A Good Night – Don Logan
April 30, 2021
Pinky balanced on the rooftop ledge doing his high-wire act as G-Jeff shuffled from side-to-side like a fireman waiting to catch a baby. I slid a flattened cardboard box beneath me and settled in to watch the train wreck happen.
It was summer and we were in an empty lot at the end of gloomy alley. Our new spot. Pinky was my bro, my first real friend on the street. His real name was Terrence, but everybody called him Pinky because he always had pink eye. G-Jeff got his name because he spelled it with a ‘G’ which we thought was uppity. Crabby was off somewhere. None of us knew where he was. It was like that a lot.
We roamed the city like nomads and slept under the overpass and fished clothes from the Supermercado donation bin and washed in laundromat deep sinks. We got shitty jobs and quit after one day. We shit behind cars and begged and robbed and tricked. We rolled and snorted and spiked and did whatever we had to do to get by. It was crazy, but that’s how it was when you had no future.
G-Jeff was seeing how far he could pee and Pinky was doing a handstand when Crabby arrived, twirling a woman’s purse by the strap.
“Daddy’s home,” Crabby said. “Get it together, losers.”
We called him Crabby or Crabs for short. Mostly because of his disposition, but also because he caught pubic lice from a crack hoe one time. He was older and bigger and stronger than us. He told us he got kicked out of the Navy SEALS because of a CIA plot. He said he was a kung fu black belt and his grandfather was a Nazi General and claimed to have Apache blood and said he grew up in a mind control experiment in Alaska.
He lied and cheated and punched you for no reason. He liked stims more than downers and gave us shit for being dirty junkies. We hated him and loved him and feared him all at the same time.
“Let’s see what we have here, shall we?” Crabby pulled out the wallet and then poured the contents of the handbag on the ground. Gum, crumpled tissues, makeup, a set of keys. All the usual shit women carried around in their purse.
A new iPhone tumbled out from one of the pockets and Pinky grabbed it. I got the gum. G-Jeff got nothing.
We watched like hungry wolves while Crabby rifled through the expensive wallet, brown pebbled leather with the letters ‘LV’ written all over. He must’ve snatched the purse from some rich chick on Michigan Avenue.
He held up a wad of cash. “There’s like three hundred-and-twenty bucks here. Plus, we’ll get something for the plastic and sell the phone. Give it here.” Crabby held out his hand without looking.
“Fuck no. I’m keeping it,” Pinky said.
Crabby flexed his fingers. “Don’t make me ask again.”
Crabs pulled one of his jiu jitsu moves, and they wrestled around for a minute before G-Jeff broke it up. Pinky’s lip was bleeding all over his teeth. Crabs turned to me, chest-puffed, holding out a crisp twenty. “Go to the gas station and get me a pack of cigarettes. Camels, the blue pack. Don’t forget.”
“That’s like three blocks from here.”
“And?” Crabby said. “You got a problem with that, Saint Chuck?”
Saint Chuck. I hated that name. They called me that because I had done a year and a day in the juvenile detention center in Saint Charles on a home invasion charge—which was bullshit because I was only there to get the money my boy Daryl owed me.
It didn’t matter. The cops and the lawyers and judge didn’t believe me and neither did Crabby. He had never been to juvie or Cook County. He said the military was worse than jail. Both Pinky and G-Jeff had lived in a bunch of foster homes, which was bad, but not as bad as juvie.
They busted my balls over it. Said that because it was the suburbs, it must’ve been an easy time. Like a summer camp for toddlers in matching t-shirts and shorts, sucking on frozen yogurt pops. A happy place where you sat cross-legged on freshly manicured lawns and grilled hot dogs and roasted marshmallows and basked under a yellow smiley-face sun.
Not a gray, cold place with a double barbwire fence and guards who screamed at you twenty-four-seven. Where the Cholos kicked your ass on the daily and where the brothers ripped-off your stuff and where the one guy who you thought was your friend buttfucked you in the shower and left you to bleed.
“I ain’t got a problem,” I said, tossing a hand down the alley. “I just don’t understand why I gotta go to the gas station when Walgreens is like right there.”
Crabby took a deep breath and let it out, like a dad who’d been over it a million times before. “Because, dumb ass, they’re two bucks cheaper at the gas station, that’s why.”
“Get me a can of Monster. The red one,” Pinky said.
“Do not.” Crabby punched Pinky in the arm and came back to me. “And bring back the change.”
I took the twenty and headed down the alley. As soon as I turned the corner I saw them. Hard-faced Wendy with her band of teenage junkie dyke hoe bitches: Tessa, Heather from Texas, and some new redhead I never saw before.
Wendy sidestepped in front of me. “Where you going, Chucky Cheese-dick?”
I looked at their faces and thought about the girls from high school. Preppy chicks with names like Emma and Madison and Kaitlyn who rolled their eyes and flicked their hair and looked down perfect noses. None of them knew pain or fear or cold. They never ate McDonald’s trashcan scraps, or got beat up by a psycho john or sucked off a cop, or got pimp-whipped with a car antenna for being on the wrong corner.
Not like these girls.
Heather from Texas stepped to me, showing off, straight-up fronting. Her blonde hair was oily dirty and had a wide strip of brown roots down the middle. A black eye had faded to a yellow-purple crescent.
“You wanna date, sugar?” she said in her Texas drawl, hand on her hip doing her on-the-stroll pose. “I’ll suck your dick for fifty bucks.”
She knew I didn’t have fifty bucks. Maybe she wanted me say some shit so she could throw shade, look hard and tough and cool in front of Wendy.
I didn’t say anything.
Heather smiled a hurt smile and the others laughed and Big Wendy stepped aside to let me pass. I got Crabby’s smokes and bought Heather a big Hershey’s bar.
When I got back, Crabby and Pinky and G-Jeff were huddled together whispering. Crabby looked over his shoulder at me with conspiracy in his eyes. Like he was thinking a three-way split was better than a four-way split. A cold electric shiver ran up my spine.
There was no such thing as trust on the streets. Not real trust anyway. Even when you were with a crew, you never knew when they might run a burn on you or take off and leave you because you were weak or hurting or if the cops were coming.
I handed Crabby his cigarettes. He forgot about the change.
“Saddle up, losers,” he said, up and ready to go.
That was his go-to line. The thing Crabby always said when it was time to go on the hunt. Hunt for food, hunt for cash, hunt for a place to crash. But mostly hunt for dope.
We sold the iPhone to the Chaldean guy who ran the liquor store. Crabs called him Apu, like the dude from The Simpsons. Said it right to his face, but I don’t think the guy got the joke. Apu chased us out when he caught Pinky trying to steal a box of Trojans and a pint of peach schnapps. He didn’t see G-Jeff and me gank the forties of Olde English.
We ran until we were out of breath. Crabby traded the credit cards for an eightball of meth. We drank. We smoked G-Jeff’s last joint. We got spun on crystal. We sat on the wooden picnic table outside the Chicken Shack on Cottage Grove. We ate chicken and finished our forties and talked to the black dudes.
Most were homeless like us, looking to bum cigarettes. Others were crazy and some were scary.
“Yo, Nate. Check it out,” one of them said, gesturing at Crabby.
The guy he called Nate and two more dudes wandered over to join in. They smoked Newports and drank E&J from a paper bag and stared at us like we were strange lab animals escaped from a top secret zoo.
The first guy flashed mirthful eyes and pursed his lips at Crabby. “Look here, white boy. I got a question for you.”
“What’s that?” Crabby said.
“You eat pussy?”
There was always a weird racial vibe to the conversations because they were old school black dudes and we were young and dumb and white and we were in Chicago and that’s how it was.
“Of course I do,” Crabby said with a lazy shrug.
The black dude laughed and slapped hands with the one he called Nate. “I told you he was a pussy-eating motherfucker.”
“That’s right,” Crabby said. “I’m good too. Ask your old lady.”
They all cracked up and bent at the waist and pointed and roasted us. It could’ve gone real wrong real fast, but Crabby had a way about him so it didn’t.
Crabs always said to never, ever back down in those type situations, otherwise they’d think you were a bitch and that was the worst thing anybody could think according to him. The black guys probably thought we were bitches anyway, but deep down I think they felt sorry for us.
Pinky cornered up and caught a trick. Some fat white guy with thick glasses. He drove a big tan-colored car, a Buick or Oldsmobile maybe. Pinky got in and they drove around the corner. They wouldn’t go far. They never did.
The car was parked in the gravel lot alongside a Baptist Church. The fat guy was giving Pinky head in the front seat. Crabs dragged the dude out by his legs and threw him on the ground, then he pulled his knife and stuck it to fat guy’s throat. The john pissed his pants. We laughed and took his wallet and ran away.
It was a good night. Our bellies were full of greasy chicken. We were buzzed on crimes and weed and malt liquor and shitty bathtub crank that numbed your skull and dulled the pain. We were masters of the universe, the Four Horsemen and the Fantastic Four and Led Zeppelin all rolled into one. We were viking warriors and gypsy thieves and circus acrobats and serial killers who had never killed.
It was beautiful and ugly and happy and sad.
Until the high wore off. Until your mouth dried and your lips cracked and you scratched the track marks on your scabby arms and between your stinky toes. When your head itched like spiders and your stomach ached and you sprayed shit from rancid dumpster food and all you wanted to do was spike, nod out, and search for God.
With what we got from the rich lady’s purse, the iPhone money from Apu, and the fat trick’s wallet, we had almost four hundred bucks. We argued over what to do with our newfound fortune. G-Jeff wanted to split it four ways, fair and square. So did Pinky and so did I.
Crabs was having none of it.
“Pinky will just blow his share on skag and candy bars,” he said, then pointed at G-Jeff. “And you’ll give it to those scandalous westside hoes you’re always trying to bang. Except their pimp will whip your sorry ass and put you on the track and then I’ll have to kill him and that will suck. So, no. Fuck that. I’m holding on to it.”
“What about the rules?” G-Jeff said. “What’s mine is yours and all that.”
“What about him?” Pinky said, pointing at me.
Crabby smirked, looked me up and down, and shrugged. “Saint Chuck is the only one of you dickheads I trust, but that doesn’t count for much. And as far as the rules go, like I said, I’ll hang onto the bread until we all agree on what to do—so don’t come up with any stupid ideas.”
“I know where we can go,” G-Jeff said. “It’s up in Lakeview, though.”
“Why the fuck would we wanna go all the way up there?” Crabby said.
G-Jeff explained that it was an old foster home of his. That the foster mom split when the state pulled their license after the father-type dude got reported for messing around with one of the kids.
“Sounds like a great guy,” Crabby said. Then he wagged his finger and switched to his fake, scolding social worker voice. “I question your life choices, young man.”
“No, dude,” G-Jeff said. “He didn’t do anything. For real, the chick was like seventeen and a total prick tease. I was there.”
“Let’s go to Boystown instead,” Pinky said. “I’ll snag another date. They got way better dope up there anyway. You can get anything.”
“Fuck that,” G-Jeff said.
Pinky grabbed his package. “Maybe you should suck my dick then, bitch.”
G-Jeff threw shade and called him a fag and Pinky called him one back. They knuckled up and threw hands right there in the street. Crabby put Pinky in a headlock, and I grabbed G-Jeff around the waist. His arms were flailing, he was kicking and calling Pinky a motherfucker. He was mad, madder than I’d ever seen him before.
“What do you think?” Crabby said to me, once the drama settled down.
“I don’t care. Boystown, Lakeview, Lincoln Park. Whatever. It’s gotta be better than here.”
“All right,” Crabby said, taking charge. He stared under his brow at G-Jeff. “We’ll go check out this foster crib of yours. If it’s cool, we’ll hang for a bit. If it ain’t, we bail. Feel me?”
We hopped on the Red Line. The cars were empty except for a few Mexican factory workers and grimy homeless people with impossibly dirty faces and ratty clothes. They stank of piss and body odor and desperation and insanity.
We bounced at the Belmont station and walked to a yellow brick three-flat on Sheffield. G-Jeff rang the bell, only the guy wasn’t home. Pinky offered to scale the building and break in, but G-Jeff objected, said it would be uncool—which was weird because we always let Pinky break in for the lulz if nothing else.
“Fuck it,” Crabby said.
We walked some more. We came to a strip mall with a 7-Eleven, glowing like a fluorescent beacon in the night. The windows were plastered with prices for beer and eggs and vape pens and diapers. A million mosquitoes fluttered their wings and pecked against the glass. Pinky wanted Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and Cool Ranch Doritos with six pumps of nacho cheese and a big cherry Slurpee.
Crabby made us wait outside. He went in and came out with four long Slim Jims and two six-packs of Old Style Tall Boys. We drank them behind the store. The Slim Jim was salty and greasy and the ice cold beer hurt my teeth and gave me the chills. I wasn’t dopesick yet, but it wasn’t far off. My head ached and my guts gurgled. I sat on the big green generator to get warm.
Pinky and G-Jeff hugged it out and were besties again. We talked about scoring and what to do after. It was the same conversation we’d had a thousand times or whenever we had cash, which was almost never.
“We should get a room,” I said.
Crabby thought it was a waste of money, that we could find a squat or a rooftop or sleep on the train.
“Let’s boost a car and drive to Florida,” Pinky said. He always said that. I never understood why, one place was just as bad as another.
“I’m with Saint Chuck on this one,” G-Jeff said. “We score, get a room, watch some TV and sleep in a fucking bed with real sheets.”
“I said no,” Crabby said.
Crabby always said no when it came to getting a room. I think it was because he thought sleeping in an actual bed and having an actual shower and eating an actual breakfast in an actual restaurant would remind us of our old lives. Lives that he said we left behind forever.
“We should vote,” I said. “Only seems fair, democracy and all that shit.”
“Fine,” Crabby said. “Let’s have a vote. Those in favor of blowing money on a fucking room like a bunch of silly punk-ass bitches, raise their hands.”
G-Jeff looked at me and raised his hand. I did too.
“Okay,” Crabby said. “Those in favor of stealing a car?”
Pinky’s arm shot up. Crabby smiled and raised his. “It’s a tie, and since I’m in charge, I break all ties. Saddle up, losers.”
That was that. Crabby jumped down from his perch on the cinderblock wall. “Come on, I’ll show you dorks how to hot-wire a fucking car.”
We walked around to the front. The lot outside the 7-Eleven was empty, and the Vietnamese nail salon next door was closed. Same for the Taqueria, the ‘We Buy Gold’ place, and the laundromat. Only a sketchy looking bar was open. It had no name because the plastic sign was smashed.
Murmured conversations drifted above the jukebox twang and the crack of billiard balls. The joint was jumping. Probably full of buzzcut construction workers and car mechanics with blackened axle grease hands and neck tats, getting drunk and mean on Tequila shots and pitchers of beer before going home to beat on their pissed-off girlfriends for being too mouthy.
Just like dear old stepdad number two.
Crabby jerked his chin at the bar. “Time to make our play.”
“No way, dude. Look at it,” G-Jeff said. “We’ll get busted for sure.”
“Jesus Christ, stop being such a pussy,” Crabby said. “Pinky—you stand by the door in case anybody comes. You two shitheads stand watch.”
Hands jammed in his pockets, shoulders hiked high, Pinky looked like he was hurting. But he did what he was told to do and stood by the door while G-Jeff and I hung back to watch for cars or cops or whatever we were supposed to watch for.
Three hoopties and a rusty Ford pickup were parked in front. Crabby checked the truck first, and then an old Monte Carlo. He flipped the visors and lifted the floor mats. Nothing. He settled on the third car, a piece of shit nineties Camaro, red paint matte and blistered.
Crabby slid into the driver’s seat and laid on his back, head under the dash doing his thing. The engine rumbled to life with a throaty roar and the glasspack muffler boomed like a cherry bomb.
“Come on, fuckers. Let’s book,” Crabby said, yelling over the engine.
Something didn’t feel right.
A big, bald white dude with a goatee, full-sleeve ink, and a denim vest burst through the door of the bar, eyes wild with bad intent. Pinky stepped into the guy, only to be flung aside as if he wasn’t there.
G-Jeff turned and split like a little bitch.
My shoes were like cement and my knee shook. I was frozen in place watching an action movie unfold in slow motion.
Two more guys came out. The bald guy reached in through the open window and grabbed the wheel. Crabby threw the car into reverse. White smoke poured from the rear tires as it spun around. The car stopped short, and one of the guys dragged Crabby out through the passenger side. There was a strobe-light flash and a pop-pop-pop. The car peeled away with all three men inside.
It was like Starsky and Hutch. Like Dukes of Hazzard. Like the A-Team. Like all of those TV shows from before I was born.
Pinky grabbed my arm and pulled, trying to shake me from my daze. “Come on, bro. We need to jet,” he said, pleading. “Like right the fuck now.”
My feet were glued to the spot. “What about Crabby?”
“Fuck him, he’s croaked,” Pinky said, moving away and waving his arm wild, urging for me to follow.
“Hang on,” I said, managing to take a step. I knelt beside Crabs. He was pale and sweaty and his moans were weak. He had three black holes in his chest.
“I don’t wanna die, bro.” He wheezed and coughed and spit. “Call an ambulance,” Crabby said, raspy, agitated, voice slurred, shaking, drooling, tears streaming from slitted death mask eyes.
I looked to Pinky and then toward the glow of the 7-Eleven and then at the bar and then down at Crabby. Then I did what I had to do.
I dug through his pockets and took the money.
Pinky and I found G-Jeff on the swings in a kiddie park two blocks away. We all wandered off, numb and leaderless, saying nothing as sirens wailed in the distance.
We scored a couple dime bags of smack and tried G-Jeff’s old foster home again. This time, the guy was there and let us in. The house reeked of bacon grease and onions and cigarettes and nightmares. G-Jeff’s peckerwood kid-fucking former foster dad said we could crash there as long as we shared our dope.
We cooked up and we shot up. I nodded out and fell into the void, splashing into the deep end of the warm jelly opioid pool only to have Crabby haunt my heroin dreams. First he came as a dancing skeleton in a black velvet room. Then he was a little boy running down a concrete tunnel, a culvert that went on forever. I followed but couldn’t catch him. He whispered but I couldn’t understand him. I screamed but nothing came out.
Then he was gone.
I blinked awake on a dirty cigarette-scarred carpet under a water-stained ceiling in a musty shotgun apartment. My chest was hollow and my throat was dry. I drank what was left of a generic grape soda, sniffing the can first to make sure it wasn’t an ashtray.
G-Jeff was on the couch, sobbing. Foster Dad sat beside him, hugging his shoulder and stroking his hair.
“What’s wrong?” I said, barely able to speak.
G-Jeff pointed at the armchair. Pinky was out, head flopped over, mouth open. Dead-eyed, staring at nothing, the spike still in his vein.
I got up and shook Pinky by the shoulders, yelling at him to wake up. Then I touched his neck, clammy and cold and lifeless. I swung around. “What the fuck?”
“Your friend OD’ed,” Foster Dad said. “Nothing you can do. You boys better go.”
“Go? Fuck you, go.” I jumped him like a jungle cat, my hands tearing and gripping at his throat. “How did you let this happen?”
“Get off me,” Foster Dad said, gritting his teeth.
He shoved me off, and I fell on the floor. I pulled my knees into my chest and rocked. I couldn’t believe what was happening, but it was happening, so I said, “Whaddaya mean, you’ll take care of it?”
“I’ll drop him off somewhere,” Creepy Foster Dad said, rubbing his neck. “Then I’ll call the cops from a payphone.”
“And then what?”
He shook his head and looked at me like I was an idiot. “Then they’ll pick him up, take him to the hospital, the morgue. Fuck, I don’t know. Does he have ID? Something, anything so they can find his parents?”
“I know where they live,” G-Jeff said, looking up at Foster Dad like an obedient puppy.
Foster Dad pulled him in and hugged him tight. “Good, good. That’s good, son,” he said, letting out a breath, like everything was cool now. Except it wasn’t fucking cool. Pinky was dead. Crabby was dead. My world was on fire and turning to ashes in my mouth.
Creepy asshole Foster Dad rose from the couch. He went into the kitchen and returned with a torn, greasy paper bag and a pen. “Here,” he said to G-Jeff. “Write it down. I’ll stick it in his pocket.”
G-Jeff scribbled something and held it out. I snatched it away before Foster Dad could take it. I read it, and handed it to him.
“Fuck this, and fuck you,” I said. “Come on, G-Jeff.”
He wiped snot and tears on his sleeve. “I’m staying.”
“Fine. Fuck you too, then.”
I headed for the door. G-Jeff caught up and tugged my sleeve. “Hang on, man,” he said, hands in his armpits, hugging his chest tight.
Maybe he had come to his senses. Maybe he realized staying there to become bottom bitch for some fucked-up pedo foster daddy was going back in time, violating everything we’d said and done. Throwing the freedom we had and the times we shared and the promises we made away like it all meant nothing.
“Where will you go?” he said, his junkie eyes darting and searching mine.
“I’m gonna go see Pinky’s people.”
“Really? Wow. Okay, okay. Yeah, that’s cool. Good idea,” he said, licking his lips, head bobbing now. “Can you, ya know, like, gimme my share of the bread before you split?”
The night was over and the sun was out and the sky was blue. I walked for miles and miles with nowhere to go and nothing to do but think and jones and cry and hate. I hated Crabby for being an asshole and for being dead. I hated Pinky for banging too much skag and leaving me alone. I hated G-Jeff for having a place to live. I hated myself for the things I did and didn’t do and what I said and didn’t say.
I went to the bus station. It smelled like diesel exhaust and snack bar food and Pine-sol and loneliness. It was exactly how I remembered it.
Three kids about my age, maybe younger, were sat on the hard benches. Sleepless runaways with frightened, shifty eyes, heads jerking at every movement, every sound a danger. I looked around the bus station. No runaway girls. Good, they had it the worst.
I walked over to the newbies and looked them over, cocking my head from side-to-side like a curious dog. School backpacks stuffed in a hurry. Clothes that were too clean. No shiny parts, no grime. Their faces weren’t gaunt or sooty or covered in tweaker zits. Their bodies were still puffy with suburban baby fat, like milk-fed calves who had escaped their pens.
Joy-riding lost boys expelled from school and kicked to the curb by helicopter parents for swiping mommy’s jewelry or using daddy’s coin collection to buy benzos and roxys.
Just like me.
They should’ve stayed.
Just like me.
They should’ve listened.
Just like me.
Maybe they’d end up at the Mission with the bologna sandwiches and orange Kool-aid and smelly cots and itchy blankets. Or maybe on Lower Wacker with the boots and the knives.
I could leave them to the predators. To the pimps and hustlers and cop and thieves. Let them huddle over a steam grate and freeze in the dark. Leave them to long days and longer nights.
Nights like the one I just had.
Just go, I thought. I could just jump on the next Greyhound and ride out the withdrawal. Barf and sweat and shiver and shit my pants all the way to Tallahassee and Pinky’s family.
Or I could stay.
There really wasn’t a choice. There never was.
“What up?” I said, stood in front of them, arms crossed.
They brought their sad eyes up and nodded, lips parted in wonder.
“Wanna get high?”
They nodded again.
I smiled. “Saddle up, losers.”