AN OLD SWEET SONG - ROBERT CRISMAN
Editor’s Note: You may notice a similiarity between this story and Robert’s GETAWAY DAY. That’s because they are essentially the same story. There is, however, one very notable difference. In this story, Eddie isn't quite as meek as he was in GETAWAY DAY. Your mileage may vary on which version of Eddie you prefer but that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying either story.
Eddie thought he might even make it. He’d stopped off in Kent and filled up the tank and went back in the can and topped off again. He got back on the road, to all appearances, blasé, blasé. Montages were muted, at least for awhile.
Montages: the robbery; Dennis goes apeshit; three people dead at the dopehouse; the old lady sprawled on the sidewalk outside; Ramon comes to kill him; he gets away with the dope...
He had that dope stashed in the trunk of his car. A pound-and-a-half of Mexican brown. Weight and long money. Live large while you can...
Eddie laughed at himself, a dry, silent chuckle.
Down through Chehalis and bang-on toward Portland. A stop by the side of the road near Kalama. Smooth out the edges. Smooth as a baby’s behind. The world, a slow-motion parade.
Through Portland toward Salem. The groove began to wear thin. Niggling thoughts punched his stomach.
Back at the station he’d pinched off maybe a gram, enough, he hoped, to get him to Cali. He didn’t want to dip in the trunk.
Junk in the trunk. Singing the siren song, right? Big ball of ratshit...
A pound-and-a-half of junk in the trunk! Holding it meant that he’d feed the monkey and die like a dog. Well then, what? Drop it off by the side of the road for the buzzards? That’s thousands of dollars you’re talking there, buddy! The stake toward new life!
The monkey kept nipping his neck...
He’d off the dope down in Frisco, Sixteenth and Mission.Pieces and bits unless he got lucky and dumped the whole thing in one swoop—not at all likely to happen.
He could see himself getting robbed or winding up busted.
Slinging smack is ugly business in any event, a death trip however it goes. You rub elbows with mutts who are destined to die under dumpsters. You help put them there.
Eddie, death merchant...
But, what to do?
The first thing right now—shitcan this line of thinking. Eddie pulled to the side of the road and re-upped. And then he sat back and sighed.
His fear now, muffled down deep for awhile. He got the car back on the road.
Eddie and the monkey, watching the farmland roll by.
He remembered a daydream he’d dream on his bunk in his cell, his second year there when he’d been there forever and release seemed like eons away. He’d ridden the dope through a lot in those days...
He had this big car in the dream. A snazzy Mark IV, all midnight purple like Batman’s, with bitchin’ chrome rims, cruise control, and a sound system made just for angels that screamed out to heaven and hell, on key all the way.
Sights set on Cali in gangster-lean mode. All skies were blue.
He’d laughed in that cell at the comic-book aspects of heaven two years from release.
China White in the trunk in the dream, top tier in the stairway to heaven. Enough to hold him for life plus forever.
He had a plan in the dream. Go like the wind, down 101 in the cool breeze. Play tunes and dream dreams. And ease in the trunk when the groove would begin to wear thin.
All at his leisure, you dig it? Winding his way down the Oregon coast, looking out at the waves. And watching the seagulls swoop down on dinner as the sun tracked its way toward Japan.
Smack’s good for that. It keeps out the chill. You’re bundled up snug as a bug in a rug and the world sweeps softly on by.
It turns of course. One day it’s a raft on White Powder River. Next day, you bang and you bang and don’t quite hit Eden. Almost, but almost isn’t shit.
You’re chasing it now. Chase all you want. Something cold deep inside you just will not be touched. You’ve used up your ticket. Soon enough, man, every nerve end you’ve got will be begging and bleeding, and shitting all over the car seat. Turns out that Eden is merely a road stop to Under A Dumpster somewhere.
Eddie knew this. In the dream he came up with a gameplan to deal. He’d feel the turn coming and pull into a no-tell motel by the sea. One good geez left, the one that would float him to Alpha Centauri.
He’d tie off, find a vein, drive the dope home. He’d lay back on the bed, eyes slowly closing as waves lapped outside. Blackness would come like a loving mother’s caress.
That was the dream. Now, outside Eugene, rain started falling. He let out a sigh. In the dream skies were blue.
Funny thing, it seemed now that time was rushing up on him. Telling him, move. There were ogres and demons in crannies, scratching up under him now. The soft, feathered groove was not going to carry him long.
A movie flickered inside his eyes. Reverie was not quite the word. Reverie wafts. This vision locked right on track, the route pre-ordained. Reverie also is toothless. Eddie’s thoughts gnawed, up under the chiva, insistent.
On the screen now, Ramon in deep shadows. Posed and pimped out top to toe. He turns and his eyes lock on Eddie, go dark. Eddie stares at Ramon, and then down at Dennis, dead as a duck on the floor...
Blood, blood, and blood. Now the old woman, deader than Dennis. Spotlit so Eddie won’t miss her. Then, black, and then gunfire erupts—and the dog’s head explodes. Dennis, haloed, gun in his hand, grins and grins.
Mona screams, claws toward Dennis who holds her baby aloft by the heel. Then calmly, her voice disembodies, she says to Eddie, “Please help me.”
Eddie blinks and breath will not come.
And Mona lies splayed on the couch, eyes wide at nothing, riddled with bullets, one foot on the floor. Her baby, bloody, sprawls by her foot.
Eddie sidearms the lapdog right at the wall. It bursts like an egg and dribbles blood-red to the floor.
A flash then, and Mona, maw gaped, decomposing...
Eddie tried like a bastard to blink the movie away. The soundtrack—shrieks interwoven with gunfire’s echoes—held it in place. He pulled to the side of the road and pulled out his rig, chased the willies. He lay back in the seat with a sigh.
He got back on the road. Grant’s Pass by morning.
The groove sent him back through his archives: sepia photos, old notes, report cards, the laughter and tears and the songs and the screams that made his childhood a ride down the rapids.
Eddie is three. He’s dancing and laughing and mugging for Mama. She laughs, delighted, she and her friends. The women all love him, with laughter, applause, enveloping warmth. He tries a new role: Godzilla, destroyer of cities. A three-year-old monster, roaring and stomping, on stage for the ladies. Powerful, thrilling, little man, leading man up there in lights...
Mama starts wringing her hands.
Mamas would have their babies stay babies. Especially boy children, the next set of dicks in the world. Godzilla scared Mama.
Daddy scared Mama. Daddy scared Eddie. That dead, failed dog of a man.
Daddy ruled in the house, with words, slaps, and spit. When Eddie was 20, he picked up a chair and put paid to his ass, right after Daddy’d slapped Mama that one time too many. Daddy died of cirrhosis some 18 months later.
A baseball card there in the Dream Room. Eddie, the Phillies’ lefthander, closing on 300 wins. He’s handsome, respected by Albert Pujols, and adored by the fans.
Among whom, of course, is Madonna.
Poor A-Rod crying...
Eddie laughed, at A-Rod, Madonna, and not least, himself.
He’d notched 19 strikeouts one time in a CYO game. He’d also hit two long home runs. He was 13 years old. Girls love winners. That 12-year-old blonde, third row up in the stands, already curvy, drank him right up with her eyes.
Then, logical segue, Alesha, sort of the love of his life, drifted to sleep with a smile as he read her a story, one last soft slur in his ear and goodnight...
She’d tell him, “You’re gorgeous!” She might even have meant it. He sure loved to hear it. They were driving one time and stopped at a red light in Renton, and made out like 12-year-old kids. The snuck a look back at the woman behind them. She smiled, delighted, and waved.
Grant’s Pass, 15 minutes. Eddie decided to keep right on going, through town and past the Rogue River. He’d stopped there once at the park by the river and grooved on the green and the sound of the water a long time ago. He’d top off there and hit 101. Maybe Eureka by morning.
He fixed, not a lot, and got antsy down toward the state line. He really wanted to bang. The monkey was making rude noises and digging its nails in deeper.
Eddie itched. If he scratched, he would bleed, bleed, and bleed.
The monkey’d turn into Vlad the Impaler...
But that itch! Who in the world could blame him for scratching that fucker to death?
He needed relief! His need, his excuse. For spreading his cheeks for the monkey once more...
A boatload of no-tell motels in Eureka. He could check in, hang Do Not Disturb on the door, bang a load, and waft off to Alpha Centauri.
He kept driving. Thoughts grew long teeth once again. Quick snapshots: Mona redux, the old lady swimming in blood, out of time.
Eddie had helped grease the gun. Does chiva cover that bill?
Thoughts—bip, bip, boom, bam. Dennis, Eddie’s old road dog. Ramon, that reptile cocksucker.
Instant replays of This Is Your Life: The Last Fucked-up Years... Prison, thin-margin scuffles, the drop down that hole at the dopehouse...
He would sleep in the no-tell and lay down his burden for good.
A stab of panic shot through, distanced a bit by the last little load—
Which allowed him to see the fear thrashing around like a fat anaconda inside his intestines...
Goddamn! He saw it! He blinked. Just for an instant unknown became known—and diminished a little thereby.
The shrinkage allowed him to see...
A no-tell motel by the side of the road, far, far from home, life’s last promise.
A hope for safe passage to alien landscapes. His passport locked in the trunk...
Heroin, ugly brown ball of shit...
A cheap way to go.
Eddie whispered, “Goddamn...” He was amazed at how clearly he saw the whole trek—and that, thereby, he had a choice, to crawl down that road or get off it.
He’d been, what?—too lazy to see it before? Too scared...
His neck stiffened. Anger, or maybe its echo, now bubbled up under the junk.
He’d wanted to be a ballplayer once! In sixth grade he’d sat in the back of the class and daydreamed past boredom. A ballplayer, man! He’d had the moves and he’d known the game. The game had given his hands and his soul a sure purpose and swept him right up.
A man has to dance with whatever it is that puts the light in his eye.
Sureness of purpose! The heart’s own deep need. Sureness of purpose is home. Home reshapes the world, turns screams to songs.
Eddie’d turned down a wrong street on the way to the dance. But somewhere the music still played...
Songs, oldies but goodies, buried for years under garbage and dirt. But now in the car on the road to Eureka they pushed toward the light, croaking their first notes since Adam got tossed out of Eden.
Eureka and no-tells upcoming. War raged inside Eddie. He felt so tired. Each breath that he took came the hard way. Thoughts caromed this way and that, strafings launched in a fight to the death, pounding his eyes and turning the taste in his mouth to dead metal.
All this under the coating of chiva—a coating like paint being stripped by the wind and the rain.
Now on his right, the outskirts of town. Beyond it the ocean. Lined up stood the no-tells, last hos on the stroll, for his choosing.
Set back a bit from the road unlike the others, the Starlight Motel. He could hear the waves lapping gently outside the back room they had waiting for him. In the courtyard a lineup of cars from the same lot as his. He slowed to five miles per hour. No other cars on the road. The neon sign winked, said, “It’s time to come home.”
It’s time to die, bitch...
Eddie’s eyes bugged as he inched down the road, trying to make sense as war raged and bombs burst in air.
How nice it would be to lay down his burden and learn how to sing that old song, even off-key for a minute, till God’s juice kicked in.
He damn near squeezed out a laugh. God was deader than J. Edgar Hoover.
And now, like an ogre out of the smoke—Ramon. Standing there by the side of the road! Ramon spit and smiled, as if he knew how the drama was bound to play out.
Ramon, his father, the jailers down through the years—biographers all, their notebooks held in their hands at their sides, the last chapter already written:
“He died like an old, broke-dick dog. The End.”
But he’d winkled those fuckers! He’d stood with a gun in his face and spit on Ramon and made it away like a deer past the headlights.
Fuck Ramon. Fuck dear old dad. Fuck all the jailers sideways with sticks. And fuck that last chapter...
Eddie gasped, laughing. Here he was in Eureka at three in the morning at three miles per, the Starlight Motel on his right and—what? He fucking wanted to die?
Eddie gasped, laughing...
He remembered a night with Alesha before things went south. They sat on the porch on a warm summer night and they heard a snatch of a song from a car passing by.
What a Wonderful World...
Louis Armstrong, a gravel-voiced angel singing of heaven right here on the ground where it should be.
The memory went in a blink. Its echoes gave Eddie another look at the sky.
He came back to earth, in time to see the Starlight Motel recede in his rearview. He picked up speed. The dope in his trunk was a million miles away and, for the moment, forgotten.
In days to come, Eddie knew, dopesickness would wrack him. He’d want to bang his way to the graveyard. He might get busted...
And, just like that as he sped through Eureka, crowding his mind now were visions of hell that he’d carried a long fucking time. Yet still, muffled under, that old sweet song croaked, and on-key. He made himself sing as he drove down the road.
He might live. He might die. He might do 30 years. He might pitch a no-hitter somewhere beyond darkness.
Regardless, he wanted to see what came next.
Life’s like that.
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and some scheduled on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.