A New, Bad Beginning
Fiction by Mike Edwards
ED NOTE: This is part of a work in progress; a book called Time Fades Away.
CHAPTER ONE: A new, bad beginning
Billy Blank sat alone in his record store after hours. The interior lights were off, the way he liked it. He preferred to make it clear to any curious record nerd that the store, as well as the owner, was closed for business. He drank a beer without much joy, just tipped it back and let it rush past his taste buds. Wire's punk classic "12XU" pounded out of the dusty old Bose speakers that hung in four corners. Billy's inner eardrum buzzed, and with as much clarity as possible, communicated the tune to his brain. On a deeper level, though, he couldn't hear it. At one time this song, just two minutes of frantic drumming and guitar mauling, could enthrall him like no other song ever written. But tonight, at 45 years old, 4 beers into a six pack, it was just so much noise. Awful nostalgia.
As the singer howled "12XU!" Billy kicked the CD player, conveniently located about 18 inches off the floor. The CD player hit the shelf above it that held the turntable. The lid of the turntable snapped open and shut like an inconvenienced clam and the CD stopped, started again from the beginning of the song, and with another quick Jackie Chan from Billy, expired.
Billy longed to break the place up. Reduce Blank Records to a pile of glittering broken CD's and dull shards of ancient vinyl. Kick the old dog till it died like the CD player. The sigh that blew out between Billy's lips quieted him. He knew that he'd tire out before he even got through the "C's" and then what would he have? Sore hands, injured feet and a large hole in his inventory. Better to take a walk, he thought. Get a little separation between himself and the whale.
It felt colder on the walkup to "The Pickle" than he'd imagined it would. His head no longer pulsed with hot anger and the damp cold of late October pressed into every crevice he couldn't squeeze tight. He noticed that clamping together his teeth made a couple of molars ache and he cursed God. Goddamn this rotting ceramic. Goddamn his aching neck and goddamn his full bladder. Just Goddamn it all. He warmed a little with the new wave of anger and he welcomed it. Johnny Rotten was right. Anger is an energy.
"The Pickle" is a bar and grill of the sort that was popular when Billy was just a boy. "You're in quite a Pickle now!" stated the sign as he entered. A sprawling lounge with a bar at the center of it and a stage that used to hold bad local comedians and combos of all sorts, but these days hosted karaoke on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Billy scowled at the sound of some frau tunelessly hacking away at a Whitney Houston song. Goddamn it for being Wednesday, he added to his list God-damning.
"Billy, over here!" a voice came from out of the dark lounge.
Billy recognized the voice of Steven, a guy he'd known since he started Blank Records back in 1978, but a guy that he wondered often if he was actually friends with or in fact stuck with because no matter how much crap Billy piled on him he wouldn't have the decency to go away.
"I was just saying to Carrie that I knew you'd show up tonight! You wanna sing karaoke with me again, don't cha?"
Billy waved at Carrie over at the bar and she lifted her chin in an acknowledgement and cupped her ear.
"Brown and tall and straight!" he yelled over the caterwauling from the stage.
"Ooo, a whiskey night. You must be in rare from."
"I am, in fact, in no form at all. I'm just my normal buzz chasing, bitter self."
"I'm glad you're coming to terms with your bitterness, anyway. Where's the hottie?"
"Deanna? Gone. I fired her this afternoon."
"Fired her? As an employee or as a girlfriend?"
"Both. Simultaneously. She said the "M" word, can you imagine? I've known her for what, 2 months?"
"Which "M" word? Money? Mitsubishi?"
"Marriage. Fucking Marriage. I live in my record store in a bed that my parents gave me when they bought a new bed 15 years ago, a bed my parents used to fuck on for God's sake, and she starts making noise like she'd like to share the space with me, saying she wants to get married one day and have kids and a dog and."
"She said she wanted to marry you?"
Billy paused and held his breath a moment. Carrie sat his whiskey in front of him and gave him a light slap on the back of the head. "Breath, stupid." she said.
Billy gave her a glance and the only smile he'd let curl his lips that day and went on.
"Not in so many words, but any chick who wants to get married, to me or anybody else for that matter, any girl with the ambition to procreate should not have her shiny ass in my bed."
"Here. Here." Carrie said. "Your blood line is clearly sour."
"Is her ass really shiny?" Steven added.
"You get your vicarious thrills elsewhere, you." he pointed at Carrie. ".go shine your ass."
Carrie used her open hand and pushed his face, said "I spit in your whiskey" and left.
"I don't see how you get em, man. You got no rap, you look like shit and you probably are a bad lay. Where do you get off throwing out a perfectly good 20 year old?"
"I never said she was good. That's an assumption you make because it suits your fantasy. I hire pretty girls because it helps sell records, nerds love pretty girls and somehow some of them fall into my bed. If they're falling, I'm catching."
"You oughta try someone in your own age group, get a girl who has a little experience."
"Get a 45 year old? Jesus." Billy choked on his response, took a long pull off the whiskey and collected his thoughts before beginning again.
"When you go to a car lot sometimes they put a classic car out in front of the place to catch your eye, like an old Mustang that's perfectly restored, and you might want that car, but is it really as good as the brand new Mustang?" Billy stared intently at Steven, passionate suddenly. "Will it start every time and will the heat blow when it's cold? Or will it be a money pit that you have to park on a hill and sweet talk just to make it warm up? You know what I mean?"
"That's the saddest analogy I've ever heard." Steven said, ignoring Billy's pitch. "I love my old car, by the way." he added proudly.
Billy leaned forward and exhaled a boozy breath in Steven's face. "Are we still talking metaphorically or what?"
"My wife would kill me at even the suggestion that I compared her to a car, so for the sake of that argument, we are talking about my car." Steven smiled and looked away. "If we were talking about my wife I'd tell you I'm thrilled to have remained married to her for these many, many years." "You're like Patty Hearst, you've fallen in love with your captor."
"Remember that band, The Stockholm Syndrome; you still have a copy of that around? I need that CD." Steven said, happy to change the subject.
"Don't talk to me about music, I'm so fucking sick of music and CD's and nerds and Goddamn taxes and The Rolling Stones and Jay-fucking -Z.."
"Don't talk about music?" Steven stared into the smoky air that separated them from the small stage where the last of the Whitney Houston dismantling was going on. He opened his mouth and raised his index finger into the air, but only a whoosh of beer-y breath came out. He slid down into his chair and pouted.
Billy savored the silence after the tune had ended and wondered idly if a woman that felt comfortable embarrassing herself in public might also have little enough shame to consider him a reasonable suitor. She wore a business suit, filled to the brim with 30-ish office worker and Billy found himself fantasizing about demanding that she keep those provocative shoes on while he did her. She looked his way as she stepped from the stage but quickly averted her gaze and put a puss on.
"You suck!" Billy yelled in her wake.
"Do you count your condoms?"
"Do I count them? I don't even have to own them. In the 21st century chicks carry them and they even put it on for you, like a magicians trick. They look so happy. Why would you count condoms?"
"Well, you buy a box of twelve, and when things get sparse in the old slap and tickle department you count to see how you're doing. You know, I bought 'em a month ago and I got 11 left, so."
"So you've had sex once in a month!"
"This month, yeah, that's what I remember, one quick shag after I bought the new sofa. But there are two condoms gone. So either I've forgotten a sex act, which is nearly impossible, because that's the only thing I think of other than music, or.."
"Or you've got a get out of jail card! Your wife is cheating, congratulations!"
"Dude, I've got a 15 year old daughter with a boyfriend. I'm thinking it might be her."
"Take it from me, teenagers don't give two shits about condoms."
"Oh, I'm gonna puke. I just realized that every girl you've fouled is somebody's daughter."
Billy frowned, considered, but in the end nodded his head ruefully.
"It's a given, I guess. What do you think, your daughter is going to be a nun? Be glad she wears a condom."
"I can't bear the thought of it, you should see this boyfriend, he's some sort of white gangster type in a shitty old Honda and a huge stereo."
"And rap, probably Jay-fucking-Z."
"No! That's the kicker. He listens to CLASSIC ROCK. He pulls in my driveway and I hear "Tequila Sunrise" loud enough to wake the dead."
"Get a restraining order. Toss your girl in a convent, give her a gross of condoms and stop that bloodline now."
"Now we're talking about music again and I'm still one condom short."
"Go to the Men's room, splurge on a french tickler and go fuck your wife cross eyed. You'll forget about all that shit."
"If I could pull that off I wouldn't be kvetching with you while she watches "Desperate Housewives" and dreads my arrival."
"You are ruining my buzz."
Billy circled his glass over his head and longed for the day they'd be able to shoot the booze from the bar and have it land without a splash in his rotating booze alert. He heard Carrie grunt as she stood from a bar stool and though it lacked the flash of his dream, the booze would arrive, perhaps festooned with spit and lip gloss any second.
"Darcy wants to sing some Tina Turner, do you want to know what's love got to do with it?" shouted the Karaoke lady.
"No!" responded Steven and Billy in unison.
Billy plodded along Lee Highway, pretending that it was rocks and debris that made him made him walk a crooked path, but the heat in his belly, produced by ever larger glasses of whiskey, was the real culprit. Billy did his best to keep his stomach as level as possible, as not to awake the beast that might spring free from his mouth at any moment. Even a belch might be too much. The sickeningly sweet smell of the Whitney Houston strangler's perfume clung to him and he walked as if he could escape its cloying embrace. The Office girl had put up a good fight, I'm just here with my friends, I'm not looking to meet anybody. But Billy had a secret weapon in his love arsenal. Billy had charm. He kept it locked up, kept a trigger guard on it so it wouldn't go off accidentally, but in circumstances like those he'd encountered, he hauled it out and shot well. It was the diss that inspired him. It ended in nothing more than a gentle bit of groping on the dance floor while a still dirty mechanic sang Chicago's "Color My World", but for Billy it was vindication.
Billy's mouth suddenly filled with spit and he knew he'd never make it to the bed without vomiting. He sighed and walked off the road, across an access road and stopped beside a lone tree that stood on a twenty foot plot of grass that was surrounded by a parking lot and retail businesses. His eyes watered like spigots and he bent at the waist and leaked spit onto the ground. He wasn't sure how long he'd stood like that, might even have slept for a moment, but as the first explosion rumbled up his esophagus, a cop pulled up and stopped beside him. Billy held onto the tree and let it fly, he heard the window roll down while he spat and felt the warmth from the car's heater press against the side of his face. The sound of country music and the crackle and babbling of the cop's radio filled Billy's head with prickling confusion.
"Done?" came a deep voice from inside the dark of the cop car.
Billy stood, spat, wiped his eyes in his jacket sleeve and nodded an affirmation.
The cop had his arm slung over the back of the front seat and as Billy slid in they looked like high schoolers on a date. Officer Mark Perkins was brown and big and even though the cruiser was made for men of all sizes, it looked a might tight rapped around him. The green lights from the dash lit up his face and glittered on his big white teeth. Billy had known Perkins since he was a Bad Brains loving punk, and even though he'd mysteriously traded 2 chord punk for weepy country as he'd grown older and become a lawman, Billy let it slide. Guys like Billy needed a cop friend from time to time.
"Damn, look at you, motherfucker, throwing up like some kind of novice or something. You got to pace yourself, man!"
Billy attempted a smile, but only managed a grimace. The big man put a chilly soda in his lap.
"Did you already drink out of this?"
"I don't drink after negroes, you know that."
Officer Mark laughed a whooping car shaker and nodded his head like he was memorizing the comment for later redistribution.
"You don't drink after negroes, you sick, drunk fucker. Drink that thing before I hit you with the tazer."
Billy screwed off the lid and reluctantly took a long pull. He could smell Perkins chewing tobacco close to his nose and he fought off a heave. The soda was cold and the carbonation slid down his throat like sweet crystalline bb's. Fresh sweat followed it, but his stomach settled almost on contact. He tossed it on the seat and breathed a boozy-thank you.
"Oh, you can keep that fucker there. I won't be drinking after you."
"My vomit is champagne compared to your REDMAN. Goddamn, smoke a cigarette, ya big pussy."
"County says we can't. Might fuck up a crack head with my second hand smoke."
"Can you turn some of this shit off? It's hot like a barbeque at Satan's house and that fucking country music."
"Bitch, this is satellite radio, this is some classic country. You should bow down before Conway Twitty."
"Is that how you'd do it? On your knees?"
Perkins pulled his night stick out and threatened Billy with it.
"You wanna call me a homo, well I'm right here, try me, but your better leave Conway out of it."
"Why does every conversation I have end up being about music? I'm trying my best to insult you and you're hung up on some cracker with a pompadour."
"Hey, speaking of that, you find that Charlie Feathers record for me? That's my nigga there."
"I don't know. Maybe. Aren't you going to drive me home? I'm so sick of talking about music."
"Well what should motherfuckers talk to you about, global warming?"
"Try me. "
Perkins sat back in the seat and considered.
"If the Caribbean warms up just one more degree we'll have non stop hurricanes and tornados and tsunamis' from April to November. Fucking Gulf Coast and the Panhandle might just disappear."
"Any chance we'd get hit in DC?"
"Oh yeah, we're due for a mother of a tsunami."
"See, there you go, now I'm happy. Northern Virginia gets pounded too, right?"
"Shit man, Lee Highway outta look like a class five rapid."
Billy leaned into the stiff seat and let out a fetid sigh. He picked the soda up and drank it dry.
"Drive me home quick, I have something to dream about now."
He belched a great, thunderous exhalation and realized he was done yakking. Now he was merely drunk and tired.
"You gotta get your shit together, Billy, I appreciate that you walk when you get drunk, but you ain't gonna make it long pushing it like you are."
"I'm walking because my car is broke."
Perkins snorted and accelerated out of the service road like he hoped to take flight in the mile back to Blank Records.
Officer Perkins dragged him to the front door like he was helping a reluctant prisoner and he dropped him onto the stoop. A fresh stack of the Washington City Paper shared the space with Billy, who looked too comfortable for Perkins to feel sure he'd make it inside.
"You want me to get you into the bed?"
"I don't sleep with cops."
"That's what your Mama used to say."
Billy waved him away and dragged himself to his feet.
"Better get those papers, it's supposed to rain!" Perkins said as he got back into the cruiser.
Billy snatched the papers up by the binding and wobbled to the front door.
He laid the stack on the front counter and looked around the front of the store for anything out of the ordinary. He headed through the door at the back of the store and down the hall to the bathroom. He left the light off and took a noisy, splattering piss and he allowed himself a moment to daydream. Didn't that City Paper say his name on the cover? He swayed for a moment as he dug deep into his fading memory. Did it say Billy Blank on the cover? He stopped peeing, not actually finished, but now just inconsolably distracted. Did it?
He longed to finish his pee and go set his mind straight before sleep, but it had been too much night. He was nuts. He knew it and he made peace with it. It had been twenty years since anybody gave a damn about Billy Blank.
See Part 2 of Time Fades Away
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