BY: VIVIAN DOOLITTLE
At the age of 23, Ricky Harris has it all: fame, fortune, and the woman of his dreams, until he discovers her in bed with his best friend. In this his darkest hour, an opportunity presents itself to begin again. Ricky seizes the moment, unaware of the ripple effect he will cause in the waters of fate. Forty years later, those ripples have grown to a tsunami that is about to come crashing down upon him. Ricky exits the road less traveled for a more mundane existence, only to find he can’t run from his past.
It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped. ~ Tony Robbins
The cotton in his ears, legacy of state-of-the-art speakers in an acoustically perfect concert hall, was second only to his cottonmouth, brought on by too much pot and not enough whiskey. But he was well on his way to correcting that imbalance. At a minimum, he could slake his thirst. The muffled hearing might take a while longer, as it nearly always gave way to unabated ringing. Tinnitus, the medicine man had called it. No doubt the first in a series of fees assessed by the devil, aka the record company, to whom he’d sold his soul.
Windy City’s sellout concert at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre ended just before midnight. His watch now said it was a quarter to three, but Ricky Harris didn’t feel like it had been more than about half an hour since they’d ended the show.
He had a cigarette in one hand and half a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other, and he was trailed by three giggling groupies, the eldest of whom couldn’t have been more than about fourteen. A part of him wanted to just give in to their silly whining and let them give him the very best bj’s they could manage, but he only had Angie on his mind. He wanted to take her to bed and just get lost in her dark exotic beauty. The hard-on he sported through most of the concert was for her. The girls in the front row could think it was for them, the sycophantic fags who worshipped his unfuckingbelievable guitar could think it was his love of the music that got him off, but he knew better. He only had doing Angie on his mind, and the rest of the concert was practically on autopilot.
He shook his head and turned around, smiling his best boy-next-door smile.
“Ladies, I’m flattered, and I am so tempted,” he said to a chorus of giggles. “But I can’t. My heart belongs to Angie. I think you know that, don’t you?”
The girls looked disappointed, but one of them held out her ticket stub hopefully. “Would you autograph it?” she asked.
Ricky was charmed. “Sure,” he said with a grin. While he wrote, the other two produced their ticket stubs and fresh pens, and, before long, he had them all autographed and on their way.
He patted the pockets of his jeans, self-frisking in search of their room key. He found the keys to the rental car, but no hotel key. Shit. Most likely Angie was still partying with the rest of the band, wondering where the hell he was.
Even though Ricky could barely recall what city they were in, he had really liked the venue. He stayed behind to watch the roadies put it all away for transport to the next town, Portland or Vancouver, he couldn’t remember which. He chatted with the management guy for quite some time before he realized that the rest of the group had long gone, even Angie.
Ricky was left with the rental car; the limo took everyone else back to the hotel. They stayed at the Edgewater Inn because it was where the Beatles had famously stayed back in ’64, so it had a kind of rock and roll cachet that couldn’t be ignored. Funny, security wasn’t nearly as tight this night.
He got to the room and knocked. No answer, of course, since the noise and music coming from inside were deafening even through the closed door. He tried it, and it opened so he walked on in. The cloud of smoke that wafted out reeked of pot, hash, and cigarettes. Ah, sweet perfume!
“Hey, Rick-ay! Join the party, man! Where you been, dude? We are way ahead of you, man!” Don was sitting cross-legged on the floor with Craig and a couple of the bodyguards, along with an assortment of groupies. Don was wasted. They all were.
Ricky smiled and took a long pull off the Jack. “I’m catching up quick, my man, be patient.” He scanned the room. No Angie.
“Hey, where’s Ange?”
“I dunno. She and Rufe left a while ago. Rufe had some acid.” Don shrugged.
Ricky looked around again and sure enough, Rufe was gone too. Ricky’s well-earned buzz started to fade a bit.
“Where’d they go?” Ricky hoped he sounded uninterested. Don shrugged again.
“Don’t know. Sit down, man, the bong’s coming around again.” So saying, Don proffered a rapidly shrinking joint to fill the gap until the bong finished its appointed rounds.
Ricky took a hit off the roach, then extinguished it on his tongue and swallowed the remains.
“Wow,” said Don from somewhere far away. “That’s not even a Bogart, man, that’s just…that’s just wrong.” His disappointment didn’t last long, as the bong had arrived and he fired her up after the chick on his right repacked the bowl. Don took a good long hit. Much raucous laughter followed, but Ricky was still mostly deaf, from standing between the speakers all night, and he really needed to find Angie.
On a most unwelcome hunch, he walked down the hall to Rufus’s room and tried the door. As expected, it was unlocked. He walked in to discover that all lights but the lamp by the bed were off. By the light of that one lamp he saw Angie, naked and astride a recumbent and equally naked Rufus. In their coital ecstasy, they hadn’t heard him walk in.
For the first time in his twenty-three years on the planet, Ricky understood emotional pain. The loss of his mother had occurred at too young an age to really grasp the implications of growing up motherless. His father’s emotional abandonment had come so close on the heels of that loss that it too, failed to register very deeply on his young psyche.
No, this was abandonment on a much grander scale. What was the line from that Jethro Tull song? “His woman and his best friend, in bed and having fun…” Yeah, pretty much.
Without conscious thought, Ricky threw the Jack Daniels bottle across the room. It shattered on the heat register adjacent to the bed. They must have been pretty high indeed—the two of them reacted in slow motion. They stopped moving together and both turned to look at Ricky.
“Right then,” was all he said.
He tossed his still-smoldering cigarette butt at them and left, fumbling for the keys to the rental car. He grabbed an as yet unopened bottle of whiskey from the table to the left of the door on his way out. Halfway to the elevator, Angie caught up.
Her round face was flushed with recent sex and strings of her dark brown hair crisscrossed it in random patterns. She had wrapped herself in a white sheet that now trailed behind her like a ragged bridal gown.
“Ricky,” she began, but he forestalled further comment with a raised hand. He didn’t look at her.
“Please don’t try to mind fuck me with any sort of explanation, you cheating cunt. You were fucking my best friend, there is no ‘not what it seems’ explanation for that. Fuck you, Angie. Fuck you, fuck you!” Mercifully, the elevator arrived and he got in and hit the L button, rapidly followed by the Door Close button, which he kept slapping until the bloody thing finally drew slowly closed. His last memory of Angie as he left the hotel that night, was her beautiful face, marred by heavy stage makeup that was running down her perfect cheeks in wide black tears.
Ricky found the rental car, a brand new, fire engine red ’75 Dodge Charger, and got in. He didn’t start it right away. He sat staring through the windshield at a creeping fog that was rolling in off Puget Sound.
The dark January Seattle sky had been clear and cold when he got back to the hotel, what, twenty minutes ago? Now there was a frigid pea-souper roiling around and driving could become treacherous in the near-freezing temperature.
He was enormously glad he’d grabbed another fifth of Jack. He wanted to take another slug from that bottle to see if it would dull the growing ache in his heart or, failing that, at least blot out the image of Angie and Rufe together that was all too detailed and clear in his mind.
He opened the bottle and took a swig. The warm liquid burned a trail down his throat like the trails left by the tears streaming down his cheeks.
“Jesus Christ,” he said. He turned over the engine of the rented Dodge Charger. Ricky wasn’t stupid. He had been noticing how Rufe looked at Ange. How they shared the occasional joke to the exclusion of the rest of the band.
Ginger, Brillo-haired motherfucker! Rufe knew that Ricky was planning to ask Angie to marry him. My best friend, he thought. That back-stabbing sonofabitch!
Ricky shook his head and, as he did, his shoulder-length blonde locks rubbed against his neck. He felt another tear leave his eye and, with it, a renewed wave of anguish flow through his heart. The betrayal was more than he could bear.
He drove out of the parking lot, having no idea whatsoever where he was going. He just needed to go. He needed to drive, and drive he did, aimlessly and for a long time.
The fog seemed like the perfect soft counterpoint to the ringing in his ears and the unrelenting dryness in his mouth. At this hour the streets were deserted, the clubs were closed. Ricky drove without direction, barely registering anything as he drove past. The sight of the two of them together had thrown him for a loop and he could not get the image out of his mind.
He cried for a while, and then he got angry. He was already sick to death of touring—sick of unwelcome edits from the suits at the record company—sick of always having to get Don’s help to write.
It was no longer about the money. Ricky had more money than he could spend in a lifetime. Somewhere along the line, it had ceased to be about the music, too. He wondered for a moment why he did it. Why he even bothered. Angie was the answer, of course. She loved the whole singing with the band thing, the whole rock star vibe. And Ricky had to admit he loved that she loved it.
He looked down at the dashboard and realized he was only going about 25 miles per hour. He straightened up and looked around. No cops. Good. He sped up just in time to round a corner and come to a large, weird intersection. The light was red, so he stopped and looked around. He could go straight, but there didn’t appear to be much down that way. If he went left, it would be a hard left, nearly 180 degrees and that would most likely take him back to town and back to the hotel. No way, man.
The light turned green and Ricky took a right. In the fog-softened glow of a streetlamp, he saw a short bridge. It was fancy wrought iron, painted green and the lettering on the top railing read “Fremont.”
As Ricky slowly rounded the corner, he saw figures on the bridge. He didn’t have to get any closer to see that there was a struggle taking place. He pulled the Charger onto the grass to the left of the bridge, dousing the lights as he did.
Had Ricky been one toke less high, one pull off the bottle of whiskey more sober, he probably would have had the sense to make a U-turn in the intersection and beat feet out of there. But he wasn’t, and he didn’t.
Instead, he cut the engine and watched, fascinated, as two big ol’ boys beat the holy bejesus out of a smaller guy. The victim-dude was a young-looking guy with long blonde hair, not unlike Ricky’s own. He was dressed in jeans and a leather jacket. His attackers wore dark suits without ties.
Men in black, Ricky thought. But there was no humor in it. He wondered what the dude had done to so piss off the two hulks that were having their way with him. There was quite a bit of argument and shouting to accompany the beating, but even after cracking his window an inch, Ricky couldn’t make out what they were saying.
Was it a debt unpaid, perhaps? A drug deal gone bad? Ricky didn’t have time to think much beyond that because the two goons picked up the smaller dude and tossed him over the side of the bridge.
He sat there watching for a moment until the men got into a big black car and left. He jumped out of the Charger and ran to the edge of the canal. It was lined on either side by a concrete retaining wall. The canal must have been manmade because the wall went as far as he could see into the fog in either direction.
Christ, it’s cold! Ricky peered into the foggy darkness of the water and listened carefully. Surely the dude had come up and was swimming for the concrete wall now. But he heard no sound other than the flowing water. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness all around him, Ricky could see the surface of the water. It was unbroken and smooth and doubtless fucking freezing.
With no more thought than to take his own jacket off, Ricky jumped into the frigid wet blackness of the canal.
The deep breath he drew before leaping off the edge of the retaining wall was sucked out of his lungs in an instant by the unbearable cold of the fast-moving water. Ricky pushed up and out of the water sucking in freezing, wet air with a rasping whoop!
Unbelievably, the air outside the water actually felt colder than the water itself. Ricky took another deep breath and dove down again, eyes closed and flailing blindly for the submerged victim.
After what seemed like too many long moments, he felt something that could only be the dude’s leather jacket. He grabbed the collar and hauled the unresisting guy toward the surface.
In the dim light of the fog-enshrouded streetlamp, Ricky could see very little, but he saw that the dude’s eyes were open and he didn’t seem to be breathing.
He swam toward the wall, every stroke becoming harder as he slowly froze to death in the bitterly cold water. He managed to get the guy up onto the berm first and then hauled himself sluggishly out of the water right behind. He lay on the grass panting for a moment, but the damp air began to draw the remaining warmth from his body, and he knew time was of the essence.
He rolled the guy onto his back and listened for sounds of breathing or heartbeat. There were none. Ricky looked up and around for someone, anyone, another car even, just someone who knew what to do because Ricky had no clue.
The frigid water combined with adrenaline had done a bang-up job up of sobering him up. Ricky tried to remember the steps of Artificial Respiration he’d been taught in the seventh grade. Pinch the guy’s nose shut. He did. Tilt the head back. He did. Clear obstructions from the victim’s mouth. Well, obviously there weren’t any, the guy had the shit beat out of him, he hadn’t been eating anything.
Without further deliberation, Ricky put his mouth over the dude’s mouth and began to rhythmically blow into it as hard as he could. He stopped after a few repetitions and listened again for a heartbeat. There wasn’t a sound coming from the guy’s chest.
He tried again, about ten more breaths and another good listen, before abandoning his feeble attempts at reviving the guy.
“Dude, I’m sorry,” he said. “You picked the wrong hero, man. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m pretty sure you’re dead.”
An involuntary shudder wracked Ricky’s body, and he realized he needed to get dry and warm post-haste or he would surely die along with the hapless man in his lap.
It was at that moment that an idea both great and terrible occurred to Ricky. It was perfect in its simplicity. Were he a spiritual man, Ricky might have thought that the Universe had conspired to bring him to this very moment in time. He refused to contemplate the terrible aspect of the idea, there simply wasn’t time. He had to get dry and warm or he was going to be in big trouble.
Ricky rolled the body over and checked the back pockets of the guy’s jeans. Sure enough, he found a wallet in one of them. He opened it but there was no cash. There was a driver’s license and a MasterCharge, but that was about it. Thor Swenson was his name. You have got to be fucking kidding me, he thought.
Sure in his purpose, Ricky worked quickly now. He put his own wet t-shirt and buckskin jacket on the corpse, substituting the guy’s wet t-shirt and leather jacket for his own. He pulled the $400-odd dollars out of his own wallet and then put his now empty wallet in the dead guy’s back pocket, placed the cash into Thor’s wallet, and tucked that into his jeans.
He also grabbed a small key fob with the name of a tavern on it. The fob held only three keys. Ricky knew he was gambling that one of them was to a place to dry off and change clothes. The address on the driver’s license had better be up to date, and it had better be close by.
Fishing the car keys from his right front pocket, Ricky ran back to the rental and opened the driver’s door. He grabbed the bottle he’d taken from Rufe’s hotel room. He put the key in the ignition and then ran back to where the dead guy lay.
Working as quickly as he could in spite of the bitching cold, Ricky tilted the dead guy’s head back and poured some of the liquor into his mouth. He made sure it went down, then dumped a bit onto the wet shirt of the guy. With great effort, Ricky dragged the body back to the car and slowly and painfully hefted it into the driver’s side, eventually placing him behind the steering wheel of the Charger. He put the whiskey bottle into the guy’s right hand and wrapped the left hand around the steering wheel.
Ricky didn’t know if it was the cold or rigor mortis setting in, but the dead guy’s hands stayed on the wheel and dutifully clutched the bottle of booze.
He reached in and turned the key, then stepped over the dead guy’s legs with his right foot. He pulled it into gear and stomped on the gas at the same time.
As the car leapt out of his grasp, he pulled his leg out and slammed the driver’s door shut as the car flew past. He watched as the Charger jumped the low lip of the concrete wall and dove into the canal.
It was over in an instant. The silence that followed the enormous splash the car made brought with it a new chill. Ricky knew he had to get inside and get warm and right now. He had absolutely no idea where he was going to go, so he began by walking across the bridge from which Thor Swenson had so recently met his demise. If he could find a phone booth, he could find a phone book. The phone book would have a street map in the front and he could find Thor’s dwelling with any luck.
There had been only one vehicle in evidence when the men tossed Thor from the bridge. They had driven it away into the darkness. Ricky headed in the same direction. Wherever the three men had come from, they had come by car. Please god, don’t let it be very far, he thought.
The next morning, the 20-point banner headline on the front page of the January 14, 1975 issue of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, read “Rock Star Found Dead in Fremont Canal.”