Dog Eat Dog
By Edward Bunker
A MysteriousPress.com Copyright © 1997 Edward Bunker
All rights reserved.
Two nights alone in a room with a pair of one-ounce jars of pharmaceutical cocaine made Mad Dog McCain live up to his nickname. The cocaine was better than what was peddled on the street. It came from a doctor's bag he'd stolen from a car in a medical building parking lot. He'd originally planned to sell it after using a little bit, but when he approached the few people he knew in Portland, they either wanted credit or ridiculed cocaine as "powdered paranoia" or "twenty minutes to madness." They all wanted heroin, a drug that made them calm instead of insane.
A little bit made him feel great, so he used a little more, and the fangs of the serpent were in him. First he chopped the flakes with a razor blade, formed lines, and tooted them up the nose, and that was good. But he knew how to get a bigger bang. The doctor's bag had a package of disposable syringes with attached needles. All the pure cocaine took was a few drops of water and it dissolved. Drop in a matchhead-size piece of cotton to draw it through, and then tap the needle into the hard ridge of vein at the inner aspect of the elbow. It was hard to miss. Now his arm was black and blue and had scabs from earlier injections. His tank top was filthy and showed where he'd used the bottom to wipe away the blood from his arm. That didn't matter. Nothing mattered, except the flash. When the needle penetrated the vein, red blood jumped into the syringe. He squeezed a little; then let the blood back up into the syringe.
When the glow started to course through him, he squeezed off a little more. What a flash! If he ... could ... just ... maintain ... the flash ... Oh God! Ohhh ... So good ... so fucking good as it went through his body and his brain.
Stop. Let it back up into the syringe again. Squeeze off more.
Repeat, until the syringe was empty.
He closed his eyes, moaning softly as he savored the ecstasy. He was king of everything now.
From the nightstand ashtray, he took a cigarette butt. While he straightened it out to light, he saw Troy's letter from San Quentin on top of a pile of unopened mail. Good news. Troy had a parole date three months away. As soon as Troy raised, they would get rich together. Troy was the smartest criminal Mad Dog knew, and he'd known thousands. Troy knew how to plan things. What a great idea, heisting dope dealers and wannabe gangsters, assholes who couldn't yell copper. It would be great to have big money. He would buy Sheila the clothes she was always looking at in women's magazines and catalogs. He might even get her a Mustang convertible. She had it coming. She was a good broad. Halfass pretty, too, if she'd lose fifteen or twenty pounds. Then again he wasn't exactly Tom Cruise either. The thought made him laugh in the shallow way that cocaine allows. He had gaps in his dental work, a hole where a partial plate provided in prison had once been, until a Budweiser bottle in an Okie bar in Sacramento had wiped it out. Of course the evening hadn't ended there. When the Tulsa Club closed, he was waiting in the parking lot, a scuba diver's knife up his sleeve. When the bottle swinger unlocked his car, Mad Dog came out of the shadows barehanded, as if it were a fistfight. When he was in close, his head on the guy's chest, Mad Dog let the knife slide down into his hand. He sank it into the guy's guts two or three times before the guy realized it and ran, trying to hold his entrails inside his body.
Remembering, Mad Dog grinned. That would teach a motherfucker who to fuck with—if he lived. It was the reason Mad Dog had moved to Portland, where he had met Sheila.
He looked around the room. It was on the second floor and overlooked the flight of stairs to the street. Things were a dope fiend mess. Newspapers, socks, clothes, and bedding were strewn around. He'd torn the bedding off when a cigarette had fallen from his hand and the mattress had started to smolder. He'd been watching the Trailblazers tear up the Lakers when he'd smelled smoke. Water from the goldfish bowl had failed to stop it. He'd had to tear the mattress open and dig out the smoldering cotton. The hole was now covered with a towel, but the odor still filled the room. What would Sheila say when she got home?
Who gives a fuck, he thought. Fuck her ... fat bitch. Where was she? She was supposed to come back tonight with her chubby little daughter.
Mad Dog felt his armpit. Wet and slippery and smelling bad. The drug coming through his pores had a sour stench. He needed a shower. Shit, he needed a lot of things. But right now, he needed another shot of coke.
Thirty minutes and two fixes later, he had the light out and was peeking past the corner of the windowshade at the rainy night. When he'd started this cocaine binge, a fix would lift him to the heights for half an hour or more, and then let him down slow and easy. Now the cycle was quicker. Joy barely lasted until the needle was out. Within minutes the craving began and with it the seeds of dread and paranoia and self-loathing. The only remedy was another fix.
He peered down at the street from the old frame house that was built into a hillside near a railroad bridge. Because of the slope and the retaining wall, he couldn't see the sidewalk on his side of the street except where the stairs came up.
A car went by; then nothing but dark rain, the drops flashing momentarily in the glow of a street lamp. The craving for cocaine turned into a scream behind his eyes. He had delayed as long as possible, trying to make it last longer. It was nearly gone. Two ounces of pharmaceutical cocaine in forty hours. That was drug use of legendary scale. With heroin he would have folded into a drugged stupor long ago. Heroin had a limit, but cocaine was different: You always wanted more.
He found a vein and watched the blood rise. Instead of the usual practice of squeezing a little and stopping, and then doing a little more, he forgot and squeezed it all in.
It went through him like electricity. Instantly everything in his stomach flew from his mouth. Oh God! His heart! His heart! Had he killed himself? He spun and walked, careening off a chair, banging into a wall, then into the dresser. Oh shit! Oh God! Oh! Oh! Oh!
The flash dissipated, and with it his terror. He closed his eyes and savored the sensation. No more like that one, he swore.
Headlight beams flashed across the windowshade. Mad Dog went to the window. A car had made a U-turn and pulled up at the curb. The retaining wall blocked his view except for the bumper and headlights. Who the fuck could it be at this time of night?
He turned off the light and watched.
The car below pulled away. A taxi. Sheila and Melissa, her seven-year-old daughter named for a song, came into view at the bottom of the stairs. He could see Sheila's white face as she looked up. Mad Dog froze, certain she could see nothing except a black window. She would think he was gone because his car wasn't at the curb. It was in the service bay of the neighborhood Chevron station awaiting his payment for an alternator, but she didn't know about that. Good enough. It would give him time to shoot the last of the cocaine before he had to listen to her nagging bullshit. Forgotten was the surge of affection he'd felt earlier. Instead he thought of how she bitched at him about cocaine, and everything else, too.
Mad Dog heard them come in the front door and move around on the bottom floor. He could hear the child's quick feet, then the back door opening and closing. She was feeding the cat, no doubt. She was a worthless little brat most of the time. She disliked him and refused to do what he said until he promised to beat her butt if she didn't straighten up. When she complied, it was with a resolutely hangdog manner, pouting and dragging her feet. The only good thing about her was her love of the cat. She was always thoughtful and generous; she'd once used her last dollar for a can of cat food. Mad Dog had a grudging affection for such loyalty.
When he heard the canned laughter on the TV downstairs, he turned on the nightstand lamp; it threw a yellow pool of light on the ritual paraphernalia of the needle. He squirted a small syringe of water directly into the jar; then put on the lid and shook it. That way he would lose nothing. He sucked it through the needle into the syringe. He held it up and squeezed very gently, until a drop appeared at the tip of the point. That meant the air was out of the syringe. He took his time fixing it, savoring it as long as possible. If he could only hold this sensation forever; that would be heaven indeed.
Within minutes the joy was frayed at the edges by inchoate anguish, by self-pity. Why me, God? Why has life been so shitty from the very start? His earliest memory was from age four, when his mother had tried to drown him in the bathtub. His six-year-old sister, who later turned dyke and dope fiend whore, had saved his life by screaming and screaming until the neighbors came. They had stopped his mother and called the police, who had taken the children to juvenile hall, and the judge then sent his mother to Napa State Hospital for observation. Another time, the nurse at school had found the welts on his body where his mother had pinched him, digging in her thumb and forefinger and twisting his flesh. The pain had been awful, and afterward there was a bruise. Remembering it now, three decades later, gave him goose bumps.
She'd gone to Napa twice after that, once for eight months, before she died when he was eleven. He was away from her by then—in reform school. The chaplain called him in to tell him; then looked at his watch and told the boy he could have twenty minutes alone in the office to express his grief. The moment the door closed after the chaplain stepped out, Mad Dog was on his feet reaching for the drawers. He was looking for cigarettes, the most valuable commodity in the reform school economy.
Nothing in the drawers. He went to the closet. Bingo! In a jacket pocket he found a freshly opened pack of Lucky Strikes. L.S.M.F.T. No bullshit! He took them and felt good. He stuffed the pack into his sock and sat back down. That was where he was when the chaplain came back. He wanted to have a talk and he looked at the folder and frowned and said something about "... your father ..."
Mad Dog stood up and shook his head. He didn't want to talk about it. Indeed, he had nothing to say. He knew nothing of his father, not even his name. It wasn't on his birth certificate. By now his sister, who did have a name on her birth certificate, was calling him "trick baby." When he looked in the mirror, he was ugly and resembled nobody in the family. Although they were a nondescript bunch, they tended to be tall and pale with stringy hair, whereas he was short and swarthy, with curls so tight they neared being kinky. A loudmouth older boy had once even asked if his mama had a nigger in the woodpile. Ha ha ha. The bully was too big and too mean to challenge, but when the dormitory lights were out and the bully was snoring. Mad Dog crawled along the floor and beat his head soft with a Louisville slugger. The victim survived, but he was never the same; his speech was forever impaired, as was his brain. It was then that Gerry McCain had gotten the nickname "Mad Dog." It was a nickname he had lived up to in the ensuing years.
The last fix was wearing off; the headache was pulsing behind his eyes. Aspirin. Naw. Aspirin wouldn't touch this one. Besides, the aspirin was downstairs and he wanted to avoid Sheila's nagging ass as long as possible. Her shrill voice worked on his brain like fingernails on a blackboard. If he had some dough he would pack up and leave and wait for Troy in California, maybe even Sacramento. Things had cooled off by now. He even had a couple of scores in mind, but he hated doing anything alone and the only possible crime partner around was Diesel Carson. Mad Dog had known Diesel ever since reform school. They'd even taken a score together. That was the reason he wouldn't do anything with Diesel until Troy resurrected.
His headache was awful, and he could suddenly smell the stink of his own body. Booze and cocaine smelled terrible when you sweat them out. Cocaine was the worst drug. Terrible shit. He hated it. Yet he also craved another fix to postpone the hours of hell fast approaching. What he really needed was a fix of heroin. That was the perfect remedy for the gray scream of depression in his brain. The crash was starting. If he could only sleep through it ...
Then he remembered the Valiums. The big ones. Blues. The vial might have eight tablets left. That many would poleax him to sleep. He wouldn't care about the night sweats and the terrible dreams. He went to the dresser and opened the drawer. Among ballpoint pens, empty butane cigarette lighters, Pepto-Bismol tablets, and other effluvia, he found the little brown vial. He pried off the cap and dumped the contents into his palm. Six! Six! The bitch had been in the bottle.
Anger worsened the headache. He swallowed the six blue tablets with the help of a cold cup of coffee. He threw the empty vial into the wastebasket and started to lie down.
That was when the door opened and the overhead light went on with one hundred watts of brightness. Sheila stood there, her eyes going saucer-wide at the sight of him. She let out a little cry of surprise and her fist went to her mouth.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"What the fuck does it look like? Get outta here and leave me alone." He looked at her and hated her moon face with the blemished skin. How could he have ever thought her pretty? It must have been because he was fresh from prison and a female crocodile would have looked good. "I told you never to come in here without knocking."
"I didn't know you were home," she said. "Your car's not downstairs and you didn't come down to say hello. Where is your car?"
"It's at the gas station getting fixed."
"Don't talk to me with that tone of voice. I don't like it."
"She doesn't like it," he mimicked with scorn. "Ain't that a bitch." He leaned forward, looming over her. "I don't give a rat's ass what you like or don't like—bitch!" The pounding blood in his brain made him dizzy. He might have backhanded her except for the child's voice calling out, "Mommy! Mommy!" The sound of the girl's footsteps preceded her appearance in the doorway. She went to her mother. When they both faced him they looked alike.
"Let's go downstairs, honey," Sheila said, arm around the girl's shoulder as she turned her and walked her out the door.
"Can I watch Star Trek? It just started."
"Sure. If you go to bed right afterward. Go on." She sent the child out and turned back to Mad Dog McCain. She had gotten herself under control. "You've got to leave. I don't want you here anymore."
"Great. As soon as I get my wheels out of the gas station, I'm gone."
"Don't even think about charging it on my card. In fact, gimme the card back." She extended her hand and snapped her fingers.
"Hey, if you want me to go ... I gotta get the car out first."
"No. Give it here."
He saw she was unafraid. Why? Because she knew too much about the robbery of the merchant ship's payroll. She'd worked in the offices of a shipping company, and told him that merchant seaman were still paid in cash at the end of a voyage. She'd told him what ship, when and where. He and Diesel Carson had ripped off eighty-four grand. Sheila knew everything, and even though she was a conspirator, the authorities would certainly drop charges if she testified against Diesel Carson and Mad Dog McCain, a pair of lifelong criminals. Yeah, the bitch thought she had him by the balls. Why the fuck had he trusted her?
He took the Chevron card from his wallet and threw it at her. It fell on the floor. "Bastard," she said, picking it up and going out, slamming the door as she did so.
He blinked at the door while spinning down, down into the hell of a cocaine crash. Inside him was a silent scream of despair and a growing brute rage. Without the credit card he couldn't retrieve his car, and without his car he could never make any money. He was stranded. He could become homeless. He had a .357 Python and an AK-47 with a thirty-round clip, enough firepower to heist almost anything—but he couldn't run around on foot. He needed wheels, and not a carjacking. That was for young niggers who didn't know how to steal anything worthwhile. Still, he needed wheels more than anyone in their right mind could imagine. It bordered on obsession, and maybe paranoia.
Through the closed door, he heard Sheila and the child enter the next room. Melissa's bedtime. The thin wall allowed enough sound for him to visualize what was going on. The brat was saying her prayers. Jesusfuckingchrist—he hated religion. He hated God. He loved evil more than good and lying more than speaking the truth. He decided that he was going to get the credit card right now. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Dog Eat Dog by Edward Bunker. Copyright © 1997 Edward Bunker. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
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