Chapter 14: Bowling Zygotes
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I left Cerberus in the Jeep with twenty ounces of frozen t-bone and a makeshift bowl of water. Since the only thing to do for people too young to get into the bars was cruise the street, I kept the dog chained to the seat in case he decided to chew his way through the top to get at them.
An eclectic mix of people were already milling outside the front door to the bar, from wannabe frat rats to baked-out jazz cats dressed to the nines. With the bands they had on the bill, it didn’t surprise me.
The bouncer taking cash at the door was a block of flesh most likely hired for his size rather than his ability to use it. He didn’t look like he could go two rounds with anyone who could hold their own, but if he connected just one good shot with his weight behind it, he probably wouldn’t have to.
He was chatting up a blonde when he asked me for I.D. He looked up. “What happened to you?”
“Oh yeah? You’re not gonna be causin’ trouble in my club, are ya?”
“Me? No, I’m harmless.”
The bouncer dismissed me with a smirk and went back to talking with the blonde.
The inside of the bar was thick with smoke. The first band was already under way as lights flashed and danced. On stage, a tiny brunette wearing a camouflaged wife-beater was throwing down on a Strat while her band chugged away at a blues shuffle behind her. She tilted her head back, closed her eyes, and tossed out a run that would have made hack-boy back at the Music Shoppe race home to his mother. Sweat dripped down her neck to her cleavage. Her hands worked over the fretboard with a mastery that—I was willing to admit—made me jealous. Damn. All the molded pop queens and sculpted divas in the world couldn’t hold a candle to a woman who knew how to work an axe. It was one of the sexiest things I’d ever seen.
I had to force myself to look away and scan the scene for Darby. Bodies were pressed in all the way from the stage to the bar in the back. The smoke made it difficult to see anything with any certain detail, but I didn’t see her anywhere. I weaved my way through the crowd, getting dirty looks from those who thought I was a little too aggressive in my journey across the room. I reached the back where the soundman was twiddling with knobs and sliders on his board.
“Say man, what’s the order tonight?”
He grabbed a piece of paper from a table behind him and handed it to me. There were six bands listed, each with a series of technical notes pertaining to their instruments, number of bandmates, mic placements, etc.
“Who’s this playing now?”
“Gutter Fern. Band out of
I pulled my eyes away from the band and looked at the paper he gave me:
Rusty Spoon’s Blues Review
Darby’s band was up next. I swam through the crowd again, ordered a beer and then found a dark corner in the back.
When Gutter Fern finished their last song, the bar erupted. It was good to know that people still had taste in music. But the poor front girl was mauled the second she came off stage. Half a dozen guys were there, proffering beers and their phone numbers. The rest of Gutter Fern had to usher her backstage before she was trampled over. But as the band were squeezing through the back door, a man and a woman were coming in. The man was carrying a large industrial fan that sat on top of a six foot pole. The woman was carrying a rivet gun. The B.Z. show was starting.
The couple split the crowd until they reached the center of the viewing area about ten feet from the stage. The man set the fan down and the woman blasted rivets into its base to anchor it to the ground. He gave it a shake to make sure it was solid in the ground and then motioned to the back door. The Bowling Zygotes started to file out on stage.
Darby was in the lead.
When I saw her, I felt my heart press against my chest cavity like it was trying to force its way through my ribs and run as far away as possible. Seeing an ex is always a difficult thing to do. The odd familiarity was vertiginous. I used to know her better than anyone, but now she was just a stranger, some dark mimic imitating a memory. She was thin but curvy, wearing black baggy pants and an Anime belly shirt that accentuated the smooth lines of her neck and shoulders. Her hair was pulled back into two topknots that sprung from her head like horns.
I took a swig of beer then felt the stitches in my head. The shadow I was hiding in didn’t feel dark enough.
Darby hopped behind the drum set, twirled her sticks and started in on a simple groove. The rest of the band, all dressed in black suits and orange ties, filed past toward their instruments. One by one they fell in behind Darby’s groove as the people in the crowd bobbed their heads in time.
The man by the fan kicked it on as the lead singer walked out to wild cheers. He had a mullet, an handlebar mustache, and was wearing nothing but an antique, red and white striped bathing suit. His beer gut pressed dangerously against the seams. He stepped up to the central mic and stared at his pale feet for a few measures before holding up a large piece of cardboard that had the words ‘Braving the Storm’ written across it in black marker.
The groove changed to something fuller, darker. The singer put on a pair of snow goggles then struck a pose with one foot in front of the other, his chin high, chest puffed out and his shoulders pulled back. The fan created violent swirls of smoke in the colored stage lights.
Darby played a fill and the band picked up the intensity. People in the crowd started shaking their beer bottles and spraying them into the back of the fan. The singer was soaked in a matter of seconds as he stood stoic while gallons of alcohol showered over him in an amber mist.
For ten minutes.
Fortunately the band was talented enough to keep people interested in what could only be described as performance art. The artsy kids in the crowd were digging the shit out of it and were running back to the bar to get more beer to pour in the fan. Even the mid-west fashionistas too out of the loop to realize their apple martinis were no longer in vogue were getting into the show.
The band took turns at the musical center while bathing boy braved his storm of lager and ale. But even with all the activity, I never took my eyes off Darby. She was like a metronome. Mechanical and flawless, her every movement a tick of an atomic clock. But she had no feel. No emotion. No soul. Her movements were stilted and graceless. If she had half the feel of Gutter Fern, Darby would have been a monster. Instead, she was nothing more than a drum machine with great tits.
Their set ended 45 minutes and one pony keg to the fan later. The band stepped off the stage and headed straight for the bar, but Darby ducked out the back door. I swallowed the last of my beer and pushed through the crowd to follow her.
I moved through the door as the next band were coming through with a fleet of equipment. The back room was littered with drum sets, amps, and groupies of both sexes trying to get in with the musicians. But Darby wasn’t there.
Of course I really had no idea what the hell I was going to do once I found her. Well, no idea other than torture her until she told me where she put the box. And then maybe for a little while after as well. You know, just to be thorough.
A door in the back of the room with a sign above it blinking ‘Exit Only’ was being held open with a beer bottle. I stepped to the door and peaked through to a dark parking lot. I saw a flash of light then Darby’s face was cast in an orange glow as she lit a cigarette. She leaned back against her black, pimped-out ’59 Ford F-100 and blew a cloud of smoke into the hot, humid air.
“You know that smoking makes you age prematurely, don’t you?”
She casually turned her head toward me as I stepped out into the night. “Dingo. I heard you were in town. You see the show?”
“Yeah. It was pretty good. But isn’t the whole art thing getting a bit old?”
“The kids still dig it.” She took another drag. “How’s your face? Looks like you caught the wrong end of a baseball bat.”
“Yeah, it seems I’ve been catching the wrong end of a lot of things lately.”
Darby rested her chin in her hand and gave me her coyest smile. “Aww, does your pussy hurt? Would you like me to get you an ice pack for that?” She tossed the cigarette to the gravel and ground it with her heel. “Thanks for stopping to see the show, Dingo. But you’re not welcome here. It’s time for you to leave.”
“I’m not going anywhere until I get my box.”
Darby stared at me with the same glint in her eyes as a poker player sitting on a straight flush. “Oh Dingo, that’s so cute.”
“Cute? What’s cute?”
She folded her arms and laughed. “That you actually think you have a choice in the matter.”
It was too late. The shadow behind me moved before I could react and my teeth rattled together as something heavy caught me on the back of the head. I tried to stand after I hit the ground but my legs weren’t working. Black spots were floating in front of me.
I tried to push up off the ground, but a heavy foot pressed into my back. “What do you want to do with him?” someone asked.
“I don’t know.” Darby’s voice sounded like it was coming through a subway tunnel.
The foot standing on my back kicked me over and I had to fight the urge to vomit. I looked up and saw two figures standing over me. Darby and another person that looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on who he was.
“Where’s your dog, asshole?”
Oh yeah, I remembered him now. Julius Benoit. I opened my mouth to speak but it wasn’t words that were trying to come out.
“Don’t worry about it,” Darby said. “Just put him in the trunk of the ‘Benz. Get the others to help you.”
Benoit grabbed me with his meaty hands and yanked me upright. “It’s ride time, mother fucker. I hope you—”
My head swam and I puked. Now I don’t know if it was just the head nausea or if the few beers I had during the show helped, but when I threw up, it hit Benoit’s face with a wet slap before running down the front of his pretty silk suit in streams of brown and orange.
“AHHH! You…cocksucker. My eyes! It burns! It BURNS!”
He let go of me and I fell to the ground in fetal heap. I was still laughing when I finally fell unconscious.