Two men met on Bennett Avenue, New York City, a dark and dirty street on the shady side of town. One’s purpose was to purchase drugs, the other’s purpose was to sell. The buyer was a young man, dressed moderately and clean. The seller was an older man, poorly dressed, and dirty.
They had been client and clientele before so there were no suspicions on this night. The young man always paid cash and the older always demanded cash. This night the young man was short on cash and asked for credit. The drug dealer, angered by this breach of an unwritten policy, cursed him. “Get the hell out of here, you dammed punk,” he said. “Go back to your daddy and get some cash.” With that the older man started to walk away. The young man, desperate for the cocaine the older man had in his pocket, and angered by his words, lunged after him, but the older and street wise drug dealer pulled a pistol from his pocket and shot the young man in the chest.
The drug dealer’s name was Lester Blankenship, a college educated ex-pharmaceutical salesman. He graduated from the New York University School of Pharmacy in 1964, and soon after he met his bride to be, Susan Derreberry, and they settled into a fairy tale existence of living “happily ever after.” They soon had a son, Lester Junior, and Susan and Lester could not have been happier. They called their son Les.
Lester Senior had grown up an only child in a middle income two parent home in neighboring New Jersey. Susan was raised in the city of New York by an unmarried aunt after Susan’s parents were killed in separate accidents prior to Susan’s second birthday. As Susan grew up, she often fantasized about the man she would marry and the fairy tale life they would live.
However, as do many married couples, Lester and Susan had problems. Lester was away from home a lot and Susan felt trapped with Les. Susan had grown up lonely and mostly alone, and she had hoped marriage would end this loneliness. Without intending to, Susan became entangled with another man, Fred Austin. Susan had known Fred in high School and one day they accidentally bumped into one another on a street near where Lester and Susan lived. Fred invited Susan for a cup of coffee and one thing led to another. Fred was also married, so they could only meet occasionally, and almost always at Susan’s and Lester’s apartment. As the occasional meetings grew into more and more of a full blown affair, Susan fell deeply in love.
Susan wanted to divorce Lester and marry Fred, but Fred delayed with a variety of excuses. Mainly he had a wife and three children at home and could not figure out, financially, how he might make ends meet. While his job as an electrical worker paid enough for his family to live comfortably, it did not pay enough to support two families. So Susan and Fred continued their affair meeting as often as possible. Fred told his wife on these occasions that he was working late. Not an original excuse, but effective.
Lester was spending more and more time away from home. His company in a cutback doubled his territory causing him to be away from home even more. When he was home, he was tired and thus unresponsive to Susan. However, Lester did spend time with Les. He took him to the park, to the theater, and when he was home he always took him to and picked him up from school. He tried, at least with Les, to make up for those days and nights he was on the road.
As one would expect affairs cannot last forever, and Fred’s and Susan’s was no exception. One night, Lester came home unexpectedly and caught Fred and Susan together. There was the usual fight and Lester stormed out of the apartment. However, after a few days Lester visited Susan and they were reconciled. Susan promised to stop the affair and Lester promised to find a new job in order that he might be home more. Lester did find a new position, but the pay was much less and things grew tough financially.
Fred’s wife, Florence, learning of the affair, perhaps from Lester, was not as understanding and forgiving as Lester. She threw Fred out of the house and filed for divorce and alimony and child care. Fred’s financial state of affairs hit bottom. He barely had enough money to rent a small apartment in a low rent district.
Susan devoted her efforts to making her marriage successful, but Lester feeling resentment toward Susan, perhaps over losing his pharmaceutical job, or perhaps still feeling bitterness over Susan having an affair, began to drink excessively. His drinking led to the abuse of Susan and to the neglect of Les. Susan, feeling helpless, turned again to Fred who by now was living, partly out of financial necessity, with another woman. Susan feeling lost and lonely became severely depressed, and on Les’ 12th birthday took her own life with an overdose of sleeping pills.
Lester and Les tried to continue on and make a life together, but soon Les was sent to live with Lester’s parents in New Jersey. Lester visited Les for about a year, but soon stopped visiting, and soon stopped even sending money to help his parents with expenses.
Lester, soon after Susan’s death, was dismissed from his job due to his heavy drinking and by now drug use. He found other jobs, but each time he lost the job and each time the next job was tougher to find and each time the pay was less than before. Finally, he quit even attempting to work and earned his alcohol and drug money stealing and dealing drugs. His cocaine habit grew so severe that he thought of nothing else. Several times he tried to quit drugs, but he was only successful for a few days before he was again drawn back to cocaine.
The years passed and by now he had dropped out of existence as to friends and family. He had settled into a life of selling and using drugs. Selling, not to make a profit, but to support his habit. Lester was in and out of jail dozens of times on charges ranging from pandering to stealing, to vagrancy, but all involving drugs. His health deteriorated to make him only a shadow of what he was when he and Susan married in 1964.
In the meantime, Les grew up to be a pleasant young man with the sensitivity of his mother and the drive of his father. His grandparents did a good job raising him, but upon graduation from high school, Les left his grandparent’s home and went to New York to work and live. He briefly searched for his father, but had no luck. Eventually he settled into a job as a computer technician earning a comfortable salary.
Like many young people Les tried alcohol and drugs, and like many young people became addicted to cocaine. For this reason, he often visited the shady side of town. He eventually found a dealer he felt comfortable dealing with on a regular basis. The dealer demanded cash, but never sold him counterfeit or poor quality cocaine. In fact after purchasing drugs from this dealer for several months, Les even felt comfortable with him and generally sought him out when he needed drugs. Once the dealer looked at him and Les thought the dealer looked vaguely familiar. But in the dim light of that back street one could see very little and Les didn’t care to stay around for more than a few moments and a brief glance.
Lester Blankenship had killed before, but this night he worried and his conscience, which he thought was long dead, bothered him. He even skipped his nightly injection of cocaine, and instead of drifting off into his drug induced coma he spent the night watching the flickering light and listening to street noises of a New York slum district. He spent the night thinking about the young man he had shot. He thought, “The Young man appeared about the age Les Junior might be.” And he thought for the first time in years about Les and Susan. He even thought about calling or even visiting his parents and Les. And he swore that he was putting his life back together and that he would never take drugs again.
The morning found him deathly sick, but still determined to repair what was left of his life. He wondered about the young man he had shot and thought, “Perhaps the young man didn’t die.” He left his room and went down to the street and purchased a copy of the New York Times, and he purchased a six pack of beer to help curb his sick stomach, and as he carried the newspaper and beer back to his room he looked, probably for the first time ever, at the deplorable place he lived and he thought of the level to which his life had shrunk.
Back in his room he sat on his bed and looked through the Times and located the story of a young man found, the night before, shot to death on Bennett Avenue. “Likely a victim of a drug deal gone sour,” stated the Times article. “The police have no leads as to who may have murdered the victim, who has been identified as Lester Blankenship Junior.”
Lester Blankenship slowly lay back on his bed, and putting the barrel of his pistol into his mouth he pulled the trigger.
William “Roy” Pipes
917 Upper Peachtree Road
Murphy, NC 28906