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Jimmie Leigh’s Wild Ride Through Life

“Jimmie Leigh’s Wild Ride Through Life” recounts Jimmie’s incredible journey.

Born into a wealthy East Coast family, he was glib, talented, educated, well dressed and addicted to heroin.

Exiled to the West, he not only survived but thrived and became the star witness in a sensational San Francisco court case.

an excerpt from this contemporary novel …


Ted and Al were in the administration office they shared when they heard the first scream. They said nothing, looked at one another, did a double take. Heads adjusted like wolves targeting a meal as they attempted to pinpoint in their mind’s eye where and which of their wards could possibly produce such incredibly anguished shrieks. The sound stopped, then started up again. Except for the cry of pain, the night time hallways were silent.

As if they located it at the same instant, both bolted for the door. They made an undignified exit, a real Laurel and Hardy, as they bounced first into one another and then off the wood frame trying to squeeze through. The hallway was wide enough for them to run tandem toward the shrill sound which seemed at its peak, but, remarkably, rose an octave before subsiding briefly. The men stood undecided which way to go. Were the shrieks coming from one of the rooms, and if so which one?

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The fearful noise began again and this time did not let up. In low incandescent light that barely destroyed shadow, Ted and Al turned and ran. All but one of the low watt ceiling globes operated. Under that single dark halo, within the umbra of a blown bulb, the men recognized the overweight body slouched in profile half upright against a wall.

But the agonized sobs did not originate with the man slumped in the middle of the floor. Rather, they came from a thin black woman who stood a few yards away, hands to face, mouth open. Her chest heaved as she gasped for air, lungs gathering until they held enough to emit another of the great banshee wails.

In tacit agreement, Al turned to the woman while Ted leaned over the unmoving but, he reassured himself with his first glance, still breathing new guy.

Jimmie Leigh listed slightly as he supported himself with his right arm, palm on carpet, head lowered as if in repose. His left arm lay like a broken twig in his lap. Ted snapped his fingers in Leigh’s ear, waved a hand in front of his eyes and, when he received no response, slapped Leigh’s face. The eyes were open. They blinked, began to show life behind the lids.

“What’s going on here?” Al asked gently as he held the woman by the shoulders. She rolled her head and seemed prepared to explain but began to moan instead. He gave her a mild shaking and she went limp. Both Jimmie Leigh and the woman were recent candidates to join The Plan, but the woman was the unknown quantity. Until now, she had been an anonymous face waiting out a two-week probationary period before her case was officially assigned to one of them.

Jimmie Leigh, however, was all too familiar. He had passed review, been accepted ten days ago into the rehabilitation program, but already half the group to which he was assigned were calling him a goat. He was supposed to be on house alert, cleaning toilets and scrubbing floors, from late afternoon until just about now. Ted checked his watch, decided Leigh had half an hour more duty.

Ted’s shoe made a squashing sound as he stepped in something wet. He grabbed the arm Leigh was supporting himself on, assisted him to his feet. The man said nothing, did not complain or cry out as he rose, yet it was obvious he must be in considerable pain. He shifted his weight and held his left arm away from his body at a slight cant as if it were a separate part of him.

Leigh’s chin remained at rest on his chest, eyes half open, as he dripped blood on the carpet. His hands were puffy like lumpy bread dough and puss oozed from beneath the left cuff in competition with the blood. On top of that, he had wet his pants. Ted’s foot glided on this combination of body fluids which had been soaking into the carpet for several minutes.

“Got a medical problem here,” Ted said succinctly.

The woman’s wail became a dull droning moan that never entirely ceased. Even in Al’s grip she refused to be calmed. He held her at arm’s length, realized the entire front of her body was spattered red. It was as if there had been an explosion and she had borne the full force of the grenade. The wall behind her glistened with gore, a clean area in the center delineating the outline of her slender frame.

Her moan began to sound like language, though at first Al did not believe she was speaking English. Her words made no sense, were a jumble of sounds that eventually formed a phrase, but for a moment it was as if he had stepped into the middle of a nursery rhyme or sing-song poem.

“O-my-god-o-god-o-god, I can’t stand it, I can’t handle the sight of blood,” she wailed. “O-my-god-o-god-o-god, I can’t stand it! I can’t . . .” Her body shook and shuddered so strongly it nearly toppled them both though he towered above and held her fast.

“She’s a mess,” Al said over his shoulder. What he really wanted to say was this stupid woman is wasting my time. Can you believe it? A goddamn junkie who can’t handle the sight of blood? That’s a good one. But he kept his thoughts to himself.

Ted said: “Take her to the office and call an ambulance.” Then he turned his full attention to Leigh. “Here, lemme see that arm.”

Gingerly, Ted began to peel back the shirt sleeve. Underneath he found a rust brown loose gauze bandage that he began to unwind. After several turns it refused to come loose. Stuck to the skin, it finally came away when Ted gave it a quick yank.

He earned some satisfaction as Leigh’s whole body jumped, yet the chin never rose from his chest. Beneath the gauze, Ted discovered the origin of the steady drip and made a decision. He stripped the belt off his trousers with one hand and wrapped the leather strap around Leigh’s upper arm. Then he slid the belt’s tongue through the buckle and yanked it tight above Leigh’s elbow. Taking the other end of the improvised tourniquet twice around in his open palm, Ted clenched his fist and pulled tight.

In seconds the flow reduced by half, then became almost nonexistent. Jimmie Leigh’s head lolled and he mumbled something incoherent.

“Can you walk if I help you?” Ted asked.

Leigh was a big man, heavy boned and flabby. It would be a job for two if he had to be carried. Several inquisitive inhabitants of the center had arrived in their bathrobes, so it might be possible to get them to help by creating an arm litter. When Leigh replied affirmatively, nodded and said, “Uh hunh,” Ted shifted position, got around on the other side to guide Leigh’s feet.

The wounded man was drenched in sweat. The urine odor was mildly offensive, but Ted overcame his squeamishness. His mind was drawn abstractly to speculate on the color of Leigh’s pants which were completely suffused with piss and had turned a deep purple from crotch down.

Odd what you fixate on in times of crisis, Ted thought and was surprised by his own dispassion.

With Ted’s help, Leigh hobbled into a small conference room, the first door to their right. Ted attempted to pull the door closed behind them with his foot but several of the curious, whom he ignored without offering any explanation, immediately jammed the entrance. He placed Leigh on his back on an oak table in the center of the room and popped buttons in preparation for removing the shirt.

“Keeerist, man, I thought you had this abscess business over with the last time you went to the hospital.” Ted’s tone turned more angry than concerned now that the hallway had quieted down. Most of the onlookers returned to bed, but one or two stayed behind and volunteered their help. Ted asked one to hold the tourniquet, gave instructions to loosen it every two minutes. Jimmie was unable to say anything except mumble that he was sorry.

“Yah, sure you’re sorry. All you junkies say that when you fuck up The Plan. You know the rules. Maybe you’ll get a day off by going to the hospital, but don’t expect to have a goddamn free ride when you get back. Hear me?”

Leigh pretended to be asleep. But he was trying very hard to get sick so he could vomit on his benefactor.

* * *

San Francisco General Hospital had a special arrangement for the patients brought to them from Delaney Street. The Foundation insisted that no pain killing drugs, not even local anesthetics during minor operations, were to be administered. The reason was simple: an addict would do almost anything to get high, even cut themselves if it meant they could score a legal dose.

The doctors at General reluctantly agreed and the patients had to go along with it. No pills were offered to Leigh as he lay on a gurney. Neither was he given an anesthetic when, hours later in the operating room, they finally began to sew up his arm.

The male nurse was a big Asian whose name-tag identified him, incongruously Jimmie thought, as Lester. The hefty man stood silently with hands hidden behind him at the head of the operating table. The patient lay on his back looking up at Lester. Leigh was strapped in place with restraining loops over chest and ankles. His right arm was tied to the side of the bed and his left lay outstretched on an operating tray with one-inch wide leather bands above and below the elbow to hold it in place. The staff had correctly decided he was strong enough to wrench out of almost anyone’s grip. The patient’s left forearm below the strap was prepped with a quick antiseptic wash which is when it became clear that Lester was not simply going to stand by as an idle observer.

The surgeon on duty entered the room, his latex covered hands held high in the air like buzzard talons. Jimmie wanted to make a smart-ass remark, but when he opened his mouth somebody plopped a thick wad of densely rolled cotton in it crossways. At that moment, Lester leaned over and placed his hands gently but firmly on each of Leigh’s shoulders. There would be times during the operation when Lester had to practically sit on top of Jimmie Leigh to keep his body from shifting and jerking violently as the process slowly made its way to a conclusion.

Doctor Sheine wore a grim expression. After carefully examining the wound and prodding it a few times, he said: “Too many small pieces to clamp and stamp.”

He selected an old fashioned needle and braided silk instead of a stapler from the tray before him.

Sheine began to sew with precision. He drew the needle through the pink lacerated flesh and pulled it taut by raising it into the air, plunged the point into another lip of skin and brought it out. It took forty sutures to splice the star shape on Leigh’s ulcerated wrist back together. Periodically, a nurse cleaned the abscess and administered antibiotics directly via a thin wash. As he neared the end, the doctor prescribed a regimen of tetracycline, four capsules every four hours — 16 a day — for a week.

It was a stubborn infection that had resisted previous treatment. Sheine read the medical history of his patient from a clipboard held under his nose by another nurse and at one point, as he lifted the thread in the air, he whistled a tune. This brought a surprised stare from Leigh and a muffled laugh from the big guy in the white coat looming over him. Lester had suffocating bad breath and exhaled garlic as he kept up the pressure. He held Jimmie securely which effectively prevented him from squirming out from under the surgeon’s point.

Afterward, they dressed Leigh in a clean hospital gown and left him for an hour to anticipate his discharge. But before anyone from the Foundation arrived, he was told Sheine wanted to see him in his office.

The door to the small room closed behind Leigh who stood without speaking and waited to be recognized. The physician did not look up, continued busying himself with a sheaf of papers on his desk. When finally he turned his face toward his patient, Sheine wore the stern expression Jimmie recognized his father had whenever he confronted his son with wrongdoing. The doctor at last opened the conversation.

“Do you know what this pile of papers represents, Mister Leigh?”

Jimmie shook his head negative. He took the same bad boy stance with downcast eyes and deferential lowering of the head that once worked so effectively whenever he was interrogated by the old man.

“This is you. All your visits here over the last ten years. Right here on my desk.” Sheine thumbed the amassed documentation and looked Leigh squarely in the eye. “Not very impressive, really. Just one more drug addict who nearly died again tonight. Whose life I may have saved for now but who will probably be back here in a month with another life-threatening situation. Maybe an overdose. Maybe exposed to a violently toxic designer drug which his system is susceptible to only he doesn’t know it until the drug’s in his veins. Maybe I’ll be able to help then. Maybe not.”

The sermon was unusual only because of the source. Leigh had heard similar prophecies from his brother, his mother and father, his closest friends as well as from a long list of girl friends over the course of many years. But he had not heard “The Lecture,” as it was known among needle-freaks, for some time now. That was because he had precious few old friends left, was on the outs with his latest girlfriend, Lori, had been cut off from close contact with his family for decades and almost none of his other relatives would talk to him because he had stolen from, deceived and lied to all who had ever attempted to lend a helping hand. He had taken money, objects of value, jewelry and clothing from almost everyone he had ever known and then listened patiently to their predictions of his downfall through any number of variations of “The Lecture,” most of which ended with the threat that if he ever called they would hang up and if he showed up at their house again they would have him arrested.

Jimmie had a well-rehearsed response and sometimes it worked to keep him in their good graces for a while. But in Sheine’s case, Leigh doubted that saying the words, promising never to do it again, I’ll go straight this time, honest, I’ll enter rehab, whatever, would have any effect. The man had seen it too many times.

And, besides, it was all a big lie. Jimmie was already calculating how to pocket a silver lighter from Sheine’s desktop ashtray as he inched his way toward a silver medical cabinet drawer carelessly left open. The doctor looked sternly at his patient.

“You had a life once. You still have a family, it says here, on the East Coast. I see you as someone with intelligence, who’s moderately good looking if a bit overweight. Who could earn good money from a well-paying job. I don’t know how much education you have, but our backgrounds are even somewhat similar, born into the same faith. What I want to know, then,” here Sheine paused for effect, “What I want to know, buster, is WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU?”

Jimmie Leigh wilted under this direct question delivered with the force of accusation. He whimpered like he had so often whined in front of his father, the old man with fire in his eyes, trying to teach the boy a lesson he would never forget but caving in after a few minutes because there was no way he could sustain anger with his oldest son for very long.

Leigh dropped into deference mode, began to feel right at home with his act.

“Sorry, sir. I really am. I know what you mean. And I’m sorry,” he said with practiced sincerity. He warmed to his speech, eyes downcast, evoking genuine regret in his tone. “I’m not worthy, I know it.” His voice exuded earnestness and Leigh was not surprised when he saw Sheine taking it in. Jimmie Leigh knew how to work an audience and for a moment believed Dr. Sheine was eating out of his hand. In no time they would be swapping stories and probably become great good friends. At least temporarily. At least superficially. At least until Jimmie could pocket the lighter and be gone.

That’s because Jimmie was so personable, so charming when he wanted to be that almost everyone thought he was their best friend — for about five minutes. And Jimmie had this effect on people without changing a stripe. Many knew they were being bullshitted, but they liked it. Jimmie had a way of getting close like your best friend from grade school.

Dr. Sheine, however, would have none of it. He held up a hand, shook his head and Jimmie stopped his patter when he realized the man wasn’t being fooled. Sheine had seen this type of behavior many, many times from too many good people, men and women, who had become articulate con-artists. They shared the same delusion, a vision of self-importance elevated by an “outsider” status that placed them somewhere above the rest of the herd. It was an illusion that magnified when a junkie thought they were pulling the wool over someone’s eyes and were getting away with it. But Sheine was not about to waste his time with Leigh’s calculated, self-deprecating, obsequious talk.

“Put a lid on it,” the doctor said with contempt. “And be a mensch. Take responsibility while you can. You could still amount to something if you don’t let your body take over your brain. Right now you’re another example of the drug talking, heroin trying to justify itself.”

Sheine turned his gaze to the pile of folders on his desk, closed the one with Leigh’s name written in large block letters along the top, and unceremoniously dumped it in the wastebasket next to his desk. Although he would retrieve it later, the gesture was not lost on his new patient.

Jimmie sucked on his upper lip and said nothing. This, too, was part of his act. The arm in a sling throbbed against his chest. He knew precisely what the physician was driving at, but had no desire to discuss the matter. Instead, he turned and placed a hand on the door hoping Sheine would arrest the move, call him back or at least say goodbye. He heard nothing as he exited except the door lock clicking into place behind him.

A guard from Delaney Street had arrived and was seated talking with another man outside Sheine’s office in the waiting room. The guard caught Jimmie’s eye, rose and waved above the other man’s head. Inexplicably, the guard did not come toward Jimmie to take him into custody. Instead, he turned and walked away.

That was when the man who had been seated with his back to Jimmie did an about face and Jimmie stopped dead in his tracks. It was Dammen, considerably older, his voice a tinge deeper than Jimmie remembered, who called out a greeting to him.

“Hello, older brother. Looks like you’re my responsibility now ‘cuz, just like Dad, the Foundation does not want you back.” Dammen gestured with a thumb over his shoulder. “I did promise Dad I’d have you all cleaned up and on your best behavior by Monday morning.”

Jimmie was not certain how he should react but said, “Why? What’s happening Monday?”

Dammen made that sly snicker Jimmie remembered passed for a laugh. It still annoyed him.

“What, you got knuckles in your head?” Dammen asked. “You forget you turned state’s evidence and you’re taking the stand to testify at the Binotti trial? Trial starts Monday morning. Remember?”

This novel is 175 pages long, available in PDF format.

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