Tag Archives: JJ

The Surprises Never Cease

 

 

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JJ sat across from the hotel manager, explaining how he needed his stuff, especially certain bank documents. Quickly. Like now. No, he didn’t have identification because Tess and Cody took it. No, he hadn’t meant to leave his stuff behind but he was overtaken by events. No, he wasn’t aware of the hotel’s policy…

“Please. Please. I have to get my stuff and get out of here. Like now. I’m trying to remain calm. I’m trying not to yell. But, I have to get out now!”

“There’s the $200 cleaning and storage fee. That’s what I’m trying to…”

“But my wallet’s been stolen. That’s what I’m trying to tell you…I just need the papers, the bank papers.”

“Sir, the fee?”

JJ threw himself back in the chair, his head back, eyes bulging. He was rising to storm out when he heard Lila from the doorway.”

“How much?”

And there she was, leaning in the doorway, arms crossed, and JJ realized that he had been expecting her all along. Two surging streams, one of joy and one of sadness, flooded the hollow of his chest. She was here! He needed her. Why did he need her so badly?

“What kept you?”

Lila sighed. “How much to get this ungrateful drunk’s stuff?”

“$200.”

“Lila…” But what was JJ going to say? Allow me? Behind all this was the knowledge that Tess and Cody would be here at any moment. In fact, they could be pulling into the parking lot right now.

“JJ, don’t speak,” she said and counted out ten 20’s from her purse.

“It’ll just be a moment,” the manager said and left the room.

Quiet in the office, the drone of cable news coming from the lobby. The fucking election.

“Listen, Lila….”

“Not right now,” she said. “We can big picture it later. It’s not a good time for processing. Let’s just decide what to do right now.”

“I’m glad you said that because we need to get out of here like, immediately.”

Lila sighed.

“Someone’s after me,” JJ said. “Two people, actually.”

“No more running,” she said. She slammed her palm down on the manager’s desk. “No more!”

There it was, the boiling point reached. Lila was slow to get there, but then the green light flashed from her eyes and everyone better look the fuck out.

“Lila…”

“No more,” she said. “We’re going to fix it right here at this hotel. Then we’re going to make it right with those people. We’ll go down the line until it’s all fixed then go home. That’s it.”

“It’s not that simple.”

The manager returned with a box. JJ looked in, cringed at the ¾ empty bottle of 100 proof Smirnoff, but located the folder from the bank. He showed her the folder.

“What’s that?”

“I own these people’s ranch. I bought it at an auction.”

“How?”

“And they’re coming to get it back from me.”

Of all the dumbass things JJ could have potentially done to cause two people to pursue him, Lila was not expecting something like this.

“The surprises never cease,” she said. She looked at JJ and the hotel manager, at the cardboard box with JJ’s clothes, leftover Smirnoff, and bank documents, at the little sterile office and the lobby beyond. She laughed and knew that she was forever eternally fucked.

She still loved him, even after all this.

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Radio Nowhere

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Driving through the Rockies. The grandeur of endless sky and brooding mountains, unmovable and implacable, sometimes inspiring and sometimes daunting depending on mood, light, and clouds. JJ, alternately hopeful and defeated, turned on the satellite radio of his rental Camaro. Radio nowhere. A news station talked of the coming election he had barely noticed during the past months. Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton. Life was obviously getting more bizarre, not less, outside JJ’s world. He sped along mountain roads, an unwitting landowner, fleeing from would-be modern day marauders. By God, they would not get his land!

 

“…the furor over remarks caught on tape about groping women…”

“Hillary would be wise to let him have the rope to hang himself.”

“You mean, stay silent? Whether she likes it or not, she’s got to speak on issues that concern women. Unwanted groping, I would say, is a concern to most women.”

“Agreed, but the message has to be a broad message. She doesn’t want to get down in the mud with him. That’s where he lives…”

“You said it, not me…”

“But seriously, it’s an opportunity to widen the conversation about women’s rights, women’s progress…”

 

JJ changed the station. Classic Vinyl, channel 26. Gimme Shelter. He used to get high with Lila and lip sync Mick and tease her into doing the woman’s soul part, which she hated. The Stones. Their best songs were the best. The problem was, there weren’t a lot of best songs. Gimme Shelter, Shine a Light, Let it Bleed, Tumbling Dice. Maybe a few others. But then you had Start Me Up, It’s Only Rock and Roll, Shattered. Arena rock Stones. Mick Jagger in a football jersey prancing about like some androgynous placekicker doing a parody of Mick Jagger. Lila loved the Stones and would defend them until the end. Even the Harlem Shuffle Stones. Lila always got too close to things, couldn’t see the big picture. She countered that he was too negative, that he ran out of steam on things because he overthought and stayed aloof. He didn’t get close enough, go all the way in. She had a point. But, he thought was right about the Stones. Great for a little while. Then just famous.

 

Back to the present. Radio off. There were immediate concerns that couldn’t be delayed. Like no wallet and no cash. Like the pursuit of an aggrieved brother and sister who wanted their ranch back. Like…what the hell to do next? First, he had to get his stuff at the hotel. Hopefully they hadn’t thrown it away or given it away or they weren’t owed any more money. The implications of the missing wallet were becoming clearer. “No money, not funny,” he muttered and laughed. Maybe he could make it to town on this tank of gas. Or maybe not.

Had he called Lila from the hotel during his blackout? He thought he had. A vague recollection, her voice muffled and anxious, as if he was buried and she was above ground coaxing him to dig out. But, because of the pressing dirt, he couldn’t even get his arms free to start digging.

 

Radio back on. Underground Garage, channel 21. The Modern Lovers. Roadrunner, roadrunner! A surge of optimism as sunlight danced on the snowfields of the high peaks. JJ turned up the volume. “I’m in love with Massachusetts. I’m in love with the radio on…” Tears came to his eyes, nostalgic and hopeful. Massachusetts seemed a long way away but he figured he would get back there one way or another.

First, to the hotel.

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The Trail is Fresh

Front Desk

“So, you know him?” The Marriott receptionist, Pearl, faced Lila from behind the front desk.

“Yes.”

“Well, he left some stuff behind. We’ll hold it for thirty days then we have to dispose of it.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“Travel stuff. Clothes, toiletries.” She paused. “Liquor.”

“When did he leave again?”

“Like I said, it’s hard to say. He checked in five days ago and paid for three nights. We needed the room and went in to clean it and discovered his stuff still in there. It was a bit of a mess, too.”

“What about security cameras?”

“I’m sorry, what is your relationship to him again?”

Lila paused. “I’ve been asking myself that for years. Let’s just say I’m a really good friend.”

“Well, I’ve told you all I can. He owes a cleaning fee which he’ll need to pay in order to get his things back. You’re welcome to wait in our lobby. There’s coffee.”

“I guess I’ll wait, then,” Lila said and turned to the lobby which was trying hard to look like America’s sterile living room, complete with fake fireplace. The endless droning scroll of cable news came from a TV above the mantle. “Can I turn the volume down?”

“I’m sorry, no. Marriott policy states that it should be set at five during daylight hours. It’s funny you should ask, though. Your friend wanted to turn it off, got in an argument with a guest, then went on and on about obese America being force fed junk news. Cheetos News Network, he kept saying. ‘Think for yourself!’ he yelled, and took off right before the manager called the police. I think he was intoxicated.”

“That sounds like him.”

The phone rang. “Excuse me,” the girl said and turned away. Lila went over to one of the sofas. She would just close her eyes for a minute, and gather her thoughts for the next move. It was probable that JJ left a trail of memorable encounters, similar to the “junk news” tirade. She could just canvas the bars and liquor stores like some old gumshoe. Or, she could just wait despite the loud TV. Or, maybe…

Back to the counter. “I’m sorry, are there vacancies?”

“Do you want a room?”

“I need some rest and a home base. Maybe you can call me if he returns.”

“I can do that.” Pearl smiled. “I’m off in an hour but Stephen knows who he is, too. He’ll call you.

“Stephen?”

“Yeah, my replacement.” Pearl looked left and right and leaned closer to Lila.   “You’re friend told him to come out of the closet.” Pearl whispered. “He said that Stephen needed to just open that door wide and come crashing out, knock over some furniture, and make his mark.”

“Is Steven … gay?”

“I have no idea,” Pearl said, laughing. She tapped at the keyboard. “Does your friend ever get beat up?”

Lila thought back. Yes, JJ had taken a few punches since she’d known him. However… “He doesn’t really need other people to beat him up,” she said. “He does a pretty good job of hurting himself.”

“Oh, well. I hope you find him, anyway. I need a credit card and an ID for the room. I’ll give you the online rate. $109 for tonight.”

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Confrontation in the Valley

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Cody said, “So how’re we gonna make it so you’re gone from our land?”

They stood, the three of them, on the deserted ranch in the mountain valley.

“Cody, listen,” Tess said.

“No, you listen. You hijacked this guy to buy our land back. You took advantage. You saw the opportunity. Good for you. Good for us. Now you think you have feelings for him. Or your ashamed or some such shit.”

JJ said, “Wait, I think we…”

“Shut the fuck up! This here’s a family matter first.”

Tess said, “Yes, I took advantage. But, he’s a really nice guy.”

“You’re confusing nice with scared as shit. This fucker don’t even know where he is.” Cody turned to JJ. “Where are we?”

JJ looked around. Mountain ranges flanked the valley. There was that sense of vastness, glorious and daunting, he always felt in the West. The sky was way up there, far above the land. It was impossible to not feel small and limited out here.   Right-sized. Humility, uncomfortable and undeniable, was forced on you. They were always talking about humility in AA, how humility was the key to sobriety. Well here it was, for real. God’s presence was everywhere, if there was any God at all.

“I’ll tell you where we are,” JJ said. “We’re on my ranch. That’s where we are.”

Birds chirped nearby and the muffled roar of a distant wind grew from way up the valley, way up high.

“And how’re you gonna sign it over,” Cody asked.

“I’m not. I’m keeping it.”

The wind from the heights was coming down the valley now. JJ loved how you could hear it miles away, hear it growing like an approaching train, then it was upon you, sometimes little more than a breeze, sometimes a serious gust. You didn’t know which, but you could hear it coming. Sometimes it missed you entirely.

“Jason,” Tess said, “This here land’s been in our family since…a long time. Our people used to live here. Our parents are dead and you did a good thing buying it from the bank.”

“He wants it for himself,” Cody said. “Maybe I can convince him.” He walked back to his truck and got in.

“Jason, listen,” Tess whispered. “He’s crazy. Just tell him what he wants to hear and then we’ll work something out.”

Cody started the truck, put it in gear, and, engine revving, lurched toward JJ’s rental Camaro. The truck looked like it would drive right over the Hyper-blue metallic sports car, like a fullback breaking through the line and pancaking some defensive back. He skidded to a stop just short of the car. Cody rolled down the window. “Last chance, fucker. We can go back to town all together and straighten this out. Or you can walk back and think more about it. ‘Cause if you don’t tell us what we want to hear, I’m crushing this fuckin car.”

“Cody! No!” Tess ran toward the truck, stopped halfway and looked back at JJ. “Please,” she said. “Please just let us have it.”

“Last chance, sucker,” Cody yelled, revving and lurching the truck closer.

Options scrolled through JJ’s head. A lawyer, letting them have it, renting it to them, buying time, turning the tables…

“All right! Stop!”

“And?”

“I’ll sign it over.”

“He’ll sign,” Tess yelled. “Cody!”

Cody stared at JJ, calculating. Then he shut down the truck as a cold gust finally reached them, rustling sage and shrub, and rolling tumbleweeds down the valley.

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Sucker?

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Morning. JJ and Tess, a woman he hardly knows, camped at an abandoned mountain ranch. His land. Her land. Whose land?

They leaned on an old fence, eating Pop Tarts. A vehicle approached down the long dirt road to where they were camped, a cloud of dust rising behind.

“Oh shit, that must be Cody,” Tess said.

“Who’s Cody?”

“Just my angry twin brother.”

Oh great. Angry brother. Cody. Twin. Twin telepathy. What kind of gun toting maniac was coming down the road?

“How does he know we’re here?”

“He doesn’t. Or he does. He just comes here.”

“He comes here? For what?”

“To get away,” Tess said. “He doesn’t like people much.”

An old Chevy pick-up came to a skidding stop and just sat there with the engine running. Cody drove angry. JJ couldn’t see him clearly for the glare off the windshield. But he knew Cody was looking at him. The engine shut off and made little ticks as it cooled. Some birds chirped and tweeted from the brush but no one moved. It was midmorning and warm in the sun, not a cloud in the sky. Finally, the door opened.

Cody was Tess with a buzz-cut, only his eyes were harder, solid blue ice where Tess’s were liquid blue. “Who’s this guy,” Cody asked.

“This here’s Jason,” Tess said.

“Is this your boyfriend?”

“No, not really,” JJ said. “We only met a couple days ago. I mean, we’re just friends. New friends.” JJ walked toward Cody with his hand extended. “Nice to meet you.”

Cody looked at the hand like JJ held out a putrefying fish. He looked at JJ’s face. “What are you two doing here?”

Tess walked forward and got between JJ and Cody. “Cody, this here’s a miracle! Jason bought the ranch at the auction. He bought the ranch for us!”

JJ and Cody both looked at Tess. Cody stared with disbelief of the, “here’s some more of Tess’s bullshit” variety. JJ was just trying to keep up.

“I felt something,” Cody said. “Yesterday. I knew something was happening out here.”

The twin telepathy. Fuck.

“Um, yeah,” JJ said. “I bought the ranch.”

“I’m sure it was out of the goodness of your heart,” Cody said, looking at JJ over Tess’s shoulder. “What’re you up to?”

If JJ were honest, he’d say: “I left Massachusetts because my best friend was getting together with my erstwhile girlfriend, who was my other best friend. I tried to write a memoir but instead started drinking, which is really bad for me. I flew to Colorado on the advice of a guy named Shaboo and kept drinking. I’ve been here before, trying to find myself, so I thought I’d try again. Instead I found your twin sister in a blackout. She convinced me to visit the bank where we put in a bid two minutes before the auction ended. Phone calls were made and the remainder of my lottery winnings were transferred from my bank. I signed some papers and here we are.”

Instead, JJ said, “I dunno.”

“Well here’s the deal, man,” Cody said. “This ranch has been in our family since the 1800’s and no fuckin’ boytoy of my sister is going to own it. Where are the papers?”

“Still at the bank,” Tess said.

Cody looked around and seemed to notice the Camaro for the first time. “What the hell kind of car is that?”

“That’s a Hyper Blue Metallic Chevy Camaro,” JJ said with a renter’s pride. He would keep his dignity through all this no matter what, he vowed.

Cody snorted. “Jesus, she saw you coming a mile away. The plates should read, SUCKER.”

Tess said, “It wasn’t like that, Cody. He offered to help.”

Cody chuckled and walked to the Camaro, appraising. Tess whispered to JJ, “It wasn’t like that. We’ll figure something out.”

“I’m sure we will,” JJ said. “Things always work out for me.”

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Detoxing in the Mountain Air

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Withdrawing from alcohol. A mesh of electricity humming just under the skin, complete with unpredictable twitches, some lunatic doctor behind the one-way glass delivering voltage. Also, the feeling (the certainty!) of impending doom and imminent threat. Shadows behind rocks are crouching gargoyles, vigilant and silent. There is a lurking monster behind that tree right over there, some stick figure, an upright mantis keeping very still. And this woman, Tess, next to JJ in a sleeping bag under the mountain stars. They are camped on his land apparently, JJ’s land, in this valley in northern Colorado.

JJ lays on his side, shaky and alert, watching the trees and rocks, and wonders how the hell this happened. He knows the what, where and when. With the last of his lottery money, he bought this old mountain ranch that had once been in Tess’s family. But how? Why? Whither?

Next to him, Tess shifts in her sleeping bag, the nylon rustle amplified in the deep quiet. Is she asleep? JJ can’t get comfortable in his sleeping bag. He’s warm, he’s cold, he’s hot. Clammy nylon sticks to his cheek. His breath is fetid and there is a weird smell coming from his body, like the smell of an examining room in a hospital, some antiseptic cleaner trying hard to cover up the smell of human excreta- sweat, blood, urine, etc.  Also, there’s this rubber glove smell coming from God knows where. He must be getting better if he can catalogue these smells and place them in a hospital. Though, of course, he does feel more like a patient than a healthy human. He is detoxing.

This woman, Tess. Something is off but he can’t put his finger on it. She certainly smiles a lot. That’s never a good sign. She’s attractive, at least physically. Fit and glowing and endowed with…endowments. But, there’s an aura of disaster and chaos around her, an untethered feeling that infects JJ. He feels the same way when watching news footage from the scene of some explosion- whirling police lights and silhouettes moving and milling in a smoky background. You kind of want to be there, to see it, to have a part in it. To help out. That can’t be good. What did Dr. Shays once say to him? “Your attraction to a certain kind of person is automatic. It is machinery that you can’t see working. It chooses what it needs and by the time you catch up, it’s too late. You’re being ground up.”

JJ’s machine likes chaos. That’s why he could never stick with Lila. She’s crazy, but not crazy enough, too grounded to feed the beast.

But this Tess. She’s not right but she’s also very…very…alluring. Mysterious. Unpredictable?  More like erratic.

A voice, muffled coming from inside the horizontal lump of sleeping bag next to him. “Are you thinking about me?”

JJ shifts onto his back and looks into the vast mountain sky. Stars and stars and stars.

“Yes,” he says.

Tess sighs and again the voice muffled, coming from somewhere hidden, beneath the surface.

“That’s good,” the voice says. “That’s really good.”

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Panic Room

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JJ found the car parked around the corner from the bar. It had a ticket under the wiper (meter expired, never fed) but looked intact. Night was falling and there were people going here and there, young people with hope and a bounce in their steps. There was an expectant Friday night feel. He sat on a bench near the car and strove for a post-binge clarity of his position and state of affairs. There were pros and cons.

Pro: He hadn’t lost the car and it appeared to be undamaged. The keys were in his pocket.

Con: He didn’t know what happened during the past three days.

Pro: Except for a sodden dread and a railroad spike of pain in his head, he appeared to be mostly intact. Dirty, but physically intact.

Con: All his cash was gone.

Pro: He still had his wallet and debit card.

First things first. Find an ATM. There’s a bank right over there with the little ATM booth attached near the side entrance. A swipe, a buzz, and the too bright flourescent light. Check balance? (A dreadful stirring and shadowy memories, much too recent.)

Balance: $1,254.88.

Before he left Massachusetts it was $51,000 and change, the last of his lottery winnings.

He stared at the current number. The digits floated a little on the screen, disconnecting then all lining up. He blinked but the number of digits didn’t increase. It took him a minute to do the math as his heart started to pound. The shadow beasts were starting to emerge from the mist.

He was missing $50,000.

Other memories now, little glimpses of a movie in which he was the slow-moving and dimwitted star. A bank. Bank employee in a suit (never a good sign). Phone calls and … signatures? And… And…

A person with him. A woman? Yes? A young woman. The Mountain Dude? That was later, he was pretty sure.

He stood frozen at the ATM until it double-beeped and threatened to end the transaction. He cancelled the transaction and stumbled back against the wall of the ATM booth. Sliding down to a crouch with his back against the wall, JJ tried to piece it all together and pierce the fog of the last three days. The ride from Denver, a liquor store along the way, a hotel off the highway, drinking and watching a baseball game on TV. Restlessness and boredom. Then the fog thickened. JJ, head down in concentration and shame, trying to keep the panic at bay, crouched there for a minute or an eternity.

There was a knock on the glass of the ATM panic room. JJ startled with a surge of fear and jerked his head up. The demons were trying to get in!

He saw a woman smiling at him through the glass. Was it…? Lila? But, no, just for a second there. The shape of her. The hair. But it was not Lila. JJ opened the door.

“I’ve been looking for you,” she said. “I got my stuff. The camping gear.”

“What?”

“Are you alright? We’re driving up to see the land.”

“…”

“The land we bought?”

“…”

“Jason?”

“You drive,” he said and handed her the keys. “And help me up, please.”

 

 

 

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