The Perfect Enforcer

Published October 13, 2004

 I'm too far into my jones to wait so I get up and run. "Where're we going?" Ricky asks, loping easily beside my strained efforts.

"To the lake," I lie, "if we can make it past the Ravenswood tracks, we're good."

I run my heart out while Ricky jogs next to me. Here I was thinking I was in shape and get to be proved wrong by an asshole who I'm helping for some reason. The friends I pick.

"Wait a second!" I say, stopping dead in my tracks. "How do I know you're not leading me into a trap?"

"'Cuz I had you back in the alley, fuckface. You really gotta stop doing that shit, Jerzy. It's fucking with your head."

I don't respond. We start walking down the Morse Avenue sidewalk like a couple of arrogant pigeons. The Pit is less than a block from us. For some reason, I'm emboldened by Ricky's presence as we pass under the blazing lights of the viaduct. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him pull out his piece and check the clip.

"What're you doing?" I challenge, my voice rising an octave despite my attempt to be tough.

"Habit, dude. Don't worry about it."

"Fuck you, man. Put it away."

illustration"Why, you think I'm going to shoot you?" he asks, pointing the weapon at my forehead.

"Don't pull that shit, man. I'm not up for it."

"What's' a matter, man, you strung out?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I am! Why do you think I rolled that guy? To give you a reason to exercise? Man, you can be pretty fucking dense sometimes."

"Yeah? I'm not the one who sold his life to heroin. That was you. Given a choice, I'd rather be the straight man with a gun than the junkie with a habit."

"You know something, Ricky? Go fuck yourself. Those goons are long gone, probably lost by now. Take a hike."

"I was kidding, man," he says, tucking the gun back in his waistband. "Lighten up."

"Maybe I don't like guns waved in my face. You ever think of that?"

"I got your point, Jerzy. Knock it off." He goes to the street and, turning, stares at the overgrown jungle that is the Ravenswood line. When we were kids, the man-made knoll was neatly covered by rust-colored stones. Now huge weeds are taking over the rock-strewn slope as the wildness of nature seeks to reclaim what's hers in this paved-over swamp.

"So what're you going to do? Go back to Gallow and ask for your job back?" I ask, assuming we're back on solid ground.

"None of your business."

"Come on, Ricky. It's just a question."

"I told you, none of your fucking business."

"Jesus, you'd think we were never friends. You know, you were almost a dartboard for bullets back there. I had your back."

"I saw it coming," he replies.

I'm tiring of his arrogance and re-consider ditching him somewhere. I want a fix and I know Gary has smack.

It feels like we're alone in the city as we walk across east-side Ravenswood Street like we own it. It's eerie, but I'm jonesing hard and can't do anything about it. Ricky and I have joined again and, for now, there's no way out of it.

"You know something, Jerzy?" Ricky asks like nothing's going on.

I remain mute.

pull quote"I've missed you." He's looking at me like I'm his date for the evening.

"That's nice," I say, expecting to turn around and see his gun pointed at my chest. He's standing there like he's had some profound realization.

"No, really. I miss the fun we used to have together. Remember? We used to have the best time and nobody got hurt. Now, somebody either gets beat up or shot and dumped into the Chicago River. The game's gotten old. I miss what we used to do together."

"Yeah, well, times have changed, old buddy. C'mon, let's go."

"Where are we going?"

"We," I say, "are going nowhere. I got us away from the goons and now we part ways. I have no use for an Enforcer where I'm going. Half these guys are in debt with Gallow for so much they'll never repay him."

"No, take me with you. Maybe a good high is what I've been looking for. Besides," he pauses for a minute, "I've never done it before."

"Done what?" I ask, like a moron.

"Gotten high."

"Get real, asshole. You and I got damned high back in the past. Don't give me that," I say as we walk toward the Pit anyway. My plan is we'll walk past the house and, after I ditch Ricky, I'll go back.

"I've never done heroin. I want to try it. I got the cash to cover us," he tempts.

My greed kicks in and, though I fight it for all I'm worth, I know I'm losing. I don't know how much I have in my pocket and I'm starting to trust my old friend who's offering to pay for my fix.

Logic rears its translucent head. "No deal, man. We're going to Clark Street. I'm watching you walk one way then I'm walking the other. Got it?"

"Okay, fine, dude. You don't want to initiate an old friend into the pleasures of paradise, that's cool. You keep being a self-centered bastard."

For some reason, I think of Ricky's little brother. He was a good kid. A few years younger than Ricky but much cooler and more laid back. He and I knocked a few hits down back in the past. "How's Frankie? Did he go to detox or something?"

Ricky doesn't say anything for a minute. "No, I haven't spoken to him in awhile."

"Sorry." I say through clenched teeth. The juice is leaving my system, sucking the marrow out of my bones, bit by agonizing bit.