A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is divided into five Books and an Epilogue: BOOK 1 The Memory Box; BOOK 2 Hidden Among the Magnolias; BOOK 3 The Goodbye Wedding; BOOK 4 Tumbleweed; BOOK 5 Let the Mourning Doves Fly Free; EPILOGUE What Goes Around. I will be posting each book from December through May on Sunday mornings.
THE MEMORY BOX
“I get what you’re saying Emma. I just want to someday hold on to something that feels good. I may not now to be able to define it, label it, picture it, but I want to somehow know when it comes along I’ll be open to it. I just thought, not taking Texas reality into consideration, all of you and I a possibility. I guess, I still have much to learn.”
Before they fell asleep they had put every inch of the black and white chessboard in the private corner of their memory boxes, where love lingered in the silent wonder of coming together—if only for the moment.
Monday morning Luc was able to slip out of work, open a bank account, and deposit his first paycheck. Staff were paid weekly, and just in time for he was looking at subsisting on Jack’s juice. Week two wasn’t as hectic as the first by a long shot. He picked up on routines quickly and was soon relieving Carlos of some of the more mundane tasks. He was getting along great with the staff and earning their trust. However, caution was the rule until it was no longer an issue whether or not he’d be sticking around.
By the end of the second week Luc had picked up a cheap typewriter, and with donated paper and whiteout from Connie’s private stash, he was typing his notes. There were three times a day when the members required all of his attention—the early morning coffee and bagels annoyingly spry crowd, the lunch hour kinetic express, and the post traumatic office worker’s workout. Lunch was the most hectic. Member routine was a 20 minute workout slam dunk: in, change, exercise, juice up, shower, change and back to work all within an hour. There were always the occasional hangers-on into the mid-morning and mid-afternoons. They were executive level, taking in the comodidades with complimentary Jack Daniels and cigars instead of Jack’s juices and celery sticks.
Staff were allowed to squeeze their breaks in before or after the crazy times. Luc was on the patio after the lunch hour express, with his juice, corn nuts, soy nuts, and roasted chickpeas—standard fare if you don’t have enough time to make it to Whataburger and back—when a commanding figure with a Wyatt Earp moustache straddled the wrought iron chair beside him. He was wearing a well-worn Stetson cocked back like a skullcap.
“Don’t get up, just passin’ through. You’re the new grunt I hear tell, and Vet to boot. Been meanin’ to stop by and swap some spit. Heard nuthin’ but good things about you from Connie. Look kid, I’m busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest, but I’d like to catch up with you. Always interested in fresh blood. Let’s say the Saturday after the Pissant’s staff meeting. We’ll go for a spin in the Caddy, catch some night life.”
By the look on Luc’s face, Bum figured the kid had no clue who he was and introduced himself.
“Bum, Bum Barkers the name. I’m the sales department of this circus. There are a couple others but they don’t count. How’s Saturday for you?”
It was not an invitation it was an order. Luc’s social calendar was wide open. “I’m game.”
“I’ll pick you up in the parking lot after work.” Bum was across the patio and down the stairs before Luc had a chance to add anything to the conversation.
At the end of each week it was Connie’s routine to stand at the bottom of the stairwell into the gym, and hand out the paychecks. When she handed Luc his pay he mentioned he had met up with Mr. Barker. She lost her normal caked on smile.
“Took him long enough to corral you. He’s our number one salesman. He outsells all the other salesmen combined. Mr. Dexter snatched him right out of Burwell’s pocket. Burwell, as in the biggest Cadillac dealership in the county.” She dragged out the biggest Cadillac dealership. “You be careful around that hombre,” giving Luc some motherly advise, “the man works on all cylinders 24/7, does not take instruction, and won’t take no for an answer.” Luc sensed edginess in that last part.
Billy Joe was waiting on the patio for Luc to finish locking up. As last man on the totem pole Luc had inherited closing down and locking up from Carlos, and it took him twice as long as his predecessor having to double check his notes with everything he turned off and locked up.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get faster. The record closing time for Carlos was eight minutes. That was during one hell of a gully-washer, and no members hung around until the last minute like they usually do.”
“And a gully-washer is?” Luc had flunked French and Latin in High School and was not faring any better with this new language—Texan.
“It’s a shit load of rain coming down hard as hail. We get them every so often and mostly in April. What say we catch a bus and head over to Louanns, it’s on Lovers Lane in Central Market, and they’ve got great rock and roll bands, and plenty of lookers hanging out there?”
“Sounds like a change of pace I can handle. Lead the way.”
Louann’s was already hopping when they sat down and ordered mugs of Root Beer and a large plate of Louann’s to-die-for barbecue ribs. Like most places in Dallas, no liquor was available, at least above the table. When Luc mentioned meeting up with Mr. Barker, Billy Joe filled him in on what he had learned about Bum.
“There’s a Texas saying, if you’ve done it, it ain’t braggin’. Bum’s a talker. He’s got more stories than the empire state building. Bum will want to take you out for a spin in his Cady. He loves to tour the city smoking dope, listening to the Stones, and telling stories, especially if he’s got a fresh audience. I know. I’ve been there a couple times. You can take it all with a grain of salt, but I personally think what he says has lots of truth to it.”
Some of what Luc learned about Bum was fascinating and scary. Bum did drive around in a 1968 Eldorado Fleetwood which he had painted pink before it came off the production line. Mary Kaye had bought a pink Cadillac and Bum liked it so much he bought his own. Working for the biggest Cadillac dealership in Dallas he had racked up more Cadillac sales in 1967 than any other salesman. Billy Joe surmised it was due in part to his connections to the Dallas crime family. Bum had revealed to Billy Joe he was an acquaintance of Joseph Civello, the current head of the Family.
“When Bum was 17, as the story goes, he was convicted of shooting and killing a hobo sitting on a moving rail car. He was out on parole in three months, the victim was colored and it was Texas. Dallas has had a love affair with KKK well into the 50s. I’m not counting them out today.” Billy Joe paused and finished off his last rib.
“It gets better,” he continued, “Bum was also tried and found not guilty for blowing a guy away at Charco’s drive-in restaurant. Witnesses testified the guy came up to the driver’s window and verbally threatened him. Unfortunately for the victim Bum carried a loaded 45 in his car at the time, and it was deemed self-defense.”
Luc also learned Bum was cutthroat in pushing memberships to the gym, which made Jimmy look good. This made Bum an untouchable wrangler that could do whatever he wanted to as long as he kept bringing in the bucks. Just one of the reasons Connie had a bur under her saddle when it came to Bum.
“Bum told me Pissant’s got a staff meeting next week. What’s that all about, and what’s with Pissant?”
“Jimmy’s name is James P. Dexter. Nobody knows what the P stands for so Bum’s given it a handle—Pissant. Not something I’d want to say to his face. I’m sure Bum’s not so shy. Once a month Jimmy holds a staff meeting on Saturday after work. It’s mandatory for all the staff, even part-time, and what royally pisses everybody off, it’s without pay. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. It’s a Roman Carnival.” He paused in his narration and looked around. “Should we order more ribs?”
“I’m good. Sure would like a beer though.”
“Hang on a minute, just saw someone I know.” Billy Joe suddenly left the table and headed across the dance floor to where three women were gathered. A local band, Kirby St. Romain and the Warlocks were setting up. Posters around the walls showed some of the past and present performers. People even Luc had heard of: Bo Diddly, Chuck Berry, and Jimmie Reed. Louann’s was big enough to hold a couple venues; one upstairs for the older generation, more bluesy and mellow, and where Luc was sitting, the younger crowd ready to rock and roll. Billy Joe returned with his arm around the waist of a buxom blond, with deep indigo eyes and ruby lips. They were carrying three large glasses of coke.
“Luc, I want you to meet Louella. Louella was a year ahead of me in High School and a real looker. I played football and she was a cheerleader. I think I was in love with her, but so was the whole team.”
Luc stood up. “I see nothing’s changed since High School, you’re still a looker.” He was slowly catching on how to talk like a Texan.
“I like this boy already Billy Joe. You don’t mind if I join you now do you?”
“It’d be my pleasure ma’am.”
“He sounds like a gentleman,” she said with a flirtatious Texas drawl, “more than I can say about Billy Joe and the football team. The team was called the Hornets. I knew them as the Horneys.”
Louella reached into her purse and pulled out a brown bag. “Thought you boys might like a little something stronger than root beer. She topped up the cokes with rum. The rest of the evening was listening to rock and roll, and Louella taking turns dancing with the boys.
When the lights went on Louella said she had wheels and would be glad to drop Luc off. She was keeping Billy Joe, and had plans for him.
Luc had another great week behind him. He’d taken on Stanley as a client, and it was almost like Luc knew what he was doing. His training manual, as he now named his note taking, was coming along. Next week he planned to present it to Connie. As Luc sadly experienced, when he started, outside of a few operating manuals for the saunas, Jacuzzis, and gym floor equipment, there was nothing written down for staff. Carlos and Billy Joe had gone out of their way to share information and get him to a comfort level with the daily routine. The administration had done diddly-squat.
Billy Joe and Louella had become a thing overnight. Billy Joe revealed to Luc since moving to Dallas Louella had supported herself—he put it as politely as possible—as a working girl. Not surprisingly Billy Joe looked dragged out starting a second shift in the mornings. Louella was still working hard, but now had a steady job.
“Are you going to the staff meeting Hoot?” Luc had changed out of his work clothes and was tying up his all-stars.
“Jimmy would be hotter than a two dollar pistol if anyone skipped his state of the union. I’ll be there but I ain’t enjoying it. This is your first kick at the can kid, my advice is just stay below the radar until they’re through runnin’ at the mouth.” Hoot had taken a likin’ to this kid, as he called Luc, and never went a day without sharing his opinion on the state of the union.
It was a full house when Luc entered the lounge for the meeting. Most of the staff had come straight off the floor and were draped around on the chairs and couches like Dali clocks. The three sales staff, one woman and two men, Bum being front and center, were off to the side hanging around the juice bar. There was no sign of Jimmy. Bum spotted Luc entering and waved him over.
“Luc my man,” wrapping his arm around Luc’s shoulders, “I want you to meet my partners in crime. Sue here’s tougher than a one eared alley cat when it comes to closing the sale, and Jesse’s slick as an eel goin’ after the deal.” Sue and Jesse smiled politely. “Luc here’s our newest prodigy and the first Vietnam Vet to come home to us.”
“Well not exactly but I’m here.”
“Don’t be modest boy, you’ve done a service to the country, and without the young men in uniform we’d be in a world of hurt.”
Fortunately no one in the room was paying attention to the conversation. The distance between the staff, alias working stiffs, and the sales personnel, the ones who made the money, was wider than Connie’s cleavage. The only time sales spoke to the floor staff was when they were selling a potential membership, with the exception that is of Bum who made it a point to know everyone. The room went silent as Connie and Jimmy entered the lounge. She was carrying a large binder pressed close to her chest, and he was wearing his Jack LaLanne jumpsuit and holding a glass of juice up in the air as if it were an Olympic torch.
“Grab a stool Luc,” Bum said, “this dog and pony show will take a while.”
And it did. Jimmy could play the gallery; ticking off all the wonderful things about the company, opening clubs, exceeding sales quotas, and announcing staff of the month.
“This month it’s goes to Hoot. Hoot’s been a loyal employee for three years. We couldn’t run the locker rooms without him. Where’s Hoot?” Jimmy scanned the room and spotted Hoot barely visible beside an exit door. “STOP, LOOK, LISTEN. It’s time for Hoot!” Jimmy was imitating the opening lines of the Jack LaLanne show. Hoot barely looked at anyone as he limped up to where Jimmy was standing. Hoot looked embarrassed with all the hooting and hollering by staff. It was worth a day off, at Jimmy’s discretion, with pay. The framed certificate Hoot would hang over the men’s urinal.
One of Connie’s roles was to introduce the new employees. With the turnover, generally there was one or two. This time only Luc received her fictional additive to stand up and take bow. And on it went for an hour, staff politely clapping at regular intervals. He ended his meeting with the song Jack LaLanne once ended his T.V. show with.
“It’s time to leave you, let’s say goodbye, happily we exercise, exercise, exercise, happily we exercise, it’s time to say GOODBYE,” and then he was gone.
Bum turned to Luc, “Fortunately he never finishes the song, probably can’t remember it all. We still on for next weekend?” Bum didn’t wait for an answer, making a beeline for the door with rest of the participants. When Luc looked around the room he caught Billy Joe gesturing for him to join the group he was with.
“Hold tight Luc, we’ve got a surprise for you. What did you think of the performance? Jimmy’s got the bullshit baffles brains part down pat?”
Before he could respond Carlos came back into the lounge jangling his keys in the air.
“All clear amigos it’s party time!”
Billy Joe grabbed Luc’s arm and walked him over to the juice bar. “This is your first staff meeting and first after meeting wake. It’s a tradition here with a few of us. It’s also a tight secret so I didn’t say anything earlier. Not that you’d spill the beans of course, but we’d all get canned if management caught on to what we were up to. We now own this club until Sunday noon and it’s time to enjoy it.”
Emma was standing behind the bar with that Cheshire grin. She could see the surprise on Luc face as reality hit home.
“Emma honey, no juice for this young man. Bring out the whiskey.”
Luc hardly ever socialized with the two part-time trainers Charlene and Julianne who hung out exclusively on the other side of the Club and were always busy working out with the female members. When he finally met up with them on a social level he made note to correct that. Emma was everywhere everyday serving the members whatever they needed wherever they needed it, and to Luc’s observation she was the busiest person in the Club. Carlos was Carlos, and although Luc had taken over much of the mundane work he still ran the physical ship and kept it afloat. The one part-time staff member he hadn’t run into before was Felicita. She was a student studying at the newly opened El Centro College. Her goal was massage therapy. Jimmy had a strict rule about fraternizing among staff, although it seemed like it was not an issue with him and Connie Darling. If he discovered Carlos and Felicita roomed together it’d be the end of their association with the club. It was a healthy and virile group that stayed to play.
“Let’s get the show on the road kids, everyone to the locker room, we’ve got warm robes waiting for us.” Billy Joe led the parade out of the lounge and down the hallway.
Luc followed Emma. “Being novice at this is there anything I need to know about what I’m in for?”
“Just go with the flow, honey, and enjoy. The night is young, the women are beautiful, and it doesn’t cost a dime.”
He found instantly that shyness was not an attribute to be saddled with when everyone stripped down, and put on white cotton terry bathrobes, compliments of the employee of the month. Hoot didn’t participate personally in the after meeting get-togethers, but he made sure his locker room accommodated.
The eucalyptus steam room was a good place to start the evening. It opened up the nasal passages and helped with breathing, and with the stress of muscle aches and fatigue being part of the job description, perfect for unwinding and relaxing the body.
“I suppose this is somewhat of a surprise to you Luc, since you’ve been here less than a month and don’t really know us?” Emma was sitting next to him on the upper row of wooden benches. Everyone else was stretched out on the two rows in front of the center pit.”
“I have a feeling I’ll know you all a whole lot better by the end of the night.”
“I think you might be right there,” she said with a laugh, “it’ll get better as the night wears on. The whole idea is to relax and enjoy what we cater to members every day, seven long days a week. We look on it as pay back.”
“How long have you been doing this, and why doesn’t anyone catch on?”
“Carlos, the girls and I, started the first month Billy Joe came on board. Right after one of Jimmy’s excruciating staff meetings. We hung around to close up the place and found we were alone until late Sunday morning, so we stayed. Who’s to know? It’s all part-time on Sunday except for Carlos, and he comes in only to open and close. Jimmy and Connie each have keys to the building. Billy Joe and Carlos share keys. Jimmy and Connie sure as hell aren’t coming back tonight.”
“Nice. Where do we go from here?”
“We’re going to the locker room and bring out the nose candy, and then you can really relax.” She laughed and stepped down off the bench. “Time to boogie” she declared. Everyone stood up and headed for the hallway.
Luc stayed back with Carlos to shut down the room. “What’s next on the agenda Carlos? Emma said something about nose candy. I lost her on that one.”
“Well Señor Luc, we get a refill and a mind-bend to soften us up before the saunas and Jacuzzis.”
That didn’t make any sense, but it was a time to just go with the flow. Everyone was lounging around the locker room and Luc noticed a strong odor lingering in the air. The only connection he could make was that of burning dry maple leaves. Carlos took him to the juice bar where Emma was leaning over the counter holding a rolled up dollar bill to her nose. With one motion she snorted a white line of powder, stood up, took a deep breath through her nostrils, and shook her head.
“Nice stuff Carlos, it doesn’t burn—smooth.”
“Your turn Luc.” She took a single edged razor blade, and on a flat mirror separated two small lines from a pile of powder. “Ever try coke before?” She handed him the rolled-up dollar bill.
Luc didn’t hesitate, it was a straight and simple answer, “Nope.” He stared at the white lines, then at Emma, then over to Carlos. “Not until now. Anything I need to know?” A slight hint of uncertainty followed his words.
“Just like I told you honey, relax,” Emma put her hand on his and gently squeezed. “Just relax.”
Carlos jumped in, “take it slow and easy. Your nose is all primed with eucalyptus so this is going straight to the brain. First one nostril, breathe in, then the other.
Nothing hit on the first swipe. After he snorted the second line he stepped back and let it all sink in. A feeling of pleasure swept over him.
“That should do you for a while. Enjoy.” She took the dollar bill and gave it to Carlos who held it up in the air for the next taker. Taking ahold of the belt on Luc’s robe she pulled him over to the nearest couch and sat him down between Charlene and Julianne who were passing a pipe between them. “You just had dinner, now here’s your dessert. In Luc’s heightened awareness several scenarios raced through his mind as he looked at the two ladies, but it was not to be. They passed him the pipe.
“Be careful on that one Luc,” Billy Joe was getting ready to do a line and turned to caution him. “You don’t smoke so take it slow and easy so you don’t choke on it. We don’t want to have to carry you home.” Slow and easy was the formula for the night.
Monday was back to normal with a few exceptions. Luc’s introduction to drugs had zero negative effect, and there was a noticeable change in Emma’s reaction to his presence. She seemed, maybe it was his imagination, a whole lot friendlier. It had not been a surprise to find out no one loved coming to work at the club. They loved the work but not the workplace. The 12 hour days, lack of leadership, shortage of staff, and minimum wage at $1.60 an hour added up to not much in the way of long term job security. Jimmy likened titles to an increase in wages so promotions didn’t necessarily come with a dollar attached, but they sure meant more responsibility.
The invisible backers, the management, and a fat city sales department were raking in the profits. “Them’s ridin’ high, doin’ aw’right” as Hoot put it. At least this was the assumption of the rank and file who did the grunt work keeping the members happy.
Totally out of character, Jimmy visited the floor twice during the following week accompanied by a couple of talking heads in seersucker suits. They asked questions of staff and members, took copious notes on clipboards, and kept Emma busy with making juices. Introduced to the visitors Luc was congratulated on his ongoing efforts to develop a training manual and encouraged to continue working on it. Most of the staff were congratulated for something and encouraged to keep up the good work. Nobody understood what was going on and Connie was silent on the issue, with the exception of one smiling remark to Luc, indicating good things were in the works for him.
Billy Joe surprised Luc by asking if he wanted to move in with him and share his two bedroom apartment. It’d cut Luc’s expenses in half and it’d not be much more than he was paying now, but with more amenities—kitchen, bathroom and living room. It was a step up in living arrangements and an offer Luc couldn’t pass up. He jumped on the opportunity and made plans to move in the following Monday.
Saturday evening Luc was the last to leave after shutting down and locking up the Club. The Pink Cadillac with 375 horses under the hood was idling beside the curb.
Bum was a big man and filled the driver’s seat. His Stetson scraped the roof. He was leaning over the steering wheel and drumming on the dashboard to the rhythm of the Stones “I can’t get no satisfaction.” Luc sank into the white leather bucket seat beside him.
“Hope that pissant Jimmy is paying you boys overtime.”
“Sorry it took so long to close up. Carlos and Billy Joe took off early for a concert at Memorial Auditorium.”
“No problem, things don’t get going around here until after 8. Glad you could make it. I like to get to know the boys and girls on the floor, makes it easier to sell memberships when I can tell them how great you all are. What say we start with some grub? Can’t drink on an empty stomach and I don’t suppose you’ve eaten anything today but fruits and nuts and that barnyard roughage they pass on as health food. What’s your pleasure?”
“Something fried and greasy works for me.”
He reached over and turned down the music, Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” had just followed the Stones. Bum did not cater to the Lawrence Welk crowd and was heavy into rock and blues.
“Before we hit the road, Carlos tells me you tried a line or two and smoked up for the first time last week, and you’re still here to tell the tale. Carlos thought he’d introduce you to some of the finest weed comin’ out of Little Mexico for your inaugural trip in the Big Pink. He laid a couple doobies on us.”
“Can’t turn down a gift horse, but I gotta tell you, the last cigarette I smoked, I was seven years old, sitting in a green apple tree behind my house. It was unfiltered Pall Malls stolen from my grandmother. I was ill for days. Green apples and cigarettes, it’s one of those memories you hang on to like the dry heaves on scotch.”
“That shit will kill you, cheap scotch and cigarettes.” Bum reached into his pocket and pulled out a gold Zippo embossed with a cowboy on a bucking bronco. He lit a joint the size of a small cigar, took a deep inhale, paused, exhaled slowly, and passed it over to Luc.
When Luc stopped coughing Bum pulled out of the parking lot. “You need some work, but you’ll get it.”
The Cadillac could do 0-60 mph in less than nine seconds and Bum was heavy on the pedal. Their first stop was going to be the Pig Stand. The Pig Stand he told Luc was one of America’s first drive-in restaurants, opened by Reuben Jackson in 1921.
“I went to school with the Jackson boys and I’ve been a patron of the place since the 30’s. It hasn’t changed a lick, except for the car hops. They get younger and prettier every year. Of course it just might be me getting older and uglier every year.”
With “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” playing on radio, riding in the Big Pink was like being on a flying carpet. He watched the buildings and pedestrians pass by like boxcars, in and out of his vision before he could wrap his head around them. He had not been through the core of Dallas since landing at the bus terminal. It seemed like years ago. He was stoned on marijuana, enveloped in a luxurious leather bucket seat, sailing through Dallas, a 50 some odd loose cannon behind the wheel, and he began to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
He didn’t stop laughing until Bum pulled into the Pig Stand. When the well-endowed, curly blonde car hop skipped up to the window, they ordered pig sandwiches and fried onion rings.
“What do you think Luc? They’re the best right?” All Luc could do was nod his head while stuffing his face. “Reach behind the seat there and fetch up a couple Lone Stars from the cooler to wash this shit down.”
Luc ordered a second pig sandwich drowned in barbecue sauce to take with him. Their next destination was thirty miles down the road in Fort Worth.
“I think you’ll like the Cellar it’s been ground zero for rock and blues anywhere in East Texas since the late 50s. It started out as a beatnik joint and evolved. We’ll want to smoke another number before we get there. Jimmy has banned drugs from the premises since they opened.”
“Not our Jimmy I hope?”
“Not by a long shot. That pissant’s as sorry as a two dollar watch.” Bum launched into a long monologue on the stupidity of the Ambassador Health Club management and how if it weren’t for that F Cup amazon on the front desk, the Club would be bankrupt.
These revelations did not surprise Luc. With the exception of Connie he had yet to meet anyone who had a favorable impression of Jimmy.
Bum was telling him about his friend Jack Ruby frequenting the Cellar and the Secret Service hanging out there the night before John Kennedy was assassinated when they pulled up to the curb and parked in a no parking zone.
The Cellar was on the second floor of a Main Street building in Fort Worth. At the top of the stairs they were greeted by two mean-ass looking bouncers collecting the dollar cover charge. The sign on the wall said the cover was $999. That was just for colored. The No’s were understood by anyone wanting to come into the club: no queers, no colored, no drugs, and no pimps. Without coughing up the money Bum whispered something to one of the bouncers. He looked over at Luc, nodded and took off into the interior of the club. For Luc it was more like entering a dark cave than a cellar.
The walls were painted black and a single red bulb hung from the ceiling. It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the murky smoke filled room. As best he could see, staff was all dressed in black except for a waitress who greeted Bum as if she were his daughter, she was dressed only in a bra and pantie. Holding a pen light she guided them to a private table near the back wall.
“Didn’t I tell you this place was something else? They run the same music routine every night. Someone plays from 7 P.M. to 8 P.M. then two bands play one hour sets until five in the morning. It’ll get noisy in a few minutes.” It was obvious this was a comfort zone for Bum.
On a stage at the far end of the room, a band was setting up. In front of the stage a raised two foot runway separated an area covered with couch cushions and people just lying around on the floor. There was nowhere to dance. The clientele came here to listen to the music.
The bouncer Bum had spoken to came over with two cocktail glasses and put them down on the table. “Compliments of Jimmy. He’ll join you after the next band sets up.” He bent over and whispered something in Bum’s ear.
Luc’s curiosity got the best of him. “Is this Jimmy’s place?”
“Jimmy’s been the manager since this place opened. We go way back. Long before the Cellar opened. The Cellar doesn’t have a liquor license, never had. What you’re drinking is a scotch cocktail. You can buy fake scotch or vodka flavored cocktails if you want to look like you’re drinking, but that shit’s like drinking water out of a fish tank. VIP’s get the real thing.”
“So we’re VIP’s?”
“As I said, Jimmy and I go way back.”
After the band kicked in Luc shifted his seat around closer to Bum’s so he could hear what he was saying. Luc’s sight had adjusted to the dim environment and he could see how scotch had sketched tributaries of tiny broken blood vessels around Bum’s intense dark blue eyes. There was more to this man than smoking dope and driving around in a pink Cadillac. Like the gay world his friend Adam Ford had introduced Luc to in Arkansas, Bum’s world was a new experience.
The Cellar brought in bands that played cutting-edge rock, blues, R&B, and country rock. It was from its conception a place where celebrities hung out when they came to Fort Worth. There were two other Cellars, one in Houston and one in Dallas, but with five bouncers the Fort Worth bar was the most popular and rowdiest. Bum was telling Luc about Lee Marvin coming to Fort Worth in the early 60s to promote his movie Who Shot Liberty Valance, and how he came to the Cellar the night before he had his media interview, got blitzed and ran off with one of Jimmy’ waitresses. The story was just getting interesting when a stout, balding man sat down next to Bum.
“That hell-raising bastard ran off with my best stripper and disappeared for three days, then had the nerve to tell me I was a cheap son-of-a-bitch and needed to back pay her, because she was working overtime for the Club.”
“Did you pay her?” Bum asked.
“Damn right I did, she was better than Candy Barr. It’s good to see you’re in one piece. You haven’t been around since you started working for that fancy YMCA. Thought maybe you’d gone healthy. Who’s the young fella?” Jimmy’s voice carried over the music and din of the crowd as he stretched over the table to shake Luc’s hand.
“Luc is the club’s newest client pleaser. He’s one of the reasons I make money selling time.”
“Where do you hail from?” Jimmy inquired of Luc, more out of courtesy than curiosity.
Luc explained his round about journey to end up in Dallas.
“So you survived Nam only to end up in this warped world. Well you watch out. You hang around Bum too long you’ll wish you were back there.”
Luc was going to tell him he wasn’t in Nam, but it didn’t matter Jimmy was already in deep conversation with Bum. The two of them hacked at each other for quite a while, laughing all the way, and the waitresses kept up the flow of VIP scotch. Luc sat back and took in the music. Jimmy checked his watch, and looked around at the crowd.
“Excuse me fellas, gotta pick up the pace here,” and he yelled out meat on the table. One after another for the rest of the session the waitresses shimmied up on the runway and stripped to the music.
It was around 2 a.m. when they pulled up in front of the Luc’s house. Bum had tried to convince him to have breakfast at an all-night diner but Luc had reached his limit long before they dragged themselves out the Cellar. Bum rolled down the window. Luc was standing at the curb.
“You held your own tonight kid. Let’s get a pizza at Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant one of these nights. It’s my favorite pizza joint.” And he heavy footed the Cadillac, heading who knows where. Connie may have been right about Bum never sleeping.
“Yes, let’s do that,” Luc said to the tail lights.
Monday was moving day and Carlos offered to close the Club so Luc could get an early start on bringing his stuff to Billy Joe’s. Not like he needed a moving van for a backpack, typewriter, small suitcase, and a handful of books. Luc’s new apartment was only a few blocks away, and as they walked along Oak Lawn he filled Billy Joe in on the grand adventure Saturday night.
“Not much different than my first adventure with Bum, although we stayed in town. We hit the Cellar here and ended up at Bronco Bowl’s Pit Club. It was the same routine though. VIP all the way.”
“He sure doesn’t think highly of the Ambassador Club, and downright hates Pissant. Bum called him sorry as a two dollar watch and useless as tits on a boar. I’m sure Bum’s making big money. I don’t see the problem.”
“I don’t know if he is making big money anymore, membership looks to be slipping. You’re right though, he’s got a big hard on for Jimmy. Maybe because he offered Bum the moon to come work with him and it ain’t happening. Maybe Bum’s got other interests. Who knows? There’s more to all this than meets the eye.”
Billy Joe lived in a two bedroom apartment on the corner of Throckmorton Street and Cedar Springs Drive. His entrance was up a metal staircase off Throckmorton, and the door opened into a decent size kitchen. Beyond the kitchen a large living room, and two bedrooms with windows overlooking Cedar Springs. It had a bathroom in between the bedrooms that was just wide enough to pass the radiator and claw foot iron tub to get to the john.
“Perfect, just perfect,” was Luc’s response after throwing his bag on the bed in his room, and setting his typewriter down on the card table. He even had chester drawers, as Billy Joe referred to it, and a closet that made his two pairs of shoes and three shirts look lonely. Luc plopped down on the bed and locked his hands behind his head.
“Thanks for the invite Billy Joe, I haven’t lived in this grand a space in years. I guess I’ll have to go shopping to fill the closet.”
“Well it ain’t up to Turtle Creek standards, but it’s affordable, and just got more affordable with you moving in. Let’s plan on a party this weekend to celebrate.”
Tuesday’s walk to the Club took all of ten minutes longer than from the boarding room, and the rest of the week should have been the same if it wasn’t for the extraordinary amount of rain that drenched them both before they were half way to the Club. As they changed into dry clothing in the locker room weatherman Hoot told them to expect it for the next few days.
“You won’t see hide nor hair of anyone but the diehard health nuts come out over the next while. You get a frog-strangler like we’re expecting, might as well hunker down.”
Connie told the part-time staff to stay home and the rest of the staff to keep busy looking busy. It wasn’t until Saturday noon she rang the bell in defeat. That meant the party started early, and as a sign of good times to come, the rain lightened up temporarily until they got back to the apartment.
To be continued Sunday Dec 20
A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is available on both Amazon and Kindle at John Thomas Dodds Author Page Reviews appreciated