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What lay ahead in Merriam was a combination American wedding chapel and French massage parlor. Usually, I could park right next to Goodtimes' concrete porch, if not on it. But this payday evening was different. The greasy spoon's lot was packed so I was forced to leave my calaboose several blocks away - in the alley on the farside of the Sunflower Mársage.
S&M (as the neighborhood watch referred to it) was an onanistic den that smelled of car exhaust, marijauna smoke, synthetic perfume, concentrated air-freshener, cheap baby oil, and nervous perspiration - not to mention the scent of sin itself. As Moses and I limped a slow mile to the grill, not far from Braggs' KCK office, I contemplated the messes we leave behind, expecting Mother Nature to clean up, gratis.
Standing in line on the puke-stained porch, I noticed the jazzy new sign above the doorless entrance to the converted dive: GOODTIMES BAR.
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Six feet my side of the sign, two grizzly white guys and a gaunt black girl sat on a matched pair of beatup motorscooters, guzzling black beer from clear plastic pitchers and cussing everyone and thing in sight, including themselves. Obviously, the dry grill was now a wet bar, complete with all the trouble that frequents an enterprise that thrives on its patrons' addiction. Hoping Jimmy still served food, I diligently waited in line for a couple free cheeseburgers and maybe a good game of pool with someone who still knew my first name.
Finally coming alongside the quasi-bikers, I closely inspected all three. Dressed in dirty brown pants and grease-stained muscle shirts of the same hue, the two white dudes had swollen cheeks and short foreheads which were just as greasy and pockmarked as their fat necks and sunken chests. They both wore scruffy beards too sparse to cover infected cysts.
Their black mamma wore a dingy, brown leather vest with matching, lint-covered hot pants. Through a big rip on one side of her vest, a varicose breast hung out, a chrome swastika dangling from its abused nipple. Tatooed in light purple across all three of their razor-knicked forescalps was SOS.
I was tempted to impale them on my cane or at least make a citizen's arrest for public obscenity. Instead, I unbuttoned my shirt enough to make sure my Jewish Star was in plain sight. I liked to believe that I would never hide my heritage, though I'd never been tested in the chambers and ovens of Armageddon. I hated lines that led to the unknown, nevertheless.
My feet were cramped by the time I made it to Goodtime's chrome threshold. Inhaling through my mouth so not to smell the scooterheads, I pulled out my VIP card.
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Deacon the doorman screwed his mouth to one side. "I never saw this before."
I told him that Jimmy Bishop gave it to me after I videotaped his daughter's wedding a couple years before. "I've never used it, but I'm a little short of cash because of a medical problem and..."
"OK, step on in. Jimmy ain't the owner nomore, but he's still the manager. If he signed this card for free food and beverage, it's still good enough for me."
When Deacon went to stamp the back of my hand, I pulled away and told him he didn't need to. "I won't be leaving and wanting to get back in."
Deacon said okay. "But don't trip nobody with that cane, Daniel."
Happy that Deacon came close to knowing my name, I pushed my way toward the makeshift bar and showed my card.
A rhinestoned barmaid named Gorgeous growled her disdain. "I never seen no VIP card like this before. Free food...and drinks? How do I know it ain't no forgery?"
I asked if Jimmy Bishop was around, but she said he was tied up in the back room. I yelled at Deacon, but he couldn't hear me over all the alcoholic commotion. I told Gorgeous that Babs Barnes knew me. "She saw Jimmy B. give me this card. Does she still work here?"
Gorgeous scratched the underside of her impressive chin. "If you're talkin' about Big Bad Brandy, yeah she works here - when she feels like it."
Reluctantly, Gorgeous summoned Brandy over the PA. My nurse's aide from Formington hurried over, vouched for me, then disappeared without a hello.
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I hung Moses on the bar and ordered two deluxe cheeseburgers. "I'll have a root beer float too, please."
Gorgeous spat in one of her three sinks. "Yeah, well the only food we got anymore's pretzels and peanuts. And Jolt's gonna have to do for your soft drink, Tenderfoot."
I told her a couple bags of pretzels and peanuts sounded good. "I'll just have a can of tomato juice to drink."
Off to a great start, I made my way toward the tattered pool tables, using my cane to cut a path through the smog of sweat and bullshit that hung everywhere. Two friendly faces at a table in front of the false fireplace caught my eye. I gave 'em the high sign with Moses and limped on over.
As Brandy replaced my old pool pals' drinks, I asked if she could get me another can of cold tomato juice. Nodding, she tossed JR and Lucky's empty styrofoam cups into the fireplace, then dumped their ash trays on a crippled chair - careful not to soil the well-waxed floor.
After she scuttled off, I shook Jonathan Jr.'s hand and asked how he was doing.
Setting his little Bible down, the big guy answered with a mushy handshake and feeble voice. "Not too bad, I guess, David."
My fellow Formington rehaber was nearly seven feet tall and close to three hundred pounds, with not an inch or ounce of it wasted on fat. But he lacked confidence.
The well-intentioned soul pulled a chair up for me and I sat down. "Next time, shake my hand like you mean it, JR."
After a couple seconds of thought, he started to quietly confess. "Me and Lucky woulda done real good if it weren't for our lousy location. I got two years left on the lease and a fortune tied up in inventory. I need the insurance money, so I got no choice 'cept to torch Babylonic."
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Babylonic Appliance and Video was JR's business and it appeared to be on the rocks. I told him that arson was not only wrong, but it was a felony. "You're not really serious, are you JR?" The dazed look on my misguided acquaintance's face said that he was.
He looked lazily at his sidekick/employee, Lucky Kane. "Hey Lucky, tell that twerp over at the jukebox to play somethin' different. He's been playin' that damn "EVE OF DESTRUCTION" all night."
Lucky seemed to be in a world all his own, so I stood up with Moses and called out. "Hey, you over there by the juke box, would you play something else, please!"
The drunken idiot slobbered, then kicked the thing. "Well, this is all she'll play. She's blusted."
I sat back down, and after I finished my Spanish peanuts, I gave the jalapeño pretzels to JR and went to find Deacon. He found some tools in the back room for me and I tired to fix the badly abused music box. I once had an intimate knowledge of jukeboxes, especially vintage Rockolas and Wurlitzers. This was a late model Seeburg, but I went to work on it anyway.
I'd restored junked jukeboxes for spare money two decades before, while I was building my five-engined motorcycle to break the World's Motorcycle Speed Record at Bonneville. I wasn't interested in the glory, just the financial independence that the $100,000 prize would allow me for future projects. Right when I was about ready to start streamlining, I was officially notified that the Utah Timing Association had arbitrarily mandated a limit of two engines. Wondering if destiny had something against me personally, I cut up my experimental motorcycle with an acetylene torch and went into the jukebox business, fulltime. A few months later, I reportedly went off the deep end and landed in Formington. My most elegant Wurlitzer, motorcycle trophies, and Honorable Discharge all got eighty-sixed. Someone obviously thought I would never come home.
I locked Goodtime's jukebox and told Deacon that I couldn't fix it. "It's all solid state and probably needs a new chip."
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Sucking desperately on an ivory calabash, Deacon said that J.B. had a soldering gun in the back room. "Can you fix the chip with that?"
I explained that to try and fix the programmable chip with a soldering gun would be like trying to correct a criminal brain with a scalpel. "The problem's in the software, not the hardware. But I did manually change the one tune it will play."
Deacon thanked me for the effort, and I headed toward my table. Just as I sat down, the same smallshot dropped another coin in and the somewhat more palatable 'DAWN OF CORRECTION' began to play. I was just about to philosophize about the lyrics when a sudden flush of excitement washed Lucky's face.
His eyes opened wide. "Hey, look behind you! A crazy chick's climbin' up on the pool table. Look!"
Already loaded, JR pumped his portable Bible into the heavy air and called out like a money-hungry evangelist. "Yo yonder harlot - take thy frocks off now or be damned forever. JR 6:99!"
He and Lucky raised their styrofoam cups in a royal salute and I finally turned around. Already on top the tattered pool table, a pudgy little girl struggled to her feet, the crowd shoving and grabbing as she began to grind and undulate.
Then they started to chant. "Take it off...take it off..."
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The little barfly by the jukebox slammed a broken pool cue against the wall, banging out a rhythm that the whole crowd adopted with their fists on their wobbly tables. The chant fell into a definite rhythm. "Take it off...take it off..."
The misled teen began wild pelvic thrusts to the mob's rhythmatic madness. I got up and pushed my way toward the table. She was smiling, but her eyes were filled with pain.
I swung Moses wildly. "Let me through! Get out of the way!!"
Her eyes looked at me and teared as she ripped off her blouse and tossed it into the crowd. Resuming her distraught fertility ritual, she started to yell. "Nobody wants me. But I gotta get down."
The crowd continued. "Take it all off...take it all off..."
The poor child joined the cadence with her own words. "I wanna get down...I gotta get down...I'm gonna get down."
Finally, I made it to her side. My gut ached for this lonely child.
The runt at the juke box was brandishing her blouse above his head and I shouted at him. "Hey, let me have her clothes."
He squealed louder than ever. "Why? You gonna get down with her?"
I yelled back, that, yeah, I was. "I'm her boyfriend's father and I'm gonna get down with her. Does that make you happy, sonnyboy?"
The mob passed the blouse over their heads as the deluded milquetoast smashed another pool cue on top the juke box and began a new chant. "She's gonna get down with gramps...she's gonna get down with gramps..."
As the mob joined in, I handed the confused virgin her torn blouse and she asked whether I was kidding. "You really wanna get down with me, mister?"
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I said that I sure did want to and took her wrist, helping her off the table.
The crowd parted willingly as they began to lip a new limerick. "Gotta get down...Get down, daddyyooo..."
I told the girl to go to the girls' room and get dressed. "I'll meet you over in the lunchroom. I want the pleasure of undressing you myself. OK?"
As she dashed for the women's john, I turned toward the dark lunchroom and made my way over. In front of a large, sloppily painted picture window, I stared out at the night drizzle that was just starting. I couldn't help but remember how I failed one particular young lady, miserably.
Formington, Christmas Morning - The rain was pouring and the narrow path to the cafeteria was deeply puddled. The three of us were scheduled to breakfast first so we could mop up after the others. Shivering and complaining, we marched under the leaky canvas canopy that lead into the hot cafeteria.
JR adjusted his furry red-and-white bonnet and I stuffed a light brown stocking cap into my pocket as we side-stepped our way down the nutrition line at 3:45 in the morning. JR and I were also supposed to play Santa Claus and his little elf, later in the day.
As usual, winter or summer, the cafeteria's steam heat was on full blast. My chapped hands reached for scram-boiled eggs and over-cooked, partially peeled spudlets. I wasn't sure whether the stinkin' heat was any better than the cold rain outside - but I thought about it every winter morning. Thinking and wondering were the only ways I could hope to cope.
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Drowning my Christmas breakfast in institutional ketchup, I asked Beuhlia if she'd seen Kathy since the double feature the night before.
Before she could answer, an abused kid named Nathan came crashing through the kitchen door, yelling like crazy. "Kaddy's gonna gump! Kaddy, de virjin's gonna gump righ' now!"
The three of us rushed outside, just in time to watch young Kathy's naked body plunge into a pile of discarded bath tubs at the foot of the water tower. Maybe if I'd partied with her in the Tunnel of Love the night before, she'd have been all right, I thought.
Her body was quickly carted off and whenever someone asked about her, they always got the same answer. "Sorry, she's not with us at Formington anymore."
A wet kiss smeared my neck. I flinched and turned to the shadowy child I had promised to defrock.
She teased nervously. "I'm Cloris Ruth. So where do we start, daddyo?"
I asked why she wanted a stranger old enough to be her father. "What would your parents say?"
She said she didn't have a father. "I got a ma and grandma, but they're always out on the coast, busy with their doctor show on cable."
I told her that that was no excuse to want to jump in the sack with an old man. "What's the real reason?"
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She said it was because she was so pudgy and homely. "Why else would I, daddyo?"
I told her that not everyone could live up to the media's specifications, that their idea of beauty didn't mean a thing, except as a gimmick to make money. "Look at the Mona Lisa, Cloris. She wasn't even attractive by today's distorted standards, but millions over the years have found her to be extremely beautiful. I think you look a lot like her."
A tear of joy came to young Ruth's eye. "Is it all right if we don't get down right now?"
I nodded and she gave me a dainty kiss on the cheek. As she strutted toward the front door, a large hand lightly squeezed my shoulder from behind.
It was JR and he asked if I was all right. "We didn't mean no harm with that girl. We was just havin' fun. Come on back and I'll buy you another can of juice."
Moses and I escorted him back to the wobbly table next to the warped pool table in front of the fake fireplace. I asked JR why Jimbo sold Goodtimes and let the new owners install a bar. "Jimbo's a Jehovah's Witness, isn't he?"
JR whispered that Deacon told him and Lucky that some outfit named PE paid Jim Bishop $200,000 for the joint. "Like any person else in the world, J.B. needs bread. At least now I doesn't carry no bottle roun' in my car; I gets drunked in public again."
When I asked who or what PE was, Lucky chimed in. "Pyre Entertainment."
Certainly, I was involved in something unbelievably big. Afraid of acquiring DOG (Delusions Of Grandeur), I dismissed the notion that someone would invest $200,000 just to harass me. Why else? I'd already been corrupted - long ago.
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Returning to the less presumptuous, I asked JR not to burn down Babylonic. "Promise you won't and I'll promise to stop by next week and see if there's anything I can do to help you and Lucky get out of the red."
Lucky Kane slapped JR on the back and told him to cheer up, that I was going to save them. Then sucker Kane offered me a cigarette. "It'll clear your mindo like mineo, Davido. It's laced with cracko."
I declined the slave-vapor and called Brandy over. She pressed her heavy hip against my shoulder and apologized for being too busy to gab earlier. "So how the hell you doin', David? I got a real cute girlfriend named Carol that wants to meet you real bad - now that you sobered up."
I asked her what she meant. "You know I've never been a drinker. As a matter of fact, I'd like a third can of tomato juice, please."
She admitted that she'd never seen me drink. "But, hon, the way you always talked so slow, with your eyes half closed, I just figured you got loaded in your car, like everyone else."
JR tried to explain. "David was stoned out of his gourd by hid own doctro."
I told the stewed JR that Brandy knew all about it, then asked her for the tomato juice again. "And some more Spanish peanuts too, please."
Brandy smiled and hustled off toward the bar.
I explained to JR that Brandy helped me get off the Fluorozine and get transferred to Rehab with him and Beuhlia. But I wasn't sure whether he heard me or not.
Barely conscious, he scooped a handful of yellow pills from his lumberjack pocket and put them on the table. I reached over to knock the damn things out of his hand, but he grabbed my wrist. "Lets me be tonight, David."
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I leaned back and watched Big John count the Nullium out loud. As he passed sixty, I asked where he got the crap.
He popped several. "They was free." He washed 'em down with black beer. "The SwizzleStick gives 'em to me."
I asked the big guy to tell me all he know about the SwizzleSticks.
He said the scooterheads out front were part of a group that passed out free drugs. "When you pledges money to their causes." JR's eyes rolled back. "Davis, I thinks I got a drinkin' problems."
I told him I wasn't surprised. "You lay at home on the couch all day watching soap operas and gulping beer."
He said that he also cooked pizza and spaghetti and watched religious television. "And I works hard on fixin' Babylonic's books - and reads the Bible 'fore I pass out at nights."
I pretended to accidently poke Moses into the pile of Nullium - and the venom sprinkled onto the floor. As a swarm of cokeheads scrambled to scoop them up , I told 'em to go right ahead. "Eat 'em all and do the world a real big favor."
JR whispered weakly. "Thaat's loousy, Daavid."
He was wheezing in a drugged stupor by the time Brandy made it back with my refreshments and her query. "So ya ready to meet my best girlfriend Carol?"
I asked why she chose me to meet Carol.
She claimed it was because I was so smart and such a gentleman. "And 'cause I known you so long. Or you forgotten?"
I told her I'd never forget how she helped me. "If I'm so smart, though, why in the hell am I so poor all the time?"
Brandy frowned and left to find Carol.
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JR came to long enough to mutter that Carol had problems, that she had big hairy boils all over her face, some kind of wierd infection. "But she sure gots a great personality!!"
I told JR that I had too many financial problems to think about romance anyway.
He snickered. "Yeah, an' I still got a drinking problems - two hands but only onne mooouutthsssssss!"
He was out again, so I asked Lucky what else was known about the Supreme Order of the SwizzleStick.
He claimed that for a big enough donation they let you share their canine ritual. "They cut off a dog's tailo and stuff it down its throat to kill it. Then they cut off the dicko and stick it up the ass. They grind up the gonads and everyone watching gets a free el injectiono."
I felt like throwing up. "That's the sickest thing I ever heard of." I tried not to think of Morningstar's Hope.
Lucky agreed. "That's why Jimbo keeps 'em outside when the Raveno ain' 'round." Lucky hit the head pin. "She's some cross-eyed blonde cunt that works for Pyreo Entertainmento."
I rubbed JR's sleeping shoulder and bid Luckyo farewello. I'd had enough for one night - without Carol. Caning my way toward the front door, a frantic battlecry filtered in from outside. "Empire! Empire!! Empire Forever!!!"
The joint rocked on its foundation, knocking me and everyone else into an alcoholic pile on the cold floor. The lights flickered out and dust was everywhere. Everyone was screaming something as I untangled myself, found Moses, and clawed my way out from under the splintered wood and shattered glass. Struggling to my good foot, I dusted off as the lights came back up. The Swizzleheads had driven their scooters right through the front window.
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They continued to scream. "Empire!!! Empire!!! Empire Forever!!!"
Finally, the girl smashed her scooter into the juke box and it went into involuntary freeplay at full volume. "DAWN OF CORRECTION" drowned out their Empire bullshit.
Satisfied that musical justice had been served, I staggered toward the flickering streetlights. Poking a passageway through the buckled doorframe with Moses, I purposely bumped a pink-haired punk who I never did like. Deacon was already waving a caravan of paddy wagons onto the lawn.
My leg killing me, I mosied away slowly. The Armourdale Mortgage Company's window clock showed 3:00. Sure enough - Shitler was parked at the distant end of Mársage's narrow alley.
A cadaverous character in a trenchcoat stood at the sidedoor and yelled inside. "Heinie, machen sie schnell, Heinie. Kommen sie, wir gehen."
Another jaded joker in dark brown came stumbling gayly out. Adjusting their badly stained straw hats, they held hands and tried to strut nonchalantly away.
The madame of the establishment jostled out. "Don't you perverts ever come back here! Verstehen?"
They snarled in flawed unison. "Ja, ja, ja."
I held Moses up and called out. "Here I am. Let's do it now, you greasy little shitheads!"
Without responding, they scurried down the alley and got into Shitler, then vanished down a cross-alley.
If the perverts doubled back to follow me, I sure didn't want to lead them to my video equipment. So - after picking up a couple cheeseburgers at Macdonalds, I drove north by northwest to Veteran's Park and stopped near the same tree. It was raining again and the wind was blowing.
Stretched out in the backseat, I rolled down the windows to listen to the random rainfall and rustling leaves, hoping nature's own randorphines would wash my worries away for a short while - maybe longer.
end chap 15
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