The man in the black
robe said ten thousand bucks or two years. I felt like a new life had been
granted. The men in blue uniforms kept their hands on their guns when I
approached the bench to say thanks, your honor. The County Clerk’s office was
down the hall. There were a few forms to sign.
would’ve seemed fishy, or at least a bit too flashy.
swarmed with Bail Bonds offices, but paralegal dreariness could wait. The Blind
Justice Inn seemed a better place to celebrate conditional freedom.
A guy I’d seen
before was at the counter, watching the barmaid get an early afternoon keg
started. She poured off glass after glass of foam that would’ve settled into
beer, if given half a chance. Suds vanished down the drain until what looked
like a glass of beer in a TV ad appeared.
She caught the nod
in the mirror, pulled another.
The guy on the next
stool was on his way out of the courtroom next to the one I was headed into
when I first saw him.
“Got off easy,” I
said, to break the ice. “Can’t understand why, but I didn’t want to stick
around or ask too many questions, know what I mean?”
“They always ask me
the same question,” the guy said. “And the answer’s always no.” He didn’t say
what the question was.
The best way to get
people to talk is to shut up.
He eventually got
tired of country music and background TV chatter. “My brother was always
getting into my stuff,” he said. “That was the problem.”
He looked too old to
dwell on sibling invasions of privacy, especially in court. “He found the
The story was less
childish than it’d sounded at first, or perhaps even more. The guy said he was
twenty-five when the alleged incident occurred. The brother in question was
The guy who was
telling the story came home from a day of pretending to look for work so he
could get another free dinner at his parents’ house. When he opened the front
door, he smelled excrement, blood and oysters. Satanic metal blared louder than
Pops would normally allow.
You live under my
roof, Pops always said, you obey my laws. No crazy noise. Cops will forcibly
remove you if I tell them you threatened me while intoxicated.
Which was most of
the time, in the nosy brother’s case.
Pops often slapped
Mom around. She put up with rough treatment. She had an irritating voice, and
her insipid manner grated on everyone. Though a lousy cook, she fixed and
served meals. She also cleaned house after a fashion, did laundry, took beer
and cigarette orders, and went to the supermarket. Mom was an unpleasant slave.
The brother who
found the acid didn’t even pretend to seek employment. He dropped out of high
school, dropped his girlfriend, dropped a lawnmower on his foot so he’d have an
excuse to drop everything except getting high.
He didn’t ask Mom to
score weed for him, although she might’ve done that too. She’d deliver another
boring lecture, act like a victim, and take a beating if Pops found out.
Headphones kept the
peace. The brother who found the acid kept quiet in his smelly room. He’d
blotted out the window with garbage bags. Chaos raged in his head. Heavy metal
born from New Jersey’s toxic waste-dumps deadened his eardrums and drowned out
the world with messages of death pain blood and the devil.
Pops approved of
peace, but not lazy bums. Nothing could convince him that employment was
anything but gainful. He’d worked in a foundry, but had retired early with a
full disability pension. The brother who found the acid implied Pops had
dropped the hot anvil on his foot on purpose, and got a beating. The cops came.
Trip to the emergency room. The judge ordered family counseling. Pops had no
choice but to comply. Stone-faced, he listened to his wife and children vent
their inarticulate rage before mealy-mouthed therapists.
One afternoon, despite
injunctions and restraining orders, Pops stormed into his younger son’s room
and demolished the stereo system which was on the verge of repossession anyway.
He broke the entire satanic record collection over his knees, and scrawled Get
a Job or Get Out in black magic marker on the girlie foldouts taped to the
Selling acid isn’t
really a job but it’s not a bad way to pick up tax-free cash. The merchandise
is easy to conceal, and those who’re into it are really into it.
Bars are a good
place to sell hallucinogens. The guy gave me his sales pitch, but I wasn’t
interested. Beer pleasantly softens a world where what passes for reality is
The guy shook an
eyedropper bottle, and said it held over ten thousand hits’ worth of life-
altering trips. At least one or two cases of instant schizophrenia in there, he
said. Just happens, to some unlucky people. But it’s their choice. No one forces
them to drop acid. A lifetime’s worth of insanity defences is no deterrent.
Exhibit B looked like the cigarette coupons women used to get addicted to. They
licked green stamps, absorbed occult nicotine.
You should’ve seen
my mother’s teeth.
The guy who was
telling the story said he was headed home from a successful sales trip when he
sensed something was wrong. Dealers develop extra-sensory instincts, or else.
Ditch your dope and run away, stay free to push another day. But he didn’t drop
his dope. He was sold out, cashed up. He wanted a bong-hit of weed, which he
purchased with LSD profits. Don’t get too hooked on the merch is dealer
rule #1 or #2.
The guy sensed his
wholesale inventory was gone, and that everything in his depressing world was
His dealer instinct
was accurate, but that was no consolation. The brother who found the acid had
blood all over him. He was listening to Pops’ ancient Hi-fi, which usually
played Perry Como, Benny Goodman, Dino, Sinatra. The record was taped and Krazy
Glued together. Heavy metal never sounded worse.
Parental body parts
were strewn about the living room, decorated with stab-wounds galore. A set of
steak knives, rarely used for their intended purpose, stuck out of human
“Never took acid
before,” the brother said. “Wild. Music sounds real different.”
“How much did you
“You won’t be coming
down for a long, long time, bro.”
“That’s OK. I kind
of like where my head’s at now.”
The parental torsos
were missing heads and other not-strictly-essential protrusions. An intestinal
trail led to their bedroom. The mess in there was in tune with the house’s
general disorder. Pops had often complained about Mom’s slovenliness, with
gratuitous racial slurs thrown in. The missing parts were in there. Steak
knives worked fine as oyster bars on eyeballs. The meat-cleaver in the kitchen
drawer split even the thickest skulls.
Pops had kept nearly
five grand stashed under the mattress. He didn’t trust bankers. The brother who
found the acid also unearthed Pops’ paranoid Fort Knox, but wasn’t interested
in colored bits of paper, unless they were soaked with LSD. He licked the banknotes,
tossed them around like gory confetti. There was no clue what Pops was saving
the money for. Certainly not clothes for his wife or to get his sons’ teeth
The brother who sold
acid figured the money was sufficient indemnity for his lost hallucinogen
stock. He pocketed the dough, broke with principle and called the cops.
“Thing is,” he said,
“I always wanted to murder them too. If I knew Pops had money stashed in
the house, I would’ve made it look like someone broke in and torture-murdered
them for it. But in the end everything worked out. Always does, if you know
what I mean.”
“So what were you in
court for?” I asked. “How come they let you off?” Pretty ballsy,
bringing industrial amounts of LSD-25 into a courtroom if you’re up on drug
“You got it wrong. I
go in once a year to testify against my brother. Put on the suit and tell the
Judge he’s not ready to re-enter society. Or at least I’m not willing or able
to take care of him. He’s still high as hell. So I say I’m scared he’ll come
after me, next. I tell them he threatened to do wipe out the whole
family, only I wrestled Mom’s butcher knife from his grip.”
“Did that really
He dodged the
question. “Nobody knows how long it takes an average human to metabolize a massive
acid OD. Legally, they write you off as permanently insane after three trips,
at least in New Jersey.”
“What does your
“Like I said, he’s
not legally reliable. He’s OK. His life’s not too different from before, except
they make him work in the prison laundry. One thing’s sure, he’ll never steal
my acid again.”
The barmaid changed
the TV channel to a car race by remote control.
The guy who sold
acid wasn’t much younger than me. LSD experience used to be a badge of honor.
“So, you’ve never tripped?”
tripped,” he said. His stare made me suspect that I might’ve been tripping too.
“I mean, how else am I supposed to know I got the good stuff?”
Beer’s usually a
reassuring drink. Hank Williams and neon beer ad mirrors radiated and reflected
“So you cooked
up the stuff that made your brother chop up your folks?”
He shook his head
slowly. “Got a college boy to produce the product. Then I got my girlfriend to
take care of him, if you know what I mean.”
The scene played in
my head, starring the barmaid. I drew prison bars through a puddle on the
counter. My cigarettes were soaked, but I managed to light one anyway. The
barmaid asked if we wanted another round. The way she said round implied
hole. I fell in.
“Come here often?” I
asked her. She didn’t answer.
The courthouse was a
mirage in the glowing malt liquor ad mirror. Gray granite shimmered into
pulsating atomic energy molecules. Governmental architecture fizzed like frozen
Ice Age beer.
“I’m friends with all
the judges, at this point,” the guy said. “Maybe you didn’t notice, but judges
become awful friendly when I come around to deliver my annual testimony.
Leniency solves delinquency.”
“But they keep your
brother behind bars on your say-so.”
He shrugged. “Look,
we’re all prisoners. The world’s just a jail we dream up daily. Nothing in the
known universe, for instance, could’ve kept you off this particular stool at
Ten grand is lenient
if it’s one-tenth of the proceeds from the last job. Had to wonder if it’s true
there’s no such thing as luck when the barmaid brought beer and said, this
round’s on the house. She winked at the brother who sold acid. Or maybe I
dreamed she did. Free beer is a kind of leniency too. Five bucks glowed pink on
the damp counter, so I said, how ‘bout a round of whiskey with these, and pour
yourself a shot too.
drips dropped on the barmaid’s tank top when she tossed it down.
Think back on first tit,
first hit. Remember when it first dawned that reality isn’t anything you can
hang onto, just a bunch of electrons in endless motion, restless, meaningless,
either positive or negative but there’s no way to tell.
Licht writes the weekly bilingual blog Hotel Kranepool
for Stanza 251, about metaphysical hospitality.
in Italy and writes murder mysteries under an
C. Walker was born in Leeds in 1939. He studied Ceramics at Leeds College of
Art and the Royal College of Art. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, he was Personal Assistant
to Eduardo Paolozzi. Keith taught at Hull College of Art and Leicester Polytechnic, which
is now De Montfort University. In 994 he retired from Academia.
says, “Digital technology has made and continues to make big changes to all of our
lives: the way we communicate, the way we are monitored, the way we entertain ourselves,
and much, much more.
We now leave a digital footprint wherever
we go, and with whatever we do.
Do we already have one
foot in an Orwellian world?
My collages are an investigation,
with a small “I,” on the impact of digital technology and its possibilities.”