Fiction Saturday – “Haight Street” Part Twenty – Six
Dennis heard Marlee close her front door and a quick peek out of his window confirmed it. He pushed aside the stalks of his large red and white hibiscus to follow her with his eyes as she crossed the street and headed up Haight Street. He needed a few minutes. As he watched her pass the corner market he idly plucked a leaf from the hibiscus and stuffed it into his pants pocket.
Grabbing his keys, Dennis went down the steps two at a time. He stopped outside of number six. Using the key that he had stolen from the previous tenant he silently let himself into Marlee’s apartment.
J.P. Cat was sound asleep inside his cardboard box bed. He never stirred when Dennis walked past him and into the bedroom.
Knowing that he was wasting time and risking discovery, Dennis opted to push his luck. “This is what makes it fun,” he said out loud.
He opened the closet and looked at the clothes. He took the sleeve of a white cotton blouse and put it next to his face, inhaling deeply. He closed his eyes, imagining Marlee in the blouse and then bit off the button from the cuff, swallowing it.
Dennis took a step back from the closet and appraised what he saw. “Cheap, frumpy, knockoff, knockoff, Gap, for God’s sake. My mother had one of these. Oh, Miss Marlee, you need a fashion consultant.”
He took a quick trip through her dresser drawers, running his fingers across the fabric and noting her preference for red.
A glance at her clock radio warned him to curtail his pleasure trip and get down to business.
Dennis walked into the kitchen and pulled a four-inch butterfly knife from his back pocket and the hibiscus leaf from the front. He grabbed Marlee’s cutting board from the shelf over the sink as he flipped open the scalpel sharp knife.
He worked rapidly, cutting the leaf into pieces, chopping and dicing the bits smaller and smaller. Using the flat blade he scraped the wooden board clean of every atom of green. He dropped the green slivers on top of the mound of cat food in the blue plastic bowl. He mixed them into the chicken and tuna until they disappeared.
“Let’s see whose door she knocks on when little ‘Just Plain Cat’ starts to vomit his cute yellow head off tonight. ‘Help me, Dennis. Oh, help me’.”
While Marlee was hearing about Luco being hit by a mysterious “hit and run” driver, Dennis was cleaning up after himself. He replaced the cutting board, walked past the still sleeping cat and plucked a CD of Yo Yo Ma playing the cello from the top of the stack. “Now, where did I set that CD?”
Still laughing, he quickly relocked Marlee’s front door and walked slowly back up the steps to the third floor. The morning sun was streaming through the large window on the landing. Dennis could see the Buena Vista Park steps. There was a drug deal going down. He turned around and ran down the stairs and out of the front door.
Dodging a bus and a motor scooter, Dennis ran across Haight Street.
“Hey, you two animals! What do you think you’re doing?”
“Get out of here mister, unless you want hurt. Do you?” The dealer lifted his shirttail to show Dennis the hilt of a large knife.
“Is that supposed to scare me, you subhuman filth?” The teenaged buyer started to back away, wanting no part of what looked about to erupt. Dennis glared at the boy. “Get out of my neighborhood and don’t come back or your ass is mine.” The kid took off running up the hill, scared and anxious to get back to his suburban home.
Just the two angry men were left, facing each other. The dealer pushed his floppy hat back on his head. He stroked his straggly beard as he took the measure of the blonde haired do-gooder.
“You just cost me a hundred bucks, partner. I think you should reimburse me.” He smiled a gap toothed smile at Dennis and casually reached for his knife.
Dennis whipped his butterfly knife from his pocket and had the blade pointed at the dealer before the buck knife had cleared its leather sheath. Dennis stepped closer, backing the longhaired drug pusher up the steps.
“You know what, you damned piece of garbage?”
“What’s that, Batman?”
“I could kill you right here and probably get a medal from the Mayor.”
“Yeah? If you think you’re such a John Wayne, try me. Right here, right now.” He lifted the silvery knife and waved it at Dennis. Before the street dealer could react, Dennis’ hand flew out and sliced his left nostril.
The dealer let out a soft scream and lashed out with his own knife. Dennis sidestepped it and punched the dealer on the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. A small audience of pedestrians, other would-be drug customers and the passengers on a bus parked in the stop zone twenty-five feet away, watched the lopsided fight. The bus driver picked up his radio and summoned the police.
Dennis stood over the prone, bleeding and frightened dealer. The butterfly knife was digging into the eyelid of the man on the ground. Dennis tossed the buck knife into the bank of zinnias and pansies that lined the sidewalk.
“Pay attention to me. I’m only going to say this once. I could kill you right now, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be any fun and if it’s not fun, why do it. Right? Right, Idiot?”
“So…I’m letting you go…for now.”
He lifted the bloody faced criminal to his feet and, careful to not get any blood on himself, ran the razor sharp edge of his knife in a swift race down the bridge of the dealer’s nose, peeling the flesh away, down to the cartilage. Another scream and more blood were released onto the stone steps. “Now, run for your life.”
The wounded and humiliated drug merchant ran up the grassy hill, into the Park, disappearing and leaving a red trail on the lawn.
Dennis turned around and saw the small assembly that had witnessed it all. His face was red from the anger and the stress of the encounter. He had a headache and an erection.
“What? What are you looking at? Get out of here and don’t come back.” He waved the knife in the air and started down the steps. The people moved out of his way. Nobody wanted anything to do with him.
The police squad car arrived ten minutes later and found nothing but a smear of red on the steps and a trail of more red on the grass leading up “Hippie Hill” deeper into Buena Vista Park.
Dennis stared at his door. He looked around the hallway and rechecked the brass numbers. “This is number eight? She lives in number six.”
He looked at his wristwatch. Twenty minutes had passed, but he had no memory of going into Marlee’s apartment, no memory of going through her clothes, no memory of poisoning the cat food. Dennis sniffed at his fingers. He could smell the hibiscus leaf. “Why am I sweating?”
There was only one beer left in the refrigerator. Dennis took it and plopped down on his sofa. It was hard to tell if the garish ruby lips were spitting him out or about to swallow him whole. He knew the beer was a mistake in light of the Percodan he had just taken dry. He pulled the tab and heard the welcoming rush of air into the can. He wanted it. He needed it and there was a third reason, but it was too faded to make out.
As he drank and the painkiller roared through his bloodstream, the present was disappearing behind a resurgent past. Morning was being painted over by Midnight and San Francisco was becoming the Boston of seven years previous.
His desire had always been to be a man of Science, but, as a 21 year-old, middle of his class graduate in chemistry, his superiors at the University Hospital kept demanding that he stick to his duties as a lab technician. He hated doing the same tests, over and over again, day after day.
“Let somebody else do this. I’m a researcher. I’m out on that cutting edge of discovery. Or I would be if you’d stop demanding that I waste my time doing tox screens on rent-a-cops. Give me the tools and I can cure the world.”
Dennis moved from job to job, sliding from the prestigious and endowed to the threadbare and under-funded, downward to the fraud-ridden Medicare mills. He always had the same complaints and always ended up on the sidewalk ranting at a closed and locked door.
It’s a small world and it didn’t take long for him to gain a reputation as a troublemaker and an all-around pain in the ass. Even the pet hospitals turned him away.
Dennis was a good-sized young man and he was never late for work. That was a ringing endorsement for the Manager at Novicky Moving and Storage.
It wasn’t science, but it paid enough to cover his expenses and there were the unofficial perks: almost unlimited opportunities for petty theft from the customers and very limited dealings with bosses.
Dennis refurnished his apartment with items “lost in transit” from the moving van. The customers had little recourse. They rarely bought the overpriced and worthless insurance coverage.
His prize piece of booty was the sofa stolen from another recent Harvard grad. Somehow, the sofa, shaped like a pair of bright red lips was “lost” during the short drive from Cambridge, across the Charles River, into Boston and to a new condo near the Massachusetts General Hospital complex.
Even though it wasn’t his dream job and there were no likely cures to be discovered in the back of a truck, Dennis did the work and was surprised to find that he enjoyed the companionship of the men in the crew.
Some were ex-cons and drifters who stayed only long enough to get rearrested or scrape up a stake to get to the West Coast. There were others who came from failed academic backgrounds, either alcoholic professors on the skids or men like Dennis – perpetual square pegs.
It was during a job on Gainesborough Street, near Symphony Hall, that Dennis’ life was changed. They were moving a stereo cabinet from a fourth-floor walkup. Coming down off a narrow landing, Dennis slipped. He felt and heard something tear in his back.
Rest didn’t help much. When he tried to lift anything over 25 pounds it felt like someone was driving white hot nails into his lower back.
The other men in the crew liked Dennis. He pulled his weight and bought a round now and then. They decided to help him.
One of the guys, a wiry man known as “Zigzag”, fresh out of Walpole State Prison, gave Dennis a handful of pills. “It’s called ‘O.C’ and it’ll fix you up good, Dude.”
Dennis had been in enough labs to know that “O.C.” was an opium derivative called “Oxycontin”, and addictive as hell, but the pain was keeping him from working. No work, no money…no money, and he’d end up working for guys like Zigzag. He took the pills and kept working.
Dennis thought he could deal with the danger of addiction, but he couldn’t get around the side effects. His growing paranoia made him hard to work with. He thought that the other men were dumping the heavy loads on him, slacking off while he did their work.
Things got worse when Zigzag was arrested for setting up a drug lab in the basement of his apartment building. Dennis had to get his pills off the street and his brain told him that Zigzag was going to implicate him in the lab fiasco. Dennis ran. He left Boston and headed west
It took two years of day labor and five doomed attempts at kicking his addiction before Dennis rode a bus across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was as far as he could run without getting wet.
Still paranoid about Zigzag, he avoided going back to work as a mover. He was living in the sordid “Fogtown Hotel” in the Tenderloin when he saw the ad for “Manly Maids.”
After a year of working 60 hour weeks, saving every spare penny and being mugged six times on the street, Dennis found an apartment in The Haight. Far from being an improvement as he had hoped, the move to 1298 Haight punched his ticket on the express train to Insanity.
The first time…Dennis laid his head down on the sofa as he tried to recall the first time, the first murder. He remembered doing it, but not in any reproducible imagery. It was the feel of his fists hitting soft flesh. It was the sound of his own heavy breathing and the final gasps and silence from the other person. It was the sweaty stench of the man’s crusty jacket and the sweet piquancy of the blood. It was the roaring headache beforehand and the soft tones of restful sleep afterward.
The man Dennis beat to death that first night in the Panhandle was a street dealer who had sold him placebos instead of actual Vicodin. When the pain didn’t go away his rage was triggered and ignited a headache that threatened to “split me open and let the universe see my degradation.”
Dennis went hunting.
After the first, it became easier, and more importantly to Dennis, it became a mission. He was a drug user, yet he saw the path to his salvation lined with dead drug dealers. Save the soul of the user by eliminating the occasion of sin.
When the pain was not relieved and the rage was too much to bear, Dennis would cruise through the streets looking for the young, vulnerable and dealing. He was known to the people on the street as a regular customer, so going into the shadows with him was not considered a risk.
Dennis would lull his targets into the Panhandle, a driveway or a hidden spot in the bushes. When the drugs were presented his knife would appear and, with the surety of the saved, he would plunge the blade into the throat of his prey. Swift, sure and fatal, but not enough to make his message understood. There had to be something more, a warning to the other dealers.
That is why Dennis started his mutilations. To make his point, his final cut was a paring down the bridge of the nose. Destroy the face, he reasoned, and make the world see them as all alike, creating the agony that would drive a decent man like himself to such necessary extremes.
Dennis was sure that, if it were not for the drugs, his life would be pain free and filled with joy and the love of a faithful woman. But the drugs did exist and his life wasn’t pain free and filled with joy and the women weren’t faithful, even Marlee. Didn’t he see her first? Didn’t he bring her gifts? Didn’t he show her that he found her desirable? She, however, had shown her favor for that lowlife coffee puller who thought of her as just another notch on his bedpost. Well, as of last night, Luco Reyes was out of the picture and now he could get back on track to woo and take Marlee for his own.