An Excerpt from “Gun Needle Spoon”

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Los Angeles, July 7, 1990

A railroad crew in Ontario, California, came across a metal storage trunk laid across the tracks. Inside was Chris’s folded dead body. Put there like someone had hoped a train would run him over. The following morning it was in all the newspapers and on the news. After the first ten calls I stopped answering.

Two Ontario homicide detectives showed up at my door the next day. They flashed their badges and introduced themselves. Said they wanted to talk with me, but not here. I got in the back of their unmarked car and they drove me for an hour and a half across LA county out to the morgue in Ontario.

I’d been in hospitals and funeral homes, but I’d never been to a morgue. The place reeked of decay and disinfectant. Several covered bodies on gurneys lay stacked in a dark hallway. The overhead lights flickered as the cops led me through a maze of rooms. Nobody had said a word since we got there, and I worried I was going to be arrested. When we finally got to the viewing room, a man in a white lab coat opened the door.

“Ready?” asked the man as he pulled off the sheet.

Chris’ body lay prone on the steel gurney. His skin had turned a pale gray-blue, offsetting his tattoos. His blond hair was matted against the wound on his head. Cuts covered his entire body. His eyes were open, but he was dead.

As we stood over him, the two cops told me they knew all about us selling dope. Said they suspected me of killing Chris to control the business. I stared at Chris’s caved in skull and multiple stab mounds and felt strangely too numb.

“Go fuck yourselves,” I said.

Another week went by before two more detectives came to my apartment.

“We know you were in business with Chris,” one of the cops said. “You’re still a suspect in his death.”

“Only we’re willing to forget that,” said the other one, “if you tell us who your customers were.”

The first one pulled out a notebook and pen like I was going to start blurting out names.

“We want everyone you sold to. We already know the connection, it’s not as if we’re asking for him. So this should be easy.”

The two of them sat there on the lumpy gray couch in my small Hollywood bungalow and talked all kinds of shit. Like they were doing me this huge favor. But what they never told me was that four months earlier Chris had gotten arrested in Long Beach, and when he was being booked he didn’t have an ID and used my name instead of his. Having toured together for years, Chris and I both knew each other’s personal information like social security and driver’s license numbers so we could fill out the required paperwork for car rentals, hotels, or plane tickets if the other person wasn’t there. Thankfully a mutual friend got in touch and told me about it, although he didn’t know what the bust was for. I could only assume it was sales or possession. Yet, then, out on bail Chris never called to warn me, as he had no intention of going to jail. Apparently he didn’t give a fuck if I took the fall.

Either these two jerk-off cops didn’t know about the bust or they didn’t care. Not saying a word, I just stared at them until they finally left.

But now I was totally screwed. With no job, no dealing, and no money coming in I tried to stop shooting heroin. I’d do a cold turkey kick and be back on the shit in less than twenty-four hours. Everyone told me to go see a Dr. Mark. Supposedly he had the “cure”—a Buprenorphine and Valium cocktail that cut the kick down to a bare minimum. And when I could scrounge enough money I’d sit in his waiting room with the rest of Hollywood’s dope fiends: frizzy-haired heavy metalers, pretty boy glam bands, bondage babe pin-up girls, and high-class hookers. But I was struggling still and didn’t really want to stop, so it never really took. Just sort of slowed me down a bit.

Yet without a good steady connection, instead of just being able to do heroin, I had to improvise, and when none was available I shot speed, and Dilaudids, and took pain meds and tranquilizers, or whatever I could get my hands on. Only with no money and a large habit I slowly slipped into the usual dope fiend behaviors to get more. Writing bad checks, faking deposits with ATM’s, and shoplifting. With incredible ease, I began making the transition to petty criminal, breaking into cars, and apartments, and even storage-space complexes. Selling whatever I could to dope dealers, fences, or at the pawnshops. I even held yard sales in front of my apartment with all the stolen goods.

Very quickly the people I had hung with when I first moved to LA, the musicians and people who worked in the music industry, started avoiding me. Having never fully gotten in good with the locals, I soon found myself even more of an outcast. Alone, I sought the company of other junkies, street dealers, petty thieves, and hookers who didn’t care what I did as long as I was getting high. I started hanging out in the shittier sections of Hollywood. Doing all-nighters in shooting galleries and decaying squatters’ apartments.

When I was home I had one eye pressed against a slit in the front window’s curtains looking for cops while I fingered the snub nosed .38 tucked in the belt of my jeans. I trusted no one. My girlfriend was fucking every dope dealer with a dime bag. My landlord was evicting me. Scumbags were trying to rip me off. The speed had me so paranoid that most of the time I couldn’t even go outside.

But Chris’s death really fucked me up and I started getting even more reckless. I thought nothing about scoring dope in the alleys of downtown LA. or going up into the shooting galleries of Echo Park. Gang bangers didn’t faze me. Everyone I hung out with had done time or was on their way back to prison. To support my habit I started doing more burglaries. I broke into apartments at night, even when the people were home. When I had no other means to score I’d drive down to MacArthur Park’s all night crack market and rip off dealers on the street. Nothing mattered. It all just got bleaker and I did more and more dope to make it okay.

It’s a typical sunny Southern California afternoon. I’m in a bit of a hurry coming back from ripping off a drug dealer in Van Nuys. Hardcore Mexicans that were for sure going to be looking for me the next couple of days. I glance in the rearview just as the Highway Patrol throws on his siren and red lights. I’ve a bunch of outstanding speeding tickets. I figure this fucking cop is going to arrest me and so I casually stuff my gun and the stolen drugs under the bench seat of my El Camino and pull over.

Five minutes into it and it’s just like I expected, handcuffed and sitting in the back of the patrol car as the cop calls in a warrant check.

The cop looks out over the top of his mirror shades, checking out my chrome mags, blue pearlescent paint, and lowered chassis. “What year’s the El Camino?”

“Seventy-nine,” I tell him, but that’s about as much conversation as we’ve got in us. We sit in silence as the computer starts churning out a massive amount of information: all my traffic warrants, Chris’s Long Beach bust, another warrant for his gun possession, and then, finally, I come up listed as being deceased.

“Holy shit,” The cop turns around and stares at me. “You ain’t dead. How the fuck you do that?”

Chris’s and my information had been mated together in the cop’s main computers and now both of us were listed as dead.

“I ain’t never seen any bullshit like this. I gotta take you in,” says the cop.

For two days I sit waiting in a holding cell and they still can’t figure it out. Everything’s a fucking mess. They don’t know whose warrants are whose, and they don’t know which one of us got busted in Long Beach. But it’s not until after they take my fingerprints that they’re able to figure out I’m not Chris.

Sitting back in the holding cell, I’m watching a slice of Wonder Bread on a bologna sandwich curl up and dry. A detective from Long Beach stands at the bars. “I came up here to try and straighten all this crap out,” he says. “But I take one look at you and know you’re not the Patrick O’Neil I busted. Even if all you punk white boys do look the same.”

An hour later a sergeant unlocks my cell and gives me back my property.

“You’re under investigation. Don’t leave town,” he says.

I get my car out of impound, and drive out into the parking lot, but I don’t know where the hell to go, or what to do. I got a tank of gas, $60 dollars, a 9mm, and a bunch of stolen heroin. I slip the transmission into drive and cruise around trying to figure this shit out. When it starts to rain I use half my money and get a shitty hotel room on the edge of Culver City. Shivering from the cold, I turn on the wall heater and sit down on the bed. The gun, stuck in the back of my pants, digs into me and I pull it out. Almost mindlessly I pull back the hammer and put it in my mouth. The metal against my teeth hurts, the acidic taste of oil invades my gums. The wind’s blowing, and I can hear rain against the window. I’m thinking I don’t want to do this. I’m tired of guns, robberies, people looking to kill me. I’m tired of my friends dying. I don’t want to be alone, or strung-out, or wanted by the police. I just want it all to end. But not this way.

I put the gun down.

I need to get the fuck out of Los Angeles.

 

Patrick O'Neil

About Patrick O'Neil

Patrick O'Neil is a former junkie bank robber and the author of the memoir "Gun, Needle, Spoon" (Dzanc Books, 2015), and an excerpted in part French translation titled, "Hold-Up" (13e Note Editions, Paris, France). His writing has appeared in numerous publications, countless film festivals have rejected his documentaries, and he continues to play and record music, much to the ire of his immediate neighbors. He currently lives in the heart of sleaze "Hollywood, California" and teaches at a community college to students whose main purpose in life is destroying the English language. Find more of his writing, music, and films at patrick-oneil.com.
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