Through the Keyhole: an Addict’s Account (Part 1)

by Rob Kaniuk

The Ukrainian called with news. He got the big settlement we’d been waiting for. This would keep us satisfied for a while. We both owed money around town to dealers, and had no credit left to speak of. All of our usual schemes of scrapping copper, and pawning gently borrowed items, had been exhausted. The thoughts of how to score were getting darker every day.

“Can you find anything?” he asked.

“I can make some calls, how many?”

There is always an understanding between addicts: If I could find something, you had to share it with me—on a percentage basis, respective of quantity and risk. I felt like I hit the junkie jackpot when he told me, “Get what you can for a thousand—we’re getting as high as a giraffe's asshole tonight!” I called around to see who had the best price on bulk, and was less than excited to find that I’d have to deal with Johnny Finch.

Two things are held close to the chest in this situation. Never tell the end user what the price per unit is—to keep the skim as heavy as possible, and never, under any circumstances, disclose who the connection is. "I’ll take care of you,” wasn't always in exact proportion of the legwork. This way I was sure my services were needed, and that I’d get mine.

A purchase this big was always dangerous. Both sides paranoid that the other was going to rob them. There were usually weapons, bag men, and plenty of time to plan it out. However, I needed a broker to bring it together quickly and without incident—someone familiar to both parties.

Johnny was the guy, and would receive a cut of the final haul. This kid was shifty as a squirrel hiding a nut, and about as sharp as a bag of wet mice. But the true value of our type, junkie to junkie, was in our connections. Johnny had proven his worth in the past with rock solid connections, even in periods of countywide drought.

But I knew him too well. We were the same at the core. There was a silent but understood jockeying between us, trying to fuck the other over and always looking for the next junkie stunt. Not too much though, you never knew when you’d need a favor.

I left in a fever to grab the cash from The Ukrainian, picked up Johnny, and he directed me toward what used to be the heartbeat of Delaware County—the Port of Chester.

I asked all of the relevant questions on the ride there: “How well do you know this guy? How often do you deal with him? What is the final price per unit? How long will the deal take?”

Johnny assured me it was all good. “I've dealt with this guy a bunch, he’s cool, always a good deal on quantity, you’ll be real happy with it—trust me.” He looked away with the last part of that statement, and it was that last part that worried me.

Finch knew I didn't trust him, none of us trusted one another. We were desperate addicts who have stolen from our own family members. We couldn't be trusted.

But it wasn't my money I was putting up. What did I care if we got a discount?

Johnny was even more removed from The Ukrainian’s cash than I was, and he was salivating at the prospect of some free shit. His hope for this deal to go through wouldn't allow him to voice the doubts he had. The Ukrainian, Finch, and I had one thing in mind, and no risk was ever assessed in our state of wanting. We saw the world through the keyhole of an ink dark room.

This life is one filled with gambles, but the addict rarely thinks of what is really at stake—am I about to get burnt? Will I get caught? Will I be arrested? Will I make it out of this alive? Will she leave me when she finds out?

We just push further to the edge with every gamble, and experience each losing hand as a run of bad luck—as if shit decisions didn't create shit luck. At the end of the day, there was always someone else to blame.

A major drug-hub since the 80’s, Chester seemed a likely place to go for a buy of this magnitude. The pseudo-city had never recovered after the jobs left in the 60’s. Instead of the shipyards and auto plants of the past—the main export in this—the asshole of Pennsylvania—was now pain and suffering. The atmosphere in this waterfront town reeked of desperation, proving the motto on the welcome sign relevant as ever. “Welcome to Chester: What Chester makes, makes Chester.”

I blasted past the sign in the blue Toyota pickup, laden with trash bags full of aluminum cans clinking around—my last hope for getting high today before the call came in.

Johnny was directed by phone to meet the guy on a side street. I parked in the only available spot, against traffic. It was hot and the air stagnant. There were people everywhere, searching for even the slightest breeze. Old folks filled porches trying to escape the stale air of their cramped row homes.

These people didn't like what their town had become, but had no means to escape it. Johnny and I were just part of the problem—two junkies, funding the demise of a people. Eyes on this crowded street stuck to me like my t-shirt doused in sweat. I couldn't shake them. Everywhere I looked, I was burned with another scornful glare.

I could feel the disgust they had for me. For what they had to deal with. For what they had to do to survive this town. Part of the hate I felt clinging to me was my own. I wanted to run, but couldn't see the path in front of me. I couldn’t find a way through the keyhole, and back into the world.

Usually I would come up with something to keep me busy. Pop the hood of the car, feigning engine trouble. Get out some paperwork and pretend to read it while on the phone. Anything to look like I had a reason to stop where I did.

Waiting is just part of any drug transaction, so I learned to get used to it. It is the most vulnerable part of the deal. Just sitting alone with no excuse to be there. Given a location and time, you wait. And wait. And fucking wait—out of place in the wrong end of town. Like the Lou Reed song—Waiting For My Man.

This is why it’s a good idea to come up with a decent location, where you don't look out of place if you're there for a while. Cause like Lou said, “he's never early, he's always late, first thing you learn is that you always got to wait.” Some spots, you're just out of place no matter what charade is given. This was one of them.

Palms sweating and a knee bouncing from an involuntary foot tremor, I did what any good addict would: I sparked a bowl—to calm the nerves a bit. It worked for about three whole minutes, then the smell lingered around the truck and caused even more paranoia.

“Call this dude and find out where the fuck he is.”

Johnny did—there was no answer.

“Text him then, we’ve been waiting too long. We look shady as shit just sitting here, Finch!”

He did. Still nothing.

After thirty minutes of radio silence and restless natives, Johnny’s phone buzzed with a text message. *Be there in 5*

I took it to mean that he’d be there in ten or fifteen minutes, but was surprised when the phone rang in five minutes time. Johnny put the phone to his ear and said, “blue Toyota truck.”

Things went from being tense to jovial in a matter of seconds. The withdrawal symptoms were beginning to lift, just at the thought of this deal coming to fruition.

When in wait, the vibration of a cell phone feels more like when the dice leave the hand at the craps table. Butterflies fill the belly, and a sense of hope fills your entire being. Is it the man? Is my long wait over? Will my lust for another hit be satisfied? This was all felt in the time it takes to lift the phone to see who it was.

It seemed that sometimes the whole ceremony of procurement was just as satisfying as using the actual drugs.

As he approached, my gut told me something was off. He was sweating profusely and panting as if he gimped here from Wilmington. This bastard looked like he hadn't walked for anything but to stuff his fat face in years. Patting his forehead with a dingy rag, dressed in tattered sweats, and hobbling around like a lame diabetic—this was not the picture of a successful drug dealer at all.

I was used to dealing with the kind of people who spent their profits on nice cars, and gold teeth. At the very least they had a shitty car with a good stereo system, and nice clothes. I paid good money to furnish these Chester “start-ups” with certain luxuries.

This asshole was on foot, in cutoff sweatpants. He lacked the standard issue I am used to seeing. He looked more like a vagrant I’d give a cigarette to on the street.

I imagined he still thought of a Craftmatic Adjustable bed as the pinnacle of high living, and that Wilford Brimley was doing God’s work with those adverts. And he saw those ads, sitting on his greasy couch all damn day. I had instant disdain for this lousy mooch.

Fuck it, I thought, I hated most of my dealers anyway. Let’s get it over with, before he collapses of heat stroke out here.

Johnny did something next which still makes me want to punch my own face. The gimp said, “give me the money, I have to go grab them.”

And this simple bastard handed a thousand dollars out the window.

I lost my shit.

“What the fuck are you doing, Finch? Go with him!”

“He's cool, trust me.” He responded, offended at my outrage.

There it was again, trust me.

I've been burned before, and I knew at this point I’d probably never see the drugs or that sweat-soaked, diabetic gimp again. But the drug fiend has a wildly unrealistic amount of hope when it comes to the score. If there was a chance at getting some shit, we’d be there. If you were holding and your house was engulfed in flames, we’d be there to help put it out. Then politely ask for a hit—you know, for helping. There was never a scam too risky, or calamity too great, that would keep us from the pursuit.

Hope was a drug all its own, with an equally horrific crash when it was shorted. This was the nature of my kind. We dealt in synthetic feelings, and the hope for more. It’s a gambler’s life, and the hustle takes tremendous commitment.

In reality, nothing short of death would satisfy the urge, no matter how full the coffers—there was always a deal in the making.

I was raised with good morals, and bad habits. It took a while, but the bad habits had cast a shadow so large that the morals and values I had once known were all but lost. Gone was the boy filled with curious hope for the future. Nothing mattered. Just the score. Just the warped view, through the keyhole.

I had to give it to the man in the tattered sweats. He was well practiced in the art of the grift. After taking the cash, he called the police to report two white males smoking marijuana in a blue Toyota.

The cops arrived, furious. They had been pulled from the scene of a homicide to deal with the nuisance of a pair of junkies.

“Get out of the truck, assholes. You just ruined my day, and you can bet you’ll both be going to jail.”

The cops were even more furious to only find a half gram of pot in the truck—but still enough to send us to jail. I managed to send a text to the Ukrainian from the back of the cruiser. *arrested—on way to jail*

It was a thing of genius by the grifter. With Johnny and I in cuffs, we couldn't give chase to a man who could barely walk in the first place. I could imagine him sweating himself to death, in a frenzy of laughter, as he counted the stack of bills.

I was 4 years into a 5 year probation out of the state of Arizona when I was arrested. If they found out at booking, it meant that I couldn't bail out until Arizona was contacted, and their disposition was declared on the matter.

Would I have to go back to Arizona for a potential 9 year sentence (per the terms of my probation), or would they be lenient and release me to my supervising Probation Officer?

Booked into Chester, desperation was getting worse by the minute. The hours went by slowly, but the cell got crowded fast. The air conditioning was on full tilt to combat the stifling heat outside—the cinder block cell was freezing cold. I made a pillow of my shoes, and curled my knees into my t-shirt to stay warm.


A Note About The Author: Rob Kaniuk worked in the trades for the past 15 years. He started jotting notes and short poems at work and kept writing.  After coming through a long and tumultuous history of drug use and poor decisions, he began to share what he'd been hiding for years.