Making It was first published in The Review magazine, Volume 18, 1972; © 1972, 2005 Dennis Mansker
On Thursday the fifteenth of September 1964 they let us out Portland's Rocky Butte Jail. My cousin Voodoo and I had spent forty-five days of a sixty-day sentence for illegal possession of dangerous drugs, and they let us off with the proverbial "time off for good behavior" and a word of fatherly advice from the head jailer. There was no place to go then but home.
Although the dangerous drug was only peyote, and Portland, Oregon, in the summer of 64 was just a sleepy little northwest city that had no inkling of what was just over the horizon, people were already beginning to get uptight over Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert, and the Oregon law against LSD, peyote, and a handful of other drugs was brand new. We were busted, after a long police investigation, at Jani's place, The Omega House as it's known in the neighborhood, a big old pseudo-Victorian house in Southwest Portland, just off of Jefferson. Omega House was where the "counterculture" was just beginning, at that time, to draw its first breath of clean Oregon air, and the so-called alternative lifestyle was just beginning to take hold. This was even before the word "hippie" had been coined, as far as I know. At least no one in Portland called us that. If they spoke of us at all, it was "bums" or "beatniks".
Anyway we got sixty days at the Butte, a horrible, foul blight on the face of all that's decent. Sixty days plus three years on probation, on the condition that we disocciate ourselves from our friends at Omega House and from each other. Well, you can imagine that at that point we'd agree to anything just to get off as light as we could, and you should have heard us tell the judge that we were just poor misguided boys (I was nineteen, Voodoo had just turned twenty) who had seen the error of their ways, deserved a better deal, and could make if we had a chance.
So the only place we had to go was home. But that was bad enough. Voodoo even threatened to go back to jail first, but I knew he was only kidding. Jail had been a real bummer for him and he'd nearly freaked out three or four times from the sheer boredom and from the constant regimentation and surveillance. It didn't bother me half as much since I'd spent a year in reform school when I was fourteen. (Yeah, I guess you might as well know the whole story, as long as I'm telling you this much -- I was a hardened criminal by this time, having gotten busted back in '59 for stealing cars with a couple of friends. No one had even heard of peyote or LSD back then…)
We hitchhiked back into Portland from Rocky Butte and went to Jani's, The Omega House, to get our stuff. Let me tell you about this house: It was set up on a little hill, and it was a huge old Victorian-type mansion, complete with the round tower, gingerbread trim, the whole trip, but it was in pretty rundown shape when we lived there. It had about ten bedrooms, and those were always filled with people sleeping on mattresses or in sleeping bags rolled out on the floor. A few of the people lived there all the time, like Jani, who paid the rent, mostly of donations from the other It was her idea in the first place to have a place like Omega House. She lived in one like it down in Berkeley, while she was going to UC. Voodoo and I lived there on sort of a semi-permanent basis, and there were also a couple of college kids from Portland State, and a strange little bearded poet who lived up in the attic and worked part time as, if you can believe it, a longshoreman. Most of the others who were there at any one time comprised the transient population: college kids getting away for the weekend, kids drifting into Portland from the outlying communities looking for work or dope or what have you, and once in a while somebody would pass through on their way to or from San Francisco and need a place to crash. The door was always open, to everybody who wanted to come. That's probably the reason we got busted. If we'd been a little more selective, maybe the undercover cops would have been weeded out. But I guess I don't have to tell you where reasoning like that leads.
When we got there Jani was just getting home from school -- she was a grad student at Portland State -- and she was surprised and happy to see us until Voodoo told her we had broken out of jail and killed a guard and she'd have to hide us out. She got really excited and started saying things like, "Well, you just can't stand around on the street! Quick, run around and get on the floor of the Chevy. I'll drive you over to Vancouver and you can make it for Canada…" You can imagine how we cracked up at that, but even when she caught on, Jani didn't think it was so funny. But then she always did have a weird sense of humor.
It didn't take us long to gather up our stuff: clothes, what few we had, some books, and a stash of dexedrine pills -- speed -- that Voodoo kept in a hollow boot heel (he saw that in a TV show; I told him that the cops watched TV too, but they never did find that stash, even though they searched the house for over four hours -- maybe they didn't watch that show). Voodoo had a 1956 Chevy four door sedan that had the back seat out of it and in its place we put a mattress that we had stolen -- in broad daylight, mind you -- from a rollaway bed on the front porch of a house out in Beaverton, while the people that lived in the house were having a barbecue in the back yard. It was beautiful.
We wanted to leave that night, right away, in fact, but it just wouldn't do but Jani had to throw a sendoff party, especially since we were disappearing into the forbidding jungles of small town America. She called up a bunch of the gang we hung around with, about twenty-five people in all who were with us in the beginning of The Movement. ("We were in the vanguard of The Revolution," I like to say now, but at the time nobody, especially not us, knew what social upheaval lay in the future). It was a pretty good party, especially since Tim (a very close friend of ours who was later shot and killed in Mexico while running from the border patrol with four keys of hash strapped to his body) had just flown in from San Francisco with real grass. I know that this sounds pretty tame and I can hear you yawning, but I have to remind you again that this was 1964, when speed and even acid were easier to come by than weed. We tried smoking everything from green tea to dried scotch broom, but nothing worked, despite a number of impressive claims from our friends. I guess that's why it was so easy to drop into the speed habit; somebody was always ripping off a drugstore now and then, and it was easy to come by.
* * * * *
Bright and early the next afternoon we took off for home, which is a tiny backwoods logging community in Western Oregon, about a hundred and fifty miles from Portland. We each took five dexies before we left to keep us awake and smiling, and we were just starting to come down when we got in, which put me in lousy shape for what came next.
We went to my house first, swaggering up the walk puffing on Luckies like they were joints to impress the neighborhood kids on their way home from school. My old man and Voodoo's old man -- they're brothers -- were still out in the woods at work cutting down trees or whatever they did out there, but our mothers were both in the kitchen drinking coffee when we came in. And before we even had time to say "Hi! Remember us?" or anything, they both broke down and started crying. Now, I don't know how you are, but it really bugs me to hear my mother cry, so all I could do was play the loving-comforting son until she calmed down enough for me to ask her what's the matter and isn't she glad to see me.
"Yes," she wailed, "but I thought you were still in jail."
"Now, Mother," I said in my best soothing tone. "We've been paroled." "Time off for good behavior." Voodoo added.
She calmed down a little more at that, and then she asked, "Do you want to tell me about it?"
"About what?" I asked innocently.
"You know what. About the drugs. Are you an addict? Have you been shooting up with marijuana?"
To tell the truth, I had to snicker a bit, hearing my own straight mother using slang like "shooting up" and then tacking "marijuana" onto the end of it. She didn't understand, though, and started sniffling again and mumbling something about me mocking her.
"Aw, no Mom," I said. "I'll give it to you straight. I have never stuck a needle into my arm or anywhere else. What they put us away for was possession of peyote."
"What's peyote?" she asked, wiping her nose on a tiny piece of pink Kleenex.
"It's just a little cactus thing, that grows wild down in Texas and New Mexico, and when you eat it it's kind of like...sort of like getting drunk--"
"Only better," Voodoo said, "since you don't lose your coordination and you get to see things."
"And it isn't addictive."
"How...how often have you taken this...peyote?" my aunt asked. "Just once," I lied. "That's when we were arrested. Why didn't you come to the trial, Mom?"
"I wanted to. But your father--"
"Never mind. That explains the whole thing right there."
"Well, you have to look at his side of it, too. The last time he saw you, you were going off to school at Portland State over a year ago, and then then the next thing he knows you've been arrested on a narcotics charge. Can you blame him for his attitude?"
"It wasn't narcotics, Mom. It was just a little cactus that somebody got in their head was a dangerous drug, that's all..." The conversation dragged on and on in this vein and I started getting that empty buzzing inside me that meant it was time to get jacked up with a little yellow booster. But I couldn't figure out a way to discreetly draw Voodoo aside and get his magic boot off of him, so all I could do was sit there and crash down. I could tell that Voodoo was coming down hard, too, but he kept it inside better than me; I got irritated with the senseless barrage of questions and retreated into sullenness.
The old man came home at four-thirty and that changed the shape of things quite a bit. My old man and Voodoo's old man both looked like they came from the same huge mold. They're a couple of gigantic burly loggers who together can pick up a '51 Ford and put it down on top of a fire hydrant (this happened in front of the Timber Tavern one Saturday night, and when the guy came out to drive his car away he took the hydrant with him and we had a geyser that flooded the streets until the next afternoon when the county finally sent out a crew to fix it). Well, in they both came, tired as hell from working all day, and when they saw us they both started in cursing and ranting and shouting until our mothers finally calmed them down. There was a lot of discussion, some more tears, and finally the old man said that I could stay home if I wanted to, but I'd have to go to work in the woods with him. I told him I'd think it over, but that started him off again. Meanwhile in the other room Voodoo's old man was going through the same motions, but Voodoo was a little more tactful than me and simply said, sure thing, he'd be glad to work in the woods.
After supper things were pretty cool, and we all sat around in the living room talking and telling lies about our adventures in Portland. My mother worried that I didn't eat any supper, but all I could think about was getting at Voodoo's magic boot heel. At long last my aunt and uncle took their son home with them, and I was told I'd have to sleep on the couch since my brother had taken over my old room and his room had been turned into a sewing room for my mother. My brother, fifteen years old and very straight, who had been sitting there all night taking everything in and not saying a word, went off to bed with a smirk and a wink that told me he hadn't bought a word of our Portland lie, and I was finally left sitting there in the dark with my eyes wide open, licking my dry lips and smoking cigarette after cigarette right down to the nub, until it burned my fingers and lips to take another drag.
Voodoo lived two blocks away, but we met halfway, two dark shadows gliding along in the gravel at the side of the road. Without a sound we went to the vacant lot across from the grade school and Voodoo opened up that wonderful magic boot of his. We split the cache: eight of those delightful little yellow pills apiece.
"Are you really going to work in the woods?" I asked him.
"Is the sky blue? Is the Pope a Catholic?"
"I'm kidding. You know how long I'd last out there with my old man One of us would he dead within an hour."
"How long are we going to last here anyway? I mean that scene today! was a real bummer, right'!"
"You know it. baby."
"And when they finally figure out that we aren't going to go to work in the woods it'll he instant-replay time."
"I've been thinking..."
"You've been doing a lot of that lately," he chuckled. "Seems like you were the one with the bright idea of getting the peyote..."
"Okay, okay. Now listen. If you don't dig the idea of sticking around here, let's split."
"What?" he exclaimed in mock astonishment. "And break parole?"
"Well, I've been thinking--"
"You said that. Look, I'm willing to go. You know that. But we nave to make sure they won't catch us. We'll have to cover our tracks good. Where will we go? San Francisco?"
"No, I thought of that, but that's one of the first places they'll look. They'd get us almost before we got there. Same thing with Seattle. No, I was thinking more on the line of points east. Like New York..."
* * * * *
We left the next afternoon, before our fathers got home from work. I told my mother that Voodoo and I were going on a camping trip up in the Mount Hood country to get some clean mountain air and get into shape before starting work and that we'd be back in a couple or three weeks. Then, although I'm ashamed to admit it now, I stole my brother's brand new sleeping bag he'd gotten for his birthday. I told myself that I'd send him some money for another one when I got to New York, and that eased my conscience a little. Voodoo came with the car at one-thirty and I threw my pack in on the mattress, kissed my mother goodbye, and we left, honking and waving until we turned the corner and the house and yard and the tired-looking woman vanished.
We went to Portland first, sneaking in from the south by way of Oregon City and the Ross Island Bridge, and parked the car on a deserted dead-end street in the West Hills, about a mile from Jani's. After a half-hour of sneaking down wooded hillsides, through alleyways, and across crowded supermarket parking lots, we got to the neighborhood. We checked for unmarked police cars and plainclothesmen watching the house, and then slipped in by climbing across fences and cutting through yards from the other end of the block until we got to the house, where we did the belly crawl, like in the war movies, to the basement door.
The Poet was home, but everyone else had gone out to the Eastgate Shopping Center to pull the "grocery-shopping routine." That was something Voodoo had dreamed up the previous winter after a hungry two weeks during which we ate nothing but meagre bowls of cornmeal mush. What you do is go to a shopping center where they also have a supermarket and watch the people as they leave with sacks of groceries. If they put them in their cars and then go off to shop in another store, you sneak over and steal the groceries out of their car into yours and leave. I guess it was a pretty rotten thing to do, but we always waited until we found somebody with a fairly new car, somebody that looked like they could afford to lose a few bucks in groceries. One time, though, I got a sack that had a couple of cheap little supermarket toys in it, just junky little things, and that made me feel kind of stupid and small, thinking about that little kid at home who was expecting a toy when mommy came home from the store. I never pulled the routine again, but that sort of thing never bothered Voodoo a bit. He even stole a sack of groceries from the car of a really old couple, a couple about in their seventies, but Jani and I made him take it back.
Everyone came back in an hour or so, carrying huge sacks of food, twelve in all. There were five others besides Jani: three college kids on a kick, and two young girls that I pegged right off as runaways. Jani said no, they lived in Portland and were just spending the weekend in the house. I managed to corner the cuter one -- her name was Donna later and she admitted that she and her girlfriend had run away from a juvenile home in Seattle.
"Won't they be looking for you?" I asked, going into shock.
"It isn't really a juvenile home like a reform school," she said. "It's more like a boarding school that you can't leave. It's run by a bunch of nuns and they send bad little girls there who haven't been bad enough to go to Maple Lane. That's the reformatory. Whenever a girl runs away from Good Shep they just call the police in her home town and they pick her up and have her back at the school in a day or so. That's where everybody goes when they run away -- home."
"Then they're looking for you!" I shouted, trying to get to my feet and find Voodoo. "Don't you know the cops are probably watching this house right now? If they think you're here they'll come busting in and--"
"No! No!" she shouted, grabbing my arm and pulling me back down. "We're not from Portland! We live in Bellingham, way up north of Seattle."
"Oh," I said, calming down. "You're sure about that? I mean, if the cops come busting in here and find me and my cousin here together, we'll go back to jail."
"Back to jail?" she said softly.
"Yeah. Back to jail. We're both on probation."
She laughed. "So you're a dangerous criminal, too."
In spite of the fact that Voodoo and I were leaving for New York at midnight, I found myself liking her more and more.
"How old are you?" I asked.
"Seventeen. Almost eighteen."
"Yeah, I'll bet. Seventeen almost thirteen is more like it. How old really!"
"Okay, fifteen. But I'm old for my age."
"I guess so, criminal. What'd they bust you for?"
"Oh, nothing much to speak of. I was running around with a gang of kids older than me, and somebody got the idea of stealing cars and wrecking them for kicks. I--"
"You're kidding! I spent a year in reform school when I was fourteen for the very same thing."
"Hey, we have something in common," she said, holding my hand and smiling at me. In spite of the fact that Voodoo and I were leaving for New York at midnight, I fell in love with her.
Later on that night, about ten-thirty or so, Voodoo burst into the bedroom with Donna's girlfriend in tow, shouting for us to wake up. We weren't asleep, but we dutifully sat up blinking our eyes and yawning anyway.
"Guess what!" he shouted. "This is Judy, that's Donna, and we're taking them with us to New York!"
I must admit that I liked the idea right from the start, but there is always the practical side to consider, no matter how attractive its alternative appears. I took Voodoo out into the hall and we sat down on the stairs.
"Voodoo, they're only fifteen. Do you know what that means'?"
"Judy said they were seventeen."
"Fifteen, seventeen, it doesn't stake any difference. They're still both under eighteen, and the point is that taking them across state lines is illegal and we could both go back to jail for a long time if we're caught."
But Voodoo pointed out that we were both on probation and crossing the state line out of Oregon would put us back in jail anyway if we were caught, so what difference did it make? I tried to explain it to him, hut how can you argue against logic like that? (And looking back on it, I guess I wasn't really trying that hard anyway.) So it was settled that the two girls would go to New York with us.
When it came to figuring out how much money we'd need against how much we had -- a question we'd been avoiding all day -- we put our money together and found we had a little over ninety dollars. Tim came by at eleven with a load of dexies and we had to spend twenty-five bucks for them (which bought three hundred pretty little yellow pills, so many that we couldn't lit them all into the magic boot heel and had to put some in an envelope sewn inside the headliner of the car.)
That left us with less than seventy dollars to get to New York on. Obviously something had to be done.
"We could stick up a gas station," Voodoo offered.
"Why stop there?" I asked. "Why not a bank?"
"Let's get serious." Donna said. "I wanna go to New York."
We kidded around for a while about skateboarding the car, or taking all of the pills at one whack and flying under our own power, and then Voodoo got one of his brainstorms that he wouldn't tell anyone about.
"I'll be back," he said, going out the door. And he was, at two-thirty in the morning. with a leather wallet that had nearly two hundred dollars and three gasoline credit cards in it. He told us he got himself picked up by a fag in the bus station bathroom and had rolled him. And it was probably the truth, too, since one time we were downtown and Voodoo decided he wanted to have some "fun with a fag" as he put it. He went down in the Greyhound lavatory and minced around until he got a nibble, so to speak, and this old guy about fifty years old with a bald head and real thick glasses asked him something, directions to someplace, and Voodoo answered in a real faggotty voice that he'd be glad to take him there, and the two of them disappeared upstairs. 1 followed some distance behind them, but by the time I got to the alley they'd gone into, Voodoo was coming out rubbing his knuckles and carrying the smashed remains of the man's glasses. "I hate fags," he said. It made me kind of sick and I said so, but Voodoo said that that's what the guy really wanted or he wouldn't have approached him. And that closed the discussion, because, after all, what can you say to your own cousin, especially when he's bigger than you are?
So we had all this bread and the three credit cards. At first we thought they wouldn't do us any good, but then Voodoo hit on another idea: we'd steal somebody else's license plates and put them on the car each time before we drove in to buy gas, and when the attendant wrote out the charge slip we'd be clear. It would be a month or so before the bills started coming in, and then the police would do some investigating and close in on some poor workadaddy who didn't even know his plates were gone for an hour one dark night. I have to admit it: Voodoo was almost brilliant at times, especially when it came to illegal schemes.
* * * * *
At four o'clock in the morning, just four hours behind schedule, we took off on Interstate 80 toward the east. We each took ten dexies to get the trip started off in the right spirit, and we cheered out the windows as we went past Rocky Butte. Keeping high, taking a few more pills as boosters when we started to crash from the first ones, we made our way slowly up the Columbia Gorge, across the eastern Oregon desert with the sun in our eyes, and slipped across the border just after dark.
We whipped through Idaho that night, stopping once to steal a new spare tire from a midnight yard in Burley and once to steal license plates so we could buy more gas from a sleepy old man just outside Pocatello. By morning we were in Rock Springs, Wyoming, and Voodoo said it was time to eat. Nobody was especially hungry, even though we hadn't had anything to eat since about seven o'clock the night before we left Portland. The dexies do that to you, you know. They were meant to be taken one per day for appetite control for fat people, not to be taken ten at one whack and then three or four every four hours after that. I agreed, though, that we had to have something in our stomachs, so we choked down some greasy hamburgers at a little roadside stand and hit the road again.
At Cheyenne we decided to turn south and head for Denver to throw of any police that could have been on our trail by then. The theory was that if they found out from the gang at Omega House that we were headed for New York, they'd d be on the lookout for us on the most direct highway which was US 30. We figured that by going down to Denver, holing up there for a couple of days, and then going on east by way of Oklahoma and Tennessee we'd avoid any trouble. Or so was the plan.
By the time we got to Denver, Voodoo's boot heel had been depleted of its tricks, so we had to slit the headliner and get the envelope. But we were in for a big surprise. We had hit a heavy rainstorm in the Gorge, but w thought nothing of it at the time. When we took the envelope out of the headliner, it looked suspiciously warped and discolored. Yes, the rain had somehow leaked through the car roof (to this day I can't figure out how that happened) and had dissolved all of those beautiful little yellow pills into caked and powdery mass of yellow mud. To make matters worse, most of it had washed out of the envelope and had stained the headliner, and all w could do for a long moment was sit there in a Safeway parking lot and star at it sadly. "Well. I guess there's only one thing to do," Voodoo said, pulling out his knife.
"Yes, by all means. Kill us," Donna said. I haven't said much about her on the trip, but she was great -- talking. laughing. telling jokes, helping me drive when it was our turn in the front seat. We talked incessantly all the way to Denver. That's something else the dexies do to you. You can't seem to shut up for a minute. It's what they call "speed rapping" now. Anyway, she told me her life story, about her home and family, such as it was, and about her time with Judy in "Good Shep" (l found out later that the full title was The Home of the Good Shepherd). I found myself forming a real attachment for her, and if I had only been kidding before about falling in love with her, I found myself wondering if I had been kidding at all. But, practical to the end, I realized that it could not possibly last. She was too independent to stick with one guy for long, and there. too, was the matter of her age. It was one thing to travel cross-country with a fifteen year old girl, when you're constantly on the move, keeping ahead of the law all the time, but to live with her, like in New York, meant a whole different setup. There you would be around the same places all the time together, and sooner or later some cop would be bound to get nosy, and then she'd go off to juvenile detention, and you'd go off to prison for statutory rape, contributing, kidnapping and who knows what else...
Voodoo and I rented a room in a sleazy hotel off Larimer Street and sneaked the girls in by way of the fire escape. We were all crashing pretty heavily by then, since Voodoo couldn't scrape more than a couple of pills worth of powder for each of us off the headliner with his knife. We were all nervous and irritable and were at each other's throats every five minutes.
"This can't go on." Voodoo growled and it was decided without discussion that we had to get some more pills, but there we were in a strange city, crashing down, with no idea who or what to see to get some more. Voodoo said he knew he could score, once he got out on the street, but we all needed something in the meantime.
And then, of course, he got another of his famous ideas. He told us not to worry, he'd be right back. Which he was, in about ten minutes, with his pockets bristling with little plastic things that looked like oversized bullets. He had brought back a popular brand (which I won't mention by name for fear of being sued by the manufacturer) of nasal inhaler, about thirty of them that he'd shoplifted from the Rexall down the street.
"Tim told me about this one time." he said triumphantly. "All you do is break open the plastic and there's this little cotton plug in there..." He snapped open the bullet and pulled the wet-looking cotton. "This thing is loaded with some kind of dope that gets you high, Tim says. It isn't supposed to he as good as pills, but it gets you there."
Judy broke one open and looked at the cotton. "What are we supposed to do with it, suck on it?" She sniffed at it. "God, it smells horrible. I can imagine what it tastes like."
"No, no. Tim says you cut it in three or four pieces and swallow it like a pill with coffee or hot water."
"Well, we haven't got any coffee." I said, "and I'm not going to drink hot water. It can't taste any worse than peyote." I broke one open and popped it into my mouth. It did taste worse than peyote, by a long shot, and I started gagging and choking and spit it out into my hand. "Okay, okay," I said ruefully. "So gimme the hot water..."
Somehow we all choked down a whole cotton, and then Voodoo said he had to go down on the street to score a hit. He left, and Donna and I lay down on the bed and watched the cracks dance across the ceiling and a tiny brown spider slowly laying a web across the corner where the ceiling met the walls. Judy wandered off out of our sight, lost in her own private trip. I heard the water running in the bathroom several times, but except for that the room was silent.
Voodoo came back about four hours later, patting his jacket pockets and singing a song.
"Hey, listen to this," he said. "I met this guy named Bo -- they call him Old Bo, the New York Junkie. He takes this stuff called Methedrine, and he knows this song. It goes like this: I keep my eyes wide open all the time, I keep my arm out for the tie that binds." Voodoo held out his arm and pretended to wrap a tie around it and cinch it tight, a trick that junkies do to make their veins stand out. "I'm always living on that thin line, Because you're mine, Ampheta-myne." Ile grinned widely. "How's that? Pretty groovy, huh? He's quite an old guy. He shoots up with methedrine twice a day. He gave me some names and addresses in New York where he thought we could score a hit when we got in. He's a Jew, though -- he charged me two bits apiece for these pills. Can you believe it, two bits each? I shoulda busted his needles. Hey, where's Judy?"
"I don't know. She's around someplace. Look in the bathroom."
He came running out in a hurry. "She isn't there, but look what was!" He held out a handful of broken inhalers, at least a dozen. "How many have you taken?"
"Just the one we all took together. She must have taken all those by herself." Suddenly I remembered the water running earlier, but I couldn't remember the hall door opening.
"Hell! We've gotta find her!" Voodoo shouted, heading for the door. I grabbed Donna's hand and we raced after him, running up and down the interconnecting hallways of the hotel, hallways that reeked of stale urine and cheap perfume, but we found no sign of Judy. People were beginning to open their doors and look out, so I told Donna to go back to the room in ease Judy came back there, and Voodoo and I walked quietly up and down the halls, stopping to listen at each door in case she had wandered into the wrong room. I knew she must have been really high by then and I really started to worry. If she went down onto the street, if the cops found her wandering around, if she told them the room number where we were...
We circled around the entire floor and came back to the hall where our room was. The hotel seemed very quiet, so quiet that it seemed to press down on my head and numb my ears. I could tell that Voodoo felt it too, and he sat down heavily on an ancient chair next to the window we had brought the girls in through. I put my elbows on the sash and put my head out the open window for a couple of deep breaths of air to clear my head and get away from the oppressive silence inside the hotel. I suppose I should have thought something about a window being open on a chilly, windy afternoon in late September. should have remembered that we had closed it after the girls came in, but it wasn't until I happened to look down at the alley four floors below and saw a bundle of blue rags that I thought of Judy. I remembered that she had been wearing a blue sweatshirt and Levi's, but even then I only thought that she had taken off her clothes and had thrown them down into the alley and that we'd really have to hurry and find her if she was running around naked. And while I was leaning there on my elbows, thinking all of this, there was a siren in the distance that kept getting closer and closer and louder and louder all the time, but it wasn't until it pulled into the alley in the form of a red and white ambulance and two police cars that it sank into my numbed brain that that was Judy lying down there in the middle of that bundle of rags. Too numb to move, all I could do was watch those tiny men in white roll her over, shake their tiny pink heads and pull a gray cloth over her. The tiny men in blue turned their tiny pink heads upward in one motion and stared at me. We were frozen there, staring at each other for what seemed like hours, until I felt Voodoo clutching at my arms, trying to pull me away.
"They've seen you," he moaned. "We've had it now."
"Are you kidding?" I yelled, running for the room. "Get rid of the pills! Flush 'em down the toilet! Do something with them!"
"Are you kidding?" he shouted back, following me into the room. "I paid nearly fifty bucks for these!"
"Come on," I said to Donna, pulling her to her feet and grabbing our jackets. "We gotta get out of here. I'll explain later, but right now the cops are on their way up here, so let's go!" I pushed her toward the door and Voodoo started chomping on the first handful of pills.
"Here," he said, his voice muffled. "Eat these. You gotta help me get rid of the evidence." He thrust a handful of pills at me and I took them without thinking. I tried to hand them back.
"I don't want them," I said. "I've got enough trouble as it is." He wouldn't take them and stuffed another handful into his mouth.
"We're trapped." he said mournfully, crunching down on the mouthful of pills. "We'll never get away."
I flung the handful of pills against the wall. "For God's sake, will you come on!" l yelled, jerking at his sleeve and pushing Donna ahead of me.
"Where's Judy?" Donna asked suddenly. "We can't leave without Judy!"
"Judy left already," l said.
"Did the cops get her?"
"Yeah, something like that. I'll explain it all later, but let's go!" I dragged them out of the room and down the hall to the stairs. Somehow we got up the three flights to the roof and then we ran across the black tarpaper, dodging skylights and ventilator pipes to the next roof. And all the time Voodoo kept munching down pills and saying things like, "trapped like rats...never get away...back to jail..." until I had to tell him to shut his damned mouth and I'd get us out.
We ran down the stairs of the next building and came out on Larimer Street. There were no cops in sight, and we walked slowly along, sidestepping past the shuffling, bleary-eyed winos edging up to us to beg for quarters. After getting the car from the parking lot two blocks away, we drove out of town toward the south. The sun was just beginning to set behind the Rockies and the plains to our left were lit up with soothing shades of gold and red and orange. It was very peaceful to be traveling along and I tried to forget what had happened in Denver.
But of course I couldn't forget.
"What about Judy?" Donna finally asked. "What happened?"
I told her then what had really happened at the hotel, and she sat there next to me and quietly cried on my shoulder.
After nearly an hour's driving we were close to Colorado Springs and Voodoo pulled off onto the shoulder of the highway.
"Hey, man. I don't feel too hot," he said, leaning over the wheel. "That doesn't surprise me," I laughed. "After taking all those pills I wouldn't feel too hot either. How many did you take?"
"All of them." he replied weakly.
"Al! of them?" I laughed again. "You idiot! Didn't I tell you I'd get us out? And didn't I? I thought you were the one with all the big ideas. Why didn't you--"
"Aw, cut it out, man," he gasped. "I'm really had off..."
He sounded serious, and really didn't look very lively, so I quit kidding him. His face was drawn and white and his breaths were coming in quick short gasps. Suddenly frightened, I made him lay down in the back seat on the mattress and I started driving on into Colorado Springs to the hospital.
"My pulse," he croaked. "It's going so fast I can't count it."
Donna reached back and held his wrist for a minute, then turned back to me. "I'm scared," she whispered. "His pulse is really going fast..."
"Is it regular?" I asked.
"No, it's real jumpy." After a pause, she said. "What will happen if--"
"There's no if!" I snapped. "We'll get there!"
I jammed the gas pedal to the floor, but the car wouldn't go over fifty-five. Finally we got to the hospital at Colorado Springs and I screeched to a stop in front of the emergency door. Donna ran in while I got in the back to see if I could help Voodoo, and soon two white-coated orderlies ran out wheeling a gurney. They loaded him on it and I followed them inside, answering their questions about his symptoms. They vanished with him through a swinging door inside, and then a doctor came out and asked the same questions they had. I didn't say anything about the pills, since I figured they'd find out soon enough by themselves, when they pumped his stomach, and I didn't want to he implicated.
Donna and I sat in the emergency waiting room staring at the ceiling for about two hours, and then a white-coated doctor, a different one from the one who had questioned me earlier, came into the room. He looked around uncertainly, then walked over to us.
"Arc you the people who brought that young man in?"
"Yes," I said, getting up. "We brought him in. How is he?"
"Are you a relative of his?"
I hesitated, but something in the doctor's voice told me that if I stuck with my original plan to tell them that I found him by the side of the highway. I wouldn't find out anything now.
"Yes," I finally said. "Yes, I'm his cousin."
"Well. I'm afraid I have some had news. Your cousin passed away a short time ago. I... I'm sorry..."
I knew that l should have felt, at that instant, some deep and profound emotion, but it was just the same as when I realized that Judy was dead: I was too numbed to feel anything. I could only stand there nodding mechanically and staring into the doctor's wet little mouth.
"Dead..." I said experimentally, just to see if saying the word would produce a reaction inside me. "Dead..." I felt Donna clutch at my arm and she began crying again. "What was it, doctor? What caused it'!" I tried to make the questions sound sincere, hut they came out hollow and empty.
"Oh, heart failure," the doctor said casually. almost callously. "That at least was the physical cause of death, but you and I both know what really caused it, don't we?"
A weak "huh?" was all I could muster.
He held open his hand. In it were a half a dozen of those ugly little yellow pills. "He died of an overdose of amphetamines. He took too many and they overtaxed his heart."
"He said he took all of them!" I blurted out in surprise, and then tried lamely to cover it by saying sullenly, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I think we'll let the police decide about that."
I shoved him down in one of the chairs and grabbed Donna's hand and we ran out of the hospital.
But the police cars were already in the parking lot and there was nothing to do then but walk slowly out and meet them.
© 1972, 2005 Dennis Mansker
Commentary: This story
resonates with a certain
"Drugstore Cowboy" quality (however,
it was, of course, written long before the book and, naturally, before the movie made from that book).
The plot was based on some actual events, and the characters on actual people I knew in Portland in 1964-65.
As a criminal gang, they were none too smart, but they did have a certain amount of charm, and they were definitely entertaining.
No, I am not the model for the unnamed narrator.