The Reality of Fantasy
Jim awoke the next morning in a ray of sunshine, rich and golden and fucking bright. He cowed from the beam of morning light and tried not to vomit. After a few moments panting and sweating under the thick pillows and heavy covers, he slid out of the bed away from the window, and crept to the bathroom, where the shade was still drawn, and the light wasn't going to make his skull burst into a million jagged pieces.
Piss, shower, brush, floss, comb - Jim went through his morning routine blandly, as he did every morning. It took him a moment to remember that it was Saturday, which meant he had the whole day to play.
It took him until he was standing in the open garage area to remember that his precious baby was out there, probably being stripped to nothing, ravished, to be left for dead in some back alley somewhere. The empty spot seemed to accuse him - failure. Loser. Jim had no witty comeback.
He went back to his apartment, dejected, lonely, and just a little bored. He thought of calling Leonard at work, but that would be... awkward, at best. He thought of calling Norman and scheduling a hook-up, but he'd already had them last week, and he really couldn't afford another housecall. Besides, he could pick up bitches on foot just as easily as he did in an old sub-compact import.
Ah, but then there was the problem of getting them back to his place. It might be easier just to watch fucking television. Or swim. Or pick a fight with one of the neighbors. Or offer to make a run in exchange for a boost to his dwindling pill stash.
Naturally, the last idea was the one that took hold with razor sharp teeth, and wouldn't let go until he bled out completely.
Maybe after fixing up a ride to his brunch meeting Darth Vader, he could make a few calls to replenish the stash. It wasn't a good idea to hope that way, because down that road lay horrors like theft and homelessness and blood-borne diseases on the ends of dirty needles, but honestly, his decision to not ask for Motrin the last time he was admitted to the emergency room was pretty much the sign post that read 'This Way to Addictionville,' adorned with fucking streamers and confetti and popcorn.
The problem with that plan was that Jim had no wheels with which to make this run. That meant either he was going to have to start hitting the pavement, or spend what little precious free time he had working some shady parties. Neither option was appealing, but the thought of going without his pills was making his back hurt.
There was, of course, the option of getting his pills legally, but Jim dismissed that idea before it could fully form. For one, it was Saturday there was no way he was going to be able to get in touch with his particular doctor on a Saturday, and there was no way he was going to get replacement pills without his doctor's go-ahead. For another, even if it was a proper business day, Jim was going to have to contact the police department to get a copy of the police report to prove his car really was stolen, and then he was going to have to arrange to be seen between his doctors other appointments, which meant missing work, and probably walking to the damn hospital because even though he could see the fucking hospital from his bedroom window, the bus that stopped in front of the hospital didn't stop near his apartment and vice versa. And even if he was lucky enough to do all that, and the doctor was willing to go ahead and instruct the pharmacy to give him an early refill, he was going to have to wait for the pharmacy to get the actual pills. By that time, he'd either be in traction from the pain in his back, or insane from withdrawing cold turkey.
As if on cue, a chill blanketed Jim, seeping into his skin, settling in his very bones. Jim scowled and drew himself into a tight ball on the couch, huddling in the glow of a perfect sunbeam. Right. It was time to give his old buddy Gary a call.
The bus stank of cheap perfume and dirty gym socks. Jim pulled his collar high around his ears and squeezed past the silly bitch that was too cute to move beyond the handicap reserved seats in the very front of the bus. A spasm shot through his belly, and he stumbled into an angry looking woman with too much make-up on her face. She shoved him off bodily, and he rolled with it, landing on the seat across the aisle, which, fortunately, was empty. The man sitting by the window didn't look terribly thrilled to have Jim's head in his lap, but he didn't shove Jim to the floor, either.
Over the next few stops, people trickled on and off the bus more slowly than the flow of an Alaskan river of molasses in the middle January. The man by the window got off after only a couple of stops, and Jim moved over to rest his sweating brow on the dirty, graffiti scratched window, while various persons of questionable means and morals fought over the aisle seat he'd vacated. The over-made woman across the aisle mad-dogged him the entire time.
After what felt like an eternity, Jim stumbled off the bus and floundered through the throngs of people moving into Union Station. He sort of wished he'd asked to just meet there, but he knew that Gary wouldn't go for meeting in a train station. The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority used Los Angeles Sherriff's deputies to patrol their trains and stations officers would have taken one look at the two of them and probably arrested them on the spot. But there was still so much further to go to get to the agreed meeting place, and with the way everyone was rushing around him, Jim feared he was going to be forced to stand then entire way. Just the thought of swaying to and fro in the subway made him feel like his brain was spinning right out his skull. He stumbled to the nearest trashcan and dry heaved into it for about forever, before collapsing on the cold hard tile.
Jim glared up at the people who dared to make eye contact with him, and leaned against the trashcan until he had the strength to get to his feet again. He stumbled to the wall and half dragged himself along it, wheezing through the pain in his spine and hips, until he finally made it to the blessed elevator. It smelled like piss and onions, but he didn't care. He pushed the button for the basement level and held onto the inner rail while the glass box rocketed down to the lower level platform.
He stumbled out of the elevator just as one of the queued up trains made its final boarding call. He slipped in the back car and found a single seat near the door. He eased into it and closed his eyes just as the shrill electronic whistle sounded for the doors.
Jim napped fitfully, afraid he would miss his stop, or be caught for sneaking onto the train without fare, but he made it to Hollywood and Vine without incident. He blended into the crowd that shuffled through the exit gates and onto the ten mile high escalator that would glide them slowly up into Gomorrah.
Light burst through the opening overhead in the ground before the passengers reached the top of the escalator, and one by one, people threw their arms over their eyes to shield themselves from the sudden burst of sun. Jim ducked and squinted before he reached the point where the light suddenly shone brilliantly on the tiles that lined the station's interior, but the intensity of the light still caught him by surprise. He stumbled off the escalator's last step right into a poor facsimile of Superman. The costumed reveler tried to engage Jim in a bit of fun, but Jim wasn't having any of it. He pulled himself free and tripped over his feet towards the open promenade just north of the main drag. A directory on the sidewalk indicated the food court on the second floor of the promenade, near the movie theater entrance. Jim leaned against the directory to gather the last of his strength before making his way to the stairs.
He was huffing by the time he put his foot on the top step. His back was throbbing, his heart was pounding out of his chest, and his throat was dry and raw from trying to suck in enough oxygen to keep moving. He pulled himself up along the rail until he was finally on the deck proper, and just managed to get out of the way of passers-by before his trembling legs gave way and sent him sprawling to the concrete floor.
"Whoa!" Jim twisted lamely to see someone rushing towards him. "Jim?" A pair of large hands gathered Jim up with a fair amount of ease, and he struggled to get into a position vaguely resembling upright. Tears of pain blurred his vision, but through them he could make out a big, lopsided grin and floppy black bangs. "Shit, Jim, what the fuck happened to you, man?" Jim's benefactor roared with laughter. "Holy motherfuck on a pogo stick, man, you look like you should have called 911, not me!"
Jim grasped at the thick jacket sleeves of the arms that were dragging him towards a table, and tried for a dirty look, though he had the feeling it was more sickly than dirty. "Yeah, well, I wasn't feeling like freshly toasted shit before I got on the damn bus." Jim cried out in agony as he was dropped unceremoniously in a hard metal chair, and squeezed his eyes shut to try to keep the tears from rolling down his cheeks.
"You don't fucking sound it!"
Jim's eyes opened slowly to take in the tall, broad man that lounged in the chair across from him. "Not particularly, no." And he wasn't. When Jim first met Gary Mitchell, Jim found himself flailing towards the ground, after having tripped over the gym bag Gary had carelessly dropped in Jim's path. The younger boy had laughed uproariously as Jim hit the ground with a splat, just like he was laughing now. And somehow, Jim found it just as hilarious, even though every bone in his body ached, just as it had then. A smile slowly crept up the side of Jim's mouth, even as he cursed the day Gary was born.
"Yeah, I didn't think so." He nudged Jim's foot with his. "So. What's up?" He leaned forward and peered into Jim's eyes. "You aren't graduating to the hard stuff, are you? You know that's expensive, and harder for me to get at old high school buddy prices, right? Not to mention, I think Carol would be insulted if she knew you were thinking about getting your hands on some tar, man."
Jim snorted. He was in deep enough shit. The last thing he needed to do was switch from a nice, tidy prescription opiate to fucking street heroin. "No, I'm all out."
Gary blinked. "Dude. That was fast. You come into money or some shit?"
Jim smiled mirthlessly. "Honestly? The pills I get from fucking Kaiser were in my glove compartment when my car was stolen."
Gary blinked again, before erupting in really, ridiculously, unnecessarily loud laughter.
Jim let the laughter go on for a moment before his temper began to simmer. "It's not funny, Gary."
"Yes it is, dude!" Gary guffawed a while longer before trying to bring himself under control again. "It's fucking hilarious, man. Who the fuck leaves a month long supply of fucking Oxy in a fucking glove compartment? And who the fuck calls a dealer instead of his doctor? That shit is priceless!"
Jim sucked down a deep breath and reminded himself that he needed Gary's goodwill, and cussing him out wasn't going to be very productive towards that end. "Gary, I'm in pain. Like-" Jim caught himself, not wanting to give away the exact nature of his need. It was bad enough to come to Gary from a place of desperation, but to admit that he might be jonesing for a fix old friends or not, Jim had no intention of offering any drug source an opportunity to string him out. He composed himself as best he could, and tried again. "Not like withdrawal pains. I told you I got these legitimately. The doctor hands them out like diamond studded Pez. I have a lot of pain from the accident. And now that my normal supply has been suddenly absconded with," -Jim stopped to glare balefully at Gary, who was sputtering again with laughter- "now I'm in a bind because I have nothing for my back until the middle of next week. Red tape."
Gary wiped tears of laughter from his eyes. "So you want me to spot you for a week? Okay, yeah, we can do that. I don't have it on me now, but if you got cash, we can roll "
"I actually was hoping that maybe we could do a little bartering." Jim hastened to explain at the suddenly dark look on Gary's face. "I thought maybe I could do some work this week, help you sell."
All traces of Gary's seemingly boundless merriment were thoroughly gone. "What happened to your impossible-to-be-fired-from-job?"
"Nothing, I just don't get paid for a while I didn't budget getting my car and my pain meds stolen from me at the end of the pay period. I'm good for it, but " It was a gamble, taking this road, but the way Jim saw it, he might be able to secure extra work for himself, to cover any other surprise expenses down the road if he did a good job, and maybe Gary wouldn't automatically want to boost the price on him at the last minute. "You've been good to me, I know, and I don't want you to think that I can just take advantage of you. I'm not looking to get deep into the game I like not worrying about jail 24/7, you know? but I don't want to beg for the stuff without offering you something."
Gary stared off into the distance. He was silent so long that Jim was afraid he'd say no. Finally, though, Gary shifted his attention to Jim. "You know, I'm a softy. A real softy. The last time I let friendship influence business, I almost went down." Jim's heart sank. His stomach flopped. Gary leaned forward, eyes glinting with malice. "You know how I stayed out of jail?" Jim shook his head. "I threw my old friend to the wolves." Gary smiled sardonically. "You know why I even let myself get distracted with that mess?" Again, Jim shook his head. "Because I love you man."
Gary leaned back in his seat and nodded. "It's true. You know, you're the most loyal bastard I've ever met. And I wanted to be just like you when I grew up." Gary nodded more enthusiastically at this. "I did. And so when your loyalty to our little group waned, I vowed to step up and take up the mantle. I was going to be the most loyal motherfucker any of them ever knew. And I was." Gary scowled at the nothing somewhere just over Jim's shoulder. "And then that bitch fucked up royally." He brought his focus back to Jim. "Made me think that maybe it wasn't a lack of loyalty on your part that made you ditch the team, so much as a... need to get out and do something different. And when you were ready to come back to the life, you came right to me... kinda like now, hey..." He slapped an open palm on the table. "So. It comes around, full circle. I'll be loyal to you, to the bitter end. But I need you to understand something, Jim." Gary stood up and moved closer to Jim, getting down on one knee so they were nose to nose. "I worked long and hard to get where I am, man. If you fuck up, and the cops see my ass, loyal or not, I will cut your ass loose so fast your intestines are gonna unravel. You feel me?"
Jim couldn't suppress his relieved laughter. "I feel you," he said through giggles.
Gary smiled, but the smile didn't quite reach his eyes. "Okay. Look, I'll have Liz swing by your place with a bag and instructions tonight." He rested his hands on Jim's shoulders and squeezed just a little too hard. "I'm only doing this because you're you. You know I never do favors, Jim." He touched a fingertip to Jim's chin and tipped it up, until they were staring into one another's eyes. "Be good to me."
Jim's blood turned to ice in his veins. He'd always thought of his old friend as being a good natured jerk, or maybe a too playful ass - but for the first time, he could see true maliciousness in Gary's eyes. Had Gary changed? Had Jim been that blind? Was he just being a Pollyanna about their school days? Was he that desperate for a fix? Whatever the answers, a chill crept down Jim's spine for better or worse, he'd just climbed willingly into bed with the Devil. Now, only time would tell how badly he was going to be burned.
The sky was cloaked in darkness when Jim finally fell off the bus. He stumbled towards his building, half delirious with pain both real and imagined, and dragged himself up the stairs, hand over hand on the railing.
There was a girl sitting crosslegged in front of his door when he could see over the last step. She was... jittery. Her thin arms were uncovered, and for a moment, Jim thought she might have been cold, sitting there in the darkness, but there was something about the way she moved that didn't seem so much a shiver of chill as a disturbed twitch. She flipped the curtain of shaggy blonde hair from her face, and Jim caught a glance. She was worn beyond her years life had not been kind to her since Jim had seen her last. What the fuck had Gary done to her?
He tripped his way to the door, and when he was literally almost on top of her, she finally seemed to notice that she was no longer alone. She scrambled out of the way just as he went crashing to his knees, and they collapsed together in a heap of tangled arms and legs.
They grunted and swore and yanked at each other until they finally separated, and glared at each other warily. Jim broke the silence. "You brought the shit?"
"You're all fucked up," she snapped. "You look like a fucking crackhead." She drew her hands over her arms, as if to cover the blue veins that glowed in the moonlight through her paper-thin skin.
"Way to judge, Elizabeth. You like your work? Bring you a lot of personal satisfaction to suck your dealer's dick?"
"I don't have to listen to this," she growled, and made a move to gather her feet underneath herself.
But Jim's reflexes were much better than hers he whipped out an arm and snapped his fingers shut around one of her bony ankles, yanking her close, and whipping away what little balance she'd managed to regain. "I didn't put my ass on the fucking bus to fucking Hollywood with a pinched fucking nerve so you could steal my goddamn prescription."
She lay there, dazed, blinking up at the night sky. "He's not a doctor, Jim," she said softly.
"I know that." He reached back with his freehand and struggled to get his door unlocked. "I don't have to explain shit to you, you know that, right?"
She sighed and sat up. "It's bad enough I let Gary talk to me like I'm a cheap whore. You didn't even say hello."
Jim twisted and yelped in surprise at the pain that shot through his hips. "Not feeling exactly social here, Liz," he gasped out.
She slipped her ankle free of his slackening grip easily, and crawled forward to look at him. "This isn't withdrawal pain?"
"Not all of it."
She seemed think for awhile before coming to a decision. "Sorry. I got the shit." She helped gather him into the apartment, and got herself upright before locking them comfortably inside. She flipped on a light and whistled low. "Nice place."
"Thanks. A little help?"
Elizabeth seemed to hesitate then. "I... Jim, he said not to give you anything until I gave you the deal. Said it was non-negotiable." She twisted the hem of her threadbare t-shirt in her bony hands. "He was being really stupid about it not stupid, but... I don't know, like, he was drilling it in my head or something. I thought he was trying to call me an idiot, but I guess he just thought you might try to take advantage of my kindness." She knelt down by him again. "And it's hard, Jim, I want to, but I don't want to get in trouble. I can't afford "
"Elizabeth. Shut the fuck up. I just wanna get off the fucking floor."
"Oh." She helped roll him on his side, and let him clamber all over her, until he could pull himself over the back of the couch, where he flopped down to rest in undisguised agony. "Okay?" She hovered nervously, peering over the back of the couch at him. "Can I get you something? Water?"
"How about that deal? I kinda want my fucking pills now, to be honest."
"Yeah, yeah. Okay." She came around the couch, past the coffee table, to the loveseat that sat under the window, perpendicular to the couch, and perched at the edge of it, like she was going to have to try to make a quick escape. She glanced around the room probably assessing her limited exit options when she paused at the shelving unit in the corner of the living room. She stretched out and grabbed one of the only two framed photographs Jim kept, and looked at it as if she couldn't believe it existed. She ran her fingertips over the woman in the image. "When was the last time you talked to her, Jim?"
Jim scrubbed at his face with both hands. "What? What the Liz, focus! I feel like there's shark with poisoned teeth shredding my back into a pile of flaming enchilada filling, and you're asking me about my fucking mom. Get it the fuck together!"
Elizabeth pouted slightly. "But I like your mother."
"I called her last month," Jim said through gritted teeth. "I'll tell her you said hi when I call next week or something. Can. We. Talk. About. Gary. Please."
Liz sighed and set the photo down on the coffee table, arranging it so she could see Winona's smiling face with ease. "Everyone I love is disappearing." She looked at Jim accusingly. "You were probably the first, you know. And you took a lot of good people with you."
Jim swallowed down another growl. "I moved into this place in grad school, Elizabeth. Gary knew where I was. I'm sorry I didn't keep in touch myself. I'm here. I'm gonna be here probably forever. Okay?" He waited as patiently as he could for some kind of acknowledgement. When she nodded skeptically, he forced his face into what he hoped was as shape vaguely resembling a smile. "Okay. Now tell me what Gary wants me to do."
Elizabeth twitched a little and pulled a little notepad out of her bag. She flipped the pages until she found the one she wanted, and began to speak haltingly, even while her eyes scanned the page. "He wants you to work a ra- um, a party. Tomorrow night. Around seven. You'll talk to Finnegan before you get to the place, he'll have the shit for you to sell and it'll be in two packages. The...uh... red one is the one you have to empty. Yeah. That's $200 worth of stuff. You're selling for him, so you don't get to make your own price. The pills are $20 a piece. And they aren't the stuff you usually ask for, so you won't be tempted to do something stupid. Uh... $200 apiece, temptation..." She went over the bits she'd already given him, mumbling and twitching.
"What happens if I don't sell the whole red bag?"
She jumped, as if she had no idea Jim was still sitting there. "Um! Uh." More page flipping. "Okay. You don't get paid. You have to empty it. Then you get $200 worth of your usual."
Jim frowned. "That's... not a lot."
Elizabeth shrugged. "I've had to sell way more, and I don't get paid in a one to one ratio." She rolled her eyes. "Of course, I'm not one of his 'best friends'." She put air-quotes around the phrase best friends. Then she glared hotly at Jim. "Just one of the very few that stayed."
Jim ignored her histrionics. He liked her, but she was a silver spoon brat. All her abandonment issues stemmed from the fact that her very present daddy used to leave on business trips that were too frequent for her liking. She had no fucking idea what true abandonment felt like, and to hear her constantly accuse him of abandonment really hurt. "Do I get anything tonight? He said you would stop by with something for me tonight."
"One track mind," Elizabeth sighed. "You're worse than a strawberry."
"You would know."
She popped up and skirted the far end of the coffee table. "I told you, I don't have to listen to this shit."
"I don't know why you get so pissed off when I say that, Liz! You're the one fucking a drug dealer for a hit!"
"And you're the one who's gonna have to crawl your ass to bed and beg God to kill you in your sleep to end the fucking pain!"
Jim didn't have the strength to ask her to stop, or even sit up from his awkward placement on the couch. He just shut his eyes and listened to her storm out of his apartment with the solution to his problems. The door slammed, rattling everything that wasn't tied down. Jim gritted his teeth and looked at the picture of his mother still on his coffee table. Bitch didn't even put the thing back. He leaned forward to turn it to face him properly and brushed his fingertips against a tatty, thread bare purse.
Jim plucked the little bag up and sifted through it. There inside was a small change purse, a beat up cell phone, a tube of lip balm, and a tiny baggy with a tiny bundle wrapped in a scrap of paper. Jim opened the bag to see what, if anything, was in the paper. He unfolded it carefully to see an address written on the inside of the tiny parcel, and the contents of the parcel itself: two little blue pills inside. His little blue pills. He popped them both in his mouth with nary a thought, and settled back in the couch. He wasn't really floating, not like he wanted to, but his back was already starting to feel better.
A moment later, the door opened gently. "I left... oh."
He didn't bother turning around to look at Elizabeth. He just held the purse over his head, where it dangled just in front of her fingertips. "I'm guessing my advance was wrapped in a piece of paper with the address for where I'm supposed to meet Finnegan?"
She sighed and slowly took her purse. "Uh, yeah."
Jim got to his feet carefully and went around the couch to the door. "Have a good night, Elizabeth." He was standing at his full height, and he towered easily over the girl. She twitched slightly before she turned on her heel and scurried off into the night.