Lost in the Dead City
[ Nick is the character from the short story The Stranger That Was Me ]
The Volvo's fuel indicator showed half a tank. The fuel indicator always showed half a tank and so when the old '87 started to sputter Carol pulled off MM at at a ramp that's sign read: Junction City-Population 1,209,809. A Shell gas station light blinked on and off in the near distance.
Thank You God! The car continued on powered by fumes and prayer. Keep going baby. One more mile, please. The car not caring one way or another carried on anyway. As Carol turned into the Shell station the Volvo gave out one last belch and quit. For good measure the old beast even coasted to the pumps.
Carol watched as inside the station an older man wearing a Brewers baseball cap stocked the cigarette racks. He did not look toward Carol. Come on you old fart let's....The man was out of site. In the back room? The stations huge Shell sign flickered and went black.
Damn it. The inside station lights went black and the Open sign was turned to Closed. Oh no you don't. Carol exited her car and did a fast walk to the stations door. There was no closed sign or for that matter any windows. The place was boarded up and covered with graffiti. The sound of teenage boys laughing seemed to be coming from behind the station.
Carol ran back to her car and rolled up her windows. Three boys, all around sixteen, approached the Volvo grinning and holding on to Old Milwaukee beer cans. Two were also smoking. Tough guy style.
A blond boy put his face to the glass and winked. " Lost little girl?" The other two widened their smiles and nudged each other.
What the hell did you get yourself into Carol? I know I saw that old man. Shit.
"Go away. My husband is meeting me here." The boys laughed and one poured beer suds on the windshield.
" Seems an odd place to meet with the hubby missus." More whispers and laughter. Carol closed her eyes.
After a minute or less Carol opened her eyes and the thugs were gone. Good. Gone but their laughter and taunts hung in the shadows. Carol began to cry.
Ed Kaye was twelve years old and hiding in the Baxter Meat Plant. He had no idea how he had gotten there or why none of the workers that cut and packaged meat on the main floor never answered him. Sometimes one or two would look his way and nod to each other. The meat smelled of death and rot.
The plant ran two shifts, graveyard and nine to five. Ed tried to stay out of sight during these hours and use the early evening to raid the employee's kitchen and explore the huge building.
For the most part the equipment, counters and walk ins were all stainless steel and spotless. The floors were thick wooden planks that were washed with a broom and bleach water twice each day. This of course made for an almost white floor.
Every evening at nine or there about Ed would sneak off to the loft where he had made a bed of old carpeting and cardboard. An abandoned jacket made for a decent pillow. Putting his head to the jacket and stretching out the boy was asleep in minutes. He dreamed his parents found him and scolded the plant's owner for his negligence.
Ed woke at midnight expecting the whistle to blow for the beginning of the graveyard shift. Nothing. Sneaking a look down on the workstations from the loft he saw old Pete the janitor throwing buckets of sludge on the floors and then pushing it along the floors that had lost their clean bleached appearance. The cutting tables were coated with dust and dried blood. Mice walked fearlessly on every surface. Those windows that had been left untouched by vandal's rocks were grimey and streaked.
" Pete." The boy screamed down. "Pete. What happened?" No answer. The janitor dropped his pushbroom and looked toward the loft.
" Leave now boy or I'll gut you where you stand. Get the hell out."
Ed ran and pushed at every door. All were chained. The janitor laughed and took a hooked knife from his pocket. " Told you to leave boy."
The parking lot of the Cotton Candy strip club was full. Roxie Cullins pulled her Mustang to the back lot reserved for the dancers and staff and took a deep breath before leaving the car.
At the employee entrance the head bouncer, Jake held the door and gave a bored smile toward the stripper. Inside the jukebox was playing Van Halen. Karen, a dark haired beauty, was on stage dancing to the throbbing sounds of Jump. Roxie's set was next. She slipped into the dressing room and picked an outfit at random from her backpack. It was a pull away black dress and so she took out her black and silver stilettos that matched pretty well. Hate this place. Karens third and last song of her set was starting. She had picked Hanging Around by the Stranglers. Damn, I haven't even given Jerry my song line up.
Hanging Around ended all too soon and the crowd was cheering Karen, a real favorite. A money maker for sure. She knew all the angles and used them.
Roxie took the stage to polite applause and Jerry had picked Whip It by Devo. Jerry knew Roxie hated the song and it was his way of punishing her for showing up at the last minute. She put on a smile and took to the pole to loud applause. Cindy the waitress gave Roxie a wink as she passed out beers.
The last of Roxie's songs was Nine To Five which she danced to nude, save the stilettos. The stage was loaded with ones and a few fives. Closing her eyes Roxie let her mind take her away from the leering men. Picking up the money was the worst part. Humiliating. But it paid the damn rent.
Opening her eyes Roxie was greeted with a sight that almost made her faint. The club was empty. Dirty. Tables broken and the stage half rotted. The door to the men's room was slowly closing.
The Stranger's Story
The Stranger floored his '68 GTO as three cop cars gave chase.He was not worried; the city was dark with wide alleys and hundreds of side streets to ditch his pursuers. This was nothing new to the Stranger. In fact it was a game in which he was a master. In fact one he loved.
Performing a quick U Turn the Stranger headed straight for the cop cars at close to a hundred miles per. Before he could enjoy the usual chaos followed by this stunt the police cars were gone. Just not there.
Lighting a Lucky Strike The Stranger slowed his car and wondered at the strange darkness of this city. The Houdini act of the cops and lack of the usual sights and sounds of a city at night. Just blocks away was a flashing Shell gas station sign. A woman was standing next to an older Volvo. He pulled in. The powerful engine of his car sent vibrations and deep sound into the air. The woman covered her ears. Her eyes gave away her fear of the man.
The Stranger exited his ride and adjusted his flat cap before speaking to the lone woman.
" Not here to hurt you lady. Just took a wrong turn and trying to get out of this place and back to the highway. Never even heard of Junction before."
" I think I'm glad to see you. Just had a bad run in with some boys and I'm out of gas. Name is Carol."
The Stranger went by Nick when a name was needed. He nodded as he ground the butt of the Lucky underfoot. " Carol. O.K. I'm Nick and about to leave. If you want a ride, cool. Otherwise I can call someone for you if I can find a phone."
Carol looked the man over. He was a hood but didn't look like hurting women was on his menu of mischief. " Nick, I don't have much choice but to trust you. I'm ready when you are."
" You smoke?"
" Alright. I'll keep the windows down. Let's rock." Nick climbed in behind the steering wheel as Carol entered the passenger side.
"This car looks fast. Real fast."
" Even faster than you think. Let's put this place in the past." The car roared to mechanical life and roared onto the street. In the shadows three boys popped open beers and smiled..
Lost in the Dead City-The Junkies Story-Part 5
Justin Lewis watched from a window on the second story of the four family flat as a black car raced by on the street below.
Justin was high but thought he recognized the car as a vintage GTO. It was a car that Justin had always wanted. With the money he had shot into his arms he could have had two. Wish I hadn't seen it.
Leaving the dirt streaked window Justin returned to the filthy mattress in the corner of the bare room..He was starting to shake for need of a fix and knew he had better get to the club to pick up a job from Tony. He knew it would be the same old same old, dangerous and illegal as all hell but the drug called. First, some sleep.
The lights in Junction City flickered and then stayed on showing the less desirable citizens as they walked the streets or drove their beaters down the troubled streets.
Even lit up and neon lights blazing the City looked and felt dirty. Streets were lined with adult book stores, strip joints and rip off convenience shops. Small gangs leaned against buildings intimidating all that crossed their path.Homeless dogs and cats littered the alleys searching for scraps. The Junkie woke.
Justin brushed himself off and downed his last energy drink. Going into the broken bathroom he looked into the cracked mirror and was dismayed at how thin he had become and the dark rings under his eyes that were now permanent. His teeth, all but gone gave his cheeks a sunken,sucked in look. He would have to go into the back door at Tony's club and endure the hard looks from the bouncers..All for the drug. Tears fell.
The Cotton Candy club was swinging. Lot full. Justin knocked at the back door. A new guy opened the door and took a step back from the junkie. " Heard of a shower dude?" Justin ignored the slight and walked to Tony's office. A tall, long legged woman with a long blue wig swung from the oft used pole. Unlike most of the dancers Justin could see she loved her job.
" Look like hell Justin." Tony counted out stacks of hundreds on his desk. Sure wasn't from the club thought the junkie. " Have a run for you but you need to get cleaned up. You'll have to use the girl's shower. Already told 'em so get to it. Some clean clothes are on the bench next to the lockers."
" Sure Tony."
" And Justin....throw those clothes you're wearing in the trash."
" Sure thing Tony. Uh...what's the job?" The junkie was shaking pretty bad .
" Shower first. And hurry."
Justin let the shower run hot as he soaped up with lemon scented dish soap that had been left for him. He used half the bottle and if not for the shakes he might have felt like a human being. He knew Tony was just using him but guessed he was using Tony just as well.
On top of the new clothes was a tooth brush, paste and a clean towel. The clothes were just run of the mill street wear. Nothing memorable eh Tony?
Ten minutes pass and Justin starts up the stairs when the lights flicker and then pop, lights out. Continuing up the steps Justine walks out onto the main floor. The place is empty. Empty and derelict. from the looks of things the place had been abandoned for years. Before walking out Justin sees the mens room door closing..
Roxie had changed in the dark club. Jeans , tennis shoes and a red T. Walking along Newport Ave. she looked in vain for an open shop or a working phone. No one was in sight but low laughter and whispers were always nearby. In a very low but close voice, " She's hot dude.I mean..."
Another faceless voice. " Shut up Jeff. Like it's gonna help you out." The smell of smoke and beer wafted toward Roxie and she began to do a fast walk. This brought on more laughter.
" I have a gun!" Roxie wanted to sound tough but her voice broke.
" Cool. Let's see it sister." An almost empty beer can,crushed, fell at Roxie's feet. She began to run.
Avoiding alleys Roxie ran along main streets; her guts felt wrung out and burned. Still she ran until she saw a single set of headlights coming her way. A cars powerful engine flung it's noises in a thrumming beat into the night. It slowed.Then stopped.
" Need a lift?"
Don't leave us Roxie.
Roxie climbed into the back behind Carol.
The Stranger looked in the rear view mirror at Roxie. " By the way, we're lost."
The man with the rusted cleaver continued to laugh as he approached Ed. "Told you to leave boy this ain't your place to be.So I guess you have to learn the hard way.
Ed pushed his small frame against the chained door and closed his eyes. The Cleaver Man was walking with hard, loud steps. He leaned into Ed who smelled the man's rancid breath and closed his eyes tighter.
The sound of clattering metal and machines trying to start caused Ed to open his eyes. The cleaver was on the ground next to him. The would be killer was gone replaced by shadowy, faceless men beating against long dead equipment in hopes it would start.
Ed picked up the cleaver and pushed against the door that no longer was chained. He ran into the night with no idea of where he was running to.
The Dead Policeman's Story
Terence [Bagger] Schrow let his Ford cruiser fly along the streets of Junction city in random turns and rubber burning straights. He left the blue and red flashers on just to watch the strange glow they cast against the dark buildings.
The streets were empty except for the occasional bum or gang of teens that would disappear at his approach. Bagger liked the fear his presence always brought. And it was right to fear him. Two .44 magnums and a much used night stick. Homemade from heavy hickory and a lead filled end. The business end Bagger called it. Tonight Bagger would use the stick and the handguns. Justin Lewis was his target and even though he had killed the junkie once before seconds were always good for a laugh. Besides Justine these were strangers in town. Two of them. Both needed a good talking to and a down home whooping from Bagger.
The thought of dishing out down home justice made Bagger smile. Looking in the rearview mirror and seeing his empty eye sockets the cop put on his shades. Don't want to scare folks. His laughter was drowned out by the cars sirens he flipped on for fun.
Eds Story [Continued]
Escaping the meat plant Ed ran to the twelve family brick apartments he had once shared with his mother. The roof was caving in and most of the windows shot out but the basement was still fairly intact. Wet and a rat here and these but no crazy ghost janitor with a cleaver. Was I dreaming that?
The storage lockers for the old units had been ransacked ages ago but Ed was lucky to find a dry blanket and a trash bag filled with old clothes that made a decent fit. The same storage area was dry and the wire and wood framed door shut tight against the frame. An old sock acted as a tie to keep it shut. Ed could get some sleep and look through the abandoned apartments come sunup for any canned goods left behind. The boy fell asleep surrounded by shadowy figures that watched him as they made hellish plans.
To be Continued