Sirens sounded in the distance.
Who the fuck would do this? Some asshole with the VFW? One of those fundamentalist cocksuckers? Some dickhead who’s read too much Soldier of Fortune? I’ll know soon enough. An anonymous asswipe of some sort will send a letter to the Times, claiming responsibility. He’ll say that he’s with a right-wing paramilitary group that no one’s ever heard of. Then he’ll fade into the woodwork, never to surface again. Count on it. That's just the way it is.
The wailings grew louder, closer.
I’d better cut the fuck out of here. The pigs sure as hell aren't my friends.
Hoisting his rucksack over one shoulder, The punk stepped around the Café Axial’s rubble and made his way to the sidewalk. Putting on his sunglasses, he turned to take one more look at the destruction. An ugly hole, like the craw of a giant shark, dominated the café’s façade. Tables were overturned, and wrought-iron guardrails had been viciously twisted. Decorative umbrellas had burned off their frames. Cars, their paint jobs scorched, lay scattered around the street like a child’s toys. Shards of glass and wood had been driven into telephone poles. An angry column of black smoke coiled into the air. Shreds of paper continued to fall out of the sky. The smells of gunpowder and ozone were still present. People, zombified, wandered around in the debris.
Motherfucker. So much for the Ax. One less hang for punks.
He pulled his Soundabout out of the rucksack and strapped its headphones on. Punching the Play button, he roused his copy of (GI). As he started up the hill, various bums and street kids tried to hit him up for cash, but he simply ratcheted up the volume and blocked them out with the angry cadences of the Germs.
I’m Richie Dagger
I can stomp and swagger
I can take on all your heroes
I’m Richie Dagger
I’m young and I’m haggard
I’m the boy that nobody owns
People ran past him, drawn by the blast. The Broadway Playfield emptied itself of uniformed soccer players. Beer-bellied Odd Fellows, chewing on fat cigars, spilled out of their lodge and waddled down the hill as quickly as they could. Two young men abandoned work on a red 1973 GTO and hurried toward the Axial, still holding their wrenches and spanners. Girls from the Kentucky Fried Chicken stand ripped off their aprons and followed the others, chattering excitedly. A couple of yipping dogs ran alongside the humans. An old couple, standing hand-in-hand, watched the pillar of smoke rise into an orange autumn sky.
The punk eyed all of them closely, then spat on the ground.
He turned south on Eleventh Street and approached the Bad Mojo. The Mojo, home to many of the city’s punks. wasn’t much more than a hole bitten out of a block of concrete. Dark. No windows, not one slice of glass. Dank. No heat, no air conditioning. No décor to speak of. Band posters and fliers pasted one-over-another on the matte black walls. Spray painted graffiti here and there. A counter made of cheap black Formica, and time-ravaged stools. Behind the bar, some Polaroids of girls flashing their breasts.
The joint wasn’t meant to be pretty. It was simply a place for punk rockers to hang out and drink, or do drugs, and listen to live music. It was the only joint in town where the punk and his friends could hear or perform the kind of tunes they favored. No other bar or nightclub accepted their likes.
He’s that sort of boy that was never much loved
His idea of fun was society’s grudge
That’s Richie Dagger’s crime
His life was such a mess
And his friends weren’t quite the best
But he was satisfied
That’s Richie Dagger’s crime
He entered, removing his headphones, and greeted the bartender.
The Mojo was empty, the hour still early. A recording of Bad Brains’ “Pay to Cum” pounded the dark air. Its loud and steady beat caused the concrete floor to vibrate. The punk felt it radiating through his feet into his legs. The vibrations even reached his teeth, making them feel as if they were shaking loose. He went to the counter and crawled onto a stool, setting his tape player down.
I came to know with now dismay
That in this world we all must pay
Pay to write, pay to play
Pay to cum, pay to fight
The bartender returned the the punk's greeting and asked what was new.
The punk matter-of-factly stated that someone had bombed the Axial.
The bartender's eyes widened. Yes, he’d heard something like an explosion; it had sounded like trashcans being kicked around. But how did the punk know that someone bombed the place? It might’ve just been just been a kitchen explosion, no? No, the punk said. For one thing, the blast was in the front and the kitchen was in the back. Secondly, the damage was too much for a mere kitchen explosion. Someone bombed it for sure―of that there could be no doubt.
The punk offered his opinion: A reactionary right-wing lunatic, of course. Someone fearful of the Axial’s punks and drag queens and anarchists, fearful of anything different. Maybe a kid, maybe an adult―but someone suffering from ultra-conservative delusions, enough to incite violence. A Liberty Lobby or Birch extremist, for instance. Someone like that.
Patting his rucksack, the punk said he’d be in the restroom for a few minutes. The bartender nodded, and began to―out of habit―pour him an inexpensive pint of Rainier. The punk rounded the counter and started down the dark hallway.
Time to feel just like Jesus’ son.
The corridor was, if possible, darker than the bar, and lit with only a single naked light bulb. There, too, the walls were black and covered with handbills and graffiti. The smells of stale beer and urine suffused the dim air. Something shiny and sticky clung to everything, and the the punk's Doc Martens made squeaking sounds on the floor.
He reached the door labeled PISSER, and pushed his way in
Dropping his rucksack on the counter next to the sink, he unsnapped one of its side pockets and produced a resealable baggie containing his works. He unrolled the baggie and pulled out a rubber ligature, which he threw over his shoulder. He then laid out a spoon, a lighter, a matchbox full of tiny cotton plugs, and a disposable syringe.
From the thigh-pocket of his black BDUs, he withdrew a small cellophane envelope containing several crumbly chunks of dark brown dope. He pinched a bit of one off, about half the size of a pencil eraser, and dropped it into the spoon. Turning on the faucet, he filled his syringe with several dozen units of water, and spritzed it over the smack. He then picked up both the spoon and the lighter, and proceeded to heat the heroin until it dissolved. Once he was satisfied with the mixture’s viscosity, he placed a cotton plug into the spoon, and drew the liquid through it and into the syringe.
He tied the ligature around his upper arm, pulling it as tightly as he could, and tapped the fold of his elbow. Several possible veins arose. The punk chose one and laid the needle almost flat against it. He took a deep breath, then slid the spike in. Pulling back on the plunger, he watched as a small cloud of blood billowed into the solution, indicating that he’d hit the vein properly. He pushed the plunger back in, immediately felt the first rush, and fell back against the wall, limp and ecstatic.
Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
After shooting up, the punk returned to the bar. It was all he could do to keep from stumbling. He was forced to brace himself against the clammy wall as he half-walked, half-tripped down the passageway. He had to work at keeping saliva in his mouth. His eyes were heavy and difficult to keep open. He pissed his pants.
Fuck. This is some really righteous shit.
A new arrival was sitting at the counter—a girl. She was successfully cadging a beer out of the bartender. The punk recognized her, but had never met her. She was, the story went, pure trailer trash—a runaway living in a squat near the hospital with several other kids. She was just another scruffy gutterpunk, panhandling and shoplifting whatever she could to keep her nose just above the waterline. There was nothing special about her.
The punk poured himself onto his stool. A wave of pure skag-induced ecstasy washed over him. Bliss, absolute rapture. Sheer joy. Immaculate delight. Orgasmic pleasure from head to toe. The world was far away, dim and unrecognizable. Life became smooth and delicate. The punk was a god.
He had to grip the counter or risk sliding off his seat. Idly licking his lips, riding another luxurious swell of flawless elation, he lightly closed his eyes. He listed. He bobbed. He tilted, first one way and then the other. His head fell forward and his chin touched his chest. Then, about to fall over, he struggled back to consciousness and straightened himself up. He took a sip of his beer, then repeated the cycle of nodding off and snapping back to a compromised wakefulness.
The girl watched him closely, biting her lower lip. The punk caught her in the corner of his eye. She had to know that he was high, he thought. And she probably wanted a bump or two. But, street kid that she was, she undoubtedly had no money. After all, she'd had to beg the bartender for a $1 beer. However, there was no way the punk would give her a free hit, or even one on spec. He'd traded a stolen .45 Beretta for five grams, and no one was getting comped under any circumstances.
Go eat shit.
His hazy eyes drifted to a mimeographed poster behind the bar, its artwork done up like a ransom note. That night's fare: Blood Bitch featured, along with Poison Girl and Dead Souls.
A superior lineup.
He would stay for the show. Listen to some righteous tunes. Drink beer. Dance. Catch up with friends. Find a chick. See if there was any more word on the Axial. Do some more skag. Maybe sell some at a premium to invest in more. There was much to recommend that night.
The girl was still staring at him. The punk, annoyed, turned and glowered at her with partly unfocused eyes. A moment passed. What was her problem? She stiffened her back, nervous fingers rapping the counter, and quietly asked the punk if he had any dope. He apprised her for a minute, trying to clear his head, then said yes—$10 a hit. The girl's meager chest fell, and she whined that she didn't have any money. But she was willing to trade a blowjob for a hit. Anything. She just needed to get high.
The punk wiped spit from his lips. He apprised her. She wasn't much. Her sallow, mottled skin pointed to a junkie's malnutrition. It almost appeared that all the blood had been sucked out of her body. She was also unnaturally skinny, another sign of addiction. And her eyes were disturbingly dull. Furthermore, she was clearly agitated in the way of dopefiends deprived of their drugs for too long. She might've been pretty if she wasn't an addict.
Still, she's not so bad. Compared to a lot of chicks in the scene, she's not so bad.
But his smack—a nearly pure black tar—was worth more than any mere blowjob. Stealing the handgun from that BMW at Volunteer Park had been touchy business. He felt he hadn't drawn the smack it should've, but what choice had he under the circumstances? Heroin was, at that moment, in short supply; his dealer had taken advantage of it. So, even the tiniest nugget of it was worth a lot more than some anonymous blowjob. Therefore, he upped the ante: Fucking right there and right then, in the restroom.
The girl considered his counteroffer for a second, stroking her skinny neck, then agreed to the terms. But, she wanted to shoot up first. The punk agreed.
They rose from their seats and started down the grimy corridor. The girl chattered on about the sudden “panic,” an unexpected shortage of heroin in the city, and how she was having such trouble finding it. Furthermore, she went on, panhandling had been unprofitable lately for reasons she couldn't identify—probably something to do with Jimmy Carter, and a slumping economy she'd heard tell about even if she didn't understand it. Whatever. She was just glad, she said, to have met the punk.
They entered the odorous restroom. The girl hopped up on the counter, swinging her bony legs as the punk retrieved his paraphernalia and the dope. While he prepared the heroin, and loaded his syringe, the girl grabbed the ligature and expertly tied herself off. She then flexed her fist, pumping it several times, and tapped the veins in the fold of her arm. When she'd located a likely candidate through a welter of bruises and abscesses, she took the punk's syringe and went through the procedure he'd completed just ten minutes earlier.
She sure as fuck knows what she's doing.
She pressed the syringe's plunger down and immediately fell back against the grungy, nearly opaque mirror—her tiny mouth hanging open. She moaned softly. The punk took his syringe from her, watching as she shivered slightly. Her eyes shut, and a bit of color came into her cheeks and around her throat. She writhed like a bedraggled cat in sheer ecstasy.
The punk, aiming to collect on the girl's debt, repackaged his works and stepped in front of her. He reached down, untied her paratrooper boots, and slid them off. He then unsnapped her garters, and pulled each of her ravaged fishnets down. The girl, riding a swell of dope-induced pleasure, reflexively parted her legs. A dense, musky scent arose from between her thighs. The punk reached inside her black knit skirt, and slipped the girl's panties off, casting them aside. The foul, moist stench intensified. Undeterred, the punk eased her skirt off and dropped it to the floor.
When the punk staggered back to his stool, followed by the girl, he noticed another new arrival: A skinhead complete with a Ben Sherman shirt, bright red suspenders, and a tight buzz cut. One didn't encounter such beings very often in the punk's smallish city, and he'd never seen one at the Mojo before. The punk idly wondered if he was just now legal, new in town, or simply scoping out new destinations that might accept his type. It didn't really matter, the punk thought; this newcomer wasn't likely to find many of his type anywhere in town, though probably no one at the Mojo would make him feel particularly rejected.
Oh well, not my problem.
The punk ordered another beer for himself, and one for Lydia. As the bartender pulled their drinks, the punk returned his attention to the girl. Had she heard about the Axial? Yes, she'd come straight to the Mojo from there. Was there any word on casualties? Nothing official, but she'd overheard one cop telling another that three people were dead and more than a dozen injured. There would probably be a more accurate account on the news that night. Maybe, the punk concluded, some of that evening's later arrivals would have more information.
He pointed at the mimeographed poster behind the bar, and asked the girl if she'd be staying for the show. She admitted that she had nothing better to do, but added that she was penniless and couldn't pay the $3.00 cover charge or keep herself in brew; so, she'd probably just go back to her dingy, perpetually chilly squat, and listen to cassette tapes for as long as the batteries held out. At that, the punk made her an offer: They could hang out together, maybe even until morning. They could dance and continue getting high. The punk would provide the beer and skag. Lighting up, the girla promised to bring what she could so easily provide.
As they continued to talk, the punk gradually became aware of the skinhead staring at him. The skinhead's unbreaking gaze was, at first, nettlesome. Then, within a few moments, it became aggravating. Finally, it turned maddening. The punk broke off his conversation with the girl, turned toward the skinhead, and—with a voice as tight as a coiled spring—asked him what his problem was. The skinhead pointed at the punk's black t-shirt with its white anarchy symbol emblazoned across the front, Was he really an anarchist?
The punk feigned a yawn. Fuck politics, he said. America was on the skids, but nothing would ever change. No, he lived by Ian Dury's formula. Have fun. Fight oppression with hedonism. Eat the state with maximum rock & roll cranked up to 10. Forget the world, shut up and dance. Revolution existed only in the way one lived his life. And Gash lived his life strictly for the next available indulgence.
Sex and drugs and rock and roll
Is all my brain and body need
The skinhead snorted derisively. What fucking irresponsibility! It was precisely the punk's attitude that had made America a fetid swamp of inferior people and deficient attitudes. Sure, the nation was almost beyond hope of redemption, but one political philosophy remained to save them all: National Socialism. Only forceful, charismatic, and ruthless leadership could sweep the streets clean of corrupt Jewish money interests, shiftless blacks who invariably sap the country's financial strength, morally destructive deviants like homosexuals, and all the other “mud people” and “sheeple” who hurt the country's interests. Only National Socialism could restore the steel in America's spine.
But the necessary changes wouldn't come easily or peacefully. So entrenched in American government was socialist Zionism that carefully targeted violence was required, much as it had been in the final days of Germany's hopelessly corrupt Wiemar Republic. The skinhead, and others like him, were the vanguard—the shock troops—of this revolutionary effort. By way of fire and steel, the detonator and the firing pin, America's skinheads would open a path for strong, principled leadership to take over.
The punk fell silent, rolling the skinhead's words around in his mind: A neo-Nazi? The detonator and the firing pin? Could this asshole have destroyed the Axial? It can't be a coincidence that he's showed up here at the Mojo less than an hour after the bombing. After all, I've never seen him before, and the café's just a few blocks away. I need to know more. Can I goad him into telling me?
Sure, the punk said, the skinhead talked a good game—but could he walk it? It took guts, real guts, to stick one's neck out and do what revolutionary politics required. Did the skinhead have that kind of fortitude? Probably not, the punk said with a dismissive wave of his hand. It was one thing to admire the Brown Shirts and their Kristallnacht, but something else altogether to break glass oneself. No, the punk added, the only revolutionaries he'd ever encountered were nothing more or less than smoke and mirrors. Smoke and mirrors. What made the skinhead's diatribe any more serious? Did he have the moxey to follow it through with action?
The skinhead's lips tightened. He furtively looked around himself, as if checking for eavesdroppers. The girl was paying him no attention; she was fixated inward, riding the rapture of smack. The bartender was also ignoring them, busy as he was at restocking his battered brushed-aluminum beer cooler. The Mojo itself was empty, the hour still early; it was only 5:00 and the first customers usually started gathering at 8:00 or so. The skinhead, evidently satisfied that he wasn't being overheard, leaned forward on the counter and—with a sly smile—spoke in a whisper.
“I bombed the Axial.”
The punk's heart almost stopped. His breath was caught in his throat. But he didn't let his face signal his emotions: Shock, anger, and a shimmering desire for revenge. Instead, he forced out an amiable expression, and congratulated the skinhead on his willingness to act rather than sit comfortably and inertly in his philosophy like so many others. The words came bitterly, stinging his tongue like a sour candy, but he successfully hid his malice in an effort to gain the skinhead's trust.
The punk, under a guise of enthusiasm, told the skinhead that he should celebrate his exploit with something special: Had he ever slammed skag? No? Well, there was no high quite like it—especially the quality black tar then in the punk's possession—and it would make for a perfect reward. The punk would show his newest comrade how to mainline it, or, better yet, he'd shoot the skinhead up himself. Come on, the skinhead should try it at least once. It wouldn't take but a minute, they could do it in the restroom, and it would be a unique reward for a unique action.
The skinhead fell into deep thought for a moment, twisting his lips into a hairpin, then once again fixed his eyes on the punk and agreed to the proposal. Just this one time. He'd always been curious about junk, though he had no desire to become one of the mindless, heroin-addled losers that always littered the downtown streets. The punk assured him that one bump put the skinhead in no danger of addiction. It would just be a fun thing to do on a lazy October afternoon, a rhapsodic laurel for a job well done. The skinhead smiled, rapping the counter top once with his knuckles. With that, the pair arose from their stools.
The girl opened her enervated eyes. With a languid hand, she reached up and loosely grasped the punk's shoulder. How about a hit for her, too—another one, to sweeten the high she was now riding? But the punk put her off: This bump was strictly for the skinhead. The girl could have another one—hell, almost as many as she could sop up—later on. The punk had plenty of dope on him. Pouting, the girl was visibly disappointed; but she yielded nevertheless. As if to reassure the girl of his word, the punk lightly brushed her cheek with his fingers. He then turned and led the skinhead to the clammy hallway and on to their destination.
No witnesses, the punk thought along the way.
Once inside, the punk laid out his works on the sink. A malevolent smile broke across his lips. He pulled a packet from his thigh pocket, this one as yet unopened—no less than a full gram of high-test, nearly pure junk. He then emptied the entire contents into his spoon. The skinhead, utterly ignorant about preparation of dope, watched with rapt fascination as the punk continued with and ultimately completed his task. The skinhead didn't see or notice the punk using a full gram, eschewing the use of a cotton plug filter, and leaving one or two bubbles in the solution. The skinhead had no idea that he was being set up. He just smiled what the punk saw as a stupid smile.
The punk straightened up and took the skinhead by his arm, tying him off with the rubber ligature. The skinhead's appendage was pristine, unmarked by any needle use, and a perfect network of veins presented themselves The punk, without any hesitation, slid his spike into the most prominent one. He pressed down on the plunger and waited as a soundless moment passed, then watched the skinhead's body start to go limp while a weak moan escaped from his throat. Another minute ticked by, and he crumpled to the floor. A couple of small seizures attacked the skinhead's body, his eyes rolling back in their sockets, then evened out and left him perfectly still. He simultaneously vomited and shit his jeans.
The punk bent down and took hold of the skinhead's wrist, feeling for a pulse. Nothing. He reached out and placed two fingers against his victim's carotid artery. Again, nothing.
The skinhead was dead.
Working quickly, but paying close attention to any detail, the punk wiped down his syringe, the ligature, and all of the works he had touched. He then took hold of the skinhead's hand, studiously positioning his fingerprints on each individual item. The needle was left stuck in his arm. The punk briefly thought about rifling through the skinhead's pockets for money. He could always use cash; heroin was an expensive indulgence—his own use ran to $150 a week, give or take, and he generally funded it through petty crimes. But he decided to leave any cash the skinhead might have alone; the illusion of an overdose mights be more convincing to the cops if nothing appeared to be missing.
Satisfied that he'd left a convincing scene, and removed all evidence of his involvement with it, the punk returned to the bar. He hastened toward the girl and seized her arm. He told her that they needed to leave, go to his apartment to get high and listen to LPs, but that they might return later for the live music. The girl's silent smile, with vacant eyes half-closed, telegraphed her acceptance of this idea. The punk helped her from the stool, and stood—with his arm over her shoulder—facing the bartender,
The bartender momentarily stopped restocking his cooler, and rose to cast an eye at them. The punk spoke up, saying that a tragedy had occurred and the skinhead had overdosed on skag—he was stone cold dead and inside the restroom. The bartender had probably better call the cops, but the punk added that he didn't want to become involved; he didn't want to be busted for possession or some such thing. The bartender, always good for his word as the punk knew, assured his customer that he hadn't seen him all day. The punk smiled and thanked the bartender, then turned himself and the girl toward the door.
They stepped outside. The punk, his arm still encircling the girl's shoulders, pointed them toward his studio apartment further up the hill. He felt contented in the brisk evening air. Snuffing the skinhead wouldn't bring his beloved Axial back, but the vengeance he wrought tasted sweet—even though no one could ever know that he'd redressed the issue. And the skinhead—through his fascist and racist philosophy no less than his violence—had invalidated any right to live; the punk felt that he'd merely taken out to trash. The world was a slightly better place through his willingness to exact the ultimate punishment, the punk thought without reservation.
Dusk had ebbed with the approach of night. A plump harvest moon scattered its golden light over the neighborhood. Many trees had already begun changing their colors, unleashing a frenzy of yellows, oranges, and red from among stoic stands of evergreen. People, drawn outside by the gloaming splendor, aimlessly wandered through the district's streets and it's park singly or in couples. Lights within apartment buildings began blazing to life, and the aromatic scent of fireplaces and wood burning stoves infused the darkening air. And, as the punk and his companion continued on, the words of an Iggy Pop song fluttered into his brain:
You can't help him
Now that he knows
There's nothing to get
Will you still place your bet
On the neighborhood threat