This is a true story, but the Muse won’t admit it.
July 13, 2014
THE MUSE was not amused.
The night was dark, lit only by the faint flicker of city lights in the distance.
The road was darker.
A new moon hung in the sky and looked more like a scar than a light.
Midnight lay a good half hour away. And the Muse should have been in bed hours ago. He didn’t work late anymore. He preferred not to work at all.
The Muse and I were seated in the back of a worn-down Chevy Chevette that had once been painted as blue as quail eggs, but that was before its showroom sheen had been discolored by time and rain and streaks of rust.
The engine coughed. The shocks were gone. The tires were threadbare.
And the driver was running on empty. He sat hunched over the wheel wearing a blue jean jacket and a pair of Levis that had been run through too much hard water in too many washing machines. His hair was long. He couldn’t remember the last time it had been cut. A week-old beard, blond and streaked with gray, masked his face. And he tapped the brakes with the heel of a black cowboy boot.
A young man sat beside him, dressed in Cargo pants and a white tee shirt that had turned a pale yellow. His face was a field of homegrown acne. His brown hair had been combed into a ducktail, the kind Elvis used to wear, and his eyes were bouncing around as though they were running loose inside a pinball machine.
He was humming a song. Mostly high notes. It had words. He didn’t know any of them.
The Muse and I spoke in whispers.
“It’s an ungodly hour to be up,” he said.
“It’s research,” I said.
“I’m writing a story about a drug bust,” I said. “We’re going on one.”
He sighed and asked for a cigarette even though he knew neither one of us smoked.
“Then you ought to be with a cop,” he said.
“He’s driving,” I said.
“Looks like a homeless pervert, if you ask me,” the Muse said.
“Where you gonna find the druggie?” he asked.
“He’s riding shotgun.”
“Looks like a punk,” the Muse said.
“He have a gun?”
“In his belt,” I said.
“Will he use it?”
“I hope not.”
“Why’d the cop let you ride along?” the Muse wondered.
“He’s a friend of mine.”
“We could get killed,” he said.
“You don’t have to worry,” I said.
“You’re just a Muse,” I said.
He sighed again.
“I could use a change of scenery,” he said.
I glanced out the window.
The night had grown blacker. The land was flat. The trees were few and far between. Between Waxahachie and Midlothian, there was no scenery.
The cop eased off the accelerator as we rolled past the city limit sign. He had been working undercover for six months to find the source of drugs in Ellis County. He and the punk had become pretty good friends.
The punk was selling street drugs.
The cop was buying them.
But he didn’t want the punk. He wanted the supplier.
And now he had five thousand dollars in his jacket pocket – he had counted it out for the punk earlier in the evening – and he was trying to buy more than the punk had ever carried at one time.
They would have to see the boss. That’s all the cop wanted anyway.
I was sweating. The Muse didn’t sweat. The cop never sweated.
I had asked him before we left, “What happens if you get caught?”
“Don’t worry,” he had told me. “Druggies are dumb.”
He laughed. I tried to and failed miserably.
We drove across the railroad tracks. The shocks were still gone. So were the struts.
We hit the tracks so hard the glove box flew open.
The punk looked inside. He was staring at a police radio. It squawked.
Oh my God, the cop thought, I’ve been caught.
Oh my God, I thought, we’re busted.
Oh my God, the Muse said.
“That’s a police radio,” the punk yelled.
The cop didn’t say a word.
“That’s really cool,” the punk said.
The cop raised his eyebrows.
“Yeah, man, that’s really cool,” the punk said again. “Can you get me one of those?”
The Muse looked at me and nodded. “The cop’s right,” he said. “That’s why druggies never last long on the streets.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“They’re dumb,” he said.
The source had brought a lot of drugs, but the cop only had five thousand dollars. It wasn’t nearly enough.
“Can you get more?” the source asked.
“Now.” The cop nodded toward the backseat. “Get in,” he said. “And we’ll go where the real money is.”
The source grinned. It was indeed going to be a good night. He was still grinning when the cop drove to a stop in front of the Sheriff’s office. The cop didn’t have a gun. He didn’t need one.
I counted four shotguns when they were shoved through the car windows.
“Hey, man,” said the source, “you don’t need all of them shotguns.”
“I was gonna give you the drugs for nothin’,” he said.
The Muse shook his head.
“Still dumb,” he said.
By eight o’clock, the punk and the source were back on the streets, walking away from the jail with a two-bit lawyer and a four-bit bail bondsman.
“Who’s dumb now?” I asked the Muse.
He didn’t answer.
The Muse had been asleep since daybreak.