It’s four in the afternoon. I’m in the passenger seat of a Honda Civic with no muffler. The engine’s sound is making my eardrums flinch every time the driver hits the accelerator. I can actually feel my eardrums, it’s like the muffler is bouncing pebbles off them. Repeatedly. And we’re in stop and go traffic so the roar of the muffler and its percussing on my eardrums give my headache the kind of backbeat you get in a really fast metal tune.
I have the window rolled up because I hope the raindrops will hide me from the other cars. I’m trying to juggle a spoon, a lighter, a film canister full of water, and a syringe that I’m worried is too dull to hit a vein. My arm’s got purple dots in two parallel lines from the elbow to the edge of my tattoo – you ever see the Monad of John Dee? The Hieroglyph that contains within it all the wisdom of the universe?
I got one inked on my forearm last summer when I was on a bender. God knows why, but my friend and I, leaving the bar to grab pizza, got tattooed instead.
There’s a raised patch of skin the size of a half dollar, pink and puffy like hives, from where I missed the vein and skin-popped a shot. Intramuscular injections work, don’t get me wrong. They just sting like hell and come on so slow you might as well have just snorted the shit. Usually, IM shots go in the bicep and you do them with ketamine. The cat tranquilizer.
My friend Jake didn’t sleep last night. He’s in his last semester of college. Not because he’s graduating, but because he’s dropping out. We started doing little burglaries part time on the weekends to make some scratch for drugs and cigarettes and bar money. Jake got in tight with the guy running the jobs, and so he’s dropping out to make a go at it full time. Me, I’ve been in school for, like, seven years and show no plans of graduating anytime soon.
So Jake was up all night doing coke at some club and so at two in the afternoon he’s banging on my door and waking me up ’cause he needs to cop some dope to stop the shakes. Doesn’t even give me time to shower before we’re in the car and heading for the city. At least it’s raining. Hangovers make the sun look like a bully’s grin.
I called Israel on Jake’s cell phone when we went over the 59th street bridge. Traffic on the FDR looked OK, so I told him half an hour. Here’s the conversation:
“Yo, E, what up, man?” Israel likes me to call him ‘E’ over cell phones. Don’t know why, unless he spells it Esrael or something.
“Who is this?”
“It’s Dale. What’s going on?”
“Oh, hey. Yo, man, what’s up?”
“Nothing. Yo, you gonna be around in, like, half an hour?”
“Yeah, that’s cool. What’chu come in for, man?”
“Uh. Just one.”
“Yeah, just one.”
Where you at?”
“I’m on the bridge. Where you gonna be?”
“Come to the circle.” The circle’s this traffic circle in the middle of the projects where he lives. It’s one of the usual meeting spots. That and the Mobil Gas Station over on 2nd and C.
“Right on. Be there in half an hour.”
He called back five minutes later. Here’s what I hear:
“Yo, Gaskin, what’s up?”
“Hey, what up, E?”
(muffled voice) “Yo, fuck that. ‘srainin’ and I got white sneakers” (Israel to M.V.) “So drop me off, man. Come on.” (More muffled conversation)
(Israel) “Yo, Daleeo. Yo, meet me, um… at, like, the, umm… at the Blimpies. You know the one On 14th and 1st?”
“Yeah, cool. I’m around the corner. I’ll be right in.”
“Cool. What’chu come in for, again?”
“One… one whole one?”
And so I go to Blimpies, but Israel’s not there. I get a vegetarian sandwich for Jake, which seems to be oil and vinegar on a roll with provolone cheese and sandwich toppings. Like a sandwich without meat, instead of, like, something in place of meat. Seems like a rip off at seven bucks for that and two drinks, but I’m not really here for the food.
I sit down and sip my soda. I don’t like the place. There’s two guys behind the counter, and the shop’s narrow and short and all the tables are in plain sight. This is a shitty place for a drug deal. Struck with inspiration, I take the sandwich and the other drink out of the paper bag they came in, and subtly drop ninety dollars into the empty bag. I’m just getting annoyed with the wait (First thing you learn…) when Israel swaggers in. He’s this short little Puerto Rican guy who’s always got a long-brimmed baseball cap on. He’s wearing a white leather starter jacket and new-looking timberlands. He raises one hand high as he comes in the door, “Yo! Gaskin, man! How ARE you?”
I recognize what’s going on, so I catch the hand in mine, down low, the slap tuning into a handshake as my other arm comes around to lightly hug him. The ten bags of heroin rolled up and held together by a rubber band, the ‘bundle’ is passed across. Israel, it seems, understood that ‘one whole one’ meant ‘one bundle’. I’m happy.
He goes to buy a soda but the cashier doesn’t have change for a twenty. So I buy it for him instead – fuck, he gives me enough deals and breaks to
“Yo, you want a bag for that?” I point to the bag on my table. “Take the bag, man.”
Israel looks over, looks to me, then takes the bag, tilting it towards him with one finger. He grins.
“Catch you later, E.” And I’m out the door.