Downward Spiral I

I was sprawled out on couch. My boots were on, my hat rested over my eyes. An empty bottle of Evan Williams lay on the floor next to me. My .45 was disassembled neatly on the coffee table, eight Federal hollow points standing in a row beside it.

Bedpan had just finished an overnight shift at the hospital when he found me. Bedpan was the model of suburban Dave Matthews America. He didn’t dare wake me.

I was crashing at the Black man’s house. He had a three bedroom flop on the south side of town. Bedpan lived in the middle bedroom. Willy Pete slept on a bare mattress in a dark room off the kitchen.

I was dimly aware of Bedpan’s presence. Floorboards creaked as he moved. I heard him talking on the phone.

“Who’s the scary looking guy with the gun sleeping in our living room?”

Mr. Black and Willy Pete were on their way back from the store. They decided to give Bedpan a jolt. The Black man said he didn’t know who I was. He handed the phone off to Willy Pete, who replied the same.

I woke shortly after the awkward exchange. My head must have swelled. Morning sunlight made my eyes water. A dull throb filled my skull. My boots thumped the floor as I struggled to sit up, kicking the empty bottle.

Bedpan eyed me, nervous.

“Hey man. So, uh . . . what’s with the Glock?” he tried to sound conversational.

“Glock?” I asked.

I slid the pieces back together and chambered a round. I eased the de-cocker with my thumb and set the gun back on the table. I squinted up at Bedpan.

“It’s a Sig,” I told him.

Mr. Black and Willy Pete walked in soon after. They laughed at Bedpan’s expense while I put myself back together. They explained the situation to him and Willy Pete fired up the percolator. I poured coffee on my hangover.

It had been five days since I left her. That headache was the best I’d felt since.

The night I left, I grabbed a handful of clothes and my pistol. She thought I was bluffing until she saw me heading for the door. From across the room I could see her eyes go wide. Her anger dissolved into tears.

I didn’t slam a single door on my way out.

I bounced from couch to couch, trying not to overstay my welcome. I had half a paycheck to my name. The Black man and I were barely on speaking terms, but he didn’t hesitate to let me crash at his place.

It was Saturday morning. Mr. Black shuffled around the apartment, gathering his bearings. His band was shooting their first video that afternoon. He invited me to join them.

It was already hot as Hell. The video was being filmed in a small space with no air conditioning. A shed packed full of sweating metal heads. The conditions sounded ideal for riding out a hangover.

I rode up separate. Willy Pete and I made a beer run. He had no money. I threw the 30-rack in my trunk and headed to the shoot.

I wedged my car into a corner of the gravel driveway. The film crew arrived next and unpacked their gear. Car after car arrived, like a tattoo-circus sideshow. An H2 pulled into the driveway. The driver and passenger produced a couple of assault rifles from the back seat.

There was a photo shoot first. The band posed outside holding various weapons, all of them empty. I stood by quietly with my .45 tucked discretely beneath my shirt. I locked it in my trunk when we went inside.

The idea was to pack the space with people while the band played. We thrashed violently, shoulder to shoulder. The crew filmed the whole thing from every possible angle. This went on for hours. I sweat out toxins while everyone else drank.

During one take, someone tripped over the camera rigging. The guy next to him stumbled and stepped on his shin. I heard the crack over the amps.

I ducked out of the shoot early and drove to her house. We’d barely spoken since the night I left. She wasn’t home. The code on the house was changed. I found my things in the shed. I shoveled everything into the back of my car and headed back to the Black man’s apartment.

I took my boots off for the first time in two days.

Four years together. Five days apart. I felt hollow and alone. I lingered in the shower, letting water wash away sweat and tears. I put myself back together.

Willy Pete and I made a run to the liquor store. I grabbed a liter of Wild Turkey and a sandwich, my first meal all day. With food in my stomach, I took a pull straight from the bottle. Willy Pete followed suit.

Daylight was fading fast. The windows dimmed, and I could barely see inside the apartment. Mr. Black pulled me aside.

“Listen, I’ve got some bitches coming over. If he gets fucked up and turns into an asshole, it’s on you. Don’t call me looking for help. He’s your responsibility.”

“I know . . . I’ve got it.”

I took another swig.

I woke up on the couch with a searing headache. My boots were still on. My shirt lay across the room. The bottle of Wild Turkey sat on the coffee table, nearly empty. My left brow was tender to the touch. My hands ached, my fingers hurt to move.

My memory was completely blank.

I looked in the bathroom mirror. My left eyebrow was swollen. Blood glued the gash shut. It caked in my eyebrow and down the side of my face. My cheeks were sunken and unshaven, my eyes jaundiced and bloodshot. The night came back to me in fragments.

I looked like ten miles of rough road.

Willy Pete was standing in the hall when I opened the bathroom door. He looked like I felt. He was holding his head in his hand. He squinted at me and grimaced.

“What the fuck happened to your face!?”

“You did,” I croaked.

My voice was so whiskey-scarred I could barely speak. I pushed past him, into the kitchen. Dirty grey light filtered through a make-shift American flag curtain. I choked down aspirin, desperate to alleviate the pain in my head.

I heard the toilet. I leaned against the counter, chugging water from a coffee mug. Willy Pete shuffled into the room.

“How’s the head?” I asked.

“Not good. I feel like someone hit me with a two-by-four. I can’t remember a fucking thing. The inside of my cheek is shredded.”

Willy Pete tried to pry his mouth open to show me the extent of the damage. I could see nothing in the dim light. I held up my right hand in response, flexing my fingers slowly. It was going to be a bad day.

We primed ourselves the night before with ephedrine, caffeine, and whiskey. It was a twenty minute walk to the first bar. The night was young and the bar was dead. We lingered for a while, nursing beers.

We debated a second round. Willy Pete made the executive decision to hike to the bar where he worked. It was several miles away, and neither of us had money for a cab. We ordered shots for the road and headed out.

“We are too white to go that way,” I observed, pointing toward the port. Willy Pete laughed.

We were on the edge of the ghetto. We cut through the park instead, shaving time and distance off our trip.

Our destination was at the end of a strip of noise and neon. The bouncers waved Willy Pete and me inside without a cover and we elbowed through the crowd. The front bar was jammed up. A cover band played downstairs. We headed for the service end of the bar. Willy Pete introduced me to the manager.

I didn’t pay for a single drink the rest of the night.

Things began to blur. I throttled back my consumption, ordering water to chase down more go-pills. This was not a night for chasing tail. Willy Pete tried anyway. He told girls that I had just broken up with my girlfriend, and made repeated attempts to get me to show off my tattoos. I refused.

By two AM I stood alone at the back of the bar. I looked around and saw that Willy Pete was gone.

I took a lap through the bar. He wasn’t outside smoking. He wasn’t anywhere. One of the bouncers approached me. He looked like Duke Nukem, right down to the buzz cut. He stood half a foot taller than me, and probably sixty pounds heavier.

“Do me a favor. Get him out of here . . .”

“No problem,” I said. “Thanks.”

I flashed him a thumbs-up, my face twisting into a frustrated sneer. He just nodded at me and climbed back onto his perch above the crowd. I searched the bar high-and-low again, with no luck. He wasn’t answering his phone. None of the bartenders had seen him.

I tracked down the manager. He explained that Willy Pete had been mouthing off to the wait staff. He made some rude comments to one of the waitresses. Her boyfriend, Duke, was not happy.

I was on the verge of abandoning him when some awful part of my brain kicked in. No matter what kind of trouble Willy Pete found himself in, I never left him behind. I had to find him before someone called the cops.

Willy Pete had outstanding warrants for his arrest.

I knew it was only a matter of time. I knew all along. I pulled out my phone and thumbed Mr. Black a message: EMERG. In the back of my head, I thought of his warning.

Don’t call me looking for help. He’s your responsibility.

7 thoughts on “Downward Spiral I

  1. If the Ranger thing doesn’t pan out, I suspect there is a novel or two in you clawing to get out.

  2. I think I know why you gave the dude the moniker of “Willy Pete”. White phosphorus, useful and dangerous in many instances, both to friend and foe alike. Burns white hot with no off switch.

    Yeah, seen people like that before. Unfortunately they’re kin.

    As a somewhat literate minor deity, I have to say that your stories are quite good. Looking forward to the book(s).

Comments are closed.