I’ve taken asylum in an old second-floor walk-up, Hotel Paradise, above a crappy Italian restaurant in the Missouri Ozarks. No one has occupied the dump in more than 30 years. My father owns it and has asked I don’t burn it to the ground, as he’s concerned for my well-being. It’s just me and 18 funky rooms. I’ve found a little community of madmen surviving in the cheap downtown rentals to hang out with. As a bonus there’s a smattering of hard-luck girls looking to fuck arty self-destructive guys. I’m having as much fun as I can have without killing myself.
A guy I know at a photo agency in LA says if I make phony crime photographs he can market them to true-crime magazines. I invite some of the neighborhood guys and tell them to bring a date and a weapon and we can get loaded and pretend to commit felonies.
The killers and victims arrive Sunday afternoon looking like killers and victims. One of the guys, a Vietnam vet, got into character by getting drunk and beating up his girlfriend last night. She’s got knuckle-prints under her left eye, and she makes it a joke, says now the pictures will be more realistic and we don’t need makeup. Her name is Sally, and she’s 19 or 20. I like her a lot, and until now I liked her boyfriend. I wonder if she thinks I’m the same kind of guy. I tell her next time he goes violent come take shelter with me. Everyone signs model releases, and we drink and smoke dope and I make impromptu crime pictures for a couple of hours, and then they all go home.
There is a bathroom and a little kitchen at the top of the stairs at Hotel Paradise. I sit at the table, an old corner booth from the joint downstairs, smoking and drinking, thinking about money and sex. The hotel doorbell is connected to the fire bell, and every time it rings I shake for five minutes. Someone is ringing it now, so I make my way down and open the door.
He has a smiling face and a heavy beard and long, greasy tendrils of hair. “Scotty fucking Sothern. Man, I heard you was back, and here you fucking are, man.”
I don’t have a clue. “Hey, I’m sorry… You’re gonna have to tell me who you are.”
“Man, listen to you all polite and shit. It’s me, Eddie. Eddie Otis, man.”
I don’t remember anyone named Eddie Otis. “Uh, yeah. Hey, Eddie. What are you doing here?”
“I heard you was fucking here, man. I got some smack, good shit. Super fucking good. Fuck, man, I can’t believe you’re back in town after all these fuckin’ years. You wanna do some smack?”
“Fuck yeah, heroin. Smack. Invite me in, man. It’s good to see you.”
“Yeah, OK. Come on in.”
He follows me back up to the kitchen.
“Where’s everybody at, man? I heard you was havin’ an ax-murder party, and I thought, That sounds just like fuckin’ Scotty Sothern. You got a spoon, man? I need a cook spoon.”
I get him a spoon and watch as he parboils a hit. It’s been years since I jabbed a needle into a vein, and I’ve still got knots in the crook of both arms from shooting gummy Seconal in the 60s.
“I remember one time,” this guy tells me, “when the stockyards was burning down and you an’ Spike Dalton went running right in the middle of it, drunker than fuckin’ shit. You remember that, man? I seen you later that same night, and you was black with soot and shit and laughin' your ass off an’ drunker than shit. You remember that?”
“Sort of. It’s not one of the highlights of my adolescence.”
“Fuck, man, you should be prouder than shit. You just think you’re better than everybody else. You always fuckin’ did.”
“Yeah, well, I guess that’s one thing hasn’t changed.”
He laughs or snorts. “You was always an asshole,” he says.
The heroin is cooked, and Eddie Otis siphons it up with a snub-nosed needle, without a cotton swab. He licks the spoon and ties off with his belt. He shoots it into a vein and smiles and closes his eyes, says that’s good shit, man. Really fuckin’ good.
Now it’s my turn, and I figure he’s not dead, so it must be safe. AIDS is not yet on the radar, but hepatitis can ride shared needles to a new host, so I build a couple of pyramids on the table and snort it up with the traditional dollar bill. It doesn’t pulse like a shot, but I feel better than I did a minute ago and haven’t felt this good since the last time I did heroin. The idiot has his face in a puddle of drool on the table. I still don’t remember him and hope I never do. I’m not sure, but I think he’s singing "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly. I leave him there and go out through the open window to the roof. I puke over the side and enjoy it and then lie back on the tar paper and look up at the moon.
A couple of nights later, around 2:00 AM, I’m drinking and reading Erskine Caldwell when the bell rings. It’s Sally, and she’s crying. She has a new bruise under her left eye, orange like a charcoal briquette when you blow on it. I take her into my bedroom, which is really just a mattress on the floor. She asks me if it’s OK if we don’t fuck, and I tell her that’s fine. I tuck her into bed and tell her maybe she should look for a new boyfriend. She tells me he will be all right tomorrow, when he sobers up, and I say, yeah, but he’ll be drunk again tomorrow night.
The next day Sally was back with her boyfriend, and everything was lovey-dovey. A few weeks later I gave up on Missouri, again, and made my way back to Los Angeles. I never saw or heard from Sally again, but 15 years later my brother told me Sally’s boyfriend was found dead in a park where he had drunkenly stumbled and hit his head on a rock. No one claimed the body.