Danny was a guy who made an impression. When he came into the restaurant to apply for a job as a waiter, a couple weeks before Memorial Day weekend, he did so wearing a flashy suit. I’d been working at the place—a steak and seafood eatery on the top floor of a Holiday Inn at Virginia Beach—for about seven years, starting from when they took me on as a dishwasher when I was 15. And I’d never seen a guy come in and apply for a waiter job while wearing a jacket and tie. But that was Danny.
That afternoon, I was in the restaurant helping us get ready for the busy season. Stocking the bar, polishing the brass railings, getting the wait stands cleaned up and stocked, etc. I was wiping down the tables when Danny came in and had his interview with Keith, our dining room manager. Keith was a decent guy, no-nonsense but fair-minded when it came to running the wait, bus, and bar staff. But he was pretty humorless, always serious. He looked like a bank manager and acted like he needed more thrills in his life. I couldn’t hear the conversation between Keith and Danny during the interview, but when I heard Keith let out a raucous laugh at one point, I thought, “This character’s somebody special. He just made Keith laugh.” I didn’t know the half of it.
Danny was big. Big body, big personality. He filled a room. 29 at the time, he stood around 6’5. He had a huge nose. Brown hair worn somewhere between long and short, brown eyes that were often dancing around. Always showing demonstrative facial expressions and bodily gestures. A few weeks after he started waiting tables at the restaurant (of course Keith hired him), he was just about running the dining room. If he got an elderly couple to wait on, he was the boy next door. If it was a table full of college girls, he flirted with them. With a younger couple out for a romantic dinner, he made them feel like the place was there just for them. The bus boys looked up to him, liked how he always made them laugh. They put a little extra effort into getting his tables cleared and cleaned when one of his parties left. The bartenders—we had three of them, and they were all attractive women—also liked him. He tipped the bus boys and bartenders better than most of us on the wait staff did.
Shortly after he became my co-worker, I learned that Danny was a musician. He played saxophone. He was in a band—Danny described them as half rowdy rock and roll, half experimental jazz—that traveled around. His brother was a guitarist in the outfit. Every summer, the band made a go of it in a beach town. The summer before the present one, it had been in Miami. Now they were in Virginia Beach, where I’d been living since the navy transferred my father there when I was 12. Danny and his brother were originally from Dearborn, Michigan. Their family used to come to Virginia Beach for summer vacations. They always liked it. They figured they’d try the place for a summer now, see how it went. Danny’s brother got a job as a prep cook at another restaurant on the strip. There were three other guys in the band. They had an apartment together in the Oceanview area of Norfolk—a seedy section of town that my parents had always told me to avoid at night. When I thought of Oceanview, I pictured prostitutes, muggings, drug deals, sad people, and things like that.
It was around the end of June when Danny introduced me to cocaine. My friend Craig got initiated at the same time. Craig and I had been buddies since we were both in the eighth grade. As two people who came together as friends, we fit the “opposites attract” theory. Craig was outgoing, brash, always in the middle of things, someone that other people tended to either kiss up to or loathe. He’d been a star on our junior high and high school baseball and basketball teams. By contrast, I was reserved, understated, and preferred to keep to myself for the most part. I was a good athlete but I was content to play baseball in Little League and basketball at neighborhood courts or the navy gym. But somehow Craig and I clicked. He was going to a small college in another part of Virginia—big fish in a small pond—and was back home for the summer before his senior year. I was always thinking of taking some classes at community college, getting some good grades so I could try and get into a four year school and get some kind of degree. But I wasn’t in any rush. I worked at the restaurant year round, waiting tables in the main dining room during the busy season and working banquets and convention parties in the other months. If there wasn’t enough work there during the offseason, sometimes I took jobs as a hired hand on construction sites. I had my own efficiency apartment by this time. It was close enough to the beach so that I could ride my bike to work, but far enough away so that my rent was the same amount every month of the year, no eight-month lease or seasonal hikes.
Danny’s band played at The Jewish Mother that night in late June. Craig, who was waiting tables at another place on the beach, met me there after we both got off work. We had drinks and ate Reuben sandwiches and potato salad, enjoyed the music. I thought Danny’s band sounded a little like James Chance and the Contortions. After the show, Danny came over and talked to us, said we should come out to this party he and his gang were having at their apartment in Oceanview. I dismissed my parents’ advice and went.
The scene at the party was different from what I was accustomed to socially. It was an older crowd. Some of the guys there were in the navy. I recognized one man as a fellow—his name was Bruce and friends called him Juicy Brucy—who used to come over and watch football games with my dad sometimes. They both bet on the games, through my dad’s bookie. It felt weird to be at a party with one of my dad’s friends. Juicy Brucy looked away when I made eye contact with him. Craig and I were thinking about leaving the place when Danny came over with a huge smile on his big face and told me he had something for us. He took us into a bedroom, away from the main party scene, and showed us a baggie filled with cocaine, asked if we’d ever tried it. A few minutes later, he was showing us how to snort it.
It became White Summer. Craig and I both loved how the coke made us feel, the first time we tried it. Prior to that, we had both done plenty of pot smoking and drinking. This was something different. What a rush, what euphoria! After that night, the next time I saw Danny at work, I asked him what a guy would need to do if he wanted to get more of the stuff.
“Just ask me! And I’m told by people who know that it’s looking like there’ll be an extended blizzard around here. Plenty of local snow this summer!”
Craig and I started buying coke from Danny. Not every day, but a gram two or three times a week or so. It turned out one of Danny’s bandmates/housemates had become a mid-level local dealer. Coke isn’t as inexpensive as pot or booze, of course. Craig didn’t need to worry about the money, because he was living at home for the summer and what he made waiting tables was pure pocket cash for him. But after we’d been at this for a month or so, I found that I had to pick up extra shifts at work to meet my rent and utility bills demands. I’d meant to put away a good stash of money over the summer months, to help me get through the offseason when my earnings wouldn’t be flowing as readily. So much for that.
July and the first part of August was a wild time. At a party one night, Craig and I made friends with these three girls who’d been raised in nearby Suffolk, and who were now college students working and living at the beach for the summer. We hit it off with them, started hanging around their bungalow many nights. Often, I would just crash there. Eventually, one of the girls became my girlfriend. The girls were all working at beach restaurants, like us. We’d all meet up at their place after work, around 11 or so. We liked to watch The Twilight Zone when it came on TV at midnight. Then Craig and I would go off on our own in a bathroom or somewhere and snort some coke. After, the bunch of us would walk to a beach bar for drinks and some food. Then maybe we’d wander on the boardwalk, sometimes skinny dip in the ocean. We liked to go to the 24-hour Waffles & Things diner and eat fried clam strips at three in the morning. Everything felt good, despite my nagging money worries. The coke helped to make everything feel so good.
I found a T-shirt at a beach thrift shop one day. It was something somebody had hand-made at some point, then gave away. It was an unofficial Rolling Stones jersey shirt, that had the band name and the usual tongue image, and it showed some white powder falling onto the tongue, with the words “Coke adds Life” above the image. I wore that shirt all the time. It was the perfect shirt for White Summer.
A change came in the early-to-middle part of August. It started when I asked Danny, at the start of a shift one night, if I could buy some coke off him later. I noticed that he looked a little off kilter, was showing a frown I wasn’t used to seeing on him.
“No go, my friend,” he said, glumly, his face looking longer than usual. “We seem to have hit a drought. I’m told it may go on for a while.”
At that point, Craig and I still had a gram of coke around. His girlfriend—a Virginia Beach girl he’d been dating since high school—had been on him about how much time he’d been spending away from her. So he’d been with her the past few nights, and I’d been holding our most recently-purchased gram of coke for when we hung out next. Well, I’d been holding most of it—I’d snorted a few lines on my own, hoping Craig wouldn’t notice when we got into the baggie together.
When I told Craig Danny’s news about the sudden drought, Craig and I agreed we should keep our gram until the Ramones concert that was happening at Peabody’s on the strip four days later. That show was taking place over the last weekend before Craig (and my girlfriend) went back to school for the fall semester. It looked to be a big night, with the Ramones in town and it being the last real weekend of the season and all. Since we didn’t know when we’d be able to get more coke, Craig and I decided we better make sure we had some for that evening.
A couple nights before the Ramones show, Danny and I walked out of the restaurant together after a shift, and we ran into Craig in the hotel parking lot. Danny had continued to be out of sorts over the past few days. He wasn’t smiling or joking much. He got into some kind of argument with somebody he was waiting on that night, and Keith had to pull him into the kitchen and have a word with him.
“Big bummer about the snow drought,” Craig said, when we were all standing together.
“Definitely,” Danny responded. “I’m hearing it might go on for a while. There was a threat of a big bust and the people we score from are shutting down for the time being. We’re thinking about leaving town. Summer’s almost over, anyway.”
That was when I made the mistake of opening my mouth.
“Craig and I are just relieved we’ve saved some for the Ramones show this weekend.”
I knew I’d erred as soon as I saw the look of desperation in Danny’s eyes, and felt him walk up into my personal space.
“Saved some? You mean you’ve got some around?”
“Just a gram.” I think I back-pedaled away from Danny’s big body by a few steps when I said that. “We’re saving it for the show, since you said there’s no more to be had for now.”
I shot a glance at Craig and saw that he was making his “this guy’s a nut” face as he stared incredulously at Danny, who was still glaring wildly at me.
“You guys,” Danny said, his voice now clearly trembling. “You know, it’s an unwritten rule that when somebody like you guys scores from a source, you’re supposed to treat them to a complimentary line. I’ve never held you two to that.”
Craig was now looking defiant. He said, “Hey, that’s the first I’ve ever heard of this. How come you never mentioned it before? We’ve bought from you probably 20 times this summer and this is the first time I’m hearing about this so-called rule. No way we’re breaking into that bag before this weekend, if that’s what you’re leading up to.”
Danny turned in Craig’s direction. He took a few steps toward Craig. His facial expression looked both pathetic and dangerous. “I didn’t force that rule on you two before, because I wanted to be nice. Also, there was always plenty around. Now there’s not plenty around, and I’m asking you—begging you—to share some of that gram with me.”
It looked like Danny might actually cry. I pictured him at the restaurant, dazzling customers and co-workers with his big smile and charming manner. Then I pictured him up on the stage at The Jewish Mother, wailing away on his sax while his band ran through one of their jerkily funky songs. Then I pictured a baggie of cocaine, and people like us leaning over a table or bathroom sink to snort it through a rolled-up dollar bill. I said, “He’s right, Craig. Let’s go to my apartment. That’s where it is.”
Craig got in Danny’s car with me, allowed Danny to take us to my place. But there, even when I had the baggie out and was about to lay out a few lines for Danny, Craig got obstinate.
“I don’t agree with this shit,” he charged, his nostrils flaring as he attempted to stare Danny down. “I say we don’t break into the gram.”
At that moment, Danny reached into a pocket. He pulled out a switchblade knife and flicked open the blade. I remembered that he stalled in his car for a few minutes when we got to my apartment building, after Craig and I got out of the car. I thought about Oceanview. This was starting to feel like Oceanview.
Danny said, “And I’m saying you owe your dealer a few courtesy lines. My knife says if you have any more shit to say about it, I’ll demand the full gram.”
“Take all of it,” I told him. To Craig I said, “I’ll pay you back for your half.”
Danny looked at me and a few tears actually did trail down his big cheeks. “I’m sorry I had to insist, man. I—”
“It’s ok. Please just put the knife away, take the whole gram, and go.”
Craig didn’t say anything. His face looked like it was made of stone. Danny did as I suggested.
I gave the “Coke adds Life” T-shirt back to the thrift store the next morning.
Brian Greene writes short stories, personal essays, and critical pieces on books, music, and film. His features on noir fiction and films have been published online by Criminal Element, Crime Reads, Literary Hub, The Strand, Crime Time, Crimeculture, Mulholland Books, and others, and in print by Stark House Press, PM Press, and Paperback Parade. Brian lives in Durham, North Carolina with his wife and their two daughters. His writing blog is http://briangreenewriter.blogspot.com/ and he’s on Twitter @greenes_circles.
Image courtesy of Pixabay, altered by Cartoonize.