Driving Miss Crazy
Drugstore Cowboy: Later Years
Great—after all our sneaking and skulking through the plant, I hear a wailing siren in the east. Ignoring a cold chill down my spine, I serenely headed west, my lights off…our car a shadowy smudge trying to slide into the night. There was a slim chance the cop would overlook us and go for the plant…allowing the night to swallow us whole. No such luck—seemed slim skipped town. The cop sped by the plant, firmly on our tail. What the hell—the chase was on: I flicked my lights on and booted it, hoping our escape plan would work. I felt like smacking Deal for messing around; whatever, freedom came first, so evasive techniques flashed through my adrenaline-charged brain.
Drifting into the first turn, the wheels bit asphalt, and we barreled down a straightaway. There was a chance he wasn’t familiar with this area—our route snaked across two subdivisions, then a park. I saw his lights behind me, trying to bend his Ford interceptor through the turn. The big car looked enormous on these car-lined small streets. He had a better top end: good on long streets, but with tight curves and turns, my 5-speed Celica could lose him on cornering, plus some double-clutching race moves. I hoped he wasn’t on his radio, getting another cop to intercept or block streets. Since he didn’t know where we were heading, that seemed unlikely…this subdivision had several exits. I could double-back, head east or west, or just keep going and make Finch, a major 4-lane cross-street. The cop would catch up on Finch, but our plan had a surprise…something that would catch him off-guard.
It was like the car scene from “Bullit,” an all-out chase…a pursuit of desperation. At least he wasn’t blasting us with a shotgun, but if he had a chance, I’m sure he’d pull his pistol and fire at our tires. We downshifted, bounced over hills, cornered on two wheels, redlined through first, second, and third, totally grinding the tranny way beyond specs. According to our plan, a few more tight turns would put us on Finch, heading for the second neighborhood—and more sharp turns. Deal kept the drugs securely positioned with his feet…full of pure base, breaking one of these bottles would be a costly mistake.
He was still on our ass—I spotted him barely making that last turn, before booting it down an “S” stretch. It was all-in Mad Max driving: tossing the car through turns, with tires sizzling from drifting around corners, we reached the first exit. I punched it on the last street, exploding onto Finch, the rear tires screeching as they fought for traction. The pre-dawn lack of traffic helped turn the roads into a racecourse; recklessly popping out on Finch would have meant instant accident with traffic. After a few blocks on Finch, another turn led to the last subdivision, and then the park. The plan was to lose him at the park entrance; compared to our sleek machine, his car was too wide to fit between the park’s steel gateposts. With so much on the line, I ripped through the gearbox, dumping the clutch on each shift, squeezing the car for all it had—each particle of power, every speck of speed. This was an early morning Daytona 500…one hell of a jaunt, and definitely one for the books, and morning news. All the media would pick up this dangerous chase, extra heat I liked to avoid. Smacking Deal occurred to me again, but I focused on the adrenaline coursing through my veins, and the cop on my six.
Zooming down Finch, his car headlights were now glaring in my rearview mirror…slowly inching closer…siren, and attitude howling with rage. I finally hit fourth, wringing every bit of juice out of this little baby. Anticipating the upcoming turn, I wanted the cop to overshoot. Maybe he thought I was trying to outrun him on Finch, a big error in our favor. Just before the turn, I slammed it in first, the engine popping in complaint…I stepped on the brakes, and barely made the turn on two wheels. I caught the cop off-guard and he overshot. The engine banging in protest, I raced through the gears, braking with downshifts while following the route. I reminded Deal to keep the drugs firmly tucked under his legs…I’d yell at him later for causing this chase, and I didn’t need a broken bottle to spark more anger.
I yanked my hoodie back, giving me better peripheral vision. Glancing at Deal, I saw him braced for dear life, his teeth clenched against the car’s wild maneuvers. With my shoulder belt as tight as possible, I was Zen-like…one with the car, a firm grip on the wheel. As far as chases go, we were doing well...staying ahead. If the cop knew driving techniques, he’d realize I knew this course, and had prior experience in high-speed evasion.
Anticipating tight corners, ripping through the long turns, I was like Mario Andretti burning down a speedway.
Some cops live for this shit…others just get really pissed off…moreso when you get away.
The jugs of pure base were still carefully tucked underneath Deal’s legs and taking the abuse; while we got knocked around or even weightless, they survived hairpin turns and never caught air on hills. I begrudgingly admired Deal for keeping them safe, and the cop for keeping up.
The suspension bounced us around a lot, almost creating a total wipe out after flying over bumps.
We clipped a few parked cars after a really tight turn that was even tighter from parked cars. The whole ride was insane—it was a miracle we even survived. Especially the drugs…the trunk would be covered in expensive dust if the drugs were there. Breaking one of these bottles would cost…this shit was worth over a grand a gram…after a 50/50 cut. The Percs were fine; their plastic bottles also acted like a buffer for the glass.
Despite the carnival-like thrill, this wasn’t a joy ride—we had to ditch this hyped-up Dudley DoRight…his radio would soon have the area plastered in pissed-off cops. High-speed activity like this would earn you one hell of a whooping, plus a shopping list of charges: half a dozen traffic offenses alone. The criminal charges would demand long-term sentences. I was not going down for this; I’d soar through backyards if I had to…anything for freedom.
After fishtailing down a narrow street, I saw the cop well behind as I slid onto the last street…a dead end except for the park entrance. Even if he was on the radio, there weren’t enough cars around this early to box us in; based on his relentless pursuit, it looked like this Sheriff wanted to run us down himself. Maybe he knew it was a dead end: maybe he tasted victory…whatever, we were heading through the upcoming barrier, leaving him no choice but turn around and race to the Sheppard entrance.
We reached the path…I slowed down, carefully centering the car. When the front end was through, I dumped the clutch and scraped by…after some screeching metal, I was free.
Shazam—now protected by that narrow gate, we happily raced along a well-packed trail…the cop’s Crown Victoria too fat to fit.
The escape route paid off, but we needed out of the area—before barricades or roadblocks locked it down. I still wondered why that cop didn’t check the plant; obviously, he was responding to the alarm, but they didn’t really know what was going on, or why we were running. Whatever…running from the scene of an alarm was enough to peg us as the reason for that alarm…they knew that plant made tons of narcotics…target ground zero for cowboys like us. I could hardly wait to see what goodies awaited.
Engulfed in trees, we scooted along, finally catching our breath. I flicked on the Brights. I wondered if the cop rammed the barrier in frustration or meekly turned around and tried to catch up. Whatever…I guess he knew we escaped and maybe now used his radio. At this point, he could only hope another car could reach the park entrance. Those steel posts were set in concrete—ramming them would only batter his car. He’d see that narrow gate surrounded by thick bushes and know this route was well planned in advance. Maybe he’d feel better about losing us.
At least he had an excuse if other cops razzed him. I thought I heard a couple of bangs, and wondered if he pulled his piece and fired into the trees in frustration, hoping for a lucky shot. He must have been pissed.
We reached the end and slid to a halt. Deal carefully grabbed the drugs, and we transferred everything to the Buick, Deal’s car. The car turned over instantly, and after making a smooth left on Sheppard, we joined some light morning traffic.
Approaching Islington, a cop zipped by, lights flashing with no siren, heading to the entrance we just left... no doubt sent there by radio. What the hell…another fine Toronto morning, and the cops were angrily dealing with a major heist. This would be big news. Turning down Islington, we headed to the 401; always busy, we’d blend with traffic, finally free and clear.
I’d had experience doing high-speed escapes, so Deal was content to let me drive his car. We missed that other cop by seconds, and he was looking for a Celica, not a Buick. Once again, after many mishaps, luck landed on our side. Great…in a high-speed chase, seconds count, something I’d have to remind my bonehead partner about. If Deal didn’t grab that box of Percs, we would’ve left 10 seconds earlier, perhaps missing the whole chase.
It’s adrenaline-soaked fun when you get away, but mindless and dangerous stupidity if caught. Cops hate losing chases, and these guys were pissed. There was enough heat from the break-in…add eluding the police, and they’d search for us like bloodhounds.
While waiting for the light to change for the on-ramp, another cop came flying by, northbound on Islington, towards Sheppard. They were flooding the area, but we were gone, with no idea what we were driving. They’d find the Celica still running, ignition wired, indicating stolen—usually a dead end, and now bare. With an empty Celica, they’d know we switched cars, but that’s all they would find. The well-packed path wouldn’t hold a tire print, and that was all they could hope to find. Even after a full forensic on the car, they’d still find nothing. No trace…I vacuumed it after boosting it, and we were careful to wear gloves and hoodies whenever inside. DNA wasn’t the smoking evidence it is now, but fingerprints or hair are always bad news.
The light turned green. The cop was long gone, and we slowly took the now slightly busy eastbound 401. Home was a short drive away. We merged with traffic, and smoothly cruised the vast 16-lane highway, loaded to the gills with product, just another pair of motorists. We did it: a high-five celebrated our success. My initial anger at Deal had dialed down—exhilaration after a daring escape always boosts your spirits.
I’d only had a second to read the labels in the lab, and I wanted a closer look. I was sure we hit the jackpot—each bottle had the big N for narcotic: I saw oxycodone, hydromorphone, and hydrocodone—whatever was needed to make lots of happy pills and juice. That manufacturer supplied every Canadian pharmacy…a crap-load of pure powder.
Glancing at Deal’s dirt streaked face from crawling through the lab’s vent system, I broke out laughing, telling him to check his face. I inspected my face in the mirror and we both started laughing. Deal looked like some Special Forces dude wearing camouflage. I asked for a towel. Driving around like two blacked-out duck hunters wasn’t part of a normal morning commute. Deal looked around, and found some wet-naps in the glove box. Passing me a handful, I opened a few and wiped my face. It was still dirty, but not as bad: at least I wouldn’t scare some passing driver. Our jeans and coats were equally dirty and I made a mental note to toss everything in the wash...right away. Being a well-known bandit, the cops would probably check out all the usual suspects, and this could tie us to the break in...they could probably match the dust in the shafts to what was on our clothes. Not exactly a fingerprint, but I guessed that dust was quite unique: being a pharmaceutical plant, it made sense that their dust contained traces of unusual chemicals...not the sort of thing a lawyer can easily explain away. I'd seen many movies were they busted a guy for similar, one-of-a-kind evidence, so I tried to be on my toes. The jail deterrent works both ways: either quit crime and stay out, or don't get caught. Not getting caught can make you arrogant and sloppy, but I treated each score with kid gloves. After planning this heist for weeks, I'd had plenty of time to imagine every worst-case scenario. I once talked to a traffic cop for a while with cocaine on my nose...he politely asked if I had been eating powdered donuts. Telling that usually got me a few laughs...the old cop/donut stereotype set me free. Fortunate indeed—I had an ounce of Bolivian blow in my pocket.
To stay free in this business, you have to think ahead...like some complicated game of chess. Fortunately, I was an exceptional chess player...I once took this compulsive gambler dude for $260 bucks...I won game after game, and he kept slapping down more money. Since I was broke to start, it worked out well...the guy only quit in the morning because they were heading up to Woodbine racetrack to gamble all day. A certified addict...I only worried about winning that first game, as they don't like it when someone can't pay, and these were the wrong guys to stiff. He gambled with his money, I gambled I could beat him…if I lost, I would have been beaten...twice.
I wondered about the girls, sitting at home, knowing we were out…putting everything on the line for this score. Maybe the car chase had hit the news already. But stopping to give them a call wasn’t on the timetable…we had to get off the streets and get this stuff stashed. We were safe for now, but I had a feeling this was far from over…a prophetic hunch in hindsight. They’d just have to wait, and trust our experience and adrenaline would keep us safe. I pondered how “Jocko” Thomas, the 6:00 PM nightly crime reporter would read this over the radio. Whatever he said, the “reporting for CFRB…at police headquarters,” his unique by-line, would follow our antics. My parents listened to him faithfully while having dinner. Being famous for something infamous was okay by me...and I knew it would only stay secret if we kept our mouths shut. Dishonorable thieves trade such information for get out of jail free cards. Once in jail, some people will do anything to get out.
Read Drugstore Cowboy: Later Years
Google Dana Fitzgerald, Drugstore Cowboy.
This is a finished book, with a unique spin on the subject matter…lots of action, and an introspective look into the minds of the off-the-wall characters, presenting a philosophy that finds reason in a senseless world. Many visit, but few stay. Offered with a touching narrative, it puts the reader inside the character’s head…seeing what they saw, feeling what they felt. Guts got them in…insanity got them out.