Kennedy-badgeman-color1          1.        Jimmy

It was a shame, havin’ to kill Jimmy and all. He’d been my best friend throughout my entire youth, really. Still, I did what I had to do. I wasn’t given much of a choice in the matter, really. It was either him or me – actually, him or the both of us. If you’ll let me, I’ll explain all of what happened between us. That part shouldn’t even take very long. It’s the latter parts that I think should really get the ole’ wheel spinnin’.

This one’s mine to tell. Everything that happens once I inherit my first disciple – my greatest protégé, if ya will – will be his to tell. I’ve put so much time and effort forth, sculptin’ and honin’ that troubled youth’s raw talents and abilities, helpin’ him to unlock a hidden potential beyond his greatest expectations and realizations. He is one who may surpass even myself one of these days, so I might think – but that will be for him to say. My name is Damien and this is my story, as I would tell it up to the point I’ve just illustrated.

It was the drugs that ruined everything. It always seems to work out that way, and they just never seem to learn. Jimmy’s dumb ass fallin’ into debt with and rippin’ off the wrong person was really just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Jimmy’s biggest mistake – perhaps mine, too – was gettin’ involved with Kirk and his gang. They were big-time. However, that’s how I met Toni, is through Kirk, and that’s how I was eventually given the chance to take part in the mission to seek out and find the Promised Lands, the Land of the Ancients. If it wasn’t for each and every one of ‘em playin’ their parts, perhaps none of this would ever have been possible? What would life have become if I had never tasted the brew? I can only begin to explain. It has enlightened me, showin’ me the way, bringin’ forth for me a higher purpose and openin’ me up to a whole new World.

It was the powder, not the junk, that Jimmy and I used to party on. Cocaine was an especially big thing with Jimmy, where as I had enough common sense to put the stuff away and not indulge on too much of my own supply. I was always more concerned with pushin’ the stuff. Ask anyone who’s ever had any success at dealin’, or any sort of organized crime; Ya can’t have a habit and ya definitely can’t use what you’re sellin’… unless it’s pot. Hell, I’m even guilty of doin’ that and it never hurt the business none. Yeah, if I had a favorite drug, it would have to be marijuana.

Funny, a little story about my top protégé, if ya will? You would think that an enlightened soul would have no need and no desire for a habit, right? Yet, after welcomin’ the kid into my life, teachin’ him how the World is ours to manipulate, and honin’ his skills and abilities to be as talented as my own, the stupid kid goes and picks up a junk habit after I part ways with him. Now, it’s given that this was probably done in some morbid fashion just to spite me, and he kicked it right as we were hookin’ back up in life. I suppose that, even back then, the little fucker had already started evolvin’, or whatever the fuck ya wanna call it. Impressed the hell out of me when I saw it. There was a point when I didn’t think I was gonna be able to follow… didn’t know if I really wanted to… and look where I ended up. I’m still not really quite sure that I made the right decision… hell, Cid refused to… and doesn’t it figure… I mean, come on, really?

Anyways, dumb junky wound up givin’ himself an infection. I was impressed to see the way that he put up with it all, but I later came to understand some of the forces and motives behind such rash and abrasive behavior patterns and decision makin’ processes through the guy’s explanations of the downfalls and the benefits of such a way of life.

Cocaine, that was Jimmy’s favorite drug. When we were young, we used to party on that stuff quite a bit. It was fun to do, don’t get me wrong, but it was some expensive partyin’. Jimmy fell hopelessly out of control to that shit, never knowin’ when to say enough is enough, never even realizin’ – not until it was too late – that he’d been havin’ way too much of a good time.

Whenever coke came out in rock-form and really started to take to the streets is when Jimmy really started to go down hill. Jimmy found a whole new love for cocaine in freebasin’ the drug. He could just never seem to get enough of that shit, and he knew of about a dozen different places where he could go and get it. He would smoke too much and then get all paranoid while he was high (peepin’ out the blinds and jumpin’ at every, single, little noise), then get all goofy and agitated whenever he ran out and had to come down. I’d catch him lookin’ on the floor, and in all sorts of other strange places, for imaginary crumbs of that shit. Sad and pathetic, really, but that shit’ll do that to a person.

The paranoia is somethin’ that got to me – and when I say got to me, I don’t just mean that Jimmy’s paranoia got to me and pissed me off, I mean that I don’t smoke hard because I get downright paranoid. It has been known to make me want to go and hide in a small room – which has often been a bathroom – to wait out the hysteria from the high. A crap-chute for one’s hard-earned money, crack-cocaine always winds up costin’ more than it pays off. Such a temporary high, usin’ hard only left me with a desire for more of somethin’ I knew I truly didn’t want or need – all the while, feelin’ like shit while comin’ off of it… a shower, an opiate, or both bein’ the only things that have ever helped me feel the least bit back to normal afterwards.

I see how that stuff can rack up a bill on a person. Once ya get started, ya just don’t wanna stop. Once ya go down, you’ll do just about anything to get back up. It’s horrible in that sense. And if ya know the right people, it’s easy to get caught up in a lifestyle like the one Jimmy got to livin’.

Jimmy had been cuttin’ into way too much of what was supposed to be his sales stash and, well, most of that stash had been fronted to him. I knew the main man who Jimmy had been dealin’ with and gettin’ the stuff from at the time, a guy by the name of Kirk, Jimmy havin’ introduced the two of us on an herb deal several months prior to his death. In the past Jimmy would’ve been good for the money, but by this time Jimmy’s habit was gettin’ way too far out of hand.

Kirk was not the type of guy who ya fucked with, or got on the bad side of, or went too far into debt with – again, Jimmy’s mistake. Jimmy wasn’t a big guy, smaller than me, actually, and Kirk even made me look almost two-dimensional in contrast to his bulky mass. This guy, Kirk, must’ve been on steroids at some point in his life to have been as thick as he was. Jimmy was all bark and no bite, and Jimmy had been barkin’ up the wrong tree with Kirk. Kirk had a fighter’s physique with an attitude to back it up. He kept his head shaved, held his shoulders back, and had a pair of these cold, steel-blue eyes that always seemed to gaze off into the distance. Jimmy wasn’t the smartest guy, but he should’ve known better than to have been acceptin’ fronts from Kirk… and then to lie about where all the money was goin’… and to top it all off, robbin’ Kirk – not very smart at all.

Kirk was established in this game. He knew the whole run around and had ways to deal with such things. Kirk was a low man on the totem pole, but he was a dangerous man because of the way he devotedly served the organization. A low-down, dirty-rotten, street-wise henchman (one who fed off of the thrill of each and every new job and was good at what he did), Kirk was never one to turn down even the most dangerous business his bosses threw his way. Because of this, he was of much value to his employers. Jimmy was Kirk’s to handle, and Kirk had wound up makin’ Jimmy mine to handle…

I can still remember the days of our youth, when Jimmy and I would get together on the weekends (and after school on the weekdays, sometimes), hang out, and burn a little grass in order to take the edge off while havin’ a good, ole’ time doin’ who knows what the fuck ever. I guess we got curious, as if pot weren’t a great enough thrill, so we tried new things. What else can I say? We both enjoyed cocaine, but Jimmy took it all a bit too far.

Jimmy and I both came from lower-class households. We were both raised by single mothers. We were both the only-child. Jimmy never knew his father – never really knew anything about the guy, either. He didn’t want to. Jimmy harbored a deep-seeded resentment towards his father for knockin’ up his mother and then runnin’ out on her.

My own father died whenever I was but an infant. He died in a DUI motorcycle accident. He was the drunk cyclist. I was told that my father was a tough guy, which I suppose made it that much easier for my mother to move on after his passin’. If my father’s death had ever bothered her in the least, my mother never showed it. I was too young when my dad died to even be able to remember him clearly. My mother assures me that, in many ways, I’m just like him. Hey, I’m okay with that.

Jimmy and I had been best of friends since elementary school. At school, we always sat at the same table durin’ lunch, we shared plenty of similar hobbies and interests, and we definitely started our fair share of mischief together in the few classes which we shared – and probably more than our fair share outside of school. We always did have a lot in common, and it was like that for most all of our young lives.

For me, the best years of our friendship were when we started gettin’ into musical instruments. Jimmy and I were both big into heavy metal music. Bands like Metallica, Pantera, Slayer, Megadeth, and a sleuth of others were revolutionizin’ modern music to a much harder, faster, more intense level which we both found highly interestin’ and intriguin’. We bought the albums, then played ‘em over and over, again and again, listenin’ to ’em with a certain wild fascination. I fell so in love with heavy metal music that I decided I wanted to learn how to do it… how to play it… how to make it.

Mom was poor. She had no savings, hardly a penny in her checkin’ account, but she loved me with all her heart and thought it good that I find a hobby. I was little older than ten years of age when I expressed how deep my passion was for music, explainin’ to my mom how curious I was to learn how to play the guitar. I remember, it was near Halloween time when I started expressin’ my interest in gettin’ an electric guitar – with a distortion pedal, ya can’t play heavy metal music without distortion.

Mom must’ve seen the passion and conviction coursin’ through me in my sought endeavor and decided that I seemed serious about learnin’ an instrument. I suppose that havin’ a couple of musicians in the family may have helped to play a role, as well – my deceased pops, included. That Christmas season, under our little plastic Christmas tree, there sat a very peculiar, particularly-shaped gift. I knew what it was immediately, as soon as I saw the shape of the packagin’. You bet, mom made me wait ‘til Christmas Day to open it.

Mom had pulled together her resources that Christmas in order to get me the best, most sentimental and valuable-to-my-heart gift I’ve ever received. I unwrapped that present in a frenzy of excitement to find a used Fender Stratocaster, still in excellent condition, sittin’ inside a nylon carryin’ case. Inside one of the zippered pockets of the case were picks, extra strings, a guitar tuner, a learner’s guitar book, a tablature book of Metallica’s …And Justice For All album, a guitar slide, and a harmonica. A separate present supplied me with a one hundred and twenty watt Fender amplifier with some cool built-in effects and the Boss Metal Zone distortion pedal that I had claimed was so important in creatin’ the style of music I was pushin’ to make.

That was easily the best Christmas ever for me. I was so excited all that day and the day prior. After unwrappin’ my new guitar and all its effects, I’m certain I called Jimmy almost immediately and let him know that my plans to become a rock star were just gettin’ underway – easier said than done, right? After that, I persisted to go and make some noise.

That became the routine for quite some time (makin’ noise, that is), up until somethin’ happened, somethin’ changed, and I started to sound a lot better. After lots of diligent practice, workin’ through my routines for my improvement countless, numerous times, I started to actually make my instrument sound good – like melodic music instead of dissonant noise. Havin’ a musician or two in the family turned out to be a real plus, too. Thankfully, one of my uncles gave me free guitar lessons. It was good to have someone knowledgeable there to really show me the ropes.

Makin’ music is no easy task, but the more ya learn the better ya get, and the better ya get the better ya sound and the more fun it becomes. Still to this very day, musical theory intrigues and amazes me. One of my favorite songs will always be Sympathy for the Devil… oh, wait, wait, and The Devil Went Down To Georgia, ha ha.

Not long after I got my guitar, Jimmy picked up a cheap bass and a decent amplifier from a local pawn shop. It took us a little while before we could really, actually play anything. That Metallica tab book was a hopeful feat for a distant future. I was happy just to be able to play a few riffs from it once I got good enough. I didn’t know how complicated music could be. Did ya know that Metallica’s Kirk Hammet trained under Joe Satriani for a bit? How ‘bout Steve Vai comin’ up with the concept for the seven-string guitar – as if a six-string wasn’t complicated enough, huh? One of the greatest guitar shows I’ve ever been to happened to be Satriani and Vai doin’ the G3 tour. I saw ‘em with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Al DiMeola. Wow, what a show!

Anyone can play guitar? Ahhhhh… sure, why not? It’s really not that difficult, with a lot of practice and the proper understandin’. Any stringed instrument can be complicated if ya allow it to be (if ya allow it to frustrate and get the better of ya), but time, perception, and the proper information changes things – as so it goes with all things.

The guitar seems like such a bass-ackwards instrument, at first, and in a way it is. It’s funny, really. The innies and the outies and the bottoms and the topsies. Your bottom string is above the top string. When you’re goin’ down the neck you’re headin’ towards the top of the guitar, inclined towards the sky, and when you’re goin’ up the neck you’re headin’ towards the bottom of the guitar, slanted towards the ground. It’s like the master who formulated musical theory made it this way on purpose as a joke, or to confuse the incompetent out there, but then ya look at a piano and that theory goes right out the window. Seriously though, once ya mentally make the adjustments, come to terms with it all, and finally get it, it’s actually quite simple, and ironically comical, really.

Music is a series of numbers, letters, and more numbers… oh, and the letters are really just numbers – rather, it’s really all just mathematical patterns. It’s like a continuous, fluent, artsy-fartsy game of connect the dots which produces various patterns of melodies – keys, scales, and chords… and the notes that make up all three. The notes are in the scales and chords that, by all means should, fit to the key. There are more than just Major keys, let me point out, but nowadays it’s as if people don’t realize this, for it seems almost everything gets composed out of the Major keys… at least, whenever it comes to most modern-day, pop-culture music.

When my Uncle Jim started teachin’ me how to play the guitar, I thought I’d never get it. I was wrong. One day at a time, note by note, beat by beat, it all came to me. Lord knows, I practiced and I learned. The real trick is to never give up, and to seek out the right information.

The key of C Major is the root of all musical theory for our World. Start on a C note and use this pattern – whole step, whole step, half step, whole step, whole step, whole step, half step; or two frets, two frets, one fret, two frets, two frets, two frets, one fret. That’s the formula for any Major key. Start on any root note ya want to and apply that formula and you have that notes Major key. The thing with the key of C Major, if ya run into a sharp or a flat note then you’ve done somethin’ wrong. Them piano players have it pretty easy with the key of C Major – just play the ivory and .don’t touch the ebony.

I know this one dude who says he doesn’t play out of Major keys anymore ‘cause they bore him. I asked him, “Well, what do ya do if ya want to play a song that’s written in a Major key?”

“Ah, I play out of a Minor Seventh,” he replied.

I didn’t get it at first, but now I understand. It’s like a musical riddle, or joke. Different names, different startin’ points, but all of the same notes. If a song is in the key of C Major, the D Minor Seventh scale can be applied because it contains the same notes as the ones that are in the key of C Major. If a song’s in the key of G Major, the A Minor Seventh scale can be applied, and so on.

This ties into the last one. Let me tell ya, it’s fun to think back to a time when I didn’t know. I’d seen plenty of songs start on a C chord or a C note, but they’ll still have a whole bunch of sharps or flats throughout the composition. I asked Uncle Jim why that is, and he told me, “The chord or note that a song begins on doesn’t have anything to do with the key that song is in.”

So, I asked him, “Then how the hell do ya know what key a song is in?”

He tells me, “Look at how many sharps or flats are by the cleft at the beginnin’ of the composition.”

That was another one I didn’t get at the time… and alright, that one wasn’t very funny, but I had to see if ya weren’t learnin’ nothin’. And of course when it comes to music, there’s a lot more to it, but you can learn the Circle of Fourths and the Circle of Fifths on your own time.

Uncle Jim eventually tried to teach me barre chords, and I eventually learned ‘em, too, but Jimmy discovered somethin’ a bit easier for us beginners. A standard Major chord consists of a one, a three, and a five note from any root note’s Major key, or scale (by the way, a scale is, basically, just a key that can start from any note and any position in the predetermined key), and Major chords usually involve holdin’ down notes on all six strings – multiples of the same three notes. Jimmy taught me the fifth chord, or power chord – a one and a five note, usually only two to three strings in unison. Power chords put Jimmy and me into a playable state of musical consciousness. The discovery of hallucinogenic drugs seemed to help take care of whatever else we were lackin’.

Are ya confused? Go look in the mirror and see if ya have a dumbfounded, wrinkled, little smile on your face. If so, you’re beginnin’ to understand a little bit about musical theory. Maybe my protégé will explain more about it later on in the next one, for that’s another area where he has an edge on me. That fucker can use twelve half steps to formulate a key and somehow fashion it to sound good. Chromatics are a bitch!

When Jimmy and I started gettin’ halfway decent at playin’ our instruments, we started puttin’ together a small list of songs which we could somewhat perform together – no Metallica, yet, though it wasn’t for a lack of tryin’… and composin’ our own, original material would also come later, also not for a lack of tryin’. We weren’t always in sync at first, either, but we kept gettin’ better and better… day by day… beat by beat by beat…

Jimmy had a competitive nature. As we grew a little older and got a bit better at our instruments, Jimmy would see me attemptin’ to play lead solos on my guitar and decided that he wanted to do the same. He went out and got himself a six-string Ibanez electric. This inspired me to get a bass guitar, and I found a good deal at a pawn shop on a sweet cherry-red Fender Jazz Bass, same brand and color as my six-string. I couldn’t pass it up. I named her Thumper once I started learnin’ how to play slap bass. We were in high school by then, and we could afford the new instruments ‘cause we were both sellin’ a little pot on the side to the local jits.

Once we started composin’ our own music it was game on and we started lookin’ for band-mates. Jimmy and I formed a few, different musical projects throughout high school. One of my favorite bands that we partook in was a project called Defy In Union. I liked playin’ in this group ‘cause the guy we were workin’ with used electronic musical equipment to make drum tracks and synthesizer lines to go along with our music – and vice versa. The guy’s original project was entitled Epoctum. Boy, I tell ya, that man could put the tracks together.

We hooked up with Epoctum when the guy expressed an interest in addin’ some raw string talent into his electronic creations. Jimmy and myself had never been involved in anything so serious, as far as our little projects went up until that point in time, and we had jumped all over this opportunity. I was just beginnin’ to get into electronic – more so, industrial – music, and all of the possibilities surroundin’ what we might be able to do with the scheme of new and different instruments intrigued the hell out of me. All and all, we were able to put together some killer tunes. The songs Rise, Anti-prolific Dummies, Wilted, and The Fruits of War – not to mention, our Defy In Union theme song – were amongst my favorites to perform.

We were more of a home-studio band, never did play too many gigs. The few times we did play out were short sets, but still fun. We always opened with that aforementioned D.I.U. theme song, if I remember correctly, and never performed more than a handful of others. I remember, once, doin’ a cover of Rage Against the Machine’s Freedom and witnessin’ a mosh-pit break out in front of the stage we were on, started by a group of wild, riled up youngsters who came to the show. Gotta admit, that was pretty cool!

Defy In Union was the band that I spent the longest amount of time in, which wasn’t even very long. We parted ways after high school ended. Bands never have lasted long with me. I’ve found, in my experiences, that there are too many egos involved in most musical projects. I think that, in general, artistic people have big egos and are often very set in their ways. Also, I might as well add, it’s funny how the drugs go along with the rock star lifestyle, and they do inspire the music, but they also take away from it. One of life’s contradictions, or so it seems to me, how the music should get put on the back-burner whenever it comes to chasin’ a high.

After a while, I learned that I wasn’t destined to play in a band. It’s just not fated for my personality type. I’m eternally grateful for havin’ played in the bands I’ve played in… and for havin’ learned how to play music in general, for doin’ so seems to soothe my soul. I’ll say this and move on from here, I’d rather never do it professionally.

Not long after I finished high school came the most tragic event I would go through thus far, changin’ my life as I knew it forever; the death of my mother. One day she was there, the next day she was gone. She had no disease, no illness. The doctors said that it was a stroke, and that her heart had failed her. It had to have been a fairly painless death, for I was home all night that night and never heard her cry out in any pain. I was the one who found her. That was devastatin’ for me… hell, the whole ordeal was devastatin’, period.

I didn’t know what to do after that… didn’t really know how to handle myself there for awhile. I feel ashamed to say this, but back then I would sometimes feel more concerned about what would become of myself than I was with her departure from the World. I kept askin’ myself, What in the World am I supposed to do now? I felt lost and alone. I felt hopeless and exposed. All the while, I really missed my mama.

I went to stay with my Uncle Jim for a few months. That’s when I really started to pickup the knack for the sales end of the business. I soon found myself able to afford a cheap, little apartment of my own. I was, like, a pro at dealin’. Livin’ alone was a good thing for me, helped me learn how to survive in the World. I guess I found my way.

Sure, there were ups and there were downs durin’ my early years. Lookin’ back on it now, though, those were some of the best years of my life. However, life forever shifts. Change is the only constant. Who would have thunk? One day we were all about the music and happy to get our hands on a bag of pot (which was once a big deal), then, well… and then life shifted and changed. My mother’s death was a detrimental blow to me, but there were a lot of things… Ya don’t even know… don’t even notice or see it comin’. Ya just look back one day and realize that things are different. There’s nothin’ that ya can do about it but accept it. Things just change.

Who that we are, who that we’ve been, what we’ll become, what will become of us… so little of it is within our grasp. How much of it is actually within our control? Life got quite a bit out of control since the good, ole’ days. It almost shames me to think about all of it, but I suppose it’s all a part of bein’ human. Life is apt to put each and every one of us through our fair share of tryin’ events. I can only hope that we would become stronger, learn and understand, comprehend and deal, and not falter through the trials and tribulations that life has to offer – it’s just a hunch, but it may all have its place and purpose.

I killed him… He was my best friend, and I killed him. Do ya think it doesn’t still haunt me to this very day? Sometimes I wake up at odd hours of the night, drenched in sweat, tears leakin’ from my eyes, callin’ out his name, feelin’ as if it were happenin’ all over again. My sin… unforgivable, unforgettable sin. Sometimes life leaves ya with nothin’ but bumpy roads to travel down. Ultimately, I’m thankful to be alive. Much better him than I. Still…

You’re probably diein’ to find out what happened… meanwhile, I’m tormented about havin’ to tell this story. It does, it haunts me. I guess, in a way (not that I believe I will ever find closure on the subject), this is some sort of an attempt at comin’ to terms with what happened… or at the least, an attempt at takin’ some of the weight off of my chest, relinquishin’ a part of the burden which I’ve been carryin’ around with me for so long now. But I suppose that I’ll always carry the brunt of it, for it is my burden to bear. And after all, it’s one of the events that has helped shape my life. Alright, I see no better way to go about this other than to just jump right on into it. Here we go…

I was helpin’ to get a lot of shit for Jimmy up until he formed his ties with Kirk. After Jimmy met Kirk, in no time at all, he started sellin’ to me. It was still mostly weed back then, though we were doin’ blow fairly regularly on the weekends.

Kirk was tied in with the mob in our area. His gang was fairly big up in the northeast and had my hometown of Ashford practically on lockdown. They controlled the market on just about everything ya could think of that was either shady or illegal in the area, and so much more. Jimmy was able to get the best product at the best prices through Kirk. I wanted to meet the guy. Soon enough, I would get the opportunity to do so.

In the drug world, it’s hard to talk a person into introducin’ ya to their connections. My best buddy, Jimmy, was no exception. Havin’ the connection is an added way of earnin’ your keep. If someone you’re dealin’ to meets your connection, oh well, whoop-di-do, they’ll pretty much go right over your head and behind your back in order to get what they want straight from the source. Jimmy was no fool to this. I’ve never been one to play the fool, either. Ingenuity has always been one of my strong suits. I knew I just needed to formulate a plan and figure out a way to make it seem worthwhile for Jimmy to make the introduction. It would take me a little while, but I could always find a way to get Jimmy to do what I needed him to do.

As it turned out, I had a good amount of money saved up at the time. I waited ‘til a day when Jimmy was hurtin’ for a sale. He was low on money for some reason. I think that was around the time he’d went to pickin’ up that glass dick, takin’ hits from a crack-pipe. I wasn’t aware of there bein’ a problem yet, not back then, but it wasn’t much later that everything went downhill – to the point of no return. Right then, all I knew was that I wanted to meet Kirk, Jimmy’s main guy, so that I could get the goods at good prices. I saw my opportunity and started workin’ my magic with Jimmy in an attempt to get what I wanted.

“The sales come when the sales come,” I’d been tellin’ Jimmy. “Ya can’t force ‘em, ya know?”

“Yeah, I know,” Jimmy agreed with me. “I’m just on a down swing… hard luck and all, you know what I mean… and I’m broke. I need to pull somethin’ together.”

“Why so broke all of a sudden, if ya don’t mind me askin’?” Jimmy sounded a bit desperate, so I couldn’t help but ask.

“I’m not kiddin’ when I tell ya that my sales have been sufferin’,” Jimmy’s voice grew louder and took on a defensive tone, which I caught on to but then passed off ‘cause I didn’t know what to make of it. “They’re, like, nonexistent all of a sudden, man.”

I think he’d already started blowin’ all of his profits on coke and crack by then. I could tell that somethin’ didn’t add up, but I didn’t know what – or how severe the problem was gettin’. Human behavior is so very unpredictable – hard to understand sometimes, say the least. I’ll say this, though; once one starts a cycle, formin’ one of those vicious circles, it can be very hard for ‘em to break the routine. I’m sure that we’ve all caught ourselves runnin’ on pure impulse before. I’ve read somewhere, “You have no control over your emotions, only how you handle them.” The same seems to apply to our impulses. In the end, Jimmy would give in to his impulse to smoke crack over his responsibilities to balance his finances and pay off his debts.

Life seemed to get away from Jimmy way too fast. Once he started fuckin’ up, he started fuckin’ up bad, and it kept gettin’ worse and worse at an unforeseen, rapid pace. I had no chance at helpin’ him. He never turned to me for help. I’ve at least come to terms with that. I feel like I was so blind back then, but he was hidin’ so much from me and I had been so self-absorbed. I still catch myself thinkin’ about how things might’ve turned out different. I know it doesn’t help to ask myself all the “what if’s?” Nevertheless, I do that from time to time. After all, I will always be human, and Jimmy will always be my friend.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, Jimmy and I, well… we didn’t fit the bill for your “normal” run of the mill, workin’-class yuppie, average-Joe citizens. We might’ve been classified as the underlings, or misfits, of society.

Neither Jimmy nor myself had ever held a full-time job – unless ya consider dealin’ dope a full-time job. We both mainly just sold drugs in order to pay our way through life. I guess we did a few other odds and ends here and there, as well. When the shit hit the fan with Jimmy, I had been dealin’ for a while with some success. I knew that Jimmy was pretty good at what he did, too. I remember bein’ surprised the day he told me his sales had been sufferin’ and he was broke.

I always did good at dealin’ ‘cause I set ground rules. First and foremost, rule numero uno, know the game that you’re playin’. It’s hard to sell drugs if ya use, and let me tell ya, I like doin’ drugs. I never really touched the junk ‘cause I knew where that would get me. I hadn’t seen a thing before witnessin’ some of the crack-heads I’ve encountered, but them junkies are somethin’ else, too. There are some flippin’ crazies out there. A bit frightenin’, really, some of ‘em. Junkies will rob ya, and crack-heads are just downright unpredictable – kind of like Jimmy was. I’m not gonna lie to ya, I’ve tried junk and I’ve tried crack, and I’ve often dealt in both. I’ve just always refused to make either one of ‘em a habit. I’ve seen enough – hell, too much – from those kinds of people to allow myself to end up that way. Besides, I’ve always had a preference – hell, a passion – for marijuana.

I love my marijuana. That’s always been my thing. I really enjoy havin’ a joint handy in order to relax, myself. I even enjoy that kind of business. Most pot-heads I meet are good, friendly, level-headed people. As I’ve mentioned, I do occasionally allow myself a little powder to party with on the weekends, never any freebase, and even that’s rare and that’s it. I can afford that routine and not end up totally screwed. It seemed like Jimmy had a routine down that worked for him for a little while there, as well, but as I’ve stated, that soon faltered and slipped away from him.

“So you’re in need of money?” I asked Jimmy, not fully understandin’ the urgency behind his desire to make a sale. I know that he isn’t like me, that he doesn’t just stockpile money away for a rainy day, but I still couldn’t help but ask myself, Why is he so desperately in need of money all of a sudden?

“Yeah, bro,” Jimmy said, agreeably. This was the track he seemed to want to be on. I must admit, I saw the opportunity and started schemin’ up a way to get him to give up his main connect.

“Man, Jimmy, I’m gonna be flat out with ya,” I decided to throw out a line and see what was bitin’, “I’ve got some money saved up and I’ve been lookin’ to make an investment on good product like the stuff that Kirk gets.”

“I can get ya whatever ya need,” Jimmy said, an eager grin on his face. I could tell that he was hopeful to push a sale. I could also tell that he had no idea what I truly wanted from him – hell, how could he, right?

“I don’t know, man, I’m lookin’ to spend a lot of money here,” I started to lead into my agenda of tryin’ to ascertain whether or not I could convince Jimmy to come off of his connection. The setup seemed right for it, like this might be my best chance for doin’ so.

“What,” Jimmy asked me, defensively, beckonin’ my compliance, “ya don’t trust me anymore?”

“It’s not you who I don’t trust,” I assured him. “Look, if I do decide to make this investment, I want to go straight through the source.”

“Fuck that,” Jimmy immediately shot back, soundin’ appalled at the fact that I even mentioned the idea. “What could I possibly gain by introducin’ ya to my best hook-up?”

“There’ll be somethin’ in it for ya. I’m lookin’ to drop at least a grand,” I told Jimmy, a smug, confident smile on my face, “so let’s say, oh… ten percent… at least a hundred dollars.”

“Ten percent of the total sale. You’re serious?” Jimmy didn’t sounded sarcastic, like he wasn’t really bitin’ on the deal. “Can I get that in cash?”

“Ya think I’m fuckin’ with ya or somethin’, ‘cause I’m not?” I restated my proposal, “If I spend a grand, I’ll throw ya a hundred. It’s a great fuckin’ bargain for ya. Do ya think you’re gonna find a deal like this anywhere else?”

“Fuck you, Damien!” Jimmy retorted, gettin’ more defensive, yet at the same time growin’ more eager. I think it’s safe to say that he knew the scheme I was tryin’ to pull off. “I’m the middleman, now. You’ve just gotta learn how to deal with that. Ya can tell me what ya want and I’ll be happy to get it for ya. Otherwise…”

“Bro, otherwise I can say fuck all of this, say goodbye to ya, and not spend a fuckin’ dime with ya,” I interrupted him. I was dead set on gettin’ what I wanted, and I must admit, I was beginnin’ to get a little irritated myself. “Remember, I can always go take my money elsewhere. And I don’t mind holdin’ off. I’m just waitin’ for a good deal to come along. If this ain’t it, somethin’ else’ll come along in the future.”

“Man, the fuck with ya,” Jimmy bitched at me. “You’ve got an agenda. Ya see a man who’s a little down on his luck and ya try to take advantage of the situation in order to capitalize off of it. And ya call yourself a friend?”

“Ya know what, Jimmy? You’re right, I’m only lookin’ out for my own best interests right now,” I pretended to relent, followed up by hittin’ him bluntly with the brunt of the matter, sayin’, “and whenever it comes to business, our friendship gets put on hold. So, don’t set up the deal, I’ll hold off and wait, and ya won’t make a single dime off of me today. Sound good?”

“Ya know, you can be one cold-hearted asshole, Damien,” Jimmy criticized (I suppose I can be, won’t be the first time I’ve heard such a remark), but I could hear it in his voice that he was beginnin’ to fold his hand and concede to my terms.

“That’s business for ya,” is what I snapped back with.

“You do know that I can’t just give up my best connection, right?! I’d be a fool to do so!” Jimmy sounded like he was almost pleadin’ with me. I felt for him.

“Hey, man, if the price is right? I’ll tell ya what, I need two things and I’m willin’ to spend two grand,” I informed Jimmy. That was pretty much every penny that I had saved up, but I knew I could make it all back soon enough. “Two hundred of that is yours if ya can line this deal up properly. What do ya say?”

Silence as Jimmy thought over my proposal. I could tell he was still hesitant. He didn’t like what he was about to do, but I knew right then that he would do it.

“Come on, man,” I tried to encourage and entice him. “That’s a lot of money I’m dishin’ out just for an introduction, and ya said it yourself that ya need it.”

I held out my hand, expectin’ for Jimmy to shake it and seal the deal. Another moment of hesitation…

“Ya know, fuck it…” and my eyes widened with the anticipation of defeat, until he said, “I know I’m gonna live to regret this, but it’s a deal.”

It was a thrillin’ moment, a moment which I had waited for and almost thought would never come. Jimmy reached out and shook my hand. Deal sealed.

Jimmy called up his D-man for me – that stands for dope man, if ya were wonderin’ – and let him know that he had a good friend who was lookin’ to make a rather large investment. Jimmy and I had already discussed what I was lookin’ to obtain. I wanted to spend the bulk of my flo’ on herb, hopin’ to get a pound of Kirk’s killa’ green, and then blow the rest on the Boy. I knew quite a few junkies who would take the H off of my hands in a matter of no time. Coke wasn’t worth buyin’, not at the time, for the fact that Jimmy had the market on the Lady covered and I didn’t deal with hard, only powder. Kirk asked Jimmy what he needed, Jimmy explained the situation, and Kirk asked him who he was tryin’ to get it for.

“It’s my good buddy, Damien… I’ve told you about him before… I can vouch for him,” It was good to hear that Jimmy had already mentioned my name to Kirk in the past. In a way, I was kind of countin’ on that. So far, everything was pullin’ together.

“Yeah, I have that for ya… I haven’t been… Sounds good… I know to only bring him,” I heard Jimmy say. We were set and ready to do this thing. My introduction was all lined up.

“Okay… I’ll see ya soon.” Jimmy hung up the phone. The deal was all set up. He was able to fulfill his end of the bargain. I wouldn’t normally do this before a deal was completed, but I knew that Jimmy was lookin’ to pick somethin’ up for himself so I paid him for his end before we left to meet up with Kirk.

“So where’s this deal supposed to go down, anyways?” I asked Jimmy.

“Are ya in the mood for a drink?” Jimmy replied. “We’re goin’ to the bar.”

“Okay,” I said, noddin’ my head in approval. “Are we ready to go?”

We left Jimmy’s place in the little, white Pontiac Trans Am which I owned at the time. After pickin’ up my flo’ from my place, we headed to the Inglenook Tavern off of Main Street in Ashford’s downtown area. It took us well under a half an hour to get there. I remember A/C D/C’s Highway To Hell blastin’ out of the car speakers on the trip there. Kirk was sittin’ at a booth, sippin’ on a beer and waitin’ for us to arrive.

Little dive of a bar… dim-lit and smoky… full-bar, with a cook’s station in back… a couple of dart boards and a pool table off in one corner towards the back… You’ve seen the type, use your imagination to fill in the blanks. Jimmy had led me towards a booth where Kirk sat. There were greetings and proper introductions that took place as Jimmy and I got seated and settled in. Jimmy ordered a beer from a friendly-faced waitress, and I ordered a water ‘cause I was the one who was drivin’. The conversation casually worked its way into business.

“Well, really, I’m lookin’ for two things,” I informed Kirk. “Mainly, I need herb. I’m also lookin’ for a line on a Horse.”

“Heroin, right,” Kirk stated, soundin’ almost like he was measurin’ me up.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “I know people who’ll spend a lot of money on the stuff.”

“I’ll bet,” Kirk replied. Then eyein’ me closely and carefully, he asked me, “And you?”

“I don’t touch the stuff, myself,” I firmly stated. “I’ve seen the withdrawals that a junky goes through. Doesn’t look fun. That’s enough to keep me from messin’ with the stuff.”

“Good, good. That’s very intelligent of you,” Kirk commented. “I’ve seen a lot of good people get caught up in the addiction… a lot of people under me who’ve become lost to me. You can’t run your life successfully when you’re nursing an addiction daily, now, can you?”

“No, sir,” I said in response.

“…but you sure can ruin your life.” Kirk finished.

“I’ve seen it done before,” I replied in agreement.

“…and I’m sure you’ll see it done again. Loyalty is an important part of this business…” Kirk pointed out, still measurin’ me up, “loyalty to one’s self and one’s values, and loyalty to the ones who help keep us afloat in our endeavors. It’s a lot like a marriage. Are you married, Damien?”

“No, sir.” I said. I’d been seein’ this girl, Kara, for a little while (she was a good girl, with a tendency towards some not-so-good guys, like me), but I had no intention on gettin’ married to her anytime soon. I was way too young and wild to even think about settlin’ down back then.

“You’re young. There’s plenty of time,” Kirk continued on. “The organization is willing to do just about anything that is necessary for me. In return, I remain completely faithful to them. I run my business, I keep my mouth shut, and life is good. If something were to happen to me, I know they would handle any situation that should arise to the best of their abilities. The organization is well-connected. We have many ties, and many people in high places. To put it simply, there are a lot of magic tricks that they’re able to pull off.”

“I think I understand, sir,” I told Kirk. It almost sounded like he was tryin’ to groom me for the business. I can’t say that I had a better opportunity awaitin’ me. I wondered if Jimmy had heard a similar speech when he first met Kirk.

“You can ask Jimmy, I’m a good person to know,” Kirk said, a wry smile formin’ at the corners of his lips. “Just don’t ever get on my bad side and I’ll always be there for you.”

“Yes, sir.” I replied. “Thank you, sir.”

“Good, good,” Kirk said. He seemed pleased with me. “Now, down to business. I sell my herb at twelve hundred a pound. Since I like your style, kid, I’ll do it for you for an even grand this time around, just to help start you off. Money is oh so valuable, is it not, my new friend?”

“It certainly is,” I agreed, “and that’s a good deal for the quality I’ve been seein’ Jimmy come through with lately. I’ll be happy to do that.”

“Good, good. This is some primo stuff. Try it out and tell me what you think.”

“Will do,” I said, and I would.

“Kirk gets the best shit in town,” Jimmy chimed in, a little late and a bit unnecessarily, “but of course you already knew that.”

“Everything I’ve been gettin’ off of you lately has been primo,” I said to Jimmy, agreein’ with him by practically repeatin’ my previous statement.

“Good, good,” Kirk said, speakin’ in that confident, self-assured voice of his. “The H, as I call it, is a little more expensive. I never bend on that. That’s my moneymaker.”

Kirk listed his prices per amounts. I told him what I had to spend on the stuff. He told me what he could do.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” I said. “I can make money off of that. That’s fair enough.”

“I hope you never turn to using the stuff,” Kirk said to me, glancin’ over at Jimmy. “Using what you sell can get you into a lot of trouble. I like you guys. I wouldn’t want to see any trouble come to either one of you.”

“That’s my moneymaker,” I replied, usin’ Kirk’s own words. “It’s like they can’t get enough of it. I stick to my grass, and a little coke on the weekends if I’m partyin’, but that’s it.”

“Good, good. You seem like you have a good head on your shoulders, Damien,” Kirk commented. “I figured you were too smart to mess around with that crap.”

“Yeah, well, I see what it does to people,” I said. “I’ve seen people go broke and totally ruin their own lives usin’ that kind of stuff. It’s sad, really.”

“You bet’cha,” Kirk agreed, with a look of approval and a subtle, little laugh. I saw Jimmy noddin’ his head in agreement, as well.

After payin’ his tab, Kirk invited us out to his car, a pimpin’ jet-black Rolls Royce, and we settled our transaction. Kirk told me to give him a call anytime that I needed anything and slipped me his number. Kirk then told me to head to my ride and give him and Jimmy a moment alone to discuss a few things. I did as instructed.

I sat in the driver’s seat of my little Pontiac and waited for Jimmy. I could see Jimmy and Kirk talkin’ from where I was seated inside of my ride. Kirk looked a little aggravated with Jimmy. I saw him aggressively point his finger at Jimmy a couple of times, and I saw Jimmy motionin’ his hands as if he were drastically tryin’ to explain somethin’ to Kirk.

When Jimmy got back to my car, I asked him, “What was that all about?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Jimmy told me.

“Shit, man, I wasn’t tryin’ to get’cha into any trouble or anything,” I told him, thinkin’ that I might have somethin’ to do with why Kirk was upset.

“That had nothin’ to do with you,” Jimmy insisted.

“But I…” I started in again.

Jimmy quickly cut me off, sayin’, “I told ya, don’t worry about it.”

“Alright,” I said, droppin’ the subject.

That had been a superb deal for me at the time. The product was well worth it and my customers were pleased. Some of my people even made the comment that the H was some of the best smack they’d ever done in their lives. All and all, I thought I had made a pretty good investment. It definitely beat some of the deals I’ve been involved in durin’ my time in the World.

Havin’ a reliable D-man, one who isn’t gonna fuck ya over or rob ya, is the first key to success in this business. If ya don’t have a good, steady hookup, don’t even bother tellin’ people ya can get it. I can tell ya stories, some of the stupid things I’ve put myself through over drugs durin’ my time. Let’s see here… ah, I’ve got one for ya, definitely not my – nor Jimmy’s – finest hour…

My normal guy at the time was out. I needed to re-up on a quarter pound of green and I had no idea where I was gonna get it. Jimmy told me that he had a guy who could do it. Jimmy made the arrangements, set everything up, and so it comes time for us to leave to go and get this done.

I had always hated shit like this. Goin’ through a new connection has always made me nervous, up to the point to where I’d feel like I was just bein’ paranoid. I remember thinkin’ to myself, What could possibly go wrong? If I only knew…

Jimmy had said everything he could say to make the deal sound like it was solid, even foolproof, but as we pulled up to the location where the deal was supposed to go down in Jimmy’s Chevy, I instantly became alarmed. We were at Howard’s park, a beautiful and familiar place durin’ the middle of the day, but at night… at night it’s a creepy, desolate, dark and isolated spot, and it felt downright dangerous for us to be sittin’ there waitin’ on the D-man.

“What the fuck are we doin’ back here, Jimmy?” I asked, completely unsure of my surroundings. We had only just arrived, and already I was beginnin’ to bug-out.

“Chill, man. Don’t worry so much,” Jimmy attempted to calm me down. It was as if he couldn’t even sense that there was somethin’ not right about this. “He said to meet him here, right by the dumpster.”

“I can’t even see the dumpster, it’s so dark,” I criticized, makin’ my point.

“He knows my car,” Jimmy retorted, and I could sense it as he hesitated to think about the irony and redundancy in what he had just said. “He’ll be here, just you wait. It’ll be cool.”

So, we waited for Jimmy’s dude to show up while sittin’ inside of his old Chevy near a dumpster in the too dark park. Little did we know, Jimmy’s dude was already there, and he’d brought a little friend along with him. It didn’t take long before what happened, happened…

“This is bullshit. Where the fuck is this guy, Jimmy?” I had lost my nerve and was now losin’ my patience. Fuck the deal, I wanted to leave that place. Little did I know at the time that doin’ so would’ve been better for the both of us…

“Chill out, man,” Jimmy attempted to calm me down again. “He said he’d be here, so he’ll be here.”

Jimmy didn’t get the chance to say anything else about it. He was interrupted by the sound of glass shatterin’ in his ear as the driver’s side window of his Chevy got smashed into little shards. Jimmy let out a startled, high-pitched yelp as shards of glass rained down and covered him from his left-hand side, havin’ been overtaken by the sudden panic of the unforeseen threat. We both instinctively threw our hands up, as if we were expectin’ to be placed under arrest. This was not the police, however. This guy wasn’t lookin’ to take our asses in and throw us in the slammer, this guy was lookin’ to rob us.

Our assailant had been crouched behind the dumpster the whole time, awaitin’ the right time to make his move. I never even saw it comin’, and obviously neither did Jimmy. One minute Jimmy was talkin’ to me and tryin’ to settle me down, the next, Ka-blam! Our assailant must’ve seen that we were talkin’, and therefore distracted. He had waited ‘til then to make his move, clever fucker.

The assailant had smashed out the driver’s side window with the butt of his little friend, which looked to me like a .38 special. I was given an all too close examination of that gun. It was a nice gun. I wish I could say I found a way to get that gun away from the guy.

Havin’ gotten our attention, our assailant then ushered us out of the car at gunpoint, tellin’ us, “Get da fuck out of da car, now, or I’m gonna shoot da both of ya!”

I’ll never forget that night. If I knew then what I know now I’d have shoved a bullet right up that thievin’ mother fucker’s asshole, but I didn’t. I probably wouldn’t recognize the guy again if I saw him in hell. Although I am a creature who knows vengeance well, I had to let this one go, which was likely for the better at that time in my life? I’d have probably killed that thievin’ M.F. if I’d have been able to find him.

Jimmy fumbled with the handle to the door, clumsily attemptin’ to follow the gunman’s orders and get out of the car. I was pretty shaken up myself. It’s not everyday that you find yourself on the wrong end of the barrel of a gun.

“Don’t try anyt’ing stupid, if ya value ya lives,” I heard thievin’ M.F. say. The guy had a very deep voice, and he talked like an ignoramus – if ya know what I mean.

“Get over t’ere,” he told Jimmy, commandin’ him to move over by me. He never turned his back on either one of us – never pointed the gun away from either one of us, either.

“Do eit’er of ya have any weapons on ya?” The ignorant, thievin’ M.F. asked us. My ears perked up at the question. For a moment, I feared that the guy might be a cop after all, but that thought was quickly swept aside. This guy ain’t a cop, even a cop couldn’t be this stupid.

I thought about lyin’ to our assailant, then thought, But what if he searches us?

“I do,” I thought it better to admit to him.

“Good,” the ignorant, deep-voiced, thievin’ M.F. triumphantly replied. “What’cha got and where’s it at?”

“Nine-millimeter,” I told him. “It’s in my waistband.”

Nowadays, I’d have never given up my weapon (at least, not so easily), but like I’m sayin’, back then I was young and dumb. Things change. People change.

The assailant cautiously approached me, removed the gun from my waistband, and tucked it away inside of his own. He then asked, “Anyt’ing else?”

A negative from the both of us. Jimmy wasn’t packin’ at the time.

“Alright, boys, now strip fo’ me,” the ignorant, deep-voiced, thievin’ M.F. then demanded of us, and with a little kick of amusement in his voice it sure did sound like.

Neither Jimmy nor I knew what to think. We both looked towards the other in the darkness of the park with wide-eyed astonishment and disbelief.

“You some kind of faggot or somethin’?” I asked, quite seriously, spitefully starin’ that thievin’ M.F. down.

“Ca’ me a fag ‘gain an’ I shoot ya jus’ fo’ dat,” the deep-voiced M.F. retorted. A few more seconds ticked on by. “Come on, ya ‘ear me?! Strip! Everyt’ing, right on down ta ya skivvies. Don’t be shy, now. Come on, get a move on.”

We reluctantly did as we were told. I couldn’t believe this was happenin’ to me. Along with that thievin’ M.F., I wanted to kill Jimmy right then for gettin’ us into this mess in the first place, this was all so damned humiliatin’.

Thinkin’ about all of the times I felt like killin’ Jimmy, I never actually meant it. Everybody has their quirks and downfalls, and it seems that all good friends have their little ways about gettin’ under each other’s skin at times.

Wow, I tell ya, it gives me goose bumps to think back over some the times we’ve shared and the things we’ve done, Jimmy and I. We were like a team drawn from right up out of hell. I could always expect the unexpected to happen whenever I hung out with Jimmy. Life was always interestin’ when he was around, that’s for sure.

So, there we were, standin’ in the midst of Howard’s Park just prior to midnight, held at gunpoint, standin’ in our briefs, gettin’ robbed. The assailant opened up the rear driver’s side door of Jimmy’s Chevy and instructed us to throw all of our belongings on in. I asked if I could keep my shoes and socks – more as a joke, not expectin’ a serious reply.

“Anyt’ing of value in ‘em?” the assailant asked me, then started examinin’ our sneakers for himself.

“No,” I simply replied.

Thievin’ M.F. finished his examination of our shoes and socks, laughed smugly, and then said, “Well, I guess I can at least give ya dat lux’ry.”

Thievin’ M.F. then threw my shoes towards me and left Jimmy’s there on the ground. I snatched one of my sneakers out of the air but the other one hit the ground and rolled off somewhere not far behind me. Jimmy and I had thrown all of our other belongings into the Chevy’s back seat.

“Now, I’m gonna get into dis ‘ere car and get on out o’ ‘ere. Ya’ll er gonna lie down, and yer not gonna get up ‘til ya can’t see the taillights on dis ‘ere vehicle no more.” the theivin’ M.F. instructed us. We looked at him in disbelief. I was already thinkin’ about how we were gonna get home. I’m sure that Jimmy was already frettin’ about his car. The thievin’ M.F. shouted at us whenever we didn’t obey him right away, “Hey! Ya’ll ‘ear me?!”

We heard him.

“Then lie down!” Our assailant was now preparin’ to make his getaway, and in Jimmy’s Chevy. It sucks to lose money, but to lose a car…

I couldn’t help but see the irony play out in this bad joke of an ordeal. I may have been out cash, but I can only imagine what Jimmy must’ve been goin’ through as he watched his car roll off with that smug, cocky, thievin’ M.F. behind the wheel. Yeah, Jimmy had set me up with a bad deal, but he wound up gettin’ screwed himself. Losin’ money is one thing, but losin’ a car…

I couldn’t help but find a little humor in that whole ordeal, that is, after everything was done and over with. When it comes to blunders, that was a big one. And I blame myself for attemptin’ to go through the shady source just as much as I do Jimmy for settin’ up the deal with the shady source. In other words, we both fell for the hoax.

The gun had stayed on us the entire time, though I doubt that it mattered much. Neither Jimmy nor I were much ready or willin’ to do anything about it by then. Neither one of us were willin’ to try and play the hero, either salvagin’ the situation or bunglin’ things up even worse. The engine of the Chevy started up and the car’s lights lit up.

“Ya’ll get home safe, now, ya ‘ear,” was the last thing the asshole said to us before we watched the taillights vanish out of sight. I stood up first.

“Jimmy, think fast. I need a reason, right now, not to smash your face into a bloody pulp,” was the first thing out of my mouth.

Jimmy got up and looked towards where his car had just vanished out of sight, a sort of stupid expression on his face. “I… I… I just don’t have one,” was all that he could think to say to me.

I let it go at that and started thinkin’ about what we were gonna do from there. We were doomed to walk home in our boxer shorts and sneakers, and now we were broke and dope-less. Not my idea of a good time. Unacceptable, really, but I could see that Jimmy was devastated about his car and ashamed of himself for gettin’ me ripped off. I decided to let it go at that and lighten up, not wantin’ to come down on Jimmy too hard, at least for the time bein’. We both just stood there, silent.

“I’m sorry, bro,” Jimmy told me, after some time had elapsed. I had come to the realization that we were about to take a much dreaded walk home in our skivvies. Jimmy was worried about what to do about his car. I told him that he would have to report it stolen, and to just leave me out of the story. Yeah, no such luck.

We were stopped by an officer in a patrol car while on the dreadful journey back to Jimmy’s place. Obviously someone had found it a little strange, two young men walkin’ around in their boxer shorts and tennis shoes in the middle of the night, and had decided to call it in. There we had it, a chance for Jimmy to report his car stolen, and the officer was even kind enough to give us both a ride back to Jimmy’s place – he was still livin’ with his mom at the time and caught hell for his car bein’ gone.

Jimmy’s car was recovered. He got it back a few days later. What happened with my money, well, some things you just gotta count as a write-off – easy come, easy go. I was pissed at Jimmy, but our friendship was more important to me.

They never did catch the car-jacker, and I doubt they ever even tried. To be frank, the police don’t seem to do as much for the lower-class, and it was obvious that Jimmy and I fit that bracket. I suppose we were lucky not to get thrown into the slammer ourselves. That cop who gave us a lift home knew that somethin’ was up. Good thing that crook took my gun with him. That would’ve been probable cause to arrest us, say no more.

That brings me to another story. That little nine-millimeter pistol was my first gun. I hated partin’ with it. Oh well, what was I to do, shoot that thievin’ M.F.? I don’t think so. There’s not much out there that’s worth goin’ to prison over. However, still, I used to carry a gun on me at all times. Hey, I was young back then and didn’t think the consequences through as thoroughly as maybe I should have. I didn’t even have a permit for my weapon, back then. I got my nine-millimeter off of a thug I used to sell to in an herb deal. Kirk was the one who eventually convinced me that I needed to get a license to carry. I didn’t have a record, so it was no problem gettin’ one.

A quick story about that lil’ nine of mine. I was excited the first day I got my little gun and was showin’ it off to everybody I was hangin’ out with. Yeah… playin’ with guns… not such a good idea… didn’t work out so swell… didn’t go over too well.

I was with my girl, Kara, hangin’ out with Jimmy and his girl, Amelia, over at Amelia’s place. Amelia lived in a trailer with her mom and baby sister, who were fortunately not there at the time. We were all smokin’ a joint, and I was showin’ off my new toy. I thought the safety was on. Jimmy asked me if he could see my gun. I was all hyped up to show it off, so I handed it to him. He points it at me and says, “Alright, Damien, now give me all your drugs.”

“Hey, now!” And Jimmy got his laugh in as I scolded him, “Point that thing at me again and I’m gonna take it from ya and shove it up your ass!”

“Chill out, man,” he says to me. “Besides, the safety’s on.”

I had told him that the safety was on… I didn’t know…

Jimmy points the gun at a wall and pulls the trigger. Ka-boom!

Quite a loud Pop! for such a small, little thing. Jimmy drops the gun to the floor and about jumps out of his seat and his skin. The women scream about as loud as the sound of the gun goin’ off, and I swear I heard the glass to the windows shake and about went deaf right there. We all start to panic. I start to get all pissed off at Jimmy for pullin’ the trigger and firin’ the damned thing in the first place, until he reminds me that I told him that the safety was on. I then have an epiphany and start tryin’ to get everybody under control. I figured that the cops were gonna come and wanted everybody to be prepared to deal with it when and if they did show up (which really just meant that I wanted everybody to be prepared to let me handle everything), so I briefly coached everybody on what I expected to happen and what I needed them to do, which was for everybody to just sit tight and keep their mouths shut. A few minutes later, there came a loud Knock-Knock-Knock! at the door.

“Yes?” I spoke from behind the closed door. I know my rights.

“We have a report of a gunshot thought to have come from this address,” the officer informed me.

“Yeah, I heard a loud noise not too long ago,” I replied. “Is that what that was?”

“Is everybody in there alright?” the officer asked me.

“Yes,” I replied. Simple, honest answers are usually the best whenever dealin’ with the authorities.

“We need to come in and check on everybody,” the officer told me. He was doin’ a good job, but there was no way he was gettin’ in that trailer. Key words; Not without a warrant.

“Sorry,” I told him, “but I haven’t done anything wrong and I can’t let you do that.”

“Sir,” the cop sounded like he was gettin’ fed up with me already, “I need to confirm that everybody in the household is okay.”

“Sorry,” I told him, again, “but I haven’t done anything wrong and I’m not gonna just let you in here.”

“Sir,” here we go again, “I believe you, but I still need to make sure.”

“Look,” I finally told him, “I know my rights and I’m not lettin’ you in.”

“Look, you little prick,” The officer was mad, “if you don’t let me in there, right now, I’ll come back with a search warrant and make your life a living hell! Got it?!”

“Whatever ya feel ya gotta do,” I told him, holdin’ up a hand in order to motion for everybody to stay put and not panic. “I’ve already assured you that everybody is fine and dandy in here. I have nothin’ more I can think to say.”

“You little punk!” practically screamin’, now. “What’s your name?”

I looked over at Jimmy and smiled. Turnin’ back to the door, I gave the cop Jimmy’s name. I caught hell for that one after the cop left. I had some explainin’ to do.

“Jimmy! Jimmy!” I kept sayin’, tryin’ to get him to settle down and focus. He was on a roll, just a-rantin’ and a-ravin’ at me. “Jimmy!”

“What, Damien!” I finally got his attention.

“Let me explain somethin’,” I began. Jimmy went to start back up and I quickly shushed him by gettin’ louder and to the point, sayin’, “I have the gun, right?!”

“Yeah, sure!” he replied, shakin’ his head, still pissed.

“And you don’t!” I continued.

“So fuckin’ what?!”

“So you’ve got nothin’ to worry about,” I finished. He was still so pissed off. I got such a kick out of it.

“Hey,” Amelia interrupted us, “are they really going to come back with a warrant?”

“They have no reason to,” I explained the reality of the situation to her. “They can’t even be sure that the sound was a gunshot, let alone prove that it actually came from over here. Unless someone with a mysterious gunshot wound shows up in the hospital, or a gunshot victim turns up dead nearby, that should be the end of it.”

Jimmy knew his rights, too. He lightened up enough to back me up, agreein’ with me that the police likely wouldn’t return. The cops never did come back. The bullet didn’t go through the wall, stuck into a beam instead. Jimmy helped Amelia hang a picture or somethin’ over the tiny, dime-sized hole, and I don’t think we ever did pry that bullet out of the beam. It’s probably still there. End of story.

I’ve learned a few things about guns throughout my lifetime. It’s true what they say, guns are not toys and guns are very dangerous. They are made to inflict serious, if not fatal, damage. What you may have already realized is that a gun in the wrong hands can be deadly. What you may not have realized is that a gun in the right hands can be just as deadly. It’s my point, but you can do the math.

Before I go any further, I want to take the time to point out that Jimmy and I were always best of friends regardless of the stupid shit that happened sometimes due to our reckless behavior patterns, abrasive attitudes, and obstinate mindsets. I like to think that we remained friends right up to the end. Actually, the only thing that ever did jeopardize our friendship in the least bit was when Jimmy moved into that little, first apartment of mine with me for a couple of weeks. It seemed like everything he did pissed me off. That culminated into him gettin’ the cops called on himself for makin’ a scene out in front of my place. Fortunately, he was still out front when the police found him. I know those cops wanted to come in and see what they could find in order to stack up the charges on him, or on both of us if they were to have arrested me, too, and God only knows what Jimmy was actually on that night and what all was still left sittin’ out in the apartment. One officer asked if they could come in and check the place out, but I said, “Look, this is my friend. Regardless of the fact that he’s made a complete ass out of himself tonight… and I’ll deal with that by shippin’ him back to his mama’s house when he gets out of jail tomorrow, mind you… I feel I have to point out that I’m not lookin’ to see him get into any more trouble than he’s already in.” That seemed to suffice the officer ‘cause no more was said about it and Jimmy was hauled off to jail on a drunken/disorderly. I had a long talk with Jimmy when he got out a day later, and I vowed that I would never live with him again. We were both lucky they didn’t get in. He moved back into his ma’s house and we remained close friends afterwards, thankfully no longer able to constantly drive one another up the walls. Some people just need breaks from other people. It took me a while, but I realize that I’m one of ‘em.

Alright, stickin’ to the guns, here’s another one for ya… I knew this dude who the cops were after once… or twice… Anyways, the police came knockin’ on this dude’s door one day. Him and his girl, well, they refused to answer the door. Unfortunately for this couple, the police had a warrant for dude’s arrest. Cops bust open the door and enter the place. The couple’s pit-bull goes chargin’ after the cops, probably thinkin’ that they’re intruders – or maybe not, that was one vicious dog. Dude’s hidin’ away, knows that the cops are there for him – what he’s done isn’t important, not the part I’m tryin’ to tell. The girl goes to grab the dog, but she can’t get the big, ole’ beast under control and she falls over in the process of tryin’.

So, here they are… The two cops have just entered the home, this ferocious pit-bull is yearnin’ to attack ‘em, and this girl is on the floor beneath the dog tryin’ to hold it back. The dog starts to get away from the girl, so one of the cops shoots the dog three times in order to put it down. It has taken all three shots, but one of the shots has pierced clear through the dog and has hit the girl in the arm. The dog is dead, the girl goes to the hospital, dude gets arrested, and the cop who shot the girl and the dog felt like shit – more for killin’ the dog than shootin’ the girl, it’s been rumored. Apparently the officer was an animal lover.

I once heard a story about a guy who had his gun tucked away in the waistband of his jeans. There came a time when he needed to use it, but he put a little too much pressure on the trigger while he was goin’ for it and… yeah, he can sing soprano now… he blew his junk clean-off.

Warnin’, this one’s a sad one… A kid’s walkin’ down the street with a gun in his hand. The cops pull up, jump out of their cruisers, draw their weapons and tell the kid to drop the gun. The kid raises the gun he’s holdin’, points it at the cops with a big, ole’ smile on his face, and hollers out, “Bang! Bang!” The officers open fire and the child is shot down, dead on the spot. It turned out to be a toy gun that the kid was holdin’.

Alright, now, last one… I knew a fellow dealer who owed a couple a few hundred dollars. This couple had recently come across a lump sum in some kind of settlement and had let this dealer borrow the money he needed to take his business to the next level. The thing is, the couple had recently started smokin’ crack and had blown their whole settlement in a very short amount of time. When they ran out of money, they became quite desperate. They wanted this guy to pay ‘em back all of what he owed ‘em immediately. There was a confrontation between the couple and the dealer and things got completely out of hand. The dude from the couple pulled a gun and started shootin’. The dude then persisted to rummage through the dealer’s pockets while the man lay there diein’ and ganked everything of value.

Within a week, the couple was found, arrested, and thrown into the slammer. I heard the chick got fifteen to twenty years for bein’ an accomplice to a murder and the dude was facin’ a life sentence for first degree murder, and that there was a possibility that he might fry for the crime – the verdict still wasn’t out yet. All of this over crack-cocaine. You can only begin to see why I have such a problem with the stuff. The fucked up thing about it is that the dealer was payin’ this couple back in fifty dollar increments and had just recently made a payment. Fuckin’ crack-heads, whatever can ya do?

I’ve seen and heard about a lot of fucked up shit that’s gone down involvin’ the use of guns. I, myself, have been involved in a number of such encounters. Carryin’ a gun has been an essential part of my job at times in my past. The use of firearms has been a requirement set by my previous employers on numerous occasions, actually. What can I say, things got dirty and guns got involved. You’d just have to understand the business, and picture that type of business on such a large scale…

We certainly were organized. I had protection, planners, lawyers, silent partners who covered it all, the absolute works. I got good at it, too. I’m a hell of a shot. It was more than the money, it was the ticket in… the ticket to climb even further up in the chain of command. Hell, the way I met the Don was by carryin’ out a hit for the man.

Kirk was one of Toni’s guys, and Toni was one of the Don’s guys. The Don was the real big-wig who controlled the area. Kirk was one of the Don’s best soldiers. That meant that Kirk was able to obtain large quantities of primo substance directly through Toni at extraordinarily good prices. That’s the job I would seek out first durin’ my time doin’ business with the organization, my sales surpassin’ those of even Kirk’s without ever really even havin’ to partake in the new-wave coke game. I can’t help myself, I have a real thing against crack-cocaine, but that’s just due to particular events which have helped shape my life, helpin’ me to form my own perspectives and viewpoints. What I was bein’ groomed for now was to become one of Kirk’s soldiers. I felt like I was gettin’ along just fine. Jimmy had obviously talked me up mighty good before fuckin’ up so awfully bad…

The product that Jimmy had helped me obtain through Kirk durin’ that initial deal was phenomenal. I had to wait for some sales to take place, and to get the feedback, before I found out how my customers were diggin’ the junk, but the herb was a superior product. I rolled us up a joint when we got back to Jimmy’s pad. The pot burned as nice as it looked and smelled.

I had gained a killer connection, a goal achieved, but it was with that achieved goal, by settin’ myself up with those ties, that I was dragged into the whole ordeal with Kirk and Jimmy and everything that happened. If only I had never met Kirk, if only I had just let Jimmy have his damned connection to himself, maybe it wouldn’t have changed what happened to him but at least I wouldn’t have been involved… but instead I pulled the trigger. Nobody can change what’s already been done, yet even in hell I’ll be haunted by what went down between the three of us.

Back in those days, two out of three murders went unsolved, especially in a mob-run area like where Jimmy and I come from. That means that, as long as you had the right connections and were careful enough to cover your tracks, back then you could pretty much get away with murder. Back then, no weapon and no witnesses truly meant no case. I tell ya, a lot has changed, and for the better, since back in the old days.

Do note that one man with the right knowledge and the ability to influence others can be… will be – no, still not quite right… will grow to become greater in force than a hundred unorganized, uncooperative fools. I’ll elaborate my point. Throughout history, throughout all the times and all throughout the World, there has always been a role called the leader that the masses tend to flock to and look to follow. The person who inhabits this role doesn’t necessarily always have to have a righteous heart, either – as the World’s history has surely demonstrated through leaders such as Adolph Randall and King Richard Breech. Leadership is a role that comes with many adversities and many adversaries.

When a man who is more powerful than another, a man who can make or break another, barks an order at the lesser man, the lesser man usually succumbs to the greater man, fearing the greater man’s wrath and vengeance otherwise. If that greater man is already infuriated and is threatenin’ to kill the lesser man on the spot, the lesser man knows he doesn’t really stand a chance other than to give in to the greater man’s will. So ya can see…

…I had to do it.

I did a lot of business through Kirk before Jimmy fucked up and the shit hit the fan. I sensed that Jimmy was a little strung out before the end there, but nothin’ seemed too far out of the ordinary. About a month before Kirk came poundin’ on my door, Jimmy had asked me to borrow a little flo’, which I gladly lent him. He had no reason to be hurtin’ for money. I wasn’t steppin’ on his toes and sellin’ to any of his customers or anything… hell, I didn’t step foot in the coke game, I sent all that business his way. I later learned that he was usin’ too much of his own supply and was way too strung out.

Kirk was like a golden ticket, where I come from. Ya just don’t fuck up a thing like that, and ya definitely don’t fuck with a guy like Kirk. I don’t know what Jimmy was thinkin’… frankly, I don’t know what either one of ‘em were thinkin’; Kirk for flippin’ out the way he did and Jimmy for robbin’ Kirk in the first place. Kirk was just an asshole, but Jimmy… it was like he’d done lost his mind. Really, he had just become a crack-head.

Like I’m sayin’, Kirk was just an asshole… an excessively violent thug… a hood… a gangster… whatever ya wanna label the type. He was exactly what the organization he worked for expected him to be, and he would never amount to anything more. I, on the other hand, was there to impress. By this time, I had an idea of what was expected of me and what I was bein’ groomed for, for the most part. I was a damned good soldier. I was lookin’ to push as much as I could, within reason and without too great a personal risk, not just for the cash but for the numbers I dished out with my suppliers, as well.

Kirk was a nice enough guy when he wanted to be. He would cut me a good deal every now and then, or spot me a little flo’ anytime I was ever a little short on a re-up. Unfortunately for Jimmy, to blatantly cross the guy was a death warrant, and Kirk would often take it upon himself to get the job done, which a lot of times was like an added bonus for the organization, but this lack of self-control is a good reason why Kirk would never be seen as anything more than a common soldier through the eyes of his superiors. Kirk was almost too dangerous a guy… definitely not a diplomat.

Bein’ able to pull off the role, to act the correct way in any given situation, is a big part of the business. The best of ‘em seem like they’re perfect gentlemen on the outside, while they’re really quite ruthless on the inside. The best of ‘em generally handle their affairs from a businessman’s standpoint with little to no personal or emotional attachments ever gettin’ in the way. It’s as if they’re all psychotic, and maybe they are, or maybe it really is just business.

The crime bosses of the organization are responsible for promotin’ not only people who they can use in the business, but people who they can trust in specific, more pronounced assigned roles. A crime boss is responsible for meetin’ with his advisors and formulatin’ the best plan of action for any given situation or circumstance that should arise, and to act only upon what they feel should produce optimum results. A boss such as my area’s Don, whose organization I was unknowingly beginnin’ to go to work for, even had members of the local authorities, not to mention political and governmental ties, in his pocket in case shit should really hit the fan and need a severe cleanin’ up. Ashford was a big, popular city, and it was obviously a profitable territory for the Don to have such tight control over it.

I know that I did alright off of my share of the profits from right off the bat. Life’s not easy no matter what, but it always seems so much more difficult when a person doesn’t have a steady thing goin’ for ‘em. I needed this opportunity. Jimmy needed this opportunity. Somethin’ happened, though, and Jimmy lost control somehow, and it caused him to go and fuck things up beyond any semblance of repair.

It all started with a phone call that I received from Kirk. Kirk was lookin’ for Jimmy, and he sounded pissed. He wanted to know if I’d seen him. I told him I hadn’t. Kirk hung up on me, so I hung up the phone on my end. A minute or two later there came a loud Knock-Knock-Knock! on my front door. After askin’ who it was and findin’ out that it was Kirk, I answered it. Kirk and a couple of his thugs came bargin’ on in.

“I need to find Jimmy, Damien, and I need to find Jimmy now!” Kirk abrasively informed me. He sounded very stressed out.

“Okay,” I apprehensively replied. “Sorry I haven’t seen him. What’s goin’ on?”

“He isn’t here, is he?!” Kirk demanded. He sounded very serious, even threatenin’. He and his thugs took a look around my place while Kirk and I continued to talk.

“No, he isn’t.” I replied. “I haven’t seen him for a few days. Why? What’s up?”

“He stole something from me,” Kirk said to me, soundin’ as though he were on the verge of losin’ it, “and I want it back. Do you know where he is?”

“No,” I simply said.

“Do you know where he could be?” Kirk asked me.

“Not really,” I replied.

“Let me put it to you like this,” Kirk began, and he didn’t sound at all like he was fuckin’ around, “I need to find Jimmy, and I need to find Jimmy now. He’s ran off with some of my product, and I want it back. I’m going to kill the son of a bitch. You’re going to help me find him, or else I’m going to kill you, too.”

“Hey, Kirk,” I began, “I don’t…”

“Maybe I didn’t make myself clear?” Kirk interrupted me. His voice grew in volume as he continued on, “I’m not giving you a choice in the matter. I don’t care if you don’t know where he is, you’re going to help me find him. I want my product back! Are we clear, Damien?!”

“Yeah, sure,” I said. I was in no position to argue. I had no doubt in my mind that Kirk would kill me if I didn’t cooperate with him – hell, he was, quite literally, out for blood. “What’s this all about. What exactly happened?”

“Jimmy was over at my place earlier today. I had a bag of coke sitting out. I had to take a phone call. While my attention was diverted, he nabbed it off of my table. Now I have to go and find him, and he better have my product. If he doesn’t, I’m going to see to it that he suffers.”

“I really don’t know where he could be,” I said.

“Well, you better hope, for your sake, that we find him,” Kirk threatened me. He was seethin’ through his teeth. “…we find him,” I wasn’t gettin’ out of this.

“I don’t even know where to begin to look for him,” I tried to argue.

“He’s your friend,” Kirk retorted. “You know better than I where he might be. You’re going to help me look for him.”

“Hey,” I affably replied, “you’re my guy, whatever I can do to help out.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

After confiscatin’ my gun, Kirk drove me to the few places I could think of where Jimmy might be or someone might’ve seen him. Kirk was makin’ me do all of the leg work, usin’ me to do all of the dirty work for this escapade/rampage of his. He would park out of view and have me walk up to all of the places that I led him to alone, as not to draw attention to himself. With every stop we made, I felt like Kirk was further implicatin’ me in whatever was gonna happen. I didn’t like the idea that Jimmy’s buddies could tell the police that I was lookin’ for him on this day. To make matters worse, I wasn’t comin’ up with any information on Jimmy’s whereabouts. Nobody had seen him – so they told me. Kirk wasn’t too happy about the total lack of progress on my part. I was beginnin’ to worry that there might be two bodies left in the wake of Kirk’s rampage.

After about the fifth stop and still not so much as a clue as to where Jimmy might be, I was beginnin’ to get tired, frustrated, scared, fed-up and unsure of everything just enough to test the waters to see where I stood. I got back into Kirk’s car tellin’ him that we had tried every place I could think of to no avail. Kirk didn’t buy this for a minute, and if he did he just wouldn’t accept it.

“He’s got to be somewhere, Damien. Think harder,” Kirk insisted. He wasn’t as angry as before. That morbid look in his eyes had been rescinded, at least for now. Kirk was gettin’ tired and frustrated, too. He was still barkin’ orders, but there wasn’t that malicious bite to ‘em like before. Still, I didn’t like the situation that I was in. I didn’t trust anything about it. “You must have a few more ideas as to where he might be.”

“Kirk, I’m tellin’ ya, I don’t… that’s it. Those are all the people I know of who Jimmy hangs out with,” I said. This wasn’t quite true, but I was fed up and I felt I needed to know how Kirk would react to not bein’ able to find Jimmy… just in case I needed to make a break for it at some point in time and go into hidin’. Like I told ya, I had no doubt that a man like Kirk would kill me just out of spite. “I’m sure he knows more people, but I don’t personally know any of ‘em. I wouldn’t have a clue as to where else to look.”

“Shut up!” Kirk snapped at me, and for a brief moment there was that lethal look in his eyes again. Then he regained his composure and said again, “Just shut up. The sooner I find him, the better it’ll be for all of us. Just think harder.”

I let out an exasperated sigh which caught Kirk’s attention.

“If you don’t want to help us find the thieving mother fucker then you can get the fuck out of my car right now, because I’m just going to assume that you’re in cahoots with that crack-head piece of shit and I don’t want your brains all over my nice interior when I shoot your lying ass!”

“I’m tryin’ to think of where to go from here, but it’s not comin’ to me with you bitchin’ and fussin’ at me like this.”

“You know what, Damien? You’ve got some balls, talking to me that way. You better not be screwin’ with me, and you better come up with some ideas as to where Jimmy might be and fast.”

“Hey, remember, I’m the one who’s doin’ you the favor. I said I’d help you track him down, and that’s what I’m doin’.”

“And what a big help you are!”

“Look, I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I’m short on ideas. You know he’ll turn up, it’s just a matter of when and where.”

“Yeah, and meanwhile he’s using up all of my product.”

“Isn’t that why we’re out lookin’ for him?”

“Don’t get smart with me, Damien.”

“Sorry.”

“And stop talking in circles.”

“Sorry, again.”

“Alright, boys, he’s got a point,” Kirk addressed his people. “What does everybody say to taking a break, going and getting some burgers?”

After we went and got some fast food relief, we picked back up where we had left off. I had thought of a couple other people who I knew of who Jimmy might be with, but I decided not to mention any of ‘em to Kirk. Instead, I decided to mention some places where Jimmy might have gone to alone. I didn’t want to put myself out there anymore than I had to. I figured, The less people who see my face, the better.

Kirk had settled down quite a bit. He was still out for blood, but he wasn’t takin’ the situation out on me anymore. I was bein’ treated more like a part of his crew now, but I was still bein’ put in charge of comin’ up with the ideas on where to look and I wasn’t bein’ offered my gun back. After checkin’ a couple of out of the way locations, I found us drivin’ through the old neighborhood. There was a small, closed-down business district nearby. Jimmy and I used to travel down there every once in awhile durin’ our youths… smokin’ pot and screwin’ around, explorin’ the insides and writin’ graffiti on the walls of the empty buildings, vandalizin’ the decrepit properties and so forth. For some reason this area stood out in my mind.

“Hey, Kirk,” I said, “I want you to try somewhere for me.”

“Is this another one of your wild goose chases?” Kirk asked me.

“How should I know?” I honestly replied. “Probably.”

“Then why bother?” Kirk asked me, soundin’ frustrated and fed-up.

“Because it’s nearby and we don’t seem to have anything better to do.”

“Oh, I have plenty better to do,” Kirk retorted. “Maybe you don’t, but I do!”

“Let me rephrase myself. We don’t seem to have anything else we’re doin’ right at this moment.”

“You know what, Damien? I like you. I really do. I sure do hope that we find him.”

That was meant to be a threat, but Kirk’s threats were beginnin’ to lack the force and conviction that they had when he first picked me up for this escapade. There was no doubt in my mind, he was gonna kill Jimmy. I, on the other hand, had been cooperatin’ with him and doin’ everything that was asked of me. I felt that I was, at the least, savin’ my own hide.

At the time, I didn’t feel sorry for Jimmy. I was havin’ to jump through hoops to keep myself from fallin’ onto Kirk’s bad side and gettin’ myself shot, and that didn’t make me very comfortable or happy. I didn’t want to see Jimmy die or anything, but I was pretty upset about him blowin’ such a good thing by snaggin’ another man’s coke stash – and an important man who had all the right connections, at that. I kept wonderin’ what Jimmy was thinkin’. Why had he brought all of this down upon himself? Jimmy had just as much of a clue as I did about who Kirk was and who he was workin’ for… and Jimmy should’ve been makin’ good money, just as I was. I still hadn’t put all of the pieces together, although it was all so obvious.

“I want you to try the abandoned businesses off of Forty-Ninth Street,” I told Kirk.

“Why would he be there?” Kirk asked me.

“Because Jimmy and I used to come down to this area when we were young,” I informed Kirk. After a deep breath, I then said, “I thought of it. Jimmy could’ve also thought to come here.”

“This is all a waste of time,” Kirk said, shakin’ his head out of aggravation and disgust.

“Could be,” I couldn’t help but agree. Kirk was no longer snappin’ at me for the witty comments. I think they were keepin’ him entertained, by now. Bein’ tough and havin’ a certain attitude are but key elements in the playin’ of the underworld’s game. The more hardcore ya are, the more others seem to respect ya, the better the chances ya have of makin’ it somewhere. The real question is where that somewhere will be, and that depends on who ya know and how ya handle your role.

“Well, since we’re in the area,” Kirk said, givin’ me the eye, “I guess we might as well drive through and take a look.”

“Might as well,” I agreed, donnin’ an easy smile. I hated the way Kirk would look at me like that, it made my blood run cold, but I wasn’t showin’ weakness and I had a feelin’ about headin’ out this way. Kirk turned onto Forty-Ninth Street and started to cruise the abandoned business district.

In the parkin’ lot of an abandoned warehouse, I spotted a car parked towards the back and out of the way that I thought might be Jimmy’s. I pointed it out to Kirk. He drove us closer. Sure enough, I was right, it was Jimmy’s Chevy.

“Good, good. He’s around here somewhere,” Kirk declared, that killer’s look flickerin’ back to life in his eyes. “Good call, Damien. I never doubted you… not once.”

That last statement probably meant somethin’ different… somethin’ else. I’ll never know how close I actually came to gettin’ capped that day – who knows, right? I just wanted to be done with the whole ordeal. We’d only just begun.

“Split up and find him,” Kirk ordered his crew. “Do what you have to do and don’t let him get away. Damien, you come with me.”

I did as told. We set off in search of Jimmy. Kirk and I entered the warehouse from one end, the other guys from the other end. It was a bright, sunny day, but it was fairly dark within the building. A few high-up windows provided the only light within the room where we entered.

“Watch yourself, he could be anywhere. Don’t expect for him to be friendly when we find him, either,” Kirk informed me. Kirk was right. Jimmy had gotten in over his head. He was my friend in the past, but it was likely that he would be prepared for nothin’ but violence. I, myself, needed to be ready for a hostile encounter – which I wasn’t. I felt my adrenaline start pumpin’ with this realization.

“Are you really gonna kill him?” I asked Kirk.

“Do you understand what your old buddy has done?” Kirk came back at me. “I doubt he’s expecting anything less of me.”

“I mean, if there’s another way…” I tried to reason with him.

“Trust me,” Kirk tried to explain to me, “I’ve been through enough encounters such as this to know, there won’t be any other way. Look out for yourself and watch your back. He’ll kill you, too, just for helping me look for him.”

I didn’t believe that, but I had no doubt that this was a dangerous situation to be in. Jimmy would be armed and all geeked up on coke. I dreaded the idea of gettin’ into a shootout with him. Unfortunately for me, that seemed to be what Kirk was after.

We traveled from room to room, slowly, watchin’ for any sign of movement in the ill lit rooms. The warehouse was mostly empty, but there were a few stacks of pallets and empty crates off in corners that someone could hide behind, and a couple of supply closets someone could hide in. We took our time checkin’ every room, practically searchin’ ‘em inside out. Kirk had a flashlight on him which proved helpful in doin’ so. We were searchin’ one of the rooms when we heard shots fired.

“That’s got to be him,” Kirk exclaimed, rushin’ out of the building and towards the direction where we heard the shots come from. I followed him. For a big guy, Kirk sure did move fast. We ran in the direction Kirk had sent his thugs. We entered the same building from the other end. I could hear one of Kirk’s thugs moanin’ in pain. We approached him. He had been shot in the left shoulder.

“Where is he?” Kirk asked his fallen comrade.

“He’s on the run again,” The guy told Kirk. “Pete’s after him.”

“Alright, Bryce,” Kirk told his guy, “you hang in there. I’ll be back. Come on, Damien!”

I followed after Kirk. Two more shots rang out. We caught up with the guy by the name of Pete. He had also been shot and was down. He’d been shot in the chest. He didn’t look so good.

“Pete, are you alright?” Kirk asked the man as we got to him.

“That fucker shot me, the son of a bitch, he fuckin’ shot me, man!” Pete told Kirk, in obvious pain.

“Where is he?” Kirk then asked the wounded man.

“He’s right around the corner,” Pete informed us. “I think we’ve got him cornered.”

“Alright,” Kirk told his other guy, “you hang in there, Pete. Damien, your friend just shot two of my guys! Whose side are you on?!”

“Your side, of course,” I replied. “You’re the boss.”

“Good answer!” Kirk said in response. “Don’t let me down!”

We continued into the next room and reached a bend. Kirk stuck his head around the corner to see if he could get a view of where Jimmy was at, but quickly ducked back behind the cover of the dull-grey wall’s protection as a shower of bullets came whizzin’ his way, shatterin’ into a similar wall ahead of the position where Jimmy was makin’ his stand.

“Damien, see if you can talk to him!” Kirk instructed me.

“And say what?!” I asked, feelin’ startled and afraid at just havin’ to be in this situation, and feelin’ completely unsure of myself on top of that.

Kirk flashed his gun at me and insisted, “Just talk to him!”

Who could argue with that kind of persuasion? I did as told.

“Jimmy, it’s me, Damien!” I called out.

“Damien?! What the fuck are you doin’ here?!” Jimmy asked me.

“Kirk told me what happened! He just wants to have a talk with you!” I lied. “Will ya please come out and talk to us?!”

“I’m through talkin’, Damien!” Jimmy retorted. As if he could see through the lie, he added, “You know that’s not an option!”

“Yes it is, Jimmy!” I lied again, lookin’ at Kirk, my eyes almost pleadin’ with him. “It’s still an option!”

“No,” Jimmy coldly stated, “it’s not!”

Kirk handed my gun back to me and said, “He isn’t going to listen to you. Now it’s time for you to prove where you truly stand.”

I hugged the wall, facin’ towards the spot where Jimmy was cornered. I attempted to ready myself for what was to come. My adrenaline was pumpin’ and my breathin’ was heavy, deep, and a little labored. I didn’t want to do this, but then again, I wasn’t bein’ given much of a choice.

“Are you with me?” Kirk asked me.

“Yeah,” I hesitantly replied, my adrenaline pumpin’, not knowin’ what else to say, “of course.”

“Ready?” Kirk said to me.

“No,” came my honest response. Before I could hesitate any longer, Kirk shoved me out of our safe and secure, little spot into the line of Jimmy’s gunfire. I went sprawlin’ forward as the shots rang out, and I continued forward in an awkward summersault. Kirk rounded the corner and came up shootin’. I came up in a crouched position, also shootin’. One of us, I’m almost certain it was Kirk, shot the weapon clear out of Jimmy’s hand. Jimmy ducked behind some crates, obviously hurt and in pain. Kirk charged forward with his gun drawn at the ready, hurriedly closin’ in on Jimmy’s position, and I quickly fell in behind him, followin’ cautiously.

“Get out here, you thieving son of a bitch!” Kirk screamed at Jimmy. “Where’s my shit?!”

Kirk approached Jimmy’s position with me close behind him. The bag of powder was sittin’ on the ground right beside Jimmy. Kirk picked it up and examined it. I’m sure there was quite a bit missin’. Crack-heads are known to blow through hundreds of dollars worth of product in little to no time, and Jimmy had obviously developed a severe habit.

“What were you thinking?! Did you really think you would get away with this?!” Kirk interrogated Jimmy. “You know what? Never mind, I don’t want to know.”

“Whoa,” I started in, comin’ up alongside Kirk, “you got your product back, would you please spare his life?”

“Two of my guys were shot by this asshole, Damien!” Kirk shouted at me. “Would you really have me spare him?!”

“He’s my best friend, has been for a long time,” I retorted. “I beg of you, please.”

“You have a lot to learn about this business, Damien,” Kirk said to me. Then to Jimmy, “You know what your best friend has been through thanks to your dumb ass?! I was about to kill him! Luckily for him, we found you! And now he wants me to spare your worthless life!”

Kirk looked from Jimmy to me, and then back to Jimmy again. He laughed to himself, then looked back to me again.

“I’ll tell you what, Damien,” Kirk said to me, “I’m going to teach you the hardest lesson of your life. Jimmy, you brought this upon yourself. Damien, you’re going to be the one who puts this crack-head out of his misery.”

“Huh?! Me?!” I responded. “No, I can’t! I couldn’t do that!”

“Either you shoot him or I’m going to make him suffer for all the trouble that he’s caused me,” Kirk told me. He began to circle his gun about different areas of Jimmy’s body. “Where should I begin?”

“Hold on!” I saw where this was headed, so I interrupted Kirk. “I don’t like it, but I’ll do it.”

“Good, good. You’ll grow stronger because of this.”

“Jimmy will be shown mercy because of this.“ It didn’t sound all that great, but it was all I could think to say.

“Fuck that!” Jimmy interjected, tellin’ me, “Turn that gun on him, Damien! Blow his fuckin’ brains out!”

“No, Jimmy,” and tears filled my eyes as I spoke. “Ya really fucked up bad this time. Why’d ya do it, man?”

“I’m running out of patience,” Kirk warned me. He had his gun pointed at Jimmy. “Either you do it, or my fun begins.”

I pulled the trigger, two times in quick succession, both headshots. I can think back to that horrible day no longer. I’ve dredged up enough memories of that terrible scene to portray my point for the time bein’. I’ve spent a long time tryin’ to forget that incident… tryin’ to run away from the memories… tryin’ to push past it all in order to cope and deal.

After the smoke had settled, the shootout bein’ over and done with, we hurriedly went and prepared to leave the warehouse. The guy by the name of Pete had since passed away. The other guy, Bryce, was doin’ okay, but he needed medical attention. Before we left, Kirk had me help him drag Pete’s body into the room where Jimmy lay dead – his brains splayed all over the floor and the back wall, his blood coverin’ me from the close-ranged headshot and soakin’ into my clothin’.

“Now, whenever the police find your old buddy, they’ll just assume that it was a shootout between those two,” Kirk told me, rather matter-of-factly, gesturin’ towards the two fresh corpses. “They’ll think that they killed each other in the process.”

“I don’t know ‘bout you,” I very seriously and sternly stated, “but I’m still a little worried about the cops comin’ and poundin’ on my door.”

“With the people who I work for, there’s not much chance this will reflect back on us,” Kirk informed me. He took a final glance over his shoulder, and my eyes followed his. After one last glimpse at the bloody massacre, Kirk stated, “But just in case some smart-ass cop could find a connection, it’s always best to have our grounds covered.”

“So, that’s how you do things?” I questioned. “Your guy dies and you just leave him behind to take the rap, huh?”

“I don’t hear him complaining about it, do you?” Kirk asked me, a harsh sarcasm to his voice. “Tell you the truth, I’d rather Pete still be alive. Like I said, there likely won’t be any trouble, anyhow. You’ll come to understand this line of business, just as you’ll come to understand who we’re working for, just give it time.”

Kirk and I helped his other buddy, Bryce, to Kirk’s car. We loaded him into the back seat and then got the hell out of there.

“We have to get him to a hospital,” I apprehensively proclaimed.

“We have to get him somewhere,” Kirk corrected me, “but not to a fuckin’ hospital.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “We can’t just let him bleed out.”

“The organization employs all kinds of people. Many different types of people in many different trades and occupations are on the payroll, and they’re all very loyal,” Kirk informed me. “We are all sworn to a code of silence, and we all know what it would mean to break that code. You’ll take that oath whenever you get connected with the right people. What do you think it would mean to break that oath?”

“The same thing that just happened to Jimmy,” I replied.

“You know what, Damien? You learn quick.” Kirk continued, “We’re going to see a guy I know who acts like the chief surgeon to the underworld in these parts. He used to be a chief surgeon at a local hospital, until he found out that he could make more money and receive better benefits by being on the organization’s payroll.”

“Does he have the necessary equipment to help your buddy?” I asked.

“Of course,” Kirk answered. “No sweat. I‘ve even had to use him before, myself.”

While drivin’, Kirk lifted up his shirt and showed me a small, circular scar on the far right side of his stomach, just below the navel. Soon afterwards, he stopped briefly to use a payphone at a quiet, unpopulated, nearby gas station. The doctor was in.

Kirk let the medicine man know that we were headin’ his way and told him what to expect whenever we got there. Kirk rushed his buddy to the doctor’s residence, and we helped Kirk’s shot-up guy inside and got him up onto a table.

“Will you need anything else from me, John?” Kirk asked the doctor.

“No, I can handle it from here,” Dr. John said, his voice displayin’ a cheerful, but smug, air of confidence.

“Will he be okay?” I asked the doctor.

“He may not be able to use that arm for a little while, but he’ll live,” Dr. John assured me.

“Okay, Damien,” Kirk said to me, “let’s see what we can do about getting you home.”

“Okay,” I replied, thinkin’ to myself, Is this epidemic finally about to end?

We left the doc’s place and headed in the direction of my apartment. For a while, not a word was spoken between the two of us. I was still on edge. I was also beginnin’ to feel sick to my stomach, a feelin’ which seemed to intensify every time I got to thinkin’ about all that had just transpired. I couldn’t believe Jimmy was dead. I wasn’t prepared for a blow like that. It was the hardest thing I had been through since my mother died. Losin’ loved ones has to be the hardest blow to anyone in one’s life… is for me, at least.

I hated Kirk for that, but in a way I understood what he had done. Nevertheless, I would rather have sided with Jimmy than Kirk, but I was too young, naïve, scared, and unsure of myself back then to have handled myself any different in that situation. Like bitter medicine, that had been one hard pill to swallow.

“Doctors, lawyers, bankers, even politicians and law makers… any profession you can think of, the organization has at least one on hand in the area at all times. Even if the cops were to come to your door, say nothing because we’ll get you a lawyer to do the talking for you… one who’ll get you off the hook in a heartbeat,” Kirk informed me. We were nearin’ my place when Kirk finally spoke up. “Much of the police force in this area is in the residing Don’s pocket. They won’t fuck with him or any of the men under his protection. You did good today, Damien. You definitely showed merit, proved you have girth… hell, and some steel cajones. You’ve shown that you hold some promise… that is, you have something to offer this organization. I saw it in you the first day that I met you. Jimmy, on the other hand, well… Jimmy was an addict… an addict who made some poor decisions.”

“You talk as though you’ve never been ripped off in a drug deal before,” I interjected.

“Not many people dare to cross me,” Kirk declared, a sharp and to the point response. “Jimmy knew who I was, even better so than you did… up until now.”

“He was just a strung out crack-fiend,” I tried to argue.

“Don’t think that he didn’t know what would happen after I caught up with him whenever he stole that bag of coke from me. Trust me, he knew what he was doing… what he was getting himself into. He’d been warned. That was over a thousand dollars worth of product. Don’t tell me that you would’ve handled yourself any differently.”

“Maybe you’re right?” I lied. That was my best friend he’d just made me shoot and kill. I wasn’t gonna just let this go and get over it.

Kirk seemed to drop it at that, either that or he was thinkin’, for there was more silence between us. We were almost to my place. I couldn’t wait to be done with this day.

“Just remember what I told you and we shouldn’t have any problems,” Kirk said to me as he dropped me off.

“I understand,” I replied, and that was that. Kirk was a good source of income. I did a lot of business with Kirk over the next few years, as I climbed in rank.

There was a funeral service held in Jimmy’s honor not long afterwards. I attended. There was a good turn out. Most all of his friends and family were there. I wound up talkin’ with his mom one last time that day. It was awkward for me.

“I know my son wasn’t the smartest boy in the World, and I know he got into a lot of mischief and there were things that he did that weren’t so good, but I’d have never imagined it would come to this…”  Jimmy’s mom told me, breakin’ off to try and choke back her tears.

“I’m not exactly sure what all happened,” I lied to her. “If it’s any condolence, I doubt it was Jimmy’s fault. I don’t know what he was doin’ out there, but I doubt he was the one who was lookin’ for trouble that day. Jimmy was a good guy.”

At least I felt that that last part was true.

“I just don’t understand why he was carrying a gun in the first place,” she said to me. “Please be careful, Damien. I wouldn’t want to see you wind up falling down that same path.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” I sincerely replied. “I’m so sorry this happened.”

“Thank you, Damien. You always were Jimmy’s best friend.” She actually said that to me, ‘bout broke my heart on the spot.

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