This story is by L. Jean Parrish and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Tweak collapsed on the littered floor of his one room Kentucky smack house sanctuary. He starred at the cracked plastered wall containing a broken window covered with splintered plywood. Light slivers pierced the fractured shutters illuminating the room’s dreary contents. It boasted a pallet of smoke blotted peeling paint, a mattress wrapped with tattered blankets dyed by stains of beige, and a table built from discarded milk crates and scrap siding. It smelled damp.
Tweak heard the faint echo of police sirens and applied a skill developed during his criminal adolescence. He estimated the authoritative arrival based on the intensify of their siren’s wail. Fifteen minutes to improve his prospects.
He crawled the gauntlet of beer cans, trash bags, and soiled clothing to the table. It sat in state displaying the junkies’ prized possessions: a deep bottom metal cooking spoon, an elastic band, a liquid blend filled eyedropper, and a snap top lighter. Opening his jacket, Tweak produced his last fresh needle then placed it on the table. He dug into his jeans’ pocket extracting a wrinkled plastic bag containing a crumbled clump of grey mortar. He unwound the bag’s twisted top and dumped the contents onto his hand. The siren’s soft song crescendoed as the drug’s vinegary fragrance drifted to his nose.
Tweak transferred the heroin to the spoon triggering the automatic movements of his habit’s routine. He took off his jacket and rolled up his shirt sleeve revealing a scab in the crevice of his elbow. He wrapped the elastic band tight around his bicep, and then flattened the heroin clump using the needle’s plunger. The needle required preparation. Tweak removed the orange safety casing before placing it back on the table with the same care a priest takes when blessing the Communion host. He picked up the spoon adding a few drops of liquid blend which initiated the chemical reaction. Finally, Tweak flicked open the lighter and held the ignited flame under the spoon. The sirens’ banshee scream swelled.
The lighter’s flickering flame encouraged Tweak’s contemplation of his present predicament and impending incarceration. Eighteen months spent criss-crossing state lines culminated in his occupation of that Kentucky smack house. All on account of rich folks possessing a greater tenacity for justice. He was fucking exhausted. Prison, in his experience, promised an appealing element of respite. On the other hand, he was mad as hell. He obtained that prison certificate in accountancy to improve his rehabilitative probabilities and not to attract fraudulent activities.
He recalled his probation officer’s assurance that the Caring for Convicts Program provided legitimate employment for the reformed. Tweak held no reservations when the Program suggested
they contact the lawyer. The lawyer’s in-laws owned a ten-thousand-acre North Carolina cotton estate in the Appalachian foothills. They were in need of an accountant due to the unexpected resignation of the position’s previous occupant.
The lawyer embodied the mannered grace of generational wealth. He was the well dressed, handsome, quarterback type. A man benefiting from an expensive education and a well-connected family. He spoke with a resonance smooth and round like honeyed whiskey.
In Tweak’s intemperate days, his likely interaction with this sort of individual involved spitting on, beating the crud out of, or robbing the person. Tweak’s prison education, however, taught him to assess a man’s capabilities by his eyes. A sinister force sat behind the eyes of the lawyer. It unnerved Tweak. He never knew what starred back from behind those dark orbs.
The lawyer felt a particular responsibility to raise up the down trodden. He believed only when all a man’s sins are laid bare can the path to righteousness be illuminated. The lawyer disclosed Tweak’s entire crooked criminal history to his uncle. He sang a pretty song praising the morality of those assisting reformed sinners, complimented the uncle’s forgiving nature, and extolled the tax benefits of employing former convicts. This appealed to the uncle’s Christian and Republican values; Tweak’s employment commenced immediately.
The uncle’s interest sat outside the daily management of the estate. He grew comfortable with Tweak’s abilities and returned his attention to land and leisure. The lawyer seized the opportunity.
He sauntered into the estate’s office one morning and asked, “Tweak, do you know the meaning of reciprocity?” He prepared a neat whiskey from the liquor cabinet. “Reciprocity,” he continued, “is when people enter into an arrangement to help one another for their mutual benefit.” He sipped the drink, smiled, and said, “I’d like you and me to enter into a reciprocitous arrangement.”
The lawyer belittled his uncle’s rudimentary economic understanding. The uncle’s limited investment strategy involved only the acquisition of land and equipment. The uncle distrusted any financial endeavours and operated with total risk aversion. He lacked vision, the lawyer had criticized.
Tweak recollected the lawyer’s presentation of his new business venture. A venture vilified by the uncle but praised by the lawyer as low risk with substantial profit potential. The drawback, the lawyer had explained was that the venture required cash infusions at various points in the investment’s maturity. Tweak’s access to cash made him essential for its success.
Tweak wrote checks in the amounts of large bills for the uncle to sign at infrequent internals. He then populated the recipient to Cash, amended the estate ledger, endorsed and cashed the checks at the bank, and then handed the money to the lawyer. The lawyer invested the money, paid any outstanding estate bills, and shared the ventures proceeds. The three-year arrangement procured generous material benefits for Tweak.
Tweak then recalled the initial lack of concern over the estate’s management shift. The uncle got himself killed falling drunk out of a treetop deer hunting stand. Tweak expected his Bible thumping bumpkin son to inherit. Neither he nor the lawyer anticipated the uncle’s awareness of his son’s shortcomings or his acknowledgement of his niece’s talents. She inherited the lot.
Tweak suspected the gravity of his situation at the uncle’s funeral. The county tax collectors circled the niece like buzzards over country lane roadkill. The lawyer inserted himself into their conversations, no doubt he deflected any of his own guilt from and cast accusatory glances in Tweak’s vicinity. Tweak recognized that their partnership’s paper trail linked any irregular transactions solely himself. He left North Carolina that night.
The sirens roared outside the house. Light streamed blue and crimson through the cracked plywood window shutter. Tweak snapped the lighter shut and gazed at his liquid courage. He conceived two notions concerning its consumption. He could consume all and accelerate his eternal occupation in a box or consume partial and endure temporary confinement in a cell. His mind drifted to the sonofabitch lawyer.
Tweak imagined him sitting in the plantation house all comfortable with his superiority. The lawyer, sipping cocktail while he sung niceties into the niece’s ear and would never entertain a thought about the money he stole, the problems he created, or the partner he betrayed. The niece, distrusting him, but nevertheless unaware of his true nefarious nature and obliged to think the best of her sister’s husband. The two of them, regularly informed of his own impending capture by state troopers and local police. The societal prejudice originating from Tweak’s humble origins and previous delinquencies infuriated him.
The sirens fell silent. Tweak seized the needle and rested its point in the spoon’s center. With his thumb, he drew back the plunger and watched the barrel fill. The police banged on the door and screamed they had an arrest warrant. Tweak stabbed the needle into the arm scab. A puff of blood mist entered the barrel before he pushed the contents into his vein. The drug crept through him like a slow burning fuse leading to a powerful explosive. Tweak’s head rolled back against the wall.
The police barged through the door, guns drawn, barking orders. Tweak raised his hands above his head. Two officers pulled him to his feet as a third recited his rights. Handcuffed, Tweak stumbled out the door, down the porch steps, and across the grass patched trash strewn lawn. An officer shoved him into the backseat of a waiting police vehicle.
Tweak felt the blissful drug warmth pulse through his body. He heard an officer comment on the smack house stench and his pathetic appearance. Tweak glimpsed his eyes, tattooed face, and torn shirt in the rear-view mirror’s reflection. Two officers climbed into the car and slammed their doors shut.
He leaned forward towards the backseat partition, “Officers,” Tweak said, “I am in possession of some incriminatory information regarding a certain Appalachian lawyer. I’m happy to share this information if we were to