Bikky paused in front of an ugly, grey concrete building and assessed his surroundings. This had to be it. Two blocks past Gino's Pizza and across the street from a secondhand furniture shop, his directions had been. He was looking for a four storey concrete building with some kind of rental store on the ground floor. "Pinkton's Equipment Rentals and Sales," the sign said. Yep, this had to be the place.
There was an alley between this place and the brick building next door. After a quick glance around to make sure no one was paying particular attention to him, he slid into it and eyed the fire escape above his head. Definitely too high to jump, but there was a dumpster off to one side that he figured he could make a leap from. He sure hoped Eddie would be up there and he could get this over with quickly. It was going to take him a while to get back, and he still had Math homework to do. And he was sick of riding buses and trains as he crisscrossed all over looking for traces of Eddie. Oh well, the sooner he hauled his butt up there, the sooner he would know if he had to keep looking.
He had just jumped nimbly up onto the dumpster and was in the process of tightening his backpack straps, when he heard a high, confident young voice call, "Hey you! You up on the dumpster! Hang on for a sec, okay?"
Bikky looked down to see a small boy entering the mouth of the alley, clutching a greasy brown paper bag.
"You goin' up on the roof?"
"Maybe I am, maybe I ain't. What's it to you?"
The boy came closer and dropped his voice conspiratorially. "You lookin' for Eddie C?" he asked.
"Yeah, you seen him?"
"I'm pretty sure he's on the roof," the boy said. He was a small, chubby Italian kid, about eight years old, who looked as though he'd grown up eating hearty pasta dinners every night. "Got his supper here. I bin calling to him to come down and get it, but I don't think he can hear me."
Bikky's face broke into a smile. So Eddie was up there after all? This was good news. "Want me to take it up to him?"
"Yeah! 'Cause I can't climb up there, 'specially if I gotta hold this in one of my hands. Tell him it's from my cousin Mario. He's on the grill tonight." The boy passed the bag up to Bikky, who deftly transferred it to his pack.
"Hey, you think you can jump onto that fire escape?" he asked looking a little doubtfully at the distance between it and the dumpster.
"No problemo," replied Bikky shaking out his legs. "Got my good basketball shoes on."
The kid's face lit up with excitement. "You play basketball? What position?"
But Bikky was already bored with the conversation and itching to get up on the roof and discharge his duty. Disregarding the question, he said, "Hey kid, in case Eddie asks, who should I say delivered this?"
"I'm Robbie. Oh, I almost forgot. Can you tell him my mom says thanks for the tea biscuits?"
"Tea biscuits. Gotcha. Now watch this." Bikky rocked back and forth from heel to toe for a moment and then backed up as far as he could on the lid of the dumpster. In two energetic bounds he was springing upwards and outwards from the edge, and then in the next second, his outstretched hands were closing over the lowest railing of the fire escape. Robbie whooped in excitement as Bikky swung himself up.
"Shhh, kid!" Bikky hissed at him. "Let's not bring the whole neighborhood here."
Robbie clapped a guilty hand over his mouth and then stage-whispered, "Sorry! But that was cool, man. Hey, what's your name?"
"Bikky. Now go home and watch TV or something. Later, kid." He began hurrying upwards, trying not to let his feet clatter too loudly on the steep metal steps.
The fire escape stopped at the fourth floor, and one glance up at the overhang of the roof above him was enough to inform Bikky that there was no way up externally, even for a world class climber like him. It would have been impossible for Eddie, with all of the gear he habitually trucked around with him, to have gotten up there. Then Bikky's eyes fell upon the door and he laughed softly to himself when he saw that it bore the marks of a recently changed lock. Eddie didn't pick locks; he just removed them and replaced them with different ones that he happened to have the keys to. Although installing and removing locks was certainly beyond Bikky's abilities, picking them was one of the many useful skills he still retained from a misspent childhood and the next few minutes saw him closing the door gently behind him and creeping toward the stairwell.
When he emerged into the open air of the roof, he did not immediately see what he was looking for and he felt a momentary pang of alarm. What if Eddie had moved on again? Or what if that trouble that Ryo was talking about had caught up with him? At this point, all he knew was that Ryo and Dee had busted in on Eddie for the second time and found him with drugs. Eddie had gotten away and was hiding out and there was a rumor that someone with Eddie had OD'd, but no one on the street knew who it was. There had been a lot of yellow police tape over at the Westington since last night, or at least that's what that sneaky bastard "Mosquito" had been saying this afternoon. Bikky wasn't sure he believed anything that came out of Mosquito's mouth. That guy would say anything to get attention, the fucking poser. But there was no denying that he had to find Eddie, and the sooner the better.
He sighed in relief when he came around the corner of a raised stairwell skylight and found a makeshift tarp shelter anchored on three sides by Eddie's familiar tool kit, a hammer, and the old lock apparatus. A camping style backpack with an aluminum frame stood upright inside the shelter, helping to prop it up. Under the tarp lay Eddie, curled up on a thin blanket, gray-faced and sweaty. He definitely did not look good. Bikky recognized the signs. Eddie was hurting bad.
"Fuck, Bikky, I'm glad it's only you," Eddie gasped out in a voice that trembled. "How the hell did you find me?"
"Well, I wasted some time in Woodhaven, first," Bikky informed him, as he lowered himself into a crouch beside Eddie. "Wish I'd come straight here. Remember a couple years back, you brought Crazy Bo here before he turned into such a Jesus-Nazi?"
"Uh yeah. Well, no. I dunno. Look Bik...I--I can't really talk right now--" A ferocious cramp seemed to seize Eddie mid-sentence and he left off speaking to clutch himself around the middle and curl up even tighter, groaning through clenched teeth.
Bikky looked away, feeling bad, but knowing there was nothing he could do. He had half-expected to find Eddie all strung out like this. Tony Elliot had even offered to sell him a hit to take to Eddie, but he hadn't dared to take him up on it, especially not after how Ryo had reacted to the whole marijuana escapade.
When Eddie crawled a short distance out of his shelter and retched horribly onto the pebbly surface of the rooftop, Bikky sighed and swung his pack off his shoulders. It was going to be a long night. And Eddie probably wouldn't be interested in the dinner that Robbie had brought him. But he should get it out of his backpack before it started to leak out through the bag, whatever the hell it was.
"Hey Eddie," he called, setting the bag down next to Eddie's shelter. "Some friends of yours sent you dinner. It's here if you want it, man."
"Huh?" Eddie raised his head, puke dripping pathetically off his chin, and fixed Bikky with a blank stare.
"Little brat by the name of Robbie gave me this. It's from his cousin...Mario, I think he said. And his mom says thanks for the--"
"MARIO?" cried Eddie in a cracked and creaky voice. "Why the hell didn't you say so, dude?"
In a flash, Eddie had scuttled crab-like toward Bikky and with a grunt of desperation, snatched up the bag and ripped it open. A couple of Styrofoam containers jumped out of it, one of them popping open and spilling some kind of indeterminate meat cutlets onto the ground. Eddie pawed frantically among the napkins and plastic utensils and then emitted a half-sob as he held aloft a tiny orange balloon that contained a lump of something dark. He immediately withdrew to the shelter and pulled out what looked like a small drawstring bag from one of his backpack's outer pockets. He dumped out the contents on the blanket he had been lying on, and unhesitatingly selected what he needed. This consisted of a metal soup spoon from an Asian restaurant, a lighter, a syringe, a length of rubber tubing, a single cotton ball from out of a baggie containing several, and finally a small square packet that Bikky at first took to be a condom until Eddie tore it open, revealing it to be an alcohol swab. He used it to clean first the spoon, then his fingertips, and finally a spot on his left arm before tossing it aside. Next, he squirted some water from a plastic bottle in the base of the spoon and began the careful process of cooking up his hit.
Bikky couldn't tear his eyes away. He'd seen junkies shooting up in washrooms and back alleys often enough, but he had never watched the whole procedure from beginning to end like this. It made him feel a curious combination of disgust and compassion, and he felt a little guilty for staring. However there was a certain amount of suspense and drama in what Eddie was doing, so he continued to watch. Now Eddie was slowly drawing back the plunger on his syringe, filling it with his precious mixture. When he was sure he had gotten out every drop of available liquid, he tapped out the air bubbles and tied off his left arm above the elbow with the tourniquet. At that moment, he had to put down the needle and bend double as another cramp wracked his skinny form. When it passed, he struggled to master the dry heaves that followed it until he was ready to pick up his syringe and carry on. He inserted it into the crook of his bony arm and slowly, carefully, depressed the plunger. Bikky watched in a kind of horrified fascination as the pain and tension were almost instantly lifted from Eddie's face and body, and an expression of purest happiness altered his features. Suddenly, for a brief moment, Eddie once more resembled the happy-go-lucky young guy who used to baby-sit him for a few bucks back when his dad, his first dad, used to have to go out to do a drug deal or take care of some other business. Eddie had been so different in those days, already handy with the set of tools he was so proud of, bursting with plans for a future as a carpenter, and full of goodwill, affection and brotherly advice towards the motherless brat of a two-bit drug dealer. What a far cry from the undernourished, homeless drug-addict he had become. Sure Eddie had a lot of contacts, but he lived outside the system and his future contained nothing but danger and hardship. It made Bikky shiver to think that but for Ryo, he might have ended up like this.
Eddie lay back with a sigh. In Bikky's opinion, he wouldn't be good for a serious conversation for at least half an hour, maybe longer. He sat down in a cross-legged position and resignedly pulled out his Gameboy. "I picked up your meat," he said without looking up from the small screen. "It's a little dusty, but probably still good. There's spaghetti too."
"Thanks. You're a...good guy, Bik. I'll eat it...later."
A car drove slowly by below, stereo blaring, and a neighbor shouted angrily down into the street. In the distance horns honked and sirens flung their warnings this way and that. The sounds of the city ebbed and flowed around them, but could not intrude into the miniature electronic world Bikky had willingly lost himself in and the unseen, dreamlike world that was suddenly flowing like a thousand warm rivers of light and color inside Eddie's head.
Ryo sat in the dojo watching Thomas being shown how to block punches and kicks by his two new friends. He wished Bikky would call. It was getting close to eight o'clock, and there was still no word from him. If he hadn't heard anything by 8:30, he was going to call him and tell him to start the long trek home. Maybe he could get Dee to pick Bikky up.
Suddenly, the buzzing of his phone as it vibrated in his pocket interrupted his thoughts. He jumped up, flipping it open as he hurried out of the dojo and into the waiting room.
"Bikky! How are you doing? Did you eat dinner?"
"Yeah, I'm fine and I ate. I'm here with Eddie. He's willing to listen to what you gotta say. I'm putting him on, okay?"
"Okay. Thanks, B."
Eddie came on the phone. "Uh, Bikky's dad? That you?"
"Yes, Eddie. Recognize my voice now? I'm Detective McLean, but you can call me Randy if you like."
"Look man, I'm only talking to you because you're Bikky's dad. And this is off the fuckin' record okay? You better not be taping this call."
"Eddie, I give you my word that I'm not taping this call," said Ryo with quiet dignity. "And even if I wanted to, I don't have any equipment to do so. I'm at a Karate class with Thomas right now. Hear that?" He held out the phone toward the open door of the dojo where the group was practicing their katas and letting out a kiyai-shout at the end of each ten-count. When he returned the phone to his ear, he said, "If it would make you feel more comfortable, I'll put Thomas on the phone and he can confirm for you that I'm not taping it."
"No, no, that's okay," said Eddie in a slightly less defensive tone. "I apologize, sir. I know that even though you're a cop, you're a good guy. Least, that's what Bikky tells me and that kid's got a good head on his shoulders, you know?"
"Yeah, I do know," Ryo said softly. "And I'm very proud of him."
"I'm glad to hear that," said Eddie. "Bik's one less kid I gotta worry about. Now let's get down to business. First of all, are you gonna pin Tamara's death on me?"
"No, Eddie, but I'll get into that further in a minute. First, I want to talk about her. She's basically "Tammy Doe" in the morgue right now. We don't even know her last name. We think her family has a right to know what happened to her. Can you help us out with that?"
"Stanley. Her last name is--" There was a pause. "Her last name was Stanley. But I don't think her family will care all that much. Her mom never knew who her father was, and she had four or five different step-dads over the years, all gone now. I don't think her mom is even in the state. Tamara's been livin' with a guy by the name of Ricardo Romero, who pimped her out most nights. He got her to quit school and start hookin' a couple years back. They might know her at the methadone clinics. She had a little problem, see. Like me."
"Does Mr. Romero go by any other names?"
"Yeah, on the street we mostly call him 'Rick'. But he's been trying to change his name to Ja Romeo 'cause he's got some fantasy of becoming a rapper." Eddie snorted in a way that spoke volumes on the subject of his opinion of Rick's rapping talent. "But, sir, I'm sure I don't need to tell ya, you did not get any of this stuff from me, understand?"
"Sure, Eddie. I've been a detective for long enough to know not to reveal a source. Can you tell me how old Tammy was?"
"Only seventeen, maybe eighteen. She might 'a recently had a birthday." There was a pause. "So...I thought I heard you say you weren't planning to nail me for her death?"
"No, because we saw Detective Shaver give you the drugs. We got them off you, or most of them, anyway, real soon after. We followed you to the Westington, so we know you didn't have enough time to add the substance that killed her."
"'Substance'?" Eddie was surprised. "What kind of substance are we talkin' about? You mean it wasn't an OD?"
"No. The lab confirmed extremely high levels of something deadly in the two little bags marked 'Yours'. None of the other bags were affected."
There was a long silence.
"Eddie? Are you still there?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm here." His voice had suddenly lost its tough-guy edge and sounded very young and unsure. "Uhh, don't suppose you're gonna tell me exactly what that, er, deadly substance was, huh?"
"No, I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to reveal that detail at this point in the investigation," Ryo informed him apologetically.
"I understand, sir. I guess." He took a shaky breath and fell silent.
"It's worse than you thought, isn't it Eddie? No one knew Tammy was with you, so she wasn't the most likely target. You got any idea why someone like Detective Shaver would want to take you out?"
"N-no. That was only the second time I ever met him. He's not my usual delivery guy. I mean, it's pretty obvious he thinks I'm scum, but...I didn't think the guy actually had it in for me..."
"How about the person you're both working for? You think he might have a reason for wanting you out of the way?"
"No, don't be saying that, man. That can't be! I never did nothin'!"
"What about the cell-phone video? Don't you think that might have pissed him off?"
"Oh, I guess you know who it is, then."
"Yeah. Thomas gave us a quite a few clues." Ryo forbore to say which clues. "Look, Eddie, where's that cell phone video now? Do you still have it?"
"No sir. He made me give it back to him a couple days ago."
"Has he contacted you since?"
"Yeah, he called and asked me if I had any other dirt on him that I was thinking about sharing with the cops. But I told him no way, that's not why I took the video! It was only for Tom. I thought I could help him-- that if his dad knew there was a video, he wouldn't hurt him any more. Guess I miscac...miscul...made a mistake," Eddie finished lamely.
"Did he believe you?"
"I'm not sure. Maybe not. I got a bad feeling. But I can't afford to be enemies with him."
"Why not? What do you think will happen?"
"He's a prick but he steps up whenever I'm in trouble," Eddie said. "I kinda need him out here, you know? Yeah, he can be a little scary when he gets mad, but I've had about 40 meetings with him over the last couple years, and more than 50 phone calls, and I gotta say, in all honesty, he's mostly been good for me."
"Hold on a second there...Forty meetings and fifty phone calls? That's pretty specific, Eddie. Are you sure about those numbers?" said Ryo
"Yeah, my memory sucks since this head injury I got when I was a teenager. I gotta keep records of everything, or I get confused."
"Eddie...uh, does Mike know you keep records of your meetings with him and your phone calls?"
"I don't know," Eddie replied. "At least I don't think I ever mentioned anything about it. But then again, my memory is crap, like I said."
"Eddie, think about it," Ryo said urgently. "You keep records of meetings and phone calls You taped him beating his son almost to the point of injury. You've become a danger to him, don't you see that? Please let me take you into protective custody. I think you're in a lot more danger than you know."
"P-protective c-custody?" squeaked Eddie. "You fuckin' kidding me, man? If anyone wants to get me, that would be the place to do it. If I'm really in danger from a cop, I got a better chance out here. Besides, I...I just can't believe Mike would go that far. He and I go BACK, man!"
"Okay, okay," Ryo said quickly in soothing tones. "Forget police custody. Would it be all right for me and my partner to meet up with you in person, say tomorrow or the next day? I promised Bikky I wouldn't arrest you or take you anywhere against your will, and I'm making the same promise to you."
"Wh...what for?" Eddie's voice was suddenly wary. "We said all we gotta say. I don't want no one following me. I don't wanna be seen talkin' to no cops, either."
"We're going to be receiving some new information in the next day or two," Ryo told him, hoping to advance the relationship a little. "You're in some pretty big trouble, Eddie, and I think you're starting to realize that. I can't force you to accept my help, but at least I can give you some details that might help you to make decisions, all right?"
"Yeah, sure. But you're also gonna want something from me, right? That's the way it always works with cops."
Ryo sighed, and decided to go with honesty. "Yeah, Eddie, I might need a statement from you sometime, and that won't be possible if you're dead. You ducked it this time, but next time you might not be so lucky."
There was another silence. Finally, Eddie's voice came back over the line sounding troubled. "I'll think about it. Bikky gave me your home and cell numbers. I'll call you if...if anything else happens, okay? That's the best I can do right now, man."
"I understand, Eddie. Keep your head down, okay? And please send Bikky home ASAP."
"Yes sir. Bye." And he was gone.
Just then, Thomas came up behind Ryo and said, "Hey Ryo!"
"Oh, hi there. Is the class over already?"
"Yeah, wasn't it great? I love Karate. I'm definitely gonna come back on Tuesday. Ben-Sensei is so awesome! I just gotta get my dad to sign these forms and cough up some money. Say, were you talking to Karl just now? Dad is looking for him. He told me to keep an eye out for him."
"Did your dad say why he was looking for him?"
"Oh, he's going to buy Karl's MP3 player off him for me! I was telling him about how Karl uses it for everything, even taping phone calls because his memory is so bad, and Dad said it would be a good thing for me to use at school. I know Karl would give us a good price, which is important to my dad because he's such a cheapskate, normally."
"Did you say Eddie, I mean, 'Karl', tapes his phone calls?"
"Yeah, he has to because his brain doesn't always work the way it should. Then he converts the calls to sound files in his computer. It's pretty cool actually. Karl has to be super organized even though he's a drug addict, or he couldn't survive on the streets as well as he does. Anyway, do you know where he is? Dad says he hasn't been able to get him on his cell phone for the past couple days."
"No, sorry, I don't know where he is," Ryo answered truthfully. "And Thomas, please do me a favor and don't mention to your father that I was talking to Ed -- er, Karl. Your dad doesn't like me, you see."
"Yeah, what's up with that?"
"I don't know." Ryo sighed. "I think it's maybe partly about fatherhood and a couple more things that don't even have anything to do with me. But it's better for Karl and me if you don't tell him about this phone call. I mean if he asks you directly, then don't lie to him. But don't bring it up voluntarily, okay?"
"Sure Ryo, no problem." Thomas looked a little confused. "Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for bringing me here. Some of the class members are going out for a soda now, and they asked me if I wanna go with them, so I think I'm gonna do that. Tell Bikky I'll call him on the weekend, okay?"
"Sure thing, Thomas. I'm glad you had fun tonight."
Just then, Hiro and another boy emerged from the men's change room, saying, "There he is. Tom! Ready to go?"
Ryo watched with satisfaction as Thomas' face lit up.
"You bet! See you, Ryo!" The boys tramped down the stairs together and Ryo stayed just long enough to thank Ben and assure him that he would see him in the adult classes next week, before hurrying in the direction of home himself. On the way to the subway station, he dialed Bikky's cell phone number.
"Yo Ryo," came Bikky's stock answer. "You still mad about this morning?"
"No Bikky. Come on home and we'll talk about it. You want me to send Dee to get you?"
"No way! That would just be his ticket right back into the apartment! I know you probably don't feel the same way, but I for one could use a break from him. I'll come home by the F-train. I'll be there before you know it."
"Okay, see you soon," Ryo said. "I guess we've got a lot to talk about."
"Yeah, I guess we do. But can we do it over pizza?"
"I thought you said you ate dinner."
"I did, but it was only a burger. Besides, this Italian neighborhood is getting to me. There's a pizza joint practically on every block. Now I can't stop thinking about it."
"Sure, I'll pick some up on the way home."
--End of chapter 18--
Additional author's notes:
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. This was the one that had to be rewritten because my computer ate most of it. I've discovered that rewriting from memory something that one has already written is harder than doing the first draft. You know how certain people are always saying, "Stand up straight, drink more water, save money when youÕre young and always back up your work in another file? " And we just say, "Ahh, whatever?" Well, it turns out that those annoying people are right! Pardon me while I crack open a water bottle and click on 'save'. (The money may be a lost cause, however.)
By the way, Ben addresses Ryo as 'Sensei' as a term of respect because he's a black belt. It doesn't mean that Ryo is the instructor of a class.
Just in case it's not clear, Thomas and Bikky go to different schools, but they know each other through Eddie.
If there are any heroin experts out there who feel I didn't do a good job of describing the shooting-up procedure, go ahead and let me know. I shortened that scene because it was a little long and unwieldy, and in my opinion, it's still a little too long, but I'm sick of rewriting it!
Thank you to all the people out there who regularly read my story and give me feedback on my LJ and the other sites I post at. It's your kind encouragement that makes me want to keep going with this project, even at those times when Real Life is trying to drown me with stress, duty and obscenely long to-do lists.