The Homeless Ventriloquist by Jim Washburn
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Day Tripper

Audrey stepped outside, pulling the door shut behind her. She could tell this wasn’t just any phone call Lloyd wanted to tell her about. She explained the door. “Blue’s inside. We’re driving her to the show.”

“Artie called my office. The phone was ringing when I got there. I’m positive it was him. It was his voice. He knew what he’d named his basement and what he did down there; knew about being sick as a kid. He said to stop looking for him.”

Audrey clenched his arm. “How did he sound?”

“Tired, like he’s not taking care of himself. But he seemed lucid, though he’d been thinking some weird thoughts, about existence, Ohm and playing God, stuff I wouldn’t have expected from him. I have a very good notion that someone slipped him LSD at a dinner party a few weeks ago.”

Lloyd watched her expression. Audrey seemed genuinely shocked to hear that, then angry. “I will kill Calchas if he did that! That’s unthinkable!”

Lloyd felt an uncharitable thought coming on. He’d had enough of them in recent days to drain a Goodwill store, but here was another regardless: Audrey hadn’t seemed one-quarter as put out when Calchas had dosed yours truly.

“What can we do?” she asked, suddenly distraught. “Should we go look for him? I can call a cab to take Blue to the stadium.”

“If that’s what you want, it’s fine with me, but I don’t see any advantage to it. We have no idea where he was calling from. He knows we’re looking for him now, and he very much sounded like he doesn’t want to be looked for. He’ll be wary and lying low.”

“Christ, Lloyd, what do we do?”

“We need to talk this through. For the moment, there’s this: If we told the police all that we know now, they still wouldn’t file a missing persons report, because Artie’s evidently of his right mind and, whatever he’s doing, it’s what he wants to do. He talked to me for a while on the phone. He’s relatively sane. He’s not being held hostage. No one was holding a gun to his head. You’re his wife; you have to decide if you want to abide by his wishes or keep looking for him.”

“What would you do?”

“I’d keep looking, but it doesn’t have to be tonight. He’s not that unwell, but he’s headed there. If we can find him, we could at least see that he’s in better shape before he wanders off again. And maybe he won’t if he understands that it was a drug talking to him, not the universe. I don’t know what I would have thought if you hadn’t told me.”

Audrey stood undecided for a time, and she seemed so lost he was sorry he’d left the decision with her. The door behind her opened and Blue’s pert head popped out.

“I was afraid you two had left without me. Shouldn’t we be going?”

“Yes we should,” Audrey said and walked back toward her garage. A moment later she backed out behind the wheel of an old black Packard. Lloyd assumed it must be Artie’s car.

Blue sprawled on the backseat, looking none the worse from having been in Cochise’s company the night before. Lloyd wondered where the big man was now. Hoisting a girder? Sleeping in the ice plants on a freeway embankment? He was evidently doing something sufficiently manly to keep him from having to go to a Beatles concert.

For all his complaining, Lloyd was relieved to have a night off from scouring skid row; he’d far rather see Audrey happy watching her moptops in the House of Koufax. He thought she’d want to hear about Artie’s phone call in detail, but she seemed lost in thought, her eyes on the road ahead.

She’d turned left on Franklin, and kept on it until it twisted off into a tract of homes. There, she steered the Packard left on St. George, then zig-zagged on residential streets, skirting the north end of the Ivanhoe Reservoir. They only hit the concert traffic at a couple of cross streets.

“Way to go, sister!” Blue said from the back seat. Deft as the route was, Lloyd was sure they were still going to get stuck in the funnel of cars heading into the stadium parking, but Audrey didn’t even aim in that direction. Instead, the car was soon climbing a narrow, winding road through the trees of Elysian Park.

They might have been going through the woods to Grandmother’s house for all he saw of other people. It was only after they passed the police revolver range and crested the hill that they wound up behind a short line of other cars and trucks, pointed at a gate where a cop stood with a clipboard, another uniformed officer at his side, eyeing the vehicles warily.

“Blue, you might want to start digging through that bottomless purse of yours now,” Audrey said.

A moment later the girl passed a placard and some papers to Lloyd.

“Put the big one here on the dashboard, please, and hand me the others.”

He handed Audrey three postcard-sized documents. The remaining sign read Press, veh. auth. #27, with the number written in Marks-A-Lot. When they pulled alongside the police, the one scrolled down his clipboard and checked something off. Then he scrutinized the papers Audrey handed him, looked the carful over and said, “If you’re the press, I’m Lois Lane.” But he handed Audrey the papers and waved them in.

They parked in a small lot near some administration buildings, and followed a string of other people headed toward the stadium, far from the main entrances.

Audrey had dressed plainly, and looked great. Blue carried some serious camera equipment and was wearing flowered bellbottoms and a bright blue wooly coat over a black t-shirt that had white felt letters on it reading, “Barney Bit Me.” He immediately pictured the dwarf gnawing on her leg.

“Who’s Barney?”

“That’s Barnabas Collins,” the girl said. When that didn’t register, Audrey helped out.

“Lloyd doesn’t watch a lot of afternoon TV. Barnabas Collins is a vampire on a new soap opera on ABC. Our Blue here is also an actress, and was a guest victim on the show.”

“The production staff gives these shirts to all the actresses he kills,” Blue continued. “It’s sort of a consolation prize for the fact they’re not having you back on the show, you being dead and all. The cool thing is, do you know Latin? ‘Barnabas’ means ‘Son of Consolation,’ and you get a consolation prize for him sucking all the blood out of you.”

The girl launched into a tale about her latest acting experience, a Folger’s commercial where they’d sent her home because she couldn’t stop giggling and guffawing “You’re Mrs. Olsen!” on every take. “It was like trying to say my lines to Gumby or something. I’d smoked a little grass first,” she admitted.

They were nearing the gate. A wave of screams erupted inside the stadium, followed by the sound of electric guitars. Meanwhile, annoying little Latin bells had begun clanging inside Lloyd’s head, trying to tell him something. He needed quiet; instead he heard a voice he recognized at the employee gate ahead.

“I don’t care if you’re frigging Jim Fregosi, you’re not getting in here without a time card.”

A young man in kitchen whites was ejected from the line, bringing the three of them that much closer to Ed Lafferty.

 “Hey, Lloyd, didn’t know you were into this longhair music,” Ed said above the noise when they’d come up to him. Then he leaned in to Lloyd’s ear. “Assuming it’s the older of these two women you told me about, you’re one lucky man. If it’s the younger one, I should just cuff you now.”

“Did you have a chance to talk to Ailes yet?”

“I’m meeting him here. He said he wanted to show me something. We’re closing this gate in an hour, and I’ll go find him then. Right now, I need to see your passes. Just hand me anything and I’ll wave you in.”

Audrey handed the three passes to Lloyd, who passed them to Ed, who whistled. “Wow, you’re more than bona fide. I haven’t seen more than 20 of these all night. With this pass, you can go sit on Ringo’s drum throne if you want.”

“I’m holding out for Elvin Jones.”

“Never heard of him.”

“I’m surprised you can tell your Beatles apart.”

“That’s my daughter’s doing. She’s here tonight, God help me. Listen to that caterwauling in there. I hear there’s not a dry seat in the house.”

Ed handed the passes back. Lloyd noted they were marked All Access, re. A. Livingston, and figured it must be one more of the countless somebodies Audrey knew.

He gave them back to Audrey, as he told her, “I’d like you to meet one of my best friends, Ed Lafferty.”

“What do you mean, ‘one of’? If you had a dog, you’d only have two friends.” Ed took Audrey’s hand in his and told her, “Don’t mind me. Lloyd’s one of the good guys. Don’t let the world tell you any different.”

Audrey did one of her rare blushes, and said, “I wasn’t planning on it.”

“Hey, it isn’t like the Beatles will still be here tomorrow, you know,” Blue interjected, hopping up and down in her anxiety to get into the stadium. Ed told Lloyd to find him later or call the next day, and they were in the gate.

Some evidently non-Beatle band was playing inside the stadium, but Blue took the lead now, and headed them into the bowels of the structure, their passes effortlessly slipping them past cops and barricades. She had to ask directions a couple of times, but soon they were ushered into the Dodger clubhouse where, Blue told them, the Beatles were encamped.

Even backstage had its hierarchy, though, and the Beatles were in a room of their own behind a locked door, leaving them with about two dozen other people and a plastic table laden with ridged potato chips, onion dip and soda pop on ice. The other people were a mix of short-hairs in suits and musician types. Of the latter, he recognized the massively recognizable Mama Cass talking with a woman who looked like Joan Baez and some guy sporting a Fu Manchu mustache.

Audrey soon tired of that scene, but Blue wanted to stay on the chance of photographing a Beatle in his natural habitat. Audrey had tickets for seats, and gave Blue and Lloyd theirs. Stuffing his in a front pocket, Lloyd was chagrined to find he was still carrying Calchas’ vial of liquid LSD. His first thought was “Maybe the Beatles would like some,” but that didn’t seem prudent. He decided to pour it down a restroom toilet later, then trash the vial.

A moment later, he had another idea for it. Walking down a hallway toward the field, Audrey saw someone she knew and stopped to talk. Lloyd noticed that a ledge ran along one wall, and it was lined with cops’ lunch bags and thermoses marked with their names.

With a moment’s perusal, he found a plaid thermos “Ailes” in marker ink on its side. He quickly unscrewed its red top, pulled the cork and emptied the entire vial into the steaming coffee, thinking, “You like power? Let’s see how you like flower power, jerk.”

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Jim Washburn has written for the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the OC Weekly, various MSN sites and just about anybody else willing to trade a paycheck for a pulse.
jim@fourstory.org

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