Exiles From the American Dream: "The Junkie and the Cop"

In theory, drug addicts and narcotics detectives are bitter antagonists, but they move in the same covert milieus, work the same hours, speak the same language, and form a peculiar partnership in the way both are outcasts from the American mainstream. Mr. Jackson, a Junior Fellow at Harvard, spent several months observing their symbiotic relationship at firsthand. His “White-Collar Pill Parly" appeared in the August ATLANTIC.

by Bruce Jackson

IN THE summer of 1966 I traveled around the country for a Cambridge research organization that had contracted with the President’s Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice to study certain problems having to do with drug abuse and control in this country. The main part of my job was talking with and observing at work a spectrum of participants: police, judges, doctors, administrators, addicts, pushers, ex-addicts, rehabilitation personnel, and so on. We found early in the study that none of the sets of figures purporting to tell the numbers of drug abusers and their relationship to the economy were much good, and that almost everyone had The Answer. We spent the summer getting as many points of view as we could, then tried to make sense of those that were sufficiently rational and to evaluate those that seemed worth it.

After the report was written, I realized that many of my blacks and whites had gone to problematical gray, the burden of increased knowledge. I realized also that part of that knowledge was of a kind outside the numbers and specifics that fill government reports and sociological journal articles; it is composed of pieces of information that do not array themselves in nice neat patterns; they do not form pretty theses or admit nice tabular or verbal conclusions — but somehow I cannot help feeling that they are in many ways more important, more germane, than the figures and the charts. Art and science go around constructing and projecting coherences; the street does not think in coherences, it is just there.

An example: unlike police who deal with homicide or other major crimes, who have onetime or rare contact with their customers, the police who handle problems of morality rather than injury, crimes like prostitution and drug addiction, tend to develop a peculiar rapport with the people with whom they war. They do not deal in terms of single events, but in continuing relationships, some of which they must maintain in order to obtain information, others because there is no reason not to. This varies from city to city, but there is a clear level of consistency. The narcotics detective must live in the junkie’s world, know his language, appreciate his pain; he may be—and often is — antagonistic to all of these, but he is rarely independent of them.

The sections that follow are from notes scribbled in police cars, in bars, on planes, on a beach, sitting in a park; they are some of those other pieces.


Ray Viera is the larger, more volatile of the two. His hair is wavy with streaks of gray, and he tends to tap your shoulder when he is involved in a statement. Burt Alvins is smaller, wiry; most of his head is a short gray-flecked crew cut. Burt negotiates the green Lark around some construction on F.D.R. Drive; it doesn’t feel much like a police car.

“Everybody lives outside the city now,” one of them says.

“Not everybody,” I say.

“I mean all the cops and firemen I know. Except for a couple of young single guys. Everybody else is out on the Island or up in Westchester. It’s going to be just the poor and the illegal left in New York. People are moving out in droves. They’re not doing it to escape the taxes. Taxes are just as high out there. They’re doing it to keep their children together.”

They complain about court decisions. “We’ve become robots. We can’t think, we’re mechanical men.”

“Everybody I know quits at twenty years to the day. It’s not the job he dislikes, it’s the handcuffing.”

“A thing a normal person would consider suspicious a policeman can’t consider suspicious because we’re robots.”

“I’d give a month’s pay to bring Earl Warren here and give him the tour I’m giving you.”

“There’s legitimate people here. They’re suffering, they’re in jail.”

I ask how to break through the hostility, what you do about the reputation for brutality.

“You just count the days you have left.”

We drive along 118th Street. The area crawls with big-city specialties: numbers, junk, whores. Garbage piles up in hack, between the houses. The garbage men can’t get in there because the backs are locked, so the stuff mounts and mounts, and every once in a while they make an assault and get some of it out, chasing away rats as big and careless as dogs.

“We have to go see somebody.”

“One of our informers,” Ray says. “This guy’s not stupid. He’s intelligent. He’s a nice guy. Wait till you see him though.”

We enter a building just above Central Park. Someone lives on the first floor. The second, up die narrow dark stairway that is even darker after the bright sun, is vacant. All the doors are open; one is unhinged and lies flat in the room, as if something walked right in without bothering to stop. Another door hangs at a grotesque angle, the top hinge ripped off. More rubbish in there. A few empty bottles. We go up another flight, and Ray goes to Elmer’s door. It is unlocked, and he eases it open slowly. Elmer is sitting on the bed, a blanket over his knees. “Anybody here?” Ray asks.

“No. I’m alone.”

Ray waves us in. The room is about twelve by twelve. A big, old TV is on a bureau by the wall. A new Sony is on another bureau, turned on to a talk show. Elmer tells us a prostitute friend bought it for him as a present.

“How are your legs, Elmer?” Ray asks.

Elmer moves the blanket from his thighs. On both are long running sores, about four or five inches long and a half inch or so wide; they look deep; something oozes.

“Jesus Christ,” Burt says. “Why don’t you let us get you in the hospital for a while?”

“Maybe next week.”

“Those sores don’t look so good.”

“I can’t go in this week. You know.”

“How are your arms?”

“Feel a little better.” He holds his forearms out and moves the fingers. A Popeye caricature: from the elbows up, the arms are the thin sticks of an old man; below the elbow, they are swollen like thighs. The fingers all look like oversize thumbs. Like his thighs, Elmer’s arms are covered with scars that look like strip photos of the surface of the moon. There are too many of the dimeand quarter-size craters to count.

“This is Bruce, Elmer. He’s a new man, and we’re breaking him in.”

Elmer looks up, noticing or acknowledging me for the first time. He nods and shrugs. They make a date to meet somewhere later in the week.

“You sure you don’t want us to get you in a hospital, Elmer?” Ray asks.

Elmer says no.

For me, Ray asks, “Elmer, what you shooting now?”

“About eight bags.”

“When did you start?”


“And how old are you now?”


There’s a silence, directed to me. Elmer looks sixty-five or seventy, and they all know I’d thought him an old man. He folds the blanket over his thighs, and we go out. On the way, Burt gives Elmer a few bucks and says get some cigarettes.

Going down the stairs, Ray says, “If he tells you he’s shooting eight bags, that means he’s shooting twelve. That’s sixty bucks a day. Seven days a week. Four hundred and twenty dollars a week. Almost what I make a month.” Elmer, obviously, is in some business activities about which the police prefer not to ask.

Most New York addicts, I know, spend less than twenty dollars a day for narcotics. Few look as grim as Elmer. But enough do. And enough wind up dead because of infection or accidental overdose; many have TB. The physiological debilitation and destruction result from concomitants of drug taking: the junkie spends his money for drugs instead of food, his drugs are cut with quinine and other chemicals that often do him considerable damage, and worst of all, the material he injects and the instruments he uses are so unsanitary that he constantly risks the kinds of infection that have scarred Elmer. The junk itself, so long as it does not exceed the addict’s tolerance, is not really as physiologically harmful as cigarettes or alcohol, but the life style is vicious.

“Some of these guys,”Burt says, “they get worse than Elmer. Ruin all the veins in the arms and legs, burn them out, and they shoot in the mouth. And when that goes, in the penis. Hurts like hell, they say, but they can find the vein.”

I ask them if their visiting Elmer’s apartment in daylight might not get him into trouble with other addicts. They say no, they spend a lot of time questioning addicts, most of whom are not informers, standard procedure.

“These people around here — they know who you are?”

“Sure, they know us. Even if they’d never seen us before, they’d know us. If you’re white around here, you’re cither a bill collector or the Man. They maybe don’t know which Man you are, but you’re one of them.”

“Or a trick looking for a whore,” Burt says.

“You still get white tricks coming up here?”

“They’ll always be coming up here.”

We drive past a crap game. There are about fifty men standing around. Some of them yell.

They talk about Elmer. “I’m worried about him, Burt. Can’t we get him into some hospital?”

“He doesn’t want to go. We can’t force him.”

“Well, how about we get him some antibiotics for those sores? They’re just awful.”

“You have to have a prescription for that stuff.”

“Maybe I can get somebody to let me have some.”

“Heroin you can get; for penicillin you need a prescription.”

We stop for a traffic light. A kid about five years old looks in the car, at me, says, “Fuck you, cop,” and walks away.

WE SIT in the car by the 125th Street New York Central station. Two junkies they know hustle down 125th, counting money. We know where they are going, but there isn’t sufficient cause to follow and arrest.

“I know what the courts are trying to do —protect the honest citizens. But you know something: in all the years we’ve been in this business, we’ve never hit one guy that was a square.”

“The trouble with this job,” Burt says, “is you take it home with you. We get together, and our wives say, why don’t you talk about something else. They don’t understand.”

“You can’t put it off at night,” Ray says.

I look through their report book. They get two days off per week, but I notice that they work at least one, and sometimes both of them, either going out with an undercover agent or appearing in court. Many of the workdays run twelve to sixteen hours. I ask why they stick with it.

“I think it’s a challenge,” Burt says. “I like the work. But as my partner and I have told you a number of times, our hands are tied. To do this kind of a job I guess you have to have some dedication in you. It’s a losing battle: for every one you arrest, there’s five to take their place. But when you do make a good arrest, it can make the whole thing worthwhile.”

I say something about Elmer.

“They ought to put a picture of him in the papers,” Ray said. “Show some of these people.”

“You could show them a picture of Elmer,” Ray says. “Tomorrow they pick up a paper to see what the Giants did. That’s it. As far as it goes.”

Driving downtown we pass through Central Park. “It’s like reverse shock treatment,” Ray says. We see a spreading plume of black smoke over on the East Side, somewhere in the Eighties.

Burt: “Probably a junkie cooking up.”

Ray: “Good-sized cooker.”

And Burt: “You come back after a day off and hope maybe things are going to be a little different. Then it’s not. There’s still glass in the street. The same people.”


Morning in the Narcotics Squad room. Captain Jack Renois and Don McMannes are the only ones in. Hooker, the secretary, does things and fetches coffee. The detectives come in around 11:00or 11:30 and wait for the phone calls from informers. Things come alive around noon, after the addicts get up. One of the detectives is selling a shotgun; it is passed around and admired.

A phone rings. An addict snitching on another addict. For money, for a break on a case. Or maybe just talking for a while. I begin to appreciate the odd symbiosis. The addicts and the cops move in the same world, live the same hours, wait for deals to happen on the same streets. One addict had said something to me the week before, complaining about the hassles he was always in, and one police official had complained to me this morning about the difficulty he had getting adequate funds and equipment. Both used exactly the same sentence: “We got to scuffle for every fucking thing.”

Don comes back into the room; he had been on the phone for about thirty minutes. “He just wanted to talk for a while,” he tells me. “Somebody I arrested once.” The addicts sometimes call up officers, not to snitch or bitch, but just to talk to someone who understands. For them, no one appreciates their hassles and their world better than the cop, who is so close they don’t even consider him a square.

On Lieutenant Kennedy’s desk: “FIAT JUSTITIA, RUAT CAELUM” And under it, in small letters, “Let justice be done, though the heavens may fall.” “I saw it a long time ago and I liked it and it’s been on my desk ever since,” he says. “A reminder, I guess,”

With one of the detectives, I go out to visit an informer. She is a slight pretty girl with dark eyes. Two children are in the house, and she says she can’t stay in the car talking for very long. She talks about Joey, with whom she lives, currently in jail needing bond. “They say that county farm’s a bad place. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get him out.”

She used to be a good booster, but no more. Shoplifting has become too dangerous: “I got too many children now. Nobody to take care of them if I go to the joint.” A new connection had come by a few days ago and given her fifty dollars’ worth of narcotics without asking for money.

“How come?” asks the detective. “He want some trim?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. If Joey wasn’t there,” She tells us where the connection lives and who is with him, and the phone number.

“You hooked again?”

“No. I can’t afford it. I shoot all the dope I can get, though.”

“You high now?”

“No. I had two caps this morning. That’s all.”

Later the same day: riding with Mike Chavez and his partner, Charley. While Mike is at a phone booth, Charley tells me he has just been transferred into Narcotics from Vice. He says about every whore he knows is on some kind of drugs, that whenever they broke into a prostitute’s apartment they found narcotics or pills.

“Did you ever file?”


“Why not?”

“Wouldn’t stand up. Almost everything we would do is illegal. They know it, and we know it. Our job was mainly harassment. Make them uncomfortable enough to move on.” Later he tells me it is as hard to make a prostitution case as a narcotics case. A few weeks earlier in Harlem, a New York policeman had told me the same thing.

Mike comes back. “Anything?” Charley asks.


Chavez has never taken the test for sergeant. Only one sergeant is permitted in the Narcotics unit, and if Chavez were promoted, he would be forced to change assignments. He likes the work and is very good at it.

He tells me that the talk and newspaper articles about violent addicts are nonsense; what bothers him is the crime associated with addiction. I mention the six million or so alcoholics, and all the damage they do. Chavez pulls up to a booth to make another call. While he is gone, Charley tells me what I said is irrelevant. Chavez comes back and says, “Funny, what you were saying. They have a bar in that store, and I could see that every stool was occupied.” He says he would like to find some other way of handling the problem, but he doesn’t know one that would work. He shrugs and says it bothers him sometimes. “But I’m a policeman, you know.” He turns to Charley, sitting in the back, and says, “You got your gun?”


I turn and see on the seat a .38 automatic. He tells me you need a holster for a revolver and everything bulges, but an automatic can be just tucked in the belt. I ask Mike if he has his.

“In the trunk.”

Later that night, Donny tells me they almost never need weapons. No Houston addict would draw on a detective because the addicts know the detectives aren’t going to shoot without a good reason. “Only time any of them ever does anything with a gun is to say, ‘I got a gun.’ I say, ‘Where?’ and he points, and I say, ‘Put it on the table,’ and he does. Or if he has one in his hand when we bust in, he just swings it around and hands it over. We all know each other.”


I was in the homicide room of the police station waiting for Lieutenant Harvey Gann, the detective in charge of the Vice and Narcotics Squad. According to friends of mine in Houston and Huntsville, he is a very good policeman. Gann came in, laughing. He and his partner had just been out on a narcotics watch that didn’t work out. They were using an old pickup truck and had stopped for a red light when two women walked over, and one said, “You want to have a good time?”

“How much?”

“Ten and three.”

“What’s the three for?”

“The room, baby.”

Gann asked if the same applied for her friend and his friend. The other woman said yes. Gann noticed a tall Negro standing in a nearby doorway, and said, “Who’s he?”

“Just an old nothing sonofabitch that hangs around.”

Gann and his partner got out of the truck, took off their LBJ hats and lensless glasses.

“Goddamn, Lieutenant! It’s you again!” The woman began laughing.

“You see,” he told me, “I had arrested her four times before. And I put those hat and glasses right back on because we couldn’t all fit in front, and 1 had to ride with them in the back of the pickup, and I’d be damned if I’d have anybody I know see me riding around town in a pickup truck with two old whores like that.”


The undercover man is late.

The two detectives, Al Koch and Ray Imp, lean against the phone booth they use for an office. The phone has an “Out of Order” sign on it that is phony. The two men are easily identifiable (one is about 6 feet 3 inches and has shocking red hair; the other is about 5 feet 10 inches and is shaped like a triangle but gives the feeling of a tank), and when they appear on the street, the dealers disappear, so they hover outside the Village perimeter, wait for a call from someone telling them a person they want to arrest is at a specific location, then go in and come out quickly.

The undercover man arrives at eight, an hour late. His name is Sam, and even though I know he is a police officer, I can’t quite believe it — the first qualification of an undercover agent.

Al tells me it will be boring waiting with them. He suggests I go with Sam.

“But I know people in the Village.”

“Do they know what you’re doing in town?” “No.”

“OK. You go with him. They’ll think he’s just some beatnik friend of yours. We’ll just be standing here until he calls anyhow. But take that notebook and cigar and pen out of your pocket.”

I hand over my things and go away with Sam.

We walk to the Rienzi, where we are to meet someone named Wilson, his informer. Wilson isn’t there, and Sam curses him, saying he can’t stand an unpunctual man. He tells me the statistics reporting 60,000 addicts in the United States are all wrong, there are hundreds of thousands of them. I must have looked incredulous because he says, “Yeah, man, I’m serious. Look around you. Half these people smoke weed.”

“You don’t get addicted to marijuana. They’re not addicts.”

“Goddamn right they are.”

We walk down the street. Someone says hello to me, and I nod. Sam says, “I’ll tell you who uses weed all the time: those folk singers. Bunch of addicts.”


“You know any of those folk singers?”

“A few.”

“They use weed.”

We pass one place just as a four-man singing group is going in with their guitars. They pass in front of us. One of them sees me and waves; another says, “Hi, Bruce.” I wave back. Sam looks at me queerly, then shrugs it off.

We go back to the Rienzi and talk about Court decisions.

“Those bastards. What this country needs is a Hitler for a while. Get these people off the streets. Should have elected Goldwater; he’d have straightened that Court out. You know why I hate addicts?" I shake my head. “I’ll tell you why: I got a nice wife, over on Staten Island. She never heard a dirty word in her life. A nice girl.” He says it with finality. I don’t make the connection, but I decide to let it ride; it is too early in the evening to reveal my opacity.

We watch the teen-age girls in their carefully considered outfits.

We go into a bar, and over a beer he talks about his work. “Shouldn’t we talk about something else? Someone might be listening.”

“Nah. Nobody’s listening. Nobody listens here.” I don’t tell him that when I go into bars like this, I always eavesdrop. Constitutional.

We go up the street to get something to eat, but on the way meet Wilson, the informer. With him is another man, who wears khakis, a white T-shirt, and a yellow sport shirt open all the way except for the bottom button. Wilson, the informer, goes off to talk with Sam.

The man in the yellow shirt says to me, “Who you with?”


“I said who you with?”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s OK, man, I’m undercover too.”

“A city cop?”

“No,” he says, shaking his head.




“FDA.” He pauses, maybe to see if I’m going to make a wisecrack. When I don’t, he says, “You city?”

I shake my head.


I shake my head.

“Then who are you undercover for?”

“I’m not a cop.”

“Come on, man.”

A thin effeminate man in his twenties lopes up the street, walking sine waves. “My consciousness has expanded, expanded!”

“Man, is he drunk,” the FDA man says.

“It might be something else.” The thin guy weaves back. “What you on, man?” I ask.

“Five days on, five days off.”

“Off and on what?”

“LSD, psilocybin off days. Little junk to keep the heebies away.” He bumps into the FDA man and pats the shoulder of his yellow shirt. “Ain’t it a bitch when your family’s square?”

“Your family square?”

“You don’t know. My father is—[he names

someone in city government whose name we know], and he is square.”

On an off chance there’s another celebrity with the same name, I ask, “Which——?”

“You know which one.”

Come on.”

He pulls out his wallet and shows us his collection of identification cards, credit cards, and licenses;

they all say——, Jr. Sam joins us. I look for

Wilson, the informer, but he has disappeared. Thin says His family is down on him because he uses drugs.

“What else?”

“Drugs and because of the homosexual business.”

“Are you queer?”

“Maybe a little.”

He says he can get, in quantity, marijuana and pills. Sam and the FDA man try to stare one another down: if Thin produces grass, he is Sam’s; if he produces pills, he is FDA’s. Thin weaves in and out of the street. He goes to peer in a car window.

“I thought he’d pat my gun when he was tapping my shoulder just now,” FDA says.

“You wearing a gun?” Sam says.

“Yeah. You?”

“I got a little .25.”

“Ah. I got my .38 service.”

“That cannon. You’re crazy. If you ask me, you’re better off with nothing.”

Thin swings back to the sidewalk. Wilson, the informer, returns and points at someone, and Sam says, “Oh, oh, there’s my man,” and goes off down Blccker. FDA wanders away with Thin, talking hippy.

“Come on,” Wilson, the informer, says. “We got to stick with Sam.”

“Where is he?”

“I don’t know. Maybe he went into the park.” We walk toward the park. “You new on the squad?”

“I’m not on the squad.”

“Oho. A fed, huh?”

“What makes you think I’m a cop?”

“C’mon, man, it’s OK. I’m an informer. We’re all in this together. It’s like I’m a half-cop, you know.”

“Oh, all right, I’m working for the feds. But I’m not a cop. I’m a schoolteacher, and I’m doing a study.”

“Hey, that’s good. Say, what’s your undercover name?”


“What’s your real name?”


“You can’t do that. You got to have an undercover name.”

“I always use Bruce.”

“OK, man, it’s your schtik. We might meet someone, and I might have to introduce you or something. Where do you say you come from?”


“Come on, man, the Village is crawling with people from Cambridge.”

“I am from Cambridge.”

“Jesus Christ, man!”

We walk into Washington Square Park.

(Wilson stopped and talked with some characters he knew, and I stayed out of the light, which he seemed to appreciate. I knew several undercover agents had been exposed, “burned” in the argot, and badly beaten recently. I wondered what this nut was leading me into. I wondered what they were all leading themselves into. These people were so different from the cops uptown, the serious and competent Alvins and Viera, with whom I’d sat that afternoon in a car in the west Eighties, talking with an informer while pretty polished women and expensive fat ladies passed us by, seeing only four men in a car; that informer knew he was dead if he should be seen with us, and the conversation was serious. Here it seemed they’d adjusted to the madcap crowd, not only in appearance but in procedure, in thought. A crazy game world on both sides again, like Houston. But different.)

We walk on toward the arch. Wilson tells me he’d like to work for the FBI as an undercover man in the Communist Party. “They ever use people for anything like that?”

“I believe they have, on occasion.”

“You think they’d hire me? It’s not like I’m inexperienced. And I hate this amateur crap.”

“I don’t know.”

“They wouldn’t take me in the army. I would have been good in the army, but they wouldn’t take me.”

“Why not?”

“ ‘Cause I’m an addict. Got a record. All that crap.” He shrugs. “But I’d sure like to be an undercover man working on Commies. Man, I’m a natural. Who’d ever suspect.”

We spot Sam. Wilson and I sit next to him on the bench. Sam tells us where the suspect is sitting. Wilson gets up, grabs my arm, and says, “Come on, man.”

“Where we going?”

We walk behind the public toilets to a phone booth, and I wonder again about the setups. If even the police, who should know better, want to think I’m a cop, surely the other side would be willing to make the assumption. He calls the phone booth where Al and Ray wait. Wilson describes the suspect. “In the park, man, on Junkies’ Row. Junkies’ Row, I said.” He hangs up, and we go back to watch the bust go down, but neither Sam nor the suspect is there. We rush out of the park, but see neither of them.

“You sit on that rail over there, and when Al comes by, you say, ‘I don’t know where the sonofabitch is.’ Keep your head turned away. That way, if anyone is nearby, they’ll think he asked you about someone and you wouldn’t tell him anything; if no one is near, it won’t look like you’re talking to him at all. Everybody in the Village knows Al and Ray.”

I sit on the rail, watching out of the corner of my eye for the two detectives to appear. I see them coming. As they near, I coolly turn away, waiting subtly to deliver my code message.

Several shoes stop in front of me, toes pointing my way. “Hey, Bruce,” Al says. “Where’d they all go?”

“Shhh! We’ll be spotted.”

“Ah. Where’d they go?”

“Down McDougal.”

They go down McDougal. I wait a tactful time, then follow. I see Al standing on the sidewalk across the street from Minetta’s. I sit on a stoop about four doors away. Al comes over and sits next to me.

“Go away, Al. We’ll be seen together.” I feel as paranoid as a pusher.

“Ah, it’s just the school kids. Nobody will notice.”

A policeman with a walkie-talkie strapped to his body tells us to move on.

“In just a minute, officer,” Al says. The policeman says make sure it’s just a minute, and Al says we certainly will and thank you officer.

We watch the girls in their carefully considered outfits and the boys in their pageboys. “Bunch of kids,” Al says. “Let’s go back to the car.”

“What if I get noticed walking with you?”

“Nah. Don’t worry about it.”

We walk back to the car.

After a while Ray comes with another detective, and we go back to the phone booth. It rings, and Ray answers. He listens for a moment, then sticks his head out. “Hey, Bruce: you’re burned.”

“I’m what?”

“You’re burned. They saw you with Al, and they all know you’re a cop.”

“I’m not a cop.”

“Tell them.”

They all laugh. “Way it goes,” one of them says.

It is almost 1 A.M., and the street is thinning as the action moves indoors and only the desperate are left. No business here. They adjust the “Out of Order” sign and decide to quit early for a change.


Bill Sanderson and Jack White look like TV actors who are supposed to look like L.A. detectives: both are good-looking, young, bright detective sergeants; both have been attending college parttime and expect a degree this year; both have been on the police force for eight years, in narcotics for less than one year.

Like police everywhere, they complain about some of the Supreme Court decisions, but they do not seem to feel as hamstrung. It takes more work and more men, but still the jobs seem to get done. “I think the Supreme Court is trying to force the problems back on the community that created the problems,” one of them says.

“I can see why some people go to heroin,” the other says. “It is the ultimate: it puts you to sleep and keeps you awake.”

In Watts, we stop at the intersection of Central and Vernon. Where a large drugstore used to be there is now a tremendous tent and a hand-painted sign: You must see and hear Rev. Eugene Lewis. Evangelist who ministers like Christ. Like the topless joints in San Francisco, Watts is one of those places visitors must see; one gets the same feeling of futility in both. White and Sanderson point out locations where they made interesting drug arrests, locations where they hope to make others, places where they were during the riot. We are supposed to be discussing narcotics, but during the early part of the afternoon it is the riot. They still do not understand it; no one seems to. The houses are a surprise to me: in the East it would be a lower-middle-class neighborhood in a residential town. Parks, lawns, some cars. If you don’t have a car, I find out, it takes an impossible amount of time to get around out here. Still, it is so unlike Harlem. Had so overwhelming a riot occurred first in swelling and wretched Harlem, we might have dismissed what Watts said: a man could want and need more than a house.

Later, we have dinner in a Mexican restaurant around the corner from the temple Aimee Semple McPherson built; then we ride over to Hollywood. The radio gives Jack White a woman’s phone number. The first phone booth cheats him out of two dimes, the second booth works.

White makes a date to meet her, and we race back to headquarters to pick up another car and some buy money. A lieutenant comes with us. We follow Jack to the bar, then drive down half a block and park in the shadows of a closed garage.

The lieutenant, just off vacation, says, “It gets harder and harder to generate enthusiasm for this kind of mess.”

“Vacations do that,” Bill says.

“It’s not the vacation. Just getting a little tired of it.”

After a while, Jack comes out of the bar with two women. One of them gets into the car with him, the other goes away. He U-turns and goes up the street, and we follow him at a distance.

Jack parks in front of an apartment house, and we park under a streetlamp fifty yards behind. There are three cars between us. With the light directly overhead, our car is not so suspicious: you can’t see anyone inside unless you are quite close. I can’t see anything in the other car, but Bill says Jack and the woman are still in it. He tells me they are probably arguing about whether or not Jack will be allowed to go inside with her. Jack isn’t going to give her a chance to go out a back door with the money, and he wants to find out what apartment the man with the stash is in so we can move in later —if there is a man inside; it might be a phony deal.

It gets tense. If there is someone inside, there may be trouble: if Jack is recognized, he is unarmed and might not be near enough a window to call for help. We wait. Nothing moves in the car ahead, and after a while Bill wonders too. He gets out of our car, strolls down the block away from both cars, crosses in the dark somewhere below, walks up a side street, comes back down the opposite side, then retraces his steps. He gets back in. “They’re still there.”

Footsteps from down the block. A man approaches, reading a magazine in the dark. He slows down when he’s under streetlamps, speeds up in the dark places between. He crosses directly in front of our car, his face buried in the magazine. “Now isn’t that something,” the lieutenant says. The man is reading Startling Detective.

More time passes. Jack’s car lights up and U-turns, going back toward the bar. We duck, let it go a little bit, then do the same, going pretty fast. We come out of the U-turn, run a red light, and zip past a patrol car.

“Uh,” I say.

“I guess they recognized me. Or the car,” Bill says.

Jack is stopped at a red light a block ahead. He turns right, then stops in front of the bar. After a while the woman gets out and Jack drives away. We follow him and park both cars in a dark place.

He tells us the woman wouldn’t let him come inside, and he refused to trust her with the money. “C’mon baby, take a chance,” she said. “Everybody gets screwed sometimes in this business.”

“Not me,” he told her.

They tell me they’ve been having trouble nailing a couple of Cuban traffickers. The lieutenant says he liked the old days better. “I’d rather work a nice clean old Mexican dope peddler. You go boot his door in, take him down, and that’s all there is to it.”

I’ll tell you something: it is not just a nittygritty world out there; it is a thing more unreal sometimes than the one we academics are usually accused of maintaining. You discover after a while that no one wears a white hat except the man who is talking to you right now; everyone spouts dogma except that single voice under that single white Stetson. Little Pavlovian mechanisms set junkies and cops in the same motions, day after day after day. The élan varies with the jurisdiction: in New York it is cold and faithless antagonism with exceptions, part of the general Weltanschauung; in Texas, where everyone has a gun, the policeman and criminal feel closer to one another.

It is little people, little, little people, playing out an ugly little game among themselves and taking it with precious and desperate seriousness, positing some lovely and fragile élan because both sides know that no one else in the world is willing to love them. Exiled from our American dream where everyman has his soporific and his weapon, the junkie and the cop find themselves bound to one another in one agonizing coil, and like Burton and Taylor in Virginia Woolf, they’ve learned the visceral lesson: people who bleed each other need each other.