I didn’t die last night.
The sandpaper sound of Roy’s voice tells me I wasn’t that lucky. Another day to fight my way through.
The pain is deep in my bones. My toenails hurt. My hair hurts.
A claw bites into my shoulder, sending a new tsunami of agony crashing through me.
“Hey, Rocky. It’s Saturday. We gotta getcha well.”
Saturday! And Roy’s here to get me through.
His Sally Ann boots, one brown and one black, are stamping the cold out of his feet. “Come on, man,” he croaks. “It’s nearly seven. I gotcha stuff here.”
I kick off the rancid quilt—left here by some crack head—and the feeling of disgust at its touch fights with my burning need. I push myself up and feel my bones shatter.
Visible between Roy’s stamping legs, the green dumpster tagged with a swastika confirms it. We’re in the alley, the one that terrifies me. I can feel my heart racing in my throat.
My eyes take in the morning detritus strewn across the pavement: garbage bags; crusts of bread; broken glass; rotted fruit; and, of course, the usual assortment of used needles. The human feces, not six feet from where I slept, assail my senses. It’s been a thirty-eight year struggle and I have finally arrived at the bottom.
But the stench, the filth and my irrational fear of this alley are an inconsequential backdrop to what Roy has in his hands. “D’you want me to help ya with it?” He always offers and I always refuse. I let him hold on to it for me on Friday nights, to make sure I’ve got it for Saturday morning, but I don’t trust anyone. Not even Roy. Roy’s my only friend in this life. And I hate the bastard.
I reach up with both hands and snatch the eight items from him.
In my lap, they are all that exist in the world.
The urgency in Roy’s voice cuts through the haze. “Rocky, man. It’s gone quarter past seven. Come on. Time to get ready, eh.” Deep breath. It feels good… I feel good. That twenty minutes on the nod went by way too quickly. But it’s twenty past. I spent too much time. Roy must have woken me late. That’s not like him. Damn, I have got to get moving right now.
His filthy hands grab me and pull me to my feet. God, why does he do that? I know he’s trying to help but I hate being grabbed by him.
As I stand up, my old denim jacket drops to the ground. I scoop it up fast. It’s stained. Looks like blood; it is blood, a lot of blood. Blood is a part of the scenery around here—encrusted on faces, arms and legs, smeared on clothes and sidewalks—but I have some residual memory of a knife, a memory filtered through last night’s haze. The blood is fresh, but no longer wet. In the last six hours, a tendril of my old self thinks. But my old self is gone; too painful to contemplate. I have to let it go…
Who am I kidding? I can never let it go.
Roy hands me a plastic Safeway bag, wrapped up tightly, and I push it as deep as I can into the pocket of my jacket, knowing I need the contents and hating that I want them. “Thanks, man,” I say and really mean it.
I need to rush now. Right now. But there is a sadness on his face that holds me. Why does he do that? He knows it’s Saturday and I have to get going. It’s probably just Roy being dramatic. Again.
I start to head out of the alley but, damn it, the image of his face pulls me back. I can’t just leave the poor old devil looking like that.
He is standing, leaning against the dumpster, forlorn in his long brown coat, several sizes too large for his tall, stringy frame. His face shows no trace of the streak of malice that sometimes lurks below the surface. The baldness, about which he is so sensitive, is covered by the ever present, battered, leather cowboy hat perched on the top of his head, the chin strap tied at his throat. With his straggly gray hair falling to his shoulders, he looks like an ancient Jessie James. He would like the simile just fine… except for the ancient bit. He’s sensitive about his age too.
“You OK?” I check my nine dollar watch. Seven twenty-five. I’m cutting it fine.
The watery blue eyes peer down over his beak of a nose. He cleans his hornlike fingernails with the wicked looking switchblade he always carries. Come on, Roy, come on.
“Sure.” No eye contact. Now I know something is wrong, something serious. Unlike me, he’s chipper in the mornings—a rare condition for an alcoholic as far gone as Roy—but today he looks deflated. Diminished.
“What’s up man?” I ask. I recheck the time; maybe I can spare just one more minute.
He shakes his head. “Nothing, you go.” There are streaks down his dirty old face.
I rein in my need and wait the aeon, stretching some twenty seconds, until he speaks.
“Tommy died last night.”
“What?” I feel the blood drain from my face then look down at the blood on my jacket and strain to remember… but can not.
I look up. I don’t think Roy has noticed it.
He nods, his head hanging. “Yeah. Bad drugs.”
The loss bites hard. People die all the time in these alleys but Tommy’s death is a blow. Tommy Connor was a life long alcoholic but he was both a gentleman and a gentle man. A man with an unwavering sense of humor and an optimism wildly at odds with the reality of his life.
My old self is trying to burst through with questions. I crush it down and push the questions out of my mind; it’s better that way. I just say, “I’m sorry to hear that, man. I know you and Tommy were real close.” I note the poor grammar which I often affect with Roy and the guys on the street. A survival mechanism, I guess.
I reach out to touch him, comfort him, but don’t know how. I grip his shoulder, shake it once, pat it and shake it again. Hoping that somehow just the contact will console. He shrugs off my hand and turns his back to me. “Anyways, ya gotta go. Tell her Roy sends his love.” There is a catch in his voice.
I reply with the unvarying formula. “I will Roy. She always loves to hear from you.”
As I hurry away, he says, “Maybe I’ll get to meet her some time soon.” There is no mistaking the bitterness.
“Sure,” over my shoulder, “that would be great. I’ll arrange something.”
I feel the flood of guilt. We both know that it will never happen but what can I say? It’s the ritual we observe every Saturday morning.
“Later!” he shouts after me, his voice angry now. “Ya know where to find me when ya get back.”
I turn up the collar of my jacket and pull the peak of my baseball cap down over my eyes. A futile camouflage but I need a low profile on the streets because of how I used to make my living and, more to the point, how I make my living now. There are people who will kill me if they recognize me. Kill me very slowly and painfully. With a shiver, I hurry off toward the buses.
Then one of the quashed questions bubbles to the surface. Tommy was an alcoholic like Roy. Why would he die from an overdose? No, not an overdose. What did Roy say? Bad drugs?
The first bus driver must have seen the blood on my jacket. He wouldn’t stop to pick me up—one or two of them are like that driving through the downtown east side—then the second bus took forever to arrive. Only two more months. I can’t blow it by being late now. I just can’t.
Kevin’s doorbell chimes the first four notes of the 1812 overture. It’s the only doorbell I’ve ever heard that plays Tchaikovsky and in my past life I rang a lot of doorbells.
There is no reply.
Kevin is the only one of my old friends who will have anything to do with me. His loyalty to me has not wavered despite the thousand ways I have betrayed it.
I ring again. Da da da daaaa. If Kevin’s not home, I am screwed.
One more ring… nothing. Try the door handle… locked. I am screwed.
Last night was my first night of actually sleeping outside on the streets and I’ve already absorbed the fragrance of the alley. I can’t go like this, it would not be fair to her, but if I cancel she would really be hurt. Even though a part of me wants to go back to the downtown east side and look into Tommy’s death, I can’t let her down. I have to swallow my shame and go like this: dirty, smelly and covered in blood. Maybe she should see me as I really am, even though the thought disturbs me.
I head down the three steps from the front door, three paces, through the gate and start down the street.
“Cal. Here, Cal.” It sounds like someone calling their dog. But it’s not. I breathe out and feel the tension wash out of my shoulders. Thanks to Roy I’m known as Rocky on the streets so it’s always a bit strange to hear my real name being used.
I turn and jog back to Kevin’s door.
Usually, he greets me with his wide, quirky grin but today he seems distracted, harried maybe. For some reason it makes me feel uncomfortable. He grabs my arm, pulls me through the door and envelopes me in a bear hug. I hate being hugged by guys but Kevin’s the exception; with him it just feels natural. He’s like a brother, in fact, much more than a brother, to me. He holds the hug much longer than usual and when he lets go, his face is lined. He is worried about something. Again I get a feeling of discomfort.
He is wearing a silk robe, in a paisley design, and is holding a cup of coffee. He checks his watch. “Whoa. You’d better go get ready,” he says. I pause for a second, trying to read what is wrong from the lines on his face.
“Go,” he says, forcing a smile. If I weren’t already late… But I am, so I head towards the back bedroom where he lets me keep my stuff, inhaling the faintest redolence of sandalwood that says Kevin’s place.
“Cal.” His voice stops me; his smile still seems forced. “Can you hurry it up because I really need to talk to you before you go.”
“Sure Kev.” I was right.
He nods and heads upstairs, giving me no clue to what he wants to talk about. It worries me a lot but I don’t know why.
On the bed he has laid out my good clothes, toiletries and a clean bath towel. On the bedside table are two two-zone bus tickets and a twenty dollar bill. Kevin knows that there is always a high risk that I will divert the money but he always leaves it just the same and never asks. That twenty dollars could get me off the street and put a roof over my head tonight. Maybe… But no, I couldn’t. One day I must tell Kev that, although tempted to the contrary, I have always used the money as he intends.
I’ve rushed through my ablutions and I’m ready to go. I check my watch. It’s after eight thirty and I am going to have to push it to get to West Van on time.
He is waiting for me in the hallway.
He comes straight to the point. Kevin always comes straight to the point. “Cal, I need your help on something… It’s a bit difficult to talk about this but…” His voice tapers off.
Rather than let him finish, I cut in, “Listen Kev, I really want to help but you know I can’t be late. Wouldn’t it be better if we talked when I get back, when we’ve got more time?”
A look of both frustration and annoyance morphs onto his face. “Hell, Cal. I’ve got a real problem here.” There is an unexpected anger in his tone. It chides me that he has gone to bat for me a thousand times and has supported without once judging me. I owe him my time… and much more. I will just have to risk it.
“Sorry, man.” I am trying to keep the frustration out of my voice. “It’ll be OK if I’m a few minutes late. What’s the problem?” I sneak another quick look at my watch.
I can see that he is balancing his own need against mine and, being Kevin, my need wins out. He sighs. “Don’t worry about it. You go. You’ve only got a couple of months left and I don’t want to screw it up by making you late. Let’s have a beer and talk about it when you get back this afternoon.”
I will betray Kevin if I leave and myself if I stay.
I nod and smile at him and head out with two of Shakespeare’s lines, I forget from where, forcing themselves into my head:
He that is thy friend indeed,
He will help thee in thy need.
I ignore the urging of the words, somehow knowing that leaving is absolutely the wrong decision.
I hear a high pitched scream from inside the five million dollar home.
It is exactly ten o’clock. I just made it on time. This is the one thing for which I am always on time. “Mommy, Daddy’s here,” she shrieks. I love that voice, full of joy and innocence. The sound of her running feet on the hardwood floor brings a big grin to my face. “Mommy, Mommy. I can’t open the door. Quick, Daddy’s here.” I crouch down seeing her in my mind, jumping up and down in anticipation, frustrated at being not quite tall enough to open the top deadbolt. “Mommeeee-eeeee!” After what must seem an age to a seven year old—and to a thirty-eight year old for that matter—the door flies open and she launches herself into my arms.
We hug like we’ve been parted for a year. All my cares dissolve. She grips me tight around the neck for ten wonderful seconds and then lets go and wriggles out of my grasp. “Look Daddy, look.” She pirouettes. “Don’t you just love my new hair?” Her blond hair is cut in a bob and, although I liked her hair long, I have to admit it looks very cute. Sam probably had it done in some tony West Van salon.
“Wow, Ell, it’s great, I do love it.” My grin is so big it is hurting my cheeks.
“Me too, don’t I Mommy?” She looks up at Sam for confirmation. I follow her eyes up to the soon-to-be Samantha Walsh, formerly Sam Rogan, my ex-wife. She looks great. I can see why I fell in love with her. She is wearing jeans and an old plaid work shirt over a tight, white tee. On her, it is just plain chic. Her brunette hair has been cut to her shoulders and looks a bit like Ellie’s. The cut emphasizes her long neck and slim face and the watery sunlight catches the hair’s natural red highlights. The ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron and the smudge of flour on her cheek do nothing to mar her quintessential elegance. She smiles down at us, enveloping me in her warmth and for an instant I am transfixed by those green eyes.
“Listen, Cal, could we make a bit of a change today?”
The euphoric moment is extracted by the augur turning in my gut. A couple of times she has tried to cancel my visits with Ellie and it has been nasty. Sam sees the concern written on my face. “No, no,” she reassures me, “it’s just that George and I are having a dinner party tonight and I have loads to do. Would you like to take Ellie out by yourself?”
I’m good at hiding my feelings—I’ve had a lot of experience—but I can’t pull it off now. The custody part of our divorce stipulates that I can only have unaccompanied visits with Ellie after a two year period. The two years will be up nine Saturdays from now.
This is the first time Sam has suggested an unaccompanied day and I’m praying it might portend an easing of the rules. “Sure, that would be great.”
Ellie bounces up and down and hugs me again. “Come on Daddy, let’s go out on the dock and look for seals.”
“Sure, sweetie. Get your coat and boots on.” She runs into the house, giving me a moment with my ex-wife.
“Thanks, Sam. I really appreciate it.”
She smiles and nods.
My curiosity overcomes my fear of blowing it. I know the excuse of a party would never cause a change like this. “Can I, uh, ask why?”
After five seconds of internal debate, which is a very long time period in the circumstances, she shrugs, “Ellie asked to have the time with you alone and I told her no.” She pauses and I hold my breath. “But when she asked why, I discovered I didn’t have a good reason to refuse her. So, there it is.” Then, an afterthought. “But Cal you’ve got to understand this is not a regular change. It’s a one-off, right?”
For some unknown reason I don’t buy her explanation; I’m sure there’s more to this than she is letting on. “You’ve never let—” the look on her face freezes the next words on my lips. I’ve blown it by pushing too far.
I cover with, “Sure Sam, absolutely.” I feel like a jerk.
After a long look, she shakes her head and smiles, then checks over her shoulder for a second and slips her hand in the pocket of the apron. Taking a step forward, she stumbles but before I can reach out to steady her, she catches herself by grabbing the door frame. “Cal, no stupid pride here, OK? Here’s twenty-five bucks. I know you always bring money when you come to see Ellie but it’s just a little bit extra; maybe take her out for a nice lunch.”
My amazement overcomes my stupid pride.
“Thanks, Sam. I… uh… well…” I have a Masters degree in English Lit so it’s not often that words escape me… but when they do it’s usually with Sam. I put the money in my pocket and have a twinge of guilt when I think about how I could use it. It makes me determined to spend every penny on Ellie.
Sam smiles again and kisses me gently on the cheek as Ellie comes bouncing out of the house.
“Come on, Daddy, let’s go.” She grabs my hand and drags me down the drive. I look over my shoulder and wave at Sam, who is still standing in the doorway, still holding on to the frame. With her other hand she waves back and I realize that I wish she were coming too.
Ellie talks non-stop on our way to the dock. She’s been in grade two at her private school for two months now and is telling me about all her friends and teachers and Puffy the hamster and how she is doing so well in math and, oh yes, Mrs. Tanaka said that the picture she drew of me and Mommy was very, very good.
I love listening to her but I find my mind drifting.
We are only a five minutes from George’s and Sam’s five million dollar home, so far removed from the squalor of the downtown east side, but distance does not blunt the thoughts or the pain of Tommy’s death. Why would an alcoholic die from an overdose? I’m going to miss his cheery optimism, even though of late it has become increasingly difficult to share it. And Roy, how will he fare without his best friend? He will disappear into a world of drink, of course, but will he emerge this time? Although I hate what Roy has done to me, I would be lost without him.
“Daddy, you weren’t listening.” Ellie tugs on the arm of my jacket and, as I look down at her lovely little face, the dark thoughts evaporate. “I said I dreamed about Uncle Kevin last night. When am I going to see him again, I haven’t seen him for aaaages.” She giggles. “He always brings me a stuffy whenever he comes.”
Her sheer joy and enthusiasm make me laugh out loud and my heart is eased. “Soon sweetie,” I promise. I immerse myself in her chatter and, just as we are stepping on to the Dundarave dock, she says, “Daddy?”
I sense another switch in direction coming and I can’t help the chuckle that comes bubbling up. “Yes, sweetie,” I grin down at her.
“A junkie’s a good thing, right Daddy?”
The blood drains from my face as a hand twists my stomach into a knot.
I stop and crouch down so that our eyes are level. “Where did you hear that word, Ellie?”
During the pause, my clenched jaw muscles start to hurt.
“It’s OK, sweetie, you can tell me.”
She reads my expression and looks down at the wooden decking, her voice a whisper. “I heard George tell Mommy that you were a junkie now.” She looks up into my eyes, “That’s good, right? Like being a policeman and helping people.”
I force my jaws to relax for fear of shattering my teeth, weakened by five years of heroin use. I want to run back to George Walsh’s five million dollar house and knock some teeth out of his smug five million dollar face; except that he is out; there was no sign of his dark green Bentley Continental parked in its place of pride under the porte cochère. Instead, I take a deep breath and force myself to smile. I have to tread with caution here. I can’t bad mouth George because anything I say to Ellie will surely get back to Sam.
And I’m not about to lie to Ellie.
In this instant I know, without any doubt, that this is the defining moment. This very second must be the beginning of the end of my addiction. I have used my terror of the excruciating pain of withdrawal as an excuse. Detox and rehab don’t have a stellar record of success but somehow, I must make them work for me. I have to do this for Ellie, no choices, no excuses, no more junkie rationalizations. It stops now.
I only pray that I can do it.
“Ellie, sweetie, you’re getting to be a big girl now, so I am going to talk to you like you were already a grown up. OK?”
She gives a serious nod.
“Do you remember when you were sick with the chicken pox a couple of months ago, just before your birthday?”
“When I was itchy all the time?”
“Yes. Well, I have a sickness too?”
“Does it make you itchy too, Daddy?”
I almost grin because it does indeed make me itchy, “Well, yes. But it makes me sick and it’s because I took this very bad medicine, which I have to keep taking.” I feel unworthy of her. It is like I am doing the usual junkie trick of making excuses but I don’t know how else to tell a seven year old about the effects of heroin.
With incontrovertible logic, she asks, “If it’s bad, why do you keep taking it?”
I fall back on the parent’s perennial answer to a tough question. “It’s difficult to explain, sweetie.” Her look tells me she needs more. I think for a bit and then finish up with, “Anyway, Daddy has got this sickness and lots of other people do too. Some people call us junkies.” I feel bad this is not good enough and frustrated that I do not know how to explain the reality of my degraded life to my innocent daughter.
Ellie considers this for a moment and looks out across English Bay. I have no idea whether or not she has understood anything I have tried to explain.
“Junkies are not bad people, honey. They’ve just made some bad decisions.” My own rationalization makes me sick. I reeks of it’s not my fault, the junkie’s vintage whine.
Suddenly her face breaks into a broad grin. “Look, Daddy. Out there. Is that a seal?”
She skips along the dock and her innocent joy makes my heart brim with a real physical pain.
This is it. I have two months to sort myself out. In two months I have to be ready.
But can I give up heroin or am I deluding myself? Will I ever be worthy of my little girl’s unconditional love?
She turns back to look at me and, bouncing with excitement, points out towards the inquisitive harbor seal bobbing in the water but, through some perverse trick of the mind, thoughts of Roy’s buddy, Tommy, intrude upon my moment of joy.
Why would an alcoholic die from ‘bad drugs’?
I breath a sigh of relief as Ellie runs in. I trust Cal the father but what Cal the junkie might do has always worried me. She throws off her coat and hops along the hall on one foot, struggling with her boot. “Mommy, we had Italian food for lunch at the tractoria. Why is it called that? There weren’t any tractors there.” She vanishes, giggling, into the downstairs bathroom.
I laugh—the joke sounds like one of Cal’s—and call after her, “That’s great, sweetie.”
Cal gives a big goofy smile. He looks like the man I fell in love with. Despite what I have to do, I can not stop myself from grinning back. A big part of me will always love this man although life would be so much simpler if I could just hate him. But I can’t. Cal was my rock; the enthusiasm and idealism he brought to his job was an inspiration for me in my own work. I loved his ready laugh and gentle sarcasm when I took myself too seriously.
Then he ruined everything with drugs.
George is my rock now, a much more reliable one at that, and he is a bit more serious about things than Cal ever was. He provides a wonderful, stable environment for my darling Ellie and anyway serious is good.
“Same time next week?” he asks.
“Cal. Listen.” I do not want Ellie to hear this. I check over my shoulder, move out onto the step and pull the front door closed behind me. I can not avoid a slight stagger and I pray that I won’t lose my balance and fall. I fell last week on a photo shoot; it took me several minutes to get back up again.
“Are you alright?” he asks, concerned.
“Sure. A bit too much sampling of the wine while I was cooking.”
I don’t think he buys it. A big part of me wants to tell him the truth; it would be such a comfort to have him on my side. I have never lied to him before, not even a lie of omission. I don’t want to start now. For an instant I can’t decide. But, as much as it would be an enormous weight off my mind to tell him, I shouldn’t let him know the truth. Not yet. It might spur him into the right action for the wrong reasons. Does that make sense? I don’t know any more. Maybe…
He starts to say something but before he can pursue the matter, I decide. I need to do this fast before I have another incident. “I know you’re trying to be a good father,” I cut him off. “I mean you are a good father. Ellie loves you and you’re really wonderful with her. And she is the one person who trusts you completely because you’re always on time when you come to visit her and you have never missed a visit in the two years since we signed the custody agreement.”
I pause. He knows there is more coming and stands there with trepidation. Damn it, why do I want to hug him right now?
“The thing is, there are things in my life that… I mean…” I have to say this right but I don’t want to hurt him. “Look, when we did the custody agreement, the idea was that you had two years to sort yourself out and stop taking drugs so you could have a more normal relationship with your daughter. But you haven’t done anything, have you?” He just looks at me. “Have you, Cal?” He shakes his head and looks down.
Years of built up frustration overcome my feelings for him, causing the words to come tumbling out. “Oh, Cal. Ellie needs more than a four hours a week Dad. She’s always saying she wants to see you or call you. She asks why she can’t go over and stay at your house. Last Wednesday in the middle of watching a TV show, she said, ‘I want to watch Dora the Explorer. I want Dora to help me find the way to Daddy’s house,’ and she burst into tears.
“George is a good man and he has a great relationship with Ellie. He always says that after we’re married in February, he would love to adopt her. But you’re her father, Cal. Please, please stop using, get a job and start living a normal life for God’s sake. Seeing your daughter for four hours a week is just not good enough. She deserves more.” I can feel the anger burning inside and I am frightened that my body will react and let me down.
Cal is very still. He looks like a condemned man, holding his breath waiting for the ax to fall.
It breaks my heart but I can’t stop now; I have to put Ellie first. “You’re either in or you’re out. If you’re not clean by the New Year, I’m going to cut you out of her life and have George adopt. I’m truly, truly sorry but that’s the way it is.”
The hurt on his face is awful but I can’t waver now; too much is at stake. If Kevin lives up to his promise and does his part, maybe, just maybe, it will be another lever to force Cal to stop using. Kevin can be a big softy, bless him, but I really hope he doesn’t chicken out this time; maybe I’ll phone and remind him.
With a firm grip on the door handle, I step back into the hallway. I don’t want to hear any excuses or promises. I just need him to take the ultimatum on board and do the right thing: take action, not talk. Please Cal, no more talk.
But before I can get the door closed, he speaks. “Sam. Listen.” He puts his hand out to stop it closing and my heart drops; I know what he is going to say, maybe not the words but the intent. “Listen… When I was out with Ellie today, she said a couple of things that touched me, deep down. Frightened me… I made the decision. I know you’ve heard this before and I know I’ve put it off for too long but I am absolutely going to stop using. Ellie means more to me than anything. I promise you and I promise Ellie that by New Year’s day, I will be clean. Nothing will stop me this time.”
The familiarity of the words is painful. I heard them over and over and over and over and over again when we were married. The same words that always preceded a total lack of action.
“Oh, Cal,” I say and, as I step backwards to close the door, my foot catches on the rug. Somehow I manage to right myself and push the door closed before he can see the tears of frustration. Frustration at my illness and frustration at him and his promises.
He has got to get straight before I become too sick to cope.
Whatever choice I make will lead to pain.
I am going to have to suffer the crippling physical pain of detox or bear the unbearable agony of losing Ellie from my life. And, even now, I can feel the worm of heroin withdrawal drilling into my bones. I shot up at seven this morning in the alley and then again at nine thirty in the restroom of a coffee shop in West Van, twenty minutes before seeing Ellie. I hate to do it twice so close together. It’s a sure fire way to deepen the habit but I need that second fix to get me through my four hours with her.
And again there is no reply to the ringing of Kevin’s doorbell.
I remember that Kevin wants to speak to me about something. Sam’s ultimatum drove it from my mind. And what was the matter with her? She almost fell, twice come to think of it. I don’t buy that ‘sampling the wine’ excuse for a moment. Not Sam. Unless she’s changed since she’s been with George…
I try the bell again. I can maybe get through for another hour before the pain becomes too bad to manage.
I try the door handle.
“You home, Kevin?” I call. Silence. Louder, “Kev?” He must have gone out and left the door open for me. I’ll do my laundry while I wait for him. I head towards the spare bedroom.
I reach for the door handle and something stops me. Fear slithers through my gut. Every house has a distinct smell; Kevin’s smells of sandalwood. But this is different. Primal. An odor with which I am all too familiar. And it reminds me of…
“Kevin.” I fly up the stairs. “Kevin!” I hear the note of panic in my voice. At the top, I glance left to the kitchen, immaculate as ever, then turn right into the living room.
He is on the couch.
A jolt of electricity fires up my spine and all the hair on my body is bristling. I can feel the pump of adrenaline in my veins. Breathing is difficult.
Kevin is wearing the paisley robe from this morning. It is thrown open revealing royal blue boxers. The black and yellow handle of a fishing knife is sticking out of his stomach. High, just under the ribcage, it is angled, so the blade must be close to the heart. He is drenched in blood.
I am shocked by the wave of detachment which breaks over me; it holds my emotions in check as my old training takes over. My fingers search for the carotid artery but find no pulse. I try the other side of his throat but the cold flesh tells all. I have touched more than a few dead bodies though never the body of someone I have known well, the body of a friend whom I love. I take his wrist and try to move his arm. It’s just going into rigor. He’s probably been dead since very soon after I left. Even this thought doesn’t break the unnatural calm that has descended on me.
I scan the body. There are no other stab wounds. There’s a lot of blood, so I’m guessing that maybe the blade didn’t find the heart but severed a major blood vessel, allowing the heart to keep pumping blood, and Kevin’s life, out through the wound.
I direct my attention to the details of the scene. It’s not a robbery. Kevin’s wallet is right there on the coffee table, uncharacteristically messy right now, so is his prized Rolex, a graduation present from his father.
Something has switched inside me. My training and instincts as a detective, suppressed for so long, have taken over and I can not deny the guilty pleasure that it feels freeing, wonderful. Has it taken the death of my closest friend to make me alive?
On the floor under the coffee table is a ring; it looks like an engagement ring. Wait a minute, Sandi’s not here! The calm that descended on me disappears and I rush upstairs. As much as I detest Kevin’s girlfriend, I dread what I know I am going to find.
But she is not in the bedroom. Or the bathroom. A wave of relief washes through me. The bed is unmade and the quilt is thrown back. Only one pillow holds the indentation of a head. A quick scan of the room reveals nothing that is obviously out of place.
Back to the main floor and it is starting to sink in that he is actually dead but I rein in my rising panic. I can’t let my feelings in. Not yet.
I go into the kitchen and pick up the phone on the wall beside the fridge. I dial nine, one… and then stop. As quickly as he appeared, the detective vanishes and is replaced by the junkie.
If I call the police now, I will become the prime suspect: the junkie friend. I need to go back downstairs, get my stuff, slink back to the downtown east side and get the fix that I now so desperately need to wash away the pain in my body and the grief in my heart. Leave it to someone else, probably Sandi, to find Kevin.
I wipe my fingerprints from the phone, go downstairs and head for the front door. I can be back on the east side in half an hour and, as soon as I find Roy, I can get well. I freeze at the front door. My clothes. I have to take them with me. I head for the bedroom and again the smell of Kevin’s blood stops me.
For a moment I am paralyzed by indecision, rooted to the spot.
Then, as the familiar smell of blood stirs up memories from my former life, I know that the moment upstairs, when the cop rose to the surface, was real. In spite of all that has happened to me in the last five years, I am still a detective; a junkie, yes, a failing father, yes, but above all I am a detective. The dormant longing to be back on the job bursts through the layers of emotion under which I have buried it. For a moment, I even believe that I could give up heroin if I might just…
Now the indecision is gone; I have no choice.
I return up the stairway to the living room and recheck the scene. There are no signs of a struggle. Kevin’s body is sitting upright, well back on the sofa; his body is not slumped but his chin is on his chest. The sofa has nothing on it except the body but I see a piece of paper lying, half hidden, underneath it.
I know that I should not disturb a crime scene but it does not bother me, I have to know the truth; I owe it to Kevin. I remove my handkerchief from my pocket and wrapping it around my fingers, grip the edge of the paper and pull it out. But instead of sliding free, it tears on something under the couch. I have crossed a line and this time it does bother me. Now I’m tampering with evidence, changing it, perhaps doing something that will confuse the crime scene techs when they get here. The paper is blank except for four words at the top of the page: ‘Mom & Dad I’. The other side is completely blank. Feeling a sliver of guilt, I try to slide it back, part way under the sofa but I can not get it into the exact position.
Now the ring. It is an engagement ring and not a cheap one. A quick examination reveals no telltale engraving. This time, I am able to return it to its exact position.
Keeping my good jacket from touching the body, I lean over and look at the knife and the wound it has made. It’s Kevin’s fishing knife, I have seen it a hundred times on the many fishing trips Kevin, Brad and I took over the years. It is top quality. I should know; I bought if for him, almost twenty years ago, and it cost me over a hundred bucks back then. I take in the things littered over the coffee table and check that there is nothing out of place or odd in the room.
It is now way past the time to call the police, but first I need to take care of one more detail.
Clearly, I won’t be using Kevin’s place any more to store my good clothing. So I am going to stay dressed as I am, in my good clothes, for when the police come. It would not do to change back into my street clothes, especially with the blood on my jacket from last night. Although not Kevin’s blood, it would be a complication when the police arrive, enough to make them detain me. That mustn’t happen. I’m thinking like a cop but am going to act like a criminal.
I take a couple of garbage bags from the kitchen and hurry downstairs. I get my other good clothes—pitifully few of them, left over from my previous life—and fold them into the bottom of the first garbage bag. Then I cover them with the second garbage bag, add my toiletries then stuff my dirty old street clothes on top, including the blood stained jacket; I will not be washing it in Kevin’s machine today… or ever again. I leave the townhouse and as I hasten up the street, I think I see the curtains twitch at Mrs. Komalski’s house, next door. Just what I want is Kevin’s nosy neighbor observing my movements. I take a quick look round and stuff my garbage bag in the bushes between the end of the row of townhouses and the back of the gas station.
I force in a deep breath and return to the townhouse—without seeing any noticeable curtain twitches—lock the door behind me and head up to the kitchen.
I make the nine-one-one call then go back to the sofa and stand, looking down at Kevin’s body, knowing these are our last moments together. I draw myself up to full attention.
“I promise you Kev, no matter what, I will find out who did this to you,” I whisper. “I promise you and I promise your parents.” But my voice breaks and now, at last, the tears can come.
And through my tears, I think again of Brad.
Kevin, Brad and me, christened the three amigos by our grade eleven classmates after we pulled a prank which, twenty years after it happened, is still talked about at Magee High School. Although we have not spoken in a while, too long a while, we have a bond, the bond of a friendship that was forged in eighth grade and tempered though our turbulent adolescence. I need to be the one to tell him of Kevin’s death.
I sniff twice but not from the tears. Sniffing is one of the withdrawal symptoms. The aches have already started creeping into my bones and I know that in less than an hour the pain will be unbearable.
When I make good on my promise to Ellie and Sam of going into detox, this agony will be magnified daily, getting worse and worse as my body adjusts. Through the eternity of a week the torture will reach its excruciating climax, then ease and slowly fade to a memory. But then come the weeks of rehab, weeks of learning to live one’s life without succumbing to the craving for that purest moment of bliss which only heroin can bestow.
Now comes the cruelest joke of all: the system spits you out, back on to the streets of the downtown east side, with no money, no job and no home. Thus seventy percent of the graduates are drawn back into the life and are using again within three months.
The thought draws my eyes to the coffee table and Kevin’s Rolex. I guess its value at somewhere north of twenty grand. It would fetch a few thousand from one of the east side’s many crooked pawnbrokers. That would give me enough money to come out of rehab and take a good try at getting off the street; get a small apartment away from the east side, find a job…
Of course, this is all crap; it’s my junkie mind in full delusional mode. You can’t buy your way out of addiction. Everyone knows that. With a few thousand dollars, I would be getting high five, six times a day for a couple or three weeks and then it would all be gone.
Besides, Kevin’s dad gave him that watch; I could never face him again if I stole it, which is way too high a price to pay.
I hear the scream of a police siren and without thinking—it feels like I am not moving under my own control, or is that just one more junkie rationalization?—I take out my handkerchief again, wrap it around my hand and grab Kevin’s wallet. I open it and am surprised to see that in addition to the credit cards and the various identity cards which normal people carry, it is bulging with cash: hundreds, fifties and twenties. Why would Kevin be carrying around so much cash?
I don’t have time for speculation. I take all but twenty five bucks and stuff it in my pocket, then close up the wallet and place it back on the table in the same place. “Sorry buddy,” I whisper to the inert flesh that used to be my best friend… but I still look with longing at the Rolex.
By taking the cash I’ve crossed a line I have never crossed before. I have crossed another line by tampering with the evidence. Now that I have crossed those lines, maybe two or three thousand dollars from that watch would help me get back on my feet when I get out of rehab. Maybe I’ll just…
I teeter on the edge but fortunately, I am interrupted before I get to find out just how low I might sink.
The bell rings and knuckles hammer on the front door. I run down and let them in. Two uniformed officers. One looks like he’s just out of the Justice Institute with red hair and bright red cheeks covered in peach fuzz. I’m betting he doesn’t shave much more than once a week. He’s short too. Whatever happened to the height requirements for cops?
His partner is a hoary old timer with three chevrons on his sleeve. His craggy face has real character written all over it. The four inch scar on his right cheek speaks of his history. His uniform fits well over his ample girth. Our eyes lock and a wealth of knowledge passes between us.
“Hi Cal.” He is the very picture of wariness. “You’re the one who called this in.” It’s not a question.
“Hi Sarge. Yeah. I did… The body’s upstairs.”
I go to lead the way but the young cop grabs my bicep and pulls me to one side. “You wait here sir,” he says in a deep voice, a voice wildly at odds with his size and appearance. Sarge looks at me, half smiles and raises his eyebrows as if to say, ‘Kids eh?’
We troop up the stairs, the kid in the vanguard. The shock of seeing Kevin’s body hits me all over again and I shake my head in an attempt to banish the tears that want to flow. Knowing that I have stolen money from Kevin’s wallet makes me flush with shame.
The kid makes his way towards the body but Sarge stops him with, “Wait a minute, Dave. This may be a murder scene.” May be? A dead body with a knife in the gut and soaked in blood? But then Sarge always was conservative. “You checked he’s dead?” This is addressed to me.
“Yeah. For quite a few hours.”
He nods and keys the radio on his shoulder. The model of efficiency, he confirms the death, adds that it is suspicious and requests a crime scene unit and a detective team. While he is doing this, the kid takes out a notepad and asks me for my name and address. “Cal Rogan,” I say, “no address.”
He looks me up and down, sees how I am dressed and his confusion turns to anger making his face redden even more. “This is no joking matter, sir,” he says, “I need your address and I need it now.” He’s an officious little twerp and I’m starting to dislike him. Sarge is catching our conversation while he is listening for a response from his radio. He’s trying very hard to suppress a grin. I suspect he’s not too fond of this kid either.
“I already told you, kid. No fixed abode.” The use of the word ‘kid’ gets a big reaction. He stuffs the notepad back into his pocket and moves toward me, his hand reaching behind him, probably for handcuffs. I straighten up and he realizes that not only am I at least eight inches taller than him but also, despite five years of heroin use, I am still built like the proverbial brick shit house. He hesitates and I think that one day, in a dangerous situation, a hesitation like that may cost him dearly.
“Back off, Dave.” Sarge rumbles. “He’s OK and he’s telling you the truth. Just wait ’til the detectives get here.” It feels good to have Sarge in my corner right now.
Dave however is definitely not a happy camper but screw him.
Sarge keys off his radio. “Who’s the vic?” he asks, more out of interest than need to know.
“His name’s Kevin Wallace. My best friend.”
“Sorry to hear that,” he says and he means it. “How’d you find him?”
“Well I came over here to see him and got no reply, so I tried the door and it was open. I came in and here he was.” The truth, as far as it goes.
“The door was locked when we got here.” Said evenly with no hint of guile but Sarge never misses much.
“Yeah, I locked it behind me when I came in.” I’m hoping that I’m not giving any tell that I’m hiding something.
Sarge just nods. “Detectives should be here soon. Dispatcher says they’re pretty close by. Your old buddies, Waters and Stammo: the gruesome twosome,” he chuckles.
I draw in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Did Steve make sergeant yet?” I ask.
Sarge gives me a long, hard look and shakes his head.
Steve Waters and I worked a lot of cases together on the downtown east side but I dread facing him. Just over three years ago, he found out I was using. He tried to cover for me but when it all came out, they fired me and his imminent promotion to sergeant was put on hold. I doubt he will ever be able to forgive me for that.
Steve is a good guy and a great cop and I’m glad it will be him looking into Kevin’s murder.
On the other hand, his partner today, Nick Stammo, is an A-1 prick.
I am now well into withdrawal, sniffing every few seconds and my gut hurts. My neck muscles are sore and the pain is worming its way into my bones. Worst of all I am feeling edgy and kind of twitchy. I can not stop myself from scratching. Soon my concentration will dissipate. I’m good for about a half hour max, then I’m going to be in a bad way.
Sarge and the kid have gone, the forensic team are upstairs and I am in the downstairs bedroom with Steve and Stammo. I have just finished telling them about everything that happened today, leaving out only the details of the money I have stolen from Kevin’s wallet and the fact that I have a blood stained jacket stashed in a garbage bag behind some bushes. Either would just raise too many questions and put me in the frame.
Both of them know what my sniffing and general twitchiness are about. I feel ashamed that Steve can see me like this and I can see he is disgusted but, despite how he must feel about me, I think he is at least a little sympathetic. If it were up to him, he would let me go now. Stammo, however, wants to take advantage of my situation and try and catch me in a lie. He and I have a history and he would love to have the upper hand. Nick Stammo is everything that a cop should not be. He’s a bully and cares more about closing a case than about catching the right offender. He’s also lazy and I am surprised that Steve and he are working this together. Stammo is tall and skinny, a bit like Roy but without the charm.
He questions and re-questions me trying to find a hole in my story, but as I am telling the truth he can not catch me in a lie. His weasel face is showing his frustration and it angers me that he is so bad at his job. If I were doing this interrogation there are a host of questions I would ask that he does not even come close to thinking about.
He keeps hammering away for about fifteen minutes and then, to my surprise, he says, “Well I don’t think we need keep you any longer, Rogan.”
They walk me to the door and Steve asks, “Where will you keep your good clothes now that you won’t be coming here any more?”
I haven’t had time to think about that and I tell him so.
“So Cal, where are your other clothes?” he asks.
My mind races.
If I tell them the truth, it will seem suspicious that I hid my clothes in a garbage bag up the street. They will want to look at them and will see my blood stained jacket. Even though it is not Kevin’s blood, they will not know that until they have it tested, so it is an odds on certainty that they will arrest me if they see that jacket.
If they arrest me, in my pocket they will find the cash I took from Kevin’s wallet providing a ready made motive. Then, on top of that, I’m going to have to go through the agony of withdrawal in a holding cell. The horror of it makes me break into a cold sweat and ratchets the pain up a notch. My breathing is heavier and I can feel a pulse in my neck but, despite the fear, the cop, who has been buried inside me for so long, wants to speak up. The only way I can rid myself of the unclean feeling that has enveloped me from the instant I snatched Kevin’s money, is, like Juliet, to make confession and to be absolved. Maybe I can also use this to make good on my promise to Ellie and Sam, my promise to get clean; maybe I can tough it out in a cell. There is no evidence tying me to Kev’s murder, they’ll have to let me go eventually and, when they do release me, the heroin will be flushed from my system. I make a snap decision: I am going to go for it.
“My clothes are in—”
Then it hits me: if they arrest me, they will stop looking for Kevin’s actual killer. Less than half an hour ago, I stood by the body of my best friend and made an oath to him and to his parents that I would find out who killed him. If I let them arrest me, he and his parents will not get the justice they deserve. Nothing can come ahead of this oath; Kevin’s death must not go unavenged.
So what am I going to tell Steve and Stammo? My mind, made sluggish by the pain, can only come up with, “—uh, in the laundromat. You know, that one on Fourth, where the woman will do your clothes for you. I’ve got to go and pick them up now. Good job you reminded me.”
“I thought that they’d stopped doing people’s laundry for them.” Steve says evenly.
Oh shit. “No, they still do it.” But I know he’s going to check on it—I would in his shoes—and then he will know that the laundromat on Fourth stopped doing washes for people over a year ago. “They started again a few months back,” I add.
There is a long silence.
“Why don’t we drive you there?” Steve offers.
I look at my watch. “My stuff won’t be ready yet. Not for another forty-five minutes or so.” I’m getting in deeper.
Stammo joins in, “We can take you there now. It’ll be better than waiting here with your dead friend upstairs.”
“I’ve got something else to do first.”
“What?” asks Stammo with a smile which shows his cigarette stained teeth. No one ever taught him how to do a smile that wasn’t creepy.
My mind somehow cuts through the pain in my body and goes into overdrive. I have to come up with something plausible. Quickly. Then, out of nowhere, I remember a course in undercover work; one thing stuck in my mind: Make all your lies as close to the truth as possible.
“Isn’t it obvious? You know I’m an addict and unless you’re blind or stupid,” I let my eyes linger on Stammo, “then you’ll know that I am in real need of a fix right now. So what do you think I am going to do? Shoot up here in front of you? Go shoot up in the fucking laundromat?” I rein in my rising temper. “I need to go somewhere quiet and take care of business.”
Steve looks hard at me. “OK, Cal.” He knows I am lying about the laundromat but can not quite decide why, so he makes the compassionate choice for me and the more comfortable choice for himself. If he thinks I’m going to shoot up now, he wants me out of this house and out of his sight. The thought floods me with shame. Junkies feel stabbed by shame every day but the look in Steve’s eyes sharpens the blade for me.
It is Stammo’s turn again. “So where can we get hold of you if we need to ask you any more questions?”
I look him in the eye and I can see he is enjoying this. I can’t hold back. “Listen, you smug bastard. You know where I’m at. I’m living on the street or in flophouses on the downtown east side. If you want me, get your lazy ass in gear and come and find me.” He tenses and his hands are balling into fists. This close, I can smell the stale cigarette smoke on his clothes. I look him straight in the eye and in that instant I know he will not try anything. He must remember the last time we had a run in like this. But I was a cop back then, not just some junkie.
Steve defuses the situation. “Do you still hang with Roy?” he asks calmly.
Without taking my eyes off Stammo, I nod.
“OK, no problem. We can find you through Roy.” He hands me his business card. “Give me a call first thing Monday morning, we’ll probably want to talk to you some more. I’ll see you, Cal. Take care.” I am dismissed.
“Yeah. See you Steve.” I hold Stammo’s gaze for a moment longer, then bestow a false smile on him, turn and take off.
I wonder how quickly they will go and visit the laundromat and what they will do when they confirm the lie.
The pain is unbearable. I have got to get well and, for a few blessed moments, I need to blot out the horror of Kevin’s dead body on the couch. And Roy’s friend Tommy, what about his death? There’s no way it’s connected to Kevin’s. But on the other hand, I just don’t believe in coincidences.
Where’s Roy, I need him now. Is he drinking away the memory of Tommy’s death?
Roy has always been my link. I give him the money to buy my drugs and in return, I pay for his booze. A strange symbiosis.
But where the fuck is he?
He is not at Beanie’s Eatery on Hastings Street. Despite its cutesy name, it is a hole but it is his favorite place; he is always there on Saturday when I get back from seeing Ellie. Always there, ready with my drugs. Where is he? A grim thought fights its way through the pain into my consciousness. What if Roy is dead too, like Tommy? Is there some link between Tommy’s and Kevin’s deaths? Is there a link to Roy? And to that blood on my jacket.
I can’t think clearly and I can’t take the time to think it through. I can not even take the time to mourn Kevin. I have to take the risk and go and make the buy myself. I think about my promise to Sam that I will stop using. As soon as I can, I will get into detox and break out of this cycle. But I can’t think of that right now. My whole world has shrunk to one screaming need.
I make my way towards the Carnegie library at Hastings and Main, I probably won’t be recognized there. I keep my face covered by buttoning my jacket over my chin and pulling the peak of my Chicago Cubs cap down over my face.
The steer spots me before I am halfway along the block. “Whatcha looking for man? Down?” From a mile off, he can spot a heroin addict in withdrawal. His ravaged face tells me he’s been a user for a long time. Is this where my face is headed?
He walks me into the alley beside the library and leads me to another ravaged face slouching beside a dumpster. A frisson of fear passes through me. I drop my head further forward, the better to cover my face. Street dealers work in groups of three or four: the steers who guide customers to the dealer; the dealer who holds the drugs and does the actual transaction; and the money man—who is often the muscle too—he holds all the cash. I do not care if the dealer sees me; it is the guy holding the money that I worry about. I do not know which of the people hanging in the alley is the money man—a quick glance does not reveal any familiar faces—but if he sees me and recognizes me, I am screwed.
I offer the dealer five of Kevin’s twenties. “Gimme ten points.”
He does not take the cash. He looks long and hard at me. Maybe an ex-cop gives off a vibe that these guys can sense; it’s one of the two reasons I get Roy to buy for me. Maybe he is going to refuse to sell to me. As if in anticipation, the pain ratchets up a notch and I hear myself groan.
He too is a junkie. He recognizes the groan and knows it is genuine but still he holds back. I want to grab him, shake him and scream my need into his face.
He looks up and down the filthy alley and turns back to me.
“Fuck off,” he says.
Hating myself for it, I plead, “Please man, I really need it.”
He looks up the alley again and makes a small gesture towards me with his head. He is signaling the muscle. I’ve got to go. Fast.
All choice is gone. I have to go to the dealer in the alley where I woke up this morning. The alley fills me with dread and the man who holds the money there knows that I have stolen from him. But I have no choice. I shuffle down Hastings trying to avoid any movement that exacerbates the pain. It is impossible but I try. I ignore the Guatemalan and Salvadoran dealers who control this block. No matter what I offer, they are not going to sell to me. They deal only with their own and anyway they mostly deal in coke.
Finally I make it to the maw of the alley. It beckons me in and for an instant my fear almost overcomes my need. Who am I kidding? Nothing overcomes this need. I plunge in and make my way to the dealer standing beside the dumpsters. He looks askance at me; he is searching his memory.
I brandish the hundred dollars, still clutched in my hand—it’s a miracle that someone did not see it and mug me en route—“Gimme ten points.”
He looks long and hard. “Hundred fifty.” Bastard! So much money for a gram of powder that started life in the poppy fields of Afghanistan and sold for a hundred and fifty bucks a kilo. Only criminal enterprises can make markups of one hundred thousand percent.
I don’t want to show that I have more money on me. “OK, how about seven points?”
He shrugs. The money and the seven flaps of precious powder change hands. As I push past the dealer, I notice that he is looking at a big guy, dressed all in black, standing about twenty yards away. The money man. He is looking at me and talking on a cell phone. I recognize the face. He knows me and he knows Roy.
I run out of the alley as fast as I can.
The need to be indoors and off the streets is warring with my burning need to get well. I am only three blocks from the Lion Hotel, staggering from the pain as I walk there.
Then I see him, standing outside Sunrise Market. Roy. My relief at seeing him safe is eclipsed by my anger. Where the fuck was he when I needed him to buy me my drugs? He sees me and says something but I can not catch what he is saying. I don’t have time for him now. Saturdays he likes to cross examine me about my visit with Ellie.
He looks agitated. “Rocky—”
“Not now Roy.” I do not have time for his drama. I push past him. “Come and see me in an hour.”
He grabs my arm. “Rocky, you gotta listen to me—”
“In an hour Roy.” I order as I snatch my arm from his grip.
I run past Sunrise and through the door to the Lion Hotel.
Only a few minutes now. Hang on. Hang on.
The room is bleak. Four walls, dirty and battle scarred from the drunks and junkies who are the only denizens that the once respectable hotel has known in its recent past. But at least it will provide me shelter for a week, thanks to ninety of the dollars that I withdrew shamefully from Kevin’s wallet.
I’m slouched on the rickety old bed. The place provides clean sheets but the bed beneath them…
But right now my mind is focused on the eight items in my lap.
There is no world outside this room. No daughter. No friends, dead or alive. Nothing but me, my need and my heroin.
As always, I force myself to do it right, subjugating the burning need to be rid of the pain to the consequences of screwing up. I slip off my jacket and roll up my left sleeve, over the elbow and halfway up my bicep.
Tear open the first package, remove the swab, find a good site—they’re getting fewer and fewer—and rub the alcohol over the target. Wipe my fingers with the swab.
Now the rubber tie. Tie it tight over the muscle and grip the long end with my teeth.
My avowal to Sam inserts itself into my consciousness. I promise you and I promise Ellie that by New Year’s day, I will be clean. Nothing will stop me this time. What if they could see my now? What would they think? Will I ever be able to rid myself of this need and follow through with that promise? Somehow I must.
Can I stop now? Go cold turkey in this ruined room?
Maybe I can…
But not now. I can’t think about that now.
Open the little pill box of filters, place one on my right knee. Remove the safety cap and balance the needle with great care on my left knee.
Hang on, the pain will soon be gone.
Force my hands to be steady, open four flaps and pour the precious contents into the spoon; I shouldn’t be using four points, it’s too much but I need it right now. Rip the plastic container with my teeth and pour half of the sterile water over the white powder.
Soon, baby, soon.
Fumble for the lighter. Why does it take four tries to light for God’s sake?
Heat up the spoon. Come on, come on, COME ON.
A junkie’s a good thing, right Daddy?
Through the pain, I burn with shame. If Ellie could see me here, doing this, what would she think?
The liquid is bubbling. It’s ready. Don’t rush at the end.
Put the spoon on the bed beside me and hope it doesn’t scorch the blanket but I can’t worry about that now. Drop in the little cotton filter.
As I reach for the needle, the tremor in my hands causes me to fumble and knock it. It falls and lands point down in the floor, spearing a wad of dried bubble gum spat on the disgusting carpet by a previous inhabitant. Revulsion rises in my gorge as I carefully pull it out.
I can’t find the antiseptic swab. I need it to clean the needle.
Where the fuck is it?
Careful not to spill the precious liquid cooling in the spoon, I scrabble among the things around me but it’s nowhere to be seen.
A fresh wave of pain runs through me. Cal would never use this contaminated needle but Rocky can only think of getting well. I’ll have to risk it, even if it kills me.
Spike into the filter, beveled side up, draw back on the plunger.
Almost there, almost. Needle at the proper angle, try not to think about the saliva in the bubble gum or the mouth from which it came, slide it into the vein, pull back a little on the plunger.
No blood in the needle. Damn it, I’m not in the vein.
Try again. No go. Shit. Shit. It’s getting harder and harder to find veins.
Blood, thank God, got it.
Yank off the rubber tie with my teeth.
Push the plunger home slowly, slowly, slowly.
Pull out the needle, drop it to the floor and press where the little spot of blood has formed.
In a moment it’s coming. Release, comfort, bliss. If I can get clean for Ellie and for Sam I will never experience it again. How will I live without…
Oh… Oooh… Oooooooh.
The world slows as a warm and gentle wave suffuses me and washes the pain out of every cell and every care out of my soul. Ooooooooh, God, that’s good. I look up for a second and smile as my head nods forward.
The yellow and black handle protruding from his chest is all that I can think about; the fishing knife that I bought for him was the instrument of his death. But wielded by whom? Who would ever think of murdering Kevin?
The note under the couch—“Mom and Dad I”—was a clumsy attempt to make it look like suicide. I do not even know for sure if it was Kev’s handwriting.
The ring on the floor was an engagement ring. Was Kevin planning to propose to Sandi or had he already done so and she turned him down? Or did they have an argument and she threw it back at him? I wonder if she was there in the morning when I got there; she usually was on Saturday mornings. But I remember that in the afternoon, when I ran upstairs to the bedroom, there was only the indentation of a head on one of the pillows.
If I were running the investigation, I would start with Sandi and then talk to the neighbors, especially Mrs. Komalski who is right next door to him; she misses nothing. If I were running the investigation… The thought gives me a physical pain. Kevin’s death has triggered my longing to be back in the department, a longing that I have suppressed for years.
But what if I did investigate his death? What if I could find the killer? And get clean? Would that give me a shot at getting back into the VPD? All my logic tells me that they would never rehire a former addict but dreams are not always beaten down by logic.
My thoughts are interrupted by a double knock on the door that has to be Roy. He doesn’t ever live in flop houses. He says they make him feel caged. He lives out in the open air, under bridges, in doorways or under trees, and he prefers it that way. I have observed how twitchy he can get indoors. I’m surprised that he is here at all. It must be important.
I can not help feeling a bit guilty about the uncharitable thoughts that I had for him earlier and about the brusque way I treated him outside the Sunrise market. I’m glad he’s here, maybe he can tell me more about Tommy’s death too.
I put a welcoming smile on my face as I unlock the door and open it wide.
The guy dressed in black from the alley steps into the room. His fist is headed towards my face and he’s as big as me. But slow. I slam him with the door and push him off balance. His ham-sized fist sails past my ear as I grab his arm and spin him hard into the room. His head adds another insult to the poor, abused wall opposite the door and in that instant, while he is still dazed, I grab his lapels and drive my forehead hard into his nose. It gives out a satisfying crunch.
Before I can complete the ballet by bringing my knee up into his groin, I hear, or maybe just sense, that he is not alone. Springing to my left, I spin back to face the door, just in time to see the end of a four foot length of rebar, which was being aimed at my back, finish its arc and make contact with the elbow of the man in black. The crack of splintering bone is quite satisfactory; the screech of pain which follows, not so much.
The wielder of the re-bar is not an inch less than six foot eight and he is veritable Goliath from hell. His tightly tattooed arms, which are fifty percent thicker than my thighs, have completed the second wind up with the re-bar and he is stepping into the swing like an oversized Barry Bonds.
He looks very tough and he scares the hell out of me. These guys are not here to beat me up. The re-bar tells it all.
They are here to kill me.
And I have just one shot; if it fails, I’m dead, or worse, crippled for life.
I pivot to my left, shoulder to the wall, and drop into a crouch bringing my right knee up to my chest. Braced against the wall and with every ounce of my strength, I drive my right heel hard into his kneecap as the re-bar whistles over the top of my head.
For a normal man, the kick would demolish the knee joint, leaving everything below the femur hanging like wet spaghetti. But for Goliath it does not. However, it has, at the very least, shattered the patella, inflicting enough damage to drop him backwards, bellowing, onto the bed, which promptly gives up the ghost and falls apart under his weight.
I grab both the window of opportunity and the garbage bag with my clothes. In three seconds flat I am out of there. Members of drug gangs are sometimes armed and I doubt Hell’s Goliath would have any qualms at shooting me.
Trying to ignore the pain in my foot from the kick I delivered, I hare down the hallway, tensing my back against the almost inevitable thwack of a bullet and praying that the injury to his knee will spoil his aim. Bob, the manager of the Lion, is coming out of his office, drawn by the noise from the room. He is carrying a baseball bat and blocks my way. He knows me well enough as a good, regular tenant so I should be able to talk my way out of this.
“A couple of dealers tried to kill me.” I say, “I’d leave it alone if I were you.”
I look back. There is no one in the corridor and the noise from the room is changing. The shrieks of the man in black have turned into sobbing and Goliath is now shouting profanities. I hear him bellow, “I’ll fuckin’ kill you Rogan.” Shit! How the hell does he know my name?
Bob’s a good guy. He takes a long look at me then says, “OK. Get outta here. But don’t you think of coming back any time soon. I can’t have ’em coming back for you.” He goes back into the office and I hear the click of the lock and the sliding of the bolt but by then I am halfway down the stairs on my way back to the streets.
As I push through the door of the hotel, I almost knock over an old man in sneakers and a beige gabardine raincoat who is running on the spot in front of the hotel. It is Nelson, a regular fixture on the downtown east side. Nelson can be seen at all times of the day, running anywhere and everywhere. No one has ever seen him walk. Nelson is not playing with a full deck and should be in care but, like so many others, the health care system has abandoned him to the streets. He is an old-timer whom Roy and I have always helped when we can. Right now he is in a state of high agitation.
I do not have time for Nelson right now; I have got to get far away from this location. But before I can run off he says, “Rocky, it’s Roy, come on, quick.” He takes my arm and starts a fast shuffle down Powell Street towards Oppenheimer Park, dragging me after him. The sentence was a great effort for the usually monosyllabic Nelson. I tighten my grip on the garbage bag and jog along beside him.
On the corner of Dunlevy is an ambulance, red and blue lights strobing. The paramedics are lifting a body on to a stretcher. I sprint past Nelson and get to the ambulance as they are wheeling the stretcher towards the open back doors. Roy is conscious and they have a clear plastic oxygen mask over his face. I lean over him and he mouths the word “Sorry.” Now I know how Goliath and his buddy were able to find my accustomed hang out and how they knew my name.
The paramedics slide Roy into the back of the ambulance.
“Can I come with him?” I ask.
“You a relative?” the female of the duo asks.
“Sorry, sir. Only relatives.”
“Where are you taking him?” I ask.
Her partner closes the back doors, gets in the cab and drives off.
My strategy for survival on the streets has claimed another casualty. But now I know what I need to do.
“You have got to be kidding me.” I am stunned by what they are saying.
“The forensics don’t lie, Cal.”
It is Monday and we are sitting in an interview room in the Main Street police station. It is hard to be here again. It makes me think of the good times that I had working here and makes the loss of my job in the VPD so much more painful. I try to deny it when I am on the streets but in this building there is no escape from the fact: I was and always will be a cop. It is in my DNA, programmed at the deepest level. The fact that I no longer have a detective’s badge is the most devastating aspect of my spiral into addiction.
Steve’s bombshell has shattered my one faint hope of getting back into the VPD, a hope that has been growing in me since Saturday: solve Kevin’s murder and be welcomed back into the fold. I long to be back in this building and part of the team again, doing the one thing that gave the most meaning to my life, but Steve’s bizarre pronouncement that Kevin’s death was suicide has ripped that hope away, leaving a profound sense of despair.
“I wish to hell the forensics did lie, Rogan,” Stammo is saying, “Because if it was murder, I would go full blast after you.”
I ignore him. “What was the TOD, Steve?”
“As close as they can figure it, he died at around 9:30, give or take a half hour.”
“So you could have done it before you left there.” Stammo can’t resist taking another shot.
I turn on him. “Make up your frigging mind, Stammo. What are you saying? It’s suicide or murder?”
“The pathologist says it’s suicide,” he gives me that creepy smile again, “but I’ve got a couple of questions about that.” He glances at Steve and I feel uneasy at the silent communication which passes between them.
“First thing is we want to know why you tampered with the crime scene.” He leaves the statement hanging.
They know about the money. I work hard to keep the mixture of shock and guilt off my face. If they search me, I still have most of it in my pocket. It is the perfect motive for murder. Is this talk of suicide a ploy to catch me out in something?
“What?” I try to cover my fear by sounding incredulous. “How d’you figure that?” It comes out with more of a squeak than a ring of righteous indignation.
“He left a note. It was on the floor, part way under the couch. Did you happen to notice it?”
I keep the relief off my face. I can not see any downside in going for the truth here. “Yes, I did. And, before you ask, yes, I did move it to look at it. It was snagged on something under the couch and it tore when I pulled it out. I’m sorry.”
“We’re wondering if maybe you touched anything else,” Steve says.
“I admit I looked at the diamond ring that was on the floor and I put it back in exactly the same position but that’s it. I didn’t touch anything else.”
“What about the knife?” Stammo asks.
They are silent. It’s an obvious move to see if I will talk and volunteer anything else and I am gripped by a mad desire to fill the void by telling them about the money; it has weighed on my conscience from the moment I took it. But instead, I push down the guilty feelings and ask, “Why does the pathologist say it was suicide?” I direct the question to Steve.
His face is blank. “We checked with the laundromat, Cal,” he says. “They haven’t offered a do-your-laundry service for over a year. So where the hell were your good clothes on Saturday and why did you lie to us?”
Fortunately, I expected this question and have a plausible lie at hand. I start with the truth, “They were in a garbage bag. I hid them in the bushes at the end of the street.”
“Why’d you do that, Rogan?” Stammo demands.
I put on a sheepish look. Now for the lie. “Because I had heroin with me. I couldn’t run the risk that you would find it and seize it and maybe arrest me, so I put it in the bag with my clothes and hid it.”
Again they exchange looks. “Give us a minute, Cal,” Steve says and he and Stammo leave the interview room.
I suppress a strong desire to slide my garbage bag under the chair but I dare not draw attention to it; they will be watching me in the two way mirror. After the incident at the Lion Hotel, I moved into a hostel and I am not allowed to leave anything there during the day. With Roy in the hospital, I have no one to leave my good stuff with so I’ve had to bring it with me. I am wearing my good jacket for this meeting but my street jacket, with the blood on it, is in the bag.
I look at the mirror. I know they are there but what are they discussing? Are they going to leave me waiting here for an hour? Or two? Will they keep me until withdrawal starts? Is this whole suicide theory part of a plan to put me at my ease and then entrap me with some damning evidence?
The door slams open and they walk back in. I can sense a tension between them.
“OK, Cal,” Steve says. “We are still treating this as a suicide. There was no sign of a struggle. His Rolex and his wallet full of credit cards and some cash were there in full view, so it wasn’t a robbery.”
Again I suffer a twinge of guilt as I think of the money from Kevin’s wallet that is in my pocket.
“The knife was his own knife,” Steve continues, “with only his prints on it. The slight blurring of the prints indicate that he pulled the knife into his chest himself. The only prints in his apartment were his, his girlfriend’s and his mother’s. Oh, and yours. But they were only downstairs and on the phone in the kitchen. On top of that, there was the note. As you know, it said, ‘Mom and Dad I.’ We think he started to write a suicide note and then abandoned the idea and just went ahead with it.”
Although I feel an element of relief that maybe they are not thinking of accusing me, this suicide theory feels wrong. When I think about it, I know in my heart that Kevin would never kill himself. I start to say this but Steve cuts me off. “We talked to his parents and his mother said that he had been depressed lately and this was corroborated by his girlfriend. She works with him and said that he was having some difficulties with the project he was working on.
“Because of who his family is, the Coroner got Dr. Marcus to come in on Sunday and do the autopsy. She couldn’t find anything that points to murder. She’s even released the body to the funeral home, in deference to his parents, who still carry a lot of weight in City Hall. I’m sorry Cal, your buddy Kevin killed himself.”
I look across the bare table. In the two way mirror, I can see myself and the backs of their heads. I wonder if there is anyone on the other side of the mirror. Is this all an elaborate trap to catch me out and try to make me for the murder? Or is that just junkie paranoia?
I think back to the crime scene. The body, the knife, the things on the table and the note do all point to suicide, except… Why didn’t he finish writing the note? Why stop after four words? I remember the note… and I think I know what’s wrong with it.
“Steve, Nick,” I use Stammo’s first name to try and get him on side. “I knew Kevin well. We’ve been friends since eighth grade. We’ve been through a lot together and I see him every week, every Saturday. I can tell you right now that he did not commit suicide. His mother is not the best person to make that judgment; she has always been a borderline depressive herself. And I wouldn’t take the word of that bitch of a girlfriend on anything. Kevin just would not kill himself, especially not over something at work. It doesn’t make sense.”
They have made up their minds. “Listen, Cal. We have no evidence. If the Coroner’s office says it’s suicide, we can’t do anything more. I know it’s hard when a good friend has killed himself but you need to accept—”
“Christ, Steve, save me the counselor speech. I’m telling you that Kevin didn’t kill himself and if you guys won’t take the time to prove it, then I sure as hell will.” My earlier despair disappears. Kevin was murdered; I’m sure of it and I’m going to prove it and rub their noses in it.
Stammo stands and leans over towards me, his white fists placed knuckle down on the table’s surface. “Stay out of this Rogan. Just remember that you’re not a cop any more. When you were one, you weren’t much of one, so just stay the fuck away from this.”
His cheap shot at me is so weak that I don’t even think about taking the bait. He wants me to lose it and take a punch at him. As sweet as that would be, I just smile at him. If I hit him it’s assaulting a police officer; if he hits me it’s police brutality. So I say, “It’s probably a good job that you’re too lazy to pursue this case Stammo, because you’re sure as hell too stupid to solve it.”
“OK. That’s enough.” Steve cuts in, grabbing Stammo’s arm before this whole thing escalates out of control. “We met with you to discuss this as a courtesy, Cal. We’ve told you where we stand and that’s it. I think you’d better go now.”
I nod to him. I shouldn’t have put him in the position of choosing between Stammo and me. With as much dignity as I can muster, which is not much, I pick up my green garbage bag and head for the door.
“Wait a minute, Rogan.”
Stammo is looking at the bag.
“Lemme see that.”
“For Christ’s sake Stammo, there are no drugs in there now. I wouldn’t bring drugs into a police station.”
He takes the bag from me, empties it out on the table and starts rummaging through my things. I am embarrassed that this is the sum total of my possessions and angry that Stammo is pawing through them. A pair of underpants fall onto the floor. I glance at Steve and his look of pity cuts into me.
Stammo lifts up the jacket, looks at the blood stains and smiles at me “Maybe we should take your advice and look into this a bit more. I’ll take this. I wanna test that blood on it.”
“Fuck off, Stammo. I woke up on Saturday morning like this. It was on there when I went to Kevin’s.”
“Whose blood is it, Cal?” Steve asks. He looks embarrassed; he knows where Stammo is going with this.
“I don’t know Steve. When I woke up it…” Then it all comes back in a rush. “Wait a minute, I do remember. It’s Roy’s. He was drunk the night before, got belligerent and threatened some other old drunk. The dumb bastard drew that stupid great knife that he loves so damn much, then cut himself on it. I got his blood all over my jacket when I dragged him out of Beanie’s.”
Stammo is calm now; he sports the smug smile of success. “Well, that’s OK then.” His voice is oozing sarcasm. “But I’m sure you won’t mind if we verify that will you Mr. Rogan?”
Steve intercedes for me. “Nick, do you really think—”
“You know the law here, Rogan.” Stammo continues as if Steve had not spoken. “We do have the right to seize that jacket as possible evidence.”
I look at Steve, knowing that he won’t let Stammo get away with this. After a couple of seconds staring at Stammo, he just shrugs. Et tu Brute.
I have no choice. I want to tell them that it is cold outside at nights and I need the jacket but that would just be too demeaning.
I start to stuff my things back into the garbage bag.
However, maybe I can eke an advantage out of this situation. Now it’s quid pro quo time.
“Steve. Will you do just one thing for me?”
“Sure.” Said cautiously.
“Can you give me a copy of the suicide note?”
Stammo is in there like a cat after a bird. “What the fuck for?”
I just stand and wait for Steve to answer. He glances back and forth between Stammo and me, looking for a way out. I think Stammo’s glare tips him over. “Sure. Why not?”
When he brings me the copy, warm from the Xerox, I am sure that I’m right. Kevin was murdered.
And I am going to find his killer.
—— o ——
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