The smoke alarms were sacred, untouchable, and entirely off-fucking-limits at the Hotel Synod. Everything else was negotiable. A man named Mellow West who liked room 323 once paid four months of back rent with a stolen piano. Francie Brush stabbed her boyfriend to death in 106, but the jury found her not guilty and she moved right back in. The other residents threw her a party with a cake. They used to listen to him beat her through the plaster walls. No one did anything at the time, but now they bought her a cake. Sex in the elevator would get you yelled at, and repelling from the roof to avoid paying rent would warrant more yelling, but if you touched the smoke alarms, then you were gone, because Frankie Teakettle would know if you’d touched them, because he personally inspected each one weekly.

A complete, but temporary, détente occurred during the detector check. Frankie Teakettle would not berate you for the rent, nor would he notice any obvious crimes. Perversions would be ignored, and so would messiness and stink. He would announce himself, unlock the door with his master-key, check the device that went BEEEEEEP to show its batteries were still good, exit without comment or eye contact, relock the door behind him. All of man’s happiness begins with his house not burning down, Frankie believed. And the Hotel Synod was the type of place prone to that sort of thing.

It was a candle-lighting clientele; it was a candle-forgetting clientele. Folks who stayed at the Synod smoked in bed, or they crawled under beds holding lit Zippos. Freebasing was popular.

Frankie Teakettle may or may not have owned the place. The lobby had glass doors that opened onto Clarke Street, and a threadbare green carpet. Art was crowded onto the walls, all from the hotel’s residents in lieu of rent. Some of the paintings were worth much more now than the rent had been, and some were worth nothing. Ratty yellow couch with plump buttons in the upholstery. The Christmas tree was fake, and left up all year but only turned on in December. The desk was made of oak, wide, and to the right of the doors. Frankie sat behind it, and behind him was a wall made up of cubbyholes that were full of letters and small packages and messages. Two elevators, the old kind where you pull the scissored door open and closed.

There was a dentist in 401, Doctor Horse, who engaged in an elaborate web of barter with the rest of the hotel. 401 was a large corner suite, and he had not left the hotel or used cash in twelve years. His office was in the living room: he had a chair and drill and lights and all that bullshit, and a junkie hygienist named Shirley Early who made extra money at night dominating men in the chair. Doctor Horse traded prescriptions for groceries and laundry, and cleanings for the rent. One time, he exchanged a root canal for a Rothko.

Rates were variable at the Hotel Synod. Painters with potential and drinking problems paid a little, slumming rich kids paid more. Movie stars would come up from Hollywood (a certain kind of movie star at least: the kind that mumbled and did not bathe) and they were charged double the rich kids’ price. Some of the rooms were a bed, a chair, a toilet without a shower; others wrapped around the corner of the building and had bathtubs. Long-timers and overnighters.

Johnny Mister liked Room 212. He was a Guitar Hero. He played for Little Aleppo’s own The Snug, and  he stayed at the Synod in Room 212 when he was not on the road; everyone hated him. The residents at the Synod did not instinctively loathe the rich. Some people just had the bad luck to be born into money, they figured. And they did not despise the poor or the broke, because most living at the hotel were poor or broke. But everyone hated the cheap, and Johnny Mister was cheap and so everyone hated him. He was a junkie who fainted around needles; he was always ripping off his neighbors. Smoking everyone’s cigarettes, and drinking their wine, and suddenly appearing when you’d ordered a pizza. Then he’d start trying to fuck your girlfriend (if you were a man) or you (if you were a woman or teenaged girl). Frankie Teakettle loved Johnny, though. His management paid his inflated rent six months in advance.

Room 109 no longer existed.

Boylan Burcke (pronounced burk-ee) had occupied 203 for years. The Beats all thanked him in their books, or fictionalized him, and the Hippie writers, too. Academics wrote theses on his poems, and the occasional article would call him a genius. When these articles came out, Boylan would take them to his dealers. Surely this kind of coverage, he would bullshit them, means a payday is around the corner. He had one slim collection to his name, The Hospitallers of the Downside.

Manky and overdrawn, these wobbling saviors!
These scarecrows on the sidewalk in afternoon’s lie!
Fortunata
–You bitch–
I fucked you in a diner bathroom
It was in Omaha
Your creamy asshole winked at me

It was about 120 pages of that sort of thing.

Boylan Burcke had a necktie he claimed belonged to Gerald Ford. It was burgundy with thin yellow stripes running diagonally across its face, and he said that President Ford’s son Jack had given it to him. If Boylan liked you, he would tie you off with it. If he didn’t like you, he would tie you off with it and swipe your dope.

There was always dope at the Hotel Synod. Waves of it. White that you mixed with water, and brown that you mixed with lemon juice. Lucy Twigg had the dope. She lived in 104, which was in the back and had a door that led out to the alley, and sat at a massive desk in her room with an apothecary’s cabinet behind her filled with pills and powders and liquids and occasionally suppositories. Lucy sat at her desk all day with huge rock and roll speakers pointed at her playing her latest obsession. She was small enough so that her feet did not hit the floor when she sat in her chair, but the shotgun under her desk was quite large, and so was the guy who stood behind her named Klaxon.

The door to Room 201 was always open, and lentils cooked all day and night. There was bread, too, and everyone was welcome except for Frankie Teakettle, who was not permitted in the room by court order. The rotating cast of robed residents called themselves the Holy Light Family and called Room 201 their ashram; they had never paid a dime in rent. Immediately after moving in, they sued the Synod claiming that charging them rent would be akin to taxation. Most will realize this argument as “not even terrible,” but the judge was drunk and found for the plaintiffs because she thought it was funny. The case was appealed, obviously, but Frankie quickly realized he was paying more to his lawyers than the room was worth, and so he dropped the case. He did get fucked up a couple times and go up there looking to beat some ass, though, and hence the restraining order.

In the morning, the pipes and the drunks would shake in just the same way. The sign by the elevator said No Overnight Guests.

Credit cards cutting lines on mirrors sound like CHAK CHAK CHAK shlip shlip CHAK CHAK CHAK and then shhhNORF and another sound, a human sound from a coated throat sticky with speed and mucus. Longtime residents could recognize each other by that sound, the little exhalation after a rail, sometimes it was ka-HAA and others went BROKH-bukh. Johnny Mister said “Rock and Roll” every time. You could tell the rich kids from the poets by what they snorted their coke with. The rich kids used hundreds. If the poets had a hundred, then they would have spent it on coke, so they use cut-up straws from the taco joint.

Slowest way to get high is via your stomach. Lot of absorption to do, gotta get through the liver’s five-hole. Your asshole is quicker: no matter what you shove up your ass, you’re going to feel it toot sweet. Faster than that is inhalation or insufflation, which the common folks call smoking or sniffing.

But nothing beats the needle.

Teachers and preachers don’t know this, but nurses and junkies do: there is more to the needle than the movies show. It is versatile, and it is a triune god like the Christ. Subcutaneous injections are used by diabetics to administer their insulin into the fat directly under the skin; intramuscular injections are for flu shots and antibiotics; intravenous injections are a sharp lever that opens the inside of your body up to the outside world just like your mother explicitly told you not to do. If you were going to use needles outside a hospital, then you needed to know this. Cocaine could be skin popped but not shot into the muscle. Some opiates could be delivered by all three methods, but some could not, and people had lost arms over the difference. Amphetamine should not be injected into either fat or muscle; it will abscess in both.

Speed is for the mainline, and Frankie Teakettle had no problem with that. It was his blood-brain barrier, and he’d cross it if he wanted to. His body was a free country, he thought, and so be it if its sovereignty be invaded. The problem some run into when injecting speed is the ratio. Thicker your paste in the cylinder, the harder the rush is going to hit and you’ll have a high like a black-body curve. This leads to the chasing of dragons. (People misunderstand that phrase, Frankie thought. Wasn’t that the dragon was fast and could fly away; it was that it would kill you if you caught it.) Three points in one milliliter. Nice and smooth. Keeps a man going on the long day’s journey into the next day. It was sustainable if you weren’t a pig. New point every time. Saline solution, not tap water. Swab the skin with disinfectant every time. Rotate sites. Don’t tell anyone where you keep your stash.

Time would win the war, but the battle could be yours. It would always be a Pyrrhic victory, but you could take the day if you were prepared to pay the price. Or if you did not know there was a price to be paid. Fatalism and stupidity are kissing cousins.

Frankie Teakettle sat behind the desk and vibrated like he had for years.

The Porters could handle it. The hotel’s porters had unionized long ago, and one of their demands was the capitalization of their title, so now they were Porters; they could handle it. The Porters picked up laundry and made introductions, and they chased off the Taft impersonators before they could hurl themselves into the bathtubs. They delivered drugs, for a price; pizza, for a slice. They were Montagnards and all of them answered to the name McGeorge. They had black uniforms with gold piping. Some of the guests fucked the Porters, and some got fucked by them, and others just tipped. No one knew exactly how many there were.

The doors opened outward onto Clarke Street, and the Porters would take your luggage if you had any. Many didn’t. There was a bed for you, though the room surrounding that bed could not be vouched for. The thin runners on the hallways floor were fraying and torn, and so was Frankie Teakettle at the front desk, but they would hold up. You could put off tomorrow, at least for today at the Hotel Synod, which is in Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.