Authors: Aaron Gwyn
Wyatt’s stuff, the detritus of a lifetime, musty cardboard and paper feeding silverfish in the garage. Records and a turntable. Who had record players anymore? But the old man had loved his Technics turntable and his Infinity speakers that were almost as tall as Joey. And his cassette deck with wack faders so you could make mix tapes where the tunes seemed to swell out of each other. Joey had the stereo stacked at the foot of his bed, and he dragged in records from the garage where the old man kept them with his 1936 Indian Chief motorcycle. It leaned on its kickstand beneath the swastika flag—red and black and white and chrome under a couple of LED spotlights. The Indian headlight on the front fender was startling orange.
Joey hated taking the bus everywhere, but he was still too scared to try the big bike. Pops used to tell him it was alive, the knucklehead motor supertuned and possessed by a speed devil. He’d ridden on it tucked in behind the old man—the bitch seat Pops called it, though it was Moms who rode there and he’d take down any fool who called her that. The old man’s club colors would flap around in the wind and slap Joey in the face until he cried—the wind sucking his breath out from between his teeth, the whole world seeming to tip when Pops leaned into a curve, the roar moving up his ass into his gut and jetting up his spine till he thought he might lose the top of his head. It was a monster. Besides, it had a stick shift. Who’d ever heard of a motorcycle with a stick shift?
All these records nobody’d ever heard of. But Pops said this was real music. This was real soul right here, real class, and anybody worth a damn would spin these discs and see the light. The black light, ha, am I right, Jo-Jo? Right, Dad. Study this shit like literature: Mose Allison, Blue Cheer, Three Man Army, SRC, Doug Kershaw, Bo Diddley.
I’m just twenty-two and I don’t mind dyin’.
Muddy Waters, Electric Prunes, Aorta, Spirit, Crowbar.
“Living in the past, son. I'm just living in the past.”
“I hear ya, Pops,” Joey’d say.
He knew that was just an old Jethro Tull song.
Among the daggers and guns was some inexplicable stuff. Joey thought it was way cool: cow skulls, a jackalope, a Mr. Bill bendable action figure, an eighteen-inch
figurine, a talking Pinhead doll from
. He left the guns but put the toys in his room with the stereo.
OEY GOT UP
as usual at 6:30 and put on the coffeepot for his mom. She was dogged out every night from serving cocktails at the Catamaran. She had to step lively—the girls coming in behind her were young and hard and she was showing the miles, as she often said. She was still hot, his friends told him, and that pretty much made him gag.
He heated up the coffee and cooked up a pan of oatmeal. He watched her sleeping on the couch, the TV turned on—her plasma night-light. Joey snuck her pack of Newports off the table and took them out to the trash can in back and covered them with the newspaper. The morning was all yellow and blue—sea air snapped in cold and salty. A lone gull, looking tragic, hung above him as if on a wire. Doves screwed in the palm trees with ridiculous rattling. A mockingbird dive-bombed Hobbes the tomcat. Back inside, Joey emptied her ashtray and poured out her hooch bottle before waking her.
He had work today. He was starting to like the job. It was at Mrs. Filgate’s house. The lady who used to work with Grandma at the Broadway. Nice lady—sold china. Little cups with pictures of German villages and shit on them.
On Mondays, she had late shift, so she had to stay at the store until 9:00
. This was no big deal, except she was married to this ancient dude—Freddie Filgate. Like, fifty years older than her or something. So Joey went to the Filgate house on the edge of Tecolote Canyon and worked on the yard all day. Then he sat with Mr. Filgate at night, made him his hot dogs and beans, and watched the news and stuff until Mrs. Filgate came home and paid him thirty dollars. Joey’d take his money and walk a mile or so to the Dunkin’ Donuts shop and visit with Sherri, the doughnut gal. Sooner or later he’d call one of his buds or Moms and someone would drive by and pick him up.
Here’s the great thing he loved about Freddie Filgate: He was so old he couldn’t remember anyone’s name, so he called everyone Willie. That cracked Joey up so bad: Willie. Like that record Pops had:
Willie and the Poor Boys
. It was hilarious. He liked being somebody else for a day.
and the Holding Company, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Nazareth, Sabbath.
He was gentle with his mother. He took her big toe in his fingers and shook her leg. Purple nail polish, toe rings, ankle bracelet. Freakin’ Moms thought she was still a cheerleader at Clairemont High. She had a butterfly tattooed on her ankle, too. In memory of the baby she’d miscarried after Joey was born. His phantom sister.
“Ina-Gadda-Da-Vida, baby,” he sang. “Dontcha know I love you?”
She stretched, yawned, opened her eyes. Put her hand over her mouth. Her eyes darted to the table, but her ciggies were gone. Bottle too. Fleeting guilty smile.
“Jo-Jo,” she said. “That was your dad’s favorite song.”
Joey nodded. He knew all about the old man’s favorite songs. There were only about 1,347 of them.
“Got your gruel on the stove,” he said. “Butter and syrup, right?”
She propped herself up with pillows—there was a red crease down her cheek like a scar. Her makeup was smeared. Moms had raccoon eyes.
She turned up Matt Lauer with the remote as Joey brought her the steaming bowl and her coffee.
“You’re a good boy.”
“I know it.”
“Got work today?”
“You be polite to Mr. Filgate.”
“They’re good people.”
, he knew, was the hidden message in that particular comment. Well, he was cutting that happy crappy off at the pass. He thought they were all right. Not perfect, but fuck it.
“For sure,” he said.
He put on his army coat. He’d painted the RAF bull’s-eye on the back like the Who. He shoved his old man’s Walkman deep in the pocket. Mix tapes in his other pocket. At least it had earbuds. People would think it was an iPod. He wiggled his mom’s celly at her. She nodded. He slipped it in his back pocket. “Don’t booty-dial me this time,” she said.
He gave Moms a quick smooch and headed for the door.
“Honey?” she called.
“Don’t worry. I’m good,” he said. He had seven dollars in his pocket. There was no work around here anywhere. If the old man hadn’t taken the fall, he’d still be in Arizona, working for his uncle Victor putting in swamp coolers on Indian roofs in Sells. He’d been out there sleeping on Vic’s couch since he’d dropped out. He glanced back at Moms. She was smiling at him with that
You’re a dumbshit
look on her face. “Oh,” he said. “You meant money for you.”
He gave her the five and kept two bucks for bus fare and a doughnut.
“Love you,” she said.
“Love you back.”
It was the rule.
OPS HAD BEEN
sergeant at arms for the Visigoths MC. That was one reason Joey’d gone to Arizona. The war between the clubs.
Joey had Wyatt’s colors in the closet on a hanger—the
upper rocker curving down over a lurid iron fist, and the bottom patch curving back up saying
. Swastikas and 1 percent were on the front, along with the number 13 and a pentagram and some various German medals. They called Wyatt the Philosopher, since his name was Phil, but mostly because of the crazy books he read. They were out in the garage with the big Indian and the Iron Butterfly records. The Philosopher or, yeah, more commonly, Philthy Phil. Joey smiled. He knew that if he stepped outside wearing the vest, he’d be dead in an hour. It gave the colors a weird sense of dark power. That kind of freaky-deaky stuff Pops was always reading about.
Joey shuffled along under the weak beach sun burning through the haze. He bobbed his head, rocking that Walkman, trying to understand Doug Kershaw’s Cajun English, trying to see what Philthy Phil enjoyed about this fiddling country jam. His Chuck Taylors slapped on the sidewalk—half a mile to the bus stop, catch the 8:00 up Balboa, transfer to the 8:38 number 5 down toward Tecolote Canyon, hop off at the old elementary school, and hoof it a half mile over to the Filgates’.
There’s never been a man alive who lived his life and died fully satisfied.
He glanced around. He was paranoid. He thought he might make it to work as long as that fucking Butchie didn’t come banging after him in his black 1968 Charger, Big Black. Butchie and his Mexicali gangster partner, Salvador. Out for blood.
E MADE IT
to the corner in time to catch the bus. No freaks. No Big Black.
Joey sat in the back seat and listened to Jack Bruce sing about having a ticket to the waterfall. He loved that. Weird lyrics. Dreamy, like. Mysterious. He did not notice the Charger pulling up behind the bus and cruising in its wake like a black barracuda.
Butchie and Salvador. It was all stupid, really. So low-life when you thought about it for a minute. Joey was pretty sure they’d leave Moms out of the ugly. She didn’t have anything to do with it, aside from Butchie popping a boner every time he saw her. But Joey was starting to feel like he was toast.
The troubles had started when the Visigoths ran afoul of the Mongols. The Mongols did not approve of the new club forming and crowding the territory they’d already fought the Hells Angels over. When the war broke out, the Visigoths were doomed—you didn’t take on the Mongols MC unless you were ready for Armageddon—and though Philthy Phil might have been ready, guys like Butchie were not. Joey didn’t know if Pops did the shooting but somebody did. And when Pops was taken in, he’d left hidden weapons in the garage. Including Butchie’s World War II Nazi Luger.
The club disbanded, and the smart members moved to Nevada. But Butchie wanted his gun back. When he came sniffing around, Joey had stupidly lied to him. He didn’t even know why—after all, he had all his dad’s crap. Butchie didn’t know, either, though he figured everybody was a crook. He was studying Wyatt’s boy like a textbook, looking for the penetration points. He could swallow the Luger scam if this new play paid off. Though Joey would still probably have to pay, get a li’l discipline for lying to Uncle Butchie.
Butchie’d shown up at the screen door, while Moms was at work last night. He was raggedy and yellow-eyed. Two big rottweilers in tow.
“Jo-Jo,” he said. “You seen a fine example of German military design hereabouts?” He sniffed and giggled.
“What’s that?” Joey said, looking at the beasts standing behind Butchie.
“Aryan dog flesh, Jo-Jo. That’s what that is. Diesel and Death.”
The big dogs slobbered and grinned when Butchie said their names.
“I don't know nothin’ about no gun,” Joey said.
“Who said anything about a gun?” Butchie cried. He’d been sniffing some joy, for sure. He waggled an accusatory finger at Joey.
“Yo,” said Joey, thinking fast, “what else would it be? Like, a Panzer tank?” He snorted. Butchie scratched his chin; whiskers went scritch.
“Cool,” he said. “But see you tomorrow? We cool? You cool with that?”
“I guess,” Joey replied.
“Cool!” Butchie enthused. “Come on, children.” He shook the chains and the dogs shuffled after him.
OEY WAS STUCK
. Butchie had been hanging out at the Catamaran, dropping sweet tips and sweet talk on Moms, all to get a handle of the whole Filgate scenario.
The Philosopher had drunkenly spoken of the old man’s antiques and samurai swords and big glass water jug full of change (probably $300 right there) in that house. That locked-up house had locks on the gate and locks on the garage and about five dead bolts inside, and Butchie and Salvador were going to wait till Joey was inside to unlock Fort Knox for them. Hell, they’d already dreamed up gun collections and hundred-dollar bottles of aged bourbon. All Joey had to do was open the door. Butchie figured Jo-Jo owed him that much.
Butchie lounged around like a dirty shirt hung on a nail, his teeth black at the roots, his tweaked-out eyeballs jumping like Mexican souvenir beans in little bone bowls. He had a waxed-up, flat-top haircut like some bogus marine.
Pops had dissed Butchie ’round the clock. Loser. Joey was thinking about this when he got off the bus and hustled to the stop in front of Del Taco. Screw it—he was early. He was going on down to Dunkin’ to see if Sherri was in. Sometimes, though she worked late nights, she hung out in the shop with a tall coffee and some day-olds, and shot the shit with the day girls. Ever since her divorce, she had no place else to go.
But what he really liked was that she was the only chick he’d ever met who had read the same books as Wyatt the Philosopher. Crazy books—she actually had the same paperback
that Pops had. And it was cool that she was older. She could tell him all about the secret magic signals in Zeppelin songs. There was nobody around now with secret stuff in songs like that. Well, maybe Tool. But he didn’t understand what Tool was talking about.
Sometimes, he’d just sit there with her until the morning shift showed up, and he couldn’t tell how he’d stayed all night.
He was hurrying down the sidewalk when he felt the blackness sidle up to him.
. He pulled out the earbuds, and there it was: that Hemi engine gurgling through those twin Glasspack pipes. That hot-rod sound Moms called “rocks in a coffee can.” The long front fender of the Charger slid along beside him. Diesel and Death in the back seat like fat grandmothers.
Salvador rolled down his window.
“Jo-Jooooo,” he taunted. “Yo-Yooooo.”
“Hey hotshot,” Butchie shouted from the driver’s seat. “We got a date tonight! Don’t screw it up. Hear me?”
Joey looked at them.
“It’s your dad’s play, Jo-Jo,” Butchie called. “I didn’t think it up. And. Uh. You, like, owe it to us.”