Doc woke up sick, every cell in his body screaming for morphine
— head pounding — eyes, nose, and throat burning. His
back and legs ached deep down inside and when he tried to sit up
he immediately doubled over, racked with abdominal cramps. He
barely managed to make it to the toilet down the hall before his
guts turned inside out.
Just like every day. Day in, day out. No pardon, no parole. Until
he got a shot of dope in him, it wasn’t going to get any better.
Doc knew well that the physical withdrawal symptoms were
nothing compared with the deeper demons, the mind-numbing
fear and heart-crushing despair that awaited him if he didn’t get
his ass moving and out on the street. The worst part was that
three quarters of a mile of semi-molten asphalt and humiliation
lay between him and his first fix, and every inch would be an insistent
reminder of just how far he had fallen in the last ten years.
In the old days, back in Bossier City, all Doc had to do was sit
up and swing his needle-ravaged legs over the edge of the bed
and his wake-up shot was always right there on the nightstand,
loaded up and ready to go.
Well, almost always. Sometimes he would wake in the middle
of the night swearing that someone was calling his name.
When morning came he was never sure that it wasn’t a dream
until he reached for his rig and found it was empty. Even then, he
had only to make his way to the medication cabinet in his office
downstairs to get what he needed — pure, sterile morphine sulfate
measured out in precise doses in row after tidy row of little glass
bottles. And he was a physician, after all, and there was always
more where that came from.
“But that was then,” sighed Doc. The sad truth was that, these
days, he had to hustle like any other hophead on the street, trading
his services for milk-sugar– and quinine-contaminated heroin
that may very well have made its way across the border up
San Antonio, Texas, was less than a day’s drive from New Orleans
but Doc had come there via the long, hard route, slipping
and sliding downhill every inch of the way. Consequences of his
own lack of discretion and intemperance had driven him from his
rightful place in Crescent City society before his thirtieth birthday.
In one desperate attempt after another to escape his not-sodistant
past he had completed a circuit of the Gulf Coast in a little
over a decade, taking in the seamier sides of Mobile, Gulfport,
and Baton Rouge. But when he landed in Bossier City, Shreveport’s
black-sheep sister across the Red River, he reckoned that
he had finally hit bottom.
But he was wrong.
The South Presa Strip on the south side of San Antonio was
a shadow world, even in broad daylight. Squares drove up and
down it every day, never noticing this transaction taking place in
that doorway or even wondering what the girls down on the corner
were up to. The pimps and the pushers were just as invisible
to the solid citizens of San Antonio as the undercover cops who
parked in the side streets and alleyways and watched it all come
down more or less the same way, day after day, were.
Doc stepped out into the street. The block and a half between
the Yellow Rose Guest Home and the nearest shot of dope was
an obstacle course, and every step was excruciating; nothing but
paper-thin shoe leather separating broken pavement and raw
nerve. The sun seemed to focus on the point on the back of his
neck that was unprotected by the narrow brim of his Panama hat
and burn through his brain to the roof of his mouth. He spat every
few feet but could not expel the taste of decay as he ran the
gauntlet of junkies and working girls out early or up all night and
every bit as sick as he was.
There was a rumor on the street that Doc had a quantity of
good pharmaceutical dope secreted away somewhere in the dilapidated
boarding house. The other residents had torn the place
apart several times, even prying up the floorboards, and found
nothing. Of course, that didn’t stop some of the more gullible
among the girls from trying to charm the location out of him
from time to time.
Doc never emphatically denied the stories, especially when he
He turned leftat the liquor store, slipping around to the parking
lot in back where Big Manny the Dope Man lounged against
the fender of his car every morning serving the wake-up trade.
“Manny, my friend, can you carry me until about lunchtime?
Just a taste so I can get straight.”
Big Manny was his handle, but in fact, big was simply too
small a word to do the six-foot-five, two-hundred-and-eighty-
odd-pound Mexican justice. Gargantuan would have been more
accurate if anybody on South Presa besides Doc could have pronounced
it, but everyone just called Manny Castro Big Manny.
Doc shivered in the pusher’s immense shadow but Manny was
shaking his head before Doc got the first word out.
“I don’ know, Doc. You still ain’t paid me for yesterday. ¡Me
lleva la chingada! Fuckin’ Hugo!” He snatched a small paper sack
from beneath the bumper of his car and lateraled it to a rangy
youth loitering nearby. “¡Vamanos!” Manny coughed, and the kid
took off like a shot across the parking lot and vanished over the
The portly plainclothes cop never broke his stride, barely acknowledging
the runner and producing no ID or warrant as he
crossed the lot in a more or less direct line to where Manny, Doc,
and a handful of loiterers were already turning around and placing
their hands on the hood of Manny’s car.
Detective Hugo Ackerman rarely hurried even when attempting
to catch a fleeing offender. He had worked narcotics for over a
decade, and in his experience neither the junkies nor the pushers
were going far. He caught up with everybody eventually.
“That’s right, gentlemen, you know how the dance goes. Hands
flat, legs spread. Anybody got any needles or knives, best you tell
He started with Manny, haphazardly frisking him from just
below his knees up, about as far as Hugo could comfortably bend
over. His three-hundred-pound mass was all the authority he
needed to hold even a big man like Manny in place, leaving his
chubby hands free to roam at will.
“How’s business, Manny. You know, I just come from Junior
Trevino’s spot. He looked like he was doing pretty good to me.”
“Junior!” Manny snorted. “¡Pendejo! That shit he sells wouldn’t
get a fly high, he steps on it so hard! Anybody that gets their dope
from Junior’s either a baboso or they owe me money. Hey! You
see Bobby Menchaca down there? I want to talk to that maricón.”
When Hugo shoved his hand down the back of Manny’s slacks,
the big man winced.
“Chingada madre, Hugo! Careful down there. My pistol’s in
the glove box if that’s what you’re lookin’ for. Your envelope’s
where it always is.”
“That’s Detective Ackerman to you, asshole!” Hugo continued
to grope around, emptying Manny’s pockets onto the hood of the
Ford and intentionally saving the inside of his sport coat for last
and then pocketing the envelope he found there.
“Ain’t you heard? Bobby’s in t...