Authors: Andrew Vachss
"One day I have to make a run out to Long Island. I ask Bird, can I borrow his short, be back in a couple of hours? He says sure–he's waiting on a customer anyway.
"Easy Eddie asks if he can go along. Just to ride…get outside. I say okay. We go downstairs to the garage. The Alfa's sitting there, top down. Beautiful day outside.
"Then the maniac asks me if he can drive. Fat chance, I say to him. But he says he's clean as new money, hasn't taken a hit in days. Holds out his hands. Steady as rocks.
"Look, I say to him. You're a dope fiend. How'm I going to let you drive?
"Then he really gets on my case. How we came up together, how we're like brothers and all. Why don't I trust him? You know….
"Anyway, I figure, what the fuck, what harm can it do? So he gets behind the wheel and we pull out. We get about three, four blocks and I can see it's not working out. He's going about fifteen miles an hour in third gear and the Alfa's just stumbling along, bucking and backfiring. I'm about to tell him to pull over when we come to a cop directing traffic. The cop holds up his hand like this," I said, holding my palm out in the universal Stop! gesture.
"So what does Easy Eddie do? He holds up his hand the same way to the cop and motors right by. 'Hey, Stop!' the cop screams at us. I say to Eddie, 'Pull over, fool.' 'I can't,' he says, 'I'm holding.
"'Nail it,' I say to him. 'Go.' So the lunatic steps on the gas, but he doesn't downshift and we sort of chug away. Meanwhile, the cop is chasing after us, on foot. And we're in a mess of traffic. I look back–the cop has his gun out–he's waving cars to stop.
"I look over at Easy Eddie. He's pulling bags of dope out of every pocket. Ripping open the bags, throwing the powder into the air. The cop grabs a cab from somewhere, comes screaming after us, cuts us off. Sights right down the pistol at us.
"I get out of the car. Easy Eddie just sits there. We're both covered with heroin. Like we had the world's worst case of dandruff. The cop is out of his mind. He says to Eddie, 'I told you to stop!'
"Eddie just looks up at him. 'Oh, man,' he says, 'I thought you were just saying hello.'
"I go over to the cop, brushing the junk off my coat, pulling out these papers I had. Department of Social Services. I tell the cop that I'm Eddie's caseworker. I'm taking him back–he was on a supervised day-pass from Pilgrim State. The looney bin. Sorry about the whole thing. Blah, blah.
"The cop looks at the papers, looks at me. Then he gets a thought. He's a psychiatric patient–you're a social worker, right? Right. So how come
"I tell the cop it's all part of our advanced rehabilitation program. So the patient gradually reenters society under supervision. I see the look on the cop's face and I immediately agree with him–this guy is not ready for discharge.
"The cop's acting reasonable about this and Easy Eddie's keeping his mouth shut. I think I have it locked. Then the stupid cop decides he's going to make a point. Asks Easy Eddie if he thought he could outrun a bullet. Easy Eddie sits there, like he's considering the whole thing. Then he asks the cop, how much of a head start would he get?
"I thought the cop was going to start whaling on him right there, but I kept talking to him, saying Eddie wasn't being a wise guy–he's just nuts.
"Finally, the cop pulls off in the cab. I get behind the wheel and take off. I'm not even in second gear when Easy Eddie bails out over the side. By the time I turn around to pick him up, find out what's going on…he's down there in the street, trying to scrape the heroin off the concrete with a piece of cardboard."
She knew there was a point to the story and she was trying to keep a straight face, but her whole upper body was quivering. Finally she gave it up. "Oh, God! You're standing knee-deep in smack and the cop's got an attitude about going through this stupid signal…."
"Pretty funny story, huh'' I asked her.
She caught my tone. "Well, it is. I mean…"
"Girl, everything Easy Eddie said was true. We had come up together. We were as close as brothers. He was a stand-up guy. He didn't mean any harm–never thought about getting me in trouble. If we'd gone down for the dope, he would have taken the whole weight."
"So he was really sorry about what happened. And I never rode with him again."
he Group Home was a garbage can. It wasn't as bad as the Institution, that part was true. We lived in rooms, not dorms. And the bathrooms were like real ones, in houses. The windows didn't have bars, and the fence around the house was nothing–just wood, with no razor wire on top. But it was a garbage can anyway…a place where you throw things away.
It was a mix inside. Not like the Institution, that was a mix too, but at least everyone in there was bad. In the Group Home, you had bad kids like me, on the way out from the Institution. You had to stay there for a few months before they let you go for real. But they also had other kids, kids who never did nothing, but they locked them up anyway because nobody wanted them.
That was Rodney. He was smaller than most of the kids, although he wasn't the littlest. Rodney had a bad leg, from where his mother's boyfriend beat on him. He had to drag that bad leg behind him when he walked, and he couldn't run at all.
A big black guy ran the place. He was the Director. That's what they call them in the Group Homes, not Superintendent, what they call them in the Institutions. Mr. Allen, that was his name.
When I got there, he told me it was a place where kids got ready to go out on their own. A Halfway House, he called it. Halfass was more like it–just like the joint, only there was more talking.
We mostly talked in Group. We would all sit in this circle and talk. About our feelings. Mr. Allen, he said that was important. To express your feelings.
I never did that lame stuff. You talk about your feelings, people think you're weak.
Mr. Allen, he wasn't weak. He was an ex-con, a big guy with a hard face and heavy muscles. I want to look like him–it's a good way to look when you're inside. He did State time, years ago. Now he works for the State.
odney lived in my room. Just the two of us–the room was real small. I didn't have much stuff, but I had a radio. One day, when I was out looking for a part-time job, three guys from upstairs came into the room after my radio. Rodney walked in while they were doing it. They told him to mind his own business, but he tried to stop them. They rat-packed him, stomped him good. But they left the radio, because they knew from how he fought that he would tell me.
They took Rodney to the hospital. That night, Mr. Allen came into my room. He asked me how come I wasn't playing my radio. I told him I wanted to read. He went over to the radio, turned it on. Nothing happened.
"Where are they?" he asked me.
I gave him the Institution look, but Mr. Allen stared me right back.
"Give it up," he said.
I reached under my bed and gave him one of my thick white socks. Full of batteries from the radio.
"Going for some payback, Marlon?"
I didn't say anything.
"That's not the way it works in here," he said. "I'll take care of it."
The next morning, they shipped the three guys out. Back to the Institution.
When Rodney came back, Mr. Allen told us in Group that the three guys couldn't live by the rules of the Community, so they were expelled.
Everybody nodded, like that was righteous. I could feel Mr. Allen watching me, but I didn't look at him.
One day, in Group, Rodney said he wanted a puppy. He even had a picture of the one he wanted. A black and white puppy. "I would call him Bandit," Rodney said.
Mr. Allen said maybe someday he could have one, if he would take care of it. Rodney got all excited. One of the guys whispered "punk" real quiet, but I heard him. I said I wanted a puppy too, looking the guy in the face. He didn't say anything to me.
Mr. Allen took me aside later. He told me it was good that I watched out for my partner, but not to be stupid.
Rodney cried every night, but I never said anything.
Nobody ever visited him.
Nobody ever visited me either, but that was different. I knew nobody would come, but Rodney, he always thought his mother would come.
The lock on the back door of the pet shop was nothing. I went in like I learned in the Institution.
Rodney cried when I showed him the puppy. "Bandit!" he said. The puppy slept on his bed.
They came for me the next morning. Mr. Allen took me in his office. The cops said it was okay, but they left the handcuffs on.
"Will you let Rodney keep the puppy?" I asked him.
He said he would. His face was sad. "I'll pay for the dog, Marion," he said. "You pay me back when you can."
"I will," I told him. I always pay back.
Those guys who did Rodney…I'll see them soon.
worked my way down the long corridor toward the spill of light, antenna out. Ready. The door to the room was standing open, a greenish glow from the computer terminal marking the path. I stepped inside, my rubber-soled shoes soundless on the thick carpet. He was in his wheelchair, facing the screen, huge head wobbling on the thin stalk of his neck, skeletal fingers splayed across the keyboard.
On the screen, the image of a little boy dressed in a sailor suit.
He touched some keys. Another figure entered the screen. Dark, looming in the shadows. The human in the wheelchair tapped more keys and the image crystallized. Into a man. A tall man, neatly dressed.
Faint hum from the computer. The man's breathing changed, went from smooth to ragged.
"How did you get past the dogs?" he asked, not turning around.
"Tranquilizer gun," I told him. "Secobarbital. A grain and a half in each cartridge."
He pushed a button on the wheelchair's console. The motor moved him back, away from the computer, rotating until he faced me across the room.
"You must be very good at what you do," he said. His voice was as atrophied as his body, rusty from neglect.
"Like you are," I replied, just above a whisper.
"What do you want?"
"I want what's in your computer."
"It's not for sale."
"That's why they sent me."
"You don't understand. I'm not a pornographer. I don't hurt children. This is all a game. For entertainment. What I do is create interactive computer modules. Just images on a screen. You push the buttons, and the images do whatever you want them to. It doesn't hurt anybody."
"Whatever you say."
"This isn't even illegal, you know. I've got my rights. The First Amendment, you ever hear of it?"
"No, you wouldn't understand. You're just a mercenary. A man for hire. A common criminal. Well, you tell the people who sent you that they'll never be competition for me. You can steal my computer, but I always have my brain. My intelligence. Whatever you take, I can just make more of it."
"Then take whatever you came for and get out. I have work to do."
He spun the wheelchair again, faced the screen. Tapped the keys. I took out the pistol, screwed in the silencer, and shot him in the back of his head. His brains splattered the screen, obscuring the images.
A mind isn't always a terrible thing to waste.
ow come you want to give him up? He turn on you or something?"
I shifted my weight in the battered vinyl office chair, scratching the big Doberman behind his ears the way he liked. The fat man sat facing me across an old wooden desk under a painted metal sign. CENTURION GUARD DOGS–
Sales and Rentals.
He held a pencil in one hand, a clipboard in front of him. The sleeves of his graying T-shirt were rolled up, a tattoo of a hula dancer on his right biceps. When the flab had been muscle, the dancer would shake her butt when he flexed.
I snapped a match into flame with my thumbnail, lit my cigarette. The Doberman's ears were flat, corded neck muscles gentle against the choke collar.
"That's a lot of crap," I told the fat man. "Dobermans don't turn on you. They got a bad rep for it, but they don't deserve it. See, what happens, a guy hears all the stories, okay? He gets a Dobie as a puppy, he figures he's going to make sure the dog never turns on
when he grows up. So he beats the hell out of the dog every day. Takes control. Dominates. It's easy to make a puppy afraid of you. Makes some people feel tough, you understand? But Dobermans, one way they're different from other dogs, they got good memories. Real good. So, one day, the guy goes to beat up his dog and the dog says, 'Un huh, not today, pal.' And the dog nails him. Like he deserves. Then this guy, this guy who beat his own puppy, he says, "The son of a bitch
on me.' You understand what I'm telling you?"
The fat man's eyes flicked a challenge at me. Dropped it when I tossed it back. His voice was soft, sly-cored. "If he didn't turn on you, how come you're giving him up?"
My expression didn't change. "He's brain-damaged. I had to leave him at a kennel when I went away. He got hold of some virus from the other dogs. Almost died."
"He looks okay to me."
"Oh yeah. He's in great physical shape. But his mind's not right. He'll be just sitting around and all of a sudden he'll go off. He's not safe. You couldn't put him in a home or anything."
"You sure? I mean, he looks so good and all. He should be worth…"
I gave the Doberman's chain an imperceptible tug. His ears shot up. A blood-chilling snarl slipped between his Hashing teeth. "Stop it!" I yelled at him, tugging again. He lunged at the fat man. I jerked the chain hard. The dog's ears went fiat again like nothing had happened.