go home, collect all the basics, and move to Canada. Right then he remembered the recent introduction, widely hailed as “the biggest step toward a drug-free America since the start of the drug war,” of the national watchlist database to which all people caught in the test net were automatically added. This meant that not only would they probably not let him through the border, which had in recent years been securely bolstered with much weaponry, but that if he tried he would be asking to be caught. “Fuck,” he said aloud, thinking of the fake thumb prints he'd had a chance to buy some months before. He had passed on these underground freedom aids, which only cost twenty dollars per box of ten, thinking, I'm not stupid enough to get caught that way. If only he'd bought some, he wouldn't be worrying right now. It was only a couple weeks later a rat had exposed the operation and the local news had talked about the nabbing of “the leastcommon user's accomplice.” His apartment waited in Brooklyn, where the police had opened a station for every two blocks since the re-bolstering of the drug war in '09. A representative group of the DEA had been placed in nearly every police station throughout the country, regardless of state drug laws or local feelings about the war, since the organization had become the second largest piece of the federal budget pie under President Jeb Bush, topped only by the Defense Department. During that same term, the Department of Education had fallen a few more notches, now ranking higher than a select few, the Environmental Protection Agency being its closest competition. He parked his car next to a passed out junkie doomed for prison, a foreboding image he'd carry with him as the rain fell and he rushed into the ground floor, got on the elevator, and was driven fearfully to his apartment on the thirteenth floor. He fumbled his keys in the elevator, dropped them twice. He bolted from it to his apartment at the end of the hallway, and dropped his keys again as tremors came over him in attempting to unlock his door. He wanted to shout something as a means of release. Inside he set immediately to flushing his drugs down the toilet, deciding he'd save one fat joint and smoke it before being detained. If they were going to nail him, he figured, he might as well make it worth the time. He felt quite sure it would be his last chance to feel good for the next six months. He stretched the paper over a sweating left index and forefinger, crushed the plucked hydroponic buds with his right hand, rolled as a professional, carefully tucked it into his breast pocket as he watched the rest of the bag swirl down the toilet feeling relief and dismay.
On the elevator with a garbage bag full of paraphenelia and incriminating documents he'd carefully stored all in one place for a day exactly such as this, he felt a new disconnection with his country, which he'd always loved in his own way. The reality of the anti-drug tyranny had never hit this close to home before. He'd watched the nightly news for a long time, just recently deciding to stop that. He'd seen his peers being nabbed and robbed daily, but had always considered them “stupid” for their mistakes. He'd often thought, The worst drug laws in the world have loopholes just big enough for assholes like myself. Once he'd said it to a friend already locked up. He smoked possibly his last joint bitterly behind the dumpster, its clouds clashing with the progression of heavier rain drops and steam from a manhole. Chapter Three 7/14/06 He was fresh out of the shower, eating some cold Lo Mein he'd leftover in the refrigerator with a fork. Sitting on his couch, high, he felt at peace with the vacation he felt sure was on its way to his door. And when there came a loud knock at his, he didn't feel startled or surprised. “One minute!” he shouted as he padded into the kitchen and threw away the three-quarters eaten Lo Mein. He decided it must be the high that kept him from hearing the agents' response, that pleasant sound in his ears of blood rushing around the inside of his skull. What he didn't know was that there had been no response. He put on his shoes by the door, intending to put up no fight and hoping that his co-operation would bode well for him. He opened the door and rather than a group of federal agents, he was greeted by the face of Andre Nedder, one of his friends. “Jack,” said Andre. “I been tryin' to call for hours.” He remembered that he had unplugged his phone. “Sorry,” he said. “Kinda keepin' on the low right now.” “You gonna let me in or what you high bastard?” “I guess for a few minutes, but you probably don't wanna stay long.” “Why not?” Jack backed away fromt eh door, waited for Andre to step in, and shut the door. “Long story.” “Tell me,” said Andre taking a seat on the black leather couch. Jack sat down in his easy chair across the room, a coffee table now between them, lit a cigarette, and said, “Yer gonna lauagh at me, just like we been laughin' at morons for the past coupla years...” “No I won't,” Andre promised, his glazed druggie eyes promising otherwise. “I took a piss in a McDonald's earlier,” said Jack through a cloud of smoke. “I'm fucked.”
Andre started to laugh as he lit one of Jack's cigarettes without asking, figuring he would owe him for the message he was about to deliver. “You haven't heard?” he asked, barely managing to quell his laughter. “Heard what?” “Jeeze, Salem,” he said, using Jack's last name as he usually did when he was mildly scolding his friend. “Yer usually the one tells me about shit like this.” “Like what?” Jack asked, getting anxious. “You know that group, them liberation guys or whatever?” “The DWE?” said Jack, referring to an underground group which called itself the Drug War Enemy.” “Yeah, them,” said Andre. “At like midnight last night they attacked four or five of the urine-testing centers. They blew up the two New York ones and fire-bombed one over in Mass., I guess they failed on a couple others.” “No shit.” “None at all,” said Andre. “I guess a couple of them got caught in the act, could get the death penalty for domestic terrorism or whatever, even though no one got hurt in all. It was on the news this morning, and they said the system has no way to forward incoming samples yet.” “Good fuckin' deal!” said Jack, imagining his piss sample going nowhere. “'Cuz I know the samples are only usable for like thirty-six hours.” “No doubt, you're safe,” said Andre, now laughing his ass off of a sudden. “You fuckin' douche bag, you're so lucky!” “Right?” said Jack, feeling relieved and now laughing. He then realized what he'd done. “Fuck,” he said. “What?” “I flushed all my shit already,” he explained. “All of it?” “Yeah, 'cept the bone I rolled, my last fattie, I was figuring,” he said. “Christ on a crutch, Salem, that was the whole reason I came over here,” said Andre, crushing his cigarette in the ashtray. “My cousin sent me with eight hundred bucks for the white.” “Fuck,” Jack said again. “It was a real scare, you understand,” he said. “Not if you watched the fuckin' news it wouldn't be,” said Andre. “TV's broke,” Jack smiled and said. “Bullshit.” Jack didn't say anything. Chapter Four 7/30/06
After Andre left, Jack went into his bedroom where a laptop sat on his be. He hopped on the bed, hopped on the internet through tapping a key, typed in his password, and logged onto the DWE's website. On the front page there
was posted a statement claiming responsibility for the recent destruction of some of the police state's illegal urine testing facilities. Beneath that, there was a notice disclaiming acts of violence in the name of the DWE. It said nothing about property destruction or other acts of violence, merely that “acts of violence and the use of weapons with express purpose of bringing harm to other human beings is a tactic of our enemy, not us.” The worry of the site being watched and people visiting being likewise struck him. He remembered that he'd had one of his childhood friends, one of those who went “straight” and never looked back, set up his computer so that it would give fake details to other computers asking for his. He clicked on the page marked named “Mission Statement” and read about how the organization used to be a formal thing, with enrollments, fundraisers, and the like, under the “DUA”--the Drug User's Association. But a few years back, when the new draconian measures were enacted and taken by the federal government on a national scale, the core members felt it necessary to burn its membership lists and all other paperwork, “lose” their identities, and go underground to dedicate their lives to personal liberation. They considered the Public Protection Act, and all auxiliary legislation thereabouts, to be unconstitutional and “highly un-American.” The statement said the group would not “condone or condemn” any acts of violence intended to bring the people who fostered the laws to justice. They seemed conflicted about this, at one point duly noting that the penalty for treason was most often death, but never openly advocating violence and never explaining why it would not advocate violence. Jack sat unsure whether they were talking about beating up cops or what. He pondered what the lives of these people, who were actually fighting for his own personal freedom and whose overnight success had saved him from assured conviction, must be like. Here he sat, upset that he had stupidly flushed all his fun, while these people had dedicated their lives—not just their time—to fighting for his very right to that fun. The first principle of the organization was that every grown American man or woman had the “fundamental right to the free choice of what does or does not take place inside their minds and bodies.” He wondered if the founding fathers that he'd learned about—not the ones the new, “legally revised” history books spoke of (who were fundamental christians opposed to entertainment forms other than war)--wouldn't staunchly agree to this. He wondered if true civic duty in his day was not the opposite of what the government was up to all the time. Above all, he wondered if there was anything he could do to help. Chapter Five 8/9/06
Monday morning his alarm clock went off at 5:45 as it did every other morning. He was tired, the stress and events of the previous day having put him through too much and kept him up most of the night thinking, pondering. Just the same, he threw his comforter off his body and rolled out of bed, stretching. Like a zombie he floated to the kitchen where his coffee pot was filling with a fresh brew, grabbed an orange from the wicker fruit basket atop his microwave, and hopped up to sit on the counter. While waiting for the coffee to finish brewing he unpeeled the orange, tossing the peels in the barrel across the kitchen, and readied his cup, which had a marijuana leaf on it (purchased in the days when such products were still legal and available) having to lean forward to get it out of the cupboard behind him. He poured in creamer and three teaspoons of sugar about thirty seconds before the coffee maker beeped to signal the coffee was ready for consumption. He practically swallowed half the orange, a habit he had picked up during his two-year stint in the army during Iraq, before jauntily pouring the first of many cups of coffee for the day. Theoretically, Jack could've slept an hour later every day and have still made it to work ten or fifteen minutes early. But the habit of getting up with the dawn had been instilled in him by his father, a career officer in the Marines, had been beneficial during his own time in the military, and had not been broken after his dishonorable discharge. It gave him free time in the morning he imagined most of his peers, who always seemed to be in a rush and seemed to zoom through life at mach speed, did not have. Normally he would get high, read the headlines on the internet in general, occasionally write in his ancient and sparsely written-in journal, sometimes read books, work out, and just spend some time with himself first thing in the day. This morning, lighting a cigarette and sipping his cup of coffee, would be one of the journaling mornings. It was the first time he had recorded his thoughts in about two months, and what he had to write was, as was rather rare for him, comfortable and well-written with his easy grasp of the metal pen. Aside from the sober recording of the important and stressful events of the day before, he would for the first time in letters ponder going into a life of “true” crime. Into a life of resistance. “But first,” he wrote, “assuming I make this daring leap, pull this lunatic stunt with no guarenteed or concrete safety net, first there are many things I would need to do.” Closing up the journal and tucking it safely back under his couch at about 6:30, Jack lit his second cigarette of the day and thought about all that he had just written. He could not, for one thing, especially now that he had written such words, allow for another potentially fatal mistake such as the day before. The solution was simple and did not involve fake thumbprints, but instead two options. He could either stop use (which, at this point in his life having sacrificed a military career and having smoked since he was fourteen, seemed quite unlikely), or have with him at all times the simplest of solutions: a bottle to piss in. Of course. He didn't know why had not
thought of this before. It was so simple. Buy one of those glass iced teas from the store, drink it, and keep the empty bottle in his glove compartment. Simple. He stood up from the couch and went into the room which served as his home office/gym. He spent ten minutes on the treadmill, fifteen lifting weights, then took a shower, smoked another cigarette in leisure, and left for work. The owner of the Mariott hotel where he worked as both a waiter and a pantry chef was a member of a quickly dying breed. Indeed, Mr. Ronald Stafford, at sixty-two, was one of the few remaining employers (and American men in general) who truly believed that what his employees did on their own time was their own business, so long as their job performance was not affected by said business, as he put it. He had never administered drug tests before they became mandatory, and in those days had quite openly frowned on colleagues of his that had. After the federal government, under a provision of the PSA, had made drug tests mandatory to first for all yearround businesses wishing to employ, then for all employers generally, a year later, Stafford had discreetly found a simple subversion. Rather than submit to what he considered the newest tyranny of the, which was The Powerful Anti-Drug Lobby, and taking urine samples from new employees and sending them off to the lab the informative legal letter had instructed him to, which he felt was akin to giving his approval of the draconian measures and laws, he did something a little different. He would tell someone he knew well enough that he had predicted what was now going on since all drug users had been made illegal workers: they were ganging together and selling more than ever, to each other, to everywhere, trying to get it back in the swing of normality. Which it had never been—even those who were sure that things had gotten worse were wrong; there were just more people eating up the mammoth street profits. An applicant would indeed give a urine sample, so that if the DEA became suspicious and did what he had read about them doing, which was send an agent to apply for a job at a place and watch their procedures, there would seem to be nothing illegal happening. What the applicant wouldn't know, but what was rumored in the right places, was that the urine sample was shortly thereafter destroyed and replaced with a sample of Stafford's own. The whole issue of DEA spies, which Stafford had visions of lurking around every corner, was the reason a person was rarely hired without referral from a current employee, in this day and age anyway. Stafford had never been like that otherwise, he was just careful now. People like Jack and Andre greatly appreciated their boss once they learned of this through the grapevine, from a good source at that. Of course, Andre had been working there since he was sixteen, in the days when only a few industries had tested aside from the government, which didn't even test in the military until some years before then. In those days most people the
way Ronald Stafford still felt, that people's business was just that. Furthermore the penalty in those industries where it counted was simply being unable to get the job. Not like today, when the prison population had swelled to six million, four-fifths of which were drug war casualties doing minimum sentences. At some point, Jack though entering the Mariott kitchen, things had gone very wrong in the land of the free. The drug war had changed its focus from the enemy profiteers, the drug dealers, to a holistic approach. The laws and rhetoric had changed from a slowly-softening, education-oriented, dealersnot-victims approach to one where anyone involved with the few illegal drugs (as opposed to the myriad of perfectly legal, much more dangerous ones), including researchers and people outside U. S. borders, was an enemy. The changes had seemed sudden when they took effect, but as Jack, Andre, and many other educated “enemies” (also just plain educated people) had found out later, they were actually a long time coming. Indeed, lobby groups and religious zealots had spent better than a decade enacting minor legislation and running anti-drug ad campaigns large and small. In effect, gradually brain-washing the generation to be luke-warm about bodily liberty, to be apathetic about the whole issue, until one day the PSA popped up and passed with no trouble. Living in the northeast, especially in New York, where police departments had for thirty-plus years slackened up on the prosecution of drug users and small time dealers to focus on violent crime, hard drug dealers pushing real poison, and generally more important matters, Jack had quite logically though things were going the opposite way they now seemed to be, at the time they began to. But to his, and the freedom-loving sector of the population's, dismay, when police departments nationwide protested that they had not the resources to enforce the now-widespread and far-reaching laws, the government responded by agreeing. Thus th first DEA field offices were built, eventually occupying every major city and every region in the nation where there were people who'd potentially use drugs, that is have access to them, that is everywhere. Suddenly it had become a scary thing not to “just say no.” Andre and Jack had resolved one night, just the same, over a joint, that “a few laws ain't gonna stop us.” And indeed, the laws themselves had not. Nor had either been nabbed in any stings, named by any comrades who were, or otherwise detained in connection with the evil drug-infested underworld. Which, Jack had often concluded, was just short of a miracle considering the breadth of the new legislation, how little it now took to get life in prison. If he did go underground, it certainly wouldn't be for a little while, Jack decided as he washed his hands, put on an apron, and began the days work at his workplace, his work face, an easy grin he wore in a relaxed manner, now firmly in place and his plan for the day set in good stone.
Chapter Six 8/10/06 Andre lived on the third floor of a tenement about ten blocks away from Jack's building. During the work day Andre, in his water uniform, looking sharp as he always did at work, spooked him by saying, “You're under arrest, son,” in the deepest voice he could muster. The trick was a little unfair, Andre admitted to himself, because he knew full well that Jack had, quite predictably and rather visibly, stayed up most of the night contemplating his life of crime and the lucky break he had received thereof. Just the same, when Jack jumped nearly out of his skin, startled, Andre couldn't repress his bellowing laughter. Always the one to lighten things up in any atmosphere, this kind of joke was not at all uncommon for Andre to play. “Not funny, you fuck,” said Jack, who'd been skinning a carrot. “I could'a cut my fucking self.” “With a vegetable peeler?” asked Andre, his chuckles beginning to subside. “Guess I would'a had to call 9-1-1 and watched your ass get nabbed in the fucking Ee-Ah.” “What'd'you mean?” “Do I have to tell you everything?” “I guess so, you fucking bastard...” “Okay, as long as we're honest about it. But I'm surprised you haven't hear about this, at least.” “What?” “Due to the nature of the drug culture, which is a nature of animalistic violence and rampant promiscuity, blood samples of all in-patients at all hospitals will now be turned over to local DEA field offices for testing,” Andre quotingly intoned in his mock-retard voice. “Wheah'd you heah that?” “The news you don't follow.” “TV's broke,” said Jack, who tried to recall the headline from his morning reading. “That was a lie, remember?” “So?” “So pay some more fucking attention, you know this shit's important for guys like us. CBS is usually the first to inform our great locked-down nation about these things,” Andre lectured. “Shit's just been tough lately, alright?” “Why, 'cuz you almost got yer stupid ass busted in a McDonald's?” Andre taunted. “Ah fuck you.” “Chill out, dude, I'm just messin',” Andre pleaded. “Anyway, wanna come over aftah work? My cousin is. I guess he's got some bomb Maine stuffy wuffy.”
“Okay, yeah, I guess I'll drop by.” “Alright, see you there, you fucking guy. First tables and shit now filing in. Bastards, evil fucking bastards.” Which was where Jack decided to go on foot, cigarette in hand, after arriving home from work, showering, answering an e-mail from his mother, and writing out his grocery list for the next day. He'd gotten off work later than usual, at about 6:30, which often happened on Mondays when the kitchen was understaffed by design and the head chef gave Jack some extra duties as a result. This week he didn't mind the extra couple of hours, and was thinking of asking for more hours generally. This was so he could slowly recuperate the money flushed and smoked the day before. The thought made him light a fresh cigarette as darkness fell and he made the second block toward the friend's house. Midway through the next block he heard sirens, then gunshots. Turning the corner he saw a DEA Jeep pulled up on the curb, barely having missed a fire hydrant (they seemed to drive where they pleased). Two agents stood, one with a smoking Colt .45 that seemed to Jack straight out of an old, old Western movie, over the corpse of a black man who was bleeding to death under their watch. As Jack passed the scene, crossing to the other side of the street, he tried not to look but nevertheless noticed the other agent stoop over the body and shove something—it looked like cash—in the pocket of his windbreaker-like jacket. Jack walked faster, wondering if the dead man had been armed or not. Two blocks later a man came seemingly out of nowhere, really out of a dark alley to Jack's left, “Got any extra cash mistah? Huh, man, do ya?” The man, Jack, could see in the street light as he moved closer to him, had the hollow eyes of a ghost and that far away quality in his voice that Jack recognized as belong to a crackhead. “No, sorry, sir,” he said, and quicked his gait. Briefly, as he heard the crackhead cursing behind him, he wondered dually what, again, had made him choose to walk and what, exactly, was become of America the beautiful. Soon he was knocking on Andre's door, hearing the music from their younger days on the other side. Andre opened it, his blue eyes blazing, bald head shining in the green light of his living room, and said, “Password?” “Just let me in.” “Password?” Andre cracked a smile. “C'mon.” “Password?” the smile widened. “Alright,” Jack sighed. “Stoners live and never die,” he said. “Ah, how's it goin', Jack?” Andre said, pretending that he only now recognized his friend, as if he were a robot. “I need'a fuckin' get high,” said Jack, walking in front of Andre, who had finally moved out of the way to let him in. “Dante'll be here soon with that Maine shit. Till then, I got something.” “Anything'll do right now.”
“A beer?” “Sure,” said Jack, lighting a smoke. “Saw a DEA bust, the murderin' kind, on the damn fucking way heah.” “What'd you do walk?” “Yeah. Think I saw one of the fucks rob the poor fucking guy, a black guy he was.” “No shit. Sucks for him,” said Andre as there was another knock on the door. Andre opened it and said, “Password?” blocking the entry. “I'm your brother, let me in,” said the deep, throaty voice of Dante, Andre's older brother and veteran drug smuggler. “Good enough,” said Andre, clearing the way and shutting the door behind his big brother. “Hey, Dante, long time no see,” said Jack. “I heard you flushed all your white, that's too bad,” said Dante. “Wonder where you heard that,” said Jack, who had only told one person about the day's events prior. “I had a rich girl that wanted some real bad. Eight hundred bucks probably. Alright though I found some.” “Good.” “So what's the scoop on the grass?” Andre changed the subject. Which was when Dante laid five big joints of Maine green bud on the kitchen table, lit one, and seemed to make Jack's worries go far away. At least until the next morning, which was what he wanted and had wanted. Chapter Seven 8/10/06
Thursday night after work, Jack came home exhausted. It was a very late night for him, having picked up the shift of the other person, Charlie, who did his job. But just the same, for the past three nights he had been keeping up with the news, fully knowing the importance thereof to a bodily outlaw such as himself. He got out of his evening shower just in time to catch the eleven o'clock broadcast. CBS, which, during the transition period a few short years before, had made no bones about its editorial slant to the side of the government on the subject of the drug war, always broadcast the latest news about it. This was why he, Andre, and he was sure many others like them both nationwide, tuned into CBS News whenever they could. Tonight, the first piece was nearly the full-length recording of a press conference given by Pat Robertson, the new drug czar. Commonly considered a maverick, hawkish, militant cabinet member, Robertson had recently been selected to replace John Stymie, the czar who had tried to get tanks into the DEA's budget and who had been assassinated two weeks before.
“In this underground grouop's manifesto, called 'Property Destruction As Liberation,' this group, which is well-known to us all by now, what with their terrorist acts on a monthly basis, the DEW states that true freedom will not be attained until the drug war has been stopped in its tracks. “I want to assure you tonight, ladies and gentlemen of the press and citizens of this great country at large, that this group, which has marxist-fascist tendencies, will never succeed in its goal of stopping us from protecting you from drugs. We will only further escalate our efforts to rid the greatest nation on earth, the United States of America, of this great underlying cancer built of scum. “Indeed, I will tonight go one step further than any of my predecessors,” he looked now directly into the camera with his cold, gray eyes, and pointed his finger for effect. “If you are involved in any way in the trade of illegal narcotics, we're coming for you. If you engage in the callous disregard for humanity that is common to all drug addicts, you have forfeitted your greatest asset as a member of this society and in my mind you are akin, if not often related, to the terrorist threat this country faced some years ago. “And,” he added,” I have instructed my regional directors to treat you as such.” As some commercials came onto the screen, Jack shivered in memory of the robbery-homicide he'd seen a few nights before. Then he had just one question for this Robertson fellow: what, exactly, was a “marxist-fascist tendency”? Jack wasn't up on his political idelogies, but he was pretty sure via common sense that Marxism and Fascism were the opposite of each other. As the newscast came back on, he put his cigarette out in the ashtray and lit a joint he had been rolling during the re-broadcast of the press conference. The next piece that aired was a short one about a new bill on MIRANDA rights to be suspended whenever drugs could be proven present. The reporter said the bill would most likely pass and seemed to mostly focus on the ACLU and a few politician's ardent, yet foolish opposition to the bill. Then came a report on the latest proceedings of the Jerimiah Cartwright Trial. Cartwright was the former leader of the D. W. E. who had been captured in Seattle in possession of a little over an ounce of marijuana he called personal use, a host of fake passports he called not his, and plenty of ties to his organization, which made him a terrorist by definition of the law. Footage of the courtroom proceedings was played: “Isn't it true, Mister Cartwright, that you are the author of the so-called manifesto of your group, called “Liberation Through Property Destruction?” asked the prosecutor. “No, sir,” that statement is not true about me.” “Would you say that it is the manifesto for the Drug War Enemy?” “I would say that is the common belief of idiots, sir.” “Then, are you not the author of it?”
“I am not, sir,” said Cartwright, who, being formerly a defense attorney, had opted to represent himself in the case. Then the camera turned back to the young, Asian reporter who said it was likely the man would spend the rest of his days behind bars, since the prosecution were trying to pin all the actions of the D. W. E. directly to the man. This included the late-2006 bombing of a DEA central office which had resulted in the loss of an agent, for which Cartwright could get the death penalty, which was the hope of the government. Then, after more than half CBS's News Broadcast was over, it shifted to other news and Jack turned off his television. Soon he went to bed, weighing all these events on his expanded mind. Chapter Eight 8/10/06 Jack spent the next morning searching the internet for the supposed manifesto of Drug War Enemy. Property Destruction As Liberation. For the first few pages of the search engine's results there were mostly news reports recounting the drug czar's comments of the nights previous, editorials for or against the drug war as it stood (mostly the former), and a few religious “know your enemy” listings. Finally he came to a result from the official DWE home page. He clicked on it and what he was brought to was not the document he was looking for, but rather a semi-condemnation of the document. “It has been said,” read the page, “that a document entitled 'Property Destruction As Liberation' is the so-called manifesto of this group. Before we move on to refute this, we must first post an important question: who, if not the very perpetrator of the 'war' in which we stand as 'enemies,' is saying this? Indeed, it is the hyper hypocritical Drug Enforcement Agency and their henchmen who latched on to this document, which we do not endorse or condemn, and attributed it to us as a whole. “We do not deny the fact that the document's author, who to this day remains anonymous, referenced many of our tactics and indeed considered himself a good-standing member of our group. However, at no point before recent events involving one of our many founder, Jerimiah Cartwright, had we any knowledge of the document's very existence.” Jack looked at the clock on his computer and saw that in a few minutes he would need to get moving in order to be on schedule. As he crushed the cigarette he'd been smoking out in the ashtray next to his laptop, he scrolled to the bottom of the page. At the very bottom, after all the political banter he had quickly grown tired of (as much as the topic interested him, it was first thing in the morning), he saw what he was looking for. In green letters (rather than the white on a black background that most of the site's text was shown in), a sentence read “But, as long as they're blaming us, we'll atl east
link to the document in question. Click here to see what all the fuss is about.” Jack did, and soon had downloaded the document, “just for the hell of it,” he would later say. Chapter Nine 8/10/06 Property Destruction As Liberation by an anonymous, autonomous member of the DWE scribbled on some newsprint and typed in th a library, August 24 , 2007 We begin each day of our dedicated lives, as members of the notorious, somewhat infamous group, the Drug War Enemy, with a question: is there any doubt left that this government of violence, which defines itself by so-called righteous wars it cannot win (the War on Terror, the War on Poverty, the War on Crime & Communism, and, of course, the War on Drugs, in which we find ourselves enemy combatants), has finally necessitated revolt? Among our growing ranks this has of course become a rhetorical question, as we in the DEW answered it by taking action in the first place. Nevertheless, when we open our eyes we are forced to wonder if today will be our last. If today the government, which sits snuggly atop the ruins of what was once the first, greatest—and, we say with tears in our eyes and lumps in our throats—most beautiful democracy, will not destroy us. 2. Before moving on to the “meat” of this, which is our most basic and effective means, tactics, and methods of destruction as retaliation for lives and liberties lost in the war on drugs; there are a few things which have not been covered all at once, by one voice, anywhere before. The first being who we, the Drug War Enemy, are. 3. To this sabateur's knowledge, we are not, by and large, a group of anti-government radicals, or terrorists, or UnAmerican activists. (That is not to say that we do not have those elements within our ranks, nor that we resent their presence. However, we model our processes, such as our stereotyping, after the way this country once was: majority rules.) As a group, we do not identify with the left or the right. Just the same, we find it safe to say that mostly rightist groups, via the powerful anti-drug lobby, calling itself the “moral majority” is largely responsible for instigating the war on drugs. What we are, for the largest part, are men and women who grew up before the days of mandatory drug testing prior to a conviction, before this Orwellian tragedy took the stage, before both liberty and justice were thrown
like caution to the wind and our very lives were glaring at us from the stake. A number of us are not drug users and never have been. These among us watched the government clamp down, destroy the rights of states, desecrate the constitution, jail an unprecedented percentage of the population (necessirally raising taxes while at it), and were forced to wonder what next? Indeed, if they can do all this without anyone even qustion it, what would be next? It's no secret that prohibition-era laws have been introduced and only narrowly failed numerous times in recent months. After that, what more will this socalled “moral majority” push for? 4. The second thing, many of us feel, is more important. In many countries changes as drastic and negative as we have experienced—whatever their nature, say the political scientists among us—would be enough to provoke armed revolt, political upheaval, civil war, or worse. In many countries, indeed, violence would be the preferred tool of defiance; political assassinations, suicide bombings, and other manifestations of the discontent of the populace would have long since become the norm. This is not to say that violence has never been, in fact is not, utilized in this drug war. The difference is that the opposition in this war take the so-called “moral high ground” on the issue of violence. Though it constantly comes up in our meetings and discussions, how we would be taken more seriously if we were in the business of taking oppressors' lives, how they do not hesitate to murder us when presented with the opportunity—in essence, the belief that we should fight fire with fire, one of our founding principles has been that violence otherwise than literal selfdefense is not to be used or condoned by our group. We will not stoop to the level of the Hitleresque thugs who pose a threat to the health of our very society. 5. The third important thing that must be established here is one that is very simple and may seem contradictory to paragraph 4: “the war on Drugs” is a war on people. The foolishness of this so-called war on substances, which for some reason costs an ever-increasing number of us chunks or the hwole of our lives, can be summed up in the following statement by Saint John Chrysostom: “if you say, 'Would there were no wine,' because of the drunkards, then you must say, going on by degrees, 'Would there were no steel,' because of the murderers, 'Would there were no night,' because of the thieves, 'Would there were no light,' because of the informers, and 'Would there were no women,' because of adultery.” In essence, prohibition—as if it were not proven to us at the beginning of the last century—does not work. Or, as H. L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an easy answer, and it is wrong.” 6. Now that we have laid the justifications and basis for the lives we lead, keeping in mind that our intended audience is the active
underground member of the DWE and these aspiring in that direction, we move on to the tactics which we have known to work not just in theory, but in practice... This was where Jack stopped reading as he sat in bed with his computer in his lap the next night before bed. He had decided not to do any partying that night. He had decided, for the first time in a long time, that he was ready for some balance in his life, regarding drug use. That was why he had gone from work to the library branch nearest his house, which was open until eleven, to his surprise, and checked out some books to read. He had sort of selected the four books at random, two of them being fiction and two being non-fiction, but was nevertheless determined to read them at some point. and after a couple chapters of The Stranger, by Albert Camus, he had decided to start reading the document he had been hearing so much about on the internet. But the reason he stopped was not so much that he was tired although, for another rarity he found himself naturally tired, but rather that he was afraid to go on. That he was afraid that if he continued he might be seriously moved to immediate, insurrectionary action. That if the ways to fight were too clearly out in his mind he might not be able to talk himself out of using them, he might not be able to have patience with the whole thing, he might act as the intelligent, street-wise man he knew himself to honestly be. He stopped for his own well-being, knowing there would come a good time for all this underground stuff, but that it was not, by any stretch, now. Chapter Ten 8/10/06 The next morning Jack awoke to a loud banging on his door. As of late, he had developed a habit of sleeping fully clothed which on occasions like this made things easier. He rolled out of bed and went to the door to answer. There were two people in the hall. The one doing the knocking was his landlord, Mr. Stevenson. The other was Andre. “Hi, Mister Stevenson,” he said. Andre was on queue, behind the short man with the thick-lensed glasses beneath his bushy eyebrows, making faces. Jack resisted the strong temptation to laugh because it was by luck alone that Stevenson never used the new privileges granted him by law to do periodic searches of his entire property. It wasn't respect, it was satisfaction. “Rent, Salem?” said Mr. Stevenson. “It's the first already.” Stevenson nodded with a look of annoyance on his face. “I don't have it right now,” said Jack. “I'll drop it in your office by the end of the day, though,” he said.
“Oh, really?” asked Stevenson, which seemed to be his standard reply to everything a tenant ever said. Jack, on occasions of boredom, would sometimes imagine telling Stevenson, “I'm gonna burn the building down,” and in his mind could picture the little man, with his thick hair, thick eyebrows, rough skin, and so forth, saying, “Oh, really?” “That's a promise,” said Jack with a smile. Stevenson didn't anything, just walked down to the next apartment in line, banging loudly on the door as he had on Jack's. Jack looked at Andre who was freshly shaven, and whose hair was slick and shiny as if he'd just gotten out of the shower. “Why do you get up so early, and how come you never stop with the stupid fucking faces?” Andre could tell he was joking about the second part. “I don' know, it's like, as soon as my buzz wears off I'm not tired enough to sleep. What's for breakfast?” “You fuckin' beggar,” said Jack. “Relax, it'll be an even trade.” “How is 'free' even?” Jack asked, shutting the door behind them. Andre reached into the back pocket of his khakis, pulled out a professionally rolled joint (he used a cigarette roller he'd been given for Christmas), placed it between his lips, and lit with a black chrome Zippo. “Wakey bakie, Jacky Whacky,” he said, exhaling a long, prominent cloud of smoke. “Alright. That's a deal,” said Jack, who, they both knew, would've fed his friend regardless. “Fried or scrambled? Come in the kitchen,” said Jack, going into the kitchen, taking his hit with him. A bit later Jack handed a plate of three eggs, five slices of bacon, and two pieces of toast to Andre, who was sitting on his couch. “What, no coffee?” said the recipient. “You can get your own fucking damn coffee,” Jack shouted. “What? I just burned fifteen bucks with your ass,” said Andre chidingly. “Don't call your cards in my place, you son of a bitch,” said Jack. “Whatever,” said Andre, going to the kitchen and pouring himself a cup of coffee with four tablespoons of sugar. He came back to the living room with a smile on his face as Jack put his Doors CD in the stereo. “What're you smilin' about?” “I had a thought while I was makin' this coffee,” Andre said. “Oh? That's stupendous—I didn't think you had it in you.” “Shut up.” “Sure thing, Boss.” “What's up your ass?” “Nothin'--you know, I'm just messin' with you.” “No I don't.” Jack didn't respond to this, just ate his food happily and listened to Jim Morrison sing about the end. “I remembered that girl Angie, from college,” said Andre. “You went to college?”
“I never told you that?” Jack shook his head. “Well, I went for a year before I dropped out, for alotta reasons.” “I see,” said Jack, feeling strangely sage. “I was thinking about how easy shit was back then. Nothin' to pay for and nothin' owed and nothing to figure out. “Thinkin' about Angie, I remembered how she used to talk on and on after we smoked. She'd look at me every now and then—this was when we weren't fuck, we fucked like rabbits in them days—to see if I was listening. “Like I always was and still am, I was listenin' about half the time. But I remember one time she said—and it seemed so crazy at the time—that the time was comin' where bein' a pothead in America would be like bein' a Jew under Hitler. For once, I said somethin' back to her, I said, 'Yeah, right,' and kinda laughed it off. “But on the way over here this mornin' somethin' happened that made me think. Over on Dune St., you know, where that head shop used to be? Over there, there's a new cafe, I don't know if you've seen it. “There was this guy sitting at the cafe, totally mindin' his own business. While I was walkin' by this woman came up to where he was with a DEA officer. She pointed at the guy and said, 'He's the one, officer, he smells like drugs!' “The guy looked over and said, 'Excuse me?' “The officer said, 'Oh, he's a cocky one too!' “'Is there a problem here, officer?' “'Obviously. You,' said the Fed. 'Stand up and empty your pockets.' “'I haven't done anything wrong, officer,' said the guy. “'We'll see about that,' said the fed. 'Empty your pockets, I said,' he got up in the guy's face 'cuz the guy had stood up. “'Really, I'd rather not—and wham! If the fed didn't punch the guy right in the jaw I'm an old chinese woman. I stopped to watch the scene, obviously scared and feeling this cosmic alliance with the guy—it's hard to explain. And Andre stopped right there, putting his plate on the table and lighting a cigarette, feeling the tale was now told. “How much did the fed get him for?” “Nothin', he was clean. This part was kinda funny. The cop searched through the shopping bags and found like the biggest vibrator I've ever seen. And while the guy laid on the ground bleeding the agent opened it up and inspected it apart.” “Are you serious?” “Why would I lie about it?” “Listen, Andre, I've been wantin' to talk to you—I,” “Wanna go to a party?” “Huh?” “A party. Tonight. There's gonna be a big poker game, me and my brother are gonna play in it.”
“Sure, I'll go,” said Jack, forgetting what he was going to say before, subsconciously putting it off for another day. “Alright, I'll be back later,” said Andre, crushing his cigarette out and standing up. “Grub and go, huh?” “No, smoke, grub, and go,” Andre smiled. Chapter Eleven 8/10/06 At about nine that night Jack was taking a shower. Composing lines in his head—he wasn't sure for what—he felt a brilliant streak coming over him. “The world,” he said aloud while towelling off, “is little more an empty gun barrel waiting to be stuffed. A vacuum that never stays filled for long, whose filling is constantly being replaced.” He wondered what he meant by this. He realized that the thing about such statements is that they are never immediately understandable. They're the kind of thing the writers must scribble, lock away, and come back to much later. And even once the writer has discovered the meaning, it is, when dispatched to the readership, something to be debated and tossed back and forth. After getting dressed, he sat down and wrote a formal journal with only the purpose of recording the statement in mind. However, by the time it was down another had come to mind. “Victory for the oppressed is prolonged defeat in disguise.” He sat tapping his pen against the notebook and wrote that the last one would make great graffiti should push ever come to shove between the government and the all-mighty people. He closed the journal and went to his living room. Earlier in the day, after he had dropped the rent check in Mr. Stevenson's office, he had gone to see Spanish Harry in the Bronx. There was only one Taxi company that Jack knew to make trips into Harry's neighborhood, and it was widely rumored that their drivers carried Glocks. So, standing outside his building he used a payphone and called a cab for Harry's address. The person at the company said it would cost more than a normal trip of the same distance, because of safety concerns. When Jack said that was just fine, the guy said, “Well, the government makes us inform customers of special fees—yer cab'll be dere twenty minutes or so.” Jack thanked the dispatcher. He told the cabbie there was an extra ten dollars for him if he waited. The driver replied that he had no problem waiting, and was launching into a bunch of personal background—probably all lies, Jack thought---which he did not wait to hear. Instead he turned around and went into Spanish Harry's house. He was pretty well-known in the neighborhood, and knowing Harry—Crazy Harry, Spanish Harry—was almost enough to keep him from getting robbed or even messed with at all. Harry himself was the one who answered the
door, which was rare and made Jack wonder what was going on. There was certainly a strange vibe in the air, in addition to an unknown quiet. Quiet so that the smallest creeping and creaking could be clearly heard, which was a bad thing given the number of paranoid people in the area at all times. Jovial noise was essential to their sanity. The rest of the time they thought they were at war. One thing about Harry was that he always poke first. Actually, thought Jack, it was possibly the most important thing to know about Harry. This was because if you didn't let Harry speak first, he would, depending on who you were and how well he knew you, get angry. If he respected you he might mask the anger, but that was even more dangerous when it was gotten down to. It was rumored that the first man Harry ever killed had been his uncle, an important figure in the cocaine smuggling of the early 1990s who had a tendency to cut people, including Harry, off when they got powerhungry or power-crazy. This was why there was an awkward silence as the ashen faced Harry looked at Jack without showing recognition. Moments like this, Jack thought, could be responsible for Harry's secondary nickname, Crazy Harry. Then, finally, Harry said, “Oh, what's up green eyes? Come on in, man.” Jack wondered briefly if he had ever felt that tense before with Harry. Something was obviously wrong, different about this place. It was cold and off balance. Something, something. “Run out all ready, huh, Jack?” said Harry, taking his customary seat at the kitchen table. “Nah, I had a little scare and had to ditch it.” “Too bad, what d'you need, Chico?” he asked. “A party bag, basically, man.” “Oh yeah? Where's the party? I could use some partyin'.” “Actually I don't even know,” said Jack. Harry stared across his kitchen. Jack understood why Harry might perceive this as a lie. Harry was a business man, however, and would probably not take offense. Business was loaded with lost of little lies like that, most of them intended to keep things business-like. Nothing really other than that, though. Never nothing really other than that. Jack set a fifty dollar bill on the table, as was their custom, and Harry said, “That's alright, Jack. If you had to dump, then you're probably hard up. Keep your money, it's nothin' big. We done good business before, I'm sure I'll make it back when you get back on feet of yours.” Jack couldn't repress a smile of gratitude. There was definitely something wrong, though, something that tenderized Spanish Harry, a little. But if Harry wasn't talking about it, Jack certainly was not stupid enough to probe. He thanked harry and on his way out said that he would be back in less than amonth for “the big one.” Harry slapped him on the back, as was his custom, and again showed that bent-but-not-broken look in his eyes.
Andre showed up at about 9:30 while Jack was rolling the bag he'd bought into joints. “Ready?” he asked. “It's a drinking-only party./” “Since when was I stupid? This is for me and you, before and after.” “I see.” Jack handed one of the freshly rolled joints to Andre. “For the consideration of your face.” “For my face?” “Yep, go ahead.” “You're too good to me,” said Andre, taking his customary seat and lighting the thing with a book of matches. “Keep a secret?” “Sure, I guess.” “You guess?” “Is it important?” “Why else would I ask you to keep a secret?” “Why you getting mad?” “I just gave you a joint for your face,” Jack said. “Can you keep a secret?” “Sure, I guess,” said Andre. The pair's mutual stubborness was one of the things that Jack loved about their friendship. He knew all along that “I guess” was just one of Andre's quirks of being non-committal. He wasn't going to get anything better than that. Jack lit a joint for himself and said, “Didn't pay a dime for this shit.” “No doubt?” “No doubt.” “How's that work?--Now I see why you gave this to me,” said Andre, holding the lighted object in front of his face and blowing hard on it. “I'll buy the liquor, then.” “Why?” Jack said with that New England accent that never seemed to wear off, the one that made the question sound like a mobster was speaking. “I can buy my own.” “Share and share-alike, motherfucker.” “Fine, be like that,” said Jack, grinning. “Pretty good stuff, for nothin' anyways.” “Right?” said Jack, more as a statement, whose body was in agreement completely. About forty-five minutes later, both with cigarettes drooping from their lips, Jack and Andre left the apartment building in Andre's Jeep for the party, which was well on its way to full-swing sixteen blocks away. Loud music could be heard outside the house as Andre parked the vehicle up the curb and the two walked up the path to the door, each with a twelve pack of beer in hand, and Andre with a bottle of vodka in his other hand. Andre attempted to knock on the front door but as soon as he put pressure on it, it swung open.
The living room it opened into contained thirty or forty partying people. “Hello people!” shouted Jack, who was feeling quite high at that moment, and was prepared to also get drunk on free beer. A good night all around. A few turned to look at the new-coming pair. The party's host, Bob Fastman, stumbled over to them. Jack thought about the man's name and remembered being told, shortly after being introduced to him, that very few people thought it was his real last name. There was much speculation that he had escaped some sort of criminal record in Canada and had come to America to avoid prosecution in that effect. “We all got skeletons, I figure,” Andre's brother, who had been the first in Jack's circle of friends to meet the man, had said. Jack agreed with this, but had his reservations about people changing their names, nevertheless. “Where's your brother?” Bob asked. “Right here,” said Andre, playfully referring to his best friend Jack. “I mean your mother's other son,” said Bob, who was known to clarify himself rather descriptively. “The players are all ready to start, dammit.” “I'm surprised he's not here yet, truthfully,” said Andre, loudly. “If he's not here in like an hour, we'll have to start without his ass—and our games are usually locked after the first damn hand.” “I'll be playing, but anyways, he'll understand,” Andre replied. “Well,” said Bob, now addressing the two of them, “should be a good party for everyone. More womens than usual.” “I noticed,” said Jack, looking around at the various smaller groups, many of which were full of dancing females free of male interference. Bob smiled. “The game's gonna be upstairs,” he said to Andre, walking away. Jack said to Andre, “I wanna smoke another bone before we start all this shit.” “Gimme your beer.” “Why?” Jack asked again in the accent that made it sound almost like British Cockney. “So I can stash it,” Andre explained. Jack handed it to him and Andre passed the vodka to Jack. A couple minutes later the two of them were walking out to Andre's car, trying to look inconspicuous. This didn't take a lot of effort since they both appeared to be upstanding young citizens, or at least that was their intended effect, at least in comparison to the pimps, prostitutes, and somewhat obvious street pushers of the area. In the car Jack wasted no time lighting a fresh joint with his Zippo. He said, as he had a tendency to say random things when he got high enough, “When you think about it, the world equates to a smoking pistol barrel and little more.” “How you figure that?” Andre asked, exhaling his hit.
“You have to think about it, punk-ass. Don't expect me to walk you through all the deep and intertwining shit, man,” Jack said, looking in the rearview mirror. “Fuck,” he said. “Look behind us.” Walking up the sidewalk there was a man in a police uniform. He wasn't walking as a normal cop, though, instead he seemed unsteady on his feet. His shirt was halfway unbuttoned and there was a wide, goofy grin on his face. He sauntered up to the driver's side and knocked nonchalantly on the window, bending down to look inside the car. Andre nervously rolled his window down and only a bit of smoke, owing to the scent-neutralizer Jack had given him for his birthday, escaped. “Evenin', officerr,” said Andre. Andre gave Jack the most fearful look Jack had ecer seen on his face. He could understand it was Andre's car and this was the most obvious bait they'd ever seen or done before. The officer stuck his head in Andre's window. Andre could smell cheap liquor on his breath. “Well? You gonna pass it my way or'm I gonna call the feds in?” Jack said, “You think we're crazy, or are you fucking crazy?” “I'm not crazy. I haven't smoked in many years. You've been smoking for many hours.” “If a joint happens to land on the sidewalk, and nobody knows where it came from, and you happen to pick it up—would we be even then?” The cop seemed to think it over. After a minute or so, he nodded and said, “Fair enough, kiddos.” Andre said, as if on cue, “Turn around, then, man.” The cop did so and Andre tossed a joint Jack had handed him out the window onto the sidewalk. The cop turned around, saw the white object on the cement, and bent to pick it up. “I can still screw you boys,” he said. “No, you can't, where's your proof?” “Well, I won't anyways,” the cop said, walking slowly away, looking at them a couple of times. “Fuckin' crooked ass fucking cop,” said Andre when the officer was out of sight and earshot. “It's criminal,” said Jack as if he was sure of that, and laughed. Andre took a swig from the bottle of vodka. “We're just lucky he didn't want this, too, the fuckin' lush. He was drunk as hell. He smokes that and he fucks himself over, too. Fired he will be. Did you hear about them mad cops in Boston that got arrested again? This is like the tenth fucking time it's happened in Boston. When are they going to learn that everybody wants to fucking smoke in Boston? Boston is a smoker's town. You can get it anywhere in that beautiful place. I love Boston. I know you do, too. I don't know why you don't live there. You'd have more peace.” “I know,” said Jack. “Right? Let's go back inside,” he urged. “Okay,” said Andre.
As they walked up the path, now even more intoxicated, they heard the voice of Dante say, “Boo!” from behind them. “Little later and you would'a missed the game, douche,” said Andre to his brother, who ran to catch up with them on the path. “Better late than never, chump,” said Dante. “Whatever, let's just et up there.” Back inside the house, Andre and Dante looked for Bob while Jack looked around the house in a stoned manner. Soon the four of them, Bob, Andre, Andre's brother, and Jack went upstairs. Jack was only going up there to grab his beer. As he went back down the stairs with a beer in each pocket of his black jeans, a group of men at various stages of intoxication passed him. “Pussin' out already, man?” said one of them. “I don't play games,” said Jack. “Sure you don't,” said another, giving a wink Jack made it a point to ignore. He guzzled half a beer at the foot of the stairs and began to mingle then. He was leaning against a wall, sipping his beer, smoking a cigarette (Jack chainsmoked when he drank, and had brought along two packs for the express purpose of doing so), when an old friend approached him. “Jacky,” said a voice hoarse from tobacco smoke next to him. Very few people in his life had called Jack that. And only one of them had a voice like that: Sap Jacques. A southerner by birth, Sap was an old man who had moved to New York in the early 1980s to sell cocaine. He'd made a fortune in the post-disco days and had hung up both his business and had use by 1990, around the time that Jack had met him. Jack turned tot he man, who was at least sixty-five but looked much older than that even, and said, “Sap? How the fuck are you? Heard you were on lockdown for... somethin'...” “Yeah, got caught disbelieving the whole piss factory thing in Jersey City. I was testin' it, see?” Jack had seen Sap drunk on many occasions, and Sap was clearly drunk. “Bad idea, I guess, huh?” Jack asked, finishing off his beer, lighting another cigarette, dropping the can on the floor carelessly, and opening his next beer. “But you know what I say?” Jack asked Sap, taking a big swig of his next beer and feeling quite taken by the Osbourne song blaring from the stereo. “I say fuck the drug war!” he hollered suddenly. Sap chuckled and agreed saying, “Right on, kid, right on.” “Careful, brotha,” said a new female voice on Jack's other side. “Huh?” he said, turning to the female. A black woman pointed across the living room at a pale, skinny guy standing near the kitchen entrance, talking to a girl who couldn't have been much over nineteen. “See that guy pretending to drink the gin and tonic?” she said. “He's a veteran narc.” Sap said, “How d'you know that?” “I just do. It's in my interest to. Beyond that, the girl he's talking to, the one playing tipsy? She's a good friend of mines.”
“Really now?” Sap asked. “Doesn't matter if you believe me,” said the woman resolutley. “The truth does not have a necessity in belief.” Jack recognized the last part, in his present state he was unsure where from, but he grinned openly at it nonetheless. “Thanks for the tip,” he said. Then he looked her over un-bashfully. Of course, he reasoned in his mind, few women are ugly when you're high and getting drunk. But, without regard, this woman's athletic beskirted breasts would probably be attractive were Jack not intoxicated. She was hot, in essence. Sap said, “Well, there's a few people I wanna talk to 'fore I go home—old age, ya know, early bedtime and all.” “See you later Sap, look me up man,” said Jack. “Will do,” said Sap, nodding his regards to both as he drunkenly swung around and left them there. Jack turned and regarded the new acquaintance. “I'm Jack, want a beer?” “Don't waste time, do you? I'm Charlie. Sure, I'll have one.” Jack pulled the other cold beer from his pocket and handed it to her. Charlie laughed at him. “What?” he asked. “Nothin', you pullin' that beer outta your pocket reminds me of someone I know. This drunk friend of mines—he hasn't been sober for about three years—he stalks around his apartment in Manhatten wearing cargo pants, an ice cold beer or two in each pocket.” “Does he sell the art he makes?” “I think he managed to sell a piece before he started drinking,” she said, chuckling. “He lives on a trust fund, anyways. There's no end to his resources, either.” This woman had the air of an intellectual, college-educated at the least, Jack had a feeling she would fiercly deny it if he were to call her such. Instead he said, “Sounds like a pretty interesting guy.” “Believe me, he is. He rarely leaves his place, though. Says he's gonna start ordering all his groceries and not leave the studio until he creates something beautiful and salable.” Jack nodded. While the guy did sound interesting, he had never met him, and therefore didn't see a point in continuing the conversation about him. There were a few options for a changing of the subject. He said, “So, earlier you said it was in your interest to know about the narc over there--” Jack pointed in the direction she had and looked to find the scrawny guy no longer present in the room, but continued pointing anyway. “What did you mean?” “It's nothing, really,” she said, and the emphasis on “really” was surprisingly close to intimidating for Jack. “Just a little organization I belong to, is all.” With the word “organization,” Jack suddenly remembered where he had recognized her earlier line regarding truth. It was from the website of the Drug War Enemy. Was drawing such inferences too far-fetched? After all, this woman was an intellectual and could probably quote Hitler just as well if
she liked to. But what of her warning that she had given, what did it all mean? “Do you smoke grass?” he asked, seemingly out of the blue. “Normally I'd walk away at this point. But I know you're not a narc and I can see you're a bit high yourself already. Therefore the answer is yes, on occasion, I do,” she answered, sipping her beer. “Do you--” “Why not?” she grinned at him and said. “But we definitely can't do it here, in this house.” She was rather perceptive, too, Jack decided. “I know, I mean, yeah obviously. I got a good place we can go, probably,” Jack said. “Will you wait here?” “Yep, I guess, sure,” she said. Jack went across the room and turned up the stairs. Andre was sitting at the green cloth-covered round table in the large chamber which was one of only two rooms in Bob's upstairs, the other being a tiny bathroom. Aside from the poker table there was a pool table, a big screen television (which was showing a b-class porno) in front of a couch, and a big expensive stereo. There were a few chips lying in front of him, but there were far more in front of Dante, his brother. It seemed Dante was pretty close to being the victor overall, by the look of the stacks of chips, but he had a few close contenders additionally. Jack went up behind Andre and said, “Lemme use your car,” finishing off his current beer. Andre turned around and said, without conceding the use of his car, “Can I borrow some loot?” “How much? “However much you can get get me.” Andre was clearly quite drunk. “If you lemme use your car, yeah.” “Deal,” said Andre, giving Jack the keys. Jack gave him the fifty dollars he had tried to spend on the party bag earlier in the day. “Thanks,” they said to each other. “Wreck it and I will wreck you,” said Andre. “Gimme a break, you know me,” said Jack, leaving the upper floor again. “Guard my beer!” he called from the stairs, knowing there was a good chance it would be gone when he got back and smiling at the pathetic probability. When he got back downstairs, Charlie was waiting patiently where they had spoken, holding her purse in one hand and sipping her beer with the other. She saw him and came over to where he was. “My buddy's car,” he said to her. “Good deal,” she said, and followed him out to Andre's car. Inside of it, he said, “I'm in the mood for a ride, though, you?” “Sounds good.”
He wondered then what it would be like if she turned out to actually be a narcotics agent and arrested him. How that would suck. But it was unlikely. Very much so. He could ask, and she would have to tell him if she was. He started the car and let it warm up while he lit a joint, toked on it, and passed it to her, watching her carefully, hoping she would smoke like it was nothing special to her, and all would be well. An hour and a half later they had driven many blocks and smoked two joints. They were on their way back to Bob's house when she said, after the dying of their sharing of early experiences with drugs, “This little organization I'm in,” she broke out laughing suddenly, obviously high as a kite. “We're having a meeting Wednesday night, you should come. You'd get along well with these people, I have a feeling anyways.” “I will, then,” he replied simply, as if agreeing was all there was to it. “Here's my number,” she said, scribbling on a piece of paper from her purse. “Call me tomorrow.” The car pulled up in front of Bob's house. Before Jack knew what was happening, Charlie was leaned over the console, kissing him. She had made the first move, which was rare in Jack's experience. “You're a good kisser,” she complimented him, unbuttoning and then unzipping his pants. When she was about to grab him he put his hand on her arm and said, “Charlie, we just met.” “I know,” she said. “I'm not a slut or anything. Handjobs always seemed pretty casual to me—no big deal.” Her forwardness was minutely repulsive yet extremely attractive to Jack—to the point where he felt as if in a long time, she said, “And one good turn deserves anther,” she finished softly. Jack didn't protest further, he reclined in the seat. After a few minutes she whispered, “Handjobs are casual, which is why--” and suddenly she took him into her mouth. Jack decided she was healthily spontaneous, on top of all her other good qualities. The next and nearly last thing he said that night was, “Oh, god,” in a tone of utter ecstasy. Chapter Twelve 8/11/06 Jack and his fellow employees at the Mariott were surprised on Monday to find a new smoking section for them. A porch, with screen walls and a few fans, had been built outside a new kitchen exit. This was a move they all supported extremely well. Jack explored it on his first break, of course, and again felt gratitude for having a boss such as he had. Along the wall at the hotel building ran a long table with an old coffee machine from the restaurant, which was brewing fresh coffee. Instead of styrofoam cups, as would be expected, there was a cup for each employee, with his or her name engraved on it. The boss apparently appreciated his employees lately. He
picked up the cup marked “J. Salem” with the Mariott logo beneath and inspected it. On the bottom it read, “Made and printed in the U. S. A. Brought to you by the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency.” He chuckled at this and considered dropping the cup accidentally on purpose. It seemed to Jack that the DEA had a budget for pretty much every damn thing. He remembered seeing, awhile back, a new, more-thancompetitively-priced brand of chewing gum hit the market and flop awhile before. It had been called “Drug-Free America Gum” and had been launched as a venture between the DEA and the waning firm, Wrigley's. The brand's slogan had been, “Every piece chewed pops another scum bag.” There had been much speculation that the enterprise had come about to help fight the new competition from Amsterdam, LiberGum, which was available in thirty flavors and was fast gaining ground in the market until a trade law was passed that no products would be sold on the American marketplace produced in countries with lesser drug laws. Amsterdam, the libertine nation of social freedom, was topped on the new list only by Jamaica. He decided, chuckling again due to the wryness of the charade—his boss being the biggest yet least known patriotic enemy to the drug war, that he'd rather have them giving out coffee cups than hiring more agents. After all, he knew as well as they did that their Public Relations war was at least twice as fruitless as their actual drug war had once been. As he filled his cup with fresh Newport coffee from Rhode Island, he thought about the conversation he had had with Charlie the day before. He took a sip of the coffee had just mixed with cream and sweet 'n low and remember her saying, “This gropu I'm in, we're sort of political.” He had asked what sort of political. He had asked what group it was but failed to be told. He remembered her saying, “We're going to have a lot to discuss, I hope you don't get bored in all this.” He had told her that if she was interested then he would be interested. A foolish and hard-to-keep promise, in hindsight, but he was stuck with it. He walked over to one of the wicker love seats that had been placed on the porch. In front of it there was a coffee table with some magazines, newspapers, and a few American-flag “Drug-Free America” coasters. He decided all this must be insurance for the owner, who played a very dangerous game indeed. Superficial lip service to the barbaric ends of the culture. It was Monday, which meant there wouldn't be much business all shift. Since his station was prepared for the shift, he doubted he would get any guff from the Chef for being away from his station so long. On the coffee table was the day's edition of the New York Post. The front page read, in letters of great importance, “HIGH TIMES BUSTED!” and showed pictures of DEA agents heroically confiscating loads of paraphenelia—most of which appeared to be unused, souvenir-caliber to Jack—from the High Times Headquarters. The article, which Jack read hungrily, said that the raid had been done under a new law which prohibited drug paraphenelia from being present anywhere on the premises of any commercial establishment.
Jack wasn't as appalled as he would have been five or six years before. Things had changed, though. Whena few minutes later, Andre came out Jack handed the paper to him as he sat in one of the aging white plastic chairs with his own cup and cigarette. “What's this?” he looked down. “Oh, no shit, huh?” He sipped his coffee and took a drag. “I was waiting for this to happen,” he said. “I wonder if my subscription will get refunded.” “They're not shut down, yet,” said Jack. “Says they can probably fight it. There were no drugs in the place but the Feds did get hold of their subscriber list, goddammit.” “Doesn't mean shit. There's gotta be tons of cafes and shit on that list that are perfectly fucking legit. Can they really send that many agents out, to search everybody's fucking home?” “Probably, on both counts. Where's my fifty bucks, anyways?” “Friday,” said Andre, looking slightly sheepish and embarrassed. Chapter Thirteen 8/11/06
Deja vu. The dream started in the care outside Bob's house the weekend before. The drunken cop appeared to have no legs this time, however. Also this time around Jack and Andre did not appear to be taking the behavior of the cop lightly. “Screw you, you fucking crooked fuck!” Andre was saying. Jack saw himself opening the passenger's door, apparently with the intention of giving the cop a beating. He heard a loud rumbling sound and saw himself look in the direction the cop had come from. A giant pair of black and red dice were bouncing quickly in his direction. He hopped atop the hood and out of the path of the dice. As the rumbling faded it was replaced by a ringing that seemed to resound throughout the entire city. The cop's person melted before his eyes. The ringing gained a familiarity, that of a telephone. He felt the head of the car fade beneath him and he began to fall and fall and... When he opened his eyes that Wednesday evening his cordless phone was in his lap, ringing aloud, and loudly. The first thing he had done after getting home from work was smoke a tremendous joint. Unfortunately he had been so worn out from work that after taking a shower and sitting on the couch with phone in hand in preparation for the call he was supposed to receive, he had fallen asleep. He answered the phone. “So are you going or what, Jack?” said the distinct voice of Charlie. She must have known her voice was distinct, he decided, since she did not identify herself. “To what? The meeting?”
“No, Starbucks for my Latte,” she said in a mocking voice. “Of course the meeting,” she said, nearly raising her voice. “Yeah, why wouldn't I?” “Well, this is my third time calling,” she told him matter-of-factly. He decided to be very honest, which was not generally his tactic with women. “I got stoned, took a shower, and fell asleep on accident,” he said just as matter-of-factly. “Awww...” Is Jacky aww tuckered out from worky?” Jack changed the subject. “So you want me to come pick you up now?” he asked. “Yes, we'll have to hurry if we're going to make it on time.” She had difficulty hiding her disappointment at not getting to him with her mock sympathy. “Okay, I'll be there as soon as I can.” Twenty minutes later he pulled up in front of Charlie's building on Church Avenue. She was standing on the curb and at first did not recognize him. He rolled down the passenger's side window and said, loudly, “Ready to go?” She walked over and bent down as the cop had. “Oh, that's right, it was your friend's car the other night,” she said more as a general statement than a comment to him. He just nodded. She got in the car and he asked, “Where to?” “It's not far from here, actually. Go straight.” “Just go straight?” “Yes, just go straight.” A few minutes later Charlie said, “Now, turn left here.” A bit after that, “Take that right,” pointing. “Good, now, see that cafe?” “Yeah,” he said. “Go down the side-street next to it.” He did as she said, saying, “It's a dead end or so it says.” “I know, nevermind, park here now.” He parked next to a parking meter which was busted open atop a crooked post. “Guess we don't have to pay any parking fees here,” he said, chuckling a bit. “It's not the best neighborhood, no, that's beside the point, though, I'm afraid, anyway don't want to be taken for narcotics agents do we? You'll understand why we meet in places like this later, you will I believe you will and then you will some more even,” she explained. She took a brand new pack of cigarettes out of her purse, tossed the purse back into the back seat of the car, and locked and close the the car doors, all of them securely at once even. Seeing this, Jack lit a cigarette realizing he had not smoked one since he'd woken up, which was was odd for him. “I didn't know you smoked,” he said as she led him down the street towards a dive called “The Mason Jar.” “It's closed,” he said when they reached the bar's entrance. “Bunk mission, huh?” He looked inside to make sure it wasn't just some drunk running the
place who had forgotten to mark the place as “open.” The sight of the interior confirmed his first judgement; the place was dark with only the lights of the glass cooler and a neon sign on the back wall visible. As Charlie easily pushed the door open she said, “Don't believe everything you read.” He followed her reluctantly. Thoughts of imprisonment not dissimilar to the ones he'd found himself having that night he'd flushed all his product floated through his mind tauntingly. What sort of group was Charlie introducing him to, exactly? Was a life not risked a life lived at all? A gang? The mafia? Jack was not one to make uninformed assumptions, which often led to paralysis or the next worst thing, fear. Of course these two were invariably connected in life, but leading the life Jack led meant trusting realities and sure things. It meant asking as many questions as possible and never following blindly—for that was how cows were caught and slaughtered. But in Charlie Jack could not, for the life of him, sense any malice toward himself. The consideration of Saturday thinking beyond that, where was her motive? No, if this were a trap it would most likely be a federal trap. He had heard of many things like this happening, but this felt different than the stories he had heard. He was taking a risk, yes, but his reassurance lay in the fact that he did not possess anything. He was quite sure they could not just give a drug test with no pretext. The bar was long and ran from a couple yards in front of the entrance all the way to the wall at the back, where a neon Budweiser Sign was burning. Aside from that sign and a couple others like it, there was very little light in the place. He stayed close behind Charlie as she opened a little door on the side of the bar, stepped up, and walked to the other end. He was looking around the side of the bar he had never seen before, contemplating pouring himself a shot on the house to go with his cigarette, when Charlie knocked on the wall. “Why knock on a wall?” he asked, wondering if he'd gotten himself tied up with a crazy fucker. “Shh,” she said, putting her finger on her lips. She had knocked three times with a short time between each knock. Presently a single, loud knock came from the other side of the wall. “The lord is my lover,” she said loudly, putting her face inches from the brown panel of the wall. Another knock, and she backed away. Jack stepped to the side and watched as the section of the wall slowly swung open, a lighted stairway appearing. There was a man on the top stair with a solemn look on his face. “Hi Zach,” Charlie said. “How's it going then?” “Oh, you know. Who is this?” he asked motioning at Jack. “This is my friend, Jack. I told Same and a couple others of him, and that I was bringing him—he's legit, trust me he is.” “I gotta check, Charlie, you know the rules. I will now.”
“Of course, yeah, go on,” she said as Zach turned around and disappeared down the stairs. “That's Zach Masters,” said Charlie to Jack. “His father owns this whole motherfucker.” How prestigious, Jack wanted to say. Instead he said simply, “Oh.” Zach returned quickly with another man, saying, “C'mon Charlie, Jack.” Charlie went between the two and down the stairs. Jack went to follow her but was stopped by the new man, who stuck his hand out and said, “Hello Jack, I'm Jean-Paul, it's nice to meet you.” Jack shook his hand and said, “You too, Jean-Paul.” “This is Zach, my nephew. He's a bit shy,” said Jean-Paul, pointing behind Jack now. Jack turned and found Zach's hand outstretched. He shook it also and waited for either the conversation to pick up or for them to go down the stairs ahead of him. Zach went first, hopping to the cement floor Jack could now see from the third or four step. Jean-Paul said, “Is this your first time?” as they followed down the steps. “Yeah. I don't even know why I'm here, really. Charlie insisted it would be a good idea that I come, so I have.” “You do know what kind of meeting this is, right?” Jean-Paul asked as they came to the base of the stairs. Jack shook his head, lighting a cigarette, and said, “Nope. She wouldn't even tell me.” “Well,” said Jean-Paul with the same look of solemnity Zach had earlier had. “This is a meeting of the Drug War Enemy, of course.” Jack was only a little surprised at this. It had been his hunch all along, but this man's statement was not enough to confirm anything, really. He would wait and see what he saw. “It doesn't surprise me that Charlie wouldn't tell you.” “It really doesn't me that this is where she brought me,” Jack replied. “This honestly seems like my fate. I've been studying youse lately, anyways.” “Why's that? That it doesn't surprise you?” “Just doesn't,” Jack said as simply as he seemed able to. Jean-Paul didn't question this. Instead he offered Jack a cup of coffee from an urn on a table at the back of the room. Jack made a cup for himself while he checked out the surroundings. Not bad. As Jean-Paul drifted away saying, “I'm sure we'll talk more at another time,” Jack estimated there were twenty-five or thirty people under the hanging circular lights of the basement. Charlie came up behind him and said, “Boo!” He didn't jump; he was still relaxed and slow-reacting from his stoned nape earlier in the day. He was ready to greet Charlie when she said, “Sorry for deserting you like that. I knew Jean-Paul would want to grill you before bringing you down, anyways. I suppose you know now?”
“Yeah, plus it's what I had figured anyways. And if that was a grillin', this place could be full of rats.” “He probably went easy on you because he trusts me,” said Charlie. “Usually people stand on those stairs for an hour with his ass.” “Is he a big deal or something?” “Put it this way, Jack,” she said looking him in the eyes. “When Cartwright got locked up, Jean-Paul was the person he called.” “As in, Jeramiah Cartwright? The one who's on trial right now?” “Yeah, him.” “Guess he is a big deal, then.” “Come,” she said. “I want to introduce you to some friends before the meeting gets really started.” She took his hand and led him toward the center of the room, where the majority of those present were congregating. “This,” said Charlie, putting her hand on a rugged-looking man's shoulder, “is Sam Delacroix. Sam, meet Jack.” Sam, who had a five-o'clock shadow and a thick mustache on his wide face, shifted his coffee to his left hand and offered his right to Jack for shaking. “How goes it, Jack?” he said. Jack said, “Good,” as he shook the big man's hand. “Gonna join this motley crew, ah ya?” Sam asked him. His green eyes seemed to pierce Jack's skin as he spoke, and suddenly Jack knew that this man was also from New England, as he was. “He's just here to observe tonight's, he might stick around though,” Charlie said. “Observe, huh?” Jack shrugged. Sam looked at Charlie. “The strong, silent type is he, huh?” Charlie didn't respond to this. “C'mon, Jack, there's more people to meet, still.” As Charlie led Jack across the room, Sam gave Jack a “just kidding” look. Jack didn't mind being considered the strong and silent kind of person he could sometimes be, and perhaps was also being at that moment in addition. “Hi Charlie,” said a pretty, older woman before Charlie could say a word. “Gloria, how are you dear? This is Jack.” “New member, huh?” she asked, patting Jack on the head. Jack laughed at this. He didn't know whether to pat Gloria back and he was about to ask when Charlie said, “Go ahead, she finds the handshake quite boring.” “Yeah, it never made much sense to me. I've shaken one hand in my adult life,” said Gloria. Jack patted Gloria, who was a couple inches shorter than was he, on the head saying, “Nice to meet you, Gloria.” Jack smiled then, something almost rare for him, but at the same time not. Something that would happen occasionally for awhile and longer, and then at other times not at all, and so
sometimes he smiled too much, and sometimes or other times he smiled not enough, and it would never be enough, the trying in all this. Gloria made a purring noise, winked at Jack, and whispered something in Charlie's ear which Charlie giggled and nodded at. “Oh, look, Marty's here!” Gloria exclaimed in a way that sounded horrific but had to be joyous. As Gloria set her cup of coffee on one of the metal folding chairs and ran across the room to where the coffee urn was Charlie said, “Quite a character, huh?” Jack laughed and said, “Yes, quite.” “She's a neo-hippie of sorts, one of our leading voices against violence. The whole violence debate comes up almost every time we meet. There are those among us that want to escalate our end of the war—you'll learn all this stuff in due time, I'm sure, don't know why I'm rambling on like this.” Jack said, “You never do bore me, Charlie.” “Aww, you're so sweet,” she said. She whistled to a man nearby. “Jake, get your ass over here,” she said across the room to a dark-tanned man. He dutifully came over and said, “Charlie, how you doing?” “Good, you?” “Been better, also been worse—so I'm alright,” he told her. “This is Jake, Jack—Jake, Jack,” said Charlie, gesturing back and forth between the two men. “Hi Jack,” said Jake. “How you doing, man?” “I'm good, Jake,” said Jack. “New member?” Jake said, asking the same question everyone seemed to want the answer to. Just then Jean-Paul was on a little platform just in front of the wall opposite the coffee table. “You guys ready, or what?” he said to the crowd. Some people took seats and lighted cigarettes. Others stood and lighted cigarettes and still others continued their conversations smoke-free. Jack decided to light a cigarette like most of the people sitting around him, to fit in, it made the most sense. “Okay everyone,” said Jean-Paul loudly, and the last few conversations died off, some of their members taking seats. “We have a lot and a little to discuss tonight, if you know what I mean,” Jean-Paul said, and a few people laughed then. Jack wanted to say that he had no clue what Jean-Paul could mean by such a non-sensical statement, but he did not. That he should have the courtesy to explain that one. But he did not want to look stupid, and decided he would ask Charlie after the meeting was over, if he did not get it soon. “As I'm sure you all know, the actions went off without a hitch or a casualty. I'm proud to say that none of our ranks were apprehended during the operation last week,” Jean-Paul said in his laborious way, a way that made it seem he was putting great, careful effort into every syllable. Jack supposed he was referring to the bombings that had saved his skin the week before. “many of you have been asking me what's next—are we gonna go for the
throat, keep their operations down forever in New York? Are we gonna increase our acts, show the bastards we mean business, or what? “I have to say, this is up to you all. Right now, for reasons I need not state,” he said, looking directly at Jack. “It is not safe to plan anything that involves the entire group. There is of course no problem with smaller-scale, individual actions—like the comic graffiti certain members sprayed on their local DEA office,” he said, which some thug-looking kids in the back then laughed at. “But for now we should keep our operations small and as decentralized as possible. “That was really all I wanted to say tonight. I only intended to report the success and say that we sort of need to be on the down-low for just right now, as a group that is. We must be careful in all our actions. “But before I give up the platform, I want to welcome our prospective member Jack, who came tonight with Charlie. I hope to be seeing more of this fellow, who Charlie apparently didn't have fooled for a second,” he finished to the sound of laughter. Then Jean-Paul stepped off the platform. A couple minutes later a person from the first crooked row of chairs went to the platform. He was wearing a black shirt that had a big lime-green star on the front of it. “Most of you know me,” he started. “But for those who don't, I'm Ted. “My message tonight is simple. But first I'd like to say that I am not alone in this, there are a few others most of you might not expect that agree with me--” Jack heard Sam interrupt. “Ted, your message is always the same. Revolution, take over, upheaval,” he said in a mocking voice. “You know we're not buyin'--” Charlie interrupted Sam. “Just let the kid say his piece in case some day you ever have something to say, Sam.” Sam said nothing further, a little red at being hushed by a woman. Charlie turned to Ted and winked at him, which was apparenlty the signal for Ted to speak again. “Our recent actions,” he went on cautiously, “have stirred up hope in countless numbers of people. Everywhere I go—and like I said I'm not alone in this—all I hear people talking about is the bombings. It's not the way it was a couple of years ago, either. It's not the Crazy DWE folks now. Now it's more just a neutral take on a side—like it's just a competition between the DWE and th DEA and the DWE scored some points on the fucking DEA lately. “So I'll keep my message short and sweet: I advocate open, armed insurrection as soon as possible.” Ted sat down as if his last words said it all for everyone, which they did not. Another man took the platform. This one had a tuft of hair under a beret and his general appearance resembled Che Guevera from the Cuban revolution, with his pea green coat and the nothing-can-stop-me smirk he wore on his face. It seemed to jack that for some reason this man commanded a lot more respect than the one before him and a little more than one before that.
“Normally I wouldn't introduce myself, but there is a new face in this sorryass crowd,” the man said with a smile. Unlike Ted, he seemed to address Jack directly, “I'm known as Moxie—my real name's not important. I'm one of the communists here, and when it comes to insurrection and revolution, I, unlike our anarchist fool colleague over here,” he said, pausing to study Ted's facial reaction, which was dull, “I know what I'm talking about when it comes to these things, what it might take even, what it will take perhaps, depending on a few basic circumstances that must first be achieved for maximum effect. “That said, let me preface my statements by saying the kid has a point. The government and the DEA in particular have done a great job in recent months of alienating the people and losing their respect, not to mention their over-all support. They have done little else. “What this means for us is not that we have an opportunity to fuck up everything and take to the streets in armed revolt—as appealing and romantic as this might seem to some. “No, what it means is that we have a chance unlike any before to win the people to our side, to our anti-drug warrior cause. Rather than escalate our actions at this point in time, we would be wise to all become journalists in our own right. To flood the mainstream and independent presses with opinions and first-hand accounts of oppression, murder, and other atrocities we've all seen for ourselves by now—for if we hadn't, we wouldn't be here, would we? “The party, as I've said on many occasions such as this, has always been opposed to this so-called drug war. I've been publishing a column in its newsletter for quite some time under a pen name. “But I think it's time the DWE took the next step I think it's time a few of us—and a couple are already with me on this—went back above ground and started publishing a paper dedicated to exposing this sham war on drugs and sponsored by the DWE unashamed. This will be our first step in winning the people over to our side of this motherfucking cause. “That's all I really wanted to say. Anyone that's interested can of course talk to me after this meeting. Plans are already under way.” Moxie went back to his seat in the front row. As he sat down he seemed to be checking Jack's reaction to what he had said. Jack did his best not to show any emotion, though he was strongly consider the last part of what Moxie had just said. Nobody took the platform after Moxie. Jean-Paul took it again and asked the crowd, “Is there anyone else?” Nobody spoke up. He said, “I guess that means this meeting is adjourned, folks. Good night everyone.” And everyone was back on their feet, mingling and talking. Jack didn't want to make any decisions too quickly, did not want to be too involved right away. Dammit, he thought, I'm not even supposed to be here yet. He decided that no matter what Charlie said he wasn't going to the next meeting. He wasn't going to dive that far in so quickly. Not so quickly he wasn't.
He started slowly for the stairs. “Do we have to go right now?” Charlie asked him in a way that made him feel it truly was up to him whether they stayed a moment or left right away. “I should get home,” he said to her. “Oh okay, go on without me,” she said. “You sure? You don't need a ride?” he asked. “I'll be fine,” she said and winked. Jack, never one to press people, said, “Okay,” and left silently then.
Life for Jack Salem took on a silent, singular, and paranoid quality over the next week. It was much like the night he thought that he had essentially turned himself into the feds except it was lasting and elastic. He found himself spooked every time he saw a cop—at first. Then after a sleepless night he was spooked at the sight of any uniform. He wrote in his journal that Friday morning, I wonder if I'll ever get used to this. I wonder now if I've doomed myself. I look at myself in the mirror and I no longer see strength, grace under fire, hell in size 10s. Now what I see is a scared teenage boy... And I know, I know I can't turn back. My conscience won't allow that, anyways. It's something I've always felt, a truth I've always known. My convictions now see an opportunity t materialize in action, in deeds of true good will, true good will, and so I've become, irreversibly, though I'm the only one who knows, a soldier for the good guys in the Drug War, the true good guys. At work that day Andre came up behind Jack, who was purposefully trying to block the world out and focus solely and totally on the work at hand, and said, “Boo,” without motion in a monotone. Jack jumped in spite of himself. “What the fuck?” he barked, shooting Andre a look Andre had not seen since the time he'd fallen asleep on Jack's couch in a puddle of puke. “Jeezus,” said Andre. “Chill the fuck out.” Jack didn't say anything. He softened his look, though, realizing how much of an over-reaction it was. After all, pulling a trick that usually did not work to scare him, as annoying as it was at the time, was nothing compared to ruining a couch. Of all things, Andre was not the enemy here. “What's wrong, man?” Andre asked a brick wall. Well, brick was too tough and insensitive to describe Jack that moment. Jack decided he resembled more of a wet clay wall, really. “C'mon, Jack, it's me. Just me. You're like my brother, man.”
Nothing was said for a couple minutes. Andre paid attention to everything Jack paid attention to and hoped he would say something. Jack had always felt that if there were one word to describe Andre it would have to be “persistence.” It was his way of life, Andre. He seemed to live by a philosophy that said if you tried for something long enough, no matter what the circumstances, you would eventually get it. With Jack, however, Andre should have learned long before that if he didn't want to talk about something there wasn't much more to it. Andre was far too complacent—and good for him, Jack though—in society to understand what Jack was going through at this point. Andre said, “you know I'm here for you. I wish you'd tell me what was wrong, maybe I could help some.” Jack shook his head. “I'll be fine,” he said. “Fine.” “Well, I hope you're in good enough of a mood to let me buy you some brew outta that money I owe you—just me and you relax at my place and watch a movie or something. You probably don't wanna go out or nothin', least that's what way you seem, and you know I ain't goin' nowhere without you, either.” Andre was right in the spoken and unspoken way of being right. In the spoken way he was right that Jack did not feel up to going out—too much perceived risk. In the unspoken way he was right that a good drunk was what Jack needed to calm his nerves. Jack had found that getting high only made things worse, only made him more fearful, and this was something he could not figure. He had always known grass to ease tension, not exacerbate it. “Yeah, I'll be there,” said Jack, sort of sullen. “Alright, cool,” said Andre. Chapter Fifteen 8/11/06 To Jack's surprise, the liquor helped on Friday night. And on Saturday morning, when he woke up without trouble on his mind but a sick feeling in his gut in Andre's apartment, when he took the bottle of Jim Beam Dante had shown up with the night before and presented to him, slipped his shoes on, and slipped quietly out the door. On the second landing he opened the bottle, which was half-full, and took a huge gulp. Right away the sick feeling began to subside, but he realized suddenly that he had to urinate. Luckily he wasn't far from home, and he knew, beyond the doubt, that he would rather ruin his pants, his car, and all the rugs in China rather than risk it again. Not again, especially not now. Now he knew things, there were lives in his hands. And he supposed, starting his car without giving it a chance to warm up, that maybe it was this fact that had been wearing on him so. It was seven in the morning, so traffic wasn't horrible. Having to piss so bad, though, made it seem worse than it was in fact. It made him think, in a contrasting way, of the time he and his father had gone camping back in Maine. Growing up in New Jersey, which wasn't much better where traffic
was concerned as far as Jack could see, he was amazed at the emptiness of the rains in Maine. IT hit a high point about half an hour before they reached the place in Katahdin Iron Works Jack's father had in mind for the trip, when their truck was the only vehicle on the road and Jack asked, “Where's all the cars, Dad?” At this point Jack truly was beyond understanding. He could not think of one other time in his life that there had been an absence of road noises, honking horns and roaring engines. His father's response, simple as it was, had come back to Jack on a few occasions in his life since. Running into his apartment building, forgetting to lock his car door, and hearing the Jim Beam slosh around in the bottle in the pocket of his brown leather jacket was one of them. “Right where they belong, I suppose, son, right where they belong.” Across the lobby there was a men's room sign, supposedly for use when the resident's facilities were broken, decked out with a shower and everything, and a matching women's beside it. He rushed over to it, trying not to show desperation in his pace, only to find a small, shabby cardboard sign taped to the door which read, “Outta Order.” So typical of Mr. Stevenson, Jack caught himself thinking—which was not the thing to be doing at this point. The thing to be doing, he realized snapping out of his ironic awe at the morose sign, was to pray that one of the three elevators was on the ground floor and get on it, fast. The first reported it was on the eighteenth floor, near the top, the second on the fifth, and the third elevator regurgitated four seemingly related passengers just as Jack stepped in front of it. Relief came over him but not the kind he needed just then. On the elevator, hitting the button for his floor, he wanted to scold himself but that would make matters worse, so he did not. The chances were, he decided as the speedy elevator carried him one, two, three floors closer to home, that being down on himself would give a strong self-doubt he did not need and would, n fact, lessen the possibility that he made it out of this quandary quite successful. For a moment, as he arrived in front of his apartment door, he became horror-stricken. The thought he had was almost enough o make him let go in ways that running across the parking lot or running from the elevator to there had not. He reached into the pocket of his jeans, the same jeans, he now realized, he had been wearing a couple weeks before, and there were no keys to be found. That was his right pocket, so he now hastily checked his left. Fuck, he thought. Fuck fuck fuck, he wanted to shout. It occurred to him that there were as many bathrooms surrounding him as there were apartments. That would be stretching city hospitality quite far but, all the same, in times of need one must do what one must do. He started to run toward the end of the hall, where about the only floormate he had ever spoken to lived, when he heard it and it finally made sense. It was the sound of metal scraping against glass that seemed to resound whenever his jacket pocket swung around. He paused, his bladder
working by sheer will power alone at this point, and roughly jammed his hand into the pocket of the bomber style jacket. Sure enough he found his set of keys, naked of cute and gimmicky keychains compared to the sets of his friends, beneath the fifth. Later he would find it funny that there had been no opposite emotional word to fuck when something actually went his way. But just then he had only one thing in mind: the number of steps and obstacles between him, his bathroom, and release. More than relief, Jack felt desire after taking a long piss and forcing himself to puke up the alcohol in his stomach. A dual desire, no less. To get drunk and stay that way and to find an answer. Not the answer that all men search their entire lives for, but an answer to a somewhat simpler question: why he could not turn back now. He stood in front of the cabinet-mirror over his sink looking himself over. He looked older, perceptions aside, than he felt he'd looked a week before. Or even the day before, for that matter. Were years of smoking, drinking, and drugging catching up to him, he wondered considering a shower. Or was it the pressure of the lives he now felt irrevocably responsible for? The answer might have seemed ambiguous or obvious to a simpler man, but one thing Jack had learned in his life of nonviolent crime was that things were never as they seemed, or rarely were anyway. Never, though. Never. He had no idea how useful this instinctive doubt of the surface would prove to be, but he found it impairing at that moment. As he sat down on his couch with the purpose of relaxing for a few minutes before the inward exploration, lighting a cigarette, he noticed something. He hoped it was not the swallow of Beam he'd had, but the air in his apartment did not seem so constricting as it had since Thursday morning. It seemed clear and most of all it felt normal. As i had before he'd somehow—the events now seemed somewhat inexplicable—gotten himself mixed up with the walking DEA targets known as the DWE. Later, as he used his pen to probe for the answer, a part of it came to him like this: We're all victims, all casualties, all “enemies” in this war on drugs, people. Even the cops, even the DEA agents. They're just doing their job, that must be how they put themselves to sleep at night, with that thought. Somewhere inside each of them there must be doubt, there must be loathing for the work they do. Can they really enjoy locking nearly half the population up? Is that what they signed up for? I doubt it. We're all victims, all casualties, all “enemies” in this war on drugs. Chapter Sixteen 8/11/06 It was one in the afternoon on Sunday when Jack groggily awoke to the phone ringing. For reasons he did not recall, it was lying at the foot of his bed while he was lying on the floor. On the fourth ring he picked it up,
hoping that it was not some repercussion for an unremembered drunk-dial of the evening before. “Hello?” he asked in a scratchy, dry voice that was not his own, completely anyway. “Jack?” said a woman's voice he didn't recognize in the haze of hangover. “Yeah,” he said, opting not to be rude. It was a female voice, and that was generally a good thing. “Hi, it's Charlie.” Of course. What other woman had be talked to lately? “Hey,” he said. “How are you?” “Did I wake you up?” she asked sweetly. “Yeah, but it's alright.” “I just got up myself,” she told him. “I tried calling you last night. Don't you have an answering machine?” “It's broken,” he lied. He had unplugged it and refused to answer the phone for certain periods. He waited for the inevitable question. “Oh,” she said. And instead of asking where he'd been that she'd looked all over for him, she asked, “Wnat to hang out? I'll make lunch.” Jack was surprised. Most women he'd ever dealt with, regardless of how short a time he'd known them, would have been upset and disbelieving, mistrustful, when he wasn't right away available. Charlie showed no signs of such disappointment. “How'bout I make you lunch?” he asked. “You telling me you can cook?” “I do it for a livin'.” “Oh yeah, that's right,” she said. “Yeah,” he said. He felt like the roles always played in his relationships, though this wasn't quite a relationship, yet, had been reversed. Usually it was him that forgot things about the other person. He realized then that he didn't know much about Charlie aside from her oral abilities and her underground affiliation. Good reason to spend some time together, he decided. He said, “You can come over here and I'll make you lunch with drinks on the side.” “Alcohol with lunch?” she asked. “Why not? Sunday it is.” “Sounds good. I'll bring a bottle of wine, because I'm cooking dinner anyways.” “Inviting yourself, huh? How d'you know I don't have plans?” “I just have a feeling,” she said in a knowing voice. “You know how to get here?” “Yeah.” “How?” “I just do.” “No, how?” “You really want to know?” “Obviously.” “No, you don't.”
“Seriously, yes I do.” “Okay, but you better not get pissed.” “Whatever, it's probably not a big deal.” “After the meeting on Wednesday night, when you were in a hurry to leave, it made some of the others suspicious and so to allay their fears, Sam and I followed you home. Same kept saying how we were headed right to the DEA branch, because I don't know if you knew this but you live close to one, but I had faith in you. Then when you got out of your car and went into the building, we went back to the meeting and told them we watched you go home with our own eyes.” Jack fought a gulp. “That's all?” “Yeah.” “No big deal,” he figured indifferently as he could muster to sound. “Okay. Still want me over?” “Why not?” “Just checking—we pulled some spy shit.” “Sure.” “See you in awhile, then, what apartment number?” “Thirteen dash eleven. Thirteen is for the floor.” “Okay, see you soon.” “Bye,” he said. He threw the phone down on the bed and realized he was a little ways from being ready to entertain. He rushed around the apartment picking up dirty glasses and laundry and various other things that needed to be taken care of. Then he grabbed some clothes from his bedroom dresser and took a quick shower. About ten minutes after his shower, while he sat smoking a cigarette, Charlie knocked on his door. He put the cigarette down and answered to find her holding a bottle of wine and a bag of groceries on her hip as well. “Hi there,” he said. The other thing that impressed him was her attire: a short-cut stylish dress that greatly, attractively accentuated her bust. “Come on in.” As she came in past him he looked around the living room and, maybe it was the rum (Bacardi's finest), but the place didn't look so bad for a bachelor pad, in his eyes at that particular juncture. He couldn't resist the urge to clamp onto her petite, perfectly shaped behind. She squealed and giggled and almost said something but said nothing. “Well, it is your place, after all,” she soon said. “Where's the grub, then?” “Decided to wait until you got here,” he told her as he lead her, walking backward, into the kitchen. “Oh.” She stopped by his refrigerator and said, “This your fridge?” He couldn't help but laugh. “Nope. Don't have one, I don't.” She clucked her tongue and said, “hope it's a, not disgusting and b, not too full for dinner's ingredients.” “What?” “The fridge,” she said, opening the refrigerator.
“I told you I don't have one,” he said, turning his oven to three-fifty. “But if I did, it would be neither.” She put the eggplant, wine, and other things she had brought in the refrigerator and said, “I guess it wouldn't be, would it.” As he got into the refrigerator, taking out a package of chicken, she took her purse out of the paper grocery bag and crumpled the bag up. From the dining room, which had no partition dividing it from the living room, she made a foul shot into the garbage of the kitchenette. “Two points,” he said as he went into the kitchenette to prepare the modified lemon chicken which was his specialty. She laughed at this and sat down at his dining room able, watching him work. She opened her purse and got out a small plastic baggie. Next she got out some papers and soon she had rolled two fat joints. She tucked one between her pretty lips and sat down waiting for him to notice. After he put the chicken in the oven and chopped some lettuce for a salad, he looked at her. Putting the lettuce in a wooden bowl without paying much attention, he said, “Somebody came prepared. What, do you need a light?” He walked into the dining room and said, “Want coffee? Sorry it took me so long to offer. Mine's got rum in it, I can hook that up for you, too, if you want.” “Why not?” she asked. “Why don't you sit on the couch with me?” he said. “The chicken will be awhile,” he said as he got her coffee and rum prepared. She smiled and walked over to the couch, her light brown skin brilliant in the afternoon light. He appeared in front of her at the leather sofa and said, “You're in my seat, you know.” “That so?” “Yeah, but we can share it. Here's your coffee, anyways,” he said and set the coffee on the coffee table next to his. She moved a cushion over, he sat down, and she got on his lap, put his left arm around her slender waist to hold her and grabbed his Zippo from the little table. He turned her around to face him and lit the thing hanging from her mouth. When she held it to his lips and he inhaled it he asked, “Is this hydro?” “Yeah. Got it off an old friend for free.” “It's good.” After they were done eating lunch, which neither had any problem demolishing having gotten a bad case of the munchies from the dope smoke, Charlie said, “So, feeling stress lately or something?” Jack's eyes widened. The moment called to memory the knowing tone in which she had earlier said, “I just have a feeling.” He decided not to pretend that everything was fine. He asked, “Does it ever loosen up? I mean, does it get easier?” “When I started,” she said, putting her forked and barely soiled napkin in her plate, “I would see cops everywhere. I was waiting to get sent to prison
for life on some trumped-up charge. Everywhere I looked it seemed I was garnering hateful return looks—in short, I was overly paranoid. “Don't forget, and I'm sure you know this—since meeting you I've looked into your past through the grapevine—there is a difference between a healthy level of criminal paranoia and being overly paranoid. “You know what I figured out one day, though?” “What?” he asked. He realized it had been a long time since he'd been so engaged by a person's words. “Those cops and agents and stares were there all along. It wasn't easy to realize but it sure made it easier,” she paused then to look at nothing in particular. “They hadn't changed any, not any at all, but I had.” Suddenly everything felt right with his world. That was when he wiped his mouth, gulped his coffee, stood up, and kissed her. A few minutes later he was making the best love of his life to her. Chapter Seventeen 8/11/06 Six days later, Jack left his apartment building and walked two blocks up th 18 Avenue to call a cab from a pay phone there. Three weeks before he wouldn't have gone to that much trouble for the trip he was making but his new affiliation called for more caution than he had ever used before. In front of a mini-market he picked up a pay phone receiver and put it back down when he noticed an empty yellow cab going slowly by. He waved it down. “Where to?” the driver asked him. “Clarendon, near Holy Cross.” “This time a night?” “It's four o'clock.” The driver didn't say anything else for the trip. “Here's good,” Jack said as Holy Cross Cemetery came into view. Another of his new precautions was to not go directly where he was headed, which was Crazy Harry's that day. For the past week he had been working on other ways of blending into the scenery. “How much?” he asked before getting out. “Fifty-three fifty.” “What?” Jack said more exclamatory than questioning. The driver spoke up, apparently deciding Jack was hard of hearing. “Said fifty-three fifty,” he said louder. Rather than point to the meter, which was what other cabbies had done in the past when Jack asked about a fare, the driver said, “I ain't technically s'posed to come down heah. I nevah was heah, in fact.” Jack tried to look at the digital meter but saw it was not even on. “You gonna pay?” Jack dug into the pockets of his jeans and pulled out thirty-three dollars. He thought about throwing that in the driver's face and running but he recalled a recent city ordinance that decreed cab companies could arm their drivers.
The guy was probably packing heat and Jack didn't having anything to strike back in that manner with. “I c'n take Visa, Master--” “I got the cash,” Jack snapped, putting the twenty, ten, and ones in a pile on his lap. He reached into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small yellow envelope, thick with cash. He opened the envelope and took out two twenties, tossing them on his lap. He carefully resealed the envelope by wetting the flap with his tongue. He noticed the driver watching him in the rear view mirror and gave him the same look he'd given Andre a week before, that look that could scare a train off its track. He put the envelope back in his jacket pocket and shoved the thirteen dollars back in the pocket of his jeans. He handed sixty dollars to the driver as he opened the door to get out. The driver said, “Don't you want your change?” “Keep it you fuckin' shyster, and don't say I never gave you fuckin' nothing, you fuck,” Jack said, already on his way to Harry's basically. He thought he heard the driver say something but paid it no mind. Before he even turned onto Crazy Harry's street, he had a bad feeling. It was the same feeling he'd had when he was apprehended for his first and only time at age seventeen. A sick, empty feeling in his stomach. If he believed in premonitions or anything like them—any sort of supernatural possibility, he would have considered the feeling overtly premonitory. The closest parallel he could draw it to was homesickness, but that didn't begin to cover the feelings in question. He began walking at a slower pace as he turned on Utica Avenue. It was an instinct he had developed in his midtwenties after one day realizing that few, if any people, walked at as quick a pace as he did usually. One of his friends, long since murdered in a shootout at Englewood Park, had commented, “I see you don't walk so shady as you used to. Cheezus, Jack, mebbe you ah learnin' somethin'.” Most of the time he hadn't a care as to whether he seemed shady or not. When it came time to commit a felony or get this feeling, he instinctively changed his gait. As he lit a Marlboro, pausing (stalling) to do so, he flicked his eyes ahead. What he saw made him want to turn and run. And keep running until he was safe at home, that was. Outside Harry's house there were three black SUVs marked DEA in bold yellow letters parked all at different angles toward each other, as if it was a bust, and it was a bust. He crossed the street and kept walking. The important thing was not to call attention to himself. This would hurt. As long as he betrayed no emotion—regardless of what he was about to see—he would be fine. But this would hurt, this would be hard. He knew he could do this, but as he watched an agent get out of one of the SUVs, he suddenly hated the world for its necessity. Harry was a good man, he loved his kids more than anything. There was blood on Harry's hands, sure. What modern taxpayer did not have blood on his hands? The length of their relationship would not allow Jack to deny this much, even inwardly. But who didn't have a little blood on their hands these days? Civilization had been sliding into chaos for decades and men had to do what men had to do in
order to survive in all this. As he passed the SUVs, Jack heard a door being kicked in. As he kept walking, feigning deafness, he heard indistinguishable shouts followed by gunshots—what seemed like hundreds of them. He'd figured that much was coming, Harry had shown Jack his twin Uzis on many occassions. Harry also had armor. There was a loud shrief, it sounded as if it belonged to a woman, but Jack knew that shrief, it wasn't fooling him. That was the shriek of a man not meant for the streets seeing Crazy Harry's machete for the first time and also the death of him. Jack continued walking as if nothing at all was going on, in his heart hoping that Harry would somehow be victorious. Which he knew that Harry would not be, but it didn't bother him to hope for another outcome on the whole. It did not bother him to hope. Turning on Glenwood Road, as darkness began to fall and Jack began to feel the sickness subside and become replaced with a mellow sadness, he saw two more DEA vehicles—backup—turn right, Jack thought. Then, Fuck this world. At the end of the block, on the corner, he saw a lonesome pay phone. He decided to use it to call the only taxi company that would come to where he was, day or night. He reverted to his normal walk, lighting another cigarette with the end of the previous one. He was depressed about the loss of Harry, but moreover he felt sadness for the world, he felt it needed fighting for, the world at large, in the face of all this tyranny it needed fighting. As darkness did fall quicker and Jack stood by the pay phone, thinking of old times spent with Crazy Harry, a gruff yet young voice said, “All ya money, mothafucka.” He looked sideways and saw a fat, black youth wearing a red bandanna and jeans that must have been size 78 or beter. The kid's hooded sweatshirt was also red, Jack noticed in the street light. He turned to face the fat kid and said, “What, punk?” Another voice, this one higher pitched, said from behind him, “Said all ya money, cracka.” Jack paused as if considering it. This was no day to get robbed; he was carrying just short of three grand an no weapon. The fat kid flipped a switchblade. “'S day matta, white boy?” he said, and one would've thought he was asking for the time with the coolness of his voice. Jack wondered for a second if he looked like a sucker, like he hadn't seen this kind of thing before. Then, without thinking first, he saw himself swing his leg up and to the left, knocking the knife out of the fat one's hand and stunning him additionally, forcing him to take a few misguided steps backward. Before the fat one recovered he spun around and threw a fist at the skinnier youth. The skinnier one dodged his blow and tried to come back with one of his own, which Jack in turn dodged. Coming back into center with the smaller guy, he wasted no time, and landed two quick punches to his gut and probably the hardest fist of his life directly to the kid's nose. This
sent the kid sprawling and Jack couldn't help but laugh as he turned and caught the other “gangsta” with a scared-shitless look on his face. “Whassa matta?” he mimicked as he actually slapped the fat one across his pudgy face. The fat kid backed up again and said, “Jermoe, get ta fuck up!” Jerome's nose was apparently broken. Jack pointed this out, cackling loud. Now he could bluff. He was truly victorious now. He said, “Getcher fuckin' homie outta here 'fore I pull my piece and cap the botha youse.” At this Jerome staggered to his feet, holding his nose cupped in his hands, and walked into the street, keeping his distance from Jack and mumbling something that prompted his partner to join him fleeing. “Next time rob a real sucker!” Jack called after them as his taxi arrived and he left the neighborhood. Chapter Eighteen 8/11/06 Sunday afternoon Jack called Andre. “Yeah?” said Andre in a groggy voice. “Wanna come over, please?” “F'what... you just woke me up you prick,” Andre yawned into the phone. “What time is it?” “Three.” Andre sounded instantly more alert. “What!” Jack chortled. “Don't you got windows, dummy?” “Can't be three, prick, it's all bright out.” “Don't you gotta a clock, dum—” “Shut up. What's up?” “Wanted to talk, hang out, you know, like we did when we were friends and all?” “Huh?” “It's been awhile, and I got some news—the bad kind, though.” “Probably already know.” “So you're gonna bring some green, then?” “I already paid you—wait, who said I would?” “Everything alright, man?” “No, it's just I got this girl--” Andre suddenly paused. The sound coming over the line became muffled and Jack heard him say someone's name loudly, repetitively. Then he said to Jack, “Well, I already paid you that money last week so--” “The other green, douche.” Andre laughed. “You want me to bring that green, Salem?” “Thought you said you already knew,” said Jack, lighting a cigarette at his place. “I probably do. Don't see what I might know's got to do with the price a rice in Arkansas, though.”
“I thought it was supposed to be the price in China.” “Which was?” “The saying, douche. What it has to do with the price of rice in China,” Jack quoted. “Oh. Who cares about China?” Jack sighed and chuckled almost simultaneously. “Would you just bring some, I'm kinda jonesin' over here.” “Last time I talked to you you said that girl you been with lately had bomb shit,” Andre hinted. “Can't get hold of her. Anyway that's besides the point.” “What so I'm your backup?” “How's that girl?” Andre didn't say anything. He knew Jack was saying without actually saying it that there was no reason they shouldn't hang out for awhile. At the same time, Andre had never told Jack a lie. 'She ain't here. Guess she damn left.” It was Jack's turn to be silent: this was what he already deduced and in his heart knew. If he said anything about it, even in jest, it was bound to piss Andre off. Jack knew this from experience, many years worth of being one of Andre's closest friends. “Be over in like an hour,” Andre said. “Hassum beers ready.” “I always got cold beers ready. See you then.” “See ya.” Jack hung up the phone and decided a cold beer was a good idea. Then, toting the beer in one hand at his side, he snubbed the cigarette in the living room ashtray and lit a fresh one on his way to his office. He sat at his desk and wished he had it in him to cry. Since the night before the sounds at Harry's house had been running continuously through his mind. He felt sadness at the loss of Crazy Harry. Their relationship had always been a business one but by he end of it, especially the last time Jack had gone to see him, it seemed they had reached the next step: friendship. Losing Harry was more than losing the city's best drug connection. It was losing a friend, and the possibility of a life-long one at that. He guzzled a third of the can of beer. Then it came to him. Somehow, suddenly, he had both the words to do it and the means to vent. To hopefully purge himself of the sadness. He took out his journal and scribbled the first line. His feelings took the shape of a poem. Shots ringing Harry is dying Shots ringing Harry is winning Shots ringing Harry is king Shots ringing And the lost The lost are always
with us. His cigarette finger began to burn. He looked at his left hand as if he had just noticed it and quickly snubbed the cigarette in the desk ashtray. He now found it wasn't so hard to write about the events of the day before. Now the sadness had left him. He recorded the events almost objectively for the next half an hour. Then he put his journal away as if there were an office of the law present, threatening him. he did not want Andre to see him writing in it, even though Andre had on many occasions mentioned his suspicions that Jack was much “book-smarter” than he let on. Jack of course denied this, he had a reputation to protect. He went back to the living room, emptied the can into his throat, and retrieved a fresh beer from the refrigerator. As he lit a fresh cigarette and was ready to sit on his couch, there was a knock on his door. He answered it to find Andre with a humongous joint between his lips and a grin spread across them. “What're you crazy?” he nearly exclaimed. “Get in here!” Andre came through the door and shut it. He had to shut it because Jack was busy grabbing Andre a beer from the refrigerator. Jack and Andre had once been roommates, and it seemed to Andre that Jack had forgotten the expiration of the arrangement. Jack handed Andre the beer and sat down as Andre, without prompting, lighted the fat number in his mouth. After he'd inhaled a fair bit of smoke, he sat down on the other end of the couch and Jack watched his eyes bulge. It was an old stoner gravity trick, Jack reflected, stand then sit or sit then stand with a big rip traped in your lungs. Andre exhaled the smoke and leaned over to hand the burning joint to Jack. “So, what do you know?” he asked. Jack held up a finger: one second. After his hit was through, as he passed the joint back and took a sip of his beer, he said, “I know what I saw and heard. Yesterday I went by Harry's with a big wad, ready to pick up big and flip.” He proceeded to tell the entire story, parts of it seemingly verbatim from his journal, of the day before over the next hour's marijuana, beer, and cigarettes. Andre hardly uttered a word during this time. He was shocked for the most part; his friend had seen it all first-hand, it seemed. Then, once it seemed Jack had given him every detail, rolling another joint, he said, “Not to change the subject, but do you think this shit is good?” “Not bad.” “I didn't get it from Crazy Harry.” Jack seemed to flinch at the name. Andre decided not to use it again. jack said not a word. Andre went on, “Dante knows a guy. I can hook you up. Guy's good for everything you need.” “Alright,” said Jack. Andre didn't leave for eight more hours.
Chapter Nineteen 8/12/06 Thursday at work Andre said to Jack, “Dante can do it tonight. If you can.” “Do what?” Jack asked, turning to face him. “Hook you up with the new guy. The new guy,” he emphasized suggestively. “Said I wanted to do it tomorrow, though, man.” “He's leavin' for a week tomorrow mornin'.” “That's fucked.” “Need me to spot you? My father sent me a care envelope.” Jack had found out some time before that Andre and Dante's father was in some way connected to the mob. Andre had told him this one day when they were high and Jack was lamenting the wage earner's life. He'd said, “I should have a different life, but my mother's last words were against it.” Jack, at that time having no clue, had press him on it. Which was when Andre told him about his life as the son of a mobster, a good one at that. “One of the best.” Once in awhile Andre would get an envelope full of cash in the mail. Every time past the reception had meant a wild party on Andre's dime; there was so much money. Jack said, “Nah. I got it, I just wanted to wait another day is all. If today's the only day, then that's fine, we'll deal.” “Alright, come over at like six.” “At like six?” Jack smiled. “When's that?” “Oh fuck you,” said Andre, trying not to smile. This was a joke between the two of them that went back quite awhile. Once Andre had called Jack up for a bag and Jack had told Andre to come to his apartment “at like seven.” Andre had ended up standing outside Jack's apartment until almost seven-thirty when Jack got home. Andre yelled at him and Jack said, “I said like seven... that's anytime between six-fifty-nine and seven-fifty-nine, so relax.” Later they had laughed about it, but at the time Andre was still pissed. “So when's the party?” “What party?” Jack made a motion with his hand. “Oh—Nah, I'm savin' it this time.” “What for?” “For whatever.” A waiter came around the corner and said, “Andre, your three o'clock is here.” The waiter then disappeared. “That's how good I am—remember, six,” said Andre as he walked away. Jack nodded and trudged through the rest of his work day. Later that night he was in Andre's apartment talking to Dante. Andre had left a few minutes before, having decided to trust both of them equally long before, to meet a girl. A new girl. Jack had asked him if it was the same girl and Andre replied, “I don't know what happened to that one.” Jack wasn't sure, as he never felt
sure of minor things when he was high, but he thought he saw Andre wink then. Jack said, “Oh.” Dante laughed his hearty laugh. After Andre had been gone for a few minutes Dante lit a joint to match the one that Jack had just smoked with him. Jack said, “Don't you think maybe we should wait to smoke more... It is a lot of money and I'm high's fuck already alright.” Dante finished lighting the joint, exhaled a large plume of smoke, took another drag from its sweating end, and passed it to Jack. Nearly a full two minutes after Jack had posed the question Dante finally said, in his deep and gruff voice, “Huh? Oh, nah, don't worry 'bout it. If you never saw this guy in action you'd think he was a puppy—that's how good a guy he is. An' he don't let people fuck with his customers, either, no he don't.” “You sure?” Jack asked, surprised a bit. Dante looked himself up and down dramatically. “Whatchoo got to worry 'bout with me by yer side, anyways?” he asked and smiled. Jack chuckled and lighted a cigarette. He smoked so much these days. He was now holding a joint in his left hand and a cigarette in his right. “So where you goin' tomorrow?” he asked, handing Dante the burning number. Dante studied Jack's relaxed look, decided it was a good idea, and took a cigarette out of his pack on the coffee table between them. “On business,” he said simply. “What kind?” “The business kind--'ey, whas'it matta?” This statement and statements like it were what made Dante Jack's favorite kind of person. The kind that get defensive when asked the time. The true blue tough guys. The proud and eminently supreme realist money-makers. People like Dante believed (and not without foundation, in Jack's view) that there was a motive behind every damned question to be posed. “It don't, I'd guess,” Jack said. “Well a'right, then.” Nearly an hour later they left in Jack's car for the new guy. “Where is this place, anyways?” asked Jack, who was feeling superbly stoned by this point. “Yer not gonna believe this.” “That doesn't matter, really,” Jack said. “Wouldn't know the difference, regahdless.” “True,” Dante reasoned. “'S on Third Avenue.” “Manhattan?” Jack asked. “Told you you weren't gonna believe it.” “Oh well,” said Jack, pulling out and heading for Third Avenue. Twenty or thirty minutes later (time was easily lost in the mist of intoxication for Jack), Dante said, 'Right up here,” pointing to a building on his side and tossing his cigarette out the open window.
Jack was relieved to find an un-metered parking space only a block up the street from the place. “Lock your door,” he told Dante as he slammed his own shut. He expected a snide remark back from Dante as he lighted a fresh cigarette and slid between the bumper of his car and the one in front of it to get on the sidewalk. Instead Dante did what he'd said to do. He and Dante had never spent a tremendous amount of time together apart from Andre. Even in the old days, before Jack had ever dealt drugs, it had been him who'd had the good connections. All the business transactions he'd ever had with Dante had been on a dealer and client basis, and on those occasions Dante had been decidedly relaxed and informal. However, Jack assumed that Dante's stern and solemn quiet and reserve—completely absent an hour before—was what could be considered his “poker face.” Jack decided to follow his example and did not say a word as he followed Dante into the building, up five flights of stairs, and to an apartment marked 6A. It was originally marked 5A but someone had crossed out the original with a permanent marker and written the new. Dante knocked on the door hard. He knocked twice and let his arm rest at his side. When he was about to knock again a hispanic man with a tuft of black hair that almost covered his eyes and a growing goatee opened the door for them. “You're late,” said the man. “Mox, I'm--” The man backed up and Dante led the way in. He said, “You know I cleared the place out in uh, preparation for youse? You said you were bringin' a big customer and I like to do big business in private. That was an hour ago—I got sixteen messages from customers during that time, you fuck. So, you gonna introduce us or what?” The man closed the door. “I'm sorry, man,” said Dante. “Moxie, this is Jack—Jack, Moxie,” he said the two shook hands. Jack had seen him before, Moxie. Recognized him from somewhere. At that second he could not recall exactly where, but he had a feeling it would not be wise to come out and say so just then. Moxie went to a table in the kitchen of his large apartment where a cigar was burning in a blue glass ashtray. He picked up the cigar and jammed it between his teeth like it was nothing. He pushed it to one side of his mouth and said, “Come, sit, talk business with me,” across the room to Jack. Jack had been looking around the apartment. On the light-blue papered wall behind the table there were ten or fifteen pages from various editions of the New York Times taped up. Some of them were front pages, others were not. One thing they all had in common was that somewhere on each in larger bold lettering were the letters DWE. As he and Dante walked over to join Moxie at his table, it dawned on Jack where he had recognized Moxie from. He was the guy who'd made the third speech at the DWE meeting. The one who'd gotten more respect from the crowd than even Jean-Paul. The one who had talked about an above-ground newspaper instead of increased actions, or something like that.
Jack lighted a fresh cigarette at the table. Dante said, “I'm just kinda here for this ride, no money from me.” “Whatever. Youse want some coffee or somethin'? I got beer,” said Moxie. He looked at Jack first. “Cup 'a coffee'd be nice,” said Jack. “Cream sugar?” Moxie asked standing up. He said it as if the phrase was a single word. It reminded Jack of Andre. He missed that friend of his just then. It seemed to him Moxie had probably had some experience in the hospitality industry, at the front of the house at least. The rugged look of him implied to Jack that he had probably also worked as a dishwasher at some point. “Nah, black,” said Jack. He could eat or drink practically anything when he was as high as he was. When Moxie turned to go to the kitchen counter for the coffee, Jack noticed the pistol on his hip. The last thing he expected from this guy, who seemed so polite, reserved, and cordial. It call to memory what Dante had said earlier about seeming a puppy at first glance. Dante called after Moxie, “I'll take a beer, thanks.” “I know. They're in the fridge,” he said, pointing behind him with his left arm. “G'head.” Dante did. Moxie came back to the table and set a medium-sized cup of black coffee in front of Jack. Jack said, “Thanks,” and laughed for no reason in particular. Moxie made eye contact with him and said, “No problem, man, no problem.” He was a fast talker. The expression on his face said, “I know who you are and I know you know who I am, but this blissfully ignorant fuck over here does not need to know either.” \ Jack sipped his coffee and took a humungous drag off his cigarette, something his lungs would only tolerate when they were coated in THCridden tar, as Dante sat back down with a beer. “So,” said Moxie to Jack. “What kind of business are we talking here?” “Well, before I had to dump my shit,” Jack started. Moxie gave him a startled look. “Long story,” he explained. “Anyways, before that, I was pushing a Q and a half of green plus a half key of white per week, no less, often more. Some of my customers found a new connect but told me to call 'em up when I was back. Others have been unhappily dry since then. So I figure, I'll almost pick right up where I left off before he got busted.” “That's not bad—decent that is,” Moxie said, considering things apparently. A minute or so passed in silence. Jack took a final drag from his smoke and said, “Yeah,” to kill off the building silence. “So what do you need tonight?” Moxie asked. “I brought three grand to invest to start with,” said Jack, expecting to startle Moxie. Instead it was Dane whose eyes widened and gave a little cough at the number. Unfazed, Moxie said, “You want coke and pot?”
“Nah,” said Jack. “For now I'm just goin' green. Got any deals goin'?” “What strains were you selling before?” “Strains?” Jack asked, looking a bit puzzled. “You know, like Purple Haze, Hydro, Mersh, and so forth?” “Oh, I was just sellin' mersh. My last guy--” “Crazy Harry?” “Yeah, how'd you know?” “Just had a feeling—Me and Harry went to the same guy for mersh. Harry's business was mostly coke so he only sold mersh for pot—that's what you were about to say, right? That your last guy only had mersh? See I knew why, right?” “Yeah,” Jack said simply answer to a complex, multi-pronged question. “Well, for the kind of dough you brought, you can walk with quite a selection to start with.” “What's your best offer?” Jack asked. “Right to the point, huh? I like that—no bullshit, my kind of guy,” said Moxie as Dante helped himself to another beer and Jack lit yet another cigarette. “I'll give you a pound of mersh and--” Moxie paused and looked at the ceiling. He looked to Jack as if he was doing some tough calculations. “An ounce of purple, an ounce of white rhino, and a half an ounce of the fucking crack haze, too.” Jack was unfamiliar with all these exotic types of weed. He looked at Dante questioningly, Dante nodded simply a nod that said, “It's a good deal, go for it.” Jack asked, “What's the crack haze?” “Some new shit from right here in NYC, Bronx to be exact,” said Moxie. “Makes you feel like you're on Harlem crack, though,” he said in a way that seemed a testament but could easily be denied as such. “Tell you what,” he said. “I'll throw in an extra bag for you to smoke yourself, of that.” At first Jack didn't like the assumption that had just been made—that he himself was a smoker—but then, he supposed, it probably wasn't that difficult to gather from the look in his eyes. Especially for anyone with moderate experience in that game. “I call that a done deal,” Jack said. “I call it a new satisfied customer,” Moxie said as he disappeared into another room off of the kitchen. Soon he re-appeared with a paper grocery bag which he slid across the table to Jack. “It's all in there,” he said. “Next time, come prepared with a backpack or something.” “Alright,” said Jack, looking in the bag. There was a one-gallon plastic bag marked in black marker “M.” Similar markings were on the smaller bags. He picked one of them up, inspected it, and dropped it back in, folding up the bag. He reached in his right jacket pocket and took out the envelope of cash he'd had the Saturday before, when Harry had gotten fucked over. He slid it across the table to Moxi and said, “Thanks, man.” Dante stood up. Jack followed his example and said, “Guess we'll let you get back to your business, then.”
“You come back any time,” Moxie said as he crushed his cigar out in his ashtray. On the way back to Andre's Jack asked Dante, “How long have you known that guy?” “Three four months,” slurred Dante, clearly over-intoxicated. Chapter Twenty 8/12/06 Not quite a week later, at half-past midnight on Tuesday, Jack was worried. Work-life was going well enough, and business was going well on the other side. The special strains Moxie had given him had turned a good profit already—so good, in fact, that he had managed to make 25% more profit on the last few bags of them. Things were going great in that respect. But in the words of Crazy Harry, the man who'd taught Jack most of what he knew about the business, When things start looking good, you start looking out. Among Harry's other pieces of advice was that you should keep a clear head when you have more product than customers. A combination of these two things—Jack's love of sedatives and his healthy, slightly elevated level of paranoia—was what contributed to Jack sitting bolt upright, suddenly wide awake, heart beating a bit faster than usual, and an unplaceable, mild anger welling up in him seemingly from nowhere. He threw his blanket off his lower half and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He turned on the lamp of his bedside stand He picked a pack of cigarettes up off the stand and tucked its last remaining butt between his lips. A flick of his Zippo and the cigarette was burning, smoke filling his lungs. For a couple minutes he just sat there smoking. Next he padded out into his dining room and sat on the table, brooding. He found himself somewhat unconsciously going over all the transactions of the past few days. New people had come into the picture. A couple of these new people were shifty at best—gangsters and hoodlums. People he'd once, when he was an early teenager, idolized and modeled himself after. But being the independent thinker Jack was, this period of his life had turned out to be one of many stages of growth. He'd once written in his journal that the notion of being “grown up” was a farce, that a person had not reached maturing until they lay in the coffin. He still felt this way and pitied people he knew who never seemed to change. They were trapped. And when he'd later decided to make an enterprise of illegal narcotics, the particular group of prisoners he did not pity—rather, that he loathed—were people from street gangs and general hustlers, scam artists. The people that always came with a lot of dollar bills and crinkled, ragged looking tens and twenties. The people who, as soon as they'd spent a moderate amount (because it was never these who spent a large amount) would ask, beg, or plead for a line of credit. The people who had the balls to act as if they knew more about his trade than he did (and Jack was obliged to not argue with
them—especially when they were there on a customer basis). The worst of whom were those that would approach him with “tips” and “connects”-phone numbers and addresses which Jack considered himself lucky not to be stupid enough to try for anything at all. Without regard for his opinion of them, he knew that a certain number of these people was not only inevitable but, sadly, necessary. And some of these people had put a less than mild scare into Jack over the previous few days. Not in anything they said or even anything specifically that they did. As Jack put it to Andre months before when Harry was still around, it was in their shady demeanor. Namely, the most notable and worthy of his brooding had been a black man from the next floor or Jack's building. The man was a few years younger than Jack, wore baggy pants and almost always one sports jersey or another, and went by the name AshTray. What had bothered Jack about this guy was the way he sauntered around Jack's apartment, lazy chocolate eyes roaming freely, as if he owned the place though he didn't even know Jack. The way he'd taken a seat without asking or being offered. And the casual way he talked about his recent activities—robbery and rape. (Jack assumed he already knew why AshTray didn't talk about that other capital crime—murder—because if Jack was ever busted, dealer busting being a daily occurrence, rolling on AshTray for murder would be a very helpful thing indeed.) It almost seemed to Jack that AshTray was trying to make him an accessory-after-the-fact to as many of his crimes as possible, constantly testing him for “realness.” Or he was trying to scare Jack. Coming to think of it, Jack decided it was most likely the latter, however ineffective it had been. A recent exchange between himself and AshTray came to mind which seemed to exemplify not only why he did not like the guy, but alos why he could not trust him. AshTray had said, “So, Jackie Dawg, how much you pick up?” “Pick up?” Jack asked, playing stupid. While not among the worst, AshTray was one of those customers that acted like they knew more about Jack's role than he did. This always led Jack to wonder (but never to ask, for reservation was one of the most important things he had learned from Harry) why their roles were not reversed. “Yeah, you know, wholesale?” “Pickup...wholesale?” Jack played especially stupid. Another thing he had mastered after many years was acting high when he was not. He reasoned this feat was so easy because he had spent so much of his life high that it was more like “acting normal” for him. Just then he had a feeling it would be most wise to play the irresponsible, inattentive, over-indulging dealer that he had encountered on more than one occasion first-hand. The vulnerability of a dealer, or perceived vulnerability, was a very liberating notion for a crooked client. It often led to their being sloppier in their attempts to talk the dealer out of his livelihood and, moreover, to being more openly disrespectful.
AshTray lit one of his Newport cigarettes. It was the third he'd smoked in forty-five minutes in Jack's apartment. Jack could almost read his mind. He was thinking, I can play this sucka like a craps game. He said, “What I'm sayin' 's how much you get off yo man—like how I'm pickin' up a fitty bag off you.” “Oh,” Jack said, as if it was a revelation. Then he gave the dumbest grin he could master. “Enough.” But the question was what pissed Jack off. What made him mistrustful. There were only two reasons a customer would press that broken button three times. Either he wanted to try to talk the dealer into a lower price (after all, you got so much at such and such a price) or he wanted to know what kind of booty or robbery would turn up. Looking at the twilit sky outside his building and lighting another cigarette, Jack decided it was almost positively the latter. But to his relief, this realization in an of itself eased the anger he'd felt building up. Knowing the why of things always made them easier to improve for him. He decided, crushing the hardly smoked cigarette out, that there were two things necessary for him to ease into sleep. Both of them resided in the small safe at the bottom of his bedroom closet. He pushed the chair away from the table with his rear, stood, and went to that closet. 37, 129, 72, he thought as he turned the dial. He heard the customary click noise and turned the lever, swinging the safe door open. The light from the bedside lamp illuminated the safe's contents mixed with shadow and orange. Jack chuckled mildly as he though, Guns, drugs, and cash—all the evidence you need. It was the first one which would be the first ingredient in his sleeping remedy. He pushed some plastic bags off and pulled out a Reebok shoe box which weighed a fair amount. He turned it in front of the lip of the safe and flipped its lid open. Three guns and various brands of ammunition rested inside it. Jack marveled at how, even after all the years and all the harm he had seen people do with them, the guns, to him, sitting there, looked serene and innocent. Harmless. Much like toys looked to him. He picked up the smallest. A .22 caliber his grandfather bequeathed him. He held it in front of his face and thought, You'll do for now, little guy. After all, things were going good. He dropped the clip into the shoe box and picked up a fully loaded one, snapping it into the bottom of the grip. Then he went about loading the empty clip he'd dropped. He set the gun and the spare clip on the shag carpet next to his left leg. He closed the box and placed it carefully back where he had taken it from. Next he picked up one of the plastic bags which had been sitting atop the box before he'd taken the box out. The smallest one. The one with the head stash Moxie had given him as a bonus. He set it on his lap and replaced the rest of the bags atop the shoe box. Before closing the safe he paused briefly to admire the stacks and rolls of cash he had stored there. He stood up.
From on top of the safe he grabbed a small, purple metal pipe and took it, along with the pistol, clip, and a light to his bed. Carefully he placed the gun under his pillow. He tossed the clip in the drawer of the bedside stand and snapped it shut. He then went about loading up the pipe with relatively small mount of the Crack Haze. Ten minutes later he was comfortably sliding into a deep, relaxed sleep. Chapter Twenty-One 8/11/06 By Saturday afternoon Jack needed to re-stock. It was then, eating his lunch shortly after turning a customer he could not serve away, that he realized he had not a way to get in touch with Moxie ahead of time. He wondered why Moxie, who surely had his bottom line at heart like any good dealer, had not given him his phone number. He wondered why Dante had not done him this courtesy, either. He supposed he could figure the second question out without asking it: Dante probably wanted jack to rely on him in order to get connected. He had seen, had done this before. Dante's goal, supposing the easy cover of mistake was not actually the case, would be to create a false sense of gratitude or debt in Jack. Dante would expect, in return for his service of lax middleman, better than average deals, free smoking, and so on. Or Dante had simply forgotten to give the number, just as Jack had forgotten to ask Moxie for it for himself. He ate the last of his sandwich and muttered, “Takes me for a sucker.” Of all the negative things Jack had come to terms with being in his life, being a sucker had never been one of them. Early on, even before he had gotten involved with drugs and drug users, he had learned to be hard. Fixing a short white Russian to wash down the meal of BLT and tortilla chips, he recalled his first real lesson in life. It had been in middle school, seventh grade, and somehow (his long and short-term memories were now largely shot from years of alcohol and drug abuse) he'd found himself in a conflict with a kid named Zack Delacroix. Delacroix was a fairly popular boy due to his premature puberty—bigger muscles and more facial hair than all his male peers. He had taken issue with the way that Jack was looking a certain girl (whose name slipped Jack's memory) who would not give Zack the time of day. After math class Zack, accompanied by a couple of his cronies (because the guys like that always had their cronies), had given Jack a hard shove into the dark green lockers that lined the wall. Jack had gone to punch Zack, then, and that was when one of the other two had come at him from the side. Jack had tried to fight this one when Delacroix and his other crony had moved in. Jack remembered thinking, Any minute now Same and Ralph (his two best friends of the era) will be here to save me! Before he knew it he was on the floor and the ruthless trio were using their feet on him. And just as he took a sharp kick to the side of his head, he saw Ralph and Sam looking on the scene pitifully. Even though his friendship to those two had
never been the same after that, later in life he was glad they had not stepped in to help him. He was a quick learner and he had learned two of the most important lessons of his life that day: one, don't get yourself into bigger messes than you can clean up, and two, don't rely on other people, if you can help it. Having learned lessons like this so well and so early in life made it easy for Jack to take offense when people treated him as if he had lived some sort of sheltered existence. Not that Dante had outwardly done a single thing of the sort, but it was not a far stretch from what he had done. Jack decided, gulping the second half of his drink, that it was of no matter. He would simply go to Moxie's place. Moxie might be offended that Jack would presume to just do that on the second visit but, after all, Jack had already brought him three thousand dollars and was fixed to bring him even more than that this time. And that could be the way he was meant to communicate anyhow. He lit a cigarette, filled his old backpack with rolls of money from the safe, placed his pistol in the holster that waited in the small of his back, and left for Moxie's place over in Manhattan. It was not Moxie, forty minutes later, who called from the other side of the door, “Who?” For a second Jack thought he might have gone to the wrong apartment by accident but then he saw the magic marker “6” and knew this could not be. “Jack, I'm new.” He heard the voice, which sounded considerably younger than Moxie, confer with a voice he thought he recognized as actually being Moxie's. The door then swung open and Jack stood facing Moxie himself. But as soon as Moxie recognized him he lightened up his intimidating posture. “Jack!” he said. “This Jack, not the other,” he then said more to himself, since the owner of the other voice was not in sight. “What's up, man?” he asked motioning, ushering Jack inside. Jack quickly explained that he did not have a phone number to reach Moxie. Moxie responded wordlessly by scribbling his number on a Jamaican rolling paper and handing it to Jack. Jack stuffed the paper into the pocket of his jeans, careful not to tear it. Moxie went over to his dining room table, where he would always seem to be (much like Crazy Harry), and sat. Jack assumed he should follow suit and sat in the same place he had before. “So how's business?” Moxie wanted to know. “Well so far. Gotta re-stock.” “Good. Good. Sent a couple of the smallest fish that live in that area your way this week. 'S getting' so I don't wanna sell less than a stack because once you get's big's I am, every transaction's a real risk, man.” “Yeah, I can imagine.” “How much you want today?” “Four.” “Four?” “Last time I wanted three,” Jack hinted.
“I'll hook that right up, better than last time.” “Alright,” Jack said. He liked that it was possible to hold a conversation with Moxie by saying so little, but he was beginning to think there was more to discuss between them. It was his nature to play the strong and silent type of man, however. After the deal wad done and Jack was about to leave, Moxie said, “Will I see ya tomorrow?” “Where?” “You know.” “Where?” “The meeting,” Moxie said distantly. He seemed to be hiding disappointment in Jack's not immediately knowing what he was talking about. Jack said, “I don't know, maybe.” Then, he was gone from Moxie's apartment. Later that night, alone, Jack reasoned that Charlie stood out in a crowd. For one reason or another he could not figure, upon returning to his building that afternoon he had noticed her when she appeared to be trying not to be noticed. His eyes just sort of happened upon her, without regard to his will or usual inability to pay attention to things he'd not consciously focused on. There was likely only one reason she would be in his building—to see him. It was probably just second nature to her as a member of the DWE to not want to be noticed—to somehow look like she belonged at the same time she did not. Which was why he approached her saying, “Hello.” “Hi,” she said looking at her watch. And before he could say anything else, “I can't stay long. I just came by to tell you about the meeting—it's tomorrow at two.” “I don't—” “Great,” she cut him off, kissing him on the cheek. “I'll be here in the morning and we can talk and hang out?” He just smiled. He could deal with the subject of the meeting in the morning. Chapter Twenty-Two 8/13/06 There was a loud knocking on Jack's door which startled him awake the next morning around eleven. He sat up and gasped. He wasn't expecting anyone. Clients never came this early on Sunday. Beyond that he had a staunch policy against unexpected visits. Visitors like this were always a bit scary for a man in Jack's position. “One minute!” he called as he stood up out of bed. If it was the authorities, he realized, this would be it. Life as a free man ended right here, at least for a certain time. But even after release, things would never be the same. He pulled on the pants he'd worn the day before and made a split-second decision. the gun he tucked between the back waste of his pants and the small of his back was the sum of this decision. The words to a song from his growing up ran through his mind: I ain't goin'
out like that. Jack decided without a pause that he'd go out the same way of the great Crazy Harry. If the knockers were government agents. He realized, shuffling across the living room (pausing to dawn his moccosin slippers), that the decision meant much more without regard to who was on the other side. He realized that he had finally, to his relief and minor chagrin, reached the point of no return. He was a hardcore and successful drug dealer. He was a junior member of an illegal organization which stood in opposition to the government (right or wrong) of the United States. Above all, and most appalling to the Roman naed Status Quo, he was a long-time drug user. “Fuck it all,” he whispered as he unlocked the three locks on his apartment door. He had installed the third, a $75 “unfuckwithable” dead bolt, only a few days before. He pulled open the door. The man who stood facing him was less a relief than a surprise. It was Mr. Stevenson, and he was wearing the cockiest grin Jack had seen in years. “Uh, hi, Mister Stevenson,” he said. “I wasn't expecting you—would you like some coffee or something?” Stevenson made to walk through the doorway and gave Jack a suddenly suggestive look. Jack parted the way as Stevenson said, “Sure, Salem, coffee sounds good.” Jack shuffled into his kitchenette where a pot of coffee had automatically brewed hours before. He placed his palm on the side of the pyrex and was glad that it was hot. He poured two cups and called, “Cream and sugar?” “Jus' cream,” Stevenson said. Jack poured non-dairy cream into one of the cups and decided to drink his black just to one-up Stevenson, to in some way prove he was more manly. He carefully carried the cups out to his living room where he found Stevenson sitting on his couch. He hated people who took liberties not offered them in other people's homes. With Stevenson he would have to ignore it for obvious reasons, and he had a feeling that Stevenson was keenly aware of this necessary ignorance. He placed the two cups on the coffee table and sat in the chair across from Stevenson. He took his pack of Marlboro Reds from the table, tucked one between his lips. Then he realized he was tryign to keep this guy happy and said, “Do you smoke?” “On occasion, not all the time. It's not very healthy.” “Would you--” “Sure.” Jack leaned across the table and handed the cigarette he had almost lit to Stevenson. Stevenson put it in his mouth and Jack lit it with his Zippo. Then he lit one for himself. After two inhalations and a swig of black coffee he said, “So, Mister Stevenson, what brings you here this fine New York morning? I hope it's not
about rent, I'm pretty sure it's another couple weeks until the first.” He noticed that Stevenson had taken hardly one drag of the cigarette. “Week n' a half,” Stevenson snappily corrected him. “But that's not what I'm here about. I've heard some things, Salem,” Stevenson trailed off and took a sip of the unsweetened coffee he'd been offered. “Such as, Mister Stevenson?” Jack asked. He wondered if the landlord would ever see through the businesslike tone he always took with him. “Such as you've been running a little business outta yer apartment here,” Stevenson said and paused, waiting for Jack to respond, wondering if he would have to be more clear. Fuck! Jack thought. Then a list of similar terms ran through his head, but none of them seemed useful in a vocal way. Finally he thought, Play ignorant. He gave a fake chuckle and thought of his gun. Said, “Business, Mister Stevenson? Well, as you might know, I'm in the culinary field. I certainly haven't been running a bakery or--” “Cut the crap, Salem, I'm not here to evict you. Nor will I report you or give you a hard time if you're a nice boy today.” Jack went silent, uncomfortably, stolidly silent for a moment. He looked at Stevenson through a thick cloud of his own smoke. The gun at his back came again to mind, as did the realization that its use would only create a much bigger problem than he was currently facing. Instead he asked two questions, taking off his business dialect. “What'd'you mean, 'nice'? And how can I be sure of that? One reason you shouldn't be a dead man walking, now, please, Mister Stevenson.” Stevenson seemed to ignore the last part. “I mean you're going to give me a cut. There is a lot I could do to make trouble for you. By law I have the right to search this place. I also have an obligation to report activities such as yours. I'm willing to pass on both for my piece of your pie.” “How big a piece?” Jack asked simply. “I would demand a percentage, but it would be very easy for you to screw me then. Which is why I'm simply gonna ask for seven-hundred a month.” That's it? Jack thought. This guy thinks small. I can make that back on a good Saturday. While thinking, it suddenly made sense that there were so few busts in his building. He was sure he was not the only person who sold. He was sure he was not the only person who regularly committed crimes here. The reason was of course corruption, that was often the reason anything was gotten away with in his day and age. “And you'll leave me alone? Even if I have to take care of things, you'd help me then for extra, and like that?” “Absolutely. We can make it legal—as I've done with other tenants—by me simply increasing your rent.” “I can pay the first month right now,” Jack said, crushing his cigarette. “I'm happy to hear that,” said Stevenson. “But wait. By the way, I can also offer you a certain amount of protection. You see, the feds always call the
building owner ahead of time,” Stevenson went on. “And I'm one of the few remaining independent owners.” “I didn't know they did that.” “For another hundred I'll make sure you have a warning, every time they come here. It would be a sticky note under your door. I might not deliver it, but it would get here. It wouldn't say anything. But you'd know to look out then.” That's a fucking worthwhile investment, Jack thought. Soon, Stevenson left as arrogant as he'd come, but Jack felt strangely more comfortable. It seemed to him there was a network of truly apathetic people, and then there were truly passionate people like himself. At poles they seemed, but he knew there was a common, human thread that connected them, somewhere in it all. Chapter Twenty-Three 8/13/06 Shortly after Stevenson left his apartment, Jack set about rolling a joint from his current personal stash. Now that he was used to the stress of living such a dual life—a chef by day, drug-dealer and pseudo-revolutionary by night and weekend—it was easy to smoke as much as he had before. He kept himself in check. Too many times in the past he had either smoked away his profits or stayed so high that he became soft. After lighting the joint he went to the kitchen and repaired his coffee, adding cream and sweetener, and decided, as he often did when he was getting high, on Cheerios for breakfast. Then there was another unexpected knock. “One minute!” he called as he poked the number out in the ashtray and sprayed the odor neurtralizer he'd bought at the headshop years before, when headshops were still legal and such products were still prevalent. The joint wasn't even half-burned, yet he was feeling good, he reflected as he went to the door. That was rare, that stuff was good. He opened the door to a pleasant surprise. A grinning Charlie said, “'Sup, Jack?” “Na' much, girlie,” he said. “Just got up,” he said backing up. “You're just waking up,” she said as she stepped through the doorway. She giggled and attempted to grope Jack's ass, but Jack side-stepped out of her grasp. “Oh, I see how it is.” “You should really call before you come,” he said picking up his semismoked joint. “Gave me a little scare, had to poke my dube out.” “Aww,” she chided as he re-lighted the joint. “I heard you were the freshest new connect on the block,” she mocked eubonics. “That so?” he asked stepping toward her. “Where'd you hear that rubbish?” he said as the burning joint dangled from his lips and he latched onto her right breast. “Huh? Who told you that bullshit?” he smiled as he caressed it. Then he inhaled deeply and offered the joint to her. She accepted.
“Oh. Nobody special,” she said after inhaling and exhaling. “Yeah, right,” he said, not believing Moxie would do such a thing as he had apparently done. No smart drug dealer spoke of other people's business, it was just a bad thing to do. “I know Moxie pretty good,” she said handing the joint back. “He wouldn't tell just anyone.” Jack got blunt and a bit offended. “You don't fuck him, do you?” he asked. Charlie laughed loudly. “Moxie? Are you kidding? Trust me, babe, there's nothing there. We're friends for obvious reasons,” she said, referring to the DWE. Jack sat on his couch. Charlie sat next to him. Then he remembered his coffee and Cheerios and as he got up to get them he offered both to Charlie. “Just coffee. I had breakfast house ago like most normal people,” she said playfully. “What's normal?” he asked a few minutes later as he carried the three items in with skill. “There's no such thing,” she conceded. Jack decided to munch his Cheerios instead of asking the next obvious question he usually did when people brought up the bankrupt notion of “normalcy.” “I need a shower,” he said a few minutes later, lighting a cigarette and roaching the joint. “Want company?” she asked with a sly grin. “Only if it's you,” he said returning the grin. Then he caressed her left breast, realizing he had forgotten it earlier. He put his cigarette in her lips and she inhaled obliging. “I love a girl who smokes,” he lied. Then, excited by the idea she'd set forth, he dropped the but in the ashtray, letting it burn, and led her by the hand to the bathroom. After turning the shower on he turned and watched her drop her skirt to the floor. She turned around and bent down to pick it up and fold it. Her purple panties were just too inviting, and Jack hurriedly tugged them down while she was still bent and kissed each of her mocha cheeks lovingly. She squealed with joy and said, “hey, boy, be patient—I'm not even undressed yet!” He shut the door behind her and proceeded to undress himself. After he was he stepped forward and embraced her, kissing her. Later, after they got dirty and clean in that sequence, and Jack was relaxed on his couch, smoking a cigarette with Charlie smiling in satisfaction on his lap, he asked, “Is this one at the same place?” “The meeting? No, it's at a different place—I'll show you though.” “How many different places do we meet at?” he asked, surprised himself at his use of “we.” “A few. You'll see them all in time.” In the time before they left, Jack served three customers. One of them was AshTray, and on his way out AshTray did something which nearly made Jack
draw his gun and end the gangster piece of shit. He winked suggestively at Charlie, who scowled in return. Her scowl said, Ain't me you want to fuck with, little man. Jack slammed the door behind him and wondered if the guy would have the balls to come back again. Charlie didn't say anything about it, so neither did Jack—he didn't want to seem jealous, at all. Soon they left for another apartment complex in Brooklyn, and the meeting was just getting underway when Charlie and Jack stepped in on it. They had been delayed in the parking lot because Charlie spontaneously used her head on Jack again. Jean-Paul was in front of the room saying that the meeting would be a short one. It seemed that all meetings were intended to be short. The longer one had his hand in the cookie jar, the more likely he would be caught. “There is not much for me to discuss,” he said. “But as many of you know, as many of you are planning, there will be plenty to talk about next week. All I really have to say is: be bold, be careful, and never lose sight of your goal. We can never stop, never give up, never ever be discouraged; our cause is too justified for such things as this. Defeat is relative. Look at the whole scope of things: just by seeing things for what they are, and just by acting, you are victorious. Please don't forget that. Ever. “Now, does anyone else have anything to say?” Jack waited for the real entertainment to begin, but no one took the floor for a few minutes and the cramped studio apartment was silent. Then a young woman wearing a beret like the one Moxie had been wearing at the last meeting stood in front of the group. Charlie whispered, “That's Sandie. She's harder than diamonds.” Jack was doubtful. He'd never heard of a female who was that hard. But soon he was surprised. “You know me,” she said, a solemn, fierce, fuck-with-me-and-die look on her face. “Jus' wanted to say I'm running some shit. Talk to me if you can help.” And that was all she said, as if it was all that need to be said, before leaving the apartment ahead of everyone else, who'd soon learn that the place wasn't good for this much mingling. Jean-Paul re-appeared in front of the group and said, “This meeting is adjourned, I guess... Be sure to leave in small groups so as not to arouse suspicion that a meeting took place. Remember that freedom of association now belongs only to official political parties, religious groups, and governmental agents.” He said this last part with a smirk, but Jack knew that he spoke true on this end of things. There was no longer any of the constitutional guarantees that once existed. Even freedom of speech, and more importantly the right to bear arms, now had stipulations on them. The core and founding principles of his country. He wondered if maybe the whole affair, the whole drug war, even if his side was the objectively more patriotic and true, spoke to something wrong rooted much deeper in his society, perhaps in civilization itself. But then wasn't the time to think of such things, and such things would never find a good time to be thought of, and for men
like Jack Salem real resolutions would never be made about things that deep. You could only go so far out before you would drown, he thought. You could only go so far down before you wouldn't know which way was up, he figured. You could only get so much done in a day, and if you're making money that's a good thing, he believed. Chapter Twenty-Four 8/13/06 During the next week Jack made more money than he ever had in that period of time before in his life. Over ten-thousand dollars. He owed his good fortune in part to Charlie, who had spread the word to a couple people at the meeting who knew some people who in turn knew people. He now had more clients than he ever remembered dreaming of, and since most of the new ones were in some way affiliated with the DWE, the risk of a snitch was greatly reduced. He no longer felt comfortable doing all the transactions out of his apartment. He would work out of his car, as he had when he was seventeen in New Jersey and had chosen the highway when his father had given him that ageold ultimatum. This notion presented him a new dilemma: communication. So far he had made out quite well without a cellular phone which in his day and age was a very risky instrument for men of his league. Jack, like most people, knew that privacy statutes had been gutted to the point that nearly any agent of any of a host of federal agencies could drop in on anyone's conversations—especially on a cell phone, since they had once been commonly used for drug deals. But Jack quickly decided on Tuesday afternoon that in this case the benefits outweighed the risks. Just because they could did not mean they would. No, Jack would first have to give them a reason. And he knew also what the smartest way to go about it would be. He hadn't spoke to Adam Salem, his only sibling, since August, when he'd been invited to Adam's birthday party at his home in the affluent Newark suburb where the successful lawyer now lived. Even if Adam had never said it, Jack suspected that his brother secretly lamented their estrangement. He felt there was a good chance that Adam would do what he could to help his brother (though Jack had always thought it would be legal help he'd end up asking for). So after ushering a customer out night fell on Brooklyn, and Jack picked up his cordless phone and dialed Adam's home. It struck him then how good he was at keeping numbers in his head—money, addresses, phone numbers, license plate numbers. He wondered if this was common to drug dealers, common to people, or just unique to him. “It's his brother Jack,” he said. “Oh.” Then, seconds later, the familiar voice of Adam came on the line. “Hello?”
“Adam, how goes it, bro?” “That you, Jack?” “Yeah.” “Well I'll be damned. Haven't talked to you since--” “August.” “Yeah, August, at my birthday.” “Right,” said Jack, waiting for him to ask. “So, what, you in jail?” “Nah,” Jack chuckled. “I was wondering if you could do me a favor, though.” “Sure, anything,” Adam said without pause. The license this gave him left Jack unaware of his surroundings for a moment—he knew his brother was not one to say things he did not mean, though it was a phone conversation and there was no vibe to feed from. “I, uh, well, I need a cell phone.” “A cell phone? You can't get one?” “I can pay for it—I'll send you the money. It's just, uh, I don't want anything else under my name, I already got a ton of crap under it, and my income needs to match my official expenses—see?” “Okay. So you want it in my name?” “That would help,” Jack said, hoping his brother would catch his meaning. “Okay. I can just get another one on my plan.” “So you'll do this for me?” “Of course I will. What else is family for?” “Great, bro, thanks,” Jack said earnestly. “No problem, Jack, anytime,” said Adam. Then, as an afterthought, “You gonna come down and pick it up tomorrow? Maybe you could stay for dinner, a beer, a cigar or something.” “I'm really busy with work these days—double shifts. Plus I started a course last week at the community college,” Jack lied. “Really? In what?” Jack told the boldest lie of his life. “Law enforcement.” Adam was quiet for a minute. Then he said, “Big market for that these days, I hear.” “Yep,” said Jack. “Well, I'll let you get back to your wifey—I will come and visit sometime, I promise.” When he received the package Andre, suddenly and for no particular reason, came to his mind. He hadn't spoken to him for over a week outside of work, which was strange considering Andre's stonerhood. He wondered if Andre was keeping distance so as to stay out of trouble. He reasoned that Andre was too hardcore for that, an so called his friend from the new phone. “Hello?” “Hey, stranger,” said Jack, lighting a joint and deciding he would see no more customers that night, feeling the liberation that doing the kind of business he had been brought; the ability to pick and choose one's customers even more frugally.
“Jack,” Andre said, surprised. “You don't come around anymore.” “Yeah, I've kinda cut down on my drugs and alcohol, just for awhile. I wanna get promoted to head waiter.” “No shit. Never thought I'd hear that from you.” “Yeah.” “Well, why don't you come over tonight for old times' sake.” “Dude, it's almost eleven.” “Exactly—night's still young, grass is pretty green over here and I'm done business for tonight.” Later, Andre would sleep on the couch, but as Jack left it for the bedroom, Andre said, “Jack.” “Yeah?” “One thing,” he muttered as if already asleep. He was quite messed up, especially having cut back his intake recently. “Yeah?” “Don't let me die alone.” “That's a fuckin' straing thing to say in place of goodnight, you drunken bastard, but okay.” Chapter Twenty-Five 8/13/06 The next night Jack was sitting at Moxie's kitchen table, drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette, and talking to Moxie and Sandie, the girl who Charlie had described as “hard as diamonds.” Jack said, “You guys wanna smoke a dube on me?” Moxie nodded and smiled and said, “I like your style.” Sandie used a razor blade to cut a line free of the little pile of white powder in front of her and snorted. Swallowing, she said, “Not my style.” Jack said, “Okay,” and lighted the high-potency joint he had in mind. A time passed where nothing was said. The three of them had something in common, as most people with the potential to be leaders do: they were deep thinkers. Jack made a roach of the joint and placed it in an Altoids tin on the table of his which was full of them. Then he tucked the tin in his inner jacket pocket. He was quite high. Moxie said, “Jack, you from the streets, right, chico?” He was loking at Sandie, who snorted her third line inside of an hour. Jack wondered what line of work she was in to afford that much white shit. Maybe prostitution. It would go in line with all else that he knew of her. Jack said, “You could say that.” “Then you probably know how shit goes down,” Moxie said casually. Jack started to feel nervous. No one in his past had ever said 'shit goes down' without soon causing trouble for Jack, but Jack knew Moxie well by now, at
least well enough to know he was not one to cause arbitrary trouble, especially for his good customers. He didn't say anything. Instead he got back in his earlier task-weighing out bags on Moxie's overly expensive, probably stolen, fancy kitchen-grade scale. Moxie went on. “Lemme ask you somethin'. If someone threw a rock through your window in the hood, it's gonna piss you off right?” “Right.” Jack nodded, still wondering what this was about. “But it won't kill you, won't even keep you from takin' a shit, really.” Sandie laughed. Moxie said, “The first time you won't think nothin' of it, probably won't do nothin' about either.” “Right,” Jack said. “But the second time it's gonna really piss you off, and you're gonna figure on a third time. You're gonna be ready for your enemy. And the next time your enemy might catch a cap in his ass from that pistol you got ridin' on your ass.” Jack looked up at this, surprised. “What, didn't think I'd notice that?” Moxie laughed. “I been in this shit since I was eleven, son, and I never get caught by surprise or cops. But don't worry, though—I understand why you got that thing. Most people would be fucked as a result of it—maybe robbed, depending on my mood and what year it is.” Moxie was quite an entertaining conversationalist when he was high. Or when he wasn't, Jack realized. Moxie was just an entertaining, interesting guy. “These days a dealer's just plain stupid if he's not packin', though, at the same time as he's stupid to bring that thing in here if he's not a certain kind of person. Anyway, you're gonna do your best to cap them annoying motherfuckers—why? Because if you don't other people are gonna think you're a punk, lettin' that kind of disrespect go three, four, five times. And if the kids aren't ready, they're gonna die. But, if the guys throwin' the stones really got beef, the stones are just a test, see?” “I think I see what you mean.” “Next they're gonna hit you with somethin' harder, or try to catch you.” “Yeah, but, no offense, what's your point?” Sandie spoke up. “All the DWE's been doing is throwing rocks and busting windows. Soon they're all gonna get capped, bet your ass.” Moxie nodded and grinned like a wolf. Jack was about to say something when his cell phone rang. He had it set to only ring if certain people called. It was Andre on his cell. “Andre.” “Jack?” It was actually Dante, not Andre, and immediately Jack detected anxiousness. “Yeah?” “They killed Andre,” Dante whispered. “Who did!”
“I don't know,” Dante said. His voice became even lower. “Feds, Russians, someone.” “What!” “I wouldn't fuck around about this—the feds called me down here, I'm outside their station. They're gonna test me—I'm so fucked. They killed my brother, Jack, I'm trying to stay calm here. I think it was the feds.” Jack had no words, for a moment he was lost deeply in memory. “Stay cool, Jack, this is--” “Stay cool? What? What? Fuck you stay cool. You fucking stay cool. Best friend, my best--” “This is important!” Dante whispered, louder now. Jack didn't say anything. “He was my brother. You gotta go to Andre's. You gotta go there and clean it out—I heard 'em say they're gonna search the place.” “Search?” “Yeah, to fuck more people...” Dante paused. “Our prints are all over the place and Andre was—shit, gotta go. I already called and told the landlord to let you in—give him twenty bucks and fucking go, now! Hurry!” Dante hung up. Jack sat staring at the cell phone, motionless, then. Andre was dead. How could that be? Was this a fabrication? Was Dante lying? Was this a test? Why did Dante have Andre's phone? Why Russians, Feds, or whoever? Why not someone he could go and finish for himself, or die trying? Why Andre? How could this be? Andre had said, “Don't let me die alone.” It was as if he'd known. Perhaps he had. But now Jack had, and there were too many thoughts rushing through his head. The world seemed off balance then, like never before. He looked at Sandie and said, “I will give you two-hundred bucks for one line, right now.” “What's wrong?” everyone present asked, having seen his eyes darting and the thoughts rushing just below the surface of his eyes. “Nothing I can talk about.” He looked at Sandie. She said, “No money, just take it, honey.” Not what he would have expected from someone “hard as diamonds,” but almost enough to take his mind off the real problem at hand for a moment. Chapter Twenty-Six 8/13/06 Jack then abruptly left Moxie's apartment without much more explanation. Moxie said he understood, would watch after Jack's new haul no problem, and Sandie just snorted another line. In his car, the reality still had not set in. As he often did when dealing with tragedy, Jack felt almost as if he was in a dream. Nothing seemed quite real or, more importantly, as if it mattered. He came as close to tears as he had
in a good fifteen years as thoughts of all the times he'd shared with Andre came flooding into his mind; a choked-up feeling came into his throat and what he wanted more than anything was to be dead. Andre had been one of only a handful of people in life Jack had trusted. Above all, Andre mattered. Mattering to Jack was a quality very few people and things in the world shared. Most of the time, unless he was particularly happy, Jack could not care, if he was paid any amount to, whether or not the whole damn world fell apart around him. He didn't care about war, genocide, pollution, religion, country, god, or anything else that “normal” people were reputed to care about. He'd once written a poem in his journal that said, “If it all fell tomorrow, I wouldn't shed one tear.” And Andre had mattered, in spite of everything, more than most. He started the car and decided that from then on he would chain-smoke. He lit a cigarette and drove to Andre's apartment. He knocked on the first floor door and the landlord of the house answered. “Hi,” he said, tossing his butt out the entry door and lighting a fresh one without permission. “You Jack?” “Yeah.” “C'mon, then,” said the little Italian man. He let Jack into the apartment after leading him up the stairs and said, “Knock once on my door on your way out so I can change the locks—to make it difficult for them bastards.” “Okay,” said Jack, handing the little man the twenty and feeling surprise at his vinegar and vitriol. Inside the apartment Jack knew th first place to look, but alos knew it was important that he check the whole place over, and fast. There was no telling how long it would be before the agents showed up, given that there no longer was a such thing as a search warrant—especially in cases like Andre's, those of deceased yet confirmed drug users. He hurried into Andre's bedroom and the first thing he noticed was a black bra hanging from the bedpost. It was a large cup, Jack noted. He smiled and thought, Andre always liked 'em big-chested, he did. He turned and opened the door to Andre's closet. There on a shelf was an ounce of pot, some pipes, and a collection of papers that out-matched the one Jack had thrown away over a month before (or was it two months?) Luckily, Jack realized, to the right, on hook, was an L. L. Bean backpack—the very one Andre had worn everyday in school. He pulled it off the hook and swiped the shelf's contents into it. On the next shelf down there was a mid-size, black lock-box. Jack tried to open it but it was locked and there was no key available. He decided that Andre had probably had the key on him at the time of his murder and, whatever its contents, it was best to take the box with him. Also on this shelf were two mostly full cartons of two brands of cigarettes. Jack decided it was better he got them than one of the crooked agents no doubt on their way would, and also put them into the backpack.
Looking around the closet he saw nothing else that was incriminating. He put the bag, which weighed considerably after the addition of the lock-box, on his shoulders wide open and set about searching the apartment to find anything else that might need to disappear. If the agents were to find anything here, they could run all the fingerprints they found and search everyone's home. Possibly. They could probably do that anyway. But if they had no reason, or no evidence that Andre was at all involved in the trade, then they wouldn't bother. They still might, possibly. Everything was a possibility, just as Andre's death had been a minor one, in spite of his own vague unspoken prediction. At the corner of the living room there was a desk. He went to the desk and opened the top drawer. He found something he would never have suspected: next to a box of condoms was a journal, much like his own. He picked it up and flipped it open. What he noticed most about its contents was the neatness of the handwriting. Next tot hat was the fact that Andre had sometimes gone months without an entry. He put the journal in the bag on his back and went to the next drawer. Here he found something that shocked him. As he lit a fresh smoke he picked up a half-written will. A will, for fuck's sake. Andre was thirty-three years old. Don't let me die alone, he remebmered. Somehow, Andre had known his murder was on the way. He stood there smoking for a moment. He hoped it would help. It didn't,a and the next drawer was empty except for a couple Zippo lighters and a twenty dollar bill. Jack took all this, having seen that the unfinished will bequeathed most of Andre's worldly possessions to Jack anyway. He checked the three ashtrays for traces of drugs, and in the main one on the coffee table he found some stems and seeds. He took the whole ashtray and threw it in the kitchen garbage can. Then he tied the bag off and took it with him as he left shutting the light off and hoping not to be caught. Then he ran back in and hurriedly checked through the freezer. That was a good hiding place, as well. But nothing was there. Andre was compact, and neat, and smart. Andre was his friend, had he expected less? On the first floor he saw a DEA SUV pull outside the house and two agents hopping out of it, seeming to be in no hurry, but seeming to have done so just out of habit. For a moment he comically envisioned them hopping out that way at a donut joint, and nearly laughed at the most inappropriate possible time. He knocked rapidly on the landlord's door and when the little man opened the door he rushed inside with his finger on his lips. He pointed to the windows as the landlord shut the door and the landlord looked outside, saw, and gave a look that said he had expected this. Then he looked puzzled at the garbage bag but did not say anything. Five or ten minutes later Jack left the house, dropping the bag of garbage in a nearby dumpster and clearing the site as quick as he could without rousing attention, which was a precarious balance managed only after years of evasion in close-call situations. Chapter Twenty-Seven
8/13/06 Jack got off the elevator on his floor with the most haggard expression he'd ever worn on his face. The backpack from Andre's apartment hung in one hand on his left side as he walked slowly with a sullen, downward gaze. Andre was no more, it was real. “He's another one of the lost,” he mumbled madly to himself. He dropped the butt he'd been smoking to the floor and crushed it with the toe of his shoe. He was lighting another cigarette, still not looking up even as he knew he was nearing his apartment, when someone embraced him. Looking up, his cigarette half-lit into the face of Charlie. “I'm so sorry, Jack,” she said. Even in times of trauma on the level of a loss such as this, Jack would never let his guard down. “Sorry about what?” He stopped walking to let the question catch up. “Your friend, Jack, your friend,” Charlie said a bit defensively. Jack wriggled free and continued walking. They weren't far from his home but he wasn't sure between questions whether he'd be going in there by himself or not. “How'd you know?” he asked as he unlocked the door without looking at her again. “Moxie called me and told me,” she explained. “How'd he know?” Jack asked. “I didn't tell him.” Jack didn't understand how Moxie knew or how Charlie knew and now he just wanted to sleep. Get high and sleep and get shot in the morning if it was the consequence. Hadn't the world demanded enough of him for one day? As they went into Jack's apartment, Charlie said, “Moxie knows an awful lot of people.” She seemed to be trying to sound sweet, but Jack didn't give a damn right then. “Those kinds of people, the kind who should be eating my bullets tonight?” he demanded, surprised at his own wit. “Some. Sure. Of course,” she said. “Some say Moxie's been around longer than the game has. He's in deep. Deep as it gets, I'd say.” “Okay,” Jack said. “I'd really rather--” “No you wouldn't,” she said, and before Jack could get in another word, Charlie was naked in front of him. “Sit down,” she said and nudged him toward the couch. Jack did, setting the backpack down beside the couch and lighting half a joint from the coffee table. Charlie said, “I know nothing can bring him back,” unzipping his pants and pulling his stubborn, limp member out. “But I can try to help ease your pain.” And with that she again took him into her mouth and kept him there for more than two hours. Later they made crazy, drunken love a few times. Jack decided two things that night. One, he wasn't going to work the next day. And two, Charlie was very close to mattering more than anything, for the first time in his life he felt something like love, and further she now had too little competition to be out of the running.
He said this to her before they fell asleep, exhausted. “Don't fall in love with me, Jack. I'm doomed just like the rest of us. My convictions are strong and as good as a death warrant, so just love me while I'm alive, and kiss me until I'm gone.” Jack didn't know what to say in response, so he let those be the last words of the night. Chapter Twenty-Eight 8/13/06 Charlie was gone when Jack woke up with a headache. On his dining table there was a note in her small, girlish handwriting: Today is a historical motherfucker, motherfucker. I'll call tonight. Charlie P. S. -- We are doomed by our convictions. Pls. never forget. Jack decided to skip breakfast and set about rolling three massive joints, each taking three papers to create. He came to his last paper and said, “Fuck,” as he took a sip of yesterday's reheated coffee. Then he remembered the collection of papers Andre had left him, then he remembered the whole of the day before. Without too much dwelling, he managed to open the backpack next to his feet, dug through it until he felt a pack of papers, and said, “Thanks.” Then a pang of pain which felt like being stabbed by an icicle struck through his heart. A single tear rolled down his bristly cheek and he hastily finished rolling the third giant number. He then smoked one after the other, which took the next two hours. Somewhere in the meantime he turned on Pink Floyd's The Wall and listened to it a few times. Soon he was napping, and the phone was ringing when he woke up, still quite high. “Hello?” he whispered hoarsely. “Jack.” It was Moxie. “You alright?” “Been better.” “I feel ya, man, better than you know.” “What's up?” he asked, groggy. “I's just wonderin' if you were gonna come get your shit?” “I'll be over to get it later, okay?” “Alright, sure, ring m up 'fore you come though.” “Alright.” Jack hung up the phone and slept until six o'clock. When he woke up there were twenty messages on his cellphone; probably, he figured, all from clients. “Fuck 'em,” he said as he picked up his house phone and called Moxie. “Yeah?” “It's Jack.” “I know.” “I'll be there inside an hour.”
“Alright.” Then Jack took a shower, smoked the roaches of his joints in one of Andre's glass pipes, and smoked two and a half cigarettes before leaving for Moxie's place. When Moxie opened the door his eyes were wide, he looked scared. Jack was so thrown off by this that he hesitated even as Moxie, who was on the phone, had white traces under his nose, and was smoking both a cigar and a cigarette, waved him in. Moxie covered the speaking end of the phone and said, irritated but restraining this irritation, “Don't waste my fuckin' time, get in here man.” Jack did as Moxie said and shut the door behind himself, seeing that Moxie had forgotten to do so. For the next few minutes Moxie paced about the living room and talked angrily on his cell phone. Jack noticed Sandie, barely dressed and unashamed of it, working her way through a bottle of bourbon at the kitchen table. For the first time Jack realized that Sandie did have quite a sexual appeal to her, in a muscular, confident sort of way. There was a knock on the apartment door. Moxie said, “Tell 'em to go away or I'll fuckin' cap 'em right now.” Jack delivered the message a little nicer than that to the college kids that stood in the hall. Soon Moxie flipped his phone close and threw it so hard across the room it shattered on impact with a wall into many pieces. “Moxie,” said Jack, unsure if he'd known the man long enough to do what he was about to. “Yeah?” “What's wrong, man? I mean—should I be here?” “Oh, you should definitely fuckin' be here—everything's wrong, Jack.” Moxie turned on his television. “Look.” There were shifting images of some burning buildings and people in cuffs. At first it didn't mean anything to Jack. It was more carnage from the crashed civilization he knew as home. Then, Today is a historical day. Then Jack started recognizing people—one of them was the anarchist from the first meeting. Jack was ready to utter something when Moxie said, “Two missions totally compromised. Them that ain't arrested is dead. They'll put the rest to death, bet your ass—it's terrorism, you know, straight up they call it terrorism.” He stopped and snorted and started pacing then again, brooding. Then, “Got a smoke, Jack?” “As if we aren't terrified, for fucking hell's stupid sake!” Sandie said out of nowhere. “I say we kill every last mothafucka in the government for this!” “Shut the fuck up you stupid bitch,” Moxie said, and threw something at Sandie. It hit her directly in the head and identified itself as a wad of cash. And suddenly Jack knew that Moxie could care less about money, and suddenly he knew that he had been a fool to ever care about money. He
realized that for Moxie money was a means to another, apparently more important end. Money wasn't made just to reproduce, it wasn't human. Money was meant to either accomplish something or be spent. Usually some spending was done in the act of accomplishing things. Moxie had revolutionary zeal. “Sure,” said Jack, giving Moxie a cigarette and realizing then also the break in his chain of smoke, so lighting another of his own. Moxie dropped the stub of his cigar, crushed it on the floor of his beautiful apartment, and carelessly lit the cigarette with a match he struck on his chin. Moxie was the real fucking deal. Jack didn't dare say so, it would lead to suspicion though he was unsure of why. “I don't usually smoke cigarettes,” said Moxie. “I understand,” said Jack. He thought for a few minutes then saying nothing. A conversation passed between the other two during this time. The apartment was mostly quiet and they both heard Sandie pass out and begin to snore, with somewhat of a thud the snoring had begun. “I thought sh was going to lead something or other.” “Who, Sandie? She was. She's hard and smart, though—she had a bad feeling so she called her shit off.” “Charlie went though?” “Charlie works with Jean-Paul. They're both--” the pause caught Jack's stair. “I'm sorry Jack, Charlie and Jean-Paul... the fuckin' feds shot 'em both dead. My boy over in the Bronx seen it and called me and said, Turn on the TV.” Jack didn't have any words, he didn't speak a language then. “If it helps any, I heard Charlie just took one to the head. They didn't torture her like they did most of the others. Just bang, that's it, thank you for your service.” It didn't help any. Chapter Twenty-Nine 8/13/06 Jack didn't have time or want for rational thought. Instead he decided to deny reality, the whole damn world if necessary, and did something totally unexpected. While Moxie was staring at the wall with probably the closest to a forlorn look on his face he could manage, Jack drew his gun and pointed it at the side of Moxie's head. “Motherfucker don't fuck with me!” he screamed. “Who the fuck are you? Who are you? Who are you?” He'd asked it three times thinking he'd only asked once. Moxie turned and his eyes widened. “Jack—what--” “Don't you 'Jack' me, motherfucker,” said Jack, his words cold as ice and loud as a party. “What'd'you mean who am I? I'm Moxie, your fuckin' dealer, man, your ally in this resistance, man. I share this position with you like no other, Jack. If I
could I'd switch places with Charlie and Jean-Paul right now. If I could. I'm not fuckin' with you!” Jack took a step closer, jabbing the gun close to Moxie's strangely serene face as he spoke. “Your name's not Moxie, that's a fucking nickname, you fucking guy. Shit just got a whole lot deeper for me and you and her and you want me to trust you and your fucking motives--” Jack broke off for a minute as he realized this was an opportunity like no other. “You want me to rust you, you're gonna start by tellin' me your real name and then you're gonna tell me every step of the plan from here to the fucking bitter end, dammit, I think I was falling in love with her!” “Shit, Jack, was that all you wanted?” Moxie was looking at the kitchen table. Jack looked too and saw Sandie awake and reaching for a gun on the table. Moxie said, “Don't, Sandie,” and then turned back to Jack. “My mother, god rest her, named me Milton Chaves, after my grandfather. They call me Moxie because I muscled three big-ass motherfuckers—wanna put the gun down?” Jack thought for a moment. He decided it would be no true great loss if they did kill him right then, and lowered his pistol slowly, putting it back where he'd drawn it from behind him. “I muscled three big-ass motherfuckers, two of them high in the gangs of my 'hood, off my block, when I was seventeen and had only a couple friends. After I took the first to the hospital with a bat my friend, god rest him, asked me how'd I do that and I said it was 'cuz I drank two cans of Moxie soda every day at lunch, just fucking around, but it stuck.” Jack felt more comfortable by the second, at least in the situation. The levels of stress and how they stood on each other baffled him in their magnitude. He lighted a cigarette and Charlie's words hit him, We are doomed by our convictions. He said, “Some federal fucker's gonna pay for this, Mox, if it's my last move in life.” Moxie nodded in agreement. “Plans, you said? Well shit, we really didn't have any. Obviously we're gonna need 'em. My first one is to get everything out of this apartment that connects me to drugs or the DWE—you might wanna do the same at your spot.” “Already did, for the most part,” Jack said as he walked toward the table, where Sandie was again falling asleep. She had apparently already dealt with the problem at hand, as Moxie and Jack were about to do more realistically.
Chapter Thirty 6/13/06
Jack and Moxie sat in relative silence for a good time. Jack looked at the bottle of whiskey, real Jack Daniels, and said, “Think I--” Moxie cut him off. “Have a fresh one instead,” he said. “The third cabinet in my kitchen. There's glasses in the first one, and ice in the freezer.” To Jack he looked drained, like he hardly slept anymore. He resembled one of Jack's old clients, the computer nerd who had traded him his laptop for some product. The nerd had ended up getting a random piss-test at work not long after the six-month bill was passed, and had been one of that attack's first casualties. But before that, he'd explained to Jack why he came to him nearly every two days, why he was willing to trade his favorite piece of hardware for a relatively small amount of dope. “My never shuts up, never lets me sleep without weed.” Jack opened the third cabinet and said, “Well, holy-fucking shit.” The two shelves were loaded as far as Jack could see, with few gaps, with fifths of Jack Daniels. “How the fuck?” he turned to Moxie and asked. “Don't be thinkin' I paid for all that,” Moxie said. “Gift from some friends in New Jersey.” As Jack took one of the bottles down he said, “Oh yeah? Wouldn't be anyone Dante knew, would it?” “Actually, yeah, it's Dante's family gave that to me.” “No shit,” Jack said. He spent the next couple minutes fixing a straight whiskey on the rocks, which he downed immediately, and then he made himself another. He was sitting back down at the table, light his fifth or sixth cigarette since his arrival, when Sandie appeared in the dining room again, now dressed. She gave Jack an icy look. Jack wanted to ask what it was all about, but he knew what was coming. She said, “'F Moxie didn't tell me no, you'd be stone-cold.” Jack simply nodded. She acted like she was telling him something. Sandie's look softened. She said, “I understand, Jack. I knew her pretty well myself.” An icy stab went through Jack's chest at her name. In response to this, he gulped his whiskey and poured another glass, in one quick motion. Sandie went on. “I also understand wanting to trust your comrades. Moxie's a good communist and he can be shifty sometimes.” Moxie laughed. Jack crushed his cigarette out in the ashtray and wore a puzzled expression. “Communist?” There was a pause as he read the look Sandie and Moxie exchanged. Then he remembered the first meeting of the DWE, which might not have existed any longer, how Moxie had resembled Guevera from the tshirts and had spoken of “the people” so fervently/ “Oh yeah,” he said. “I knew that. No surprise.” “I'm a socialist, too,” Sandie said. Jack said, “How can a communist also sell drugs?”
Moxie said, “I ain't in it for personal gain. I'm takin' the people's money—with the weed, the coke, now the newspaper—and turnin' to a good use. “Sure, I live cozy. But, Jack, looks like the end to all that is comin' quick. Quick.” Jack didn't know why, but it seemed about the best moment ever to say what he was about to say. “You know what the last thing Charlie ever said to me was?” He finished off yet another glass of whiskey. “She said we're doomed by our convictions.” Chapter Thirty-One 8/13/06 Jack was sitting at his kitchen table the next morning. No matter how drunk and high he had gotten the night before, he had been unable to sleep, and sobered all along. At one point he had nodded off for a moment or three but immediately thoughts of Charlie had come into his mind. “Don't fall in love with me, Jack, I'm doomed just like the rest of us.” He had fallen in love with Charlie, or so it seemed now. Maybe he hadn't realized it at the time, but he loved her. Maybe he loved all people, he was coming to think. It was that strength and courage of conviction which had hooked him, or that was part of it. Sometime in the early morning the gifted whiskey fifth of Moxie's had run out and he had switched to his own rum. He took a sip of the clear, bitter liquid (which by this point presented no taste to his tongue) and said aloud, “No, it was everything. It was her. There was no part of her I didn't or couldn't love. It might be impossible to replace her.” He knew that talking to one's self out loud often marked a man for crazy, but he thought that in honesty everyone spoke to themselves. The question was society's motivation for making such acts look crazy. The question was society. He stared at a mark on the wall behind his couch far across the room. He stared for a long time, until it in some way hypnotized him. He lighted a cigarette without regard to the fact that there was already a burning, halfsmoked one in his ashtray. He decided that there was no logical reason not to talk to himself, society be damned. Andre, Harry, and Charlie had all been taken from him. He had a reason to be crazy, but he suddenly wondered if there was any such thing. In time his own life would be taken, he believed, and he may as well not resist any of his own urges in the meantime. Through a plume of new smoke he said, “Charlie is another one of the lost. And the lost are always with us.” No, he decided, laying the newer cigarette down and picking up the old. “We are all lost. We always have been and we always will be—from our births until our glorified deaths. They may build monuments to us someday. You are drunk, Jack, but you speak truth and you know this much. You have always known the difference between truth and lies, and this could be your greatest weakness. Regardless, let this be an awakening, and as a pirate: fuck it all if this is the end. There is no end
without a beginning, and it is in the beginnings of each other that we should find our comfort and happiness, not in the ends. It goes even deeper. There are millions of us. Abandoned shipwrecks in a stormy sea. We'll never be found, but we will never give up on ourselves or each other, even beyond the grave. And the lost are always with us, this is important.” After that Jack decided to take a shower. When he got out he needed to take a shit. He sat on the toilet and let it flow. Then he was sleeping. He woke up hearing footsteps outside his bathroom door. His first thought was, Feds. Very carefully he stood. Lightning-like (although he'd slept a few hours in his own stink) he thought about the entire contents of his apartment, and was glad he'd been too lazy to ever re-arrange it much, so things were clear in his mind. Then he thought of Andre's backpack. There was at least enough in there for a twenty-year sentence, he estimated. Before he had gone to Moxie's he'd tossed the bag into the trunk of his car. His safe was empty except a couple thousand reserve dollars. The rest was carefully counted out into two lockboxes like the one he'd found at Andre's that was also in his car. His place was fairly clean, that was, except some overloaded ashtrays and a some empty liquor bottles. Quietly, he stood up off of the toilet and moved toward the hamper, where his clothes were and more importantly his gun. He thought to get dressed but decided nudity would play in his favor no matter who was in his apartment. He picked up his pistol, a Glock 19, and stepped softly to his bathroom door. He put the profile of his body up against it and listened closely. “You sure dis da place, Tray?” he heard someone ask. Definitely didn't sound like the voice of an agent. Sounded ghetto. A voice he recognized, much closer to bathroom, said, “On'y place da fuckin' key worked on, ain't it? Besides I been here a thousand times,” it was the voice of fucking AshTray. “Well there ain't nothin' here, man, 'less you know 'bout safes. 'Sides, if the rest of the place is so empty, probably ain't nothin' in the safe neither.” “Keep lookin', I gotta piss,” said AshTray and as he said it his voice became closer to where Jack was. Jack stood back, elated and jittery, as a naked cop firing a gun might, feet evenly apart from each other and a firmness in his stance. The door opened and Jack looked AshTray dead in the eyes. The important thing is to stay calm, he told himself as he became enraged. Somehow telling himself was not necessary. He held the gun pointed at AshTray's frozen forehead and put the point of his other hand vertically over his lips. His facial expression said, One word, you die. Jack stepped closer to AshTray and motioned for him to turn around. As soon as he did Jack grabbed him around the neck with his free arm and began shoving, using his whole body, the first intruder through the door.
In the living room he saw nothing but his furniture. That was when the idea came to him, but he had to act fast. He let the choke hold go and held the end of the Glock firmly to the back of AshTray's head and nimbly pivoted around to grab the remote to his stereo. Once he had it he quickly hit the “on” button and cranked the volume as loud as it would go. He figured he probably had about four seconds, and it was in that space of time that he blew the back of AshTray's semi-dreadlocked head into pieces, and at precisely the moment the bullet ended AshTray's life, his friend came trundling through out of Jack's bedroom with Jack's laptop in hand saying, “What the fuck, Tray--” Which was when Jack raised the gun, seconds before having collected the sweat from AshTray's neck, and fired three rapid, consecutive, undodgeable shots at his partner. Jack thought of a dancing marionette as he watched the smaller, skinnier man take all three bullets to his chest. What surprised him was not how easy the kills had been, but how relieving they had been. Was he now a cold-blooded killer? Hardly, he decided. Given the chance, the two dead men that now lay in his apartment listening to “The Wall” cranked at full blast would have done exactly the same, but probably worse. He thought they would rob him, and thought to rob them, but decided to let them rest in pieces. Chapter Thirty-Two 8/13/06 The changing of the track on his stereo jolted Jack from a memory of his first and only other killing and brought him back to the present reality. He turned down the volume and it was replaced by a vivacious banging on his apartment door. Cops? Not this fast. Or at least he hadn't ever heard of them responding that quickly. They were reactionary: they only came to things after the fact. That was supposing someone had even called them. Jack had seen a lot of crime take place around his building but had only seen the police on the scene a handful of those times. He had seen more often the DEA. He walked to the door, suddenly realizing his nudity as if it were a moth on his kitchen table, something he was not responsible for. He realized there was a small splatter of AshTray's cranial blood on his right arm, but felt confident that he could conceal it. He looked through the peephole and saw an older, short Italian woman known on the floor as “The Boot Mistress” for both her lack of good English and her bossy ways. He opened the door slightly and peeked around. “Yes?” he said politely. “Young man,” she addressed him sharply. “Me Adriana sick and bedded and he need is rest. Why you have music loud this loud??” Jack moved a little to the left to reveal some of his naked chest. “Sorry, ma'am, I listen to when I shower. I'll turn it off, okay?”
“Okay, young man,” she said as sharply as before. “One more time and I tell landlord of this loud, okay?” Jack smiled at her threat. It rang of irony. “Okay.” Then he shut the door and decided he'd rush. He would no longer be living in this place. It was too close to impossible to cover up a murder scene like the one before him—even if it was self-defense, it did not appear that way, and he had other problems to deal with. First he would need another shower, which he rushed through. Then he rummaged through his closet for an old duffel bag, from high school in fact, after he dressed hastily. He wrapped his laptop, which had heaved forth from AshTray's partner as the bullets hit him but somehow sustained little damage when it impacted with the carpet, in a sweatshirt and placed it in one end of the bag. He didn't know why he'd need it, but thought he might. Next, using a paper from the very top of the garbage—from the liquor store—he took all the cash from his safe and put it on top of the laptop. Then there were three cartons of cigarettes and a full bottle of rum. Then he threw in a few sets of clothes and figured he was ready to go. He was about to open the door and purge his residence there from his memory when he remember one last, very important thing. He rushed back through the living room and into his office. There was the matter of three journals, two of them jam-packed with confessions, and a few priceless photographs he'd rather take to the grave. He took these things and stuffed them into the fairly light duffel bag slung over his left shoulder. Then he was gone. Chapter Thirty-Three 8/13/06 The decision-making that went on in Jack's mind as he sat in his idling car when something like this: You should go to Moxie's. No, you should get rid of the rest of the shit in this car somehow. No, you should go to work. Fuck work. “Shit,” he muttered. “Work.” He hadn't been there in a couple of days, had he? The least he could do was call the bastards. The boss had always been a good man. They had done him well, and Jack figure it wouldn't be demanding too much of himself, conversationally fragile as he happened to feel. He picked up his cell phone and dialed the work number. A kindly woman Jack recognized as Victoria The Hostess answered. “Hi, this is Ja--” “Ohmygod, Jack, is that you?” “Yeah.” “I'm so sorry about Andre.” Jack didn't say anything.
“But you should know, they're doing a full investigation of the hotel now.” “I need to talk to--” “Mister Stafford's not taking calls right now, Jack, he's taking care of business,” she said as if it had been exactly what she had been told to say. “He'll see you in person real quick, though.” “Okay, just tell him to keep my last check, that I said thanks for all the good times and good treatment too, and that I won't be coming to work anymore. Okay?” “Okay, honey—I'll miss ya—I know you probably have business to take care of, too.” “Watch your mouth.” “Sheesh. Well good luck then.” “Bye.” “Bye, then.” Soon after he hung up, the phone rang and he started on the second option, turning what he still had into cash almost magically. Chapter Thirty-Four 8/13/06 The next week passed in relative silence for Jack. The words he spoke to clients were mechanic, automatic, and he consciously avoided contact with Moxie. It wasn't that he didn't intend to talk to Moxie. It was that he wanted to get his selling done, forever. As soon as it was said, he decided, he would start to work on exacting revenge against the people who'd taken the lives of those closest to him. On Sunday, after a sale, he was driving slowly down Ditmas Avenue when a set of green flashing lights appeared behind him. He slowed down but did not pull over. Darkness was falling and Jack remembered the morning the landlord had knocked, how he'd realized it was a life or death sort of life he led. Only DEA vehicles had green lights. The car pulled out from behind him and passed him. It turned into an alley on the right, a hand waving out the driver's window for Jack to also pull into the alley. Jack reached over and opened his glove compartment as he pulled up behind the sedan with the green lights, now solid instead of flashing. As the agent, decked in black fatigues with a badge and hat which read “Drug Enforcement,” got out of the car, Jack placed his gun on the passenger's seat. As the agent took his time walking back to Jack's car, Jack put the gun in his lap. He blindly clicked the safety switch off. The lyrics started playing in his head again, “I ain't goin' out like that.” And Jack decided to bob his head if only to confuse the agent. The agent knocked lightly on Jack's window. Jack rolled it down. The agent bent down and said, “Sir, could you please step out of the car?”
Jack said in a voice not his own, “This is for my friend.” He had still not even looked at the agent since he'd gotten to the window. “Excuse me?” “Said, Nope,” said Jack still refusing to pay the officer his attention. “Sir, I think--” And it was then, in one quick movement even Jack could not calculate the speed of, that he whipped the gun up level to the agent's chest and fired three times. The agent was knocked backward on his ass but still seemed to be breathing. How could that be? A vest, of course, Jack realized. And as the agent's shock and dismay wore off he started to get back to his feet. Jack took careful aim on the man's forehead and fired the fatal shot. After, he rolled up his window and slowly backed out of the alley. On his way through the automatic car wash a block away, Jack had two thoughts running simultaneously through his mind. The first was his surprise at how well he could shoot having done it so little in his life. It seemed to him that if one truly desires to kill, and one puts everything else out of one's mind, the hands will do the rest of the work. He realized that with all four of his kills it had been this way. The other thought was that all his kills had been in selfdefense, which was comforting though he doubted he'd come to doubt himself anytime very soon. He felt justified, righteous. He felt the blood of a million oppressed Americans running through him. He had every reason to believe that the agent would have taken his life, especially once he'd found Jack's three pistols. Taking his life did not have to involve the outright murder the DEA and the federal government generally committed too much of. It could be as simple as a life sentence, or a 20-year sentence in which the world would change around him. The officer should have been prepared. “All these motherfuckers should be prepared,” he said suddenly. “Because they won't take my ass without a fight,” he whispered then finishing the car wash. There was no room in his mind for remorse or regret, anyhow, and Jack also marveled at it. It seemed that for more than a week the only emotion he'd been capable of had been anger with a hint of its sisters, rage and malice. I am the walking dead, I was the first line, he wrote in his journal after checking into a northern Queens motel room. Chapter Thirty-Five 8/13/06 Three days later Jack was sold out of product and had better than seventeen thousand dollars in his car. The money, which he had counted while still staying in the Queens room, was just a card to him now. It had no meaning even though it was the most cash he'd ever had at one particular time. If he could use it on the way to his new goal, good. If it all burned ten minutes after he got it, he wouldn't blink or miss the stuff for even a second.
He stood outside his car, not far from Harry's old residence. The lost are everywhere found, he seemed to remember telling himself. He had been there for a good twenty minutes and he was starting to wonder if maybe he'd heard Moxie's instructions incorrectly. A UPS van passed by and Jack looked in the direction it had come from, longingly. “What the fuck?” he whispered. He didn't know Moxie that well, but it seemed to him that the guy was serious and solid enough about things like this. He looked back against the side of his car and tossed the cigarette he'd been smoking. As he lit another there was a light tap on his right shoulder. He looked, a bit startled, more than that dismayed at himself for not sensing another person so close, and then saw why. Standing with a grin almost as wide as his face, decked out in the brown shorts and shirt adorned with the delivery company logo, was Moxie. The only thing that looked out of place was the big mop of careless hair and the growing beard on Moxie's face. He seemed to be going to for a Castro The Delivery Guy from Saturday Night Live or something. “Well?” Moxie asked. “Well what? Yer late, fuckah.” “Do I look sharp or what?” he clarified, his wolfish grin never faltering. “What's the deal—fuck's goin' on?” Jack had many questions burning holes through his mind, but he understood one thing: nothing could be as inconspicuous, for whatever purpose, as a delivery truck. He took comfort in that and in the fact that he had packed nearly all his possessions, save a carton of cigarettes and a 40-ounce beer (which there was no room for) into his duffel bag. He had done this sitting in the motel parking lot in case of many different emergencies he could envision happening. He opened the back door of his car, slung the duffel from the backseat over his left shoulder and, struggling a bit, managed to tuck the carton and drink under his right arm. After he shut the door he paused, put the carton and drink on the roof of the car. Moxie honked the horn of the van, an unusual noise that sounded like it came from a clown's car in a cartoon or something. Jack ignored this and dug in his pocket for the keys to his car, which he placed on the roof of the car next to the previous items he'd laid there. That done, he tucked the carton and the bottle back under his arm and made his trundling way to the van, where Sandie opened the back and helped him climb up by taking the alcohol and cigarettes from his hands. Chapter Thirty-Six 8/13/06 Inside the back of the van there was a cat, a laptop better than Jack's, and a lot of things that seemed meaningless to Jack by now. Sandie sat on the floor studying Jack, who sat on the cot. Jack expected they would be jolted this way or that during the ride, eventually at least, but
Moxie seemed to take his driving nice and easy. Jack wondered if Moxie even had a license. He had met very few people from Moxie's part of the world who did. Not that he cared, Jack would volunteer to destroy the first cop who got in their way, wherever they might be headed, of which he still was not sure, but did not feel compelled to ask right away. Jack thought about recounting the three dead bodies in his recent past, or the ghosts of the lost which haunted his mind. Instead he said, “Never been better.” He thought back to something a gang member had once said, that it was really best for the members to not even discuss their actions. He didn't feel much like a gang member. He felt more like a revolutionary, or like a patriot, depending on how personal liberty was viewed by another person. Sandie didn't say anything to Jack's obvious lie. Jack figured she probably understood the need for such lies at this point. She had understood why Jack had held a gun on her apparent lover. This was much easier to identify with. An hour passed and Jack asked where they were going, of Moxie since Sandie had apparently fallen alseep, or perhaps she was just resting her eyes; although he had the sincere desire to get to know Sandie, he didn't feel like there was time in his mind for such just then, even as they rode on. “Maine,” said Moxie. Jack looked at Sandie. “Do what?” “We're gonna hit the fuckin' DEA like we mean it, that's what,” Moxie said, betraying a little passion. Then, “I know a guy up there who knows a guy. I got Chinese Aks comin' for twenty-five bucks a piece. I got grenades a nickel apiece. Motherfucker I got an army without the men.” Jack stood and went to where Moxie was driving, smiling as he no doubt thought a UPS guy ought to. “For just the three of us? Might as well have us--” “No, Jack,” Moxie said surely. “While you been fuckin' around, getting' laid, makin' money, and stayin' high—me an' Sandie been building us a small army. Not much. One not to be fucked with, though.” The word sunk into his brain and Jack was baffled by it. “Army? How's that?” Moxie called back to Sandie, “Girl, explain to this sucka how we built us an army.” While the word baffled Jack, it seemed to taste good to Moxie as it came out of his mouth. “Go back there and she'll tell you all about it,” Moxie said. “I look like I got time to talk? Yo, I got deliveries to make—one order of freedom and justice for all, thanks!” He laughed at himself and Jack laughed, too, and the giggle which slipped from Sandie reminded him how quickly she had come awake on Moxie's voice. Jack went and sat back on the cot, shrugged, and said, “You heard the man, I guess.” Sandie nodded. Next she reached under the cot Jack was sitting on and pulled out some tabloid-sized newspapers. He recognized them as issues of Moxie's paper, which he had seen in a growing number of bars and
newsstands since Moxie had begun producing it a month or two before. It was apparent that Moxie played little role in the actual modern production of it, but he certainly had originated it. It was called The Moxie Dispatch. “It's not that easy to explain,” she said. “Moxie's one crazy motherfucker sometimes, and that's the same kinda people he's been getting on board for this shit.” Jack nodded. He could easily imagine Moxie killing five grown men with his bare hands like a savage barbarian. The idea that there were more like him involved in the cause now brought only feelings of comfort and satisfaction. “In a truly righteous fight there are no regrets,” he told Sandie. “Okay, Buddha, but to make it simple, he's been puttin' secret messages in these issues. Messages the feds and what you call normal people wouldn't understand.” “Messages, huh?” “Little things that should seem insignificant,” she told him. “Like this.” She pointed to an advertisement on the back page of a fairly recent issue. “What about it?” She thrust the paper at him. It was the simplicity of it that stuck out at Jack. The way it seemed so amateur and unimportant. Really, in Jack's lowly opinion, it took away from the respect he could have for the whole paper. “Read it,” she said, “damn you—don't be like most people!” Jack looked at it carefully. It was all text. CONCERT Really great band to seE Wednesday night at a Venue not far from the dOcks. Show up at six and no Later if you want more informTion. Look for a guy named Mack. It was newsprint in a flawless, little square. It made no sense. The band's name was not given, nor its genre, and what was with the cut-offs at odd points in the text? Jack analyzed the thing for a good five minutes, reading it over and over again. All it really gave was a date, time, and a place. Although “docks” could mean anywhere. No one would take it seriously, no one would go to the docks expecting some “really great band” but—but crazy motherfuckers would see what it took Jack awhile to note: the word “REVOLT” running vertical, embedded in the text and un-noticeable in a sense. Hell, Jack figured, even a lot of crazies would miss that. But that was the point! His eyes lit up and he handed the paper back to Sandie. “I see.” Then he called up to Moxie, “You're a fucking genius, man.” He turned back to Sandie. “How many?” “More than you think. Once we get one, they know a couple who know a couple who know—you get the picture, and people are fucking excited.” Jack nodded, suddenly proud to be in the company of these two.
Chapter Thirty-Seven 8/13/06 The trip to a dock in Bar Harbor, Maine, took the next five hours. “Right on time,” Moxie said looking at the clock on the stereo, which was playing some old rap tape Jack was unfamiliar with. It read 10:29. Jack had stolen a lawn chair from the front of a little market somewhere in New Hampshire, during one of their stops. He'd left a fifty dollar bill in his place and wondered if the owner would make the connection. He'd broken off the legs on one side so he could sit it easily on the stairs next to Moxie. It was here he now sat. “What are we looking for?” he asked as Moxie parked the van in a lot with a view of the ocean. “A certain guy...” Moxie said, looking wide-eyes around the area. He took a last gulp of his coffee and threw it out the window. “I'll know him when I see him. Listen, though,” he said as Jack stood and tossed chair in the back of the vehicle, waking Sandie on the cot. “Huh?” Jack said. “You and her,” Moxie pointed back at Sandie. “You gotta stick around here while I go and get this shit.” “Why'd you bring us, then?” “'Case shit goes wrong, of course,” Sandie answered. “Yeah.” Moxie nodded. “People can get sheisty. This a twenty-G deal. Sandie knows the deal, she'll tell you what's up or what's goin' down if anything gets up or goes down,” Moxie explained, apparently jittery and excited. “Now youse gotta make yo'selfs scarce before he gets here.” Jack hopped off the top step and lit a fresh cigarette. As he started walking away, Sandie caught up with him. “So what should we do while we wait?” he asked. “You smoke a lot,” Sandie said. “Let me have one.” “Sure.” Jack gave her the one he'd just lit and lit another. “Why you smoke so much?” she asked as they walked toward the side of the parking lot. “Why not? Could be dead tonight, tomorrow, the next day.” They came to some cars. Sandie started pulling on handles and pressing buttons randomly. “There's one unlocked, I bet, stupid hicks,” she said. She kept trying, careful of cars with lights indicative of alarm systems, and soon enough she came to an old Buick not locked. “Jack!” she whispered through the night. He looked over. “C'mere!” He did. She proudly showed him her discovery. Jack shrugged. “Well, better start fuckin' before we get bored,” she said. “What?” “You heard me. Get in there. I'm good.” “What about Mox--”
“Moxie? Think he'll give a shit? Knows I love 'im, that's all that matters, plus he knows I do what I want when I want. Life is too short.” Jack didn't care much anyway. Sex was sex, and sex was just sex, and sex was usually a good thing. He got in the backseat of the car as she had instructed him and waited for her. She got in, sat on his lap, took off her shirt, then her bra, and started kissing him. Jack found himself enraptured by the small, firm breasts she wore. He took one into his mouth and soon she got him off with her womanly magic twice in a row. He thought, Moxie's lucky. She said, “Not bad, Salem.” She took another cigarette from him and he was surprised at how it seemed nothing had happened, though he was far more relaxed, even a bit happier, than he had been before. Chapter Thirty-Eight 8/13/06 Jack and Sandie were standing not far from the car in the parking lot when Moxie rolled back into it in the UPS van. Jack tossed his current cigarette, pulled his pack out of the pocket of his jacket, found there was one left, took it, crushed the pack, and tossed it carelessly. Sandie led the way to the van. “How'd it go?” Jack, who was still relaxed from the sex and sluggish as a result, heard her ask Moxie. Once Jack was near enough to hear, Moxie answered saying, “Get in. We got shit to do.” Once back inside the van Moxie tossed Sandie a flashlight and Jack a somewhat crumpled piece of paper. “That's what we're s'posed to have, you two check it,” he said a bit commandingly. He was a communist, Jack reasoned. Jack wondered if he too was a communist. Jack took the flashlight from Sandie and flattened the paper on his thigh. Then he read it aloud, “Says two cases of grenades, four hundred each. Six cases of Aks, seventy-five each. Two cases of shotguns, thirty each. Ten cases of—Uzis? No shit, I'm gonna have one of them. Fifty each,” Jack paused as he shined the light on the piles of wooden crates on the left side of the van's compartment. It was made narrow by the presence of the crates. So narrow that Sandie's knees pushed up against the crates as she sat on the edge of the cot. There was a strap around the whole of them, which would make it difficult to inspect the crates individually, but they could make educated guesses as to whether everything was there because everything was in large enough quantities to do so. “And one case of highpowered rifles, sixty in it. Then twenty boxes of shells, hundred-fifty boxes of Uzi ammo, half in clips, plus fifty big boxes of AK bullets, and ten big boxes of rifle bullets.” He called to Moxie who was focusing on keeping just under the speed limit but still getting the hell out of there, before counting. “If there's anything missing, it's not much.”
“Good,” Moxie called back. “Check anyways. Should be a mini-crowbar back there somewhere, like under the cot probably.” Jack turned the flashlight back to the cot, where Sandie was sitting, and saw she was holding the crowbar in question. They set about the task. A couple hours later Jack went to the front of the van and sat his modified chair as he had before. “All there 'cept one AK.” Moxie grinned in the darkness. “I know where that one is.” Jack, who was rather observant, especially in times of danger or potential danger, noticed they were not on I-95 anymore. “Goin' back a different way?” “Huh? Whatchoo mean?” “I maen we're not on the same road as before.” “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you,” Moxie said. Jack heard Sandie start to snore. “We're not going back right yet.” “Where we going?” “Training.” “Oh yeah?” “Yeah.” “Where?” “Little place in New Hampshire. You'll see soon.” Chapter Thirty-Nine 8/13/06 The weapons training took place the next morning in a woodsy clearing in Southwestern New Hampshire, somewhere between Bellows Falls and Battleboro. It was a gathering of sorts, and a whole lot of people Jack had never met were present. There was another delivery vehicle, this one a FedEx, and a couple of guys had been unloading cardboard boxes of ammunition when Jack awoke to Moxie's prodding. There had been a bearded man in some sort of military fatigues, not America—flat pea-green, standing beneath a willow tree. He was smiling and smoking a cigar and entertaining a small crowd of people—all of whom looked out of place somehow, whether they had extra-long hair or no hair at all—in what Jack later found to be a very broken, Spanish-tinted English. The most important lesson Jack took from the man, who was called “General Palo,” was one he'd given somewhere in the middle of the day, specifically to Jack when Jack's group was practicing with long-range rifles. Jack kept missing the target, a scarecrow dressed in DEA fatigues, by a few feet at worst. “No, chico,” the man had said, his cigar bouncing up and down at the corner of his mouth as his lips moved, “you shoot with your mind, not with your eye.” “My mind?” Jack asked, a bit confused. “Si. Envision a bullet hole in that target, where you want to hit. Where you want to hit?”
Jack hadn't realized it was a question Palo was asking for a full moment. Once he did, he said, “His face, his fucking ugly evil face.” General Palo had chortled at this and said, “I understand, chio. But,” he plucked his cigar out of his mouth with his thumb and forefinger, “His face, his head, is most easy thing for him to move, no? He see you fire, he dodge his head first. “Where you must aim is his heart, first.” “But they wear--” “Yes, chico, they wear vests to prevent their heart. When you are near them you will have better shot, no? You are two hundred meters away, though. And your gun is strong enough to pierce his armor now with new bullets.” Jack hadn't said anything. He had resumed the stance Palo had originally taught them to take and in his mind's eye—with some difficulty—had envisioned a hole in the scarecrow's face. He squeezed the trigger and, almost in natural irony, a wind picked up which swayed the figure's head just enough to the right so that it forced the bullet to only graze the side of its head. He had cursed as Palo laughed, from a distance, focusing on the next guy's shooting now. He had focused in his mind, with all his will, on the spot on its chest marked with a big red circle. “So what now?” Jack asked Moxie that night on their way back to New York as he stopped reflecting on the crash course in artillery he'd received. The back of the van was considerably less loaded—the weaponry had been distributed among the mysterious people there. Now there were only enough for the three passengers plus a few extras. “Huh?” “What are we gonna do now?” “We goan start us a ruckus—just the three of us and my friend Sap is gonna work together. Small groups is best.” Very few people in the world, even in New York City, were named Sap. Jack had only met one in his life. It was the least common name he'd ever known. “Sap who?” “You know a guy name Sap?” Jack nodded. Moxie seemed to grow impatient. Jack realized Moxie couldn't see his nod and said, “Yeah, I know a Sap.” “What's his last name?” “Jacques.” “No shit?” Jack didn't say anything. He and Moxie both knew that Jack had not given Moxie or Sandie a single line of shit. It seemed to him that after that there really wasn't much at all to joke about. Moxie said, It's a small world, after all, Jack. Seems like me and you been livin' in the same one for a long time but never met. Harry, Dante, Charlie, now Sap—we both knew 'em all, all the greats of these past days.” “Course, they say I know a lotta people. Which I do. But you, Sap, and Sandie are some of the few I still call friend in this world, you know.”
“Why me?” Jack asked, whispering. “Well, you want me to be honest?” Jack didn't answer this, either. It was a rhetorical question. “It wasn't until the day Andre got hit,” Moxie said after a short silence. “How you left without explainin' nothin'. That's just what I would've done, I think, and I respect a man with the balls to do it to a man like me.” Chapter Forty 8/13/06 The next week was spent in bored, relative quiet in Moxie's apartment. Occasionally Jack would ask, “What are we doing?” And every time Moxie would say, “Waiting.” Like Jack, Moxie had gone purposefully out of business the week before. He hadn't necessarily been expecting to, however, and there was a considerable amount of leftover product. Wednesday morning, while Jack sat in front of a box of donuts and a tray of coffees which he had had delivered from a local bakery in anticipation of Sap's arrival. Moxie placed a bag of this leftover product in front of Jack. He said, “The best I got. For your pleasure.” “How much?” Jack asked. “Nothin', man, these is different times.” “Can't do that—I'm a capitalist,” Jack said and winked. “How much?” “Alright, then,” said Moxie. “A coffee and a couple donuts, I guess.” He picked up one of the four coffee cups in the tray and two of the three jelly donuts. “But--” “C'mon, Jack, greed is good.” Jack was amazed at how quickly the capitalism thing had been turned around on him. No wonder Moxie was still alive after so many years in the trade—he had a serious amount of what one might have called “game.” Moxie stood and munched one of the donuts. As an afterthought to Jack's silence, he said, “And a cigarette.” “Careful, you might get addicted now.” “I kicked much less pussier habits in my day,” Moxie said with a spot of pride. Sandie called from the living room, “Since when did you kick me?” “What? You want me to kick you?” Moxie called back. “Bring me my coffee—and share that donut, man!” Sandie chided. Moxie took the coffee to her and fed her the rest of the donut like an Egyptian slave feeding grapes to Cleopatra. Jack looked down at the table as he ate his fill of chocolate glazed donut, of eighteen, nine had been this flavor. He picked it up and studied it closely. By eye, he could tell it was roughly two and a half ounces stuffed into the sandwich bag, probably less. It was white with Thc crystals and had many
lengthy red hairs running out its voluptuous buds. Andre would have called it “the great and sage bearded bud.” Or something silly, similar. It was thoughts of Andre that plagued Jack's mind as he carefully, slowly rolled four big numbers. And then he thought of something. The box. Andre's box. Andre's lock box. He had almost forgotten it. In a very id fashion, he said loudly, “Hey Moxie, you know any locksmiths?” Moxie got off the couch where he had been laying with Sandie, whispering sweet nothings into her ear and watching CNN. he came back across the room for another donut, this time a Boston crème. Jack was about to repeat the question when Moxie said, “Nope, not really. But I been known to bust a lock or two—if that's what you're lookin' for.” “It is, actually.” “Where? We really shouldn't go far just yet.” “Right here. In my duffel. A lock box.” “You lost the key?” “Ain't really mines.” “Andre's.” Moxie's depth of perception was almost painful at times. Jack simply nodded. “Well get it out, then.” “Hold on,” Jack said. He put his current cigarette out in the ashtray to light one of the joints. Then, “Be right back.” He went into the guest bedroom where previously there had been one cot, for him alone, but now there were two. He assumed the other was for Sap, dug through his duffel bag, and reappeared at the kitchen table saying, “Here we are.” He felt lightheaded, blissful, and wistful. he was surprised at the potency of the stuff he was now smoking. “This?” Moxie said. “No problem.” And before Jack really knew what was happening, he was so high, Moxie had a drill-like thing which he inserted into the keyhole. With a few quick turns of the drill, and a few quick puffs of the bone, Moxie forced the lock to break. Ever respectful, especially of the dead and their possessions, he shrugged and said, “There you go. No sweat. Cigarette?” Jack handed him his whole pack and wobbled back into his seat, high as he remembered being in a long time. Moxie put the cigarettes on the table after lighting one for himself, and left Jack alone. Jack flipped open the lid like a drunken pirate might flip a chest open and was shocked at the contents. Coke. A large quantity of cocaine. Not a user's quantity. Jack recognized this quantity. This was about a kilo and change. Standard moderate dealer amount. And cash. Lots of hundred-dollar bills. Probably five grand or more. So this is what you were up to, Jack thought with some deep degree of pride. It took a special kind of will to kick the ever-addictive cocaine and then turn around and sell it. Though, why hadn't he mentioned it? Lots of reasons, Jack realized. The first that you're not a cokehead. What more did he need for reasons? He closed the box, wishing he'd never opened it with
all its new questions and answers. He toted it back to the bedroom and replaced it in the bag. When he came back out, he heard a voice he knew well. He looked at the entry and saw Sap Jacques, his somewhat elderly friend, hugging Moxie, saying, “Mox, what news man?” His voice was more hoarse than ever, almost a dry, crackling noise. Jack wondered if Sap could have throat cancer. He was smoking a rolled cigarette as ever. He always had smoked them, but since the re-vamping of the drug war some years back he had continued doing it rather maliciously, to throw the authorities and their rare, foolish spies in the population off. He walked over to the door as Moxie shut it behind Sap. He noticed that Sandie did not get up to greet Sap, the fourth member of their tiny guerilla unit-to-be. Maybe she didn't know him. Maybe she knew him too well. “Well look at this old bastard,” Jack said with a wide, stoned grin. “Look who's talkin',” Sap shot playfully back, his ancient eagle eyes seeming to spot the few gray hairs that had begun to salt the pepper of Jack's hair. “Never thought I'd see you here.” “Moxie didn't tell you?” Moxie said, “How stupid you think I am?” “Tell me what? He told me--” “Fuckin' Christ, Jack,” Sap said. “Yer a wanted man. Yer name, lucky not yer picture, 's been all over the damn news.” “Wanted for what?” Jack asked, high enough that he could, uncaring, deny ever having experimented with drugs without a stirring of internal doubt. “Yeah, okay,” said Sap, not caring to draw the truth or story of the murders out of Jack. They had been in his own apartment, and nobody ever did that without good reason. Probably self-defense. The guys were two niggers anyway. Sap still saw the world that way. He would die seeing the world in terms of color lines and class lines. For him the whole thing was more a struggle for repeal than an appeal for progress. Aside from the lack of personal liberty, the old modes had always suited him well enough. “Let me have a tug'r two off that, will ya?” “Thought you had parole or some shit,” Jack said, not caring how it affected his friend to say so: he wanted to drag Jack's shit out, Jack would drag his out as well. It was friendly enough. “Just saw my PO yesterday,” Sap said. “Anyway it don't matter. Don't think I'll be makin' the next meeting 'r the one after that, do ya?” Jack shrugged and surrendered the joint to Sap. He went to the table, picked up another one, and sparked it up. Awhile later, as the four sat at Moxie's kitchen table, Sap asked, “What we doin', anyway, Mox?” “Waiting,” Moxie said. Jack gave him credit: he never betrayed any annoyance at the question, but it was detectable nonetheless.
Sap then asked the question that had been burning in Jack's through hotter than the almost-constant stream of cigartte smoke that filled it, as if it was nothing. “For what?” “A call.” “From who?” “A person, you fuck.” “Who? Moxie wouldn't be played. He didn't answer. Chapter Forty-One 8/13/06 The call came Friday in the late afternoon. Moxie answered it anxiously as he had been doing all week. It had been mostly telemarketers and friends of Sandie calling all week. This time the phone had been in the back pocket of Moxie's baggie jeans. Jack had overheard him telling Sandie at breakfast, which Sandie had made, that it was “today at the latest.” Moxie picked up the phone walking across the living room and the first thing he said was, “Good.” Then he walked purposefully (to Jack he had the gait of a soldier) into his and Sandie's bedroom and slammed the door behind him. When he emerged half an hour later, Jack was sitting in his usual place at the kitchen table, and he saw on Moxie's face a look he recognized. It was the look of pride and confidence that only men with nothing to lose and everything working against them. The look of the man, arrogant, perhaps innocent, in the electric chair. A look as old as civilization itself. Jack didn't know, but it was very near the faraway and lost look he'd worn not long before, the drowsy morning he'd put an end to those who'd take what was rightfully his. It was exactly the look he'd worn after saying, “This is for my friend,” and destroying the life-force of just one devil. “Sandie, Sap, get outheah,” Moxie called as he took a seat next to Jack. Sandie sat across from Moxie and Sap sat across from Jack. “Listen up,” Moxie addressed the three. “This is the game plan...” Chapter Forty-Two 8/13/06 As the first snowflakes fell on the northeast the next morning, Jack though, Explosions are always chaotic. On his back was a bag which held an Uzi, some ammunition, and his backup pistol. In his right he held a McDonald's bag. In this bag were seven hand grenades. Use these fuckers wisely, Moxie had told him. He was in Newark, which wasn't far from the place of his interesting youth, standing in front of DEA Field Office #9136, circa 2006, looking as unassuming as possible. For all purposes, even that early in the morning, Jack did not look out of place. He decided not to exactly chain-smoke, because seeing a man toss a cigarette and light another is something people tend to remember.
A block away, Sap sat in an idling sports car he had boosted the night before, joyfully so. He had also stolen another car as a favor for Jack and, after they switched the plates that morning, Jack had thrown his belongings in the passenger's seat and driven it to Newark behind Sap in the maroon Mustang. It's gonna look like chaos, a rampage, Moxie had said. Especially at first. We're gonna be some of the first to strike, and you damn well better be ready to fight, man, tooth and nail and fuckin'... earlobe. They had all chuckled at this last part. Moxie was somewhere in the area working with Sandie. He had said that morning before they had departed in deuces that it was better he not know; in case someone else wanted to know. Jack was told not to worry, that everything was as under control as it could be, that this thing was a very long time in the making and coming. Not that Jack cared if things were completely out of control, doomed to overall failure. That was the core of the juxtaposition, anyhow. It came back to him what Jean-Paul had said, about how, rightfully, any action against the state of affairs, regardless how futile it seemed or how little it accomplished, was in fact a success—few would even challenge the drug war in words, let alone actions, and it was widely known how much louder the latter could speak if done correctly. These were direct actions, if not quite directed. For him, it was quite personal. This was an opportunity to take out an unknown number of the crooked bastards who'd murdered everything that mattered to him anymore, aside from his estranged family. He had decided during the preceding week of boredom that should he meet his death, not only would he die on his weary fee, but it would be rather a late death; Jack knew deep within that he was a long lost shipwreck of a man. First they take your freedom, he mused in his patience. Then they take your friends. By then your happiness is long lost, sucked from you like the spit of a squeezed orange. Then, and only then, they'll take you. His cell phone rang. Moxie said the word in an intentionally muffled voice, “Smokus Pocus.” Jack hung up and crossed the street. With any luck Sap, with his hawkish, focused eyes, would see this and start slowly toward Jack's part of the block. Jack marched forth into the parking lot, a man on a mission, a cold don'tfuck-around look in his eyes. The look that never failed to stop Andre in his tracks. The look that said, May the world come crashing to its knees this second,, that won't stop me. Pure determination. He stood at the side of the building and studied only instantly; of course he had done his recon work beforehand. He took one of the black grenades, cold from exposure with the thing protection of the bag. He felt its smooth yet matte texture in his hand. He pulled the pin with the bag-holding hand (now his left) and lobbed the grenade as a baseball from the outfield at one of the building's windows, willing the glass to shatter.
Rather than shatter it, the grenade made a perfect hole in the glass and Jack noticed, as he moved onto the next explosive, that the first was wedged between the shudders and the jagged edge of the hole. In one quick but not hurried motion, Jack: dropped the pin from the first, took note of the silence there in the middle of the city at that moment, grabbed another grenade out of the bag, pulled its pin, and heaved it twice as hard at the adjacent window. Then he turned without a second thought or glance and jogged into the parking lot, pulling the next grenade from the bag as he did. As he was pulling the pin on the third he heard two booming, shortly consecutive explosions behind him. Instinctively, as the glass shattered and the sound of colliding, destroyed objects of all materials behind him hit his ears, he crouched and rolled the black grenade with all his might, though it looked effortless, under the line of DEA SUVs to his right. Again, without rushing but quick nonetheless, he unpinned two more grenades and rolled them also under the perfectly lined-up vehicles. His hearing seemed distorted—for a moment he thought he'd heard the explosion before it took place when in fact it was in another place. He stood back up and turned around, facing the just destruction he'd wrought on his enemies' building less than two minutes before. He smiled for some reason unknown even to him and as he took the last grenade from the bag, pulled its pin, and tossed it blindly to his right, dropping the bag and the pin as so much litter, he said, “Explosions are always chaotic, and beautiful,” in probably the calmest voice he'd mustered recently. Suddenly and at first, seemingly out of the flames themselves, he heard the whine of a police siren. He trotted toward the street, mentally preparing himself to get hold of and use the Uzi hitting against his back through the vinyl of the backpack. He looked right and saw a Newark Police Cruiser rolling quickly in his direction. A living person as opposed to Jack—who considered himself the walking and fearless dead—might have had the look of a fearful deer at the possibility of being caught. Looking left, seeing the maroon car Sap had stolen the night before—Sap stepping into the street and using the Mustang's door to conceal something, likely one of an assortment of guns in the car's interior—Jack knew two things which the dumb cop did not. One, that Sap Jacques, the foolish grin he was infamous for in the underworld adorning his face, was no innocent bystander. Sap wasn't wearing an oddly bulky pack or a coal, mildly fiendish look on his face, though, and Jack would not blame the cop if he did think this of Sap. Two, the liklihood of the cop obtaining back-up support in the next ten minutes or so was very slim, since the morning force would be stretched out very soon and dispatchers would be frantically trying to wake up the rest of the slumbering, under-worked other shifts. Moxie had talked to someone inside the place who said the Newark Police Department was weakest in the morning.
Instead of making any move to deal with the cop, Jack decided to let Sap see some action. The cop pulled up to the curb, not far away from Jack (bold, wasn't he?) and jumped out saying something. Jack ignored the cop and instead picked up his cell phone and used star-six-nine to get in touch with Moxie. Sap say, “'Ey! Hog-tits!” The cop whirled his muttering, stuttering focus away from Jack and to Sap, who stood, still grinning, his body half-concealed by the open door of the Mustang. Sap saw the fear creep into the cop's face as he realized the guys before him were working together. Sap let the fear grow for a full second or more. The nameless, now faceless cop started to say something like, “Freeze,” as he sluggishly drew his standard issue. “Hey,” Sap hollered as Jack said the keyword, “Cornflakes. New box.” “Hey!” Sap repeated while he saw the stupid cop busy trying to eavesdrop. He had just one thing he wanted to say, it seemed. “It was me.” Then, in a flash that spoke to Sap's days in Desert Storm nearly twenty years before, the AK was up, aimed, and filling the cop with death. Jack hung up the phone without glancing at the cop and walked over to the passenger's door of the Mustang. As he opened the door he said, “Let's go, Maple Sap.” And before Jack was even comfortably situated, Sap was in the process of doing exactly that. “You know where we're going?” Jack asked once they were a couple blocks away. “Not 'till you tell me,” Sap said. Jack thought for a moment. Moxie hadn't specifically said what to do next on the phone. All he'd said before Jack had finished the 'mission accomplished' code, was “Hang tight. Click.” Jack decided that what Moxie had meant was to stand by, which would not be easy. “Just find a good place to perch for a second,” he said. “I guess we'll just hit cops and feds 'till we hear from the others.” Sap turned on the radio. Jack was expecting a breaking news report. Instead it was just good old Bob Dylan. “How long's it been?” he asked, expecting to hear anywhere between a half-hour and two hours. Sap shrugged. “Ten, fifteen minutes.” Jack didn't say anything. Just as he was ready to stop expecting things altogether, he was given yet another reason to. Sap's “good place to perch” was parked crosswise in the street. Jack knew it wouldn't be an easy position to hold, but it was possible. “Never really my dream to start war in the streets of Newark,” h said. “Mines neither, but they started it. They fuckin' started this,” Sap said. It seemed he needed to believe it. Jack figured he had enough personal grudges, though he thought that generally Sap was justified in this feeling. Sap shrugged again. “Maybe they'll think next time 'fore they fuck with the people like they've been. Maybe they'll just lock down harder.”
Jack unzipped the Jansport bag between his knees and removed the Uzi within. He took two clips from the bottom of the bag and slipped them into the left pocket of his bomber jacket. He laid the gun across his knees and used his feet to shove the bag with his other two pistols up under the dash as far as it would go. For awhile the two of them just sat and watched the snow increasingly fall and listened as the Eagles serenaded their little island in the city. Jack picked up his phone on the first ring. “Hammond Street. Get there. Do business,” said Moxie with a Click. “You know where Hammond Street is, man?” Jack asked Sap, who was looking over at him anxiously. Sap shook his head. “Go straight, three blocks. Take a left, go straight, spitting distance,” said Jack, surprising even himself at how well he still knew the city's streets. Must be instinct, he concluded. Sap pulled out and drove forward in silence. When they got out of the Mustang, Jack saw, with some sickish delight somewhere in his stomach, three cop cars and a few DEA agnets outside the DEA post across the park. “You got--” “Nades? Yeah.” Sap clicked a button on the car's key chain and the trunk of the car opened. He pulled out a tiny, giveaway duffel bag marked by some forgotten defense contractor, and drew a pistol from his inner jacket pocket. The two stalked stealthily toward the building, Jack's eyes never leaving the group socializing somewhat jovially, with an overtone of solemnity. Once they were at a distance close enough to hear bits and pieces of the group's conversation, which seemed pretty light-hearted for a pack of murderous thugs, Sap handed Jack three hand grenades without prompting and clamped another between his teeth. Jack mouthed, stir-up-the-shit and Sap put on that grin of his again. Between thirty and forty-five seconds later six consecutive explosions went off in close vicinity to the group of lawmen, killing all the federal agents and leaving one cop alive but badly injured. Sap seemed t read Jack's mind as he went at an even stride to where the cop lay gasping and shot him until his clip was empty. “Always wanted to do that,” he called back cheerily to Jack, who was busy hefting the deceptively heavy bag and carrying it toward the building. Jack saw a man's head poke out of th top story's open windows. Somewhere deep inside Jack knew there would be a gun next. The head popped back into view and this time, sure as the snowy ground, the barrel of a rifle pointed out and the man behind it, an apparent trained DEA assassin, pointed the barrel curiously, as if interested, in the direction of Jack's friend Sap. Jack drew his pistol unbelievably quick. Even at that distance he thought if he willed it—I aim with my mind—he could save Sap, who was furiously (but fumbling nonetheless) trying to load another clip into his gun. He was hurrying. Jack squeezed the trigger and watched as the bullet
ricocheted off the ledge beneath the window. I aim with my fucking mind! he thought, and pulled the trigger again. But before he'd even pulled it, he watched the rifle report three shots in Sap' direction rapidly. Sap fell, and Jack saw form the corner of his eye that there was blood spurting violently from Sap's grayed head. But to his luck it was the sniper's shifting of position—apparently to focus on Jack himself—that caused him to catch Jack's willed bullet right in his rotten throat. Jack charged ahead like an emotionless robot. He got to Sap's body and took the keys to the Mustang from his inner-jacket pocket, not bothering to check in for other enemies. He was alone now, and perhaps that was the best way, and perhaps this was the best time, to run. He shoved the keys angrily into his own jacket pocket and dug into the mini-duffel. He took out two grenades, quickly unpinned them and then tossed them almost blindly in the direction of the building. Somehow one went cleanly through the window of the sniper had killed Sap from. He grabbed the bag and, still crouching, back-stepped behind the cover of a smoldering upturned police car. It was almost as if he didn't hear the two explosions as he dumped the remaining grenades onto the crooked tarmac, picking one up and slipping it into his jacket pocket. The snow began to fly again. Jack felt nothing. One by one he unpinned and lobbed the grenades as hard as he could over the road. Some of them landed on the lawn and created blackened craters straight out of a science fiction movie. Others hit the building, bounced off, and landed close enough to do damage to the structure. By the time Jack threw the tenth grenade, there was a hole big enough in the front of the building that most of the small explosives landed in it, and Jack believed he had been deafened. He threw the last one and started to feel the heat of the building warming the metal corpse of the cop car. He waited for the final blow to explode, stood up, and walked back across the park. He didn't bother to look back at the scene he'd caused. He was beyond even caring about success. If this was victory, then so was Custer's famous stand. Attrition, he thought. The further he got from the site, the better he could hear. Once he could clearly see, through all the smoke-haze orated by the building's billows, the Mustang, he put his cell phone to his right ear. He again dialed star-six-nine and as he heard explosions in the distance he also heard them on the phone when Moxie picked up. “Cornflakes,” he shouted to make sure Moxie could hear. “One monkey flew-” “Jack!” Moxie shouted. “Get the fuck outta--” And the connection went dead. Jack dropped the phone and continued toward the Mustang, in no particular rush. Let them try and kill the dead, he thought. It just can't be done. He
thought to say something but thought it would be bad luck. In stressful bombed-out situations superstitions make more sense. As he unlocked the door to the Mustang and started to climb in, a cop cruiser went slowly by. It stopped. Jack leaned into the car and grabbed his Uzi from the passenger's seat. He'd wanted a chance to use the thing. The cop was saying something. Jack gave him a give-me-a-break look and sprayed his uniform with .32 caliber bullets. “Anything else you got?” he asked no one in particular; perhaps the god was now unsure of. As he drove away from the park he thought, Soon there will be great chases on these streets. Sides will be taken. Moxie wanted me to get out before he was totally lost—my work is done. He negotiated the roads of Newark, taking side streets and disregarding one-way signs. Overall, he drove fast. When he reached the little Chevrolet sedan he was looking at, he saw that there were two free parking spaces behind it and one before it. Earlier that morning he had had to parallel park, squeezing in between two cars. Were people leaving or fighting? What does it matter? “Right, exactly,” he muttered. A block away, he heard engines and sirens. No doubt the fire and police departments were still messing with Jack's first experiment of the day. What fools, he thought. When people realize what's going on, they'll rise like balloons long-inflated but held under water. Then he thought, I should've been a writer. He took the Uzi out of the passenger's seat, also grabbing the backpack, but made no effort to conceal it. All's fair, he decided. in this fucking drug war. The door to the sedan was unlocked and everything was as he'd left it. Except one thing. On the passenger's seat there sat a small, nicely wrapped brown package. Written in large black magic marker were the words, “Don't Open Now.” He was in a bit of a rush. He had a feeling there had been a damn good reason for Moxie to order him out of the city, probably never to see one another again. But he prodded it gently, waiting for it to explode. Just to be sure. He'd known some pyromechanics in his time, and had often heard of bombs which could be detonated with the smallest bit of upsetting. His heart did not jump when he nudged it again, harder, as he expected it to. “I am the walking dead,” he remembered thinking, or saying—well, what was the difference? He wondered if he would ever be reborn as he pulled out in the car and headed, doing the speed limit the whole way, to what he considered the city's least-traveled entrance or exit. He found it blocked off, a single federal agent guarding the entrance. His first thought was the Uzi behind his seat, but then a better idea came to him. He wouldn't have to kill this one, not on principle or survival. The guard came to his window.
“Your name, sir?” “Sap Jacques,” he said without thinking. “Do you have any identification?” “Yep. Right here,” Jack said. He thought, Two hours ago this would have been a gun barrel, you lucky murderous fuck. On the edge of the window he placed five green bills, all with the face of Benjamin Franklin. There was a long bit of silence then, Jack prepared to pull his weapon any second. “Let me just move the blockade for you, sir,” the younger, uniformed man said as he went to do that. And then Jack was out of Newark for the last time without the desire to see New York City, New Jersey, or any of these things ever again. Chapter Forty-Three 8/13/06 From a motel room in New Hampshire days later, Jack watched the television. Events in New York and New Jersey had spread from Boston to Cincinatti to Tacoma to Las Vegas to Miami—and all points between, many of which rarely ever made the news otherwise. People carried guns, signs, and serious grudges against government agencies and agents. It was not uncommon to hear people shouting, “Liberty or death for all or for nothing!” Jack hadn't heard a single report repeated. The government was utterly silent on the matter, still. He would go under the name “Sal Jacques” for the rest of his life, which would see the rebirth and reconstruction of the American way of life. The box left in his car had contained a few photographs, a post card, and the key to a Bank of America safe deposit box in New Mexico. It was not Moxie who had left it, as he had suspected, but Sap. The Bank branch would not survive the coming months, however, and Jack never found out what had been in the box. He guessed it was money or something otherwise pointless. Copyright 2006 P. H. Madore http://litdispatch.net/phm.html July 2005 August 2006 Fall River, MA Sebec, ME Athens, GA