Lou looked down at the place setting. Perfect. The silverware sparkled and the tablecloth sat taut. Crisp, starched white. But his water glass was smudged so he sent it back. The waiter retuned and held it up to the chandelier’s light and then set it down. Lou stared at the glass for a moment and tapped his index finger rapidly on the table and sighed so the waiter walked away.
The restaurant was an old chateau with peeling periwinkle paint and a circular gravel drive. The valet would receive the cars at the front door and then park them in the groomed horse pasture just to the north. But in the case of a chauffeured car, the valet would accept the money but not park the car. Lou said to the valet, My tab, and Delly parked it in the pasture and settled in to watch the stars and think up some lyrics to help flesh out Blackmaritan.
The dining room’s walls were fifteen feet high and Lou sat under a crack that ran the length of the ceiling and it looked like a lightning bolt. The windows were tall and thin and draped at the lower half. Car headlights would blast the white lace and then dark silhouettes would move across back and forth.
Babette had come to Memphis after the war with a local GI. A kid named Gregory. They had a small wedding, and he had big nightmares. They loved each other, but he had to jump. He had landed three hundred feet from the base of the Sterick Building and the detective said the wind must have caught him. She didn’t tell anyone but she’d seen it coming. She liked America and Memphis, and so she stayed and opened a restaurant and named it after herself.
She saw Lou sitting alone at his usual two-top for one and she had a minute so she walked over and put her small hand on his round shoulder. Bonsoir, Louie, she said constraining her smile to hide her yellowing teeth.
Bond swear, Babette. He lost himself again in her matured milky breasts.
All lonesome tonight, or will there be une jolie fille coming?
Jolie fille is coming, but tonight it’s all business, I’m afraid.
Mais non! Business sur pleasure? Oh Louie, you’re getting olden.
Heh! Uh, sur means and?
Over, Louie, over. I’ve tolden you a hundred times it means over. She sighed and picked up his napkin, whipped it open and placed it in his lap. They shared a look until she straightened his salad fork and said, Vin rouge, monsieur?
Lou got this one, agreed for more wine and he was beginning to feel the three he had had. He watched Babette walk back to the kitchen, her tight cream skirt manipulating her extra weight for extra sumptuousness. Her heels were perfect height and shape and color, a natural extension of her foot. Lou moved his napkin and brushed his cock and dreamed for the thousandth time of following her into the kitchen, slamming her face first into the freezer, hauling up her skirt, finding no panties and…
Lou turned and stood and stuck out his hand. His napkin fell to the floor and he said, Hey, Meredith, how are you?
Late, late. So sorry. Forgive me? She was twenty-seven with copper hair styled like Betty Grable in How To Marry A Millionaire. She was squeezed into a perfect navy dress with cream polka dots. She sat, smiled and looked around the room. Every able man looked and she loved every one of them.
How was work today? Busy?, he said.
Busy? Lordy. Had three jets in from Texas alone and two from Atlanta, and then of course, well, the one from Grand Cayman… her voice trailed off and she smiled and put her napkin in her lap and had a sip of water. And that was all before my Rendezvous lunch. She left a perfect red trace on her glass and smiled at Lou. So, thank you for the invitation, and I must say I love the hush-hush. Sounds like you’re on a secret mission, and you want me to come along.
Lou smiled because he knew he had her. A rube. Coming from her hillbilly clan, they’d all thought she’d won the lottery getting the receptionist job at the private Memphis jetport. Zero savvy of the world, of business, of action, of men. He kind of pitied her, but that chafed on his arousal.
The Lisa Marie, he said. I need to know her flight plans. I know they’re heading out to LA, and I need to know their flight plans. The return. When they’re getting back.
Flight plans? Oh, Lordy, I don’t know about that. Don’t know, that’s… that’s privileged… that’s contractual… I can’t…
It’s real important, Meredith. Real personal. Has to do with, uh, you know, the death and the funeral and all the sadness and grieving, you know… I’m just all, you know, torn up about it all. The death, of my dear, dear friend and all.
Well, sure you are… can I call you Lou?... sure you are. We all are, but I can’t tell you that. That’s need-to-know information and well, frankly... How’d you know they’re going to LA?
Jackie told me. But they’re not staying at the Bel-Aire this time, and I don’t know how to get a hold of him. But I need to know when they’re coming on home. That’s all, Meredith, when… and his voice trailed off as the waiter appeared.
Good evening, ma’am. Anything to drink? he said.
Bring a bottle of what he’s having, she said as she leaned back and draped her arm over the back of her chair.
Very good, said the waiter.
She cut her eyes to Lou. Lou smiled and leaned onto the table. I know they’re going out to LA and I just want to set up a little surprise for them is all. It’s a good thing, but I need to know when they’ll get there and when they’ll get back. It’s a timing, surprise sort of thing…
Oh, okay. I misunderstood. That’s fine. Sounds innocent enough, I guess. She checked the nails of her left hand and then tugged up her dress just above her left tit.
Yeah, see, exactly. Just some innocent little flight info, for a special little surprise for my friends, that I want to set up for them out there, you know, for the begrievement, of us all, at this hour of…
The waiter reappeared, showed her the bottle on his forearm, nodded and poured her a glass. He waited for her sip and when she did and nodded, he nodded and said, Enjoy, ma’am, and left. Thanks, she said.
She took a long sip, savored it and looked across the table and rasped, You’re lying, Lou. I don’t like being lied to, and you are lying to me. She dabbed her mouth with her napkin and slightly flung her hair from her eyes. You know how I know you’re lying? You don’t know the approach. You don’t know the difference between a gear and a flap. Forget the courtesy of patterns and traffic. You, Lou, don’t know your instruments, and now you’re in a full thrust pea soup panic with no idea what Kentucky Windage is and are about to botch a blue-sky landing because you think a great looking gal in a fabulous dress with knockout tits is a milk run in a spam can, but I am not. No. I’m an ace, a tiger, the hangar queen that flies the hump and brings the mail and you better punch out of your pathetic little stalled puddle hopper and wad up your jump bag and bail. She almost laughed. You know why you’re lying? You’re not licensed. That’s why you’re lying. So, this is a problem, as you can see. Tell me the real reason you want the flight plans, and I won’t risk my job, my lover and the carry-ons of self-respect I’ve got stowed overhead.
Okay. Lou smiled at her ballsy challenge, swirled the wine in his glass and took a slug without blinking. In 1973, he began, I bought a sailboat…
Ooh, a sailboat, she cooed, putting a fist under her chin and leaning in.
That’s right. Traded for it, actually. My beach house on Bimini for a fifty-six-foot Tartan. Beautiful fucking boat. Excuse my language, but that’s the only word for it. Fucking, he repeated with strong eye contact. So, I rounded up a crew over in Nassau and we headed on out. It was great. Weeks out there on the water. Open water. Changed my life…
Oh, Lou, that sounds dreamy. She stirred her wine with her finger.
Damn straight. He felt a naked toe on his shin so he sucked his gut in. We were nineteen days out on a heading of 68 degrees, smack inside the Sargasso Sea. Well, one of my seacocks started leaking, one for the sink, so we pulled over to fix it. I looked over the side, saw straight down 300 feet. Clear as a bell. Crystal aqua. I dropped anchor, sent my two nigra boys jumping over the side to fix it and they came back up with these big eyes. Lou widened his eyes and circled them with his curved hands. I thought they’d seen a damn giant squid or something, but they say there’s a wreck down there. I jump in with my mask, go down twenty feet or so and sure enough, down about a hundred feet is a mast sticking out of a sand bar. I tell them to go down there and see what they can see. Well, bout three days later, we’re sitting on my deck looking at about eighty bottles of rum.
Oh, Lou, how romantic, how aquatic divine! Meredith shifted her weight from elbow to elbow, mashing her breasts against each other like little silk pillows.
Tell me about it. But this wasn’t just any ole Puerto Rico piss rum. This was special, and you knew it from the moment you picked up the bottle. The bottles were engraved.
They said, Maxima Semper Rumbullion.
Maxima semper Rumbullion?
Maxima semper Rumbullion, that’s right. But here’s the kicker. There was no cork.
That’s right, Meredith. No cork. Now, that’s special.
I should say so. Was it a screw cap?
It was all bottle. No cork, no screw cap, no pop-top, no nothing. The bottle just came up to the top in the little swirly little nipple like thing, like on the milkshake at the Dairy Queen. You know what I’m talking about? Well, I remember like it was yesterday. My first mate said, Gossa be fresh shit, cap. You know how those island nigras talk.
I do. And was it fresh shit, cap? she asked. Her foot moved slowly from his shin up to his thigh. She leaned further over the table, overwhelming her cold salad plate with her toasty tits.
Special shit, Meredith, but I won’t go into that. Anyway, long story short, word got out and I was a hero. Big time hee-row. All over the Caribbean. Came back to Memphis, got a fancy write-up in the paper and the very next night, there’s a knock at my door at midnight. Who was it, you ask?
Who was it, I ask.
Only Jackie Dunlop. Jackie Dunlop of the Memphis Mafia.
Golly gee. Jackie Dunlop himself?
And I didn’t know him, so, I said, Who the hell are you? and he said, Jackie Dunlop. King wants a meet. I said, Get the hell off my porch, you jackleg hillbilly, and I pulled my spear gun, and he pulled his pistol and then we sat there and traded spitted barbs for a few minutes and then I realized he was legit and we laughed and got along thick as thieves after that.
Man, you have lived some kind of life, Lou. Whew. But does your spear gun have a point?
Well, I gave my dear friend Elvis one of those special rum bottles, he was like family, you know, and then, and then had a little falling out with Jackie and the boys, stupid fucking story, and well, I just want my bottle back. Them being limited and all…
It being special, she said.
That’s right, that’s right…
Meredith leaned back in her seat, dug her heel hard into his crotch and pulled out a long skinny cigarette and lit it. She took a puff, looked up at the ceiling and blew the smoke out with a husky sigh. She looked back to Lou. Five thousand, she said.
Five thousand what? Bottles? Lordy, no. Got about sixty-nine…
No, Lou. Dollars. Five thousand dollars.
Five thousand dollars? You want five thousand dollars! He looked around and noticed people noticing.
They’re leaving soon, Meredith said. I saw the logbook this morning on the controller’s desk.
I knew it. I knew it! Just tell me, Meredith.
For five thousand I’m telling you.
Lou regrouped, sensing one of those female honeytraps, but lordy he loved her foot. A dynamite foot. But he’d been here before. All the girls he’d manhandled over the years were light years more sophisticated than this little hayseed. He smirked.
Um, alright, look, I appreciate all the pilot lingo, and tough talk of flying fast and low and high and all that, but at the end of the day, you’re a receptionist, Meredith. Re-cept-tion-ist. The only reason you know thing one about planes is because you’ve screwed every last one of the pilots down there and make them take you over to god damn Arkadelphia for hundred dollar hamburgers. Now, you’ve had your spiel, and I’ve had mine, so let’s just cut the shit, cause I know you’re sleeping with Peter the pilot and I know Peter’s wife and I know the controller, your boss, Mack would not look to kindly on you being a hangar whor…
Don’t… you… dare. Her eyes alone stopped him cold, but the voice made his penis shrivel. And retreat. He sat rapt. The eye contact was a tractor beam, her molecules freezing the air between them, his eyeball atoms laying down roses for her to walk on. Her lashes actually curled as he watched. He’d never seen that before. In fact, he couldn’t feel his legs. His mother had been dead for years, but he wanted to call out, sing to her, ask her what’s going on, demand a cradling.
Meredith leaned over the table, picked up his salad fork and smiled as she slowly dug it into the back of his hand. Blood appeared. You’re not jerking my chain are you, Lou?
Uh… Do you have a chain? Huh…
I do, Lou, and I think you’re jerking it. I know who I’m sleeping with and I know he’s married. I know I would lose my job. I know. I know these things, Lou. That is why I am asking for five thousand dollars. This way, it’s a legitimate business transaction. If I just roll over and spread my legs and squeeze out private flight information, where’s my savvy? In the toilet. The toilet. You get what you pay for, Lou. I figured you, of all the out-of-businessmen I know and loathe, you would understand that. So, five grand, or thanks for the swill, and adios.
Meredith removed the fork from his hand, tongued the blood off its prongs and set it on his salad plate.
She downed her wine and said, But, I think what you’re doing is real swell, Lou. I really do. The whole surprise gift party thing in LA is very thoughtful, and selfless. I did mention they won’t be gone long, right?
You’re insulting me. Thirty-two fifty. Cash.
Cash? Right now? I don’t have thirty-two fifty, he whined, rubbing his hand.
Then I don’t have any flight plans. And if those manly sexy lips of yours start gossiping about me and my sleeping arrangements, then I will remind you that Jackie Dunlop told me months ago you had, um, pederast aspirations. Wanting to fuck that sweet little girl right in the ass… lordy, that’s an interesting take on adult child business. It’s the kind of sick that you don’t want getting out in the news. Seeing as how you’ve been in the paper… A local celebrity and all.
Lou sat stunned. He bobbed his head like an epileptic and then stood and stalked into the kitchen. He found Babette, grabbed her. She was ready. She knew he’d been wanting this, her. For years. She was ready. She wanted him. She hadn’t had a man in years. He told her what he needed and she shook her head and then slammed him up against the freezer and said, Lou, you’re a stupid, stupid man! But you pay me twice return! Twice! Merde!
Oui Oui, Lou said.
Lou usually rode in back, but that night he sat up front and glared out at the dark passing world. The small country shacks set back far from the road angered him. He’d always thought the poor were trying to have big front yards for reasons of vanity, but he now realized it was only to accommodate the dogs chained to spikes and cars on blocks and discarded toilets. Fucking poor. He rolled down his window, unbuttoned his shirt one more button and let the coolish wind whip and lash the crazy anger from his hot face.
Fucking cunt, Lou said. God damn fucking cunt. But I was right. They’re going to LA. Leave Friday morning and come back on Saturday morning. Fucking cuntbag. Exhibit A as to why I am not married. She’s got acumen. I’ll give her that. I’d like to fuck her. I’ll give you that one, too. But what a cunt. Man.
Delly didn’t say a word, didn’t challenge a thing, because he knew if he did, Lou’d explode. So he just wheeled the spongey riding Lincoln and let the angry red robin of a man simmer down. They came into town on Old Poplar Pike until it became Park Avenue and then Delly made judicious rights and lefts to steer clear of Orange Mound, the notorious black neighborhood, where Delly was born.
It was exactly midnight and Delly pushed down the blinker and turned onto Tishomingo and the car’s headlights scanned briefly across a convertible Cadillac parked up ahead. Delly thought nothing of it and he pulled Lou’s car carefully up Lou’s drive and they disappeared into the back.
Lungsee watched the Lincoln disappear and he then turned to Emile, who was asleep at the wheel. The radio played Booker T’s Green Onions. Lungsee considered the music and studied the radio knobs. He thought about technology and where it would all end. If ever. And did it matter? Whenever he had these thoughts, he would just gaze up into the trees and feel safe and secure that life meant nothing and he would die alone and there was nothing anyone could or would or wanted to do about it. And that’s the way it’s always been, supposed to be.
Emile stirred as if from Lungsee’s thought and said, Who’s there? He sat up. Where am I?
Casa Rumbullion. Go back to sleep.
Emile turned away and closed his eyes. He did not go to sleep, but he wasn’t awake, and he thought he watched the dead little baseball player drop down out of a magnolia tree. He was not wearing his uniform, but instead he wore an old west lawman’s outfit with tin star that said Deputy. But it was Ty, and Ty took him by the hand and told him to go into their Gran Ma’am’s kitchen, and Emile did, and it was soft whites and yellows, like a girl, and the dainty curtains, see-through and obvious, fluttered in the afternoon breeze. But it was night. Her kitchen was unquestioning. Incurious, and I had my answers ready, ready for all her questions that never could wait, but there were none that day. What she wanted to know she would not get. I walked across the kitchen, the metal breadbox, the toaster, the vase with reeds and to the cookie jar. I took off the lid and its ceramic nature made that scraping noise and I reached in and felt the cold hard iron of the pistol. I was somewhat shocked I was going to do it, like that, in her place, but then something felt off. Then I heard something. I leaned back and looked down the hall. Her TV was on. I saw the flicker of light pulse on a wall at the end of the dark hall, which ended at the dimly framed front door. I moved down it, the wood underneath popping and squeaking. The walls seemed more narrow. The ceiling lower. Boxed in. Coffined in. I passed the fat black heavy phone on the small round wood table. The phone. It was silent but its potential was ridiculous. It had proved that, I thought I remembered. The easy light around the front door. I passed the foot of the stairs, put my hand on the banister. I stopped. I knew she was in the living room. I walked in and on the TV Elvis was riding a merry-go-round. With his stupid grin. An older blonde rode on the next screaming plastic horse. The sound was off, but it looked like The King was trying to seduce and diddle a granny. And she, good for her, looked like-minded, if stricken in years. Gran Ma’am was on the couch, fully dressed, a silver pocket watch on her stomach. It was her long-dead husband’s. I heard it. It was doing its thing, but her stomach wasn’t. It was flat and still. Her tattered copy of Bartleby was on the floor, by her dangling white hand. I walked to her and stood over her and looked. She was dead. On the couch. I looked up and the Magnolia outside was silent. I sat on the coffee table and tried to remember something about her, but couldn’t. I remembered things but they didn’t register. Didn’t make sense. They didn’t matter anymore. They were there but… I looked at the TV. Elvis morphed into the host of Dialing for Dollars. His winning smile. The cheap studio. The board behind him and the modern white phone on the cheap studio desk. He mouthed at the camera, charming and enticing. The phone seemed to float up into his hand and dial itself. I watched him watch me. And then, the phone rang. Gran Ma’am’s phone. That fat black phone in the hall on the round table by the foot of the stairs. It rang and the Dialing for Dollars host smiled at someone off camera. He indicated he heard a ringing. I switched between looking at her phone and the host. It rang. He smiled. He said nothing. The person he was calling was not answering. Her phone was still ringing. I looked at Gran Ma’am. Her mouth was open, just enough for a fly to walk in and get to her grey teeth or pale tongue. Her larynx seemed so unnecessary. A real weak point. The ringing went on. Loud, clanging. The host’s smile was fading and then he hung up his phone. Her ringing stopped. His smile got bigger again and he looked around the studio with encouraging gestures and eyes that the next call would not go unfulfilled. Silence. It was hilarious. I was rapt. He dialed again. Gran Ma’am’s feet had fallen apart, the gap wider because of her fat heavy black shoes. Just like phones. So loud on the wood floors. Like when I was a kid and she would stomp from here to there, comfortable in her authority over the house. The phone started ringing again. I looked at it and then at the host and he stood there like an idiot, holding the phone, saying nothing into it and smiling at me. The right side of his mouth scooched over into a half-grin. Ring. Ring. Smile. Smile. I looked at the rug because I didn’t want to see him make telephone contact with someone else. Connect with someone else. But when I looked back, he was talking into his flimsy phone, swaying his shoulders around like a woman in a carefree chat about her orgasm last month. How fun and free and independent. Whoever he was taking to knew the secret code. Fifty dollars had been won. From the Elvis movie. A commercial came on. Kodak. Memories. Bring the moments back. For the times of your life.
The doorbell chimed. Chimed its high-low tandem. I began to feel cornered. What does the world want? I didn’t answer the phone, because I knew who it was. What he wanted. But with the door, I was unsure. I opened it and there stood a beaten man with a desperate smile, bad hat and blazing white socks which topped his sad black shoes. He looked like he was impersonating an itinerant dust bowl dentist with zero hope of clients but, you know, still trying, and he said, howdy there young man, am I glad you answered the door because I can tell you know exactly what I mean when I say the all’s the world a stage and we are merely players strutting around and all, because you know what Shakespeare said and he was a dang fine writer of plays and sonnets, and if you are interested in learning of his life, well, what would you do? I ask you. How would you find out about ole Willy Shakespeare? Go to college? You could. I recommend it even, but let’s say you ain’t got the money. Or the time. Let’s see, Shakespeare… well, when was he born? Where? What was his wife’s name and his famous round theater called? Yep, all them questions are good, as are all questions, period, I say. Interested in science? I knew it. Edison, Bell and, of course ole Albert. Engineering. Hoover Dam? Fine topic of conversation. Sports. Animal husbandry. History. How about the Mayans and Incans? And the King Tut. That ole boy’s real popalar, so you could bone up on him and impress your gal. Or biology. Chemistry. Astronomy and the outer space? Veronica enjoyed my jam sandwich under Neptune’s Pecker! Ha! and the man burst into laughter and slapped his knee three times. I thought it might have been a code for an unseen partner to attack so I looked around. But you look like you may be interested in the counterculture, am I right? Well, that’s okay, too, because without counterculture, we wouldn’t have no culture! Youth International Party, Chicago Seven, Communists, Kenny Kesey and them merry fellows... Son, what I am in short saying to you is this: the world, in all its glory and mystery and fact and detail and beauty and… can fit in eight handsomely crafted, gorgeously bound volumes of Harmsworth’s Encyclopedia. The man stepped in closer, across the threshold, and said with a more serious tone, All, the information, in the world, is right here. Can I come in? It is strangely nippy out here with this wind and all. What the nigras call the hawk, you know. Sure, regional customs and traditions and dialects are in here, too…
I swung open the door and The Salesman walked in. I sat in one chair and he sat in the one facing me. Between us was Gran Ma’am. He pretended to shake off the elements, grateful at my hospitality and he didn’t even notice her until I asked him if his encyclopedias contained the future. Uh, who’s that? he said looking down at her.
I don’t know. You tell me.
Hell, I just got here. Yous the one opened the door. Is she… she don’t look asleep.
What the hell’s that supposed to mean? The Salesman stepped to her without raising his body and poked her leg with his finger. God damn, that’s cold and hard…. Jesus fucking Christ. I think she might be gone on.
What do we do?
Well, for starters, we sit here and don’t do a dang thing. That’s the last thing you wanna do in a situation like this is go off all hopped up and do a dang fool thing like doing something. The Salesman man rubbed his palms on his thighs and took long breaths and cased the living room. I am assuming that that there is your granny, was, and I am also assuming that, uh, well… are we alone?
You mean besides her?
God damn, son, I am trying to be a pillar of assistance here and you keep carrying on with your wisey-ass snarks! Well, I don’t see no blood, so I am to assume that there is no foul play, and judging by her, firmness, well, I reckon she’s been done setting there bout a week.
Well, you touch her and then tell me she was baking muffins in the prior hour!
I cannot tell you that.
Damn straight you cannot. Tell me this though… Is, uh, was, she a wealthy woman? You know, a woman of means?
It looks like she was.
Yep, what I thought. Sometimes, my experience has showed me real clear that the well off, well, they tend to think they know better’n the docs. True and sad, cause when they turn up ablue like this, the doc and the family will say, if only…
There was a long silence. The Salesman stared at Gran Ma’am for a long time. His look was one of calm and familiarity. I thought of King Tut. What a great name that was, and I then thought that the encyclopedia books would be nice. I would like to know how a guy got a name like Tut. The day’s light started to grey. Headlights from passing cars occasionally lit part of the room, traveled across the walls like a slide-show itinerary of dead souls. There we sat. For hours. The TV flickered. Elvis was long gone, but still there. The news came on. Late old news. A local businessman shot and killed his wife and then killed himself on Colonial golf course. A homeless man set fire to a midtown bar to claim workman’s compensation, punitive damages and an increase of emotional stability. The silent moving mouths on the TV screen spelled it all out. Nothing. The Salesman shifted in his seat, in his countenance. His wood chair creaked. His shoes squeaked. He looked at me. His eyes narrowed, bored, like a wild animal coming in to talk. Finally, he said: For one hundred years, I have been killing and dying to get here. His eyes bored through Emile’s and straight into someone else’s. Then, with a million-dollar smile: So for her, I will give you this. He tossed a small baggie of perfect heroin on the coffee table. I looked at it, and then him. I nodded. He wrapped her in a rug and walked out the front door.
Lou walked into the kitchen, flicked on the lights and heard Delly’s bedroom door slam shut. His bottles on the counter under the cabinet light sat like pets waiting for doting. He felt warm. His anger subsiding. After deciding on scotch, he delayed the pleasure with another; one sure to ease the stinging he got from Meredith and Babette. By the back door stood a round waist-high table for keys and mail and things. Lou picked up the stack of mail and pulled out the envelope he knew would make him feel right. The return address was First Tennessee National Bank. He ripped off the end and pulled out his checking account statement. It read, $149,377.11.
He smiled and gripped it tight as he walked back to the counter. He opened a cabinet above the liquor bottles and pulled down a red and blue ice bucket that read Ole Miss on one side and Hotty Toddy! on the other. He popped off the translucent lid and grabbed the wad of bills inside. Thumbing through them and grinning, he estimated at least five thousand dollars. He put the lid back on and slid the bucket back onto its shelf and shut the cabinet.
The next cabinet held the glasses and he took one down, poured it half up with Glen Livet 12 Year Old and walked to the fridge and jammed the glass into the ice lever and let a few odd shaped blobs splash in. He walked with his smoky drink toward the hall door, but then he turned back and snatched up the bottle.
When he got into the hallway and right in front of Delly’s door, he said, That fucking frog wants five thousand, and she can fucking have it! It’s just money! God damn bitch. He paused, looked at the ground. There was no reply.
Takes her a month to make what I make in a day! Pause. More to money than life, you know! He stood there for a moment. He didn’t know if he was waiting for a reply or not. Then he walked on.
The parlor was dark and thick with bad air. Outside light hadn’t been allowed in for weeks and the embarrassing clusterfuck of a night with Meredith and Babette had force cleansed him of self-consciousness, and so he walked across the oriental, flung the dark heavy curtains apart and opened the thin-paned windows.
The curtains cost 295 dollars apiece, he thought, gulping down way too much scotch. He breathed in the dense warm air and felt zero fear of anything in the world. Death himself could stand in the shadows of his trees and Lou would walk out and slay him and walk back. Somebody, please, fuck with me, he murmured through gritted teeth.
He saw the parked Cadillac across the street. It looked empty. Probably Mrs. Loeb’s hippy spawn home from Ann Arbor. Fucking Wolverines. Big Ten shit ball. SEC’ll kick your ass any day of the week, he muttered. He downed another gulp and loved the ice crashing onto his lips.
He staggered, and made it to the divan and sat and looked down at the blueprint. Books secured each corner. He had never read any of them. A literate former girlfriend had convinced him to start a library. The classics, she argued, were sexy.
But the last book Lou had read was See Here, Private Hargrove. He’d tossed it overboard near Baggao, and when he got back from the war, he heard they made a movie of it but he never saw it. He thought about the books keeping the blueprint’s corners from curling. Ulysses, The Canterbury Tales, The Tempest, and Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health: A Handbook of Dianetic Therapy. Lou got that last one one day when he was out with the boys walking the streets of Hollywood. Hollywood and Ivar. A cute gal in blue slacks and a bright white shirt bounced up, queried them about being clear or some shit, and Lou blurted, Clear in the ass. The boys giggled and she walked away but left them the book.
Fucking asshole Jackie Dunlop, as he poured another drink. This one melted the remaining ice. He knocked back half the smooth single malt and the undeniable circular spell came and Lou thought about how long it’d been since he puked and he determined that it was months if not more, and this made him grin.
He leaned back into the divan and closed his eyes. Los Angeles. That cool nighttime air. Wettish and springy. It tickles the skin. The music booms down out the Bowl and burgers pop and fry on Molly’s griddle and then Chasen’s for dinner. Beautiful women. They stop and bend and give you a look and then catch you in your look and then pluck up a shrimp from your bowl and sigh… but the lump in the back of the divan reminded Lou of life and little lost dreams and the emptiness screamed out that time was up and always had been. Another gulp and the gag tasted sweet-bile sick and it fluttered around on the back of this throat and he pitched forward, spread his knees and blew vomit all over his blueprint. And again and again and again.
Breathing during and after such an event struggles, like a kick in the gut, and Lou gasped like a drowning man but then worked his way back to smooth air and he felt cleaner. Soberer. Maybe that cute gal back at Hollywood and Ivar knew what she was talking about, and he stood and arced his back and stepped over the orange, pink and lumpy blueprint and walked to the parlor door and turned off the Japanese lamp that stood on the Italian credenza and left.
Delly’s bedroom door was a wall that had kept the two souls apart, and Lou stood there and touched it with his fingertips. Delly’s wife had left him with their baby boy for some pastor and went to either Water Valley, Mississippi or some shitsville out in Oklahoma. Delly said he wasn’t sure which and Lou knew it didn’t matter, but he did feel better when Delly told him that all three had died in a car crash in Arkansas.
He marveled at how Delly could live with such loneliness, so obvious and cruel, and he honestly hoped the song would be a hit and ease the ache that he knew Delly would always bear. Because when that pain stops, you’re dead. Don’t stand a chance. At least that’s what he’d told himself for years, but he wasn’t sure why. Lou wondered about the true difference between them and if he were forced to live somewhere in Africa, would he get his sorry white ass kicked everyday just from routine living of life? He stood and swayed and wondered, but he knew.
Delly showed him a picture of his girl once, and he couldn’t remember what she looked like, but she was black. Lou wanted to fuck a black girl, and he stuck his hand in his pants and seized himself roughly and then turned and walked away. That door was a wall.
The creaks and squeaks of the back hall stairs did not register, and Lou padded out on the second floor like a red round prince cocky and fortified well to risk some kind of kingdom for a primal gluey pleasure all its own. He stepped out of the guest bedroom window onto the slightly sloping tiled roof and sat and pulled down his pants and tugged and squeezed and shook and yanked, and the anger and shame returned and then the women and then the tired lust and only then did it start to swell. To thicken and stiffen. Same as it ever was. But the burst of completion fueled the endless drive and no repentance or repugnance could now stop its frivolous squirt. He saw. Wanted. Imagined. Tasted and smelled. Breasts spilling out of tops, hiked-up skirts with horrified and hither turned-back faces, no panties and polka dots, kitchens, aprons and demure smiles of ‘take me’ and young snarls of ‘dare you fuck me’ and they all became one and Lou started in on his sexy dirty murmur, indecipherable, questions, demands, answers, pleadings, grunts, fart…
Glass shattered somewhere below him. He froze and his eyes scanned but he saw nothing but trees. He then bolted upright like a horror movie movie mummy back to life, his fist now holding saggy questionable cartilage. He decided in about seven seconds and army-crawled himself in the window, just like he was taught both by his father and for the war.
Lungsee had watched Lou in the window and then seen the parlor light go dark. He backhanded Emile’s chest and Emile opened his eyes and blabbered, Gran Ma’am?
Let’s go, amigo. But, there’s something else...
This is a robbery.
A robbery? What? The rum dude? Thought he was a friend of yours.
Never said that.
Emile sat up straight and looked out for the little Ty, but he was gone. Said you knew him.
Nope. Said I knew of him. But don’t worry. I got my technique down. Foolproof.
Shit, man. I don’t know. Nothing’s fool… But Lungsee was out and stealthily striding towards Lou’s.
Door wasn’t locked last time, Lungsee said after shattering the square glass pane with his doughy elbow. He looked to Emile and their noses almost touched. Regard, he whispered. He reached in, turned the knob and opened the door.
The basement felt small and cramped and the light that fell in the small windows from above was not enough. Lungsee felt his way along the open door and Emile stepped on his moccasin. Lungsee stopped and turned and nudged Emile aside to shut the door. He swept his hand over the rough concrete wall by the door and found a switch and flipped it up but it was an exterior light so he killed it.
He again pushed Emile aside. Their eyes had adjusted enough to see shapes and outlines and Lungsee made his way with shuffle steps across the rough concrete floor and palmed the wall at the foot of the steps and found a bank of three switches and mashed them all up. Light.
The walls sat about fifteen feet apart, far smaller that Emile had anticipated. He scanned the room. The hot water heater, big enough for a hotel, stood like a fat man by the door they came through. The wall behind the boiler had a knee high pile of stuff but in the middle of that wall was a deep one-person alleyway, shooting off from the room like an unfinished tunnel. Perfect for booze, Emile thought.
Lungsee had moved to the area as soon as Emile saw it and just as a thump bumped the ceiling from above. Emile raked his hand down over the light switches and the dark got pitch quick. But Lungsee was in transit, and his foot clipped a box of something on a stack of something else and the box fell and something still else spilled out.
They looked to each other but couldn’t see each other. The thump from above resonated, resonated nefariously, and the fear of the unseen gripped Emile tighter than the logic of the dark, so he groped the light switch bank and picked one and flipped it up. A lone light in the far corner came on and it lit a stool, a bass guitar and an amp. Little notes littered the floor.
Lungsee wheezed and Emile couldn’t tell if it was a calm wheeze or an agitated wheeze. But what happened next gave him the answer. He looked from the guitar area to Lungsee and there he saw the big fella squatting and reading a magazine. Emile slapped his thigh with his hand and the panicked alarm noise did not alert Lungsee at all. In fact, Lungsee just turned the page with his fat hand and snickered like a schoolboy. Hey, these guys are kissing, he said.
Emile wanted to shout shut the fuck up but his anger and curiosity piqued into a strange wedded state and he needed to look. He clicked on another light and walked across the room and peered over Lungsee’s shoulder. Regard, he said.
Lungsee closed the magazine to see the cover and it read, ‘Boys in the Mud’ and it had two young men naked and play wrestling in the tub of a shower. There was no shower curtain. Mud? said Emile.
They look pretty clean to me, Lungsee answered as he opened it randomly to the middle and then the word ‘mud’ came clear. Feces. And on a penis.
A simultaneous, Awww…. spewed forth and they both craned their faces away. Lungsee dropped the magazine to his knees and Emile stood upright and looked to the ceiling and shook his hands as if he’d touched the mud. He was shocked by the fact that these guys wanted their pictures taken and by the fact that it was actually in a magazine. It was all so, organized.
What kind of fuck book is this? Lungsee quizzed.
It’s a homo fuck book is what it is. I’ve heard about these things. Never seen one…
Lungsee shoved a close-up into Emile’s face. Gross, man. Stop it, he said, defending himself with a swinging arm. This is the guy with the rum? Do you think he…?
Lungsee thought for a moment. They looked at each other and then back to the magazine. Lungsee started flipping pages and the images became smaller and more graphic and less professional. Emile pointed at one and made a noise and then Lungsee did the same on the next page. The lighting of the pictures showed every blemish and the boys in the acts couldn’t have been more than teenagers, and Emile thought about where they came from and what their families and homes were like and he quickly decided that he didn’t want to know. They looked like runaways but that didn’t explain it. These guys weren’t runaways. They were castaways. Discards. Forever. Always. He had to stop deciding what these boys were because what he thought he knew was too much and he recoiled from it like it could be someone he was supposed to care about.
Hey, said Lungsee in a softly horrified voice. He pointed to a two-page spread of a military gang scene in a hotel room, and on the far bed sat a young man dressed like Hitler with a little black mustache, tan shirt and whip and an army style hat, and they both squinted to see better. The title above the action read, Nazis in der Dreck. Is that Ty? said Lungsee.
No… Is it? Emile squinted harder and saw the ‘Quiet, Please’ door hanger on the bedside table and said, Aw, man, that’s a Holiday Inn.
Homo Nazis butt-screwing in a Holiday Inn, Lungsee said. What the sweet Jesus is the world coming to? No offense, but how does it feel to be the brother of a homo Nazi butt-screwer carrying on like that in a Holiday Inn?
He’s not a homo Nazi butt-screwer carrying on in a Holiday Inn, man. Emile grabbed the page and turned it sideways. You really think it’s Ty? Then back again. I guess it could be… He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out the Polaroid.
Lungsee moved in for a closer look and said, Ah, Hitler’s the boom guy. See it there? That long black pole. Must be making a feature. A still from a feature. Had a buddy do that once. Worked on ‘Carnival of Souls’. That poor Holiday Inn. You think management suspects? I may think twice about patronizing Holiday Inn from now on. Go with Ramada. Or EconoLodge. Or something.
Emile studied the Polaroid and looked again at the Nazis and then pointed and said, Nope. See? Hitler has a throwing star tattoo on his neck. Ty doesn’t. He showed the Polaroid to Lungsee and Lungsee checked.
Ah, yes. Good detective work. Like those games with two pictures side by side and you have to find all the differences. I like those.
Yeah. Me, too...
Lights blasted on from above and they spun and saw Lou steady a pistol and Delly rack his pump-action shotgun. The fuck you guys doing? What the fuck is this? You know who I am? You know who I used to be? said Lou.
Lungsee help up the glossy Nazi mess as a possible answer.
Emile and Lungsee squeezed into the divan. Emile stared into his lap like a repentant choirboy and Lungsee played with a burnt knot next to a stitched lace-hole of his moccasin. When their elbows accidently met, Emile would jerk away, as if to distance himself from the real perpetrator. Lungsee just smiled and wheezed in contemplation, opening and closing his mouth in slow little chewing movements. It sounded like he was eating bananas.
Delly leaned on the credenza, the butt of the shotgun lazily resting on his hip and pointed at the ceiling. He moved his mouth like he had gum in but he didn’t. He shifted his weight and moved the shotgun to the other hip. Lou stirred his Bailey’s on ice with his finger, stared out the window and then sucked his finger. The creamy booze good for his tummy post-puke. But he only pretended to study the yard, as if he were deciding on the fate of the two hapless intruders, when he was in fact deviously scanning the parlor behind him in the window’s reflection. He learned the trick from a movie. His knees hurt so he reached down and rubbed one and his hand came back up bloody. Skinned it on the roof scramble. Damn. He saw the littler guy of the two twitch as he stared at his lap and the giant caped freak fiddle with his ridiculous Indian shoe. Lou smiled at his business acumen and loosened his robe to show his boxers, gut and barrel chest. The casual look would be tougher, more intimidating, he reasoned.
A sadder cry for help I have not heard, he orated while pretending to gaze at the trees. A man, asleep in his own house. On his own property. His land. And this is the treatment said man gets. It’s wrong. It’s criminal. It’s a sad little pathetic cry for help. But guess what? and Lou spun and scowled down at his two interlopers. Emile still stared at his crotch and Lungsee now scrunched his mouth at the irritating little moccasin nub. It is not my job to solve these sad little cries for help...
That’s right. It’s your job to solve your own little sad cry for help, said Lungsee without looking up. Delly stifled a smile and shifted again his shotgun. Emile bowed his head further and grit his teeth. Lungsee abandoned the bothersome nub and looked at Lou. Seems to me there’s lots of cries for help here. And I do think some are bigger than others. Like, maybe, yours...
Shut up, Lungsee, Emile spit out the side of his mouth.
Son, you better watch your…
Homo Nazi fuck books featuring feces stashed in the cellar is the very definition of a cry for help. Am I right? He looked to Emile for confirmation. And if I’m wrong, then why are they not up here on this coffee table, mixed in with Field and Stream and Robb Report and…, he said looking to the floor … Dianetics? Is that barf?
Shut up! said Lou. He walked from the windows and stopped across the blueprint from the divan. They’re not mine.
Oh. I see. So whose are they?
None of your business.
They’re not yours, and it’s none of our business. Okay, so suppose me and my colleague came here to steal your homo Nazi fuck and feces books you have in your basement. If you are truthful about them not being yours, then we would not be stealing from you. Am I correct?
Dude, knock it off, whispered Emile as he casually looked around the room as a shy cocktail party guest might.
But they’re on my property, and possession is nine-tenths the law, dipshit, Lou said proudly.
But if the property owner claims they are not his, then the possession clause is noid and vull. Regard, Lou! You are currently residing in a sick pickle, my friend.
How do you know my name?!
Lungsee gazed at Lou. Exasperated. He pursed his lips. A flesh-colored pickle smeared and soaked with human, male, feces, Lungsee said.
Delly harrumphed as Lou stepped onto the blueprint and pointed the pistol at Lungsee’s face. You broke and entered my castle, you Sasquatch goon. You either deal with me or the Memphis Police Department and trust me, they know me, like me, and they will believe me when I say I shot your face in self-defense.
What this guy next to me is trying to say, sir, is that we are very sorry and whatever your sexual, tastes, are, they don’t matter in the least, and we are sorry, and it will never happen again. We got the wrong house, see? We were trying to sneak into a friend’s house and scare him, like we used to do, back at the ole Sigma, Kappa… frat, down in Oxford, at Ole Miss…”
Lou whipped his eyes to the Ole Miss alumni magazine on the end table by Emile and smiled and said, Nice try, fuck face.
What I really mean to say is rightful ownership of the plainly irrelevant homosexual, Germanic, military, um, scatological… in your basement is not the iss…
But this is where Emile errs in scata-logic, Lungsee said.
Don’t use my na… aw man, said Emile.
Ownership is the issue if you are claiming we were trying to steal the homo na…
Ha! You guys just don’t get it do you? laughed Lou. Look around! Look a round! He swept his arm across the room like a magician. I am a playboy if there ever was one! I have screwed more women that you two shitbrids have ever met! I’ve had ’em all! Right here in this parlor! Right on that divan, and right in the ass!
It’s a sad cry for help when a man overtly brags about female feces on his penis, but secretly and subterraneanally wishes it to be the male strain.
Oh, man, don’t say that, said Emile.
Perhaps you could consider treatment. I know of a place over on Poplar, Shepard Hall, where Emile here is tight with one of the doctors, Grayson is it? He’s quite good. And actually, Emile, you have your own little cry for help, do you not? Would you like to talk about it? Lungsee tilted his head sideways to suggest psychological vulnerability and interest.
What? I do not. You’re the one with the cry for help.
Shut up! Just shut the fuck up! Lou raged. I do not need treatment! I do not have a cry for help! You, you lard ass meathead, you have the cry for help!
I thought you said we had a cry for help?
The plural you, asshole! Both of you!
I have a cry for help? Emile said to Lungsee.
Actually, you do, said Lungsee.
What’s my cry for help?
You’re cry for help? Oh, puh-lease... Regard! Peter Pan! The Hamlet of the Delta wavers again! ’Should I meet my brother, or nay? Should I inquire of my soul, or nay? Should I get plastered for ten days, or nay? Should I enter the nuthouse or nay? If I do, then they may know they know I know they know, in which case, I should pretend to know they know I know they know. But on the twenty-seventh hand… Lungsee said all this by alternately talking to both of his hands.
Shut up! said Lou. What the fuck is your problem, son?
It’s a predicament, man, Emile said to Lungsee. He’s my bother, I think, I think he’s my brother, and I don’t know, I don’t know what to do. To rescue him.
I don’t know which is sadder. Queer Hitler dress-up poop parties or syngenesophobia, said Lungsee.
Delly, kill this sum bitch before he makes me do something you will regret, Lou said pointing his pistol at Lungsee.
Uh, boss, I ain’t killing nobody. Today’s my day off. I’ll just set here and guard ’em.
Your day off?
Hamlet of the Delta? Fuck you, Lungsee. At least I don’t sleep on piss-soaked mattresses on roofs and act like I’m weekending at my country house.
Yeah, well, you like to peep down girl’s shirts, like a pervert. What? Never seen boobies before?
I’ve seen plenty of boobies, you welfare mooching freak.
Well, I’m not the one who likes Jackson Browne!
I can’t fucking stand Jackson Browne! You’re the one no likes because of Regard, Regard, Regard!
That’s got nothing to do with it! You can’t even admit that your own brother is your own flesh and blood. That’s such a cry for help it’s just a cry. No help about it!
You mooch off welfare? Lou said to Lungsee. Jesus H Christ son, didn’t you have a momma?
I game the system is all, and my mother was a sick, sick woman. Absent, really. Please, I don’t want to start in on her…
I’m going to bed, boss. This is dumb as I ever heard, Delly said.
Oh, no, you’re not going anywhere, Mr. Bro-Cry for Help! Lou said. He pointed the pistol in Delly’s direction and Delly ducked. You just stay right there and point that shotgun at Tinkerbell and Sasquatch here.
Mr. Bro-Cry for help will do no such thing, said Lungsee.
Fucking shoot him, Emile said to anyone with a gun.
Fuck you, white boy!
White boy? said Emile
What’s this bro cry shit, boss? I ain’t got no cry for help.
I detect a plea, said Lungsee.
Ha! No bro cry?! What’s all that crap in the basement? All those lyrics? ’Oh, I love you baby, come to the Blackmaritan, and take my big black walking stick, and I’ll pogo you and us to the mountain top promised land? Lou contorted and his face and twisted body like an unfunky James Brown.
Damn, you been copping a hear! said Delly.
White boy…? repeated Emile craning his head to glare at Delly.
White boy avec cri de coeur, said Lungsee.
And that’s the sorriest cry for help of all! said Lou. A woman! Crying over a woman?! Shee-yit! I’d much rather have some guy’s feces on my… than… cry…
Silence descended upon the parlor as if the devil himself couldn’t believe his stinging ears. The walls cringed. The chandelier winced. The air sucked the air out of itself. Emile and Lungsee looked at Lou and Lou looked at the floor. He found a new hole in the rug. The blueprint couldn’t help him. The puke-crusted books. The Tempest. Dianetics was the guide to life, he remembered she’d mentioned. Should’ve read the fucker. Couldn’t get any more off track than this.
Delly shook his head, closed his eye and wondered where he got his milquetoast manner and then he realized that every mother fucker in the room was a god damn milquetoast, save maybe the big fella, and he’s just plain insane.
Um, what did you just say? asked Lungsee with a cocked head and a forefinger pointed straight up.
He said… but Emile was cut off by the gunshot. Lou blasted the divan six inches from Lungsee’s hip. White downy feathers fluttered about like in a snow-globe. He took a long stiff-jerky step forward, raised his pistol and trained it square to the middle of Lungsee’s forehead and said, I’m gonna kill you now…
The trees outside swayed, bent their limbs and tickled Lou’s home as if to give great laughter. All four men looked out the windows and actually witnessed the swirled nature of things, a blueprint of celestial proportions, ways in and ways out, gridded sectors of explanation and detail, impossible, and then possible limits and then their shattering real opposites. Circular logic destroyed. Wholly unknowable and mesmerizing was the invitation to the circus that they themselves were but that only the trees could interpret, translate. But this was nothing new. This was an ancient circus. But every once in a while, It couldn’t resist the actors themselves a brief little glimpse, and from this, for It’s pleasure, one of them would simply act…
Hey, boss, I think I got it, said Delly with eureka freshness. Everyone gaped up at the divine-ridden trees, and Lou managed a soft awed, What? back over his shoulder.
This ain’t a cry fo help, Delly said. It’s a cry to help.