Domino Theory Began as Something Else
Danny had seen a run of bad luck lately. Two years ago, he’d been gainfully employed, with an apartment and a decent car. Yeah, he had a little drug problem, but he paid his dealer in cash with the money he earned from his job. He’d never hurt anyone, never robbed or stolen. He just liked to get high after work. Then he’d gotten a DUI one night on the way home from a bar. They had to be kidding! He’d only stopped in for a couple of drinks, get a little loose, try to pick up on a chick. He hadn’t even done any drugs! But the cops claimed he’d failed the field sobriety test. Hell, he couldn’t walk a straight line dead sober. Then he’d blown a .24 on the breathalyzer, well over the legal limit of .08. So not only had he struck out with the woman, he’d gone to jail instead of home to bed. That had been a Friday night. By the time he’d been arraigned on Tuesday he’d lost two days pay and his job. Then, just like dominoes, one thing after another had fallen away.
My second book, Domino Theory, began as something else. In 1980, I began my first novel, a murder mystery featuring Danny McCabe, a drug addict who’d been clean and sober a few years. Danny gets called for jury duty, and inadvertently gets involved with trying to clear the defendant, a drug addict who’s been framed. That book is as yet unfinished, though I hope to finish it this year.
I started Domino Theory around 1990. As usual, it began with a question: “What would happen if I was drunk and woke up next to a murder victim?” The result was a mystery about a guy who’s been framed. He has to dodge the cops and two hit men while finding out who set him up.
I originally planned for the main character to be the defendant from the first Danny McCabe book. Over the next eight years, I got it plotted and about three quarters written. Then I stopped. After all, how can you publish a sequel to a book that isn’t finished?
Domino Theory languished for ten years. I wasn’t very motivated to work on it because I wasn’t having much luck in the publishing department.
Then came Ordinary World, which sold over 3,000 copies and got great reviews. That modest success encouraged me to look at my unfinished novels with new eyes. I thought Domino Theory had a great plot, but it was missing something. Then it occurred to me to make it the prequel to my Dannny McCabe story. After all, Danny is a recovering addict. Why not tell the story of how he got into recovery?
As I began my rewrite, I was strongly influenced by Lawrence Block’s A Ticket to the Boneyard, which I consider the best of the (generally excellent) Matt Scudder series. It portrays Scudder trying to get sober while facing a brutal opponent. Despite his need to stay off the booze, Scudder gets drunk again several times. As a recovering alcoholic and addict, I’ve always though Block portrays Scudder’s struggle well.
I wanted Domino Theory to convey the reality of the insanity a drug addict lives with in his addiction, the constant need, and the ridiculous justifications he believes. The scenes where Danny struggles with his addiction are as real as I can make them, based on my own ten-year experience.
The misery isn’t as bad now as it was when I kicked. I’ve been off the sh*t for three weeks. Well, almost three weeks. Two and a half, anyway. My body doesn’t ache any more. I’m starting to be able to sleep at night, if I drink enough. Yeah, I drink more, but I’m off the dope. I’m clean, and that’s something to be proud of. So what am I doing with a bag full of dope in my room? I don’t want to use it. Really, I don’t. It was too hard to get off of it. But the sh*t is calling to me. That goddamn heroin is calling my name. I drain the third Moosehead and reach for the fourth. Two thirds gone now. I’m pretty drunk, but not drunk enough to ignore the dope calling me. I suck down half the bottle in one swallow. Damn it, I hate that sh*t! F***ing heroin. For months I couldn’t not do it. Now I’m clean, and it still wants me back. It’s like an evil woman that won’t let go of me, and I can’t say no. That’s the thing: I know I can’t say no. I always go back to it. I always have, and I always will. Yeah, I’m clean right now, but that’s temporary. I know it. You know it. The dope knows it. It’s calling my name; it knows that sooner or later I’m going to give in.
I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t been there can really understand what goes on in the mind of an addict. I know some whose friends and loved ones are addicts have stopped trying, and I don’t blame them. Our actions are as incomprehensible as they are heartbreaking.
Domino Theory is an attempt to bridge that gap, while telling what I hope is an entertaining story. Danny has no clue who framed him or why. He knows he he has to get off the drugs to have any chance of staying alive. With the help of some new friends in AA, he begins to unravel the mystery. He stakes out drug dealers, tracks a mysterious woman to her home, and identifies several of the people involved. But who is the mastermind blaming Danny for a string of murdered dealers, and can Danny stay clean long enough to find him before the hit men or the cops catch up with him?
If the internal dialog is too raw, if you can’t understand how anyone could be so crazy, at least take this from your reading experience: People like Danny and me, crazy as we are, do find recovery. I’ve been clean and sober more than thirty years! Domino Theory is a mystery, and a look deep into the frightening mind of an addict. But it’s also a story of hope.
AA, Danny thought, not for the first time, really didn’t apply to him. He might as well go out and get loaded, because AA wasn’t going to work. What the heck? He had plenty of dope. He could hole up in a motel and stay stoned until they found him. With enough heroin in his system, he wouldn’t even feel the bullet that killed him. “F***ing AA,” he muttered. “It’s for pussies, not for people with real problems.” He took a last hit off his cig and ground the butt into the pavement with his shoe. Then he remembered the guy from Newark who had stolen money from the mob and had to make amends for it. And the girl, Jamie, who had come to puking her guts out on the floor of a jail cell. “Okay,” he acknowledged. “They had problems. So maybe AA does work. But what am I supposed to do?” The answer came. It was in Alicia’s voice, almost like she was there in his head responding to his question. “That’s freaky,” Danny said. Because what the voice told him to do was pick up the phone and call someone in AA and ask them what he should do.