It was Saturday, January 21, 1989.
Just so you know, I have standards. I had ‘em back twenty years ago, too. Examples:
- Steal my stuff? I could get upset.
- Trash my place? Don’t do it, buddy.
- Threaten me? Not a good way to make me happy.
- Bring a criminal trade – and plenty of criminals – into my place, putting me at risk of getting arrested as an accomplice if I don’t report you, and getting beaten up or killed by a bunch of drug-dealing thugs if I do? Wooooh, now I’m starting to get upset.
To those of you out there who are keenly aware of how addicts and their enablers work – yep. I am – or was, in 1988, anyway - a ripe suck. A pushover. An easy target for a real addict.
But even I had my limits.
It was bitterly cold night. Wyatt had left early before going to the bar to do his bouncer shift, so I relaxed a bit for the hour before I had to head out to my bar for the evening, the Mermaid. I drove out, grabbed a burger before my shift, and went to work.
It was a Saturday night at the Mermaid. As crappy as I’d felt the previous night (er, morning), Saturdays at the ‘maid always made me feel good. I mean, I hated my job, but at the ‘maid, at least I was able to do a good job that I hated. The bar was jumping. I kept ‘em out on the floor. It was a good night.
The bar closed down around 2AM (no booze after 1, of course). I had an after work drink with the staff, and went home.
One drink. In retrospect, it was a good call.
I parked out on the street, and walked in the door. It was about 2:45 AM, and very dark.
Shane was waiting in the front hallway. “Hey”, he whispered in the voice he used when he was about to let you in on a big secret.
“What’s up?” I asked, tired and waiting on the punch line.
“Wanna know where your rifle is?”
I felt a cold chill race up my back. My heart sent a message to my brain; “Permission to start pounding, sir?”.
“What do you mean?”
Shane padded over to the stairwell and pointed up.
There were three jagged holes in the plaster above us. I felt a cold draft; I couldn’t tell if it was the cold night air leaking down through holes through the roof, or just my blood running ice-cold in fear and anger.
“He came home with some bar snatch” Shane started. “He was coked up…”
“Naturally…” I responded, leaning over to pick up a cartridge casing from the floor.
“…and thought he heard a crack dealer in the attic”. He’d been paranoid, apparently.
“So he…”, I started, already knowing the answer.
“He grabbed your rifle, loaded it, and busted off a couple of shots”, Shane completed the thought. “I was sitting in the living room watching a movie. It scared the shit out of me”.
“So where is he?”, I asked, waving Shane toward my room.
“Up in his bedroom, with the skeeze”.
“Where’s the rifle?”
“He took it up there with them”.
I walked through the door to my little garret in the front room, which Wyatt had helpfully left open, and flipped on the light. A box of cartridges lay on the desk, with a bunch of rounds scattered on the floor where Wyatt had let them scatter, apparently in his frenzy to shoot the “crack dealers in the attic”.
“I can’t handle this shit any more”, I muttered.
A plan formed in my head. Or, should I say, a “plan”.
I grabbed a day or two’s worth of clothes, the box of cartridges, a couple of personal treasures – some photos, books and so on – and stuffed them into the duffel bag. I took them and my acoustic guitar (my electrics were over at the band’s practice space) and a little .22 rifle I had stashed behind the bed, and ran them out to the car. Shane grabbed a trash bag full of his own stuff and did the same.
One more thing to do.
I reached into my jacket pocket and grabbed the little .22 automatic.
Shane’s eyes got wide. ”Mitch, what the f**k?”
“I’m gonna get my rifle back”.
I racked a round; the little .22 chambered with a not-as-reassuring-as-a-.45 “snick”. I lowered the hammer (it was a double-action) as I padded up the stairs as quietly as I could go in my “work” dress shoes.
I held the gun in my right jacket pocket; I slipped the safety off as I stood aside the door frame, in case he figured he’d missed one of the “crack dealers” in the attic who was now coming to avenge his riddled buddies.
I knocked on the door. “Wyatt?”
I opened the door and stepped inside, moving out of the doorway into the shadow by the wall. The room reeked of booze and pot smoke. Wyatt and a woman I’d never seen (not that that was anything unusual), a thin black-haired woman who had the too-skinny look of someone who was no stranger to coke and uppers, were passed out under the covers. Soundly unconscious, they didn’t budge.
I saw the rifle, leaned against the wall by the bed. I grabbed it and quickly left the room, not bothering to shut the door. I safed and pocketed the pistol as I walked down the stairs, and checked the rifle as I walked into my room. The safety had been left off, I noticed as I remembered Wyatt’s “all the guns in the house should be under my control” rant the previous weekend. I unhooked the magazine and racked the bolt carrier back; a round flipped out onto the floor, and one more glared up from the detached magazine.
I cased the rifle, and ran out to the car. I stuffed the case in the trunk and drove away. I don’t think I locked the door on my way out.
I’ve wondered about many things about that evening for the past twenty years. Did nobody in that loathsome neighborhood hear a bunch of large-caliber rifle shots coming from the house? Did nobody call the cops? (Why, indeed, did Shane apparently just keep on watching his movie?)
And, above all, for twenty years, I’ve pondered – what was the chick Wyatt brought home thinking? You’re met a skeezy, lowlife bouncer at a bar. You go to his place. He hears crack dealers in the attic. OK, if you’re drunk or jonesing I can see maybe letting all of that slide.
But then he grabs a rifle and blasts several holes in the ceiling – and then you go upstairs, hoover up some blow, and get the freak on?
Sometimes I’m happy that I got out of that time of my life with any regard for the human race.
I drove Shane to his friends’ place in Frogtown. Their phone had been disconnected, so I drove over to the old Texaco station on Snelling and Minnehaha to use the pay phone. I called my bandmates – it took a couple of tries – and arranged to sleep on their couch that night.
And one other thing.