Friday, December 20, 1991
The deejay squeezed between two barflies and climbed over a red vinyl stool and onto the mahogany bar, standing up—a tower guard braced for a riot. If any yahoo warbled Frank Sinatra's My Way, he'd throw tear-gas canisters into the crowd. Stun grenades were reserved for unauthorized brutes touching his turntable.
Across the packed barroom, a blue flame flashed in the air.
He saw a petite pyromaniac swagger up to the microphone stand with her shot glass on fire, leading two gorillas with goatees. The blond stopped under the spotlight in a biker jacket and red ra-ra skirt, hoisting the flaming sambuca like a torch over her spiky hair—and froze. The room shook with wolf whistles. But only her eyes moved, peeking at the deejay by the ceiling.
Jim Fleetwood stood high over a glassy‑eyed mob armed with bottles and bad manners. He called through cupped hands, “And you are?”
She winced at Jim as if he were blind.
“I’m the Statue of Liberty!” she declared. “Gimme your tired, yourpoor? Is you crazy? Gimme your broke, worthless dudes with clue disabilities? Gimme your cheaters, your promise-breakers, your lazy-ass weasels yearning to drink free on my couch while I’m at a jay-oh-bee paying the bills? Are you shittin’ me, people?” The flaming shot jiggled overhead. “If I wanna hunky monkey with no money, honey, I’ll go to the zoo!”
Chairs rattled. Every woman in the barroom stood up and cheered.
If Liberty dropped the hot glass, Jim could watch his equipment go up in flames.
Liberty introduced her two backup singers with a flick of her thumb. “Them’s the muddled masses yearning to breathe free without payin’ thedo‑re‑mi. That’s Gimme Jimmy and Gimme Timmy—the Gimme Boys. Newsflash: Sing for your supper, you pisspots!” Above the thunderous applause, she screeched, “Am I right?”
“If her glitter hairspray ignites,” Sidney the bartender said, lookingup at the deejay, “it’ll set off the fire alarm. Your show will endwith screams and a stampede. Come to think of it, half your record collection sends them screaming for the exit. Guess that’s why theycall you Jurassic Jim, the dinosaur deejay.”
Jim sighed. Somewhere in a parallel universe, he merrily bludgeoned Sidney with a tip jar, then strangled him on a bartop to a standing ovation. “Your mama have two broken arms, couldn’t hug you as a child?”
Sidney started to speak, then pointed at heaven with his middle digit.
“By chance,” Jim called across the floor, “you got a song? Or should I tomahawk a beer bottle through the air and snuff that fire?”
Liberty blew out the fireand knocked back the sambuca. She nodded at her two goons in snorkel jackets. “A love song.”
“I had a feeling.”
Each night was a roller coaster ride without a seat belt.
She gripped the chrome mic stand—Rock Star 101—her cheeks brightly rouged, and announced, “Blue Moon, 1991 style.”
“A classic from 1934.” Jim’s boot heel thumped the bar like a bass drumpedal. “You butcher ‘Blue Moon’ and you’ll rue the day you ever stumbled inside the Swizzle Stick without a helmet. This isn’t an audience, it’s a firing squad with glass missiles. You’ll never reach the parking lot alive. We clear, cadets?”
The three looked up at him—six‑foot-three with shoulder-length hair the color of a saddle, and a horseshoe mustache—and giggled. “Clear!” they said.
Jim advanced a step along the bar. The drinks vanished by his feet ashis gray snakeskin boots clicked on the wood. He turned to the trio, a finger in the air. “Hit it.”
“Forget romance, this is a war dance.” The elfin blond leaned back on the heel of her Doc Martens boot, waving her fist. “I want revenge!”
The trio froze, heads down. The gorillas pulled on their hoods with faux-fur trim. Liberty finger‑snapped the count, “One…two…three…” Each rocked back on their left foot, and threw a right-hand punch. Then a bicep slap, a forearm jerk. Up yours!
As she sang lead, the gorillas sang backup inside their snorkel hoods, dancing in synchronized convulsions. King and Kong.
you saw me stranded alone
Witha scream in my heart
With a gun of my own..."
A drunk in ared trapper hat stood up and waved his cigarette lighter overhead as if watching the Beatles. Soon a fluttering brushfire of Bics appeared across the dim room.
“I give up,” Jim said to no one. He turned and saw his amber reflection, the hue of a daguerreotype photograph from the Wild West, in the tinted mirror behind the bar. A lean cowboy from across a century, circa 1891, stared back at him from a full saloon with flickering candles. The cowboy seemed to be saying: Howdy, misfit! Jim felt a surreal twinge. He turned away, jumped up and grabbed a giant swizzle stick suspended from the ceiling, his boots swinging carefree over the crowd.
“That’s a decoration,” Sidney said from below, “not a chin-up bar.”
Jim’s legs swung like a clock’s pendulum. “And that’s not applause you hear, that’s Stockholm syndrome.”
A familiar voice said, “What if your mother were alive to see this?”
Jim looked down and saw his cousin in a black leather jacket over a gray hoodie, his dark hair strangled in a ponytail between his broad shoulders.
“Listen to that, Gary.” Jim let go and dropped. His boots hit the bar and thundered. “That crap could clear out the Super Bowl at halftime in two minutes flat.”
The front door opened beneath a mounted moose head with a beer bong attached to its muzzle. A December wind sneaked inside the Swizzle Stick, a bar in Ludbury, Michigan where the winters could pierce you like an ice pick to the bone. Seconds later, Jim felt a chill.
Gary Wolfe stared up at Jim, deadpan. “For you, every day is DEFCON One.”
Jim noticed the top of a navy blue hood burrowing through the crowd toward their spot. “Put it this way. I’m 35, you’re 25. You grew up brainwashed by soft rock, concussed by disco, and tortured by hairbands. That’s textbook child abuse.”
“Ease up. I came here to meet a friend, not get a lecture.”
Jim tracked the hooded figure squeezing between people. The stranger stopped behind Gary and slid the hood back from a long wool coat. Auburn hair cascaded over a black scarf. Her watery green eyes were vibrant, her face ashen.
Jim’s back stiffened. He said, “Gary,” and motioned with his eyes.
His cousin turned half‑circle and caught his breath. “Susan—what happened?”
Jim jumped off the bar, his boots pounding the floor. The singers stopped and bowed amid a sandstorm of cheers and obscenities.
“Tonight…” Susan began. The top of her head reached Gary’s shoulder, who stood six-one. Her eyes flicked to Jim, back to Gary. “I got in a…altercation.”
When she shifted to the side, Jim caught a glimpse of a torn collar. He looked at Gary and saw a freight train of trouble barreling down the tracks.
She said, “On the way over, I stopped at Val Dellinger’s…”
His cousin was on the move, reaching for her upper arm. “Outside, we’ll talk where it’s quiet.” He turned to Jim. “Right back.”
When the front door opened, a snap of cool air swirled inside.
Jim returned to his timetable, an aluminum equipment table by the back wall, and tossed on a record by the Detroit River Surfers. His vinyl collection mostly spanned the 50s through the 80s. A sign on the rear wall announced:
The U-turnTime Machine
Each day, the world moves forward
Each night, the deejay goes backward
He saw a man slumped at a corner table, asleep or in a death coma, wearing earmuffs the color of dead mice. He envisioned the man exiting the bar on a wheeled stretcher. These days, a gurney qualified as public transportation. He went over and shook the offender’s shoulder.
“Brian, wake up. Don’t give these people any ideas.”
Brian Suggs raised his freckled face, squinting. His nylon parka suggested a sleeping bag with sleeves. During his nap, someone hooked a candy cane into his bottle of beer. “Hi, Jim.”
“Got a mirror at home?”
“No girl in her right mind is gonna team up and get it jumpin’ with you. Lose the earmuffs. They look like fuzzy hearing aids.”
“You’re in the holiday spirit.”
“Just think. Half this crowd will fly home and spend Christmas withouta loved one…because their dog’s at the kennel.”
Suggs laughed. “What a Scrooge.”
“The other half…” Jim spotted Susan across the room by the front door,alone, which signaled a dreadful warning. He cut to the front of the bar.
“I’m Jim Fleetwood, Gary’s cousin.” He offered his hand and she shook it. Her perfume reminded him of orchids.
“My name’s Susan Bayne. I’ve known Gary since we were kids.”
“Where is he?” Jim steadied himself for the answer. The night had gone from normal to downhill in fifteen seconds.
Susan’s eyes cut away from his. “Gone, said he had to go.”
“Who is this guy? What happened?”
“We used to go out. I went to his house tonight because he’s got something of mine, and I wanted it back.”
Her eyes dropped. She stared at Jim’s wrist as if it held a great secret, then reached out and lightly touched his 1940s watch with her index finger. The watch had a black band with a 14 karat gold‑filled faceplate.
Jim wondered what she was trying to say.
She continued. “Val was jacked up when I got there, and we argued. Things got worse and he pushed me, so I pushed him back twice as hard.When he took a swing at me, I hit him with a bottle.” Her steely eyesmet his. “I got out when it got crazy.”
“Susan, listen. Gary got into some trouble, but it’s been a few years.”
“Like I said, we go back. He’s my brother.”
“Then you know Gary shouldn’t be messing around. When he gets pissed and breaks his leash, set your clock for MDT—Mad Dog Time. Going to Val’s house could blow back a shitstorm.” Jim took a breath, rubbed the corner of his eye with the heel of his hand. Happy holidays. “Where’s Val live?”
After she told him, he led her through the Swizzlers to the back. He saw Suggs turn red when Susan approached his table. Suggs was shy and preferred to communicate with women via telepathy.
“Brian, I need your seat. You’re being evicted.”
“It’s the season of giving.”
Suggs adjusted his earmuffs and lumbered away. A dog kicked off the couch.
Susan blushed and slowly sat down.
“Be right back. Get something from the bar and put it on my tab.” Jim grabbed a record from a box beneath his timetable, and dropped it onto the turntable. Tchaikovsky’s Overture 1812. “If any ingrate complains about the music, increase the volume. If anyone touches my stuff, clock the bastard with a whiskey bottle. Consider it batting practice. Focus on timing and swing.”
She looked up in the dim light with her uncanny green eyes and said, “Be very careful over there.” She held his gaze when she added, “Watch your back.”
Within a minute Jim stood in a moonlit alley, squinting at his 1940s watch, his breath steaming in the crisp air. He could hear the Overture’s cellos and violas from inside the bar, the soundtrack of Napoleon’s 1812 invasion of Russia. If cellos and cannon fire couldn’t cheer up the crowd, nothing would. Then he slid into the lush wonderland of his 1957 Chevy, pushing aside a box of sweet soul records from the 70s. The engine roared as he shifted into his favorite gear: reverse. Rolling backward, he thought of his crazy‑ass cousin. Every family has a janitor, cleaning up the mess. Tonight was Jim’s turn to grab the broom.
He braced himself for an utterly hideous nightmare, circa 1991.
- end of chapter one -
* * *
"A hugely satisfying tale that is simultaneously funny, suspenseful and subversive. For fans of comic mysteries, the Jurassic Jim Fleetwood series is a must read." -- Bella Wright, BestThrillers.com
Read complete review here.
Amazon readers said:
"…peopled with numerous memorable characters,
enriched by the references to songs, music, objects
and artists of America's cultural past, and ends in an
unexpected way. It was a hugely enjoyable reading
experience created by a uniquely talented writer."
"Some of the most interesting and unique phrasing
and description I have ever read…with characters that come off the page with a quirky reality that keeps you on the edge."
Here are the first five chapters of The Museum of Sudden Disappearances, with music and sound effects. If you prefer to dance while reading - enjoy.
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