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The eighties came and went. The president who ruled over them flashed one last fatherly smile, bowed and exited the world stage to thunderous applause, with skyrocketing homeless rates, the '87 stock market crash and a hundred thousand AIDS victims at his feet. Replacing the communist boogeyman with the liberal boogeyman, he passed the reins to a new leader, the most powerful man ever to claim Texas residency as a tax dodge.

Texas, where politicians and other influence peddlers test out crimes they plan to commit nationally, faced the double-edged economic recovery of the early nineties. Quality of life eroded further than before for Texas's non-millionaires: Countryside and farmland paved themselves to make room for malls. Old neighborhoods got "renewed" for wealthier residents at a greater rate than ever. High-tech industries rolled over the northern part of town where small houses once stood, the industries spawning beehive apartment complexes and neighboring strip malls to house, feed and entertain the laborers who would build and buy the laptops, pagers and mobile phones of the new decade. Progress. Unemployment was down, at least on paper: in real life, the grunts struggled harder than they had in the depths of the recession, as rents climbed, social services were cut back and homelessness—under the "anti-camping" law-was made punishable by arrest. That's where I come in.

At street level, an economy based on self-reliance equals every man for himself A free market cures all ills, and if it doesn't, screw the schools, screw housing, screw financial aid, don't tell us the details, just arrest everybody. Figure the twelve-year-old junkie you busted for dealing gets replaced by a new recruit before nightfall. Figure a joke among cops: "What's the best thing about crack? It lowered the price of a blow job to five bucks." Figure if your kid is lucky he goes to UT or maybe out of state; if he's not, maybe he's sleeping next to you in the back of your pickup, and dealing drugs looks better to him than flipping burgers. Figure it's the wrong time to be born unlucky.

So you're no dope, you go with the winner, you become a black conservative, a gay conservative, a poor conservative. Invite yourself to the party and sit at the back table, they'll get to you, sooner or later. Carve out a little corner for yourself, and to hell with everybody else, you've got dreams of your own. If you feel a little pang of conscience, for the friends and family you stepped on to get where you are, eat something, drink something, snort something, BUY SOMETHING! Anything. Because we need you to buy things.

And all this weaves through my mind at night as I dream my cop dreams. I'm stepping blind in this bricked-up department store, a shopping graveyard, dark and booby-trapped. My mouth is pasty dry, my eyes burn from the fumes of home-cooked crystal meth on the fire. Suddenly Rachel's with me, she's supposed to be safe and separate from this. And the building isn't gimmicked to keep people from getting in, it was easy to get in, anyone can get in: you can never leave. We can't get back the way we came. We can hardly see, save for cracks of light. My foot goes through a floorboard—Rachel cries out and grabs me. Snakes wrap my feet and I shake them off. Any step could send us plummeting through the floor. The building is crumbling, the wrong time to visit him, a trapped, wounded animal, and the wrong night to bring a date. I might feel the cold of a gun barrel at the back of my neck, or not feel it, not see the bullet coming. No sooner do I think that than suddenly he's behind us, and I whip around, draw my weapon in slo-mo and fire and my bullets spit from the chamber; one, two, three, and fall flaccidly to the ground, and he's facing us down, and I realize too late that the guy I thought I trapped, trapped me; he's the cat, I'm the mouse, I'm weak and helpless, helpless to protect Rachel or even myself, and he's smarter than me, because he's high on the best stuff, and he's motivated by greed, and greed trumps justice and greed trumps vengeance even, and greed trumps love, and I'd trade my .38 for a flashlight and a way out, making bargains I can't make, like please God, please please please God, just get her out of here alive.


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