Toni needs to get well real bad. He’s had the shakes all night, he’s sweating profusely, and he hasn’t slept in almost a week. The day before, a dealer named Eddie burned him with a quarter of btfnk stuff (twenty-five dollars worth of bad heroin). Everybody knows you don’t sell bunk-junk to a dude who’s sick, especially if he’s got a piece and isn’t prejudiced as to whom he’ll use it on. Toni isn’t afraid to use anything-gun, knife, crowbar, machete or whatever he gets his hands on that will hurt.
What he plans, though, is slightly more elaborate. He saw it done in The Wild Bunch. When he catches the pendejo he's going to tie his arms to the bumper of his car and drag him up and down an alley to teach him a Lesson. Besides, he’s pretty sure that Eddie’s an informer anyway, so hell probably find some partners who will be ecstatic to help him dole out Eddie’s punishment.
Toni, twenty-five, five-foot-three, with black eyes, dark, rough skin, and short, black hair doesn’t look like someone who would kill for twenty-five dollars. He doesn’t appear very ominous or even very noticeable. But that’s exactly the reason he was bumed-because he doesn’t look the part‘and the dealer didn’t know him. Toni knew it was risky to buy from a dealer he didn’t know, but he needed it. Next time, however, Eddie will think twice before passing him sugar.
But right now, at eight-thirty in the morning, as he moves erratically in front of the Market Street Methadone Center, Toni’s dream of vengeance seems to be worth as much as the cigarette srpoke he keeps exhaling like vapor. He’s out to collect a few past-due debts, and sooner or later somebody who owes him something will come by.
Toni paces the length of the “junk-tion,” from Twelfth to Fourteenth Streets, staring glassy-eyed into the''doorways and windows of every bar, restaurant, thrift shop, and liquor store on the street. So far, no one he knows has shown. There are only a couple of raggedy hippies in front of the Center and a few winos on the side of McKee’s liquor store guzzling down their early morning Mad Dog and Thunderbird. A stuff-broad is sitting in front of the Bohemian bakery waiting to pounce on some horny buyer or seller willing to split a little leg for a bit of stuff. She tugs at Toni’s cuff as he walks by, but he kicks her away. He says, “When I make a connection I ain’t sharing with nobody, least of all a slut.” She flips him off.
Toni will be lucky if he’s able to make a connection at all. He’s just about broke. Eddie took his last cash, and even that he had to rip off. The only way he’ll get anything today is if he spots a friend. After that, all hell be able to do is pull a job.
Toni knows that he should quit doing junk, and he’s tried. He went to the Community Hospital’s de-tox for five days last year, and it cleaned him up for awhile. But the nickels, dimes, and quarters caught up with him again. And the hundred-odd bucks he gets from welfare each month aren’t making the ends meet.
He'd like to hang it up for good, but you can't get on the Methadone Program unless you’ve gone through detox from two different hospitals and failed both. Methadone can only take the most desperate shooters. That’s how he feels right now, but rehabilitation programs can’t accommodate feelings, just records, and Toni’s record doesn’t read desperate enough.
Toni digs into his pants pockets looking for some coins. He comes up with eighty cents-enough for another pack of smokes and a bag of chips. The way his luck is running, it might be a long time before he sees anyone he knows. He sure doesn’t want any cops hassling him for playing with his switchblade, so he’s gonna need something to keep his hands busy while he waits ....
It’s getting on ten o'clock and Josie hasn’t been able to latch onto any sucker who’ll share his stuff. She’s been waiting in front of the Bohemian Restaurant for almost two hours, but that’s dead. Nobody has given her the nod yet, and she doesn’t feel like hanging around much longer. She considers propositioning one of the winos on the comer, but thinks better of it. At the most, they probably have five bucks and a nickel bag just ain’t gonna get it.
She thinks to herself that she should have become an alkie. It sure would be a hell of a lot cheaper.
At nineteen, Josie has only been doing stuff for about nine months. About the time she started she was working in a massage parlor, raking in a good S200 a night. Why not? After all, she was beautiful. Now, even though she is needle-thin and hollow-eyed, vestiges of her looks remain. She still has long blonde hair, but her other features have evaporated with each vein spiking.
The money evaporated, too, as she became too wired and wire-looking to handle the subtle demands of her trade. These days she divides her time between crashing at the halfway house where she lives, and cruising the downtown streets where she now cuts out the middle man and deals directly with her customers.
Today looks pretty dry to Josie. There’s nobody in front of the Center, or at Meg’s, or at Beasley’s, who wants to split their goods. It’s a bad day to try to jam anybody up. She thinks that she should wait until the first or the fifteenth when everyone isn’t so tight with their bills. She also thinks that maybe she should get a pimp so she can start working around Fifth Street without getting hassled. But she can’t bring herself to give up any of the money that she earns simply to hide under the wings of a makeshift daddy ....
Victor, a portly, mocha-colored fellow, sits pensively in Beasley’s Friendly Comer, downing a shot of tequila, and topping it off with a whiskey sour. The lunch hour is approaching, and he’s just about ready to go to work. His regular clientele will certainly be waiting for him impatiently, and there will undoubtedly be a few squids and hippies whom he can bum for a little car fare.
Victor laughs to himself thinking about how easy it is to bunk honkies. Anyone who is a transient is almost sure to get his ass kicked in a dope deal because, as Victor explains, he will be too stupid to make absolutely certain that he find a go-between he can trust.
It is for this reason that Victor is never apprehensive about sticking it to white dudes. He stresses the fact that he won’t jive with “brown bruthas,” though. He has heard of too many alley-draggings and pistol-whippings over quarters. In fact, he recently heard that a couple of dudes are planning an alley special for a dealer named Eddie who was stupid enough to break this cardinal rule.
At thirty-two, Victor is quite pleased with his lucrative profession. He brings in a weighty profit, and even manages to score a hefty size of the goods for himself. And he has very little fear of being arrested because he won’t deal in large quantities. He tells how a lot of his friends get big heads, buy excessive amounts, and trust too many hangers-on. Victor knows that that is the quickest, most efficient way to get busted. Trust equals bust in the dope game. The pigs want only the big ones, so they let a guy flex his muscles, get in deeper and deeper, until they can make a big bust. Again, he laughs to himself, patting his own back for being so prudent.
As he steps outside the bar, a gold Impala speeds by the intersection. Victor says that he can spot a narc car immediately, as if by built-in radar. He points out that they don’t try too hard to conceal it, parading around in checkered coats, shades, and shiny new cars. He quotes a line from Serpico which runs, “undercover men wear white socks and black shoes, and that’s how they’re spotted.”
Victor shakes his head in weary amusement. He knows that the “goddamn pigs” all know what is going on on Market Street. He knows that they know everything: every dealer, every hotspot, everything! He sees them cruising Market twenty-four hours a day. The same thing occurs at Thirtieth and Imperial. Victor sees them peering out of their cars continuously as if they’re in the power to do anything.
Victor recalls the minor shakeup last year when the Grand Jury indicted thirty people and managed to close down the bar, Martell’s, all in an effort to quell the downtown drug traffic. But they couldn’t make anything stick for long. The business simply had to be moved, spread around, up and down the strip. “Thank the Lord for the Search and Seizure Laws,” mutters Victor to himself. “They protect the rights of (he independent businessman.”
Crossing the street, Victor waves at a squad car, laughing aloud as the officer ignores him. He feels a twinge of hunger and decides he could use a few glazed doughnuts before going to work. Re-crossing the street on his way to the Bohemian, he pats his coat pockets and laughs again, “Sugar for the narcs and the move-alongs, and prime goods for all my boys and girls.”
By Esteban Nunal (Steve Esmedina)