A few years ago I wrote down my recollections of an evening that had somehow, despite the circumstances, remained fresh in my mind many years later. Recently I decided to “jazz it up” a bit without changing or exaggerating the facts of the evening. In other words, the following is not strictly speaking fiction, but it is, if I may be so bold, a good story.
It really should have been a clue.
You’re in a small room with a friend and two bad guys. A transaction for cocaine has just been completed. You’ve got the the slick well spoken bad guy named Ray who you think you met once before but aren’t really sure in part because you’re already seriously high. Then there’s the other guy. He’s what you would call a crazy motherfucker. There’s no doubt that he’s done time. He’s huge, well over 6’4’ and made of muscles. He could squash your head with his hands. He is not a smart man just a dangerous one. The don’t-give-a-fuck type. He’s liable to do anything at anytime, you can never know. Worse, he’s got a knife in his hand. A very sharp hunting knife with which he could take off your hand with two whacks, maybe one. You’re also pretty sure he’s got a gun. So there’s that.
You’re with Jake who you don’t know that well, just gotten high with several times and you’ve come along on this deal as a favor and so that you can get some free blow. Jake is nervous. It’s his money. Jake is all bravado among friends but in a situation like this he’s your neighbor’s kitten.
The coke and money have been exchanged. It’s time to book. But this monstrous asshole doesn’t want anyone going anywhere just yet. “This ain’t like no regular guys in suits business. We sit, we talk we have a drink we get to know each other a little first. Maybe we find we wanna do business again.” Ray, the dealer, he just sits and nods to this like whatever. Why this man mountain is dictating terms you don’t know because slick-haired Ray is the man doing the selling.
So big dummy pulls out this bottle of tequila. And then four glasses. Not just small shot glasses either. Like regular drinking glasses. Now you can’t even remember where the fuck you are. Oakland maybe. Jake drove. More like weaved. And you’re in this tiny room in these wooden straight backed chairs with one big window looking out on a parking lot. The table is metal. You sit next to Jake and across from Crazy. “What the fuck is this place?” You wonder and realize how fucking high you are and that’s not a good thing right now. Or its the best. Being sober in this place in these circumstances could induce a ten megaton panic attack. Meanwhile Jake is very nervous and you wonder if this is going to make things worse or is he nervous because he knows what’s coming. Does everyone know the denouement but you? Is everyone in on something that you know nothing about? Is that behemoth going to slice your balls off? Why the fuck did you think that, of all things?
You keep trying not to think about dying or even getting hurt. But you’re feeling trapped in this room with some big maniac who has a hunting knife and probably a gun. Like what the fuck did I do to deserve this? Oh yeah I came along on a drug deal, dummy. See because is not you it’s me. Or was me.
Glasses hit the table hard. The soft burn works its way up from my stomach. A few seconds later my head jimmy jacks around and I feel god damned good. Then I kind of shake my head and I’m still in the room and so is the leviathan and so I don’t feel so peachy keen after all.
“We really need to get going,” Jake says, his voice coming from some other galaxy.
I endorse this notion and start to get up. The big ape puts a paw on my shoulder and slams me back down. “There’s no fucking rush!” he shouts. Oh hell, now he’s angry. I shiver. But that passes quickly too. The behemoth smiles.
Ray says “calm down, Snake, take it easy. No need to shout, the boys ain’t goin’ anywhere yet. Right boys?”
We nod but all I can think is: Snake? Seriously? That’s when I notice the snake tattoo on the goliath’s arm. It just seems too fucking obvious. Snake? I’d laugh if I didn’t feel like I was in a Twilight Zone episode gone wrong. Yeah, his name may seem funny but his size and strength are no joke. Me I'm about 5'7" and as an ex athlete I'm in decent shape but don't match up so well against Snake. As for Jake, he's my size only really skinny and doesn't look like he ever so much as played checkers let alone lifted a weight. So the two of us together are over matched by Snake. By a long ways.
“We have another round!” Snake proclaims. At this rate I’m going to pass out before we get to the car and Jake is going to have none chance of driving.
Thankfully Snake doesn’t fill the glasses all the way this time. Maybe half way. At Snake’s insistence we drink to life again. I wonder how much is left in mine. There’s conversation now and I’m part of it. But my consciousness is deep in my brain and all the words are echoing and I don’t know exactly what I’m saying and sure as shit don’t know what anyone else is saying. But I see myself there. Talking nervously about some shit. I wonder for a second if Snake maybe will kill us and take the money back. If so is he just fucking with us now? But Snake is telling us what fine men we are. How cool and stand up we are how he likes us and feels we're trustworthy. We're like real men. "You're not a couple of pussies like I thought you'd be." Gee thanks, I think and can't imagine how we've earned such praise. Meanwhile he keeps fiddling with that knife. He loves the sucker. And Ray over there sitting as cool as you please seemingly bored by it all. Will he save us if Snake turns on us or let him slice us to bits? Ray just doesn't seem to care what happens. He's on a whole other high where earthly matters are of no concern.
Jake has to pee. Ray leads him to a toilet and I’m left in the tiny room with Snake. I wonder what Snake does for fun. I wonder if he has a girl. I wonder about his parents. I wonder what Snake was like as a little kid and if he’s killed anyone and if he finished high school and if he plays the violin. I don’t know why I wonder about the violin. Maybe because I’m an idiot. I have to be an idiot to be here.
Snake talks the whole time. No idea what he said. The single light in the room glistens on his perfectly bald head. I decide that Snake is a complete moron and that it sucks worse than anything that I’m totally in his power. I think back to earlier in the day when I had my first sweet little innocent beer and how that’s escalated to me being here and then for a second I remember that the coke we sampled was prime stuff and how maybe it would have been better for my sake if it wasn’t. Shit.
Ray and Jake come back. Jake looks really scared. Or is that my imagination or the tequila or what I was drinking earlier in the evening when I was safe in sound in Kip’s waiting for Jake and thinking that going to a coke buy was no big deal? Of course the coke we sampled when we got here is playing a part in my paranoia. Not as much as Snake’s knife, but still.
“I don’t feel so good.” Jake says.
“You mean like your stomach?” I ask. Now I’m worried on another level. There are levels of worry I’m dealing with. Along with outright paranoia and mild concern and pure terror and stark raving fear. It is raving, boys.
“Maybe we should go,” I say.
“Stay!” Snake hollers.
Ray says: “You ain’t gonna be sick in here are you?”
Jake looks in his lap and shakes his head no.
I have no fucking idea what’s going to happen next.
“This’ll help,” says Snake and pulls out — from where I don’t see — the biggest blunt I’d ever seen.
“This shit’s for real, man. Panama Red.” He proclaims.
Ray closes his eyes and nods like there's mellow jazz playing in his brain.
Panama Red is some nasty weed. It has much more of a kick than regular grass. We’re fucking in for it now, I think. Snake lights the fucker up and we’re all toking away following Snake’s lead by taking deep long drags.
Now my head is all over the place bee bopping around the room. He stabs me with that knife I won’t feel a thing. But I’m scared shitless just the same. I detest Snake with every fiber of my being and like him like an old friend. I’m hopelessly devoted to Snake because the only way out of this room is to make nice with him. Fucking Stockholm Syndrome. God, or whatever is out there, let me out of this and I’ll finish my goddamned masters degree. Be a boy scout all the way.
Now Ray is babbling like a maniac. On and on about women. I want to go home. I want out. My sphincter is inhaling and exhaling and has a life of its own and I’m not 100% sure its still part of my body. Jake looks so far out of it that I doubt he can ever be brought back to Earth from whatever part of the solar system his brain is occupying.
I fantasize about snatching Snake’s knife and cutting his throat. I fantasize about a field of daisies. I fantasize that I can fly out of this room and wish to god I could. My mind is watching me as if from a far. I can’t tell if my right hand is still part of my body. I look at it in wonder. At least Snake hasn’t cut it off.
Snake. He is the worst human being in the world. And when he reaches over and hugs me and holds my head in the crook of his arm I am willing to do anything he asks. Because I’d have to. I’m totally enraged and servile and a baby rabbit in a tiger’s maw. Help me, god or whatever.
He releases me and it feels like a reprieve but I also he realize he can grab me again and this time twist. But then…
“Man I gotta go. I need to find me some bitches.” The speaker is Snake he has just stood up and this feels like the happiest moment of my life. The volatile behemoth has suddenly remembered the farer sex and wants to defile some poor woman. My relief is indescribable but is tempered by the feeling that he may insist we join him or he may change his mind or he may kill us before he leaves or maybe Ray is going to shoot us. Who knows?
Snake has been standing all of about 30 seconds when he collapses into a heap on the floor. Just like that. Out cold.
“That motherfucker could never hold his shit,” Ray says. “You put any amount of booze and weed in him and the big asshole folds up like a cheap tent. Shee-it.” Ray stares at him with disgust.
“I better get Jake home, he’s about to go himself,” I say. Ray barely looks at us as we go out the door. I keep expecting a bullet in the back as we walk out into the cool night. We’re in the industrial part of Oakland. It takes us 20 minutes to find where we parked even though it’s just half a block away from the tiny room that I spent an hour of hell in. We are in a panic the whole time. Jake constantly seems about to cry and I want to squat and shit right there. Out of bald faced fear.
I don’t know how the hell Jake drove us back to Berkeley. But he did. So what did we do? We went up to Kip’s and drank until closing time. Because of course, insanity. And man I still had another four years of drinking and using ahead of me. Imagine that.