Grief's Melancholy Shade - Chapter 3
By: Susan McNeill and Rhonda Hallstrom

"Hey, D!" a wiry teenager called carefully through the squalor of the
abandoned building they called home. Warily, the dirty-faced boy checked
the lumps of sleepers crashed in different corners of the building. All
were familiar, all seemed safe. Still, his possessions weren't for the
group today. Perking his ears, he waited for a response.

"Here," came the shaky reply. David tried to stand, in vain. His empty
stomach raged with jagged fury against his balance. But hunger for food
was a transparent need in comparison to the pins and needles signaling
his looming demon's arrival. His knees were trembling and every muscle
ached with compulsion. It had been eight hours since his last hit.
Clawing one filthy hand out to tangle with the rancid reality of his
environment and grasping the edge of a molded sofa, David Griffin hauled
himself to his feet. Sinking down into the fantasy comfort of worn springs,
David swam inside his clothing for warmth and waited for Jamie to join him.

Jamie made his way through the rat-infested hellhole to sit by his
jittery friend. He felt the bite himself. He could see it burning in his
fellow addict's eyes. "Look what I got, man!" Jamie reached beneath his
threadbare jacket and pulled out a paper bag.

"McDonald's??!!" David snatched the paper bag and shredded it, the smell
of cooked food nearly overwhelming him. Before he grabbed the Big Mac
and inhaled it, he looked pleadingly at his friend. He'd known him for
two months, ever since his escape from that middle-class hell of Aunt
Helen's. Jamie had been there one month earlier and welcomed the 'virgin'
to be his friend. In the midst of the hardened and frightening old-timers,
the two boys clung to each other for survival.

"Go ahead, D," Jamie directed, "I ate mine the minute I got it." Smiling
like he was playing Santa Claus, the boy pulled a can from his pocket.
"Here's a Coke, too." Not offended as David snatched the can and drained
it, Jamie leaned back into the shelter of the couch and watched. He knew
how great it felt to eat and drink something good. Jamie smiled as the
nearly skeletal boy ate, oblivious to the stares as he swallowed his
rare morsel in three bites and gulped his soda like tap water. He could
read the experience in David's features.

The food was golden and nauseating at the same time. He'd forgotten what
it was like to be full. <Please God, don't let me throw up.>

It was getting colder every day here. Without a jacket, David spent most of
his time shivering inside a foul blanket, a constant reminder of his first
initiation -- having the crap beaten out of him and his leather bomber
ripped off his back. The jacket had been a present from Kermit that arrived
with an Italian postmark and some phony "How's it goin', Squirt?" note
inside. He had tossed the note into the fireplace. Pride hadn't been strong
enough to toss the jacket, though. He had liked that jacket. Now, he had
left that someone would want; Nikes held together with tape; jeans
so stiff with crud they could stand by themselves. No money. No
hope. All that he was revolved around that incessant clawing in his
gut for another hit; all else faded in the face of that need.

"D!" David looked up as Jamie called softly, waggling a twisted
baggy holding two dirty brown chunks of smack close to his
chest. "Look what else I got?" His face nearly glowed with childlike glee
as he teased his friend with his acquisition. "Your in luck, man. If I
bummed a joint this mornin' to mellow out, I woulda' jammed both of these
in my arm already!"

Grabbing Jamie's dirty wrist, David tugged him down to the floor behind
the couch, shielding them from any stranger who might select this
particular place to flop for the night. With the precision of a diamond
cutter, the two boys set to work. David held the supplies: a prized Bic
lighter, a jagged tin bottom ripped from a soda can, a bottle of dirty
water, and one thin hypodermic needle. With a shaking hand, David thumped
one of the dingy blocks of heroin into the can bottom. Drooling at the sight
of his prize.

"Hey! Be careful! Don't spill it!" Jamie snapped as David used the
syringe to suck up a few cc's of water and add it to the mix.

Stirring with the plunger from his hypo, David answered with a touch of
annoyance. "Do I ever spill it?! No! So shut up!"

Jamie complied and watched the meticulous preparation, mouth watering in
anticipation. With single-minded obsession, David held the lighter flame
beneath the makeshift bowl to cook the powder into a pale brown liquid.
Jamie, working in concert, drew the molten death into the needle and
thumped the tip with surgical skill to remove the air bubbles. The
full syringe nearly glittered in the dusty light of the warehouse. David
found it strange that this was beautiful. Even as he was enraptured by
the relief soon to be his, he couldn't dispel the question. "How'd you
get it, Jamie? What'd you steal, man?" Stealing had become breathing.
Little things lifted from stores and car seats without violence, just petty
theft that didn't attract much attention.

"I sold something." Jamie wrapped a tattered piece of rubber hose around
his upper arm and slapped for a vein. Avoiding eye contact he focused on
the job.

"What?" David asked but immediately found the answer within the haunted
stare of the other boy. "No...did you really do it?"

"So what, D?! It only took a couple of minutes and the guy was done!"
Jamie shoved the needle into his vein and hit the plunger. "It's"

He wanted to cry. Or scream. Or vomit. Watching the tension fade as the
heroin rolled through Jamie's body, David tried to comfort or advise.
"Jamie...those assholes will kill you! Remember that boy last week?
Went with some john for twenty bucks and the bastard strangled him,
man. Dead, remember?!"

David's words bounced back against Jamie's heroin-induced void.
The window of lucid thought slammed shut as he lay back in a
haze of synthetic peace, smiling up at nothing and not hearing
David's warning.

Concern for Jamie was soon forgotten. The hunger reasserted itself
over David Griffin. It overshadowed his broken heart and any shred of
reason he had left. Ripping the tubing from his friend's arm and snatching
the shared needle, David cooked another hit through his blurred vision. He
would get to the same point someday. They all did when body and shame
meant nothing and became a tool for survival, a conduit to another hit.

Jamming the needle into his flesh, David gasped at the first rush
released by snapping the tourniquet from his arm. Warmth, blindness to
hurt and cold and hunger spilled over as his mind exploded in orgasmic
sensation. Color and happiness and love and relief blanketed him. He was
the center of the universe, strong and powerful. Comfort blew over his body
and soothed the aching muscles and confusion, shutting out the harsh reality
that would be waiting later for his return.

As promised, Kermit Griffin returned. This time he not only had a
purpose, he had a plan.

Working from the inside had become his specialty over the years. Lying
was second nature; lying to the enemy; lying to anyone who got too
close. He'd been so many people in the space of one mixed-up patch of
life that it was hard to keep track. Even the role of husband had found
its way into his repertoire.

Turning the large steering wheel of his new rental, Kermit couldn't help
but laugh at that one. What a fiasco that had been, with broken hearts all
around and a little boy with his face being raised by strangers. <At
least that kid might be safe from me.>

Turning down the depressing city streets he'd roamed the night before,
he felt struck by the contrast. The teaming humanity present in the
darkness gave way to stillness and quiet in the morning. Kermit
estimated that he had until noon before all the night people would be
waking up and start scavenging for the day. He would be waiting for

Stopping at a red light, Kermit took a look at himself in the rearview
mirror. <Look like a sleaze. Be a sleaze.> The reflection that met him
was nearly him at least. Black silk jacket with bright red
silk shirt open at the collar, standard trash chic gold chains, hair
slick, and black patent leather boots completed the dress code of the
typical drug dealer. <Look like you just dropped out of some bad
movie, Griffin.>

No one would dare come near him last night. Military precision suited
him well in his other life, but here it branded him an outsider at best
and a narc at worst. Always one for a uniform, Kermit had constructed
several of his own since leaving the service. Lately, he felt
comfortable in jeans and boots with a black turtleneck under his
favorite scraped leather jacket. The green shades were a given. But this
was an assignment. He had to become one of the vermin to find his
brother. Kermit had shed the sedate airport rental and selected a flashy
red Cadillac, long and adorned with enough chrome to blind at a glance.

He had a plan now, something he lacked before. He would make the scum
work for him to his advantage. Turn your worst disadvantage into your
best advantage was just one of many lessons that had served him well.

Pulling the gaudy vehicle into a space in front of a bar just waking up
for its morning customers, he climbed out and leaned on the hood. A
slow-moving black and white cruised by and gave him the obligatory
once-over. He smiled to himself as they scowled a warning look
at him. <Looks real enough to them.>

The pedestrian traffic was beginning to pick up and the number of young
faces was increasing. One young boy caught his eye. "Wanna make
some money, kid?" he asked.

The boy eyed him cautiously. Shaggy, unwashed blonde hair framed an
ancient face.

"I don't have all day, brat," he quipped as the boy carefully appraised him.

Jamie stood back for a few more seconds sizing up the man in front of
him. He had the look of the rest of the bottom feeders. Pimp. Pusher.
All the same. Around here, it paid to be on their good side. The cash
from the day before was history as were the dinner and the dope. David
had scored three radios early this morning but they wouldn't pull in

"How much and for what?" Jamie tried to toughen up. This guy was a
heavyweight -- heavyweight dangerous like the rest of them.

Kermit held up a fifty dollar bill. "Watch my car." Waiting until the
boy was within arm's length, he shot out a hand to grab the boy's
tattered denim jacket. Yanking him nose to nose, he growled, "One
scratch. One hand on my shit and you're dead. Got it?"

"G-g-g-got it, man," Jamie stuttered, then breathed a sigh of relief as
the man let him go and allowed him to step back a few feet. "Don't
worry, man. I'll keep an eye on it. Swear." Snatching the money and
cramming it into his pants, Jamie nearly drooled over the luxurious
interior. Feeling a touch bolder with the man's hands off of him, Jamie
asked, "Uh...can I...uh...would ya' mind...uh...."

"Spit it out, brat!" Kermit straightened his slippery lapel.

"Can I sit inside, man? I won't touch nothin'. I swear." Jamie pulled
his jacket closed. It was cold. That was only part of the reason for the

Peering over his dark green glasses, Kermit covered up the pang of sympathy
he felt. He didn't have time for it. "No." Orders presented, the
pseudo-dealer strolled into the bar to fish and wait.

Blowing out a pent-up breath, Jamie lounged carefully back on the car,
the fifty dollars burning a hole in his pocket. Along with the stuff
they had to hock this afternoon, he and David would be set for a week.
They could eat AND get high. Rarely did they have the luxury of both at
the same time. He could score if he could get to the alley off Jack
Street. <I'll be knee deep in dope for days!>

Too fidgety to stay still for any length of time, Jamie began to circle
the car. <Bet you have to go to the airport to turn it around.> Jamie
over the vehicle, rubbing a careful hand over the neon bright paint job. An
icy breeze made him shiver as he reached the driver's side. <Just five
minutes. He won't care as long as nobody touches his rod. > Courting
death, Jamie slid inside the luxuriously-appointed vehicle.

Soaking up the warmth still lingering from the heater, Jamie closed his
eyes. <Just for a minute.> After a few seconds of rest, the boy began to
greedily inspect the dashboard. <Four hundred dollar Pioneer tape deck
with speakers to match. > The quaking in his knees began to scream
louder than his fear. He needed a hit. He needed money. Those two things
ruled all. Mechanically, Jamie dug his hand under the dash to yank wires
and twist the small screws out with his trusty screwdriver.

"All right, baby!" the jubilant youngster crowed as the stereo spit out
into his hand. "Beat my own record!" Quickly, he pushed the door open
to escape.

Ice cold steel pressed against his temple.

"You're dead." The tone was hard as nails and the intent clear. Kermit
held his victim frozen by fear.

"I-I-I'm sorry, man...uh...don't kill me...please....I'll put it
back...please don't...." Jamie was crying and begging and cursing his
own stupidity.

Kermit Griffin let the boy's own sweat soak him through before reacting,
observing a more than pregnant pause. "Move over." Using his newly-acquired
weapon, a shiny black Desert Eagle lifted from a dead Soviet, he shoved the
boy over to the passenger side. "Don't even think about touching that door."
Kermit got in himself, maintaining a scathing glare at the boy.
"Now, tell me why I shouldn't kill you?" Kermit cranked the motor and
turned on the heat, glaring straight ahead.

"Uh...maybe...." Jamie fought to think of a reason to spare his own
life. "Maybe I could do somethin' for ya', man."

Kermit jacked the car into gear and pulled out into traffic. "So, you
think you've got something I want, huh? Be specific."

Jamie fell silent. <So that's what it is. Another one. >That shield of
numbness he'd used the day before dropped down over his disgust. <It's
nothin', man. Over in a few minutes.> In robot fashion, he answered, "Just
park around the corner, man. I don't do hotel rooms or nothin'."

Kermit wanted to scream...or throw up. This boy who could be his
brother had reduced himself to a piece of meat. And David was out there

"Don't like boys, brat!" Kermit spat with righteous indignation as he
stopped the car in an alleyway. "But," he oozed at the quivering,
pathetic boy, "maybe there is something you could do for me."

"Name it, man! Whatever you say!" Jamie responded to the
opportunity to barter.

"Be cool! You're givin' me a headache!" As the boy flinched back against
the door, Kermit pulled out a picture of David. "I fronted this kid
twenty-five dime bags three weeks ago. I never got my dope or my money.
Now, I want his ass. Get him."

"Man...." Jamie gasped at the photo. "You're wrong about him...I
mean...if he'd had that stuff, I'd know. I know this dude and--"

"You callin' me a liar?!" Kermit grabbed him by the shirtfront and
dragged him into the barrel of his gun once again. "You filthy little
piece a shit!"

"Nonononono...." Jamie babbled again, voice full of fear and pain.

"Good," the aggressor replied, smiling unkindly. "Since it's clear you
know the little worm, get him and I'll let you live." The man pulled out
two hundred dollar bills. "And since I'm such a nice guy, bring 'im to
me and I'll part with these." Mockingly smoothing the boy's threadbare
shirt back into place, Kermit added, "My good deed for the day."

"Can I have it now?" Jamie's mind was a tumble of bad options. <How can
we both get away and still get the money?>

Slapping the boy across the cheek, 'the dealer' spat, "No fuckin' way.
Get out and bring me that boy!"

Kermit watched the stumbling mass of youth running down the street.
Never one to leave the success of a mission to chance, he holstered his
weapon and followed.

The boy was panicked and still half-high on his last hit. It was no
contest as Kermit followed the boy, completely unseen, through an
intricate maze of alleyways and burned-out buildings. Finally, the boy
led him past a wooden fence to another decrepit building, zoned for

The boy ran inside, stumbling on the rubble. Kermit got to the door in
plenty of time and hesitated, listening to the rapid-fire warning the boy
was laying out to another kid.

"D!!! We gotta get outta here, man! Some dealer's gonna kill us both!!!"
You screwed him over and he's pissed! Offered me TWO HUNDRED
BUCKS to bring you in!" Jamie knew going back to the dealer
would be a death sentence for both of them. Guys like that didn't leave
loose ends.

Kermit gasped silently as he felt something clutch at his heart. Not
twenty feet away was his brother, the brother he had failed and had to
save now. The clutching got worse as David spoke, verifying his identity.

"What dealer?? How???" David strained to understand as Jamie babbled
on and on.

"Man, no time for that now! I got fifty bucks - we gotta skip the city!
He'll have ever'body lookin' for ya! We'll go to New York - nobody'll
ever find us there!"

The door suddenly flew off its hinges. "Thanks, brat!" A man
David assumed was his enemy stormed in through the rubble, throwing
two bills toward Jamie and coming straight toward him.

David's mouth gaped open like a fish out of water. He couldn't believe
Jamie would betray him like this!!! His raw, watery eyes could
barely make out the figure in black but he knew in a short time, he
would be dead and Jamie would be richer by $200. <Don't know why I
should be surprised.... >David braced for the inevitable bullet through the
head. In a way, it was a screaming relief. He waited for the end to his

Jamie was gaping similarly in shock that he'd actually been followed.
With their madcap route, it never occurred to him that anybody could
follow him. " was tryin' to warn ya...." he babbled
helplessly. Somehow, the opinion of his friend meant everything to him.
Suddenly, he had a gun barrel pointed into his face.

"Get out," the deadly man ordered, sparing Jamie only a passing

Jamie, frozen with fear and loyalty, stared at the man until he jerked
Jamie off his feet, grabbing his arm. The man bent down to grab the
bills, stuffed them in Jamie's pocket and literally threw him toward the
door. The youth stumbled, just managing to catch himself, as the
dealer turned toward David.

The walls of defense came tumbling down at the sight of his brother. David
was a ragged mess. His long, lean form resembled more of a skeleton than a
human being; dull, lackluster eyes, long hair, body twitching in
anticipation for his next hit. He was sitting on a nest of what appeared
to be stolen radios as he waited, eyes closed.

Kermit glanced behind him; Jamie was gone. He sank to his knees in front
of the boy, taking him in his hands. "David!'s me. It's
Kermit. I'm going to get you out of here. David!"

The junkie opened his eyes a peep...jaw tightening, he used the last
remaining fraction of energy he possessed to launch himself at his
brother. "YOU! You bastard!"

Kermit, taken by surprise, barely managed to block the boy's attack.
"Dammit...David, it's me! It's Kermit! Stop this!!!" Then he realized the
truth. David was attacking him because he DID know who Kermit was and
still hated him. Kermit held the skinny arms back, trying to restrain him
without hurting him, when something was flung through the window
from the outside.

Kermit reflexively ducked, taking David with him as the boy continued to
struggle. David took no note of the crashing sounds and then the sound
of gunfire. He just kept hitting and kicking, trying to hurt the man who
had destroyed him.

Kermit, for his part, was trying not to get killed from both sides of the
room. While his brother was trying to kick the living crap out of him,
two thugs had smashed their way into the house and had taken refuge
while the cops outside riddled the house with bullets. "David!" Kermit
hissed. "Stop it, Squirt!" The nickname seemed to only fuel David's anger
and he struck at Kermit, putting his own body in the line of the gunfire.
Kermit yanked him down behind the debris as one of the men took a bullet and
was propelled backward ten feet.

David's arm yanked out again and swung, leaving Kermit no choice. "Damn
it to HELL!" Kermit swore as he hit David himself. Darting forward
as David slumped into unconsciousness, Kermit pulled a pair of
handcuffs from his jacket -- one of many odd tools he carried for special
occasions -- and tried not to notice how much he had to adjust the cuffs
for David's hands not to slip out of them.

He needed a diversionary tactic. Kermit glanced around quickly, trying to
figure out a way of escape. He found it. He reached for his lighter and
set fire to a rag with oil stains. It went up like a torch. Kermit, using a
steel rod nearby, flung it in the lap of the other remaining gunman.

The man screamed and danced around quite satisfactorily as Kermit took
his prized Desert Eagle and quickly made a hole in the back of the
house. Dragging David through it, he hoisted his brother over his
shoulder as the house went up in flames. Kermit only wished he could
destroy his brother's junkie habit just as easily as he carried him off
into the night.

He had just made it to the Cadillac when David stirred. Panicked, Kermit
let adrenaline move his body to work as quickly as possible. David came to
his senses just as Kermit was buckling him in. He jerked his body upward,
causing Kermit to hit the car ceiling with the top of his skull. But his
practiced hands finished the job. David was restrained.

Now, Kermit focused on getting David away from this hellhole. But
how was he going to rid him of the filth coursing through his mind
and veins? It wasn't going to be easy. He hated to admit that he was out
of his league. This called for someone professional -- a different
profession than his own. He knew who could handle it. He would call him

Chapter 4-->