One morning, Doug began to wonder what was happening to his pills.
He mixed himself a shake, a couple of scoops of Turbo Power Blast 5000X Chocolate Protein Powder dissolved in a glass of milk to wash down one of his last remaining pills. He opened the bottle of Oxymetholone he’d bought a week ago from Steve, one of the well-connected guys at the gym, and— WTF? He only had about ten left and expected to have about fifteen or twenty. As he washed down the pill, he tried to remember how many he’d taken over the last week. Had Julie done something with them?
Julie, a nurse, constantly warned him that anabolic steroids were a bad idea. She said they could raise his blood pressure and harm his liver, but his liver and blood pressure felt just fine. She also said that they were making him more aggressive. Funny how she thought that whenever she was on the rag.
It was degrading to have Julie support him, but he’d had a run of bad luck. He’d lost his job as a mechanic (asshole boss), a bouncer (he bounced a guy too hard), and a landscaper (argument with a client while holding a spade). His very last job was with a towing company. While towing a beat-up Mercedes from a convenience store parking lot, he was approached by an old asshole wearing a frayed polo shirt and Chinos. When the guy grabbed him, he got into a shoving match with him, and the guy wound up hitting the pavement head-first. The gash in the guy’s head bled like a faucet, but everyone knows head wounds always look worse than they really are. It didn’t matter. He was still out of a job.
Truth was, things hadn’t been so great between him and Julie. Their sex life had dried up a while back, but, frankly, after pulling all those double shifts at the hospital, she looked twice her age.
One night, Doug came back from watching the Patriots with the guys from the gym and turned on the bedroom light. Julie wasn’t there because she was working a late shift at the hospital, but her nasty old coon cat Otis was sitting on his pillow. He didn’t like the idea of putting his face where Otis had put his butthole. When Doug grabbed him to move him aside, Otis wrapped his paws around Doug’s thick forearm and chomped down on his hand. Doug tried to shake him loose but wound up throwing him against the wall. Otis made a plaintiff howl, rolled over onto his feet, and hobbled out of the room.
The bite wasn’t very deep, so Doug just put some Bacitracin on it. He switched his pillow with Julie’s and then went to sleep.
When Julie came home and clicked on the bedroom light, Doug covered his eyes. “What’s wrong with Otis?” she demanded.
“How should I know?”
“Well, he’s limping!”
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“What did you do to him?”
“I reached down to pat him, and he bit my hand. He must have gotten hurt when I shook him off.”
“Well, I’m taking him to the vet tomorrow before work. With any luck, I might get a few hours of sleep first.”
Doug groaned, rolled over, and went back to sleep.
The next morning, when he awoke, Julie was gone, and so were Otis and the cat carrier. That night, he returned from drinks with the gym guys to discover a sign on the basement door: “The vet says that Otis has a sprained leg. I put him in the basement to recuperate. Don’t go down there. Leave him alone!”
Meanwhile, the oxy situation was starting to get dire. Steve, his oxy connection from the gym, charged $50 for a supply of ten. Doug looked around the house for money. He lifted the cushions off the two chairs and sofa in the living room and came up with only a few quarters. He almost came up empty looking in Julie’s dresser drawers until he remembered that she always carried money while running and discovered a fiver in one of her pairs of running shorts. He went through the medicine cabinet and read every prescription label. He found a half dozen Lortabs prescribed to Julie, probably from the root canal she’d had last year, and put the bottle in his pocket. He also found a couple of airline whiskey bottles in the kitchen cabinet.
Then he took inventory. He already had $22 in his wallet, and the quarters added up to an extra $2.50. The Lortab had to be worth at least $10 or $20, and the nip bottles would probably add up to another $5 each. He put his loot together in his gym bag.
He found Steve at the gym, as usual. Steve was one of those guys who looked so muscular that it hurt, with stringy trapezoids that ran all the way down his neck, making him look like a Gila monster or something. When Doug found him, he was wearing a fat leather belt attached to a huge stack of metal weights and pulling it across the gym floor. When Doug mentioned that he was “running a little low,” Steve agreed to meet him in the parking lot.
Outside, Steve beckoned him to his car and opened the passenger’s side door. He looked at Doug quizzically when the man opened up his gym bag. “What the hell is this stuff?” he asked.
“I’m running low on cash, so I’m bringing what I can. You can look at some of this stuff as collateral if you want.”
“Don’t you have any baseball cards or food stamps to give me?” Steve quipped with a sneer. He then said, “Okay, that’s just pathetic enough for me to cut you a little slack.” Steve gave him three more oxies, saying, “From now on, cash only.”
After he left the gym, Doug went to his favorite sports bar for a few rounds. It had a huge flat-screen TV—Julie refused to have one in the house—and he was able to enjoy cheap beer and pretzels because of Happy Hour. When he came home that night, she made things worse by asking him whether he’d bothered to look for work that day.
“Nobody’s hiring!” he told her.
“There must be construction or something you can do!” she said, standing way too close. She added with a voice that sounded like a dentist’s drill: “I see plenty of guys doing road work, and I don’t think any of those guys are exactly Mensa material.”
“They work for the city. You have to know someone to work for them.”
“Well, why don’t you send in a resume and get an interview like everybody else?” she snarled right into his face.
Instinctively, he pushed her away.
Apparently, she banged her head because she rubbed it, wincing, went back into the bedroom, and locked the door. Locking the door was a little over the top, he thought.
The next thing he knew, there was a loud knock on the door, and he opened it up to a couple of cops. Luckily, one of them was Hank, a guy he knew from the gym. Hank didn’t acknowledge that right away, except for surprised eye contact.
“We were called on account of a domestic disturbance,” Hank’s partner said. “Your lady friend called it in. May we speak with her?”
Julie came out of the bedroom with a cold pack on her head. Nice bit of melodrama, Doug thought. The cops took her into the kitchen as Doug watched from the living room with feigned detachment. Julie sometimes raised her voice, but Doug couldn’t hear what she was saying. What he did hear was Hank urging her to “Please calm down, Ma’am” and saying, “No, we can’t arrest him for that.” Hank occasionally glanced fleetingly in his direction. As they were leaving, Hank’s partner said, “Your girlfriend has decided not to press charges…this time. If we have to come out here again, it could end in arrest.”
After the cops left, Julie returned to the bedroom and locked the door again. Doug slept on the couch that night.
Over the next week, Doug was on his best behavior and didn’t go out drinking.
The next time he went out for beers with the guys, he asked Steve about getting more oxies. “You still owe me twenty from the last batch,” Steve said. “Can’t you get Julie to raise your allowance?” After the other guys stopped laughing at Doug, Steve added, “Pay up, and we’ll talk about it.”
Doug opened his wallet and pulled out his last remaining twenty. “Thanks!” said Steve, gloating.
“Well, how about a couple of pills?” Doug asked.
“Bring me fifty bucks, and I’ll give you another batch.”
“In that case, give me my twenty back!” Doug said and grabbed Steve’s wrist. He knew it was a bad idea as soon as he did it. Thanks to his martial arts background, Steve moved surprisingly quickly for a guy so muscle-bound. He spun Doug’s hand outward toward the thumb, making his arm rigid. Then he stood up and wrenched Doug’s arm behind his back, making his old roto-cuff injury scream back to life. Having disarmed Doug, Steve said, “Get the fuck out of here and don’t come back until you have fifty dollars to show me!”
Steve released Doug’s arm and gave him a forceful push forward, which almost put Doug’s head through the glass inner door of the bar.
When he got home, Doug took a bunch of ibuprofen and began looking around the house for money and stray pills. He checked Julie’s drawer but came up empty. He pounded the wall in frustration, sending bolts of pain through his arm, shoulder, and neck.
While pacing the kitchen, trying to figure out his options, Doug stepped on a small, glossy nugget and picked it up. It was one of his pills, but it looked like it was cut in half. What was it doing in the kitchen? Could Julie have dropped it? Was she stashing them somewhere? The basement? Was that the real reason he wasn’t allowed down there?
The basement door was locked, but it was one of those simple locks, easy to jimmy. All he had to do was jam a credit card in where the latch was and swing the door open. He hit the light switch but discovered that it didn’t work.
What did work was Otis’s vocal cords, which made a low, guttural moan. As he carefully descended, Doug got a flashlight off the counter and shined it down the stairs. Sure enough, there was another pill on one of the lower steps. He knelt, grabbed it, put it in his pocket, and stepped onto the basement floor.
Otis’s feral growl continued, but he couldn’t see him no matter where Doug pointed the flashlight.
“Come out, you little fucker!” he called out, “And I’ll finish the job I started!”
He continued walking around, shining the light on the little cat bed Julie had put down there for him.
Next to the bed were the wooden bench and shelves where Doug kept his tools, and on the bench was a prescription pill bottle with no label. Doug opened it, and sure enough, several pills were in it. He swiped it up and put it in his pocket. Julie would pay for this. What was she doing with them anyway?
He shined the flashlight on Otis’s food and water bowls. Mixed in with the kibble was another half a pill.
He heard the guttural moan again and looked upwards. At first, he thought it was a huge rock he saw on the top shelf, but it had eyes. On shining his flashlight upward, he saw that Otis was now much bigger than the last time he’d seen him, estimating him to be at least 30 pounds.
With a decisive snarl, Otis leaped from the shelf and landed on Doug’s head and shoulders, sending him toppling backward. The base of his neck struck the washing machine, sending searing pain through his body, and then he landed squarely on the basement floor, knocking the wind out of him. He reached for the flashlight he’d dropped but couldn’t find it. Otis climbed onto Doug’s chest and swatted him in the face with his claws. Doug felt the blood start to drip down from his cheek. He tried to push Otis away, but his shoulder started screaming at him again.
Now he knew what Julie had done with the pills.
About the Author
Rob Dinsmoor has written dozens of scripts for Nickelodeon and MTV, some of which were nominated for Pushcart Prizes, as well as hundreds of articles on health and medicine. His two latest short story collections, Toxic Cookout and You’ll Never See It Coming, were recently published by Big Table Publishing. Though he has shared his living quarters with three cats over the years, he currently lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with his dog, Jack, a fellow Hoosier.