Bass booms through my feet. I push through the bar where the hets hang until midnight when the more sexually adventurous take over. Donna Summers wails. I will survive, I will survive… I squeeze past the pulsing bodies, to the back staircase leading to the second floor where the white collars eat outlandish Maki rolls at low tables. Up the spiral staircase to the loft overlooking the action. Here, it’s cooler and quieter, the smoke less thick. I drape my jacket over the back of the stool at the zinc bar. Images of tonight’s gunshot vics fade.
“Regular?” Mick asks from behind the counter.
I nod. He slides me a martini with three fat olives. The vermouth cools my throat. I’d prefer to hang out at my place, with Ben, and watch some tube, maybe get high, though maybe not; he seems pretty Puritanical these days. He’s probably asleep; he looked wrecked, like a stray mutt, when I picked him up. But I’m way too wound up to crash. Out of habit, I pat my side for the Vicodin, but my white coat’s in the locker. I remember the locked box. Jesus, how am I going to get my stuff? Nurse Ratchet’s on to me. Maybe Doreen. Hell, maybe they’re undercover. I bet there’s cameras in the can. Maybe the Chapel’s wired.
I look up. My drink’s sucked dry.
“Need another before I go off?”
Mick smiles his toothy grin. He scoops the two twenties and shakes me a fresh one. Downstairs fills up. Mick makes room for his replacement, some kid with a ponytail I haven’t seen before. The kid nods as Mick points out bottles running low, then squats and slides open a cabinet. A tattoo plasters his lower back, a glory of greens and blues. My phone vibrates. I reach for it, then figure what the fuck, I’ll fall off the stool answering the damn thing. Probably Phoebe, it’s her bedtime. She has no clue I spend my weekends in this dive. I rationalize, telling myself I’m only looking at the candy, not sampling.
The new keep leans over the counter. I admire his soul patch.
“Do I know you?” I ask. I hope I do.
“You treated me,” he says. “I skidded on my motorcycle in a freak t-storm. Wrecked my back.”
This rings no bells. I ask him how long ago and he says last August.
“And how is your back now?" I ask.
“Still twinges at times,” he says. “Need a refill?”
I shrug. I’m pretty loaded. Getting home will be interesting.
“How about my specialty?”
“Depends on what it is.”
He points to the bottle of Jaegermeister. “Dark Angel.”
Mick wipes the bar with a damp towel and snorts. “That’ll knock you off your keister.”
“That it will.” The kid laughs and measures shots of Black Vodka and Jaegermeister, then pops a Red Bull into the shaker. He pours the beige beverage into a highball glass. It’s sweeter than I tend to like.
“How can you drink that stuff?” Mick shakes his head. The kid just laughs, low and guttural, and sprays himself a coke from the fountain. Mick gives a peace sign salute, and bounds down the spiral staircase. The Dark Angel numbs my face.
“Exactly where does your back twinge?”
The kid turns and pulls up his black leather jacket. The top of his tattoo, a bird or a butterfly, something with a wing, swoops below his low slung jeans.
“Here.” He thumps above the tat. “Especially when I’m on my back.”
“On your back?”
He lets the shirt and jacket fall over his pants. He comes around the bar and sits on the stool beside me. “Yeah. When I’m on my back.”
“So what do you do?”
“I stand, or fuck in a chair,” he says.
“I mean about the pain.”
“Hey, doing it I forget about pain. But those pills you gave me helped – a lot.”
“Talk to your physician,” I say. “Get another prescription.”
“Don’t have a doc,” he says. “Don’t have health insurance. I’m an artist, blow glass.” His tongue works a cube of ice around his mouth. “Among other things.”
His words hang in the air like smoke. The Pet Shop Boys blast from below. His knee falls against mine. I swivel towards him, not losing contact.
“What did I prescribe?”
“Oxy something,” he says. “I could function, could spin my glass, plunge my pieces into the glory hole.”
“The stove, man, where we melt our glass. You should come see my studio. Me and another blower rent space in an old warehouse by Fort McHenry.”
“I’d like to see your… glory hole,” I say. His knee presses harder. “Look, you were my patient, I could write a prescription for you. To help with the pain, you know.”
“That would be super,” he says.
“I could write you a script for twenty OxyContin,” I say.
“Why not eighty?”
If I didn’t realize before he was duping me, I know it now. But I don’t care, I’m thinking about that tattoo spreading over his ass, him sweating in front of his kiln, thrusting the fiery ball of glass into shape.
“Let’s start with forty,” I say softly. “For a hundred dollars.”
“A hundred bucks for a lousy prescription?”
“Cheaper than an office visit,” I say.
He frowns. “I don’t have that kind of dough.”
“How ‘bout we barter?”
His hand drops on top of my thigh. He squeezes, oh so gently. “For what?”
“I’m thinking you bring me half the prescription,” I say.
He cocks his head at me, then nods, getting me. Understanding we have a lot more in common than glory holes.
I reach for the prescription pad inside my jacket pocket; you never know when it’ll come in handy. I click my pen.
“So tell me, what’s your name?”
Excerpted from PURE, a novel finally falling together. Read more about Kevin, my sexually-confused, pill-popping anesthesiologist.
Take a gander at my essay The Week Before My Father Died, an entry in the EDITOR UNLEASHED "Why I Write" contest. Essays are open to popular voting through February. You must be a registered member of the EDITOR UNLEASHED forums. Please take some time to read the other, often passionate pieces about the writing life.