by P Johnson
We used our pocketknives to carve a peephole in the plywood that covered the middle window in the living room. I found two ladder back chairs in the dining room and brought them over to our spot by the window. One of us would sit in a chair with his feet propped on the other while the watcher would stand eye level at the hole. This was before smartphones, there were no games to play or internet to browse when you sat. We whispered to each other and dipped Skoal and drank plastic bottles of Mountain Dew at 3:00 A.M. We turned our baseball hats backwards to press our eyes to the hole in the wood and look across the street to the one occupied house on the other side. There was a mopless mop handle that leaned against the porch railing. We knew this meant that they were “up” meaning there was heroin for sale. This was the late nineties and everything we saw that kept people wandering the streets through the dark hours was crack. Our contact with heroin and heroin addicts was limited compared to crack, that was everywhere. The few heroin users we’d run across, were decrepit seventies survivors that seemed mostly dead already. Most of the people we met in the shadows between midnight and sunrise were either crackheads or rock boys. The rock boys sold, the crackheads smoked.
A few nights before, out of the darkness rode a 40-ish white guy on an old Raleigh racing bike, carrying a Nintendo 64 under his arm, and wearing socks on his hands for gloves. He said that he didn’t use “dope” (heroin) but that there was a new spot that was selling heroin only, two doors in from the tire shop at the dead end of the street we met him on.
So, for the next few nights, we’d park our unmarked blue Crown Victoria on a cement slab behind an abandoned house one street south, pulling in from the alley and parking under the boughs of wildly unkempt fir trees planted years before by a once proud homeowner. Then we would creep silently through the bare dirt and dandelions through another yard and across an alley. Wordlessly darting from corners of darkness and staying just at the edge of the streetlights’ reach, we unlatched the chain link gate to the back yard of our secret hideout, tiptoeing up the back stairs and pushing the bottom half of the rotten wood door in and crawling into the kitchen. Once inside, we’d drag a chair over and place it against the door. A box of cracked porcelain figurines placed on the floor behind the chair served as the audible alarm in case someone else crept in. Any obstacles, the louder the better, between the back door and where we camped at the front of the house were a necessity. Once, Gil and Toni, two affable crackheads we knew and liked, squeezed inside looking for safe harbor. We heard whispering voices and the wood creaking before the Precious Moments skittered across the linoleum floor. The four of us were relieved to see each other and when they saw our baseball hats and the guns in our hands, Gil stepped out of the flashlight glare and warily lowered his raised hands, whispering “Whew, y’all scared us for a minute.”
The operation across the street was a sporadic enterprise but when the mop handle was in place, we began to see a steady drive-up business. A car would pull up, someone would exit and go to the front door, the door would open and light from within would backlight the figure inside as the business was conducted through scissor gates across the doorway. We would then call out on the radio with a description to other cops waiting nearby and they would try to find the car and stop it as it left the area. This is how we met Allie. She pulled up in a yellow Camaro with a T-top as I stood at the peephole. I watched her jump out of the driver’s seat, run up the steps, retrieve her package from the silhouetted man in the doorway and then daintily bounce back to the yellow Camaro. I was astonished. She looked young, vibrant, attractive. She was wearing a sun dress. She looked like girls I knew but didn’t see in this other part of my life. We went out the back door and ran back to our car, catching up to her where she had been pulled over a few blocks away. She stood next to the Camaro smiling and laughing with the other cops. We talked for a few minutes. We were about the same age and I felt like she was a girl I might see at a party or out at a bar. She had a pretty face and wore very little makeup. Short dark hair, athletic defined legs like a girl I’d dated in high school who played soccer. I was confused. I asked her if she really used heroin because I didn’t see any track marks on her arms. Yes, that was because she shot it in between her toes she said. I looked down at her painted nails in stylish sandals. She smiled at me and all of her teeth were there and they were all white. We let her go and she sped off in the yellow Camaro, giving us a flirty little wave as she gunned the engine and squealed the tires, tearing off down the street and away. We were quiet, for once.
Over the next few months, and then years I kept seeing Allie on the street and our conversations became regular. She helped us with information, and I enjoyed seeing and talking with her, until I didn’t. She was like a girl I might have known in a different life, maybe dated or dated one of my friends. She had a brother and a Mom and a Dad. I asked her if they knew where she was and what she was doing. I thought about her sometimes, thought about what she was having to do and who with to get what she wanted, what she needed. As one year of this led to another and then another, Allie would smile at me and I started seeing spaces where teeth had been. Her short brunette hair was then covered with a wig. The spaces between her toes must have no longer been viable because she was covered in bruises and her arms had marks that stretched into strawberry colored burns and black abscesses. Her lean athletic figure became a barely animated skeleton. And then she was gone, I didn’t see her anymore.
Later, when I thought about her, it wasn’t that she had once been somebody’s girlfriend, or someone’s sister, it was that she had once been somebody’s little girl.
About the Author
PB Johnson was born in Knoxville, TN. and now lives in Illinois where he is a husband and a dad and has worked as a police officer for more than twenty-five years. His writing has appeared in a number of journals to include Green Briar Review, Maudlin House, Moon Park Review, Blacktop Passages, Eastern Iowa Review, Prometheus Dreaming, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and Open; Journal of Arts and Letters.