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There were good times and bad times, but in the beginning there were more good times. When I first met Candy: those were like the days of juice, when everything was bountiful. Only much later did it all start to seem like sugar and blood, blood and sugar, the endless dark heat.
But I guess the truth is, it didn't really take all that long for things to settle into a downward direction. It's like there's a mystical connection between heroin and bad luck, with some kind of built-in momentum factor. It's like you're cruising along in a beautiful car on a pleasant country road with the breeze in your hair and the smell of eucalyptus all around you. The horizon is always up there ahead, unfolding toward you, and at first you don't notice the gradual descent, or the way the atmosphere thickens. Bit by bit the gradient gets steeper, and before you realize you have no brakes, you're going pretty fucking fast.
So what did we do, once the descent began? We learned how to drive well, under hazardous conditions. We had each other to egg each other on. There was neither room nor need for passengers. Maybe also we were thinking that one day our car would sprout wings and fly. I saw that happen in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It's good to live in hope.
There was a time, after that Indian summer of our falling in love--after we'd gone through the money Candy's grandmother had left her, after we'd done a few scams and had a pretty good run for six months or a year--when we knew it would be good to slow down or stop and see where we were. It's funny how difficult that would turn out to be. It would be almost a decade before the car finally came to a silent stop on an empty stretch of road a long way down from where we'd started. Almost a decade before we'd hear the clicking of metal under the hood and the buzzing of cicadas in the trees all around us.
In that first year, Candy developed her first heroin habit. Like all the rest of us, no amount of words and warnings could prepare her for the horrors of drying out. So when we were forced to give it a go, she was a little shaken by the power of the thing.
This was in Melbourne for her. Candy grew up in Melbourne, and she went back there to dry out because we figured it would be too tempting to fuck up if we tried to do it together. It was her first habit, so she probably just needed a week at a friend's place with some good food and a trunk or two of pills.
I'd been gunning it now for a few years, so the plan for me was to go to detox for a while. I'd been getting this good brown Sri Lankan gear from my dealer T-Bar. There was lots of it, and everyone wanted it from me. It wasn't all that heavily refined--it wasn't the Thai white or even pink rocks. It was alkaline, and you could say rough as guts. But it was pretty pure, because three or four times a year it came into the country in condoms up T-Bar's arse. I stepped on it one-to-one with chocolate Quik, and still everybody was more than happy.
But Murphy's Law in the world of heroin said that if things could get out of control, then of course they would. T-Bar's brown was still in abundant supply, but I was starting to owe him more and more money, and he was getting pissed off with me. So I had some motivation to get things together in that department. I wasn't the world's greatest dealer. The simple equation was that the more dope I had, the more I used. I noticed that some of the people I sold to regularly were calling me less often; maybe I wasn't so reliable anymore. Detox seemed like the ideal opportunity for a breather.
The signs to stop were there. The plan was that Candy and I would link up in a week or two and be happy and healthy and maybe Candy would get pregnant. Then maybe we'd move to Melbourne, just to be on the safe side. Start a new life down there, away from the gear and all my Sydney connections.
Or maybe we could stay in Sydney and go back to hanging around with my old friends, my pot-smoking friends who held down jobs and went out on the weekends and seemed to enjoy their lives.
Mason Brown was one of these friends. Mason was six-foot-three, with a craggy face and sandy hair and a permanent grin. He loved his life like nobody I'd met before. He loved smoking buds and he only ever had the best, the lie-back-and-laugh stuff. He loved live music. He even loved--loved with a passion--his job as a field officer with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
We'd grown to like each other a couple of years earlier, when we'd done a lot of business and smoked a lot of bongs. Mason had stood by me as others started to avoid me. He was never one for getting moral. He got a little sad when he saw me fucking up. He never said anything stronger than, "You really ought to stop this shit." He bailed me out of little financial holes on several occasions, and never asked for the money back.
A few days before Candy left for Melbourne, we went out to see a band. Be social, be normal, have a bit of a preview of our life to come. There were lots of people I knew there, and a few of them gave me the dirty eyeball, and some of them spent a fair amount of time staring at Candy, who always stood out like a beacon of beauty.
Mason Brown was there. I hadn't seen him in a few months and we caught up on the news. After a while he gave me one of those searching looks and said, "So--you okay?"
I shrugged my shoulders.
"Things aren't too good, Mason," I said. "I've got to stop. I really like Candy too. But she won't put up with it. It's not going to last if I keep this up. I want to travel. I want to go overseas. I want to do things. I'm going nowhere. I just need to knock it on the head. Go back to smoking. I wish I could do it like you."
"You can, mate, you can."
Mason seemed to have a blind faith in me that even I found embarrassing.
"I'll tell you what," he added. "I'll do you a deal. Grow a crop with me. We plant it, we look after it, we sell it, we go halves. We'll sell in bulk, don't fuck around with small things. You'd know a buyer. We'll make some good bucks. You and Candy can travel for a year, see a bit of the world, have some experiences. Get that monkey off your back."
It was endearing and charming, the way Mason used the corniest old expressions. He even said "junk" sometimes, as in, "Keep off that junk and you'll be right, matey." But he got me going with dreams of solid cash and a bright future. And he was the bud man, the gardener. I couldn't go wrong doing a crop with Mason. I knew also that he could grow a good crop quite successfully without me. That he was trying to be a friend.
"It's September," he said. "It's time to plant. It's already a couple of weeks late. But let's do it. I'm willing to bring you in on the plan. But here's the catch." He looked at me sternly. "Tonight's Friday. Next Friday night, or Saturday dawn, we leave. I know the spot, I've been checking some maps. So you've got seven days to dry out. If you're fucked up, we don't go ahead with it."
I was stoned to the gills on the good Sri Lankan brown, so of course I could promise him the world. I was an endless reservoir of enthusiasm. We shook hands on it and I hugged him. "Good on ya, mate," we said to each other.
I found Candy in a crowd near the bar. I pulled her aside, bursting with the news.
"Guess what, sugarplum? We're going overseas, in a few months."
I quickly filled her in. She seemed pleased enough. She knew that Mason represented a healthier life, so something involving Mason and me was better than something involving me and my own brain.
Seven days to get off smack. A new life. No problem, with this in front of me. I could do it on my head. The very thought of a successful detox made me feel warm and relaxed. I went to the toilet and found a cubicle with a lock that worked and had a nice blast to celebrate. Then I went outside to enjoy the band.
The next day I still had a gram of T-Bar's dope and some money to give him, and it's not like I was about to flush the gear down the toilet or anything. I'll make Saturday a good one to go out on, I thought. Things drifted into Sunday, and Candy and I were getting sad about leaving each other for a week, so I gave T-Bar his money and got two more grams on credit. We sold a bit and used a bit.
On Monday we had our last blasts, several times, and we caught a cab to the bus depot for one of those sad and tawdry Greyhound good-byes.
"Hang in there, Candy," I murmured as we hugged. "When we see each other next week we'll both be feeling fine. Just get through this week, that's all."
"You too," she said. "Don't fuck up."
"Don't worry," I said, "I've had my last shot too."
"I love you."
"I love you."
But the bus pulled out and we waved good-bye and suddenly I could feel the magnetic force of T-Bar's house dragging at the iron filings in my stomach.
As long as I stop by Tuesday night, then I should be half okay by Friday night, I reasoned to myself.
By Tuesday I decided I might as well just keep using, get the crop planted, then go to a proper detox (which was the original plan) next week (which wasn't). I decided I would have a big hit just before we left early Saturday morning, and leave my dope at Mason's house, and white-knuckle it for twenty-four hours as a test of strength. I'd grit my teeth and be helpful and agile for Mason, and I wouldn't have small pupils, or nod off and have him cancel the whole deal.
So it was business as usual Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. At some point I called Candy, who was sick, and told her I wouldn't be far behind. She was a little pissed off at my lack of stamina, but I assured her that I really just wanted to concentrate on the crop business for the time being, and that things would be fine, whatever the timetable.
Friday came and I organized to meet Mason at the pub where one of his favorite bands was playing. I hit up some coke before I met him so my pupils weren't too small. I told him I was feeling okay and that I'd gotten through the week. I smoked joints with him on the fire stairs and drank lots of beers as if to back up my story.
We got home to his place about one a.m. I was pretty drunk and we pulled some cones and I really could have done with a big sleep. Mason set the alarm for a quarter to five and said, "We're out the door by five-fifteen, okay?"
I figured the beginning of a business venture must be the hardest part.
Mason shook me awake when he got out of the shower at five to five.
"Coffee's on. Jump in the shower."
I took all my stuff into the bathroom and locked the door. The Sri Lankan gear was alkaline, so I'd gotten a slice of lemon at the bar in the pub, wrapped it in a tissue, and stuffed it into my shirt pocket. It was a bit dry and stiff now but it would have to do. I put the water and the heroin and a drop of lemon in the spoon and heated the mix and whacked it up.
I could have stayed in that fucking shower for hours. I'd had a real lot of heroin, thinking of the twenty-four hours ahead. It was a massively peak experience, drifting under that jet of water. Mason banged on the door and shook me out of the silver heat and dream-steam.
"It's ten past five. What are you doing in there?"
I dried myself, dressed, and walked out into the kitchen.
"Sorry, Mason," I groaned, "I'm a bit hungover."
The kitchen's fluorescent was very bright. I shielded my eyes.
I took my coffee upstairs to the spare room and hid my syringe and spoon and dope under the bed. I felt a twinge of nervousness leaving it there, but I knew it would be good to have it to come back to. I felt certain I could make it through a day or a day and a half.
We were away at twenty-five past. It was dark and the streets were empty, so we had a good run northwest through Sydney. Mason was thoroughly prepared. His sawed-off animal of a pickup truck was loaded down with hoes and shovels and star posts and chicken wire, brown and green spray paint, fertilizers, cooking gear, and sleeping bags and a tent. His professional attitude was reassuring to one in such a dissolute state. I felt I was in the hands of a winner. I told him I needed to sleep and I closed my eyes and enjoyed the stone.