Archive for the ‘Fiction’ category

Without Narrative

March 2, 2012

Rome Ants In The Sky

“What’s that?”

“What’s what?”

“Like a big bang.”

“Oh, that. It’s nothing.”

“Nothing? It’s a big bang.”

“It’s a puff of smoke. It will be gone in no time.”

“Where’s it coming from? What’s causing it?”

“Nothing’s causing it.”



“In other words, you don’t know. Why don’t you just say that?”

“I know it’s nothing.”

“How do you know?”

“Because nothing exists. It’s all just a dream.”

“I exist, you exist, the big bang exists, the puff of smoke exists. Isn’t that something?”

“Sounds like the title of a song.”

“You’re not making sense.”

“I don’t need to make sense. You’re the one who’s always trying to make sense out of everything. You’re hearing a big bang. Oh, wow! What are you going to do about it?”

“Do about it?”

“Yeah, do about it. In another ten to the negative thirty two seconds, the negative-pressure from vacuum-energy density will produce a thermodynamic phase transition resulting in a cosmic inflation. You are about to expand exponentially in volume by a factor of at least ten to the positive seventy eight in approximately ten to the negative three seconds.”

“Why didn’t you say that in the first place?”

“Get used to it. We’ll be together for a while. I’m the Yin to your Yang.”


Growth of the Lone Wolf

“Throughout today’s economy, from oil and military hardware, to timber and agriculture, to public services and education, it’s all about privatization and corporate acquisition. An inflationary period will follow, effectively reducing the national debt, while increasing the dollar value of these privatized acquisitions.”

“What? You think this is being manipulated?”

“Only a fool would think otherwise. The globalized oligarchy, the wealthy financial speculators, the multinational corporate leadership, they have absolutely no problem seeing the American middle class disappearing into the abyss of soul crushing poverty.”

“How come you’re always thinking so negative?”

“Because I’m hungry, I’m cold, it’s raining, and my feet ache.”

“You should get yourself a new cardboard box like mine.”

“I need more than a new cardboard box.”

“Of course you do, everybody does. I’m just saying, it would be a good next step for you to consider. Stop worrying about privatization and corporate acquisitions. Think more on a practical level. Deal with the world at hand, the world you live in, where you can do something about it.”

“Oh, okay, do something about it? I got an idea. Let’s leave our little nest here in the alley behind these garbage dumpsters and go rob that bank out there on the street. That’s the world we live in, isn’t it? If we’re successful, our troubles are over for a while. If we get caught, we go to prison, get a roof over our head, medical attention, a warm bunk, and three meals a day.”

“Get a new cardboard box is a better idea. Do you know how well fortified that bank is? How well armed the local law enforcement agencies are? Even in this small college town they have an armored personnel carrier. It was given to them by a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The local law men and women have all gone through military style training in the use of military weapons. They come dressed in SWAT outfits, eager to engage.”

“Prison doesn’t sound too bad right now. It’s where all the good guys are, men and women, the one’s who stood their ground and continued protesting when public demonstrations were banned and martial law was imposed. They’re organizing in prisons now, spreading cooperative ideals, evolving a new political leadership.”

“Forget prison. Get a new box. Stay free.”

“Free? Living in an alley, in a cardboard box, hidden from the world behind garbage dumpsters, like rats?”

“You wanna organize? Talk to the people at the homeless shelter, at the church basement where you get most of your food, at the political events on campus sponsored by university students. It’s going on all around you. Get involved on a local level.”

“The leadership required to reorganize our future society is maturing and ripening in prisons right now. Many have had combat experiences in the US military.”

“You been there?”

“I did a relatively short stay inside the wall of a high security federal prison. The inmates there were like, bank robbers, hijackers, skyjackers, kidnappers, counterfeiters, drug smugglers, firearms and explosives dealers. They all had long term sentences. I was being coerced by federal drug agents. They wanted me to become a snitch. I didn’t know what I was getting into.”

“You were coerced?”

“I made a mistake, got involved in something I shouldn’t have. I saw an opportunity to make some quick cash and it turned out to be a federal drug sting. One agent sold me the drugs and a different agent purchased them from me. The charge was possession with intent to distribute. The prosecutor said I showed a willingness to participate and I was therefore guilty. I was facing fifteen years in prison. I had a wife and children, a business. When they offered me a deal, I jumped at it.”

“You became a snitch for them inside a federal prison, that’s a deal?”

“My wife was able to retain all of our property and take ownership of the business. We didn’t lose anything financially. The terms of my freedom were less clear. They said I’d be eligible for a parole hearing in eighteen months if I cooperated with them. It took me more three years to finally gain parole. The authorities were never satisfied with my level of cooperation. The only reason I was paroled is, the prison had become over crowded. They couldn’t justify keeping me there. I was unproductive as a snitch and it was clear to the parole board that I had been entrapped in the first place. I didn’t belong in prison.”

“Well, at least you had a wife and property and a business waiting for you when you got home.”

“Not quite. It’s remarkable how much the world changes in three years. I lived on memories while in prison. I built a fantasy world in my mind. Negative possibilities did not exist. That’s how I survived in there. You don’t know what it’s like. Luckily for me, there’s an unwritten rule, don’t ask other inmates what they’re in for, or how much time they’re doing. If you ask these questions, people get suspicious of you, unless they know you well and have already offered that information voluntarily.”

“How long did it take you to learn that?”

“I learned it on the ride from the courthouse jail to the prison. Nine of us prisoners, chained together in threes, were in the back of an armored van with two federal marshals up front. One prisoner I was chained with became a mentor to me, sort of, and that really helped.”
“A mentor?”

“He had previously done time there for possession of explosives and he was returning on a parole violation with additional charges still pending in court.”

“What, you asked?”

“Yeah, that’s when he warned me about the unwritten rule. And then he commenced to tell me his life story. At first I thought he was a big blowhard. Especially when he told me he had been the weightlifting champion at the prison. I mean, he was big, about six five, six seven. Yet he was also, I must say it, fat. He had a big head and a fat baby face. But, you know what, he regularly won all the weightlifting competition while I was in there. And that’s impressive. There are some very big, muscular dudes pumping iron in prison.”

“So he wasn’t a blowhard.”

“No he was the real deal. He was smart, too, and very kind, if you were his friend. I don’t know if I would have made it without his help. I eventually told him my situation and he understood immediately. He advised me to just lie to the feds and not give them any straight up information about other inmates. That didn’t go over too well with my handlers, of course. They kept warning me about doing the full fifteen year stretch. But I had to live with myself day to day and with the other inmates. Snitching is a cardinal sin. Punishable by death. Plus, I learned to respect most of the inmates there more that I respected the federal agents or the government.”

“And when you were released, what happened?”

“Prison is one of those before and after experiences. When I got home, nothing was the same as I remembered it. Everybody had changed. My wife had become a very independent, powerful woman. I fell in love with the new her, even more than the old. Unfortunately, that feeling wasn’t reciprocated. She loved the old me much better than the new, it seemed. We lived together but she was the boss and I walked the line.”

“Where is she now?”

“She’s in heaven.”

“How come you’re living out here?”

“Same reason you’re out here, along with all the other millions who have been sacrificed on the alter of a jealous deity, capitalism. Offered up for the sake of something considered more desirable, higher profits.”

“Let’s go and get you that new cardboard box. You’re gonna need it tonight. We’re getting ten inches of snow.”



March 19, 2011

I wasn’t sure what I would find when I arrived in San Francisco but I knew what I wanted to find: a fully outfitted three masted schooner, ready for sea. Having just finished reading Herman Melville’s novel, Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas, my mind was still occupied with its afterglow. The possibility of going on a long sea voyage immediately upon arriving on the coast was a dream coming true. I had never even been to the ocean but, after reading Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, Typee, and Omoo, I felt like I had lived at sea for years.

I was traveling west from Detroit with a group of people I hardly knew, driving in a caravan of six cars that were being delivered to a dealership in Sacramento. One of the drivers worked for the dealer and he was supposed to make sure we didn’t take passengers with us. Yet we stopped on our way out of the city and all the drivers in the caravan picked up passengers to ride along with them to California, except me. I had no passengers and that’s the way I wanted it to stay.

After a couple of nights out on the road, however, relationships between passenger and drivers began to fray. My car became an overflow space into which passengers were able to flee on repeated occasions.

We were almost to California when I confronted a driver who had thrown a woman out of his car in a screaming fit at an interstate gas station. He told me I could have her. She stayed with me to Sacramento, where everyone else separated. And then we traveled together on the bus to San Francisco.

Upon arrival, I searched for an empty phone booth at the crowded bus station. Over the phone, I learned that the three master schooner had been moved south to Monterey Bay where docking space was less expensive. The long sea voyage was still on hold but I was welcome to go down there and move aboard at any time.

She called herself Angel. Or maybe that’s what others called her and she just accepted the name. She looked like an angel. But she was living a lifestyle that was incompatible with maintaining her youthful beauty, injecting methamphetamine, drinking Pepsi for nutrition, and chain smoking menthol filtered cigarettes.

I didn’t feel comfortable about leaving her. She had an address for a group of ex-Detroiters who had formed a band and created a rehearsal scene in San Francisco. She hoped to make connections there for a place to stay and to find a source for crystal meth. She had money with her, a handbag stacked with cash, neatly wrapped and labeled. I felt she needed my protection so I went along. Big mistake. I started shooting methamphetamine and I forgot what I wanted.

I knew all the horror stories about injecting drugs. I thought I would never do it. But I stopped thinking when Angel put her arms around me. Her embrace soothed the jagged edges of my sleep deprived senses and awakened my passions.

We were horizontal and naked on a mattress on the floor when she started searching my arm for a vein. She had rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, a tourniquet, a small metal bowl, and a cup of water on a low table in the corner of the small bedroom. Wearing surgical gloves and using a freshly unpacked sterile syringe, she extracted water from the cup and squirted it onto a crystalline substance in the small metal bowl. It dissolved without heating and she filled the syringe with a measured amount of solution.

My mind labored to justify my actions as she tightened the tourniquet. The opportunity might never come again, I told myself. Angel seemed destined for stardom. I’m lying here naked with her on the verge of having sex and she wants to inject me with crystal meth first? Why not?

She searched my eyes as she swabbed the vein. Then she looked down to poke me with the needle. I cleared my mind, not knowing what to expect, yet feeling ready for anything, thinking I could handle whatever came next.

With the drug entering my bloodstream, my heart rate and breathing increased, along with my awareness of the atmospheric pressure. My mind filled with a chorus of voices chanting a litany of conclusions based on an elaborate assortment of vague assumptions yet I could willfully rise above this mental confusion to enjoy the intense rush of enhanced sensory stimulation, content with the experience itself, without needing words to justify or explain it.

During the ritual, Angel reminded me of a young vampire capturing her first major prey. What was the payoff for her? Was she expecting sexual acrobatics from me, bringing her to a life transforming climax? If so, I felt up to the challenge in every way.

“Let’s get dressed and go downstairs,” she said: “They’re waiting for us in the studio.”

What? Confusion, paranoia, and depression came to the forefront of my consciousness as I realized the anticipated great sex was not going to happen.

“I’ll be down later,” I said.

“No,” she replied: “I need you. I can’t do this without you.”

Her words reinvigorated my enthusiasm. A wave of euphoria washed the pain from my senses. The world seemed ripe with potential again, her potential. And she needed me. I had new purpose, new strength, was capable of accomplishing anything she desired of me.

As I opened the sound studio door, the music’s intensity increased exponentially. A smoke filled column of air danced in front of the big bass speakers, illuminated by stray light from overhead floods directed on the musicians and their instruments in the darkened room.

The possibility of being called upon to perform had been festering in the back of my mind since Angel’s comment about me having a great voice and how they were going to love me when they heard it. That possibility had now become the immediate focus of my existence. Singing in the church choir gave me all the experience I needed. I had total confidence in my ability to sing along with Angel during the audition, if that’s what she needed, and wanted.

When the band stopped playing, the performance area darkened, and the overhead lights came on in the sound studio. A film crew that had been shooting the rehearsal with 16mm cameras immediately refocused their attention on Angel. I followed in her wake.

The musicians were all clean shaven and their salon styled long hair gave them an effeminate appearance, I thought, which make me conscious of my own appearance. My low maintenance hair was too short to even comb. And I hadn’t shaved, bathed, or changed cloths in several days while driving across the country from Detroit.

As band members gathered around her, Angel said: “Where’s Gerda?”

A tall dude with piercing blue eyes shrouded in long blond hair, replied: “She’s not with us anymore. She hooked up with some recording company. Said she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go out on her own with a major label.”

“Who’s taking her place?”

“You are, darlin’. That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it?”

“What kinda gigs?”

“Not much work here in the city, if anything, for local bands. We were out on the road, promoting our own record, before Gerda ditched us. Theaters, dance halls, gymnasiums, auditoriums, bars, nightclubs, you name it. There is work out there, if you’re willing to give people what they want.”

“Can I do some of my own stuff?”

“Show us what you got.”

Angel hesitated with her mouth open, then said: “I need to warm up first, get a feel for the studio, who I’m working with. But yes, let’s get started.”

She directed me to follow along with her exercises, breathing and stretching, holding notes, jumping intervals, running scales, singing melodic phrases in two part harmony. The musicians were exchanging glances and shaking their heads but I could feel my confidence growing with each step in her routine. Everyone assumed their place when Angel signaled we were ready.

“Let’s start off with something easy, yeah?” she said in a singsong voice: “Go a step at a time. Give me a funky slow walking beat, please.”

The bass player, the tall dude with piercing blue eyes shrouded in long blond hair who had answered Angel’s questions, initiated the rhythm. The drummer, a look alike, picked it up using brushes, not sticks. The rhythm guitarist, in the same mold as the other two, punctuated the backbeat with a bluesy chord, rotating through a basic progression, changing with each quick, downward strum.

I worked from Angel’s handwritten notes. The first song she selected, a lament about a troubled relationship, used alternating verses, the female voice and then the male responding. I had the words in front of me so I could concentrate on making my voice harmonize with hers, especially during the chorus when we sang together. Yet, later, when the Hammond organ and the lead guitarist joined in, close vocal harmony wasn’t critical so I concentrated more on melody, amplitude, and rhythm.

When I finally relaxed, I could look from the words on the page into Angel’s eyes as I completed a phrase or held a musical note for emphasis. I felt more comfortable with each passing song and, even as I performed, my mind began to wander. The scent of Angel’s naked body lingered in the most primitive area of my memory, signaling my senses to breath the air around her and stay alert for more of the same.

I knew the audition wasn’t about me. I wouldn’t fit into the band. I couldn’t handle going on the road and performing night after night. One of the band members would do Angel’s material requiring a male voice. The base player seemed eager to assume the role. He tolerated me to please Angel, but only for the initial session, I felt.

Angel called for a break at the conclusion of an uptempo number and received unanimous consent from the musicians.

“Good stuff, darlin’,” the bass player said as the overhead lights came on: “We’ve got it all down on tape. Let’s go upstairs, get some rest, something to eat. Then we’ll give it a listen.”

The studio was built into a large open space that had originally been a horse stable in the rear of an old three story building, a building that had survived the earthquake and fire of 1906, according to its current occupants.

The front part of the third floor had a kitchen, two bathrooms, and four small bedrooms. It was used during rehearsals and recording sessions as a place to rest and get high. Everyone lived somewhere else.

The rear part of the third floor, on top of the sound studio, was a large communal space with an assortment of used furniture arranged to create separate groupings in each of the four corners according to usage. A television set in one grouping with the picture on but the sound turned down. A listening area in another with reel-to-reel, multitrack tape machine, amplifiers, speakers, and earphones. A reading area with stacks of books and magazines. And a circular sitting area where people could face one another for conversation and discussion.

In the dim bedroom light, I watched as Angel dropped onto the floor mattress and stretched out. She looked exhausted. I wasn’t sure how long we had been in the studio or how many songs we had worked on. Time didn’t seem to matter anymore.

While undressing, I said: “There’s a shower in the bathroom, I think I’ll use it?”

“Fuck the shower,” she replied, reaching to turn off the lamp on the low table next to the mattress. In the resultant darkness, she added: “But fuck me first. That’s the only way I’ll get to sleep.”

Her soft moist lips tasted like juicy fruit chewing gum as her mouth opened and her tongue reached out in search of mine. She brushed her hand lightly between my thighs, moving upward, tightening my scrotum and sending waves of pleasure surging throughout my body. Her fingertips stroked my hardened shaft as she climbed on top. Working my penis back and forth, she parted her pubic hair with its nippled tip. Then she slowly eased down around me, not waiting to further lubricate the entrance.

A climax was not acceptable for me, not unless she climaxed first. She made me feel like a god living in a timeless world, my only concern being to stay hard for my goddess, until she sleeps.

A perfect sunrise, clear blue skies, wind and waves, salt water spray, pitching and rolling, sails flapping in the breeze! My consciousness saturated with immediate sensory impressions as we tacked west by southwest heading towards Tahiti from Monterey Bay. Details of the previous few days in San Francisco with Angel temporarily slipped below the surface leaving a vague disquiet in the back of my mind. I didn’t have time to dwell on the state of my heart. Yet, when memories did push their way into my consciousness, I found my lack of emotion surprising, like it had happened to a different me in another life.

Love Connection – II

October 1, 2010

Norma Jean remained active in my memory. Her eyes, her facial expressions, her voice, her touch, her embrace, her scent lingered in my neural pathways like a parallel universe. I wanted to see her again but my only connection would be through Alphonso and his only interest in me was business, a very risky business. And then there was Earl to consider.

I checked with a friend in the music industry, and he said: “Yeah, I know Norma Jean. She’s a sweetheart. But you do not want to mess with her. She’s got a boyfriend, a very big dude, and he can get nasty.” He gave me the address of the studio and I drove by hoping to see her going in or out. I didn’t notice Alphonso until he beeped his horn.

“What are you doing down here?” he said, then, without waiting for an answer, he added: “Meet me at the crib. We need to talk.”

A big shipment of powder cocaine had arrived in the city, he said, and he could get it to me at kilo weight for a very good price, if I put the money up front. I told him, even if I could cover the money, I couldn’t handle the product at kilo weight. I’d need to involve someone else who could. And that would be tricky. But, if he was interested in working with me, I could move it in smaller quantities. Which would give me a good excuse to come around and possibly visit with Norma Jean.

I felt tempted to use my line of credit from Sonny for a really large purchase but that would require a commitment to the drug business which I wasn’t prepared to make. My parole status had changed, I no longer reported for drug testing, but even a small infraction could sent me back to prison. A major bust would send me back for the rest of my life, I feared. Playing it safe by delivering no more than a few ounces of powder cocaine at a time to an assortment of trusted friends would be enough to keep me afloat. And, to account for my income, I still had my day job at the factory stacking freshly stamped gas tank panels.

I finally caught up with Norma Jean at a crowded nightclub in a downtown hotel. She put her arms around me, and whispered: “Be an angel, get me high. Can you do that? I’m performing here tonight. I’m terrified.” When I nodded affirmatively, she took my hand and led me through the hotel lobby to an elevator. “I’ve got a room on the fifth floor,” she said as the elevator door opened.

A woman was sitting in the room, a black woman, older, heavy set, attractive, well dressed. “Who are you,” she said in a husky voice when she saw me enter.

“He’s the one I was telling you about,” Norma Jean responded.

“Oh,” the woman said, leaning back in her chair, giving me the same look I had received from Earl.

I handed Norma Jean a glass bottle filled with finely chopped and fluffed pearly flakes of cocaine hydrochloride salt ready for consumption, and said: “Be careful with this stuff. A match head in each nostril is all you need. No big lines.”

“I know,” she said: “This is the best coke ever. I’m getting too fond of it. I need to ease off before going on tour.”

“Uh-huh,” the older woman interjected.

Norma Jean shot the woman a quick glance, then, turning back to me, she said: “Can you leave me some?”

“Yeah,” I said: “I can leave the bottle. I’ll pick it up later. Take as much as you want. Offer some to your friend.” When the woman responded with a blank stare, I said: “Where’s Earl?”

“Don’t worry about Earl,” Norma Jean replied: “I’ll take care of him.”

The older woman stood, and said: “How you gonna take care of Earl when you can’t even take care of yourself?” Then she turned to me, and said: “Mister, you better take that bottle with you.”

I dumped a small pile onto Norma Jean’s tooting tray, a mirror from her purse. That’s all she would need, anyway, I reasoned, and the older woman probably saved me from a mess of trouble.

While walking through the hotel lobby on my way back to the club, I ran into Alphonso. “Glad you made it, Brian,” he said: “This is a big night for Norma Jean. With recording industry executives, booking agents, and media critics in the audience, she’ll need all the support she can get. I’d ask you to our table but there’s no place for you.”

Showroom tables were either taken or reserved. I worked my way through the standing room only crowd until I had access to the bar and a clear view of the stage. A stack of electric keyboards were on one side. Electric bass, drums, and rhythm guitar in the middle. Horns and reeds on the other side. I recognized many of the musicians, all top notch pros from around town.

The band played a credible rendition of Duke Ellington’s ‘It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,’ as Norma Jean took the stage. She had three female singers standing behind her on one side and two male singers standing behind her on the other, backing her up as she sang the original lyrics with the traditional melody. Then she began to stretch the harmonic structure while inventing rhythms with a musical insight Ellington would admire. She sang original verse bordering on rap with quick riffs from trumpet, trombone, tenor saxophone, and clarinet punctuated her phraseology.

The words were difficult to follow because of the reverberation between two different speaker systems serving the showroom and the bar area where I stood, plus I just didn’t understand what she was singing about. That changed as she abruptly morphed into the next number, an electrifying rendition of ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New,’ a 1970s hit by the Stylistics.

A male singer joined Norma Jean at center stage and she gave the impression there really was something going on between them, judging from her facial expressions, her body language, and the sincere joy expressed in her singing. I remembered holding her in my arms as she sang like that to me. I felt surprisingly jealous. And I wondered how Earl felt.

Love Connection

October 1, 2010

Powder cocaine supplies had dried up in the white community due to a series of major busts by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. The only cocaine available was crack, a form in which cocaine could not be snorted or injected but required smoking. And the main source of crack was in the black community.

A friend hooked me up with her most trustworthy connection.

“His name is Alphonso,” she said: “Don’t call him Fonzie.”

We waited inside a busy downtown jazz club. When he arrived, she introduced us and then departed. I fronted him money for what I considered a relatively small purchase, playing it safe until I knew him better.

He returned a short time later, and said: “Everything’s cool. Finish your drink. Let’s go to the crib.”

The apartment opened into a hallway that went back past the front room to the kitchen, bathroom, and bedrooms. Walls and ceilings in the large front room were painted flat black. It was low budget yet theatrically decorated with an assortment of shaded lamps directing beams of light at various angles downward onto brightly colored furniture creating a shimmering visual mosaic.

Alphonso sat on a white leatherette vinyl couch, and said: “You are some kind of crazy motherfucker, Brian, do you know that? For coming down here with this kind of money. People will kill you for far less. What are you doing with all this dope? Flipping it wholesale? I could break it up and sell it in small units for top dollar, tonight. Make you some real money, splitting the profits.”

The front door buzzer sounded before I could reply.

“I got some people coming up,” he said: “Don’t nobody need to know what you and me got going here. It’s party time. Understand? That’s it.”

“Yeah, I understand,” I said, looking into his waiting eyes, acknowledging his control of the situation.

A tall, heavyset black man wearing black pants, suit coat, and tee shirt, stopped at the opening to the front room, and said: “What’s this white boy doing in here?”

An attractive young black woman in a bright green dress entered the room without hesitating, and said: “You got something against white boys, Earl?”

Earl followed Alphonso down the hallway to a back bedroom, saying: “I didn’t know you deal with no white boys.”

The young woman in the green dress extended her hand, and said: “Hi, I’m Norma Jean.” She looked young and fresh, early twenties at the most. Yet she seemed fearless and self confident as she took my hand and smiled. Then she turned to the radio, she said: “What music do you like?”

I nodded my approval as a dreamy love song featuring passionate voices and lush orchestration filled the room with its acoustical presence at low volume.

“Drink?” she said, hitting a switch, illuminating a wet bar I hadn’t noticed in the back corner of the room: “Alphonso stocks Tanqueray’s London Dry exclusively. You should hear his Tony Sinclair. Better than Rodney Mason. How do you take your gin? Poured over ice, a jigger of tonic, a wedge of lime, that’s how I do mine.”

While mixing our drinks, she sang along with the radio music, and her voice sounded professionally trained. When I asked, she said: “Oh yes, I’ve been singing all my life, in church and in music school. I’m working on a studio album right now and rehearsing for a tour. We’re almost ready to book.”

“You talking that crazy shit again,” Earl said as he entered the room from the hallway.

Norma Jean laughed, and said: “Earl ain’t got no music and he don’t respect nobody else’s music. But he’s my man and I love him. I’m going to need his muscle on the road.”

“You’re going to get my muscle up your ass if you don’t stop talking shit.”

“He’s been promising that for days. I’m still waiting.”

Earl sank into an extra large spherical poof chair with his back, arms, and head supported and his big feet extending out into the room. Closing his eyes, he said: “This is some good shit, Al.”

Alphonso looked at me, and said: “You smoke pot? Wanna try this?”

“I do,” Norma Jean said, singing the words.

The marijuana made me paranoid. Earl was staring at me. What’s going on here? Where’s the crack? Or my money?

Alphonso read the expression on my face, and said: “Earl’s my bodyguard. He’s armed and dangerous. We’re going out on the town to spread that crack around. We ain’t doing it here. I got more people coming. They’ll be here soon. Relax, enjoy yourself. It’s party time, remember?”

Norma Jean played a battery operated keyboard in perfect unison with the music on the radio, humming along and shaking her head in time. After a second gin highball cocktail, my paranoia dissolved along with my inhibitions. Four, five, six, I’m not sure how many people arrived next and went into the back bedroom with Alphonso. But right behind them, two black men, one black woman, and three white women arrived and entered the front room. They all seemed surprised to see me there. Norma Jean fixed drinks for everybody, making conversation like she was the regular hostess.

When a tray filled with small rocks and crumbs of crack cocaine arrived from the back room, everyone except me had a glass pipe in hand. Norma Jean sat down beside me with a lit rock sizzling in a glass tube. “Here, open your mouth,” she said, holding her eyes on me while she filled her lungs with a long toke on the pipe. Then, leaning over, she kiss me, and emptied her lungs into mine. As the cocaine reached my brain in a rush of erotic pleasure I started to wrap my arms around her. But then I noticed Earl watching with an unamused expression on his face and I held back.

Shortly afterward, Alphonso entered the front room, and said: “I’m going out. Wait here.”

Earl and some other people went with him.

Norma Jean filled my lungs with another kiss and this time I put my arms around her and returned the kiss.

“Let’s dance,” she said, pushing herself away and then reaching back to take my hand.

Two other couples were already slow dancing to a soulful lament while a rotating globe chandelier reflected ballroom lights swirling in the otherwise darkened space. Norma Jean fit perfectly into my arms and I wanted to make love to her. But then she began to sing, seriously sing. I had never held a woman singing like that in my arms before, I realized, and I began to sing in return, hesitantly at first, yet she inspired and encouraged me to sing expressively with emotional force. It wasn’t sex, no, but something very similar. And I could still face both Alphonso and Earl when they returned, knowing I hadn’t abused their trust, technically speaking.