Part 2 Excerpt of “Trouble” chapter of “Grave Digger Blues” which I read last night at Noir at the Bar here in Austin. Excerpt is called “The Blues Cat & Francine Ray.” Photo of Francine Ray by the awesome Mona Pitts.
He didn’t know if they knew about Francine Ray or not. He’d been careful. They would meet up after his last set, sometimes at a little condo where she was house-sitting, sometimes somewhere else. Never at her place. She lived with her mother, a widow in failing health. She worked for some messenger service and they provided her with some kind of a car. They’d never used it; automobiles were too easy to track with GPS. She always parked the car a couple of blocks away and made sure no one was following her to their appointed meeting place. They were careful.
She was some force of nature. One night they fucked on a big pile of leaves in the city park, with the moon shining down at them like a cop’s flashlight.
They’d never fucked at his motel room, but he figured this one time would be all right. He was leaving Saturday morning anyway, so what the hell.
After his happy hour set, he left his instrument and went back to his room to wait. The motel had been a Holiday Inn once upon a time, back before the comet hit and the big Republican coup, when everything went to hell and everything started dying. The Big Flush.
He’d only seen a few rats in the place and it still had running water. The lights worked, if you kept feeding twenty dollar bills in the slot on the generator. The lobby had been firebombed, but several rooms in one of the wings were still habitable. He was on the ground floor facing the highway, with just a strip of parking lot between the room and the road. The noise wasn’t too bad, as not many people had cars anymore. It was a relatively nice part of town. The sound of gunfire was minimal, maybe once or twice every couple of hours, and you didn’t see nearly as many gangs of adolescent thieves and assassins.
The sun went down. She was late. One hour. Then two hours.
Sitting on the bed, he was thinking about her. He wanted to call her but the closest phone was at the bar, a half mile away.
His eyes were closed as he thought about her, about that whirlwind of passion she put out. His eyelids flashed red. The room flashed white light.
Lightning? No, a bomb, more likely.
The outside wall and window disintegrated, a gale of glass shards and splinters, force-fed into the room by the grinning front grille of a big white sedan. The automobile and its tidal wave of debris pushing the bed against the wall, balling it up like a burrito, the Blues Cat still sitting here, head and shoulders shoved up against the ceiling.
“What the fuck?” he said.
The car was a Buick, as the logo on the leading edge of the open hood was just a few inches from his face.
Someone was yelling in a very loud voice.
YOU PIECE OF SHIT! WHAT THE FUCK YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?
The sound was painful. The walls seemed to shake. The ones that were still standing.
The driver emerged from the squashed interior, stocky and muscular, low to the ground. An old guy, grizzled face, shock of white hair that stood up like exclamation points. Knuckles scarred and scabbed, bad tattoos on bulging biceps.
Blues Cat saw all these things in flashes. The Buick’s turn signal was the only illumination.
The driver paced around the destroyed room, looking at things, cocking his head to one side, listening.
THIS JOINT SUCKS. THERE USED TO BE TILE ON THE FLOOR.
Blues Cat searched for the right response, but nothing came to mind.
I GOT BARGAINS. THIS BLIMP ACID FLIP FORWARD.
The last part boomed out from the rest room, where he was taking a loud piss. He lumbered back out, zipping his fly.
Sweat beading his brow like random jewels. Nose like the prow of a tug boat. If it was booze, the aroma wasn’t overpowering. Maybe it was dope.
WHEN DID YOU PAINT THIS ROOM? He scratched his chin, looking around, searching for signs or something.
“Do you feel OK? Did you hurt your head or something?”
THE FUCK YOU SAY. THIS ROOM USED TO BE BLUE.
USED TO BE A RECLINER IN THE CORNER. YOU HAD ONE OF THOSE PAINTINGS OF DOGS PLAYING POKER.
He stared at the opposite wall, as if waiting for the picture to reappear.
“Look, man, you just crashed your car through wall,” said Blues Cat. “You realize that?”
YOU THINK I’M STUPID. I’M NOT STUPID.
It’s hard to stand up to a man who speaks like a tornado of death metal. The Blues Cat wondered if his ears might be bleeding.
“I think you might have a concussion there, pal.”
DON’T PATRONIZE ME, MAGGOT. I GOT ENVELOPES STUFFED WITH STARFISH. I KNOW WHERE THE MOON GOES DURING THE DAYTIME. SNAP MY FINGERS AND TEN SECONDS LATER NO MORE PUNCTUATION. ZIP, NADA, ZERO. QUESTION MARKS, COLONS, SEMI-COLONS, THE WHOLE SHOOTING MATCH, GONE KABLOOEY. GONE THE WAY OF THE BUFFALO. EVERY GODDAMN DICTIONARY IN THE WORLD, BUCK NAKED.
“Listen, you need to see a doctor, and I have some place I need to be. So if you’ll just help me clear a path to the door, if we can get it open, that is…”
I’M NOT A RETARD, YOU HEAR ME?
There was no hope of getting through to this guy. He crossed to the door and tried to open it, but the collapsed framing made that impossible.
YOU BEEN FUCKING MY WIFE BEHIND MY BACK AND I KNOW IT. DON’T TRY AND BULLSHIT ME.
“What?” The thought of what kind of woman – if any — might be married to this grizzled loony, did not summon a pleasant visual for him. “That’s ridiculous.”
THERE WAS A MOOSE HEAD ON THE WALL IN THE LOBBY. I USED TO COME HERE, WATCH THE GAME. YOU HAD PURPLE HAIR AND GAP TEETH. WORE A PORK PIE HAT.
The Cat felt a twinge of something, but couldn’t put his finger on it. True, he wore a pork pie hat at one time, but so did thousands of musicians. Dizzy Gillespie, Mingus, Frank Sinatra. It was just brain static, that’s all.
“You’ve got to leave,” he said. “I don’t wanna hurt you.” But the white-haired man seemed to know he was reaching for the gun in his coat even before he did.
YOU LITTLE TWERP! GUMMI BEAR ON A TOOTHPICK.
The gun would’ve been useless anyway, he realized, backing away from the human fire hydrant. Even with six slugs in him, the man’s rage would probably keep him going another hour or two.
Here came those scarred and scabbed knuckles, like meteors shooting through the sky. A dozen blows fell in three or four seconds. The blur of violence immobilized him like a straitjacket.
On his knees, thinking about trying to crawl out underneath the car, but the boiling radiator fluid talked him out of it. He glanced up in time to see the crazy man ripping the buckled hood off its hinges, swinging it at him like he was shaking out a throw rug.
He ducked and rolled. Anything still standing in the room was quickly converted to bite-sized pieces.
Somehow he managed to throw himself through the passenger window of the wrecked vehicle. As the white-haired cyclone demolished what was left of the motel room, he climbed over the seats and out the hole where back window had been.
He ran as fast as he could as long as he could, his lungs nearly exploding. Many blocks away, he could still hear the cut-up phrases of the crack-head maniac.
FUCKING MY WIFE BEHIND MY BACK LIKE A TURKEY IN THE CORN. I’M NOT STUPID. COIN RETURN BELOW, PUBLISHERS CLEARINGHOUSE. I’LL SQUASH YOUR HEAD LIKE A MOUSE BEHIND A REFRIGERATOR.
cold, cold, cold
cold, cold, cold
run on to the sea
carry me in your cold, cold arms
‘til it’s water I’m breathing
Cold River…Cold River