<P> </P> <P>One</P> <P>Doc woke up sick, every cell in his body screaming for morphine<BR>— head pounding — eyes, nose, and throat burning. His<BR>back and legs ached deep down inside and when he tried to sit up<BR>he immediately doubled over, racked with abdominal cramps. He<BR>barely managed to make it to the toilet down the hall before his<BR>guts turned inside out.<BR> Just like every day. Day in, day out. No pardon, no parole. Until<BR>he got a shot of dope in him, it wasn’t going to get any better.<BR>Doc knew well that the physical withdrawal symptoms were<BR>nothing compared with the deeper demons, the mind-numbing<BR>fear and heart-crushing despair that awaited him if he didn’t get<BR>his ass moving and out on the street. The worst part was that<BR>three quarters of a mile of semi-molten asphalt and humiliation<BR>lay between him and his first fix, and every inch would be an insistent<BR>reminder of just how far he had fallen in the last ten years.<BR> In the old days, back in Bossier City, all Doc had to do was sit<BR>up and swing his needle-ravaged legs over the edge of the bed<BR>and his wake-up shot was always right there on the nightstand,<BR>loaded up and ready to go.<BR> Well, almost always. Sometimes he would wake in the middle<BR>of the night swearing that someone was calling his name.<BR>When morning came he was never sure that it wasn’t a dream<BR>until he reached for his rig and found it was empty. Even then, he<BR>had only to make his way to the medication cabinet in his office<BR>downstairs to get what he needed — pure, sterile morphine sulfate<BR>measured out in precise doses in row after tidy row of little glass<BR>bottles. And he was a physician, after all, and there was always<BR>more where that came from.<BR> “But that was then,” sighed Doc. The sad truth was that, these<BR>days, he had to hustle like any other hophead on the street, trading<BR>his services for milk-sugar– and quinine-contaminated heroin<BR>that may very well have made its way across the border up<BR>somebody’s ass.<BR> San Antonio, Texas, was less than a day’s drive from New Orleans<BR>but Doc had come there via the long, hard route, slipping<BR>and sliding downhill every inch of the way. Consequences of his<BR>own lack of discretion and intemperance had driven him from his<BR>rightful place in Crescent City society before his thirtieth birthday.<BR>In one desperate attempt after another to escape his not-sodistant<BR>past he had completed a circuit of the Gulf Coast in a little<BR>over a decade, taking in the seamier sides of Mobile, Gulfport,<BR>and Baton Rouge. But when he landed in Bossier City, Shreveport’s<BR>black-sheep sister across the Red River, he reckoned that<BR>he had finally hit bottom.<BR> But he was wrong.<BR> The South Presa Strip on the south side of San Antonio was<BR>a shadow world, even in broad daylight. Squares drove up and<BR>down it every day, never noticing this transaction taking place in<BR>that doorway or even wondering what the girls down on the corner<BR>were up to. The pimps and the pushers were just as invisible<BR>to the solid citizens of San Antonio as the undercover cops who<BR>parked in the side streets and alleyways and watched it all come<BR>down more or less the same way, day after day, were.<BR> Doc stepped out into the street. The block and a half between<BR>the Yellow Rose Guest Home and the nearest shot of dope was<BR>an obstacle course, and every step was excruciating; nothing but<BR>paper-thin shoe leather separating broken pavement and raw<BR>nerve. The sun seemed to focus on the point on the back of his<BR>neck that was unprotected by the narrow brim of his Panama hat<BR>and burn through his brain to the roof of his mouth. He spat every<BR>few feet but could not expel the taste of decay as he ran the<BR>gauntlet of junkies and working girls out early or up all night and<BR>every bit as sick as he was.<BR> There was a rumor on the street that Doc had a quantity of<BR>good pharmaceutical dope secreted away somewhere in the dilapidated<BR>boarding house. The other residents had torn the place<BR>apart several times, even prying up the floorboards, and found<BR>nothing. Of course, that didn’t stop some of the more gullible<BR>among the girls from trying to charm the location out of him<BR>from time to time.<BR> Doc never emphatically denied the stories, especially when he<BR>was lonely.<BR> He turned leftat the liquor store, slipping around to the parking<BR>lot in back where Big Manny the Dope Man lounged against<BR>the fender of his car every morning serving the wake-up trade.<BR> “Manny, my friend, can you carry me until about lunchtime?<BR>Just a taste so I can get straight.”<BR> Big Manny was his handle, but in fact, big was simply too<BR>small a word to do the six-foot-five, two-hundred-and-eighty-<BR>odd-pound Mexican justice. Gargantuan would have been more<BR>accurate if anybody on South Presa besides Doc could have pronounced<BR>it, but everyone just called Manny Castro Big Manny.<BR>Doc shivered in the pusher’s immense shadow but Manny was<BR>shaking his head before Doc got the first word out.<BR> “I don’ know, Doc. You still ain’t paid me for yesterday. ¡Me<BR>lleva la chingada! Fuckin’ Hugo!” He snatched a small paper sack<BR>from beneath the bumper of his car and lateraled it to a rangy<BR>youth loitering nearby. “¡Vamanos!” Manny coughed, and the kid<BR>took off like a shot across the parking lot and vanished over the<BR>fence.<BR> The portly plainclothes cop never broke his stride, barely acknowledging<BR>the runner and producing no ID or warrant as he<BR>crossed the lot in a more or less direct line to where Manny, Doc,<BR>and a handful of loiterers were already turning around and placing<BR>their hands on the hood of Manny’s car.<BR> Detective Hugo Ackerman rarely hurried even when attempting<BR>to catch a fleeing offender. He had worked narcotics for over a<BR>decade, and in his experience neither the junkies nor the pushers<BR>were going far. He caught up with everybody eventually.<BR>“That’s right, gentlemen, you know how the dance goes. Hands<BR>flat, legs spread. Anybody got any needles or knives, best you tell<BR>me now!”<BR> He started with Manny, haphazardly frisking him from just<BR>below his knees up, about as far as Hugo could comfortably bend<BR>over. His three-hundred-pound mass was all the authority he<BR>needed to hold even a big man like Manny in place, leaving his<BR>chubby hands free to roam at will.<BR> “How’s business, Manny. You know, I just come from Junior<BR>Trevino’s spot. He looked like he was doing pretty good to me.”<BR> “Junior!” Manny snorted. “¡Pendejo! That shit he sells wouldn’t<BR>get a fly high, he steps on it so hard! Anybody that gets their dope<BR>from Junior’s either a baboso or they owe me money. Hey! You<BR>see Bobby Menchaca down there? I want to talk to that maricón.”<BR>When Hugo shoved his hand down the back of Manny’s slacks,<BR>the big man winced.<BR> “Chingada madre, Hugo! Careful down there. My pistol’s in<BR>the glove box if that’s what you’re lookin’ for. Your envelope’s<BR>where it always is.”<BR> “That’s Detective Ackerman to you, asshole!” Hugo continued<BR>to grope around, emptying Manny’s pockets onto the hood of the<BR>Ford and intentionally saving the inside of his sport coat for last<BR>and then pocketing the envelope he found there.<BR> “Ain’t you heard? Bobby’s in the county. Been there since last<BR>Saturday. Fell through the roof of an auto-parts store he was<BR>breakin’ into over on the east side. I guess the doors were in better<BR>shape than the roof was ’cause he was still inside jackin’ with<BR>the latch when the radio car rolled up.” He patted the envelope<BR>he’d put into the breast pocket of his own sport coat.<BR> “It all here?”<BR> “Every fuckin’ dime.”<BR> Doc was next.<BR> “How about you, Doc? Got anything for me?”<BR>Doc half grinned. “As a matter of fact, Detective Ackerman,<BR>I regret that you catch me temporarily financially embarrassed.<BR>You usually don’t come around to see me until Sunday so I reckoned<BR>I had a day or two. Fact is I’m flat broke. Hell, I haven’t even<BR>had my wake-up yet.”<BR> “He ain’t lyin’, Detective.” Manny intervened. “I was just getting<BR>ready to send his broke ass down to Bobby.”<BR> “Relax, relax, Doc. Just thought I’d ask while I had you, so to<BR>speak. I’ll see you Sunday, but damn, Manny! That’s cold! I reckoned<BR>Doc’s credit was better than that around here!” He patted<BR>Doc on the buttand turned and ambled back toward the street.<BR>“All right, then.” Halfway there, he turned around.<BR> “Was that the Reyes kid? The one that took off with the pack?”<BR> Manny shrugged. “Maybe.”<BR> “Well, I’d count it twice when it comes back. He was showin’<BR>tracks the last time I rousted him.”<BR> “Yeah, right,” Manny muttered, but he made a mental note to<BR>check the kid’s arms when he got back. He and the others replaced<BR>their effects in their pockets, and as soon as Hugo was out<BR>of sight Manny stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled loud<BR>enough that there could be no doubt that the runner would hear<BR>him.<BR> “Pinche Hugo! ¡Cabrón!” Manny grumbled. “He leaves me<BR>alone ’cause I pay him but then he sits across the street in an<BR>unmarked car and picks off half my customers when they leave<BR>the spot. That shit’s bad for business!” He spat on the ground and<BR>threw in an extra ¡cabrón! for good measure.<BR> “Yeah,” Doc agreed. “The fat son of a bitch takes a fair bite out<BR>of my ass every week as well, not to mention the odd course of<BR>penicillin on the cuff. Then again, I guess he needs to make it<BR>look good . . . Hey, speakin’ of on the cuff, Manny, I know I owe<BR>you but . . .”<BR> At that moment the kid rounded the corner, huffing and puff-<BR>ing, and handed off the pack. Manny didn’t even look inside<BR>before grabbing the kid by the wrist and peeling his shirtsleeve<BR>back, up above his elbow, to reveal that Hugo hadn’t been lying.<BR>“¡Maricón!” he snarled as he backhanded the kid across the face<BR>with such ferocity that blood spurted instantly from both his nose<BR>and his mouth and he tumbled backward in an awkward somersault.<BR>He skidded on the seat of his pants but he hadn’t even come<BR>to a full stop before he was up and gone.<BR> “Don’t come back, Ramón!” Manny shouted after him. “And<BR>I’m gonna tell your mama!” He turned back to Doc, shaking his<BR>head. “I told you, Doc. I can’t carry every junkie on the south side<BR>that comes up short . . .”<BR> “Oh, ferchrissake, Manny. Tell me, have I ever let you down?<BR>When did I ever fail to pay a debt, to you or anybody you know!<BR>I can’t work in this condition. Besides, amigo, I wasn’t worryin’<BR>about money when I was diggin’ that twenty-two slug out of your<BR>ass last year, now was I?”<BR> “Oh, so that’s how it is, huh, Doc? All right, then. See how you<BR>do . . .”<BR> The bickering continued until the ritual was completed with<BR>an unintelligible grunt and a secret handshake, Manny pressing<BR>the little red balloon into the palm of Doc’s hand. Manny had<BR>known he was good for it all along. All the hemming and hawing<BR>was just for show, an oft-repeated performance for the benefit of<BR>any deadbeats standing within earshot. A businessman had his<BR>reputation to consider, after all.<BR> The hardest part of the whole ordeal was the long haul back up<BR>the block, retracing the same steps on even heavier, shakier legs.<BR>He never carried his wake-up shot back to the boarding house in<BR>his pocket or his hatband anymore. Instead, he cupped the dope<BR>in the hollow of a clenched fist as if it were some magical winged<BR>creature that would vanish into thin air if allowed to escape. He<BR>could feel the balloon against his sweaty palm and sometimes he<BR>swore that he could taste the dope inside. By the time he got back<BR>to his room and cooked it up he had to fight back a wave of nausea,<BR>a Pavlovian response to the smell of sulfur and heated morphine.<BR>Tie the tourniquet, find the vein, pull the trigger . . .</P> <P>Burnt sugar on the back of the tongue, tingling scalp, aches and<BR>pains evaporate, leaving only a whisper behind:<BR> “Say, hey there, Doc, my old back’s actin’ up somethin’ awful . . .”</P> <P>“Not now, Hank,” Doc said out loud and the sound of his own<BR>voice was all that was needed to weigh him back down to earth<BR>and the business at hand.<BR> Oh, well. It was only a taste to get him straight enough to work.<BR>The beer joint was dark, if not cool, inside, and this time of day<BR>it was quiet because only the most hard-core alcoholics came in<BR>this early and they never wasted their money on the jukebox or<BR>the pool table in the back. Doc ordered a draft, and Teresa, the<BR>barmaid, dutifully drew it and took his money, though they both<BR>knew good and well he couldn’t choke it down on a bet, at least<BR>not until he got a little more dope in his system. The two bits was<BR>more like a rental fee on the little table in the back of the joint<BR>where everybody on South Presa knew Doc could be found every<BR>day between eleven and five.<BR> Business had been slow lately and there were days that Doc resorted<BR>to petty theft and short-change scams to support his habit,<BR>vocations that he considered beneath him and that he was never<BR>very good at. By noon that day he was beginning to get more than<BR>a little discouraged. No one had so much as looked in his direction<BR>all morning long and it was only Tuesday; the week ahead loomed<BR>like a long, dark tunnel. Then the screen door creaked open, announcing<BR>a new arrival, a stranger, and things started looking up.<BR> The tough-looking pachuco clicked and clacked noisily across<BR>the room, the metal taps on his brilliantly polished tangerine<BR>shoes announcing that he was a big man in his barrio and not<BR>afraid of anyone in this one. A sad-eyed young girl followed a few<BR>tentative steps behind. He ordered a bottle of Falstaff, and when<BR>Teresa reached for the dollar bill he laid on the bar, he covered it<BR>with a cross-tattooed hand and leaned over to whisper in her ear.<BR>She nodded in Doc’s direction, and the youth clattered across the<BR>room to stand threateningly over Doc, a dark little cloud ringed<BR>in fluorescent light. The girl waited by the bar.<BR> “This girl” — the boy motioned behind him with a cock of his<BR>head — “is in trouble.”<BR>Up close the chico didn’t look so tough. All the hair grease and<BR>attitude couldn’t hide the fact that he was just a kid, at most nineteen<BR>or twenty. Doc gripped the edge of the table to steady himself<BR>and leaned sideways to peer around him at the girl, who was<BR>even younger.<BR> “You the daddy?”<BR> The boy only stared coldly back.<BR> “Well, Slick, where I come from a gentleman never leaves a<BR>lady who’s in the family way standing around on a hard concrete<BR>floor.” Doc waved at the girl. “Honey, why don’t you come on over<BR>here and take a load off your feet?”<BR> The kid’s fierce features instantly darkened but he still said<BR>nothing, and the girl didn’t move.<BR> “Okay, Slick, it’s up to you. But if you want me to help you,<BR>then I need to ask your gal some questions, or maybe you can tell<BR>me what I need to know. When did she have her last menstrual<BR>period?”<BR> That did it. The boy motioned the girl over to the table. Doc<BR>pulled out a chair for her and began talking directly to the girl in<BR>low, reassuring tones, though he knew she couldn’t understand<BR>a word. He eyeballed the boy, who grudgingly interpreted the<BR>girl’s obvious terror into impatient, condescending English. A big<BR>tear that suddenly escaped her eye, trailing down one cheek, confirmed <BR>Doc’s suspicions that his bedside manner was being lost in<BR>the translation.<BR> Doc stood up, and the boy suddenly shrank beside him as Doc<BR>threw a surprisingly strong arm around him and escorted him<BR>toward the door…<BR></P> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive</b> by <b>Steve Earle</b> Copyright © 2011 by Steve Earle. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.