Friday, May 5, 2017

NAIVE

Because Brutus had been naive, he had been unaware that the house he and his wife moved into that December had previously been used as a shooting gallery for heroin addicts and that the same man who rented the small abode to them had previous permitted upwards of seven pusillanimous people to reside in the home that was cramped for two. Had Brutus known this, he and Jane might have moved in anyway because the rent was a seemingly fair price and, after all, the bank had bought their previous home from their landlady and they had had little time to find someplace new. It was even possible, Brutus and Jane reasoned together, that had they known that the local folks referred to the city-owned play area across the street as "Needle Park," they might still have at least considered taking a chance on the house if the landlord would have agreed to a six-month lease, which, of course, he would not. Ivan the Landlord said the lease was to be twelve months and being a man of the Lord, his word was final.

Brutus Creighton and Jane Alexander had seen a lot in their forty-nine years of life, the last seven of which they had seen together: flying palmetto bugs, panhandlers, port wine guzzlers, sunken-faced architects of their own destruction, as well as things far less poetic. But they had also experienced a great deal of love--love, not only for and from one another, but also from like-minded souls who had been disenfranchised from an indifferent economy and self-perpetuating programs that recycled human beings like pizza boxes. On the morning the landlady came by to collect the key from their house (which was to be torn down in a matter of hours), more than twenty of their neighbors came by for the expressed purpose of casting hostile stares at the sour-faced toad and a couple of the more charming people threw tomatoes at her car as she drove off. Those neighbors--being less naive than Jane and Brutus--knew the same thing would be happening to them one of these days. Their solidarity had evoked quite a pool of tears.

After five weeks of painting the outside of their new home, of plugging leaks, rewiring electric circuits, tightening hinges and replacing faucets, Brutus and Jane laid back, tossed up their feet onto a shared ottoman and sighed together. They looked at one another and laughed--out loud, for how else can one laugh? Brutus loved the full-throated laugh Jane let loose because it was the kind of laugh that told you this woman was unselfconscious, that she was comfortable being herself with him, just as he had learned to be with her. Both of them had spent years alone with other people and perhaps it was their shared naivete that had in part bound them after years of being unbound with others.

"I love you," she told him as he leaned forward and rubbed her feet. "This may be where we spend the rest of our lives, you know?"

He did know. There was no telling whether Ivan would renew the lease in December. Being a religious sort, he might find it in his heart to throw them both out into the street after they paid their final month's rent. Jane and Brutus never said this kind of thing to one another, but each one knew the other well enough to see that the possibility had crossed both their minds. What he did say to her was "I love you, too."

But for the moment, they experienced a sense of tranquility at having survived the stress of the relocation. They felt the kind of peace that comes from working the body so hard that the muscles plead for mercy. They felt good and as Brutus looked over at Jane he smiled even though she was looking out the freshly-washed living room window and he knew from the lines at the corners of her mouth that she did not much care for whatever it was that she saw.

"Trouble?"

She  didn't say a word as she kicked aside the footstool and threw open the door. Brutus got up too, although the muscles in his back begged him to go slow about it. He stood behind Jane in the doorway and together they saw a large purple SUV humming right in front of their house--their rented house. A skinny white woman crawled out the passenger side while a black man held onto the steering wheel and stared straight ahead. He let the car idle as the painfully thin woman--she looked to be about forty--took short rapid steps that led her disappearing down the alley beside their house. 

"A drug deal, I guarantee you," Jane said. "You know that, right?"

"I don't know what it is," he said without much enthusiasm.

"It's  a drug deal. You know what they call that park across the street over there?"

"Yes, I've been hearing about that."

"Needle Park. Just like in that old Dustin Hoffman movie."

"Al Pacino."

"What?"

"It's not Dustin Hoffman. Needle Park was the movie with Al Pacino."

"Doesn't matter. That's what they call that park over there. That skank who just got out of the car--You see how low her jeans were? They should call her Butt Crack. Drug deal. Absolutely."

As it happened, Jane was correct. Butt Crack lived in a dilapidated drain-pipe of a hole halfway down the alley. She advertised her drugs on the dark web. Her arrangement was to meet people in front of the newly-occupied house, which served to block the driver's view of where Butt Crack lived. Someone would drive up, park in front of Brutus and Jane's house, type out a text message, wait for Butt Crack to come up the alley. She'd get in the vehicle, take the money, then disappear down the alley and reappear ten minutes later with the crack or meth or heroin (she did not specialize; she was an all-purpose dealer), lean inside the driver's side window, deliver the goods, then hightail it back down the alley while the driver licked his lips in anticipation of the false glory that awaited him. Then he would drive off. 

That was just what happened with the man in the purple SUV. Jane watched him waiting for Butt Crack to return. Jane called the police. By the time the officers arrived, the man was gone and Butt Crack was counting her spare change back in her drain pipe of a hobble. Brutus watched Jane grow more and more angry as each day these transactions occurred with greater frequency. He did not much like the idea of his wife being made uncomfortable by people who had no regard or respect for themselves or much of anyone else, so one afternoon he returned from Home Depot with a metal sign that announced that these premises were under electronic video surveillance. Jane held the ladder while Brutus hung the sign over their front door.

The next day the sign was gone. During the night, someone had stolen it.

Jane made a call to the city Drug Enforcement Watch and they explained how they were doing the best they could but that they needed probable cause to stop and search these deal-makers, and though they presently lacked such cause, they would definitely arrange for more patrols to pass by their house. 

Two months after Jane and Brutus moved in, they dumped a bag of roofing nails right where the buyers liked to park. Twenty minutes later, Butt Crack came by with a small broom and a garbage bag and swept up the nails, then threw the bag into the dumpster that was designated for Jane and Brutus' house. 

Jane was chain-smoking all the time now and spent as much of her days and nights as possible parked in front of the picture window just waiting for Butt Crack and her customers. "We know what you're doing, you whore!" Jane screamed through the open door. "We're calling the police! Hey, Mister Drug Buyer! You're going to jail!"

Butt Crack would then whisper something to her customer and they would both laugh.

Because he did not want to have his wife be unhappy and because he held a low opinion of drug addicts and especially because these people had laughed at Jane, Brutus did something a little out of the ordinary. He purchased a Glock 17 9 millimeter handgun and loaded it with the appropriate ammunition. The number 17 referred to the round capacity. He had never fired a gun in his life and he had needed Jane to show him how to release the safety.

Less than half an hour after loading the gun, Brutus groaned at what he saw was about to happen. It was early afternoon and Butt Crack's latest customer was just pulling up. Brutus instructed Jane to not say one damned word and she uncharacteristically bit her lip as she stood close behind him. Brutus threw open their front door, aimed at the passenger side front tire and fired his weapon. The wheel cover spun off into the air and landed on the hood of the car just as the last of the air gushed out of the tire. Butt Crack ran as fast as she was ever going to and the driver wheeled out onto the street, limping his pathetic vehicle out of sight on three tires. 

Brutus walked around Jane as she stood in the doorway holding onto her chin as if the thought of letting go would result in her brains spilling out her mouth. After a few minutes she joined him on the sofa and in an instant they brayed laughter like excited children who had gotten away with stealing candy bars from a grocer store.

Just as abruptly, Jane took hold of Brutus' wrists and said, "The police. What do we tell them?"

"If they come, I'm not admitting anything. I hope you won't either."

"But they'll know what you did!"

He tried to smile but her look of terror held him back. "I've never been arrested for anything in my life."

"Neither have I!

"That's right."

"Nothing! Ever!"

"I know that. The police will know that, too. There's a couple thousand dollars in the lock box on my desk if I need bail money."

"Bail money! Oh God! This is terrible. What are we going to do, Brute?"

The police did not come. After a few days, Brutus and Jane felt their fear subside.

A couple days after that, Butt Crack was back in business. Or at least, she tried to be.

An old avocado-green Pontiac GTO with temporary plates pulled up and in a few minutes Butt Crack appeared, acting as if she was the only one safe in this otherwise rotten world. She leaned in the driver's side window and just as the cash cradled from the driver's hand into hers, Brutus swung open the front door, pulled his Glock from the front of his belt and blasted out the muscle car's windshield. Being an old car, the windshield had been  made of real glass and the shards cut into the driver's face, neck and arms. Butt Crack ran as if Satan himself was on her tail. 

This time the police did come and so did the paramedics. But the only thing the two law enforcement officers said to Brutus was to ask if he had seen what happened. Brutus said he had heard the blast of the window shattering, but that was about all. A lot of drug dealing went on around here, Brutus confided. The two officers grinned at one another, took Brutus' name, advised him that if he thought of anything else later to please give them a call and then they left. The paramedics took the driver to the nearest hospital.

The very next morning Brutus returned from a medical supply store with a box of twenty-four pairs of surgical gloves. "Gun shot residue," he explained when Jane asked why. 

"You're not thinking of doing this again?"

"I'm hoping Butt Crack will have died of heart failure."

"And if she hasn't?"

"I'm going to blow her fucking head off."

Certain words, when strung together like film on lines in a dark room, leave the listener incapable of response. "I'm going to blow her fucking head off" were words of such an arrangement.

No one looking for a dope score parked in front of their house again. But Butt Crack was not going to let a little thing like gunfire get between her and her trade. She simply relocated her business to the other end of the alley. Her customers parked in front of some other naive person's house and terrorized that man's wife instead of terrorizing Jane. Brutus observed this as he made his morning rounds down the alley. A sense of outrage at this indecency was something he shared with Jane and they were in agreement that it simply was not right, neither proper nor appropriate that just because the two of them were no longer inconvenienced by the illegal activities of Butt Crack and Friends that they could turn their back on the rest of society as if nothing had ever happened. "Are we our brother's keepers?" Jane asked without a touch of sarcasm.

"The answer to that question is supposed to be yes."

Jane nodded. She even permitted herself a thin smile. "Then do it."

So Brutus did it.  

With his gun shoved into his pants and his gloves strapped onto his hands, he strolled down the alley, a little nervous but not enough to make himself unsteady. By the time he reached the end of the alley, he saw the driver of a BMW saying something to Butt Crack. The dealer shot a fast look over her shoulder, moaned in pain and did not quite have time to get out of the way as Brutus planted two rounds in her left calf. The BMW flew into reverse and was gone before the engine roar could even be heard.

Butt Crack lay on her back screaming obscenities. Brutus kicked her in the ribs. "You cause all this misery," he said, pointing with his gun at the unpainted houses with laundry on the porches, dogs running loose in the yards, broken chairs turned on their sides and diapered children laughing with insane glee. "You did all of this yourself, lady. Not society. You are society, bitch. Not some corporation or some politician. You trade in agony. Now you feel it yourself. Fuck you. I ever see you again anywhere, I hope you're not working because then when I blow out your fucking brains, it'll just be for fun."

Brutus ended his speech with the punctuation of another kick to her ribs. On his way back up the alley, he tore off the gloves and threw them in a neighbor's dumpster. What was the bitch going to do? Call the cops? Fuck her.

The drug trade in the alley dried up. The addicts reclining across the street in Needle Park howled sporadically, flailed their arms and cursed at their deprivation. A few days of this frustration was more than they cared to endure, so the junkies found more accommodating environs. Things were nice and quiet at the home of Jane and Brutus.

The day after a hard rain washed all the trash and works out of the street, a suited detective from the Narcotics Bureau came to their door. He asked Jane if he could come in. Jane looked to Brutus who shrugged his shoulders and told the man to come in and sit down.

Detective Fielding sat on the love seat while the married couple shared the sofa. 

Fielding appeared to be trying for politeness, but his message allowed only for dispassion. "We know what's been going on around here, okay?"

Jane leaned forward even as Brutus tried to hold her back. She said, "Brute didn't do anything. We've had nothing but trouble ever since--"

"Ms Alexander, spare me the stories, okay? Me, personally, I don't care if you waste every crack head in this city, all right? I'm not here to make an arrest. I already know what it's been like for you two. I sympathize, okay?" He sniffed the air, evaluated the odor and asked,  "Mind if I smoke?"

Jane offered the detective a Marlboro, but he pulled a box of red Dunhills from his jacket pocket. "Do you two have any idea who that woman was? The woman who got shot a while back down the alley? Huh? Do you?"

Jane said, "We call her Butt Crack."

Detective Fielding seemed to consider that for a moment. "I get it. The low-rider jeans. Right. She goes by another name. Allyona Popov, okay?"

"Okay," Brutus said. 

"She's Russian. Didn't know that, huh?"

They had never heard her speak. They'd only heard her moan and laugh.

"She rents from the same guy you rent from. He's Russian, too. Ivan Sokolov. They're from Georgia. Known each other since before the fall of the USSR. Ah, who gives a shit, am I right? Right. So when I say they're Russian, that mean anything to either of you?"

Jane did not look at Brutus because she was afraid that if she saw recognition in his eyes, she would start screaming and never bring herself to stop.

Fielding continued. "He has a woman bring in the drugs from Lagos, Nigeria. We've been watching that shit for years now. That's the DEA's headache. Our headache--my headache--your headache--is that because of what somebody has been doing to curtail the dope slinging along this corridor--"

"It's a scourge!" Brutus said with genuine anger. He was frightened now, certain of what the cop was going to tell him, yet too furious to let his fear take control.

Fielding watched his own smoke rise with what looked like a studied admiration. Without looking at his hosts, he said, "It's a thing that's bigger than the two of you. Bigger than our force. Bigger than this whole country. You think Exxon-Mobile runs the world? I ask because I know you two were like activists or something when you were in college, right? Some people might say you were radical left. Who gives a shit, okay? Now you're in the real world. Time somebody wised you up to what's going on. Oil companies are international, right? Defense companies sell weapons, blow foreign countries into smithereens. Nobody says a word. Why? Because the soul of this planet--you two need to get this clear--is dope. Dope funds armies. It pays for guns, ammunition, food, supplies, housing. It s the real currency. And you two naive little pups have screwed with the order of things."

"What the hell are you saying?"

"I'll tell you what I am saying, sir. I am telling you that the men who Ivan works for have given an order. Ivan will carry out that order. Maybe it'll be tonight. Maybe next week. I don't know. But if you stay here, Ivan will make sure you die. Simple as that and nothing anybody can or will do to stop it. There's no witness protection because you won't be testifying to anything. If you move, that'll buy you time. But you two have cost these people money. Plus you set a bad example. So maybe a couple years from now, you're all snuggled in your bed, living here was just a bad memory, in spite of this little conversation. Then Ivan'll come through your window one night and garrote the both of you. That's his preferred method of execution. The wire through the neck."

Jane knocked the cigarette from Fielding's hand. "If you know all this, then arrest him! That's your job, right?"

She was mocking the detective now and he seemed to pick up on it.

"No profit in that," he said. He picked the cigarette off the floor, ground it in the marble ashtray, and left without another word. 

Brutus and Jane used the money in the lock box to move to Ohio. They found a rental house just a few miles south of Columbus. The expressed emotion between them was never quite the same. Without saying it in real words, the fact was that both of them were afraid of getting too close in case one of them got murdered and the other survived. They still shared the occasional joke, they still fixed up their new  house, they still kept an eye out for scumbags. And they still loved each other more than anything in the world. But neither of them made much of a point of saying it, especially after they learned that the nice couple who just moved in across the street were from the Ukraine. 


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