Happy Holidays from your friends here on the Inter-Web-A-Tron. We hope that your holiday is off to a great start, and that you enjoy spending time with and / or avoiding your family. We know that you made the right choice – whichever one you made – and we hope that you get to spend the rest of the day in a food coma, hopefully drunk.
If it is entertainment you’re looking for, you should check out our previous Thanksgiving Leftovers programs, which usually feature stuff that we just didn’t get a chance to play the rest of the year. (Plus: we throw in some other thematic bits and bobs.
You can also enjoy my #NaNoWriMo2015 Novel, You Spin Me Right Round.
And, when you’re done with all of that, I recommend you check out archive.org’s amazing collection, “100 OTR Thanksgiving Holiday Shows,” which features an amazing collection of old radio programs of every variety, from the late ’30’s to the mid ’70’s. It is not only worth your time, but is a great resource to have on the web.
And that’s it for the day. I mean, it’s a holiday, for fuck’s sake. What else do you want me to do?
9: Lady Luck
Fish glared at Fred, and without a word Fred grabbed me and walked me into Miles’ office, pushed me down into the nearest chair, and said, “I would stay here if I were you.” Fred shut the door behind me and I looked around to see if anything had changed since the last time I was here. Aside from a few files and stacks of records having been moved, there was little different in the office. But, as Miles was missing, it was also likely that he was the one who was on the gurney.
I didn’t get a chance to really see anything on the way in, but I saw Robert, the outline of a woman I couldn’t recognize, and another gentleman in a suit who was pacing around in the store. It appeared that an officer was in Johnny’s old office, but I couldn’t make out much else that seemed odd to me.
I stood up and listened at the wall that was shared with the bathroom, but couldn’t make out anything. Listening at the door did me no good either, but it was apparent that no one was in any hurry to talk to me. I relaxed and wandered around Miles’ office leafing through his desk, to pass the time. An envelope labeled “Marcus Little” caught my eye, partially sticking out of a lower drawer, and in it was $200 cash and four more joints, all of which I pocketed. But aside from Miles’ office stash, there was little else of real interest to be found. My phone buzzed but I ignored it, and began to glance at the photos on the wall. I recognized Angie from a Dig Your Grave flier, and there were a few other musicians and artists mixed in. I remembered the “Photograph” index card suddenly, and scanned the wall that was at eye-level when I was in the room before, and found a shot that read, “You Spin Me Right Round Staff Party.” There was one woman with her arm around Miles, and she was the same person I saw talking to “T A” the morning previous.
I paced the room a smidge, and glanced at my phone. It was a message from Carla saying, “Uhm, why did you give me a Weeknd CD last night?” I glanced at the message a few times, but wasn’t sure what she could mean by it.
“Don’t you mean ‘Mission of Burma’?”
She responded with a photo of the CD. “No, this is what you gave me last night.”
Something didn’t add up. I had given her the Mission of Burma tape for safe keeping, as I assumed she would never get rid of it, and most likely it was a clue. But now this?
I hammered out, “What are you up to later?”
“Working and avoiding you.”
“Can you bring the CD? I want to look at it.”
I paced some more, then fruitlessly sent a message to Sam, asking when I could see her next. But I suspected that she would be contacting me the next time we would get together. A slight twitch in my goin reminded me of some of the things we did last night, but if I had my way, we wouldn’t be so drunk and horny this time. Still, the thoughts were fleeting and pleasant, but by no means caused her to write back.
After a few minutes of working off the remaining nervous energy, it became clear that Detective Fish was going to be a while before he was going to talk to me, so I started futzing with a phone and rolled a J out of some clippings in Miles’ stash. I assumed that I would be in no more trouble than I already was, and Miles’ office always smelled like weed anyway. (And, if my guess was right, he wouldn’t be missing it at this point.) I started to feel a little sad about him getting knocked off. Miles was a nice enough gent, ran a good store, and seemed like the kind of guy I could be friends with in another lifetime, or under other circumstances. Up until now I assumed that he had a small case on his hands, internal fraud or an insubordinate employee. But now it was clear there was more going on than I suspected, and now that the stakes have been raised, I was wondering if I would be able to sort this out before I risked my own life.
Having worked up a pretty good buzz, I lit a cigarette and turned on the radio. Frankie was already in the middle of his morning block, where White Lion and Whitesnake were doing a back-to-back set that made my stomach crawl. As the songs ended, Frankie’s voice came on:
“That’s right, KLOW rockin’ it a loud as me can with our Metal In The Morning, as I paint myself into a White Corner of The ‘80’s. The hair may be receding and the spray has washed out, but the hair bands of your childhood roam the airwaves every morning on K L O W, with your fantastic DJ-tastic air-spastic host, Frankie Diamond!” I was almost ready to retch. “Now, we’ve got some terrible news, and this next track goes out to the friends and family of You Spin Me Right Round Records, who have suffered enough this month. It is with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to Miles Dangerfield, the owner of said palace of platter, who has been added to the great cut-out bin in the sky. You’ll never know how much you were missed here in this world, but let’s hope where you are are the turntables never stop. Now, here’s ‘Landslide’ in honor of this incredible force in the local scene. Some of us built our entire record collections around you, and we are afraid of loosing you and changing our lives completely. Here’s to the crew at You Spin Me Right Round, here on K L O W.”
At first I let Frankie’s bullshit wash over me, but as I started to piece together what it was all about, Detective Fish threw open the door. “Put that out, and turn off that crap. What are you, a teenager?”
I looked Fish up and down and said, “Well, at least I still look good enough to pass.”
Fish began to pace and said, “Well, have you got your alibi, or should we just take you back to the station with us?”
“Does drinking count as an alibi?”
“Oh, here and there. I don’t spend a lot of time in The City.”
Fish rounded on me, and leaned in. “I’m sort of glad you think this is a game. It’ll make pinning all of this on you all the more sweet.”
“What exactly are the rules to this game? I’m a little slow.”
Fish’s arm twitched, like he was going to slap me, but he relaxed and went back to pacing. “It’s funny, you show up at two of my crime scenes, and both times you’re looking for the person I was called in about.”
I shrugged. “Guess I’m a comedian. Is he alright?”
Fish turned around. “What do you think?”
I sighed. “He was a nice guy, he didn’t deserve this.”
“Tell me about it.”
“And he was found in Johnny’s office?”
I pointed to the office next door. “Where the boys in blue are working.”
Fish shook his head. “You seem to know a lot about what happened here.”
“And I saw a lot on the way in, too. So you think I did it?”
Fish cleared his throat. “You’re a suspect, for sure. Where’s Sam?”
“Is she a suspect too?”
“Cut the crap. Where is she?”
“How should I know?”
“Weren’t you wish her last night?”
“Who told you that?”
Fish’s eyes narrowed, and then turned away. “Nevermind, we’ll find her soon enough.”
“What about Angie?”
“What about her?”
“Seems as if she’s connected to KLOW and this store, too.” I pointed to the photo on the wall, to which Fish turned. While he looked away, I cast a spell and hammered something out on my phone.
Fish looked at the photo, then his pocket buzzed. He pulled out his phone and glanced at it briefly. “Shit.” He typed away on his phone, then turned to me.
“The Sham? Probably in the used LPs. Here, let’s take a look.”
Fish came over and grabbed my by the bow-tie. “Look, dipshit. I’ve seen you two more times that I would have liked to see you today, and you are lucky that you actually are a detective, or your ass would be downtown quicker than you can say, ‘Black Mask.’ So, while we’re on the subject, maybe you just give up this case right now before we get to three strikes, at which point I’ll no longer be responsible for what happens to you.”
I said, “But Miles was my client.”
Fish growled. “Of course he was. Well, he paid you in advance, didn’t he?”
“And if I know you, some of his stash has been ‘lifted.’”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Right.” Fish mulled this over. “I’m probably making a huge mistake, but just so we’re clear: if your phone rings, and its me, you answer, or so help me, it will be worse than going downtown when I catch you.”
“You have my word. I’ll be waiting for your call, all night long if I have to.”
Fish grunted and walked out, leaving the door open. I snapped a close-up of the woman on Miles’ arm, then re-read the message I’d sent Fish (forged from a “neighbor” as per the spell): “I looks like your car was stolen. Cops just showed up.”
I gathered up my stuff and leisurely followed him out. I glanced over at Johnny’s office, but saw that the uniforms were largely done. I looked in. Evidence markers were in one part of the room, and a small splatter and hole in video monitor (and the wall behind it) was clear on the far side of the room. The other monitors were on, and from there you could largely see most of the various sections of the store, save for the front counter. I glanced around some more, but aside from a spent condom (presumably from Angie’s rendezvous’) and a box of LPs that looked like crap mostly, there appeared to be little else of interest in the room.
I made my way to the store proper, and walked behind the front counter. I knew I didn’t have much time, as the guy in the suit made me and was heading over. I found the camera that was pointed on this spot, and then looked around the frame of what would have been visible to see what would have been in the monitor’s screen previously. Obviously, the register would have been visible, but mostly likely there wouldn’t have been any money there at night. There wasn’t anything behind the counter either, or at least nothing missing. But someone went back there after the screen had been shot out to make sure they weren’t captured on the surveillance camera. For what, exactly, seemed unclear.
I glanced around briefly, then noticed that beneath the counter there were stacks of items on hold for customers. Once shelf was empty, and sitting on it was a QR code. I ducked down and saw that it was similar to the other two I’d found. It seemed as if there had been other items there, but where now missing. I palmed the QR code just in time for the man in the suit to appear behind the counter.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” he asked.
“Marcus. Marcus Little. I’m a friend of Sam, but I see she’s not here.”
“Yeah, she doesn’t work today. Why are you behind the counter?”
“Who are you?”
“Look, I can just go and get the police and see if they can get you to answer.”
“I’m sorry, let me move to the floor. I guess I knew I shouldn’t have, but I was looking for another copy of this tape I was supposed to buy. Sam had set it aside for me. A Mission of Burma live tape? I paid over the phone… my name’s Marcus?”
The guy in the suit looked me up and down. “She’s not here, and given the current situation, you’ll have to come back another day. We’re closing. Maybe for a few days. I hope you underst-.”
The guy in the suit rubbed his temples. “Then let me give you a full refund.”
“I’d much rather have the tape.”
“And I’d much rather that you leave. Someone has died here, or is your perpetually dazed and confused mind so addled that you can’t see that?”
“That’s awful, for sure. And I’m not trying to be insensitive, believe me. But it was a Live video that I was really looking forward to. Can you tell me when she’ll be back?”
There was a buzz, and the guy in the suit reached for his phone. “Shit,” and he answered it, “Angie, I’m in the middle of something, I’ll call you back!” in a sort of whisper. Suddenly, I recognized his voice.
The guy in the suit pulled out his wallet and took out a $20, then put it on the counter. “How much was the tape again?”
“The cost isn’t -” but he took out another $20. “Sir!” I insisted, but when he put down a third I scooped up the money and left before he could change his mind.
All in all, it was a pretty good day. Usually I show up at a record store stinking of weed, and drop $260 on vinyl. But I had never score drugs and a $260 payday, merely by getting accused of murder.
By now we’ve all worked out what happens next, so I’ll do my best to neither denigrate the actions within nor to boast too bro-fully about how the evening transpired from here on out. While I do not want to be accused of leaving out “the good bits,” I can only agree that they were, in fact, quite good bits, but only in the most relaxed definitions of the words could I claim this was even remotely “work-related,” and more pointedly, it seemed so cliche as to almost be too foregone – and thus, irrelevant – to mention. It is with that in mind that I will be editing my own narrative here to my own taste, if for no other reason than to maintain the sanctity of these highly enjoyable acts.
Sam & I eventually got our food from the Tunnel, ate, drank, and flirted, and stayed one drink past when we should have, which was perfect. I negotiated our tab, and met her outside where she was smoking a menthol and bobbing back and forth. I explained that I was too drunk to drive, and she explained that she didn’t live that far away. I rolled a cigarette and we walked down the sidewalk, occasionally bumping into each other like two spinning tops, that occasionally bounced into each other.
We went upstairs to her place, which largely consisted of a huge living room, a smaller bedroom & bath, and a kitchen that led off to one side. She immediately went to her stereo and put on Funhouse, and as I fumbled around for a hatrack and bench to store my things, she produced a bottle from a modest liquor cabinet, from which she poured us each another drink.
The evening gets fairly hazy from that point on, but soon enough we were sitting next to each other, and from here I’ll let your imagination continue for me. While we were busy imitating teenagers we flipped over a few records, drained another beverage, discussed watching the tape again, but instead found our way into her room, for a little more [censored] and [scene deleted].
Sooner than either of us would like to admit we found ourselves exhausted, the alcohol having as much effect on us than our unchecked libidos. I was of the opinion that I could wait her out, and disappear once I was positive she was asleep, and took in the spare room that contained only a few dressers, two end tables, and the bed. Just as I was sure she was dozing, I found myself too tired to actually go through with it, and found myself too tired to do anything about it. Against my better judgement, I let myself fall asleep, and blissful oblivion overtook me as the various drinks, smokes & food of the day washed over me and did their work.
My dreams were obscene and repetitive, but not unwanted.
When I awoke, two things were immediately apparent: it was light out, and she was gone. I let this sink in as I retraced where I was, and what most likely had happened. It was clear I had been drinking. That was most evident, and soon enough I pieced together the sex and the staying at her place, too. Before long I had caught myself up to the story thus far, and was putting on my pants feeling fairly confident that I hadn’t made any more mistakes that I was used to making anyway.
I texted Suzanne at The Office to tell her I was on the case and making progress, but that I might have to spend a few more days working on a new suspect. It was largely an excuse to get a glimpse of the time, and see if there were any other messages.
Suzanne pinged back, “How tall is she?”
I put my phone away and finished getting dressed. I poked my head out into Sam’s apartment, but she was nowhere to be seen, and there were no sounds for any adjoining showers or kitchen to indicate she was home at all. I combed back through the night, but couldn’t find any reference to her leaving or having an early appointment. I noticed that she had moved my stuff to the couch, and on the stereo she had placed a note, standing up using a cute sort of origami that propped up the back end.
“Feel free to browse. I should be back with breakfast. Work up an appetite Little-man. I’ll certainly be ready for more.”
I took the invitation to nose around the place a bit, but as I expected, there was no way she would leave me here with anything other than the record collection. Aside from wardrobe and various accoutrements, typical kitchenware, and everything you’d find in a usual bathroom, there was little that was unexpected to be found in her apartment. Not that I was the kind of person that regularly found things in women’s apartments that let to me suspecting them of something, but given enough time I can find a few interesting things in just about any place, but this apartment seemed entirely focused on the living room, the record player and the collection.
“Feel free to browse.” Was she giving me a clue? Or was that all there was to find here? There were a few thousand LPs in the collection, and all of them were in meticulous order. Almost, unused. The place gave off the vibe of a prop, or a set, and her nonchalant attitude to the record collection’s safety seemed a little off-brand for her. Any dedicated collector would never leave a stranger – even a fuckable stranger – alone if there was anything of real value here.
I rooted around in the collection a bit, impressed by not awed, and found a cabinet that I opened that contained some CDs, tapes, a few odds and ends, and strangely, an exact copy of the Mission of Burma tape I just bought from You Spin Me Right Round. I opened the case to find a QR code that fell out too. I compared the code to the one in my wallet from my copy, and saw that they were both very different. I put the code and the tape back in the cabinet and paced around a bit. I scanned the QR code with my phone, but instead of the digital data transfer, a flash of magic crossed my screen, and after a few moments, it took me to a page located at fifthelephant.com, and simply said, “Thank you! Your package was delivered successfully.”
I paced around again. I couldn’t trace the spell, but I can only assume that Marcus Little recieved something.
I checked the fridge, but it was no wonder that Sam had left to get food, so I put on Nation of Ulysses The Embassy Tapes, grabbed my bag, retrieved one of the joints Miles gave me, and my mind twitched. Something didn’t seem right. Of course, long ago I realized that I can’t trust my own mind, especially given the abuse I’d been putting in through recently. I texted Sam, “There’s a rumbly in my tumbly. What’s the 411?” I sat in thought, and puffed.
“I got held up. I might have to cancel breakfast.”
“But I’m horny now.”
“Haha. Maybe after lunch? My morning got complicated. Sorry.” And that was followed by an emoticon that completely failed to communicate to me anything useful.
I took a few more puffs on the J, then stubbed it out and applied some air-freshener to the area before closing the window. I let the album finish, then made my own piece of origami for Sam that read, “Just let me know when I can get a rain check.” I did another search of the place that revealed nothing useful, then I split. It was at that moment that my phone started ringing, over and over again from a number I didn’t recognize, and was not leaving a message. It persisted for quite a while, and I debated blocking it, but after five attempts it quit. I made it a policy to never answer a phone number I didn’t recognize, and in particular to never do it while high. I can only assume this practice has saved my ass innumerable times.
The truck was just where I had left it, with the addition of a parking ticket. I climbed in and got myself settled, and plotted my next move. It seemed worth it to get in touch with Miles again. KLOW and Angie seemed to be connected in some way, and it might be worth it to get a little background on Dig Your Grave and see if there’s anywhere to move in that direction. Plus, it would be nice to get some more cash and grass for my troubles. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Sam yet, but so far I was committed to finding out as much as possible.
It seemed odd that there was a magic imbued QR code in my Mission Of Burma tape, and I couldn’t quite make sense of what that was supposed to mean in the way all of this played out. Sam didn’t strike me as the type who would fuck around with magic, and it was certainly not a part of the way that tape was originally packaged. With magic involved as a part of the case, it sort of upped the ante. This could be bigger than philanderous employees and a few broken sales dates. What kind of spell would someone buying video tapes at a record store want to purchase? If someone was using the store as a front, it seems like a very limited customer base. There’s not enough traffic to indicate drugs, or worse.
I stopped in at one of the hundreds of breakfast food carts and consumed two waffle and sausage items that soaked up the remaining alcohol quite nicely, and made me feel human enough to want a cigarette. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, as a CRX came up in my blind spot when I tried to merge back into traffic, but when I tried to make the vehicle again I couldn’t find it. Darren couldn’t be that good of a tail, so it must have been another car. However, a few blocks later it surfaced again, and this time I was absolutely sure. I must be really around the bend this morning, because I didn’t even notice him. My phone rang again.
I played a hunch and pretended I didn’t see him, and he seemed to get comfortable, so much so that he wasn’t even letting a car between us. I shook my head internally, but my hunch paid off, as he suddenly peeled off my tail when it became apparent where I was headed. My guess was that he didn’t have an endgame ready for when I stopped my car, and whatever connection he had to all of this was in danger of unraveling if he tried to keep an eye on me at The Record Store.
I was feeling very confident for the next couple of blocks, but when I started noticing police as I got closer, a sinking feeling collected in my being that got worse when I got closer, and found an ambulance outside the store, too. Part of me wanted to just keep driving, but as this thought crossed my mind Detective Fish made eye contact with me, and his jaw dropped. I parked the truck, got out, and strolled over with a cup of to-go coffee and said, “Well, what’s all this, then?”
Fish turned to Fred and said, “Cuff ‘im.”
“Excuse me?” I asked. Fred came over and whispered in my ear, “Don’t push it.”
Fish glared at me. “Turning up at two different crime scenes – randomly. Most people would get the hint the first time.”
“I’m not most people.”
“You certainly don’t answer your phone like most people.”
“You should try leaving a message. I’m pretty quick on the response.”
“Well,” Fish said, and smiled angrily at me, “then you should be able to answer this very quickly: where were you last night.”
“With a friend,” and my heart sank. A gurney began to move through the doors of the record store, and I knew instantly who was on it.
“And they can provide a pretty solid alibi for you between Midnight and 6 AM?”
I looked around, and stuck out my hands. “Well, if you’re going to cuff me, get it over with. I’m not gonna get any less guilty in the next few minutes.”
7: Rolling Stoned. (Part 2)
I glanced around the bar, and thumbed through my index cards. Why couldn’t I just run off with her? She would call at all hours, with hare-brained plans and adventures that wore me out but were some of the best times I’d ever had. It was the vacation that ended everything. After a date that ended at a party and turned into a three-day adventure with her, Carla got a call with the offer to go to Machu Pichu, essentially at a 75% discount, provided she could leave the following afternoon. High on the lack of sleep, I couldn’t conceive of dropping everything and running off suddenly, no matter how unbelievably fun being with Carla was. She was everything I wasn’t, and was most confident and comfortable when she had no idea what was happening next. I spent too much time in my head, laying out my next move too carefully, and always working toward a smooth and well-planned conclusion. I had a job, and clients, and to just drop everything… what would happen when I returned? Would we return? These were questions I couldn’t answer then, and I can’t answer now.
I looked at Carla, and finished my drink. “Someday, I will come here, and take you on a motorcycle trip through the jungles of Viet Nam.” She raised an eyebrow.
“Don’t get my hopes up.”
I left another $20 for her, and began to wend my way down to the bowels of The Tunnel.
It wasn’t even that late on a random weeknight, but already The Tunnel seemed alive with more action than most places got on a Friday Night during Fleet Week. Delinquents and kids of every denomination hung around at every table and in every corner of the place, sucking down drinks and smokes faster than the three people working the bar here could handle. While there was never any threat of implied violence, or even danger of any kind, there were certainly interesting conversations happening here and there, and all manner of business was being arranged around me. The bar pulsed with TSOL, and I meandered through underage and crusty sailor alike as I kept my eyes out for Sam.
I was a tad late – as I had planned – and I didn’t imagine that she would leave, and finally I caught sight of her playing pool with a pair of duds who looked bewildered. She was clearly running the table and hadn’t spotted me yet, so I negotiated getting a beverage and rolling a smoke, an endeavor that put her well into running the table. She didn’t look too different from her outfit in the Record Store, but her tight jeans and Stooges t-shirt certainly accentuated with more definition what I had already spent all day imagining. Lightly made up, and with slightly more primped and pampered hair and ears, she looked amazing, and I watched as she commanded the pool table the way she dominates customers in the store.
When she had cleaned up the table, she handed the cue back to Dud 1, and picked up the money that has been sitting on the edge of the table. She glanced at her phone, then picked up an errant hoodie. Dud 2 looked at her and said, “C’mon, one more game.”
“Sorry, I’m tired of playing with limp-dicks like you.” She spotted me, so I nodded and motioned with my head a table I was about to clear for us. She glared at me, and made a b-line for the bar. I eyed a pair of dudes in messenger gear in a heated discussion, and leaned over the table.
“You two don’t ride fixed gears, do you?”
The stopped talking and looked at me. “Huh?”
“I just walked in, but I saw two dipshits fucking with a pair of bikes, like they were gonna run off with them. I’ve been trying to find someone to tell.”
The pair looked at each other, and in a fluid movement drained their drinks, grabbed their stuff, and bolted up the stairs. I eyed a bear couple on a date a few tables over, and negotiated a swap with them by using another $20 and an excuse about the lighting, then made myself comfortable at their secluded table. My timing was incredible. Sam emerged from the bar with her drink, only to be bumped by two careless messengers searching for someone in a hat, causing her to spill her shot and beer. After a flurry of heated arguments and gestures toward the bears – who now felt themselves to be targets of hipster closed-mindedness – it wasn’t long before the messengers were ejected too. Sam was given another drink for her trouble, and by the time she joined me I was completely unprepared for the slap she gave me.
“Usually I have to try and kiss someone before I get that kind of treatment.”
“That’s for being late, asshole.”
I took a drag of my cigarette, and said, “You seemed to be having a good time. How can I make it up to you?”
“You already started; I put my drink on your tab.”
“Oh. Is there anything else I’m not aware of getting you, or shall I just be surprised by my bill when I pay for it?”
“I depends on how long we’re here. I haven’t finished convincing you to buy me dinner yet.”
“I suspect that will take a lot of convincing?”
I sipped mine. “Am I catching up, or are you?”
Sam laughed. “I imagine we’re about even, now.”
“Well that’s good. I would hate for one of us to have the advantage over the other.”
“Believe me, that will never happen.”
I sipped my drink reflectively and looked her in the eye. “Well that sure fills me with a heap of confidence.”
She smiled. “Like, I feel really sorry for you.”
I rolled a cigarette. “You’re waiting for me to say something first. To make a mistake so you can use that as leverage against me as we keep talking. It’s a good tactic to use when you’re trying to stay in control.” I looked at her as I put the cigarette in my mouth. “I’ve used it before.”
“I can just walk out of here the moment you start getting creepy and analytical, too, what’s your point?”
“My point is that we’re both smarter than we’re each used to dealing with, and the verbal sparring that we’re both used to is probably only going to make us feel a little awkward, for a while, anyway. You seem to have been pretty forward from the beginning, so let’s drop the bullshit and talk shop.”
Sam cocked one eye and reached for her drink. “It’s true, I don’t meet many like you.”
“I don’t agree with your take on The Gizmos.”
She almost crossed her eyes. “You’re off to a great start. So you’ve been listening.”
I looked up to do the math. “Skimming and scrubbing, so to speak.”
“Well, that’s more than most. I fuckin’ swear, you’d think people listen to two of these at the same time. I can never get anyone to actually talk about the shows.”
“I just think you’re missing a bigger point, a larger clue.”
“You wanna mansplain proto-punk to me, now? Out of anything else in the world we could be talking about? Wow.”
“It’s not like that,” I offered. “I just want to talk about records.” I puffed on my cigarette. I continued, “Look, it’s clear we are birds of a very-different feather. I’m gonna defend The Who and Harry Nilsson, and you’re gonna convince me that Miss Machine is one of the most important albums on the oughts. I’m Oscar, you’re Felix.”
“But, my point is, we both showed up to this.” I held up my drink, and grudgingly she held it up to give me the barest of toasts. “Why am I letting you do some old-boy bullshit here?”
I looked her in the eyes. “Because you like it.”
She bristled. “Strike two. You never get to tell me what I like.”
“Fair enough. Lesson learned.”
She drained her glass. “So, tell me how I’m wrong about everything, Mr. Little.”
“How about I get you another drink, and we have a discussion about music instead?”
“Music is everything, you short sighted prick.”
I raised my air and got the attention of a waitress, who went into the throng to fetch us some drinks. “Have you seen my record collection?”
“You are treading on thin ice, mister. I’ve been around enough piece of shit indie rockers to know that they just can’t imagine a woman knowing as much about records as they do, gosh darn it! You wanna see a group of people with old-timey values and who use coded interactions to devalue the story we have to tell… fuck you!” She flipped me off.
“Perhaps I got off on the wrong foot. I’m not puffing out my chest, or trying to reinforce some bullshit that, I agree, should never have become the way women get treated in the scene. I’m on your side with all of that. But I’m a Gizmos fan, and I just read them a little differently than you. I thought it would be fun to dig in, so I jumped to the offensive. I thought you were giving off a ‘let’s gnash teeth for a bit’ kind of vibe. I didn’t mean to jump the gun.”
As I wrapped up, the waitress arrived with another set of drinks. “Thanks,” I offered, and handed her a $10 for a tip.
Sam sipped her cocktail, a whiskey sour. “So you have a problem with the story of proto-punk as told by Samantha Drake. This I gotta hear.”
“Not a problem, just an observation. I thought your story on Debris was fascinating, and the MX-80 bit was amazing. For someone who couldn’t have seen Suicide in their original incarnation, you have a pretty exhaustive understanding of those early days. I really got the sense that I was at a Rocket From The Toombs practice session, and that was pretty amazing. And your take on The Residents is incredible.”
She smiles. “Mr. Little, I had no idea you were so good at foreplay.”
“You should see me around a turntable.” I puffed on my cigarette. “My point is, I think you do all of them a huge disservice by trying to place them in some sort of archeological context when it comes to the overall narrative arc of… wait for it… Rock and Roll, with capital Rs.”
Sam looked at me quizzically. “Look, I’m flattered that you actually read the blog. If anyone even gives my stuff the time of day, it’s often just the podcast, and then to argue with me about how I’m wrong, or that they think I sound hot from my voice, or whatever creepy thing they’re onto that day. But I can actually say that no one has ever actually wanted to talk to me about the stuff I write in the blog.”
“No, you shouldn’t. It’s just… you just went up slightly in my esteem.”
“Well, I have a lot of ground to cover.”
“So what’s wrong with Rock and Roll?”
“Not what’s wrong with it, but the story that’s told.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“We The People.”
“Okay, I know you’re not talking about the line from the Constitution. Yes, the Florida band?”
I nodded. “Where would you place them in the grand narrative arc of music.”
“They’re a Nuggets group.”
“Because Rhino lumped them into the boxed set with a million other bands.”
“They have a garage sound.”
“Initially. But the end of their run, they were starting to get a little heavy, and a little fast. Not enough to make a difference in their time, but with hindsight, it seems as if they are doing something that is more like Blue Cheer than Bill Haley, dig?”
Sam sighed. “I hate guys who say ‘dig.’”
“But the problem with history after the fact is that is misses the whole point of the Rock & Roll virus. Once the idea is airborn, a linear path of transmission is no longer possible. There isn’t a throughline that goes from Little Richard to Taylor Swift that accounts for all the random permutations and juxtapositions that tweakers in a garage in Bloomington in the ‘70’s.”
Sam took a drink and chewed her lip for a moment. “I don’t think that there’s a throughline, but the thing that unites everyone who picks up a guitar is that they are aware of the fact that Elvis was a very real artist that made music. It’s like that John Flansburgh quote: ‘Once people hear this it’s going to be hard to deny that we are Beatles fans.’ Your influences are unconscious, perhaps, but you can’t just create music in a bubble. The instrument itself carrying a symbol and meaning that you can’t strip from it.”
I nodded. “Yes, everything is intertextual, for sure. Let me put it another way. What do you call Link Wray’s Music?”
“I love Link Wray! I call it Link Wray’s music.”
“But what genre is it?”
She gave me a raspberry, and said, “We both know genre is bullshit.”
I tapped the table. “Exactly! So when five guys get together in a garage and plug their instruments in, you know that the auteur theory of rock and roll is that together they chart a path through the topographical oceans, or whatever bullshit they create for each other. But they don’t sit there and say, ‘let’s invent noise rock, or garage-soul, or whatever.’ They have all been infected by the idea of Rock and Roll, this powerful notion that says, ‘synthesize everything around you and filter it through this simple, three-chord format that allows you to churn out hip-shaking sounds when played just the right way.’”
Sam shook her head, “No, that pre-supposes that rock and rollers are all aware enough to filter their interests into music. You think KISS was self-aware enough to know what they were doing? They wanted girls and coke and handjobs, period. It’s the intertextual nature of the guitar in a rock milieu that created KISS, because glam was the next iteration of this story cycle.”
I shook my head. “I just don’t agree. I don’t see the guys in MX-80 sitting around, intentionally trying to ‘be’ protopunk. I see them all sitting around in a room, getting high, and churning out what they thought were amazing riffs, trying to piece it all together until they felt the song was ready. The weirdness of those songs speaks to a vision not bound by their place in a narrative, but by the whims of some random guys who just so happened to be friends.”
Sam chewed her lip. “So everything is random, chance? There is no meaning or bigger picture, but just pointless acts that exist in a vacuum, isolated from each other?”
“No exactly.” I puffed on my cigarette. “Here’s a long shot: The Flaming Lips.”
Sam did not take her eyes off of my, but took a sip of her drink.
“These guys clearly had the influence of middle American squarely on the tips of their tongues. They are the epitome of DIY. And their mutation of punk was just their cultural melange, the stew they were soaking in. Yes, they are influenced by the sweep of history. A decade earlier or later and they would have been a different band, for sure. But it is their interpretation of the virus that makes them interesting, not their place in the story. They are their own thing. To try and place them in a larger swing or story that involves someone else leading to them, and then to someone else entirely, diminishes the importance of a story like theirs. Without room for them to have grown and created their own mythology, then their place in something bigger becomes meaningless, a footnote.”
I took a sip from my bourbon, and looked back at her. “What do you want for dinner?”
She smiled. “You.”
“I’m a meat-eater. I taste terrible. What about thai?”
“I’m sure we’ll get to thigh soon enough.”
I picked up a menu and said, “I have a feeling they might even have something here we could agree on.”
She nodded and took a drink. “That’s for sure. I have an old VHS player back at my house.”
“And what about a full kitchen where neither of us have to cook?”
“We can order in.”
I sipped my bourbon, and pointed to it with my other hand. “But I just got started.”
She frowned. “I don’t like waiting.”
I handed her a menu across the table. “Look, why don’t we get a bite, have a few more, and then I can feel like I earned going home with you.”
Sam gave me her bedroom eyes again, then glanced down at the menu. “Alright. But I get very unhappy if I don’t get my way.”
“And I have no intention of disappointing you. But not on an empty stomach.”
“Okay,” she said, a little more playfully. I motioned to the waitress and we reviewed the menu together.
“Yes,” she asked?
Sam said, “Gimme another drink, and a BAMF with salad and tots.”
“A Luna, salad and tots on the side, and a double-shot of bourbon.”
I let the silence hang there for a bit as I rolled another cigarette.
“It would be nice to watch that tape with you later,” she finally said.
And that told me everything I needed to know about who had the upper hand now.
7: Rolling Stoned. (Part 1)
I was fairly familiar with the police shakedown routine, and I usually learned more during those interactions than I would under normal circumstances. In any given situation the cop is the most dangerous guy in the room, so it is often better to wrestle with a known quantity than anything else on-hand. If Fish wanted to play alpha-male around me, then so be it. I’ve spent my whole life being a small cod in a large ocean, just on the outside enough to get squeezed out by the “real deal,” and I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that they have no clue what’s going on.
I wonder how often Fish is referred to is Vigoda?
I climbed into my Truck and threw my bag up on the bench. I rolled a cigarette and turned on the radio, and KLOW continued with douchey indie-rockers trying to out-hip each other on the rarity of the import, the obscurity of group, or the cocaine glitter sprinkled all over the tunes. Music like this was hard to milk for any substantive magic, save for a glamour or two, but the problem with vapid bullshit is that buried deep within all of it are the occasional gems that can really bring in the big spells. For someone in my position, listening to the radio actually works great for a case like this. I’m sure I’ll need to add a third – and possibly fourth – identity before the night was over.
I lit the cigarette but watched as various people dispersed from the area. Diamond was long gone, but I suspected I would see him again soon enough. Dickheads like him seem to pop up at the worst times. Fish & Fred motored off, and I watched as I puzzled over everything that had been going on. I scribbled a few notes on an index card and shoved it in the pile with the rest. I rummaged around in my bag and pulled out the Crispin Glover CD Robert gave me, turned on the cab light in the truck, and looked at it. The writing on it was the same as the writing on the station CDs in their library – N & P, for No Play, a way of cataloging albums and songs to communicate to the DJs what you can and can’t play on the air. This disc belonged in the station, and Robert led me straight here.
Straight to what seemed like a terrible scene in a detective movie. Another performance?
I opened the CD again and pulled out the liner notes. Aside from what I assume was there when the album was released, there was a small “review” taped in there by one of the DJs, largely panning the review, but cited “Auto-Manipulator” and a pre-cursor to the rap-rock phenomena of the mid-’90’s. Something caught my eye on the disc, and as I removed it from the CD from the case, a piece of paper fell out, with a phone number on it. But the thing that had caught my eye was the two letters hand-printed on the paper inside the center-hole that held the CD in place. I shook the case, and to my surprise, it sounded as if there was something inside the case. I pried it apart, and found that inside there was another photograph of the person from the group Dig Your Grave, who I now knew was their drummer Angie thanks to their Wikipedia entry, who was also, conveniently, an employee of You Spin Me Right Round Records who likes to have sex in Johnny’s old office.
I switched off the light and continued to puff on my cigarette, letting all of this sink into place. I looked at the phone number again, entered it into my phone as “Crispin Glover,” then put everything back in my bag. Angie. This wasn’t a coincidence, and Robert directing me here was certainly his intention. Either there’s more to Angie than I already suspected, or Robert is working double-time to make it look that way, which was just as interesting. Angie was probably only really guilty of being promiscuous and attractive, which can been an albatross for a lot women. Jealousy – perhaps she’s not into Robert? – could be motivating him framing her. Musicians and record stores go together like peanut butter & rice crackers, and her being connected to both is not a conspiracy, but the sign of a good music scene.
It was clear that whoever answered the phone when I called Mr. Glover back was going to be more relevant than I thought. “The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be.” I also realized that, no matter who answers that phone, that it wouldn’t even be close to the one behind all of this.
Accounting for traffic and other hold-ups, I would still be incredibly early (by my own standards) for my rendezvous with Sam, and considering how hot-to-trot she had been all day, it was likely I could be very late and she would still be there. As I pieced a lot of this together, Darren exited the radio station, and began walking toward a car. I dialed Mr. Glover’s number using the *67 prefix, but Darren made no sign of receiving a call, or what playing it incredibly cool if he was. I hung up and started the truck. It had been a while since I’d tailed anyone, and it seemed like it was a good idea to see if I could do it in a beast of a vehicle like this.
Darren walked to a very-used Honda CRX that he crawled into and drove off in. With traffic as bad as it was, it was easy enough to wedge yourself behind one other car and follow someone without them getting too suspicious. Of course it looks like the car behind you is following you very slowly. Everyone is angry and tense because the traffic sucks. Everything looks like you’re not moving at all. So long as I let a new car occasionally get in between us as his immediate traffic bubble changed, I was able to keep up with him easily, and a simple glamour did what our own human frailties weren’t already covering.
Darren eventually drove up to an apartment complex, hopped out and ran up to his pad. I sat in the truck and decided to wait for a bit. If things got really dull, I could splitsville, but it was early enough that I just hung back a block and enjoyed the show.
It wasn’t long before something happened. From a side street someone walked directly toward Darren’s car. It seemed to be the silhouette of a man, but from this distance it could be anyone. I got out of the truck and moved a little closer to improve my view. The silhouette closed the gap between it and Darren’s car, and opened the door as if Darren hadn’t locked the doors. (And with a CRX, why would you?) I got a bit closer, but could only make out the silhouette setting something on the steering wheel. The silhouette close the door quickly, and I returned to my truck. It seemed as if I had stumbled upon a much more interesting quarry.
I targeted the silhouette and began to creep in the truck, doing my best to hide the sound of the engine and the lights while still allowing myself to drive. The silhouette moved quickly, and I followed him to a bicycle, which he hopped on, and rode very quickly in the same direction. I continued following him, but after a few twists and turns, he rolled into a lot for a real estate agency that was a mile or so away, where the silhouette opened a side door, hoisted up the bike, and walked in.
I sat for a moment. There was only so far I could keep going with tailing people this evening, and I’d already interrupted one steakout to land myself in a second. I pulled out an index card, took some notes about where I was, then rolled back to Darren’s apartment.
Miraculously, time was on my side, because I returned as he was just opening the door of, and getting back into, his car. I could just make out that he took something off the steering wheel, and then sat in his car for bit longer than you would normally to start the car up.
I already had a lot to work with now, but as I was already pointed in the right direction, and it seemed as if Darren was too, I decided to keep following him on lark. As I didn’t have a place of my own in this town, it didn’t make any sense to try and make myself up for getting together with Sam. There was no way I was going to look anywhere as good as she would when I got there, and it didn’t sound like she wanted to spend much time in the light, anyway, if I was reading all her signals correctly. I knew that it was going to be really easy for her to play me like a chump, and I was partially attempting to brace myself against that very real possibility. If I was honest with myself, women like here were always going to be a problem for me. Certain curves, certain sounds, certain conversations, and I’ll build you the tower of babel if you’d just touch it for me once in awhile.
KLOW sang at me, “I got an uncontrollable urge I wanna tell you all about. An uncontrollable urge that makes me scream and shout.”
Traffic was getting interminable, and when it looked like I was about 20 minutes away, I noticed that Darren was still right in front of me. I lit one of the joints that Miles gave me and rolled down the window. It had been a while since I had gone to a place like this, and the coolest of the cool 20-somethings would be thick as the morning fog, rolling in around me to consume every table, chair and inch of the bar like plague rats. It was probably a good idea for me to build up a bit of a bubble around me, to steel myself for this experience.
As I finally got to the Shanghai Tunnel, there was absolutely no parking anywhere in the vicinity. I stubbed out the joint, and drove for another 15 minutes looking for parking quite a ways away. I grabbed my bag, locked the truck, and began walking slowly toward the bar. It was a pleasant night, dark and breezy, but not cold. There were plenty of young people out, wandering to this place or that place, the city alive with activity and booze. You could feel people dancing here or cheering there. Movies and bands and performers of every variety all vied for a few precious hours of your time to offer you a moment of joy and excitement amid the long days of abject boredom and discomfort.
The Shanghai Tunnel began life as a small room, with an inexplicable kitchen a floor beneath. The name was no joke; the kitchen had been built into the actual shanghai tunnels that criss-crossed the underbelly of the city, actually used by pirates and sailors in the old days to get cargo and people back and forth between the docks and the entertainment district. Every imaginable story you can think of really did happen in those tunnels, and in some parts of the city, still do. Over the years, the owners dug out more of the tunnel that surrounded the kitchen, until they carved out another bar, then another side room, then a third, etc. These days, the place is a rabbit’s warren of activity and degenerate behavior, and with so much space, it is hard for even the bartenders and staff to keep an eye on everything. It was a good place to know about if you wanted to score drugs, make connections, or have a one-night stand, and while the cool kids like to think that they can hang out in a “dangerous” bar just like everyone else, the very real dangers that are reputed to happen are actually going to a Gun Club soundtrack.
As I got closer, I slowed down and rolled a cigarette. I decided to hang back and finish the smoke, and let the night air soak into my hat and clothes before springing it on her. Sam was no idiot, and she was reading me as much as I, her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she already knew I wasn’t Marcus Little, and probably a lot more. It would be odd, in fact, if she hadn’t already pieced it together. It was possible that she was getting ready to ply me for something she was trying to figure out, and I decided long ago that I would hold fast to my cover as an earnest Mission of Burma fan, which was not at all difficult to feign. For all I knew, she was going to ambush me, and as I considered this, I saw Darren walk right into The Tunnel, too. Astounding. No matter how much I was trying, the case wouldn’t let me STOP working on it.
The Shanghai Tunnel, as you approach it, has a walled off outdoor patio, with lighting and tables for those who cannot consider the idea of drinking without a cigarette. An upstairs bar was being manned by a woman I knew from another lifetime ago, a tall and powerful looking person with hair and tattoos that spoke of how much you should not fuck with her, and I remember our time together being intimidating and a bit wild, which was exactly as advertized by what she projected. She hadn’t made me yet, but I was certainly going to have to make sure I don’t slight her by pretending I hadn’t noticed she was there.
Beyond the upstairs bar are a pair of restrooms, and on the right is a staircase that descends to where the kitchen and the rest of the place spread out from. A second bar was there to accommodate the further drunks that you found spread out through the Tunnel. I could see Darren perched at an outside table, but looking at the door into the Tunnel, not exactly a fool when it comes his job, but certainly made him a poor tail, for sure. The only other way into the bar was through an employee service entrance, and as confident as I was that I could probably bluff my way through it again, I knew that it wasn’t worth it to blow my wad on taking a risk this early in the evening.
I pulled out an index card traced its outline while muttering the words to “Hangin’ On The Telephone,” and when it began to shimmer like a Cell Phone screen, I clipped a $20 to it, tapped the card with my phone, and floated it to Carla, the bartender. It moved slowly toward her as I furiously typed away on my own phone, and when it was close enough to her, I moved my arm down slowly, so it would land on her bar. It wasn’t much longer before she noticed it, the money, and the message I’d just furiously hammered out on the screen:
“How much more for you to bounce the bearded kid out front? – Dex.”
Carla looked up and glanced around, until she noticed me poking my head out around the corner, waving in her direction. She glanced around until she made Darren, wrinkled her nose, then typed out, “I’ll buy you a drink provided you don’t want anything.”
I smiled. She pocketed the money, and set the card on the bar, which shifted back to its normal form. Carla walked over to the bouncer, whispered something in his ear, and returned to her station. The bouncer has a large and intimidating man who seemed to only to frown. While I could not hear the exchange between Darren and this man, I could imagine it quite well, and before long the bouncer had his hands on Darren’s shoulder, urging him to get up and leave with all speed. I made eye contact with Carla, and when Darren was finally gone, I waltzed in and took a seat at her bar.
I slapped a $20 on the bar and said, “Make it a good shot of bourbon, please.”
“No problem,” and she poured out a very healthy shot. “Now, do I let you keep this, or are you here on business?”
“Pleasure, but while I’m here…”
She snatched the other $20 and said, “Jesus, you never give up.”
“It’s not what is seems like.”
“You’re lucky I’m not busy and I enjoyed ruining that hipster’s night.”
“I’m also lucky that you’re a beautiful woman who never saw fit to give me what I really deserved.”
“Ah, Dex, it’s like you sort of grew up, but still don’t get it, do you?” She patted me on the head, and smiled. “I was such a sucker for your magic.”
“And I was lucky that you didn’t break my arm like you threatened.”
“You were a horse’s ass, that’s for sure.”
“Compared to your’s it was hard to look like anything but.”
She smiled again. “Okay, you’ve softened me up, but if I don’t like what you’re poking at, I’ll expect bigger tips.”
“You Spin Me Right Round.”
I shrugged. “I’m only just getting to know the place. Good selection.”
Carla winced. “That fuckin’ cunt.”
“So you’re here to meet Sam.”
“And why didn’t you want to be partners with me in this? You were always better at making connections than I was.”
“She’s downstairs,” Carla said, coldly, and turned away from me.
“C’mon,” I said, then sipped my shot. “It’s not like that.”
“It is like that. I saw how she was dressed.”
“What about Miles?”
“Why do you want to know about him?”
I shrugged again. “He’s like a father to me.”
Carla narrowed her eyes. “So it’s like that, is it?”
“Well, until I can figure out what’s really going on.”
Carla laughed. “And that’s why Darren…”
“What? Do you know something?”
“No, no. I just thought you were in the Detective business, not trying to climb the pretentiousness ladder.”
I smiled, and pulled out the Mission Of Burma tape. “Hey, climbing has its perks.”
Carla saw the name on the tape and bristled. “Little? Oh shit, you are in deep.”
“Excuse me? Who is he? What’s going on here?”
Carla glanced around, then looked me dead in the eyes, “I don’t know much, and I shouldn’t even be telling you this much, but I can say: Little is trouble. Gang shit, from what I hear. Often just a delivery man, but I suspect that he might be more.”
I raised an eyebrow, drained the glass, and tapped the side of it, into which she poured more as we continued. “I see. And yet, he shops at You Spin Me Right Round?”
“Have you met Angie yet?”
“Dig Your Grave?”
Carla tapped the side of her nose. “I saw her here once, and Zorn said she was waiting for a Little. He didn’t show. She split. Not much to go on, but we suspect they’re chummy.”
I sipped reflectively. “I was starting to wonder if Little was real, or something I made up.”
Carla laughed. “Maybe a little of each, from the sounds of it.”
I produced another index card and began writing. “It’s funny, you don’t own me shit, and yet you’re perfectly straight with me. It could be Darren having this conversation with you, and me snooping around the staff entrance looking for another way in. What gives?”
She looked me up and down, and said, “No way I’d let that fuckstain talk to me. I have some… fond memories of you, even if you were a pussy” and her bedroom eyes landed on me in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time. I looked at her for a moment.
“Yeah, those were great times that I wouldn’t mind living again.”
“Fuck off. When you’re ready to drop everything and go to Machu Pichu with me, we can consider it.”
6: Sound Salvation
Getting to The Radio Station took longer than I anticipated, even with the traffic I suspected would be a hassle. After a cigarette and some less-sexy thoughts to calm me down, I lit a flare I found in the trunk (which I was surprised was even there) and put it up on the road near where I “skidded” off. It was a bit longer before someone stopped to tell me they couldn’t help, and still longer after that before someone who lived on the Island came to see what was up, and offered genuine help in the way of coffee and a blanket, as by now my feet were wet from inspecting the car. The gentleman by the name of Tom stayed with me until the tow truck arrived, and even offered to help with the driver laughed and suggested that the three of us push the car out, which might be faster. One changed tire and a jump later, the Bug was up and running again, and further inspection from Tom revealed that it would, most likely, continue to run for me for the time being, but he recommended that I take it in as soon as possible.
I thanked everyone involved, and before I left sent a photo of the car (pre-river removal) to texted Sam, “I’m wet with anticipation.”
It seemed like too much effort to call in a hit-and-run just yet, and I wanted to let the Deluxe Drivers feel as if I’ve been “taken care of” for the time being. I made a quick call to a friend who lived in the area, and he agreed to let me swap cars for the time being, an old Ford Pickup, for a few days, and after a quick vehicle exchange, made it to KLOW, and managed to leave myself with plenty of time to be fashionably late for my meeting with Sam. In spite of what I was sure to find to be exciting texts from her, I decided to leave things hanging for the moment and ignore everything from her until we met in person.
Like every radio station I’d ever been to, this one was difficult to locate, in a small and shitty space, and appeared more like a dentist’s office on the outside than it did a place where music would be. Outside of the few big broadcasters in any given area, every other radio station in the world starts out in a closet, and if it has a door, it is nearly always somewhat sketchy. This was no exception. While KLOW was supposed to be a heavy-hitter in the area, and a lot of people I knew listened, access to the station itself was down a side street, turning down an alley, and beneath the light of an ill-maintained lamp, a simple sign showed the letters K L O W. Had I known there wouldn’t be parking, I would have hoofed the last block, but as a police car was blocking my ability to pull through, I backed back to the street in a dimly-lit place in a huge truck I was not used to driving, and experience that 100% sobered me from all of my chemical intake that day. I popped a piece of cinnamon gum in my mouth and entered the station.
KLOW was no exception when it came to the interior. A few hanger-ons were sitting in various locations in the station, headphones on, laptops out, ironically not listening to the station. Every imaginable surface was covered in graffiti or a poster for some album, and the rock-club visual stimuli was offset by the out-of-context, bright fluorescents that illuminated the room far too well, revealing how pale everyone was. Various rooms led off from the main area, and above one in-particular an “On Air” sign was lit up, and through the window the animated figure of Frankie was working his magic. Through another window, two people were seated around a microphone, chatting away, and through a third an engineer was working the faders. Pacing around one corner was a guy with an acoustic guitar, mumbling to himself the words to a song he clearly wrote, and was about to play. Another DJ was peering into the window where Frankie was working, and you could hear the faint sound of Frankie wrapping up his show for the day. Amid all of this two cops were standing, very much sticking out in a room they did not belong. One was a detective and the other, a beat cop, to whom a kid with a beard and tattoos was giving his full attention.
As the door closed behind me, the sound triggered a comical turning of heads that all rotated to meet my wandering gaze. I waved, and lost the attention of nearly everyone. “Can I help you?” asked the bearded kid.
“No,” I rejoined, and continued glancing around the studio. This seemed to annoy the kid, but the detective did not care one way or another, and said, “and you didn’t hear the caller at all?”
“Hey, I didn’t know anything about this until you guys showed up!” and the kid threw up his hands, as if giving up.
“Relax, you’re not in trouble, kid,” said the Detective, and the beat cop began to walk in my direction.
“Is that you, A-” he began, but I cut him off.
“Fred!” I said in a hopefully-recognizable tone, and I thrust my hand in his as I grabbed him near the shoulder. “It’s Marcus, you remember?”
Fred rolled his eyes and said, “What, are you a DJ now?”
“You know how it is, in this economy,” and behind us, the Detective and the bearded kid continued, clearly getting frustrated with each other.
“I know your economy, anyway. Are you still -”
“When the money’s right.”
“And did the money lead you here?”
“Well, Frankie did, anyway.”
Fred shook his head. “You might want to steer clear of this, then. He just called us.”
“What?” was all I could get out, but before I could continue plying Fred with my innocent routine, Frankie burst out of the studio, his feathered hair and make-up hiding his true age, who was ready for his second performance of the day.
“Detective Fish, thank god you’re here,” Frankie belted out. “I received another call today, while on THE AIR. Hope you’re here to tell me when this is going to stop. A professional like me just can’t deal with this terror plaguing him every time he comes to work. What kind of police force is this that can’t catch a criminal like this?”
I laughed, with so many handles on this suitcase presenting itself. But this caught Frankie’s attention, who looked over in my direction. “Who are you?”
“Little,” I offered, with my had. “Long time listener.”
Frankie started saying, “You’re n-” then cut himself off. “Marcus Little, you said? Interesting.”
The Detective was uninterested in me, and turned to Frankie. “What did he say this time?”
Frankie rolled his eyes and adopted a condescending tone. “If you’d been listening to me all this month, you’d know that the voice is in the kind of whisper that masks its gender.” Frankie shook his head, then looked at me and mouthed, “Can you believe these guys?”
“What did THEY say, Diamond?”
Frankie sat down on the nearest couch and produced a long, thin cigarette. “THEY, as you say, said that I had made some poor choices recently, and if I didn’t change my ways, I would pay for it.” One of the hanger-ons seated on the couch extended a lighter, obliged Frankie, and returned to their headphone and laptop.
“Have you considered the advice?” I asked.
The Detective turned to me, and said, “I’m sorry, but I’ll ask the questions.”
“THANK YOU, Detective,” said Frankie.
I looked at Fred, then turned to walk to the other couch to seeth.
It was clear that Diamond was a problem for everyone, and that his presence in the room is enough to command the kind of patience you need for a child. I rolled a cigarette and listened to my police-approved counterpart to see if there was anything useful or new that I could get from the situation.
“Did you take the call on the air, Frank?”
“Do I look like I don’t know what I’m doing?”
“And when did the call come in, again?” asked The Detective.
“How should I know? I’m not some magic-powered robot animated by spite and frustration.”
“How long before we can review the archives of today’s show?”
“Shouldn’t be long,” Darren said as he turned to the office and tried to flag down the attention of someone within. “We keep a running recording of all our shows, which post to the computer a few minutes after the show airs. If something needs to be reviewed, or if the show goes out as a podcast too, the recordings are automatically posted to the appropriate places.”
Another kid – this one with glasses, and bicycle accoutrements – popped out of the office finally, frowned as part of his usual facial expression, and looked only at Darren. “Yeah.”
Darren motioned again, and the kid sighed, got up, huffed and puffed the entire way over, and stood next to Darren.
The Detective looked at the faux-messenger and said, “Who are you?”
“Brandon? Who the fuck are you?”
“Detective Fish,” he said, pulling out a badge. Brandon looked somewhat less annoyed, but still put out to be standing there. Fish let the silence build for a moment.
“And?” asked Brandon?
Darren pipped up, “Brandon is our tech director. Handles the gear, the recordings, the website, and everything that makes KLOW work.
The Detective looked over at his partner. “Fred, work with this kid here and get the archive of the show so we can review the call.” Then, looking at Brandon. “Make sure we get Frank’s show, in full, and try not to show too much contempt for me if you know what’s good for you, huh?”
Brandon sighed, but did not make eye contact with anyone else, nodded toward Fred, then went into a different office door, through which a few computers and other pieces of gear were visible. Fred turned to me, shook his head, and followed him.
“Look, Frank,” started the Detective.
“Look, nothing!” shouted Frankie. “This is at least the 8th time this has happened, and I’m starting to wonder if I’m the only one taking this case seriously.”
“I assure you, I’m giving this case exactly the right amount of seriousness, considering the circumstances,” the Detective offered flatly.
“So why hasn’t this person been caught?” demanded Frankie.
The Detective’s tone got deeper and quieter suddenly. “Now you listen here, Frankie. No one has died, and no crime has been committed.”
“Yet!” Frankie insisted.
“But one is about to happen if you don’t watch your tongue!” Frankie turned and looked at me, then motioned to the Detective with his eyes. “We take threats like this like we do all our other investigations, and we try to solve the case, rather than arrest everyone who listens to your show. Which we should probably get around to doing anyway, as they’re probably all guilty of something much worse.”
Frankie bristled, but I merely puffed away on my cigarette and enjoyed the show.
“Now, shall we talk about the number of phone calls you’ve had to the police, recently? How often you threaten us when we don’t take immediate action? How often you send back the beat cops and insist on an actual Detective to show up? There are laws against abusing the public resources that we offer, and there’s plenty of room in my car if you want to go for a ride.”
“How does You Spin Me Right Round fit into your regular show, Frankie?” I asked from the other couch.
“Who wants to know? I mean, really, who are you?”
“Answer the question, Frankie,” the Detective prodded, and turned to give me a look.
“The station has a long-standing deal with them, to get records for air-play.” Frankie suddenly looked worried. “No no, not that. Not payola, or anything! They support us, we support them.”
Darren piped up, “If we mention them on air a certain number of times, we get new records from them in trade, that the DJs use to program their shows. I have the Underwriting Paperwork if you’d like to see it.”
“FRED!” yelled The Detective.
Fred poked his head out of the other office. “Yes?”
“When you’re done, team up with this kid for this Underwear Paperwork, or whatever,” The Detective said.
“Your on-air friendship with Miles & Robert seems fairly chummy for someone who is just working with their business, professionally,” I continued.
The Detective turned to me fully and asked, “Little, is it?”
“Marcus, yes,” I said.
“Cram it, Little,” he commanded, then turned back to Frankie. “Is there a conflict of interest here?” he asked, to both Darren & Frankie.
Darren shook his head, while Frankie said, “I’ll pretend you didn’t suggest that I would stoop to something like that. I know Miles, and Sam, too.” Frankie looked at me suddenly, then looked away. “Professionally. I would never use my status here to abuse that relationship,” he said to Fish. “That seems like something a…” and he turned back to me, “lesser person would do.”
It was clear to me that Frankie and Miles were connected, and that was enough for me to let that stew and percolate as the evening progressed. I looked at the time, and while it was still a while before I was supposed to meet Sam, with traffic and finding a place to park the truck, I thought it would be best to avoid the continued abuse, and motor.
I stood up, but Fish turned to me, and with the smallest of gestures urged me to sit back down. Clearly, I was next. I drew on my cigarette and let it out with a sigh. This is what I get for sticking my nose in.
Frankie was starting to feel as if he was no longer the center of attention, and decided to continue. “If we are finished here, Detective, I would like to go.” Then, directed at me and Darren, “See, I’ve been working all day, and I’d like to get home, get some food, put my feet up, and pray that these phone calls don’t keep me from falling asleep tonight.”
“Yeah, yeah, we’re all worried about your sleep, Diamond,” Fish muttered. “You. Little.” And, he pointed. “Stay on that couch, and don’t move a muscle. FRED!?” This time he moved his entire body out of the office where Brandon was hammering away. “We good?”
“We will be. Just need to get the paperwork from this guy,” and directed his thumb toward Darren.
“I’m gonna walk the legendary Frankie Diamond to his car,” continued The Detective, who then turned and led Frankie out of the station. On his way to Darren’s office, Fred gave me a glance that conveyed everything and nothing.
I stood up, and began to wander around the station, looking at all the crap on the walls. On small end-tables and any flat surface, unfiled albums sat around, continuing the visual motif of rock and roll that could not be containing by a mere 40,000 Watts of power. I stubbed out my cigarette and began looking at things in that way that you do when you are killing time, and it was in this state of mind that I glanced around and noticed a photograph on a wall with another familiar face in it, a woman’s. There was a phrase on the photo – Dig Your Grave – and it took me a moment or two to piece together what it could mean.
I wandered over to the stacks of CDs and looked for the Ds, but before I could get any further, two letters stood out, written in pen on the back of another album. Gears began to turn, and as I thumbed through more I found a disc labeled, “Dig Your Grave – Six Feet A Sunder.” The photo matched. I began pacing in thought, wondering what all of this pointed to, and pulled out my phone to thumb at it for a while.
Fish returned, and shouted, “Are you done with your pity party, Brandon?” Brandon was now wearing a bike-helmet, and poked out of the tech room he and Fred had been in. “Excuse me?”
“OUT!” commanded Fish, and Brandon grabbed his comically waterproof bag and walked out. “Little-man. Quit looking at Tumblr-porn and get in here.”
I acquiesced, and before I could get comfortable he snapped on an overhead light and slammed the door shut.
“Just who the fuck do you think you are, Dexter?” he snapped.
“Whew, thank you Detective, that was going to save me a ton of explaining.”
“You think you’re funny? It’s bad enough that vapid creepoids like Diamond are always trying to rattle my cage, but you come in here during an official inquiry, start using a fake name and step all over my Waltzing Toes? I don’t even have to come up with an excuse to lock you up, you dipshit.”
“You wouldn’t do that. I talk too much. I’d keep everyone up all night with my bullshit.”
“Maybe we should find out?”
“Maybe I should help you.”
Fish laughed. “Right. Like I need you to find a crank caller. For all I know it’s my 13 year old, bored out of his head because I took away his Atari or whatever.”
“Well then, case clased. Wanna get a drink?”
“Cut the crap, Roland. I know who you are, and I know your reputation. You think Fred is the only person who used to work with you? Cops talk, you know.”
“Right. You stitch-n-bitch is well attended.”
Fish slapped me. I absolutely deserved it, but I decided to feign that it actually hurt.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m on a job.”
“Now, you know I can’t tell you that? My client -”
“Your client. Shit. Really, Dexter?”
“- wants me to look into a few things, all above board. Frankie is a person of interest.”
“Fuck Frankie, he doesn’t know shit.”
“Perhaps. He’s already said plenty.”
“Then you know who’s been calling him?”
“I’m afraid that I don’t know.”
Fish chewed his lip. “Maybe we should go downtown. Tampering with a police investigation is more than enough at this point.”
With one hand I began swishing back and forth, creating a metronome effect, and started to draw off of the massive collection of albums in the station. A small burst of energy formed in my fingers, and I conjured a quick spell.
I pulled out my Green Lantern Fan Club card from my wallet with my energiezed fingers, and handed it to Fish. “Look, I have a current Private Investigator’s licensce.” I pulled out an ATM reciept. “And here’s a reciept, showing I was paid in full by my client, who prefers to remain anonymous at this time.” I let that sink in for a beat. “I don’t carry a gun or any weapons, I have current ID for the truck I’m driving.”
“It’s a truck, now?”
“Long story. The point is, I’m just doing my job. In about an hour, I will clock off, and you won’t see me again until I pick up again in the morning. I have a lawyer, who’s quite familiar with getting me out of Jail, too, so if you’d like to waste the entire evening with this Waltz, as you call it, be my guest. Let’s do it.”
Fish handed back to bullshit I’d foisted on him, and looked at me again. “You’re a suspect at this point, Dexter.”
“That’s fine. I don’t like you much, either. But you know I can’t withhold relevant information about the case from you without making myself an accessory to the crime, and and believe me, if I knew anything about your 13 year old kid making prank calls, I would have mentioned it ages ago.”
Fish glared at me. “What’s your point?’
“I’m investigating a case involving the record store, and Frankie has enough connections to that store to make him a person of interest. But, to my knowledge, he’s done nothing wrong, and might not even be involved in the case. I was dropping by to see if those connections led anywhere.”
Fish mulled this over. “This is the first I’m hearing about a record store, but you’re right. It probably has nothing to do with the crank calls.” Fish chewed his lip, then put his hand on the door to open it. “If I can’t get in touch with you when I need to, so help me, there will be an APB for your ass issued quicker than you can say ‘radio.’ Capiche?”
“My ass, Detective? Why not the whole body?”
Fish threw open the door and yelled, “FRED! Let’s get out of here.” Fred, armed with some documents and a CDR, nodded at me, then followed Fish out of the station. Behind him, Fish yelled, “Later, ‘Little.’ “
5. Travel Arrangements
I sat there re-reading our exchange a few times, and slowly found myself nodding off, so I glanced around a bit to make sure everything was where it should be, balled up my coat, laid back, and let myself nod off as I took in what had happened that afternoon. Attractive women kept flitting across my vision, and flashes of the nude beach I’d driven past earlier occasionally intruded to create a terrible melange of urges, guaranteed to lead to poor judgement. It seemed as if I was out only momentarily, but when I groggily came to a couple hours later I felt like I was ready to tackle the second half (and much more complicated) portion of the day. I reviewed the scenery carefully to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind, then loaded my belongings and myself into my car. Frankie Diamond was there to greet me with some lounge music set that seemed appropriate for my evening.
Sauvie Island is both smaller and bigger than you think it is, and it took me a few minutes of driving on farm roads and small beach tracks until I found something that was paved, and a bit longer before I found signs that helped direct me back to The 30, and in the meantime I’d accumulated a fair amount of traffic behind me that was either used to confused people like myself, or were all afraid of passing out of over-politeness. But once an actual two-lane road opened up, a few people grew adventurous, and soon enough only a few people were behind me, and I led the soothing sounds of Martin Denny ease me away from the countryside.
Things were looking up when I saw the bridge up ahead, and as I was beginning to plot my path to the station I noticed a Chevy Deluxe that could not possibly be any older than 1949 move into the other lane to pass me. It would probably have not grabbed my attention had it not been for the fact that the car had no visible plates, and that it had a twin that kept its position just behind me. As I was wondering to myself what the chances were that two very similar cars would both be following me, the turn for the bridge was rapidly approaching, and the passing Deluxe suddenly bashed into me, pushing me off the road.
I was stunned; not only was this completely unexpected, but I had little time to react. I immediately turned into the Deluxe, but my tiny Bug was having little effect on the situation, and it was clear I was either going to ram into the wall rapidly approaching, or I would have to turn off and take my chances with the embankment that went into the river. As all of this was happening, I felt my phone buzz again, but the thrill of getting another message from Sam didn’t have the same impact at this moment. Sensing a need to make it a bit further into the day than I was currently, I veered right, hit the grass, and slammed on the breaks. The Bug failed to turn over, but skidded and slid in the embankment until it nosed into the rocks and sand on the river, and as I came to a sudden stop, the car was angled ass-end into the river. From that vantagepoint I could see the pair of Deluxe’s speeding across the bridge toward HWY 30, with a small orange scrape on the right side of the one that banged into me.
I pulled out my phone, and saw a picture from Sam; she had a towel around her hair, and a Long Hind Legs LP conveniently covering much of her chest, but was otherwise unclothed as even more of her tattoos were showing. “Getting Ready. Hope this brings you pleasant dreams.”
For a moment, I stopped thinking about the pair of Chevy’s, and instead focused on the pair in the photo. If I wasn’t so terrified, I probably would have reclined my seat and thought of England.
4: The Missing Walls.
On my way out of the store Robert handed me a paper bag about a ½ foot wide and said, “I hope this helps. Sorry about earlier.” I nodded, but decided to give him a little more of the silent treatment, and walked out the store. I didn’t see Sam anywhere, and it was probably better I didn’t distract myself with more of her before I got my head together. I sat down in the driver’s seat of my car and situated myself, tossing everything I’d accumulated into the passenger seat so I could take it all in.
I rolled down the windows and up a cigarette, and pondered the inevitable traffic snarl that was ahead of me. It was getting on into the early afternoon, and I needed a place that I would be left alone where I could sip on my flask reflectively. It was a bit out of the way, but it seemed as if Sauvie Island was out of the way enough, uninhabited enough, and removed enough from the action that I could engage in some high-level meta bullshit. It was also just far enough away that I could try to absorb some music in the event there was enough call for a spell or two later.
I started the car and KLOW came back to life, “The Diamond Hour with Frankie Diamond” still on, the title clearly a misnomer considering how long ago I last tuned in. He was in the middle of a particularly long glam rock track that smelled of cocaine and innocence, and I drew on it for a moment before pulling out my phone and texting Sam, “Where are we meeting again?” I pulled out of the lot and was fortunate enough to get immediately stuck behind a Subaru Outback with a Star Trek insignia in the bottom right corner.
My mind kept turning to Angie in Johnny’s old office, and while I quite liked what I remembered, I puzzled over who it might have been with her in there. It seemed as if that might be a lead that could pay off, and if I can’t crack the case, at least I could maybe enjoy some eavesdropping to tide me over on those particularly lonely nights. I have a few thoughts who “A T” might be, but I had a feeling that the identity of the woman was probably going to be a little more useful in making sense of what that was all about. Robert seemed like a moody kid, and if I had to hazard a guess as to what his role in everything was, I would just have to take it back later. Still it seemed as if so much of what I saw was a show, like some bizarre Muppet Show backstage performance that was meant to confuse me more than lead me in the right direction.
It’s funny how you can look at something and read it 900 different ways. I replayed my trip to the store a few times in my head, crimson & clover, in some sort of ocd attempt to plumb it for further secrets, but if any were there to be found, they were certainly not presenting themselves in this traffic! [honk] My phone buzzed, and my thoughts immediately went to Sam, trying to figure her out. It feels like she’s playing me, but how? And why? Her act seemed fairly rehearsed, but I can only imagine if you worked in a Record Store like that and you had a figure like her’s you’d be used to having to say the same thing over and over to every Creep who wants her to touch his Radiohead.
The song came to an end and after in interminable number of commercials, a voice broke through the din, “This Is Frankie Diamond, boys and girls, slammin’ and glammin’ my way through the early afternoon rush hour that never stops in the city of Blazers, and I think there’s even a sports team with that name, too.” The sound of a bong ripped through the radio. “But seriously folks, we’re pussy-footin’ our way to the prime-time drive-time five-time blast, with the five least requested songs to make that drive home that much more annoying. You’ll see, when Frankie Dee laughs with glee!” I shook my head. This guy was so annoying that I almost changed the channel, but then I heard, “but let’s stop foreshadowing the evening, because we have a little something for Robert the lonely Hearted. Frankie and all of us a K L O W want to wish you the best of luck. Know that you can count on KLOW when you are Low, K? Hahahahah, bring me The Cure, and ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ that’s for sure!” Then a woman’s voice came on and sang, “K L O W!” before the familiar guitar part kicked in.
I reached for the bag Robert had handed me in the store, but thought better of opening it while I was driving. I left it on top of the pile in the passenger seat, and focused on driving. But now it seemed that perhaps Frank might be my next interview. He sure seemed to be closely in tune with You Spin Me Right Round Records, and while there could be any number of reasons for this, it was worth checking out and besides, I hadn’t been in a radio station for quite some time. It would be worth it to sneak a peek at their records, anyway. Besides, it was possible I might know someone there, with the number of years I used to spend in the business. However “The Diamond” is involved, I can only imagine that it is unsavory merely by the way he talks on the air.
My phone buzzed again and I got the kind of jolt you feel when you think it might be a date. Stupid fuckin’ traffic. [Honk.]
I had to put up with two more Frank Diamond voice overs, another commercial block with the same ones I’d heard previously (just in a different order), and an interminable King Crimson song that was going to run into “Billy The Mountain,” but fortunately I had arrived at my destination. Sauvie Island is not too far away from civilization, the the number of farms, unpaved roads, nude beaches, and secluded areas where all you can hear are the birds and the crickets make it a perfect place for reflection. All it required was a nice place to sit and hang your mirror.
I found a spot and pulled off, throwing everything into my bag and getting out to hoof it bit. Through a small path that seemed well-worn, I popped out on a secluded stretch of beach that I had brought a date to before, and through another pair of bushes I was well-off the beaten path. I sat down, lit one of the joints Miles had given me, and began to rummage through my bag until I found the package that Robert had given me. It was in a paper bag with nothing written on it. I pulled a CD out of the package, and found an album by Crispin Glover. “The Big Problem ≠ The Solution. The Solution = Let It Be.” A hint, or a message from Robert? I opened the disc, but aside from the regular packaging I couldn’t see anything different about this any any other album. It appeared that the back cover had been marked up with a pen, and I thought I could make out the letters “N P” on it. I put the disc back in the package, and into my bag.
I picked up my phone and was shocked to see that I not only got reception, but that there were two messages from Sam. The first the photo of her upraised middle finger and the message, “Wrong Number, Asshole!” Then, the second message, 15 minutes later, “You can’t take a joke, can you?”
I took a few puffs, then snapped a photo of the view and sent it to her with the message, “I was driving. What’s your excuse?”
I pulled out the bag she had given to me that was supposed to go to our friend Marcus Little. He should be getting to the store in a couple hours, and unless Miles had another copy of this squirreled away in that disaster of an office of his, there is going to be a very uncomfortable conversation this afternoon. I pulled the tape out and immediately felt my phone vibrate. I laughed, and ignored it for a moment. While I’d never seen the tape before, it didn’t look unusual in anyway. Opened up the packaging, and a slip of paper fell out. It was printed on thermal paper, and looked like a receipt, but not for You Spin Me Right Round Records. This place merely had an address, some charged for “items,” a total, and a QR code at the bottom. I almost threw it away, but suddenly a little story was developing: someone bought this from this address, sold it to You Spin Me Right Round, and Miles never found it, and put it back on the shelf. I chuckled. I put the receipt back in the case for the tape, and put the whole thing back in my bag.
“I was a little worked up, so I had to go work out,” was the message she sent back. I took another puff and decided to wait before responding. I was certainly in the mood for what she was sending signals about, but my mind was turning over the morning, and a few different images were starting to form in my mind’s eye. I thumbed my phone for a bit, and called up the most recent episode of “The Record Hop” and instead listened to her talk about the Unwound boxed set on Numero Group’s label. I sat on the beach, and for a few moments felt nothing, as I let her voice carry me off to a mindlessness that felt as if everything was “right” for a few minutes.
I stubbed out what was left of the joint, and laid back to enjoy the scenery for what felt like two hours, but was most likely a few minutes. I took a nip off my flask and reached for my Index Cards. They were all a mess, so I began to sort through them, discarding the crap, re-transcribing the other ones, and assembling the notes into a pair of condensed notes. I found one that said, “photograph?” but I had no memory of writing it, or what it was in reference to. I went through my phone to see if there were any pictures I’d taken, but couldn’t find anything to connect with it. On a lark I snapped a pic of it, and stared at this meta image that only existed on my phone. I almost sent it to Sam, but I suspected it could be misinterpreted, and I wasn’t ready for that yet.
I finished her podcast, then texted back, “I’m still waiting for the Long Hind Legs boxed set.”
I decided that the best course of action would be to hit up the radio station next. Music was clearly at the center of all of this, and I wasn’t about to pass up the chance to meet the most annoying DJ I’ve ever heard, as my fist had something to say on the subject. It was clear that something wasn’t adding up, and there was more than likely something going on that was much bigger than what I was aware of. It was best to proceed with caution, and try not to move too fast.
My phone buzzed, “5 PM.”
I typed, “So soon? That barely gives me time to pre-funk.”
“The way you smelled earlier, you probably don’t need to.”
“I would have split my flask with you if I thought Miles wouldn’t mind.”
“That’s the problem; he wouldn’t have.”
“Next time, then.”
“You could come meet me out here on the beach.”
“I’m not that easy. Come to Shanghai Tunnel.”
“That’s a bit out of the way. I can meet you anywhere, if you’d like.”
“Good, because I want to meet you there.”
“The drinks are stiff and there’s great mood lighting.”
“I’m not sure I’ll have any problem with either stiffness or mood.”
A picture of her in an extremely flattering pose popped on my screen that immediately caused me to be both. “That’s what I’m counting on.”
“I might need a nap before we meet up.”
“Sleep Well, Little guy.” Followed by a picture of her blowing a kiss.
Hadn’t she ever heard of hard to get?
(A Detective Dexter Roland Adventure)
3: Real Comedy
I closed the door behind me and found myself in a sort of ante-chamber type office, with a safe and some other accounting odds and ends. There were a few shelves with a bunch of new vinyl, which I surmised were special orders and other stock that had just come in. There were two offices on either side of them. One had a small plaque that read “Miles Dangerfield,” and the other had a dirty ring around where a plaque used to be. A t hird, less impressive door was open, and featured a toilet.
Miles opened his office door, and the immediate smell of pot came to my nose. There was a bong on Miles’ desk, a turntable/radio combo, a million posters and records in every imaginable place, and a few chairs. Miles waved toward the bong and said, “Help yourself. There’s also a few bottles of something in Johnny’s room, if you’d prefer.”
“I’m fine.” I took out an index card and said, “Can I have a cigarette?”
Miles’ tone changed, and he sighed. “Yes, of course.” He turned on a vent and the sound of air rushing turned on. He moved to the turntable and put on a CAN LP. He then sat down, and in a somewhat fluid movement opened a drawer, pulled out some pot, filled the bowl of his bong and produced a lighter. He took a series of quick hits, then exhaled. “It’s these fucking street dates!” he finally said.
“They’re a real pain, absolutely.” I realized that Miles did not have a proper ashtray in his office, which seems strange for a stoner, and flicked the ashes into my left hand, then quickly began to jot things down as Miles spoke.
“It seems crazy that someone would do this, because there are quicker ways to ruin a man. But the distributors take this shit serious, man. If I get caught, that might be the end of my store!”
“I can see how you wouldn’t want that to happen,” I said, with only the faintest hint of patronizing him. Miles had clearly been smoking for most of the morning, and it might not be worth it to ask him any direct questions. But it might be worth it to just wait and see what comes of the conversation anyway. He’d already lied for me so I could try and get a date with his employee, so it stood to reason that Miles might be trying to help me out anyway, and just doesn’t know how to say anything directly.
“This bassline is amazing.” Miles took another bonghit. “Those sessions must have been incredible.”
“Who works for you these days?”
“Oh…” he squinted his eyes. “There’s Sam, Robert, Todd, Katherine -” he looked at me, as if we were old friends. “You know, my wife – Angie, Ronald and that other guy…”
“That’s helpful. And what happened, again?”
Miles let a huge smile cross his lips. “I found this record at a Goodwill. Fifty cents.”
I shook my head. “Really?” And I was only half acting, because that really was a good deal.
“Some dipshit clearly threw out all his roommate’s stuff after some fight or something, and then some retarded kid working at the Goodwill doesn’t know CAN from Katy Perry, so he puts it out. What are the chances?”
“Indeed.” I rubbed the collected ashes into my pants, and stubbed out the cigarette on a corner of his desk where there was clearly previous burn damage.
“That is the magic of record collecting,” Miles said, rocking back and forth in his chair in a slightly squeaky manner. “The records are sent out into the world, and the people who find them run into them by chance.” He gestured to his office door. “All that shit out there, some people think that’s collecting.” He stood up suddenly, and leaned over toward me. “But how many times have they found a CAN LP at a thrift store? Huh!?” He sat down again. “Almost as good as that Brubeck record I found.”
I thumbed my phone and nodded occasionally. “Yeah, ‘Take Five.’”
Miles squeaking continued. “If I could just figure this out…”
Miles tensed. “He’s here?”
“No, it’s okay. No, I’m just asking. You mentioned him earlier, and I found a story about this record store being founded by you and a John Benson. Is he Johnny?”
Miles eyed me suspiciously. “Who are you? What’s going on here?”
“It’s okay. I’m Dexter Roland. You called my agency, wanted me to look into something.”
“I thought your name was Little. Martin Little or something.”
“Marcus. And it’s not, I was just trying to get a little information from you clerk.”
“You were trying to get more than than, if I’m not mistaken,” he muttered as he took another hit.
“How did – “
“TV Monitors in Johnny’s room.” He smiled weakly and shrugged. “I was watching.”
“But you did call me t-”
“Yes, of course, yes. I did. It’s just… this week has sucked a lot, and I’m a little out of my gourd.”
“I understand,” I said, and started to feel a small contact high.
“It’s so much easier to put up a fog around everything than to really look at what’s going on. It’s like ‘blink-and-you’d-miss-it’ bullshit anyway, and who has time to look that closely at their own life, let alone what’s going on around you.” Miles sighed heavily. Then, in a very quiet voice, “It’s funny, you know. I only want to quit weed when I’m high, but…” and then, very slowly, “I always question my logic when I’m high.” He started laughing.
“No, I know what you mean. Can I use the John?”
Through his laughter, he pointed, and said, “Of course!”
I didn’t even look back to see what Miles was up to, but instead got up and walked back through what felt like a rabbit-warren-like nest of connected rooms, until I found the bathroom to take care of some business. A nip off my flask and a splash of water cleared things up pretty quickly, and I started to piece together what Miles might be talking about. In order for albums to be in the stores on the day they are released, these albums need to be in the stores before that day. (To give the store time to stock it and have it on the shelf.) Street dates are the dates an album can be on the shelf. Labels and distributors do keep an eye on stuff like this, and Joe Blow’s Garage Band isn’t going to be as big a deal as a new U2 album, but the point is still the same: this record shouldn’t be on the shelves until the street date, and if someone is breaking them, that can mean losing certain distribution deals.
This seemed a little bigger than that, but it was clear that there was some tension with his ex partner, and that’s a place to start, or namely, his old office was. I exited the bathroom, and looked around to make sure Sam or another clerk was around, then opened the office door with the missing nameplate. I didn’t expect anyone to be in there, so I opened the door as I would entering any room, and was shocked to hear, “The fuck, Rob?” I looked up to see two bodies in various states of undress and arousal, a woman’s head and torso in silouette visible from the waist up, and the back of a man, largely in shadow, working on her neck and move south. Before I could really get a look at anyone, a leg came up and kicked the door closed.
I hear a lock click, and I looked around again to see if anyone else witnessed the exchange. I leaned in very quietly, and listened at the door, and was getting a pretty good audio show for a moment. Then, a very low, difficult to identify voice whispered, “Let it go.”
A woman’s voice: “But – owe, why’d you…”
It seemed as if Miles was in no hurry to look for me, and as the show was starting to get good – if not information heavy – I decided to stick around and see what else might pop up from these two, but I overheard the words, “… get caught?” quite distinctly from the other door, back out toward store, followed by a male, “Shhhhh!” The show had really picked up, and while I did wish for popcorn, I instead moved between the two performances like turning the dial between radio shows. I could make out a male and female voice whispering in what would have been the jazz and classical section on the other side of the door, but they weren’t raising their voices again for whatever reason.
Set into the door was a window, likely to prevent accidents in situations where employees are moving back and forth between this room (to count tills and pick up the ordered LPs) and the floor of the store proper. However, over the years it has become covered in various stickers for labels and bands long-since broken up, and now really only acted as a means of getting a vague sense of what was on the other side, without offering much definition. I tried to angle my head in a way that allowed me to get a glimpse through the glass without giving away my own presence, and as I worked at this, the sounds on both sides began to increase, as Angie began to punctuate what I was seeing with her moans.
“Just make sure everything is still set,” she said, and the face rang a bell, for some reason. I took another nip on my flask, but that didn’t put it any more into focus.
“Yes,” he said, and turned to walk past my window, where I could make out a nametag with a visible A on one line, and T on the other.
I decided I didn’t want to press my luck any further, and I could see the woman was exiting the building with all speed, and it wasn’t worth tailing either of them. Plus, I still had to deal with Miles, and I was sort of curious to find out if Angie and her man had an exit strategy. It sounded as if they had – ahem – finished something, and it could be amusing to try and see them wiggle out of that. However, these thoughts were interrupted, when the door I was looking through opened. A tall, skinny kid walked in, shrouded in a hoodie and a shock of black hair that poked out to point out the direction he was headed in.
He seemed to realize I was in the room at about the same time I heard Johnny’s office door opened slightly, then get pulled closed with an audible squeal of, “SHIT!” The tall kid turned to look at that. I used the moment to my advantage to try and break the tension. “Door’s have the worst language these days.” The skinny kid turned back to me and looked confused. “Are you new?”
“Oh, no. Just a friend of Miles. I’m Marcus,” and I stuck out my hand for a shake.
“I see,” he said. He shook my hand in an extremely reserved gesture, and was quick to pull back his long arm. He took off his messenger bag, and hung it and his hoodie up on a coatrack, then moved over to the desk where he seemed quite content to continue whatever it was he was doing than to talk any more with me.
“I take it you’re one of the clerks?” I asked.
The skinny kid nodded.
“I guess you take over when Sam’s shift is over?” Another nod.
“You don’t like talking, do you?”
He turned suddenly, “You ask a lot of questions for someone I just met, and this room is supposed to be for employees only, so I’m sorry if I’m a little terse with you. I’m just preparing for my shift. Now are we done here? Or are you a manager or something, and this has become a performance review?”
I waved my hands toward him, wordlessly communicating the kind of respect he now deserved, and he went back to his work and I turned back to Miles’ office. As I closed the door I heard Johnny’s office open and close with another, “SHIT!”
Miles looked up from a cup of coffee, which appeared (if the arrangement on the desk was any indicator) to contain a shot of Old Crow in it, and Miles was looking at some documents beside it that were quickly covered by a file folder. “Hey, I was about to send out a search party! You okay?”
“Yeah. Just met one of your clerks. Tall, bad attitude.”
“Robert? Huh, that’s odd. He’s usually not like that.”
“Maybe he’s having a bad day, too?”
Miles shook his head and made a sort of guttural sound to summarize his frustration. “Man, Austin…” and trailed off, and immediately caught my attention. Before I could wonder how the fuck he knew that, he continued, “…we had so much fun in Austin this year, and I brought back all these great records, and I just thought this kind of stuff was behind me.” Then he shouted, “FUCK!”
“I completely get it man, I really, really do. But if you don’t talk to me, I can’t help you.” I decided that I was in deep enough to actually want the case, no matter if Miles could actually get around to hiring me, and that being a little forceful was the best way to go about this.
“Sorry, man. Look,” and he held up his coffee cup, “I’m trying to pull my head out of the fog enough to fill you in. I realized I wasn’t making any sense earlier, but I’m still a little mad and confused about all of this, and I’m trying to figure it out, too.”
“Seems as if your buddy Frankie seems to know what’s up. How about you fill me in?”
Either Miles didn’t notice or ignored the bait, and said, “I moved out here because I heard about Peace & Love, but those albums sparked in me something much bigger. I had this buddy, Johnny, and together we would go on these record runs, driving up and down the west coast, stopping everywhere and cleaning out little shops all over the place. We used to get high in the car and talk big about opening a shop someday, and between the two of us we assembled some pretty impressive collections.”
I lit another cigarette and started scribbling on an Index Card.
“In the late ‘70’s we kept hitting on this idea of opening up a store. We each kept running into the problem of paying the bills. As you can imagine, I’m a terrible employee. I can’t keep a job to save my life. But Johnny and I kept getting into these positions were we were already trying to make money selling our records, so why not open up a store? We each went through our collections, picking out the stuff we knew we could make serious cash on, and split the up-front expenses in half. We rented out one small part of this space, put in a few homemade shelves, and spent our days in the shop, and our nights in a shitty apartment we shared. Sometimes, if things were really bad, we’d just sleep in the shop.”
A lilt in Miles’ voice made me wonder how often he’s said this, and a lot of it seemed to conform with the brief sketch I could make out through the Internet.
“The problem was that we started to make money,” said Miles, suddenly, as if he’d only just figured it out himself. “Once we were paying our bills on-time, we started paying ourselves. That eventually led to us getting our own places, and expanding the store. Everything seemed to working out well.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, flicking ashes back in my palm. “So why’d he leave?”
Miles sat there and looked up briefly. I glanced around his office, to see if there was anything I missed, and my eyes lingered on the photos up on the wall around an old sign the store used to have up in the ‘90’s. “I don’t know if I can tell you,” he finally settled on.
“What does that mean?”
“Exactly that. He just left, one day. I got a letter about him wanting to sell his half of the store, and before long my wife and I were full owners.”
“You know her?”
“No, but the Statesman Paper ran a story about you two years ago.” I held up my phone. “It’s online.”
“Yeah, that’s her. I mean, the shop isn’t really her bag, you know, but when you’re married, your finances are, too. That’s just how it is.”
I nodded as if I had any idea how it was.
“It was about a year later that he opened up his place. Discworld.” Miles shuddered, revealing his real feelings about the name. He looked at me. “It looks like some sort of bullshit record store they’d use in Blade Runner or something crap like that. That’s not a record store! How many touring bands want to make appearances in that hovel?”
I muttered to myself. “I hate electronic music.” It was true, too. Very bad for spellcasting. There’s hardly anything to grab onto between the sounds.
Miles straightened himself up. “Someone has been breaking the Street Dates in my store, and Johnny has been taking extreme pleasure in pointing this out when it happens. He’s always doing stuff like this. He sent me a card when there was a small fire in our warehouse. Whenever I lose an employee he places an ad about it in the weekly. He just loves to revel in my pain, so he can right some wrong that he feels I caused.”
I nodded, but is appeared as if Miles was done talking anyway. “So you want me to look into Johnny?”
Miles looked confused. “No!” He lowered his voice considerably. “The clerks.”
“You think – ” but before I could pose the question, he cut me off.
“Dex, look. I’m at the end of my rope. I’m ready to fire everyone, but I know that there’s something going on here that could be handled a little more, shall we say, delicately than if I were to handle this myself. I need someone to come in here and clear up this mess, figure out what is going on, and get back to me with the fewest number of details as possible.”
I stubbed out another cigarette and leaned back. “That’s a pretty tall order.”
“I can pay you well.”
“That’s good, because my prices are not reasonable.”
“$200 a day.”
“Pffft. That starts to scratch the surface.”
“$200 in stock from the store every month.”
“AND, you keep up the pretense that my name is Marcus Little, I’m an old record shopping buddy who has come to visit, and that everything is business as usual. I’ll report back with anything I figure out, and you do the same.”
Miles nodded. “You don’t fuck around.”
“I try not to, except when it’s called for.”
“I read you. Just watch out; Sam will fuck you up if you try to screw with her.”
I nodded. “This ain’t my first rodeo.”
Miles pulled out an envelope with some cash sticking out of it and four joints inside. “Hopefully this will get you started.”
I gathered up my Index Cards and the envelope and hid it away inside one of my pockets. “Don’t worry, I’m good about asking for more money.”
“Good, I might forget. Hopefully Kat and I can take care of you well enough so we can see an end to this.”
“So,” I offered as a way to end the conversation before it took much longer, and stood up as I said, “How much do you want to know when I put all of this together? Do you want the name of the troublemaker, or do you need running commentary?”
Miles eyed his bong again, then looked back at me. “Just tell me who I can and can’t trust again.”
I nodded, and exited his door.
2. Turning The Dial.
I rolled myself another cigarette and paid my bill, finding the outside world just as I had left it: dark, gloomy, pregnant with rain and cold winds. I pulled my jacket in tighter and screwed on my hat, if only to make sure that I hadn’t left it in the bar. The Bug was around the corner, and elderly Volkswagen that I traded a friend for, only because it reminded me of a car I spent much of my youth inside. It was the perfect car for me, as it took well to my slow learning curve, is very conducive to spell-grafting to keep the gas prices low, and was still relatively functional given the clumsiness with which I took to the streets in a vehicle. It’s fairly difficult for me to do anything intentionally dangerous, and it is this simple fact alone that has prevented me repeated visits to the hospital in it, too.
I dropped my bag in the passenger seat and strapped it in, then started the car using the complicated series of hand gestures and doodad fondling I’d worked out over time. The car sprang to live and the radio began to sing out, “I’m About A Mover,” but slowly faded as a voice shouted, “The Diamond Hour with Frankie Diamond here on the most powerful station in the Blazer Nation, KLOW, and we’re bringing ya the biggest and the brightest, the sharpest and the whitest college and indie bullshit you’ve ever heard bumping out of the room where everyone’s doin’ blow, but instead, you’re listening to klow… K L O W, that is. Now we’ve got a very special Bryan Ferry fashion block going out to our good buddy Miles Smiles down at You Spin Me Right Round – ”
I pulled himself out of my routine of getting the car ready and began to listen. This was, in fact, where I was going, and Miles – I assume that “Smiles” was Diamond’s tacky nickname – must be Miles Dangerfield, the owner of the store.
“ – Records, and we hope he’s doing great after everything that’s happened recently. Stay as frosted as a new wave hairdo, and we’ll be back on the other side with more of The Diamond Hour, with Frankie Diamond, king of Portland Radio here on the mighty KLOW!”
I changed the dial quickly to KXRY, and began putting some pieces together. As a long time practitioner of music magic, it didn’t take much for me know who these players all were. Miles had owned You Spin Me Right Round Records for years, not only making the store a hip place for disaffected youth for decades, but creating a little name for himself, getting seen at shows and other hot events with the typical kind of VIP status that an old-school rocker usually commands. I’d never met Miles, but I certainly picked up some Jazz sides from one of his locations, and also passed off a Dylan bootleg I’d milked for all possible magical secrets long ago to another location when I was desperate for cash. Miles has had plenty of impact on just about everyone who had any interest in records, even if they don’t know it.
But what happened? And why does Frank Diamond know about it? I usually try to avoid his show, as Frank is the worst example of hipster bullshit and local trash that the city has seen in quite some time. Yet, like most of these assholes who talk shit about your 7”s when he full well knows that his collection is inherited, Frank is the kind of guy who will walk around looking for the biggest crowd at a show, then stick around for the scene more than the band. Even worse, he has ingratiated himself with some of the hipsterati around town, and makes a lot of promises that he can keep. Not beneath payola, it has long been established that Frank is someone to be owned, and while there has never been any paper trail to corner him, it is clear he only plays bands who let him into the party, so to speak, and he’s built a fairly lame empire for himself that has the only real-world consequence that someone gave him a fucking radio show.
This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that there are a lot of hard-working and well-intentioned DJs in town who were banished to the nether-regions of the middle-of-the-night schedule. The reason music magic is so powerful is that the forces at play behind music are so contradictory: a song can represent a real and extremely important emotion that is presented to you in the most constructed and artificial way imaginable. Music is of the moment and highly artificial, in almost every instance of you hearing it. It is this disconnect in meaning and form that offers so much space to extract magical essence, where the artificial / realistic disconnect makes the biggest leap in believability. With all of this comes the problem that really awful people participate in a way that that they can paint as genuine as easily as an honest person is dismissed because they aren’t using the right hair product.
I pulled out of the hellish traffic, stopped the car, and listened to the radio as I made a few notes on an index card. It seemed to me that KLOW might be just as lame as I remember it, and yet I might have to swing by later.
I immediately regretted stopping, as getting back into traffic was abominable. The City has sprawled into a huge mess in the last 15 years, as what was once a medium sized yet easy to get around place has turned into a snarling, disgusting mess with long commute times during rush hour and periods of motionlessness on stretches of surrounding highways and freeways. Getting around was not only quicker by foot, but offered only one benefit to anyone in a car: lots of time to think.
Dexter started to weigh his physical state of being a bit as he maneuvered his way in the general direction of the record store. The physical toll of the case before, with several consecutive nights without sleep and too much booze – plus the added stay with friends the night previous – had accumulated into a hazy (and somewhat confusing) attitude about everything that was going on. There was far too much obvious connection between traveling for days and feeling in a daze, and the difficulty with which I was having pinning certain events down to certain parts of the last few days, and it was clear to me that clarity was something that may elude me. But the message from Suzanne was pretty adamant, and I could easily meet with Miles, take on the case, and then camp out in a hotel room for the better part of a day before having to take any real action. Part of the appeal of travel is the fog that it throws you into, where you can skim across the surface of reality and not have to take things in too heavily. But in my line of work, I often didn’t have that luxury, and while I usually tried to keep the party going no matter what my circumstances are, I was going to need to get some sleep.
I used my annoyance with the traffic and my own hazy perspective close the gap between my car and the record store, and soon enough I was trying to pull into a parking stop, wondering if I smelled a little too boozy for the hour at hand. You Spin Me Right Round Records is one of those shops in a bit of a strip mall, with a head shop on one end and tailor’s shop that always seemed to have something going on there that didn’t involve tailoring. The Record Store had expanded into a couple of the surrounding spaces when those businesses had failed, but had been in the location for years, and was very well known by the local kids, and as a consequence, band stickers and fliers littered every surface for a few blocks in each direction, and the remains of joints and drained cans of beer spoke to the after-hours scene, too. At any given time, there was at least one guy working on skateboard flips in the parking lot.
I chewed a stick of cinnamon gum and replenished my stock of index cards, then slung my bag over my shoulder. Miles did not know when to expect me, and didn’t know who I was per se, so I had time on my side. There were a few ways I could play this, and the closer I was able to act the part of someone who belonged in the store, the better off I was. I traded out my satchel for a messenger bag I kept in the back seat, and put my jacket in its place. From inside the messenger bag, I removed a hoodie, threw it on, and lit a cigarette. Across the street was a coffee cart, and I picked up a cup of something hot and sipped it thoughtfully. The best approach would be to go in and do a bit of shopping first, to see if anything caught my eye.
I poked my head in, then slunk around the aisles, thumbing through the stacks while I took in the store. For the middle of the day on a Thursday the place was hopping, but there weren’t that many clerks for the crowd in the store. A few couches surrounded a listening station and a comically small stage, where a few kids were swapping skate rock tips. Over by the used CDs a few raver burn-outs were snatching up $4 electronic discs, and there was one guy pouring over the 7” records, taking each one out, examining the vinyl, making sure the item was of a quality he could tolerate in his collection. Behind the counter was a busty and heavily tattooed girl in an Exploited t-shirt, doing her best to keep the attention of the clientele as she spun Rembrandt Pusshorse for the kids. I stood in awe of this magnificent red-head with spex, and my thoughts turned to the bartender from before, and the longing felt somewhere vulnerable and easily stirred.
I went through all the things in my head that I used to worry about in situations like this, and tried to pick a record that would be a conversation starter. What was most likely to get her attention if I showed up at the counter with it in-hand. Clearly she was sending a few different messages today, and as she paged through a Leonard Cohen biography, I realized that I couldn’t just pick an old Bad Religion album and call it good. I toyed with Mission of Burma and Wire, but felt as if those were obvious ploys that she would see right through, and more pointedly, she would get suspicious of the fact I didn’t already have it. I thought of trying to go local, and ask about the older Sex Crime 45, but the more I thought about it the worse the situation became. I was desperately clutching at straws when I imagined a 45 Gave record, and finally grabbed a Traveling Wilburys disc along with a Boys II Men CD, figuring I could at least try the irony tactic, or make up a “gift for a family member” excuse.
She looked at the CDs, then looked at me, and said, “Your line better be good.”
She was good. I immediately feigned an extremely exaggerated form of hurt feelings and said, “But I practiced all day! It can’t be that obvious.”
“Like a cowbell.”
“Would your opinion change if I was looking for first LCD Soundsystem single?”
She wrinkled her nose and frowned.
“Kings of Leon?”
She game me a micro-half-smile. “Now you’re just fucking with me.”
“I could just use my line?” I offered.
She leaned forward a tad and pushed her chest out slightly. “If it’s a line about a Ween album cover I will stab you here in the store and put you next to the goth records, so I can pose you with Black Metal records.”
“Mission of Burma?” I lobbed, sort of as a hail mary. I was sure that she wasn’t about to do me any favors, so I mostly said it for my own amusement. But she stopped and eyed something beneath the counter.
“Are you the guy that called earlier about Bradford Hotel video earlier?” She looked me up and down, and seemed to let down her guard a bit. I got lucky.
I straightened up a bit and dropped some of the affectation. “Yeah, is it here?”
She smiled wide, and leaned over the counter toward me. “That depends. What’s it worth it to you?” I’d been trying to build clocks with enough twists in bars when I was a kid to recognize this for what it was, so I summoned my best puppydog-caught-in-the-eyes-of-a-blond look and said, “It seems at least four times as valuable as the list price if I can see you again.”
“What’s wrong with what you’re seeing now?”
“It’d be even better over drinks.”
“What if I’m not that kind of girl?”
“I’d be curious to find out what kind you are, then.”
She backed off slightly, “It’s kind of strange, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I would think you’d be smart enough to know that there’s a never-ending parade of hipsters with boners for me, and you’re not even remotely curious as to why I’ve picked you over the hordes of other messenger-bags that are willing to buy me vintage Suicide records just so they can see what the rest of this tattoo looks like.” She gestured at her chest, something I was polite enough to pretend I wasn’t glancing at when I wasn’t looking into her huge and commanding eyes.
“Should I be curious?”
She wrinkled her brow and a look of concern crossed her face. “I would hope so.”
“Look, I get it. A lot of guys put their 7”s on the counter here and beg for you to give them a patch with your phone number on it that they can use to tug at themselves while they’re thinking of you.”
“I liked you better when you were a Kings of Leon fan,” she snarled.
“But listen, I’m a Mission of Burma fan, you’re an attractive woman, and the thought of getting nerdy on Rough Trade at some dive while we pump the jukebox is where I’d like most of my conversations in record stores to end up.”
“If that’s not a reference to the record label I will stab you.”
“I promise, I’ve barely even considered Googling the other meaning, if it makes you feel any better.”
She gave me the micro-half-smile again and bent over to get something from under the counter. It was one of those extremely intentional ways that women bend over when they want to show something off, something they know they have, and she had it in spades. When she came back up for air, she had a video cassette with a note on it that said, “Marcus Little, $20, pre-paid. 4 PM.” She handed it to me.
“You seem to be VERY early.”
“Yeah, well I thought I wasn’t gonna get here until after work, then I smoked a joint, called in sick, and came here.”
She laughed, a genuine laugh, and not one that you hear when they’re faking. Or, if she was, she was good. “That is the best thing anyone has said to me all day.”
“Wow, the guys here are really awful.”
Another smile. This was turning out to be the best case I’d taken recently, and the only thing that concerned me was a glare I was getting from someone near the back of the store. When I finally made eye contact the figure moved away through a side door.
“Here, let me put it in here so everything’s safe.”
I watched with fascination as she put the tape in the plastic bag. She pulled out a piece of register tape with a bunch of junk printed on it, and handed it to me. “Here’s your receipt. Also, here’s my card.” She handed me a ovid piece of cardstock that was shaped like a piece of vinyl. “The Record Hop: A Music Nerd’s Podcast” was at the the top. Underneath: with your host Sam Drake. And, on a third line: Every Thursday. therecordhop.net
“That’s my show. You should listen.”
I turned the card over in my hand, and looked confused. “Something’s not right.”
“What?” she asked.
“Your card seems to be missing your phone number.”
She laughed, again, a real laugh. “Wow. Old fashioned. I figured you’d message me about it later, so we could flirt more.” She snatched the card out of my hand, and wrote seven numbers on the back of it, and then a word. She put it back in my hands. “What are you, 40?”
I smiled in a way that let her figure out that she was right, then quickly responded with, “Experienced.”
Another customer stepped up and I let him talk to her, and it was immediately clear that he was a prick, and she was gonna have to stab him. I took a few steps out, and intended to get out of the store with a door from the interior opened, and a large man stepped out. He looked like he had grown up on the East Coast, spent a lot of time playing in the street and singing Doo Wop with his friends, and had relocated to the West Coast because free love was more fun. He looked right at me and said in the most stilted tone imaginable, “Oh, ‘Marcus.’ I’m glad you got your video. Come into my office and have a beer or something stronger.”
I shook my head, and said exaggeratedly, “Thank you for not blowing my cover,” and in a normal voice, “Mr. Dangerfield?”
He nodded. “Yeah, come with me.”
1. Radio Oracle.
It is occasionally surprising how hard it is to find a place to sit and collect your thoughts when you are on the road. There are already a hundred things that can go wrong when you leave the house anyway, and the negotiations you have to make with the outside world can often be bewildering and tedious, full of finding places to store your things, people who can connect you with the resources you’re looking for, and when all is said and done, find a warm dry place to curl up for a few hours to keep the crazy at bay. And yet, missing among all of this (no matter where you go) is the constant problem of needing to find a place to go when you want to be by yourself. Where can you go to do that if not back to your own place?
It’s the problem Odysseus tried to solve all those years ago, and one I have no firmer grasp upon. However, there are times when you are still several days away from home, and you’ve exhausted the kindness and beer of all your friends, and you find yourself wandering, trying to seek out the place you can next intrude upon, if for even the briefest attempt to find out what to do next. This is its own challenge unto itself, a journey that could be an epic told in several parts. But invariably it comes down to a question of music. Not only can the sound be as enticing as it is valuable in creating a sense of comfort and security in a place that could be otherwise jarring, but it can be a fantastic social barometer when attempting to make sense of a new locale.
Depending on where you wind up, this can take some time. As I was on my way home from another case elsewhere, I felt it was important to take stock of what had happened before I got home. I always find that it is important to get your story straight before you have to start explaining yourself to anyone. Once you get home, there are always questions. What have you been up to? Why did you spend so much money? Are you going to take a shower, or stink like that the rest of the day? Where are you going again so quickly? You just got home… It has always felt more comfortable to take an extra day or two in getting back, so that you can really reflect on the trip you took. It helps replenish your magic quicker, and gives you a chance to sleep 16 hours straight somewhere remote. This has, on occasion, led to other trips that I often need to recover from again, but even in these cases I have felt that the effort was well spent. Many joke about needing a vacation from their vacation, but I have found few who take that point as seriously as they should.
This is how, in of all the places, I came to find myself wandering around St. John’s one morning, only a few miles from home but close enough to make me start to consider other exotic locales. It was still a bit too early for the average Joe to consider having a cocktail, but most of the local drunks had already been at it for a few hours, and some of the more athletic consumers of liquor were about to prepare for a bit of a nap before they continued with their favorite pastime. The occasional postman, delivery truck, or cigarette-breaking dishwasher dotted my landscape, but it was a typical place in the world in that there was a 9 to 5 veneer on a strip that also had a vibrant – if not, somewhat seedy – nightlife.
I had a few itches to scratch as I was wondering around. I had some notes I wanted to jot down about the work I was just wrapping up, before I became distracted with unpacking and returning all the calls that I had ignored when I was out of town. The day was already getting on and I still hadn’t had any coffee, bourbon or food, and all three were swimming around in my mind, looking for a bassline to help root it in the real world. And it wouldn’t hurt to invest a little duty now for the future, and roll a few smokes, top off the flask, and review the contents of my satchel. It seems that, no matter how well I pack, I inevitably lose something every time I go anywhere, and It might be good to get back to the status quo before my next outing. And it wouldn’t hurt if there was a little visual stimuli, either.
A variety of factors were present in a few of the places I passed, and part of me wondered if I could wander for the entire day, if waiting until I could really find the perfect place was the way to go, but in the end settled on a relatively empty bar called Slim’s that had a fairly decent menu and an even more decent bartender who seemed to be as aware of her own assets as the other men in the bar were, too. I’d been drawn in by the sound of a radio that offered my mind something to sink into, and I felt as if I was about to have something revealed to me if I were just patient. I grabbed a seat out of the way and arranged myself in a manner that could not only make an exit one handled with alacrity, but gave me a good sense of the entire place without having to turn around and look behind me too often.
Curves That Wouldn’t Stop asked if there was anything she could get me, but I compromised my own morals and asked for a shot of something strop, a cup of something hot, and a glass of something beer, adding that I might be able to come up with a few other things if she let me sit back and watch for a bit. She obliged and I feigned looking at the menu while I took in my surroundings. A pair of older men were humping a video poker machine and Elvira’s Scared Stiff pinball in concert with each other, whacking at buttons and pulling levers in comical displays of misplaced dignity. Each of them was huffing and puffing, talking to themselves, each other, and the bartender. Almost in an effort to outdo the barflies themselves, the thirst of the bar seemed insatiable, and the bartender slinked around filling napkin dispensers, bending over to replace empty bottles, and finding new reasons to stretch, raise a leg, and occasionally adjust herself to reveal a little more chest each time.
There was an ancient staleness around us, years and years of spilled beer and indoor smoking. Of smoldering cigars and desperation, or moments when pure romantic joy transpired all over the wall and carpet, and of the countless “fucks” and “cunts” that were uttered all around us. The bar felt like a worn spot, like a scab that was mostly (but not quite) healed, and where some sort of spirit infection is trying to take hold, but if failing constantly. I could tell that what little reserves I had left were not available for even a basic spell here, as if it was a black hole, where emotions are sucked out. The carpets were woven with this narrative, coming apart at the edges and the seams, trying not to let the stains of its own confusion speak any louder than it did when it was once new.
“I Know There’s An Answer,” sang the radio at me.
When I’d taken in enough of the view to tide me over for a few more weeks, I motioned to the bartender to ask her for a pair of eggs and a few accoutrements for them. She quickly called out the order and freshened up my coffee and my fantasies with a few new shakes of her hips, and I pulled out an index card and began to take notes. There always seemed to be so much left to be said, that no matter how much I say up front, there is so much left unsaid. I jotted down the highlights of the previous case (a kidnapping that was as ugly as it was depressing), and with almost no one to collect expenses from, and had to slink back to my own nest and lick my wounds. Still, I used the excuse to meet up with a few friends and burn through even more of my savings, so that at least I could feel as if I’d done something useful with the time. It took my mind off the body count and the hole in my heart that it had caused me, and while I was enjoying this bartenders attempt to fill it with coffee and booze, I had a feeling that the best thing to do was to consider that part of my live closed, so I could move on. I pocketed the card once I’d gotten a good outline down for the case file later, and dug into something fried and distracting.
“Found his wheel and nature scene / quenched his thirst way it had never been,” continued the radio.
I tried to imagine what things were like before, but I was already so immersed in this new life that my days as anything else felt distant and unfathomable. I started using the name Dexter Roland only because it felt appropriate, like the old name was of that other life, full of disappointing jobs and compromises and coming home to an empty apartment, filling my time with re-runs of whatever’s clever, trying to find the least depressing porn to peruse before bed. Sure, I was in the same shitty apartment, and some problems never changed, but at least in this line of work, when the case was closed, the case was closed. You could move on and know that you were trying to help, that finding answers – even unsatisfying ones – can sometimes make all the difference.
At least, I would tell myself that after a cigarette to reflect on.
Could I settle down again? Supposing the bartender gave me the time of day beyond what she’s showing off to earn a tip? Is there a city nearby where we would move to so we could save money, where we’d consider adopted a cat and get into heated discussions about curtains and where a new set of shelves should go. Could I give up magic, setting the spellbook aside, never to be tapped again? Can either of us look each other in the eye after 15 years of routine sex and the same ten stories being repeated ad nauseum? Who would give up first? Who would break their promise to the other, making mistake after mistake until that inevitable day when neither of you wants to talk to the other anymore? Which of you would be 100% content, and would try hard to make it work every day?
Who’s afraid of the answers to those questions?
I doubled the tip I was going to leave, and glanced back at the unanswered message on my phone from Suzanne, my business partner and office manager. How much longer could I ignore it?
I stubbed out my cigarette and thumbed my phone, trading one vice for the other. As I suspected, it was a case. Someone named Dangerfield, claims to know me. Says I should stop by some afternoon so he can catch up. I didn’t doubt the message, but I couldn’t even imagine who this might be. There was an address, too, which was not only between here and The Office, but also rang a bit of a bell.
“All of the rock and roll DJ’s, got their fingers on the world / Cause they play the songs that make you and me feel so good,” sang a speaker behind me, and as I made contact with the bartender again, it was clear that I had to shit or get off of the pot.
I checked the message again, jotted down the address, and opened up the next case, whatever it might be.
With the #HalloweenSpooktacular2015 now well behind us, it is time to consider other pursuits and interests as the winter slowly robs us of confidence and feeling upbeat about the world at large. The rains are coming down, the holidays and family are rapidly approaching your home, and therefore, there are fewer reasons to want to poke your head out of your office. What better time than now to participate in #NaNoWriMo2015.
Before We Get Started
I would like to recommend that, if you missed any of the work we did during Halloween, you give it a chance and review the shows now. A few of them will be delayed in coming out, and will not hit the feed for some time. (Closet Radio, sadly, is on a two-week delay for podcast listeners, meaning you have at least two more shows waiting for you in the coming weeks.) So, check out all of October’s bloggery here, and if you need something to listen to, all of the new and retrocast episodes of the podcast will also be available for a bit longer. However, do not delay. Some of these pieces will be collected and removed from the site soon enough, so if you want to read them / listen to them, now is your chance.
Thanks again everyone who following the work in October. Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year, and I always get excited about the podcasts and stuff that I get to make this time of year. If you liked all of this, and you want to support what I do, when I would pick up a copy of my Halloween Spoken Word album, The Ways of Ghosts. It is a lot of fun, and you can enjoy it for free, too. If you like what you hear, pick up a copy and support the work I do. I’m quite fond of this recording, and I hope you enjoy it, too.
Now, Let’s Write A Novel
Having really busted my ass last month, it made sense to take things easy, and merely focus on writing a novel to while away the hours. It seems crazy, absolutely, but NaNoWriMo has been going on for years, and I first started toying with writing books this way in 2004. I have attempted to write a novel two other times: once a few years ago, and once in 2006. The former was a story about a middle aged guy who has a crisis, quits his job, and finds love. The later was called Noir Time Like The Present, and was a poorly written detective story that I really quite like. However, I was writing it in parallel to a girls I was trying to woo, as she and I would sit around and try to write together. Since I did not win that girl’s heart, it was hard to finish that month, and thus far I have not yet been successful.
This year is going to be different.
If you are unfamiliar with this event, every November a group of writers assemble in various ways to write a novel in 30 days. Their name is a shortened and convoluted version of National Write A Novel Month, something that goes back to 1999. With the web as a way to really connect people, the organization became a non-profit, and has since worked to help kids and youth get involved in writing. It is a great cause, and a great way to raise awareness about how writing can build your community. For some – like me – I feel a kind of happiness when I am pursuing a piece of writing that I don’t feel any other way, and I love the experience so much that I have been making it a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
It is very easy to come up with reasons to avoid writing. People do it every day. But this time, I’m going to come up with plenty of reasons TO write, and filling this blog will be the perfect excuse.
If you would like to join me in my adventures, I’ll be tracking my novel is a variety of ways. Excerpts will, indeed, appear on this blog, so starting tomorrow (and throughout the month) I’ll run parts of the story in this space. I welcome any any all criticism. It is also a detective story, and as those go, you can usually get away with – ahem – murder, so I’m hoping you’ll be gentle and only bash the parts that truly suck. This is a speed competition, if anything else, I can save plot holes and readability for National Edit A Novel Month in March.
You can track my progress through my profile on the official NaNoWriMo Website, but I have also built a little spreadsheet that I’m using to track my own progress. It is probably the wrong-handed way to go about it, but I wrote it myself, and I have fun fiddling with it as I go.
If you are also competing in NaNoWriMo this year, let me know! We can be be buddies, can commiserate, and if you’re in Salem, OR we can meet up. I’m hoping that this can be a nice and relaxing way to recover from all the work last month, and and at the very least, we can have a good laugh about it all when this is done.