23 Here Comes the Big One
Sandy finished tamping down the dirt and slid the bales of alfalfa over the spot. It hadn’t been that bad. It was the right thing to do. My old dad couldn’t have gone on without me, anyway. The poor guy didn’t even realize what he was looking at out in the shed. A trench? Inside the shed? Just one squeeze on the trigger and he crumpled into the waiting earth. She didn’t look at his face at all as she shoveled the dirt over his body. The trench wasn’t deep. The note would tell where he was so they could find him and give him a good Christian burial.
Jesus come and take him home now!
She showered, applied the hair color, and then started rubbing in the tanning solution. It worked well enough. With the wig and sunglasses she could pass for a Mexican at a distance, in the dark. She spoke Spanish well enough for what she had to do. Her suitcase and duffel bag were on the bed, all packed, but she had changed her mind; she wasn’t going to Mexico. As her hair dried, she tidied up her little room. Why bother? But she did it anyway. She carefully took down each photo and put the thumbtacks in the little cup. She put the photos in a box on the bed, except for one, of a young hippie girl with granny glasses holding a baby. That one she put in her handbag, right alongside the .38.
The occasional pickup or car stopped out front and found the pumps were off and then noticed the closed sign in the grimy window, under a Miller High Life light-up ad. Sandy and Jim must be in town for some reason. There was gas down the road at the Gem State Go-Mart.
Leaving Jesse’s grave was the only hard part. The rest she had figured out. The voices helped her. But to think of his little body lying there until the resurrection was almost more than she could bear.
I’ll see you soon, when my work is through, my little angel. Get ready to come and catch me with your wings.
Buddy looked down at Johnny, lying in the hospital bed.
“What end of the bull did you try to fuck?” laughed Buddy.
“Fuck you. I’m missing out a big payday.” Oh shit, it hurts to even talk. Johnny’s face was bruised and cut up. He had two black eyes. Both his knees were wrapped up in yards of tape and gauze. His right hand was in a full bandage.
“Well, how good do you think you were gonna be after drinkin’ that much, anyway, pard?”
Johnny didn’t answer for a moment. The he said, “I hope you assholes aren’t going to let those fuckers get away with this.”
“Well, we got our own shit to tie up before we go pounding on some old rock’n’rollers who kicked some young stupid drunk rodeo stud’s ass! I’m ridin’ in the afternoon and Larry’s working with Killen’s team.” Buddy laughed, “But we’ll teach ‘em a lesson before the night is through. A lot of the guys are ready to get’em out on the dance floor and give ‘em a proper whippin’.”
“I’ll be out of here by afternoon.” Said Johnny.
“You’re gonna be ridin’ shotgun on this trip, bro!”
“I’m gonna put a bullet in that fuckin’ tattooed motherfucker!”
Sheila came back from Tiny’s with two big styrofoam cups of coffee and a non-fat blueberry muffin. She took out 101 Ways to Screw Over Your Partner, the top new bestseller by Dr. Suzy Judkins. Might as well learn something; I have to be here hiding out all day.
Sitting with her back to the window to get better light on her book, she heard, but didn’t see, the Forerunner with the Tennessee plates crunching on the gravel as it rolled out of the courtyard.
“How was that, babe?”
“Huge, “said Jas as she pulled on her t-shirt.
”Well, it’s certainly bigger.”
“I missed you.” Ouch, it hurts to say this shit, thought Joey. “Didn’t you miss me?”
“Joey, I came up here to keep Ella company. She came to see Ace. That was just for old time’s sake.”
Joey propped himself up on his elbows on the bed.
“Are you telling me that was a mercy fuck? I’m the one who gives mercy fucks!”
“Well, go mercy fuck yourself!” She laughed as she closed the door. Joey sat on the bed, suddenly feeling quite small.
Jas knocked on the next door. After a moment, Ella opened it a crack. “Oh, hi, Jas.” Ella swung the door open. Josh was sitting on the bed, which was fully disheveled. Ella was wearing a large man’s t-shirt that had the logo Fuckin’ New York – That’s What! Josh was in a black kimono.
Ella handed Jas an Ipod and phones. “Listen to this, “she said.
Jas put the phones on. It was Lost in Your Building, fully mixed by Razr-T. She listened, like she had to at first, then with increasing attention. Then she sat down and gripped the arm rest on the chair. “Omigod”, she said louder than she thought, “is there more?”
Ella nodded. Jas listened to Secret Life of the God of War and Broken Town. Tears started to well up in her eyes. She held them back. She slipped the phones off. “That’s your music. It’s…incredible! I’ve never heard anything like it!”
“Thanks!” said Josh. Ella had slid up next to him on the bed. “It’s my new record for Tone.”
“That is amazing! Has your dad heard this?”
“He hasn’t heard the mixes yet. They’re pretty good.”
Jas looked at Ella and made a jaw-dropping expression. They two girls started giggling, then laughing out loud, Jas slapped his knees over and over. Ella fell back on the bed almost screaming with laughter and pumped her long legs in the air like she was riding an upside-down bicycle. She had little tears in the corners of her eyes.
“What…the fuck?” said a flustered Josh” what’s so funny?”
Garbage felt his hand. A little sore. Fuck it, it was worth it, though! Fuckin’ hicks! I knew there must be a reason to come out here beside to figure out Greg Horn! Horn was handling some the Hashemites stuff and Garbage, aka Richie Sanders, needed to suss him out before they got further involved. Garbage had heard the good and the bad about Horn. Well, he was Ok in a fight, which was good.
That Jas chick. She is something else to look at. I have to talk to her. I don’t think she’s too attached to Joey Lowe. Joey’s just an old blowhard. My band would have always kicked Childhood’s ass. Ace is a good guy; hell, they’re all good guys except possibly Joey and Horn. But Joey and Horn are the kind of guys who make the wheels spin. Ace is the kind of guy who’ll get lucky once in a while because he’s got a good heart and some talent. But guys like that never do become stars.
Garbage shaved the edges of his lightning bolts sharp and left the beginnings of a skinny diamond Mohawk on top. Gotta keep it changing.
The phone rang. “It’s Jas, “said the voice, “want to have some coffee with us?”
Yeah, coffee would be good.
Charles Frank was still in bed. He stirred himself enough to see the time: 12:30. Oh fuck. He dragged himself up and into the shower. He was beat up and hungover, but before too long the water revived him and he was laughing at the events of the night before. Hey, this is my party, and I’m going to enjoy it, whatever might happen! He felt good.
Goddam it, I’m still young, I feel like I could stop a bullet!
Greg Horn had been up since seven thinking. Horn, you’ve been a real solid dick all your life, haven’t you? It’s been good. I’m rich, I’m a fuckin’ bear.
He flashed to the moment when Ace had stopped the cowboy from cutting his face apart with the beer bottle. The certainty he’d had that he was in deep, deep trouble. The lightning way trouble had been swept off him.
The time has come for me to do something right for once. I’m gonna do it!
He waited until eight-thirty and then made a phone call.
Harry looked at the laptop screen.” This sequence is pretty good.”
“I don’t like the light in that one so much, Harry. My ass looks too big. Look at number twelve.”
“Ohh, I see what you mean. Wow, that is gorgeous!”
“That” Fumiko purred, “is beautifurr!”
Shinebone looked over the recruits: twenty guys, most with shaved heads and tattoos. Seven of them topped three hundred pounds. Four black dudes. A few wore Idaho State Bengals football jerseys.
“There could be some shit goin’ down here tonight. If any of you cats can’t get it up to mix it up with the rodeo guys, then let me know. Listen, “he said, relishing his top cop moment, “I don’t want any crap, and the band don’t want any crap. But I think there are some guys from the Big Potato that are gonna coming looking for it. I ain’t gonna let my boys get hurt and I ain’t going to let those rodeo clowns fuck up this band’s last gig. It’s fifty bucks a man and all the middle-aged pussy you can score!”
The guys laughed.
“Plus we have hats for y’all, a couple of kegs to keep us lubricated, and a nice spread.”
The Spud Palace
The Spud Palace, near Idaho State University, was a tribute to the spirit of the Mormon veterans returning from World War two. These fathers of the baby-boom generation had a vision of a monumental concrete world, solid as rock, and so they built a monumental rock and concrete civic hall, adorned with heroic sculptures of farmers and crops, soldiers and Indians and angels, all looking off from the cornices to a not-too-distant glorious future when the promised land would be realized right here in the Snake River Plain. The big gray, three story box rose solidly, like something out of the glory of ancient Greece, amidst the tree-lined streets. Its utility had been augmented in the late fifties by its conversion into a movie theater, and a highly unlikely deco spire had been added in front above the neo-classical colonnade. The spire was graced with multi-colored neon letters reading Spud Palace. It seated over four thousand, making it by far the biggest theater and meeting or concert hall in the whole region. They never did show the Misfits there, but Ben-Hur had been a big hit. Recently the internal movie walls had been taken down and the hall restored to its original grand size.
For that Saturday afternoon in late April, all roads led to Pocatello. They came driving in rainbow -painted VW buses, primered pickups, old yellow corollas, SUV’s that cost more than houses, and cherried-out fifty-nine Caddys. They whooshed across the deserts and burned brakes down off the mountain passes. They came from Salmon and Boise and Twin Falls, Weiser and McCall, Riggins and St. Anthony’s and Idaho Falls. They arrived from CouerD’lene and Sand Point and Spokane and even from Missoula and Great Falls and Salt Lake and Ogden. A few made the drive up from L.A., like Jas and Ella. A handful flew in like Charles Frank. Every motel room had been booked for some time. The KOA was full. People merely passing through on I-84 or I-15 just had to keep on driving north to Idaho Falls or beyond all the way to Dillon, Montana, or Burley and Twin Falls to the west in the great and largely forgotten state of Idaho. Childhood was back for one last gig, more than thirty years after their big minute in the sun. Most everyone else was coming to relive their past, and they were bringing their bored, x-boxed kids along with them.
None of the Childhood guys had been from Idaho. They all ended up there by accident. Joey, from Phoenix, was attending Idaho State University with his high school pal, Charles. Ace and Danny were Californians on a road trip to who-knows-where, but we got a pint and a six-pack and a bag of weed. Harry the Hebe was so drunk and stoned at the time he couldn’t remember how he ended up in Pocatello. Greg Horn was from Billings, but he had an eye for talent and knew a meal ticket when he saw one. Roberta was a Montana girl who just had to see this new band and fell in love with Danny the beautiful bass player. Sandy was a local girl who followed the guys around until she hooked up with Joey one stoned night at Moose Lake and got pregnant.
They were called Childhood. They had been lost and found again. Now they were true dinosaurs on the verge of extinction, and they were ready to go out with one last big bang.
“Just please don’t do it, and I promise I will make it up to you.” Greg used his best, smooth sales voice.
“I came all the way out here to do it. I want him to pay.”
“If you just drive back to Salt Lake and fly back home, it will all be so much better. I’ll be happy to get you a first-class ticket.”
“I don’t get it, Greg, “Sheila was furious. She held the cell phone away from her face for a moment. “Why are standing in my way on this? I thought we had a deal!”
“We do have a deal. I will get the publishing from Ace if I can. I just don’t want it come down like this. You have to let me handle it. I know how it’s done.” He could feel her wavering a little.
“Damn it!” She said.
“It’s just… well…”
“What?” He tried softer, tender, inside. It’s all timing.
“Well… I was also thinking I might see you.” God, I can’t believe I just said that, she thought.
What? Horn pictured Sheila. A real babe, redhead, big tits, just his type! “Well… I’d like to see you, too.” Think fast, Greggo. “I just don’t want to screw up the last gig. I’m going to have a hell of a day getting this ready, but I could meet you for an hour or so. At your motel? Sure. Can you stick around until after the gig? Maybe can all wind up smiling about this. Stranger things have been known to happen”
Well, what the fuck, who knows?
“My flight isn’t until tomorrow night.” Sheila said. She sounded a bit like the air had been let out of her Schwinn’s tires.
“I’ll leave a full access pass in your name at will call. Come backstage after the show, but listen, there’s something you need to know…I can’t discuss it on the phone; I’ll tell you when I see you…”
Garbage slid the headphones halfway off his head.
“Jesus Christ, man, this is the best shit I’ve heard in a long time! I bow at your feet! You gotta open for us when we go out this fall.”
“God, that would be awesome, Garbage.” Said Josh, feeling geekily nervous.
“Call me Richie; I hate that Garbage shit nowadays. If I’d had a cool name like Josh Jones, I wouldn’t have had to come up with Garbage.”
“I like Garbage, “said Jas. She pretended to fawn over his biceps. She batted her eyelashes. “I would definitely like to take out the trash.”
“So we’ll go down there and kick their fuckin’ old man asses!”
“You little pussies couldn’t fight your way out of a paper bag, “said Stace ‘Stick’Driggs.” Stick massaged his backside and grimaced, “Fuckin’ lame-ass ol’ milk cow got me pretty good today.” He looked at Buddy, who was droolin’ tobacco juice calmly in to a plastic souvenir Rodeo beer cup. “You got your sorry backsides handed to you last night and it’ll happen all over again.”
“We’ll see.” said Buddy. Drool. “Me and some of the boys are going to fuck up their shit.”
“Buddy, I’m gonna give you some advice from a ex-perienced old cowboy: chase women – they don’t punch as hard as men!” Stick hobbled away and climbed up on the boards.
How can that old fucker still ride? He can barely fuckin’ walk!
Sally called Rick on his cell. “Rick, “she sounded tense,” I don’t like this at all. It’s gone totally dead still since last night.”
“Not much we can do about it, can we?” he was driving down the mighty Snake River past Palisades Dam. “I’ll be in Pocatello in couple of hours or so. I’ll call you when I get there.”
Sandy locked the back door and got in her little truck. She had her cowboy hat on. Her face and arms were dark from the tanning cream, her lips mahogany, outlined in chocolate. Her false lashes were black. The sun was almost gone: six o’clock. I’ll be there by eight-thirty. The show’s at nine.
When she got out near the interstate, she stopped and put on the wig. The long wavy black tresses cascaded down her shoulders from under the hat. She looked at her makeup in the rear view mirror. In the dusky light she looked perfect. I’m pretty!
No one will recognize me. I’ll be just another Latina with a Bengal’s jersey and a cowboy hat.
And a loaded .38.
Ace had always thought of sound check as total waste of time. It was both boring and exasperating. Plus, after getting the whole sound balanced, it always sounded completely different when the gig came. The usual crew of stage rats would scurry around plugging chords in and adjusting mikes. Harry would hit his snare too loud over and over.
But there was a different vibe this afternoon. This was it, the last sound check. Tool and Rodent and the other roadies were unusually quiet. So was Harry. Even Joey was subdued. The Spud Palace felt like church; it had been the site of many a Mormon get-together. The big old stage was nice, familiar, home, refuge, sanctuary; there was something of a high-school gym to the wood, the offset rows of three-story-tall dark scarlet velvet drapes at the edges of the stage, the ropes and lights and shadowness back in the corners where light had never really touched, the muscular levers of the old-fashioned lighting setup. It felt like a good place to end it, after all.
Charles was there. He was going to mix monitors, just like the old days. Garbage and Josh and the girls were somewhere. Ace chuckled. Imagine that, Ella and my son, the lucky little shit! My son! Josh’s music was truly nothing short of phenomenal. There was no doubt. Horn would move in. Ace hoped for the best. You can only protect your children for so long. Eventually they have to swim with the sharks on their own. What good had it done him, though? Ace gave a little involuntary shrug, like a horse shaking off flies.
Out on the sidewalk, and in the little park across the street, the crowd had already begun to gather as the sun set behind the big hills to the west and the light faded from the sky. A lot of old faces were there, people Ace remembered, though the names were mostly gone. There were two generations, the graying boomers and their twenty-something kids, the latter brought out by curiosity, good old Idaho boredom, and by the Xeonosis ad campaign and ensuing chaos, which was a source of good fun for the young. There were coolers and picnic baskets, people playing guitars and banjos, and fiddles, joints and beers being passed to strangers. Very Idaho.
They had a relaxed sound check. Not too loud. Their vocals sounded great.
The last time!
Charles gave thumbs up from the monitor mixer. He was chipper for a man on the verge of financial disaster! Greg Horn came over to Ace.
“Ace, we gotta talk, man…”
Ace opened the door to cabin seven. The dogs jumped on him, Roberta jumped on him. He had a Mona Lisa smile on his face. She looked at him. He’s hiding something.
“What? What’s going on?’”
”Can’t tell you, don’t ask”
“Ace, I said no secrets, or it won’t work.”
“This one will work, so give up asking, ‘cause I won’t tell you, except that it’s good, Ok? Now are you satisfied?” He taunted her.
She lay back on the bed and grabbed him by the belt buckle.” I’m not satisfied yet!”
They could hear the sound of a bed thumping on the walls over in number eight, and a couple of pretty loud expressions of sexual release.
“God, have we been that loud? Let’s do a stereo with them,” she said.
“I can’t remember if I’m not supposed to spill my seed before I perform, or am I required to spill my seed?”
“Let’s err on the side of spillage, baby!”
“I never expected that. It was great…”
“I didn’t either.”
“Don’t even think about it, Greg. It just happened. I’m a long way from home and we’re both consenting adults.”
“Thanks for helping me out with Ace.”
“He seemed to understand that this way everyone will feel like it’s balanced.” I won’t tell her my side of the deal, not yet.
Sheila lay looking at the ceiling. “Roberta… I should have known. It’s funny, but I don’t care about that part of it anymore. I just want my share.”
“I like the way you think. We think alike. There’s no sense in letting your emotions drag you around.”
“Yeah. I’ve been letting my anger at Ace take too much control over me. He and I have never been on the same page mentally. We just don’t belong together, never have.”
Greg slowly got up and pulled on his clothes. “Sheila, I have to come to Nashville for some meetings in a couple of weeks. Could I call you?”
Shelia slipped on a nice top. “Yes, I’d like that very much.”
Joey was a bit down. This is not like me. It was the Jas thing. I can’t believe she mercy fucked me!
Russell came into the dressing room. “There is someone here to see you.”
“Hi Joey.” She was tall and had her hair back, dark, shiny lip gloss, and new cat-woman glasses on her fine nose
“Charlene! What the hell are you doing here? I’m so glad to see you!”
“How glad? Show me!”
Ah… I love a dominatrix before a gig! This is what Joey Lowe is all about!
“Oh…that is pretty glad, “Charlene said as she locked the door.
Ranger Rick eyeballed the pretty Latina driving the Toyota pickup next to him on I-15. Women. Jackson Hole was full of ‘em, but they didn’t have much use for a middle-aged ranger. They liked those silver-haired attorneys with the big ranches and Gulfstreams. There’ll be some older gals at the concert. It’ll be fun to see Childhood again after all these years.
Just as long as the Spud Palace doesn’t fall apart in an earthquake.
“Ready? I’ll get my rig.”
“I’m ready now; I’ll come with you.”
Ace opened the door and he and Roberta stepped out into the Idaho dusk. Just then the door to number eight creaked open and two people emerged. The two couples stood twenty feet apart.
Ace was thunderstruck. “Sheila…”
“Don’t worry about it, Ace. Hi, Roberta.”
“Hello, Sheila.” Roberta felt the blood pour into her face.
“Well, this is a bit embarrassing, isn’t it? “ Laughed Greg.
“The unexpected has a way of showing up.” Said Ace. And biting you on the ass!
Sheila walked over and gave Ace a brief, though tight hug. “I came out to serve divorce papers on you. But now I think that can wait for another day.” Sheila hugged Roberta as well. “You two were made for each other. I should have seen that a long time ago.”
Roberta started crying. So did Sheila. They hugged again.
Ace and Greg looked at each other. Ace, though he was shaking from the adrenaline dump he had just experienced, was finding it hard not to laugh. So was Greg.
Greg, you are a sneaky bastard!
I am one sneaky son of a bitch, aren’t I?