The heart alone knows its bitterness,
And no outsider can share in its joy.
Proverbs xiv: 10
Driving home from work, his plastic dashboard Jesus leading the way, Wayne always tuned the car radio to WTBM (“Tampa’s Best Music”) so he could sing along with the Top Five at Five. Today he’d already croaked along as best he could to “Bad Moon Rising,” by Creedence Clearwater, “One” by Three Dog Night, “Spinning Wheel” by Blood, Sweat & Tears, “Honky Tonk Woman” by the Rolling Stones, and was waiting for the number one song.
“And now, the song you WTBM listeners love the most—for the third week in a row—Tommy James & The Shondells’ ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion!’”
“Shit dang!” Wayne turned the radio up. This was his favorite part of the day. As heavy rain thundered down on the leaky convertible top of his rusting ‘62 Ford Falcon, Wayne slapped the dashboard with his right hand, held the steering wheel with his left, and moved in time to the music as he sang along:
Better get ready, and see the light
Love is the answer, and that’s alright!
So don’t you give up now, so easy to find,
Just look to your soul, open your mind,
Crystal Blue Persuasion—it’s a new vibration!
Tommy James and the Bible were right about love being the answer: There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear, John iv:18. Ever since he was a kid Wayne had loved Jesus at least as much as he loved music, but lately music had been edging slightly ahead.
The song lifted his flagging spirit up, up, and away, far from the ineludibly dull facts of his life: his job driving a fork lift at Cox Lumber and Supply, his Pillsbury Doughboy physique—the result of his unbridled lust for southern cooking (pork barbecue sandwiches, buttermilk biscuits and gravy, cheese grits, fried chicken, pecan pie)—his understandably chronic shyness regarding women, and most importantly to him, Wayne’s embarrassing state of virginity at the age of twenty-one.
The way Wayne saw it, 1969 was turning out to be the wildest year yet: psychedelic music, hippies, Woodstock, wild clothes, something called the sexual revolution. Where could he join? As the only child of a Baptist minister he felt as if the world was throwing a huge party and he wasn’t invited.
Wayne drove on past a 7-11 and the ABC Liquor Lounge and continued to sing along:
Maybe tomorrow, when He looks down
at every green field in every town,
All of His children, in every nation
There’ll be peace and good, brotherhood,
Crystal Blue Persuasion...
He hadn’t been to church since last spring. That was when his daddy stepped down as pastor of Emanuel Baptist Church after twenty years of service to the Lord and had retired with the missus to Barlow up in the Florida panhandle. The morning they left Wayne felt an immense weight lift from his shoulders as he watched his mother and father wave goodbye and drive away in their ancient, smoke-billowing Nash Rambler. Later in the day, for the first time in his life, Wayne bought a Playboy and a pack of Swisher Sweets cigarillos, coughing uncontrollably as he pored over Miss April. Smoking didn’t last long but the Playboy had become a habit.
Despite the unexpressed lust that burned in his heart, Wayne still read from the Bible every night. He loved the wisdom it contained. In Playboy he simply found a second opinion.
“Things go better with Coca-Cola, things go better with Coke, life is much more fun when you’re refreshed, and Coke refreshes you best...”
The song had cross-faded into a commercial. Wayne snapped out of his reverie, clicked off the radio and eased into the carport of Number 14, Kozy Court Trailer Park. Back home after another day of work. Home again to nothing.
Even his dog Dixie seemed disheartened. At the sound of Wayne’s car tires on the crushed gravel driveway, the female boxer looked up briefly from her shady spot underneath the trailer, then lay her head back down and sighed.
One particularly humid Friday evening in July, Wayne sat in his trailer eating a deluxe pork platter from the T&L Takeout as he watched “Hee-Haw” on his tiny black-and-white TV, the windows open to lessen the stultifying heat. After the show he walked outside with a citronella candle, then sat on the top step of his trailer, opened his bible and turned to the Revelation. The steady drone of the crickets was interrupted every few seconds by the rasping croak of a bullfrog. The evening air felt oppressive, muggy, and close.
Wayne read a chapter, then closed the book, distracted. Dixie stood up from under the trailer, stretched her rear legs slowly, lapped some water from her dish, then trotted over to Wayne and snuffled. Wayne idly scratched the boxer under one floppy ear and sighed. “Life does get daily. What sayeth you, Dixie?”
The dog whined, wriggled the stub of her tail, then trotted off into the shadows and returned with a small branch, laying it at Wayne’s feet.
“Too hot. Can’t move. ”
Send me a sign, Lord, Wayne thought, an epiphany. Tell me what to do to satisfy this lust in my heart. After all, it was You who said It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a help meet for him, Genesis ii: 18. I don’t want to die a horny moron who spent his life in a trailer park watching “Hee Haw.” Wayne closed his eyes and waited. But nothing happened.
Then someone turned on a radio a few trailers down. A laxative jingle blared forth: “Creomulsion works naturally, so naturally it works...”
Wayne closed his eyes tighter, concentrating. Come on now. I’ve been good, Lord, I deserve a life. After all, it was You who said The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but time and chance happeneth to them all, Ecclesiastes ix: 11. Isn’t it my turn? Show me your presence.
The radio commercial ended and the sounds of “I Saw The Light” by Hank Williams began drifting through the sweltering air of the trailer park. A light magnolia-scented breeze rose up briefly, then died down. Wayne inhaled deeply, then opened his eyes. A mosquito buzzed past, then turned and landed on Wayne’s ear. He waited until he felt a faint stinging sensation then slapped his ear, hard. The mosquito fell away and his ear began to ring steadily, a high-pitched eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. The ringing filled his head.
Wayne stared at the blood-spot in the middle of his left hand, transfixed by the images it brought forth. This is the sign I’ve been waiting for. My own stigmata, just like Jesus on the cross. The Lord is telling me I’m going to die someday, so I should do what I want with my life. Thank you, Jesus. I want to play in a rock band and meet girls. He gazed with excitement at Dixie, who began to whine nervously. He reached out, held Dixie’s head in his hands and stared deep into her eyes. “Praise God!” he shouted with great enthusiasm. Dixie reared back and twisted away, running quickly back to her spot under the trailer. She shot Wayne a worried look.
But if I join a band, what instrument should I play? Wayne wondered. This was a problem to be reckoned with. Guitar was out of the question; it seemed too complex—all those strings—and his large callused hands just didn’t seem right for the instrument. What about learning the drums? Not a good choice either; a full kit was expensive and bulky, the trailer too small to hold them, and drums were loud: he’d get kicked out of the Kozy Court the minute he began to practice.
The only thing left was bass guitar, Wayne decided. Four strings, big fat ones too. He’d seen bass players in bands, they just sort of stood there, plunking away. That was it!
The following Saturday, Wayne Butler walked into Tampa Music Center with four one-hundred-dollar bills and bought a Fender Precision bass, a Fender Bassman amp and signed up for bass lessons. Worth a try, he figured: In all labor there is profit, Proverbs xiv: 23.
Every Wednesday after work Wayne drove to the music store, walked down the hall carrying his bass and entered the last practice room on the right. Two months of lessons and he was still struggling with the damn thing.
His music teacher Flip, vegetarian-lean, soft-spoken and clear-eyed, glanced up from the latest issue of Hit Parader (“The Who Conquer America!”), stubbed out a Kent in the beanbag ashtray on his knee, and smiled. “Hey, Wayne. Still losing weight?”
“Shit I reckon. Don’t know about this juice diet though.”
Flip, a health fanatic, had introduced Wayne early on to the virtues of soybeans, tofu, roughage, fresh fruit and vegetable juice. Wayne had in fact dropped twenty pounds in two months, taking long walks with Dixie down to Orange Lake and back every night, a couple miles each way. He’d stopped eating at the T&L and What-A-Burger the day Flip took him down to Mother Earth, an organic food co-op. Flip wore his long brown hair in a ponytail, his beard neatly trimmed. Wayne thought Flip was the coolest guy he’d ever met.
“Hey, Flip, I figured out ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion.’ ”
“Groovy. Hey, what’s that smell?”
“Patchouli oil. Did I put too much on again?”
“Uh... yeah. A little dab’ll do ya, Wayne. Also, let your hair grow out some. Jesus was actually the first hippie, did your daddy ever preach that? ”
“No, I don’t believe he ever did say that. Anyhow, they don’t like long hair too well down at the lumber yard.”
“When it gets real long you buy a short-hair wig, wear that at work. You wanna get in a band, you gotta look like a musician.”
“That’s for true.”
Wayne unpacked his bass, plugged into the tiny Ampeg amp against the wall, and sat on the stool. He furrowed his brow and leaned forward. Sweat had already formed on his forehead and was working down his nose. “O.K., let’s start again. This is the major scale,” Flip began, pointing to a spiral bound notebook on the black music stand: “G...A...B...C...D...”
Wayne held the bass close to his chest and began to pluck the strings furiously.
Flip frowned at him. “Gently. You don’t have to attack the thing. Let the amp do some of the work. You have to coax the sound out, not beat it to death. You know, like when you’ve gotten to third base with a gal and you’re about to make that final move....” Flip winked at him, man to man.
Wayne felt his face flush. I’m doing the best I can, damn... He squeezed his eyes shut. Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish, Proverbs xii:30. O.K. O.K. Gently, like making love to a beautiful woman. Like Sharon Summers, Miss September. Wayne made love to Miss September every night, in his own way. He imagined himself kissing her and plucked a string, softer this time.
Wayne put little stickers on the neck of the bass with the names of the notes on them. Learning became his obsession. He practiced at night, and on weekends, his amp turned low. He discovered that the best bass parts were usually the simplest: the less notes you played, the better the song sounded. After a while he gamely began playing along with the radio, and soon realized that songs were made up of similar musical patterns and these could be learned through repetition.
Two months passed, and Wayne finally felt he was ready for the next step. One day at the end of his lesson he asked Flip if there were any bands who needed a bassist.
Flip leaned back in his folding metal chair and lit up his post-lesson Kent. “Well. Hmm. You’re already better than our bass player. You memorize songs quicker’n anyone I know. And you’re interested in getting better. Coleman’s a party dog, never wants to rehearse, just a pretty boy with a drinkin’ problem. He always gets snot-flyin’ drunk by the end of the night. Doesn’t want to learn new songs either. Takes him ages when he finally tries. That boy was born tired and raised lazy. Told him he was too drunk to play one night and he got me in a headlock, damn near choked me to death! The guy was captain of the wrestling team his senior year. Has an arm like a vise. Didn’t remember doin’ it the next day neither. I’ll talk to the guys in the band about you. Yeah, The Intruders could use some fresh energy.”
Wayne felt his heart pounding. My oh my. To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven, Ecclesiastes iii:1.
“In fact, come by my house at six tomorrow. We usually start rehearsals at eight, so we’ll have a couple hours before Coleman shows up. If he does show up.”
Flip helped Wayne lift his speaker cabinet out of the car trunk and they carried it into the garage, placed it next to the drummer.
“What do ya wanna start with, Wayne?” asked Flip.
“ ‘Crystal Blue Persuasion.’ I brought the record.”
The band played along with the record a few times as Wayne wrote the lyrics down for Flip.
The drummer counted off the song: one, pause, two, pause, one two three pause...
Wayne kept his eyes focused on the drummer’s bass drum pedal, following the rhythm pattern exactly. Flip strummed his guitar and leaned into the mike, reading the words from a sheet of paper taped to the mike stand: “Crystal Blue Persuasion, it’s a new vibration...”
Later, Flip and the other guys huddled briefly next to the fridge in the corner of the garage. Flip broke from the huddle and walked over to Wayne, shook his hand. “You got it if you want it. We’re playing the Winter Bash Weekend in three weeks, so we’ll have to get down on it. And you’ll need some clothes.”
“Cool.” Wayne grinned crookedly but kept it together, nodding and shifting his weight from one foot to another. “Alright. Radical. Far away.”
“Far out,” Flip corrected. “We’ll take care of Coleman, don’t worry.”
“How do I know he won’t come looking for me and put me in a headlock?”
The drummer laughed. “Don’t worry about him. He’s just a big drunk jerk.”
Exactly, Wayne thought. Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise, Proverbs xx:1.
Three weeks later, after work, the phone rang in Wayne’s trailer just as he had finished up a quick session with Miss December. “Hello?”
“Wayne? Flip. Here’s the dirt. We go on tomorrow at four p.m., so be at the Tampa Municipal Bandshell at two p.m. with your gear. We’re on just after the Second Coming, and before Plant Life. It’s right next to the pier on the beach. You’ve been there, right?”
Wayne had. The band shell, an outdoor concert venue, was at the edge of a parking lot next to the beach. Long rows of bench seating faced the open-air stage. Every year WTBM sponsored the Winter Weekend Bash, where bands played and most of teenage Tampa met and danced, scuffled and checked each other out. Wayne confided to Flip that he was already nervous.
“You’ll do fine,” Flip said. “We’ve rehearsed these songs a lot. And remember, you’re just the bass player. Nobody will notice you anyway.”
“What would I do without you, Flip?”
“Nothing. I’m your saviour!” Flip said laughingly, then hung up.
Wayne glanced at Miss December and wondered what tomorrow would bring.
Under a cloudless sky seagulls picked at a few French fries near the dumpster behind the concert stage. The temperature was in the high eighties but an offshore breeze cooled the young crowd, a mixture of college kids, teenagers, longterm hippies, bikers from Daytona Beach, rednecks ogling the young girls in bikinis, skateboarders in striped Gant shirts flicking their bleached blond hair with a studied toss of the head, grinning fraternity boys in tank tops with recently-purchased peace signs on leather thongs around their necks. On the beach a dog with a red bandanna was busy chasing sandpipers and catching a Frisbee in mid-air.
Wayne unloaded his amp and bass behind the band shell where two other bands had stored their gear, then drove off to find a parking spot as Flip stood near the equipment.
As he walked back he saw that two girls had joined Flip and were talking. The first was a willowy blonde wearing a white miniskirt, oversize sunglasses and a huge floppy hat: her blasé attitude perfectly matched her appearance. To Wayne she looked like she’d fallen out of heaven from the pages of a fashion magazine and inexplicably landed in Tampa, Florida.
He turned his attention to the other girl, a rawboned, freckled redhead in a purple macramé bikini top and cutoff jeans, barefoot. A dirty white feather boa hung askew from her shoulders; her hair, more coppery than red, had been teased into a massive Afro. She was furiously smoking a cigarette and laughing every few seconds at something Wayne couldn’t hear.
The breeze brought the scent of tanning oil to Wayne’s nostrils. He inhaled deeply. Ahh, coconut oil on hot skin. He was surrounded by acres of naked flesh covered with fragrant lotion. A bible verse lay just out of reach, tormenting him. Oh yeah: Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. What was it from, Hebrews? Proverbs?
The tall blonde was the angel, Wayne decided, and therefore completely unattainable. The redhead, however, was definitely from Earth.
Harsh metallic guitar chords abruptly pierced the hot afternoon air. The Second Coming were known as the loudest band on the Florida circuit and the sound was deafening. Flip pointed in Wayne’s direction and the redhead turned around to see. Wayne waved and felt a brief wave of nausea pass through him. I must look like a real geek in these new bellbottoms, he decided. I sure feel like one. The redhead nodded briefly to Flip, and then quickly strode over to Wayne.
“WHEN DO YOU GUYS GO ON? MY NAME IS CINDY!” she shouted into his ear. She certainly wasn’t shy.
“AT FOUR. MY NAME IS WAYNE!”
The redhead beckoned toward the tall blonde, who kissed Flip on the forehead and slowly walked over toward them. Cindy leaned close and shouted.
“THIS IS MY ROOMMATE, JANICE!” The icy blonde extended her hand and Wayne shook it gingerly.
Her hand was cool, delicately-boned and unbelievably soft.
Cindy leaned toward his ear again. “FLIP TOLD ME TO SAY HI. LET’S WALK ONTO THE BEACH SO WE CAN TALK!” She backed away and grabbed Janice by the elbow and they hopped over the knee-high wall and toward the water.
Wayne followed them, his mind racing. Cindy. Sin with a D.
At the edge of the shore Cindy stopped and turned toward him, the music a dull roar in the distance. The blonde continued to gaze impassively toward the ocean, watching a line of pelicans as they swooped down in a single file parallel to the cresting waves, searching for fish. Cindy squeezed Wayne’s arm lightly and smiled, revealing surprisingly perfect teeth.
“We really like The Intruders. We saw them here last year.”
“Thanks. I wasn’t playing bass for them back then.”
As if on cue, Janice spoke. “I know. I used to date Coleman until he got fired. Ever since then he’s turned into a permanently drunk asshole. And he punched me, look.” Janice lifted up her tee shirt and Wayne saw a large purple bruise on her stomach. “I wanted to see you guys play without him. Jerk.” Cindy reached into a tiny metal-mesh purse she wore around her neck.
“And we have a joint of some good Jamaican weed if you’d like to turn on before you play.”
She showed the lumpy yellow-papered marijuana cigarette to Wayne.
That stuff’s illegal, he thought. “Maybe later. I should go back now. We’re on next.”
The sun sagged low to the horizon and a single-engine plane buzzed by, close to the shore, towing a banner: TAN DON’T BURN—COPPERTONE.
Just after four o’clock, Wayne stood on the band shell stage, ready to play. He could see everything from his vantage point: the beach on the right, the crowd in front, the buildings that fronted the boardwalk to his left.
He hugged his bass close to his body and waited for Flip to finish tuning. His left leg began to twitch involuntarily. Suddenly the nausea returned and Wayne gazed nervously out toward the crowd. They all know I’m a fraud, he decided, all those people out there know I’m just a fake, a preacher’s son masquerading as a musician. Oh I wish I was back in my trailer right now watching “Hogan’s Heroes” with Dixie. But it’s too late. I’m a fool;Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, Ecclesiastes i: 2.
A man in a white turtleneck, dark slacks and sunglasses dashed in front of them and grabbed the mike with both hands. “H-e-l-l-o-o, Tampa! I’m Bob Norris, WTBM’s best-looking, grooviest DJ! Are we havin’ fun yet?”
“Eat me!” someone shouted from the rear of the crowd.
Bob paused a moment, coughed into his hand off-mike, then continued. “Thank you. The WTBM Good Guys welcome you to the Winter Bash, and I’ve gotta say you are lookin’ good out there! Now, all the way from across Tampa Bay, we’ve got the bossest, hippest, most totally fab band to hit the stage since the Second Coming just a few minutes ago! Please give a huge WTBM Winter Bash Weekend welcome to the In...tru...ders!”
The drummer tapped his sticks three times and the guitars joined in on the fourth. Wayne held his breath—here we go!—and began playing; tentatively at first, then with more confidence, focusing intently on the drummer’s bass drum and snare drum pattern, matching the rhythm with a simple three-note bass figure. Wayne stood directly in front of his bass amp, anchored in place like a statue, feeling himself becoming engulfed in the music: the crash of the cymbals, the silvery jangle of Flip’s rhythm guitar, the high, manic wail of the second guitarist’s fuzz-tone lead; and, beneath it all, holding it together, Wayne realized, was the steady throb of a bass guitar—his bass guitar.
This is heaven on earth, Wayne thought. He began to sway a bit to the music, his clip-on sunglasses fogging up from sweat.
The Intruders finished the first tune and the applause was immediate. Wayne felt something inside him relax. No one’s laughing at me, he realized, allowing himself a brief smile, and I didn’t screw up, not yet anyhow.
Their next song was a cover tune (“Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” by the Buckinghams), and Wayne relaxed a bit more, having played along with the record that very morning in his trailer. The drummer nodded at him and Wayne smiled back. I’m a musician, he thought.
After the song ended and the applause died down, Flip walked up to the microphone. “We’re gonna play something kind of different,” he told the crowd, and then began a long spacy Eastern-influenced instrumental that Wayne kept grounded with his one insistent bass note.
More applause. So far so good, Wayne thought, but Lordy, here come the new tunes: two uptempo originals. Wayne ignored the girls dancing in the front row, ignored the Frisbee that sailed past his head and landed behind his amp, even ignored the sweat dripping off his nose onto the bass, as he moved closer to the drummer, barely noticing the applause between the next two songs. A rock ‘n’ roll medley of Chuck Berry tunes flew by. Too fast, the drummer mouthed at Wayne as they played the final chorus. Wayne’s left hand was beginning to tighten a bit and he felt a twinge of panic. Now what? The medley was over, thank goodness. Wayne realized he’d been holding his breath and let it out with a sigh of relief.
The crowd responded with a thunderous ovation and the drummer stood and tossed both his sticks far into the crowd. Wayne felt himself return to earth; heard Flip thank the audience, saw Flip hand his pick to a squealing blonde who reached out toward him from the edge of the stage, felt Flip pull at his sleeve as he ran past.
Somewhat in a daze, Wayne unplugged his bass and walked quickly down the steps behind the drummer. It was over. He’d played his first gig. He’d done it!
Behind the band shell, Wayne’s heart was pounding as he chugged a Yoo-Hoo and ate a box of Cracker Jacks he’d saved for after the performance— if he hadn’t made any mistakes. He hadn’t. Flip squeezed his shoulder. “You were beautiful, man. Great first gig.”
This is perfect, Wayne thought. Just perfect.
Cindy and Janice walked quickly up to him. Cindy touched him on the elbow and grinned.
“You guys were great. Where’s the party at?”
In my pants, Wayne thought, feeling oddly confident.
“I dunno,” he grinned, grabbing a handful of Cracker Jacks and shoving them into his mouth. He felt energized, wicked.
“Wanna come back to our apartment and get high? It’s just on the other side of the pier.”
Just say yes, Wayne thought. “Sure.”
He felt in his pocket for the Binaca and the condom. They were still there.
An hour later, Janice had stumbled from the candle-lit living room to the kitchenette of the two-bedroom apartment and poured more Gallo Spañada into her green plastic tumbler.
Cindy leaned back onto Wayne as they sat on the sagging brown sofa. She held the half-empty pint of Southern Comfort up in her left hand. “Want a sip?” He took if from her, held it to his mouth with his lips closed, tilted it back and returned it.
“I wanna dance,” Cindy announced.
She stood up, chose an album, Iron Butterfly’s “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida,” put it on the stereo, then began dancing slowly in a circle in the middle of the room, her arms extended. Janice returned from the kitchenette and plopped down on the far side of the sofa, morose.
“That bastard Coleman just takes me for granted,” Janice sobbed. She drained her drink, lay back on the sofa, closed her eyes and immediately fell asleep, her head lolling forward.
Cindy stopped dancing, took Janice’s drink from her clenched hand, lay it on the coffee table in front of the sofa, and beckoned to Wayne. “Come here, I wanna show you something.”
And I want to show you something, Wayne thought.
He followed her swaying hips through a purple beaded curtain into the bedroom: a waterbed, a bookshelf made of wooden boards and concrete blocks that held a squat green candle, a portable stereo and a small pile of albums. Jim Morrison pouted from the wall above the bed, Jimi Hendrix leered down from the ceiling above the mattress.
Cindy lit a cone of sandalwood incense and cleared a spot for it in the ashtray on the bedside table. She flopped down on the bed. Her body seemed to undulate, as if she was riding an air mattress in the ocean. “I took a red a few minutes ago. Come here.” She giggled and raised her arms toward Wayne.
What was a red? She seemed awful relaxed. His heart was pounding, his throat dry. Lord, give me strength. She giggled again and reached out further, pulling at his wide leather belt until he lost his balance. He fell next to her and the bed gurgled and sank under his weight. Wayne tried to lean on his left elbow and it slid from under him.
“What’s the matter, you never been on a waterbed before?”
“Sure,” he lied.
“You want to have some fun?”
She pulled Wayne close and kissed him softly, her tongue deep in his mouth. She wiggled the tip.
Wayne was suddenly spinning through space, dizzy, floating. She tasted of Southern Comfort and grape lip gloss.
Cindy reached down and slowly unzipped the front of his purple crushed-velour bellbottoms. As she began to reach in Wayne felt a sudden involuntary spasm of release and a warm, sticky wetness. He rolled away and faced the wall, quietly stifling a sob.
Through the open window a police siren wailed in the distance.
“I think...it’s...ohh.” He curled up into a ball.
“Don’t you wanna get naked?” Her eyes were half-open, her speech suddenly slurred and husky.
“I surely do, Cindy. A real lot.”
“Gonna do something about it?”
“Can we wait a few minutes? I need to use the bathroom.”
She nodded and closed her eyes, lay back on the pillow. “Wha’ever you want.”
“Back in a sec.”
In the bathroom Wayne frantically wiped himself dry, quivering with anger and adrenaline. Damn! Damn! Damn! What’ll I do? Well, I can’t ask the Lord to help me on this one. What would Flip tell me? he wondered. Hmm. He’d say you’ve still got a chance, come on now, this is it, she wants you, don’t screw this up. Yeah.
Wayne took a few deep breaths, pulled out the tiny bottle of Binaca and touched the tip of it to his tongue, nodded at himself in the mirror, then swaggered out toward the bedroom.
Cindy was asleep on her side, snoring peacefully.
Wayne backed quietly out of the room, the beaded curtain rattling and clicking as he entered the living room and turned to face the sofa. Janice was asleep too. The record on the turntable had ended and was skipping over and over on the final groove: click...click...click...
He shook Janice’s shoulder and she awoke with a start.
“Whaa?” her eyelids heavy.
He leaned down to kiss her, felt her hands push him away.
“Heyyyy, what are you doin’?”
She lay back down and closed her eyes.
There was a loud knock on the door.
Wayne stared at the door, frozen. Janice rolled off the sofa, falling on to her hands and knees, stood up and gazed at Wayne groggily, then turned toward the door. “Who is it?”
“It’s Coleman! Let me in! I just wanna talk to you! Are you alone?”
Janice was fully awake now. She stared at Wayne for a moment, raised her eyebrows, then walked up to the front door. “No. I’m not alone. I’m with somebody special. Someone that doesn’t hit women! A real gentleman! He does everything better than you. Everything! Wanna meet him? He’ll kick your ass!”
Wayne ran two steps to the open window facing the street, unhooked the screen and rapidly lowered himself down the few feet to the sidewalk, then turned and ran like hell.
* * *
Two minutes later he arrived at the band shell, panting and gasping for breath. Streetlights shone pools of light on the deserted parking lot. Trash was scattered everywhere. Plastic cups, beer bottles, paper wrappers, watermelon rinds and empty cigarette packs littered the ground. The bands, crowd, everyone had left. Wayne sat on the edge of the empty stage, his pulse pounding, surveying the scene, collecting his thoughts. His left ankle began to throb, and he realized he’d sprained it landing on the sidewalk beneath the window.
A half moon hung in a cloudless sky above him, and a bonfire lit up a small circle of the beach to his right. In the distance he heard a girl laugh and then scream in mock terror as a boy chased her toward the surf.
Two kids skateboarded down the center aisle of the seating area, the wheels clacking over the cracks in the concrete. One of them recognized Wayne.
“Hey, aren’t you an Intruder?”
“Reckon I am.”
“You guys really kicked ass.”
“Yeah?” Wayne leaned back casually, feigning indifference. Flip suddenly appeared from around the corner of the stage. “There you are, man! You disappeared! I was worried. What happened?”
“I loaded your gear. Lucky you left when you did, actually. Coleman showed up all pissed off, looking for you. I cooled him out and he finally split. How was Cindy? She’s kind of well-known around town.”
Wayne’s heartbeat had slowed to normal. He laughed.
Flip looked at him, puzzled. “What’s so funny?”
“Everything! When’s our next gig?”