illustrated by roy dismas
part twenty of fifty-two
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"keep on passing me by. that's right. keep on passing me by."
"here comes another one. and another."
"but you can't get left behind on an endless highway."
"keep on passing me by. that's right. keep on passing me by."
"here comes another one. and another."
"but you can't get left behind on an endless highway."
Enid came to the top of the rise and down there on the road about a mile away she saw the lights of the Motorpsychos, circling in a silvery cloud of dust like a pack of cocaine-crazed lightning bugs.
Fabulous, just what she needed to run into on her way home, and blasted out of her skull on peyote to boot.
She stopped the truck, put it in neutral and cut her lights.
She popped open her glove compartment and took out a pair of binoculars that she used for scouting the desert for interesting boulders for her sculptures. She focused in to the center of the circling motorcyclists and there she saw Hope Johnstone, sitting on her black pony Whisper.
Great, just great.
She shoved the binoculars back into the glove compartment and took out her father’s heavy old army .45. She checked the magazine, it was full, she shoved it back in and jacked a round into the breech. Unfortunately the gun only held seven rounds, and there were about twenty-five Motorpsychos down there. Well, what the hell.She stuck the gun into the waistband of her jeans, and, keeping the lights off, she put the truck in gear.****
Moloch stood in the center of his circling men with one hand on the reins of Hope’s pony. With his other hand he stroked the animal’s mane. Through his mirrored shades his one good eye looked up into Hope’s eyes. She was beautiful. She looked young and good and innocent and intelligent, and so, reflexively, he wished to defile her. He also now wished that he had not wanked off back there in the cave. He might not be able to achieve an erection right away, or possibly at all. He supposed he’d have to let the other fellows go first whilst his wretched seed regenerated itself. But perhaps it would be better that way.
“Do you know who my father is?” asked Hope.
“No,” said Moloch. “Richard Nixon?”
Hope rolled her eyes.
“No, asswipe. He’s Big Jake Johnstone.”
Moloch had met Big Jake on various occasions and had often done drug business with him. But he couldn’t say he liked the fellow. But of course Moloch didn’t like anyone.
“If you hurt me,” said Hope, “he’ll have you killed.”
“Oh, no doubt, no doubt. And you must be,” said Moloch, brightly, “oh dear, what is it? Faith? Charity?”
“Hope,” she said. “Well, originally it was Esperanza, but Papa calls me Hope.”
“No matter. But tell me, how are those new guests at the hacienda? That Ridpath couple,” he added, as if casually.
“How did you know their real names?”
“Are they at home now?”
“I’ll never tell you where they are. You can pull my toenails out.”
“Don’t give me ideas.”
“And even if I did tell you and you found them, Dick would kill you.”
“Oh would he now?”
Moloch quickly took out his knife and in one swift motion drove it into the pony’s neck up to the hilt.
Hope felt the horse collapsing under her and she leapt out of the saddle and stood and watched as Whisper slumped down and then turned over on his side, dead.
The Motorpsychos all stopped their machines, and the belching and farting engines grew silent, as silent as the men themselves.
“You’re a dead man,” said Hope to Moloch. She turned full around, addressing the rest of the Motorpsychos: “You’re all dead. Every one of you.” Now she faced Moloch again: “You’re dead.”
“Oh,” said Moloch. He wiped both sides of his blade on his leather trousers, then slipped the knife back into its sheath. “Are we now?”
Then came the sound of a heavy motor roaring down the road and everyone turned and saw the dark hulk of Enid’s truck barreling straight toward them.****
Sitting on the balcony palisade, turning his back on the cold beauty of the early morning tarn, Dragan sipped the mug of bitter tea. It needled at his gut, but after a few moments the soothing effect of the opiates seeped though cramped muscles and cooled the pain behind his eyes. The only concession he made to the cold was to hold the mug up near his face so the steam curled gently under his chin and across his cheek. Bare-chested he sat, the rough cloth of his cloak tied and belted at his hips, broad back proffered as a single defense against the elements.
Freya paused in the shadows. After twelve years of teamwork, her partner’s formidable physical presence could still check her stride. She watched him sitting, silent and still, like part of the stonework on which he balanced, as hard and solid and impervious as rock.
There was nothing in him small or mean: the spirit of the man was what you saw. He was in all things constant. Stable. Firm. Immovable. She smiled; after so many years she had relied on that strength too many times to recall, or chaffed at his stubbornness, or thanked the fickle gods for his patience. He was everything she knew she could not be, and that was good. It served them well. It always had.
He didn’t change, or changed so slowly the small erosions went unnoticed. In a world where nothing lasted, where there was nothing she could hold that would always remain, he was her one sure thing. In this world, he was the only one, the only thing she trusted without question.
His hair too, would have to be cut. It fell forward like a wreath of rusted wheat that knotted around his ears and bunched into ringlets on his shoulders. When they’d first met it was long, hanging halfway down his back in a thick, sun-bleached swathe over dense auburn curls. It had been the first thing she noticed, the beautiful hair. Then the shoulders. Then the butt; wrapped in black leather with easily twenty pounds of studs and buckles. Unnecessary weight in battle. Even now she smiled at the vanity. Back then it didn’t seem to matter as long as it looked good.
Shaking her head at small regrets, she silently wished for days like those days again. Days when her knees did not crack when she bent and her joints moved without complaint. Her hair had been longer then, too, and the poppy tea she sipped as she walked didn’t wreak such havoc on her gut.
“You need a haircut.” She threw a sheepskin onto the bench and sitting, adjusted it up behind her shoulder, her own small concession to the cold of the stone. He didn’t answer, didn’t even open his eyes, so she continued. “Are you going to tell me why you’re sitting here like a shipwreck, sipping dope instead of eating at the mess and getting ready for Roll Call?”
He lowered his mug to between his knees, raised his face enough to look at her straight and said, “I’m not going.”
Dick, Daphne and Harvey entered a large pink and chartreuse room with yellow shag carpeting, “1950’s Modern” furniture in various pastels, an oval stainless steel cocktail bar, and large paintings of sad but stylish young women with enormous eyes.
Matt Munro’s version of "Born Free" played over invisible speakers.
Joey Bishop, wearing a short-sleeved yellow Banlon shirt, now stood behind the bar preparing some drinks.
Richard Conte, in a shiny grey sharkskin suit and a skinny black tie, came over with cigarette in hand to greet the newcomers.
“The boss’ll be out in a minute. Christ, you people look like you’ve been through a war. You wanta shower? Change? Mr. Ridpath, you look like you could fit into one of my suits. You like sharkskin?”
Joey, shaking a silver cocktail shaker, said, “Does he look like a dago?”
“Shaddap, borscht-brain,” said Richard. “Harvey, you look about Joey’s size. You like yellow Banlon shirts? He’s got a million of ‘em.”
“What the fuck’s wrong with yellow Banlon shirts?” said Joey.
“Fuckin’ guy’s brother-in-law heists a Mack-truckload of yellow Banlon shirts back in ‘58, and now it’s all he ever wears,” said Richard.
“Hey, fuck you,” said Joey. “I wear ‘em once and throw ‘em away. I still got six boxes of ‘em.”
Dean Martin -- wearing a “western” jacket, a white ten-gallon Stetson and hand-tooled cowboy boots -- came in from another room, lighting a cigarette with a shiny gold lighter.
“Where’s the boss man?” he said.
“Takin’ a crap,” said Joey.
Dean turned back to the room he had just exited and drawled, “Come on in, Pete. They’re here. Where’s Sammy, anyway?”
Peter Lawford entered smiling, holding a cigarette in a tortoise-shell holder and wearing a burnt-orange six-button double-breasted suit with a red silk print tie and a gold chain with a gold peace-symbol pendant.
“Sammy,” said Peter, “is uh otherwise engaged at the moment.”
“Hey hey hey,” said Dean. “That cute high yella gal from the Copa show?”
Peter, chuckling, said, “I think it be no other than e’en so.” And to the newcomers: “Dear god, you people are a mess. Would you care to change into something more comfortable?”
“Yes,” said Daphne, “I would, thank you very much.”
She looked down, with widespread hands, at her blood-spattered clothing.
“I think that could be arranged, ma’am,” said Dean. “Richard, go see if Cyd’s got something to lend the lady.”
“Sid?” said Daphne. “Do I look that dykish?”
“Cyd is a lady, lady,” said Dean.
“And a very classy broad she is, too,” said Joey.
“Cyd Charisse,” said Peter. “The celebrated danseuse.”
“She’s headlinin’ the T&A show ‘cross the street at Caesar’s,” said Joey.
A toilet flushed loudly somewhere, and everyone fell silent for a few moments.
Joey, a shaker in each hand, poured out martinis into a row of cocktail glasses.
Another door opened and Frank Sinatra came out, a cigarette dangling from his lips, and wearing a white turtleneck shirt, white slacks, and white duck loafers. He finished buckling his white belt.
“Greetings and salutations. How’d all these people get in my room?”
“Cocktails are ready, Frank,” said Joey.
Frank went to the bar, picked up a martini, sipped it, licked his lips, and then paused for an appraising moment.
The mood somehow relaxed then, and Frank nodded, smiling at Dick and Daphne and Harvey.
“You people look like shit. You also look like you could use a drink. Come on over and help yourselves and then we’ll get you cleaned up.”
“I”m gonna run over to Caesar’s,” said Richard, “see if Cyd’s got an outfit for the lady. You know, a nice trouser-suit or --”
“Fuck that noise,” said Frank. “What are we, pikers? Run down to Saks and get the lady a nice evening dress. And some shoes -- with heels. Then stop in at Brooks and get the fellas a couple of suits. And shoes. Black shoes.”
Frank put down his drink, reached into his front pocket and took out an enormous wad of money in a gold clip. He peeled off a sheath of crisp new hundred-dollar bills.
“Yo, boss,” said Richard, “what the hell do I know about buyin’ ladies’ evening dresses?”
“You’re gonna learn,” said Frank.
Richard came over and Frank handed him the money and then said, “Come on, folks, the cocktail hour has arrived, and not a moment too soon.”
Dick, Daphne and Harvey came over to the bar.
“Tell him your size, sweetheart,” said Frank to Daphne.
“My size? Gosh, I’m not sure.”
Richard, Dean and Peter all came over to the bar and took drinks.
“Leave it to me,” says Joey.
He pulled a tape measure out from under the bar, grabbed a pencil and a notepad, came around and started measuring Daphne.
“Joey learned a valuable trade doin’ three-to-five at Joliet,” said Frank.
Joey wrote something on the pad, then visually appraised Dick and Harvey. To Dick he said:
“I’m thinkin’ a 42 long. 32 waist? 34 inseam.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Dick.
Joey scribbled on his pad again, then squinted at Harvey.
“38,” said Joey. “No, 36, regular. And 28-28.”
Joey wrote something on the pad, ripped off the sheet and handed it to Richard. Then he turned to Harvey again.
“Sure I can’t interest ya in a yellow Banlon?”
Richard picked up a shaker and poured himself a refill.
“Hey,” said Frank. “I said go shop, not go drink. Now blow.”
Richard swallowed his martini in a gulp and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
“I’m blowing, I’m blowing,” he said, and he headed for the door.
Frank shook his head.
“So hard to get good help these days. But please, speaking of help -- help yourselves.”
Dick and Daphne and Harvey each picked up a martini.
Harvey would have preferred a beer. He’d never actually had a martini before.
Frank raised his glass.
“Cent’ ann’. Welcome to Jilly’s West.”
Petula Clark’s “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” came on in the background.****
nurse johnson pressed the little cigarette lighter type object and the car pulled off the road and headed across a dusty field. at the end of the field was an even flatter field and the car headed across that.
neither brock nor nurse johnson spoke. nurse johnson began humming a little tune.
"that you're humming."
"it's 'who put the benzedrine in mrs murphy's ovaltine'. it's an old song. probably not too many people remember it."
"do you remember it?'
the car finally stopped beside a twisted little sagebrush. nurse johnson pointed the cigarette lighter at it.
"look at this dump," ricky muttered as she waited for the door to open.
she knocked again.
the door finally opened a crack. barnabas looked at her.
"got a phone?"
"that all you want?"
with their sunburned suitcases
and surviving souvenirs
on the guilty way
oblivious to the green
odyssey of a tree
up to the window she came, closer and closer.
she put her face up to the glass, then glanced at the door.
she knocked on the door.
i didn't ask why:
as long as there is a path
there is an urge to move
i watched the clouds floating high
i watched the sun sinking down
i watched you flashing by
then i went to the tree
" i follow your path"
"very impressive, clyde."
"yeah? impressive how?"
"the way you whipped that rod out - had it pointed right at the sky. gonna shoot some little birdies, were you?"
"ha,ha,ha!" the two cops laughed.
as he watched the young woman walk up the road toward his shack, barnabas felt a premonition that his whole life was about to change.
she stopped. there was no light in the room, but had she seen his shadow at the window?
barnabas cottonwood awoke suddenly.
it was after midnight.
he heard and felt someone outside, walking down the highway.
he got up from his cot and crept to the window of his shack.
Okay, so Daphne pulls us out of this port, green foul smoke churning all around us, no idea where we are, we all tumble down this ramp, and then well, here’s where it starts to get weird -- or weirder I should say.
We’re in this sort of institutional short grey hallway, lit with fluorescent light, and now this hallway is filling up with this horrible smoke pouring out of the port behind us, so we rush forward and there’s what looks like an elevator, I mean a closed elevator door, with a button there, a single button, so I put my thumb on it, and the doors slide open, we all pile in amidst this churning fog of vile smoke, and there’s only one button on the inside elevator wall, so I press that, the doors close, we feel the elevator going down, we’re all hacking and coughing, and after a minute the elevator stops, the doors open again, and outside is this pale blue hotel corridor.
We step out into the corridor, a small cloud of the green smoke billowing out with us.
The elevator doors close behind us.
Wisps of smoke being sucked quietly into ventilation grills.
The little electric sign above the elevator says we’re on the forty-third floor. Okay.
Daphne and Harvey are looking at me. As if I know what’s going on.
“It’s my fault,” says Daphne.
“No it isn’t, sweety,” I say.
“Yes it is,” she says. “I had to pee. I couldn’t find a ladies’ room. So I peed in this grill. And that’s when all that vile smoke started coming out.” She turned and looked at the elevator. “I completely ruined that flying saucer.”
“Well, you didn’t know,” I said. “About the grill, I mean.”
Harvey took out a pack of Tareytons.
“When ya gotta go,” he said.
He looked awful, covered all over with blood. And then I looked down at myself and saw that I looked just as bad if not worse. My blood, Hans’s blood, plus I had little bits of Hans’s brains all over me. Daphne was somewhat less liberally splattered with my blood and the little spaceman’s phosphorescent green blood.
Harvey lit a cigarette.
“How you feeling, Harve?” I asked.
“Well, ‘ceptin’ I feel a little like I been mule-kicked in the gut, I feel fine, sir.”
“Yeah, me too,” I said.
“We look a fright,” said Daphne. “And by the way, doesn’t it look weird somehow in here?”
She was right, it did look weird. It was the color of everything. Not just the pale blue of the walls but the quality of the color of everything, including our own gory selves. It all looked somehow like a movie, like Technicolor.
Then a door opens down the hall, and Joey Bishop peeks out. Or at least someone who looked a hell of a lot like the Joey Bishop of, say, Ocean’s 11. And he turns back into the room and says, “Tell the boss they’re here.”
He gave us a “come on over” wave of his hand and said, “Come on in. The boss is waiting.”
And he goes back into the room, leaving the door open.
Harvey turns and stares at me.
Daphne turns and stares at me.
“Okay, let’s go,” I said.
They’re both just standing there looking at me.
As if I had even the slightest idea.****
"i don't hear anything."
"it was in the back."
"if you say so."
"get out and take a look at the rear tire. on your side."
ricky knew what was coming. she opened the door and got out.
she closed the door behind her. the car accelerated and took off.
"quigg will be pleased."
"yeah, pleased. you did a good job. i'll tell him you did a good job."
"so he'll be pleased."
"how many times do you want me to say it?"
"did you just hear something?"
lefty slowed down, stopped the car.
"i didn't hear anything."