Let’s move along, shall we? This alley is called Green Street. It isn’t a street, but they call Green Street because the far end of it is painted this ugly hospital green. God knows why. Now this is a real alley. It runs behind the Causeway and it leads to a bunch of places that are central to life out here. Other alleys, mostly. Yeah, we definitely spend a lot of time in alleys. Streets are for cars and sidewalks are for pedestrians. Well, we don’t have cars and we’re not what you’d call pedestrians. Pedestrians are normal people who aren’t wandering around like animals, looking to fuck up somehow. So that leaves the alleys. I mean, if you’re not welcome on the streets or the sidewalks, there’s pretty much no other option. They’d confine us to the sewers if they could, but that really isn’t feasible. The alleys are pretty fucking dangerous, but then so is every other place out here. Even if they let us take over the sidewalks, they’re no bargain. Not for us, anyway. When you’re out on the sidewalks, you’re an easy target for the assholes and the cops. The assholes fuck with you just because they’re assholes or because they’re angry or crazy or they need fifty cents and they think you’ve got it. Trust me, out here people will rob you for a dime and kill you because you don’t have any more. It’s fucking brutal. And no, you don’t ever really get used to it.
And God knows the cops aren’t much better. That’s another fucked up lesson you learn very quickly: when you’re homeless, the cops give you no end of grief. Can you believe that? It’s bad enough that your life’s turned to shit and you’re on the street and every day of your life is a thousand times worse than dying. But on top of all that, the cops have to fuck with you, too. Why do they do it? Who knows? Because they think it’s fun. Because they can. Because they can get away with it. I guess that’s reason enough. You see, we don’t count. That’s what it all comes down to. We’re not important. We don’t matter. As far as they’re concerned, we’re not even human. We’re a fucking disease – period. As far as the cops are concerned, we’re no better than the rats. Oh, there are a few good ones, but not many. Not in my experience. And it’s not just the cops. That’s pretty much what everyone thinks. Shit, that’s what most of us think. As far as the world’s concerned, we’re nothing more than a bunch of junkies and crackheads and thieves and God knows what else. The world would be a much better place without us. So the cops hate us just like everyone else hates us. The problem is, they act on it. They vent their hatred. Public servants? Not as far as we’re concerned. If you ask me, they’re a public menace. They’re armed to the teeth and they’ve got a license to kill and we’re their victims. Sometimes I think they especially get off on torturing me. Lucky fucking me, huh?
Anyway, not much happens on Green Street except for people getting their asses kicked. That happens a lot. This place is like ultimate fighting central. There’s always a shitload of people here because it’s right behind two of the biggest missions, but that also means that the cops spend a fair amount of time patrolling it. A cop car comes through here about every fifteen minutes. That’s why people don’t do much crooked shit in here. You don’t want to do shit where you know the cops are going to be. That goes without saying. But aside from the fights, Green Street is one of the quickest ways to get to the places where all of the real shit goes down. I guess that makes it a means to an end. Like I said, it’s a dangerous place. People who’re drunk or got kicked out of the missions or who just didn’t get a cot in there for the night and are all pissed off about it hang out here, and it doesn’t take much to set them off. This is where I saw my first stabbing. How’s that for a milestone? Getting stabbed is what’s known as getting stuck. A lot of people get stuck out here, particularly at night. Skid row is the knife fight capital of the world. There’s not much to them – well, most of them, anyway. Usually one guy just up and sticks another guy with little or no warning. That’s what happened two days after I got here. I was sitting on that ledge over there by the loading dock and two guys were shouting at each other about something. I don’t know what they were fighting about. I wasn’t paying attention. I was just scared shitless because I was alone and out on the street and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I was trying not to be seen. Anyway, one guy pushed the other one against the wall, and he came back and hit him. At least, I thought he hit him. Turns out he stuck him right in the gut. The guy screamed and the other guy just kept stabbing him like four or five times. Right in front of about a hundred people. I couldn’t believe it. Shit, if you think I was scared before, you should’ve seen me after that! It was all I could do to keep from screaming. The guy with the knife just walked away like it was nothing. He didn’t even bother to wipe the blood off. It wasn’t long before I learned that out here, sticking someone is nothing. It’s no big deal. I mean, I was ready to shit myself and here are all these people just walking past the guy on the ground like he wasn’t even there. Blood was pouring out of him and he was screaming and begging for help and nobody did a fucking thing. It was a couple of hours before the cops came. I guess he didn’t rate the lights and sirens. He was dead by then. Even I could tell he was dead. He’d turned this grayish white color, I guess from losing all of his blood. The cops asked a lot of questions, but no one told them a thing. Not even me. By then, I’d already learned how to keep my mouth shut. That was the first murder I ever saw. It wasn’t the last.
OK, time to meet some of the denizens of skid row. See those two guys down at the end of the alley? The ones who look like you wouldn’t want to run into them in a dark alley? I know them. The black guy’s name is Bobby and the white guy is called Clutch. I don’t know his real name. I’ve never heard him called anything but Clutch. I think he got the nickname because he was into cars or something. Now he’s just a crackhead. Big time. I’m actually surprised he’s standing there and not out looking for crack. Bobby’s sort of a junkie. He shoots dope now and then, but for the most part he just likes to drink. That’s true of most people out here – the drinking part, I mean. Bobby’s older than me, but he hasn’t been out on the street as long. He’s only been here a couple of years. I don’t know what he was doing before then. Knowing what I know about him, he was probably doing time. Clutch got here about a year ago. Well, sort of. He got here and then about six months later he caught a dope case and got locked up. That’s another thing a lot of us have in common. If someone goes missing for more than a day, the first thing you think is jail. I mean, it’s not like the people out here take vacations or anything. If you’re not here, it’s safe to say you’re not at the beach. You’re either in jail or the hospital. Or you’re dead. That’s pretty common, too.
And now they see me. Two scary-assed guys call out to me in an alley and I don’t take off running. How’s that for being crazy?
“What’s up, guys?”
“Not much. Say, you got anything?”
That’s the universal language for “Do you have any drugs to share?” You’ll hear it a hundred times a night out here.
“Sorry Bobby. Not tonight.”
See the look on Clutch’s face? See how he perks up when you talk about bumming dope off of someone? Yeah, that’s a crackhead for you. They never want to pay for it.
“Hey Miranda, you still get them pills from that shrink?”
“Sorry, Clutch. Not for a while.”
“The city cut back on that shit a while ago. Besides, I think he got wise to me. He probably figured out I was selling them.”
Bobby’s laughing because he was one of my customers. Hey, it was easy money!
“Yeah, you fucked up a good thing with that, girl. That was free fuckin’ dope. What? Were you out of your mind?”
“Of course I’m out of my mind. That’s why they gave it to me, remember?”
“Wait a minute! You got shit for free? How?”
Christ, Clutch has a lot to learn about the way things work out here. The new ones always do.
“It used to be that Social Services sent you to a shrink if they thought you were fucked up in the head. Most of the time, the shrink would give you Valium or Xanax just to shut you up.”
“You’re fucking kidding, right?”
“Nope. He’d just hand you the prescription and the directions to the free clinic.”
“They just gave you dope to shut your ass up?”
“Mostly, they gave it to you to keep you the hell out of their office. We don’t exactly smell too good, and they’re afraid we’ll give them fleas.”
“So how’d you get the doctor to say you’re crazy?”
“Are you fucking serious?”
“Yeah, I’m serious. How’d you do it?”
Jesus, I thought he knew at least that much about me!
“Maybe you should explain it to him, Bobby.”
“Shit, boy! Don’t you know Miranda’s crazy? Damn, I thought every motherfucker out here knew that. Why the fuck do you think they call her Crazy Miranda?”
“I thought it was just some shit they called her.”
Ah, would that it were that easy!
“I’m afraid not, pal. I’m fucking certifiable. The pills came with my disability.”
“So how come you don’t get no more pills?”
“They changed the law and now I’m not considered disabled anymore.”
“But if you’re still crazy, how come you ain’t disabled no more?”
“Because I wasn’t disabled for being crazy. I was disabled for being a fucking junkie.”
And now Clutch looks like I just told him the moon was made of green cheese. Bobby knows better, which is why he’s laughing his ass off. If I were in a better mood, I’d laugh, too.
“Bobby, what the fuck is she talking about?”
Hey, pay attention to this. It’ll give you an idea of just how our world works. And every word of it is true.
“Man, that’s how it used to work out here. If you was a junkie, the doctor down at Social Services would say you was disabled on account of you was addicted to the dope. They even gave you a check every month. That was sweet!”
“And they just gave you free dope?”
“Not always. Like Miranda? She done got it on account of she’s fucked up in the head. If you’re fucked up in the head, they send your ass to the shrink. That’s where you get the dope, assuming you ain’t so fucked up that they put you in the pads.”
The pads is skid row-speak for the city nut house. You definitely don’t want to go there. But the rest of it? That was about it in a nutshell. Your tax dollars at work again.
“Yeah, it was good while it lasted. Too bad they cut me off.”
“You also got them pain pills on account of you got your ass kicked, right?”
“You mean like when that asshole ripped my arm out of the socket? Yeah. They gave me some heavy duty shit for that.”
Try walking to the fire station with a dislocated arm and a major ass-kicking sometime. And no, nobody bothered to pull over and offer me a lift.
“You had it made, girl!”
“Tell me about it. I really miss those disability checks. Hell, I miss the checks more than the pills. That Xanax never really did it for me, you know?”
Clutch looks like I just uttered a blasphemy. It’s sort of a crackhead commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of dope. Especially if it’s free dope.
“Fuck! I wish I could get some of that shit right now! You know where I can get some?”
That’s another thing I’m good for out here: I know just about every dope dealer in the sector. I’m like a one-woman skid row Google service when it comes to dope.
“Go see Ricky. He can set you up.”
“I thought he just slung heroin?”
“He sells pills sometimes. And if he doesn’t have any, he can tell you where to get them. Back when I got the pills, I used to trade them to Ricky for heroin. Believe me, he can set you up with some Xanax.”
“No way! That dude scares the shit out of me.”
“He scares the shit out of everybody.”
“So how come people still buy from him?”
“Because he’s always got something and he stays out later than anyone else. When you’re a junkie, you do what you have to.”
“Yeah, I guess so. So you ain’t got nothing at all?”
Jesus, Christ! See what I mean? Crackheads are always trying to mooch dope off of you, even after you tell them you don’t have anything. It’s annoying as hell.
“Sorry, no. I’m dry as a bone.”
“So you don’t know any…”
And there goes Bobby, smacking him across the back of the head! It’s about the only way to get a crackhead to shut the fuck up.
“Motherfucker, she said she ain’t got no dope! She ain’t got nothin’ to give you! Stop being a goddamned parasite!”
Bobby may tolerate Clutch – hell, he might even like the guy – but he’s got no patience for a crackhead being a leech. Most people don’t. But as long as they’re here, maybe they can help me out? There’s something I need to do before sunrise. Something very important.
“Hey Bobby, have you seen Charlie?”
“No, girl. I ain’t seen that motherfucker for days.”
I was afraid of that. I haven’t seen him for a few days, either.
“If you see him tonight, would you tell him I’m looking for him?”
“Sure. What you need him for?”
“I just need to talk to him tonight. It’s important.”
“OK. If I see him, I’ll tell him you lookin’ for him.”
“You guys take care of yourselves, OK?”
“We’ll do that. You watch you back, girl. It’ll be dark soon. It ain’t safe out here for a lady at night.”
“It isn’t safe out here for anyone at night. Being a woman just makes it worse.”
“I heard that. We’ll catch you later.”
No, you won’t. But I’m not going to tell you that. Take care of yourselves, guys. And goodbye.
Bobby’s probably getting ready to kick Clutch’s ass for being a fucking mooch. Not that Clutch doesn’t deserve it, of course. He does. Most crackheads would benefit from a regularly scheduled ass-kicking. You see, crack makes you psychotic. Once you’re on crack, you’re completely fucked. All you can think about is getting more. It’s an evil fucking drug. It winds you up tighter than a spring and the fucking high only lasts about fifteen minutes. Then you come completely unhinged and you’re ready to claw your eyes out. Hell, you’d gladly claw your eyes out if it would get you more crack. You’d pull your intestines out through your ass for another hit off the pipe. It’s fucking insane, and coming from me, that’s saying something.
I guess you’re wondering about that whole disability thing. Well, it’s like this: soon after I wound up on the street, I started shooting dope. Heroin. Needless to say, I got hooked in no time. I became a junkie. Now, junkies are a dime a dozen out here, but if you’re smart about it and you learn how to game the system, you can sometimes use it to your advantage. Well, you used to be able to use it to your advantage. If Social Services sent you to the doctor and he said you were a drug addict, then that meant you were disabled. God only knows what stupid motherfucker came up with the idea that being a junkie was a goddamned disability. Like Bobby said, they didn’t classify me because I’m crazy. Fuck, no. All of my problems stem from the fact that I’m a fucking mental case, but does that make me disabled? No. Being a useless junkie does. Never mind the fact that it’s illegal and no one ever made me stick a needle in my arm or anything. No, it’s fuck the mental patient; pity the poor junkie! Christ, what kind of a fucked-up world do we live in?
So anyway, once you were on disability, they gave you benefits. You got a monthly check for a couple of hundred bucks, free visits to the local clinic, and if the city shrink said you had mental problems, you sometimes got free dope. Antidepressants or anti-psychotics, mostly. You also got put into a methadone program, which was nice except I was still shooting dope and that’s a seriously fucked up mix. They warned me at the clinic that mixing heroin and methadone was a pretty good way to kill yourself, which was one of the reasons why I did it. Of course, I wasn’t that lucky. I lived. In addition to the methadone, the shrink sometimes gave me tranquilizers. He’d give me Valium or Xanax, which are pretty much the same thing. Somehow, I don’t think it’s a good idea to give that shit to a junkie, but what do I know? But the best part was the pain killers. Whenever I got seriously injured out here – which was a lot – they didn’t ask too many questions. They just gave me a big bottle of pain pills. How fucked up is that? Let’s see, Miranda: you’re living on the street, you’re a junkie, you’re taking methadone, so we’ll give you…oh, how about some free narcotics? And we’re not talking Extra-Strength Tylenol. We’re talking industrial-strength prescription shit. Of course, I needed it. You wouldn’t believe the beatings I’ve taken out here. I got pushed out of a second story window once and landed on the sidewalk. I was trying to get out of the rain and I crawled into an abandoned building, but the guy who was already in there didn’t want to share it. He pushed me out the window before I got both feet in the room. That one was good for a bottle of Vicodin. It’s a hell of a way to earn your dope.
And then there was that time I mentioned when some asshole dislocated my shoulder. I was in Grand Alley and he told me to give him a cigarette, and when I said I didn’t have one, he socked me in the eye so hard it damn near blinded me. Then he started kicking me and stomping on my back. He was a big son of a bitch. Strong as hell. He grabbed my arm, twisted it behind my back, put his foot on my shoulder and pulled until it popped out of the socket. Then he let me go. The pain was so bad, it made me vomit. More than once. I don’t even know what to compare it to. Just thinking about the sensation is enough to make me puke right now. I made it as far as the sidewalk before I collapsed. I came to about ten minutes later and just started staggering over toward the fire station. I was screaming the whole time. I was still screaming my head off when they wheeled me into the emergency room. Have you ever had your arm pushed back into the socket? It hurts just as bad as when someone tears it out. They put my arm in a sling and taped it to my chest. I looked like half a mummy. Then they gave me a shot of something and another bottle of pills and threw my ass out the door. “Treat ’em and street ’em.” That’s the hospital’s motto for dealing with the homeless. Those pain pills were a blessing, though. You can make some good money out here with that stuff. I actually had money for the first time in years. I could buy real food and toothpaste and a bottle of shampoo to wash my hair. It made a big difference.
The other thing that disability got me was a spot on the list for an SRO. Talk about a Godsend! That room was the last thing I got from the program before they changed the law and gutted the benefits for drug addicts. I guess too many people finally figured out what was going on and put a stop to it. I don’t blame them. I mean, how would you like it if you found out your taxes were going to subsidize a bunch of junkies on skid row? It wasn’t like it ever made a damn bit of difference. Shit, look what I did with their subsidized dope! I put it right back on the street! I wasn’t the only one doing it, either. When the program was going strong, it was pretty common. Anyway, the disability gravy train went off the tracks a while back. Too bad. I can still go to the clinic – anyone can – but they’ll only treat you if you’ve got a specific complaint and you have to wait like everyone else. And they’re a lot stingier about handing out dope. I guess it’s true what they say: all good things must come to an end.
So you heard me ask about Charlie. Good. That’s important. You need to understand that. He’s why I’m out here tonight. Charlie is the only friend I’ve got in the world and I want to say goodbye to him. I owe him that much. I owe him a hell of a lot more than that, but goodbye is all I’ve got. He’s more than just a friend. He’s a legend out here. That’s not an exaggeration. He’s really a legend on skid row. Everyone out here knows him, and everyone respects him. Even the cops. He knows everything there is to know about everything. I shit you not: he’s the smartest guy in the world. He’s kind of like our elder statesman. I honestly don’t know how long he’s been out here. Hell, I’ll bet even he doesn’t know how long he’s been out here. I’ll bet it’s been at least fifty years. I don’t even know how old he is. I think he’s past eighty. Most people out here don’t live half that long. I owe him my life at least a hundred times over. Normally, I wouldn’t be thankful for that, but I don’t even want to think about what would’ve happened to me if it weren’t for him. Believe me, this place can do a lot worse things to you than kill you. Charlie found me when I first got here and he sort of took me under his wing. God, I was a total fucking basket case back then! That’s no exaggeration. I was so far gone, I could barely tie my own shoes. Seriously, there were times when Charlie had to tie my shoes because I couldn’t do it. There were times when he had to carry me underneath an overhang just to get me out of the rain because I couldn’t bring myself to walk a single step. He protected me from the worst of the worst out here. Charlie pulled me out of the pit and taught me how to survive on the street. No way could I ever repay him for that. Not in ten million years.
Even for this place, we’re a strange pair: this psycho white girl and this old black guy. The only thing we have in common besides being out on the street is heroin. Charlie’s a junkie, too. Oh, he didn’t teach me to shoot dope. In fact, he was pretty pissed when I got hooked. That’s because he’s been a junkie for longer than I’ve been alive and he knows what it’s all about. But he didn’t disown me or anything. He understood why I did it. He didn’t like it, but he understood it. And once I got hooked, he taught me how to be a junkie. He taught me how and where to get dope and how not to get caught doing it. He taught me who to buy from and who to avoid. He taught me how to spot a narc and how to hide my tracks. He taught me how to cook dope and how to shoot it without seriously fucking myself up, which you can do pretty easy if you don’t know what you’re doing. But teaching me how to be a junkie was just the tip of the iceberg. He taught me what this place was all about and where to go and where I could hide and where I should stay away from, no matter what. He showed me places around here that almost no one even knows exist. He taught me things that most people out here don’t live long enough to learn on their own. It still blows me away how much there is to know about living on skid row. By the time this night’s over, it’ll blow you away, too.
I don’t know why he took a liking to me. When I first got here, there wasn’t much about me to like. I spent most of my time crying or shaking or just staring out into space like a fucking zombie. There were a lot of days when I was so miserable that I couldn’t move. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t walk, and I couldn’t stand. I just sat in a pool of my own piss and vomit and prayed that God would strike me dead. I really did. I just couldn’t do anything else. If a truck had been speeding toward me, I couldn’t have gotten out of the way even if I’d wanted to. But Charlie never complained or smacked me and told me to get over it or anything. He went out and got me food. He made me eat. He stole blankets and put them around me. He read to me. Charlie’s a big reader. I honestly believe that Charlie could go into the biggest library on earth, look at all the books and say “Been there; read that. What else have you got?” Hey, it’s not like he’s got a TV out here to watch. That motherfucker’s read everything! He made me read it, too. Seriously. He took me to the library and made me read a shitload of books. Not junky books or anything, but serious books. Classics. Faulkner, Dickens, Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, Hemingway – those kinds of books. He said they teach you about life. When I told him everyone out here was smarter than me and I didn’t know how to play the game or fight back, he made me read Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. He said they taught you survival strategy. He was right. Jesus, he’d sit there and watch me read and ask questions like I was back in school or something. I didn’t understand it then, but later on, I did. He was trying to toughen up my mind so I could survive out here. Charlie always says it isn’t about physical strength. All the muscles in the world won’t stop a knife or a bullet or a cinder block to the head. No, he says if you want to survive out here, you have to be mentally strong. He says the real power is in the mind. You have to be able to outthink your opponent. You have to be smarter than everyone else. You have to be able to see what no one else sees. He says that’s especially true if you’re a woman because out here, woman equals victim. Yeah, I figured that one out myself. Anyway, I just felt safe around him and I liked talking to him, so I was more than willing to do whatever he told me. And he never took advantage of me. I didn’t understand that. Everyone out here fucks over everyone else, like it’s the golden rule or something. But not Charlie. For some reason, he thought I was worth saving. I didn’t, but he did. He wouldn’t give up on me. God knows why. I guess it’s just one of the things that make him better than everyone else. If Jesus came back to earth today, he’d be Charlie. I’m sure of it.
So the one thing I want to accomplish tonight is to find Charlie and say goodbye. It’ll fucking destroy me if I don’t get to say goodbye to him. It’ll destroy him, too. Oh, I’ll still do it. I’m going to kill myself before sunrise even if I don’t find him. That’s something else I’m sure of. But I’ve got to say goodbye to Charlie. I’ve got to find him before I go. I’ve got to see him one more time. I’ve got to tell him thanks for everything and explain that I just can’t take it anymore and I can’t face going back to being what I was for so long. Not that I ever changed very much, but I can’t go back to being what I was. I need him to know that. I need him to know that everything he did for me wasn’t a waste. I guess I need him to forgive me. I need him to say it’s all right. He’ll understand. Charlie always understands. He knows what this place does to people. He’ll understand why I have to do this. I know he will.
“Stop right there, lady!”
That’s a fucking P.A. horn! Oh, shit! Cops! I didn’t even see them pulling into the alley! This is what I get for obsessing about shit. All right, here we go again! When the cops jack you, you just have to follow the drill: keep your hands in the air and for God’s sake, don’t give them an excuse to shoot you! With my luck, he’ll probably just wound me and leave me paralyzed from the neck down.
They’re getting out of the car. Keep my hands in the air and open my coat so they can see I don’t have any surprises waiting for them.
“What’s up, Officer?”
“Stay right there, lady!”
The driver officer’s doing all of the talking. And here come the guns! See what I mean? Christ, check out this cop! He looks like he’s ready to double-tap me right now!
“Hands where I can see them!”
Shit! He’s a real piece of work, all right! Finger on the trigger, all tensed up, ready to fire. You’d think that would scare the living shit out of me, but I’ve had so many cops point guns at me that I hardly give it a second thought anymore. Well, not over a bullshit stop and frisk like this. I’ve learned to tell when they’re really serious about blasting you. That doesn’t happen much during a chickenshit stop. But that doesn’t mean I’m safe. Oh, not by a long shot. You learn to read the cops out here pretty quickly. At least, you do if you want to keep your teeth. I mean, take a look at this guy! He’s young. Too young. Crew cut, spit-shine on his leather gear, uniform fits like a glove. Two-hand combat stance, sight alignment, position of advantage behind the car door, barking orders and tense as a tripwire. In other words, he’s a goddamned boot! A fucking rookie! Brand new. Fresh out of the academy. Out here, that makes him one dangerous son of a bitch.
“Don’t fucking move, lady!”
I’m not taking my eyes off this guy, so I can’t see the other cop. But I don’t have to. He’ll be older. He’ll be a training officer. His job is to turn this guy into a professional cop. Unfortunately, that means different things to different training officers. Some of them turn the boots into good cops. Some of them turn them into homicidal maniacs. This one looks like he’s on his way to being one of the latter.
I think I recognize that voice. My luck may be changing for the better. Yeah, I actually got one of the good ones, here!
“Hey Officer Loomis.”
Oh, thank God! It’s Loomis. He’s an old-timer. A thousander. Hash marks up to his shoulder. He’s worked skid row forever. He’s pretty easy-going after all these years, so they must figure he’ll keep this new guy from killing one of us by accident. Fortunately, Loomis knows me. Sometimes I think he even likes me. I have to admit, I kind of like him. He’s given me a few thoroughly undeserved breaks over the years. None of the others have done that. And he gets people to respect him without cracking their heads against the wall. They don’t make them like him anymore.
“Just take it easy, Miranda. You know the drill.”
I always call them “Sir” or “Officer.” It’s not because I respect them or anything. God knows they don’t respect me, but then again why should they? No, it’s just that disrespecting a cop out here is hazardous to your health. I speak from painful experience.
“Miranda, what are you doing in this fucking dope spot? I thought you knew better.”
“Uh, pretty much the same thing I’m always doing. Nothing.”
The kid’s still got his pistol aimed at me. Maybe I should lunge at him? I want to die, and this way would be quick. One false move and bang! Two to the chest and one to the head. I’ll bet this guy’s a crack shot. Even if he’s not, at this range, he couldn’t miss. How about it? I’d be dead before I hit the ground. No, I have to find Charlie first. Too bad. I’d rather take a bullet to the head than a sidewalk to the face. Not to mention there’s still the whole wounded and paralyzed thing to worry about.
“Officer Loomis? Could you…uh…”
“You got it, Miranda. Put your gun away, partner. You won’t need it.”
“You know her, sir?”
“Everyone knows Miranda. She’s a regular out here.”
The kid’s looking me over like he’s checking out a horse at a livestock show.
“She doesn’t look like she lives on the street. Her hair’s too clean. Her hands, too.”
“She’s looking a lot better these days. She’s got a room at the SRO. Trust me, before that, she looked like warmed-over shit. No offense, Miranda.”
Gee, thanks, Loomis! Of course, he’s right: I looked worse than warmed-over shit. So does practically everyone out here.
“You guys are just full of compliments tonight. Can I go now?”
“Stay where you are, honey! We’re not finished here!”
And the kid looks at me like he’s ready to kick the shit out of me. I think he had his sense of humor removed at the academy. They do that sometimes. And that tone of voice? Yeah, here’s where he tries to assert his authority with a lot of tough talk. It’s practically a script with these boots. Don’t they realize it just lets everyone know they’ve only been out on the street for about a day and a half? We pick up on that shit, you know.
“Officer, what do you want from me? I’m not doing anything wrong.”
“So what the fuck are you doing out here, then? Looking for dope? Or looking for someone to blow?”
You know, it’s all I can do to keep from kicking this asshole in the nuts. God, I hate the fucking new ones!
“I’m not doing anything, Officer. I’m just out for a walk.”
“Roll up your sleeves.”
Oh, here we go! He’s looking for track marks. Probably hoping to make his first dope collar. He won’t find anything there. I always shoot in my leg. Loomis knows that.
“Here you go, Officer. No rabbits up my sleeves.”
“She’s got no tracks, sir.”
“Not there, she doesn’t.”
“You want me to get a female officer for a search, sir?”
“You want to search her?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Because it’s a fucking waste of time, partner. Trust me, you won’t find anything.”
See? I told you Loomis knows better.
“It’s true, Officer. I don’t have anything on me. But you can check if you like.”
“I’ll be the judge of that!”
Look at him! This kid’s trying to play it off like he’s a ten-year veteran and knows it all. I’d laugh if I didn’t know he’d kick my ass for it.
“All right, honey! Where do you hit?”
“I said where do you hit?”
By “hit,” he means where do I inject? That’s in case you’re not up-to-date on junkie slang.
“Who says I do?”
God, he looks pissed! At least Loomis looks like he’s going to shut this down before it goes sour.
“Forget it, partner. It’s not worth it. Let her go.”
“She shoots in her leg, behind her left knee. Sometimes between her toes. Who gives a shit? What? You want to take her in for marks? You want to spend the rest of the night on a bullshit collar that won’t go anywhere? They’ll let her out as soon as she’s booked.”
“It might be worth it. You never know, sir.”
“No, I do know. I’ve been doing this for a while, remember? Besides, you won’t find anything fresh. She’s not using all the time anymore. She just chips now and then. You’ve been off it for a little while now, haven’t you, Miranda?”
“When’s the last time you got down?”
“A couple of weeks ago, I think. I’m not really sure. You kind of lose track of time out here.”
“That, you do.”
As you can see, Loomis knows every sordid detail of my junkie life. It looks like his boot’s not convinced, though. I think he’s heartbroken. God, it must be a slow night for these guys!
“I don’t know, sir. I think she may be out here looking for dope.”
“She might be. She’s still a junkie. But she’s a smart junkie. There are such things as that, you know.”
“Yes, sir. But we could…”
“Partner, forget it! Trust me: if she’s dirty, you’re not going to catch her. I’ve known Miranda since she got here and I’ve never once caught her dirty. And don’t think I didn’t try. She’s very smart. Smarter than most out here. I don’t think you’re going to catch her dirty, either.”
You’d better believe it, asshole! Even when I was using big time, I could run rings around your ass!
“Yes, sir. But it might be worth tossing her. Just in case.”
Now Loomis is getting irritated. The kid’s an eager beaver, and one thing I know about Loomis is that he absolutely hates to waste time on worthless shit. That includes me.
“In case of what? Partner, she’s crazy; not stupid. If she was dirty, she’d have taken off before you got the car into the alley. She’s been doing this a lot longer than you.”
Yeah, maybe if I’d been paying attention like I should’ve been, I would’ve run. Now I get jacked up and put through this shit for walking around with my head up my ass. Stupid!
“I’m going to get a shake on her, anyway.”
“Suit yourself, partner.”
Here we go again. A “shake” is one of those little interview cards that the cops fill out when they jack you up. God, they must have a million of those things on me by now. And every one of them is exactly the same: Miranda the crazy junkie; no further info. Why do they even bother?
“You got any I.D.?”
“Is that a joke, Officer?”
“Shut your fucking mouth and give me your I.D.!”
Who the hell has I.D. on skid row? What would you need it for, except to show these guys? All right, Loomis is shutting this shit down, now. Good!
“Take it easy, partner. She doesn’t have any I.D.”
“Not since I ended up out here, Officer. What would I do with it?”
I think I’ve completely ruined this kid’s evening. He’s giving up on the shake.
“You want me to run her for warrants, sir?”
“Don’t bother. She doesn’t have any.”
“How do you know?”
“Because if she did, I’d know about it.”
True enough. Damn, this poor kid’s about to lose it! Christ, if I’m his idea of a big catch, then he’s got a lot to learn about being a cop out here. If I wasn’t dying tonight, I could teach him a thing or two. It’s amazing how much you learn about how cops work out here. Watch: before he lets me go, he’ll give me the once-over with his flashlight. See? I know the drill better than he does.
“Open your coat.”
I hope he’s not planning to stick that thing down my shirt. Some cops do that to me. They think it’s funny.
Oh, shit! He sees my...
“She’s got a knife!”
Christ! He’s got me by the throat! Don’t fight back! He’ll fucking break my neck if I do!
“Don’t move, bitch!”
He’ll take me down to the ground! Don’t fight back! He…damn! The son of a bitch just slammed my head against the windshield! Jesus Christ! “Drop to your knees, bitch! Hands behind your head!”
“Let go of me!”
“Shut up, bitch!!”
Come on, Loomis! Get this fucking asshole off of me before I bite his fucking wrist open!
“Let go of her throat, partner!”
“I got her!”
“I said let go of her throat! Now!”
I can feel the handcuff on my wrist. Shit, just hook me up and let go of my fucking throat, OK?
“Give me your other hand!”
“OK! OK! I’m sorry!”
“Up on your feet!”
Oh, this is not good! Is this asshole actually going to lock me up for a fucking knife? What is this? His first fucking day on the job? Everyone out here has a knife! Loomis is pulling him off! Hurry up, damn it! This guy’s going to kick the shit out of me!
“Take it easy, partner! Let her go! Now!”
“I said let her go! Unhook her!”
“Take the goddamned cuffs off! Now!”
Christ, I think the stupid fuck caved in the back of my head! I can barely keep my balance. Am I bleeding? Just what I need: a fucking concussion!
“Partner, step back! Are you all right, Miranda?”
“Yeah, I’ll live.”
“Are you bleeding?”
“I don’t think so. Take a look and make sure, will you?”
Jesus, I can barely stand up! He really cracked me good! The kid looks a little worried. I guess he thought Loomis would give him a high-five for bashing my head against the fucking windshield like that. God damn! That hurt!
“I think you’re OK. There’s no blood. Partner, what the hell were you thinking?”
“She had a knife, sir.”
“So you put her head through the windshield? Partner, everyone’s got a knife out here. You freak out every time you see a blade and you’re not going to last very long. Not in this division.”
See? What did I tell you? Loomis knows how it is out here.
“Give it back to her.”
“Give her back her knife. She needs it.”
“Needs it for what?”
“Protection. How’d you like to be a woman out here on your own? Give it back to her.”
“Sir, what if she sticks someone with it?”
“Then the asshole probably had it coming. Give it back.”
“Here you go, lady. Put it in your pocket.”
Excuse me? Here you go, lady? What? You don’t even say you’re sorry? What a fucking asshole!
“Yeah, thanks for nothing, Officer.”
“Fuck you, bitch!”
“Enough of that! Partner, get back in the car. I’ll be right there.”
I think Loomis knows I thoroughly disapprove of his new charge. At least he’s going to get his ass chewed out for this. Small justice, huh?
“Sorry about your head, Miranda. I’ll talk to him.”
“Couldn’t you just kick him for me?”
“I’ll think about it. You have a better one. You stay out of trouble, OK?”
“Yeah, I’ll try to do that. See you, Officer Loomis.”
And believe it or not, that’s a typical day for me out here. It happens all the time.
Great! Just what we need out here: another asshole cop! Christ, if he’s that bad now, can you imagine what he’ll be like in a couple of years? A fucking serial killer with a uniform, probably. Oh, fuck it! At least after tonight, he won’t be my problem. Damn! Suicide’s looking better and better. God damn, my head hurts like shit! That’s all I need on the last night of my life – a fucking skull fracture courtesy of the cops. I should have told Loomis to put a goddamned leash on that maniac. Then again, I guess I shouldn’t complain. God knows they’ve done worse to me. You may be wondering why I didn’t want to deal with the cops when I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Remember what I told you about how the cops treat us out here? Well, there you go! Out here, the cops are the enemy. They are not your friends. You don’t call them when you need help. They’re not here to protect us. They’re here to protect the people in the Emerald City from us. The cops out here can be especially brutal. Even vicious. They hate us. They think we’re subhuman. They think we chose to be out here. They think we want to live like this. They think we don’t deserve respect or rights or the slightest bit of compassion. Maybe they’re right? Well, about some of it, anyway. Still, there’s no reason to treat us like dirt. We do that to ourselves enough as it is. We don’t need their help with it.
From what I’ve seen over the years, most cops don’t want to be out here any more than we do. Skid row isn’t exactly a popular beat. Maybe they were sent here as a punishment for something? I don’t know. Maybe it was just bad luck? Whatever it is, they don’t hesitate to take their frustrations out on us. They’ll beat the crap out of you just for the hell of it. They’ll take your stuff and throw it down the sewer and have a good laugh about it. They’ll humiliate you because it’s fun. They’ll make you kneel for twenty minutes on gravel or broken glass. They’ll prone you out in a puddle of piss or axle grease. Sometimes they handcuff you to a pole with a fucked-up sign taped to your face. It’s even worse when you’re a woman. I’ve had cops stick their hands up my shirt and down my pants and grope me when they search me. Some of them get a kick out of that. I know they’re not supposed to do it, but that doesn’t stop them. And it’s not just the men. The female cops aren’t any better. I’ve even been strip-searched in a parking lot while the crowd watched. How’s that for humiliating?
And God forbid you look at them the wrong way or show them the slightest disrespect! That’ll guarantee you a beating. Even a decent cop like Loomis wouldn’t hesitate to wrap his nightstick around my head if he thought I was out of line. He’s slammed me against the hood of his car more than once. To be honest, I probably had it coming. I can get pretty bitchy sometimes. But even if I didn’t, it wouldn’t make any difference. An ass kicking courtesy of the cops is just par for the course out here. There’s not a damned thing any of us can do about it. What are we going to do? Lodge a complaint? Who cares what a bunch of homeless dregs think? We don’t count for anything. Ask any cop out here and they’ll tell you the same thing. The new ones are the worst. The boots. The rookies. They’re monsters. They can’t wait to kick some ass, and this is the perfect place to do it. They’re all out to prove just how tough they are; as if beating the shit out of some homeless junkie proves you’re tough. Do they really think kicking the crap out of me proves they’re fucking masters of the universe? I mean, look at me! I’m five foot three. I don’t think I weigh a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet. A guy like Loomis could probably lift me with one hand. I don’t know. As far as they’re concerned, a beating is the only thing we’re good for. We’re not people and we’re sure as hell not citizens. We’re just an excuse to get in some batting practice.
Moving right along to the end of the alley. So what am I? I’m a denizen of the night. That sounds romantic, doesn’t it? Like something out of Bram Stoker. Take it from me, it isn’t. It’s thoroughly fucked up. Everything about me is fucked up. Why the night? Why am I so drawn to the night? Well, for one thing, it has to do with being crazy. Crazy people don’t like the daylight. We don’t like it when someone shines a light on us because it makes our flaws that much more obvious. You can’t hide in the daylight. That’s important. Oh, people can ignore you in the daylight – they do that all the time – but you can’t hide. Out here, all I ever wanted to do was hide. Another thing is that I’ve always liked the night. One of the many screwed-up things about me is that somehow I’m geared toward the night. It’s true. Almost all my life, I’ve found it the most natural thing in the world to stay up all night and sleep all day. It drove my parents fucking nuts. It drove me nuts, too. Mom and dad thought I was doing it on purpose. You know, just to piss them off. But I wasn’t. I’d go for weeks where I stayed up all night and slept all day. I couldn’t break the cycle no matter what I did. The older I got, the worse it got. It caused me all sorts of problems, as you might imagine. I’d fall asleep in school and sometimes I couldn’t get up in the morning to even go to school. So they finally took me to a doctor and asked him about it. Surprise, surprise; it was a known condition. It’s called CRSD: Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder, or Day/Night Reversal. I’d never heard of it, but the doctor hit on it right away. He said it wasn’t very common, but it was a recognized psychological condition and when it’s as serious as mine is, there really wasn’t anything he could do about it. They don’t know what causes it, either. He said I just had to live with it because there’s no effective treatment. It just never goes away. Christ, isn’t that the story of my fucking life? Sorry, Miranda. We know you’re all fucked up, but we don’t know what caused it or what to do about it. Tough break, kid. Have a nice life. Yeah, right! Is that what they taught you in medical school? There’s money well-spent!
OK, here we are in the Narrow Alley. I had to show you this place. No tour of skid row is complete without it. It would be like going to Egypt and not seeing the pyramids. This is without a doubt the most important alley out here. It’s kind of like the center of our universe. Anything that goes on at night happens right here. The Narrow Alley is legendary. Everything you can imagine and a million things you can’t happen here almost every fucking night. If you want to know what life on skid row is like after dark, this is the place to be. So much shit happens in here that it’s a wonder they don’t demolish the place. If they did, the crime rate would probably drop by half. We call it the Narrow Alley because, well, it’s narrow. It’s ridiculously narrow. You’ve got to wonder what they were thinking when they built this place. The designer must have been on crack or something. I mean, it’s so narrow you can barely get a car through here. I’ve seen people try to drive delivery trucks through here during the day and the sides of the truck scrape against the walls. What the fuck were they thinking?
Anyway, it’s perfect for us because it’s dark as hell except for three spots that have lights overhead. And it’s so narrow that the cops can’t get you because if they’re stupid enough to drive their cop cars down here, they can’t get the doors open. There’s just enough room for them to open the doors and squeeze out, but it takes them so much time to do it that there’s no way they can catch you before you haul ass out of here. I’ve actually seen some fat cops who can’t squeeze out of the doors. I’ve even seen the cops try to climb out through the windows because they couldn’t get the doors open. It’s fucking hilarious. A couple of times I’ve seen people jump on the hood and literally run over the top of the cop car while the cops just sat there helpless and trapped in their own fucking car. It’s pretty funny, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The cops out here will shoot you for a lot less. Running across the top of a cop car with the cops still in it takes guts.
There are six points of escape in the Narrow Alley, and if you’re going to live out here at night you need to know them all. Charlie showed them to me. There are two big heating ducts, three spaces between the buildings that are just wide enough to get through and the second window of the white building over there that’s never locked and leads right into the stairwell that opens out to the street on the other side. You never try to climb that fence next to the building at the south end of the alley. Even if you could get to the top of it in time, that razor wire will cut you to pieces. They don’t call it razor wire for nothing. The only way the cops can get anyone in here is if they work together and block both ends of the alley at once and then run up into it from either side. That’s where the six escape routes come in. If you’re going to shoot dope in here, you always make sure that you’re never more than ten steps away from one of them. It would take every cop on the midnight shift to cover all of them and the two ends of the alley, but since a lot of the cops working out here at night are too lazy to chase us, that almost never happens. The Midwatch cops are pretty hardcore, but fortunately for us, there aren’t many of them out here. I scored my first fix in here and I slammed it right over there by the heating ducts. Right afterwards I puked my guts out on the loading dock right next to it. That was my introduction to heroin. The high was bliss; the aftermath was hell. I guess that means I had a milestone right here. Think about that for a minute: this filthy, rat-infested, shit-covered, roaches everywhere alley in the middle of the worst fucking place on earth is the scene of a major turning point in my life. That says a lot about me, doesn’t it?
The Narrow Alley is kind of like dope central. That’s why it’s so important to us. They sell it in here by the fucking ton. There’s every kind of dope you could want. That’s especially true during the day, but there are plenty of dealers who sling here at night. They usually stand right near the middle where it’s really dark so the cops can’t see them when they drive past either end of the alley. The only way they can see them is with the helicopter, because that thing’s got infra-red. For the most part, people sell more dope in this place than they use. There’s just not enough room to spread out and cook your shit in here. People do it, but you’re out in the open so the cops can see you pretty good. Even out here, junkies like a little bit of privacy when they slam. You know, there’s something weird about that. I mean, people out here will squat down in the middle of the alley and take a shit in front of a dozen people without blinking an eye. But they need privacy to stick a needle in their arm? Give me a break!
The alcoves over by the heating ducts are where most people go to hit. They’re the places near the north end with the metal gates across them. The gates look pretty sturdy, but everyone knows that if you grab them by the supports in the middle the whole thing just lifts out. How’s that for security? There’s a lot more room back there than you’d think. You can fit a bunch of people in there, and the cops hate looking inside because they never know who or what is going to jump out at them. The people aren’t the only dangerous things out here. We’ve got some nasty feral cats and rats as big as footballs. Not to mention it’s as filthy as hell in there. They don’t like to get their uniforms dirty. We don’t mind the filth. We’re already filthy. Our clothes are filthy, our skin is filthy, and our hair is filthy. In other words, we fit right in. So shall we see who’s home tonight? Trust me, somebody’s in there. Somebody’s always in there. I think you’re in for a treat. You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy. Not by a long shot.