He says, "My wife programmed Sirhan Sirhan, but that bitch can't make me do the dishes."
I refresh his vodka rocks on the house. Gotta admire a man with resistance, whether it's to reality or brainwashing.
Sticks Sullivan and Ottis Duchamp saunter in a predictable hour late. Instead of asking for one of their moldy excuses I just inquire as to drinks. Neither of the two ever swallow the same booze twice. Singapore Sling for Sticks and though at first Ottis can't decide between a Grovschpol Cocktail or a Melon Splash, he eventually settles on both. The two mutter some kind of unintelligible cheers before making their way to the band stand. I always wish I could make it out, a voodoo luck chant Duchamp's aunt taught him, though I can't really say what kind of luck it's ever bought the two.
I call out, "Where's Dodger?"
Without looking at me Sticks says, "Dodger is dodging a warrant. Ain't gonna see him for a while."
Ottis adds, "Fucked a cop's wife, so the angry pig pinned some bullshit on him."
Sticks sez, "Damn fool would only do a month, but the junkie bitch that he is he's worried about getting clean by accident."
I say, "That might be for the best."
Ottis says, "Health wise maybe, but it's his guitar playing he's worried about. Says he's in a balanced whatchamuhcallit, state of mind or something. He said something specific" -- snaps his fingers to spark his memory, eventually decides to hell with recollection and just says -- "He's in the zone. Hell, that man needs to learn to be more casual with his dope, ya feel me?"
The two get the drums and piano set up, and as Ottis loosens his fingers with a light dance across the ivory Sticks warms himself with a bit of tap-tap-tappity-tap. Not long after they get cooking like they're playing for a packed house of doe eyed ladies, and savvy aficionados. Even with Dodger the band is no Deland Moran and the Vista Cruiser Honky Tonk, but they do. Better than the goddamn jukebox thumping out gibberish. At least people can still talk to one another, though no one in here has much to say. Tuesday nights are for pro drinkers practicing for the weekend bender.
Without fail, near a half hour into the set, Ottis's ex-wife, Sherry, slips in through the side door. She sneaks into a shadowy booth, sitting with her back to the band stand, so there isn't a chance Ottis can see her. She holds up three fingers, and I know what to bring her. I pour a shot of Mescal, fix up a dirty martini with blue cheese olives, the olives kept in a special box just for her, then collect a joint Mitch leaves in a Tibetan skull by the gin. He rolls this one special for her. I've got no idea what's in it, but the clouds she exhales twist into panoramic vistas like windows into other worlds. I set all three in front of her lined up in a row. She thanks me with her throaty coffee voice, and tips me with a wink of her smolder eyes. Pam Grier wishes she ever looked this good.
I ask her if there's anything else she needs.
She bobs her head, "A little company would be nice."
This is a first. She gestures, so I slide into the opposite side.
Sticks starts cha-chinging a fresh tune. Never heard this one before, far as I can tell.
Sherry says, "How you been Danny boy?"
She smiles, and I can't tell if she's flashing fangs or being foxy. Either way, I turn down her offer of weed -- kindly. Seems safer to stay grounded. Though the view through the window is a black and white forest out of a fairy tale; trees grown into a thick tangle letting only a few eerie shafts of light brave their way to the forest floor, the shadows populated by peering eyes, some predatory others curious, and a few fearful, though there's no way to tell if any of the gazers are human, or animal, or other...
"Sorry. What did you say? I was somewhere else."
She cocks an eyebrow, "Heard you and Lisa split up."
I wave it off, "That's old news. She left months ago."
"You over it?"
"As over it as anyone could be. She was one of a kind."
Sherry chuckles, "It's a wonder you held onto her as long as you did."
"Luck of the Irish."
She licks her thumb and forefinger, snuffs out of the joint half way through then tucks the remnants in her purse. Eying me over her martini she says, "It was more than that. You were good to her, but she was a gypsy at heart. No one can hold onto that girl. But because you understand a man should appreciate when he's got something special I've got a proposition for you."
I throw out a little Triumph, "Lay it on the line."
Sherry grins, "Well, I don't want to waste your time, so here's the gist. After the show Ottis is going to need something for his nerves."
I cut in, "What's wrong with his nerves?"
"He's going to see me."
"Have you looked at me in this dress?"
"I could light a cigarette off you."
The tune is a jazzy number, much more upbeat than the usual gloom Sticks and Duchamp feed the room. I like it. At one point I think I hear a trumpet, though there's no trumpet player.
Waving a hand to clear the air, drift away from the contact high, I ask, "When his nerves get jangled how's he going to calm them down?"
Sherry reaches into her purse. She tosses a small packet of powder over.
I've known Ottis long enough to make a safe guess as to the contents. Plus, I know who I am, or maybe should say was, who Sherry wants me to be again: "I'm guessing that's heroin."
Sherry says, "Among other things."
Probably an assortment of cleaning powders.
"I feel the need to ask..."
Sherry lights a cigarette, "Once upon a time Ottis got himself twisted. I don't really know what on, but he went right out of his head. He held me down on the pool table over there, and tried to carve 'my girl' into my stomach, only he didn't do so well, and ended up cutting a bunch of unintelligible slices -- junkie gibberish that only made sense to him."
"That's awful." I glance at the bar because I can't keep looking into her eyes. She's beaming a stream of daggers.
"If you don't believe me I can show you the scars."
I hold up a hand, "No need."
"Mitch saw the whole thing."
"Why didn't he stop it?"
"Oh he did, except he was in the basement at the time, counting bottles, so he ran in to save the day just a little too late. He popped Ottis in the mouth then while Mitch was seeing to me the rotten motherfucker ran off into the night. Laughing."
I pick up the packet, slip it into a shirt front pocket, "I'm surprised Mitch didn't kill him."
Sherry chews on an olive, speaking between bites she says, "He wanted to -- where do you think the skulls over the bar came from? -- but I told him no. I said I wanted to do it myself." -- out of her purse comes a mean looking revolver that she sets on the table as she continues, "I come here every time he's playing, but I can never get myself to do it."
"Murder isn't easy."
"The killing part isn't what stops me. It's the getting caught I've got a problem with."
"Fair enough." -- I give her hand a light squeeze as I get up.
She lifts a finger against my wrist. Her touch is enough to hold me in place while she asks, "You'll do it?"
"Come by tomorrow, and I'll let you know."
Sherry puts the gun away. She says, "Thanks. Either way, you're one of the good ones Danny boy."
She leaves, her body throwing out hooks snagging every eye in the place. Ottis plinks a series of sours notes, stops playing all together, and Sticks has to hiss at him to start playing again. Mission accomplished, Sherry. I go back to the bar.
The rest of the evening Ottis delivers a series of ear slapping notes which after twenty minutes have him throwing up his hands, and leaving the stage. Sticks decides to round out the set with a little impromptu jazzy solo, with any luck make it seem like nothing is wrong. This is all part of the act.
Hanging onto an empty corner of the bar Ottis signals for me. It isn't subtle. I walk over, "What can I do for you?"
Ottis whispers, "Hey man, I know you said you don't do this anymore, but I was wondering if you know anybody can hook me up with some H? I got a number from Dodger, but nobody's answering, and I need something double quick."
Folding my arms across my chest, "Maybe. What's this all about?"
Ottis grinds his teeth, "Goddamn ex-wife just walked through here looking like the cure for limp dick. Bitch left me for no good reason, always saying I how never apologized. Apologize for what? I never did anything to her... not on purpose, ya feel me?"
There's a sweaty look in his eyes that's more than dope desperation. Have a ten year old kid clock a homerun right through the living room TV, and the same look will pop up; the eyes of someone who knows they did wrong hoping beyond reason reality isn't what it is.
Patting him on the shoulder I say, "Ottis, today is your lucky day." -- I pull out the packet Sherry gave me -- "This here never fails to change things."
Though I leave out whether I mean for better or worse.