Excerpt from Thomas Sparrow’s crime noir Northwoods Standoff (available through major online bookstores):
State Street, Madison, Wisconsin—Halloween, 1979:
The street was blocked off to cars. Costumed freaks cavorted drunkenly; grotesque creatures drank from plastic cups. The Big Bad Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood and the devil himself were huddled together as I approached. Smoke seeped from their mouths as they caught site of me. Satan’s eyes met mine and the trio quickly separated, merged into the surging crowd.
I chuckled. Figured it was my Armani suit that drove them away. They probably believed it was the real me, didn’t know it was just my Halloween costume. A bit more expensive than theirs, that’s all….
I walked through the surging, laughing throng for a few minutes, checking out the fantastic regalia. Then I decided to have a drink, get myself in the mood. There were taverns everywhere and I went in the first one I came to.
Laughter and boisterous voices hit me; beer signs blinked hello. Fucking place was jammed. Costumes and masks mingled in the narrow, smoky space. Along the left side of the room ran a long wooden bar with a brass foot rail. The Lone Ranger and Tonto were tending.
I bellied up and ordered a Stoli screwdriver from the masked man before lifting a pack of Kools from the pocket of my white silk shirt. People seemed to be looking at me funny. Hadn’t they ever seen a successful businessman before, for the Christ sake? They didn’t know I had a quarter of a million dollars of tax-free cash locked inside a Samsonite suitcase in my hotel room. Nevertheless, I felt like I deserved more respect than I was getting.
I lit a cigarette, and then tried and failed to find the pleasure I’d lost years ago. After two drinks, I attempted conversation with a bearded guy on my left. He nodded politely to what I said, then moved away without a word. I tried my luck with a red-haired fairy princess and a prom queen in a faded, aqua, sleeveless gown to my right. They shuffled off to somewhere else, like I was contagious. They were curt. Cute chicks who were curt, it fucking hurt.
I ordered, received and promptly drained my third drink before deciding to hit the street. I put down a fiver for a tip, stood up and got dizzy. I’d forgotten how strong they make the drinks in the Badger State.
Nausea rolled through me. Must be the stress catching up, I thought to myself. Too much for the old nervous system. Circuit breaker must’ve popped.
I sat back down and rubbed my eyes with my knuckles, leaned my elbows on the bar and sucked deeply of the smoky air. Little green stars flew around the back of my eyes.
“You all right, sir?”
A woman’s melodic voice, smooth and warming, like good red wine, brought me back from the darkness. I looked up gingerly into a pair of mischievous, deep-brown eyes dancing behind a silken mask. Full and sensuous, honey-red lips lit up my world like the desert sun at noon. She was tall, with a sculpted chin. Wide across her back with slim shoulders and a delicate alabaster neck, auburn hair spreading deliciously against it. Knee-length burgundy velvet dress, black stockings and high black boots. The elegant mask that matched her dress covered prominent cheekbones.
I immediately felt better. “Yeah, I’m all right,” I said. “Must be jet lag or something.”
“Really… where did you fly in from—Europe?”
“No, ah… just, ah… California.” It was really Florida, but that seemed too low-ball to impress her, so I lied. Something I was pretty good at—lying. “I’ve been flying all over the country lately, and I’m afraid my ass is lagging behind.”
She smiled thinly and motioned to the Lone Ranger as he flitted up and down the bar in a failing attempt to satisfy the clamoring horde. She caught his eye and he seemed to recognize her, came without hesitation. Sliding up in front of us, the masked man grinned and asked the Velvet Lady what was her pleasure. She smiled sweetly and handed him a folded white card with a ten-dollar bill pressed against it.
I couldn’t stop looking at her.
“This is for Raymond,” she said to the Ranger. “Make sure he gets it.” Then, turning back to me: “I’m glad you’re feeling better, sir,” leaning close enough that I got a blast of her sweet scent. “You’re kind of cute, I think. Maybe we’ll run into each other again someday.”
She said, “Ciao,” turned from the bar and me and walked away in a burgundy hurricane, the scent of cinnamon and money lingering. By the time I regained my composure, she was out the door and gone and I was feeling blue. Couldn’t believe she’d said Ciao.
I grabbed for my drink.
I sipped cautiously and watched the Lone Ranger as he slid the little white card into the frame of the cloudy bar mirror. An idea sprang to life inside my cluttered head.
“Hey Masked Man,” I said, loudly, waving a crisp twenty in the air. “I think Silver needs a few bags of oats.”
He was on me in an instant.
“What can I do for you, sir?”
“Twenty bucks says that I’m Raymond, and I get to read that card.”
“You fucking crazy?” he puffed up his chest and frowned.
“Forty?” I pulled out another fresh double-sawbuck and waved it at him. Unlike the real Lone Ranger, this guy could be bought. He grabbed the bills, looked up and down the bar quickly, lifted the card from the mirror and threw it down in front of me.
“Read it and then give it back,” he said bluntly. “It’s just an invitation to a private after-hours party. They won’t let you in, anyway, without the card.”
My heart sped up as I opened the folded white card:
Admit one treasured guest
Halloween Night, 1979
Wolves and Lambs
314 John Avenue
Wolves and Lambs? What kind of cockamamie shit was this? Too damn intriguing to pass up.
I stood up, feeling much better. Dropped another twenty on the bar, now drunk and cocky. “Thanks a lot, Masked Man.” I said, as the bartender served a beer to a guy dressed as a toilet.
Then the front door burst open and a loud crowd of masks and costumes came pouring in. I stuffed the card in my trouser pocket and wove through them like O.J. Simpson shredding the Dolphins on a cold day in Buffalo. Out the door and gone in a flash, I heard the bartender yelling after me.
I hit the street and looked to my left. Just another maze of freaks. Turned right and kept moving, just in case the bartender had any heroic ideas in his head. Maybe the Lone Ranger bullshit was getting to him; you never know.
I searched the swirling mass of color. Caught a glimpse of the burgundy-clad beauty disappearing into a group of beer-bellied elves and wasted dwarves. Satan was there, too. He was everywhere.
I raced past a porcine Porky Pig, only to find myself at an intersection where sawhorses with City of Madison printed on them demarcated the endpoint of the party. Beyond the barrier, the street was open to traffic. A few cars rolled by slowly as people walked away from the party. Two tired and impatient–looking policemen held their nightsticks at their sides and stood at the curb, watching.
Looking every which way, I frantically searched the crowd for the mystery woman. Couldn’t find her anywhere.
I started walking toward the cops, thinking they would know where John Avenue was. I was about ten yards away when they raised their bullhorns:
“PARTY’S OVER, CLEAR THE STREETS. BACK IN THE BARS OR TO YOUR CARS. EVERYBODY’S GOTTA GO. PARTY’S OVER. CLEAR THE STREETS”
My heart pounded. I stared, cringed and stopped dead in my tracks. They started toward me.
They passed me by with only an authoritative glare to show for it and I breathed a sigh of relief. One of the most underrated feelings in life, relief.
I moved in the opposite direction of the cops, searching for the nearest bar out of the party zone. My mind drifted in the cool autumn air.
I don’t know how long I’d been walking before I realized I was totally lost.The search for John Avenue had sent me down these windy streets until they were dark and empty.
I kept on walking aimlessly and time again drifted. Then I found the street sign. Or it found me. There it was, beneath the only light for blocks.
Yogi Berra used to say: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So I did.
Down another narrow, darkened street with the wind at my back pushing me along.
There wasn’t much there.
After a nervous block, I noticed a bunch of parked cars up ahead, filling up both sides of an otherwise empty street.
I kept on walking. It wasn’t much brighter except for the gleam of the fine automobiles. The first one I came to was a dark green BMW. Then a Mercedes, a Corvette, a Jag and another BMW—a black one. Almost all the vehicles were world-class, not a junker in the bunch.
This must be the place, I thought to myself. But where was the party? The buildings all looked empty; some of them even boarded up. I moved further along into this car booster’s dream world, searching for signs of life. I crossed the avenue and peered in the darkened windows of abandoned storefronts. Then, right in front of me, above an iron door on a three-level brick building, was the number 314 in big, brass numerals.
The building was dark as pitch. I craned my neck, scanned the second story and found no signs of life. Something flashed below me. I looked down. Steps and a metal railing led to a doorway.
Then it flashed again, a plastic, paste-on, light gizmo above the door. Little yellow light blinked every thirty seconds or so.
I went down the steps and pounded on the blue, freshly hand-painted steel door. After about thirty seconds, it opened slowly and a large white man wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt and pirate’s hat became visible in the glow of a black light. Dude had biceps the size of tree trunks, a black eye patch over one eye and a skull-and-crossbones earring in one ear lobe.
He flashed a gold-capped grin. “Invitation please,” he croaked, deep like a bullfrog.
I pulled out the card and handed it to him. He rolled it in his massive fingers, had a quick look, stepped back and opened one of two glass doors behind him. “Right through here, sir,” he said politely, with the deference I’d been craving all night long.
I stepped through to a set of fancy stairs, going down to yet another level. The sound of Huey Lewis and the News’ “I Need a New Drug” hit me like a wet newspaper to the face. I cringed but kept on going.
Each stair was shiny black, rimmed with brass. There were lacquered black handrails and you could see your shoes in the darkened side mirrors with gold filigree around the edges. At the bottom was a vestibule with purple walls and another set of glass doors that opened into what at one time must have been a nightclub.
Big disco ball spinning above a large dance floor. A few people tripped the heavy fantastic, some in costume and some in fine evening wear. To the right was a large bar area. In a darkened corner, a lesbian couple dressed as baseball player and umpire groped each other with more show than go. A guy with oily hair and a thin mustache, like Rudolph Valentino, stood behind them staring with glazed eyes.
I made my way through the bizarre dance crowd. Behind the bar, shirtless bartenders held their pumped-up chests high as they struggled to keep pace with the hard drinkers lined up three deep. I watched a group of guys in fine suits putting the hustle on a couple of sweet young things in Shirley Temple costumes. I had found the Lollipop Fair but not the lady in burgundy.
Most of the men around the bar had gelled, slicked-back hair, looked like they were living in a wind tunnel. Made me wonder if I was falling behind the times with my recently dyed-blonde, surfer’s do.
Bartender came over to me and I caught myself staring at his nipple ring. First time I’d ever seen one on a guy. Wondered what it felt like.
I ordered a Stoli and cranberry juice.
“So, are you a wolf or a lamb?”
The slight lisp and lilting tone caught me unaware. My prayers had gone unanswered. I turned toward the sound.
A diminutive guy in a tuxedo had moved in next to me. He held a burning cigarette in a white holder in one slightly cocked wrist and a wineglass in the other. Reminded me of Joel Grey in Cabaret.
“I’m a muskellunge.”
“Tres amusant,” he said dryly, moving closer and leaning his head toward mine. “But you must know that the reason for being here tonight is to play the game. You can’t even get in here unless you play the game. You look like a wolf to me, and I’m getting excited. Or are you just a tease?”
“Look, ah, mister—I’m only here because a beautiful woman in a velvet dress invited me here. I don’t see her here right now, but she’s the only reason I came. I’m new in town. This is my first visit to Madison, but I’m starting to like it.”
“So you’re one of Dana’s lambs, and you don’t even know it.” He reached out and ran his fingers down the lapel of my Armani. “She always seems to pick the ones with the best taste.” He looked coyly around the room. “Would you like some blow?” he said casually, eyes studying mine.
“Of course, silly. My lord, what did you think I meant?” he smirked.
“Ah—nothing. But no thanks, anyway, I don’t do coke, anymore. It’s a waste of money.”
“One of those, are we? I didn’t mean that I was selling. I was offering, sweetie. I must be too subtle for my own good. Ever free-base? I swear you’ll love it.” His reddened lips puckered slightly and his eyes had a glint in them.
“No ah, really—no thanks. I appreciate the offer, but I think I’ll just sit here and drink until Dana comes looking for me.”
“Suit yourself Captain Hunky. It’s your loss. But I should tell you that some of her flock have been known to wait for a long time—wait so long their little pee-pees shrivel up. Ah, but what the hell—youth. Ciao.” He spun on his heel and glided away toward the dance floor.
I sipped my drink and watched the dancers, synapses popping from the strobe lights and the spinning mirror ball. Then I saw a door open up in the middle of the wall on the other side of the dance floor. Two freaks staggered out bound up in shiny black bondage gear and slid through the crowd. They made their way toward the back of the room until I couldn’t see them any longer because of the stairwell.
I ordered a shot of tequila as two Shirley Temples walked off with one of the men in the nice suits. The guys at the bar turned their attention to a devil with a blue dress on as the Shirleys escorted their lucky hombre towards the door in the wall. Dude looked weak in the knees as he pulled open the purple door with a lightning bolt on it and disappeared into the dim light, Shirleys chattering at his side.
The bartender loaded me up with Jose Cuervo, salt and a lemon wedge. I put down a ten and said keep it. Licked the salt, sucked down the burning nectar, tasted the sting and jammed the lemon in my mouth. Said Whoa and held up my hand for one more.
I was riding the tequila train when she appeared at the back of the room. All of a sudden she was just there. Tall and thin but curvy, with an elegant chin and a chiseled nose, her deep brown eyes telling me there was a lot going on behind them. Just the kind of woman I was looking for.
She came striding elegantly toward me. I prepared to say something profound and clever but she walked right on by, only a miniscule moment of recognition flicking across her statuesque features, leaving me to stare after her forlornly. The lady in velvet, in a matter of seconds, had taken possession of my dick and my heart and was making rapid inroads on my head.
I watched, totally absorbed, as she approached a couple of the suits at the end of the bar. They were smoking cigars, holding martinis and singing loudly to “All That Matters is the Money,” along with the old-time jukebox.
I was fascinated as she motioned to the Brylcream Boys to be quiet by putting her finger to her lips in the way of a schoolmarm. And I’ll be goddamned, if they didn’t shut up.
I almost fell off my chair when she nodded in my direction before turning her attention back to the erstwhile choir.
The hackles on my neck started up. I wanted to turn up the collar of my coat, the way it was when I came in. I was thinking maybe I should leave before I had to fight my way out. I stared into the mirror behind the bar and saw her coming toward me. Little old me.
I was still young enough to think that true love was going to save me. I couldn’t help but hope that Dana was the one holding my ticket to ride.
She slid into the barstool next to me and I drowned in her sweet scent.
“I know you must have an invitation,” she said, studying my face intently. “Eric wouldn’t have let you in, otherwise. The unusual thing is—I don’t remember giving you one—and I never forget a guest.” She put her slender fingers to her chin and looked at me thoughtfully, wise beyond her years.
“That guy at the door is named Eric?” I chuckled and tried to meet her penetrating gaze. “Seems like it should be something more frightening, like Thor or Odin or something. And anyway, don’t you remember me? We met earlier tonight. The hands of fate guided me here.” Her eyes remained steely. “You’ve forgotten, haven’t you? Well for me, anyway, it was memorable. Back at that bar on State Street. Jimmy’s or Billy’s or whatever it was.”
“That invitation was meant for Raymond,” she said, touching one of her crimson fingernails to the bridge of her nose. “He’s not even one of mine. I mean that someone else invited him—not me.” She folded her arms across her chest. “And how did you manage to get hold of the invitation Mr. ah—” Her gaze got more steel in it. “I don’t believe I caught your name.”
“This is all very explainable, if you’ll give me the opportunity. Raymond sent me along to express his regrets. He had a headache and wasn’t up to attending. Said he thought it better that at least someone had some fun tonight, as long as he couldn’t, and all. Poor boy was just going to go home and wash his hair, so why didn’t I get out and kick up my heels.”
She moved her hand over her mouth. She was smiling underneath.
No rings on her fingers.
“Who are you then?” she asked, eyes smiling.
Here was where I had a problem. I didn’t want to give her my real name—Keith Waverly—and I couldn’t try any of the other aliases that I had used in the past, either. One never knows when an old identity will come back to haunt you. I needed a new name, something with a little panache, gravitas.
“You first,” I said, finally regaining some semblance of wits. “How about you tell me your name first—and then after that, you can explain to me about this Wolves and Lambs stuff. Then I’ll tell you all about me, if you’re still interested. Even my social security number—I promise.”
I fiddled out a pack of Kools from my coat pocket and offered her one.
“I don’t smoke and I don’t reveal my name to strangers,” she said, firm but not angry.
“I guess we’re in a pickle then, aren’t we,” I said, lighting up and blowing the smoke toward the bartender. I leaned forward on the bar and stared at the rows of top-shelf liquor glistening in the amber light.
“You are in a pickle, I should think,” she said laughing haughtily. “What if I have you thrown out of here?”
“Oh come on, please—that won’t be necessary. If you really want me to leave, I will. But I think it would be nice for both of us, if you sat down here and had a drink with me, told me all about yourself and your little get-together. I’m just a lonely boy out on his own, looking for someone to show him the ropes in a new city and maybe have some fun. It is fucking Halloween, after all.”
“Yes it is.” Her eyes went down to her elegantly manicured hands. “Are you a cop?”
I damn near spit. “Me? Are you kidding? I don’t even like cops.” I turned and faced her, longing on the rise.
“You didn’t answer my question,” she said, blinking slowly.
“No, I am not a policeman or a member of any law enforcement organization, I do solemnly swear. How’s that?”
A gleam in her eyes. “What if I told you this was a cop party?” she said, cracking a crooked smile that made my dick twinge.
“Than I’d say to you that I now know why they call this town “Mad City.” Never seen cops that dress and act like these people do. You know—the obvious signs of wealth—not to mention the fetish gear.”
She seemed to settle down into her stool a little bit, looked across the room at her gel-haired friends. They noticed her attention but turned away and pretended they weren’t the least bit interested.
“Champagne, please, Rick,” she gestured to the nipple ring-wearing barman, ran her fingers through her hair and tossed her head back. “You must realize Mr.—”
She suppressed a grin. “What Mr. Laugh-a-minute Jones doesn’t understand, is that this is a very expensive little get-together he’s crashed. He must understand that many people have put out good sums of capital to ensure that all the right ingredients are present. These people give the invitations to those they know will give them favors or services in return. Thus, with you here instead of Raymond, we have somewhat of a financial imbalance, if you will. Not to mention the other awkward possibilities.”
This was sounding too good to miss. “If it’s a matter of money, I can certainly kick in my share,” I said, nice and polite. “I’ve been doing quite well lately. Or are you hinting that Raymond was supposed to blow someone or something, and I might not want to play the same nasty game?”
She sniffed, nostrils flaring, eyes fiery. “Let’s not worry about it any longer. I’ll take responsibility for you—you shall be here as my personal guest, so you better not screw up. My only request is that you leave after one hour. Out of respect for me, and my position with these people. I can pass you off as an old friend. That way, I won’t lose favor with the bosses.”
“Now that were old friends, I have to tell you that you’ve really got me intrigued, Dana old pal.”
Her neck snapped erect. “How did you know my name?”
“Joel Grey told me.” I pointed at my one-man greeting committee, who was busy chatting up some androgynous types. “He said I was one of Dana’s lambs and didn’t even know it. Although you don’t seem like the shepherd type, I put two and two together and got you.”
Mirth wrinkled across her perfect eyebrows: “I’m not sure you’d quite fit the bill. As a lamb, that is.”
“One never knows, I guess. And what exactly is the deal with the wolves and lambs?”
“It’s from Steppenwolf.”
“The rock band?”
“The book,” she said with a withering glance. “By Herman Hesse. Are you at all familiar with it?”
“Yeah, read it when I was in college. All I remember is that the guy took drugs and had a strong aversion to being confined in an office or a barracks or anything like that.”
“That’s one theme, I suppose,” she said. “There are others.”
I mumbled about not recalling and downed a shot of cactus juice in one long swallow. I reached casually for a lemon slice from the nice white bowl stud-muffin Rick put in front of me before he poured Dom Perignon into a hollow-stemmed glass for Dana.
Suddenly nervous, I swung around and faced the dance floor, feeling the edge of vertigo as the booze hit my gut. I couldn’t keep my curiosity in check. “What’s behind door number three over there, Dana? Secret doors in the middle of walls fascinate me. You gonna show me? Dana’s a real nice name. I like it.” I couldn’t believe what a douche I was sounding like.
She looked at me, smiling slightly—or maybe painfully.
“Could you take me behind the magic portal before I have to leave?” I asked. “One hour is hardly time enough to take this party in.”
She tossed back her bubbly in one gulp, looking incredibly wild and sexy, like the blood was flowing to all the right places. “So tell me, Mr. Jones, what is it that you are doing so well at, lately, if I may ask?”
“I’m a businessman. And my name, isn’t Jones, it’s Flint. I was just keeping with the anonymous spirit of things. John Flint is my name, business is my game.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere, Mr. Flint. What kind of business are you in?”
“I’m sure it would bore you to death.”
“Oh no, please tell me, I’m truly interested, I assure you. I’m a businesswoman; I have my MBA—maybe I’ve even heard of your company.”
“I doubt that. But, it’s ah, Kirby Enterprises—out of Orlando. But right now, I’m trying to get out of Florida. Myself, personally, I mean.”
“Don’t like the weather?”
“It’s not that.”
“Didn’t you tell me you’d just flown in from California when we talked downtown?”
That she remembered our conversation made my confidence rise.
“California, Florida… what’s the difference? The weather’s nice and they’re both too crowded. Guess I don’t like crowds very much.”
“You are quite a little fibber, aren’t you Mr. Flint? Which one is it then, Florida or California?”
“I just flew in from LA, and my business is, like I said, in Orlando, Florida. I had an import-export business, but I’m searching for other opportunities. Thus—California. ”
“I see. And you swear you’re not some kind of cop?”
“Back to that, again? If you only knew… But come on now, this is supposed to be a party. And I have but a few short moments left in which to savor your beauty.”
“You really do go off, don’t you, John.”
“Must be the jet lag. But now it’s time for the magical mystery tour you promised me, darlin’.”
“If you insist. It’s time for your journey to the dark side, Mr. Flint. Perhaps it is indeed fate that finds you here. Before we go, I must tell you that our back rooms here are for the purpose of losing all inhibition and surrendering to one’s own desires. If this is going to be something you find difficult, then I suggest we cancel the trip.”
“I think I’ll make it.”
“Come along,” she said. “We’ll go through my entrance at the back of the club.”
“But I always wanted to go through a secret door like that one on the wall.”
“We’ll come out that way, honey, just for you. Now come along.”
I caught up to her and she grabbed my hand with an iron grip far beyond what one would expect from such a slender, delicate wrist. “I hope you’re not from the Midwest,” she said. “Your sensibilities might be offended.”
“I am from the Midwest. But my sensibilities were offended a long time ago. And to tell you the truth, I kind of liked it.”
We went past the bathrooms to a purple and white zebra-striped wall with a door in the center. Through the door to a narrow, dark hallway, dimly lit by a red bulb on the ceiling. As Dana was closing the thick door she looked deep into my eyes.
“You remind me of a wounded animal, Mr. Flint,” she said.
That threw me for a loop and no response was forthcoming.
My eyes struggled to focus; my senses struggled. The air was thick with the sharp odor of sex—raw, primal sex. Also heavy incense and pot smoke—high-grade—maybe a hint of opium’s sweetness lingering on the edge.
We walked along, shoes creaking on the wooden floor. Moans and muffled cries came from behind one of several crudely painted black doors bordering the dim hallway.
“Here is where the wolves and lambs play out their parts, John,” Dana said with a dramatic tone. “So you see, one must choose his role before he comes in here. And also prepare for it. Do you like to watch, Mr. Flint? Many of our participants encourage voyeurism. Some like to show, and others like to look. Some like to give, while others like to receive. This is the balance of the world.”
“Some like to pitch and others like to catch.”
Behind door number, two came the crack of a whip and a long, male groan, somewhere between pleasure and pain.
“Come with me now,” she said, holding out her hand like I shouldn’t say no, making me feel like a little boy—putty in her soft hands.
I could feel the stirring down below. I’d follow her anywhere.
We lingered by the third door. Behind it, bedsprings bounced and squeaked out a backbeat to the voices, laughter, grunting and screams of delight.
“We also respect those who desire privacy,” she said, moving down the winding hallway. “Perhaps they don’t want to be interrupted by strangers at the wrong moment, you understand—so we leave closed doors closed—although none have locks.”
I tried to speak but there was a lump in my throat.
Door number four was halfway open, affording a narrow look at a naked guy kneeling on a mattress on the floor with a black leather mask over his head. He had a hard-on the size of a bull while a black-leather-clad dominatrix twisted his nipple with her studded-gloved fingers and demanded he bend over and beg forgiveness with his ass in the air like “a bitch dog in heat.”
Flashbulbs popped from behind the door and a skinny kid in a beret came into the picture as he searched for a different camera angle.
Door number five was pretty tame. Just a couple of the slick-haired dudes getting blown by one of the Shirley Temples while the other Shirley crawled around on all fours shoving her ass at a naked guy who was chasing her around trying to hit her in the head with his huge dick. There were vodka bottles strewn around and a mirror with mounds of white powder on it, as well as a cardboard box full of plastic sex toys. That’s amore, I guess.
Door number six was closed but the room had a viewing window in the wall, like maybe it had been an office at one time. A special office preserved for those who like to show it off to the world. Strange off-kilter jazz music played inside. The display was boys only: six nude gay boys in a blow job daisy chain on top of several mattresses. Two other blue boys dressed in cowboy boots and black leather bondage gear stood above them giving each other hand jobs and swapping spit. I recognized the nipple ring on Rick the bartender. Must have been on break or busy working overtime. A slick-haired dude in black was catching all the action with a shoulder-mounted video camera.
My knees were weak and Dana was in total control. She seemed so superior. My over-priced clothes and my forty-dollar haircut weren’t cutting the mustard. I felt like a rube—a dirt farmer.
“Gosh,” I said. “All these people sure know how to have fun. Too bad my hour is going so fast.”
“Here,” she said softly, pointing toward a narrow passageway between the walls of the labyrinthine enclave. “This is the way to the door that opens onto the dance floor. I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your fun—after you went to so much trouble finding me. And tell me, exactly how did you find this place?”
I ignored her query as we wove our way along through the crimson shadows. Close again to the throbbing music, arrows of colored light swirled under the door. On the other side, voices rose. Laughter. Shouts. Crazy fast talk.
Aroused, appalled and confused, I had bad hots for this Dana. But I couldn’t shake the lingering edge of fear. Once burned, twice shy, I guess. Except in my case you’d have to multiply those numbers.
I stumbled out through the secret door and had to dodge quickly to avoid the lesbians in baseball garb, who were doing the crocodile rock. Like a drowning man struggling for life, I wove toward the bar. The object of my desire followed behind me at an awkward distance. Awkward for me, that is. I was searching for a glib comment but had none at the ready.
I fell against the bar like I’d just crossed the wide Missouri without a boat. Dana glided up, looked at me inscrutably and motioned to the bartender.
“In answer to your last question,” I said, leaning closer. “I found this place by just walking down the street until I found John Avenue. Just lucky, I guess.”
“More than lucky, I should think. You don’t realize how difficult it is for crashers to find one of our galas. We go to great pains. You see, John, John Avenue doesn’t really exist.”
“Come on, I saw the sign. You, my dear, made one incorrect assumption— and now I’m here. That’s all, end of story. No big deal. I’m not going to do anyone any harm, I promise. I don’t care what these people do to each other in the privacy of these rooms. Fucking Christ, I could care less. Truth be known, I was only looking for you. Like I said before, I’m just a lonely boy looking for a friend. You seemed like someone I could like, that’s all.” I looked at my Rolex: “And goddamn, if my hour isn’t almost up. My, how time flies.”
“Have another drink on the house Mr. Flint. I’ll join you. Maybe we can get together some day, who knows.” She looked soulfully into my eyes and I thought I was going to melt like a hunk of butter on a radiator. “More champagne for me, Alex, and whatever Mr. Flint desires.”
“How about a rum and coke, Alex. You know,” I said, looking at her. “I’d like that—the getting together part. Can I call you someday when the sun is shining?”
“That would be all right.”
I couldn’t believe it.
“I’ll give you my card,” she said. “I’ve got some around here, somewhere. Then I’ll walk with you to the door and see that you get started out in the right direction. Did I hear correctly? You said you walked here?”
“Not a good place to walk at this hour.”
“I’ll be all right. I can take care of myself.”
“I’m sure you can, Mr. Flint—John.”
“I could take care of you, too, you know.”
“What if I don’t want to be taken care of?” She suppressed a laugh.
Realizing that I was very hammered and sounding like an idiot again, I shut my mouth and stared out at the dance floor.
What a sight to see.
And somewhere back in Florida, my poor wife was pining for me. At least I thought so.
This new and strange woman had made me feel funny but I liked it. One moment you’d think she was mature and strong willed and then the next moment she would seem a child, vulnerable and needy. She’d made me feel small and unimportant at times. And other times I’d sworn she wanted me to kiss her.
I took a swig of the freshly arrived drink and stood up.
“Well, I’ll be a good lad and get me arse up the stairs and onto the bleedin’ street,” I said, Cockney accent. I often go to the accents when I’m uncomfortable and stupid drunk. “Hate to cause trouble in a new town, ya know.” Somehow, Norwegian slipped in.
I went back to my normal voice, slightly loose. “You can just write your phone number on a matchbook, if you want, like in the movies. Save you the trouble of searching for business cards.”
She pressed her finger to her upper lip. Her eyes softened and she smiled sweetly, reaching over the bar and coming back with a black and orange, glossy matchbook.
“Got a pen mister?” she asked, playfully, her voice a sexy growl like Lauren Bacal in “To Have and Have Not”.
“No, but there’s got to be one at the cash register, don’t you think?”
“Of course. Why don’t you come with me and I’ll walk up the stairs with you. We can both say hello to Eric.”
“Yeah, you can introduce us. Maybe someday I’ll need a ski-joring partner.”
Her eyebrows arched while my heart ached.
“I’m sure Eric would love being your dog,” she said slyly. “Should I ask him for you?”
“Ah, no… never mind. I need a little work on my stride, anyway.”
We slid haltingly over to the cash register where, sure enough, there was a ballpoint pen.
Dana was opening the matchbook, pen in hand, when the glass doors at the bottom of the stairs opened. In strode a tanned, good looking, expensively dressed couple of indeterminate age. They moved like monarchs while we were mere commoners. For companionship, instead of basset hounds or Dobermans, our king and queen kept a member of the opposite sex on a leash. The nubile pets were clad in head-to-toe, black, skin-tight latex.
“Shit.” Dana hissed under her breath. Then to me: “I’ve got to go now. Sorry. Call me sometime.”
She quickly scribbled, handed me the matchbook and whisked off to greet the King and Queen of Deviance.
I slipped the matchbook in my trouser pocket as Dana reached their table and greeted the royalty. Pretty soon the entire entourage rose and made a stirring migration over to a large table at the edge of the dance floor, which had obviously been reserved for the hotshot king and his vampire queen.
The pets took their places on the floor, supine at their master’s expensively shoed feet as the festivities raged on.
Dana played the hostess-with-the-mostess, bringing their drink order up to the bar and generally bowing and scraping. At least that’s the way my drunken eyes were seeing it. These people either had something over her or had something for her, like cold hard cash. It quickly became apparent my new love was going to be gone from my presence for the remainder of the evening.
I quietly made my way up what now seemed an extra long and steep flight of stairs. By the time I hit the top my legs were like cement and my head was mush. My heart raced and my stomach flip-flopped. Visions of Dana danced in my head.
Big old funky Eric smiled at me as I came through the door. Guy must have been a sergeant in the German army in a past life. “Have a good night, sir,” he fog-horned, lifting the steel bar and shoving open the door.
I stepped to the doorway and was greeted by pouring rain, coming down in spikes.
“Whoa,” I said. “It’s raining. Maybe I should call a cab. It’s coming down in sheets out there.”
“Sorry sir, no outside phone lines tonight.”
“Well shit. There a payphone anywhere near, do you know?”
“Not that I’m aware of, sir. Is there something wrong with your car?” he said, rubbing his meaty hand underneath his nose.
“Fuck, man. I don’t have a raincoat or a car or even a goddamn hat. I’m staying at a hotel on State Street, and that’s a long ways from here in weather like this. I’ll ruin my suit in this kind of rain.”
“I do have a box of garbage bags, sir.”
“Yes, sir. We use them for the cleanup. But you could put one over your head, tear a couple holes for your eyes, and have yourself one bitchin’ rain poncho. Been known to use them myself, once or twice.”
“Well, Eric, let me tell you this—your boss told me your name was Eric. And your boss—Dana—and I, have become good friends, you see. I shall tell her what a true gentleman and fine doorman you are—certainly worthy of a fine raise—if you should find it in your power to fetch me one of those bitchin’ ponchos that you so kindly remembered.”
I held out a twenty.
“Certainly sir. Right away.”
(Northwoods Standoff available at major online bookstores)