FOUR – BILLY HOAKE
Billy Hoake pulled his cloth coat tight around himself, trying to fend off the chills.
He knew in his mind that the cold was inside his soul as much as in the weather, but what was a man to do?
Billy also knew that out of the ordeal—if he survived—would come some of his best work ever.
Anyone seeing Hoake in the ramshackle east dock area of Frosthaven wouldn’t have recognized the poet. Though he was known and his work respected throughout the Midwest, the drugs had peppered his black hair and beard with silver in the few months he’d been using. They’d also made his body gaunt and his skin tight against his bones. Billy hardly recognized the sunken eyes that stared back at him from the mirror. Even his dark chocolate skin looked pale.
All in a good cause.
Hoake had put himself into bad situations before, both deliberately and accidentally, and his art had always been the better for it. He’d gotten some great poems out of his experiences in the gangs … and his subsequent trip to jail. Very moving, real stuff.
He’d also written compelling verse about his relationships with women. The worst relationships always produced the best poetry, he found.
Though in some way he regretted having to suffer—and make others suffer—for his art, Billy discovered that creation was a high he couldn’t live without.
Far easier to do without the crack that now called to his brain from deep within his cells. He shivered again and pulled his coat tighter around him, though the night wasn’t particularly cold.
The writing from this “fall from grace” should be the best yet. Billy remained convinced that he’d be able to pull out of the nose-dive he’d deliberately put himself into. He’d recovered from all his past troubles well enough.
Yes, this dive gnawed at his insides in a way his other travails hadn’t, but—Hell—he needed to lose some weight anyway.
He felt confident that soon he’d be writing the best work of his career. That’s what he kept telling himself. First, however, he needed a fix.
He glanced furtively up Rice Street toward McGavin Avenue. A cop car prowled down the road, and Billy ducked his head back into the alleyway. They’d gone a minute later, neither seeing nor suspecting his presence. Unfortunately, Billy saw no sign of the usual pushers. Perhaps the police had stepped up patrols in this area and scared the dealers off.
Despite his state, Billy deliberately stuck to the fringes of Frosthaven’s less fashionable, high-crime district. He was looking for new material, after all, not to get himself killed. He hung out where the rich young execs got their dope—not with the down-and-out junkies.
Still, he could feel the craving for the tar-like rock growing inside him with each passing minute. He either had to have it, or he had to try and kick the habit. And he wasn’t ready to kick yet—he hadn’t suffered enough.
He decided to hike down Rice just a couple more blocks. In the distance he could hear music floating out of the tenement windows further up the street: heavy metal, the usually shitty oldies, rap.
Billy had never liked rap, despite its obvious connection to poetry. No, he remained a jazz man at heart. Jazz and the blues: music of folks who knew how to turn adversity into art.
As he reached the corner of Vincenzo, he spotted another cop car and ducked into a nearby alley.
The increased police presence surely fucked up his chance to score. He didn’t want to venture much further into the east dock area, but it looked like he would have to. The prowl car slowed down near the alley and shone its light into the darkness.
Billy crouched behind the shadow of a dumpster and tried to keep out of sight.
Despite his status as a well-regarded poet, he felt none too sure what the Frosthaven cops might do to a black junkie lurking in a deserted alleyway.
Of course, the junkie part was just temporary—but they wouldn’t know that. Soon, he’d be doing the best work of his life.
As the car pulled away, Billy realized the excitement had taken a toll on his bladder. He unzipped and began to relieve himself behind the dumpster.
A brief flutter of wings made him look skyward, but he saw only a few white moths too small to have made the noise he’d heard.
Damn pigeons! he thought. Out scavenging even at night, now.
Then movement in the shadows further back in the alley caught his eye. He turned to see a pale, blond woman walking toward him, her white dress shimmering in the dim light.
Billy let out a sigh of relief and fumbled to zip himself up. “Shit, woman!” he said. “Don’t be sneaking around like that! You’re like to scare a man to death!”
The woman was thin and extraordinarily beautiful. Not the kind of person one usually saw in this part of town. Her silver hair fluttered gently around her shoulders as she walked. Her feet were bare, which was very odd. Billy wondered if she was looking for a fix, too.
She smiled and set her dark eyes upon him.
“Are you a writer or an artist?” she asked.
Billy smiled. “Shit. A fan,” he muttered softly to himself.
She stepped forward, kissed him, and swallowed his soul.