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Drug Run – Chapter Three: The Drug Van

Chapter Three: The Drug Van

by Dr. Rocket with Ms. Gonzo

 

Last time, as you recall, beautiful young singer Suze Benson, recruited by the bass player in her band to drive a massive load of pot from Texas to L.A., encountered her obsessed former schoolmate Imants Hasselburger, son of a powerful FBI man. She little realized he was determined to stalk her as she went to pick up the drug van, an act that would place her in terrible danger.

Rob drove fast on the flat straight road that led to his family farm. The road was usually deserted at night, and he gunned the ’67 Olds up to 80.

“Time for a recent oldie, from early this year, number one across the USA.” Suze grinned as the radio blasted out “Pick Up the Pieces” by the Average White Band. She finished her coffee with a gulp, dropped the cup on the floor mat, and nodded her head to the music vigorously.

“Love it!” she shouted, over the catchy horn riff. Rob, still distracted by his own thoughts, nevertheless smiled. But the smile faded as he looked into his rear view mirror, and he suddenly let up on the gas and turned the radio down. “Headlights back there, comin’ up fast,” he said flatly in response to her look. “Cops don’t ride out here much, but…” Rob stopped talking, and watched his mirror.

Imants’ mania eased as he saw how fast he was catching up to the Delta 88. The speedometer read 105, he realized with a jolt. He was going to blow this surveillance! He took his foot off the gas and hit the brakes. When he had slowed, he pulled over at a wide dirt turnaround and cut the Monte Carlo’s lights.

“Ha, kids going to drink beer and make out,” Rob grunted, refocusing on the pavement ahead and turning the song back up in time for Suze to sing along with the refrain. Another minute brought them to the dirt road turnoff that led to a dimly-lit farmhouse and various structures.

Rob’s parents had left town under unpleasant circumstances concerning a problem with the IRS. He and his younger brother Billy were staying on what was once their grandparents’ family farm ten miles out of Garland. Both of the Carter boys hated farming and they had sold the animals and equipment and let the property go wild, except for the barn and farmhouse which they indifferently maintained.

Lightning again flickered on the horizon as the Olds pulled into the barn. Suze, still singing softly to herself, immediately noticed the white, late model Dodge van which had been backed inside. Her paying ride to the coast. “Good lookin’ van, Rob.”

“’74 Tradesman. Only 20k on it. Heavy duty shocks, new radial tires. Drive ‘er slow.”

“My ex had a van like this, ‘cept older.” That creep. Suze shook her head, then gave him the thumbs up sign. “I’ll be jus’ fine.”

Rob’s brother Billy came out from behind it, blonde hair mussed, clad only in jeans and tennis shoes. Damn. He’s all grown up. “Hiya Suze!” he exclaimed, his handsome face beaming.

She and Rob got out of his Olds as she replied “Hiya Billy.” He came up to hug her. Damn kid smells good. Uh oh. She grinned when he kept hugging.

He had always been in awe of her, and she had often gently teased him. But that was when he was a teenager. Though he was a couple years younger than her, he was 21 now.

He finally let go and she looked around. The old barn smelled of faintly of hay, and something else. Must be the pot, she suddenly realized, with a tingle of excitement. Billy watched her approvingly. “Hope your last gig kicked ass. Would have been there if I coulda.”

“Aw, I know. Yeah, pretty good swan song. I’m proud of my boys, they went out with a bang.” She glanced at Rob, who was looking out the barn door at the distant lightning.

If possible, Billy’s grin was even bigger. “So you’re gonna be our new safety driver. Great call! Our other gal up and vanished on us.”

“I can understand why. She probably had too much time to think about it.”

Rob, expressionless, ignored the talk and went around in back of the van. He examined the interior through the opened doors. He called out, “So this is it, all finished here?”

“Yep, cases are loaded ‘n’ strapped in tight. We could slam on the brakes if we have to, that old load ain’t shiftin’.” Rob carefully closed the rear doors tight, locked them and walked back with a satisfied look.

Suze pointed to the Olds. “Rob could you pop the trunk, I gotta get my suitcase so’s I can change and shower before we go. Also phone the airport, cancel my flight.” She had intended to use the 7-11 pay phone, but a rapid escape from Imants had come first in her priorities.

Rob nodded. “Sure, go in the side door to the kitchen and there’s a hall bathroom. Fresh towel hanging on the rack.”

Billy chuckled. “Kinda fresh, anyway.”

The brothers watched the voluptuous Suze saunter towards the farmhouse, suitcase in hand. They were silent a few moments. “She keeps getting hotter,” Billy finally said quietly, and shook his hand as if it was on fire.

Rob grimaced, “Do not get distracted on this run. We fuck this up… oh man. Our lives are on the line, and mom’s depending on us now.”

“Don’t lecture me, bro.”

Suddenly Rob grinned. “Oh yeah?” Suze looked over her shoulder at the sound of laughter and scuffling to see the brothers wrestling. She watched a moment. The sillies. Well, boys will be boys.

Billy occupied her thoughts, as she walked into the house. His voice got deeper in the last year. Always this cute, little puppy-dog following me around. Hmmmm. When did the puppy turn into this hunky dude?

The kitchen was clean but smelled just a bit moldy. If there was air conditioning, it wasn’t on. Suze picked up the yellow wall phone and called the airport, but they weren’t answering at this late hour. Oh well, money gone. No biggie.

Next, she called her sister, glad it was earlier out in L.A. Sally picked up, and they exchanged greetings and small talk. After a few minutes of chatting about her band’s last gig and her sister’s baby, Suze told her not to pick her up at LAX, and not to expect her for at least a week because she was driving to Los Angeles with friends. Sally went silent, and Suze continued “Mom okay?”

Sally sounded peevish. “Yes, just worried about you as usual. Why the sudden change in plans?” She could hear her mother’s voice in the background, questioning.

“Oh, well, these are some old friends of mine. Rob is the bass player in my band. Just seemed like a good opportunity to see that part of the country. You know…”

A sigh of resignation. “You be careful and call once in awhile, so we don’t worry. Love you.” Suze could hear her mom saying “love you” in the background. A fleeting moment of regret for changing her plans, but then she thought about the money. All that money. Dad didn’t leave mom a lot. I can help her, too.

“Love you both, too. See you soon.”

Imants had motored past the Carter farm and turned around, parked a quarter mile down the road. He had been watching the house with a pair of powerful binoculars that he had found in his father’s Gladstone Bag. Suze was dimly visible as she strode to the farmhouse, stopped, looked back towards the barn, then walked on.

Impatient, and with a sick feeling in his guts, he hastily exited the car and scaled an old barbed wire fence, managing to bloody his hand, and set off across the weed-grown fields towards the dim lights. Wait. Farm dogs? He almost turned around at the thought, but forced himself on. Protect me, Lord. I must do your work here.

In the barn Rob and Billy were dusting themselves off. Rob’s face became thoughtful, and he frowned.

“Now listen here, twerp. I’m serious, be cool. And don’t say a damn thing about extra stuff.”

Billy gave him a phony grin. “Suze? She’s your friend. Why the fucking paranoia?”

“It’s being cautious. Best she only know what she needs to know, right? Better for her, safer for us. This ain’t a damn game, we can get killed in this business and our boss is one hard core scary bastard. Got it?” Billy was silent. “I said, you got it!?”

“If you’re so worried, then why even bring Suze in on this?”

“I’m only worried if you lose focus. Someone’s gotta be the adult around here, twerp.” Rob playfully smacked the back of Billy’s head, and Billy grabbed his arm. They wrestled around a moment again as Imants snuck past in the darkness. He looked back from the deep shadows for a moment at the shiny white van and the figures next to it. Then he moved on.

Suze had peeked into the living room. Most of the furniture was gone, with just a couch and a TV console. The nearly empty house echoed with her footsteps. A bit spooky. She walked back, puzzled.

The bathroom wasn’t nearly as bad, clean and with a nice fluffy bath mat to stand on, and she showered in good spirits. The cool water was invigorating, refreshing, a trigger for Suze who wailed into the echo, “well, since my baby left me, ba-dump, I found a new place to dwell, ba-dump, it’s down at the end of lonely street, at Heartbreak Hotel. I’ll be, I’ll be, I’ll be leavin’, Texas, baby, I’ll be leavin’ Texas, so I don’t die.”

Revived with water and song, she pulled back the shower curtain and stepped carefully out of the claw foot tub, looking at her five-foot-nine body in the full length mirror on the door. As always, just a bit over-critical.

Her lips pursed impishly. Still need to lose ten pounds. But men don’t seem to mind. Their eyes were always on the blonde hair and the boobs. So silly. Handy onstage. I’m not gonna worry about the weight, she decided. Here’s who I am, world. Here I come, L.A. She turned and shook her butt playfully at the mirror.

Imants, still worried about possible farm dogs, slowly crept to the brilliantly lit window, shade down but not all the way, window frame raised open a couple inches. He cautiously peered in, and what he saw seared his brain. For an insane eternity he drank in the forbidden visual, then reeled backward, and stumbled clumsily over a garden hose. Lust. Oh God. Naked. Sinner, I am. Never dreamed… Sweet Lord. Did she hear me? Back to the car. Back. Hurry.

Suze, oblivious to the world outside the bathroom, critically examined the bathroom’s sole towel, which hung on a towel rack and was just a bit damp. Right, Billy must have used it. Rubbing his pheromones all over her. At least they are cute pheromones. Well.

She dried off briskly and put her hair in a bun, then pulled some clothing from the suitcase and dressed. The shorts were a bit provocative, the silk top a bit flimsy for not wearing a bra. Nipples still standing up from the cool water. Damn, the boys will think I’m a tease. But, so warm, must be 85 still. Screw it. Maybe a bit of lipstick…

Indeed, the boys liked what they saw, but choked back their natural reactions in the gravity of the occasion. She got her purse from the Olds as Rob took her suitcase and put it back in the car’s trunk. Suze held the purse wonderingly. My purse has… all that money in it. All that money.

Rob walked back to her, waved in the drug van’s direction. He spoke quietly and urgently.

“You have a full tank, fluids are topped off. I’ll be behind ya. Billy and I will be on the CB. Should be no problems. Billy will navigate. Stay just a couple miles above the limit. Cops think it’s suspicious when you’re doing double nickel exactly. But at least you don’t look like a mule, not at all.” Rob grinned. “Those are music cases, and you are headed for a gig.”

Suze nodded. “I can dig it.”

“Good. If you get sleepy, Billy takes the wheel. Prolly get a motel in a couple hours before dawn.” He paused, walked to the van, opened the front door. “Ever use a CB radio?”

She nodded again. “Yeah.”

“All right. Billy will use it mostly when you’re drivin’.”

She climbed in behind the wheel, then looked around curiously. The back of the windowless van was piled high to the roof with tightly strapped instrument and equipment cases. They looked a bit scuffed up and had various stenciled letters and numbers, giving a strongly plausible music band look. But they were packed with dope, she realized. She felt a sudden shock at the thought of what she was driving.

Billy, carrying a small backpack, had hopped in the passenger door, slammed it firmly, and gave her a huge grin. She observed that he had put on a sleeveless tee shirt that didn’t do much to hide his physique. Hmm.

She sniffed. “That talcum powder?”

He smiled in admiration at her question. “Hey, pretty good detecting. Yup. Powder eats up that ol’ pot smell.”

“Well, that’s mighty smart of ya’ll.” She eyed the load. “Jesus, Billy… How much is there?”

Billy shrugged. “Uhmmm… lots.” Rob’s right. Better not tell her. About a lot of stuff.

Rob was examining the van tires one last time. He approached her window, which was rolled down. He looked at her critically. “You ok?”

She nodded. He leaned in to kiss her cheek. Suze acknowledged his kiss with raised eyebrows, but smiled. He walked away towards the farmhouse mumbling, “All right, all right, off we go.”

Suze started the drug-filled van, put the automatic transmission into Drive and very slowly motored out and across the rutted farmyard to the gravel driveway. They van swayed, and the cases in back creaked and strained. She adjusted her seat a bit closer to the wheel.

Behind them the lights in the house, then the barn winked off.

“Here’s to an easy run to LA,” Billy said resonantly in the darkness. He chuckled. That deep voice. When did it get so deep? Kinda startling here in the dark. Sexy, actually.

Rob’s headlights appeared in her side mirror as the Olds caught up on the long gravel driveway. She took a deep breath. Then she felt a big smile come over her. “Onwards and upwards, Billy!”

“Yes’m!”

The two vehicles reached the paved road, turned right. The tail lights dwindled into the distance, lightning yet again flashing at several points to the north.

Down the road, Imants, still recovering from the heady stolen sight of his beloved Suze nude, was further stunned to see her walk from the farm house with her suitcase, and then when the van and car moved out. Suspicious, so suspicious. He started his father’s modified Chevy up, his thin lips pressed together tightly, and began pursuit.

(To be continued in Chapter Four: Night Drive)

Deporting my Valentine

by Karene Horst

 

Single yet again for another Valentine’s Day, my thoughts turn as usual to chocolate. No one sends me flowers. Cards kill trees unnecessarily. Instead, I’m baking myself and my co-workers a sugary concoction of chocolate, melted caramel, cream cheese frosting and more chocolate.

Valentine’s Day used to mean more to me than overdosing on fattening carbs and cacao. Romance. Love. Happily ever after. One Valentine’s Day eight years ago my lover and I even planned to get married.

It would have been a hastily tossed together affair. A friend of Michael’s claimed an affinity for baking cakes. Michael waited tables at a restaurant, so of course we’d have the reception there. Another one of his co-workers, a lay minister for the local Seventh-Day Adventists, said he could marry us if we read his version of “the Book.”

My teenage daughter and her best friend, hopelessly hooked on “Say Yes to the Dress” and a stream of sappy romantic comedies, squealed in excitement as they volunteered to serve as my bridesmaids.

Michael and I went to the courthouse and applied for the license.

I searched through my closet for something appropriate to wear. Nothing white of course. But I could certainly find a frock that would suffice.

My best friend whom I asked to stand up for me watched warily as I breathlessly rushed through the preparations.

“Really. I thought you swore you would never marry again.”

“I love him.”

“Really.” Wisely she didn’t press me further. She knew I already had plenty on my plate.

She was the only person who knew why I was really marrying Michael, throwing together a celebration in a matter of weeks, declaring my intentions to my bewildered parents.

She was my only friend who really knew about Michael.

You see, Michael was an illegal immigrant. He had snuck into the United States from Mexico in the belly of an empty oil tanker with a slew of other illegals years before. His “sponsor” owned a Mexican restaurant where the waiters worked six days a week ten to twelve hours a day for tips and leftovers: no salary, no health insurance, no sick days or paid vacation, no worker’s compensation, no legal protection. When I met Michael he lived in an overcrowded apartment procured by the restaurant owner for his undocumented kitchen staff and servers. Michael slept on a mattress shoved into the corner of the kitchen floor.

I invited him to move in with me after his living situation deteriorated even further.

He was a gifted artist and musician who dreamed of fame and fortune in America. He taught me to play guitar and he laughed hysterically along with my son to reruns of “The Office.”

Then one night in November 2008 state liquor control officers arrested him for unwittingly serving alcohol to a minor with a fake ID. He called me from the police station.

“They are going to deport me,” he whispered.

The next morning I found an incompetent lawyer advertising himself as an “immigration attorney” to represent Michael. That frigid Friday night I met the lawyer in his BMW parked outside the county jail. I had brought warm clothes for Michael, knowing how easily he caught cold. I imagined the cement floors and concrete walls chilling my sweetheart, sending him into uncontrollable shivering fits. The lawyer had encouraged me to bring along thick wool socks, flannel pants and a cotton hoodie; apparently he had no idea I would not be allowed a visit with Michael that night, nor could I provide him anything other than a non-returnable paperback book.

The lawyer did confer with his client behind bars, after I paid him half of his $1,000 retainer fee, cash only. My breath hung in the air while my toes grew numb as I squirmed on the passenger seat, studying the concertina wire topping the concrete barriers surrounding the county jail. After his visit, the lawyer returned smiling, assuring me Michael was “in good spirits,” warm and snug in his jail-issued black and white striped jumpsuit. Then he spelled out our options.

No bond. Michael was an undocumented alien. He would sit in jail until the various legal entities sorted things out. Could be weeks, months.

Shock, panic and fear washed over me as I huddled in the front seat of the lawyer’s car.

The lawyer looked me over and asked if Michael and I were intimate. I found his interest insulting but possibly understandable as Michael was a gorgeous young man and at that moment, I’m sure I could have doubled as a crazed zombie: hair disheveled, eyes red and puffy, skin pasty and drawn, clothes grubby. Would I marry Michael to keep him from being deported from the country? Of course. We could pull it off. Interviews with federal immigration officials, photos of the happy couple. No problem. I loved him. I didn’t want to get married, but what was a piece of paper to keep the US government from ripping him away from me.

And that’s exactly how I felt. My chest ached every time I thought of the possibility I would never see Michael again, never hold him again. They had locked that sweet, loving man up inside a cage. Once deported, Michael would remain only a distant memory. I couldn’t leave the US to be with him other than a brief trip now and again; I had young children.

I couldn’t sleep. I stumbled through my days in a stupor, calling on Michael’s community of illegals who offered spare cash to help pay for the lawyer and nervously mumbled words of support. It could have been one of them.

The lawyer did predict correctly that the state would drop the misdemeanor charge of serving alcohol to a minor and instead turn Michael over to US Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE, or as Michael breathlessly fretted over for years, “La Migra.”

Long before his arrest, I’d return home on many occasions to find him cringing on the couch in a fetal position with the curtains drawn.

“Why aren’t you at work?”

“La Migra,” he’d mutter. A rumor traveling from cell phone to cell phone routinely sent the Hispanic community of kitchen help and day laborers into a frenzy. La Migra had just hit a local restaurant during the lunch rush. I grew accustomed to these episodes and Michael’s tortured reaction, swearing he would kill himself before they’d send him back.

I never took his concerns seriously and grew irritated by his seemingly irrational fears and anxieties. Millions of undocumented workers across America proved me right. I imagined the comical scene at area Mexican eateries with the help fleeing through the emergency exits while dumbfounded white people waited for their enchiladas con carne as they slurped their margaritas.

Then it happened. Like a giant fist socking me right in the gut.

After being treated like a criminal myself by the sheriff’s deputy, I finally got to see Michael during the weekly visitation hour at the county jail. I couldn’t stop crying. We talked via telephone separated by a plexiglass partition. We couldn’t even touch. He joked that his black and white striped outfit made him look like Michael Keaton’s character in Beetlejuice. After a steady diet of Hollywood’s frightening depictions of prison life, Michael had expected violence from his fellow inmates. Instead, he bunked with other illegals and non-violent inmates, sharing their histories and boredom while lunching on bologna sandwiches. I left behind a paperback of Eric Clapton’s autobiography for him to read and “donate” to the jail library.

Then the US government snatched him up in its legal maw and shipped him to a federal “holding facility” two hours away. Michael was officially on his way out of the country.

Several weeks later, he ended up in yet another federal jail near Kansas City for his court appearances. We managed a few very expensive conversations via telephone.

The lawyer started demanding more money. Then something amazing happened. The lawyer “discovered” a federal program for non-violent deportees where Michael could bond out for $500. I just had to drive to the ICE offices in Kansas City and deliver the bond payment, sign some papers, and I could bundle Michael out of jail and take him home while the legal proceedings sputtered along. I had to bring a money order. The lawyer provided me all the instructions. But he got them wrong.

I arrived at the federal building, passed through the metal detector, signed in and proffered the money order to the unsmiling, uniformed federal agent. He shook his head.

“We only take US Postal Service money orders. This one is from your bank. We can’t accept it.”

I became hysterical, crying and weeping, something you should never do in a government office with armed, uniformed government agents milling about.

But I did just what the lawyer told me to do! My boyfriend had spent almost a month in jail and he would continue to rot away there because of some insane bureaucratic distinction between a private bank’s money order and one from the local post office? I blubbered and wailed as the federal agent advised me to leave the premises immediately. A female security guard took pity on me and told me to take care as I limped away.

The bank closest to the federal office would not cash my money order so I could purchase the prerequisite money order at the local post office. The local post office would not accept my check or credit card to purchase another money order, only $500 in cash. The lawyer would not answer my frantic phone calls.

I drove home without my Michael.

Furious beyond rational words with the irrational legal system that had glommed onto my Michael, I spent the next day calling every number available on the internet to track down someone who could help. Then I received an amazing telephone call out of the blue.

A female attorney employed by a legal aid organization had visited Michael in federal detention and signed him up for a program that released non-violent deportees on their own recognizance as long as they met regularly with an official in Kansas City and stayed out of further legal trouble, a sort of pre-conviction parole arrangement, while their case slithered through the legal system. Appears the numbers of illegal aliens and deportation cases had swamped the judicial system, and the feds couldn’t afford to lock everyone up while they waited for due process and the inevitable trek home. The pro-bono lawyer thought Michael’s case might take a year or more to resolve.

I drove back to Kansas City the next day to another office and met Michael and his new “parole” officer. Chained and shackled hand and foot to four other dark-haired, brown-skinned men, Michael shuffled into the room. Once they unlocked the restraints and allowed Michael to approach me, we wrapped our arms around each other and cried.

Later on the drive home together, Michael hesitantly broached the subject. “So, are you ready to get married?”

Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2009, would fall on a Saturday. What perfect timing! No one, not even my distraught mother tried to talk me out of it. Of course none of my family or friends except for my bestie knew the real reason for my rush down the aisle. Michael’s friends and co-workers all thought he’d won the lottery; who knew when La Migra would hammer down over their heads.

Then a small glitch. The lay-minister who offered to perform our ceremony woke up one morning unable to get out of bed, paralyzed from the waist down from what turned out to be a cancerous tumor. We could have just gone with a justice of the peace, but for some strange reason, my latent religious sentiments called for a preacher. I made phone call after phone call until my mind exploded and forced me to hang up on the whole idea.

When God strikes down your minister weeks before the wedding, maybe that’s a sign. And besides, I really didn’t want to get married.

I wanted to help Michael stay in the country and not face deportation, but a sinking suspicion curdled my blood. Then I started making some more phone calls. To more lawyers.

Once upon a time, American citizens could marry undocumented aliens to keep them in the country. Some people did it for love, others for money. Even for me, a vociferous critic of the peculiar institution of marriage, wedding Michael to keep him safe was a no-brainer. If someone I treasured needed a kidney, certainly I would consider going under the knife. Donate blood or bone marrow. In that context, marriage with a man I cared so much about seemed relatively painless. Just a piece of paper.

We’d fired the idiot lawyer and tracked down one who gave us an honest and accurate legal opinion but bad news: my marrying Michael would not prevent his deportation.

Thanks to September 11 and other anti-immigration bias across the country, the laws had changed. I could go ahead and marry Michael. Then after the US legally kicked him back to Mexico, we could request permission for him to return, apply for visas, etc. It could take years. Possibly ten years even. Mounds of forms to fill out, documents to provide. More lawyers fees. Hours driving to court appearances, hearings, appeals. Meeting with more federal agents who would invariably ask personal, probing questions. Michael’s prior illegal entry into the US and his deportation would not help matters. The new lawyer suggested I might have to prove that I could not leave the US to be with Michael in Mexico. He suggested arguing that my mental health would deteriorate unless Michael could return to me.

“Have you ever taken anti-depressants? Considered suicide?”

The nightmarish experience that started with Michael’s phone call from jail came crashing down around me.

We left the lawyer’s office with me shaking my head.

“I’m sorry Michael. I can’t. I can’t do it.”

How far will we go to sacrifice our needs, our hopes and dreams for someone else. Take that leap into the chasm of human relations. To trust another for better or worse. Risk it all on love, or at least the illusion of it.

Isn’t that one version of Valentine’s Day? Unconditional, everlasting? Unbare ourselves, our emotions, our hearts to the arrows of another? It’s not just about a bouquet of pretty roses or a gushingly sentimental note on a crimson piece of cardstock.

One Valentine’s Day the hopeless romantic in me almost prevailed. But the rational, sane me regained control. From here on I’ll celebrate this special day with frosted fudge brownies still warm from the oven.

by Karene Horst

A Mother’s Tripe

By Sylvia Hamilton

I was twelve the summer Mother decided to buy a cow. I overheard her and my stepfather, Earl, discussing the purchase one evening. He grumbled about the expense, but since I knew he thought all pets were worthless, I interpreted these statements as more of the same from him.

We always had a menagerie at our mountaintop home, most of them I knew Earl considered a waste of space, time and money. His opinion was seldom taken into account. Mother’s was the final word.

I loved animals. I kept a small collection of Continue reading

Drug Run – Chapter 2 The Spy

By Dr. Rocket with Ms. Gonzo

*Last time, as you recall, a beautiful young singer was unexpectedly offered a great deal of money to drive a van filled with pot from Texas to L.A.*

Suze slowly realized just how tightly she clutched the cash-stuffed envelope as she stared out the front window of Rob’s big Delta 88. She fought the urge to count the bills.

Come on, even if it’s not exactly seven thousand five, it’s more money than you ever had in your life. Plus another payment like it in L.A.!

“Whooo,” she sighed, the sound masked by the engine. Put the stuff away, now, let’s show some dignity.

She tucked the precious mass into her big purse and refocused on her now-former bassist and new boss, who hunched silently behind the wheel, his grim expression dimly visible by the glow of the dashboard. This is a switch, gonna be takin’ orders from ol’ Robbie. Gotta get used to that, I guess.

“Well, what’s next, chief?” She put just enough of a funny inflection in her voice to make Rob’s lips twist upwards a bit.

“Out to the farmhouse to get us the van, and Billy. We are pretty much ready, or should be, if my bro’s on it. He wanted to make the gig, but I told him he hadda finish packing the load.” Rob fell silent a moment, thinking about the music.

“By the way…”

“Yes?”

“You really sang great tonight.”

“Thanks.” I’m gonna miss the compliments, ain’t I.

“What a night. I didn’t think we could do better than that first set. Was I wrong. After the break we tore the roof off.”

“It’s called warming up.” She stopped. Remember, he’s the boss now. Gotta not forget.

“Maybe if you put a band together out in California…” he mumbled, and ground to a halt. How cute, he cares. She was hit by a sudden thought.

“Coffee!” Suze exclaimed. “If we’re drivin’ tonight, I gotta have coffee.”

Rob nodded and pulled into a brightly-lit 7-11. She realized where they were, and opened her mouth to stop him, but it was too late. She looked around the parking lot anxiously. Well maybe he’s not here, that last time was enough, Lord.

One of the main reasons Suze was determined to give up her band and leave Garland was an exceptionally strange and obnoxious former schoolmate named Imants Haselberger. He was obsessed with her, as well as what he called “fighting crime.”

In recent months he often hung out at this very convenience store at night, writing down the license plates of late evening patrons he thought were suspicious. What he did with the plate numbers, no one knew. Suze had run into him here a few weeks back, and it had been an awkward mess.

She’d known him from seventh grade on, and he had been emotionally fixated on her for most of that period. She dreaded seeing him at any time, but under the current circumstances it would be unbearable.

Because on top of everything else, Imants’ father was a high-ranking FBI man.

Imants was earnest but strange-looking, with very thin lips, a narrow face, ears that stuck out and bulging eyes, an appearance not unlike that of the pulp horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Due to his father’s rigid upbringing, he was aggressively ultra-conservative politically, and a religious zealot.

Suze had done everything possible to discourage Imants’ constant efforts to be around her, but somehow he often found and cornered her. His persistent ability to pop up in her life at random was uncanny.

As she poured her coffee at the self-service bar, a familiar sinking feeling came over Suze as Imants strode in and hurried down an aisle towards the rear of the store. How the hell does he always find me? She paid, hoping to get out before he noticed her, but Imants unerringly approached. She took a deep breath and tossed her blonde hair. One last time, she would try to be polite.

“Imants, what a surprise.”

He blinked at her, still in her low-cut stage dress from the gig. She knew he thought her music was the Devil’s work, and her provocative clothing an outrage. “Suze, I’m so glad to see you,” he finally blurted. “Your phone was shut off and when I went by your apartment they said you had moved.”

Suze, her smile perilously close to a grimace at the thought of Imants questioning her former landlord, spread her hands out palms up. This was going to require outright prevarication, she realized. “Yes, stayin’ with friends until my new place is ready.”

The young Asian clerk handed her the change with a wide grin for his buxom blonde customer. The clerk’s eyes flicked over to Imants, dismissed him, and snapped back to Suze. “Thank you, please come again,” he said, nodding vigorously.

Imants, averting his eyes in ongoing embarrassment from her stimulating décolletage, struggled to speak. “Friends. Ah, I see. May, uh, I have your friend’s number? I want to discuss the church picnic next Saturday. You haven’t been to church since your father died and I am worried…”

Suze hastily interrupted. “Imants, please understand. My personal spiritual beliefs are really none of your business. I believe God loves me whether I go to that church or not.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, but your father…”

“My father is none of your business, either, bless his soul. I won’t… I don’t want to talk about him.”

Imants was numbed by this assertion. Suze had changed. Why? Maybe the shock of her father dying last year had triggered some madness. If Suze doesn’t go to church, she’ll be condemned to hell for all of eternity. I won’t let that happen. I owe it to her father. I do.

“Can we talk about this later? How do I reach you?”

“I, I don’t have the number with me. Maybe I’ll give you a call, been real busy. Hey, gotta go, see ya!” She walked rapidly out into the warm Texas night, trying to remember the last time she had called Imants. Five years, back when she felt sorry for him?

A couple of teenaged boys standing outside gawked at her as she walked quickly towards Rob’s Olds, grateful Imants hadn’t thrust some damn book at her. He was always trying to get Suze to read various tracts and texts including, memorably, a book by J. Edgar Hoover. Suze, who loved books, glanced at a few pages, cursed, and threw away the dog-eared paperback in disgust. “Masters of Deception,” bah. What she knew of the FBI, just from the recent news reports, horrified her.

Undeterred, Imants quickly followed her out the door and right up to Rob’s Olds. He stammered questions about where her friend lived and where she was going at the moment. Suze waved him off, miffed at his annoying creepiness, and hastily but firmly said “Goodnight, goodnight, see you soon,” opened the door to a blast of music, hopped in the front seat, and firmly closed it.

Imants’ bulging eyes stared at Suze, then over to Rob through the window for a moment. A wave of sadness mixed with anger overcame him, and he frowned at Rob, who was listening to a James Brown tune on the radio.

Rob noticed him, as he turned to face Suze. Frowning in turn, Rob stared back at the figure standing outside. Imants turned away, and his groan of despair was lost in the funky bass, blaring horns and thumping drums on Rob’s’ stereo.

Suze settled into her seat and exhaled sharply, shaking her head. Rob grunted, turning the music down. “Who the fuck was that? He looks familiar.”

She glanced over at him. No way I can explain Imants, and if I mention the FBI dad, Rob will bust a gut. Anyway, I’ll never see Imants again! That was an amazing thought, and she beamed, feeling liberated. “A final ghost of my old life.”

“Ghost, eh?”

‘Yessir.” Her voice shifted down a half octave. “Let’s blow this town, baby. Crank that music back up!”

Rob did so, his attempts to figure out the bass pattern forgotten, just in time for James Brown to yell “Hit me!” Rob nodded at her exuberant dance movement to the music, while seated. Somehow, he noticed, she managed to not spill the coffee in her hand as they motored out of the lot. “Poppa don’t take no mess,” sang The Godfather of Soul, and Suze sang along cheerily.

He slowly smiled. This might be the best run ever.

Imants watched from the brightly lit and buggy store entrance as the Olds drove off, his pale face now expressionless, brain racing. Carter, that guy was, Rob Carter. Played evil music in the group Suze sang in. Imants searched his memory. From the high school, right, Carter’s class was two years older. Dad in jail for tax evasion.

That long hair was a clue, some kind of hippie. Devil spawn driving away with Suze, his love.

A passenger jet roared overhead, and Imants shivered. Hate planes, hate flying. One of the teenagers at the edge of the 7-11 lot laughed loudly at something being said, then yelled “Hey Eee-monz, ain’tcha gonna write down that plate number?”

He stared blankly at the kid, and felt something shift in his soul.

Heart beating faster, he walked quickly back to his father’s new ’75 Chevy Monte Carlo sedan. Driving the car, specially modified by the Bureau, always made him feel larger than life.

As he got in he reached over and put his hand on his father’s classic dark leather Gladstone Bag on the passenger seat, and felt a strange surge of confidence. The bag, which had belonged originally to his father’s German father, somehow always gave him a mild jolt when he came in contact with it. He clenched his fist. I gotta do this, gotta save her.

He cranked the starter, shoved the automatic transmission into drive, and raced out of the lot, burning rubber down the road after the Oldsmobile. The teens stared in astonished silence.

Imants steered with one hand as he wiped the sweat from his forehead, still accelerating, his eyes searching the darkness ahead. There, those tail lights way up there. He jammed the gas pedal to the floor.

Enough was enough. Time to figure out exactly what that freak Rob Carter was up to with his, well yes, his future wife Suze Benson.
(To be continued in Chapter Three: The Drug Van)

Dating Hell

By Karene Horst

He introduced himself because he saw my whitewater kayak and mountain bike strapped to my car roof racks.

I hadn’t brushed my teeth or my hair. I tugged at the grungy T-shirt I’d worn to bed the night before. It was early and my roommate had dragged me out of our apartment to meet this guy who stopped her in the parking lot to inquire about the car’s owner.

He was sort of cute, even with his glasses. We exchanged e-mails and phone numbers because I was new to the area and needed to network with the kayaking community.

He helped me connect with some boaters the next Sunday; he apologized that he couldn’t join me as he had other commitments. On Monday, he e-mailed to find out about my day on the river, then he asked about meeting the following weekend.

Would you like to go to the air show Saturday?

Would this be our first date? Should I go along just to see where this could lead? First date or not, I was definitely not interested in attending an air show. But I couldn’t just say no, so I asked if he wanted to join me for a hike instead. He chose the air show.

We arranged to carpool for a day of kayaking, although we went on separate runs because his whitewater skills exceeded mine. Afterward he asked if we could make a Costco run, as it was on the way home. Then it was dinner time. I offered to pick up the tab since he had burned through gallons of gasoline that day. He accepted my suggestion with a sweet smile.

During a subsequent phone call I proposed a camping trip. An overnighter. Silence. Then he blurted out:

I just got through a bad breakup.

I was not sure if I was even interested in him other than as a hiking-biking-kayaking buddy. I certainly had planned on sleeping in separate tents. We hadn’t even kissed. Just what the hell was he thinking?

I didn’t want to have this discussion. We shared common interests and loved the outdoors. He was attractive and nice, but I’m planning to travel outside the country for extended periods for the rest of my life and have no interest in a relationship. Someone to tie me down and limit my options. And I really didn’t want to have to start shaving my legs on a regular basis again.

Maybe he was just being leery himself. We had both ridden this roller coaster many times before. He’s 60. I’m 53.

After ending a 20-year marriage, I returned to the dating “scene” more than a decade ago with a vengeance. I immediately fell with a sickening, resounding thud for a man who told me I was beautiful. After he dumped me, I dated a younger man who made me feel way too old. Then I tried the online thing. Yikes! Exhilarating and creepy all at the same time. After years of heartache and headache, I decided to give up on relationships and focus on my lifelong desire to travel the world instead of finding my illusory soulmate. I was only 49.

Then I spotted this gorgeous creature sitting alone at the end of the bar. I wouldn’t even dream of approaching him. Instead, I toyed with my drink and babbled with my girlfriend.

He’s looking at you.

No he’s not, he’s watching the game. The TV is right over my head.

But he was looking at me and after we all started chatting, he eventually scooted his bar stool closer and by the end of the evening, he was resting his hand on my knee. We bantered over our shared interests and experiences. He said he wanted to travel the world too, and in short order he would be financially set and ready to join me.

On our first date we went to see Skyfall, and as the camera panned Hollywood’s dazzling version of Macau’s coastline, he whispered in my ear:

Let’s go there!

You would think I had learned. I had heard it all before:

Oh I love dancing … Vegetarian for dinner, that sounds great! … I can quit anytime if that’s what you want … We’ll move to Colorado as soon as …

What the hell was I thinking. After I moved into his apartment, I discovered that his favorite sport was watching football from his favorite lounge chair. And his ship never docked, so he couldn’t afford to travel the world with me. I made solo trips while he stewed in front of the TV: I kayaked the Youghiogheny in Pennsylvania, snowboarded in the Rockies, rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, checked out a writer’s conference in Chicago and bummed around Spain with a backpack for six weeks. When I returned after four months of wandering through South America, I walked in the door and knew it was over. Actually, I had figured that out on my own while somewhere in Buenos Aires.

Since my teen years, I had relentlessly searched for my dance partner, my travel buddy, my best friend. My prince.

I was ready to quit again. Not long ago I wrote a friend that all I want from a relationship is a man who has the guts to put a bullet in my head to prevent me from suffering an excruciating, slow death from cancer or dementia.

Then this guy with muscular arms and a nice ass shows up outside my apartment, wondering who belongs to the Jackson Little Hero and the full-suspension Trek Lush.

So we camped out and hiked in Yosemite, separate tents of course. We held hands while watching the latest Bond movie on the big screen. Chopped brussel sprouts for stir-fry dinners together. Walked in the moonlight. Traded massages. We’ve met each other’s parents. We’re planning a kayaking trip to Ecuador.

For Christmas, instead of a silly diamond necklace or an ugly sweater, he gave me a drysuit for boating. This guy gets me! I think I’m in like.

What the hell am I thinking.

by Karene Horst

Audioslave Back After 12 Years with a Common Enemy

By: Kidman J. Williams

Audioslave hit the stage again after almost 12 years on Friday night in Los Angeles at the Anit-Inaugural Ball. Audioslave was the supergroup made up of Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog) and the memebers of Rage Against the Machine, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk.

The last time that these men were on a stage together was back in 2005 and broke up in 2007 shortly after the release of their third disc, Revelations.

So, how did the performance go? Well… Continue reading

Gorillaz FIRST NEW Song in 6 years (Hear it Here)

By: Kidman J. Williams

The Gorillaz have put out there firs new song in six years, “Hallelujah Money”. How does it stack up to their other material? Well, it is definitely everything that you would expect from the band. They called upon British artist Benjamin Clementine to give the powerful spoken word sword that gives the track that brass knuckled sucker punch.

The song that has come out right before Trump’s inauguration is exactly what the title tells you it is about. The Gorillaz take quite the serious and satirical look at big business and the US. The video is in typical Gorillaz fashion with graphics and always something soul grabbing to look at.

Let us know what YOU think about the new track.

Big Party at the Crumps: Book Excerpt

By: Barry Finnerty
So here it is. The moment I’ve been waiting all my life for. I step up to the microphone, brush my hair back, pull up my pants a little bit. Tap the mic. OK, it’s on. We finish up the medley with a rousing version of Jimmy Durante’s “One Of Those Songs” with four or five upward modulations at the end. Hardwell points at me. “Let’s go, let’s go!” he shouts. Even a ten second break between tunes is too long for him. And now – it’s Star Time at the Apollo, ladies and gentlemen! At least for a split second in some parallel fantasy universe. I break into my best James Brown impersonation. Which for at least this one first word is quite convincing. If I do say so myself.
 
HEY!
 
I play the first five notes of a C ninth chord, going up: C-E-G-Bb-D!
 
“I said, HEY!
 
The horn section joins in, playing those same notes again. C-E-G-Bb-D!
 
HEY!” 
 
C-E-G-Bb-D again, this time in harmony. You know what those notes are. They are instantly recognizable. World famous. They’re the intro to…
 
“I Feel Good.”  Dadaladaladala. Like I knew that I would. Dadaladaladala. Etc. etc. etc. Awright. We’re rolling now.
 
The crowd is up and dancing. So I do a few more numbers. Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock N’ Roll”. Michael Bolton’s “Love Is A Wonderful Thing”. That is the tune the Isley Brothers recently sued him for. Copyright infringement, they claimed. Bolton fought it all the way. “Hey, I wrote that tune all by myself. I never heard of their version.” Sorry, Michael. Your song had the exact same melody, the same beat, and even the same title of the Isleys’ single that was released in 1964!  I am willing to concede that you might not have consciously known that you were stealing their tune. But a subconscious rip-off is still a rip-off. Pay up, white boy!
 
We do “My Girl”, and then Hardwell sits me down so they can serve the birthday cake that took them the last 20 minutes to slice up. But you know what was amazing? You know who was checking me out and giving me some serious eye contact while I was up there just now? You are not going to believe this!
 
It was Yuvana Crump! That’s right. You probably know who I am talking about. The statuesque blond Hungarian former fashion model and ex-wife of the notorious New York billionaire real estate tycoon, Ronald Crump. I am sure you know who he is. He is the guy whose haircut loudly and unmistakably proclaims: “I am the biggest prick on the face of the earth!” And if his hair doesn’t totally convince you, just look at his face and listen to him talk for about thirty seconds. That will close the deal.
 
One time a few years back we played a job for him down in Florida, at that huge glitzy mansion he bought in Palm Beach that used to belong to the Post Toasties heiress lady. A party for all the real “old money” people down there that he was trying to ingratiate himself with. The parking lot was filled with Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. And the food? Conspicuous consumption at its most ostentatious. The band was playing in a big tent just outside the main house. And, after a time, I had to take a crap. So I got up and walked up the stairs, past the marble columns, to the door, where I was stopped by a servant, a tall middle-aged black man, not coincidentally also in a tuxedo, but his was with white tie and tails. 
 
“Can I help you, suh?” 
 
“Yeah, I’m in the band,” I said. “I just wanted to use the bathroom for a minute.”
 
“Sorry, suh, only Mr. Crump’s guests are allowed inside,” he said. “There are some porta-potties down at the other side of the lawn.”
 
I was incredulous. “But that’s like 300 yards away!”
 
“Sorry, suh.”
 
I never forgot that.
 
It was like he was telling me, “You de yard niggas! You gots to stay in de yard! Only de house niggas gets to go in de house!”
 
Thanks, Ronald, I thought as I trudged the length of three football fields to relieve myself. And back. Thanks for reminding me that all servants need to know their place.
 
This guy is truly a symbol and a symptom of the dried heart and dead conscience of our age. Of the worship of money above all else. People don’t matter. Right and wrong don’t matter. They’re just abstract ideas.  Only dollars and cents matter. Only money, money, money, and continually battling to accumulate more of it. No amount is ever enough. You have to get it all. It doesn’t matter who you screw. Or what you have to do to do it. The only thing that matters is that you are the one who comes out on top. Of that big steaming pile of cash.
 
I read recently that after he bought that apartment building at 7th Avenue and Central Park South – you know, the big one that kind of curves around the corner – that there were a bunch of elderly people that had been living there for over 20 years. They had rent control. So what did Mr. Crump do? He hired some thugs to go around to these peoples’ apartments and intimidate them. To tell them that if they didn’t  accept his settlement offer and move out, that something bad might happen to them. I’m telling you, these bastards will stop at nothing to squeeze every last dollar out of a situation. Even muscling and bullying old people. Yet he is revered in the business community. A shining example of success in America, the land of opportunity. It´s truly amazing how much you can accomplish if your dad starts you off with about $50 million and you have absolutely no morals or scruples whatsoever.
 
But enough about him. The world is full of money-grubbing assholes. In fact, there’s a good number of them in the house tonight! In any case, she’s not married to him anymore. They divorced a few years back. She’s probably four or five years older than me. And still a very good looking woman. Tall and elegant, with that model’s figure. I can see her shoes sparkling from here. Those heels look like they are encrusted with diamonds. Had to cost at least a grand. Probably more. They are definitely some CMFM (IYAB) shoes. I believe you are already acquainted with the first acronym. The second one? It stands for “If You’re A Billionaire”.
 
I’m up at the mic again, grinding out some more rock chestnuts. “Brown Eyed Girl”. “Wooly Bully”.
“Just What I Needed”. “Satisfaction”. The floor is packed. And she’s out there, dancing with some stockbroker type. Oh-oh! She’s looking at me again. I give her a tiny wink out of the corner of my eye. And the quickest smile I can manage while also singing “cause I tried… and I tried… and I tried… and I tried but I just can’t get no!” And holy shit! Yuvana is smiling right back at me! Hmm. Maybe this really could be the start of something big! Yeah, right. In your dreams, buddy.
 
We are now into the only slow number I’ll be doing tonight, Rod Stewart’s “Have I Told You Lately”. Hardwell hates ballads. Except the solo piano ones he plays for dinner music. Which is crazy because people love to dance to them. But he likes to keep everything moving, moving, moving, up tempo all the time. No sense of pace. But he can’t deny that right now, that floor is full. So he is allowing it. This is actually a pretty enjoyable song to sing. I take a nice melodic rock guitar solo in the middle of it, then we modulate up a half step after the second bridge. I can get fairly soulful on it. About as good as it gets on a job like this.
 

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Drug Run

By: Dr. Rocket with Ms. Gonzo

The capacity crowd at Wild Bill’s Saloon were wildly yet amiably drunk that late August night, and some had also gotten high out in the parking lot. All were on their feet. The sweaty young Texas hipsters knew that this was the final performance of Suze’s band, and many in the crowd were her loyal fans that had packed the dive full every Friday for the last three months. They shouted, driven into a frenzy that was electrifyingly tribal.

Suze, inspired, threw every last trick she had at the revelers. Her vocal chops were up, and she felt locked in with the band as they pounded out tune after tune in sequence, barely stopping between the songs. Suze grinned in triumph. They had never sounded better.

“You’ve got to shake your money maker” she shouted, wagging her Continue reading

The Internet Just Raped My Brain

By: Coach Dan

The internet. What was once a marvel of modern civilization has quickly deteriorated into a hub for perverts, dope fiends, crooks, and cats. The Uneducated Elite, who in the past was resigned to sitting on their trailer steps and guzzling Bud Light by the quart while they deliver loathesome sermons to other half-mad, fully-drunk dingbats, now has as valid a voice in the world as a summa cum laude Harvard graduate. And it’s not going well for anyone.

As I sit here sipping on my Glenlivet and listening to Dylan, I wonder, where did we go wrong?  I am reading comments on internet articles on how the Obamas are “monkeys”; people are STILL waiting for them to publicly release their birth certificates to prove that they aren’t, in fact, ISIS agents sent here to destroy the country in some elaborate, 10-year gig that is finally coming to fruition.  Elsewhere, college-age kids don blackface for Halloween and laugh when Black Lives Matter tries to point out their ignorance.  Hate crimes have actually RISEN in the US lately, and we are left to pick up the pieces, trying to figure out what went wrong, and how this country took such a drastic leap backwards after such a positive step forward in 2004.

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Story Girls

By: Michael Chin

Jackson and Lily went to St. Peter’s because their father wanted to steer them from the bad influences of a public high school. He told them getting an education was not about smoking in bathrooms or fist fights or winding up pregnant before graduation.

Jackson knew the rationale, and remembered it one week into Catholic school, after his class watched a video to commemorate the tenth anniversary of terrorists crashing planes into the World Trade Center, and pimply-faced Johnny Reds spread his arms like an air craft and spiraled head first into Jinder, the only brown-skinned kid in school. Johnny made crashing sounds as he reenacted the terrorist attacks,like they were some big joke.

Jackson remembered what he had heard about bad influences, too, when he followed Johnny and friends out of the convenience store after school, ugly blue and gold school ties bunched up in their right pockets, stolen one-pound bags of M&Ms crammed in the left.

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