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Hatful of Pain
Hatful of Pain   Chapter 5


"Where did Mr. Gillis go?" Richard asked. "And to what do we owe the pleasure of your company tonight?"

"You wanna know why we're here?" Mungo said. "Well, I wanna know why anyone's here? They should be across the street listening to the Four Maldehydes."

The night Bill and I visited the Stagger Back Inn, it seemed to us that if the Four Maldehydes didn't go out of business it would be only because nobody noticed they were ever in business. They were ignored despite strutting around wearing white leather Pampers over black Spandex tights and snarling at the audience. One Maldehyde had painted a slit on his throat with musical notes dripping down like blood. Another tried to eat his microphone.

Mungo's laugh, too loud for indoor use, finally died. He wriggled his fingers at Petey, a pleasant waitress who'd worked at the Lobster over ten years and was confused in demeanor except when waitressing. Petey hesitated, then saw Richard and started over. When she reached the table, marinating in perfume that smelled like fruit salad, she said, "Hi, Mungo. May I help you?"

Petey knows Mungo?

"Sure, babe, you can help me. Tell me why your phone's always busy."

Petey lifted her chin. "After my first date with you, I took my phone off the hook."

"It's been over a month."

"Small price to pay."

Mungo glared at her. "You can't talk to customers like that!"

"You're right." Petey tossed her hair. "Sorry. Can I get you anything? Beer? Wine? Rabies shot?"

Mungo all but came out of his seat. "Scotch. No tap water in it this time." He blew her a big sloppy kiss, stuck out his tongue and wiggled it. "Stick it where I remember how much you like it, bitch." He cupped his hands in front of his chest and moved them back and forth. I assumed he was not indicating Petey had an arthritic condition.

Even in the darkened bar, Petey's blush was visible. Mungo and The Rat howled and gave every impression that these were the moments they lived for.

Richard made a fist and told Petey to skip the drink. He looked at Mungo and held one thumb up in an exaggerated version of an umpire's "you're out!" sign.

Mungo leaned back in casual defiance.

Richard nodded towards the kitchen. Chas Blat was rounding the corner, his massive bulk jiggling in remembrance of calories past. Chas's white marble scars, aglow under the fluorescent lighting, made the scars of Frankenstein's monster look like cosmetic surgery.

The Rat, about to slurp another swig of beer, dropped the bottle as if it had been shot out of his hand.

"When did he get out of prison?"

"Do you expect to be moving along now," Richard said, "or would you both like to wake up with your asses sewn to your faces?"

"If your goon touches me," The Rat said, "I'll take you to court and take every cent you have."

Richard laughed. "You can reach into my pockets and do that."

The Rat blinked rapidly. Twice. As if sand had blown in his face. "Then," he said in a voice too shaky to have conviction, "then I'll call the police."

Richard leaned forward. "If there is anything you'd like to tell the police, I suggest you jot it down now, before Chas hits you."

Chas was fifteen feet away and closing. Mungo and The Rat vacated the booth in all haste.

* * *

Lester swaggered across the dance floor with his fox fur coat draped over his arm as the fourth set started.

Since the crowd's mood grew somber as the evening wore on, much of our fourth set was blues. Richard played melodies that sounded like somebody crying. Ann interlaced the melodies with slow, sad sax riffs, and Bill picked his bass, wincing as though tearing each note from his chest.

Near the end of the set, Ann drifted across the stage. Her effect on men in the audience was unanimous: heads moved in a synchronized turn that would've made a chorus line proud.

"Let me introduce the band," she said low into the mike. "On keyboards, the owner of the Lobster--Richard Tipton."

Richard jumped into his B. B. King-gone-mad finale, tearing through blues riffs on three banks of synths. The crowd cheered.

"On drums--Dudley Mack."

Dudley began his solo, playing the snare slightly ahead of the bass drum for a driving beat. He twirled his sticks in the air and: BOMP chaka chaka chaka BOMP!

"On bass guitar--Bill Baker."

My brother stepped into the spotlight, his mane of golden hair rippling as he jammed into a viciously crisp bass solo.

"Rhythm guitar--Clark Baker."

While Bill flew the Cobra, raining leaflets over the audience, I improvised. As I hit my final lick, Bill deftly landed the Cobra at my feet.

I went to the microphone and introduced Ann. She stepped forward and started a melody. As she played, a murmur swept through the room in a rising wave. Moving toward the stage was a beefy, purple-haired young man, his face blood-red with anger. Behind Purple Hair, pushing him forward, were two equally angry young men. Crumpled in Purple Hair's right fist were the pamphlets I'd put by the door. As he pushed forward, the crowd parted in front of him, their voices stilled in anticipation of trouble. This must have been what Corky wanted to warn us about.

When Purple Hair reached the stage, Bill went over to meet him--to push him back from the stage, I thought, but instead he helped him climb up. As Purple Hair brushed past me, one of the buttons on his jacket snagged my guitar strings and made a sound not unlike a chicken caught in a vacuum cleaner. He grabbed my mike from its stand.

"The Bible tells us in Genesis 1:27 that God created man in His image!" Purple Hair proceeded to "shame" the audience with a rousing sermon that imitated budget television evangelism, getting boos and applause in equally frenzied parts.

"Psalms 8:6 tells us man has dominion over all other things. And in Hebrews 7:25, God told people to sacrifice animals for their sins."

Animal-rights supporters, about half the audience, howled their protest. Applause burst from a dozen or so other people.

Purple Hair shredded pamphlet after pamphlet, tossing the scraps high into the air, where they drifted down like confetti. As he preached and tore pamphlets, the applause grew as if the crowd thought turning against the band was part of the evening's entertainment. A steadily growing number targeted us with beer bottles, beer nuts, the baby Jesus from the nativity scene, and a leather Army boot. Within moments the Lobster looked like a terrorist training camp.

A fight broke out in front of Bill and me. Hoover retreated, bumping blindly into a speaker before threading his way between two amps.

There was some poetry in the melee: one man was thrown clear across the room, spinning and staggering and flailing with his arms, while three men dove swanlike out of the way.

Chas came striding around the corner, his heavy head moving like a wrecker's ball. When Purple Hair saw him, he vaulted down from center stage. Too late. Chas collared him, then dragged him wrenching and squirming toward the door.

The crowd kept pressing in on us.

Dudley jumped up from his stool, tapped loudly on his boom mike, and pointed at Purple Hair. "There, ladies and gentlemen, goes the president of Fluke's fan club." Most of the crowd turned to look. Some laughed. The intervals between the sounds of bottles and glasses exploding around us lengthened, like popcorn almost finished popping. "Our Pres just wants to keep us from getting too big for our britches. He's afraid if we get famous, he'll get famous too, and someone will publish those nude photos of him." Dudley laughed his infectious laugh and the crowd laughed, shattering the hostility of the moment.

Before the crowd could work its fury back up, Richard spread timbres across octaves, building an enormous layered crescendo. Instead of pressing forward, the crowd swayed with the music, back and forth, like sea plants at the bottom of the ocean.

* * *

Backstage, Dudley took two dripping cans of Diet Coke from the bed of ice in the cooler and tossed one underhanded to Bill.

"Thanks."

"You're welcome. Now I'm going to kill you." Dudley formed a gun with his hand and pantomimed blowing Bill away. "What were you thinking when you helped that kid up onto the stage?"

"Hey. I'm awfully sorry." Bill broke off the pop-top and poised it in midair, like a knife. "Here, I'll slash my wrists."

"Let me say this as politely as I can. What diseased germ invaded your brain?" Dudley began rubbing his right temple with his fingertips.

"What's the rude version, you kick me as you say it?"

"Listen, just try to remember that people who interrupt our gigs with our pamphlets crumpled probably aren't looking for autographs."

Bill threw the pop-top into the trashcan as if it were something he should have done yesterday.

"It doesn't matter what that kid said tonight. He's been a regular fan; you should've recognized him. You're not thinking straight because Corky showed up."

Cheap shot. Had I been refereeing this argument instead of sitting in the stands, I'd have blown a whistle, flag on the play. I looked down at Hoover, who had his mouth clamped shut, a sign of worry. He worries when his people seem upset.

Dudley groaned. "You're weirder than the things I get free with my breakfast cereal."

Bill walked away. Dudley began talking to a quart-size food blender balanced on an overturned metal pail next to the doorway.

"Bill's barking mad." Dudley was leaning over, eye-to-multifaceted-eye with a tarantula, Smuffkins. Smuffy was my pet and she traveled everywhere with us. Her traveling home, a broken fourteen-speed food processor, had a sign below the power switch: AND YOU THINK THERE'S STRESS IN YOUR LIFE.

"Don't take it personally," I answered for Smuffy. "It's been a rough month for us all and Bill's high-strung anyway. We ought to be sympathetic."

Dudley was still facing Smuffy. "It's just that sometimes his attitude . . ."

"I know."

Despite being a man who rarely did anything unkind, Bill gave the impression of being capable of any enormity. His mind was always going a mile a minute and when he started talking he sounded like a clock with a spring wound too tight--at any moment he might start ringing frantically and hop off the shelf.

Dudley turned to face me. "He needs an analyst or a psychiatrist or a good spanking, which I'm about to give him."

Corky burst in. "Clark--" Seeing Dudley, she stopped short.

Dudley grinned. "How's our baby?"

Corky considered him quizzically.

"Oh no--" Dudley said. "I'm sorry, it wasn't you."

"If I have a baby, somebody had better tell Jesus he has a little brother."

Corky, like me, uses humor as a shield. Unlike our own brother, Dudley accepts this fact.

Bill still hopes Corky and I will one day drop our shields and get in touch with our humanness, become complete human beings. To this effect, he suggests we study the Bible.

I stopped believing in God when I read that He told man that he could sacrifice animals for his use. It seemed to me that anybody so insensitive to other species could be only a human being in disguise.

I explained to Bill my theory that man invented God to justify his own self-obsession as a species, his unfounded claim that he is of more value than other creatures. Bill said my having such a theory was sure proof that Satan had sent a demon to infest my soul.

"You were right about trouble," I told Corky. "How'd you know about that kid?"

She shook her head. "I didn't."

"You didn't . . . why didn't you wait for me at the bar?"

"The father of one of my students recognized me and asked me to dance. Nice guy, but drunk. Out of character. So I excused myself and went to the pay phone to call A.L.F. members and warn them."

"About what?"

"Trouble. Remember the last van that pulled away from the Terrig Lab? Kristin told the driver to leave without her, that someone else was going to pick her up. She smuggled in a can of gasoline and, after everyone else was gone, turned off the fire alarms and set fire to the equipment."

Good for Kristin, taking initiative like that. Now Terrig couldn't simply replace the dogs.

"Who picked her up?"

Corky pushed away her hair, revealing a tear. "Nobody, Clark. That's what I'm trying to tell you . . . Kristin died in the fire."

My intestines lurched. I slammed my fist into Alice Cooper's face and cracked the wall-plaster underneath.

"Damn that Terrig. He taunted the protesters!"

"I talked with Kristin's mother, told her I was a friend of Kristin's and how sorry I was." Corky's voice was getting hoarse. "Her father grabbed the phone and started pumping me for information about the animal-rights cult that had brainwashed his daughter."

I was staring at the floor, hardly hearing her.

"Kristin's father--Clark?--Kristin's father might use his clout to get back at animal-rights organizations."

"Clout?"

"Her father is Beezil Terrig."

I slid down the wall and sat on the floor. I don't know why I was surprised she'd set fire to her own father's lab--a lot of people become animal-rights activists precisely because they know what goes on behind lab doors. Like Corky and me.

I shivered. I noticed my jacket was open and snapped it shut. I wasn't surprised when that didn't stop my shivering.

Hatful of Pain   Chapter 6

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