NOT EVERYTHING ALWAYS GOES WRONG
fiction by B. Prune Sally Detroit & cohorts continue the tradition of Damon Runyon
According to the faux fleabag Southie gumshoe Sally Detroit hires to represent her sudden very promising fiduciary interests after her roommate, carpet-bombing heiress Jillian Chandler, tries to kill her out on Martha’s Vineyard, “there are no apparent reasons for such an attack.” From what the P.I. says, many in the know believe this could become the case of the century, since the beautiful, young socialite, “has no particular grudge against Nathan Detroit’s daughter, but like a genuine whacko, makes it clear she could not care less whether Sal fucking lives or dies.”
Peeling, then re-peeling, then unpeeling the onion of clues composing flaws in the human character over and over and over, almost like chewing the nubs of his fingers down to his knuckles, is how Dish Hammer keeps his nose-to-the-grindstone long enough to pluck the-pearl-of-wisdom from whatever low rent case he is taking apart and putting back together like a crazed master mechanic going down on the glitch of a slipped transmission. This tenacity is what separates Hammer from the hordes of run of the mill Private Investigators that are stuck in the same betting on the come prayer as the lowlifes congregating up on Federal Hill, who mostly make their nuts doing Whiplash Willie runs for Providence’s finest shamtarkuses and bondsmen who are usually sanctioned and authorized to double as bookies and undertakers when the going invariably gets too tough for clamming the normals.
In short, even though there is generally no dispute that the masses are asses, Sal knows all the same you had better know how to connect thru the yellow pages as well as the Social Register if you don’t want to end up selling sea shells down by the seashore to the sailors looking for 2-for-1-sunblock on sale in the off-season for the coming summer-solstice. In this particular out of the blue windfall befalling her dog-to-live, Will, Sal is connected to the Boston based P.I. by a worthless-and-proud-of-it street bum by any other name, she is indeed fortunate enough to manage, who sometimes goes by the handle Jackson B. Nimble (just in case someone has a warrant out for him). Dashing Jack, who, despite appearances to the contrary, is the exception to the exception of The Book of Runes, and more than just another entertaining on the make island gadfly, as anyone with eyes in the back of their head can see by looking at the map of his territory as it zigzags his talents in no particular willy-nilly order across the landscape of escape like a swashbuckling bohemian Douglas Fairbanks Jr.. Sometimes going long, sometimes short, sometimes button hooking for sweet scallops to suck up right out of the bay like candy from their shells; sometimes just going South from contentious situations arising out of pissed-to-the-bone ex-lovers or employers or both; other times his destination is somewhat East, in order to re-up his discredited P-Town street cred in case he ever decides to move back to the tip of Cape Schvance; sometimes, in fact, most anytime he hears the call of the wild to Go West, young dude, it is always good to avoid being called a dirty beatnik while exercising his Lewis & Clark rights in order to rev up his ya-yas to see what is waiting for him over the next hillbilly waiting to clock him ‘cause the goon’s sister is making goo-goo eyes at him; and occasionally, whenever necessary, North, in the dead of winter, because sometimes things are so bleak there is no better choice than to choose freezing the body to death so it can be found and thawed back to life at a more beneficial time. Obviously his movements are subject to more than just his own anti-linear logistics because there are contradictory scenarios waiting just for him that usually signify nothing more or less than curtains for most mere mortals out taking their innocence for a walk. Despite all these catastrophes in-waiting, he somehow manages to slide through relatively unscathed, without even trying to avoid the tumult & shouting that follow him everywhere he goes. It is obvious, as cursed as Jack is on one hand, on the other he seems to be shielded from his own well-earned karma by a cloud of what the Ancients called fortuitous Fortuna.
On the other side of this two headed coin, Sal’s major Fairy Godmother, who is also one of the three major clients who keeps her shaky salon solvent out on The Rock – both in-season and off – is the legendary Ms. Lillian (no last name needed), who besides her infamous international works for stage, page and screen, is a serious social activist on more than a few controversial fronts, though, conversely to the rest of her rap sheet, she seems to have a puzzling matronly interest in the perpetually down in the mouth Southie P.I., who word of mouth has it has originally been home-birthed without-papers in either Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven or dreaded Turkeytown itself, under the legal beagle Dishelle Hammerstein, indeed. Whether this tidbit is gospel or evangelical babble, over the years Ms. Lillian, who has played den mother to every causer from the Anti-Franco Spanish Republican Guard to Vietnam Veterans Against The War to co-hosting Bobby Seale’s annual Black Panther Bar-b-que Benefit for the edification of the dumb-as-dirt FBI, has taken whatever-the-lowdown-shamus’s-real-name-is, under her wing, and has sent him more than her share of hopeless cases for him to resuscitate from the fate, karma or destiny that leads them to desperation knocking at the Devil’s door, so to many in the know it is no surprise at all that Hammer is on Sal’s case.
While old friends consider him a genuine roll-over to his addictive proclivities, Hammer is a different breed of cat in-the-process of a case, and can never be accused of not riding the dawg until she barks guilty-or-not for him, instead of at him. “For fucking instance,” according to Dish, in one of his more acute analytical breakdowns to Sal on who the angelic looking heiress of record who has attempted to take her out, really is, “when she is just only-14-going-on-more-sophisticated-than-our-boy-Jack-is-at-24, she hitchhikes across fucking Europe all by her lonesome looking to find some rich, charming, roguishly handsome Duke of Earl to bone, so she can proudly display a Royal Scalp on her clit, like some kind of Big Game trophy that her baby sisters La-La & baby Luuie will go so gaga over, that they too will one day be able to come out of her shadow and follow her example by showing off and taunting their horrified parents with their glorious indoctrination into high holy sluthood.”
Bad girl. She is a bad-bad girl.
As those in the so-called law enforcement side of the Peanut Gallery understand the story, Hammer says that she likes to tell Jack every time she thinks he is getting too cocky for her own good, “On the day before her high holy 15th birthday, somewhere in the south of fucking France, she gets picked up by some short old pimple-faced frog, chain smoking Gauloises. Upon hearing that the next day will be her birthday, he offers her a chunk of precious Camembert cheese, and after that, a smoke from his pack, in a French Donald Duck voice that has her uncontrollably laughing as he watches her inhale, allowing the rich pungent cloud of cancer to float luxuriously through her young as yet unpoisoned lungs, and then invites her to spend the weekend at his villa with he and his paramour, who he playfully refers to as “Simon the drone”.
That drone would be de’Bouiver herself, to all you Cretins out there who can still read The Second Sex without hyperventilating when you are looking at an actual page instead of your device. He, of course, would turn out to be not only the most famous, but the most playful Jean Paul of twenty-five decades of Frogs naming their little bâtards Jean Paul, Georges or Ringo, gringos. Sartre is his exact handle, for the uninitiated. Pronounce it any way that gets rid of your nausea, but before you do, be aware, he and his old lady are the Bogart and Bacall of the live fast die young Existentialist Generation. Legendary rebels with & without enough causes to clot your blood and change the direction and trajectory of intellectual postwar culture more than the good war itself does. Merely by following up stomping the shit out of little Hitler and baby Eva and their bah-bah-bahing Nazi sheep, by championing the overthrow of the bourgeois materialistic goals of the so-called Greatest Generation of Yanks even before their own children are born, much less grow up and turn against their values. Their relationship is the high hipster ideal of all open relationships. They could do it with whoever they wanted to do it with, with or without each other, without pissing each other off. At least in theory.”
She got to witness this dynamic dynamic first hand the next day, on the 15th anniversary of her entre into the world of flesh, bone and now belles lettres. This underage chanteuse becomes so close to the iconic couple she is not only encouraged to call them by the pet names they have for each other – Jean-ney and Beaver – they give her one of her own: Contessa, shortened to Cont – before inviting her to become their Isosceles and help them turn their gifted but boring circle into a brazen triangle. Which is how her tongue learns to speak the language of loooooooooooooove melting like warm butter in her lovers’ ears at such a early age. Of course, if she has as much shit for brains as she has arrogance she would know any way you look at it this act will be considered such a heinous crime against ordinary uptight American bourgeois society that the last thing she should do is tell her own elitist aristocratic family of secret starfuckers what happens to their little girl on her Euro-travels. But it is too big, too important a score not to share, especially with her sisters.
At first the Moth & Fath do not believe her. They believe she has been telling shock-value tall tales from the first sentence she ever utters publicly, so they are not upset by what she tells them. She has been born with the perfect smoke screen to speak the unspeakable truth without anyone feeling they have to take any more responsibility for her actions than a gentrified sloth singing about the dividends that arrive on the third day of each month from the bomb box factory that never shuts down, even in peacetime, because there can never be a big enough stockpile of different size boxes for different size bombs that will be needed in the future to blow the fuck out of anyone audacious enough to fuck with Uncle Sam I Yam, who has given her great great great Granddog a legal & binding contract that will live into perpetuity to keep on boxing those boxes until either the Republic falls apart or the family foundation think tank falls off the CIA’s tit and, of their own volition, quits making all those boxes at the Fall River compound. Without ever thinking about it, its existence is what fosters her outrageousness just enough to allow the family to slink back into their own individual bubbles without aggravation dripping through their thin as ice cold blue blood. Even running through the house buck-assed naked during flogging season – to celebrate coming into puberty at 11 – doesn’t shock them; though right after she gets back from her Euro-trip her twit little brother Theo asks her what the difference is between incest & rape, while touching himself under the dinner table. Since she is considered the much older and wiser woman after her continental adventures, she pats him on his little boner and says, “None in this family, Toaddy-bear.”
Eventually her freedom will become both a blessing and curse at the same time. But when they finally notice her newly acquired accent – it is either upper-class Brit mixed in with International guttersnipe, or something she has copped from too many nasty French New Wave films – they aren’t sure if it is an affectation or she has sounded like Tallulah Bankhead forever and they just don’t notice. If they take her seriously they will have take themselves seriously first, and this is as generationally impossible as allowing an outsider to cross the metaphorical moat circling their gold crusted castle. Easier to consider interbreeding, or acknowledge her holiday trifecta as a “normal” right of passage and let it go at that. “Normal” of course is as far from what Jean-ney and Beaver have going as you can get. Which is perfect for her, since sticking it to the normals with savior-faire is the only type primary relationship she wants some day when she finds the right partner.
Though he is usually flush with action, Jack has never been accused of being the right anything by anyone, and is not exactly the obvious second coming of Jean-ney either. Though hipster born and bred in the barrel of Flatbush Brooklyn, he has no interest in existentialism as anything other than a No Exit exit line to get the fuck out of Erasmus High and go bang-bang the universal mahgilla with questions that have no obvious freaking answers. He knows there will be many tests to fail along the way, but of course she doesn’t tell him she will be the one giving them to him. For instance, knowing he does not speak the language of love himself (because he has been thrown out of French class for refusing to parleyvoo during the 7th game of the World Series), she describes all the get down X-rated parts in Frogese, so he cannot get the details straight of who is doing what to who or eating what along with the Faux graus and champagne from their own vineyard in Bordeaux. Without a doubt, when you get down to it, Jack is definitely more of a Clyde than Jill is a Bonnie, long before they go on the run. In fact, from the moment she tells the sweet turd by any other name the story of Cont’s birthday history.
“Jean-ney Bar-b-que,” she seethes.
“Jean-ney Bar-b-que,” he repeats, as if tasting each vowel. “Can’t say I know ‘de cat, but it has a ring to it. ‘Course, I know more than a little about Carolina vinegar-based que on my mind,” he croons. “But it sounds to me, from what you say, the life you’d been living up ‘til then had outgrown itself and had to die in order for your mojo to be released into a transformative new ya-ya. Now if you’ll go back before all that Faux graus, and tell me is it true your Pops invented Agent Orange Julius, or what?”
She hates him, of course. Snide, good humored mystical fuckwad from another planet. Beer is the nectar of his gods. Not fine wine. Though he never turns that down either. He is a musician-poet-philosopher, down and dirty Island hustler she meets at a party to celebrate the reopening of the Gayhead Lighthouse. Their relationship would no doubt have its natural short lived seasonal course if she doesn’t introduce him to her family at cousin Fetus’s Edgartown wedding. They are so shocked by the sight of him, she finally gets the kind of reaction she has been trying to get from them her whole life.
“We’re in love,” she tells her Mums, who isn’t known as Wretchen Gretchen for nothing. “He gives me fantastic orgasms. Without even having to pay for them.”
Before the weekend is even over it is left up to her spineless father to tell her, “We have no choice but to disown you if you don’t dispose of the rubbish.”
“Oh Stilesgood, not again! You know you don’t have the balls to do that.”
“Of course not, but your mother does. And she swears if I don’t get rid of him she’ll divorce me and marry that. . . .that. . .John Kerry bimbo.”
“He’s never held a job in his life Daddy. But then Jack hasn’t either.”
“Is that trivial nugget suppose to make us unemployment brothers? Am I sup-pose to bond with them both now, Jillian? Well, NO, it’s too late for me to start over.”
“You have to have started once, before being able to start over, Stiles”
“Whatever! Your mother has laid down the wretched law!” He gave her a peck on the cheek. “We’ll expect you home for Thanksgiving.”
“Tradition is like a bad drug. Can’t stand it, but can’t get enough of it either.”
“And what if I don’t come?”
“Then we won’t miss you. But I suspect if you are still with him, all the turkeys in Tinseltown will weep when your trustfund gets frozen in It’s A Wonderful Life.”
“You’d cut me off?”
“No, not me! You know I’d never do anything like that, Crumpet. Even if I had the authority.“
“Fuck you, Daddy!”
“That would be interesting. . .If John Kerry weren’t in the wings. . .” Then almost cooing in a woodland creature’s voice, he starts singing, “Knock-knock knocking on your Mother’s box. . .” Feeling pleased he has either mangled a sacred cultural reference from the annual Folk Fest or the annual Jazz Fest annually living down the road. . .or maybe something from somewhere else he gets from being on the Board of Directors of something that doesn’t require him to remember anything but the melody and a few closing prepositional phrases that seems to fit his 24-hour buzz, he whirls away from her and stumbles back to face the House of Chandler’s wrath.
It should go without saying, there is more than clichéd frost on the pumpkin when Jack & Jill arrive in Newport for Thanksgiving. There is a thick mist of moving dread surrounding Boxwood, the castle by any other name that she has grown up in, when she is not off in boarding school. Jack, of course, has been warned: All the family ghouls will test him over and over, between fighting each other to the edge of death for the stuffing. It is more notorious than their coat of arms. And Mistress Gretchen always instructs Cookie to short the birds of it. Handed down over and over, generation after generation, from an original recipe the legendary Native-American siren Pocahontas uses to insidiously capture her boy toy, cousin John-John Smith, with the kind of internal juice that blows his white bread brains back across the great waters all the way to the most unwelcome home any of you out there would dare to imagine returning to defend one God or Another against all the social injustice the world will live to tolerate, but cannot, by any measure, tolerate to live with. Though no one in the family ever thinks it is about religious freedom, even on holidays. But to be fair, even if they don’t care, that obligation is still always filled in traditional pre-meal gimme-thanks from either the youngest or oldest still living caricature of the family tree able to deliver the benediction without giving away the secret ingredient in the stuffing – which, despite MacGuffins to the contrary, Jack finds years earlier with old bandmate Mel Lyman in the old Scottish-Irish folk ballads they play on the Club 47 coffee house circuit. The songs all yodel their love of new born baby green corn, before – get this – Mel finds the prune in the tune like a turd in a punchbowl. Originally imported from the gardens of the Queen of Por-tu-gee, prunes are the anti-stuff of life in-waiting, the fruit of unhindered movement used to wash the gluttony free from stuffing. We would no doubt be eating many more prunes today if, in 1891, the prune is not beaten out by a fig in a competition to be the filling in a new cookie named after Newton, Mass.
Today, young Theo, who has no sense of Club 47, Fig Newtons or the significance of the stuffing, will deliver the blessing for the first time since Uncle Thackery, who has done the honors for the past 70-consecutive-years, before coming to grips with the grippe itself during the previous winter and buying The Stuffing, as they usually like to soft-soak the news for younger kiddies still in certain states of denial.
On the table, surrounding the stuff itself, are the usual wild ducks, geese, chickens, grouse, pigeon, rack of lamb along with wild boar as well as a dozen varieties of yams, hams, cranberry sweets, mussels, bay scallops, clams, shrimps, along with apple, peach pudding, gooseberry cobbler pies, if you are looking at the table through the dazed & stuffed colored glasses of Americana. Which Jack isn’t.
He has however, brought a film crew with them to do it for him. They are shooting the first installment of American Turkey, a documentary series he is sure he can sell to PBS because of his Manager’s close relationship with Ms. Lillian, who has at least two dramatic shows running on Public TV, in the past year alone. But just as he conveniently forgets to inform Sal of his intentions, Jill, of course, has intentionally forgotten to convenience the family with the news they should SMILE, because they are ON Candid Camera. As the kiddies used to say, it is a good twick or tweet, particularly when rocking the gestalt of the Inquisition awaiting them, by rolling the Conquistadors back on their bloody heels. And reversing who’s asking who all the incriminating questions, like, “Why no turkey on Thanksgiving?”
Wretchen Gretchen has that one: “I assure you, it’s not a deliberate sacrilege,” she purses her lips while sizing Jack up. “We’re survivors, you know—“
“No I didn’t know,” Jack says, pulling his mic back from Mommy Dearest’ face. “So was my Zaddie. I had no idea you people came out of the Holocaust—“
“Don’t be cruuuuuuuuuuuuude! Our people survived the Mayflower!”
“I wouldn’t shit you, dear boy,” she smiles cold as ice. Then points at the camera. “Turn that atrocious intruder off and we’ll talk real Turkey.”
“Oh yeah, sure.” He turns to his co-director, shrugs and signifies, “Chop-Chop, Bucky, old buddy, you and Ernie got to wait in the truck until we can work out the contractual logistics of the shoot.”
“Not again, Jack!”
“It’ll only take a few minutes, Buck.”
“That’s what you said last time. ”
“Go back in the kitchen,” Gretchen instructs the cameraman, “and Cookie will fix you a plate.”
“There’s two of us.”
“Cookie will fix you two plates.”
“We’re out of stuffing,” the Matron lies.
“There’s tons of it back in the kitchen.” Jack injects. “We filmed it being shoveled into a bin under the J.P. Morgan statue when we came in through the back. You use prunes in it? That’s the secret ingredient, right?”
Gretchen smiles patiently, and points toward the back door as she silently mouths the words, “G E T O U T!”
If this isn’t enough to sink the good ship Lollipop, and even Hammer when he first hears the second-hand word-of-mouth story from Sal, thinks, “He fucking did it again!” But NO! Jack has done no such fucking thing again, according to Sal.
It seems like she is always defending him. Even when no defense is necessary. Or before an actual defense is judiciary. Such is the gimme-take of these two peas in a very strange pod no one can quite explain. Even Hammer has trouble seeing what Sal sees in his hipster Huckleberry Hound buddy, or consequently what Jack sees in the lush Mae West-esque lush Sal is often compared to just before, McCartney’s prophetic song goes, Bang-Bang Maxwell’s Silver Hammer comes down on her noggin in some low rent bar or high class lady’s tea room. . .But whatever the dichotomies in play, there is no disputing it must be the real deal, whatever that fucking deal is, as Hammer strains to ponder in the middle of other more germane pondering he is ignoring ever since he takes the case On Shpec, as the schmucks up on Fed Hill call beating the dead horse when the horse you have obviously bet on beating is named Beetlebaum.
Cultural references aside, and there are enough in here to justify them being an arcane Trivial Pursuit overload, if allowed to go unchecked. But as those of you in the know know, this is not a game, and not all clues are actually clues. In order to see which is which, we have to, if not separate the MacGuffins from the McCoys, then at least keep them under suspicion along with the Hatfields, until they can either be proven relevant or irrelevant, but not either or neither of the above since there is no innocence to blame here, only nascent stupidity, in all it’s manifest varieties, masquerading as sloppiness, carelessness, laziness, etc., etc.
This is not gibberish for the sake of gibberish, as Sal, who as the oldest sibling of Nathan and Adelaide Detroit’s nuclear family, is responsible for deciphering the babbling of the rest of the family and then marinating it, deconstructing it, reconstructing it, then defining and explaining it one-on-one with everyone individually – as in he says that’s she says that’s he has halitosis – but not quite as directly to the point as a commercial message. Call Sal a native interpreter of the American condition, who in the process of digesting what she is interpreting becomes a McLuhan-esque collaborator in the process at the same time she passes the news of the day from one person to the next, only adding her own two cents like the poetry of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance into the mix, as a bonus. A process which turns her into so obviously who she is that many in the know began to consider her the Queen of the Arcane. Which is not quite the same thing as being considered the Queen of the Arcade. For instance, if Sal were here and directly addressing you all these years later she would probably tell you, if you would like to stump the Great God Google, really stump the motherfucking know-it-all Great God Google, put your hands together in front of you and bow to the Big Goo-Goo, before asking, “What was the name of the dog in Mel Brooks & Carl Reiner’s The 2000 Year Old Man?”
Do not – I repeat – DO NOT think about that question again. That is a good on-odds way to earn yourself an aneurysm or blood clot right in the middle of your Headquarters. Let it marinate, let it urinate, let it come to you ala natural in its own time and flavor and you will not only have the answer to how to cure your own dissatisfaction with life, but be able to grok what our gal Sal has to learn the hard way in order to save her own wretched bacon after the blind side attack on her has so violated the one & only Safe Secret Place on the planet that is hers and hers alone, and has put her so deep into COMA TUBE CITY that the odds look to be at least 1000-to-1 to the Docs On Duty in ER at Mass General when she comes in that she is in the deep end for The Duration.
But Sal is a long shot bull to eat the odds, the likes of which not many have ever seen before. Ever the romantic, the first thing she does on returning to consciousness is begin regaling us with her coma dreams. All quite amazing, but as it would be explained to her later by her great spiritual teacher, a (infamous, unmentionable) playboy Tibetan lama, “If we insist on analyzing the abstraction of dreams at the expense of our ability to stay grounded in reality, we may miss the boat every time it takes off on our dream trip.”
And speaking of dream trips, according to Hammer, after Jack’s faux prune pas, Gretchen shoots daggers at him he better not ignore, better not flunk another test, better not even think about better not, then grabs him by his threadbare brown corduroys and drags him back to the cook’s office right off the main kitchen, where he knows only too well from experience she’s going to try and scare him off Jill. When that doesn’t work she’ll try to buy him off. But instead of throwing offers out at him, Wretchen Gretchen comes on to him instead. Propositions him. Props herself up on Cookie’s desk, stretches her leg down the whole cookbook stacked length, then almost like Rita Hayworth incarnate posing for a WWII poster for the boys over there, begins reciting bad erotic poetry to him that as far as he can tell depicts some sort of choreographed seagull gangbang. He can’t be sure, but whatever it is she’s cawing about, he recognizes When your old lady’s old lady comes on to you you’re only one short step from automatic induction into the bums’ Hall Of Shame. Not an opportunity the young hipitually deprived-of-love Jack would normally be able to pass up in the old days, but YOWIE ZOWIE it must be sanity encroaching on his bliss. Must be another one of THE 7 BASIC PLOTS OF LIFE screaming at Jack, “You know what rats get, don’t you? If you do the deed you are thinking about doing with your old lady’s old lady you are lower than a street rat, Jack. Unless of course you are looking for a sure fire easy way to dispose of your old lady and STAGE LEFT this scene for good.”
“What a pussy you are,” Gretchen taunts him. Gets right up in his face and tells him in no uncertain terms, if he’s smart – and she knows he’s not – he’ll head for the hills because Jill is a special blood swilling special needs child, really not able to have a genuine one-on-one relationship with anyone outside the family tree because of some serious inherited psycho-sexual-eco conditions which she is not at liberty to discuss with outsiders.
Totally tuned into her rap, Jack knows what she’s going to say before she says it, but blows her off with a smile, even though she still gives him a boner. So what if he could have written her lame dialogue for her, he couldn’t have been bought by her. . . That’s not in his script. Be that as it may, negotiations, by any other shady name, have begun.
Meanwhile back at a dinner table suddenly flush with stuffing, young Theo begins to mumble the pre-meal benediction when Gretchen suddenly drowns him out by introducing Jack to the clan of over 40 hangers-on as a dirty revolutionary Commie pig who’s one goal is the destruction & overthrow of Capitalism and everything it stands for. As Buck and Ernie film the astounding standing-O rising up around the table for Jack, the patriotic Mistress of the house hands her youngest a sheaf of papers and orders him to read them just as the three giggling sisters, back from the same secret sisterly bonding they’ve been doing with each other since they were 7, 5 and 3, join the throng.
Without a second thought, Theo begins stuttering blindly through what he thinks is his first benediction for the family, but what appears to be an actual FBI report on Jack’s radical student past in SDS. You may not need a weatherman to tell you which way Jack’s wind was blowing in Port Huron, but to hear it read back to him in Newport all these years later is a revelation to him that even after the great split in SDS over, among other MacGuffins, the so-called reform of the Democratic Party, he has to admit the anti-funky Federal Bureau of Investigation finally bungled one in the right direction and gave him, not Tom Hayden, the credit for coining the phrase “Participatory Democracy.” If ever Jack is going to get a genuine warm glow of ego boost from what he considers his wasted political past, this is it. Though almost instantly the glow disappears and he knows he has been set up and there will be a price to pay if this report ever gets out to left out of the loop Lefties from back in the day who view him as a goof, not a serious player like themselves. And this isn’t even taking into account how the turncoat Trotskyite right wing ideologues who are always looking for what has gone wrong with The Revolution will take it. They’ve been looking to put out a contract on somebody who has sold out The Revolution since the day they climbed out of the underground and faded into the mainstream miasma of Academia. And, if they ever get their hands on this report, he is their boy.
Jack knows there is no point in ever attempting to explain to them What has gone wrong is their blindly skewered elitist vision, which has either cut out or left out the one element from the equation that the equation and anyone who embraces it cannot live without. But how can you explain soul to the soulless? It is all so freaking analytically cold, the way his old bros see the world, it genuinely gives him the shakes. If there isn’t a genuine contract out on him at this moment, and he can’t imagine that there isn’t, it can happen on the next tick of the clock unless he can figure out how to stop the FBI from leaking their report.
Like it or not, from the moment he hears young Theo read from the report Jack knows his life has changed. He can no longer live in the moment if he wants to cover his ass. The condition his condition is in obliviously changes the dance that gives him his natural rhythm, which may be why he is ignoring friends who are trying to warn him off Jill. He has a Cambridge bartender pal who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who used to date her in Boston. . .but nobody has seen the guy in years. Though Dish hasn’t gotten around to checking them all out yet, there are others, for sure. She is beautiful, she is well educated, she is relatively hip, and likes to have a good time, so obviously she is a magnet for bird dogs, dirty old men and junior gigolos still too innocent to see she is not only a poor little rich girl who sees the world only through her own narrow lens of what she wants, but is always the predator in any given situation. But besides that generic personality profile from Hammer’s favored pulp bard Charles fucking Bukowski’s dirty mind, there is something outside that that is strange about her. It is almost like she has a scrim moving back and forth in front of her so she can change perception of herself at will like a chameleon, without seeming to actually have a will of her own. “She fits the same classic fucking lone gun political assassin’s personality profile as John Hinkley, trapped inside the fucking body of Brigitte Bardot,” Hammer insists with much too-late-to-do-anyone but her lawyers any good hindsight.
Though when he throws the same theory out to Ms. Lillian, Sal is still in “a fucking coma”, Jill is in Belmont, Mass., in her own family luxury suite at McLean, while Jack isn’t even on The Rock. As far as anyone can figure, he is still MIA in the New Orleans underground, lost in time jamming with his old jiveass-jazzbro Sticky Fingers Stein – not even knowing what has happened to his gal-pal Manager, much less his heiress fiancé. And how in certain circles, what Jill does to Sal could conceivably be blamed on him.
“It is a classic case of fucking love-hate transference, Lil. This Jill obviously wants to kill fucking Jack for what happens to them in Mexico, but there is no fucking Jack for her to kill, just her gracious host and innocent new roommate, Jack’s best friend and business Manager, the not so innocent as she would like us to believe, Sally Detroit. And that name is something that does not exactly make her case very kosher either; I know she is your most trusted housekeeper, but how can she, as she claims, be the daughter of good old reliable Nathan Detroit, when we all know good old reliable does not exist as anything but a fictional character in a hit Broadway musical?”
Though he is not meaning to disparage good old reliable, upon cross-examination, though he is not generally partial to musicals, if he has to pick his own favorite, Guys & Dolls will without a shadow of a doubt be the one. So it is not just that Sal has copped her moniker from just any piece of crap, what she has taken falls so close to his own tree he is not sure whether to be flattered or offended. Though normally he is filled with the overwhelming addictive rush that comes with peeling & re-peeling the onion, when he does the dirty due diligence footwork in Waltham and discovers what Sal’s real birth name is he does such a freaky double-take duckwalk across the Waltham Hall of Records it would ring the great Chuck Berry’s Ding-a-ling.
“Norma Jeane Mortenson! No Fucking Way! This is fucking absurd! I know Norma Jeane!” Or at least he thinks he does. The name is so familiar, he is sure he has either gone to high school or gone to college with her. He isn’t sure which. It is driving him batty. But he is sure they have dated. Though dated is not exactly what you would call it either. He is sure of one thing though, they did spent one debauched New Year’s Eve in The Combat Zone. After that, Norma Jeane did, in fact, give him not only her phone number, but the clap!
This realization is of course where Dish starts to suspect he may getting ahead of himself. Particularly after Ms. Lillian instructs him to examine his own fucking pedigree before jumping on the strange dance card of others. She always does this to him. Just when he starts rolling, just when he quantum leaps to a different level of comprehension, she always chastises him for either putting the cart in front of the horse, or riding the horse off on the wrong MacGuffin, the one promising the same holy mountain in the distance he has just returned from. Not that he isn’t grateful for her help, grateful for her advice, grateful for her guidance, but sometimes. . .Dish has been known to overdose on too much of Ms. Lillian’s good thing, and this is definitely one such time he does not want to hear how the father he never met would have done it, so he passes on her offer of a 5-Star Turkeytown dinner extravaganza, like they used to do in the old days – her treat (as if she’d ever let him pick up the check), and hightails it to catch the last ferry off The Rock. He then uses the long drive home through the night to clear his head and ruminate on what he hears happens to Jack and Jill after they leave Newport. Not that he doesn’t think he understands Jack’s logic to make one last score before what’s left of Jill’s dividends run out, but, since they have virtually the same south of the border connections, he knows Jack knows better than to try to cop anything substantial down there.
What he does not know is that the happy couple do not straight up leave Boxwood that cold drizzling Thanksgiving night, but, instead, even after getting unceremoniously cut off, spend the night in the fucking castle instead of heading back to The Rock to lick their wounds. It is here, Jill gives her hated-by-her-family lover-boy the one greatest gift she is capable of giving him, though maybe spending a night of debauched love with her and her two beautiful younger nymph sisters is not the best present under the tree to unwrap. At least’s Jack’s johnson does not think it is, going south on him in the line of duty for the first time ever. Strangely, though he messes up his head flunking the pussy galore test, he passes Jill’s loyalty test. She’s swollen with capital-P Pride when she concludes she’ll never have to worry about her lover-boy cheating on her with her sisters.
Jack, though not playing dumb to what is going on around him, really is dumb-as-a-doorknob-worried that that doorknob itself could turn at any moment and – just like in Hemingway’s The Killers – when the door opens his loony-lefty-executioners will be there on the other side, waiting to rub him out. The way he sees the situation his situation is in, he has two choices: He can fatalistically wait for them to come for him, like Hemingway’s depressed Swede does, or he can kill two birds with one fucking stone of his own, by not only using whatever is left in the bank to cop enough weight through his old amigo Paco in Guadalajara to secure a comfortable long term nut passage, at the same time faking his death and assuming a new identity before disappearing deep into the South American head of the snake eating its own tail, from the Amazon to the Andes, for as long as it takes to clear his name or build a new one it is safe for his body to return in.
Do not for a moment think he does not recognize there is a lot of wiggle room in there, but at least it is a plan. One that actually gives his honey-pie sweetie-pooh the best orgasm she ever has since her long gone glory days with Jean-ney and Beaver. In short, she will follow him anywhere, since essentially she has nowhere else to go anyway. At least until she turns 30, and inherits 150+million or so from a totally different family trust than the one she has just been cut off from.
To the surprise of many in the know and the disbelief of many-many more who are not, Jack is always true to his credo; He is not with Jill because of her money, but in spite of it. She is more of a pain in the ass than any woman he has ever known, much less been turned on by before. So the great Zen koan circulating in the guffawing old Bodhisattva Gallery watching this twisted tale unravel itself from out in the bardo ether, is, When the waters get rough, does the hook catch the fish, or does the fish catch the hook? Whatever the case, when it comes down to it, Jack will tolerate her money, he will even spend it, and given the opportunity, he will abuse it, but he will never-never-ever worship it or believe in its inherent value as anything but a transient ticket to ride. One day, once he has his new name and identity in order, he might even come back home and run for President.
The moment that monstrous idea pops up in his head he knows how bent out of shape the threat of being hunted down is making him, and immediately decides it’s time to get the fuck out of all the Dodge City USAs lining the map of his territory and go directly to Mexico to see a shaman he knows who will help him clear his head in order to make the right moves in the parlay which is formulating in his head even as he cleans out his locker at the mythological Red Dog saloon and he and Jill hop in his car, and go by Sal’s rustic little cabin in Oak Bluffs to leave his dog Will. This, according to Hammer, is not only the first fucking time that Sal and Jill will meet, it is the only time, until Jill comes back from her fucking Mexican honeymoon two months later, without Jack, and moves in with Sal as her roommate. If you look at pictures of the threesome hanging off the porch mugging, with their arms wrapped around each others’ shoulders that day, the two women look like best friends. And since, as Dish reminds us, “the fucking camera never lies,” perhaps this picture is true for a short blip in cosmic time. Or, if someone looks back on this scene really closely 100 years from now, perhaps what they see is a man who has just brought his woman home to meet his daughter for the first time. Not that there appears to be all that much difference in age between Sal and Jill, but there is enough so that one would assume Jill is the daughter and Sal is the woman, though in the surreality of the situation, it is exactly the reverse.
To Sal, Jack is the living embodiment of her father Nathan Detroit. The transformation that solidifies their relationship happens years earlier, in one fell acid trip swoop, before Sal is Sal, but no longer Norma Jeane either. The twosome are in NYC, breaking from their upstate college dodge, wandering aimlessly through the theatre district, looking up at the monsterish skyline rising above them, when out of the blue, just as the acid starts to come on, they hear a voice singing, “LUCK BE A LADY TONIGHT,” and like the good young lemmings they still are, follow the song coming out of the theatre, just as the crowd starts going back inside for the Second Act. Needless to say, they are instantly part of that crowd, as well as part of the entire universe erupting in their bet-against-the-odds heads. And on an even more cosmic level than the cosmic level, by the time they walk out of the theatre, they are Sal and Nathan for the rest of their restless days and nights, even when they are not speaking to each other, over one real or imagined thing or another.
How deep this Detroit conundrum goes, not even those in the know will venture an opinion, but it goes so deep it dominates Sal’s dreams, even when she is in Mass General, in a coma, fighting for her life. While the doctors are standing above her talking and shaking their heads over the condition her condition is in, all she hears is a deep baritone voice singing, “I dreamed last night I got on the boat to heaven. . .” And, though strapped down on the bed, with tubes and drips going in and coming out of almost every orifice of her body, she almost turns the bed over trying to sit up when she hears the voice singing, “SIT DOWN, SIT DOWN, SIT DOWN, YOU’RE ROCKIN’ THE BOAT!” It is like a genuine electric jolt to her essence, and a contrarian Call of the Wild anthem telling her to think of the dog first, and then disobey whatever they tell her to do after that. Instructions that, for all impractical intents and purposes, perhaps save her life where medicine cannot. And perhaps further delude her into believing in long shots as well.
As she watches Jack & Jill drive off in his beaten-to-the-spleen Datsun, she acknowledges Jack, like good old reliable Nathan, is the epitome of long shots. Both are losers who never quit, as opposed to quitters who never lose. It is a good logo. Sal thinks it should have been on Nathan’s tombstone. She pulls the mongrel lab to her chest and licks his face before he can lick hers, which brings a great howl and rush of love back to her, though as happy as Will is to be living with her instead of Jack again, her energy is the lowest she can recall since Nathan throws boxcars one too many times for his own stash to survive the action. She understands his malaise, of course, since she is, in a manner of speaking, a chip off “good old reliable” Nathan’s block. That is to say, while her father’s gambling exploits are known far and wide, his world class culinary skills are barely known at all. Going back before she was even a thought, there is a period when the young Nathan and Adelaide move from the teeming jungle of New York City to the small Hudson River community of Saugerties to, among other things, build a family, and it is here that Nathan Detroit throws his vast restless craving for action into creating gourmet delicacies to sooth his longings for the bright lights. And yes, as she grows up, little Sal is right there at his apron, right there helping her father whip up feasts for her grippe ridden mother and baby Alice. This knack for gastronomy, is perhaps the only legitimate legacy Nathan leaves his oldest, and even at her lowest, Sal can, by rote, perform like a virtuoso on anything from chocolate banana cream pie to pork belly enchiladas in green sauce to apple bourbon dumplings to Oysters Paine (“for Thomas, not the Rockefeller pigs”), and the list goes on and on. Which is why her reputation puts her skills much in demand on The Rock – from Ms. Lillian to her Tibetan Holy Man to her newest client/employer, who we’ll call the one and only star of coke, food and Saturday Night, the beloved, but doomed Mr. Bluto (without intending to tread on his notoriety), who Sal is attempting and failing to lure out of his self imposed Hollywood death spiral with not only her culinary delicacies, but the offer to play the lead role of the doomed John Barrymore in Bimbos In Paradise, a theatrical extravaganza set in a wondrous whore house of yonder yore, written by another one of her destitute genius clients who she meets through Jack under circumstances which are as extenuating as FDR found the Malta Conference to be, to say the least. And speaking of the least, despite her love of long shots, not even Sal can in all good conscious believe Jack & Jill will ever make it to Mexico in that piece of shit Datsun they are in.
One look at this clunker and you don’t have to be in the know to know that “Lucille,” as Jack calls his baby, is an ugly death trap waiting to suck the life out of whoever pisses it off. Calling it a piece of shit, as Sal does every time she sees it, is much too kind, and would be considered brave as well, if she doesn’t refuse to set foot in it from the first time she sets eyes on it. From the outside, the fenders have all rusted off, the hood is dented both inside and out, and from the inside, most of the floor is gone, but under the hood itself. . .ah, under the hood itself, Lucille is a bear. A big hungry Mama grizzly bear who’s engine has been worked on by every licensed and unlicensed rouge grease monkey who has ever been on The Rock for more than a week’s time in the past seven years. But in all honesty, the best that can be said for this mode of transportation is that it is as comfortable as riding an old whore. Jill, of course, finds old whores romantic. She’s never been on such an edge before, even when she hitchhiked alone across Europe at 14. That point of view, of course, is subject to change. Not after the first breakdown in Ohio, or the second in Missouri, but in Arkansas – where Lucille is shooting fire out of the hood and tailpipe like a machine gun gunner under siege on Porkchop Hill – Jill starts screaming bloody murder at the top of her lungs for Jack to stop the fucking car at the same time they are creeping through the Ozarks at speeds ranging from all of 10-mph to 20-mph, while bouncing straight up and down like the French cartoon skunk Pepe Le Pew, chasing after some hot skunk poon. Jack will not stop, of course, because he knows if he stops before they reach some remnant of civilization, i.e., a Shell, Texaco, Gulf or even Pissant brand station, they will be stranded out in the middle of nowhere forever. Or at least long enough to murder each other. Which, even after being rescued by a tow truck from a Pissant brand, they almost do anyway, when they are forced to spend the night in a shabby, but otherwise packed with hillbillies checking in & out of this ROOMS BY THE HOUR whorehouse. Jill cannot stop crying, so Jack cannot stay in the room with her, and instead wanders down to the garage to watch the all night mechanic save Lucille one more time. But as it is, it is only one more last time, since Lucille finally buys the farm for good right outside Amarillo. And it is here in Amarillo, in an even more Pissant brand of station than the last one, Jack faces the inevitable, gets down on one knee – those are real tears trickling down his cheeks – and sings, “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille,” just before fortuitous Fortuna drops in on him to see what condition his condition is in, and flat out offers to trade him a run down hot Harley (“that once belonged to James Dean”) straight up for dead as the deal Lucille.
Though he knows there’s trouble ahead, sometimes you just can’t afford to look a gift horse in the mouth, even though you know in your gut the gift horse is a booby trap. Flying through the panhandle with his baby’s arms wrapped tightly around him, Jack suddenly feels free as a bird, even though he’s sure there’s an APB out on the Harley. What to do, what to do is answered for him by the universe when the hawg gets stolen right from under their noses in Nogales, within walking distance of the border.
According to Hammer, once the love birds cross over into Mexico, things get more than a little murky, to say the least, since they totally drop off the map. From the point they walk slowly over the border through the open-air market, like tourists, stopping at different booths and vendors, until they buy new matching sunglasses and disappear into the crowd, their steps are untraceable. At least to the Private Investigator, since Jack never checks in with their mutual compadres. Though, if their disappearance is of any consolation, it is on the record that the thief who steals the Harley from them gets nailed several days later outside El Paso, for the original theft, which he took no part in; such is the ironic nature of karma. That is, if you believe in this kind of explanation for the inexplicable resolution to situations humankind falls into and out of every time they get out of bed in the morning and set out to face the world, then you can accept this news as a cosmic bone.
Not everything always goes wrong. For instance, in real time, Hammer is not even on the case yet. Though he has heard that Jack has a new girlfriend and has taken her on the road with him. None of which means anything to his semi-regular Zen training on the art & practice of getting up after being knocked down, performed for the audience’s benefit without the benefit of an audience in order to emphasize the-degree-of-difficulty of the proposition in-play in the middle of an ugly private three week bender he is on until his feet can finally stand on the floor on their own again. On the other hand, being an over-the-borderline binge drunk herself, Sal, has bigger fish to fry. She is dedicated to saving the extraordinary talented life of Mr. Bluto, before he snorts his ticket to ride off the planet. No easy task, for sure, but not impossible (unless you are outside this moment and cannot block out the ugly headlines when they find his body a couple of months later in L.A.). Despite this probable neon future everyone around him sees lurking ahead, Sal feels a strong connection to him. And while it is a connection she feels with all her employer/clients, this is different. More urgent, in fact. Her client, the playwright who wrote Bimbos In Paradise, has vowed to never write again if his Manager does not put her ass on the line and convince the star of coke, food and Saturday Night that playing John Barrymore on the stage will save his life and liberate his chops to move & groove in a different direction than the limitations that sketch comedy have placed on him. Obviously, Sal is not stupid enough to use her client’s threats when she finally lays the proposition on the table for her boss. They have bonded over her chocolate banana cream pie, as well as her pork belly enchiladas in green sauce – three is the triad she needs to make her move; one more dish he will go gaga over for pure pyramid power – but so far he only wants pork belly enchiladas in green sauce and chocolate banana cream pie, a combination that is not meant to be a combination, but each a single extraordinary dish on its own. But this is not how Mr. Bluto eats. Sal can assure you, and even your worst enemies, you do not want to watch Mr. Bluto eat. Even she does not want to watch Mr. Bluto eat, and she feeds him three days a week. In her eyes, he is such a monstrous pig, she cannot even find a way to rationalize serving him her special Oysters Paine, even though she knows it will be the clincher that finally allows her to sell him being in the play that will save his life. This will all take place, of course, while he is throwing the oysters in with the enchiladas and chocolate banana cream, mixing them all together before slopping them down in the green sauce as he reads the great Barrymore-Hamlet monologue out loud to her that will hook him on living, if for no other reason than to perform this role for a live audience. It is a noble thought. Much more noble than losing a gigantically fat gig for pitching your boss a project that interferes with his junky gluttony. Instinct does not allow her the luxury of knowing which of the probable futures will be hers for playing out this scenario, so Sal is in a rare state of compose, contemplating which side of the coin will butter her bread, and which will send her looking for another job to get through the winter. So, while not everything always goes wrong, Sal’s instinct at the time tells her, not everything always goes right either. She has more than two feet on the ground, and a splitting headache, however, there is hope on the horizon.
For instance, not everyone is worried about what happens to Jack & Jill when they disappear. Gretchen considers their disappearance the first real Christmas present she has had in years. The family think tank has tentacles all over the world, so it is only a matter of hours after they have been arrested and thrown in jail that she knows exactly where they are and what their situation is.
This is the short version of the ordeal south of the border, according to Jill, once she gets back to The Rock and moves in with Sal: “There’s no doubt Mums could snap her fingers and have us both pulled out of jail immediately, but bitch that she is, she decides to teach her spoiled daughter a lesson, and has us transferred to a high security prison, somewhere on the coast.”
Needless to say, after the shit with Jill and Sal goes down, Gretchen declines the opportunity to do interviews with investigators and reporters alike, thus leaving her under an old storm cloud of suspicion from those in the know that she works for the CIA; a patently false conclusion Hammer concludes while out and about looking to track down her daughter’s former lovers and friends. In the midst of going from one address to the next looking for leads, out of the blue an old personal contact, on the other side of the fence, tells him definitively, “The Mother does not work for the CIA, Dish, the CIA works for her.”
This kettle of fish can not, of course, sound like fortuitous Fortuna for Jack, who has already deducted on his own that Gretchen has him by the short hairs. For all he knows, and he definitely knows more than he knew before he gets pinched and thrown in the slammer, he might get 30-to-life just for scoring a Z for his own edification while working on the parlay to get them out of harm’s way. He psychically intuits that before Mommy Dearest decides her half-crazed daughter has had enough, and springs her, she will make sure Jack spends the rest of his life behind bars for resisting her advances, so he cuts a deal with This-Way-Jose, a gringo-friendly guard who is not only into the same salsa sounds he is, but one day wants to act in one of Jack’s movies. This is not a joke, not even a pitch, but it works before Gretchen can put her Divide & Conquer plan into action. With the friendly guard leading them through a primitive underground tunnel, Jack & his honey-pie loony-bin break out. Are they picked up by a helicopter next? Not hardly. This is no James Bond tale. Not even when Jillian hysterically tells it. They are buried in the back of some beaten down pick-up truck with chicken shit and chickens climbing all over them, cackling, all the way to the little port of Isla Mujeres, where there is a skiff waiting for Captain Jack to sail them across the Gulf to New Orleans.
None of this seems probable, much less possible, to those in the nautical know, since there are no known direct sailing routes from Mexico to the Big Easy, which is so preposterously up river from the Gulf that it might be a closer haul to sail around the Cape of Good Hope to the far side of Lake Pontchartrain. But Jill is so hysterical as she haltingly tells Sal what happens, it is easy to understand if Captain Jack straps her to the mask of his newly dubbed Lazy Lady, just so he can think clearly what to do and which way to go next. To Jill it feels like she is a prisoner of Captain Ahab, lost at sea on Kon-Tiki for at least ten years, though in truth, the entire roundabout jaunt takes no longer than 17-days, thanks to fortuitous Fortuna hitching them a ride up the coast to Galveston behind a garbage scow. And more than a few stops for fresh water and whiskey at oil rigs dotting the Gulf all along the way. When they finally do get to something resembling walkable land, Jill’s mind is uncountable sheets to the wind, so Jack does the only thing he can to deal with her hysterical madness, and books her a flight from New Orleans to Boston. Then makes a collect call, and asks Buck and Ernie to meet her at the airport and deliver her safely to Sal’s domain, while he hunkers down with his old jazzbro Sticky Fingers for a few days, before making his way back to The Rock. It is a good plan, as far as plans that are only partially followed go.
Delivering Jill to Sal is a Godsend if not a Godhead for the flaming sunburned diva, who Sal promptly takes one look at, and slathers her from head to toe with a special coconut oil ointment, as she manipulates her out of whack back and shoulders back into their rightful sockets. The girl could sleep forever, but like an overdose victim, she has to get up and walk, move around, even talk a bit to see if she’s found the handle, before Sal slathers her again. Gradually she begins coming back to herself. Which thanks to Sal, she does within a matter of weeks. In the meantime, like a wounded animal regarding their healer, Jill is starting to believe she is in-love with Sal. This is not an advisable situation, but it is not shocking either, since there is a long history of Nathan Detroit’s castoffs falling in-love with his daughter Sally on the round mound of abused rebound.
Sal even sees a montage of these rebounds prancing in front of her while she is under the gun at Mass General. All pretty girls, such pretty-pretty girls, what are they doing with a bum like Nathan? Not that she does not love her father. There is no telling how many times they have wrapped their arms around each other and tap danced down one dead end street after another singing, Call it sad, call it funny, But it’s better than even money. . .then filled in the rest of the song’s proposition with their own lyrics, depicting the particulars of a certain situation one or the other, or someone else they know, is embroiled in that defies simple logic. If indeed logic is simple. Sometimes obvious for sure, but not always simple, Sal thinks. At least she does not find it simple, even in her dreams, which this particular night is filled woodpeckers all over her body pecking-pecking-pecking, trying to wake her up to feed them one treat or another. She tries to shoo them out of her dreams, blindly swinging her arm like a scythe at the peckers interrupting her solitude, and hears a scream when it connects with Jillian, standing above her stabbing her with a butcher knife – which is really a bummer of a dream for anyone to have, but there’s not even a good word for the reality of it.
Sal screams, “Away Monstral!” And slaps the knife out of her roommate’s hand. Then pushes herself up off the bed, as Jillian picks up the knife. By that time Sal, in a trail of flying blood, is stumbling out the front door, calling for “HELP”, with the crazy witch right behind her. She goes rolling off the porch into the snow, just as a van pulls up to the cabin.
Sal wraps her arms around a tree to hold herself up; she barely has the breath to whisper help, as Buck and Ernie, of all people, step out of the van, and instantly begin filming what they see in front of them. Which is mostly blood. RED all over the snow white snow. In splotches, spread out in interesting patterns like a Rorschach test, or abstract art. Which is what Sal, spouting blood and all, looks like to them.
Jill says hello to them, and asks them if she can get them coffee.
Camera locked to his jaw, Ernie asks her, “Do you have tea?”
“24 different varieties,” Jill says, and begins naming them, one after another, as Sal stares at the whole scene in front of her in disbelief. This has to be a dream. There is no logic whatsoever in the polite scene she is witnessing right in front of her.
Buck looks over at her and asks, “What’s with Sal?”
“Oh”, Jillian voices like a startled 10-year-old, “she was crystallizing.”
“Yes,” Jill smiles. “She was precipitating from a solution, melting or more rarely depositing as a gas. I had to stop it.”
“Of course,” Buck says.
“Good job,” Ernie concurs.
If Sal loses her mind, and this is really reality, she does not want to find it. What is going on? The witch is serving them tea. Not only tea, but her own apple bourbon dumplings, which were made last night specifically for Mr. Bluto. Without these dumplings to close the deal she will never be able to convince him that starring in Bimbos In Paradise will save his life. Poor doomed Mr. Bluto, she thinks, just as a police car and an ambulance pull up the drive.
In retrospect, she remembers the helicopter most, but does not realize this is how she gets to Mass General, courtesy of her generous roommate’s credit card. She thinks she is a soldier on D-Day, storming the beach at Normandy, and she has never seen anything like war before. The soldier next to her goes down in a heap. Her best buddy in the world, the real father she never meets, buys the tomb of the unknown soldier just a few feet from the finish line of WW II. It is hard to remember his name. She hears it mentioned a few times as a kid, but never pays much attention to a man she never meets, who she knows will never be there for her in the future. The only way now to figure it out is to figure out what her name is at that time. Though she is not exactly cognizant now, or before she comes out of the womb either, she is sure she hears Jill singing as she flails away at her, “War will never end. Never-never-ever end.”
Not exactly the message Sal wants to go out with. Matter of fact, not the message every soldier who ever dies in battle wants to go out with. She is searching for a better message when she hears “LUCK BE A LADY TONIGHT” piping through her inner loudspeaker and practically tears the bed she is strapped to apart trying to sit up.
Hammer is there when, for better or for worse, Sal actually comes back into consciousness two days later. She is so covered with bandages, she looks almost like a mummy to him, but still seems relatively healthy, considering the heiress stabs her in the back 44 times. Why Jill does this is easier for him to figure out than why Sal does not die from the attack. Hammer introduces himself as an old friend of her friend Jack’s, then hands her a letter from Ms. Lil, which vouches for him as someone she recommends to represent Sal until she finds the right attorney to take over the case–
“I hate lawyers,” Sal growls.
“Who doesn’t,” Hammer agrees. “Nevertheless, they are going to be lining up from here to fucking Fenway Park to represent you on spec – once your story gets out. In the meantime, your alleged roommate comes from such a rich, powerful family they have not even charged her with attempted murder yet, but instead are holding her under observation at McLean. I am sure they will be contacting you shortly to settle, before charges are leveled and it leaks out to the press what happens. My hunch is, this is not the first time Jillian Chandler goes off the reservation and does damage to the civilian population. Therefore, the best leverage you have while I’m getting corroboration is not talking to the press or the police or her fucking family reps until I can find what I think I can find in your fucking whacko roommate’s past. If and when I do, one of the richest families in the world will have to admit they know their daughter is fucking bonkers, but instead of institutionalizing her, they allow her to run free in the world, despite knowing the great and present fucking danger she is to anyone she comes in contact with. Once that bird is in the hand as a real fucking card, you will become a ridiculously wealthy young woman without ever having to see the inside of a fucking courtroom.”
While Sal does not like the idea of seeing the either inside or outside of a courtroom under any circumstances, anyone who can use the word fucking correctly more times than she can count them in the same sentence must be A-Ok, so she slaps hands with him, then rolls over and goes back to dreamland.
Needless to say, the dreams are not good. Despite Hammer’s precise warning, by the time she is released from the hospital two weeks later, Sal is virtually swimming in lawyers. They are promising they will get her the Taj Mahal and the Brooklyn Bridge and put all her pie in the sky if she hires them to pick up, carry and transfer her vast fortune into all their various different investment portfolios, none of which, she notes, are offering three legged race horses or punch drunk fighters who could’ve been a contender if they only had decent management behind them. A flattering rush to endure at first, though it doesn’t take long for their offers to become a whirligig of albatrosses she cannot deal with.
Sal wants to see Jillian, wants to talk to her, wants to ask her flat out why she did what she did, at least until she sees Buck and Ernie’s film. It is too horrific for her to revisit. Though she has to admit the boys are going to get rich. Not as rich as Sal, of course, but there is more than enough family money out there to not only make sure their little indie documentary bloodbath does not see the light of day, but to back the million dollar Brooklyn girl gang movie Buck has, without success, been trying to raise money to make for at least 10-years.
Big plans, like sugar plum ferries, may not quite dance in Sal’s head, but there is no denying they duck in and out to see if she is considering them as her ticket to ride. Once she gets out of the hospital, she even goes deep into Southie to Hammer’s office when she cannot get him on the phone. But outside revisiting the roots she would most like to forget, the trip is a waste, since all she finds is a locked one room storefront under the Private Investigator’s shingle. When she calls him on that sham two days later when he calls to tell her he has a lead on a guy who used to date Jill, he confesses he actually lives on Beacon Hill, two blocks from the dome, and the office is just a front to give him the street cred he needs to pick up information freely in the toughest section of Boston without having to go through a song & dance to prove he is a standup guy who can be trusted every time somebody confidentially spills the beans to him. Which all makes sense to her in a kind of back bay way of looking at the world, but still does not come close to answering the cosmic conundrum, Which comes first the chicken or the egg?
As it turns out, Jack is one of the few of the few who has the chops to actually answer that riddle. But unfortunately he and his buddy Sticky Fingers uncover a gris-gris mumbo gumbo stash of opiated black Afghani tar baby, and his two days of New Orleans r&r turns into two months of 24-hour-a-day addiction before he knows it. When the stash is all gone, his head clears enough for him to bum a ride North to face the music. The whole way up, he is practicing what he is going to say to Jill, practicing what he is going to say to Sal, but when he gets back on The Rock neither of them are there.
Though she will live to regret it, Sal loses all patience with the process of waiting to become millionaire, and against the advice of Hammer, trades a short bird in the hand for her future life of luxury in-waiting and signs her X to a release form depriving her of all future claims against Jill, for the astounding amount of 25K, cold hard cash, that young Theo dumps out on her bed in 25-separate-envelopes of Benjamins. This boost will allow her the freedom to travel again. Before she settles full time on The Rock, Sal is from Taos, Austin, New Orleans, Portland, P-town, Hialeah, Hot Springs: Sal is from the longest route between any two points. And what moves her the most is the feeling something is gaining on her, and so she keeps moving, from one place and one friend to the next. Like a fix hungry junky in search of good conversation, she zigzags the country in “Sam and not Dave”, her trusty 100,000+mile-Mustang, and alights at a friend’s house cranked up with energy from the road. With all the traveling she does she might not see any one friend for a number of years, so there is always plenty of mind scat on the mysteries and quirks of the cosmos to get down on, and this is, in a sense, what keeps her going so long. It does not take a fucking Einstein to figure out by settling down she loses the magic that makes her her, so as soon as she has the cash she packs everything of value into Sam and not Dave, drops the dog off with Ernie and takes off for New York City to console her desperate playwright client over the sad but predictable demise of Mr. Bluto in L.A.. She knows she has failed them both, and there is nothing she can do to make amends but squat in the middle of her client’s living room until he forgives her for choosing to protect the security of her two-bit celebrity housekeeping gig, instead of having the guts to be herself, and devil-may-care-pitch Bimbos In Paradise to save the star of coke, food and Saturday Night’s life. A failure of will that is very un-Sal-like. Not her at all.
Jack, of course, has no inkling of what he has missed until he hooks up with Hammer and hears his side of the story. Even though the evidence the gumshoe lays out is overwhelming, and what he sees in Buck and Ernie’s film is more than shocking, he cannot bring himself to actually believe that the great love of his life is a psychopathic killer who has a long history of violence that has been covered up by her family, since their film does not actually show Jill stabbing Sal, or anyone else. There is blood all over her chest and arms, true, but she is very polite. Serving tea and sweet stuff to Buck and Ernie. Like the perfect lady.
No more than three days after he views the film, as soon as he gets a somewhat faux day-to-day stabilized, and has a decent set of wheels under him, he heads up to Belmont to see Jill at McLean, where she comfortably continues to stay, even though no charges are ever filed against her, and to the detriment of the world at large, she is free to walk out of whenever she wants.
According to Hammer, Jack is as off-kilter as he ever sees him. “It is either fucking love or Malaria driving him blindly toward the inevitable cliff he seems determined to go over. Somehow,” Hammer pauses for the delicacy of the trajectory of what he is about to lay on us to take form, “Jack gets it in his head they are holding Jill against her will. He is obviously not familiar with the hospital’s patient policy. He tells himself if they give him any trouble he will break her out. To the relief of almost everyone in the know, she does not do an impression of Norman Bates on the funny farm when he gets there. So everything is relatively cool in the beginning.”
For instance, the room is actually filled with flowers. And books. Good books. Pictures on the wall, home sweet home style. In fact, Jill seems as sane as he does, relatively speaking, so they do what old friends and lovers who have amicable partings do; they reminisce about the past for awhile, and even talk about if they were stupid enough to ever attempt this kind of bonding again, how they would avoid making the same fucking mistakes in the future – even getting genuinely excited about writing a screenplay together about their Mexican prison break. All very good and well shit, to say the least, though with everything they talk about they never quite get around to addressing the present situation, until the administrator knocks on the door to let them know visiting time will be up in 15-minutes, and Jack will have to leave.
Which is when it all comes flowing out of Jill’s mouth: “My scumbag attorneys nag me daily not to talk to anyone about what happened. In the meantime, I know I look mad to the outside world. But Sally was definitely crystallizing. For some reason I’ve been able to see crystallization in other people since birth. If I wasn’t an atheist I would say it’s a God given talent. For whatever good that does for me, or us, or the world at large, I had to stop it from happening to her, Boo. I knew I wasn’t going to kill her. I didn’t want to kill her. And I didn’t, did I?”
Jack is beyond speechless. “Not to my knowledge,” he mumbles.
“You haven’t seen her yet?”
“She left The Rock before I got back. Packed up and took off for who-knows-where.”
“Courtesy of yours truly.”
“Really. The two months we lived together all she talked about was getting out, was having the freedom to take off like she used to. I gave her that.”
“If I may be so bold as to take your level down to another level, what you gave her, my dear, is chump change. That’s barely enough to last a year the way Sal rolls. ”
“I can’t help it if she’s stupid. Impatient. Greedy. Generous to a fault; I’m not sure what the right word is, since she was all of the above at any given time.“
“Desperate, most likely. Definitely marginally broke. I hear Theo waved the cash in front of her nose.”
“I don’t know where you heard that. But even if it is true, she could have said no. Ultimately they would have gone as high as 10 million for me. They don’t think I’m worth more than that.”
Noting the twinkle in his eye, she warns him, “Don’t get any ideas.”
“I can tell you’re thinking about kidnapping me.”
“Not until you said it, I wasn’t, Tania.”
“That’s a great way to get the FBI off your ass. It’s a bad idea.”
“No, it is a terrible idea.”
“Then we agree?”
“It’s so good not to fight.”
“Until it is.”
“Is that your great secret of life?”
“Yin gotta have yang, baby.”
“Yang gotta have yin, baby.”
Just as they finally start cooking with each other again, there’s another knock on the door, to let them know time is up.
Tears begin rolling down Jill’s face as she inwardly fears she will never see him again, while outwardly hoping she doesn’t have to face that pressure. Despite that conflict, she hugs him tightly to her bosom, while softly singing in his ear, “War will never end. Never-never-ever end.” Then kisses him goodnight.
On the way back to The Rock, just five miles East on I-195, in fact, Jack mumbles to himself, “That remains to be seen.”
He suddenly pulls off the Interstate, turns around and heads back in the direction of the hospital. Until the next Exit comes up, when he whips off the highway again, turns around and heads back towards the Cape. Then suddenly starts singing, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain, I’ve seen sunny days I thought would never end. . .” Then takes the next Exit off the highway and turns around again and heads back towards McLean. He knows from experience, if he had his old bag of rocks with him, his Runes would say he is stuck in a rat maze somewhere between the Forward and Reverse of Separation: Old skins must be shed, outmoded relationships discarded and the Reverse of that proverb: Ask yourself what feels right for you and act according to the Light you possess now in your life. He is sure this 8-ball circle-jerk Zen ring-around-the-rosy exercise he is running to get rid of his indecision will make it clear what his next move is. Unless, of course, he turns out to be like the man in the old revived Kingston Trio 60s folk hit that even he, Mel and the jug band (he’s embarrassed to admit) used to sing in their early days on the circuit. The man gets stuck riding the MTA beneath the streets of Boston, and can’t get off. He begins singing as he loop-de-loops the Interstate: “Did he ever return / No he never returned / And his fate is still unlearn’d / He may ride forever / on the streets of Boston / He’s the man who never returned.” Unless, he thinks, he runs out of gas first.
This kind of logic is not normally in Jack’s wheelhouse. His intuition has hit a massive wave of digression. According to Hammer, it is obvious to anyone who knows him a long time, Jack has never been the same since he drinks from Jill’s witches brew. And since spending Thanksgiving with her family and concluding the FBI have set him up to be whacked by old SDS compatriots for either not adhering to the societal limitations of ideological parking meters, or for just trashing them, he is no longer the natural born bard who once flips off the answer to the Zen koan, which comes first the chicken or the egg. Knowing how slippery that one is, Dish writes it down when Jack reveals it to him, so he will never forget it, but invariably forgets where he writes it. But it is there. In his archives. Sitting somewhere in the area between all the shit on his desk and the stack of books and magazine in the bathroom, which he tells himself is the next best thing to having a koan in the pocket. . .of a pair of pants he is not wearing.
Despite that little glitch, the most important fucking thing he learns from this case, he tells himself, is, right up until the very end, no matter what they do, or do not do, even the self-defeating perpetually suicidal among us have a will to live, even if almost every action they take is the converse of that desire. According to those in the know, this state is not exactly Zen balance, yet. . . not everything always goes wrong.
© 2016 B. Prune
Pronounced Poet Laureate of New Atlantis, by that country’s founder el Presidente Leicester Hemingway in the god forsaken year 1969, B. Prune co-wrote A Bum Love Story, an earlier Sally Detroit story that appeared in,