Jake tried to focus on the ancient pot he’d been holding onto for an hour. He kept seeing Lilly’s face instead of the pot. When he could drive her from his mind’s eye, the visions of his metaphysical flights replaced her. These thoughts were buzzing behind his eyes like angry horse flies when the phone rang. Jake’s number was listed as an emergency contact in John’s address book. He was the closest thing the police could come up with for a next of kin. The police officer asked if he would make the trip and identify the body. Jake responded mechanically that he would. Then the questions marched off into the Outer Limits.
The conversation had been quick and he gave perfunctory answers to the sergeant’s questions, in too much of a daze to comprehend what had happened. John was old and not in great health, it wasn’t his death Jake couldn’t comprehend, his mind wouldn’t accept John had died of an overdose. Even stranger was the policeman’s attitude. He acted as though John were a junky. Jake had never known John to even take a drink of cold beer on a hot day.
Walking like someone overdue for brain surgery he went and told Bill what happened and where he was going.
Then dragging through the same mental glue he walked home and packed an overnight bag. His house was on the opposite side of the campus from town, by the time he got into the city it could easily take over two hours if he didn’t run into too much traffic. Not knowing how much time everything was going to take he wanted to option to stay somewhere close, rather than diving back that night. He was rushing out of the house with his bag, when saw the framed picture of him fishing with John, in the hallway. He dropped his bag, stumbled to the picture and took it off the wall. An unannounced tear ran down his face. He’d let this life time friend fall into the background of his day to day. Sure it was a full day trip to go see him, but that wasn’t any excuse. Now he was gone and he couldn’t understand how it happened. Making himself a drink, he sat down on the couch with John’s image.
They had met when Jake was sixteen, right after he’d gotten his driver’s license and driving into the city was a big adventure. His school had begun an outreach project to pair teenagers up with elderly people for a kind of sharing between ages. John was Jake’s elder person. What started out as a school project turned into a bond of friendship that helped him through many a troubled times. They hit it off right from the start. Jake was an energetic and helpful companion. John filled a void of missing grandparents for Jake. A natural bond formed between them and when the project ended with the end of the semester, their friendship continued.
John, blind since the age of ten, had a lot of difficulty getting around town and Jake helped him with that. Whenever Jake made it into the city to see him, he would always have a list of errands to do. John’s days were most often spent sitting in the park, next to the old welfare hotel he lived in.
When they first met, John hadn’t even known how to read braille. Jake had presented the problem to his teacher and she had put him in touch with the right people to teach him to read. The tie that grew between them could not have been stronger if they had shared the same blood. Jake received a great deal from John in return.
John spoke to him with respect, not like an older person talking to a child. This meant quite a bit in his challenging adolescent years. He had always been an outsider and Bill was a big help, but Bill was sort of an ominous all powerful being, in Jake’s mind, and John was more like someone on his level. A\fter he had graduated and had a salary, he’d offered to help John move into a better place. John said there wasn’t any point. He knew his way around where he was and one place was the same as another to him.
John was probably the greatest listener Jake had ever known, though he was a little too much bible thumper for Jake. Jake would always hear him out andwhenever he would start pushing the fear of God too strong, Jake would repeat to himself, ‘It’s his way.’
After taking the last swallow of his drink, Jake sighed heavily and got up from the couch. He wanted to get to the station house and find out what the hell was going on.
It was late in the day, so he jumped on the interstate rather than fight his way across town. On the interstate all the traffic was heading to the suburbs and outlying cities, the lanes on his side were empty save a few long haul truckers. The drive over was like a David Lynch film. Lines disappearing under the car, empty highway ahead. His mind kept drifting and it was a struggle to keep the car lined up to the right. In his mind, the detective from the phone, became a distorted figure and spoke backwards to him. The interstate shuddered past him, with the repetitiveness of car commercials, not making any impression on his psyche. He suddenly snapped back to reality, just in time to make his exit. He realized miles of road had snaked by without conscious navigation. He had the radio on until it occurred to him it was the source of the irritating car commercials and he snapped it off.
The officer who had called was off duty. The desk sergeant gave up the directions to the morgue and little else, including actual eye contact.
Jake stood waiting for the lab assistant to open the stainless steel portal where they shoved unclaimed bodies, he prayed that it wasn’t John. That this was all a big mistake. It was not the world he lived in.
The lab guy paid more attention than desk sergeant as the oven sized door opened. He was well aware of even the calmest looking characters ability to blow bananas out their nose, at the site of a loved one in the stiff and blue. The horribly battered features couldn’t hide reality from Jake, it was John. The lab guy saw the recognition and took two steps back, but Jake only closed his eyes and had visions of things that would only be at home in Marilyn Manson’s mind. He saw the distorted creatures laughing. Then one that was normal, a man, standing among the trolls and freaks.
He opened his eyes and pulled the sheet down far enough to expose the track laden arms. He looked at the lab guy, who hadn’t let down his defenses. Jake nodded his head. The lab guy quickly covered the body and slid the pan back in, closing the door in a fluid motion of a baker.
Jake’s eyes were abnormally wide as he did not want to see the images hiding behind them. Taking hold of his left index finger, he bent it back as far as he could until the pain actually blacken the edges of his vision. Without speaking he left the morgue. When the first finger became too sore, to pull any longer, he moved on to the middle finger.
He was on the pinky, of his right hand, when the desk sergeant told him the officer in charge would be at morning roll call. This time he was graced Jake with eye contact and a good long look. The sergeant had heard that tremor of voice before. Though it had many motivations, it always meant a storm had formed out over the Gulf.
Jake stopped at the first motor lodge he came across. He was glad he had packed a bag. He didn’t feel like driving back across town, just to have get up in the morning and fight through a couple of hours of rush hour traffic to get back in the morning. He didn’t trust himself to drive anyway, he was far too distracted. The room had red and gold velvet wall paper that looked like it been put up the year the original Shaft was released and he didn’t care. The mattress was on a black plywood frame, with no box spring, and he cared less. The demons waited until he was fully asleep to chuckle from the shadows of his mind. Then he cared, but it was too late.
The next morning he was back at the station house waiting for sergeant Harris. He came over and shook Jake’s hand after he finished with role call and said he’d be a few more minutes. Harris still had a boyish look, but Jake could tell was probably close to forty. His tired eyes of experience, showed his real age. His closely cropped black hair helped compliment his professional manner. He was a little less than six feet, though his weightlifter shoulders made him look taller.
“Mr. Halston, if you’ll come with me, I’ll drive you out in the squad car.” Harris’ voice cracked the shell of Jake’s thoughts.
“Thank you but I have my own car sergeant.” The response was automatic. Jake didn’t want to come back to the station house. He didn’t want this nightmare to be any more real than it already was.
“If you’ll just follow me then.” Harris smiled politely and pointed indicating the direction he wanted to go.
When they got to John’s room Jake was sure he’d entered hell. His first impulse was to gag from the myriad of foul scents attacking his sinuses. And he was barely able to hold it back. He had to cover his mouth to hold it in. A chalk outline showed him where his friend had fallen.
‘It didn’t make sense, how could John have been an addict.’ Jake thought. ‘If for no other reason than the fact John had no money, let alone his obsessive opposition to drinking and drugs.’ Yet the apartment was littered with empty wine bottles.
John’s mutilated face shadowed over Jake’s eyes. The questions he’d wanted to ask the night before found his tongue and spring boarded through his lips. “Sergeant, how did John get so bruised up?”
“Near as we can tell he tried to go cold turkey on his own. Junkies have been known to hurt themselves pretty bad when they’re detoxing. The coroner thinks that he tied himself to that heater over there and beat his head against the wall. His blood is on the wall and there is a good deal of excrement as well. He must have been there a while.” Jake could tell that Harris was concerned and trying to be courteous. “When he couldn’t take it any more he came over to the table here and made himself a fix. Apparently he didn’t know what he had, the heroin was almost pure.”
“How do you know he made the fix?”
“His finger prints were on everything including the plunger on the needle and it was still in his arm.”
“It’s just not possible.”
“Officer… John was blind.” Jake flushed with the outbreak of emotion, the scenario didn’t work. He snagged control of his woosey voice and continued. “How could he do it? How could he make a fix, or inject himself?”
Harris stared for a minute confused, disregarding Jake’s tone and concentrating on substance. His jaw worked at grinding that this fact had gone undiscovered.
“I didn’t know that.” Harris considered this. “He could still give himself an injection.” Was his solemn response. “Making the hit?” He shook his head. “Maybe someone taught him to do it. I don’t know.”
“How could he find a vein?”
“By the feeling of the pulse.”
Jake looked at the table where John had been sitting when he’d overdosed. “Sergeant, I just don’t understand how this could happen. How did he get the drugs? Who the hell would teach an old blind man how to shoot up?” Jake voice cracked like a boy in puberty when he spoke.
For a few minutes Harris mulled the idea around in his head. Then his brows lifted with a thought. “We found some plywood sheets in the alley.” He began slowly. “The screw holes match ones that were made in the window frames of this room. It could be someone was using your friend’s place for a shooting gallery.”
“A shooting gallery?” Jake’s whacked mind shot up an image of wild spinning red targets and laughing clowns.
“It’s a place where junkies come to shoot up and crash. Could be that they got him hooked to use his place and decided to move on. The heroin he had must have been their parting gift for the use of his room.”
“But that’s just it!” Jake was play a string that was ready to snap. “John hated drugs. He never would have allowed someone to use his place for that. He certainly would never have taken drugs himself.”
“He might not have had a choice.”
“What do you mean?”
“They may have just decided on his room and started injecting him to keep him occupied. The general thought at the station is that he tried to go cold turkey alone. Could be he just didn’t know what he was doing and tried to give himself a fix.” Jake sat down on one of the kitchen chairs, like his knees had been popped from behind with a baseball bat. He tried to understand, but nothing was going to make this something he could accept.
“Mr. Halston.” Harris put his hand on Jake’s shoulder, the gesture startled Jake. “Since there is no kin to claim his things, I think it would be all right for you to go through his personal belongings. Just lock the door knob and pull the door closed when you leave. I need to get out on patrol now.”
“Of course, thank you Sergeant Harris.” Harris gave Jake a pat on the back. Jake nodded thanks. Harris left shutting the door behind him.
On his way out to his car, Harris saw a black Cadillac sedan parked across the street. It didn’t belong. He thought of going over and checking it out, but he was already running late and decided not to bother. It was probably a real estate investor, the area was getting the first scratches of gentrification. The big dealers in the area all drove Escalades anyway and didn’t spend their time in shooting galleries, They left that to the flunkies.
Tina sat behind the wheel. Michael sat in the back seat slumped against the door. He was sweating even though the air-condition was making Tina uncomfortable. Michael’s flesh was the color of a fresh cut Lilies and looked as if it would tear as easily as a flower petal.
Michael had been ready to leave town, but for some reason he felt drawn back to John’s hotel. They drove up in time to see what he thought were two policemen going inside the building. One in uniform he barely noticed and a plain clothed man that gave him a feeling that made his gut twist. He thought it strange a mortal could effect him this way and decided it was a coincidence of withdrawal.
This was the second time Michael found himself using the phrase mortal when referring to another person. His veins cried out and reminded him how tied to the earth he was.
“How long has it been?” Michael sounded as if he’d been kicked in the throat.
“Twelve hours.” Tina said without looking back. She wasn’t dealing with Michael’s pain and pallor well.
“I’ll give it two more hours.” Michael closed his eyes. “Then I’m going to need another shot.”
He saw the uniformed policeman come out of the building and leave. Michael waited he wanted to take another look at the other officer. After forty five minutes the other man still hadn’t come down. He couldn’t wait any longer.
“Let’s get back to the room.”
“All right, Michael.” Tina licked her lips and glanced in the rear-view mirror. “Do you think you can eat something?” She saw Michael expression and knew the answer.
Michael felt a tingle in his neck. This time, instead of being surprised, he knew Chad was in the car. He opened his eyes and saw him sitting in the front seat. Tina had accepted his presence without response and was concentrating on driving.
“Not bad brother. Glad to see you pulled it off.” Chad was smoking a hand rolled cigarette, but this time it wasn’t tobacco. “You look like a Baghdad whore, at six in the morning, though.”
“I thought you might show up.” Michael clinched his teeth through a wave of pain. I’ve got some questions for you.” Michael’s voice reflected a feeling of being more equal with Chad.
“The struggle is real, but I have don’t have time for the new Saltier you.” Chad said, dissing Michael. “I’ve got a tournament…”
“Tournament?” Tina scrunched her brows and gave Chad a quick look.
“Yes, as you should be aware, I am a disc professional with many accolades!” Chad said with exaggerated pride.
“You mean Frisbee? Or are you training for the Olympics?”
“Frisbee should be the number one sport at the Olympics. In encases all skills of every other sport.” Chad put his nose in the air.
Tina shook her head, letting out a sort of hiss.
“I can’t even, with you, girl.” Chad manifestly miffed by Tina’s reaction turned toward Michael, reached into his pocket and pulled out a map. “This is your next destination my friend. Father will meet you there. He can answer all your thirsty questions, if he can spare the time. I can’t I’ve got a gig right after the tournament.”
“You have a gig?” Tina gave him another sideways glance. “What do you instrument do you play?”
“None, I’m a DJ.” Chad said getting a little defensive.
“But of course you are.” Tina sighed through her answer and shaking her head, but did not bother to glance at him this time.
Chad stared at her for a moment then curled his top lip at her and shook his head sarcastically. Tina smiled, but he didn’t see her look his way, which made Chad angrier. Chad turned back to Michael.
“I’ve got to, bounce. Don’t die on me brother.” Chad disappeared before Michael could utter a word. He sat staring after Chad and holding the map.
“Ohio.” Michael said reading the cover of the map aloud.
“Ohio, what the hell is in Ohio?” Tina asked, grateful for a new conversation. “Isn’t that the state that’s famous for poison nuts?”
“Buckeyes.” Michael opened the map. It had a big red circle with a smaller one inside. “Mansfield,” Michael said, looking inside the smaller of the two circles. “What could possibly be in Mansfield?”