Monday, February 27, 2017

Loves Labors

   I have to be honest about it today. I'm 70 years old now. I never expected to live this long. I had a dream last night about my wife of so long ago. A conversation as we lay in bed... semi-erotic.
   I believe I started to look for her quite young. I remember fantasizing about finding and embracing some vague notion of a magical potion of love. Not possessive, you understand. It wasn't that I desired to cling to her or an ideal of her, to capture, or win her like in the Song of Solomon... that she could be pried open for the sake of love... 

   She said, "I don't love you."
It hurt but I accepted it as a verdict. After all, one can't be forced to love. I asked, "Did you ever love me?"
   "Yes... maybe no. I'm not sure."
   Thinking of our daughter I asked, "Do you still want to be married?"
   "To me?"
   The hurt... it was "the hurt". I call it "the hurt" like "the hurt" is a thing that possessed me. It wasn't about me clinging to her or feeling as though I was losing control. See, if those were the feelings it wouldn't have been losing a love. That would be more of a feeling of losing a separate thing from her. No, it was quite the opposite. It had become ungrasping. I let go.

   "Why?" I asked.  
   "You are clinging. I don't want to be owned by you. I live in your shadow."
   "I never meant you to."
   "See, that's what I mean. You never meant to do anything with me. We trapped each other without seeing it happen."
   "Sounds like you are saying you still love me."
   "No. I don't hate you. I care about you. I care deeply about you, around you, and sometimes through you, but I don't love you. I never did."
   "What is love if it isn't caring deeply about someone?"
   "I don't know but it isn't love."
   With those words I became owned by "the hurt". I would call it pain but pain is something that goes away. I carried "the hurt" with me in every relationship after that.
   I went on. Some tried to love me but I never tried to love anyone. I no longer cared deeply about anyone for a very long time. I didn't mean to feel that way but from that day on... the real day... not the dream day I bumped into people unattached but longing... longing...
   I ask the sky, "Oh, Buddha, are you full of shit?"
   The sky answers, "Yes, I'm full of shit."

  My second novel is about a man going through what happened to me... how I was opened to beauty and love through the unconscious and unrequieted love of another. This prepared me for what I became able to share with another. I couldn't share that before because all I had to share was "the Hurt" until then. 

   It became such a monstrous being... a horror I had to face. Only then was I ready to allow it to fade. No violins... no rays of light through the clouds... a simple onion soup... an act of kindness was enough...
   Is it gone.
   No. When Bonnie died it came back. It wants to take me down.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Chapter 22. Demons Dancing on the Head of a Pin

 While departing Loch Lomond, we made a show of gaiety for the benefit of the observer in the sedan. I couldn’t make out much more than an outline of his form from where we were but it was too large to be Yuri. He must have wanted us to know we were being watched and my thinking was that he could be with Ryan. That he could be another one of Smerdyakov’s thugs was an alternative I didn’t wish to entertain but had to accept. Regardless, I wanted friend or foe to believe we’d all be staying on the same boat after we set off. Casey insisted we cruise slow enough to arrive under the cover of darkness. At least then, once we split up at the Benicia marina, we had a chance at not being seen. It wasn’t such a bad idea, though the docks would most likely be lit up.
Casey was happier than I ever saw him over the years.
“We trained here… Brown Water Navy, Crash, I know these sloughs as well you do, ya know. Some places here are more like the Mekong than the Mekong.”
It was more than the river, the delta and the sloughs, that made him so damned blissed out … it had to be Anna too. I hoped she wasn’t playing him. It’s a survival reflex for girls in the sex-trade. She could be doing that without knowing. A lonesome man doesn’t know or care that he’s nothing more than a mark to her. If she’s too good at it, she might feel great affection. It isn’t an occupational hazard to believe her own cover but it is one to believe she also cares and forgets her purpose. My problem was to figure out what that purpose must be.

Anna, Gabe, Larry and I, lounged aft among the lobster traps, and enjoyed the sunset’s crimson sky past Vallejo. A storm was on its way. No one having any experience at sea believes the rhyme, “A red sky at night is a sailors’ delight.” It rarely is. Once upriver, and away from the lights of the ever-growing Bay Area’s suburban sprawl, I knew we would be shrouded in curtains of rain and the dim shades of night. That’s good for cover but not so hot for amateurs navigating the river’s twists and eddies of currents.
We had the luxury, however, of three experienced river pilots. Casey knew the delta as well as I did but, because our knowledge was based on distant memory, it was decided, Gabe knew it best and would take charge of the boat after Benicia. He was best suited to throw off anyone trying to tail us. It could help too that Larry and I would jump off at the marina and ride the Harley up the other side of the river to join up with them later.
I throttled down as we entered the harbor. It was quiet after dusk among the forest of masts and no one was moving around. The ambient light from a hundred sources on land and sea bounced off the bottom bellies of a thickening cloud-cover.
Gabe asked, “You remember the shed?” He handed me a set of keys before we tied-up to the fueling dock.
“Still there? I would’ve thought the termites took over the lease by now.” 
Distracted by the sedan waiting for us at the top of the boat launch, he ignored my dig. saying, “That’s the same car.”
That our shadower would be waiting for us when we arrived at Benicia hadn’t been one of my calculations. It was about a forty-five-minute drive for him, depending on the traffic, and a short cruise of sixteen miles for us from Loch Lomond… about the same amount of time.
“Maybe, Gabe. Too dark to tell for sure,” I tried not to show any sign of panic.
Gabe had the stature, and authority, of a wise Grandpa, but now he wanted me to take charge. He pled, “We should get out of here now. Forget the Harley. What do you think?”
All those years of avoiding responsibility had been dropping away since Santa Cruz Island.  It was best for all of us to stay calm. I assured him and the rest, “I don’t know. But I have a feeling, we’re okay.”
Gabe wasn’t buying my optimism. Shaken, he asked, “What if it’s not okay?”
 I tried a stoic retort, “The handmaiden of fear is doubt, old man. Look at Anna in there.”
We had been watching Anna inside the cabin, indifferent but not oblivious, to our danger. She’d been cleaning one of the AKs and then busied herself with makeup as though we were on our way to the yacht club soiree. She came out on deck to join us, stopping long enough to remark, “You know, Gabe, Spartans polished their armor and greased-up with olive oil before their last stand. They had to die pretty, you see. If it’s not okay, I’m ready.”
Casey passed the nozzle and hose from the pump over to Anna shouting, “Self-serve… No one’s here!”
Gabe yelled back, “No, Casey, we have enough. Get back on board, we’re out of Dodge.”
I took comfort feeling the Browning in its holster under arm, “Go ahead, Casey, and top her off. We have to take our chances, Gabe. Sometimes, for the mouse, running isn’t the right choice. That cat might have something for me.”
It didn’t take long for them to top off the tank. Larry tagged along with me like a lost puppy that had found a new master as I stepped out onto the dock. We were half-way up the launch-ramp by the time Anna threw the lines from the cleats and leapt, agile as an antelope, back on deck. Gabe shouted for the benefit of anyone within earshot, “See you guys in Sausalito. Have us a crawdad fest!”
Doc was puzzled, “Crawdads? Sausalito? Thought we were going to go to…”
“Doc, it’s a ruse. Don’t mean nothin’. There’s clams but ain’t no crawdads in Sausalito.”
We stood silent listening to the grumble of the Dinky Dao fading beyond the breakwater. The gravel crunching underfoot on the concrete ramp was a conspicuous herald of our arrival to the shed in the still of the evening. The sedan, parked at the top next to the shed, looked empty as we approached. I saw that the hasp had been pried off its sliding barn-door. It was left open a crack. I took the Browning out of its holster and held it two-handed at-ready. Doc and I glanced at each other…. curiosity in my eyes and fear in his.
I gave him a shove ahead of me with a forearm. He whispered, “What are you doing Crash, someone’s in there!”
“Larry, it’s too late to whisper. Go ahead and open the damned door.” I gave him another nudge. If anyone was going to get shot, it wouldn’t be me, “Open it!”
He slid the door.
We were greeted by the musty smell of the old shed and decades of oil permeating the packed dirt floor. A man’s familiar voice from a stool at the workbench next a covered bike called out from the gloom, “Holster your piece, Crash. You won’t need it, yet.” The large dark figure pulled the cord on the bare bulb above Gabe’s well-ordered work bench. On the wall above it; every wrench, screwdriver and hammer had its place in outline on the pegboard.
I had no problem recognizing the man, though he’d aged… suit and tie replaced the Hawaiian shirt … silver butch-cut on top of a mask of a face … it was Danang with Ryan… Camp Perry… Langley… a shadowy legend, Harold Baker. I thought he must be in his 70’s by then, the six-foot-five, broad shoulders, an imposing figure of a man, a threatening force to recon with, “Hey, Bird Dog?”
I holstered the piece.
I let the adrenaline rush settle before I asked, “You made a show of yourself back there. Since we’re all alive, do you mind telling us what this is all about?”
Larry stood, frozen at the door.
“Shit or get off the pot, Doc.” Relieving the tension, I laughed, “C’mon in, take a stool at the bench. This guy’s a friend.”
Harold Baker had always been matter of fact, “I wasn’t the only one watching you at Loch Lomond.”
“Thought as much. When you didn’t get out of the car back there you had me wondering.”
 “Enough of that. I’ll get to the point, Ryan called me… he found out you’re in deeper than you can handle alone.”
I slipped the cover off the Hog while he talked and swung a leg over the Harley’s seat, idly twisting the throttle, “Yeh, Larry here got into some nasty shit. How about that Larry? You had quite a party for a while, huh?”
Bird Dog put a hand on Doc’s shoulder like he was calming a frightened dog, “That’s not the half of it. As evil as those pricks are, they wouldn’t normally touch snuff films.”
Larry whined, “I didn’t like them either. They made me do them.”
Impatient with his excuses, any compassion I had for him waned at being reminded what his game was. I checked his denial, “You didn’t like them at first?”
Bird Dog wasn’t interested in our discussion, “I’ve got something in the car for you, Crash. You haven’t told him the whole truth, have you Doctor Spawn? Tell all of it while I step out.”
 It pissed me off that I hadn’t gotten the whole truth out of Larry on the boat. That he was a murderer was one thing but that he enjoyed it, and was still lying about it, blotted out whatever drug induced empathy I still had for the creep. I jerked him by the collar off his stool and tossed him against the workbench, “Whatever you say, Doc… What’s worse than getting your rocks off killing chicks?”
 “Let me finish, goddamn it!” He pled. Backing away he snatched an oversized crescent wrench off the peg-board, “It was transplants. Organ transplants!”
“Fuck you, Doc!” I lunged, twisting the wrench from his hand and slamming him against the shed’s fragile wall, “You made money off it too!”
Larry held his wrist, “Auch! You broke it!”
Bird Dog came back with a small plastic gun case, about ten by twenty. “Calm down everyone. I wanted to slap the shit out of him too but Larry didn’t have anything to do with that part.”
“Sure, he did.”
Larry whimpered, “No, Crash, I thought they were all just acting.”
“Yes, he’s not lying. Larry just supplied the product in his fun dungeon. By the time Yuri was done, fresh organs were in a cooler and on the next flight out of town.”
“You’d have to have a real doctor, a surgeon, to do that, right? I mean, I wouldn’t want to fuck with the Russian Mob. Say, if you cut out a wrong gizzard, for one. Who was the surgeon?”
“Larry can tell you. The Russians can be very persuasive, Crash. Isn’t that right Professor?”
 Larry nodded, “It doesn’t matter now, we buried him a year ago.”
 “So, he must have known they’d kill him. Why would he go along unless he was a sick fuck too?” I asked while opening the case, as though the whole goddamned universe cared.
“Larry isn’t telling you the whole story now either. Doctor Sochenski wasn’t one of Larry’s pervs but they held his daughter hostage as insurance. They both disappeared into a lime pit… they’ve never found their bodies.”
Doc moaned, like he’d just realized how far his little game had gone, “I didn’t know…. Really. She was only six-years-old!”
My contempt at this performance set in, “You could have found out if you cared, Larry… like the others. They were all someone’s six-year-old daughters, once,”
I was familiar with the weapon tucked in the cutout foam… French used them… a Bullpup they call ‘em; because they’re a short, but fully automatic and accurate rifle, complete with a fold-out stock, night vision scope, and silencer. All of that. I must admit… damned near had an erection looking at it, “Shit, these are hard to come by.”
 I unfolded the stock, took aim at an imaginary target, swung the muzzle to Larry’s face… he shrunk back knowing I would kill him. But my finger wouldn’t… couldn’t… squeeze that fraction of the trigger’s pull between murder and his humanity. I lowered the muzzle, folded up the stock and set it on the table between us.
Larry exhaled.
By this time, I knew exactly what I was doing with him. The effects of LSD are pretty much out of one’s system within twenty-four hours but the psychological effects are long term… especially after a first trip and an overload of paranoia and self-realization exposed all at once. It could drive him to suicide, and, now that my work was done with him, it didn’t matter to me if I sped up the process. Except for a trace of empathy, I might be able to lead myself out of the moral malaise we’d been swimming in but I didn’t know how to do that for both of us. I wasn’t doing so well with it myself, really. The whole affair, since leaving the sanctuary of Anna’s place… the blood… the killing… the low value on life… disgust for us both arose from the gut and stuck in my throat.
Bird Dog closed the case, took off the bench, and put it in the saddlebag of the Harley, “There’s extra clips in there too. I don’t give a damn one way of another if this Yuppie lives. We’re done with him. But you, Craszhinski, have got to get your ass out to Prospect Slough. You remember where Gabe always keeps his trailer?”
 “I know. We already discussed it.”
Bird Dog had his pitch, “Good, stay there.  Under the seat at the table’s a CB. Don’t call out. Wait and listen. Ryan, or I, will contact you. Otherwise, save it for a real emergency.”
 “I know the drill. So, Ryan’s within range. Where?”
He handed me a card. It read, The Island Mansion. “You’re back in the game. You know that much, don’t you?”
“I know I’m dealing with a legion of demons besides all this,” I nodded towards Larry, smiling.
“See, Crash. You know what I mean?” The Bird Dog’s mask saddened. It was as though he was remembering a dream… a vivid one. I never heard him talk like this, or, this much, “Ryan called me because of you and Anna. Smerdyakov… I know him from Madrid… he must be in his eighties by now. I trained Anna and now you’re almost ready. Ryan’s on the job too.” Face set like stone, his heavyweight boxer’s fist shook the table. He hammered home a deliberate affirmation, “I’m almost done but Smerdyakov doesn’t deserve to die of old-age.”
“And I don’t think you’re ready for shuffleboards in Florida either, old man.”
The Bird Dog wasn’t done recruiting me, “It’s never over you and me, Craszhinski. With Glasnost, the USSR is falling apart. Smerdyakov has no rules. A devil far worse than the KGB has been unleashed from Moscow. In a few years, a monster like him will be president of Russia.”
I must have predicted from the bar stool the same kind of things a thousand times. Glasnost, Perestroika, a power vacuum filled by the Russian mob… “You don’t have to recruit me. Like it or not, Anna has me in this up to my ass.”
Larry had been quiet but he must have thought we needed to be comforted and, falling back onto the melodious intonation of a funeral director, he reassured us, “You know, from Saint Francis, to Mohammed, they were all warriors. They turned to God… to a Higher Power.”
I couldn’t help but laugh, “Sweet Jesus, Larry, is that you?”
Larry was proud, like he was finally sitting at the adult’s table. “Hey, remember, I’m a Reverend and, to administer to the flock, I’ve read about all the saints. It was my job.”
I chaffed, “You think Bird Dog’s a saint? If there wasn’t a war somewhere, he’d go start one.”
Harry Baker, the man, not the legendary Bird Dog, cracked a smile and nudged me, “Larry’s right. We’re the damned and wouldn’t trust a saint that hasn’t had blood on his hands.”
I stood on the starter peddle, the old pan-head coughed and grumbled from the pipes first kick. I patted the sissy seat behind, revving, and shouting over the rumble, “Climb on Larry, we’re goin’ for a ride.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Chapter 19. Modigliani Eyes

Either Confident or arrogant 
Casey and Anna were cozy at the helm  where they'd been watching the action when I came out of the cabin. Her eyes were riveted on me while I walked back to the stern to sit and air out what had transpired. The Blatva… it was something I’d heard of but hadn’t paid much attention to. The LSD affects were at that stage where my brains felt fried and my eyes burned from the light reflecting off the seas.

“We’re goin’ to the Bay now, the Boss wants us there,” Casey’s voice interrupted the thought.

“What?” I had begun to wonder what Ryan was doing ashore. I knew he would have something planned but I had been in the dark up to then. It would be easy to get Casey to tell me everything he knew of it. I probed, “I know Ryan wants us in San Rafael but you must know more than me.”

Casey was bubbling with joy to be part of a big plan… that he knew more than me, “I have a good friend, Jimbo. He has an old boat I heard he’s been workin’ on. New canvass and paint. Other than that I gots no fuckin’ idea what Ryan’s up to.”

Anna interrupted, “Speaking of fuckin’ ideas, I want to know what the fuck’s going on with Doc, huh? What’s the plan with him?”

“He’s still tripping pretty heavy. I sent him below to chase the bats from his belfry, I suppose. I’m done with him though… got what I wanted.”

Anna entered the cabin and went straight below towards the berths where Doc was quietly sitting on the bunk.

“I gotta use the head and change clothes.”

I wasn’t sure what she would do so I called out, “Wait, Anna. I’m done with him but we need to pow-wow,” and followed close inside.

The Dinky Dao had a layout similar to the Sherlock’s except that the Casey’s tub was an unmodified working lobster boat. The Sherlock had the same cabin and berthing configuration. Converted to a popular yacht design, it’s stern wasn’t open for hauling in lobster traps. The cabin was a step up from the deck to the galley and cabin table and then three steps dropped down to a level accommodating a small shower and head. Forward of that space and through a hatch were four bunks… two on each side. The helm was outside in the weather on the starboard side but under the same canopy as the cabin.

Everything about the Dinky Dao was the same except it was in dire need of a paint-job and the clutter everywhere. Empty plastic water bottles, empty beer cans and gallon wine jugs, newspapers, doubled plastic bags stuffed with laundry, and junk… fishing line and flasher lures etc. covered every counter and table top. However, a stack of skin magazines was a conspicuous exception. They were kept, covered in cellophane in a neat bundle in a plastic milk crate under the table I’d cleared for our breakfast.

It was noon by the time I was done with Doc but I was anxious to keep him out of reach of Anna. Once paranoia slips into one’s psychedelicized consciousness it is difficult to sort out which fears are justified and which ones are not. I knew a few Lurps (an affectionate name adopted from the initials for Long Range Recon Patrol) that liked to go into the bush on acid to enhance their environmental awareness. This worked well for real reasons to be safe, “left of the bang”, but it might also account for some of the Geneva Accord violations against innocent villagers. My paranoia told me that Anna had a motive to take out Doc beyond mere revenge. He might expose more than she wished of how she fit-in. I had to keep those suspicions in check, however, because they might just as well be chemically induced fears.

Anna was already stripped down and stepping into the shower. I could see why Ryan was in love with her. Her nudity, while my mind was sucked into a cosmic chemical reality, didn’t evoke any desire at all to possess her sexually. I was completely enrapt at the sight of her innocent beauty. My mind raced from big questions to wondering whether women got the same depth of sensual arousal at the sight of a man’s naked body. They might but I suspect not because I don’t see women keeping a neat and bundled stack of old skin mags. I million and one such ruminations passed through that transcendent Bardo as she slipped out of sight into the shower. I went from paranoia to awe in less than a flash… the time it takes for a match head to flare upon striking.

Her shout from below snapped me out of that Bardo of reflection, “Hey! There’s no fucking water!”

She came out and up to the table wearing a weather jacket and nothing more. She knew she was going to be grilled and was prepping herself to craft the best defense she had leaving the jacket open enough to expose the partial curve of her breasts. Just enough to keep me distracted. There is a line from the Bible… hell, I don’t know where to find it. I just heard Thumpers quote it in jail. It says the eyes are the windows to the soul. Anna had been trained by someone on more than that Mac-10. Her eyes suddenly became hard to read and that’s a skill known by only a few amateurs that are unwelcome at poker tables or by specialists in trade craft. I knew full well when the subject’s eyes became opaque and unbreakable.

I broke the ice, “We aren’t playing the school-girl now, are we?”
She wasn’t playing alright. She had become robotic and my task was to remind her that she was human; that I was human, and hardest of all, that Doc was human. Her jacket opened to expose more Modigliani flesh but I was transfixed on the opaque eyes. The painter studied eyes. Each portrait displayed a fascination with the deception of eyes. It was as though the painter never quite figured them out. He painted what he saw. There is one painting of a teen with the pupils blurred… there could be a three ring circus behind them but there was no way to get past that matte glaze. No wonder he drank himself to death with absinthe and wine.

Her hands lay flat on the table with her fingers spread as though on display. They were another work of art; long, thin and graceful, a Gothic saint that had just blown away a man with a Mac-10 a few days ago.

I finally saw in them. Her eyes turned sad… full of regret, "Look Crash, I've got nothing more. This tub needs swamping out if we're staying on it for any amount of time. Let's not play cat and mouse for a while and get to work."

"You might be right. But we have to talk."

Friday, September 16, 2016

Chapter 2. Piled Higher & Deeper

   It was the beginning of the end of an era for me the day my cab license was yanked by the City. I couldn’t remember why I was in jail that night and I don’t know how I got out. But I do know I walked all the way back to the hotel and slipped past the watchful eyes of the desk clerk to my room.

   Cab driving always gave me the independence and pocket cash I needed to keep my bar tab paid and enough extra for a room at The Virginia Hotel. Driving at night, I could also stay invisible to a daylight world I wanted nothing to do with. I had been at a stand-still for several years anyway and hardly cared but for the easy money.

   But now that was gone.

   I didn’t necessarily want a drink but I most certainly did need one to calm my nerves. I saw that my knuckles were red and the mirror showed a slight bruise on my cheek. I dumped my coin jar on the dresser and, with a shaking hand, separated the pennies from the dimes and quarters. There was enough silver for a pack of generic smokes and a pint of Popov’s as soon as Jerry’s opened in five minutes at o-six-hundred.

   I tried to slip back out through the lobby while Lucas sat on his ass behind the check-in counter reading a skin mag. He was like a spider waiting for its prey all day without moving, the lobby was his web. When anyone touched the carpet at the bottom of the stairs he must have sensed the vibration at the counter. He let me get all the way to the door before he put down his magazine and called out, “Crash!”

   I froze, “Yeh, I know.”

   “I’ve let you go a week already. The boss…”

   “C’mon Lucas, I’ve always been good. I’m waiting for a shift to open up,” I lied. It wasn’t a big lie because there was always a chance the Professor would change his mind.

   “You ever hear from the VA on that appeal?” he asked, rubbing the stub of what was left of his arm under his shirt.

   “Not yet, but any time now. It’s been three years,” I felt embarrassed. He’d lost an arm and a leg in Nam and I’d only lost my mind. I went back to the counter, “How come you never wear your prosthetic, Lucas?”

   “Not unless I have too. I like to air it. Irritates the skin, you know.”

   “I’ll take you to Vegas when my ship comes in,” I promised. I meant it too but three years back-pay on my VA claim was but a dream. I had a better chance of winning the lottery.

   “Don’t try to grease my butt Crazhinski.”

   “Think of it, Lucas. The Chicken Ranch and...”

   “Okay, okay, enough Crash. But I want good news from you by tomorrow or you’re out.”

   Spiderman was actually a good guy. He was just doing his job. We were like brothers over the years. He’d covered me several times in the past but he had to answer to the boss. I apologized, “Lucas, you know how humiliating it is to beg another week’s reprieve.”

   “Humiliating? Look at me. I sit here at a dead-end job putting the squeeze on losers like you. And you whine about humiliation? I probably have only a year or two left on this pile of shit.”

   “Never looked at it that way, Spiderman. I’ll pay up soon enough, okay?”

   “It’s Lucas, not Spiderman. Friday… no later than five, Clash,” he shook his head, “and that’s final.”

   I was out the door before he finished. I got my smokes and pint. It occurred to me I ought to save it ‘til later... After being put on hold every time I’d called the past week, I knew what to expect. Okay, just one toke before I face the music. I needed a bit of liquid courage... enough to make the Professor squirm, mano y mano.

   The company’s offices were over on East Yananoli and South Salsipuedes, now Cesar Chavez, and not too far a walk if I took the tracks. I could see from a block away that Doc was in. His blood red Jaguar was parked in its reserved spot front of the building. I rehearsed what I would say as I crossed the lot. I’d be humble… ever so humble… kiss-up… agree to anything and admit everything I couldn’t remember anyhow… and, if that didn’t work, call on the good old times. I took a swig off the pint before opening the door.

   It’s an uneasy feeling to enter a place where you’re no longer a part of the business. For several years it was like we were family but overnight I had become persona non grata. Bob sat in the dispatch office situated behind a crosshatched wire glass window where anyone entering the lobby could be seen. He swiveled around in his chair to check-out who’d come in. He lifted a hand hesitating with a brief parade wave. Next to the dispatch office, the door to the inner sanctum was open. It was an oversight. Dispatch would normally have to buzz me in and, as I passed through it, Bob stood as though I had breached the barricades. The speaker above the door crackled, “Hey, Crash, you can’t go...”

   Once inside I took a seat across from Jenny’s reception desk guarding Professor’s office. While she was on the phone I could see why all the drivers used to stop by the receptionist desk just to be in the presence of her Dolly Parton’s. She was a freak of nature for sure. When Jenny became Professor’s plaything he installed the buzzer lock at the door and moved the drop-safe into dispatch office instead of behind her desk.

   I already knew Dr. Lawrence Spawn was in and, besides, I could see his door ajar. The professor was one of us; an old cabby that hooked into a widow ten years before. He was once called driver #75, or Larry, but now he insists we use his formal name; title and all. He was a now PHD after all and we all knew that in his case it stood for Piled Higher and Deeper.

   There are four basic characters who drive cab. Number one: There are innocent students, for whom cabbing is just another job to pay the rent while getting a sheepskin.
   Number two: There are others holding down a shift to make ends meet until they get that big break... a screenplay/novel that gets accepted or a real acting job.
   And Number Three: There were realists ...fishermen that can haul groceries and church ladies all day without losing sight that they are casting to reel in the big tuna... a widow with enough inheritance to put ‘em on easy street. 

   Then there is Number Four. We are graveyard drivers whose ambitions are limited to simply getting through another shift. We try to pass through the dark night of the soul without the haunts of nightmares and sweats… and especially without getting noticed by, or dealing with, the front office.

   Rachelle was in her late fifties when the Professor sank a hook in her. He was in his thirties and movie star handsome when she took his bait... empty promises of eternal love. He gave her a free ride to Vegas where they got hitched by an Elvis impersonator, and that was the last time he did anything for her that came from his own pocket.
   Jenny pretended to be on the phone ignoring me. I got out of the chair and stood for several lifelong minutes before she acknowledged my presence.

   “Hi, Crash, what can I do for you?” She was warmer towards me the last time I saw her.
   It was everything I could do to keep my eyes focused on that silver cross hanging from her neck, “I need to talk to the Professor.”

   “I’m sorry, Crash, Dr. Spawn’s not in…” Jenny held the phone receiver covering that silver cross between her ample breasts. She kept her dual assets locked up under a heavy duty bra and a puritan white, long-sleeved blouse. I wasn’t distracted enough to miss the door gently shutting.

   “Don’t tell me he’s not in. Did a ghost just close his door?”

   “You can come back when Dr. Spawn isn’t busy, Crash,” her tone sealed the conversation. “Or, I can tell Rachelle you were here when she comes in.”

   I knew the Professor wasn’t busy. He didn’t run the company. Rachelle and Bob did that. Doc only owned it. He owned it along with Rachelle’s house in Montecito, a fast cigarette boat like on Miami Vice named A Doctor’s Dream, and the blood red Jaguar, all bought with the money we dropped in the safe guarded behind the locked door of the dispatch office and Rachelle’s inheritance.

   Doc was in charge of PR, the hiring and firing, and that was about all. You just knew he loved hamming it up for spots on late night TV. He wore stripes behind bars for his pitch... “Leavin’ the bar? Don’t drive your car. Take a cab.” He followed these with Dr. Spawn’s Bail Bondsman ads, “Drop a dime and I’ll save you time.” Jenny would bounce in on cue, “You’ll be out before you can shout, Dr. Spawn Bail Bonds!”

   Professor’s wife knew about Jenny but looked the other way. Divorce was not an option for other than religious reasons. Professor had a grip on the bank account she’d signed away when the romance was hot.

   I’m really not a breast man but my eyes couldn’t help themselves. I alternatively gave Jenny the once-over before nailing her eye to eye. I planted both hands on her desk and demanded, “Jenny, don’t give me any shit.”

   Bob came out of dispatch with one of those 18-inch cop flashlights in his hands.

   “Get back in there, Bob.” I turned to face him, “The phone’s ringing.”

   Bob stood a minute and considered whether there was anything he could do. We went back a few years. There was a time when he could have mopped the floor with me but he’d grown soft in the office and wasn’t about to take me on now.

   I passed Jenny’s desk and opened Professor’s door. Doc was standing a few feet back. He reached out to shake hands. His gesture wasn’t reciprocated.

   “Crash, good to see you. I was just going to tell Jenny to let you in,” Professor backed behind his desk and sat, “Have a seat, Crazhinski.”

   “Cut the shit, Professor,” I was brief with him. Behind Doc, on the wall above his head, hung a certificate nicely framed. It was his Doctorate of Philosophy diploma. A few of us knew about how the Professor got his degree. It was a con like everything else in his life. He had somehow incorporated, formed his own college, and turned in a thesis. It was filed where doctorates are filed and amounted to little more than a list of stats about cab drivers: their gender, education, marital status, military service, race, and so on. He had a no more than a dozen drivers to fill out a survey form from which he expanded the numbers to hundreds for the sake of a thorough sampling.

   “Doc, I need a break. I know you always need a graveyard dispatch.”

   “Crash, you know I can’t re-hire you so soon after.”

   “And you know damned well I wasn’t busted on the job...” my protest was weak and I knew it.

   “It just doesn’t look right, Crash,” Doc pulled out a green sheet of a carbon copied police report from a folder, “Possession for sales.”

   “Yeh, like I’m a big drug king-pin living in the flea-bag hotel.”

   “The city still pulled your license and sent me this report: Drunk in public; creating a nuisance; possession of a controlled substance; assaulting a police officer...” Doc read from the list, checking off each item. When he finished he flipped a pencil in the air, missed the catch, it bounced off the desk and rolled to the floor.

   “They dropped all the charges ‘cept drunk in public and misdemeanor possession,” I picked up the pencil and handed it to him, “Besides, I wasn’t in my cab!”

   The professor started chewing on the pencil. I couldn’t take my eyes off it hoping he would choke on the eraser. The pencil caused him to talk through his teeth, “I can’t do anything right away. The town’s changing. You’re becoming a relic... things of the past. We can’t be cowboys out there now.”

   “That’s an excuse Doc and you know it.” I approached his desk, “I’m not asking to be out there. Dispatch has always been where drivers go that get their licenses yanked. Who else would want the job?”

   That was the truth too. Dispatchers get paid minimum wage. They supplement their income by milking tips and a taste of cola from drivers. No tip... no good fares.... all’s fair on the streets where money is concerned. Some, like Bob, make out real well that way. It isn’t a job for anyone with some humanity, principles, or dignity left. Years of driving cab does that to some of us.

   “Look Crash, all the cab businesses have to clean up now. Times are changing and Sergeant Lopez is getting on all our asses. The City’s leaning on him too. Go to Schick/Shadel… to a rehab… or AA. Let ‘em know you got sober... get it on paper when you graduate... get your license reinstated and maybe we can get you back on...”

   “A rehab, you’ll help me with that?”

   “Our insurance doesn’t cover…”

   “It’s all bullshit, Professor. You and I know damned well you ain’t so clean yourself,” I was so pissed I lost everything I’d rehearsed on the way over.

   “That was my past, David. But since I found the Lord...”

   “Don’t give me that Lord BS, Doc,” pointing to the wall I threw his crap back at him, “You found the Lord up Rachelle’s vagina. You can get widows and schoolgirls to wipe your ass with that paper but it won’t work with me!”

   I was on a roll and knew I got his goat but had no idea the implications went beyond the obvious. Doc’s face turned from pasty white to beacon red. He screeched, “Crazhinski, if you don’t leave now I’m calling nine-one-one!”

   I’d never heard the smooth talkin’ con-man yell like that. Professor stood from his chair holding the receiver away from his ear with his fingers on the keys of the phone.

   Bob must have had his ear to the door with the flashlight in hand. He opened the door, “You need help Professor?” He lifted the flashlight as though he was ready to use it.

   I slammed my body against Bob and shoved him out the door so hard he landed on Jenny’s lap with one of her bullet breasts inches from his mouth. I was out of the building and never did see him rise from Jenny’s lap. I suppose I did him a favor landing him there.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Chapter 12. Juan Carlos' Revenge

The chapter is based
on this story. I used
the name, Max Bear.

There’s a time when the darkest hour gets darker and when nothing so bad as the worst gets worse. I didn’t what it was that was happening; but, in looking back, it seems that I was being towed along by a thread towards something indefinable. Call it destiny if you like, but, at the time it was happening: from Celeste to Ariel’s birth, Vacaville and the concussion, Myra in Santa Monica, Kuka in Nicaragua, Nadya and the miasma of Santa Barbara, and now this. It felt more like I was being pulled along by serendipity rather than by any pre-ordained noose. I was offered choices where each choice led to a series of consequences ever evolving into a strange progression. Is that destiny?
A few days after that ride, about a month after the bloody Tien an Men square massacre, around July 4th of ’89, I flipped. Those kids in China camping out under Mao’s nose: … the liberty statue… the hope against a murderous oppression…, it was all a sore reminder of the emptiness of my life after Nicaragua. The superficial posturing of rebellion by our clubbing generation on State Street became an obscene display of privilege. In lieu of cries for freedom their cries were, “Where’s the party!” Rioting in Isla Vista for more beer! Just that one lone protester, standing off a line of tanks, waving his shirt…! I could almost hear that thin thread his sanity dangled from…snap!

It was a typical Saturday morning for me and, as I had Saturday nights off. I spent the first half of the day in Pal’s after his shift ended at six-thirty A.M. Claire was the barkeep on Saturdays and her shift started at ten so I already had a good load going by then. It was the first of the month, I had his VA check, the week’s earnings, and a few bindles of cocaine (cocaine was the common graveyard tip for some drivers back in the eighties) and I had Saturday nights off. I was in that place where alcohol oblivion was staved off by a line here and there of coke and stepping out back for a few tokes of pot. Next thing I knew it was getting dark and my best intentions were to head home and perhaps stop off for chorizo con huevos at the old Casa Blanca down on the four-hundred block of State Street.
Across the street from Pal’s, in the middle of De La Guerra Plaza, a statue of the 18th century king of Spain, Juan Carlos, was mounted over a fountain pedestal turned open-air public urinal. The bronze figure of the ole-bewigged-huge-schnozzled monarch presided daily into the night over a rag-tag assortment of vagrants, street level dealers, and pan-handlers. The statue became a tribute to improvised-assemblage-folk-art as people took advantage of the absurdity of the poor king’s foppish posture to adorn it with such things as underwear or a toilet plunger for a crown and white-faced make-up, et al: all of which changed daily. The city crews removed the work the next morning, making way for a whole new display to be improvised the next night.
I was tanked up and when I was tanked up I never knew what was going to happen next. Sometimes he merely wove my way home down State Street and crashed. Other times it was as though I’d developed Tourette’s syndrome as I made my way to the Virginia Hotel. I let out whatever peeve was bugging me at that moment to shocked, and frightened, tourists. This particular time it was the panhandlers that became the focus of his ire. I crossed the street to where we were hanging out. One scruffy character demanded spare change as I approached.
“What? You tell me what spare change is and I’ll think about it.”
I was counter-challenged with the usual panhandler nonsense, “You got plenty, part with some of it,” the wimpy creep demanded.
“It just so happens that I do have plenty…” I pulled out a wad of c-notes and peeled one off, dangling it in front the overly aggressive panhandler. The guy’s eyes lit up as he grabbed for it. Fooling with him at first I deftly snatched it away and surprised myself by tossing it to the hangers-on sitting on a bench at the side of the square. Now everyone was paying attention. I had an audience now and began a rant.
“What is a statue of a murderous monarch doing in a prominent place on a street called State?” I shouted, needing no megaphone. The onlookers were puzzled. I was no longer impotent Max that sat in the Judge’s chamber; I was The Max. A chord… the delicate chord that bound my sanity… that chord that reined in the wild beast and kept me pinned to a peg… the tamed elephant had gone rogue… I had begun what I would finish… I tried all my adult life to live right but that chord had been stretched to the breaking point!
This noise raised a few jeers and a crowd started to gather hoping I’d either heave a few more c-notes or an opportunity would arise to take from me the wad I’d displayed.
“Why do you panhandle and play games begging spare change and dealing street drugs?” I continued, “This town is wealthy enough… why don’t you just take some it from those who have more than they need?” I became transformed into an old fashioned rebel, haranguing the unwashed masses. I was imbued with the spirit of Jesus serving up a revolutionary version of the Sermon on the Mount. I was an anointed Thomas Paine spittin’ on the Brits, Saint Paul the Rabble Rouser at the Areopagus on Mars Hill. I was on fire with the not so holy spirit of Joe Hill, rallying the Wobblies: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth… six feet of it!” and this was my soapbox.
“That king,” I pointed at the statue, “was ordained by a Christian Pope to reign over and rip-off the lands of a thousand-year old civilization … yes, Chumash slave labor built the Santa Barbara Mission,” I harangued, “and you sit here on stolen ground pleading for that, which by the grace of a Christian God you are granted, a nickel or two! I say, ‘Fuck Jesus and fuck his bloody king too!’”
I was insane with virtue. I tossed the rest of his wad… about five-hundred bucks into the crowd… shouting out as loud as I could; “Jesus Christ did not die for my sins. He died because pigs like Juan Carlos could not abide him. Adding insult to injury, they use Christ’s name to bestow regal powers on a fop like this usurper! If you had any balls at all you wouldn’t be sitting here! You would be burglarizing those houses up there in the hills above us.”
One of the late coming bystanders, who’d missed out on the cash bonanza, called out from the crowd, “Why don’t you shut the fuck up and throw us some more money!”
The crowd laughed as the guy came at me swinging but I wasn’t going to back down. Shit… I recognized it was the Fedora Jerk! Did the prick’s trust-fund run out? What was a Montecito boy doing here? Or was he just there as a tourist buying drugs? I was untouched by him and, in spite of my boozed up state, I landed a few good blows before we were interrupted by pepper-spray.
A bicycle cop had pulled up and saw what was happening. Clearly it was a disturbance that could not be tolerated on State Street. The cop had seen the fists fly… he called for back-up and cuffed both of us.
I came to his senses as soon as my arms were pinned behind and the handcuffs clicked on my wrist. I had two bindles of coke in my shirt pocket. How in the Hell am I going to get rid of this cocaine? Longingly, looking down into my shirt pocket, I felt frustration at my powerlessness when the hammer came down. My last hope was that the cop would somehow miss the two bindles. But, in spite of my wishes, the coke in the aforementioned shirt pocket were found when I was given a thorough pat-down and before being gently tucked into the newly arrived and waiting squad car.
“Now, what have we here?” says the bike cop.
“Wha…? I don’t know. It wasn’t there before. Someone must’ve slipped it in my pocket when I wasn’t looking. Hey, maybe that ‘A-hole’ planted it on me!” I nodded towards the Fedora. I was thinking fast but knew it wasn’t even a good lie. I’d seen enough on the new reality show, Cops, to know a good excuse from a bad one and this one was very weak. But hell, I tried nonetheless to convince the cop that the Fedora had somehow planted the dope in my pocket while we scuffled. I had no shame at this point. I’d considered myself before then to be honest to a fault…. And never a snitch. One time I’d done three months because I wouldn’t turn state’s evidence. It was astonishing how hard and futilely I tried to push that lie.
My last thoughts were bleak: I’m no different than the toothless trailer-trash trying to lie their way out of a bust on those damned TV shows. Adding insult to injury I swore ole Juan Carlos was grinning down at me from my pedestal like the Cheshire Cat as they pulled away from the curb.
“Okay, you win.” I said under my breath from the cold plastic back seat of the squad car.

While getting booked into County jail the sergeant asked twice; “Do you consider yourself a danger to yourself or others tonight, Mr. McGee?”
Thinking I would get another cell other than that damned stinking drunk-tank and prevent further confrontation with the Fedora, who had gone in cuffs before me, I answered, “Yeh, I am.”
“Let me ask you one more time,” the Sergeant impatiently asked again, “and answer so that I can hear you. Do you present a danger to yourself, or others, Mr. McGee?”
“Sir, Yes, Sir!” I answered boot camp style.
Three officers appeared out of the vapor: one behind me and one on each side. Next thing I knew I was being damned near carried to the Rubber-Room by my escorts.
Once in the cell I was ordered to drop to my knees. This was not so easy to do in cuffs; but, before I’d even bent a knee in compliance, my feet were kicked out from under by an officer from behind. I was driven face down to the concrete floor by the officers on each side, holding my arms as my pants were yanked off with very few deft moves on the part of the corrections officers. I had to admire the efficiency of the choreography. I hadn’t seen that move on Cops who were exceptionally polite in front of cameras.
The Rubber-Room had a bench, no toilet and the temperature was set so that only the most insane would want to stay in that room in underwear for more than ten minutes no matter how drunk. I passed time shivering that way.
The main thing was to get through the night. I was still insanely drunk but the antifreeze of Jack Daniel’s began to wear off and did no good. I tried exercising, doing jumping jacks, push-ups and pretending I was Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now flying around the cell in an imitation of drunk kung-fu. Sweat did nothing to keep me warm but reactivated the pepper spray. My eyes burned. When the nurse came by to check on me I got some water on my face and some valium to take the edge off the anticipated hang-over. After I got the valium, I accused the nurse of being a low-level Dr. Mengele’s: as though I was an innocent, persecuted by fascist oppression.
The night passed… the day began. I didn’t know how long I’d been in the cell. I was finally given some Jail-House pajamas and led to another cell where a bullet-proof-window with one of those grilled speaker holes separated me from a young woman whose decision would determine whether I would be let out on my own recognizance (O.R.) or rot in jail until a the day of my arraignment hearing. They had to reduce the felony drug possession charges down to a misdemeanor if I was going to get out that day.
The belligerence I came into the jail with had evaporated by the time I was photographed and finger-printed on the way out. I felt contrite to the female officer that led me through the process. “Oh man,” I said to her. Memories of the night before percolated up through the layers of booze and coke towards a bubble of consciousness and admitted, “What a mess I made of things.”
The officer was sympathetic and she assured me it would turn out alright.
Even though I’d been processed for release in the afternoon, I wasn’t let out until after three AM. No buses run at that time and I didn’t have a quarter to call Jimbo to get me downtown from the jail. I had to hike the five miles home.
The city automatically pulled cab licenses after any drug bust. Now I no longer had a job. I’d tossed out all my cash to Juan Carlos and, being unable to pay rent, I was going to be homeless too. I stayed at the hotel as long as I could sneak past Lucas, the desk clerk, or make up excuses if he caught me. Lucas was like a spider that caught almost anyone that touched his invisible web. When I finally got to my arraignment hearing I just plead guilty and was sentenced to time served, ordered to attend Zona Seca drug abuse classes that he had no money to pay for now that he was unemployed, and given three years’ probation.