Lost? Start from the very beginning here!
“I guess I don’t really have a choice, do I, Thomas?”
“No, not really.” Thomas cackles. “I need you to meet my boy at the docks. Look for Jerome, he’s the man with the red cap.”
“Alright, when do you need me?”
“A.S.A.P.,” Thomas speedily replies.
“I’ll leave right now.” Hanging up on your last word, you rush down the hallway. Running out of the building, the dreary scene of the apartment blurs away to the Chicago street outside. Movers with makeshift machinations go up and down the sidewalk in the coordinated confusion of a free-jazz combo. The city continues as it always has: unknowing and uncaring. With so many somebodies going about, it isn’t a surprise that the city has yet to notice a young artist working in the ghetto.
Hand in the air, a taxi cab receives the call and slides up to the curb. You climb right in. You cut the driver’s greeting off to state your destination: “The docks, please.”
Zooming down the road past the light posts and people, the narrow streets slowly drift from destitute homes and markets to historical buildings, landmarks, and construction zones. Awaiting your destination, you ponder what your assignment might entail. All the jobs you’ve done in the past for Thomas come to mind: arson; theft; even assault. I hope it’s only theft. This unlikely hope has activated the memory of the last “job” Thomas had provided. Extremely dangerous work, and it had ended with dramatic injury.
My goodness that pimp was violent. Nearly shattered my leg in that fall. Although, and this is an incredibly thin silver-lining, it’s nice to know that there are female pimps. Madams are respectable in their derelict way, but pimps are just so much cooler. She had the hat and everything.
Recollecting the memory of your last job from Thomas has distracted you enough to make the arrival at the dock a surprise. With his quick, dangerously-metropolitan driving style, your cabbie made it a short trip. He stops in front of what he considers the docks. You reach in your pocket and give the cabbie every piece of legal tender you have left in the world and step out of the car.
The docks are densely populated with all manner of humanity. Men, women, and children roam around the edge of the waters in search of somethings that could be defined as commerce or connection, or sometimes both. Still, it doesn’t take you much time to spot the bright red cap among the dark brown hulls and black coats that fill the Chicago docks. Carefully you walk up to the man wearing the cap and ask, “Are you Jerome?”
The man turns around, looks you up and down. He then looks around and replies. “Hey, how ya doin’, man? Thomas send you here?”
You swallow saliva and hesitation. “Yes, he did,” you weakly reply. “I owe him money.” Jerome quickly exhales and gives you a smile. His big bright smile contrast beautifully with his brown skin’s harmonious tone. With perfect teeth, symmetrical features, and his red cap with its slight slant, you think Jerome an altogether good-looking young man, with an impressive build attained in (you assume) the eighteen years he’s lived. With only a bit of muscle on him, you could call Jerome either skinny or athletically lean.
“Thank God, man. I would have been really worried if I had to do this alone. By the way, don’t tell people when you owe someone money. They’ll think you’re stupid.”
“Why would they think that?”
“Smart people don’t say that shit. Now, follow me.” Jerome quickly starts down the docks. As he does, he tells you the plan. “Basically, some Turkish bums are coming in with a few crates of opium. They intend to sell the opium at a third of the price of heroin. Obviously, this would crash the price of heroin. So, we’re going to steal all of their opium and give it to Thomas instead.” Jerome’s voice clashes with his rhetoric. While clearly well-versed in the logic of black-market economics, his voice is the sleepy baritone of the south side. While not completely unbelievable, you expect he may be the intelligent product of the otherwise inferior. You explore the thought only up until the point where you experience the guilt of expecting less from a man due to his skin color or his manner of speaking.
“Why not just let the price of opium and heroin go down?” you ask, waiting for relief from the miserable feeling of having recognized your own prejudice. “Wouldn’t that make it easier for everyone to buy and sell it?”
“This ain’t about supply and demand, fool. It’s about ensuring consistent debt,” Jerome says. “Thomas doesn’t care about the money. He cares about the things people will do when they owe it.”
Flashes of past deals with Thomas run through your mind. Moments of extreme risks for petty gains have been a consistent problem whenever you owed him money. That becomes especially apparent when you realize that jumping out of a pimp/mother’s third-story window isn’t at all worth $300 of heroin. Thomas has always seemed to be a petty drug dealer, but, now that I think about it, he might be a sickening mastermind.
“Did you figure all that by yourself?” you ask.
“Of course I figured it out. I went to college, man. This is just me paying my student loans.”
A little ashamed of your question, you make a mental note to say something kind to Jerome in the future. Something light, but reassuring. Perhaps I’ll compliment his hat, you think. I wonder where he got it. Snapping out of thought, you see Jerome point to a large red fishing boat. He rips his hat off and hides behind a stray barrel. After watching him, you follow suit and duck behind a large box opposite Jerome. Creeping out of the hiding spot for a view, you see two burly men carrying wooden crates out of the red boat. Together they walk down a wooden gangway to the wharf, drop their crate beside two others, and go back up to their vessel.
Now that the men have left your sight, Jerome pantomimes what you assume is a plan of attack. His gestures look intricate and precise; they would explain a foolproof plan, if you knew what the hell they meant.
“What?” you loudly whisper. Jerome angrily scurries towards you, making sure to stay out of sight. Once he reaches your box, he explains the attack: when the two men return with another crate Jerome, will tackle one to the ground. Then, you’ll take the opportunity to push the second man into the drink, where he will presumably drown with the heavy crate they’d been carrying. After that, the two of you will overpower the first lackey and steal all three crates. If there are more on the boat you’ll return with a Molotov cocktail, a matchbook, and some attitude. You nod in agreement, not fully understanding that the plan involves murdering a man. The two of you wait for a few seconds when the two men return with a fourth crate. Seeing the cue, Jerome jumps out and starts to run towards the first man.
You follow close behind, but feel it in the third step.
You didn’t realize it, but you’ve been sweating for quite some time. The rush of everything around and the subtlety of the plan has distracted you, but now you know what’s happening. Seven hours since you last got high. The metabolic temper tantrum is beginning. Concentration sifting around, your senses spill over each other in a painful cacophony of feelings, none of which end, but wane just to introduce new distinctive cries of ache.
Your body has started breaking down.
The momentum of your first steps send you flying into the second man without any effect. You collide with him pathetically as Jerome tackles his target down. Falling to the ground, you see the two men retaliate. The second man pulls Jerome off the first, and Jerome looks terrified when he sees you on the ground. He doesn’t even attempt to save you. Instead, he just runs away. Shaking and shivering on the ground, meek gasps are your only defense as the two of them beat you unconscious.