What will Dee do to buy back her life?
Too Many Days Lost
An arm snakes out from under a mountain of bed covers to answer the tiny buzz coming from the pile of clothing on the floor. "Where are you?" a voice says. The covers flop back and a naked woman sits up, she can smell her armpits and makes a face at the cell phone.
Instead of answering the question, the voice on the phone says "You ok?"
"Yeah, I'm ok. Just don't know where I am, or where you are." Dee gazes around the vaguely familiar bedroom. There's a mirror above the dresser on the other side of the room. She can't bear to look at herself yet so she stays in the bed. Her body is sore, almost wounded. The bed is huge and dominates the enormous bedroom. The whole room gives her the heebie-jeebies but she doesn't want to think of that right now.
"I've been up here in the mountains. I left you with Lou." Josie barks into the phone.
"What?" The cell phone reception is full of static and Josie sounds like she's in a tunnel.
"How long have I been here with Lou?" Dee says slowly and deliberately. Lou introduced Dee to Josie as well as to all of the things they could find to snort or smoke.
Josie bangs on the phone "Yo Dee! I said I've had your car since Wednesday."
"What's today?" Dee asks, already afraid of the answer.
"Monday." Dee does the mental math. Five days lost this time. She looks more thoroughly around the room at all the dirty clothes strewn from one side to the other. Dee climbs out of the bed and immediately tangles her feet in a pair of jeans, and stumbles. She doesn't fall, but the room swims.
Dee takes a deep breath. The smell of her dirty body rolls her stomach. She stands still and says into the phone "When are you bringing my car back, Josie?" Instead of listening to the stream of excuses pouring out of the cell phone, Dee finally gains the courage to turn and look in the mirror at the foul thing staring back. Her hair is standing on end like a clown from a scary movie, and she has sticky, thick, black make-up frozen mid-run down her face.
"Oh my Gawwd. I look so gross" she says out loud. Pieces of hair stick to her forehead and there is a faint grapey-sour smell about her head. She pulls one of her bottom eyelids down so she can see into the socket and has a vague thought that she can see something rotting inside her skull and quickly lets the eyelid go.
Josie hee-haws a laugh into the phone and says "I can just imagine what Lou got you into. I'll bet you look like you've been scraped off the road." Josie laughs again and blows smoke into the phone, making it crackle.
Dee can't count how many times she has asked Josie not to blow smoke into the phone. Every time she asks, Josie just laughs at her and does it anyway. "I can't remember a damn thing from the last week, Josie." But that's a lie. She remembers every disgusting thing Lou made her do and did to her. No drug will ever take those images away. Dee lights a cigarette and spies a sock and her jeans near the end of the bed and heads for them. "What are you doing in the mountains?"
"I'm doing some business up here" which in Josie-terms means she's whoring the big silver case she carries filled with drugs to the rich dopers on the slopes. "I'll pick you up in about four or five hours, tops."
"Have you had my car since Wednesday?"
"Yeah, I told you that."
"Dammit Josie! You get me all fucked up and leave me with Lou, of all people. How could you do that to me again?"
"Hey! I have to do this. We have to get rid of this shit. If the cartel catches me with all of this shit it's over. I am dead and you're dead too." Several weeks before Josie's monthly trip to California had gone bad. Josie got in a fight with her contact. She managed to escape with a full case of product and the money she brought with her to pay for the previous case. She was certain the cartel put a hit on her. When Josie got home she told Dee what happened. Instead of going back to California to explain what happened and give them the money for both cases, Josie wanted to sell everything in the second case and then take the money and go somewhere glamorous like Las Vegas. Except there was one major problem: Josie couldn't stop using the drugs in the case long enough to sell them.
The phone barked again in her ear. "Do you hear me? I am making us a helluva lot of money. You're not dead. What's your fuckin' problem?"
"Forget it, Josie. I'm just tired." This is true, she is tired. She's tired of Josie, tired of getting fucked up all the time, tired of being forced to sleep with strangers, tired of everything.
"Look, you're at Lou's. I'll bet if you look hard enough you'll find something to make you not so tired. Get your head screwed on straight, then take a shower." Dee doesn't respond. She's found something to make the skin crawling stop.
"Dee? Ya there?"
"Yeah, I'm here."
"I promise I'll see you in about four or five hours. I have one more stop to make tonight and I want you to go with me. After tonight, the case will be empty, and we can do whatever we want."
Dee wants nothing more to do with Josie and her case of poison. It's useless to try to argue with her. "No Josie, I don't want to go. I want to go home and I want to go to work. I've missed a whole week. If Lou wasn't my boss, I'd probably be fired. She might fire me anyway."
"You let me worry about that old speed freak. I've got a little something for that one. You just make sure you're ready for me, okay?"
"No. Just be ready. "
Dee silently bangs her head over and over again, against the wall next to the mirror, "maybe I'll just leave. Call a cab. Take the bus. Fly on a magic carpet." Her tone is flat and defeated.
"No Dee, dammit, don't leave." Josie's tone is harsh, when she speaks again it's lighter if not friendlier. "I'll bring you your car when I come and get you. I'll even fill up the tank. "
Dee finally finds all of her clothes except one shoe and her purse. Then it hits her. "Oh shit Josie, you asshole. You have all my money. You have what's left from my paycheck and the money from my Uncle. It's all in my purse."
Her uncle is the only person in the world that really gives a damn about her. After the state took her and her sisters away from her crank head parents, she was sent to live with her paternal grandmother. Her grandmother referred to him as the "whore's brother" and wouldn't let him come around. To compensate, every month he left her an envelope with a certain amount of money in it. Dee's skin is naturally thick growing up with the parents she had, but living with her Grandma Jake is a constant lesson in degradation and misery.
"I have your purse Dee. Quit worrying. All of your money is in it, minus about three hundred bucks." Josie snaps into the phone.
Dee stops pacing and grinds her teeth. She silently screams and stomps her feet. She cannot believe it. Not again. All that money from selling drugs and Josie steals money from her again. Dee says in a quiet, controlled tone, "When will I get that money back Josie?" The last time Dee called Josie on her sticky fingers, Josie beat her up with a broomstick. She was blackout drunk and ten stories high on pure cocaine. After Josie beat her, she handcuffed Dee to their bed and then passed out on the living room floor. Dee sat in the same place, bruised and bleeding for almost forty eight hours until Josie regained consciousness. Josie swore up and down she couldn't remember how Dee ended up in the condition she found her in.
Rather than upset Josie with an angry outburst, she says in the same tone from before "we really needed that money Josie. I know you'll get it back to me, I'm not worried about that, but do you think you can do it as soon as you can? Like as soon as possible? It was part of the money I was saving for when we leave."
"Stop worrying Dee. I'll take care of it." Josie uses her end of discussion voice. "Stay put and for hells sake take a shower." Josie's phone snaps shut, ending the conversation. Dee sets hers on the dresser.
Dee stares at the stranger again in the mirror. Beneath the dried up purple syrup layer, there is young pliable nineteen year old skin, pits for eyes and a stiff case of tired-of-Josie's-shit-itis, but it's not just problems with Josie that has Dee so tired. The last six months are nothing but a blur of binges, bedrooms and that fucking silver case. Dee walks from the bedroom into the master bathroom. The tops of the walls are green with mold and the toilet is backed up. The shower is only slightly cleaner than the toilet. Her body is shaky and exhausted and her skin is beginning to crawl again because the buzz from the coke on the dresser is already gone. Standing under the steaming hot beat of the water, Dee makes the decision to strip Josie from her life and begins to methodically form a plan.
Josie picks Dee up six hours later and incredibly fucked up. Her eyes are severely bloodshot from all of the drugs she's done the past week. She isn't capable of conversation and when she does talk it sounds like she has a mouthful of tacks. Dee begs Josie to let her drive. She gives Dee directions to a house on the other side of town, the kind behind fifteen foot security fences. It's in a place where the houses are bigger than grocery stores, and the fenced in yards are as big as football fields.
Josie points out a house set off from the road behind opened iron gates. She tells Dee to pull into the long twisting driveway.
"He said to go to the side door of the carriage house in back." Josie says.
"Side door. Carriage house." Dee repeats absently.
"Hey" Josie nudges Dee. "What the hell is wrong with you?"
Dee jerks guiltily. She was picturing Josie's funeral as the final piece of her plan. She glances quickly at Josie, trying to gauge her mental state.
In response to the nudge Dee says "just tired, Josie."
"I know. This is the last time. When I talked to this dude earlier he said he wanted everything I got." Dee makes no reply.
"Ready?" Dee nods and Josie flips out her cell phone. She asks for someone named Tommy. Pairs of floodlights on each corner of the carriage house flick on. The inside of the Volkswagen is flooded with a garish white light and to Dee's drug addled brain, the light turns Josie into a laughing skeleton wearing Josie's clothes. The skeleton laughs and pats Dee's knee with long boney fingers. She scrambles out of the car as fast as she can, the mean brightness of the flood lights burning her retinas and branding the picture of Skeleton-Josie permanently on her brain.
The carriage house is bigger than any house Dee has ever seen. A burly bodyguard answers the door when Josie knocks, the cursed case in hand. "Tommy is waiting for you in the office. It's just through the kitchen and down the hallway" he says. They follow the guard's directions and walk into a small room where a man sits behind a massive oak desk, tapping away on a keyboard and talking into a headset. He takes the headset off and turns away from the monitor with a broad, contagious smile. He's wearing a white button down shirt, soft with wear, loose at his throat and the sleeves of his shirt are rolled up, revealing arms covered in tattoos. When he stands up he is at least a full head taller than Josie, who's almost six feet tall. His voice is smooth and pleasant.
"Josie! Nice to see you. No problems finding the place?"
Josie shrugs and stutters a nervous laugh. "Nah, Tommy, no problems. How's it going?" She puts out her hand over the top of the desk to shake the man's hand.
He looks down at her hand and back up at her face. "Forgive me for not shaking. I'm a germaphobe." Josie stupidly puts her hand back down. Tommy moves around the desk to lean against the front of it. He crosses his ankles and both of his massive arms. "Sit, sit" he gestures to two chairs in front of him. He looks at Dee and says "so, Josie, who's this?"
"This is my girl, Dee." She says as they sit, in a voice jittery with more than just nerves.
"Dee, it's a pleasure." He nods his head at her. He turns his attention back to Josie who is rapidly clicking one of the latches on the case in her lap.
"I assume that's for me?" He points at Josie's lap.
"What? Oh, yeah, yeah, this is it." She gets up and plops the case on the desk. She pops it open like an Amway salesman, showing off an assortment of soaps. Dee has seen this act so many times she'd rather gouge her eyes out before being forced to watch it again.
"Leave it there Josie. Sit back down." Tommy says patiently, as if speaking to a child. She looks confused for a moment and then does what he asks. Josie is still nervous and is starting to rock back and forth lightly in her chair. Never before has Dee seen Josie quite this bad.
Tommy stares directly at Josie until she stops rocking and begins to shift in her chair. Finally, "why don't you let me set you up. You're going to have a heart attack if you're not careful."
"What? Heart attack? No, I'm good." Josie is not good. Her body is beginning to quake from visible tremors.
Dee watches this exchange between them very closely. Tommy sits down at the desk and takes a few things out of the center drawer. He pulls the drug-filled silver case across the desk towards him and flips it around to rummage in it. After finding what he's looking for, he begins using a lighter to smash a white pill into powder. He stands up, and walks back around to lean on the front of the desk again with a long, yellow, rubber tube dangling between his fingers.
"Josie, let me tie it for you." Dee holds her breath, waiting to see what Josie will say. Josie has promised over and over that she has never used anything intravenously.
"I've never done that before." Josie stutters and stares at Tommy with hollow eyes. Tommy clucks his tongue at her and shakes his head.
"My dear little fibber, I hate to say it in front of your girl here, but I can smell that dirty, rotten stink on you that can only be cured by a syringe. Call me a liar, if I am." Josie doesn't, instead she looks at her feet and whispers:
"I usually shoot up between my toes." Dee's heart sinks. Part of her was hoping Josie wasn't really that much into things, now there is no backing out of the plan.
"How long's it been Josie?" Tommy asks.
She won't even look at either one of them. "Since this morning" she mumbles.
"Here," he motions for her to sit up and hold out her arm. She meekly complies. A rubber tube is tied on her upper arm and it begins to build pressure so the vein bulges blue. Tommy turns back around to his desk to cook the crushed pill and some water on a spoon. He fills the barrel of a syringe with the c cloudy soup and presses all of the air out.
Dee watches Josie's body as it quivers and shakes. Her skin is lit up by a fine sheen of sweat, the anticipation painful to see. Tommy stands in front of Josie, looks at Dee and then puts the needle in the vein. He expertly waits for the blood flashback in the syringe and then pushes the plunger then pulls out the needle. To Dee's horror, Josie leans down and unselfconsciously licks the red spot left behind. Her eyes begin to dull and she leans back in the chair. She slurs "It's so good Dee.….there's nothing like it." Her voice is soft and faraway.
"I'm sorry Josie."
"Why? Don't be sorry for me. I'm fine, perfect, fucking peachy."
"Not for you Josie, for me." Dee feels like it's now or never. Dee looks at the man leaning against the desk and asks "How long does she have Uncle Tommy?"
He looks at Josie and says "probably no longer than fifteen minutes, if that." He snaps the case shut and looks up at the bodyguard standing in the doorway. "Let's leave Josie and Dee to themselves." Dee nods at her Uncle as he quietly shuts the door behind them.
"Josie?" Dee whispers. "Josie, can you hear me?" She moves her chair closer. "Are you listening? Because I'm only saying this one time. Right now, you have twice the tolerable amount of oxycontin in your veins and it's going to kill you." Josie stares at Dee with wide, blank eyes.
"You have left me so many times, in so many scary places where people hurt me and abused me. You steal from me, you don't even love me. It's all about Josie. Now it's all about drugs. Not anymore Josie. Now for once in my stupid life, it's going to be about me. After my sisters were raped when I was twelve I swore I would never let anyone take advantage of me. I see now I made a mistake trusting you. I hope you rot in hell Josie."
Dee stands up, not even aware of the tears that are free flowing down her face. "These tears aren't for you, they're for the days I've wasted on you." Josie doesn't say anything as Dee slips out the office door and back down the hallway. The TV is playing loudly and the men on the couch are laughing even louder. Marijuana smoke drifts in the air. Tommy and Ike, the bodyguard, sit on the sofa passing a joint back and forth, laughing at the show on TV.
"Whose house is this Uncle Tommy?" Dee asks.
"It's nobody's." He says evasively. "Now, come sit down Dee-Dee" using her childhood nickname. "I know you're feeling bad about what's just happened and that's to be expected. But what you need to do now is move on. Take Josie's big fat envelope of money I found in the case and go build something worthwhile with it."
"Uncle Tommy, will she be okay?"
"Yeah, she'll be okay. I didn't shoot her with as much as I'm sure you told her I did, if she gets too bad I'll take her to the hospital myself."
"I'm not sure what to do now. I only got so far with my plan. I couldn't stop picturing her funeral." Dee wipes at the tears still on her face and finally sits on the sofa.
Uncle Tommy blows out smoke and looks directly at his niece. "What you do is exactly what I said. Take that money and buy an airline ticket to anywhere and go be someone."
"I don't know where to even start."
"Don't tell your Grandma, Josie or anyone else where you're going. I'll make up something if anyone ever asks. Pack up everything you care about, if there is anything, and get the hell out of here. Don't ever look back."
Dee smiles at her uncle through the remainder of her tears. She walks to where he is and hugs him. His big beefy arms squeeze the breath out of her when he returns the hug. He kisses the top of her head and whispers he loves her in her ear. He walks her to the door and says "Hey kid, didn't you want to own your own beauty salon when you were just a squirt? With Josie's easy money you can do whatever it is you want to do. Don't say she never did nothin' for ya." Dee thinks about that for just a second, then closes the door behind her.