15 August 2013


Why have I never shit my pants? An odd thing to contemplate, but I’m fighting the cough reflex from a lungful and it’s the first thing to float to the surface of my pot-addled brain.
Sure disgusting, but eighteen months of treatments for advanced prostate cancer has to earn me an oopsie-daisy, right? Just to see the look on the wife-cunt’s face as she pulls back the Grandpampers and sees what I made for her. Maybe slip in this over-sized Caligula sundial strapped to my wrist for good measure.
No, that’s the pain talking. Julie was a good wife most of the time and the watch was for our 10th, about six months after my diagnosis. I hated it but tried to smile in gratitude for Julie, who thought value was determined more by weight of jewels and precious metals than anything resembling craftsmanship.
Exhale just as I start to see spots, just like the guy at the dispensary suggested, and fittingly Rivers throws another interception. Goddamn Chargers. I quit chemo because I was tired of suffering. The radio beeps as I cut the power, revealing the background noise of parking lot gravel under tires.
This rest stop used to be a beautiful place. A great big parking lot on a bluff over-looking the Pacific. Now state-budget cuts turn ruined blacktop into cheap gravel and public restrooms into long-term residency for coked-out prostitutes too cheap to pay for a hotel. Outside of the truck drivers who stop for a piss-and-a-poke, the lowest rung of drug addicts are the only residents. My death will just be excused as a mugging-gone-bad and not what it really is; a contract killing ordered by the victim, with a delivery scheduled in about thirty minutes. I told him to look for the guy wearing a watch that looks like it was made by Liberace’s jeweler after a coke-and-LSD binge, place two to my head, then take the watch, wallet, and the $25k in an envelope in the glove box. A clean murder and not one that will cause any hesitation from the life insurance company.
A rap to my window startles me (a killer who wants to introduce himself?), and the far-too-pale-for-California face of Mike peers in. Mike introduced me to Julie, who worked as an account exec in his office. He also talked me out of walking away after I’d caught her in an affair. A good friend, and not someone who should be around when a killer is about to arrive.
“Mike, what the fuck dude?” I ask as he lets himself in. I’m high enough to smirk as his eyebrows raise from a whiff of what no doubt smells like a Blues Traveler concert. “Sorry for interrupting, but I needed to talk to you.” He looks concerned. Did Julie see the several large withdrawals from my personal accounts over the last six months and miraculously figure something out?
“Julie told me you were heading to the beach and I thought you might be at our old stoner spot.”
“The more the merrier, dude,” not wanting to be a shitty host, I hold out the joint. Mike waives me off, hardly looking at me, horrified at what cancer has done to my body and sense of moral rectitude.
“We’ve got to discuss.. something,” Mike stammers, trying to collect his thoughts. He’s sweating, but it is mid-August and he was always too cheap to use the AC.
He takes a deep breath, starts with “It’s about Julie”, and I suddenly know the rest. Julie has strayed before. Mike has been at our house almost every day. I thought just for me, but also it appears for her.
He rambles on about the affair, turning me into a stoned priest taking his confession and giving details I neither want nor need. Once I can tell he’s done purging his guilt, I smile as best I can.
“Don’t worry about it Mike. You have always been a good friend and I have not been able to give Julie the physical attention she deserves.”
Mike looks at me with a bastard concoction of guilt and relief, then leaks from his eyes without shame or embarrassment. He’d loved her from the first moment she’d walked into his office. He was just married at the time, so he introduced her to his best friend. Then his marriage falls apart and I start to die. Understandable.
“I love you, man. You and Julie deserve each other and deserve to be happy,” maximum eye leakage from Mike now. “And I’m glad you came by. The docs tell me I might lose the ability to speak after the next batch of chemo, so I wanted to give you something before that happens.”
“I want you to have my watch.”

03 May 2011

Our Story Begins..

(Note: I know, two posts in one day.. amazing what a job I actually enjoy can do for the creativity. This one was written in less than an hour with little-to-no editing, so forgive the grammar/spelling mistakes when you see 'em)

Noise. Loud noise.

I cinch up covers and try to ignore this intrusion. Rolling over tells me last night’s bed guest decided to am-scray.

No biggie, not the first time by any means.

What was her name? Leslie? No,.. wait, was it Linda? Shit, can’t remember.

She was cute. Pity she got embarrassed about last night and left.

Hope she caught a cab; Hill Street’s not the place for a nice Saturday night stroll.

I’m sure she did.. girls at her bachelorette party will probably look for her, what with the wedding today and all.

Holy fuck, why are they still yelling downstairs? I can hear Sledge, no surprise. Sledge’s voice has that Barry White resonance that lets you hear him no matter how softly he speaks.

Dammit, Yuri’s yelling back? What a dipshit. Gotta look into this.

Ass-spin to a sitting position on the bed.

Bad-fucking-idea. Drank way too much last night. Brain makes an attempt to escape via the left eyeball socket, forcing closure of both lids. Stomach shoots off a warning belch, lets me know a response will be swift and severe if these actions continue. Only one cure for this..

Slowly lay back down and blind reach into mini-fridge near bed. Fumble around and grab a can of Coke. Open, sip…

Bleah! Too sweet. Stomach has started pushing forces to the esophageal border.

Quick and gently reach on nightstand for mini-bottle of Jack. Open and poor into can. A couple of swirls, then drink. Much better. Improves when used to drown a fistful of Tylenol. Start to feel like I might survive.

More yelling downstairs.

Fuck these two. Noise will stop one way or another.

Stand up, reminding legs they serve a purpose. They still forget, and the bed draws my ass back like a paperclip to a magnet.

Second try has more success. Walking is another matter. The room is not spinning so much as it’s resting on invisible ball bearings during an earthquake. It’s a small miracle I make it to the stairs. I three-point walk down, pausing after each to push back any gastro-intestinal advances.

“You ignorant sap!” Sledge yells at Yuri. “Do you know how much trouble this could cause? It’s one thing for a couple hundred, but three thousand?”

Yuri for his measure, is pink, although I don’t know if it’s anger, embarrassment, or falling asleep in the sun. As usual, he has already sweat through his collar.

“Zshoo not tell me to do dis,” Yuri’s accent gets heavy when stressed. “I jus’ to take the card from cus-toe-mars an’ give them moneys.”

It’s true, Mikael Andreakopf made me hire his cousin as part of his condition to not squeal about my felony record to the liquor licensing board. After failed attempts as a bouncer (Yuri’s only slightly more intimidating than a bowl of apples), bartender (couldn’t figure out the twist-off tops on the beer bottles), and janitor (still trying to forget what happened to the urinals), he had found a job he could do – enter the exact amount the customer’s ask for and hand it to them once their card is approved.

“What happened?” I ask, louder than I should have. My cerebellum renews its attempts at freedom.

“Yuri allowed a customer to charge three thousand dollars.” Sledge says, as calmly as he can muster.


“Okay, he allowed Beta to charge three thousand dollars on a card.”

“I not know this man,” Yuri sputters, talking directly to me for the first time. “How I know this not his card?”

“It was an American Express platinum, and the name on the card was Laura Nguyen,” Sledge says while holding the card receipt as if he intends to shove it down Yuri's throat. While his volume has not increased since I entered, Sledge’s tone shows he is seething with rage. He walks over to the side door and opens it. Sure enough, Beta and his buddy Oscar are sleeping next to my dumpster, a bottle of recently purchased and even-more-recently consumed vodka lying empty next to Beta’s leg. “Does he look even mildly Asian to you?”

Yuri is now looking at me, at a loss for anything resembling an answer. I know I can’t harm him lest I bring down the wrath of his cousin. Yuri also knows this, but he can see I’m contemplating if it’d be worth it. A big-dollar credit card fraud like this brings police investigation, which brings light to my little dark corner of the world, which endangers my livelihood (such that it is) as owner and proprietor of Dirty Jake’s Titty Bar and Pool Hall.

“How much money do you have, Yuri?” I ask. Yuri is like most recent immigrants, carrying a huge chunk of money with them at all times, sure they’ll be kicked out of the country and forced to leave whatever they’ve earned behind. After hesitating for a beat, Yuri pulls his money clip from his jacket and hands it to me. Even I am surprised for a moment until I realize Yuri’s been slinging dope for his cousin. I’ll have to worry about that part later.

I peel off the three thousand dollars, think about it, then take another grand. I hope Ms. Nguyen will be the understanding type. Heck, the name even sounds familiar. She might be a regular guest of the club. Give her the card and her money back, plus a grand for her trouble. She couldn’t report it stolen then, right? The power of positive thinking flows outward as I go to wake Beta and Oscar.

Beta has been a regular guest on my premises, and by “Guest” I mean he’s allowed to rummage through my dumpster for recyclables and sleep in the back area on two conditions: he doesn’t bother the customers and he isn’t visible from the parking lot or the street. Oscar is lazy, even by bum standards. He never climbs into the dumpsters, never is seen carrying the bags of cans and bottle to the recycler, and never does anything but mooch off those around him. I’d be ready to rudely awake both just based on where they’re sleeping, but am now thinking about giving them both a five-knuckle alarm clock. I decide I don’t want the risk of a skin disease and turn the hose on the sleeping pair, doing my part to keep the city clean.

“Wake up. Beta,” I say as I kick his legs.

“M’name’s not Beta,” he slurs. It’s true of couse, but Beta’s never told anyone his name as far as I know. He does habitually wear a ruined smock from the old Alpha-Beta Supermarkets, so he’s had the name for as long as I’ve been around.

“Yeah, whatever,” I answer. To let him know I’m serious, I give him a slight kick to the hip. “You need to show me where you found this credit card.” I pull the half-exposed credit card from the pocket on his smock. It's already smudged with a brown film I hope is old chocolate sauce but fear is fresh dog shit. This gets Beta’s attention, as he looks at me with a worried gaze.

“Wazn’t me, ‘t was Oscar,” he murmurs. Turning on his friend while he sits right next to you, what a classy act.

“Ok, but you and Oscar need to show me the purse where you got the AmEx,” I’m getting frustrated, but I also want to keep my distance. Fleas can leap a long way, I hear.

It takes a few minutes and a threatening look from Sledge, but they eventually stand up and tell me they found the purse in a trash can near Pacific Church of Christ’s Office of Homeless Services, but only took the credit cards and cash. Worried they’re lying just to make a run for it, I make them show me.

After a couple of blocks fighting against wind changes, Beta points at a dumpster. Panicked and fearing a beating or worse, I can forgive them for not noticing the police tape cordoning the area around it. I have more trouble with their failing to notice the woman obviously tossed inside like so much garbage, one arm bent over the side as if she made a last attempt to climb out. A half-hour later, the crime scene techs lift her out, and I see Laura Nguyen for the first time since she left my bed this morning.

The Ex in Extreme

“Give me the gun.”

I despise Det. Fuchs with every fiber of my being. In the past two years he’s stolen at least a kilo of medicinal-grade cannabis, “borrowed” two vehicles only to return them in various stages of wreckage, and mooched enough whiskey to float a mid-sized ocean liner. I’d have planted him in the Carlsbad kelp beds weeks ago if he wasn’t a member of the Oceanside PD Vice Squad and married to Mallory, one of my best dancers.

And right now the tweaked-out sack of donkey shit is pointing a wicked-looking pistol at her head.

“Seriously Michael, you need to give me the gun,” I lock-in eye contact with Fuchs as I notice Sledge creeping behind him. Sledge is extremely protective of all our dancers and had to be restrained from ending Fuchs the first time Mallory came in with a facial bruise. I hope Sledge’s plan is just to disarm Fuchs. The last thing Dirty Jake’s needs is OPD Homicide sniffing our asses.

“Kiss my ass, Doc!” Fuchs yells at me. Or at least I think that’s what he meant to yell. The shitbird closed an undercover case on a low-end hash dealer two weeks ago and has been on a meth-and-booze bender ever since. Right now he sounds like a flat tire trying to order sushi.

“Put it down and we can talk about this,” I have my hands out, palms down and fingers splayed, pushing down on air in hopes of deflating the situation. I can see the rage boiling in Sledge’s eyes. If he hits Fuchs, Sledge may not stop until his knuckles reach the far side of his skull.

“Hassenpfeffer!” Fuchs says (I’m almost certain, although I’ve never known someone able to mumble and yell at the same time). He’s completely out of his mind on speed. His shirt, which appears to have once been a high-quality Panama Jack, now looks recently used on a baby’s ass after its meal of chili and prunes. His face and eyes are in an argument about who has more visible veins, with his nose turning in an MVP-quality performance.

“Donuts the black flying squirrel!” His hands are so jittery, I’m not sure if it’s his own anger or the Sudafed Sweetener that swings the gun in my direction.

It’s at this time Mallory decides to squeeze the baby juice out of her husband’s nutsack. Like most men, Fuchs’ initial reaction to this is a full-body freeze. This opening allows me to whack Fuchs’ wrist with a nearby pool cue, then follow up with back-hand the side of his head, causing the gun to hit the floor only slightly before the rest of Fuchs.

Sledge jumps forward and grabs Fuchs’ limp form. “Now what?” he asks, visibly disappointed at not being able to do physical harm to the detective. Fuchs is high-profile enough that we can’t simply kill him and drop the body off the pier, but just dumping him in an alley and hoping we can avoid retribution is too much wishful thinking for my taste.

“Deliver him to the Blade,” Mallory says from behind us, rubbing the spot where Fuchs tried to push the barrel of his gun through her skull.

The Oceanside Blade is our town’s newspaper, if by “newspaper” you mean twenty pages of ads sandwiched between a smattering of junk stories I hesitate to call journalism. Sure, if this were New York City we’d have an actual newspaper office, maybe even a reporter just dying to do a story about a junkie vice cop. But since we live in military town, the ability to question authority figures has been bred out of the local media like blood clotting from the British royalty.

We decide it will be hard to ignore a passed-out cop (even one labeled a “hero” no more than a week ago) driving his car through the paper’s glass-walled office. Sure, he didn’t actually “drive” so much as sleep through the entire experience as we popped his car into gear after aiming it at their building. I even feel good about deciding to put the asshole’s seatbelt on before sending him on his little excursion into infamy.

“Here are your divorce papers,” I tell Mallory as Sledge hands her a manila envelope “We had Dillon draw them up for you a while ago, hoping you’d make this decision on your own”. The look of surprised confusion is a hard shift from the joy she had watching her soon-to-be-ex ‘s slow ride into The Blade.

“He has to be out of your life, and it will be easier with what he’ll go through for this,” Sledge adds.

“Sorry to be a dick, Mal, but it’s him or your job. We’re tired of having to clean up after him.”

07 November 2010

Chapter 1- Unlikely Cavalry

[Sorry about the extremely long gap between posts. Old job ended, new job started. Creativity dried up. I've outlined the bulk of this story. The beginning sounded like a good place to start.]

“Alarm, alarm! The is Captain Andreas of the airship Filigree requesting all assistance! We are under attack by pirates and are severely outgunned!”

"Sounds like you’re fucked, friend,” Wishbone said to the radio. The San Diego police had a strict policy against flying more than a half-mile from the coast, and most of their pilots were unskilled in air combat. The Filigree should just let the pirates take their cargo and file the loss with their insurance company.

Besides, Wishbone had six hundred cases of Vancouver’s finest whiskey to deliver to the Blue Duck. Six hundred cases purchased with borrowed money.

Please, there are women and children onboard!” Wishbone heard the hollow pop-pop-pop of machine guns in the background. Cursing under his breath, he reached for the communicator.

Filigree, what is your position?”

We are six miles offshore of San Juan Capistrano. We are under attack by at least a dozen gyros. Can you assist?”

Wishbone climbed topside and looked north. A good two miles away, he could see the attacking ship and its nose cone of highly polished brass, just like the previous three. Before he’d even put down the specs he’d turned around Sally.

Repeat, can you assist!?”

He felt sorry for the captain as he heard the desperation seep into his voice. It was likely the pirates were monitoring the frequency, so any reply would get their guard up. Not that they’d be looking in the water.

He got a good look at the Filigree. A travel ship, the passenger pod was almost all dark wood with metal joints. It had a deck on top of the balloon portion, where a half-dozen crewmen fired rifles while attempting to extinguish the fires from the attacking gyro-pods. Like most civilian pilots, the Filigree’s captain had focused on the immediate threat and not its source. Trying to hit the fast-moving gyros with a standard issue firearm was near impossible. At least two dozen of the ash-spewing bastards spun around the ship like flies around a bloated whale corpse. They were making no attempt to board her; this was a crash-and-salvage piracy.

San Sebastian III hovered a few hundred yards away from the battle. Wishbone never understood why King Ralph insisted that all his flagships bear the brass nose, but it certainly made them easy to identify. The carrier blimp was much like its owner; slow and ridiculously gaudy.

“This is Black Sally hailing San Sebastian, requesting a line of communication with your captain.” A few seconds passed, making Wishbone wonder if Ralph was actually on-board this time.

This doesn’t fucking concern you ‘Bone.” Ralph’s voice cracked in panic and a minor grin creeped into Wishbone’s mouth.

“I know Ralph, but these nice people don’t want to play with you. What have I told you about attacking tourists?”

A few of the gyros spun off from the attacking group and came right at Wishbone. Multi-frequency radio? Ralphie had upgraded since their last encounter.

“So that’s the way you want to play, eh Ralphie?” Wishbone clicked off the microphone as he opened the rocket box. Each gyro had a fixed-mount machinegun above the lower blades. One of the more eager pilots fired a few pot shots from long distance. None came close to hitting Wishbone or his boat.

Good to see you still hire amateurs, Wishbone thought to himself. Instead of coming at him from multiple angles, the gyros flew at him in a v-attack formation. Wishbone fired the rocket into the middle of the gyro group. While not pinpoint accurate, it did fly straight enough to be effective. A couple of the more alert gyros attempted to spin off from the group too late, as the rocket’s magnesium fireworks detonated in a wide blue-white burst. The detonation was a mild concussion, just enough to throw the now-blinded pilots wildly off-course and slamming them into each other or the frigid ocean.

Black Sally plowed through the wreckage, already moving at full speed towards the San Sebastian. Wishbone hoped Ralph’s main gunner had watched the initial attack and also been blinded by the fireworks display. While an empty Sally could easily evade even an experienced marksman, the full load of bootleg whiskey made her a bit heavy in the water. The twin cannons fired, missing wide. Blind or amateur, Wishbone muttered. Good to know my luck’s holding up.

“Last chance Ralph. Pull off your mosquitoes and head back to Ensenada.” Wishbone pulled out the big rocket and mounted it on Sally’s aft deck. This one was larger than the one fired at the gyros. Soon-Yi’s brother had built it with razor-sharp fins and a nose cone designed to penetrate wooden and thin metal frames. It had a range of only a hundred yards, so Wishbone had to almost be right under his target. One just like it had taken down San Sebastian II. Wishbone didn’t understand all of the math and science behind it, but had enjoyed watching Hong-Yi perfect them over Mission Bay under the guise of a fake Korean New Year celebration.
Just as he was ready to light the fuse, Wishbone heard the pop-fizz of his radio. Good, he thought, maybe Ralph learned from the last time.

Fuck you, you half-breed piece of shit!” Ralph screamed over the radio, followed by a loud clang from the Sebastian. Wishbone then saw it lay what appeared to be a large black egg.

With a fuse.

Wishbone barely had enough time to get below deck and hit the ballast release for a quick dive before the bomb exploded on the water. The force ripped away Black Sally’s upper deck and banged Wishbone against the passage walls. When his ears stopped ringing he could still hear Ralph’s laughing taunts coming in through the radio.

Got you, you bastard! I got you!”

Wishbone muttered to himself as he stood up and grabbed the second rocket from its box. He had won Black Sally in a game of poker from a Russian aristocrat fleeing the Bolsheviks. The poor schlub had purchased her sight unseen from a corrupt general in the Russian Imperial Navy as he fled east towards Japan, only to find he suffered from severe claustrophobia after less than a week below decks. Even after an Australian shipyard added a false boat atop the sub, the Russian found sea life ran counter to his opulent lifestyle and settled in Seattle, where he developed a reputation as a great drinker and a horrible gambler, and almost seemed relieved when Wishbone to possession of her. The first false boat flew off by accident during Wishbone’s first smuggling expedition. Since then, many a Treasury department or police airship had chased down Sally’s false upper boat as it aimlessly fled out to sea, allowing Wishbone to slink into San Diego undetected in his cargo sub.

Wishbone peaked out of his now-surfaced submarine to get his bearings. The false boat floated in a scattered, flaming debris field twenty yards away. No time to set up the floor mount, Wishbone braced himself against the exit ladder, lit the fuse, and closed his eyes. The recoil force banged his shoulder into the hatch door, but from this distance aiming was almost not necessary.

“Allow me to light that victory cigar, Ralph”

The rocket pierced the balloon’s silk noiselessly, but the detonation lit it up like one of Soon-Yi’s paper lanterns, burning new and larger holes and allowing the helium to escape almost at once. Wishbone flew to the lower deck controls, slamming the prop-control to full forward. The remaining silk and elevation controls slowed the descent of the latest Sebastian, causing it to land in the water with a still loud but not lethal crash. Wishbone he had no time to enjoy the spectacle.

“Paging Filigree. What is your status?”

This is Filigree. We’re fine captain. The gyro-pods all left after you crashed the Sebastian.”

“They don’t have much of a range. Without their courier-blimp, they will have a hard time reaching shore before their fuel runs out.”

Well, no lost sympathy there. They took out two of my crew. What is your name, sailor? I have a few dozen passengers who owe you their lives. And a few of them are wealthy enough to pay for it, too.

Wishbone paused. He wasn‘t familiar with the Filigree but from looking at her he could tell she catered to an exclusive clientele. The type of people who could pay off his debt to Libby Kohl, make it where he only had to smuggle when and what he wanted.

But announcing that would definitely draw attention to him and the Stingaree. The last thing he and Soon-Yi wanted was a bunch of yellow journalists stinking up their part of town looking for the “hero smuggler“.

“Don’t worry about it. Let’s just say I’m a fireworks salesman cruising down from the Barbary who got off a good shot.”

The radio was quiet. Wishbone hoped the captain was going to take him on his word.

“Okay then. Thanks for the help. You change your mind, look me up. Captain Scott Andreas out of Long Beach. I may not have everything my passengers do, but I’d sure like to buy you a drink.”

Wishbone smiled as he heard the Filigree’s engines fire up to continue on their journey.

“Sure,” he thought, looking at his cargo, several boxes of which had the tell-tale stains of broken bottles, “I could use a drink.”

14 May 2010

Happy Birthday Mom

This is Mom.. today she is 60 years old.
It’s strange when your parent turns sixty. As a kid, the idea of them being that old is unthinkable. Your grandparents are sixty..

One of Mom’s favorite books is “The Giving Tree”. In it, an apple tree loves a boy and gives him everything. First its fruit, later itself. The boy becomes and old man, the tree nothing but a stump. The book says the tree is happy at the end, but I never believed it.

Mom raised two kids, my sister Amy and I. We never appreciated her enough. How could we? Kids have no concept what it means to be a single parent. We became angry at her over what we didn’t have instead of loving her for what we did, unable to see the effort she put forth to give us the moments of happiness we experienced.

She married again, trying to create another family for us out of spare parts but knowing it was a losing proposition. To say she made the best of it is another understatement. She now had three stepchildren in their 20s living at home, if a couple of plywood “rooms” hastily built in her garage could be considered living. They worked menial jobs, blew every last dime on self-indulgence, and showed no inclination of “growing up”. But Mom loved them both. She genuinely cared about these people, even as they treated that which she provided them as their right instead of a generous gift. All the while trying to teach her own children responsibility and show them the need to become responsible adults.

Then she became honest with herself, made a decision purely for herself for the first time in my life. I was in college, and after dinner one night she told me she was gay. I could lie and say I was surprised, but what I felt was joy. Not that she was gay, but that she could now lead her life for herself. This was her telling me that.. she was going to be happy.

As she enters her seventh decade, my greatest hope is that she continues on this path. She has earned it..

10 May 2010

The Death of Beta

(Background: Beta is a minor character in the story I am currently writing. He is a homeless man known only by his nickname, a play on the old Alpha-Beta supermarket smock he wears. While I don't want to reveal the full details of what he does in the story that makes Doc want to kill him, for some reason I wrote this scene first)

“Weird fucking week, eh?” Beta smiles a mouthful of Cavity Creeps as he reaches for the bottle.

“Yeah, you could say that.” I contemplate holding the bottle just out of his reach, but let him have it when my eyes start to water. Even sitting on the beach with the winds blowing in from the ocean, I stay a good two feet from Beta to preserve my sense of smell.

Beta is already three sheets to the wind and tips over just from the weight of the bottle now half-empty. He takes a deep swig and I wonder if even the alcohol content of the dark whiskey is enough to kill the bacteria inside his mouth.

“So Lazarus confessed to it?” he asks as he hands back the bottle.

“Yeah, blackmail. He says she hit her head on a table after falling. Not sure if that will stick.” I hold the bottle up to my mouth and fake a pull.

“Damn shame. Even for a gook she was a hot piece of ass.” Another deep pull. “She had a real sweet voice, too.”


Beta giggles a bit, the alcohol has finally numbed the vocal filter. “After I got her wallet and stuff, she asked me for help.” Another giggle, and I want to twist his neck shut. I bite my bottom lip to stay calm. Beta has to talk. I need him to tell me what I already know. “Nuthin’ I could do.. She was already dyin’. Feel bad, though. Santos and I kept walkin’.”

I grab my cell after zero rings and say hello to no one. Beta is wasted to a point beyond noticing or caring. I tell my phone I will get there as soon as possible. “Gotta go, Beta.”

“You sure?” he says, gripping the bottle tightly.

“Yeah, you keep the rest. Sort of an apology for decking you the other day.”

Beta grins. He would gladly take a beat-down twice as bad for a full bottle of whiskey. Another deep pull, trying to finish it off in case I change my mind. Hygiene aside, I haven’t swallowed a single drop of the whiskey or the dozen barbiturates I threw in there before walking down to the beach with Beta. As he takes a long swig, I see the small outline of one sticking inside the bottle.

“Well maybe one for the road,” I ask as Beta reluctantly hands me the bottle. I try to casually swirl the bottle a few times and tip it up as if to drink. Pill gone. “Take care of yourself Beta.”

“Thanks again Doc.” Beta slurs as the bottle lands in his lap.

I turn and walk back to Jake’s, sparing one glance back at Beta quickly passing out into oblivion, surrounded by thousands of pock-mark steps struck in the sand. Within a few hours it will all be washed clean, if only for a short while.

08 May 2010

The Audition

( Background: My current story takes place in the early-1980s, in my old home of Oceanside, CA. The main character is Sam "Doc" Pepper, a former musician and owner of Dirty Jake's, a strip club that caters to the young Marines from nearby Camp Pendleton. City leaders have attempted to clean up this section of town in the past decade, even changing the name of the infamous Hill Street to a more tourist-friendly South Coast Highway.)

“Okay, show us your tits.”

The girl hesitated, and Doc’s head drooped at the neck in frustration. She wants to work at a strip club and won’t take her top off in front of potential bosses. The irony, seasoned by Doc’s direct nature, made Sledge's mouth part in a minimalist grin.

“Lydia, there’s nothing to worry about,” Sledge being the comforter, “We just need to see them in a natural state, that your figure isn’t enhanced by artificial means.”

Her eyes went from embarrassed to indignant. “They’re real.”

“He means we have to make sure you’re not stuffing your bra, Peaches.”

She looked at her shirt, pausing as if the buttons would undo themselves. A frustrated sigh whistled through Doc‘s hand.

“Look, we’re not going to jump you. You’re not our type.” A truth. While she was definitely twenty-two (Sledge had made her bring her high school yearbook, a more complicated forge), she still sported the “innocent school girl” look. It brought in the customers but interested Doc only slightly more than Italian Renaissance poetry.

Sledge, on the other hand, loved Italian Renaissance poetry. He just preferred men.

Lydia unbuttoned her blouse, going slow as if this was an audition for a film and not a seedy strip joint just south of Camp Pendleton. Doc perceptibly rolled his eyes, causing another smile to cross Sledge's face. Both he and Doc realized stopping her now would only prolong this audition, so they remained quiet. Sledge knew she had the “talent” for the job. Gina was the most senior dancer as well as the best at scouting dancers. She liked the girl’s moxie and had asked Doc for Lydia's special audition last night.

The shirt came off in a practiced motion, thankfully without any burlesque twirling once removed. Even Sledge had to admit the girl was physically perfect. Creamy white skin unblemished by a single pimple or scar. She even lacked breast tattoos, something that plagued almost all their recent auditions.

“Okay, here’s the rules. No hooking, ever. You get caught or arrested for it, even if it’s on your day off, you’re gone.” This was a rule Sledge and Gina had forced on Doc. Not that Doc wanted to pimp the girls out; he just didn’t care if they did it on their own time. Gina had almost quit over his laissez-faire attitude. “Next, no hard drugs. You smoke a bud with your friends at a concert, that’s your business. But you come to work with needle marks or pipe burns or shaking from the DT’s, that all folks.” Doc’s rule. Gina had fought for “diet pills”, but Doc wouldn’t allow it. Personal history is a bitch sometimes.

Sledge still wasn’t sure about this one. She was sucking on her bottom lip, in what was probably shame but reminded Sledge of a teenager asking her parents for the keys to the family car.

“Okay, here’s the employee agreement. You don’t have to sign it now, just bring it in on Satur-” Doc paused mid-handover, eyes locked on her hand. Sledge followed his eyes until he saw what had caught Doc’s attention.

“So how long have you been married, Lydia?” Doc had already pulled back the small packet of new hire forms. Lydia had taken the ring off, but the impression in her finger showed she'd only done it right before driving to her audition.

“About a year, why?”

Shit. “What rank is he?”

“Lance Corporal.”

Sledge looked away.

“Sorry honey, tell your husband if he wanted to be married to a stripper he should have married one instead of trying to make one.”

A confused look.

“It’s real simple; your husband started clamoring about money, right?”

She nodded, her confusion slowing it down considerably. “We wanted to move off-base and into our own home.”

“And he then he suggested you pulling a few shifts here would make a lot more money than thirty hours a week at the PX, right?” Sledge’s words came out calm, trying to ease her into the understanding.

“But he’s right,” Lydia’s rationalizing reflex had already kicked in, “You’ll pay me almost four times what I could make working there.”

“True, but what about your friends? Have you told any of them?”

Lydia’s eyes looked into a dead space a few inches off of the floor. The strong head shake was unnecessary; of course she hadn’t. Most of her friends were probably military wives. She still didn’t make the next logical step. Sledge was about the dust off the path, when Doc could no longer hold the frustration.

“And I bet a few of HIS friends asked when you started, right?” He stayed in his desk chair, but from her reaction you’d think Doc was yelling an inch from her face. “And they’re all the single ones, too? Now let’s think, why would he tell them? What possible reason? You’re wanting to start a family soon, right?” Another baby nod. “So you won’t be working here very long? And I bet all of them said they’d be there for ‘moral support’ on your first day, right?” Double-nod. “Tell me Lydia, does your husband get stuck at the office late most days?”

Sledge winced at Doc’s rough shifting of the conversation. Lydia nodded again.

“Been fighting a lot lately?” Another nod.

“But not about money?” A paused head shake.

A thick tear rolled down her cheek, followed by several friends. Sledge got up to comfort her, but shot a harsh glance at Doc in transit. Doc's directness was sometimes cruel, even by strip-club owner standards. The school-girl innocent look had actually been honest for once. Her agreement to this "career path" was obviously motivated by tearing him away from whatever action he got at the “office”.

“Here honey,” Sledge said in a calm voice as he slipped Vanessa’s card into her hand. “She’s an old friend of ours. Her real estate agency is always looking for new salesman.” Especially amongst former military wives who get dragged halfway across the country by their husbands only to end up stranded after he hooks up with a suntanned native.

Lydia stood up and looked at Doc. “But what do I tell my husband?” Even Doc had to admit the girl was an optimist.

“Tell him you didn’t get the job, because you didn’t.” Doc stood up to herd her towards the exit. “But do that after you talk to Vanessa. I’m sure she’ll hook you up.”

Sledge shut the door after walking her out.

“Tell Gina she owes me,.. Big time.” Doc sighed as he popped open a ginger ale.

“She didn’t know?”

“She knew.. The guy probably over-tipped her big time, so she felt obligated, of course. To the wife.”