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Friday Night At Paco’s Crackhouse

By Tony O’Neill.

Susan was smoking a joint laced with crumbled crack rocks, in Paco’s apartment. Paco called this combination a primo. When Susan was out tricking in Philly, a primo was a joined laced with PCP. In Detroit it was a joined dipped in formaldehyde. Drug lingo, like pricing, is dependent entirely on time and location.

Here and now, in Paco’s crack house, East LA, THIS was a primo.

Paco didn’t smoke. Paco sold. Business was good.

Paco’s sister Maria was retarded from a head injury sustained in a car accident when she was three years old. She sat in the apartment with Susan and Paco, hitting the pipe with a Mexican day laborer who had recently stopped by to score. Maria had the mind of a 7 year old but the body of a 30-year-old woman, so Paco had to keep her close. She could be easily tricked and manipulated. Despite the fact that she was an idiot, Paco still felt protective towards her. She stayed mostly in the apartment and smoked.

On Fridays the apartment was like Union Station. People got paid on Friday. They cashed their checks and went to see Paco.

There’s not a lot of entertainment in LA if you’re poor, apart from drugs, whores and booze. Sometimes, that was enough.

The day laborer talked in Spanish with Paco.

Maria was silent, heating the stem.

Susan didn’t speak much Spanish.

Paco didn’t speak much English.

They muddled through with each other, though.

He knew a handful of words. Twenty. Forty. Sixty. Bundle. And of course, rock.

She had picked up a few too.

When he wanted her pussy, he asked for her chocha.

When he wanted her ass, he asked for her coolo.

Sometimes he called her a viciousca, which she figured meant crack head.

There was a knock.

Paco got up, peered through the peephole and opened the door.

A white guy who looked to be in his mid 30’s came in.

He had eyes like broken televisions.

Susan thought that he was as ugly as hell. He looked as if he had been through the wringer several times, and that maybe he had enjoyed it.

He stood in front of Susan, peeling off twenties from a money clip.

Susan smiled.

“What’s up?”

“Nothin’”

“I’m Susan.”

“I’m Johnny.”

Johnny bought a whole bunch of rocks. He sat down next to Susan and produced a pipe.

Susan watched as he broke off a chunk of crack, placed it on the gauze and took a hit.

When he pulled on that pipe, he looked like he was sucking on a 50-dollar cigar.

There was something appealing in his ugliness.

“Goddamn,” he said, and then again; “Goddamn.”

“Long day?”

“They all are.”

The laborer left, having smoked most of the money he had earned this week.

Maria continued to smoke, alone. A cockroach, brazen and the size of a small mouse crawled up her arm and regarded the room from there, its antennae waving softly as if stirred by a summer breeze. Maria did not move nor acknowledge it. Then the roach scuttled away, breaking across the floor and perching on top of the television. From here it surveyed the room.

Paco got bored and sat in front of the TV, flicking his X-Box on. The roach did not move.

“When I was 6,” Johnny said to Susan, “my best friend and I killed a boy.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. We took him from our local shopping mall. We walked him away from his mom while she was looking at underwear, out of the mall, and down to the train tracks.”

“Is that where you did it? I mean where you killed him?”

“Yeah. My friend hit him on the head with a brick. He was still moving. So I stabbed him in the throat with my pocket knife.”

“That’s heavy. Why did you do it?”

“We wanted to see what it would feel like.”

“What did it feel like?”

“Cheap and two dimensional. Like a bad TV program.”

“What happened next?”

“We covered the body up with branches and shit. My friend, Frankie, had an asthma attack. Nerves, you know?”

“Did you get busted?”

“Oh yeah. Big time. About 7 or 8 separate witnesses saw us leaving with the kid, and recognized us. We made the papers. It was a pretty big deal. We were tried in another state because they were scared we were gonna get lynched or some shit. They locked us away until we turned 18 and then they had to turn me loose.”

“What about your friend?”

“He turned queer in the institution. A boyfriend of his stabbed him up. He was 15.”

“That’s tough.”

“Life’s tough. They changed my name. I used to be called Adam. Now I’m Johnny.”

“I’d like to change my name.”

“To what?”

Susan thought for a moment and smiled.

“Champagne” she decided.

“That sounds like a stripper’s name.”

Susan laughed, flattered: “I wish!”

“You could dance, baby!”

“You think so?”

“Stand up.”

Susan stood, still holding the primo, and turned around slowly.

The drugs had eaten away at her face.

But she had good legs.

Johnny was a leg man.

“Buddy of mine owns a club called Gold Diggers down on Alvarado. He’s looking for a girl.”

“No shit? You think he’d like me?

“Sure. As long as you ain’t shy.”

Susan grinned a wet, red grin.

“Oh I ain’t shy, man. When?”

“No time like the present.”

Susan went over to Paco and crouched down. She put a finger in his thick, straight hair and twirled it.

Paco ignored her.

He was playing Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

She said: “Papi, I’m just going to see about a job, OK? Mucho dinero, si? I’ll be back soon.”

She kissed his neck.

Paco didn’t move or shift his gaze from the screen.

Women were like crack fiends.

Another would be knocking at his door soon enough.

This bitch smoked too much of his stuff anyway.

“C’mon, Adam.”

“Johnny.”

“Oh yeh, Johnny.”

They left Paco, poor mute Maria, and the brazen cockroach on top of the TV behind.

Outside the sun was setting behind a haze of smog.

The sky looked the color of vomit.

The streets were filling up with the Friday night crowd.

An old woman stood by a shopping cart that had been converted into a wagon to sell churros and barbequed corn on the cob smeared with mayonnaise and chili powder. Next to her a young girl with bare feet played with a wooden cup and ball. As Johnny and Susan walked past the girl looked up at Susan with wide, brown eyes and Susan smiled at her as she clip-clopped past.

As she made eye contact with Susan, the old woman grabbed the girl and pulled her close. She hissed: “Esa mujer es una visciousa!”

Susan flipped the old woman off.

The air felt murky, and alive with static electricity, like there was a storm brewing of some kind.

It was Friday night. The California sky was pregnant with possibilities.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tony O’Neill‘s debut novel Digging the Vein is published in the US and Canada by Contemporary Press, and in the UK by Wrecking Ball Press. His collection Seizure Wet Dreams was published by Social Disease. He has played with bands including Kenickie, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and Marc Almond. He lives in New York.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Friday, April 6th, 2007.