Moody Food Excerpt


Chaper 57

Shacks, literal fucking shacks, with a white beat-up Cadillac parked out front and three black kids in bare feet standing out on the front porch sucking on Mr. Freezies and all that suspicion and hate and fear already there searing in their eyes as they watched us cruise by and me hanging my head out the window watching them watch me. Twenty-five minutes later and lost, actual white picket fences and flapping American flags and the suburban perfume of freshly cut lawns and fathers and sons tossing footballs back and forth in the autumn air. Back on track and fifteen minutes east, the first sad scene all over again, but this time the dirty faces and skinny bodies on the front porches white although the hard stares and stench of human hopelessness hanging in my nostrils the same.

"It's an odd number so it's got to be on your side," Thomas said. We'd already dropped Slippery off at the Red Cross building not far from our motel.

"Two-forty-one, 243-slow down," I said, "it's coming up."

Just as promised, a square cinder block house painted violent canary yellow with a couple of stained mattresses with the stuffing spilling out of them like they'd been stabbed to death shared the front yard with a stripped Chevy up on wooden blocks. Thomas pulled up the steep gravel driveway, killed the engine, and put it in park; you could feel Christopher roll backward before the brakes locked and we jerked to a standstill.

We shut our doors with a careful, gentle click, but I was too busy watching a woman in hair curlers, housecoat, and white running shoes beating the hell out of a carpet with a baseball bat to see the Rottweiler tearing toward us down the sloping lawn. Even when I did get him in my sight it was Thomas's scream and not the gleaming fangs and bucket of saliva pouring from the dog's mouth that first registered. But before either of us could unfreeze and scramble back inside Christopher, the dog came to the end of his silver chain and snapped backward a good couple of feet in the air, without missing a bark landing right back on his four feet, just as intent as before on ripping our faces off.

"Who are you, man?"

The guy standing in the front door of the house had hair down to his ass and a stringy, knotted goatee and was in bare feet and blue jeans, but wore mirrored sunglasses and had a can of Budweiser in one hand and a shotgun hanging from the other. I didn't know whether to flash a peace sign or give a Klansman salute. The Rottweiler, seeing his master not giving him some kind of doggy sign that we were okay, went into full-out watchdog alert, eyes rolling back in their sockets and foam cascading down his chin.

"I said, ‘Who are you, man?'"

The guy pumped the shotgun and took a sip of his beer at the same time. I turned to Thomas, but he kept staring at the dog like if he stopped watching him for an instant all those white teeth would be at his throat.

"Thomas?" I said.

Sorry, no one home.

"Thomas, say something." By now he and the dog were locked in some kind of weird trance, the animal's loud snarling replaced by a spooky low motor roar.

Giving up, "A friend of yours said to come by," I yelled out.

"Everybody's your friend when you're on the good side of a gun, man. You're gonna have to do better than that."

"A friend from Toronto, a biker, a Vagabond."

An instant of concentration flickered in the guy's eyes. He ran his fingers through his goatee with his Bud-holding hand. I kept my eye on the shotgun.

"Toronto, huh? Got a few brothers up that way."

Loud enough for the guy with the gun to hear, "Thomas, what's your friend's name again? Our friend."

Thomas appeared as if he'd completely fallen under the dog's spell, his eyes almost as glazed over as its were. I punched him in the arm, hard.

"Rick," he blurted out.

"Rick," I echoed.

"Rick from Toronto?" the guy said.

"Rick, right," I said.

"Vagabond Rick?"

"Right."

"Vagabond Rick from Toronto?"

"That's right."

He lowered his chin and peered at us over his shades.

"Shit, you must be the guys Rick said would be coming over today."

"That's us," I said, "we're them."

"But he said you'd be driving a hearse."

I wasn't sure what to do. I turned around and gestured at the big black thing on four wheels parked in the driveway.

"And hey, there it is," the guy said. "A hearse. Hard to mistake one of those things, isn't it?"

"Yeah, well-"

"Lyndon!" he screamed. The frothing dog didn't seem to hear him. "Goddamn it, Lyndon, it's all right, these are friends, it's all right." In an even louder, but clear, calm voice, "Lyndon. It's all right. Lyndon. It's alllll righttttt."

Something finally clicked inside the dog's brain and his steel muscles melted, uncoiled, his growling gradually ceased. He lay down on the grass and tried to catch his breath, his pink lollipop tongue hanging down to the ground.

"Come on inside and have a beer, man," he said. "You guys hungry? Nancy'll fix you up something if you're hungry."

Thomas and I kept staring at the dog.

"Shit, don't worry about Lyndon, man, he knows you're all right now. I let him know you're part of the pack. See, I'm the alpha male and he listens to what I say. It's totally cool, man. It's scientific. I've got a book all about it."

Scientific proof to the contrary, Thomas and I didn't move an inch.

The guy laughed, pulled from his beer. "Where's your baby, Lyndon? Go get your baby and bring it to momma. Go get your baby, boy. Bring it to momma."

The dog jumped up on the cement porch and picked up a dirty stuffed doll. The guy unhooked the dog's chain and patted him on the head. We all watched Lyndon trot inside with his baby.

"Come on, man," he said, waving us inside with the shotgun. "You guys are a long way from home. Take a load off. Any friend of, uh …"

"Rick's," I said.

"Rick's, right. Any friend of Rick's is a friend of mine."

Inside was like a hippie bomb shelter. Every window was covered with aluminum foil and sealed tight with black masking tape, the tens of candles burning throughout every room supplying the only light in the house. Having nowhere else to go, the smoke from the sticks of incense poking out of a bunch of empty Budweiser cans hung in the air like a thick fog, slightly watering one's eyes. "Eleanor Rigby" played from a record player on the floor. Everything was on the floor. An overflowing ashtray, a black telephone, a couple of dirty dishes, several paperback books. The walls were covered with half-finished, wildly surreal murals, each sporting a mad swirl of different designs and bright colours, giving the impression that the artist had either gotten bored, tired, or went insane. The guy, Fred, offered us each a dirty cushion covered in dog hair to sit on and went to get us some beer.

I leaned over to Thomas. "I don't like this. Let's get the speed and go. I don't like this."

Thomas didn't have a chance to answer. Lyndon ambled into the living room with his doll hanging from his mouth, ready to greet two of his newest fellow pack members. He dropped the thing at Thomas's feet. Sat and wagged his tail.

Careful not to look at me, only the dog, "That beast is fixing to jump me, Buckskin."

I almost had to laugh. Almost. The girl who came in the room with our beers did.

"Lyndon, you leave those boys alone. They don't want to play with you, they're tired." She handed each of us a beer and introduced herself.

"If he's bothering you fellas, just give him a smack on the behind and tell him to shoo. I swear, that dog will play with that thing with you until one of you drops dead."

Fred came into the room carrying a fresh can of Bud and a joint the size of a small cigar on a roach clip. He winked at us.

"Now, don't you be bad-mouthing my little buddy, Nance, I know you're just jealous." He joined us on the floor, sucked from the joint, and passed it on to his girlfriend. He saw Thomas staring at the dog.

"I don't have to tell you that these are some strange times we're living in, brothers. There are forces at work out there"-he pointed at one of the tin-foiled windows-"that the average man on the street not tuned into the proper channels of consciousness isn't aware of, doesn't even know exist. Those not as cosmically advanced as we are are in danger of being psychic victims of these enemy forces and don't even know it. These are days when a man needs to take care of his family by whatever means necessary." He leaned over and scratched the dog, who was still intent on getting something going with Thomas, between the ears.

"I call him Lyndon because when I got him I was trying to come up with the meanest name I could think of, the name of the nastiest sob alive. But then I figured, who was a badder ass than lbj fire-bombing an entire country and killing all them babies? Of course, strictly speaking, lbj, he takes his orders from his old lady. It's all scientific, man. See, the female aura, that's what runs the universe. It's a fact, you can read up on it yourself."

I inhaled and nodded, couldn't help coughing. It was impossible, but I felt instantly, absolutely spaced.

"What is this stuff?" I asked, passing the roach clip to Thomas. He took it without taking his eyes off the dog.

Fred and Nancy looked at each other and smiled.

"It's my own very special brand, man," Fred said. "I call it Wheelchair Weed."

"Why do you call it that?"

"Because if you smoke enough of this shit, you're going need a fucking wheelchair, that's why."

He exchanged another smile with his girlfriend and got up to turn over the record. I told myself I couldn't possibly be as high as I felt and, because I was, stared without embarrassment at Nancy. Her eyes were green and her hair long and blonde, her body thin but girly-curvy. She was also black-soled barefoot just like her boyfriend and wore the hippie chick uniform of the day, a bright tie-dyed skirt that looked like it'd been made out of an old flour sack and a white blouse tied above her belly button, no bra underneath. She took a long pull from the joint. With lips sealed tight to keep in the smoke, she smiled a long smile at me that said her half-exposed breast was all right and that my being mesmerized by it was all right and that everything-everything, everywhere, for all time everything-was forever and ever all right.

Fred sat back down. I thought he'd gotten up to turn over the record. Instead, he'd put the needle back at the beginning of "Eleanor Rigby."

Having grown tired waiting for Thomas to make the first move, Lyndon grabbed his baby and flopped it down at Fred's feet. He picked it up, shook it in the dog's face, and the tug-of-war was on. The dog resumed growling through toy-clenching teeth, but with a fiercely wagging friendly tail. Thomas managed to shake himself loose from himself, took a long chug from his beer and set the can down in front of him with a clank.

"You know, it's really fine of y'all to open up your home to us like you've done, but we should start thinking about getting to the club and setting up for tonight. Any chance we could talk some business?"

Fred was standing up on bent knees, see-sawing back and forth with Lyndon. It was hard to tell who was having a better time. "Talk away, brother," he said.

"Well, I think 150 Desbutols should hold us okay until we get back home. Or maybe 200. Yeah, let's make it 200."

Now Fred had both hands wrapped around the stuffed baby's plastic head and was swinging Lyndon by the mouth around him in a circle, the dog pumping its legs in the air, trying to get earthbound. "Like to help you boys out," he said, "but I'm afraid no can do."

"But Rick said-"

Fred let go of the doll and Lyndon flew halfway across the room, bouncing off one of the walls with a sharp yelp and scrambling to a frantic, clawing stop on the cracked linoleum floor.

"Rick who?" Fred said, standing straight up.

"Rick, you know-Rick," Thomas said.

"Rick who?"

"Rick from Toronto."

"Rick from Toronto?

"Rick from the Toronto Vagabonds."

"Rick from the Toronto Vagabonds?"

"Right."

"Oh, yeah. Rick. Hey, how's old Rick doing these days?"

"Great," Thomas answered, "he's doing great. But what about the Desbys? I thought-"

Recovered, Lyndon shook his head a couple of times, picked up his baby, and trotted back across the room, ready for one more round. He and Fred picked up where they left off.

"Sorry to say you missed out by about twelve hours, boys. Guy who does some business out at the truckstop bought every one of my uppers last night."

"What about Bennys?" Thomas asked. "Do you-"

"Desbutols, Bennys, meth-everything, man. Got to keep those big wheels of capitalism rolling, right?" He got down on his knees and began growling in tune with the dog. Thomas took the joint from Nancy and proceeded to smoke the rest of it like a cigarette without offering it to anyone else. "Eleanor Rigby" came to an end and Fred got up and restarted it.

"Hey, don't worry, brother," he said. "I've got something better than speed. You guys are musicians, right? I've got what all the bands are using now. You just hold on a second." He disappeared inside one of the candlelit rooms, Lyndon trailing right behind him. Thomas took a last toke and dropped the dead joint into his can of beer. When it hit the bottom it made a soft hiss.

"Thomas?" I said.

He looked up at me as if in slow motion, his eyes beet red, his skin chalky white.

"What are we going to do?" I said.

Thomas licked his lips. I ran my hands through my hair and scratched my scalp and decided that if I heard "Eleanor Rigby" one more time I'd have no choice but to snap the record in two.

Fred returned with an old wooden shoeshine box and placed it on the floor between us. He pulled out a small plastic pouch of white powder from inside, closed the lid, and poured a tiny pile on its top. With a razor blade he inched out two lines.

"What's this?" I said.

"Vitamin C, brother," Fred said.

"What?"

"White Lightning from the coca, man, all the way from the beautiful fields of some of our South American brothers."

"Cocaine?"

"Cocaine," Nancy said, smiling.

"We don't want it," Thomas said.

I was shocked. Thomas's chemical consumption policy was pretty simple: When in doubt, do it.

"No problem," Fred said. "I just thought you and your partner here looked like you might need a little pick-me-up." He lowered his face to the box, inhaled a line, and rubbed his nose. Nancy leaned over and did the same.

The change was immediate and incredible. Their eyes shone like lit windows on a freezing dark night, their faces pulsed with an electric healthy glow.

"Can I try some?" I said.

"Be my guest, man. No charge to sample the merchandise."

Thomas put four fingers on my chest. "This isn't what we came for."

"It may not be what you came for," Fred said, "but it's all you're going to get in the way of the stimulant family. Now, if you're looking for downers, that's a whole other story. I've got-"

"For the work we're doing we don't need any fucking downers," Thomas snapped.

"Then I suggest that if this here work of yours is so fucking important you'll fucking take what you can fucking get." I noticed Fred's shotgun leaning against the wall by the door. I wondered if it was still cocked.

"Of course," he said, "you're free to look around elsewhere. But this isn't San Francisco, brother. And the suits and ties down at city hall haven't got around to putting together a hippie yellow pages yet."

The record player's needle edged into the next song. A wash of sitars flooded the room.

"We've got a lot of work to do before we get to L.A., Thomas," I said. "We've got to have something."

Lyndon had rejoined us and was lying on the floor beside Fred with his head between his paws. Thomas looked over at the animal without visible fear for the first time.

"If we do this," he said, "it's just for work. It's just for Moody Food."

"Sure," I said.

"For only when we're working, Buckskin."

"All right, all right."

He paused for a moment and then wet his finger, dabbed up some coke and ran it along his upper gums. He cut a long line with the razor and snorted it up; closed his eyes and tilted back his head. What sounded like a cat whining to get in a back door could be heard from somewhere in the house. Nancy got up to let it in.

Thomas opened his eyes. "How much for a gram?" he said.

"Depends on how much you're looking to buy. I can give you a good deal if you're not looking to score again soon."

"We're not. I'm going to have to come back, though. I haven't got that kind of cash with me."

"We're not going anywhere, brother."

I took the opportunity of the deal going down to get my own taste of inner radiance. Which I got, but with an unexpected bonus. I felt like ditching Christopher and jogging the twenty miles back to the motel and fucking Christine for a few hours or at least until she'd orgasmed seventeen times. Just for starters.

Nancy came back into the room cradling something in a wrapped blanket. And there was that whining again. I expected to see the cat all gussied up in a bonnet and baby clothes.

Except that it wasn't a cat but a baby, an actual buck-naked bona fide baby boy with the tinniest little pink willie hanging right out there for all the world to see.

"There's my little man," Fred said, getting up and going to the kid.

"Yellow Submarine" filled the room and Fred and Nancy took turns coochy-cooing and making funny faces at the gurgling infant. The music was kid's music, bright and colourful, and the baby had Fred's brown eyes and Nancy's blonde hair, and Thomas and I weren't going to suffer the shakes any more, and with the help of the coke Moody Food was going to get done. I felt so happy I thought I was going to cry. I asked if I could hold the baby.

"Sure, brother," Fred said, and Nancy handed him over.

"Brother, meet Leonard. That's short for Leonardo. You know, like the artist, the Renaissance Man."

I held the baby like my aunt Lori had shown me how with her kid, under the butt and supporting the head. He looked like a little angry old man wondering what the hell he was doing here. He looked perfect. The kid caught a load of one of his toes way down there at the other end of his body and moved all ten as best he could and watched the show with mesmerized eyes.

"Hey, brother, watch this," Fred said.

After he'd handed me Leonard, he must have sparked up another joint. He took a deep toke, came in close like he was going to kiss his son, and then gently blew a cloud of smoke in the baby's face, some of it lingering in white curls around Leonard's nose and mouth, some of it slowly lifting above his head like a dirty halo. The baby blinked a few times, sneezed once, then stared expressionless at his now no-longer-moving toes. His face looked as frozen as the plastic head on Lyndon's doll.

"Eleven months old and he's stoned, man," Fred said, taking his own deep toke. "Isn't that beautiful?" Nancy caressed the baby's cheek and wiped a line of spittle from the corner of his mouth.

I looked to Thomas. He tapped out another line of coke and snorted the top of the shoeshine box clean.

I stood there holding the baby in my arms.

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