A staff writer for Philadelphia Weekly debuts with a searing tale of betrayals, self-betrayals, wasted lives—and addiction.
The place is Philadelphia, though the setting could be any big city. Everett Jackson (street name: Black), a young African-American awaiting trial for murder, tells the bulk of his story in one long flashback. Black’s a “piper”—a crack-cocaine addict—as is his best friend Leroy. That is, they would be best friends if the all-controlling need for the hit didn’t make romantic nonsense out of so humanly natural a concept. As usual, Black and Leroy are broke on this particular night. In order to score, they have to run some kind of scam, which, in its typical inefficiency, is what lands them in the wrong place at the wrong time—in a certain crack house where someone has just been murdered. It turns out to be a very important someone: the city councilman who heads the Police Civilian Review Board. He’s been lured to his death because a couple of highly placed cops need to discredit him before he can blow the whistle on the corruption that’s made them rich. The cops also need scapegoats, a role for which both Black and Leroy, friendless and powerless, seem tailor-made. An all-out manhunt ensues, leading the beset pipers to go underground. Expert at wriggling and squirming, they make it seem for a while as if they might escape—but they don’t, and they can’t. The thing about pipers is that way down deep they know they don’t deserve to. Violence leads to bloodshed and, paradoxically, to isolated patches of something like nobility. In the end, Black’s desperate battle against the system, and his own inner demons produces an unsought and affecting redemption.
Despite occasional descents into melodrama, Pipe Dream is the work of a talented newcomer passionate about his material. An impressive debut—and a writer to watch.