Sitting on a bench outside the church, Leonard waited. Surely the church service would be over soon. Finally, people began to file out the door. Leonard began his game of sizing up the people to determine who would be the best target. Church was a good place to pick up cash, but if he miscalculated and picked the wrong person, he might end up with nothing.
The pastor stood at the door and greeted everyone in a friendly manner. “Thank you for coming, Mr. Brown. I hope you’re feeling better.” “We need to get together for a game of golf this week.” He had a smile and a word of encouragement for everyone. It was apparent that the pastor genuinely liked people. Leonard decided to make his pitch to him.
“Hello, Pastor. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it in time for church.”
“We would have been delighted to have you, but maybe you can make it next week.”
“No, I’m just traveling through, but I never miss church if I can help it. I’m on my way to a new job in Birmingham, Alabama, but I ran out of gas a mile or so down the road. I decided to walk to church and figure out what to do after that.”
“I’ll take you to your car and we can pick up a can of gas on the way.”
That was not the response Leonard wanted. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t want to put you out. I need the walk to keep up my exercise anyway. But I could use a few dollars for gas if you can spare it. Some unexpected expenses along the way took all of my cash and I haven’t had a chance to get to an ATM machine.”
The pastor pulled out his billfold. It definitely was not bulging with cash, but the pastor handed him a ten-dollar-bill. “Will this help?”
“Yeah. Sure.” Disappointed, Leonard started to walk away. Remembering his manners, he turned and said, “Thank you.” Ten dollars was more than he had before but it wouldn’t go very far on the drug scene.
After wandering aimlessly for a while, Leonard decided to take a rest in a nearby park. As he came upon a little restaurant, he automatically stopped to check the trash can. Dark bread. He especially liked dark bread. It looked like a customer hadn’t touched the bread because there were several slices all together. Today seemed to be his day. He found enough lunch meat to put together to make a sandwich, which he placed in the plastic bag he carried in his backback.
At the park, Leonard sat on a bench to watch the antics of a squirrel for a few minutes. When the squirrel scampered away, he pulled out his sandwich from his backpack. He was about to unwrap it when a man came along walking a golden retriever. When the dog began to move toward Leonard, the man gently pulled on his leash and said, “No, Dodger.”
“Dodger’s a nice boy,” Leonard said. “Could I give him a bite of the sandwich?”
“No, we never feed him from the table.”
Leonard put the sandwich away and motioned for Dodger to come closer. The man released his leash. As Leonard began to pet the dog, Dodger became very friendly, putting his feet on the bench and licking Leonard’s hand. To the man, Leonard said, “If you’re not in a hurry, maybe you could sit and visit for a while. I need someone to talk to.”
“Yeah. Dodger and I can use a break.” Sitting beside Leonard, the man asked, “So, how’s everything with you?”
“Well, it’s not the best time in my life. My wife’s in the hospital and the bills are piling up. I just came out here to think. There must be some way I can get through this, but I sure don’t know how.”
“Are you working?”
“Yeah. Six days a week in construction but, even with overtime, I fall farther behind every week.”
“Do you have insurance?”
“Yeah, but many of my wife’s needs aren’t covered.”
“That’s tough. I’m really sorry.”
“I don’t suppose you happen to know of an agency or anyone that offers assistance for extreme hardship cases.”
“No, I’m sorry I don’t, but ...”
When the man hesitated, Leonard knew it was time to step up the sad story. “I really don’t care about myself but it breaks my heart to see my kids suffer. I couldn’t even buy my little girl a pair of shoes.”
The man reached into his pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill from his billfold. Handing the money to Leonard, he said, “This should be enough to buy your daughter some shoes.”
“Thank you. Thank you. I’ll tell her all about you and Dodger and she’ll thank you every time she looks at her new shoes.”
“I’m glad I could help.”
Leonard could hardly wait until the man and the dog moved on; so he could do some serious business on the street. He decided to eat his sandwich on the way because he didn’t want to waste any time before he could get his next fix.
The drug business was not like other businesses. Dealers had to keep a step ahead of the law. To avoid arrest, they often changed their places of operation. Leonard knew of a crack house in the ghetto that was usually open, but that was some distance away, and he needed a fix now. Walking down a familiar alley, Leonard ran into Ziggy, with whom he had previously done business. “How’s business today, Ziggy?” Leonard asked.
“Great. Just great.”
Leonard knew that dealers often indicated a booming business to discourage customers from expecting a better deal, but he was wise to the ploy. Holding the twenty-dollar-bill in his hand, he asked, “What’s the best you can do for me for twenty?”
Ziggy held up his smallest bag of crack. “Come on, Ziggy. You can do better than that.” When Ziggy shook his head, Leonard started to put the money into his pocket. “All right. I guess I’d better take my business elsewhere..”
As Leonard started to walk away, Ziggy said, “No. No. Let’s deal.”
With a grin on his face, he began to bargain with Ziggy. “How about two bags?”
“Two bags for thirty dollars.”
Holding up a larger bag, Ziggy said, “Twenty dollars.”
Leonard knew it was a good deal, but decided to hold out just a little longer. Actually, he liked playing the game.
When Leonard walked away with the two bags, he once again prided himself on his people skills. That was how he survived life on the streets. Now to find a safe place to smoke crack and then he would move on to the crack house where he could get the best deal to beef up his supply. He could deal with not knowing where his next meal was coming from, but wondering how to get his next fix filled him with anxiety. Only his drugs gave him a sense of peace.
It had been five years since Leonard had contacted his parents. His use of drugs began while he was in high school. When his parents found evidence of drug use in his room, a big fight followed. The pressure became so intense that he knew he had to find a way out. He had to go some place where he could find peace. The city. He had already tasted city life and liked it.
During spring break of his sophomore year, Leonard had heard several of the seniors talking about going to Atlanta. With his friendly smile and way with people, Leonard was invited to go along. That was a trip of a lifetime. Drugs. Girls. Experiences he had only dreamed about. He was hooked.
Realizing he didn’t have enough credits to graduate anyway, Leonard left home during his senior year of high school. Atlanta was great for a while but, without a high school diploma, he couldn’t find a job that suited him. Soon, he lost his ambitions and settled for making it just one day at a time. When he was young, people used to say that someday he would make it big. “If anyone in our small town is going to go places, it will be Leonard,” some of his parents’ friends often said.
Thoughts of earlier days constantly filled Leonard with a sense of failure. He had really blown it and he didn’t know how to get back on track. At those times, drugs were the only antidote to ease the pain.