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.
Billy Joe was sitting at the kitchen table laboriously trying to teach Luc how to roll a joint with Zig Zag papers. Luc’s fingertips were dry and smooth and he was having difficulty with the lesson.
“Takes practice Luc, and patience. One day you’ll be able to roll a number with one hand while driving down the highway. Mark my word.”
After several tries he managed to roll one that stayed together, somewhat resembling a twist tie, and suggested they inaugurate his first successful attempt. He had come a long way from conspiracy to possess marijuana to rolling Zig Zags.
“Jesus Christ, you can start building an arc anytime!” She backed through the kitchen door closing her umbrella.
Billy Joe got up from the table and took the umbrella and raincoat from Louella. “It’s supposed to be backing off, but I guess not yet. Anyhow you made it in one piece.”
“You’re damn right. I wouldn’t miss Luc’s moving in party for a bit of rain. After three days of this shit though, you gotta say enough is enough.” She spotted Luc with what looked like a joint in his hand. “I’ll take a hit off of that.” She dropped her purse on the table and sat down. “How’ve you been Luc? Enjoying your home?”
“Getting by on getting high, and home sweet home are the appropriate phrases Louella.”
“Both damn good reasons to celebrate.” She took a couple quick hits and passed it back to Luc. Turning to Billy Joe, “Roxy should be here any moment. She had to find a parking spot. You can’t park overnight on the goddam main streets around here. What kind of shit is that?”
In setting up the party Billy Joe had told Luc Louella’s best friend was coming, and unlike Louella, a casual lady of the night trying to make ends meet, Roxy was a high class Dallas call girl, or at least a wannabee. Overnight was a good sign for the boys. An even better sign was Roxy bursting through the door soaking wet, wearing a thin cotton dress with no visible sign of an extra layer of clothing. When she shook her mop of curly red locks it was like a Labrador surfacing from underwater.
“Gotta thank you Louella honey for taking the only fucking umbrella. Anyone got a towel? Or better yet, where can I slip out of these wet clothes?”
It was a great introduction to Louella’s best friend. Luc was the Sir Walter Raleigh hero of the night providing a towel and a clean tee-shirt. As a door prize he got to dry Roxy off.
Luc was the first one up, abandoning three naked bodies sprawled out on Billy Joe’s devastated queen size bed. The percolator was just beginning to bubble in the glass nipple—the aroma of coffee slowly permeating the kitchen. He sat by the open window looking down on the silent and deserted Sunday morning street. The rain had finally ended and the small patch of sky he could see through the buildings was a grey blue. Surprisingly he had no hangover from the smoke, the booze, and a foursome. Staring blankly out the window at his new reality he was trying to wrap his mind around it all when Louella snapped him out of it.
She plopped down into the chair next to him, put her elbows on the table, and propped her head up with her hands. “That coffee smells wonderful. Be an angel and rustle me up a cup.”
“It’s just about ready. How do you take it?” He got up and pulled two mugs out of the cupboard.
“Raw,” was the only word she could come up with.
They sat silently waiting for the caffeine to kick in. The sound of the occasional Sunday morning driver splashing through the still water soaked street was the only connection they had to the moment.
Billy Joe followed Rosy into the kitchen and they both sat down without acknowledging the presence of Luc and Louella. It wasn’t like they had a hangover, it was more like they were still coming down off a high and hadn’t landed yet.
“Who’s pouring?” Roxy growled. Last night she had been the Diva of Inhibition, and had given Luc a ride that was priceless, considering she banked on her abilities.
“I’m on it.” Luc got up and grabbed the percolator. “How do you like it?”
“Naked,” Roxy responded. “Wake up Billy Joe, there’s a joint in the ashtray crying for a match.” It was like the party had just begun.
In just a month after landing in a Greyhound terminal somewhere on the moon, he was sitting at a table, with two prime species of the opposite sex, buck naked, and stoned. A week ago he had been driving through Dallas in a pink Cadillac on a high that left him standing on the side of the road bewildered. Luc was a long way from Kansas and loved it. Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World was on the top of the charts, the poor were marching on Washington DC, and the Vietnam peace talks just started in Paris. Change it appeared had literally grabbed him by the short and curlies and shaken him loose from any prior conceptions—for that matter, any prior expectations.
Shortly after everyone checked in for work on Monday morning, Connie announced Jimmy had some exciting news to present that will make everyone happy. A special mandatory staff meeting was scheduled for the following Saturday. The big buzz all week was speculation: raises, more staff, a five day week, overtime pay—or just another kick in the ass from Jumpin’ Jack.
With Jimmy and Connie spending an inordinate amount of time observing from the second floor office window the staff had their clipboards glued to their hips. What troubled Billy Joe were the seersucker suits joining them at the window. When the talking heads came onto the floor again, taking notes and asking members questions Billy Joe knew changes were coming down the pike.
Saturday evening was a long time coming both at work and at the apartment. Louella came over a couple nights during the week, and Luc got to know the neighborhood a whole lot better, especially when the bump and grind in the next bedroom became all-consuming. He discovered Woody’s, a gay bar on the corner of Throckmorton and Cedar Springs, conveniently located right outside the apartment. He didn’t have to brown bag at Woody’s, they sold pizza and beer.
When the big moment finally arrived and everyone was gathered in their not-want-to-be, but-have-to-be positions, Jimmy’s entourage entered the room. He was accompanied by a couple of the suits that had previously toured the facility, and of course Connie followed behind with her binder. The sales staff took up their usual spot at the juice bar. Bum was noticeably missing from their ranks.
Jimmy beat around the stump for 30 minutes, extolling the virtues of the sales department, management (read Connie), the loyal membership, and something about the staff one missed if they weren’t listening closely. He finally got to the main event.
The gentlemen as Jimmy referred to them, represented an investment group who were opening an Ambassador Health Club franchise in Arlington Texas, half way between Dallas and Fort Worth. They had taken over an existing Club and renovations had already begun. Opening date was scheduled for June 15. Sales staff would be actively lining up the membership. Jimmy and Connie would be managing both places.
The shocker came when Jimmy told them how all this wonderful money making scheme affected the floor staff. Carlos and Emma were to be transferred over and continue their present duties, Luc would be promoted to head trainer. Connie would let everyone know how and when the changes would occur.
There was no applause when the traveling circus left the room, and probably out of deference to the men in suits—no Jack LaLanne sing song. Charlene and Julianne were not affected by the changes and left along with the rush to evacuate the building.
Carlos, Emma, Billy Joe and Luc were the only ones left in the lounge when Hoot heading for the door left them with an old west proverb. “Poor is having to sell the horse to buy the saddle. I think Jimmy is way over his head.”
“This is going to fuck up all my plans.” Carlos was the first to respond to the news. He was frustrated and angry at the turn of events. “Without wheels, Felicita and I can’t make this work.”
“Where’s Arlington again?” The reality of what just came down not quite registering with Luc.
Billy Joe answered. “It’s about 45 minutes from our apartment and about the same for Carlos and Emma, from Little Mexico. Buses are the shits. If you’re driving, and none of us have cars, you hit downtown traffic and it can take a helluva lot longer on a good day. But that’s only half the problem. Did you hear anything about extra pay for all this extra work? And it will be extra, starting up a gym, training staff. All the shit has just been shoveled our way.”
“All the work and none of the glory, I’m outta here.” Carlos zipped up his jacket and turned to leave.
“Are you quitting Carlos?” was Luc’s immediate reaction.
“Can’t, Felicita’s working part-time and taking classes, and we need to pay the rent. Nothing we can do about anything at this stage, the man’s got us by the cojones. Catch you all Monday.” He stormed out of the room.
“I’m out of here as well. I’m late meeting up with Louella. Let’s let it simmer a bit, we got all day Sunday to mull it over. You okay closing up Luc?”
“Got it covered Billy Joe.”
He turned to Emma who was sitting on the arm of the couch. She hadn’t moved since Jimmy left. “What’s your take on all this Emma? You can’t be happy about what’s pending.”
“I don’t know how that bastard can just arbitrarily fuck up our lives without at least having the courtesy to ask us about it.” Her anger was visible and her tone abrasive. It was deeper than just switching locations.
“I guess we aren’t having our after meeting party.” He looked around at the empty room. “Probably never again. Do you need to be anywhere?”
“Not really. We can have our own party. I need a drink. How about you?” She headed for the Juice bar.
“Scotch please, on the rocks. I’ll get the doors and the lights.”
Fifteen minutes later he had changed into a bathrobe and joined her in the eucalyptus room.
“That didn’t take long.” She handed him a full glass of scotch.
“Just when I get the routine down pat, it changes. It’s been the story of my life.”
“Tell me Luc, how’d you get promoted to head trainer? I know you got a cute butt but that’s a helluva responsibility in a short period of time.” She had lost some of the edge in her voice, but she was nowhere near resignation.
“I haven’t a clue Emma, except I completed the operating manual and passed it on to Connie. I guess, maybe Jimmy thinks I know what I’m talking about. I’m not the one they need to take charge. Not by a long shot. Carlos, in my opinion has the qualifications. I think Jimmy knows he can’t replace Billy Joe at Turtle Creek overnight.”
“And he’s not going to let a Mexican take the lead, it’d be bad for business. I’m like Carlos. I don’t want to move, but I don’t know what choice I have.”
“Couldn’t you just tell them you don’t want to or can’t move?”
“I’d be out the door in a minute. Replaced by somebody the members can drool over. You don’t know how hard it is for a black girl to get a job on the white side of the fence in Dallas.”
They sat silently for a spell breathing in the eucalyptus steam.
“Let’s move to the dry sauna.” She reached for Luc’s hand and pulled him up. “We’ve got a month to work it out, let’s enjoy this place while we can. I brought along some stash expecting we’d have our party. Unfortunately we have no one to share it with so we’ll just have to make do on our own.”
By the time they hit the Jacuzzi Luc had learned more about Emma’s background, and why the move was devastating. Her family had a history in East Texas that reached back to the 1800s, mostly around the north edge of Arlington. Her ancestors were part of the original freed colored population who settled in a community called Mosier Valley. That’s when the KKK began to establish itself in Dallas. By the end of the First World War white supremacy dominated, controlling the offices of the district attorney, the sheriff, the police commissioner, the police chief, and judges, as well as prominent doctors, lawyers, bankers, ministers, businessmen, and journalists throughout East Texas.
Emma’s parents broke free of the poverty of Mosier Valley and moved to South Dallas. The violence of the clan had faded by the time she was born but the aftermath of racial tension remained through the 50s and 60s. It wasn’t until Emma graduated in 1965, that her High School, Mansfield High was desegregated. Prior to that the Governor had transferred black students to Fort Worth and dispatched Texas Rangers to uphold the districts forced policy of segregation.
Emma was one of the students bussed from Dallas to Fort Worth. The scars of this hatred were real to Emma. She had to struggle hard to get to where she was—a head above the bottom level jobs available to most Mexicans and Colored in Dallas. She was lucky to be at the Ambassador and understood, in Jimmy’s eyes it was more her looks than her brains that got her the job. Emma had been at the Ambassador ever since graduating, and change was a scary thing for her.
“I can’t tell what the changes will bring,” Luc said, as they climbed out of the Jacuzzi, “but we can pull together and hopefully make good things happen.” When Emma stood up out of the water her skin glistened, and it reminded him of a bronze statue that needed to be touched to understand what the sculptor was after in molding such a beautiful piece. He wrapped the robe around her and they moved on to the locker room.
In the locker room, she stopped, turned to him, and dropped her robe. “I think we should leave these for Hoot in the morning.” Taking both of Luc’s hands she pulled him into the massage room. His resistance level was zero.
Luc was at the juice bar filling glasses with ice and scotch. Nightcaps before heading home. He watched her as she dressed. This he mused, was the real thing. The real thing, that is, minus one half of the equation—neither were capable of commitment.
The sky was just beginning to lighten when the cab picked her up. He stuck around and made sure lock down was complete, then walked to the apartment. Billy Joe pumped him for details but he didn’t elaborate, other than telling him Emma’s Arlington story, and that she was unhappy about the move.
He was keeping Emma to himself, for a while anyway. He was also doing what he had always done, distancing himself from a potential relationship. Growing up alone he had been able to build a wall that prevented anyone from getting too close, or penetrating the fear of loss. At the moment that wall had a few cracks in it.
On Monday, one by one the staff climbed the stairs to the lobby to get their marching orders from Connie. With a plastic sympathetic smile she assured everyone Jimmy would address all obstacles in the near future. No one knew what that meant and by the end of the week it didn’t matter. The only concerns Jimmy was interested in were those of the suits and his agenda. Leading up to opening day Luc and Carlos were to alternate a couple days a week over at the Arlington club. Connie would provide the transportation.
Jimmy came down to the edge of the gym floor with Connie to hand out the weekly paychecks. It was a first. He wanted to congratulate the staff for all their above and beyond service and informed them that if they work hard and make the opening a success they would be rewarded with knowing they were part of the finest Health Club in Texas.
Billy Joe followed the Pissant’s magnanimous bullshit briefing with an emergency call to party. Carlos was to bring Felicita and Emma and whatever stash he could muster to the apartment for 8 o’clock, after which they headed to Woody’s for pizza. Louella joined the party and all three couples were primed when they sat around a table. The group was highly animated over the negative direction their jobs were heading, when a tall blonde man in a sleeveless tee-shirt came up behind Luc, bent over and whispered in his ear.
“I remember asking you to join me in Dallas sometime, but didn’t think it would happen.”
Luc almost spilt his beer jumping up from the table and turning to face Adam. It was a bear hug worthy of Woody’s. The conversation around the table came to an abrupt halt. When the shock of meeting was over, Luc turned to the audience.
“Everybody I’d like you to meet an old friend of mine, Adam Ford.”
After introductions Adam and Luc touched on a few highlights of their relationship in Arkansas. Luc rolled back the clock feeling comfortable enough with his new found family to talk about enrolling in college in Arkansas after he was discharged from the Air Force. Adam was one of his teachers. They became friends.
Attending an off campus party someone had a joint, someone informed the cops, and everyone there got caught up in the net. Luc spent a few months in jail waiting on a circuit judge. He was kicked out of school, and was convicted of conspiracy to possess marijuana, just for being on the scene. He paid a fine and left Arkansas, ending up in Dallas.
Adam, it turned out, had a good lawyer and had the charges dropped, however his teaching days in Arkansas were over. He took off to California and spent a few weeks with his cousin in Venice Beach. It was an eye opener he confessed. His cousin was an outlandish gay cowboy from Texas, and in Santa Monica it was all acceptable. This gave Adam a positive outlook on his sexuality and he returned to Dallas.
After addresses and phone numbers were exchanged, Adam excused himself and blended back into the bar. The conversation returned to the immediate, but not before Louella commented on Adam.
“Why are all the good looking and smart guys gay—with the exception of present company of course?”
Nothing was figured out, and nothing was resolved, but they all came away from Woody’s knowing they were in it together and could count on supporting one another through the transition. Emma decided to catch a cab home with Carlos and Felicita. Luc would have liked for her to stay, but figured she had a lot on her mind and needed to take things slow and easy.
Back at the apartment, sitting around the kitchen table Louella took a long toke and summed it up from her perspective.
“They don’t give a shit whether it makes it hard on you guys to make the changes. It’s a business, and profit is the only thing they care about. You’re commodity.”
“I know that Louella, it’s all about memberships and Jumpin Jack be damned. If they’re not cycling in members there’s no new revenue. I think Jimmy’s in trouble financially and figures the Arlington club will bring in a shit load of signups at minimal expense, especially when it comes to labor costs. What do you think Luc?”
“My gut feeling tells me we’re all on a fast train going nowhere. You’d think management would have laid out a long term plan if this wasn’t just a scheme to make some fast money. I know I’m not qualified like you Billy Joe to be a head trainer. And besides, who am I being head trainer over? At this point it’s all me there and all you here, and Carlos and Emma in-between.”
Change for Luc was becoming part of the game now and going with the flow part of his vocabulary. Sometimes the lessons were hard, other times not so, and maybe someday, somewhere, he’d have a modicum of control over the end result. This move didn’t affect him as much as it did Carlos and Emma. Their travel time, cost of transportation, and no additional compensation added up to a real pain in the ass. Billy Joe’s workload was about to double overnight with new staff and longer hours without extra pay, and he was losing a team that worked together and made his job run smoothly.
They beat the dog until it couldn’t bark anymore. Billy Joe and Louella called it quits for the night and left Luc staring out the kitchen window mulling over the day’s events. It had been great meeting up with Adam. Who’d figure in a city as big as Dallas they’d run into one another. He was just developing a relationship with Emma and he had no idea how the move affected that.
Outside the street lights pooled on an empty stage. The Curtain had closed on act one in Dallas, and no one was clapping.
The Friday before the Arlington Grand Opening Emma joined Carlos, Luc and Connie in Jimmy’s office for an in-house meeting to assess their readiness and run over the playbook for the next day. Emma had spent the last four days training her replacement back at Turtle Creek, and she had called it right earlier—tits and ass pushing the juicers. Emma was in Arlington for the first time, and she was starting with an attitude she knew she had to suppress.
Jimmy’s Arlington office was a smaller replica of the one on Turtle Creek. It was complete with duplicates of his pictures and plaques, and a larger rendition of Jimmy standing beside Jumping Jack, both of them in their jumpsuits. Here everything was on one floor so there’d be no management standing at the window looking for clipboards. The staff all gathered in front of Jimmy’s desk waiting for instruction. As if anyone ever had a choice, he started the meeting with his usual.
“Glad you all could make it. First off I’d like to make a toast to all the effort gone into making this opening a reality.” He seemed to have lost the bravado tone that usually accompanied his dog and pony shows. Connie was at the juice bar pouring glasses of fruit juice out of a brand new Jack LaLanne juicer.
“Emma, you might as well start practicing. Fetch those drinks over here, and Connie Darling, show them Jack’s book.”
Connie picked up a stack of books from the bar and handed them out to everyone. With the book in one hand and a glass of juice in the other, his toast was not to the hard working souls in the room but to the hard copy of his hero’s book “Jack LaLanne’s Slim and Trim Diet and Exercise Guide.”
“Just published. Perfect for our opening. I expect the staff to sell one of these guides to every person who walks through our door. You can do it, I know you can.” He finished his juice and sat down at his desk. “Now Connie, you take our fine crew here and give them their marching orders. I expect it will be a grand weekend.” His expectations were greeted with silence.
The club was half the size of Turtle Creek and the amenities were geared more to the working stiff. There was only one of everything with the exception of the locker rooms. There was an alternating schedule for the men and women in the sauna and Jacuzzi. No plush bathrobes no expensive toiletries, no massage room, and no Hoot. Emma and Carlos were expected to clean up their respective locker rooms until such time as the membership reached some unknown number to warrant hiring more help. Laundry and sundry items were outsourced, picked up and replaced on a daily basis.
Connie had her own office near the front door and it doubled as a reception area. She was a respectable distance from the gym and the amenities. The trio’s marching orders were simple—make sure the place is presentable for tomorrow’s opening. They could close up and split whenever everything was ready and find their own way home, or wait for Connie to finish up and she’ll drive them back, which could be in a few hours. She’d pick them up at Turtle Creek first thing in the morning.
Emma had not had the pleasure of touring the building and after she and the boys had made their rounds, her first comment was, “It’s a whole lot smaller here and definitely not a place we could party in. With only two juice bars I guess I won’t have much fetchin’ to do.” She was still simmering over Jimmy’s fetch the juices remark.
“I’m glad you still have a sense of humor Emma.” They were standing by one of the juice bars. Luc checked the stock. “I already have two complaints—no Jack Daniels at the juice bars and no outside patio area. If we’re going to be stuck inside all day we’re going to have to get used to each other.”
“We’ll be bumping into one another on slow days.” Emma quipped.
“Doesn’t sound all that bad.” Carlos edged up behind her. “I don’t see any problem with bumping into you as long as Mr. Boss Man here is not in-between us.”
“What’s the word Carlos, do we go or stay?” Luc did not like the role of boss man.
Carlos had years of experience over him and should be leading this parade. They both knew why Jimmy didn’t give him the lead role—“I’m Tejano to that shitass,” Carlos had followed up on what Emma had previously told Luc, “you don’t get hired into a position of authority if you’re Colored or Mexican, like Emma and I, no matter what you know, or how good you are, at least not in Texas.”
Carlos looked around the gym. “The word is we can close up and split whenever everything is ready for mañana. Anyone want to stick around?” They were out the door in minutes and on a bus back to Dallas.
In the morning papers the big news was John Lennon and Yoko Ono planting two acorns in the grounds of Coventry Cathedral, one facing east, the other facing west. The planting was intended as symbolic of their meeting and love for one another. The Arlington Star-Telegram gave a mention to the opening of the new western location of the Ambassador Health Club, in the local news section on page 3—two paragraphs, no picture. The Grande Event was also edged out by the big story of Arlington’s Six Flags theme park, a stone’s throw away from the club, pushing two million visitors.
The whole weekend was a washout. Besides raining all night Friday and into the morning it hit 98 by noon on Saturday. It was a sauna outside. No one needed to come into the club for that amenity. A few potential members showed up to share Jimmy’s juices. A couple reporters dropped in and dropped out. Jimmy couldn’t give Jack’s book away. Somebody forgot to inform Jimmy that in the middle of June, on Saturday afternoon, most parents in Arlington were around the corner at Six Flags with their kids celebrating the start of summer holidays, or heading for the nearest lake.
In the hot Texas summer, bending elbows with a bottle of Lone Star and flipping hamburgers on the Barbie was all the exercise most residents wanted on the weekends. The sales department, minus Bum, a no show for the opening, was needless to say, bummed out. It was management, Jimmy and Connie’s responsibility to promote the Club in the community, and for whatever reason, it didn’t happen. Luc, Emma, and Carlos lounged around the gym, pigging out on the chicharrón’s and hot sauce Connie had catered for the event. They tuned out the cat fight that went on behind Jimmy’s closed door.
The heat wave continued through Sunday and by mid-afternoon there was a stifling silence through-out the Arlington club. That is until Bum showed up and turned up the heat in Jimmy’s office. A red faced Connie was the first one to surface from the office and she informed the staff they were to close up for the day. Bum was returning to Dallas and would give everyone a ride. She retreated to her lair and slammed the door shut.
Bum was unusually quiet on the way back to Dallas. Rock and Roll filled the space in the Big Pink. It was okay because his passengers were dead tired hanging around and doing nothing for two days. They were also numb over what had just transpired. Bum dropped Luc off at the apartment before driving Emma and Carlos home.
The relentless heat wave didn’t help business considering neither Club had a swimming pool. Arlington saw no improvement in memberships. It wasn’t just the newness of the franchise, Turtle Creek also saw a drop in members coming through the door, and the money flowing into everybody’s pocket was bad news all around for Jimmy. With the cash flow becoming a problem Connie became the hatchet. She had to let part-time staff go and schedule full-time to pick up the slack.
There were no happy campers in either club. At the end of June, Jimmy’s decision to temporarily close the Arlington Club on weekends in order to save on payroll and operating costs made no sense to anyone. There was reprieve for full-time staff, Luc and Emma were back covering Saturday at Turtle Creek, and Carlos opening and closing on Sunday.
Luc found Sunday morning breakfast as something special he could get used to. Emma began staying over Saturday nights. Getting used to something, however, was never in the cards. Billy Joe and Louella joined them for breakfast and announced Louella would be moving in.
Ever since he met up with Adam, Luc had been thinking about trying to re-instate his G.I. Bill in order to someday return to college. Being kicked out of college had meant the end of Uncle Sam’s paycheck, however, Texas was military heaven for providing veteran services, and he thought, just maybe the problem could be resolved in Dallas. He had called Veterans Affairs, and they indicated recertification was a possibility, but he’d have to undergo a series of psychological testing in order to assess his state-of-mind. He didn’t think he was a menace to society, and figured he could fake the military requirement of having to kill someone. Luc managed to weasel a day off from Connie and take his psychological test—the results were to be made available sometime in the future.
On Friday Luc was closing down the Arlington Club and went to check in with Connie on the ride home. She was nowhere to be found in the reception area, and approaching Jimmy’s office, he hesitated at the partially opened door. He could hear Connie urging someone to calm down. The next voice overheard was Bum’s. He was telling her, in no uncertain terms, he’d calm down when Pissant came through with the money. People were lining up, and he’d be in a shitload of trouble if he didn’t anti-up soon. Luc jumped aside as Bum barged out of the office. Bum pulled up short in front of him.
“Hello kid, been meaning to catch up with you. What say we go for a pizza after work tomorrow? You still working Saturday at the Creek?”
“Can’t tomorrow got plans.” He was thinking of one last evening with Emma before Louella moved in. How about Sunday?”
“Good for me. Woody’s is right around the corner from your place, we’ll meet there, let say 5 o’clock.” Before Luc could acknowledge, Bum was out the front door. Hoot would have said he was ‘agger-vated.
“What the hell’s that all about?” Connie demanded as she stepped out of the office, shutting and locking Jimmy’s door behind her. “Are you looking for something?” She could be intimidating.
He moved back, jangling a ring of keys, “Making the rounds, closing up. Bum just wants to catch up for a pizza.”
“I suggest you be careful,” she snapped. “I’ll be in the parking lot. Don’t make me wait long or you’ll be walking home.”
Sunday was moving-in day for Louella and she arrived late morning. The back seat and trunk of her 1960 Valiant was jammed with clothes and whatever. She had been sharing a furnished apartment with Roxy who was taking off to more lucrative pastures in Houston. After Luc and Billy Joe helped her unpack they all headed for a restaurant in Little Mexico for lunch. Carlos and Felicita were to join them after Carlos finished opening the Club. The conversation inevitably moved to work and the general malaise everyone felt. Luc told of overhearing the conversation between Connie and Bum. They all agreed something was coming down and it didn’t look good. They were not surprised by Carlos’s revelation.
“I’m not taking any more of the pendejada. Felicita and I are getting married and I’m going back to work with my father. We have a family grocery store and filling station, and he has given his approval for the marriage if I come back to work with him. I’ll give Pissant his two weeks’ notice then he can go fuck himself.” Pendejada Luc learned meant bullshit and it just got deeper for all of them with Carlos off the job.
After a couple pitchers of frozen margarita’s Luc headed off to Woody’s. Bum was sitting at the bar by himself. Right off Luc told him of Carlos abandoning ship, and how the rest of the staff felt about the turn of events.
“Damn right you’ll be left holding the bag, and don’t expect compensation.” He downed the last of his Jack Daniels, stood up from the bar and looked around. “Let’s move on and get some real pizza, this place makes me nervous.”
Luc couldn’t imagine anything making Bum nervous, but then again Bum was a Texan, and it was a gay bar. Campisi’s Egyptian Restaurant on Mockingbird Lane was dark and dimly lit. One of the two brothers who started the restaurant in the 40s was said to be a capo in the Dallas crime family. Campisi’s was another of Bum’s favorite places and as with The Cellar, he was the visiting VIP. All the tables along the side walls were lit with Bankers lamps with green alabaster glass shades. A waitress led them to a discreet table that could have had Bum’s name on it. They were the only patrons. After ordering he started right in giving Luc a rundown on the situation as he saw it. Or at least what he wanted to share.
“The Club’s in a heap of shit.” He looked around the room giving his statement an air of suspense. “I gather you kids have figured out things are about to change?”
“Well, as I heard Hoot say once, I don’t know whether to check my ass or scratch my watch. I’m not sure what’s going on, but you’re right Bum, we’re all aware change is in the wind. Connie’s not forthcoming about anything, and Jimmy just keeps himself holed up in one office or the other.”
“Actually it’s the other way around. The saying is check my watch or scratch my ass. We’ll make a Texan out of you yet. It’s a good thing he’s holed up in the office. You won’t have to put up with the asshole for long. I like you kid and I don’t want that mudsill to get the best of you, so some background and advice. Right now Pissant is as nervous as a cat in a room full of rockin chairs. The gentlemen who control most of the private clubs, liqueur distribution, prostitutes, gay bars and gambling in Dallas have investments in some legitimate operations such as City Hall and Health Clubs. The Ambassador has been slipping behind in its return on investment for some time now. It’s one of the reasons why I went to work for the Club, to protect certain party investments. I did well at first trying to boost the membership, but somehow the profits seemed to get sucked up in one of Pissant and Connie Darling’s Juicers.”
Without Bum having ordered, the waitress brought an aperitif of prosecco, sparkling water and Campari to the table. Bum waited until she left and then continued.
“Somehow the money doesn’t add up, so he gets the bright idea with outside investors, to open the Arlington Club. These outside investors are from Jumping Jacks California business interests. Jimmy’s thinking is he can attract the Fort Worth crowd and sign up a shitload of members. New membership is where the big money is—repeats are pocket change in the business. Obviously, as you know, nothing’s happening, at least not fast enough. Now Jimmy’s much further in debt and his investors would like Mr. Jack LaLanne’s protégé to shit or get off the pot.”
The pizza landed quietly on the table. Bum indicated another round of drinks, then picking up a slice, savoring it for a moment to catch the aroma, he captured it in his mouth and slowly devoured it.
“The best pizza this side of Chicago. Dig in while it’s still hot.” Luc didn’t think it would last long enough to cool down.
Bum had revealed more information than Luc could comfortably assimilate. “I appreciate the background Bum, but where do I fit into all this? I’m just trying to make a living, like Billy Joe and Carlos, and this stuff is well out of my league—our league.”
“You don’t fit in. Neither does Billy Joe, Carlos, Emma or any of the other staff. This is chess Dallas style. You kids are pawns. My advice to you kid, and your buddies, is fish or cut bait,” he finished devouring another slice of pizza, “and none of you are fishermen.”
Bum filled him in on more of the restaurant’s history and the brothers who ran it. And the rest of the time he talked about the upcoming ninth season of the Dallas Cowboys. He was betting on Tom Landry and Don Meredith taking the team to Super Bowl III. He had ignored talking about the Ambassador Club again until he dropped Luc off at the apartment. Rolling down the driver’s window of the Big Pink, he landed a bombshell.
“One last thing kid. If I were you I’d copper my bets and be thinking about another occupation before the shit hits the proverbial fan. And by the way, I’m no longer officially affiliated with the Ambassador Health Club. You have my number. Give me a call if you need anything.”
Bum put the pedal to the floor and left Luc, again standing on the curb, wondering, what the hell.
To be continued Sunday Dec 27
A LONG WAY FROM NOWHERE is available on both Amazon and Kindle at John Thomas Dodds Author Page Reviews appreciated