Authors: David Zimmerman
“I never heard of nothing like that before,” the standing man
said. I couldn’t make out this guy’s face at all, but he had on an old-fashioned, sky-blue Members Only jacket like the one my father wore in pictures from the eighties, except Dad’s was gray.
“Me neither,” the big man with the mustache said.
“It’s the exact same shit you asked for. There’s nothing different from this batch than the stuff I lost when I wrecked the truck. Just in powdered form. I ain’t ever heard of them keeping it stored like this neither,” Hayes said, but he didn’t sound too sure of himself. “But that’s how she explained it to me. It’s worth the same. Same as what I brought up from Florida.”
“Bullshit,” someone said, “that was a hundred and fifty grand you lost us then.”
The man sitting across the table from him opened the big jar and plucked out a pig knuckle before going back into the office. Despite the stifling heat, he wore a heavy leather bomber jacket, and when he passed under the light, I noticed blue tattoo smears running down one side of his neck and a triangle of dark-pink skin on his cheek just below his left eye. After a minute or so, the man came back with a plastic water bottle, a small black pouch, and what looked like a single-element hot plate. He set the hot plate down on the floor beside the wall and plugged it in. I didn’t see any coffee pot. None of the men said a word about it. He stood again and unzipped the black bag, pulling out several shiny metal objects. The three others leaned in and watched. He took the bag of powder and fussed with it a bit. Then he did something with the water bottle. I couldn’t make out what he was up to. A lighter scratched and flickered. The man held it under one of the pieces of metal for a moment and then set it all down on the table. None of the men spoke. They seemed almost hypnotized by the process. Finally, Triangle Cheek stepped back, rolled his hands toward the stuff on the table with a flourish, and cleared his throat.
“It’s ready, Marty.” Once he stepped out of the light, all I could
make out was the red baseball cap he wore. His face became a black smudge of shadow.
Marty turned out to be the big one with the mustache. “First, you’re going to try this shit yourself, Hayes, so we’re sure there’s nothing nasty in it. Then Burns here”—he thumped Triangle Cheek on the arm—“will give it a go and tell us what we’ve really got. Want to admit anything before it’s too late? I surely wouldn’t want you to get a hot shot. At least not till you paid us back.”
The man in the Members Only jacket nickered like a horse.
“Shut up, Travis,” Marty said.
Why was Hayes going to try the dog dope? I squinted at the brightly lit table of men and tried to make sense of this business. And then I got it. That weren’t any dog dope. Dog dope! What a dumbass I was.
“Sure,” Hayes said, but he didn’t sound sure at all. I even felt a little sorry for him. “But use this arm.”
The door to the bar swung open. H.K. balanced three beers in his hands and grinned blindly into the dark room. I stared at his face as hard as I could, trying my best to warn him off. He squinted for us in several directions.
“The fuck you think you’re doing in here, H.K.?” Marty yelled.
H.K. jerked back, dropping one of the cups of beer. A few stray droplets splattered my cheek.
“Uh, sorry there, Uncle Marty. Didn’t know you would be, uh—”
“You dumb shit!” Uncle Marty lowered his voice to a middling shout. “If I’ve told you a hundred times, I’ve told you a fucking thousand. Get your ass out of here, ’less you want it kicked out through your mouth.”
H.K. turned and left in a hurry, sloshing beer everywhere. As he passed our hidey-hole, he muttered “shit” five times really fast, but I don’t think he saw us. Dani squeezed my upper arm and nudged
me in the direction of the door. I shook my head without looking at her. Not now. All four of the men were watching him go.
“Here, use this,” Hayes said in a creaky voice. He broke the end off a cigarette, peeled back the paper and tore a piece of filter fluff loose. “You draw it up without a filter, you’ll shoot me full of grit.”
The man called Burns, the one with the triangle cheek, leaned over him for a moment and blocked my view. His arm moved in and out of the light, dropping the bit of fluff into a spoon. Uncle Marty put both elbows on the table, cradled his chin in his hands, and leaned in close to study the results of all this. The short of it was Hayes grimaced and then shut his eyes. Something of an anticlimax for me. I don’t know what I expected. Hayes turning blue, maybe, and frothing at the mouth. Instead, he appeared to be napping.
“He ain’t dying from it, anyway,” Burns said, “so at least we know it ain’t poison.” Then he sat down at the table with his back toward our side of the room and rolled up his sleeve. He tied off his upper arm with a piece of black cord and kept it tight by pulling one end with his teeth. I’d seen my mom do something very like this to people at the hospital a hundred times.
“So?” Uncle Marty asked.
Burns shook his head. “It’s something, but it’s a long fucking way from the Oxys what this asshole promised. This is like the weak shit you get from the doctor for a fucking headache. I just barely caught a whiff of a rush. That or he cut some real dope down to nothing.”
Marty grabbed Hayes by the collar of his shirt and shook him. “That what you did, fuck-o? Step all over the product? What were you, holding some back and thinking to sell it off yourself?”
Wasn’t he already selling it? It seemed a strange thing to say, considering.
“Shit, no, man,” Hayes said. Once Marty stopped shaking him,
he plucked the soggy shred of filter out of the spoon and dropped it into a small, Ziploc bag he took from his shirt pocket.
“Don’t worry, we’ll give you a souvenir of tonight’s fun, if that’s what you want,” Marty said, yanking Hayes so hard the chair legs squeaked.
One of the others laughed. “You don’t get it, Marty. This dickweed’s holding onto it, so when he’s run through his supply, he can cook up the whole collection of filters and get maybe one half-assed hit.”
“Christ,” Marty said, drawing out the word. He jerked Hayes back and forth one more time and let go. “I don’t know whether to cry or bitch-slap you.”
Travis, whose face was now just a dark blob, reached over and flicked Hayes on the nose. His voice was sing-song and sarcastic. “I’m of the opinion that dickweed here cut this all to shit and back, so he could use it himself. The greedy fuck tried to burn his friends. Again. Sad, sad, sad. Look at his other arm.” He wrenched up Hayes’s sleeve and jerked his arm into the light. “It ain’t the first time he’s had a sample.”
“Even this sorry fuck couldn’t pound that much dope in two weeks,” Marty said.
“That’s if he even had it to start with.” Burns folded his arms across his chest.
“No, he’s got it alright,” Marty said. “I already heard about it being missed at the hospital.”
“Hey, Marty, dude, man.” Hayes spoke very quickly. “Maybe there was a mistake. Maybe we just got the wrong stuff. We didn’t, I mean, she didn’t know what exactly you all wanted. She ain’t used to doing this.”
Great, Hayes, blame it on Mom. If it really was Mom. I still held out hope that it wasn’t, even if all the evidence pointed to yes. I couldn’t believe she’d do it.
Dani’s mouth pressed right up against my ear. “Can we please just—”
Wanting to know fought with wanting to leave. I shook my head.
“If that’s true,” Marty said, “I still don’t understand why the shit came in a sandwich bag and not some hospital jar.”
“They keep it in a big plastic tub over there. We took a few big-ass scoops. If we took the whole jar, they’d know it was missing. Then she’d be looking at jail time for sure.”
“Bullshit,” Travis said. “First you told us you’d get two jars”—he held up two grubby fingers—“each with five hundred eighties in them. Then you say you’re getting us a hundred Fentanyl patches and one jar. Now this useless shit. What the fuck, man?”
Burns stood up and punched Hayes full in the face. His fist made a wet, meaty sound when it hit.
Travis stood and went back into the office. He returned with a large, table-size paper cutter. The kind they have in the art room at school. Travis set it on the card table and worked the blade of the cutter up and down a couple of times. It made an ugly screeching sound each time he pushed it home.
“Lucky for you,” Travis said, “I sharpened the blade today with a stone. Unscrewed it from the housing, took it off and
schweep, schweep, schweep
.” He rubbed his thumb down the length of his forearm each time he made the sound.
“What?” Hayes asked, shrill and desperate, his head going back and forth between Marty and the man with the cutter. “What do you want? You don’t have to do this. I’m just saying, man, you don’t. What do you want? I’ll tell—”
Marty grabbed him by the shirtfront again and shook him. A snap popped off his red plaid cowboy shirt, shining for a moment in the light, and then clattered onto the table, rolled to the edge and stopped. “No need for telling me shit, Hayes. We had it figured out pretty good before you got here. Just thought we’d give
you a chance. Could be, I told these boys, Hayes might even of done what he said he’d do.”
The other two laughed good and hard at this.
“But no, not our buddy Hayes. He hates the easy way.” Marty took Hayes’s chin in his hand and shook it slowly side to side. His voice changed. It lowered to a growl. “You ain’t too hard to predict. You really think we wouldn’t notice you cut this shit all to hell? A powder jug? Jesus Christ, Hayes.” Travis grabbed Hayes by the shoulders. Marty and Burns leaned over his chair and did something to him with a piece of orange electrical cord. “We made some promises too, Hayes, and you’re fucking them up. You got a day to bring me what you promised. Or a hundred and fifty grand.” He flicked the Ziploc bag and powder puffed into the air. “This don’t count for shit. Take it home, for all I care.”
“He’ll need it,” Travis said and laughed. “This is really going to sting.”
“We can’t get more that fast.” Hayes sputtered as he spoke. “Like you said, they already suspect—”
“If you already sold it, why don’t you go buy some more?” Travis asked. “I know a guy you can call with a connection at the hospital. Oh, wait, shit, that’s you. Never mind.”
“No, man, it ain’t like that.” Hayes squirmed in his seat. “Here’s the honest-to-God truth—I just, I just fucking lost it. Sure, I held back a handful or so for my own private use, but I put all the rest of it in a special place, so nobody’d find the shit. I hid it in an old couch in my driveway when I was drinking, and then, well, shit, by the time I remembered about garbage pick-up day, the truck’d come already and dragged it off. The whole stash gone. I about cried. But if you wait, like, say, a month, I can—”
Burns patted Hayes on the chest. “Get bo here, trying to negotiate while tied to a chair.”
Marty laughed. “Hayes, there ain’t nothing more to talk about. I don’t care if you sold it or lost it or shoved it up your dog’s ass. But I have a pretty good feeling it’s around here close. So you best put on your remembering hat. Travis only wants to make sure you don’t forget your promises this time. You took a big pinch for yourself and replaced it with trash. Now we’ll take a pinch of our own. See, we’re at the stage where either you do what you said you would or—”
Hayes broke in before he had to hear the other option. “If you really want it, you got to give me a little more time. It’s impossible to get it by tomorrow. We only have the chance every two weeks. See that’s when the hospital pharmacy does its inventory. The old man in charge, he’s getting forgetful. The day after he does the inventory, his son or daughter-in-law comes in and does it over, and they sort of fix all the mistakes. The only time we can do it is that night after the old man counts—”
Marty clamped a hand over Hayes’s mouth to shut him up. “You got a week. No more. And since you got a tendency to forget your promises, we got something here to keep your memory jogged.”
“I hope you don’t play the guitar,” Travis said, pulling on a pair of yellow kitchen gloves like the kind I used to clean the bathtub. “You’ll be missing a couple of notes.”
Burns yanked Hayes’s arm flat and duct-taped it down to the top of the table, winding the tape across the corner and around one of the legs over and over again. Hayes struggled and grunted, but it did no good. Someone slapped him and he quit. No one spoke a word. Travis wiped his forehead with the crook of his elbow and squatted to pick up the hot plate, which he set on the table beside the paper cutter. Its cord stretched tight. Then, with a surprising amount of care, he slipped Hayes’s hand onto the flat wooden base of the cutter, made a fist of all but Hayes’s pinkie finger, and slid this last wiggling finger under the blade. It looked like a thick,
pink worm. Marty nodded twice. And before I could even catch my breath, Burns hopped up into the air and brought the cutter down on the finger with all his weight. The blade crunched. The finger flopped across the table, curled once and lay still. A single squirt of blood burst from the stump, like a tight string of bright red yarn. Hayes made horrible, garbled shrieking sounds. Quickly, and in a single motion, Burns lifted the mangled hand and brought the bleeding knuckle down on the orange circle of the hot plate. The stump squeaked and hissed. I turned away and leaned my forehead against the wall and tried not to make any noise as I cried. Dani retched a little and buried her face in the crook of her elbow. Hayes screamed and screamed until someone muffled his mouth.
“Shit,” Burns said, “that makes quite a stink. Smells like burnt hot dogs.”
“We’re gonna hold onto this for you,” Travis said. I looked up in time to see him drop the cut-off finger into the jar of pickled pig knuckles. It plopped into the cloudy vinegar, making a smoky trail of pink as it swayed gently to the bottom.
I couldn’t sit there any longer. A muscle in my leg twitched and cramped. I grabbed Dani’s hand and jerked her to her feet. Shadows covered most of the back wall. I hoped they’d cover us. We tiptoed six very long steps. Then pushed through the door and tumbled into the crowd. Behind us, Marty shouted that H.K. was looking for an ass-whipping. I tripped over Dani’s feet and fell into someone. A woman with greenish hay for hair shoved me toward the bar and hissed at me.