Bill Dekker ladies and gentleman. Those were the last words I heard him say. Then he was gone, and some time later a box showed up on my doorstep. Supposedly full of his ashes, I regarded the box as the end of an era. No more late night phone calls demanding the location of gypsy camps in the greater Chicago area. The end of all marathon bar crawls -- 17 hours to the finish line; fewer weekends swimming through a blackout. The knock at the door would never again result in a black bag being thrust over my head, the sting of a stun gun, and waking up in a rural Illinois weed field as collateral for a massive buy... part of me wasn't sorry to see it all end.
And considering the unpleasant side of Bill, the side that once kidnapped his nephew to teach him a lesson about weirdos in panel vans, I started to see a different take on the box of ashes.
Edward asked, "You're sure this is your friend?"
I nodded, "Oh yeah. Which inspires me to wonder, why do you call him the Red Hurricane?"
Y shrugged, "I heard it's because he's as destructive as a hurricane, one raining blood."
Edward said, "My informant in the Kellys told me he named himself. One night he drank a shot of blood, spit it into the air, and just started laughing, insisting they call him the Red Hurricane from there on out."
I shook my head. Bill always had a zest for reinvention. He didn't like to lie, but he did enjoy twisting the old into something new. Folding my arms across my chest I related the real origin of the bloody nickname.
About three years ago Bill, myself, and a few buddies went down to a joint called Shift. Now, every city bar that's downtown will attempt some gimmick to lure customers. From the simplicity of neon shamrocks and sexy bartenders to live bands to encyclopedic booze options, few watering holes last without pageantry. Shift took a unique approach. Every few months the interior theme changed. In one year Shift went from being a lounge to a pirate bar followed by an office space complete with cubicles acting as tables. After being a cowboy bar full of wooing girls in appropriate hats, Shift went for a Tiki theme. To this day I have no idea what inspired these transformations, yet it compelled us to visit the spot with some regularity, so I'm inclined to call it a success. On this particular evening the drink specials centered around titanic daiquiris. Ten dollars for an icy beverage large enough to drown a small child, or as Bill put it, "We could kill some midgets with these things then drink outta their tiny skulls like barbarian kings." Technically, the volcano shaped container doubled as a pitcher, so patrons were encouraged to share this massive drink. Not Bill, nor I if the truth must be told.
Over the course of the evening we drained several volcanoes. However, on certain occasions Bill lacks patience. I take drinking as a long term endeavor. There's no need to speed chug. The booze will do its job given the opportunity. Bill sometimes felt it necessary to drink as if he were taking on the speed of light. Normally, he lost this challenge, and would settle into a more sane pace as the night went on, but this night he seemed to be on a mission.
In two hours I watched him consume $150 worth of 60 ounce volcanoes full of strawberry daiquiri. I will never forget Bill Dekker awkwardly climbing onto a table in the middle of Shift. Atop the makeshift platform he hollered, "Attention! There's a storm uh comin'!" He then proceeded to spin, and like some kind of horrifying sprinkler he sprayed red vomit in every direction. I managed to duck under our table. Our friends were not so lucky.
His stomach empty, the puked upon crowd staring in silent shock, Bill stopped spinning. Surveying the room, he laughed, "Looks like a red hurricane hit this tropical paradise."
A variety of nicknames followed -- Mother Nature's Period, the Devil's Sprinkler, the Daiq-orcist -- but the only one that stuck was the Red Hurricane.
Edward regarded the story for a moment before remarking, "This changes my opinion of things."
There are many decisions in life I regret. Most of them involve little events which seem more important than they perhaps are in the grand scheme of things. For some reason none of the grand moments in my life have been any cause for lamentation. My choices at the forks in the road have never caused me to look back, yet tinier options haunt me. Should I have asked out that beautiful woman in front of her husband? Was it necessary to set that car on fire because the cable was out? There may have been no need to get extra cheese on my pizza, though perhaps, instead, I'd end up regretting not getting it.
Deciding to walk into the Kellys' HQ, a tavern called The Side Door, will never be a regret. There are questions in life which require answers. Those answers don't always come easily, but they must be sought out. Granted, it's not necessarily the best idea to down three or four long islands before seeking certain answers. However, Ulysses S. Grant was a drunk.
"What's that got to do with anything?" Y asked.
"I'm just saying. He drank a lot, and still won the Civil War. So just keep that in mind."
Y nodded slowly, "Oookay. You do remember why we're doing this. Right?"
Finishing the last of my long island pint I said, "Assuming the Red Hurricane is in fact my friend Bill Dekker, and I'm sure it is a fact, we're going to use that friendship so you can get close enough to kill him."
Y said, "And you're fine with that?"
"Totally fine." And I was because I thought I'd be able to convince Bill to leave town. I figured if I could get the Red Hurricane to at least leave Beecher's Hollow there'd be no need to kill him.
I didn't know what was going on, but this wasn't him. Kingpin of crime did not mesh with the image of Bill Dekker in my mind. Speakeasy style bootlegger maybe, but not emperor of terror controlling a criminal empire. Frankly, he didn't have the discipline I assumed one needs to operate such an enterprise.
I scanned the room without an subtlety. Still no sign of Bill, so I asked, "How long we been here?"
"Too long," Y said.
I agreed, at which point I climbed onto the bar, turned to face the few patrons, and shouted, "Which of you pigfuckers is the Red Hurricane?" A low, decidedly unfriendly murmur went through the room. I said, "He's about this tall, but you'd never know it because he's always bent over something getting a fist up his ass." A beer bottle sailed past my face.
"I think you got their attention," Y said.
She added, "If things go wrong, you're on your own."
At the back of the bar a door flew open. From out of the basement stepped Bill Dekker. I've seen calmer bulls at the rodeo. When he locked eyes on me he started laughing, "It's about time." Before I could ask what he meant he said, "Everybody this is a good friend of mine from back home. So don't break every bone in his body." A trio of men who looked like they could frighten steel into melting advanced on me. Bill shouted, "Hold on. I'm just fucking around."
I jumped down off the bar to shake his hand, "Welcome back from the dead."
He slapped me in the face, "That's for taking so long."
I said, "What are you talking about?"
Bill shook his head, "You get a box full of my ashes, and it takes you this long to come down here for revenge. If it was a box full of you I'd've been here the day before I got the fucking box."
And I know from experience Bill really meant what he said. Not hyperbolically, literally. He literally believed his quest for vengeance would involve time travel, and yet somehow this in no way meant traveling in back time to save my life.
He shouted to the bartender, "Jonesy, lock this place up. We're having a private party."
Bill continued, "So he grabs the microphone from the band's singer, and says, 'April, Neil this has been a fantastic wedding. You guys make a great looking couple...'"
I interrupted, "Do not finish this story."
"Ignore him," Y said delighted.
Bill went on, "So anyway, 'stead of endin' on a classy high note, he keeps talkin' and says, 'But April there's always been this sexual tension between us you've insisted on denying, so I'm asking one last time you wanna get a drink and see where the night takes us?' That's when Neil, April's newly wed husband, gets up and shouts, 'Who invited you?'"
I recounted my response, "'I invited myself!'"
Y slow clapped.
I said, "It seemed romantic at the time."
Bill laughed, "Like you're the fucking king of romance."
"Don't start, Billy. I know a few things about you Red Hurricane."
Grinning, Bill said, "You don't know anything about here and now."
Bill arrived via alcoholically teleported -- one minute shooting whiskey in Chicago, the next stepping off the train in Beecher's Hollow. After years of wanting to come he'd finally arrived. However, he knew better than to flat out believe in urban legends. So he went to the first bar he could find, and ordered an actual bucket full of beer. The bartender scoffed, "Sorry pal, we don't do that here. You can go to Slop House if you like, but I, uh, can do you one better," and proceeded to deposit a small barrel next to Bill with a hose running into it. For ten dollars, Bill could suck on the barrel all night. Regardless of how it sounded, Bill told me he got down on his knees, and wept as he thanked god for delivering him unto the promised land. Here the hookers knew how to make it seem like they were really your girlfriend, the drugstore sold over the counter chewable opiates (from children to adult strength), an ocean of booze being drained in the hope to treasures lay at the bottom of the sea, and he was here to experience it all.
He never had any intention of leaving. Yet, a prolonged stay soon resulted in certain necessities. For one, he needed a source of income. Although a person can buy anything with anything in Beecher's Hollow -- I myself had already witnessed a man pay his exorbitant tab by chopping off his ring finger -- the prospect of getting another nine to five left a sour taste in Bill's mouth. So he turned to one of his few true passions. Poker games weren't hard to find, but the real money dwelled in the back alley games, where the shadow kings of Beecher's Hollow gathered. No tourist is ever invited to them, but Bill Dekker is, if nothing else, good at getting what he wants. Discontent to battle for beer money, Bill wanted a mountain of cash to sustain him for a prolonged period of time. So he found one of the more mythic poker games. Y was surprised a tourist could charm his way into such a competition, but I wasn't. I knew Bill was leaving out a detail or two to make himself sound more silver tongued. In all likelihood, he probably bet his life to get a seat.
The game went on for hours. Bill held his own. During one hand the pot contained 36 thousand dollars, two human hearts, the Boston Symphony orchestra, and keys to every building in Albuquerque. At one point tempers flared, and Bill watched a woman named Lydia O'Bannon shoot a man for cheating. The man fell across the table, his dead eyes fixed on Bill. According to the rules of the game the man's corpse therefore constituted his final bet. All his remaining chips went into play alongside his body.
Only Bill bet against him. This didn't sit well with the others. If the man's final hand lost that meant his body belonged to Bill. As a matter of decorum everyone folded so the deceased could be returned to whatever constituted family. Bill won, but he donated the body to the man's kin to avoid any unpleasantness. More importantly, the exact limits of what a person could do in Beecher's Hollow were slowly sinking in.
One of the players, admiring Bill's tactful compassion, invited him to drinks at The Side Door. The man in question turned out to be James Roark, a Kelly lieutenant.
"Anyhow," Bill said, "I fell in with the Kellys. Started doin' what I wanted when I wanted, and one, two, three here I am, king of the mountain."
I said, "That all sounds fantastic. Tell me about the one, two, and three."
Bill sighed, "This place isn't like back home. It's what we always wanted." -- We? -- "You can do anything you want here. There are no fucking consequences. I shot a guy on the street the other day, and everybody was just like fuck that's his problem."
"What do you mean by we? I don't remember pining for a murder paradise."
Bill laughed, "That's cuz you still got the old mind running. You're worried about getting into trouble for shit. Trust me, no one judges you here. Except for maybe being a tourist, but you cut out enough eyes people stop calling you that." Before I could respond Bill said, "Look we used to talk about living somewhere a man could do whatever he wanted. This is that place."
I considered my words carefully, "This place is insane -- no offense Y..."
"No, I agree."
"... and I think it makes people crazy the longer they're here."
Folding his arms across his chest Bill said, "You think I'm crazy."
Still careful with my words, "You seem to have gone over the edge just a bit. So I think you and I should leave town before you become an irrevocably twisted monster."
An eyelid twitched. Bill put on a smile too fake to be sincere. Leaning forward he growled, "If you're not here to join the party, what are you doing here?"
I tried to tell him the story, but he cut me off after the ashes arrived, "I sent you those expecting you to come down here not pussy out. I thought it'd be hilarious, you bursting in here looking for revenge only to find me still kicking. Tell me that's not funny."
"What made you think I'd come flying down here on a quest for vengeance?"
"Cuz you've always had my back. Remember that brawl in The Mirage?"
I nodded, "As I recall you started a bar fight because you were bored, and I had to fight my way out of there or else get my ass handed to me."
"Come on. You make it sound like you didn't have my back."
The scowl that came across his face will always haunt my dreams. Watching a person realize many of their memories aren't telling the story they want is unsettling. It's witnessing the death of a reality. I was watching Bill's epiphany we might not be the close friend he believed us to be.
He snapped his fingers. Y and I were grabbed from behind by a squad of goons. Bill shook his head, "The death of a friendship is always tragic." He said, "Put 'em in the basement." -- glaring at me -- "Then call the Tanner."
The way Y started kicking and screaming I could tell the Tanner meant something terrible. However, Bill's goons carried us off without breaking a sweat. They threw us down the stairs then locked the door.
Y immediately ran around the basement, peering behind every crate, banging on any window.
"We gotta get out of here," she said. She sounded panicked. Whatever could make her nervous made me terrified.
"Do I have to ask?"
Still searching for some way out, she said, "The Tanner skins people. Alive. When he isn't being paid to do it, he does it for fun. Nuff said?"
"Too much said."