My fictional PI, Joe Kozmarski, has an addictive personality, but I sometimes wish that I’d given him a more interesting addiction than alcohol with an occasional side of cocaine. Stephen Jay Schwartz, for instance, gives his hero a sex addiction, which, I know, can be every bit as debilitating and destructive as any other addiction, though the language surrounding sex – “getting lucky,” “getting some” – appeals more than the language surrounding alcohol consumption – “getting wasted,” “getting blasted,” “getting bombed.” Dexter, for another instance, is addicted to killing people. The least I could have done is give my guy an addiction that would make him interesting at cocktail parties.
But Joe likes the taste of bourbon (with a side of cocaine). If he “gets lucky” while drinking, that’s all to the good, but bourbon’s the thing. True, he’s been dry lately, or mostly dry. But his drinking has greased most of the major turning points in his life. Except for his struggles with bourbon, he would still be married to the woman he loves. Except for the bourbon he would still be a cop instead of a PI. He left the department after crashing his cruiser into a newsstand, stoned silly, blood alcohol .34, high enough to kill some men.
Why did Joe drink? Why does he still ache for a bottle? Because it feels good to drink. He unscrews the cap and takes a drink, feels the burn and the release and the bright solution to every problem. Drinking feels really, really good . . . until it doesn’t and by then it’s too late: he’s done it, it’s done, and there’s no undoing it.
So, when things get bad – and in the life of this Chicago PI things often get bad – the bottle seems to call to him. Sometimes he answers, and he and the bottle spend some time together. If they’re still lonely, they get some cocaine. And only later – much later – does Joe wake in a sweat. He gets the baggie of cocaine and the bottle of bourbon. He turns on the hot and cold taps in the sink and pours out the whiskey. He opens the baggie and tips the white powder into the swirling water. Flushing it down the drain feels like burning money. It feels like pulling away in the middle of sex. He climbs into bed and stares at the ceiling. He's still staring when the sun rises.