Kamping on Asphalt: Not Nearly Enough

After so much implied drug use, the novel finally comes right out with it. These two character have been secondary in the first and third chapters. These two are also the primary characters in my follow-up unfinished novel. But in that one, I kill off Rachel on the first page. So the whole novel is about why that happened. That novel is totally different. It’s told in the first person by Jason. I have to admit that one of the problems with this novel was falling in love with these characters. They were so much fun to write for. Actually, writing this whole novel was fun. I learned a lot.

Chapter 4: Not Nearly Enough

On the 15th of each month, Rachel stood in line at the prescription counter of the Walgreen’s on 15th and Martin for their monthly supply of morphine. Today was the first, so it was Jason who stood in line, and at the Rite Aide on Division. It was all part of a little scan that David, the junkie doctor, had going. Jason and Rachel were supposedly AIDS patients of Dr. D who, along with some usual AIDS meds, received injectable morphine. So on the 1st and the 15th of each month, Rachel and Jason scored their legal opiates and went to David’s for a night, or two, of frivolity.

They previously had been living out of Jason’s Peugeot, 1989 505 DX. But times had gotten hard, or maybe they just got lazy. They had no money and they were going to be sick. Rachel’s skin had already begun to crawl and Jason had only ever kicked in jail, it was almost a point of honor with him. The beginning of a kick always makes a junkie more creative. Jason and Rachel hit upon a great idea: sell the car, buy a tent, and use the rest for dope. They only used the car to live in at the KOA anyway. Of course, the dope only lasted a week, but it was nice, like being on vacation. And then it was back to work.

This morning, waking from a fine night’s nod in their tent discreetly pitched behind a thicket of shrubs and a row of oaks in the field adjacent to the KOA, the couple found they had been robbed. Making matters worse, it was probably a “friend” who absconded with their cash, drugs, flashlight, and Jason’s unregistered Browning High Powered.

Truly, any other day they would have hustled, sold the tent maybe. But this was the 1st, vacation from their high pressure, busy life. So they walked to Ernie’s bar four blocks away because at the back next to the sagging plywood bathroom doors was a callback phone–a payphone that would accept incoming calls. They used it almost daily to contact Jorge and “the boys” but today it was to alert Dr. D to their medical emergency.

He was quick to call back, recognizing the number. Rachel answered. “What’s up” he queried, “is something wrong?”

“Broke, sick, didn’t think you’d want us to show up with the script that way.” They were both on the Oregon Health Plan so money wasn’t the issue.

“You two should plan better,” he sighed with exasperation.

“No!” Rachel protested. “We were ripped off, burgled you might say.”

Dr. D chucked. “Your tend?”

“Yeah. Last night while we were there.”

“Come over to my house and I’ll get you well. About twenty minutes? I don’t have much time.”

They practically sprinted and beat Dr. D by about five minutes. He was the best dealer around. First, he pretty much always gave drugs away. But also he was on time, neurotically so. Sometimes they’d wait an hour, or more, for a dealer in the freezing rain. He let them inside and went down to his basement refrigerator for a small ampule of morphine. Then he ripped open a new package of ten syringes, removed three, and returned upstairs.
He inserted a needle into the ampule and extracted a half cc into the syringe. “Here,” he said, handing it to Rachel. As he prepared the second syringe he added, “I’ll do Jason.”

“What?” Jason protested.

“You have trouble hitting your ass, Jason.”

“He’s right honey, let him hit you.”

David had been a junkie for ten years, shooting up at least twice a day but he had almost no tracks or scars and pretty much all of his veins were usable. He tied off Jason’s right forearm but nothing looked particularly promising. “Let’s try your hand, it doesn’t look that used.”

“No, I try it sometimes, looks like it would be easy, but they roll. I never manage.”

They moved the tie, a hollow yellow cord, to the middle of his forearm. Jason clinched his fist and the veins rose slowly. “There we are,” David said as he pressed various veins looking for the best.

Jason turned his head toward Rachel who was happily nodding on the couch, the empty syringe on the coffee table. She just had better veins. He’d always known he’d had bad veins. David decided upon the metacarpal that runs up the side of the thumb to the first finger. In a few seconds the needle was in, the tie removed, and morphine was coursing through his veins.

He immediately felt better. All the body aches, churning stomach, runny nose: gone. But he didn’t nod. He was high, a little. It felt good. Rachel, on the other hand, was Queen of the Nod. Jason sometimes thought she’d nod after injecting water.

“You kids better?” David asked. Rachel opened her eyes and smiled. “I’ve got to get back to work.” Clearly, David wanted to shoot up alone, the third syringe confirmed that. So they left to take care of their business and to let him take care of his.

*    *    *

Life is harder for the male junkie than the female. People just don’t think of women as junkies, not unless they’re prostitutes. And even for prostitutes, life is easier than the minute by minute existence of the male junkie, unless he’s a pimp.

As Jason approached the pharmacy trying to look gay or dying from ADIS, and not like a junkie, his heart sank. Rite Aide had such a high employee turnover! A new pharmacist and counter woman. It wasn’t that big a deal but they always asked questions, made phone calls.

Soon, Karen, Dr. D’s secretary would get a call. It was usually come pretense at a clarification, so as not to obviously insult the patient. “Did you want 50 mg/ml or 100?” Or the telling, “This is injectable?” The real reason was to check that the script was real and that this tall young man with his Jack Lord haircut was not a junkie. Karen was used to soothing the minds of concerned pharmacists. She was “on board” as David always said–a depressive who was addicted to 50 mg of Valium each day. “100 mg/ml, that’s right. Oh yes, injectable, his stomach is too sensitive for oral.”

But when Jason presented the script, the gray curly-haired woman just smiled and told him it would be about ten minutes if he wanted to have a seat. Rachel was in the parking lot, smoking. He was sure the cigarettes were going to kill her before the heroin. Him, it’d be the cocaine–at least that’s what Rachel was always saying. He could join her for a smoke but better to browse the store, maybe boost something, get a start on tomorrow’s work.

Jason had been to county three times. The first two just for holding after shoplifting. Once the charges were dropped. Next, it was court probation. That was nothing, but he was still on probation when he was picked up for a residential burglary. He got a year for that. But there was no easy way to support his, and Rachel’s habit. It’s not like he could work at Taco Bell, although he did once know a dealer who worked out of a McDonald’s.

Jason was surprised at the products Rite Aide had when he first checked it out. But they had a strict return policy, nothing without a receipt. But Jorge was a veritable clearing house for electronics, a separate business from junk distribution, to his fellow Latinos instead of the almost entirely white clientele for heroin.

He passed down the film aisle, past the photocopy machine and a young female clerk looking through processed film for an edgy mother with a small child. Peering intently at the CD players and boom boxes that lined the wall behind the counter, Jason took a quick look at the clerk, still engrossed. Without looking down, he shot his hand over and behind the counter, grabbing the first small box his hand touched. Still looking at the clerk, he shoved the box, some instant 35 mm camera, under his sweater and half way down his pants.

The clerk turned quickly toward him, but much too late.

“I’ll be with you in a minute,” she said accusingly.

“No problem.” When she had gone back to searching, he went to the pharmacy to pick up his meds. They were ready, crammed into the tiny white Rite Aide bag.

“All I need now is a signature,” the old woman smiled and handed him a pen and an OHP form with the medications listed. As he bent down to sign, he heard a door open in back. He looked. It was the storeroom and standing in front of it were the photo clerk and a tall thin man with wire framed glasses, probably the store manager. They acknowledged Jason as he turned back to sign the form.

“Have a nice day,” the woman offered as Jason walked away toward the exit. The clerk must have spotted him. He walked down the automotive aisle and before they turned the corner, following him, he slipped the camera on a shelf next to the motor oil, all without losing his pace.

As he made his way to the exit, he could feel them closing in just before he hit the door.

“Excuse me, sir,” he heard the man say. Jason turned.

The man lowered his voice, “A customer reported seeing you stick something down your pants… and…” He trailed off. This was bullshit, of course. It was that teeny-bopper clerk standing by his side. “Would you mind following us back to the office?”

“I’m in a bit of a rush.”

“I’m sure,” he said pretentiously. “But it will only take a moment. Jason walked back with them–the clerk leading the way and the manager staring holes in his back. He was taken to what looked like a break room with a refrigerator and a couple of sagging shelves.

“Will you allow me to search you?”

Jason exhaled firmly. “Jesus,” he said, “Do I have a choice?”

“No, not really. We have a police officer coming, we can have him do it.”

“If you are going to do it anyway, go ahead.” The prospect seemed to concern the manager–certainly it did more than Jason who had been through this before. It helped that this time Jason know he was clean.

“Why don’t you raise your hands up?” The manager proposed. Jason did so and the manager started to pat his chest, very lightly. He moved down to his stomach, and then split his hands and worked down his legs. On finding nothing, he padded down Jason’s back. He wanted to check his groin–Jason wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t been certain they’d find something. But the manager was afraid. Sure, there was the potential lawsuit but more it was just one man’s hesitance to grab another man’s crotch, regardless of sexual orientation. He couldn’t do it. “Let’s just wait a minute for the officer.”

They sat around the table staring at one another. The clerk looked glum. The manager smiled meekly at Jason, thinking perhaps he’d been wrong. Jason’s face was unaltered: a scowl designed to communicate hostility. After a few minutes of this, there was a knock at the door and an underage cop entered, at least he seemed underage to Jason with his slick black hair and high school mustache. “What’s going on here?” he asked.

“We thought we had a shoplifter but I searched him and didn’t find anything.”

The cop looked at Jason contemptuously and then spotted the pharmacy bag. “What’s in the bag?”

“Medicine,” Jason said. “But I don’t see what that has to do with anything.”

“Do you mind if I look at it?” the officer asked as he searched through the bag.

“Yeah,” Jason sighed. “But it seems I have no choice.”

Officer Young, as Jason thought of him, poured the contents out onto the table. He looked briefly at the pill bottles as his attention was drawn to the three bags of syringes and the morphine. “You have a prescription for this?”

“Of course.”

He looked at the manager. “Would you check on that?”

The manager said sure and left the room.

“I think I better pat you down. Stand up and face the wall.”

Jason did so, putting his hands against the wall. The cop searched him thoroughly, showing no concern about invading his groin with gusto. Finding nothing, he removed Jason’s wallet. Looking at his driver’s license, the cop said, “Well, Mr. Thiel…”

“It’s not ‘theel’,” Jason interrupted. “It’s pronounced like the color: ‘teal’.”

“Well, Mr. Teal, if you don’t have a prescription for these drugs, we’re going to take a little ride.”

“Can I sit down?” Jason asked.

“Sure, I’m not an ogre.”

“All evidence to the contrary,” Jason said.

Just as Jason sat, the manager came in the door with a prescription. He said, “It’s to a Jason Thiel.”

The cop handed Jason his wallet and looked at the manager. “Let me talk to you outside.” They exited, leaving Jason alone with the clerk.

“It was you, wasn’t it?” he asked her.

She blushed, “I’m sorry, I just thought I saw…”

“What do you care anyway?”

She just stared at the floor until the cop came back in. “You can go.”

Jason gather up his meds and put them back into the bag. As he strode out the three stood by the door watching him until he turned down the automotive row. He turned and looked over the row and saw them going back into the break room. When he came to the motor oil, he grabbed the camera and stuck it down his pants. Then he walked confidently out the front door.

Rachel was leaning against a light pole in the middle of the parking lot with half a pack of cigarette butts at her feet. Her eyes were focused on the front door and she smiled enormously upon seeing Jason.

“I thought they arrested you when I saw the cop pull up and you were in there so long.”

“I almost was arrested. Fucking teeny-bopper!”


“I’ll explain, but let’s get out of here.”

The great thing about Dr. D’s scam was that it worked on so many levels. All the AIDS meds went to real patients without insurance at 10% the cost; $50 to Jason today. David didn’t care, he was just trying to help his patients and it was a little perk for Jason and Rachel which made their lives easier.
There was way too much time before meeting at David’s house at eight. So they caught Tri-Met back to Greenboro and their tent. Once there, they partook again and passed out in each other’s arms.

*    *    *

“Fuck,” Jason said as he covered his face with his hand to cut out the spot light flooding the tent. He had obviously been asleep a while. He looked at Rachel who was rubbing her eyes.

“I hope you haven’t used the whole bottle.” It was David.

“Turn off that fucking light, David!”

“Come on sleepyheads, I’ll drive you over to my place. Leanne is there and I scored some really good coke.”

“Coke?” Jason said eagerly as he sat up.

“He doesn’t need any coke,’ Rachel said drowsily. “Let’s just meet tomorrow night.”

“Come on, Rachel,” Jason said standing up. “You like a speedball as much as anyone, you’re just lazy.”

“All right, all right.”

Leanne was a piece of work but it was clear why Dr. D liked her: she was gorgeous, in a skinny kind of way, Rachel though. But Rachel was jealous, to some extent. Every time she got off smack, she put on thirty pounds and her face broke out in acne. In all other ways she was superior, she though, and so did most others. Leanne was a dancer at Sabrina’s, a strip club his friend Lenny had brought him to because he was dating, and living with, practically, the bartender. Lenny was pretty straight, so he didn’t notice but David knew immediately that Leanne was a junkie.

Of course, Leanne wasn’t just a body. She had traveled extensively, especially for being only thirty. In fact, it had been in Thailand where she had discovered opiates at the prime age of twenty. She met the bass player of some famous punk band at the time who took her to an opium den. They spent all night there smoking and nodding. She was instantly in love, with opium, not the musician.
When they entered the house, Leanne had a clear coke-filled syringe in her arm. “This is some great coke guys.”

“I told them,” David said watching her hand tremble. “How much have you done?”

“Not that much; not nearly enough.”

4 thoughts on “Kamping on Asphalt: Not Nearly Enough

  1. Very tight writing. It felt like a true story, specifically the shoplifting scene. I can totally see the young kid ratting out the thief and then being uncomfortable when faced with the man asking “why.”

    I remember when I was at a grand jury for some poor schmucks who had robbed me in a convenience store. I sat there thinking “why do I care if they go to jail. I didn’t get hurt.” But I ratted them out, fearing for my job if I didn’t. Standing on principle is hard, dammit.

    • Jason’s an interesting character. His character gets deeper and deeper over the course of the book and then especially in the followup. He’s a character who surprised me a lot as I wrote him. At first, he was just kind of a standard issue cocky junkie. But there’s much more to him. At this point in his life, he’s just trying to survive. In the follow up, he become self-destructive. He searches for a truth that he doesn’t want that he doesn’t want to know. I love the character, but he probably doesn’t seem very sympathetic right now.

      • He was sympathetic enough. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone “why’d you screw me over” as long as you aren’t cruel about it. It’s just more direct than most of us are.

        • I don’t even know what he did in that chapter. I can’t bear to read it anymore. I think he’s very nice in the first and third chapters.

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