The Bando is a work in progress. The latest writing effort from David "Alligator Jackson" Williams
Ronnie Dixon rolled over and opened his eyes. His back rubbed up against a crushed Natural Light can. The little scratch on his back was nothing compared to the pain of the light attacking his eyes. His head was pounding.
He did not know how long he had been asleep. It was bright out now. He looked around and realized he was on the back porch of an abandoned house. The porch was half built in. The bottom was lined with busted bags of trash containing newspapers, cans, bottles, and half eaten food. Ronnie thought that there was probably a rat or two under all of the garbage. He also thought it did not make a bad mattress after several days on a meth binge.
A sudden pain shot up his stomach. He recognized that pain well as his old friend hunger. Ronnie was down under one hundred and fifty pounds. In his high school days he was well over two hundred. Ahhhh...the diet that truly works....meth and starvation.
He heard footsteps approached the porch and climbing the short stair case. It was his wife Sandy.
Sandy was carrying a couple of small bags. She was a pretty little girl despite the onslaught of drugs over the last few years. She had red hair and freckles. The meth had yet to attack her teeth and although she was a rail like her husband, her face had not sunk in yet like most tweakers.
"Are you finally awake sleepy head?" She grinned.
"Look at these shorts I found you in the dumpster by the body shop." Ronnie groaned, "Damn, I was hoping you had some food."
She smiled and pulled out a biscuit. "I do. A saussage biscuit from McDonald's." Ronnie's hopes were crushed again.
"You know what I meant." Ronnie meant food as short for dogfood which was slang for heroin.
A smile broke across Sandy's face and she said, "You know I take care of my hubby. " she pulled out a little baggy of heroin.
Ronnie did not care where it came from. Although he had a good idea where she got the money. They had been married ten years but he was more in love with his latest mistresses....Ms. Heroin and Ms. Meth than he was Sandy. His wife was a goodlooking lady and it was easier for her to go out and bring the drugs back to him than it was for him to work. He gave up working when he got used to sleeping under the stars or in abandoned houses.
Ronnie went straight for the food.... he left the biscuit in the wrapper and went for the food....dogfood....heroin. He greedily stuffed a needle full of it in his arm like a man in the desert attacking an oasis.
The drug quenched his thirst for heroin....but it was not exactly heroin...it was white fentanyl They called it all food or dogfood....just like they perferred ice over meth....ice was a more crystallized form of meth. They often referred to ice or meth as cream.
Fentanyl was more powerful than heroin. Fentanyl ruined heroin for Ronnie because once he got used to fentanyl than regular heroin just was not good enough.
It was Spring time in Huntington in a few different ways. It was early May and the high 80 degree temperatures teamed with the showers that hammered the area in April to set the city into bloom. The leaves and trees were a healthy green. Flowers were blooming everywhere. College kids were already sporting healthy tans.
Spring was a time of rebirth. Huntington had nearly collasped under the weight of the drug epidemic in recent years....but rebirth was striking Huntington in the form of Recovery. Many of the biggest drug users of four and five years ago were reborn as drug-free disciples of Recovery. They were spreading the word of clean living and saving lives. Recovery was being spurred in the form of grants and donations.
Recovery was alive and well in Huntington. In the beginning days of the epidemic Huntington had 8 detox beds. Drug users were literally dying waiting on a bed for treatment. If an user could be convinced to sign themselves in for treatment, they need to be admitted before they change their minds. Too often in the past, a drug user decided to get treatment only to put on a waiting list for two or three weeks...some users were dead before they got a bed.
Ronnie jumped down the stairs. Sandy was out in the yard talking to three guys. Ronnie was not surprised to see that one was Bradley Mills. In fact, there was not much doubt in Ronnie's mind that Bradley was with Sandy all day. It did not bother him much at all, Bradley was in love with Sandy and was pretty much Sandy and Ronnie's slave. Bradley Mills was immediately drawn to Sandy Dixon from the first time he shared a needle of heroin with her. In fact, it could be said that he was addicted to both. His addiction to meth made it a deadly threesome of addiction.
The three (Sandy, ice, and herion) had almost killed him three times this week. The EMS and Cabell Huntington Health Department should be thanked for him still walking the Earth. It was Sandy Dixon....the woman who helped stick the needle in his arm was also the one who jabbed the Narcan in his thigh that allowed him to breathe again.
Bradley had been in and out of trouble for most of his twenty-seven years. He had only been out of prison four months after serving two years for breaking and entering. He was on Xanex and was breaking into vehicles and houses.
The day Bradley walked out of prison, he was buff. His arms were bulging from two years of lifting weights and eating three meals a day. After four months of tweaking, shooting up dogfood, and eating one meal a day, Bradley looked more like the before picture of a bodybuilding supplement ad. Bradley was more like the man who got sand kicked in his face at the beach in the old Atlas ads than the beach bully he resembled just months before.
Bradley was very friendly with his boyish grin and pleasing personality. He was raised by good parents. His father Charlie Mills, was bringing recovery to Huntington.
Sandy Dixon loved the pleasing side of Bradley. Bradley worshipped her and would do whatever it took to please her.... even if he had to commit a felony.
Ronnie recognized a tall skiny boy with long dirty blond hair and about eight teeth as Chad. The short skinny bald boy with him was Jimmy. Ronnie did not know much about these boys and did not care to. They were tweakers. They served an occasional role in purchasing dope or a supporting role in a scheme to get dope money but outside of the obtaining dope, Ronnie had very little interest in them.
There were dozens of abandoned houses in Huntington. Many of them were becoming ecosystems for the homeless addicts of Huntington. The houses were communities. There were leaders like any community. This abandoned house called The Bando by its' residents had two main leaders - Ronnie and Sandy Dixon. Although Bradley did not live there he was a worker bee. He helped bring in the dope that kept the queen bee happy. Jimmy and Chad were drifters. They were backpackers who moved from abandoned house to abandoned house. They were in search of drugs. Drifters like Jimmy and Chad also stole items from cars or houses or would dumpster dive and come up with gems like lightly used tennis shoes. Like trappers from the Old West they would travel around bartering their finds. Hoping their prizes would turn into the ultimate prize - a shot of dope.
As Ronnie got closer, Sandy said to him, "Chad was just saying that people are staying at The Flats. They are striñping copper and taking furniture out and selling it."
Chad agreed, "I took a couple of mini refrigerators out of there and traded them to V and one to T for a gram each. Each one of those rooms has microwaves, refrigerators, and air conditioners. It's a gold mine. It's like finding King Tut's tomb!"
The Flats on Fourth was once The Uptowner Inn and then Holiday Inn. It was once an honorable location for decades. It became housing for Marshall University students. A fire had forced the place to close the year before. Now, it was in the process of becoming Huntington's largest abandoned house.
Ronnie tilted his head to the left as if he were thinking and said, "Sounds like we are going to have to pay this Flats place a visit....or two."
Sandy chipped in; "We should get a fridge for the Bando".
Ronnie shook his head, "Jesus, Sandy....there isn't any electricity at the Bando."
"Oh yeah, I forgot," Sandy said laughing at herself. Ronnie noticed Bradley staring at Sandy the way a dog stares at a steak. Sandy noticed Ronnie watching Bradley watching her and started a new conversation, "So, Babe, how was that food?"
Ronnie was starting to feel pretty good and was quite impressed with the dogfood he injected into his veins but did not want his wife to be too proud of herself so he made a so-so face and commented, "It's okay, I guess. Nothing special but it got me off of the porch."
His wife shot him a knowing look and smiled. After so many years, she knew her husband too well. She laughed, "If it wasn't all that, your lazy ass would be back there snoozing on the porch. Try again, you can't fool wifey.
Bradley was feeling a little skittish. He had sex with Sandy earlier and was feeling kind of guilty with her husband standing right in front of him. He loved Sandy and although he was not quite sure that Ronnie still loved his wife, he was kind of jealous of Ronnie and was not sure how Ronnie felt about him. He looked away to his left and then glanced at the four other people around him and said, "I think I'm going to run home and shower. I'll come back over tonight and we will check out this treasure chest for ourselves."
Everyone bid him goodbye and crossed Four and a Half Alley and headed down Fourth Avenue. His mind was a whirlwind of emotions. The dope was unquestionably good and there was not any doubt he was high. He had made love to the prettiest girl he had ever been with and he was flying from that as well. He cut through The Flats' parking lot. He walked past a blue Chevy Malibu. It was broad daylight in the middle of the day but as he passed it, he reached out and grabbed the door. It magically opened. Even more surprising than the unlocked car at an abandoned hotel was that the keys sat glistening in the sun. The open door and keys in the ignition was all the invitation the young boy tripping on heroin and love needed. Not only did the young have free drugs and free sex today, but he also had a free ride. He turned the keys and backed out onto Fourth Avenue. It was certainly Bradley Mills lucky day!
Charlie Mills woke up late for an appointment with a client. He very rarely overslept but he had a late night helping a homeless drug addict who had relapsed. He did not get a lot of sleep that night but woke up confident he had saved a man's life has he got him safely admitted into River Park Hospital. Charlie Mills was a very interesting man. In a lot of ways, he was a walking contradiction. He was working in Recovery. Bringing Recovery to his hometown of Huntington was his goal. What made Charlie more interesting is that his motives were different. Many of the people trying to bring Recovery to Huntington were ex-addicts themselves. They had gone through addiction and recovery and were now trying to spread their newfound wisdom to others. They had found the way out of addiction for themselves and were seeking to show the way out to those still struggling with their demons.
Charlie Mills had never done a drug in his life. Charlie Mills would not even let aspirin enter his sacred temple. Charlie had not just recently seen the light like many other of the recovery leaders in his city, he had lived in the light for all of his fifty-two years.
Charlie was a rep who was travelling through Appalachia merchandising and selling items in Wal-Marts and other chains. He done a million miles in twelve years on the road. His bank account was at a livable level but his family was slowly dying and he was gone so much he did not see it. He realized OxyContin had his wife about ten years earlier. She had been in a car wreck. She had severe damage to her back. Charlie did not think it was inappropriate all for his wife to begin taking painkillers....after all.. she was in pain....is that not what painkillers are for?
He finally realized that his wife, Amy, had a problem about the time he realized that his son Bradley and daughter Brooke were struggling with drugs as well. About 2009, he started fighting against drugs his way. He noticed Huntington had a dirty little secret that no one wanted to talk about. Opiates were being sold in pill mills in Southern Ohio and in Eastern Kentucky. This was not being done on dark street corners or in rundown drug-infested neighborhoods. These opiates were being spread in clinics. He began writing and getting his voice heard any way he could.
His hope was to get the drugs off of the streets so his family would be clean. A couple of years later, heroin dealers from Detroit claimed Huntington as a suburb of their city. Dealers and heroin were everywhere replacing clinics and Oxycontin. Charlie quit his job in 2012 and started working in Recovery. He had been taking classes at Marshall University in Counseling and got a Master's Degree. He began working with addiction treatment at Prestera. Finally, after a couple of years he started his own charity organization - Project Hopington. The motto was "Project Hopington - bringing hope to Huntington". He wanted to work with addicts and learn all he could about addiction to help his family. It also kept him in Huntington where he could try to protect his family from drugs. His daughter and kids each spent time in rehabs over the next few years but without any major success. His wife was the most successful but her pain from the automobile accident always brought her back to the black-market dealers.
He worked vigilantly on his website called The Recovery Man. He offered help for those in addiction. Charlie Mills was trying to save a whole city but he could not manage to save his own family.
Charlie knocked on the bathroom door. No one answer. He tried the handle and it was locked. He knocked again. No answer. Instictively, the six foot two two hundred and forty pound counselor rammed the bathroom door. The wooden door flew open revealing a slender girl with long dirty blond hair collasped on the floor with her hair sprawled across the floor and a needle beside her.
Quickly and calmly, he turned and jetted into his bedroom and grabbed a Narcan out of his drawer. Just as quickly, he darted back and pulled her sweats down and stuck her thigh with the Narcan holding it in for five seconds. He checked her pulse. She was breathing. If he anyone had seen him do this they would swear he practiced this excessively. Truth is he had done it several times but it was not practice. He did everything they teach you in classes except call 911. He avoided calling 911 as much as possible. An ambulance coming for an overdose to someone's house called The Recovery Man could prove quite embarrassing.
Something snapped inside of him this time. He was mad. He yelled for Amy. Amy came and shook her head. "This is it", Charlie grimaced. "This is the last time."
Amy cradled her until she started to wake up. She watched her husband run down the steps and she yelled, "Where are you going?" He did not answer but she was pretty sure she knew. She had watched him check Brooke's phone for the last number she called.
Charlie Mills hated drug dealers. When the epidemic first started Charlie was all for busting the drug dealers. He thought if you get the supply off the street then problem solved. But once he started working with users and once he watched his family suffer, he changed his thinking. He thought most drug users have a dual diagnosis. Many have an underlying psychological condition that moves them to self-medicate. They may not understand it but disorders like depression or bi-polar may drive them to take drugs.
He had watched his daughter hover near death for the last time.
Charlie jumped into his silver 2014 Chevrolet Equinox and headed toward 4th Street. He pulled in front of a run down brick house. He jumped up the three step stairway and rapped loudly on the door. A skinny black man in dreads and wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt answered the door. Charlie knocked him out of his way and continued forward shouting, "Where's T? Where the hell is that murderer?"
A taller black man with a shaved head emerged from the kitched. He was fairly muscular and wore a Bronco jersey. " What the hell are you doing busting in my house like that?"
Charlie was not calming down, he walked up to T and said, "I told you before about selling dope to my daughter. You about killed her again."
T smirked, "She knows the risks. She's a big girl."
Charlie was furious, "i'm tired of you smug bastards coming down from Detroit and getting rich killing our kids."
T laughed, "You have a lot of balls, Old Man...busting into my house. Take your holier than thou ass up out of here. Damn Recovery Man," T laughed and shook his head. He continued, "You recovery guys are as bad as us. Hell, you need the dealers. You all are getting rich off of the addicts like us. You recovery assholes need them as much as we do. Yep, the druggies are making the dealers and rehabs rich. Without drugs, you are unemployed."
T's reaction stunned Charlie. He fought back, " Don't kid yourself we are cleaning up this mess. You are costing us a whole generation. You ard cold blooded murderers. Even worse....you dealers are whores. Killing everyone for money."
T laughed, "Who are the real whores? With your grant money and insurance money. What will you do once you cure everyone. You can't lose your jobs or rehabs. What will you do? Bring in out of town addicts? You need to thank us. You have job security. You created a nice little industry of rehab."
" You kill her and I'll kill you", Charlie threatened.
"Save her, Mr. Recovery Man. Play the hero. You can't save anyone. You can't even save your own girl. You just take money for nothing. You are all talk. At least my customers get something for their money."
Charlie's hands were shaking from the adrenalin rising and the anger of not being able to control the sitation. He said calmer but seriously. "Do not sell drugs to my daughter again."
T snarled and stuck his finger in Charlie's face, "What the hell are you going to do about it, Old Man? Don't blame it on me because your daughter is a junkie."
"I have had enough of you Detroit scum coming to my town and killing our kids. I will go straight to the police next time. This is your final warning."
T lowered his voice and said sternly, "You ever threaten me again...I will kill you. You got some nerve coming to my house and threatening me. I will tell you one last time, Old Man....your daughter is not my problem. And I don't care who you are Recovery Man....go tell the police. Everyday little old ladies peek out their windows and fill up the drug tipline. One more call...Really? You think you are somebody special because you have a Facebook page? The cops don't give a damn that your daughter is a junkie. They don't care if she dies. It is just one more body bag and another statistic for the mayor to use to get more grant money."
Charlie Mills realized he was powerless. He was at T's house, he would be arrested if the police came over a disturbance. Charlie could probably shoot him and say it was justified because he was threatening him in his house. The police are so busy that one more drug deal in Huntington is not going to be a priority. The police are shorthanded with less than one hundred officers to protect and serve a city that had been branded "The Heroin Capital of The USA" by networks like HBO, CNN, BBC, and other shows and networks.
Sure, the police had a tip line and wanted to bust drug houses but at the end of the day....the had dozens of abandoned houses with a drug-addicted ecosystem in each house, hundreds o f drug houses, five to ten drug overdoses, and multiple prpoerty crimes everyday. The Western Regional Jail was overcrowded so even if the police made the arrests, there was not anywhere to put the criminals. A police force of under a hundred officers could only be stretched so far to cover a city of over forty thousand citizens. The police were not trying to arrest every dopeman. The problem is every dopeman can kill someone's son, daughter, mother, father, brother, sister, ect. If Brooke Mills overdosed, she would be just another statistic to the mayor. To Charlie Mills it would be the ultimate destruction of his universe.
Charlie left. He felt old and weak. He had always been a big man and could fight quite well in his younger days. But as his dark brown hair turned gray....the respect for his size dwindled. Once, he could fill the air with punches and jabs....now his shoulders ached when he combed his hair. He had brought many men down through the years as he crashed down onto his knees and ontop of them. Now those knees hurt when he walked up a flight of stairs. There was not any doubt that Charlie Mills was getting old. Not only was he getting old through age but also through loss. The loss had put lines on his face and bags under his eyes. The loss of sleep due to rushing out late at night to talk to a distraught addict. The of friends and clients who were taken away by the drug epidemic ate away at his soul. The loss of dreams of his son and daughter being successful and having productive lives aged him as he watched their lives slide into an abyss of drugs and petty crime. Loss had certainly aged Charlie as did the loss of control as he was unable to save his family and city from the poison around them.
The counselor knew he had to get rid of the negative thoughts and get into a positive mood before he started talking to clients. He was going to do what always made him happy and that was going through McDonalds' drive-thru window and getting a half-dozen of saussage biscuits. It was not because he liked the food...he was about to pull down 4 and a Half Alley and pass out biscuits to the homeless addicts he knew. He was running late or he would visit the homeless tent city at the Ohio River riverfront.
Some people said that Charlie enabled users too much. Rocky Meadows, a leader in Huntington recovery who coined the term 'Hopington', used to say that don't give addicts anything, not even a baloney sandwich. Aithough Charlie agreed with the concept to a certain extent, he did not like to practice the theory.
He agreed it was true that addicts were very manupulative and would do anything they could for drug money but he believed helping someone get sober meant forming a relationship. He understood that users would not quit until they were ready. Addicts had to decide themselves when it was time to get clean.
It was a tightrope between enabling and helping and sometimes Charlie leaned too far to the enabling side and fell. He would be nice and form a relationship and be there for the person. When the person had finally had enough and was ready for help, then he was there ready to help. Since trust was already there, the person would listen to him.
The Equinox bounced slowly down pothole-infested Four and a Half Alley until he spied a woman in a dumpster across from the bus station on 13th Street. She had the side panel open on the blue dumpster and was sifting through the contents. When she saw something that she thought she could sell, she would stick it in the Kroger buggy stationed next to the dumpster. The buggy was full of everything from tennis shoes to jackets to baby toys and even a bag of dogfood. It was a minature Big-Lots on wheels.
Charlie knew her as Kim. Kim Hines was thirty-five but looked fifty. She had been homeless and staying on the streets of Downtown Huntington for about three years. She came into town from Pittsburgh to visit some friends that she never did find....and never left. Charlie thought she aged twenty years in those three years. Her blond hair was long and stringy and looked like it had not been washed in weeks. She wore black framed glasses that she found in a dumpster a couple of months ago. A cheap cigarette dangled from the corner of her mouth.
When she saw Charlie she ran to the SUV and gave him a hug through the car window. "Charlie, how ya doing you old man?"
Charlie looked horrified as he she her face. She had eight holes on her face that she had picked on a meth binge. He talked to her like he was scolding his own daughter, "Lord, where did those holes in your face come from?" He already knew she had a habit of digging holes in her face when she was doing drugs. It broke his heart to see her do this to herself. Charlie knew she was not yet ready to be treated for her addiction. She lost two fingers on her left hand last September when she got an infection from a needle. He had planted the idea in her that she deserved a better life. He tried to re-enforce that belief in her whenever he saw her.
"Lord, Kim....what happened to your face"? He could not look away from the holes on her face although it sickened him to look at the holes.
Kim shrugged her shoulders and smiled, "Honey, it's those meth mites again. They come in on the meth and get under my skin and I have to pick each one of those things out of there."
Charlie just shook his head uñ and down slowly. He knew there was no such thing as meth mites. They were a delusion that tweakers saw when they were high on meth. Charlie said slowly, "Well, maybe if you would get off the meth you wouldn't get meth mites."
He handed her a couple of saussage biscuits and a card with his business number on it."
She smiled and hugged him again. "Honey, I've got a dozen of these cards."
He grinned, "Well, maybe if I give you two hundred cards, you will use one."
She said sternly, "I promise one day I will. I'll be ready one day."
Charlie looked her right in the eyes and said, "Don't do it for me. Do it for yourself. You deserve better than this. You've got a great heart."
Kim smiled, "Thank you, Honey. A girl needs to hear that sometimes. I love you, Old Man. Your such a great man and you know that I wouldn't lie to you....." She looked away and wiped a tear. "This hurts me so much....your boy has been hanging at that abandoned house with that married bitch and her husband. He's stealing out of cars and doing every drug he can get." She wiped away another tear. "You are such a good man, it hurts to tell you bad news."
Charlie grimaced a little then let out a half of a sigh, "It doesn't surprise me. He is so easily influenced. I appreciaye you telling me. I know it is hard telling people things they don't want to hear."
She wiped away another tear, "You are a good man, Charlie. You are the only one that has tried to save. Everyone else looks at me like I'm trash. Someday, when I am ready...I'll let you save me. You can be my hero when I'm ready."
Charlie smiled and then said in a serious tone of voice, "You've got to save yourself. You can be your own hero. You've just got to believe in yourself."
Charlie gave her another hug and then pulled off to his appointment. It was a good meeting with a man who had been addicted to opiates for seven years. The man lost his job, his family, and finally his home. He had been homeless the last year living in abandoned houses and the mission. He wanted another chance at a life. Charlie was going to help him all he could. He called on some favors and immediately got the man in Recovery Point. It was all up to the man now. The choice was his....a real life again or a slow death on drugs.
Charlie pulled up in front of the modest ranch house on the south side of Huntington where the family had lived for ten years. Amy Mills was sitting in a tan recliner with her eyes closed. She was a RN at Margaret Mitchell Bateman Hospital. Bateman, as many called it, was a state run mental health hospital. She worked the midnight shift and had just gotten home when her daughter overdosed. Soon as her nerves settled she drifted off to sleep. She was awaken by her husband coming in the front door.
Amy Mills was an attractive lady for fifty years old. She had blonde hair that rested on her shoulders. Her face was beginning to show not only her age but the stress of years of drug use. The only drugs she used now was Xanax, which she had a prescription for. She used got hooked on Oxycotin fifteen years ago after a bad car accident injured her back. It was her addiction that got Charlie into fighting addiction.
Once the government moved to regulate pill mills and the distribution of Oxycontin, Charlie thought the city would recover from the epidemic. Heroin dealers from Detroit moved in as Oxycontin became scarce and introduced heroin to users who were suffering from chronic pain and withdrawing from Oxycontin. Amy fit into both categories. She was soon hooked on heroin. After several trips to rehab, she finally broke the chain but the relapses have not completely subsided. Her job can be physical at times and when her back pain flares up, it can be overbearing.
Amy and Charlie had been married for thirty years. They were sweethearts in high school. Charlie graduated a year before her but they attended three proms together at Huntington East High School. Amy never had any addiction problems until the accident.
Amy yawned and looked at Charlie. He made eye contact and walked over and gave her a hug. There was a few moments of silence then he said, "How is Brooke doing?"
She looked up at him and said, "She is very tired. She is in her room. It took a lot out of her."
Charlie hugged Amy and held her tight as he said, "I don't know what to do anymore. I can't even save my own family. Brooke overdosed. I am hearing that Bradley is stealing and doing drugs again. He is back in with a bad crowd."
Amy stroked his shoulders and said softly, "Honey, I know how you feel. I feel like my addiction brought this on our children. Families all around us are losing their sons and daughters. I fear we are next. We have tried and we will keep trying."
He stepped away from his wife and said, "i just feel like a failure. I am doubting myself. I am becoming a joke. I am thinking I am saving Huntington but I am not even saving my family. I am literally watching my family die right in front of my eyes. I am a joke. How can I save a stranger when I cannot even save my children."
Amy stared straight into her husband's eyes and raised her voice, "Charlie Mills, you need to quit feeling sorry for yourself. You have saved lots of lives. People listen to you. People respect you. You have gotten your children help. It is not your fault they are not well. I have seen you have many sleepless nights trying to save people. You have yourself into situations where you could have been killed. I am not going to listen to anyone call you a joke... including yourself. I love you. Your kids love you and need you. You need to quit beating yourself up and do what you do."
Charlie was quiet for a moment and said firmly, "Thank you, Dear. You always know what to say. What would I do without you?"
Amy said, "There is no one else in the world I would trust to save our kids more than you. You will do it. It's just hard to be addicted. You've never done a drug so you don't know what it is like. I've been through it. I know how hard it is. There are days I can't come out of my room because I want to use so bad. Somedays, I can't do anything but shake and cry. I know what they are going through Charlie. This is not like a fifth grade science project. We can't do it for them. All we can do is be there and try to get them to the people that can help them."
The parents walked into their daughter's bedroom. She was a pretty twenty-seven year-old girl. She had long blond hair and a pretty smile. She was about five foot six but the drugs had her weight down to about one hundred and ten pounds. At her prettiest, she was one hundred and thirty-five pounds. She had wanted to follow her mother's footsteps and be a nurse but she flunked out of nursing school when her grades got bad. Now, she was waiting tables at a local restaurant and only doing that part-time.
Brooke Mills looked up to see her parents staring down at her. She had been awken by the creaky wooden door of her room being opened.
Charlie smiled for a moment and asked, "How are you feeling?".
Tears ran down her face as she said, "I am sorry, Daddy. I know I have let you down but I swear I haven't been using much."
Charlie shrugged a little and said, "Honey, you always have to remember that a relapse can kill you. Your mind thinks you can handle same ampunt that you used to do but your body doesn't have the same tolerance."
Brooke looked away in shame, "I know but I have been depressed lately."
Charlie said sternly, "I know things have been tough for you since You broke up with Jeff and dropped out of school. But this is not like when you were a little girl and you got caught sneaking out. This is life and death. I don't know what we'd do without. If you have problems that your mom and I can't help with then we can find someone for you to talk to."
"I am really going to be okay. I promise I won't do anymore."
Amy nudged Charlie and backed out of the room, "Well, this area is more of your mom's expertise than mine. I am going to let her talk to you alone."
The mother cuddled up on the bed with her daughter, she gave her a peck on the cheek. She brushed Brooke's hair back and said, "Remember when you were little and storms were coming? You were scared of the thunder so we would cuddle up together like this?"
The younger Mills sniffed back a tear, "Of course I do. And when Lucky died you cuddled with me all night."
Amy looked her in the eyes, "I know you know this but your dad and I will always be there for you. I feel a lot of the same things you do. There are times when I want to use so bad that I cannot stand it. There are times when I used that no one knows about. We are human, we make mistakes."
Brook smiled wistfully, "I know, Mommy. I am so embarrassed. I really don't want to use. I just got weak."
Amy's eyes widened and she said," How about we make a pact together that neither uses without confiding in each other? Deal?"
Brooke agreed, "Deal."
Amy added, "I am off tonight. How about we find a NA meeting and go together tonight?"
"Deal," Brooke said. The two held each other quietly until they drifted off to sleep.
Bradley Mills was having the time of his life. He had been cruising Huntington in his new stolen Chevy Malibu. He had seen his aquaintance Lester Cane walking down Fourth Avenue. No one knew Lester's real name. They called the thirty-five year-old homeless drifter Wolverine. Lester was about five foot nine and stocky. He had mutton chops and his black curly hair was patterned after X Men hero Wolverine. He was silly to the point it borderlined mentally retarded behavior. He was loud, obinoxous, and very intrusive. Today, he proudly wore his X Men t-shirt and was in the passenger seat of the stolen car yelling at girls who were walking down the street.
Bradley's twangy accent was way above the Hank Williams Jr. Song blasting over the car stereo. Bradley changed the lyrics as he bellowed, "Wolf, why do ya drink, why do ya shoot food, why is everything ya do so rude and crude, " wolverine snickered a few lines, "Ha, ha, ha. Wolf, your such a bad old dude. He mumbled a few lines and then joined in on the chorus, " If I shoot up meth and run the streets for days, it's a family tradition."
Bradley laughed and pulled up a joint and took a hit as he drove. " You are crazy, Wolfie," he laughed. "You are off the charts crazy."
Wolverine started singing to a blues guitar that was not there, "Daddy was a tweaker annnndddd I am a badass tooooooo. Yeah. I'm another edition of an old family tradition. Hahaha!" He stopped singing and suddenly yelled, "Dang it, Bradley.....I need some food.....I need some food....I need some dogfood. Hahaha. I need some dogfood and some pussy! Oh yeah. Oh yeah! Oh yeah!"
It was starting to get dark out. They had been spending money off of a credit card Wolverine had stolen. They were waiting on the night to go on a big stealing binge. The gas was getting low in the car so it was time to head to the Bando. There they would meet up with Ronnie and Sandy and others to blitz Downtown Huntington for drug money.
Around nine o'clock, the blue Malibu pulled into a parking lot next to the Abando. It was the parking lot next to apartment buildings a couple of doors down from The Abando. The pair had tried to buy a case of beer with the stolen credit card, but the card finally failed to go through. Wolverine was able to rake up change for a Natural Light 22 ounce.
Wolverine took a swig of beer and beamed, "So this is the famous Bando that you have been going on about today?"
"Dude, I've had some great times here. The Bando may not look like much but if these caving in walls could talk......they'd say .....hey, got a point?"
The duo was laughing as they approached the dark tower. The three story brick structure was once a proud mansion in the 50's to a local doctor. It was reincarnated in the 70's as a doctor's office by the same doctor in the 70's. After Dr. Rory Munson died in 1979 it was sold and became an apartment building. Over the years the Bando saw it's share of tragedy.
There was a double murder suicide in 1991. A college student Gary Walters came home early from class to find his young girlfriend, Tara Pinson, being plowed by a local drug dealer. He instantly removed his revolver and in an instant three dead bodies were on the floor. After that horrific crime scene, it was hard to rent the place out. A man later bought it in 2001. Charley Hayes was his name. He was an old recluse, He died in 2004 of natural causes. His body was at the Bando rotting away until it was discovered by his daughter two weeks later. His daughter tried to sell it to no avail. The building continued to rot. She rented it out to a few people over the years but it turned into a huge slum.
The last renter moved out in 2011. Vines started digesting the building. It was officially an abandoned house. Squatters started staying in the Bando. In 2013, nineteen year-old Darrell Lincoln was staying there when it he could not find anywhere else. Darrell was hooked on heroin. He took his last shot of heroin in the downstairs kitchen of The Bando. His body was found by fellow squatters. There was a huge bloodstain on the floor next to his body.
Three months later, the Bando caught on fire. It made the huge building more unstable than ever. There was a marathon race being ran on Fifth Avenue when a runner noticed the fire. If it was not for the fire being spotted early and the quick response by The Huntington Fire Department, the Bando would have been a total loss and likely would have taken the two neighboring white apartment buildings next to it with it as well.
Both the front and back of the building had been boarded up and consumed by vines. The yard was full of old trash and debris that had been left by squatters over the years. There were a set of stairs to the left of the building that led to the basement. At the bottom of the basement was an old wooden door. The old busted open door served as the entrance to the Bando.
The building was dark inside and a lantern sat in the middle of the basement. Bradley led the way with a powerful flashlight. Once downstairs, the two saw Ronnie and Sandy sitting next to the lantern preparing another shot. In the corner was another homeless boy and he was passed out. The boy had short red hair and freckles. He was young and skinny and Bradley had never seen him before. Bradley immediately thought that boy was only about fifteen.
"Who is that? " Bradley asked shining the light on the boy.
Sandy was preparing her shot in a pan and looked up and said, "I think his name is Tucker. He just showed up here. He is a runaway from somewhere in Kentucky. He acted like he was a dope fiend but did one shot and went out."
Bradley went over to the boy. "Is he okay? He started feeling for a pause and was relieved when he found one.
"That boy's alright," Ronnie scowled savoring his shot. "Just a little babe. He says he is seventeen but I'm highly doubting it. He looks fourteen-ish to me".
Wolverine stepped up and beamed a big toothy smile at Sandy, "Who is this hot little filly?"
Sandy blushed and shined her flashlight on the newcomer and said, "Well, you look just like Wolverine."
Wolverine flexed his bicep in a pose and sucked his stomach in. "That's what they call me he said. They call me Wolverine."
Ronnie instantly detested his new rival. It was not because he was jealous of the new guest to the Bando, he just naturally disliked the guy. He mumbled, "Idiot."
Wolverine's ears perked up and he scowled, "What did you say?" He gave Ronnie a menacing look.
"I said your a fucking idiot. You can put your cock back in your pants, she is my old lady." Ronnie said as he stood up and took a step toward Wolverine.
Wolverine was embarrassed and mad at the same time. He started to step toward Ronnie but Bradley jumped in front of him. Sandy stood back as she was stunned that Ronnie actually appeared jealous. It was the first time in a while that her husband showed any emotion toward her and it made her feel a little hot and horny. Bradley was even a little jealous at his new friend's reaction to the girl he loved. He said, "Wolfie, just be cool. We don't need any trouble here. That's his wife."
Wolverine was in show-off mode, "Well, Buddy, I didn't know she was your wife. I was just making it known that I'd certainly fuck her."
Ronnie started to go forward and Sandy jumped in his way. She looked at Wolverine and said, "Buddy, that is plain rude."
Bradley looked him in the face as he was in front of him shoving him back away from Ronnie. Bradley said, "Dude, that ain't right. We are in their home. Show some respect. You are a quest here."
Wolverine shook his head and laughed, "What do ya mean we are in their home. We are in a fucking abandoned house. This is the biggest shithole I have been in in a while. Just give me some fucking dope and we will call it even."
Ronnie was amazed and said, "Are you kidding me? Where in the hell did you find this cartoon character at? He is really going to come in here and insult my wife of ten years and I and then want us to give him our dope? Where did you find this moron at?"
Sandy shook her head sideways and sighed, "Let's just start over guys. Come on. I am Sandy. This is my husband Ronnie." She motioned for ronnie to shake his hand but Ronnie walked away in disgust.
Bradley pulled out what little bit of dope he had left and offered Wolverine a shot. Bradley wanted to do anything at the moment to keep the peace although he hated to part with his heroin.
Wolverine slapped him on his back and said, "Been holding out on me, Buddy?"
There was silence as each of them readied up a shot and stuck it in their arms. Wolverine grunted as the dope entered his bloodstream. It had been a long time since he had seen a girl that he was as attracted to as he was to Sandy. He knew that he left a bad first impression. He knew drug girls like Sandy did not have loyalty to anyone but the needle but he also knew that he just looked like a big creep. He knew he was going to have to straighten up a bit if he was going to get with her.
Bradley decided to break the awkward silence and blurted out, "you should seen my new ride!"
Ronnie perked up, "Did that ol' daddy of yours finally buck up and get his little boy a car?"
Bradley laughed, "That cheap bastard ain't buying me nothing. I lifted it from Flats parking lot."
Sandy was at once feeling hot and wet as the idea of a stolen car seemed badass and turned her on. She was wanting to physically jump on top of Bradley at the moment. "No way! you ain't got the balls!" She laughed.
"It's right outside. Got me a Malibu. Wolfie and I have been cruising all evening. We got to go out and cruise around some more." Bradley said.
Even Ronnie was impressed. A car can certainly come in handy. They could hit other areas tonight. They have been breaking into cars in the same neighborhood and he knew they needed to get to a different part of town. Ronnie said loudly, "My dear! Our little boy is finally growing up!"
There seemed to be some friction in the air. First, there was the obvious tension created by there being three men and only one woman. Throw in the fact that the girl was good looking and knew how to grab attention and exploit others' emotions for her gain and that is extra gasoline for the rampaging fire. Ronnie was married and although he may actually be the least interested in his wife, he also did not have anything to gain from these two being with her. He had profited in the past from Bradley Mills falling in love with Sandy, but Bradley was now broke and quite simply, Ronnie did not have anything else to gain by letting their romance go any further. Bradley was now deeply in love but he had already been with Sandy tonight and was feeling guilty about their romance now that his needs had been met. Wolverine was crazy and rowdy and not only was he very attracted in Sandy, it would also do his ego good if he could take the girl away from her husband and her lover.
The subplot in the drama was that each of the three men wanted to be a leader. They each had their own idea how they should use the stolen vehicle to steal more items and money to buy more drugs.
Wolverine sucked in his gut and threw his chest out followed by a brief flex of his biceps as he asserted, "Guys, there's drugs to be made...or should I say....money to be made. Let's get this pirate ship out there and start plundering."
Ronnie just looked at the newcomer and shook his head, "What in the hell do you know about this area? You do not have any idea. It is too early for one thing. You come walking in here like some overanxious fat kid at a birthday party. The thing is it ain't your cake."
Wolverine rolled his eyes, "All right, Bones, what the hell does that even mean? What in the hell are you even talking about? Me and this Bradley dude has been cruising around in this car all day. You are lucky we are even letting you go with us."
Sandy looked at Wolverine and then at Ronnie. "For one thing," she said with her hands on her hips. "Bradley stole the car, so he has a right to say what we do in it and second of all....there is far too much testosterone in this room. You guys need to quit posturing and keep your cocks in your pants because all I want tonight is some dogfood and ice cream."
Wolverine made a sour face, "Now, who do you think you are, Missy. First of all you seem to be confused on your value there. You may be easy on the eyes, but you are definitely leftovers. I don't want sloppy seconds or thirds....so don't flatter yourself."
Sandy laughed, "Okay. And I guess you haven't spent every second since you came here trying to get my attention. Whatever!"
Bradley was starting to want to go home. It had been over a day since he even checked in at home. He was a grown man but he still felt like his parents deserved the respect of him being home every now and then. His mother and father both worried about him and it was making him feel as guilty as the whole triangle with Ronnie and Sandy. He had been with Wolverine for several hours and he was getting sick of the big buffoon. Now Bradley was getting tired and hungry and just wanted to go home and see his family, get something to eat, and go to bed. He had been with Sandy already and was used to sharing her so he was ready to wait until he could be around without the presence of any other males.
He started looking disinterested with the situation and looking toward the door. Wolverine picked up at his acquaintance's sudden anxiousness and said, "Why are seeming so squirrelly all of sudden, Brad. You look like you are thinking about taking your wheels and cutting out on us. You promised me a rambunctious evening tonight and I still want it."
Brad shook his head in frustration and said, "Dude, I'm tired of the drama. My parents are probably worried and I need to go home."
Wolverine chuckled loudly and bellowed, "How old are you, Son? Twelve. Be a man. You made some obligations to us and you need to keep them."
Bradley started getting mad and raised his voice, "Dammit, Dude... just keep the damn car. The police are probably looking for it anyway. I'm not in the mood for a bunch of bickering and fighting. I can find something better than listening to everyone squabble about who is in charge."
Wolverine shook his head and laughed, "Really, Dude? I don't think you have anything better to do. I think something isn't working out the way you want it to, so you want to take your ball and bat and go home." He started to rub his eyes like he was crying as he tried to get Bradley worked up. He thought for a moment and then added, "On second thought, just go home. If you leave there will be more treasure for the rest of us pirates.
Ronnie was tired of being quiet and chipped in, "Dude, you have an unnatural obsession with pirates." He then looked at Bradley, "Man, we have wheels tonight. We can hit areas we haven't hit yet. They are starting to watch us around here. We can hit Barboursville or Pea Ridge tonight. As your goofy pal would say....we can fish unfished waters and reap bigger bounty." Ronnie laughed at his own reference to Wolverine's pirate talk.
Sandy made a grimacing face at Ronnie and then looked at Bradley and said, "Brad, let me talk to you outside." When Bradley looked away; she turned her head back to her husband and stuck up her index finger and mouthed, "One minute." She turned and followed the younger man out of The Bando.
Once outside she put her arms around him and looked up at him. She kissed him softly and said, "Listen, Honey, I know you are tired, but that guy you brought here scares the hell out of me. I don't trust him. He looks at me like I'm a piece of me and he's some kind of retarded tiger. He is retarded."
Bradley kissed her on the lips and then her neck, she could talk him into anything but he was determined to make her work for it. in a low voice he purred, "Something just doesn't feel right. Something is telling me not to stay."
She kissed him. She pulled Bradley almost on top of her. She asked softly, "If you love me...and something doesn't feel right....how can you leave me?"
Bradley thought for a few moments and assurred the woman he loved, "I won't go. I won't leave you if you don't feel safe."
Sandy wiped a tear out of her eye and said, "That guy scares me. Ronnie can't protect me like you can. He will hurt Ronnie and it's hard telling what he will do to me if you aren't around. I need you."
They turned to walk back inside and were met in the doorway by the other two men. Bradley looked at Wolverine and said, "I guess I am in for a little while."
Sandy walked paßed them and pulled out her phone. it was a cheap LG phone she traded a shot of dope for in the alley. The alley was full of stolen phones. They would reset the phone or change the Sims card and connect with TextNow. Then they could text or hook up somewhere to wifi to make calls. After a minute phone call, she announced, "I'll be right back. I'm getting us a little something for the road."
She quickly dissappearred into the alley. She ducked into a run down brick building with grafiti on the walls. She was met at the door by a frail looking dirty man who looked like he could be Cheech and Chong's cousin. Without a word the door closed behind them. Immediately the man dropped his holey jeans. As soon as the jeans hit the floor, Sandy hit the floor to her knees. The man was hard as a rock. sandy puffed hard for about two minutes. She wiped her face and spit to the left. Witbout saying a word she took a baggy from the man as he pulled up his pants. She quickly dissappearred back into the alley.
Sandy walked back into The Bando. She was waving the baggy around and yelled with excitement, "Hey kids, looky what mommy has....ice cream!" Not one of the three men questioned where the dope came from. The only question they had was where was the closest needle. In fact, they all used two different needles. Even though they took their rigs to The Cabell Huntington Heaith Department and exchanged them, they still used other user's needles...but then again, they all already had Hepititis C.
Minutes later, they lumbered out of The Bando. Wolverine put his hand out toward Bradley, "Keys, son. I am taking over this pirate ship. Ronnie, is my first mate. He knows the best fishing areas. He gets shotgun. You get in the back with Sandy."
Bradley was aggravated that Wolverine was taking charge but at least he got to be in the back with Sandy. He told himself that maybe his new friend did that to him as a secret favor.
Wolverine backed up and then pulled the blue Malibu out of the parking lot sharply spraying gravel everywhere. The Malibu shot out of the lot and nearly hit a lady pushing a buggy of trash down the alley. The Malibu fishtailed over a patch of gravel used to fill a pothole and the backend of the car colliding with the buggy. The force of the collision sent the lady, Kim Hines, tumbling onto the alley. She started screaming at the car. Wolverine lowered the driver's side window and yelled, "You stupid bitch! Stay out of the damned road. Stay out of the dumpsters, too....you nasty bitch!" The bounced down the alley slamming into potholes and rocking the four would-be pirates all over the small vehicle. Wolverine added, "Good thing, this isn't really our car...these potholes are hell on the shocks!"
It was eleven o'clock at The Mills' house. Charlie Mills kept checking his cell phone. It had been well over twenty four hours since he heard anything from his son. He knew his son was a grown man but given his past adventures and the information he heard from Kim Hines earlier in the day, he had reason to worry.
He regretted not paying his son's cell phone bill. On one hand, his son needed some responsibility and needed to learn to prioritize his money to keep a cell phone...but on the other hand, if he could talk to his son right now then he would not be as worried.
Charlie had spent the evening with his wife and daughter watching movies on DVD. He had just rented the new Julia Roberts' movie about addiction called Ben Is Back and they all enjoyed it. It had been a very pleasant evening but there were some heavy issues on Charlie's mind and the main one was the whereabouts and safety of his son, Bradley Mills.
Charlie popped open his third Diet Dr. Pepper of the evening and sipped it straight from the can. He was enjoying spending the evening with Brooke and did not want to bring up the concern he had for her brother, but his curiosity finally got the best of him. He took a big gulp of the drink and asked as innocently as possible, " Do you know anything about this place the squatters are calling The Bando down by St. Joe?"
Brooke pulled up a handful of popcorn and tossed a couple of pieces in her mouth as she said, "It's just abandoned house where some squatters hang out and do drugs. Not my kind of crowd, Daddy. Just because I overdosed doesn't mean I'm hanging out in trap houses now."
Charlie cocked his head and held his hand up, "Okay okay, that's not what I meant. Someone told me Brad was hanging out at that place. I wasn't implying that you were."
"Again, Dad...Brad's crowd is not my crowd. I certainly don't kick it with homeless people. I am not some druggie that is so strung out that I hang out hoping to get a rinse. Maybe Brad is but the only reason I have been shooting up is that it is just hard being alone relationship-wise. It is just hard for me", Brooke said as her voice cracked.
Charlie was in defense mode, he said, " Again I am certainly not prying into your life and I'm not even prying into Brad's life. I haven't seen him much lately and I hear he is around the wrong people."
"Well, Daddy, he has always been a follower. He doesn't have the same judge of character instinct that I have...that is why we have never hung around the same people. He loves to get hogh at any cost. I do dope because I get depressed. He does it just to be high."
Charlie took another swig of Diet Dr. Pepper and said, "I just keep getting a bad feeling. Something just isn't right."
Brooke finished off her popcorn and stated, "I know you are up on all of this stuff and you know there's a lot of drifters coming into town and staying at these abandoned houses. They are mostly on ice. Ice makes them crazy. Brad will do anything that will get him buzzed but he perfers ice. He loves the speed. Now, I perfer heroin. I don't like to be sped up."
This was not a conversation that Charlie enjoyed. His daughter had a therapist and attended NA meetings and he knew that she had people to help her. Her therapist said she suffered from depression and used drugs to self-medicate. Now, she was taking medication for depression so Charlie did not quite understand why she was using herion again. He was afraid a deeper conversation with his daughter could turn negative so he decided to trust her therapist to find out the real reason.
He was getting concerned about his son. He could tell that his daughter was getting tired so hebid her goodnight. He could hear his wife moving around so he walked into their bedroom. Amy had just woken up from a nap. She uzually worked midnights so she was used to taking an evening nap and being awake all night. She stayed on that schedule on her nights off so she would usually read at night while her husband slept.
"I never had heard from Bradley. I just wonder what he is out getting into?" Charlie said as he walked into the room and took his shirt off.
Amy was folding some clothes and shrugged her shoulders, "Hard to tell. Whatever it is it isn't very likely that he would be home this early. if you want to know where he is at all of the time you should pay his phone bill."
"I heard he is in with a wrong crowd. I'm really thinking of filing a mental hugiene against him. If we don't stop him, he will be back in prison again...or worse."
"Charlie, he really hasn't done anything for you to sign a mental hygiene. You have to list specifics and you just can't say he is late coming home. He is a grown man. It also is based on what he has done in the last two weeks. They don't factor in whay he did years ago."
charlie sighed,"But there has to be something we can do. This is pattern behavior. How many times have we seen it start like this...you know...not coming home...then when he does he is either spaced out or amped up. The next thing is a call from jail. One of these times it is going to be a call from the morgue."
Amy put he arms on her husbands hips and lowered her voice. She said calmly, "Baby, I know you are concerned but I think you are just overworked and stressed. Look around the city, Babe...you are winning. It is there in the statistics. There are less overdoses and less deaths. We finally have the treatment beds we need. Clinics and sober living houses are everywhere. There are pages and pages of success stories on the internet. You have helped save so many lives. Recovery is all around us....and you helped start it."
Charlie put his headdown and slowly shook it back and forth. He said, "People are still dying. Narcan and reclassifying the calls as cardiac arrests or man down is skewering tbe statistics. People are relapsing and dying. But worse than that we have already begun a meth explosion. Meth is getting worse everyday. It has been going on but we are just starting to see the long term damage it do e. I lost a girl a few days I have worked with....but it wasn't a shot. It was long term damage. The drug took her piece by piece. Last year she had open heart surgery. She wouldn't quit the meth. She lost toes. She was ate up with infectons but she wouldn't get more help because she wanted a shot. I saw her at the mission in her wheelchair but she wouldn't get help. Then the next she was burning up and shit and pissed herself. She was at the bus station. I called an ambulance. She died two days later." He wiped a tear from his eyes. He was choked up. He continued, "No news story. No overdose....not even a stat. They will call it death by natural causes, but meth ate away at her organs...piece by piece."
Amy brushed the front of his hair gently with her hand, I know it is tough out there, Baby. But you're too hard on yourself. You never give yourself any credit for good that is happening. There is good happening."
Charlie shook his head slowly and said, "I'm just scared. I thought Brooke was doing better and then she almost dies. Just a few more minutes and we would be planning her funeral. I just feel like something is up with Bradley," .He shook his head. "It never ends. We are never really out of danger. We are always on the edge of disaster. How can I save a city when I can't even save my family."
Amy said softly, "Just give yourself a break. There's no one in this world I'd trust to save our kids than you. You are a good man Charlie Mills."
Sandy sat in the backseat of the Malibu next to Bradley. Her husband, Ronnie, sat in the front passenger seat next to the driver, a man who called himself Wolverine. Sandy looked at Bradley and flashed him a faint smile. She quietly ran her fingers across the back seat until they met his. She watched him out of the corner of her eyes so her husband could not see that she was looking at Bradley.
Bradley Mills was an attractive young man. Sandy had met very few men who were as respectful and polite as he was. He was hyper and had ADHD but she did love to be around him. Did she love him? She often asked herself that question but the answer was complicated.
In a perfect world, they could be a great couple. They could be sweethearts. He would send her flowers. They would take long walks in Ritter Park. The two would dine at Marshall Hall of Fame Cafe and watch moviesat Pullman Square. They would take vacations to Myrtle Beach where they would walk hand in hand in the sand as the sun set and the waves rolled in. They would whisper sweet nothings and talk about the children that have not been born yet. Alas, this was Huntington, West Virginia....very far from a perfect world......And she was a married addict giving blowjobs in alleys to keep from being sick......And he was a confused felon cranked up on ice stealing change from unlocked cars to keep the high from crashing down. There was no future for people like them. Sadly, they could deny tbat fact when talking to each other....but when alone....deep down....each knew it was true....they did not have a future together....and they may not even have much of a future alone.
She looked at her husband Ronnie. They once had that love...those dreams. As a smitten boy he sent her roses. They swam naked in the South Carolina ocean. Ronnie worked fifty hojrs a week and she worked part-time. But just like the way time eroded and detoirated The Bando... a once beautiful building....heroin and drugs tore down their marriage. Just like the red paint that had been wore off the front of The Bando...the love had been worn out of their relationship until the point that not only did not love each other...they barely loved themselves.
Bradley did not know if it was love or not. He was along for the ride in more than one way. She was the hottest girl he had ever been with. He was riding the party train and she was the scenic view of the ride. He was not sure if he really wanted to spend the rest of his life with her or not. Right now riding the party train with Sandy was the best ride he could find. He knew his dad could help him get off the party train when he did not want to ride any more. Bradley Mills did not plan on being addicted forever. The party train was a temporary ride to him but it was his choice of travel for the moment.
The Malibu stopped in an upperclass subdivision in West Pea Ridge. The wannabe pirates plundered the innocent like Blackbeard plundering a merchant vessel. They took change, cds, clothing, and anything of value they could find out of vehicles and off of porches. To the foursome it was just another day at the office. To the families who woke to find their vehicles and properties ransacked...it was a violation. It was not about the money or belongings...their little world was violated. Their sense of safety had been stripped from them. They suddenly realized that they were not safe from the outside world. The world was ugly and rude. They could not deny any longer that they may live on the outskirts but they still lived in that dirty, mean world that they thought they were safe from.
The adrenalin coursed through their veins as they plundered the quiet street stripping it of it's innocence as they supported their drug habbit. The four combined for 237.68 in cash which was mainly change. This money would quickly be transferred into heroin and ice. They got t-shirts and hats which they would use. Tools which would be pawned and thus becoming drug money for tomorrow. A couple of nice lawn ornaments and chairs that would be future drug money. They found gift cards to Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Fat Patty's. They would call and see how much were on those and try to trade them to drug dealers for dope. The three Mastercards they found would be perfect for cigarettes and some food. They stopped at Speedway and Go Mart on the way back to The Bando and got three cartons of L&M full flavor regular cigarettes. They also stopped at Wal Mart where they bought a lantern and a couple of more flashlights to add more light to The Abando.
It was three-thirty in the morning before the Malibu pulled back up to The Abando. As the four clamored out of the car anixous to shoot up some of the dope purchased with the prizes of their plundering, they noticed there were a few people sleeping on their porch. They did not feel like fighting over The Bando or sharing their drugs so they quietly crept around to the side door and into the basement.
They instantly began injecting the drugs into their bodies. Bradley sent the ice flying into his arm. The instant gratification was there. His chest began pounding. His ears began warming. He was alive and dancing in the dark. He was pulsating up and down and spinning around in circles. Suddenly, he went tumbling onto the floor. "Damn!" He looked at what he fell over and was stunned. "Oh my God, " he yelled, "Tucker! I forgot all aboit Tucker!" He shined a flashlight on him. "He's dead! Oh my God, Tucker is dead!"
Wolverine jumped over to the boy's body, he searched for a pulse. Wolverine shook his head. "He's not breathing". Doornail, guys...deader than a doornail."
Bradley turned to Sandy, "Call 911. Hurry, Sandy!"
Wolverine shrugged his shoulders and said, "He's dead. What's the point? He's been dead for hours. Why call the law? They haven't made a narcan yet that can raise the dead!"
Bradley stood in his face and demanded, "We are calling 911. Either Sandy calls or I am going to find a phone."
Wolverine protested,"Now what do we have to gain by doing? He isnt going to come back to life. He is dead if we call and he is dead if we don't."
Bradley was fired up and it was not just the ice. He was now nose to nose with Wolverine. This was common decency in his mind. Bradley yelled, "We are getting his body back to his family where it belongs."
Ronnie spoke up, "Give me the phone, Sandy. Why bring the police here just to get ran out. Plus we have a stolen car full of stolen stuff. We don't even really know that kid."
Sandy did what her husband said and gave Ronnie the phone. Bradley shook his head and moved toward the door. He said to Sandy, "You made your choice and now I'm making mine."
"You ain't going anywhere. You damn sure ain't running home to Daddy and rat us out." Wolverine said as he attacked Bradley driving him into the wall. Wolverine underestimated Bradley. Wolverine had the size advantage but Bradley was faster and was an adrenlin junkie. The ice and ADHD took him to another level. He had been institutionalized most of his life and learned to defend himself. He quickly dodged away and land a quick flurry to Wolverine's upper body and snapped his back. Wolverine stepped back and instinctively pulled out a switchblade knife. In the mostly dark Bando Bradley could not see it coming. Wolverine leaned into him and thrusted forward driving the blade into his chest. He pulled it back out and in again a few more times until Bradley fell into him. Within seconds Bradley Mills was dead at Wolverine's feet.
Harley Baker walked into Hal Greer Speedway about the same time Bradley Mills' body hit the floor of The Bando. While Harley was military through and through and was an early riser, it was still early by his standards. He immediately found himself at the coffee bar pouring a 16ounce cup full and adding two sugars and two creamers.
Harley Baker was retired from The Marines. He still wore his hair relatively short even though at 61, his hair was not silver instead of the jet black from his Marine days. He wore a black specialized conceal and carry polo shirt and a pair of blue jean shorts. Inside his holster was a Baby Glock, a slim Glock 26. This was the smallest of his fairly large gun collection, but neverless, one of his favorites. Even if he was just coming to Speedway to get a coffee and a paper, the Baby Glock went with him.
At five foot nine and one hundred and forty pounds Harley did not appear intimidating but he moved purposely and confidently. He was as fit and solid as when he was a Marine. Everything he did, he did fast. Pouring his coffee and stirring his cream and sugar was like a race to Harley. Everything the ex-Marine did was competitive, if he was not competing with someone else then he was competing with himself.
The Speedway cashier, Russ Gibson, was startled when he looked back and saw his customer making coffee. Harley moved past him so fast he did not even noticed him walking in. Russ raised his eyebrows and said, "what are you doing in here so early, Harley?" Seeing Harley getting his coffee usually meant that Russ's shift was almost over. The Marine usually came in about six as Russ was counting his drawer down. often Russ would stand outside and talk with him after work.
Russ Gibson was a former military man himself. He was in the Army and served a combat tour in Iraq. He liked to listen to the animated ravings of Harley Baker, even though he did not always quite agree with Baker's far right stance. Russ brought his coffee up to the register. Ricky Means, a Huntington Police Department officer was standing off to the left of the register dabbing at his coffee. His shift was over halfway over and he was just trying to hang onto the ropes and finish out his shift.
Harley tipped his head to the officer and then presented his Speedy Rewards card and a dollar for his coffee to Russ. Harley omitted a half-sigh and said, "Just couldn't sleep. I rolled around and got up and listened to the scanner a bit and just decided to get the day going. Can't start it without my Speedway coffee." He took another sip of coffee and looked at the police officer and said, "Sounds like it wasn't a bad night for you guys."
Ricky Means was in his third year as a member of the HPD. He was a tall athletic man with dark black skin and short curly black hair. He had a kind of bored look on his face but said, "Not a bad night. Checking up on us with the scanner, eh?" Ricked asked as his face broke into a slight smile.
Harley smiled and said, "I am just an interested citizen who cares about my home. I run The Huntington Crime Alert page on Facebook. We have around twenty thousand members and we try to help you guys out as often as possible. We encourage people to call the crime tip line and to help keep a watch what is going on in our neighborhoods. We also warn each other about patterns and trending things we feel others need to know about."
Ricky shook his head up and down and said, "I think I have heard of your group, I am not on Facebook myself. We appreciate any help people can give us."
Harley took another drink as he put his wallet away and stepped off next to the HPD officer. "How do you think things are out there right now. I mean I hear so much about this recovery stuff going on and I just wondered if you guys are seeing it on the streets out there?"
Again Ricky shook his head up and down, "We still have our moments. There is recovery going on. I have personally some of the guys who were the worst when I started, straighten up and even help others. But there are obviously still drugs out there. I mean when something is as deep-rooted as the epidemic was, it just isn't going to let go overnight, but I have seen some miracles. People do recover."
Harley countered immediately, "I just see so much and...pardon me for saying...but it seems like you guys have gotten softer. Well...I mean...I know it is tough. You guys only have about 90 cops working out there. It seems like the last year, you guys are playing prevent defense."
Ricky had a puzzled look on his face and asked, "What's work with being preventive or proactive?"
Harley shrugged a little and answered, "I guess I kind of used the wrong term. What I meant was prevent defense....like in football. Instead of being aggressive and blitzing the quarterback and being aggressive at the line of scrimmage, you guys are kind of laying back off the ball about ten to fifteen yards and giving them anything small."
Ricky again had a puzzled look on his face and responded, "I'm not quite sure I'll go along with that or not. I do think we are preventive...not maybe your idea of prevent defense, but we try to be visible and interact with the community and prevent crime when we can. Like you kind of said, it is hard to go man to man," he smiled as he used the older man's football analogies and continued, "when you are vastly outmanned. Sometimes you just have to do what you can but I think we do quite well."
Russ was quite as he watched the two man banter back and forth. He kind of agreed with both and felt that both were on the same side and he knew Harley always wanted accountability. Very few things were very easy with Harley and Russ was well aware of it. He had regularly witness Harley beret everyone from drug users to police to lawyers and magistrates.
Harley paused and spun his eyes a bit as if he was debating if he should say what was on his mind. He paused and then blurted out, "I know you guys are doing the best you can. you have to do what you are told. I blame a lot of what is going on, on the mayor. He is just too enabling. We have the free needles and Narcan,. I mean he doesn't encourage it but I feel like he enables it."
Ricky scratch his chin and said, "I still don't get why you feel that way. These people are sick. If we just stick them in jail and not try to alter their behavior then they will just go back to the way they were once they get out. We want to change them."
Harley was on him, "Why the needles? Why give them the free needles. That is why all of these backpackers are coming to town. More get off of the bus everyday. They are here for the free needles and the abandoned houses that you guys just run them off from and they come straight back.
Ricky was a little tired this evening and the man's increasingly aggressive behavior was starting to get on the officer's nerves. He was thinking of what to say when another customer had approached the register and then turned to the debating duo.
The customer was in his late twenties and was short and stocky and wearing a Marshall University shirt. He looked at the two men having the discussion and said, "Guys, I'm sorry if I am rude. I heard some of your conversation. I just want to thank the officer. I don't personally know him but one of his fellow officers saved my life. About two years ago I was breaking into cars and buying drugs. I overdosed. The officer got there before the EMS. He saved me, but more important than the Narcan is that I ran into him a few nights later. Dakota Woods was his name. I actually looked for him. We had a long talk. He didn't throw any bullshit at me. He was truthful. He talked about what he has witnessed while on the streets. He got to me. I entered Recovery Point a few days later. I hadn't done any more drugs since I talked to Officer Woods. So I am grateful to The HPD."
Harley just looked at the man. Ricky smiled and shook his head again and said, "Thanks. Officer Woods is now Detective Woods. He is a good man. I am very glad to hear you are clean." He patted him on the back and started out the door. "I've got to go, guys. Recovery does work if you let it."
The customer purchased a pack of cigarettes and was out the door. Harley looked at Russ and changed the subject. Harley cocked his head and smiled. Harley was a good talker but not so good of a listener. When his brain made up its' mind about something, it very rarely changed it's opinion.
Harley started reading Charlie Mills Recovery Man page on Facebook a couple of years ago and it led him to take an interest in his home town. One day when he was bored, he contacted Charlie. After several emails they met for lunch and discussed city issues. Harley was the type of man who obsessed over his hobbies. He quickly became obsessed with local politics. Charlie, on the other hand, had a limited interest in politics.
Harley's wife Betty had died from cancer a dozen years prior. His lone son, Lane, followed his dad's footsteps in the military but joined The Army. He was stationed in Germany in the late nineties. He met a nice girl and when he was discharged he decided to live in Germany with Harley's two granddaughters.
Harley was a jail guard at West Regional Jail for a few years until he decided to retire and live off of his retirement from the Marines. He got by okay financially but since he did not like to date, he did not have a lot to occuppy his time. when he discovered local politics and his Facebook page, he became deeply obsessed.
Harley helped Charlie with his page as he wrote articles and helped him film videos. It soon became obvious that Harley was too focused on crime and politics for Charlie's interest. Charlie's main interest was the destruction caused by the drug epidemic and if and how Huntington could bounce back.
Charlie encouraged Harley to start his own page. The Huntington Crime Alert page was primarily intended to be a 911 page. Members would listen to a police scanner and post events so everyone would know what qas going on. A live scanner feed would also be featured at certain times. The original concept was awareness. Harley then began to point out how many stories were missed by local media. Little by little, politics crept into the picture. It was at that point when Harley revealed to Charlie that his goal was to gain political support for his ideas and beliefs. He even went as far as saying he wanted to tell people what to believe. His site became big fast and the followers came in droves. He hinted he would run for City Council but his newfound followers wanted him to be mayor.
The more the page host criticized and mocked current maypr, Preston Porter, the more loved he became. The big divide between the two page hosts came when Harley started attacking Mayor Porter's stance on The Cabell Huntingtpn Health Department's needle exchange.
A bunch of members of The Huntington Crime Alert page posted how Mayor Porter and The City of Huntington were handing out free needles to addicts. The addicts were leaving the needles all over town in parks, playgrounds, school yards, and on city streets all over town. They thought that if the needles were not given out free than they would not be discarded everywhere. They also felt that it was not an even exchange. Many users were getting more needles without turning any in so they thought it was not an exchange but a simple giveaway. The group also said that many needles ended up in the hands of drug dealers who sold them to users and profitted off of them.
Charlie argued that the needles were helping to stop the spreading of HIV and hepititis c. The disease were being passed on to other drug users through dirty needles. Charlie also pointed out that if the users did not bring them back to get new ones then there would be more out there. Users were also out searching for more needles so they could receive more at the exchange.
The divide between the two had been getting wider and wider. Harley had expanded his attack on the rehabs that had been coming to town and had been suggesting that some of the grant money had been ending up in Mayor Porter's wallet. Harley felt like help should be offered once and one time only. There were empty schools and buildings that could be used as temporary hospitals. They would be like portable MASH units. Recently graduated doctors could be used to treat the patients in return for student loan forgiveness to pay off their medical school debts. The rehabs could be used quickly and then the problem would be solved.
Harley ranted that rehabs were becoming an industry in Huntington. The industry would turn out more addicts to keep itself alive. No business would want to open to solve the problem only to close a year or two later. Harley believed that once the problem was solved in Huntington they would bring more users in from out of state. Harley estimated that the failure rates of rehabs were seventy to eighty per cent. Harley could envision of user coming from somewhere like St. Louis. Once they sign themselves out, they stay on the streets of Huntington, thus creating more addicts.
Harley Baker finished his coffee and left Speedway. He went home to his home by Riter Park. After he switched into green Marshall University sweats, he went for a brisk two mile run in the park.
His blood was pumped from the run and caffeine in his veins, he sat down at hisdining room table with his laptop computer. Three posts had already been made before six AM about the plundering in West Pea Ridge. People were shocked to get into their cars to head to work, only to find their vehicles ransacked with items missing from them. Harley just shook his head, "Just another night in Huntington", he thought.
Charlie Mills had a restless night sleeping. It was long after he finally got to sleep around five AM, that the alarm went off at six. He got up and went to the home computer in his den. He checked his messages and web site. He checked Facebook and noticed the posts on The Huntington Crime Alert page about the plundering in West Pea Ridge. It had been fifty-eight hours since he had heard from his son. If he was not found by the afternoon, he decided that he would go to police headquarters and file a missing persons report. He knew his site was large and that Harley's was large as well, and together almost everyone in and around Huntington would see it. He made a quick post with Bradley's picture and messaged Harley and asked him to share it.
The gameplan for his day definitely included finding Kim Hines. He had a feeling she would know Bradley's whereabouts. There was not much that Kim did not know about what went on in Downtown. Checking out The Bando also topped his agenda.
The early results of his Facebook posts did not surprise him. His post on his own Recovery Man page drew support and prayers. The post on Huntington Crime Alert had a few posts that called Brad a druggie and Charlie a hypocrite. Harley eventually came on and said he would delete any post bashing Charlie, but he never mentioned anything about bashing Bradley. One member questioned why Charlie was concerned. He posted that he knew Bradley and that he was a tweaker who would get cranked on ice and stay gone for days at a time.
Amy Mills had just gone to sleep. She was schedulled to work at Bateman Hospital at 11PM so she slept in the day to stay on her sleep schedule. About eight AM, Charlie climbed in his Equinox to head toward Dunkin for donuts to hand out to homeless he knew in the alley and then Four and a Half Alley where he hoped to find answers on Bradley's whereabouts.
As the Recovery Man entered the Dunkin on Fifth Avenue, he encountered a couple of acquaintances who asked about Bradley and offered their prayers.
Charlie scoured the alleys around Marshall University looking for Kim Hines on her daily trek of checking dumpsters for treasures she may find to trade or sell for drug money. He passed by The Bando. He saw a man with a weird haircut and mutton chops walking out to a blue Chevy Malibu. Charlie thought to himself that the man resembled Wolferine of the X-Men. He pulled into the lot and parked next to the Malibu.
Charlie jumped out of the Equinox with a picture in his hand. He shuffled over to Wolverine and said, Excuse me, Sir. I'm looking for my son. He has been missing for a few days and I have heard he has been coming here."
Wolverine had just switched into a Superman t-shirt that he picked up on the stolen credit at WalMart a few hours before. He looked at the picture and it was exactly who he thought it would when he was approached by the father. Of course, Wolverine was not going to tell the man that he stabbed his son to death with the knife in his pocket and crudely buried him with a boy who overdosed in a wall in the basement. Instead, he looked at the picture and blankly said, "Sorry, Bub, I've never seen him before. I haven't been around long. Just passing through. I'm heading out now for Tampa."
Charlie was visibly dissappointed, he was certain the man would know something. He said, "Thanks. Here is my business card...if you see hom, please call. He's probably somewhere around here. Tell him his mom and dad are worried."
Wolverine stuck the card in his pocket and responded, " Like I said, I'm on my way to Florida. I just found this house, it was cheaper than a hotel. I will probably never be back. Good luck finding him."
Charlie offered the man a donut and the man accepted a glazed one. Charlie pulled out a powered sugar white cream filled donut for himself although he realized Amy would rip him for raising his sugar. The added stress was reason enough for him to eat some comfort food to relax. He smiled to himself and thought, "Better for my sugar to be high than to stroke out from the stress.
He was going to search for Kim a little longer. He thought about going by Harley's to see if he Harley had gotten any information through his site. Charlie was not sure if he wanted to see him because their relationship was rather awkward at the moment. Charlie had heard from a couple of charities that Harley had raised money through his site for that Harley had never givem them the money. Both places combined was over a thousand dollars. Charlie felt obligated to question Harley about the money but just did not think with Bradley missing that it was the right time to stir up any more trouble.
The Equinox careened down Four and a Half Alley until he reached Tenth Street. At that point, he steered down to Three and a Half Alley and started driving back toward Marshall University. The SUV had almost reached Marshall, when he finally spotted Kim Hines at a dumpster behind an old house turned into an apartment building behind Fourteenth Street.
When Kim Hines recognized who it was driving the vehicle, she went storming toward the car. Kim started yelling, " Do you know what your son and his asshole friends did to me last night?"
Charlie got excited and cut her off as he blurted out, "Whoa! Hold up! You saw Bradley last night? He has been missing for over two days."
She put her hands on her hips and yelled, "They almost ran into me. They hit my buggy with their car and knocked me straight on my bony ass!"
Charlie felt a tinge of relief as he sighed and asked, "When and where was this. what were they driving and who was he with?"
Kim shrugged slightly as she answered, "I'm not sure exactly what time it was but it was around midnight. He was with that little whore Sandy and her husband Ronnie. Some dorky guy who thinks he is Wolverine was driving a blue Chevy Malibu. They shot out of the parking lot by The Bando where I saw you yesterday."
Suddenly, Charlie's heart sank through his heart into his stomach. This just could not be, he thought. He gasped, "That guy lied to me. The guy with the mutton chops, I just saw him getting into the blue Malibu at The Bando. I showed him a picture of Bradley and he said he had never seen him before." A feel of sudden dread fell over Charlie Mills. He suddenly felt cold and could not stop shaking.
Sandy Dixon sat on a green park bench at Harris Riverfront Park overlooking the murky Ohio River. The noon day sun was beating down on her but the gentle wind cascading off the river kept the sun bearable. Still, sweat was running down her face and merging with the tears.
She was shaking almost uncontrollably. A steady stream of ice and heroin had entered her veins since right before the sharp blade of Wolverine's knife took her lover away from her forever. No matter how much drugs entered her body,
it could not numb her pain. She looked down at a needle loaded full of fentanyl. It was on her lap right beyond her trembling fingers.
Her mind which had not slept for days, taunted her, "Why didn't I realize I loved him so much until he was gone? His soft touch when he comforted me...his gental kisses on my forehead. No one ever listened to me like Bradley...not even my husband Ronnie. Bradley knew the real me. He knew the me I could be without drugs. He loved me like no one ever loved me...and I watched him die."
She tried to blame the drugs. She tried to blame her guilt over cheating on her husband. She tried to blame a lot of things for not ever confessing to herself how much she loved Bradley Mills. Now there was no denying she loved him. Now that he could not whisper "I love you" in her ear or how much she deserved a better life than she had or that he could give...she could not deny she loved him. She denied it for so long but now the wall was down....now there was only a huge divide. Only one bridge could cover the divide. The bridge was just beyond her fingertips.
Bradley's body was buried in a makeshift wall in the basement of The Bando. His spirit cried out from the depths of the river. If only she had realized how much she loved Bradley Mills then they could of dissappeared in the blue Malibu...away from Ronnie...away from the drugs...away from The Bando where Bradley now was buried.
There was only one way for Sandy to be with Bradley...only one bridge. Her trembling fingers picked up the rig. She plunged the rig into her arm.... she followed the bridge to Bradley...the bridge across forever.