Chapter 18 - From the Inside Looking Out
I was in bed and dreaming.
I was sitting on a stool beside a window in Big Poppa's Candy Shop, a hangout place that had been our headquarters growing up. Dean was playing pool and yakking a mile a minute with BP. The Candy Shop was around the corner from my mom and dad's house. It was a small white painted wooden building with blue trimmed doors and windows. There was a blue door covered by a screen door right in the middle of the north wall facing the street. There was about ten yards of hard packed white sand and dirt from the door to the edge of the asphalt road.
Inside it was even plainer. The floor was unpainted wood worn by the hundred thousand footsteps of neighborhood kids seeking their daily fix of sugar and chocolate. There were two large windows on either side of door, and there was only two screens between the inside and the outside world. There were two large window flaps painted white that BP would have to put up in the morning, weather permitting; he'd pull them down and lock them in place when he closed in the evening.
Coming into the room, there was a huge multi-colored juke box to the right where the west wall intersected with the front wall. To the left, there were two pinball games and then, the best thing about the place, a red, water filled, old-school Coca-Cola box. We actually had to wipe the ice cold water off the bottles as we pulled them out. The bottle opener was located on the corner of cooler and many of us were very adept at pulling the bottles out of box, wiping them off with our t-shirts, popping the lid and taking a big first swig all in one motion.
There was a brown pool table with green felt in the middle of the floor. It was a cramped space with just enough room to shoot some eight-ball. Beyond the table was a plain wooden counter topped with boxes and boxes of several colorful varieties of candy. BP usually sat behind this counter on stool surveying the room like a king on his throne.
Big Poppa looked like a dark chocolate Buddha. His face was wrinkled as fuck, and he wore his white hair cropped close to the scalp. His eyes were a light, luminescent brown and usually half-lidded. Legends abounded about his early exploits. He was reputed to be the best pool player in Concord and a big time party animal before the rigid demands of old age and the unrelenting weight of raising a large family slowed him down.
Occasionally, we could coax him out from behind the counter into a game which he would invariably win. I always believed those small victories would remind him, in a small way, of the bigger conquests in his past. Normally, BP was constantly watching over his small kingdom protecting his lands and forests from pilferers and poachers, but after winning a dollar or two off of us, he would retreat backwards into memories and stare out of the screen windows into the inside of the bar across the railroad tracks where he once ruled over a different kingdom, a place where young faces never wrinkled, the music never stopped, the beer kept flowing, and none of the pretty women ever aged.
I would get like that too even though I was much, much younger. I always had a melancholy cast to my thinking which I attributed to my love of mythology and the idea that even the bravest of heroes were doomed by their mortality. The closer I got to graduating from high school the more I sat on the stool and stared out across time and hard packed dirt back to a place where I found peace and self-identity. Life back then was simpler; a Coke was twelve cents and peanuts a nickel.
In this dream, I bought a Coke and pack of peanuts, then poured the peanuts into the Coke and placed it on the windowsill. Dean was shooting pool and arguing with BP about who got the most women, stopping every now and then to emphasize a point with the pool cue, and I sat there and thought about when I was a kid.
I sat there sipping on my coke and chewing on a peanut remembering the day that Sherri Parks first entered the Candy Shop. She was tiny little thing with a smoky voice like a cut rate Lauren Bacall, but Sherri had enough black powder in her small frame to blow up the room and everything in it. She wore her bleached blonde hair stacked high on top of her head. She had a natural tan that most girls north of town would have died for.
Her mascara was caked on too, and her eyelashes stuck out so far that she would have to check what was to her sides before she turned around. Sherri had a passable resemblance to Tuesday Weld but more like a Tuesday Weld who was stumbling into her Hollywood apartment on a Monday afternoon after hitchhiking barefoot from a three day party in the hills during a warm spring rain.
One summer morning, Sherri, a wet dream manifested in the flesh, slithered into Big Poppa's like an alley cat in heat. Sherri's family was dirt poor and lived in one of Mrs. Mark's two bedroom cabins, but you sure couldn't tell it by the way she walked. If she had worn a tiara, she could have been the Queen of the Southside, or at least Miss Concord-Chicken Coop of 1967. That girl most certainly knew the effect that she had on all the boys of neighborhood, filthy young boys with minds as dirty as the bottom of her feet.
She was wearing a silver lame halter-top and low slung silver lame bell bottoms. The hip huggers not only revealed her taut and tanned abs and belly button but also descended about three inches lower. Only the Holy of Holies was covered up by the glimmering silver fabric. Her eyeliner ended in a curl at the corners of her eyes giving her the appearance of an ancient Egyptian beauty. She wore just enough lipstick to trigger the imagination.
It got real quiet when she walked in. My little brother was there with Dean and I squatting down beside the soda cooler with a pool cue in his hand. I had to reach over and slap him upside his head to get him to wipe off the drool leaking out the corner of his mouth. Dean was silent too, which was unusual in and of itself, as Sherri sashayed over beside him to see what was on the jukebox. I was fucking embarrassed for him because he was absentmindedly fondling the pool cue in a way that would have made his own mama kick him in his nuts if she had seen it. My own imagination was waking up and starting to imagine too, and I don't mean by creating fairytale worlds and shit; this stuff was as heady and primal as a barn yard full of mud.
Then, right behind her, in comes lanky ass, pimpled face, bucktooth, shaggy headed Donnie Powell with his big fucking goofy grin. He darted through the door right up to where Sherri stood facing the jukebox and put his hands on her waist. She turned and smiled at him and suddenly, my brother wiped his slobber on his sleeve, Dean finally noticed what he was doing with the cue, blushed, and stopped, and the picture screen in my head suddenly went blank as the projector burned through the celluloid vision that was forming.
The next thing I knew, Donny handed her two sweaty quarters which she quickly deposited into the jukebox and selected two songs. She started to play She's a Lady by Tom Jones, but Dean told her she couldn't because it wasn't allowed. She argued with him by pointing out that it was listed on the menu of songs. Dean was adamant though and threatened to pull the plug if she played it. Donnie tried to intercede, but Dean glanced at the pool cue as if to say he'd use Donnie's head as a fulcrum with which to break the stick. Donny recognizing the inherent precariousness of his situation relented and pointed out another, more acceptable tune.
Liar, Liar by the Castaways came blaring out of the speakers, and Donny took Sherri by the hand, led her to the open space between the front door and the pool table, and started dancing.
We were transfixed; that is the only word I can use to describe how we looked upon the spectacle; even BP's face turned into a granite carving. It was kind of like watching a low budget version of Frankie and Annette only sexier. The expression on Donnie's face never changed. There was an invisible thought bubble over his head where the words, "I'm gonna get me some! I'm gonna get me some!" kept flashing like a neon sign. The look on Sherri's face, while both suggestive and seductive, was a tiny bit distant and uncommitted. You could see what she was thinking too. Her thoughts were somewhere along the lines that she was going to squeeze a soda out of Donnie and maybe even a candy bar too and maybe she wouldn't even have to kiss him. Hell, I would have bought her a soda and candy bar on those same terms.
I was dreaming and in the dream, I was thinking about that day. I remembered everything exactly as it happened even when she and Donnie left the building with the door slamming behind them with her sipping on an ice cold Pepsi, nibbling on a Hollywood bar, and Donnie trying to slip his arm around her while she resisted the attempt. I remembered thinking that I would have gotten in front of her and grabbed her arm to get her attention. I also remembered how the silver of her clothing shone in the morning sunlight and the black bottoms of her bare feet revealed themselves as she lifted them one after another.
Suddenly, I heard Dean shouting "Danny! Danny! Danny!" I looked over to where he had been standing during the dance, but he wasn't there. I looked for my brother, and he wasn't there."Danny! Danny!"The voice kept screaming though. Then it dawned on me that I was dreaming right about the same time that I woke up and found Dean looking down at me.
"Wake up, Fool! We got problems."
I blinked several times trying to reorientate my vision from the dream state back into reality. As I was clumsily attempting to sit-up straight, I asked, "How the hell did you get in here?"
"I climbed in the side window. That reminds me. You better stick your head out and tell Miss. Woods it's ok, she was threatening to call the law."
I motioned for him to leave the room, so I could dress. I walked out into the front room and saw a blue curtain waving in an opened side window. I went over to it and stuck my head out. Miss Woods was standing in road smoking and staring at the window. She was wearing a white button up sweater over the purple muumuu she always wore. It was her concession to the idea of dressing-up when she ran errands uptown.
I could see that Lard Ass Randy was already sitting shotgun and playing with eight track tape player, and G-Pop, Miss Woods frail, white-haired husband, was sitting in the back scratching his balls. The van door was opened; I couldn't help seeing that last part. I also quickly realized that the image of the family at that very moment in time completely captured the essence of their family. I found the idea both repulsive and fascinating at the same time.
Miss Woods spoke first, " I'm gonna call yo mama, Danny Wilson, iffn you and your friends don't start behaving civilized. I'm sick of it, you hear? This here is a respectable neighbuhood. I knowed it don't look like much, but it would look a damn sight bettuh if you and yo friends would act mo nomal."
"I do apologize Miss Woods. Dean was only responding to a medical emergency. I needed my sugar pills to get out of bed, and I forgot the door was locked. I was falling into a coma. He was forced to use the windows because it was an emergency," it was a outrageous lie, but I sounded so apologetic. I watched as her eyes got stuck on trying to figure what a sugar pill was. They then cleared up some as she came to the notion that they had something to do with me being diabetic which I wasn't, but after all, who's going to be mean enough to call the police on someone needing medicine. I didn't like lying so blatantly but remember I had been sound asleep less than two minutes before.
I put the clincher in, "You all can run about you business now; thank's for all of your help. I'm glad that I can depend on you all in situations such as this." I saw Lard Ass look up from his tape player and G-Pop wave as if to say that it was nothing. He was a scrawny old coot who always wore his army cap tilted slightly to the side. He wore black rimmed thick coke bottle glasses, so I suspected that he was waving in the general direction of my voice while thinking that the blurred outlines of our covered barbecue pit was where it originated.
Miss Woods took a final drag off of her cigarette, blew the smoke out of her nose, tossed it to the ground, and crushed it out beneath one of her unlaced yellow sneakers. She then climbed up in the van and slammed the door shut. As she pulled away, she leaned out of the window and flipped me off. G-Pop was trying to pull his door shut and almost fell out.
I pulled my head back inside the window and closed it behind me. I straightened out the curtains for a second then turned to where Dean stood watching, "Now tell me, what the fuck was that all about?"
"Fuck her. Fuck Lard Ass Randy, and fuck G-Pop! Them folks need to find a life of their own and quit meddling in yours. Sometimes I don't even like coming over here having to get inspected to death. I'd like to come over here just one time and not see her ugly ass mug. . . . ."
I cut him off, "No, Dean. I mean what the fuck was it all about?"
He acted like he didn't understand the question for a bit. Then he pretended to be butt hurt. He was just buying time, and I wan't buying any of his ploys, so finally he just blurted out, "Micky and his thugs have put a bounty out on me. I got the news, and I panicked. I didn't know where else to go, so I came here. The door was locked, and you wouldn't wake up, so I found an unlocked window and climbed in. Miss Woods started yelling about calling the police. I lost my temper and yelled back that she ought to be keeping a better eye on Lard Ass and leave us hardworking dudes alone."
"Keep a better eye out on Lard Ass?"
"Yeah, he's a creepy fucker; I know he's doing creepy stuff down in that basement they got. He keeps it locked and won't let nobody else in."
"That don't mean he's doing bad things. You just guessing. He might be trying to build a machine to protect us all from nuclear weapons for all you know."
He quit talking but gave me a look that said, "Yeah, he's down in that basement cause he's trying to save the world."
I bounced back, "Well, neither of us work; we aren't hard working; we are hardly working. No, let me take that back; we have to work at least a little to be hardly working dudes. Actually, we are never working dudes." I admit I lost it a little bit. Getting up early was a big shock on my system.
Danny looked at me sadly, " Sorry man. I just wanted to tell you the news."
I calmed down immediately and motioned for him to sit and then went and sat down too. "Tell me what's this bounty thing about?"
"I was at Stevie O's gas station this morning. We was just shooting the shit when Rodney and Orville came in for some gas. They told me they had heard Micky and Rigo had come up with $50 to pay somebody to whip my ass."
"You believe Wilbur and Orville?" We had nicknamed Rodney Wilbur so we could address the duo by the first names of the airplane dudes. Both of them were the biggest liars on the south side of town. If one of them said he had seen an alien, the other would magnify the story by ten and say that he had sex with the same alien that the other one had seen. In order to not waste time trying to separate the truth from their lies, we all just assumed everything that came out of their mouths was pure bullshit.
"I know. I know," Dean acknowledged the problem. Then he pulled out a folded piece of paper from his back pocket, unfolded it, and stuck it in my face.
Someone to beat Southside Dean's Ass!
When: The first time you see his dumb ass
Where: Wherever you find his dumb ass
Why: None of your damn business!
Reward: $50 cash money
Someone had drawn a crude skull and crossbones on the bottom of the page along with a telephone number in marker pen.
"What's this got to do with me? It says Southside Dean's ass. Far as I remember, that's you. It don't say nothing about me." I decided to mess with him a bit. " You said WE had problem, and then you broke in my house and get my fucking neighbors all riled up, and it don't even mention MY name."
Dean looked at me crestfallen and at a loss for words. Finally he came up with something, " Well, that's the reason I came over. I thought since it didn't mention your name, you'd be ashamed because it obviously means they don't consider you a real threat. They probably think that the little tap on the head that Mickey gave you got you all scared and shit."
"And why would they ever think that?"
"Cause they saw you trying to stop me from throwing bottles at them. They heard you telling me to quit and grabbing my arm and shit."
"And I'm supposed to be ashamed because I tried to stop you from getting us both killed?" I had to laugh when I said it.
"That's the way I think they might be thinking. I mean I had about 12 bottles in that bucket. I could have brained them all before they reached us."
"Dean, you already threw seven of them bottles and only hit Rigo by accident! I guess you want me to believe that you had a good chance of accidentally hitting the other two with the five bottles you had left."
"I had the machete too!"
"You and that fucking machete! Somebody is going to cut your head off with that damned thing."
"Then I'd have to get me horse."
That brought me to a complete standstill. I was talking to him about someone cutting his head off, and the idiot tells me he would need a horse if they did. I reached the conclusion that he had been partying too hard lately and was losing his mind because of a lack of sleep. Either that or the weed he had been smoking was a lot stronger than before.
He saw that I was confused and explained, "If I'm going to be like that Ichabod dude, I'll need a horse to ride." He looked at me as if that made perfect sense. I didn't have the energy or the will to try to explain his error, so I just nodded.
"What we going to do? And I respectfully say we because I know deep in my heart that you ain't leave me to get whipped by some guns for hire."
"We going to wait. Like I said before; we wait."
"Are you out of your fucking mind? They are talking about having people I don't even know beat me up, and you want to sit here and do nothing. You have gone soft on me!"
I walked over to the fridge and got out two beers. I opened both and walked slowly back and handed Dean one of the beers. " In the first place, they don't want anybody else to beat you up. That's very unlike them. You know as well as I do, that they want to do the job themselves."
"Then why try to hire someone?"
"To cause fear. To make you panic like you did. To have you run over to where I am to try to cause me fear too."
"You said in the first place, what's the second?"
"To have a little fun at our expense. Guys are going to be talking about it, and it we don't do something to respond someone's going to think we are afraid."
"You mean they are trying to force our hand?"
"Yep. Cause us to act rashly."
"What should we do then?"
" Like I said, wait. Let things play out. Nobody really likes those guys; that's why they brought in the reward. Yet, we know at least three guys who want their own revenge on Mickey. And I can think of a dozen more who'd like to shut Rigo's big mouth."
Dean sat back in his chair and smiled, "That makes sense. They will fuck things up sooner or later. No need to tip our hand. Hey, you gotta nutha beer?"
"In the fridge, man. I gotta go pee. Get me one too." I got up and walked toward the bathroom. My own reflection greeted me with questioning eyes me as I entered the door, so I whispered, "Let's hope that keeps him and that fucking machete from doing anything stupid for a while."
When I came back there was an opened beer sitting in front of my chair. Dean and I sat there quietly for about five minutes sipping on the beers. After a while, he pulled a crumbled joint from out of his coin pocket, lit it, took a hit and passed it to me. We sat there, sipping beer, and passing the joint back and forth for another five minutes. After putting the roach out in the half filled piston head ash tray sitting on the table, he turned to me with a somber gaze and spoke, " Seriously, this waiting shit is boring. I don't know if I can do it."
I gave myself some time to think by taking a long swig of my beer. Then, I leaned slightly forward with an equally somber gaze and asked, "Whose number's on the bottom of the page?"
"I think it's Mickie's. Danny did some brake work for him once; said he recognized the 666 in the middle of the number as being Micky's number."
"You are shitting me?" Dean shook his head no. "Hand me that damn poster. There ain't nothing says that we can't have a little fun while we are waiting."
I dialed and waited for someone to pick up on the other end. After the third ring, Mickey answered. "Porcine residence, Mickey speaking."
I disguised my voice by making it real gravelly and low, "I'm calling about the reward. Me and my friend could use fitty dollas."
Mickey didn't answer right away. I could see him motioning to Rigo and No Neck and silently laughing. He answered with just a hint of humor in his voice, " We need someone to beat-up somebody."
" Who? I mean who is Southside Dean guy?"
"Just a fool who needs his ass kicked."
"I know the flier said don't ask, but I gotta know if what I'm doing is righteous or not. Why don't you do it yourself, and why do you want to kick his ass so bad?"
Mickey spat, "You are a nosey sumabitch; I'll give you that. My friends and I can't do it now because we would be the prime suspects, and I don't want a certain somebody to find out I had anything to do with it. His buddy is messing with a girl of mine, and she has made it known to me, that if something bad happens to Dean's buddy, she would not ever speak to me again. I can't stand waiting. Therefore, it's got to happen to this Dean dude. He hurt one of my friends, and he needs to be hurt real bad too."
The hurt real bad part triggered me, and I lost it. I began yelling in my real voice this time, "Is that right, you sorry motherfucker! You try anything to hurt Dean like that, and I'll barbecue your dick and feed it to your mom's poodle! And by the way, we put a bounty out on your ass too. We offered up 25 cents or a Coke and bag of peanuts for someone to beat your ass, Mickey! We already twelve guys who offered us to pay for the privilege!" I slammed down the phone.
Dean, shocked, looked over at me then looked out the window for a moment, then took a drink from his beer before setting the bottle down between us. "That worked out rather well, don't ya think?"
I shot him a grim smile, " Now, we'll wait."
He nodded with a chuckle.