The night was sticky and hot and I was sweating plenty even though it was well past sunset. Gravel crunched beneath my shoes, echoed loud off abandoned buildings. This neighborhood wasn’t safe after dark but I was hurting and needed to be here. A five-inch blade was folded up in my pocket just in case.
Manny’s black Ford sat rusting in its usual spot, five spaces over from the back door of the Skol Bar. Three men talked softly by the car but their muted voices fell quickly silent as I approached. Curt goodbyes were said and two of the men peeled away from the third. They drifted over to the back door of the Skol Bar and went in. The door closed itself behind them.
The third shape called from over by the car. It had Manny’s voice.
“Who is it?”
“Jesse,” Manny said. “No shit?”
I heard him thumb the hammer forward on a handgun, watched him stuff it down into his waistband. I went over to stand by him.
Manny looked like a tramp freshly tossed off a railcar into the mud. He never shaved, didn’t seem to have much regard for soap. His clothes were dirty and threadbare, his hair dingy and grimy. A dented-up bowler hat sat too small on his head.
“I’m shaking apart,” I told him.
Manny was a guy who enjoyed watching people squirm. His eyes lit up and he gave me a greasy smile. “Haven’t seen you in days,” he said. “Hell, maybe weeks.” He fished a cigarette from a crumpled pack, tapped it on a nickel plated lighter, and studied me like a butterfly pinned to a board. He bit down on the cigarette, wrapped it with a meaty hand to shield it from some imaginary breeze, and fired it. “Thought maybe you moved away or something.”
“I tried to kick.”
He chuckled out smoke and clicked shut the lighter. “Dolophine?”
“Cold turkey!” he whooped. “Hoo boy! You got balls, Jesse, I’ll give you that!” He gaped at me for a while. Then the amusement died in his eyes and the smile slid off his face. With a tone of pure disdain, he asked: “Up or down?”
“Both,” I said. “Can you set me up a speedball so I can see straight?”
A scornful guttural sound came from deep in his throat. “You want a cocktail, you’re gonna have to cook it up yourself. I ain’t your goddamn bartender!”
“Easy now,” I said. “Take it easy, Manny. It was just a question. You don’t have to get sore.”
“I’m not sore,” he snapped. “I’m just sick of you dopers coming around hitting me up for favors all the time.”
He stared at me, bug-eyed and challenging.
I said nothing, wiped damp hands on my pants.
“How much do you need?”
A drop of sweat slid cold down my back. I could feel my pulse in my eyeballs. “Two of each.”
He bunched up his forehead and his eyes were wary. “Two? Of each?”
I fought to keep the tremble from my voice but my mouth was dry and my throat felt scratchy. “I-” I cleared my throat. “I fell into some money.”
He leered at me for a few beats, waited for me to say more. When I didn’t, he turned and popped the trunk of the Ford. Inside was a green tackle box and he reached in, unlatched it, and flipped it open. A triple-beam scale sat down in the bottom of the box. He took it out and placed it carefully beside the tackle box. Then, with the attentive care of a chemist, he weighed two grams of heroin, wrapped it up in tinfoil, and set it aside.
Next, he weighed the cocaine. I watched him weigh it, watched him twist up the tinfoil, and my heart galloped. He turned back to me, presented the packets proudly, one in each hand. “Two at two grams apiece,” he said. “And this is no bunk. Get reckless shooting this stuff and they’ll be tagging your toe.”
Now my heart lurched up into my throat and the folding knife was open in my hand. Manny’s eyes shot to the shining blade and grew round. I watched them roll back white as I punched the knife into his chest. I pulled the blade out red, plunged it in again. Then again. I thrust it deeper. Harder. And – oh god! – the blood came spurting, hot and sticky, into my face. My eyes rolled back and I came spurting, hot and sticky, into my briefs.
Manny crumpled heavy against me with a long pneumatic wheeze and I caught his weight, eased him backwards and away. He slid down the Ford, his head skipping off the bumper, as he dropped in a heap to the ground. I stood over him, sobbing.
When my heart stopped flying, I bent down, wiped the blade on Manny’s jacket, and looked around. There was no one. I closed the tackle box, latched it tight, and took it.
They’ll tell you the first hit of any drug is the best, that the addict is always chasing his first high, and maybe that’s true for most. But I’ve done three kills now and I’m here to tell you: The rush gets better every time.