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Amsterdam Blues

By: batfish

Page 1, Death seems to Robert \"Ziggy\" Zigstrom to be the only option left in his worthless life. He\'s lost his job, his woman, and his band. But his life is changed in a bizarre and life changing fashion when he is rescued from a suicide attempt by a private detective. This was a short story that I submitted to the Hemingway writing festival in Key West years ago. It eventually morphed into a novella called Is Superman Dead? that I plan on posting on Booksie in the very near future.

The cable was hooked up, and Superman, the one when he was a kid, was flying around on the tube. He plopped down on his beaten up old couch, fired up a smoke, and popped a can of Schmidt. Hanus Miller was a very happy man. He had cable, he had beer, he had cash, and very soon he would have some blow. Not that stepped on with baby laxative shit either. Ice cold pharmaceutical blow straight from the source.
Criminal mastermind was not what came to mind when one thought of Hanus Miller. He had been busted and had done time, from reform school to county to the penitentiary, for every crime he had committed, mostly boosting cars and burglary.
But four days ago everything had changed for Hanus. While cruising through downtown Northfield in his battered Chevy Nova, two months out of the joint, high on Dilaudid and three cans of malt liquor, and flatass broke, Hanus saw a vision straight from God.
On the sidewalk in front of the Northfield Bank were two ancient old guards struggling to load bags of cash on to a dolly. Glancing in his rearview mirror Hanus could see the driver of the armored car reading a newspaper.
Without thinking (as always) Hanus took a sharp right, whipped around the block to the other side, parked, pulled his aluminum baseball bat out of the back seat, and with the motor still running, had tore ass around the corner and charged from the blind side of the armored car. Neither of the guards had noticed him. Two vicious swings left two bloodied and unconscious guards laying on the sidewalk and Hanus sprinting back up the sidewalk with two huge bags of cash. The sequel to the Great Minnesota Northfield raid it wasn't, but it had worked so that‘s all the fuck it mattered.
Hanus was running up the stairs of his apartment that was built on top of an abandoned warehouse just outside of Faribault, ten miles away, before the second cop car had gotten to the bank. 130 large richer.
Straight up at eight o'clock he could feel the stairs shaking as someone climbed up them. The old man walked in without knocking and glanced over at the TV. As always he was wearing his Bogart style trench coat, but he came off looking more like William Burroughs.
"Superman. Shit, I haven't seen that in years. Did you know someone wacked him?"
"Superman never died."
"Not Superman, you dumb ass. The guy that played him. George Reeves. Someone wacked him!"
"I thought he killed himself by jumpin' off a building cause he thought he really was Superman."
"Naw, that's just a rumor. Typical Hollywood horseshit. Anyway, I don't have a lot of time. You said on the phone you want as much as I got?"
Hanus belched loudly and grinned. "You got it, Doc. As much as you can scrape up."
The dealer stared oddly at Hanus, then slowly took in the rest of the room. The cable, the beer, new TV, and the big bag of weed laying on the coffee table. He looked back to Hanus and gave a big grin.
"It was you, wasn't it, Hanus?'
Uh-oh.
"What the hell are you talking about, fool?"
"You fit the score. It's been all over the news. You're just lucky I got to you before the heat. You'd go down this time as a three time loser. I imagine you haven’t been watching the news. One guard is dead. Someone's grandfather. Jesus Christ, you're high class, Hanus. Be looking at life in Stillwater. If I recall, there are some gentleman of the dark persuasion who wouldn't mind seeing you back out on the yard. "
"I don't know what in the hell you're talking about, dawg. You got the blow or not?"
Hanus fired up another smoke. His guts starting to squirm. The old man had always been able to read him. He focused his gaze on the TV, avoiding those eyes.
The dealer reached into his coat pocket and pulled out his piece. One shot, right in the middle of Hanus's chest. The noise was deafening, the slug ripping straight through his body and into the couch. Bits of stuffing were floating in the air. Hanus stared stupidly at the bloody hole in his chest before slowly looking back to the television with empty eyes.
He found what he was looking for in a knapsack underneath the filthy single bed in the corner. Walking over to the gas stove, he blew out all the pilot lights on the burners and lit the candle on top of the television.
As he walked out the door, Superman was standing with his hands on his hips, watching the bullets bounce off his chest.


**

The alarm clock was chirping away like a gecko wired on amphetamines. His weekend over, another week of work. Ziggy groaned as he rolled over to the edge of the bed and sat up. As usual his knee had seized up in the middle of the night and it took him a good five minutes to stretch and limber it up.
It wasn't the only thing that was stiff. He had been dreaming about Lita again. It seemed like he dreamt about her every night.
Ziggy and Lita. They were going to be together forever. He thought anyway, living in their little desert trailer in Barstow. Ziggy tending bar, dealing some smoke, and jamming with his band, waiting for the big time to call. Lita worked as an exotic dancer, a job that came natural to her. Raised in Amsterdam, the daughter of a red light district prostitute and an American army officer, Lita had loved the life.
After he had been released from the hospital following his knee surgery without health insurance (at a frat party gig, Ziggy had jumped in the air while attempting a Pete Townsend windmill and had blown out his knee upon landing), Lita hadn't shown to pick him up, and he had been forced to take a cab, only to find their trailer deserted and a note on the kitchen table announcing her flight back to Amsterdam.
She loved him she said, only she needed something more permanent, more commitment, someone more mature. Not some bartending, pot dealer who sat around the living room pissing and moaning about his dysfunctional family, while picking at his electric guitar and dreaming of becoming the next Jimmy Page.
Ziggy was in the long process of trying to drink himself to death, when a private dick his father had hired, had found him sleeping off the tail end of an unsuccessful Quaalude overdose suicide attempt.
He couldn’t even kill himself without fucking it up.
Passed out in his trailer that was hotter than Dante's Inferno, his electricity not working due to non-payment of his bill, the detective doused him with a bucket of water and delivered a letter from Ziggy's father with the return address of a nursing home.
Ziggy's father after living a life that would have shamed Caligula had been dropped right in his tracks by a massive stroke.
Ziggy had been stunned when he walked into his father's room and saw him laying on his bed. His father looked like he had shrunk to half his original size and his red hair had turned snow white.
His voice was a whisper.
“I know it's not much but it’s a start. It'll help get ya on your feet. Forget that rock and roll shit. Time ya grew up. Nothing wrong about a little work. Don't be so damn uppity. Sometimes ya remind me of your mother. Had to pull a lot of strings to get ya on there. Damn it Junior, I'm trying to say I'm sorry.”
After years of stumbling home drunk or stoned, if at all, chasing whores, driving Ziggy’s mother to disappear forever, and piling on mountains of psychological abuse on his only son until he left home at seventeen, that was dear old Dad's way of apologizing.
Robert O. Zigstrom, Sr. had been a highly respected state employee for thirty years (his employers having no idea about his alter ego) before the stroke permanently retired him and had him taking his meals through a straw. He was now trying to make amends to his son by offering him a gig as a guard at the Minnesota Prison For the Criminally Insane.
Ziggy took the job. His life had already hit rock bottom so what the hell.
His knee finally limber enough to stand, Ziggy limped over to his dresser to retrieve his stash. He grabbed it and limped down to the kitchen and fired up the espresso machine.
Ziggy's breakfast of champions. A big fat hooter washed down with five shots of espresso. Black. After the high octane caffeine kicked in, he would start in on his daily two hundred push up and sit ups, followed by an hour on his two hundred dollar exercise bike (which was the only thing of value he owned in the house). A regime he had started after a 300 pound transvestite sex offender had kicked his ass his first week at work.
He was just finishing up his ride, drenched in sweat, when Christina walked in. The night shift was starting to wear on her, she looked liked crap, not that she had ever been a real beauty. And she was putting on a lot of weight, her uniform was starting to look pretty tight. Ziggy himself could be best described as crackpipe lean. He was still hanging on to the heroin addicted rock and roll star look.
"Dave wants you to drop off a bag on your way to work. It‘s payday. He'll leave the door open."
Dave being Christina's younger brother and also the biggest stoner at the prison.
Ziggy nodded while he wiped the sweat off his bike. "No problem. I'll drop it off after I go see Dad."
Christina started to strip her uniform off as she walked down the hall leaving the clothes where they fell. "I'm going to bed. Try to keep the goddamn music down today. I'm getting sick of hearing that shit when I'm trying to sleep."
Ziggy wearily shrugged his shoulders at her back and her fat ass as she walked down the hallway and rolled into the bed. Their six month relationship had never been great but what was left of it was slowly sailing down the crapper.
Loading up the CD tray, Ziggy put on his headphones and laid down on the couch. He was dangerously down. Even his music wasn’t helping his mood and that was about all he had left. Steve Earle was singing about getting the blues in Amsterdam on Fort Worth Blues. He should never listen to that song. That one line always made him think about Lita, and then about blowing his brains out. He decided to get the visit with his Dad out of the way.
Halfway there he ran out gas. When he pushed the car to the gas station he thought about dousing himself with premium unleaded and lighting a cigarette.
The old dude was laying flat on his back staring at ceiling. Only his eyes moved as his son walked in the room. A nurse stood by his side checking his vitals. She shook her head at Ziggy.
He beckoned Ziggy over with a feeble wave of his had. His voice raspy. The old bastard had quit wearing his teeth and his head looked like a shrink wrapped skull. Hideous! Ziggy gave a shudder when he leaned over his father’s face to hear him.
"Junior. Key. Get the key in the box."
His father's eyes rolled towards the Cuban cigar box on the nightstand. The son of a bitch used to smoke expensive illegal cigars while Ziggy’s mother was forced to clip coupons to buy groceries. Ziggy opened the lid and saw a single key on a Reno casino key chain. Underneath it was an envelope with "Junior" written on it. When he looked back to his father, he was dead. Just like that.
The nurse was shaking her head in wonder. "I can't believe he lasted this long. I think he was hanging on until you got here."
"Could you give me a few minutes alone with him?" Ziggy sat down next to his father's bed.
As soon as the nurse walked out the door he ripped the envelope open. Almost an hour passed while Ziggy kept re-reading the letter then staring at his now stiffening Dad.
"Is is this another one of your goddamn jokes you old bastard?"
No answer. Although Robert Sr. did have a semblance of a grin on his face.
Ziggy stormed out the door, passing the charge nurse, and down the hall.
"Mr. Zigstrom, what about the funeral arrangements?" She called after him.
"Call whoever you want. I'll take care of it in the morning."
He raced out the parking lot and headed for home, making one stop at the drugstore.
Entering the house as quietly as he could, he showered, put on his uniform, put a couple changes of clothes and some toiletries in an overnight bag, and took off for work. All without waking Christina and certainly not telling her about the demise of Robert Sr.
He drove straight to her brother's apartment. The door was open and he quietly walked to the kitchen counter and picked up the hundred dollar bill that was held down by a beer bottle and dropped a half ounce of weed down.
He could hear Dave snoring in the back bedroom. Going over to the coffeemaker he opened the bottle in his pocket and poured it into the water reservoir. Closing the door, he headed for work.
Ziggy worked the evening shift as the yard man at the prison. His duties consisted of the monitoring the yard activities of the inmates until dusk and then he spent the rest of the shift making security rounds through the six units of the facility.
Three hours into his shift the announcement came over his radio. The voice filled with both disgust and resignation.
"Anyone interested in OT on the midnight shift call the watch lieutenant." Both staff calling in sick and overtime ran rampant through the prison like the flu.
Ziggy picked up the phone in the guard shack and placed the call.
"Zigstrom here, Lieutenant. I'd like the OT."
"Your in luck then, Ziggy. Your future brother in law called in with a case of the blasters. Said he could he shit through a screen door. You can work his unit."
There was at least one officer calling in sick a night. Ziggy had just bought some insurance.
All inmates were locked down in single man cells after ten in the evening. The midnight officer spent his shift in a security bubble, monitoring security cameras and listening to inmates bitch when they paged the officer on the intercom in their cell. Every half hour the officer had to call in to master control to report his status and on hour intervals a roving officer would enter the unit and do a security round.
After his normal shift ended, Ziggy entered Oaks unit to relieve the two officers on duty. Day and evening shifts had two officers. Since the inmates were locked down at night there was only need for one on that shift.
After briefing Ziggy the two officers departed the unit. Taking his knife, he dug the point into the telephone cord to expose the wires. He pulled out a wire and sliced it in half.
Dialing master control, he held the wires together, and when the control officer answered he began to speak while flicking the ends of the wire together.
Control stated his message was garbled.
Ziggy got on his radio, turned to the alternate channel normally used for calling in emergencies and reported that his phone was on the blink and he would do his half hour calls by radio.
Master control copied.
Ziggy waited until the roving officer came through and completed his round, and after radioing in to control, stepped out of the bubble, unlocked the back door of the unit, and snuck out onto the darkened and deserted yard.
Staying in the shadows he walked quickly to the medical building. Entering using his yard master key, he walked down the basement steps and entered the records archives room using the same key. There were hundreds of medical records lining the walls along with seven locked heavy metal file cabinets. The place smelled of mold and mice piss and was covered in dust.
Popping his Dad's key in the first one. Nothing.
Number two. Nothing.
"You bastard! This better not be one of your sick jokes."
Number three. Same results.
"Shit!" Ziggy screamed out.

Number four. The key didn't even fit.
Ziggy looked frantically at his watch. Holy shit! Thirty minutes had passed.
Keying his radio he called in.
"Zigstrom. All secure on Oaks unit."
"Control copies."
He thought he was going to have a heart attack!
Number five. He jiggled it madly!
"I hope you rot in hell you son of a bitch!"
Number seven.
The locked popped open with a loud crack.


**


"Another Heineken, sir?"
Ziggy looked up from the notebook he was reading from and smiled at the waitress.
"Please." He checked out her skin tight jeans as she walked away. Man, what an incredible ass! Jesus Christ, what a great place!
He turned back to his reading.
Robert Sr. had been a dentist with the corrections department. A side benefit of the job had been his unlimited access to pharmaceutical cocaine, which he had denied the administering of to his patients, instead dealing it to his outside connections. Ziggy had always suspected this and now had the proof sitting in front of him. The notebook was a running account of his nefarious activities. Names, dates, phone numbers, cash amounts.
But none of it added up. It was a lot of dough, no doubt. But considering the lifestyle his father had led it sure couldn1t add up to a knapsack with a 118 grand in large bills in it.
Along with a pistol and twenty grams of blow.
The coke had been quickly snapped up by Ziggy's grass connection. The pistol went into the Mississippi.
On the way to the airport.
The waitress set his brew in front of him.
"Tell me, sweetheart. How do I find the red light district?"
The waitress giggled and pointed down a side street.
"Cross three canals and take a left. You'll see where it starts." Goddamn, her accent about drove him crazy.
Ziggy slid Fort Worth Blues into his CD player, drained his beer, dropped a huge tip for the waitress, picked up his knapsack, and headed down the street.
God he loved that song. But Steve Earle was wrong. Amsterdam didn't leave you feeling blue.
Ziggy felt more alive than he ever had in his life.


 

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