Authors: Derek Ciccone
Copyright© 2012 Derek Ciccone
Published at Smashwords by Derek Ciccone
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Other Books by Derek Ciccone –
The Truant Officer
The Trials of Max
. Excerpt for
The Heritage Paper
(coming soon) at the conclusion of Officer Jones.
Part One -
The Long Strange Trip Home
July 4, 1991
The bartender slid a mug of beer in front of Flip Tompkins. In return, Flip pulled out a handful of mangled bills and spilled them onto the sticky bar for the tip. He included an extra dollar for looking past the fact he was still eighteen months shy of his twenty-first birthday.
Flip wore a multicolored flannel shirt, tied around his waist, and a T-shirt that saluted his favorite band, Pearl Jam—a local group that was a driving force in the new “grunge rock” craze that had swept through the Seattle area. He even copied the haircut of the band’s lead singer, Eddie Vedder, with long, brown bangs that would constantly fall over his eyes.
Instead of attending college like most of his classmates, he’d spent his post-graduation year chasing around local grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. His parents were seriously getting on his case about his current slacker status. And they were not thrilled that he’d decided to spend the Fourth going to another concert, instead of the traditional family picnic.
Between sips of beer, Flip glanced at his watch. The plan was to meet his best friend, Tim Kent, for their usual pre-concert party. But Flip couldn’t get too wasted, since he had the misfortune of being the designated driver tonight. Tim had lost his driver’s license a few years back, so he wasn’t an option to drive them. It was a touchy subject.
Flip had hoped that the beer would make Cransky’s slightly more tolerable. It was a dive bar in Redmond, a suburban utopia on the north end of Lake Sammamish. Its one saving grace was that it would never be confused with any of the trendy coffee houses and brew factories that were popping up like weeds in the Seattle area. But that didn’t make Flip any less fearful that he’d end up like the many “lifers,” who had nothing better to do on a holiday, or worse, preferred spending it here. Luckily, the combination of his Walkman and the
of the raindrops on the tin roof drowned out most of their mindless conversations.
With all the commotion, few noticed the young man enter the bar. He walked directly to the last remaining seat at the bar, right next to Flip.
The man took off a dripping rain poncho, revealing a tight T-shirt that was tucked into dark blue jeans. Across the chest it read:
USAF: We Fly The Not So Friendly Skies
. His face was the kind that was easy to forget, looking like everybody and nobody at the same time.
The presence of a non-lifer re-energized Flip, and he introduced himself.
The military man shook Flip’s hand with a vice-like grip. “Nice to meet you, Flip—I’m Batman.”
Flip first thought he was joking, but the man kept a serious face. So Flip went with the flow, “From the movie or the TV show?”
“It’s my pilot moniker in the Air Force.”
Flip was impressed—this guy seemed like he was straight out of
Flip’s favorite movie. “So you got a civilian name, Batman?”
“I would tell you, but then I’d have to kill you,” he replied with a grin.
“In that case, Batman it is,” Flip said, before swigging down what was left of his beer. He offered to buy the man a drink, but like the superhero he was, he only wanted water.
“What are you listening to?” Batman changed the subject, pointing to Flip’s headphones.
“Pearl Jam,” he answered proudly.
“Never heard of them. I’m a big country fan; Garth Brooks is my favorite. What is Pearl Jam, like hard rock?”
It was Flip’s favorite topic—the grunge rock phenomenon. “They’re a local band. If you haven’t heard of them or Nirvana, then you must not be from around here.”
“No, I’m not,” Batman replied pleasantly. “Pearl Jam and Nirvana you say?”
“The next big thing. Really down-to-earth music. Totally different from that corporate, big hair, lip-sync stuff from the 80s.”
He handed Batman the headphones. The military man placed them over his crew cut and seemed to enjoy the wailing lyrics of Eddie Vedder. Flip saw a possible convert.
“Maybe if you aren’t doing anything tonight they’re playing in Seattle at RKCNDY,” Flip offered. “I’m heading up there with a few friends.”
“Funny you should ask. I’m in town for the night and was looking for something to do. I planned on catching a movie at the drive-in—I hear this new Schwarzenegger flick
is a must see—but with the rain, I thought I’d just call it an early night.”
Flip couldn’t believe his luck, finding someone at the last minute to take his designated driver duties. “First, we’re going to meet my friend Tim. We like to pound a few beers before the concert—it’s much better when you got a good buzz going. You can almost feel the lyrics.” He hurried another look at his watch, before adding, “Speaking of which, we should be going.”
The two men rose off their bar stools. Batman pulled out a credit card and slid it to the bartender with the instructions to pay the remainder of Flip’s tab. Flip noticed the name on the card—Kyle Jones—but he’d keep playing along. Once the bill was settled, the two men headed out into the rainy afternoon.
Flip led him to his 1988 Chevy Beretta. The discolored back bumper had a V-like gash and the brake lights were damaged from when he slammed into a guardrail, following a similar pre-concert party last March. He told Batman the story, boasting how he and Tim were able to evade the cops after the accident.
“So you’re going to drink and drive?” Batman asked with a stern look.
“Don’t get too drunk, might spill your drink,” Flip responded with a chuckle, but grew worried when it wasn’t returned. “You don’t have a problem with that … do you?”
“My point was that I’m sober, so why don’t you let me drive. I heard on the radio that there will be a lot of police traps because of the holiday. If you end up in jail you’ll miss the concert.”
He had a point. Flip tossed Batman the keys and they got in the car. Once secured in the passenger seat, Flip reached into his knapsack and pulled out a can of beer.
Batman slid into the driver’s seat. Before starting the car, he turned toward Flip and warned, “Drinking and driving can be deadly. You should really be more careful.”
The rainwater flowed like a river down the windshield. The Air Force pilot gripped the wheel and searched for the wipers. He couldn’t believe that he could expertly fly an F-16 with enemy fire closing in on his ass, but was struggling to master this beat-up little Chevy.
It was just another bump along his journey. And he knew that nothing could stop him—he was Batman now. His alter ego that took over when he was carrying out a mission.
Flip provided him a slurred tutorial of the dashboard gadgets, and within a matter of moments they were heading out of the Cransky’s parking lot.
“Why are you wearing gloves?” Flip suddenly asked.
“I’m used to wearing them from when I’m flying.”
“Cool,” Flip replied, easily impressed. “So does this make me your wingman?”
“Behind every great pilot is an unflappable wingman. But if you are, you’ll need a name.”
“I say you call me Robin. That way we’ll be Batman and Robin.”
He shook his head. “Sorry—already taken. My wingman from Desert Storm goes by Robin. What do you say we call you Pearl Jam?”
Flip actually saluted him. “Pearl Jam reporting for duty, it’s an honor to serve you, Batman.”
“The pleasure is all mine, Pearl Jam. Your first order of business can be to provide me the coordinates of where we are to meet Jim.”
“Don’t mean to correct you, Batman, but it’s actually Tim … with a T.”
More specifically, it was Timothy Kent III, and Batman knew exactly who he was. Tim Kent killed his parents.
They had retired to Redmond almost three years ago, just after their only child had left to join the Air Force. Redmond proclaimed itself to be the “bicycle capital of the northwest,” and his parents took to cycling through the lush hills like natives. Two years to the day, they spent a steamy Fourth of July evening mountain biking along Wright Street. They never saw Tim Kent speed his brand new Nissan Pathfinder around a corner. Batman’s father was killed upon impact. His mother died later that night in a Seattle hospital.
Tim Kent was almost twice the legal limit, following a day of drinking at the lake. He arrived in court with a high-powered attorney purchased by his father, as if it were a graduation gift. He was sentenced to juvenile hall until his eighteenth birthday. Tim spent six months in “juvie” and then walked onto the campus of Gonzaga University with his records sealed. A fresh start that Batman’s parents never got.
Batman was stationed in Germany when he received the life-shattering news. At first it seemed random and mindless. But then a voice informed him that nothing is a coincidence—every action had a reaction that was part of a bigger plan—and this meeting with Flip Tompkins was no different.
As they drove, the two men made idle chitchat about Batman’s military exploits in the Gulf War, which he’d recently returned from.
After finishing another beet, Flip rolled down his window and tossed out the empty can. They drove past Redmond Town Center, which was practically empty due to the holiday. Then the local high school, where Tim Kent allegedly bragged about how he would get off with just a slap on the wrist.
The earlier downpour had tapered to a light mist. Batman knew it was another sign of support. The thinning thunderclouds were symbolic of his personal journey out of the darkness. He upped the vehicle’s speed.
“So what brings you to Redmond?” Flip asked.
“My parents live here. I came to visit them,” he answered. He wasn’t completely lying—he’d visited their gravesite earlier that morning.
The conversation returned to the Pearl Jam concert, and music in general. It was more than Batman ever wanted to know about a rock band, but he continued to act as if he were hanging on every word. He didn’t bother asking questions about Tim Kent—he knew him better than Tim knew himself. The only relevant fact was that he would soon be dead.
Flip cracked open another beer, before providing the directions, “The cul-de-sac is on McPherron Drive. It’s the first right off of Wright Street.”
It was unnecessary. Batman knew Wright Street. It’s where his life changed forever. It’s also where he was called to return, seeking closure. “Is that where Tim will be meeting us?”
“Yeah, he’s gonna be pissed. I told him we’d meet up like twenty minutes ago,” Flip answered, then added, “Sure you don’t want a beer?”
Batman felt rage shoot through his veins. “Do you know that over twenty thousand Americans died last year from drunk drivers?” he barked as he sped the car down Wright Street, the needle on the speedometer racing clockwise.
“In the state of Washington alone, over half the traffic fatalities were alcohol related. Do you know how many ruined lives could be avoided!?”
A mystified look came over Flip’s face. “Sorry, dude, thought you were cool with it.”
As the vehicle tore through a residential neighborhood at sixty-miles-per-hour, Batman pointed to a cassette tape on the floor, marked
in black magic-marker, and returned to a pleasant tone, “Hey, I want to hear that other new band you were talking about, what are they called again, Nervous or something like that?”
“Nirvana,” Flip answered, chuckling at the mispronunciation of the next big thing.
“That’s right—let’s hear it,” Batman belted enthusiastically, as the speedometer neared seventy-five.
Flip rambled about how it was a bootleg tape of the upcoming Nirvana album called Nevermind, which wouldn’t officially be out until September. He talked reverently of a singer named Cobain, claiming he was the next John Lennon. Batman doubted it, but even if Flip turned out to be a prophet, like most prophets, he wouldn’t be alive to celebrate the accuracy of his prognostications.