He sits in the corner of the empty room in a ball, folded in on himself and shaking. His shaky hand clutches the scorched glass pipe while he tries to mentally will more rock into the bowl. He’s crying, but he doesn’t know it. Tears cut clear rivers down the grime that has settled in on his face, a layer of filth and despair so thick that it has become a second skin.
They’re not tears born of fear or desperation, necessarily; the crack is gone, but he can get more. It’s never pleasant getting it, sure—the bus station hand-jobs, the car burglaries—but he manages. He always manages.
So it’s not that. That’s not why he cries.
The tears flow for the memories, the last vestiges of who he once was. Once upon a time, in a place far removed from this den of inequity, he was captain of the wrestling team. He scored winning touchdowns, and cycled through women like some men change socks. The cheerleader. The student body class president. (He never dated the rich black girl, though. Back then, he cared what his dad thought, and the admiral would have never tolerated his son dating a black girl.)
He used to be Albert Clifford.
A.C. Fucking Slater.
He used to be someone else.
But now, he’s here. In a crack-house decorated with CONDEMNED signs on the walls outside.
Even the worst junkies didn’t come here anymore.
The floor rotted through where Pastor Bill OD’d and died, the acids in his body eating a whole in the wood. If Slater looked hard enough, he could still see the outline of his friend’s dead body. And as he sat there, shivering despite the balmy Los Angeles night, his Jheri-curls dried and withered, hung over his shoulders like wild jungle vines, he wished for a fate not unlike that of Bill.
Death would be release, he figured. Death would be a sweet, resplendent relief.
He carried these thoughts with him as he stood from his crouch, his legs unsteady beneath him. He headed to the door.
Not tonight, though.
One more hit, he tells himself.
One more to end it all.