...... The desperate sort.
...... A month prior I'd celebrated my thirty-eighth birthday, during which I came to the conclusion I'd never patronize, let alone headline, the L.A. Whiskey.
...... All right, Calumet City. Are you ready to rock'n'fuckin'roll?
...... A couple half-ass hollers from the pool table next to the stage. On certain shots, Randy, the bassist, had to step aside to accommodate a cue stick.
...... C'mon, people. Who's ready to rock'n'roll?
...... Fuck you.
...... I recognized the voice. Dimebag Deryk, the bartender. He'd been sporting the nickname Dimebag since before Dimebag Darrell was even a penny sack. Deryk's fuck you was our cue to launch into a cover of Nashville Pussy's Go To Hell. The beauty of covering such an obscure song was that it could be mistaken for an original if you didn't know any better. The crowd at The Whiskey never knew any better.
...... It didn't help that Dana kept rushing the beat. Her poor drumming might have had something to do with the inadequate gigs we'd been pulling down lately. I knew when I brought her in her skills with the skins were sketchy at best. I kept waiting for improvement, but even the most mundane cover song remained a musical adventure.
...... We finished our first set with Blue Oyster Cult's Godzilla, the closest thing to a crowd-pleaser in our repertoire. The moment we finished, Dimebag Deryk flipped on the radio. Dance music. Immediately two whores wedged themselves onto the sliver of dance floor.
...... Damn, they looked rough in the face. I remembered when we attracted the girls who looked eighteen going on thirty. Now we drew thirty-year-olds going on fifty, pretending to be eighteen. And failing.
...... Zeke, you real busy?
...... The man speaking to me might have been classified as a hanger-on if there had been anything worth hanging on to. Scott Biniak, a fixture in the local club scene. Late twenties, good-looking in a scruffy way, I guess. The ladies seemed to like him more often than not. Only thing of note tonight was his Iron Maiden T-shirt, a relic of the World Slavery tour.
...... Nice shirt. I got a little bit of time. What's up?
...... I figured he wanted to go roast a bone in the parking lot. I might have been on the downside of local celebrity but the barroom rank and file still considered it a social enhancer to be seen toking up with me. Ain't no telling how much of his dope I'd smoked these last few years. I liked Scott just fine. But I wasn't in love with him.
...... I want to introduce you to someone, he said
...... I should know better by now, but every time I hear this line, I hope I'm about to be introduced to an attractive blonde with a wet spot for musicians. No dice. I followed Scott to the far end of the bar where there sat a man who simply did not belong.
...... I figured him to be in his late forties. Middle class distinguished. Freshly-barbered hair. Pleated slacks. Button-down shirt. He wouldn't have looked anymore out of place were he wearing a clown suit.
...... Record producer? I hated myself for even considering the notion. Zeke Zydeco and the Zig Zag Bandoliers couldn't score an audition to play at the north side casinos. We were lucky to find local gigs that paid an evening's worth of beer. That's why I began to spread the word that I'd poke into strangers' business for a fee.
...... Mr. Farnsworth," Scott said. "Here's the man I told you about. Zeke Zydeco.
...... I flipped the bangs out of my face, a nervous habit from when glam rock ruled the airwaves. We shook hands. His grip was firm and enthusiastic, as though he wanted me to know he could be trusted to sell me a damn fine used car. His watery blue eyes, however, held no cunning. He looked at me with an uneasy mixture of disgust, distrust, and hope.
...... I hear you've been playing these clubs twenty years," he said.
...... That's right.
...... So you're familiar with the area music scene?
...... On a molecular level.
...... Do you know who Lunchbox Armageddon are?
...... Right away he makes a liar out of me. Lunchbox Armageddon? Fortunately Scott caught my confusion before Farnsworth did.
...... They useta be the Screaming Shits when they were the house band at Tramp's Lounge. Then their guitarist left and joined 88 Donuts and they got the axe slinger from Rawhead Rex and renamed themselves Lunchbox Armageddon.
...... Cap'n Quimby's new band.
...... Scott nodded.
...... I always hated that poseur sonofabitch, I continued. Cap'n Quimby. Arrogant. Abrasive. Baritone. We played the same stage a time or two back in the day when he fronted Siberian Hussies and I led Death By Needlepoint.
...... I wouldn't be sure about the poseur part, Scott whispered, glancing about the bar as though he feared eavesdroppers. ridiculous considering most of these lost souls were too mentally eroded to even overhear the music. I've been hearing that Quimby is taking the whole Satanism thing more and more serious. To the point of human sacrifice.
...... Oh bullshit. That goofy bastard wouldn't sacrifice a cat. Where you hear this shit from?
...... Farnsworth said, "My daughter disappeared a week ago Friday. Cap'n Quimby was the last person seen with her. I don't even know if... well, I'm worried. She hasn't called. Hasn't made any contact whatsoever. It's not like her. He glanced at Scott. Even if it's just to ask for money. Me and my wife... we ... I got to know what happened to her.
...... What's the cops gotta say about this?
...... They're no help. She's an adult. They don't have the manpower to search for every daughter who don't come home for dinner.
...... I'm sorry to hear it, Mr. Farnsworth. But why are you coming to me with this? What am I supposed to do?
...... Farnsworth and Biniak exchanged looks again. You can move in circles I can't. You can get information not available to me. I don't have much money, but I can front you three hundred dollars. And I can give you another twelve hundred once you discover her... whereabouts.
...... What's her name?
...... Farrah. Her name's Farrah. I have pictures. He brought out his wallet and turned away from me as he dug out two pictures. The first picture looked like her senior high school portrait. It showed a fresh faced kid with long blonde hair and a dimpled chin. Her smile was crooked and her brown eyes too large for her narrow head. She missed being pretty by a genetic inch.
...... The second picture was taken with a digital camera and printed on cheap paper. I recognized the room where the picture had been taken but couldn't place it. There was a dartboard and a billiard table in the background. A neon Old Style sign hung from the wall. Farrah held a Budweiser in one hand. Her hair was crimped and wild. Seven layers of makeup attempted to thwart nature's design. She wore a midriff-baring tank top and jeans hung low on her hips revealing an acre of torso. Her free hand flashed devil horns. How very eighties.
...... Farnsworth looked as if he were stone-facing his way through a colon exam.
...... I tapped the heavy metal picture. Mind if I hold on to this?
...... Farnsworth nodded. My phone number's on the back. Call me with any information you find.
...... Scott turned away as Dimebag Deryk approached. Deryk rapped on my shoulder and asked if I planned on singing any time soon or should he get up there and stink the place up for me.
...... Dana laid with her back toward me. I ran my finger along the number 13 tattooed on her left shoulder blade The inked black cat perched atop the number regard me with flat jade eyes. I couldn't count the tattoos festooning her body. Skulls and reapers and flowers and so many symbols I wasn't certain at any one time whether I was looking at her or deciphering her. She claimed to have a tattoo for every ex-lover. I hoped this wasn't true.
...... I also wondered what kind of tattoo my absence would warrant. A big one, like the spread-eagle crow on her breastbone? Or a tiny one, like the spider inked on her pinky finger.
...... Why would he come to you with this? Dana asked.
...... I don't know. None of this makes sense.
...... What'd Scott say?
...... Didn't get the chance to talk to him. He was gone by the time we finished our second set.
...... That's weird. How does Scott even know this guy?
...... My finger traced down the black vertebrae tattooed over her spinal column. I wondered if she considered the vertebrae separate tattoos.
...... I don't know. I don't know anything. Me and Quimby go back a ways but not in the right ways. Shit. Farrah Farnsworth's probably sucking cock on Cicero Avenue for crack rock.
...... Then find her and bring her home.
...... "The closest I come to Quimby, his current guitarist played for Kissing Cousins for a bit when I was their singer.
...... Actually talking to Philip Stacks didn't sound like such a bad idea. After Dana sank into sleep, I laid on the thin mattress for a long while, watching the sunlight play psychedelic games with the ceiling's water stains.......
...... Lunchbox Armageddon. The band's name writ in six-inch-high letters on the marquis outside Road Runners, below THURS NITE LADIES NITE and DOLLAR DRAFTS. It had been a couple years since I last saw my band's name in any-sized letters on any club marquis.
...... I'd searched for Scott earlier, stopping at several bars along State Street I knew him to frequent. No joy. I'd heard he kept a room at the Jefferson Hotel. When I asked the old prune at the desk for his room number, she looked at me as though I were crazy.
...... I'd have felt better walking into Road Runners with someone watching my back. But the rest of the band was busy. Dana was off doing the punk rock thing -- visiting her folks out in Griffith, Randy was taking the night off to smoke dope and stare at his apartment walls and Taylor was jamming with Scatlovers at the Philco, a fact which led me to believe I'd be in the market for a new guitarist soon.
...... Road Runners was a biker bar, apparent by the two dozen Harley Davidson motorcycles lined up like dominoes along the curb.
...... With plywood blotting out the windows, the interior remained a permanent hazy twilight. Decorations didn't extend far beyond a few centerfolds ripped from Easy Rider and an airbrushed mural of bikers, looking noble, the country's last true rebels wandering the nation's highways and byways, asking women to show their tits.
...... Leather and denim clad beasts crowded the mahogany. There was a pool table like a gladiator's arena. The combatants wielded cue sticks and wore sunglasses to shield their eyes from the light cast by the Budweiser billiard table chandelier. The place reeked of sweat and saddle oil and toilets left unflushed too long. The stage was a raised platform wedged between the bar and the bathrooms. There was the standard drum kit flanked by Peavy amps. Three microphone stands. No musicians.
...... And no bouncers at the door, either. The rabble policed after themselves. A surprising amount of decent-looking women mingled with the savages. They must have been incredibly brave. I'm all man, and I half-feared coming in here and getting gang-banged by the patrons, many of whom I suspected were no strangers to the penal system.
...... A blonde wearing stone-washed blue jeans ripped out at the knees walked past. There was a strategically-located tear in the denim below her left butt cheek, flashing a tantalizing amount of tanned skin. A space opened for her at the bar. She wedged a Marlboro between her bright red lips. The man to her left flicked a Zippo and lit her smoke. He'd changed some since last we spoke, but I knew him.
...... I glanced about the barroom as I approached. No Cap'n Quimby. It was now or never. Stacks, is that you underneath all that black?
...... Philip Stacks' long hair looked as though it had recently tussled with an octopus, so inky black you'd expect to pull back smudged fingertips if you touched it. His eyebrows were the same mousy brown his hair use to be when he played for Kissing Cousins. The baggy black pants and Slayer Reign In Blood T-shirt were also departures from his tight Levis and two-pound belt buckle days.
...... I'm good, Zydeco. Real good.
...... Maybe, but he looked uncomfortable to see me, the one man who could link him to a time when he favored Uncle Tupelo over Cousin Itt.
...... I'm on top of the world, myself. I nodded at his woman who looked a helluva lot rougher in the face at three paces than she did at thirty. Still, you could forgive a lot of imperfections with an ass like hers.
...... Stacey, Stacks said. This is an old acquaintance. Zeke Zydeco. His band plays The Whiskey. He said this the same way one might say "he fucks chickens at his gramma's farm."
...... Stacey raised an eyebrow then looked away.
...... So what brings you, Zeke? I hope you're not here looking for Taylor's replacement. Cause I'll tell you right now, I'm staying where I'm at.
...... No, Taylor's not going anywhere, either. I wasn't able to look Stacks in the eye when I said this. I'm looking for a girl.
...... Ha, you're still in the wrong place. Unless you got yourself a twenty thousand dollar iron horse parked outside, which I doubt.
...... Actually, the girl I'm looking for swings off rockers more than bikers. You might know her. Farrah Farnsworth?
...... Recognition flitted past his eyes. He took so long to answer I figured he decided not to. I reached into my jacket pocket.
...... I got a picture to jog your memory.
...... I don't need no picture. I know who you're looking for.
...... And do you know where I can find her? Her father's worried.
...... He sneered at the word father. You don't know what the hell you're talking about. Since when does her father give a shit about her?
...... Since about a week ago. I was hoping you could tell me what happened. This was the last place she was seen. You don't know if she left with anyone. A biker, maybe? Or even Cap'n Quimby?
...... Stacks laughed. Anyone knows the Cap'n knows she ain't his type. You want to know what happened to her, talk to her boyfriend, Scottie Biniak.
...... Yeah. She left with him. And he didn't look too happy with her when they left. Guess he didn't like the way she was all over Quimby's cock. Now if you're done playing detective, fuck off. You just being here, kinda sucks the cool outta the room. Know what I mean?
...... As I walked to the door, Stacks said, Give our regards to Dana. I pretended not to hear.
...... Outside Pasquale's Greek diner I phoned Mr. Farnsworth. No answer. No answering machine, no voicemail, nothing. Calling Dana's cell phone netted me an automated response informing me this Verizon user was unavailable.
...... Walking the block and a half toward Barney's Tap, I thought about what I knew and what I didn't know pertaining to Scott Biniak and Farrah Farnsworth. Had Scott mentioned he was intimate with Farrah during the course of our conversation? And was Mr. Farnsworth aware of this? I couldn't remember. The most pressing question: Why involve me?
...... Entering Barney's Tap, I was no closer to an answer. I sat near the window and ordered an Old Style. From this vantage point, I had an unobstructed view from The Road Runner down to the Whiskey A Go Go, what amounted to a two-block section of clubs and taverns, all that remained of the Sin Strip from Cal City's heyday before the steel mills shut down. Surveying the street, I could see the usual collection of vagrants and crackheads and people looking for action where there was no longer any action to be had.
...... Where was Farrah? Dead? And if so, was Biniak the murderer? As much as I hated Quimby, I couldn't see him killing anyone. He'd make an adequate scapegoat, though.
...... Biniak? I couldn't see it. Not out of any personal loyalty. Drug connections don't equate to friendship. He'd just been so passive, go with the flow, smoke another blunt, it's always Friday. Damn.
...... At a quarter to twelve I spotted him, alone, exiting Milskie's Tap, catty-corner from Barney's. He paused at the corner, shook out a Marlboro and lit it. I let him get half a block down the street before paying my tab with some of Farnsworth's three-hundred-dollar retainer.
...... I kept to the shadows, following Biniak at a discreet distance. He crossed the street ahead of me. I hung back and waited until he passed The Whiskey. Calling it a night all ready? Was he returning to the Jefferson Hotel?
...... I had to chance it. I cut through the alleyway between Steve N'Nick's Tavern and The Crestwood, disturbing a small circle of bums sharing a bottle of Wild Irish Rose. I cut over on the first residential street running parallel to State Street. I jogged two blocks, the twenty years worth of Marlboro tar gumming my lungs didn't allow me to go any faster than a light trot. I crossed the parking lot of DeLock's Liquor, which put the Jefferson Hotel in sight and left Scott a half block behind me.
...... The same old lady from earlier in the day still manned the counter. I imagined she lived her life behind that fucking counter, the lives being piped in through the television more real than the ghosts who rented beds from her. She glared at me through her bifocals, her eyes cut in half and stacked poorly. How many hours?
...... All night, ma'am.
...... Twenty dollars. That's with an eight a.m. wake-up.
...... She took my money but failed to ring it up on the register. She handed me a key worn to a flat maize color. Second floor, down the hall, she said. Don't forget, 8 a.m. wake-up. You don't want me waking you up at 8:30.
...... I left the lobby, avoiding eye contact with the two asphalt-faced whores sitting in threadbare chairs near the plate glass window. I stopped in the stairwell between the first and second floor. I could hear the sounds of desperate living. Angry bellows, derisive laughter, drunken catcalls. Nobody here goes to sleep so much as they slip into unconsciousness.
...... I waited I don't know how long, until I thought I'd mistaken his destination. I doubled back down the stairwell, shuffling into Scott Biniak.
...... Jesus Christ, Zeke, you scared the shit out of me. What are you doing here? Dana kick you out of the apartment?
...... Actually I came looking for you.
...... Oh yeah? You find out anything? About Farnsworth's daughter?
...... We stood there, staring at each other. Scott looked away first. Maybe we should talk in my room, he said, withdrawing a Judas Priest key fob holding only one key. I got some beers on ice.
...... I think it's better we talk in my room. Fewer distractions.
...... Biniak looked defeated. But then, he always looked defeated. I let him walk ahead of me, down the depressing hallway. Moldy discolored carpet, walls cheetah-spotted with chipped paint, and everywhere the cloying odor of urine and mildew.
...... My room was more of the same. In the far corner was a mouse hole in the baseboard like something out of Tom and Jerry cartoons. I motioned toward the bed. Sit down, Scott.
...... He did as he was told. I leaned against a wobbly TV stand across from him. It supported a thirteen-inch television with a UHF dial. Next to the television sat a rotary dial phone from the same era. I doubted either worked.
...... Not playing The Whiskey tonight? Scott asked.
...... Why didn't you tell me you were seeing Farrah?
...... What do you mean?
...... You were sitting right next to Farnsworth talking about his missing daughter and you don't mention she's your girlfriend. What does that look like?
...... Scott nodded. See, that's exactly why I didn't mention it. The boyfriend is always the number-one suspect, and that's bullshit. She was hanging with Cap'n Quimby and his little gang of psychopaths and now she's gone and she ain't coming back.
...... I heard she was last seen with you and you weren't a happy camper.
...... Come on, Zeke, who told you that shit?
...... I got sources. That's why you came to me, right?
...... Your sources can kiss my ass. That sick fucker Quimby killed her. Sacrificed her.
...... Enough already. He's not really a Satanist. It's all a gimmick. He's just a singer. A bad one. Real Satanists don't run around with inverted crosses all over the place.
...... Scott began massaging his temples. I came to you with this 'cause I trusted you. I knew you hated Quimby but still traveled close enough to his circles to maybe ferret out what happened to her. I don't want to believe he killed her any more than you do. But she goes off with him and all of the sudden she's vanished. I was hoping you'd find out something I could take to the cops. I give you three hundred dollars and the best you can say is she was last seen with me?
...... Mr. Farnsworth paid --
...... Scott leapt from the bed. There is no Mr. Farnsworth. That was just some fuck-o who lives at Milskie's. I slipped him a few bucks and a coupla free drinks. Farrah's been on her own since she was fourteen. Her parents are as dead to her as she is to them. That's why no one's gonna miss her but me.
...... Sit down, Scott.
...... Fuck you. Gimme back my money and I'll do what I should've done before. Buy a gun and shoot Quimby in the fuckin face.
...... Calm down, Scott.
...... Scott lurched at me and I reacted. Overreacted. Between the dope and the lifestyle, I weighed a hundred and sixty pounds. Skin and bones and a head full of hair. I couldn't fight. With Biniak bearing down on me, Biniak who may or may not have recently killed his girlfriend, I defended myself. I grabbed the telephone and busted him across the head with it.
...... I caught him solid an inch above his left ear. I felt his skull shift sickeningly. The telephone ringer chimed with the impact. He collapsed as though gun-shot, his body thudding on the floor loud enough for every drunk, whore, doper, bum, pimp and night auditor to have heard it. Nothing sounds quite like a body hitting the floor.
...... I set the phone down gently on the TV stand. A gooey lump of hair stuck to the corner of the phone. I flicked it off and wiped my fingers on my jeans.
...... Scott Biniak lay sprawled at the foot of the bed. Blood pooled beneath his head. He was still breathing, shallowly, it seemed. Just barely. Maybe he'd continue breathing. Maybe not.
...... I opened the door and left the room, walking the filthy hallway with my head down, passing one of the worn out whores from the lobby escorting her john.
...... I got out the front door, took two steps and puked my guts onto the sidewalk.
...... Amateur, hissed an old man sitting with his back to the wall.
...... I gagged, wiped my mouth with my jacket sleeve. I kept my face turned away from him. I wanted to beat his head against the bricks. And now I knew I could do it.
...... Dana hadn't made it back to the apartment by the time I arrived. I took a long hot shower. After toweling off, I called Farnsworth's number. No answer. I called Dana's cell phone and immediately got her voicemail. Following a couple hours of broken sleep and throughout the next day I repeated the calls with the same response.
...... I expected to meet Dana at The Whiskey in time for our show. She'd never missed a show since she joined The Zig Zag Bandoliers. She missed this show.
...... It gave Taylor the excuse he was waiting for to quit the band. Randy and I sat at the bar drinking kamikazes chased with Corona limebackers paid for with the remainder of Farnsworth's money. Well, Scott's money.
...... Dimebag stayed away from me. As little as he liked my music, finding a new house band didn't sit well with him.
...... Where the hell could she be? I muttered.
...... Randy looked at me sideways. You really don't know, do you?
...... Know what?
...... Dude, she's been making time with Cap'n Quimby for, like, two weeks. She told me not to tell you. She wanted to tell you herself. Figured it was only a matter of time before Quimby offered her a position in his band and she could make a clean break. Don't look so surprised. I guess the boyfriends are always the last ones to know.
...... I could hear Lunchbox Armageddon from outside the club. Stacks' screeching guitar drowned out Quimby's vocals. They might have been covering old Megadeth. It was fast and loud and incomprehensible. I paid the cover charge and slipped inside Road Runners.
...... The beautiful thing about looking like everyone else, no one notices you when you don't want to be noticed.
...... Zydeco. Checking out the competition?
...... At least in theory.
...... I couldn't put a name to the long-haired, goateed guy talking to me. I smiled and nodded and melted into a crowd of other long-haired, goateed rockers. Black hair, black leather, black mascara. No Dana. No Farrah.
...... Inverted crosses adorned several necks. Triple 6 tattoos were in abundance. Also there were various pagan symbols lumped in with the sinister by the ignorant. It was like one big satanic ritual as envisioned by Roger Corman.
...... I hated these people. Hated their MTV perception of evil. Hated Dana for hanging with these people.
...... What are you doing here?
...... Dana. I'd walked past her without the slightest tingle of recognition. She looked like she'd been dipped in a can of royal blue housepaint by an angry interior designer, then had her face riveted by an enraged iron worker. There were studs sticking out of her cheeks, along her eyebrows, lips, nostrils.
...... I couldn't hide my surprise. Seeing her this way. Alive.
...... "I see you've reinvented yourself, again. How gothic of you, I said.
...... Zeke, you still look the same as you did in 1988. Good God, man. Even Brett Michaels changed his style.
...... We stood there an uncomfortable moment. Metalheads of all stripes shuffled between and around us in a fury of angst and scary T-shirts. Good to see you, I said.
...... Don't. This has been a long time coming.
...... I don't mean that way. I'm just saying Farrah was last seen with Quimby, and, well ..."
...... Gimme a break, man. People disappear here all the time. They go back home, or go to rehab, or just quit coming around. Eventually everyone goes away. Except you, Zeke Zydeco. You'll be here when you're ninety. Wrinkled and gray and still playing stuff no one wants to hear.
...... Maybe, but I'll never sell my soul.
...... I walked out the door, back down the street where I'd trailed Biniak not long before. That was the last time I saw Dana. And I don't care. I am here and she is not.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Karl Koweski.