In The Museum of the History of Drugsby Daniel Baird
1. The old stretch limo screeched to a stop at Christie and Rivington, hurling Morty and Eve against the bulletproof partition. The Russian driver lit a cigarette. He removed his upper row of gold teeth and carefully polished them with his handkerchief. The Wu Tang Clan pumped from the stereo, the driver mouthing the words.
-Look, it’s a simple job, Morty said. She’s on the top floor. There’s a skylight. We wait on the roof until she’s alone, then go down and nab her. Here are the papers. They have to be signed by an M.D.
-By the venerable Dr. Eve, guerilla grrrrrl psychopharmacologist, lives in cyberspace, Eve mumbled, laughing. What the fuck are they?
-God, I wish I were, like, a shaman or a witch, not this fucking—Dr. Eve wiped sweat off her unsteady fingers, unclasped her fountain pen, and scrawled random, illiterate squiggles into the blanks. Green ink bled and smeared all over her scrubbed hands, nails bitten beyond the quick.
They started down Rivington, Morty in the lead with his jerky, bow-legged gait. They passed a candy store with industrial-sized bins of gummy bears, a Pharonic black man draped in gold and a lightning bolt shaved into his head guarding the entrance, and next door a shriveled grocer squatted beside rotting heaps of mangoes, papayas, and bananas, the air swarming with wasps and flies. On the crumbling walls of the buildings were posters for soft porn martial arts flicks. They turned down a narrow alley between buildings. Morty humped onto a dumpster, cat-eyes flashing, and started up the dangling fire escape with its botanical garden of dead potted plants. Ventilation ducts spewed hot air that smelled of fired meat and dirty diapers.
When Eve finally pulled herself onto the sagging, tarred roof, she was shivering, gasping for air. She stood doubled over, convulsed with dry heaves. She spat an acidic wad of bile.
The roof was a jungle of chap satellite dishes, mangled antennas, and wires jerry-rigged to telephone and power lines. There was an old pigeon coop encrusted with droppings, a sofa with springs and stuffing sticking out, and a few bare, stained mattresses. They could see over the other tenements and between the projects to the darkened river. A light-ringed tugboat pulled a barge. Welding torches and flares glowed among the steel girders of the Williamsburg Bridge. The sound of Spanish, Chinese, dice, and music seeped up through the thin roof.
-Be careful, Morty said. She’s right under us.
-What’s her name?
-It must be on one of those papers you signed.
-What band did her father play in?
-How the hell would I know—
-Was he like a singer or lead guitarist or—
-Shush, for Christ’s sake.
Morty tiptoed across the roof and peered through the skylight. Eve knelt and put her ear to the roof.
-She’s listening to Nirvana, Eve said.
-Nirvana live, probably a bootleg. It’s like this really intense, really—
-Look, there she is, Morty said.
Eve leaned over the soot- and grease-smeared skylight. The light in the room was a hazy red from painted light bulbs and smoke. Directly below was a young woman smoking a cigarette, her eyes closed, her face flushed and beaded with sweat, her wet, ratty, dyed blond hair thrown over the back of the tub. The hot water was on full blast; soap bubbles and steaming water flooded the room.
-She has great boobs, Eve said, blowing on the glass of the skylight and wiping it with her sleeve. Great veins.
-I guess so, Morty mumbled, looking away.
-They’re big and perky and have great nipples. I wonder if they’re real.
-What the hell are you talking about?
-I mean, she might have had a tit job, she might have had her nipples moved or something, like Courtney Love—
-Eve, we have a job to do, Morty said. Let’s nab her before she drowns.
Morty wrenched open the corroded iron hatch and climbed down the ladder. Eve followed, bracing herself against waves of nausea. Soapy, scalding water streamed from under the door of the apartment. Across the hall, a dozen or so men shouted at each other in Chinese and threw dice. The music was loud, driving: I’m a negative creep I’m a negative creep I’m a negative creep oooooooooh. Morty reared back and hurled himself against the metal door like a linebacker. Then, rubbing his bruised shoulder, he turned the knob and pushed it open against the deluge of water that swirled and burned around his ankles. I’m a negative creep I’m a negative creep I’m a negative creep aaaaaaaaahhhhhh!
Clusters of bubbles floated up and stuck in Morty’s hair. Steam poured from the bathtub and filled the room; the windows were fogged, the blistered wallpaper oozed. A boy in ripped bellbottoms curled half-conscious on a couch. Greasy purple hair plastered over a blackhead-covered face, he cradled an unplugged imitation Stratocaster in his arms. Kurt Cobain continued to shout and croak. The girl emitted long, throaty moans of pleasure. Morty splashed into the room, whipped a pistol out of his shoulder holster, and pointed it straight at the boy’s lolling head.
-Don’t make a fucking move or I’ll blow your brains out!
The boy’s head bobbed slightly, his eyes puffy slits and fat, watery pupils.
-Shit, man, shit, he slurred.
-I told you not to move!, Morty barked and clubbed the boy with the butt of his gun.
The boy slumped over, dropping his guitar. Blood soaked his stringy hair, dollops of blood dissolved into the rising flood.
-Do something, Eve!
-What should I—
-You’re a doctor! Tie her up, tranquilize her, let’s get the hell out of here—
Bathed in sweat, Eve was woozy and cramped. She was not sure what she was doing there; she wanted to take off her clothes and get in the bathtub, to curl up and cry herself to sleep. She burned her hands on the brass faucet. She swished away the fragrant steam, the mountains of bubbles that glittered rainbows. The girl had the wasted, futureless, immortal, 19-year-old ease Eve had always longed for and never had. Her body was voluptuous and sleazy in the hot, milky water, her breasts pale and waterlogged, traces of baby fat around her stomach. Her crotch was clean-shaven, a gold hoop piercing her labia. Tattoos of snakes, roses, and flames coiled around her wide hips.
-Hurry up! Morty shouted hoarsely, his gun pressed to the unconscious rocker’s temple.
Eve moved in slow motion, as though swimming underwater. She unzipped her sports bag, took out a nylon cord, a roll of black electrical tape, a bottle of mercurochrome, a stethoscope, and a syringe prepared with Klonopin. Images wandered through through her head: Kurt Cobain’s bored, doped, self-loathing expression backstage at a Nirvana concert in New York, her deformed, racked body when she went into labor, Timothy in his L.A. Psychedelic death room, in the lotus position, humming futuristic mantras. She took the syringe, squeezed a drop out of the tip. She hovered over the girl in the bathtub. She had beautiful, delicate, eggshell blue veins. Then the girl’s eyes suddenly popped open and she began to thrash and surge out of the water.
What the fuck is going on! What the fuck, what the fuuuuck!
At that moment the electricity fizzed and the entire building blacked out.
The girl shoved Eve backwards onto the floor. The tub tipped over, cracked, and for a moment Eve breathed dirty bath water and soap. The wild naked girl pummeled Eve with her little fists, her voice a high, eerie, distorted shriek. Morty sprang into action, grabbed the girl by the hair, and dragged her off Eve. Eve flopped over and groveled in the swamp for the syringe.
-You fucking bastards!
-Hey, hey there, you filthy little bitch, Morty snapped.
There was splashing water and shattering glass. Pieces of furniture flew. There were thuds, slaps, rips, and scratches. There were grunts and screams.
The room was a cloud of soap bubbles. The boy regained semiconsciousness and toyed with the loose strings of his bloody guitar. Chinese men in tanktop undershirts stood in the hall, holding little white Shabbat candles.
-All right, Morty announced, she is subdued.
The hog-tied girl tried to scream through the gauze and electrical tape. She bucked and strained, hammering her head on the floor.
In the candlelight, Eve could see that Morty’s face was covered with jagged scratches, toothmarks and smears of lipstick. Dr. Eve opened the bottle of mercurochrome and carefully swabbed Morty’s cuts, pausing to draw little flower designs on his face with the translucent red liquid. Then Morty lifted the girl by the cord that bound her arms and legs and hoisted her squirming body onto his shoulder.
They started down the steep, narrow, creaking stairs. Water cascaded around them; slimy water seeped from the ceiling and walls. The Chinese men lit cigarettes off their candles and stared, one of them clacking a pair of dice; all the way down, dark, curious eyes gazed from behind half-open doors.
The limo idled out front, pipes pouring smoke. The driver was in an animated conversation with a crack dealer. Not without bashing her head on the door, Morty loaded the girl into the back of the limo. The driver’s face immediately brightened, his eyes filling the rearview mirror.
Don’t get your hopes up, buddy, Morty said. This isn’t Chechnya. This is the United States, in case no one bothered to tell you.
As the limo pulled out, Morty slipped a flask from his pocket and took a swig, passing it through a slot to the driver. The car filled with the smell of rotten plums. The girl’s efforts to scream made her sound as though she were choking on her own tongue. Eve rocked back and forth, arms wrapped around her stomach. Morty’s heavy eyes grazed over the struggling girl and then to the window. They wove through jammed, late-night SoHo traffic. Kids dressed to kill lined up like cattle behind the purple velvet ropes of throbbing clubs.
-Huh, Eve grunted, looking over at the girl resentfully. I bet your father’s band sucked. I bet it was like Rush or Cinderella or something.
The girl thrashed violently.
-Is it all right if you just drop me off? Eve said, her voice weak and edgy. Could you see this through? I can’t fucking deal with those social workers.
-Sure, sure, Morty said, taking another swig from his flask. What else would I have to do?
When the limo stopped in front of Eve’s building in TriBeCa, Morty slipped her a rubber-banded wad of one hundred dollar bills, each bill checked with a fluorescent pink marker. Eve reached over and weighed the girl’s breasts in her hands, brushed their broad, pink nipples with her thumbs. She fingered the artery in her neck until it stood out, erect; Eve could feel the lifeblood spurting through.
I think they’re real, Eve said, and got out.
2. Eve rushed to the front door of her building. She had to redial the security code four times. Every cell in her body cried out, ranted, craved; every cell in her body was a mouth, an eye, unevolved. She ran up the stairs, her clothes cold and heavy as lead, her feet squishing in her hose. She crashed through the double doors into the first floor of the penthouse, thinking, I have to see my son, I have to tuck him in, I have to tell him stories, I have to sing him lullabies, her face streaked with tears. The building was quiet except for the sounds of the city, the whoosh of cars moving in every direction, the doppler-bent blare of horns, the subway trains, the helicopters lifting off the helipad on the Hudson, the disembodied fragments of voices. The walls of the apartment were crowded with huge abstractions in splashed Day-Glo reds, purples, and yellows, with violently doodled portraits, with photographs of Eve’s husband Izzy lounging casually with Mick Jagger, with Lou Reed, with Patti Smith, of Izzy and Eve hiking up Machu Picchu and sunbathing in Antibes. On the glass tables were Aztec daggers, West African fertility gods, Haitian spirit bottles, Tibetan charms. She tried to think of a story, a lullaby, but nothing came.
-Ben! Izzy! Is anyone here?
She started up the spiral staircase.
She didn’t know any stories, she didn’t know any lullabies. She took off her soggy shoes and socks and went into Izzy’s office, which contained their Museum of the History of Drugs, where a vast collection of historically significant doses of heroin, LSD, hallucinogenic mushrooms, peyote buttons, rocks of cocaine, crystal methamphetamine, red-haired marijuana buds, chunks of hashish, and much else, were arranged and labeled in a floor-to-ceiling glass cabinet, like rare butterflies or archaeological relics. She fumbled with her keychain, unlocked the case, and slid the door open. Standing precariously on a library foot-ladder, she picked a hermetically sealed bag of vintage Mexican brown. In the bathroom, Eve stripped off her slacks and underwear, her blouse and bra, and inspected herself in front of the mirror. Her legs were stick-like, her ribs protruded, her breasts were nonexistent; bruises and ugly, scabby tracks mapped the course of her collapsing veins. She sat down on the toilet. She cooked the heroin on a tarnished silver soup spoon, part of the set she inherited after her first wedding; the dope turned a sick, bubbly tar-black. She roughly jabbed the needle into a vein in the corner of her inner thigh, watched with morose satisfaction the threads of blood suck back and curl, and squeezed the syringe dry. A warm, ghostly radiance spread through her. Her bowels emptied, her lungs opened, her mind cleared. She rode waves of pleasure.
She looked at her watch: 3:30 a.m. She had no idea how long she had been in the bathroom—five minutes, three hours. She felt normal, lucid, straight, panicky. She had no idea where Izzy and Ben were. Normal, lucid, straight, she hated feeling normal, lucid, and straight, she preferred craving and sickness and ecstasy. She no longer knew why she went to medical school, why she sent sloppy loser girls to expensive private rehab resorts; she wanted to make people sicker, to make them full of bestial cravings. She found a remote and turned on the sound system full blast; the music shook the walls. She went back into Izzy’s office and reopened The Museum of the History of Drugs. Izzy never touched any of it; Izzy never got drunk or stoned. Izzy the famous hipster psychoanalyst liked to sit in silk pyjamas, nurse glasses of five hundred dollar a bottle Burgundy, and smirk. She ran her finger along the glass case until she reached the LSD-25 with the label: from original batch synthesized in the laboratories of The Department of Experimental Psychology, Harvard University, October, 1962. She broke one phial and spilled it into the cleft of her outstretched tongue. Then another and another.
Outside, it had reached the hour just before the steely blue light of dawn, a few stray sirens and car alarms, the ambient electrical hum of millions of empty, brightly-lit offices. Eve went to her office. Her screensaver was a three-dimensional shape, the graph of some random, incoherent equation, in blue, green, and red, helixes twisting and turning inside-out. The shelves built into the walls were crammed with thousands of books, none of which she had attempted to read in years. Through the windows she looked across the rooftops with their old wooden water towers, and hanging just above the city was a three-quarter moon, bright and funereal. There were 50 urgent messages in her email inbox she would never read: she wanted her patients to get sicker, more craven. Every time she moved she left behind shimmering ghosts of herself, evaporating skeins. She thought of Timothy. She clicked on his live website. Perspectives deepened and shifted, the walls became translucent, the dawn sky an infinite expanse of planets, stars, and galaxies. She thought of Timothy. His dying. His transforming. His transmigrating. There is no death, she thought. There is no birth. Just wild sickness, craving without cure.
Patti Smith quailed a lullaby, Hey Venus, hey…
The morning after Eve delivered a lecture on the history of LSD at the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic, she borrowed her father’s 1965 Cadillac Seville with its airplane engine, spoked wheels, and real leather upholstery, and sailed south at 80 down Highway 1. She had not been in California since finishing her residency at Stanford and fleeing to Guatemala then Peru with a scary need to love and heal. The September sun blazed through crystalline air; a wind blustered off the sea, making the gnarled cedars and pines pitch and shake. White caps flashed on the brilliant blue water. She flew, breathlessly, not even slowing down for the hairpin curves along the steep, crumbling bluffs, bounding over rocks that had slid over the wire and sandbags. She turned up onto back roads, the hillsides black from the previous year’s fires. Shadows flooded the creases in the hills, the jagged fault-lines, and the sun free-fell into the ocean. On the hillcrest above Hollywood, Timothy’s house looked like a vehicle that had temporarily landed from space, the driveway lined with palms and cypress trees. The doors of the house were all open wide. A Cal-Tech dropout who looked like a Hell’s Angel feverishly worked at a computer terminal. Timothy sat lotus-style in the deanimation room. His head was wreathed with chrysanthemums, and colored glass beads hung around his neck. Video cameras were trained on him, wires were taped to his arms and temples. His image flickered on a huge plasma television screen in front of him. His hair was a brittly white, his face ravaged and pale, his body reduced to parched skin stretched over a skeleton. He constantly ran his tongue over his cracked lips. But his blue eyes were wide, warm, and alive. Welcome to eternity, he said.
Eve leaned back in her rolling office chair, one hand on the mouse, the other on the keyboard. She had no idea whether any of this was true, and she didn’t care. Patti Smith sang a lullaby. Saliva drooled down Eve’s face; she relaxed and felt urine stream down her legs. Timothy’s image downloaded, appeared dot by dot, each dot a continuously mutating cell that pulsed beams of light across the room and refracted off the mirror-walls. She got higher and higher, riding a thermal wind, the room devolving into infinite geometries, labyrinths of signals, but it wasn’t enough, it wasn’t nearly enough. The ravaged face filled the screen, red, smoldering, a face of artificial fire with two deep empty eyes staring out. She sat down in the deanimation room. The sun was setting. The wind blew in the smell of the ocean, of manzanita, of ash. He said that now people all over the globe, beings all over the galaxy, would be able to be in contact with him during these last moments of his life on earth, when he shed the envelope of his body. A nurse appeared and gave him an injection. He spoke very deliberately, suppressing his obvious suffering. He said he did not fear death at all, did not believe in death, that he regarded it as the ultimate trip, that now the fascist death-state no longer had a monopoly over consciousness, he was global, he existed in Tokyo, Lima, New York, Jupiter, Neptune. Eve remembered how sad she felt, sitting in the deanimation room, on the verge of tears, the dark coming on but the sky remaining a perfect blue, there with a man who was going to die no matter what he said. EVERYTHING IS INFORMATION EVERYTHING IS MIND THAT IS WHAT WE LEARNED FROM OUR EXPERIMENTS IN THE ’60S THAT IS WHAT IS BEING REALIZED ON A GALACTIC SCALE ON THE EVE OF THE MILLENIUM. The image was no longer on the screen, but floated, disembodied, in three dimensions, graph of an incoherent equation. She double-clicked and the image opened, flower-like, and inside was another image, not of Timothy but a teenage version of Eve, tan and freckled, her long bleached hair tied in a ponytail. She double-clicked again and a still younger Eve emerged, dot by cancerous dot; she double-clicked again and an even younger, smaller Eve appeared, her baby-blue eyes innocent but somehow too intense, too pure. She stood up and backed away, frightened. Morning sunlight flooded through the window. And executive helicopter banked over the river. She could hear engines. Voices raved in her head. Words swarmed through the room, signals bound her hands and feet, stuffed her mouth. She was a floating image, a series of embedded windows, digital, galactic, she was in Lima, in Bombay, on Saturn. She wanted to leave the room, she had to get back to The Museum of The History of Drugs, she needed more, but with every movement she heard a loud click click click and the room changed, expanded, complicated into deeper corridors, doors opening into doors, windows into windows. She started to thrash and scream-
Thick, leaky knots of blue vein branched out across the floor, pulsing. Morty’s black limo drove toward her from every direction. The room was full of shining soap bubbles. She kept getting smaller and smaller. A mouth, an eye, unevolved, pure. She shrieked, fuck you, fuuuuck youuuuu, but nothing came out.
In the background, Patti Smith hissed and purred:
Hey Sheba, Hey Salome, Hey Venus.