Surface Design & Glaze
August 1 – September 15
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Three-Fingered Jack Davis
Three-fingered Jack Davis and Jesse James Hofstetler operate a dope house in Detroit. They sell some black tar heroin laced with carfentanyl, a drug used to tranquilize elephants, to a house full of addicts. Several of the addicts overdose and now Jack and Jesse are stuck with a number of dead bodies to deal with.
The two men aren’t evil, not in the sense of a serial killer, but under the law they have committed murder.
But they also have a very human side, Jack takes in a young addict named Posie and offers her protection, and Jesse saves the life of an overdosed girl called Imogene, who goes by the name of Im.
Looking for refuge they hook up with Marielle, nicknamed Hell, a prostitute who owns a house of ill repute in the neighborhood.
The lives of the five become intertwined as they are investigated by tough, but fair, Detroit homicide detective Bonnie Benham.
The story proceeds through the perilous habitat of drug users, dealers and detectives to an unusual, but just, conclusion.
I met Jack Davis in a Detroit alley, holding the stump where his right forefinger used to be. I referred to him as Three-fingered Jack Davis after that.
I’d been cruising the lower west side neighborhood, looking to score some dope. I saw him on his knees, yelling his ass off as I passed the alley. I backed up and turned down the alley and got out of my car, which was a stupid thing to do.
The Detroit police warn you, “If you get a flat tire, drive on the rim. Don’t get out of the car. You wander off down here you’ll never be heard from again.”
But I’m used to taking risks. I’m an addict, a doper. My lifestyle has been one of ignored warnings. I’ve been buying dope in this neighborhood from an assortment of street peddlers for the last couple of years without any trouble. I get good black tar heroin brought in here by the Latin Kings and sold by a myriad of vendors on corners. When you see a guy by himself, standing on a corner, hands in his pockets, and he watches closely as you drive by, that would be your man. Stop your car down the street and see if he approaches. If he does, the deal is done.
Score one for you and your habit.
I know when to run, that’s how I’ve survived this long buying dope on the street. But when I saw Jack on his knees I turned in the alley and got out of the car.
I’m not sure why? I’ve made a lot of decisions that way, on the threshold, pondering: do I take the leap? Someone inside me makes the decision, someone not me, yet this unknown stranger is me. I have a habit of taking chances. I did it that night to help Jack Davis.
“They snipped my finger off,” Jack yelled as I approached.
One look verified his claim. I searched the alley around him, no sign of the missing phalange.
“I don’t see the finger.”
“That fat fuck Leon took it. I saw him put it in his pocket.”
“Why would he do that?”
“To prove he did the deed,” Jack said.
“He’ll show it to Cortez and get paid.”
I suspended my search and helped him get in my car. It wasn’t easy. Jack wasn’t huge, but he was sturdy, a formidable obstacle to push around.
At the hospital a young intern looked at his hand. “If you had the finger we could reattach it. But without the finger there’s not much else to do. The good news is you’re going to live, Mr. Davis.”
“What’s the bad news?”
“You’re only gonna have three fingers.” He cauterized the wound, applied salve, bandaged it, and released Three-fingered Jack Davis to the world.
“Where can I drop you, Jack?”
“I have a house on Yellowstone. I was taking the garbage out to the alley when those goons jumped me.”
I nodded, and we left the hospital. What I know about dope houses could fill a reservoir. I’ve been a frequent visitor of them since first introduced to heroin a decade ago. But I wasn’t prepared for Three-finger’s parlor. I imagined it’s what a Shanghai noodle factory would look like.
There were more comatose bodies there than in Woodlawn Cemetery. Three-finger stepped over and around the floor dwellers and to a staircase on the right.
“I’m going upstairs and roast one. I need to unwind a little. You’re welcome to join me.”
“Thanks, man. I feel like I’ve earned a little reward, some dessert. This has been a rugged day. I was just out to score a little dope.”
“You’re about to score. I owe you, man” Jack said. “I’ve got some really fine weed, Xanax, oxy, black tar, a little of everything. You’re free to imbibe.”
Jack’s room had a small bed, a floor lamp with a crooked shade, and several beanbag chairs. I slouched back in one of the chairs while Jack retrieved his stash.
“Name it, Mexican gold, Columbian, Panama Red, Maui Wowie, tar, crack, smack, coke or crystal, you can go up or down or in between. I recommend the tar, it’s dusted with carfentanil, elephant opiate, just enough to put you on a magic carpet ride.”
“The tar’s good for me, no needles, I just smoke it,” I said, producing a glass crack pipe from my shirt pocket. It’s my favorite method to use, just insert a piece of the tar in the bowl and heat the bowl with your Bic until it smokes, then inhale. Lots of users believe injecting is faster and gives a more powerful high, but that’s bullshit.
Smoking black tar is the only way to go, you get a better high, and there’s no identifying needle tracks to give away your habit.
“Don’t inhale too deep, or hold it in,” Jack said. “This stuff is primo, like royal jelly, but if you get too close to the hive you’ll get stung. You get my meaning?”
Jack was a character. “Yeah, I got you,” I said, nodding.
“You’re a cool dude, man. You’re all right. What’s your name?”
“Jesse, like in Jesse James. Actually, it is Jesse James, James is my middle name.”
“Cool man, I like that.”
I handed Jack my pipe. “I’m a downer, I don’t need anything to get up. I always feel like my hair is on fire.”
Jack took my pipe and filled the bowl with a tiny piece of tar. “You take a couple of hits of this and you’ll be a down, downer.”
I got out my Bic lighter, turned the flame up as high as it would go and roasted the top of the bowl until it glowed. Then took a drag. I do know about carfentanil and heeded Three-fingered Jack’s advice. My head mellowed within a minute. I took another hit then handed the pipe to Jack. We smoked the bowl, leaned back in the beanbag chairs, and rode the high, reality becoming distant.
I fully understand addiction, why people stay with a habit that’s expensive, deadly, and bad for your health. Because it makes you feel good like nothing else on the planet. How would I describe good dope? Imagine yourself in bed with ten of the most beautiful naked women you can think of, each of them dedicated to your pleasure. It’s better than that.
This was good stuff Jack gave me. I hadn’t been lit up like this since Billy Johnson and I carbureted a couple of cans of beer when we were twelve. Jack’s dope was quality. I was paralyzed for a while, no synapses, no neurons connecting, no ideas, no fear, nothing, just pure pleasure. Until Three-finger poked me.
“We got a problem,” he said, the words stampeding out of him like a herd of steer going over a cliff.
“What do you mean, we?” I said. “I’m just visiting here, riding on a magic carpet for a few light years. I’m not part of any of your problems, or your solutions.”
“There’s three dead people downstairs.”
This got me to sit up. Then stand up. Then lace my tennis shoes. My mind was in gear, shifting into low and getting ready to burn rubber.
“I need help with them,” Jack sputtered.
I shook my head. “Don’t read my lips, don’t look in my eyes, don’t hear me, just watch me. I’m out of here.”
Jack looked at me and pleaded. “Man, you can’t just fly on me. I need you.”
“I already saved your life once tonight.”
“That makes you my guardian angel. You’ve been sent here to look after me.”
This was dope logic. There’s lots of stuff dope does to you besides just fuck you up. It infiltrates your head more insidiously, deeper, permanently, it becomes your head; your thinking, your ideas. It becomes you. It had become Jack, dope was who he was and who he thought like and he’d never change.
“Don’t give me none of that voodoo Rasta shit, this ain’t Jamaica Mon, this is Detroit, a dope house on Yellowstone, complete with dopers. I helped you out in the alley and to the hospital to stop the bleeding, we shared a pipe…”
“Three,” Jack corrected me.
“And now I need to get going. It’s been grand, nice meeting you, good to make your acquaintance. But when it comes to dead people, that’s when my feet do my thinking for me.”
“Jesse, all I need you to do is help me get them out of here. Just dump them a few blocks away. I can’t leave them here. Then you’re done. I’ll pay. I’ll divvy up that bag of tar we’ve been smoking.”
Every man has his price. Every con man understands this. Three-fingered Jack Davis understood this. He told me this and turned himself into my Timothy Leary, he tuned me in, turned me on, and knew how much I liked dropping out.
“Half that bag?”
Jack nodded. “I just need help moving them. They’re dead weight, if you know what I mean,” he said, laughing with a snort like a pig. “Besides, cops don’t care, city don’t care. We’re doing the city a public service getting rid of these stiffs.”
“I don’t think the cops don’t care, and the politicos will crucify us if they get the chance.”
Jack shook his head, “No, they don’t give a fuck. Look, enough of these fuckers OD and that’ll drive down the statistics, the number of people using will go down.
Some congressman will get his hands on those numbers and he’ll claim they’re due to the program for addicts he’s put in place. He’ll take credit for the numbers going down.”
I laughed. Jack was beyond even dope logic. But he convinced me, him and the half a bag had me agreeing to help. “Okay, how we gonna do this?”
“I’ve got an old pickup out in the garage. We’ll load them in the back and drop them off in Nardin Park. It’s only two blocks down Kay Street from here.”
“We’re gonna just park and unload them under the streetlights?”
“Streetlights, ha. There ain’t no streetlights there anymore. They’ve been burned out or shot out years ago. It’s blacker than a caveman’s closet. We just haul them to a bench and sit ‘em up like they’re in church, and then we’re out of there.”
“I have half the bag and I’m out of there, too.”
“Yeah, you’re cool and you’ll be styling in good dope for the winter.”
“Why don’t you just call your supplier to help you with the stiffs?”
“Should I ask him for my finger back while I’m at it?”
I looked at Jack, shook my head. “No, best you stay away from him while you’ve still got three fingers. What was all that about anyway? Not that I want any part of whatever it was.”
“It’s his house. He takes a rake off what I collect here. He thinks I shorted him, sold the tar for more than I gave him.”
Jack never answered me. “I’ll get the truck and meet you in the living room.”
We went down the stairs and Jack went out the back door. I stood at the foot of the steps and looked at the people strewn around the living room and dining room.
There were three big black guys passed out in front of the couch by the front window. There was a young long hair and a girl leaned up against the side wall. The corpses were on the wall adjacent to the young couple, three young men and a girl with lots of long strawberry blonde hair and freckles sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of three teenagers. I noticed the three young males didn’t appear to be breathing. The girl, her eyes narrow slits, her mouth straight and tightlipped, was crying.
“I can’t wake them up,” she said.
“That’s because they’re dead.” I walked over and touched the side of the one closest to me. No pulse. I checked the other two. I winced at how young they looked as I touched their necks. No pulse.
“How long have they been like this?”
“They’ve been here since yesterday afternoon. Just smoking some good dope. Then Jack offered us some of his special blend. I’ve never smoked anything like it. Put me right out. They were still smoking when I went lights out. I woke up a while ago. I started talking to them, nobody answered. I shook them, Lee’s head slumped to the side. None of them moved. I got scared and went looking for Jack. He came down and looked at them. Are they dead?”
“Yeah, they’re dead.”
The girl cried harder.
“Is Lee your boyfriend?”
She shook her head. “No, I’m not really friends with them. I just met them this afternoon. I hang out here with Jack. He gives me good dope, I help him out a little with things.”
“You know. Personal things. And he keeps me supplied. Jack went out earlier tonight and I got to talking to these guys. But that’s all. I don’t know them.”
I heard the rumblings of a muffler alongside the house and then Jack came through the front door. “All right, let’s get them out of here.”
“What about her?” I asked, pointing toward the girl.
“You stay here, Posie. If anyone wakes up just tell them they’ve got to get out. Time’s up.”
“She’s called Posie?”
Jack laughed. “Her name’s Poinsettia. She was born on Christmas so her mother named her after a plant her boyfriend gave her.”
I nodded. Then smiled.
“You grab the shoulders, I’ll get the feet. The truck’s on the driveway.”
“What if someone sees us?”
“Nobody ever sees anything in this neighborhood,” Jack said.
We hauled them one by one out to the truck and put them in the back, stacked them like wood. I kept looking at the dopers in the house as we made our way back and forth. Nobody budged. Not the three black guys snoring under the front picture window or the young couple against the couch. There were probably a half dozen people strewn around the dining room, mostly laying on the floor, a couple against the back wall. But nobody woke up.
Back on the driveway Three-finger slammed the truck gate up so you couldn’t see the corpses lying on the bed and we are off. When we got to Nardin Street there was a car slowly creeping along.
Three-finger cut the lights and we parked and waited until it passed. Then he pulled up and parked at the edge of the park. He was right, it was dark, no lights anywhere. But the lights in my head were flashing. I couldn’t help but reflect on the lifestyle that got me into this mess.
I’m a good guy. I don’t want any trouble. I just like to get high. And liking to feel good continues to get me in trouble. I’ve been unable to keep a girlfriend, hell, I can’t maintain a friendship. I’ve been in jail, three times, the hospital once. I’ve been dried out more times than my underwear. But I never learned a thing from all my foibles. Hence I find myself parked on Nardin in the middle of the night with a dope dealer and three dead teenagers in the back of a pickup truck. I don’t want to foresee my future.
Three-finger seems unfazed at being at a city park with three stiffs in the back of a pickup. He parked, killed the engine and hopped out of the cab. “C’mon, help me dump these assholes and we’re out of here. I’ll treat you to another pipe when we get back to the house.”
We quickly carried the three corpses to a park bench. Sat them up like they were stargazing. As we pulled away I looked at them, they appeared more lifelike than T. S. Eliot’s Hollow Men: We are the stuffed men, leaning together, headpiece filled with straw.
Jack got in and closed the door. “We’re home free now, brother.”
“Don’t give me that brother shit. This wasn’t me being charitable. I did it because I was trapped. But we get back to the house, I get my dope, and you never see me again.”
“Man, don’t get cranky. We go back and I’ll fill the pipe again. And you can let Posie take care of you.”
“What’s the deal with her anyway?” I asked.
“She came in with a couple of dudes a year ago. They left without her. She helps me out. Posie might look kind of young.”
“Kind of young. She looks like she might be going to turn into a teenager one of these days.”
“She can suck the chrome off a bumper,” Jack said. “She’s good for business, too. Guys get high, she offers a little value added services if they’re interested.”
“You’re running a whorehouse and dope house?”
Jack shook his head. “Not exactly. Most aren’t interested in her. But she works the crowds, makes a few bucks, I take a rake from her. She stays with me. Takes care of me, too. And I ain’t lying about her talent.”
When we got back to the house the other me, the one inside that nobody knows, decided he’d like another pipe and just kick back for a while. We walked in the front door.
“Posie,” Jack called out.
But there was no answer. No Posie to be seen. She’d either taken flight or gone to bed. Passed out somewhere might be more accurate, there’s a difference between going to sleep and passing out.
I looked over at the young couple leaned up against the couch. They were both still out, but the girl scared me. Her head was loose, leaned way back and her mouth was wide open. No movement, nary a twitch or a flinch. But I detected a faint pulse in her neck.
“She’s still alive, Jack. We’ve got to do something. She needs some Naloxone or we’re gonna lose her.”
“What do you mean, we? I didn’t inject her.”
“You sold it to her. Means the same thing.”
“I can’t do jail, Jesse.”
“Gimme the keys to the truck. It’ll be easier to get her in and out of than my car.”
Three-finger gave me a strange clueless look.
“Gimme the fucking keys or I’ll rip your lungs out.”
Three-finger pulled them from his pocket and flung them at me. The keys bounced off my forehead. I thought about putting a few dents in his, but just retrieved the keys from the floor and turned to the girl. She was frail, a lightweight, which was a good thing. I’m no Charles Atlas, I’m linear, a slender dropout from Wayne State’s science program. But I got her picked up and hoisted her over my shoulder and headed out to the truck. I tossed her in the back like the three other corpses.
“What’s wrong with her?” The medic at emergency asked when he saw me carrying her.
There are times you’ve got to admire some of our human race. This guy ran a ten-second hundred yard dash through the emergency room yelling Code Blue. I followed him to a room and placed the limp dying girl on the bed. Within seconds the place was crawling with staff. I just stood back and watched.
“They’re going to need you at the desk,” one of the orderlies said.
I nodded. “Okay. Is she going to be all right?”
“She’ll make it.”
“I’ll get her checked in and I’ll be right back,” I said, then went down the hall, through emergency, and out the door to the parking lot.
When I pulled up to Three-finger’s house on Yellowstone it was breaking daylight. Sitting on the front porch steps like a couple of school kids were Jack and Posie.
“I see you found Posie.”
“She was taking a nap upstairs under my bed.”
“That’s a strange place to sleep.”
“She was afraid we might be coming back in handcuffs, if you know what I mean.”
This got a snicker out of me. “Where’s everybody else?”
“I cleared everybody out. Except for the chick’s boyfriend.”
“Uh, he isn’t?”
“Yes, he is.”
“We can’t move him. The park bench is full and it’s daylight.”
“He’s creeping me out,” Posie said.
Three-fingered Jack sat there like Bobby Fisher contemplating his next move. Then his dark wolf eyes brightened. “There’s an old chest freezer in the basement as big as a casket. We can put him inside it and turn it on and freeze him so he won’t stink. Then later tonight we can drop him somewhere.”
As I stepped carefully down the basement steps, holding the corpse by the feet, I couldn’t believe I was doing this. I’m a fun loving person, happy, witty, I had a future. I could stop doping anytime I want. Dope wasn’t my life, just a little recreation. Most dopers believe this. It’s mostly untrue. Not that they can’t stop, but that they ever will. Most dopers will die with narcotics in their bloodstream. There is no cure, it’s not an illness, it’s worse, it’s a habit, and we are creatures of habit. For an illness there is treatment, or you just die, but a habit is more insidious, it’s a continuance, it’s a non-court order that your brain feels compelled to follow. The medical profession cajoles addicts with a lot of hope, addiction is a disease, you can be treated. Yes, there is treatment, but there’s only three real options, using, losing or choosing. You can choose to stop, or not, but the desire will never fade away. There is no magic pill.
In the dim light of the damp basement I saw this large chest freezer across from the stairway. We sat up the OD girl’s boyfriend inside the freezer and Three-finger plugged it in and set the thermostat.
“I want to freeze him as quick as possible. Before he begins to stink.”
“Yeah, good idea. Let’s go mix a bowl of tar. I need to relax, and then sleep for a while.”
The three of us went upstairs to Three-finger’s bedroom. We slouched in beanbag chairs and opened our heads to oblivion. It didn’t take much. I was tired from moving dead people and hauling overdosed females to the Emergency. It had been a stressful night, but the smoke helped me to unwind and I entered the dream world, the state of the unreal that feels more like reality than reality. When I’m not sleeping I’m usually about half in the bag. I live in a state somewhere between dreams and the hardwired world, a safe zone, but not productive. I’d grown up in a nice suburban home to honest hardworking parents. I don’t know that they ever did a wrong thing in their lives, nothing they did made me what I am. As if I was an alien adopted at birth by earthling parents. They made all the right decisions, made the right moves, the right plans for me, gave me the care and security I needed, yet I turned out to be a drug addicted physics major with a penchant for procrastination that goes beyond abnormal. I believed in nothing and doing nothing, if life was the sum of your experiences, then my life was zero. Which is how I planned it, count me unaccountable.
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