Chapter Ten: Opening Moves

January, 1988
A bruised disc in the spine can be difficult to diagnose correctly; if Woody had been playing professional football, the team trainer would have called in a chiropracter who would have ordered a series of careful x-rays and most probably enforced the only cure, that is, three to six months of rest.

Woody hadn’t been so lucky, for his doctor had been an elderly G.P. with a disdainful opinion of his chiro cousins. The doctor had also ignored Woody’s pleadings for a stronger painkiller than Tylenol. Thus Woody laid on his bed that evening, unable to sleep. With bouts of extreme pain especially frequent after re-injury, Woody would at times entertain dark fantasies of ripping off the doctor’s head and shitting down his throat. It briefly took his mind off the agony.

Meanwhile, Woody had a life to live, and that meant doing all the little normal things that any person took for granted: standing, walking, sitting down, and oh god each little movement hurt so much. So he had turned to Robby like a little child turning to a mother. When Woody had first injured his back, Rob had given him Demoral; the coke had come later in a moment of weakness. It was hard for Woody to determine the exact moment when he had become mentally hooked. Habits form themselves unobstrusively. Woody had assumed the crave for coke would lessen and disappear along with the pain in his back. It had taken a night of binging on the stuff and the lucid self-awareness that had come in the morning for him to realize that he was an addict. Worse still, he had been the last to find out.

Rob and Ricky and Scott, even Scott, looked upon him and talked to him with a mild sort of contempt – goddamn, I’m glad I’m not you, they said behind his back. It struck him as unfair. The team had needed him to continue playing, that was why he had taken the goddamn powder. He had allowed himself to get hooked for the sake of the team. Woody did not allow himself to realize that it had been just as important to himself to keep on playing. Practically all of his identity had been wrapped up in his role as star running back for the Laurentian Tigers. Now, football season was over, and Woody had the sinking feeling Rob was going cut him off.

“Damn Woody, you’s getting real expensive,” Rob had said in an offhand, casual way. They had been in the john of a fashionable nightclub downtown sharing a line.
“Sorry Robby,” Woody had joked, “but Cadillacs do swallow a lot of gas.”

Rob had not answered except to say mmmmm-mmmmm in a dismissive sort of way. Woody had been trying to justify Rob’s investment in coke for the last month and not just by performing on the football field. He had leaned -just leaned- on a few students who had tried to take advantage of Rob’s credit, and more than once had muled a few packages across town. Woody had phoned Rob’s house tonight and there had been no answer. He had then phoned Rob’s pager number not once but twice. No response. It slowly dawned on Woody that maybe the Cadillac had been left to rust. His back ached anew. Maybe the Caddy had a few gears stripped in the tranny too.

He laid down on his bed and tried to meditate. That’s how he had become a great running back, by meditating and playing whole games in his head, seeing the opposing linebackers and safeties miss. He had willed himself success on the football field. This craving was only a matter of mind over matter, a question of willpower, he told himself. Rob and his people were bad news anyways. Maybe it was time to suck up and pay the piper.

Two-and-a-half hours later he got and phoned Rob’s pager number a third time. That son-of-a-bitch never went anywhere without it, he just wasn’t answering. Woody felt the craving for coke gnawing at the edges of his mind, like a furry rodent. One would have better luck ignoring splinters under the fingernails. Sweat poured off his brow and he moaned in frustration. He lied down on his bed and hoped for the telephone to ring, for Rob to call and give him blessed release. Even one lousy line would relieve the tension, would quiet the chittering that would not leave his head. He’s fucking abandoned me, Woody thought, paranoia now darkening his thoughts. Rob’s left me to the dogs now that the championship trophy is safely locked away. What was he without football? Woody’s head swished from side to side as he teetered on the edge of delirium. Briefs episode of clarity were eclipsed by dark swirling emotions. Woody imagined Rob, Scott, and John, the whole football team abandoning him to the gutter, a container drained of all usefulness.

“Woody, are you alright?” a voice asked from the doorway.
It was his sister Darlene. Woody sat up in bed with eyes round as quarters. A trickle of sweat beaded down his left cheek.
“I’m okay sis, just my back hurting a little,” he tried to mumble, but it came out more as a squeak.
“You want a back-rub or something, maybe an ice-pack?” she asked, shoeing softly into the room like a cautious engineer approaching a ticking bomb.
“No, I’m alright – I just need some sleep,” Woody said, a little louder. He thought that Darlene and his mother did not suspect a thing. The truth was they knew but were too scared to confront him. Instead, they tried to soothe Woody with acts of kindness and lure him, in a woman’s sort of way, from Rob and the white powder. That such an approach never worked, they concealed from themselves. Darlene stood there for a moment and stared at Woody with her luminous brown eyes that had driven more than one boy crazy. They suggested an all-knowing, tender, embracement. Woody looked into those eyes and felt the urge to cry and babble like a small child. But he could not relinquish what he felt to be the last vestiges of his manhood. So he screamed at her. “Out! Get the fuck out of here! Goddamn it, I said GET THE FUCK OUT!”

Darlene flied, crying from the room. She ran out to the tiny balcony of the two-bedroom flat with the shitty view of the dumpster in the alley-way and put her hands to her face. It was the first time Woody had ever yelled and cursed at her. He had been the head of the family ever since their father had abandoned them so many years ago. He had been unable to find work in when they had lived in Toronto during the recession of 1981-82. One evening when he had been due to come home there had been a knock on the door instead. Two white police officers had come around asking for their father. When mother had told them she didn’t know where he was (and that was the truth), they had turned belligerent and began making threats. Woody had then put his arm around his mother and told the two policemen to fuck off. Woody not even started his growth spurt yet and his voice had cracked. One of the policemen had laughed at the young boy.
“Guess we’ll be seeing you in a couple of years, with that type of attitude,” he had said.But they had left after that, and mother had hugged Woody and told him he was now man of the house. Woody had taken the position to heart and had grown up fast. They had never seen their father since that night.

But now Woody, who had always been a bedrock of stability, was now coming apart at the seams just like Dad when he had lost his job and couldn’t support the family. Woody was changing, his personality becoming mercurial, more violent. Mom had told Darlene just a few days ago that now she feared hearing a knock on the door again. Darlene had known immediately what she had been talking about. Darlene walked back into the living with her tears dried. She couldn’t let Woody self-destruct like this, but she needed help. She picked up the phone and started to dial.

***

John picked up the phone and immediately recognized the voice on the other end of the line.
“John? It’s Scott. We gotta talk baby.”
“Yup, that sounds good to me. What’s on your mind?”
When Scott suggested that they meet at a breakfast-and-coffee diner in the East end, a place where they did not normally hang out, John knew that Scott knew about the suitcase.

The greasy spoon was run by an elderly Cambodian and his family who had escaped Kampuchea one step ahead of the Khmer Rouge. The service was good and the restaurant was clean but drab and in desperate need of a good coat of paint. Already, to make ends meet, the counterman sold American smokes under the counter without their tax stamps. In a few more years, when the tax would amount to more than three dollars a pack, the 7-Elevens and other franchise corner stores in the area would do the same.

It was Saturday morning and cold for Vancouver. Black ice turned the roads into a bumper-car arena. By the end the day, eighteen Vancouver drivers would be filing for whiplash claims against their insurance. Five of those claims would turn out later to be fraudulent. John and Scott sat by the window and ordered eggs and bacon to go with their coffee. They idly watched the plumes of exhaust from passing vehicles rise up and pollute the morning air. Scott broke the silence first.
“So, John, are you going to tell me why?” Scott asked.
“You mean the suitcase? Or are we going to start bullshitting each other right off the bat?”
“I don’t know. I mean no. What the hell are you going to do with it?”
John thought of Jennifer and the way her long hair worked its way into his mouth when he tried to kiss her on the nape of the neck. He had never been with a girl who had worn perfume before, and she had worn expensive perfume that night.
“Jesus, Scott, what do you think? I’m going to sell it, use it to get the power to be able to tell Robby to fuck off. What were you going to do with it? I mean, you did go looking for it, didn’t you?”
“Yeah. I was gonna use it to help Woody.”
“Oh yeah. That’s all?”
“No, you’re right, maybe do a few other things with it. But how come you didn’t tell me beforehand so we could dig it up together?”
“I was worried maybe you would try something stupid, like talk me out of it. Or maybe the suitcase wouldn’t be there anymore and I would have gotten you all riled up for nothing.”
“Fuck you, I know why. You got all the coke now. You got all the power.”
John sat back in the seat to think. This is an important moment, he thought in a crazy sort of way. If he walks out on me I’m screwed.
“Yeah maybe so, Scott, maybe I thought that deep down inside but I didn’t just admit it. So do you just want half? Hell, half is enought for Woody for the next two years and still you can sell enough to buy off Robby and his fucking band. We can split it down the middle and walk away from each other.”
Now it was Scott’s turn to pause and think. “No, we gotta stick together on this and on dealing with Robbie.”
Damn glad you see it that way Scott, John thought. “…But what do we know about running a network, running an operation?”
“Eh, it’s like that shampoo commercial. We tell two friends, they tell two friends, and so on and so on…”
“Just that easy eh? And when it gets back to Rob, he won’t notice that his whole franchise is getting a warm screwing-over?”
“So we need a plan,” John said.

* * *

Woody was thinking of the corner store that was only a few blocks away from where he lived. It probably had a few bucks in the till and a few cartons of cigarettes that he could move for a few dollars more. So how much was it for a quarter gram of cocaine, seventy-five dollars? He needed less than that, hell, he just really needed one frigging line to take the edge off the hunger.

One of the most effective means of torture ever devised for human beings is solitary confinement with nothing for the mind to focus on. Minute-by-minute repetition of the same thought or the same image is guaranteed to cause insanity even in the strongest psyche. Soviet torture of dissidents involved total sensory deprivation, a white padded cell totally devoid of colour or sound cues. The victim is left with a void, and the machine of the mind slowly begins to degrade. Anyone trying to quit a serious or even mild addiction faces much the same sort of cell. The addiction crowds all other thoughts out of the mind. The victim is unable to focus on anything other than the craving or the undying urge. Whether the craving is physical or pyschological makes little difference. In the end, there is the mind-numbing repetition of the same damn thought over and over again. The very neuroses of the brain seem unable to make any other connection. Of course, eventually, the cravings pass, depending on whether the person is strong enough to wait or gives into the craving.

Woody smashed his head onto the floor and made a loud thump. The pain was very satisfying because it took his mind off the coke for a few seconds. A small part of his mind looked on dispassionately and told him he was going into mild delirium. The raging id that was in torment told his super-ego to fuck off, and ranged about once more. The bedroom door opened and light came flooding in, momentarily blinding him. He saw two silhouettes that were neither his sister or mother. He thought crazily that they were police coming to take him away. He backed up against the wall and the adrenalin started to pump. He felt himself ready to tip over into madness and he would be glad of the release. One of the silhouettes held out a hand. Woody tensed to pounce.
“I think you need this bad, Woody, so take it.” said one of the silhouettes.

Woody knew that voice. It was John. Scott was with him. Scott was holding something in the palm of his hand, and when he pinched it with his thumb and index finger to let it hang down, Woody could see what it was. White powder in a plastic bag. Woody took one step and snatched it out of Scott’s hand without a word of thanks. He would feel ashamed for doing that later. He dipped his pinkie finger into the bag and scooped up a tiny amount of cocaine. There was no time for screwing around with a mirror and a razor blade. He stuck the little finger into one nostril, and sat down on the floor to wait. The rush took less than thirty seconds to hit his head. The furry rodent that had been chewing on his brain gave up and fled, and he could start to think about other things other than cocaine. He could remember the last minutes of the championship football game, when he had tasted victory in his mouth and had plunged for the winning touchdown. The whooping and hollering in the lockeroom afterwards. The victory party that night and the three separate girls that had offered themselves to him. He had been a champion – and a warrior.
“Woody, we gotta talk,” a voice said. John had spoken. Woody turned his face and his mind towards Scott and John. His head was very clear. He noticed that they looked at him with a sort of pity. But you don’t know what you’re missing, he thought to himself, you guys don’t know how peaceful this can be.
“So boys, I know what you’re thinking, it’s time to pay the piper,” Woody said, and he laughed.

* * *

The third life of Michael MacKenzie exploded and blipped out on the video screen. He wasn’t concentrating hard enough to make high score today. In disgust he left the game without registering his initials. As he walked through the arcade he fingered the end of his ponytail. He noted with a little bit of satisfaction that it was growing long again. He hated having just little nubs of hair too scanty to fit inside an elastic. His last ponytail had been a beauty, hanging half-way down his back. His father had cut it off, a bastardly thing to do, but then again, his old man was always a bastard after getting drunk. He was always sorry afterwards, and sometimes he even apologized. But the next time would always be a couple of weeks or months away. Mike’s mother had an agreement with the sugar refinery where his dad worked. They always held back enough of his pay from him at the end of the month so that the family could always make rent. Most of the time Mike and his mother just had to fear that the old man would drink up all the household money.

To be fair, he was rarely violent. He had only hit Mike’s mother four or five times in all the years they had been married. One time, when Mike had been nine or ten, his mother had invited over three of her friends on paycheque night. The conversation had turned to beatings as the women had trundled a succession of can-you-top-this stories. One woman had been thrown to the ground in a parking lot by her boyfriend when she was five months pregnant. Another one remembered when she and her man had both been drinking and she had woken up in the morning with bruises all over her body, and not remembering what happened. Mike guessed in that he and Mom were lucky in many ways, considering what was out there. But he wouldn’t let Dad beat up Mom again. The football season had left him lean and hard. He was sure that he was quicker than the old man after too many years of boozing. Plus, he was keeping up on the weightlifting so there was no chance of him losing muscle in the off-season.

Mike stood leaning against a video machine, his face becoming grimmer and grimmer as he sank ever deeper into thought. A hand slapped him on the back and he turned about slowly. He took pride in the fact that he was never jumpy. Never.
“How’s the man doing?” John asked. He was with Scott and Woody. All three of them wore strange smiles on their faces.
“Not too bad. You guys come down here to try and whump me at a game of Dragon’s Lair? Ain’t gonna happen, no way,” Mike said.
“Nah, not today, Mike my man. Today is not the day for games. Today is a serious day, maybe the best day of your life. You see, we need somebody to help us in a little task we must perform.”
“Um, listen boys, we be brothers forever and all that sort of happy crappy, but how ‘bout you guys just kiss Rob’s ass and make-up? I don’t want no part of messing with the man.”
“Shit,” Scott said, “that’s one smart boy, reading our minds like that.”
“Hmmm, I can see Mike needs some persuasion,” Woody said.
John held out both his hands. In one palm he held out a roll of twenties. In the other hand, which he opened only briefly, he held a small baggie full of cocaine.Mike’s eyelids flipped open and the other three boys laughed.
“Shit, his face don’t do that even when he’s putting a block on a linebacker,” Woody cried out.
John let Mike carefully take the roll of bills in his hand.
“We sold just three grams in the last two days,” John said, “we don’t have to kiss no one’s ass. All we’re offering is bucks, broads, and glory.”
Mike’s old man brought home in one week the cash that he now held in his hand. Images of his Mom and Dad flashed through his head. What he thought after that made him dizzy.
“Let’s get out of this place, I need time to get my head straight. And I got questions, Poleshaw.” “Michael, there’s no other way I would want it.” John said, He put his hand on Mike’s shoulder, and led him toward the exit.

* * *

“So what do we call ourselves?” It was Scott who asked the question.
“We ain’t a gang, we’re just a network,” Mike said.
“We have to be more than that. This ain’t gonna be easy. We have to be brothers ‘cause Rob ain’t gonna roll over and play dead,” John said.
“Shit, he’s just a lame duck. His ass is gone after this year,” Woody said.
“He ain’t just gonna give up. No way,” John said.
“So what do we call ourselves?” Scott asked again.
“It will have to be a secret name. If Black hears of us organizing, he’ll throw us all out,” Mike said.
“You guys are all sounding pussy,” Woody said.
“For Christ’s sake, do you think this gonna be easy? Like doing a friggin’ paper route?” Mike said.
“Rob don’t back up his people. They’ll wuss out on him the moment things get hot,” Woody said.

John looked out the window of the Patty Shop. They had paid for their meal to the delight of Dickie. He didn’t stop to think where the money had come from. John decided it had been a wise investment to stuff his people (that was how he thought of them now) with food so that tempers wouldn’t be so short. He glanced at Scott with meaning; it was obvious that Woody hated Rob’s guts now. Ironically, that could turn out to be a problem. There would enough to do without having to keep an eye on disciplining Woody. Discipline, disciple. Followers. Men on a mission. John found his train of thought focusing on the concept.

“We’ll call ourselves disciples,” John said suddenly during a lull in the conversation.
“Say what?” Mike said.
“God, what’s that’s supposed to mean?” Woody said.
“It’s what we are, or what we have to be,” John said. “I guess you could say we’re trying to spread the Good Word.”
Scott broke out into a smile. “Weird yeah, but I like it.”
Mike and Woody stopped to think it over.
“Well shit, I guess I can’t think of anything better,” Mike said.
John put out his hand in the centre of the table. “Do it or walk away. Swear loyalty to what we have now.”

It was not melodrama. By instinct the boys knew what they were getting into. They followed a ritual that was at least thousands of years old. They acknowledge that something was bigger than themselves. They swore fealty to a higher cause. All four clenched hands in the shape of a diamond.
“We are disciples now and brothers together. Swear that you never walk away from your family.”
They all swore.

Copyright 2008 by DJ Dunkerley. All Rights Reserved

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