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"Don’t Mention His Name, And His Name Will Pass On
- Part 8"
Title: Don’t Mention His Name, and His Name Will Pass On—Part 8 (end)
Author: Virginia Plain
Genre/Pairing: Mike/Peter (TV, but I did cheat and slip in one real-life guy)
Rating: overall NC-17 (this part PG-13)
Warnings: slash, language, angst, sleaze
Disclaimer: This story is purely the result of my imagination (which should probably worry me), and not at all any claim to ownership of these TV characters or their real-life counterparts.
Summary: This chapter—the prodigal returns, and their new life has just begun.
~ AUGUST 1964 ~
He gave his booking name as “William Hatfield,” the closest to “Wool Hat” he could think of. His address he gave as 123-01 Roosevelt Avenue—and he just hoped he’d be out of the divisional lockup before anyone figured out that it was really the address of the new Shea Stadium, which he’d seen in Flushing when he went to the World’s Fair.
He was made to turn out his pockets, and the booking officer snickered at their eclectic contents that represented his entire estate: safety razor, comb, miniature hair scissors, a packet of chewing gum, his raggedy green wool hat, and 43 cents. At least they didn’t get my fifty bucks. Then he was told to take off his shoes and socks, and his precious fifty dollars went into the collection basket.
“You’re a moron,” the booking officer told him as he finished typing up a form in triplicate. “You’re not proving anything by sticking it out for a hearing. I told you the amount of the bail according to our schedule, so you don’t have to wait for a judge. You have the money, so just pay it and go home.”
Mike folded his arms, trying to look resolute despite feeling foolish in bare feet. “Not one dime of my dough is going into your crooked slush funds, no sirree bob.”
“Then it’ll just get put toward court costs. Either way, you lose.”
Shoes and socks returned to him, he was fingerprinted, photographed, and told he could use the telephone for one call. The officer shoved the iceberg-sized Manhattan phone directory at him. “Call a lawyer,” the man said, “so he can advise you to pay your damn bail.”
Mike could only look back and forth between the phone and the phonebook. Who the hell was he supposed to call? No lawyers, they were just as bent as the cops. No one he could ask for bail money, not in good conscience when he did have the cash himself. No one to just say hello to or tell how he was doing. Not one fuckin’ soul in this goddamn city to care if he spent the next thirty years in the crossbar hotel, or whether he even lived or died…
No. There was someone.
Don’t even go there.
He couldn’t call Peter. He couldn’t—what was he supposed to say? “Howdy there, Peter. Yeah, it’s me, the guy who ditched you without explanation half a year ago. Would you mind leaving your nice, safe home in the Village and coming up to a slum where you’ll probably get mugged, just to visit me in the pokey even though as soon as I get out I’m gonna leave you again?” The worst part was, Peter probably would answer his call. He would come right up here and hand over all his good, clean money that he was saving for an electric guitar and amplifier, just to set Mike’s worthless ass free.
But maybe one call wouldn’t hurt… just to hear Peter’s warm, deep voice one last time. Hating his own weakness, Mike nevertheless reached for the directory, started to open it to the listings to look up the number—and was halted by a realization so fundamental that he’d never once thought of it before.
He didn’t know Peter’s last name.
How was that even possible? Peter wasn’t the type to hold back. Heck, sooner or later he probably would have shared his vaccination records at the slightest encouragement… And that was how it was possible, Mike realized with a groan. He had never given that encouragement, and literal-minded Peter had taken his silence as a command. The very day they’d met—Christ, was it over a year ago?—he hadn’t even wanted to know Peter’s first name. The walls he’d kept raising, the gates he’d kept shutting against Peter, stood as an indictment more damning than the charges Officer Smith was laying on him.
Rather, two indictments. Because there was another obvious something Mike had managed to forget about. Peter’s voice called to him again, a trace of an echo: “But I told you I don’t have a phone…”
Mike shoved the directory book away, harder than he’d meant to. It slipped off the desk and thumped to the floor. The booking officer just shook his head and muttered something about psychos. With a defiant glare at everyone in the processing cage, Mike picked up the phone receiver and dialed the operator. Ignoring the guffaws around him, he began the tortuous process of placing a collect call.
Quite a bit later, the tired voice he hadn’t heard since God knows when came on the line. “Hello?”
Once more, Mike was stuck for something to say. “So, it’s your firstborn who left you holding the babies by sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night. Thanks for accepting reverse charges on a long-distance call when I ain’t called you in nearly two years. What have I been doing this whole time? Well, I’m a whore. And by the way, I’ve made such a success of myself that I’m going to rot in jail…”
“Hello?” The tired voice took on an irritable snap. Then: “Robert Michael, are you there?”
“Hi, ma,” he finally spit out. He winced when he heard the telltale sounds of weeping in his ear.
“It’s you, it’s really you. Oh, my boy. My own boy. Where are you? Are you safe? Are you well?”
“Yeah, yeah… I’m just…” He shut his eyes against his grim surroundings. “I’m fine, ma.” He swallowed the lump in his throat. “How’s the gang?”
And he listened silently as she brought him up to date on all of his little brothers and sisters. Their school marks, some better than others. Their hobbies, their illnesses (standard kid stuff, thank God), their fights and loves. Their shock and pain over the Kennedy assassination. The interest the older ones were taking in a very peculiar group of Englishmen with unseemly long hair who called themselves “The Bottles” or some such. The Bottles were supposed to play a live concert in Dallas next month, and it was all they talked about. “Do you want to speak to them?” she asked hopefully. “They miss you so much.”
“I… uh, not this time. This call is already gonna break Fort Knox for ya. I’ll—” He’d… what? Call again? That didn’t seem likely in the near future. Write? Prisoners were allowed to write letters, at least in the movies. Even Rikers Island must hand out the occasional paper and pencil. “I’ll write,” he said firmly.
“Can I tell them when you’re coming home?”
“No. There’s… I still got some stuff to do.” Mike pressed a hand to his forehead. The booking officer, who up to now had only seemed to find him a source of amusement, looked at him with some concern. “Just tell ‘em… everything’s gonna be okay. And, ma—one way or another, I’m gonna keep in better touch now. I really will. Now, I gotta go.”
“Oh, God bless and keep you, Robert Michael… Mike… my own boy…”
He hung up the phone and stared at his ink-stained fingers. He hardly noticed when he was nudged away from the desk and escorted to the holding tank.
“You know,” the dozy old wino sharing Mike’s bench slurred at nobody, “I used to be a really good tennis player. I even beat Hitler at the ’36 Olympics…”
Mike tried to tune the guy out, just like he was trying to ignore the other dozen or so bodies in varying states of consciousness scattered on benches or on the floor in the long, barred pit of the holding tank. He couldn’t let them get on his nerves, not when he had to put up with them all day and over night. His hearing was scheduled for tomorrow.
In a way, he was looking forward to it. He’d seize the chance to speak for all of the people without power. It wasn’t right that they were penned in and brushed aside and swept under, intimidated and cheated. Their voices should be heard. He would shame the ones with the power into listening. If there was one thing he knew how to do, it was using words to cut men down to size. He would do a Timothy Q. Mouse on them: “You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves, a bunch of big guys like you, picking on a poor little…” It worked with the bitchy elephants in Dumbo, didn’t it? It was worth a shot.
But afterwards… welcome to Rikers Island. Mike couldn’t deny that he was beyond terrified. Everything he’d heard about the place made it sound like Dracula’s castle. If you couldn’t (or, in his case, wouldn’t) make bail, you were shipped off to Rikers to wait for a trial… and you just might spend the rest of your life waiting there. Not that the rest of your life was likely to last long. If you were lucky, you’d end up with a broken jaw or sore ass. If you were unlucky—a wooden box, courtesy of a shiv in the back.
“Lemme tell you something,” his neighbor droned, sending beery fumes Mike’s way. “Hitler only had one ball. That’s a medical fact… that’s why he was so lousy at tennis…”
The small, high windows gradually darkened. Mike leaned back against the cool cement wall, but he had no intention of dropping his guard to sleep. He tried to keep himself awake by singing cowboy songs in his head, then Beatles songs, then the corny old songs his ma used to love. But the only song that stuck with him was chanted in monotone, over and over, by his wasted cellmate:
“‘Hitler has only got one ball, Goering has two but very small, Himmler is very sim’lar, and Goebbels has no balls at all…’”
Mike had welcomed dawn’s light, ready and eager to crusade for justice. He had begun pacing restlessly, back and forth, certain that at any minute the cops would come to take him to his hearing.
He had no idea what time it was, but he was pretty sure that by now he’d been waiting all goddamn day.
“Hey, you. Hatfield. Over to the door, nice and slow.”
Oh. Hatfield. That’s me. He’d already almost forgotten his latest alias. Were they calling for him all this time, and he simply didn’t notice? Did he miss his hearing? Was he going straight to Rikers? With what he hoped was a nonchalant swagger in his step, he headed over to the barred door. The guard opened it up, accompanied by squeaking hinges, and motioned him out of the tank. A few corridors later, he found himself standing in front of the booking officer from yesterday.
“Here,” the man held out the basket containing all his worldly goods. “You’re free to go.”
“Huh?” Not the most eloquent response, but Mike was too astounded to offer much else. After digesting this pronouncement a little longer, he found his tongue. “Thought I was supposed to have a hearing and get shipped off to Rikers. I won’t make my bail.”
“The cost to taxpayers of the paperwork for a jaywalking infraction is more than the fine. Not worth it, so you get off with no charge. Pretty stupid, if you ask me, but it’s how things get done around here.”
“But that cop, Officer Smith, he threw the book at me!” Why am I arguing about this? I’m free… “He put me down for jaywalking, loitering, treason, inciting a riot—hell, I thought he might have tossed in cattle rustling on top of all that.”
“Well, all we’ve got noted is ‘William Hatfield, jaywalking.’” The officer watched as Mike grabbed his possessions and began furiously stuffing them into his pockets. He raised an eyebrow when Mike briefly cradled the battered old green wool hat and brushed it against his cheek. “You know,” the man said, “you’re lucky you got busted by the Smitter. He’s one of the few around here who really gives a crap.”
Mike rolled his eyes at the notion of that corrupt, bigoted fuzz as a paragon of altruism. He counted off his fifty dollars—all there—and tucked them back into his left sock.
“Listen, almost any other guy in this precinct would’ve let you get hit by a car and just been glad to have one less scrote on the street causing trouble. But the Smitter, he has a good eye for kids who’ve lost their way. He’ll take the trouble to scare them into choosing the right path with a night in the slammer, if he sees they’re worth saving. Consider this a warning and a lesson.”
“Am I supposed to be grateful?” Mike snapped, bristling at being referred to or thought of as a “kid.” I ain’t no kid. Ain’t been a kid since… never. Yet the voice of his ma came back to him, calling him her own boy, and he couldn’t refuse the comfort of those words. “I can really go?” he asked a little more contritely. “No fine, no record, nothing?”
“Yeah, you can really go.” The officer pushed a triplicate form at Mike, which he barely remembered to sign as William Hatfield. “And please do. We’ve seen enough of your smiling face around here, thanks.”
Mike turned the corner onto West 84th Street just as the sun began setting. Must be almost 8 PM—he really had been at the lockup all day. And Christ, he hadn’t been home at all in—three days? Four? But the ordeal was over, and at last he was back. However bad it was, at least it wasn’t Rikers. He nodded with… not exactly relief, but a sort of resigned appreciation for the familiar row of four… no, three… brick tenements behind the torn wire fence. No, four…
Mike rubbed his eyes and looked again. One. Two. Three—
—and a pile of rubble. An untidy pyramid of brick and concrete shards, an idle crane parked nearby with its wrecking ball hanging still and sated after a job only just begun. One down, three to go...
A clattering sound rang in his ears, and it took a moment to identify as himself backing into and falling over a metal trashcan. Its innards burst free and sprayed all over him. He slipped and landed flat on his ass in a puddle of what looked an awful lot like vomit, yet he was too stunned to get back up again.
Not again. I can’t do this all over again.
You don’t have to. You’re going to Nashville, so it doesn’t even matter.
Every practical bone in his body insisted that he would endure. This fucking city would not beat him.
Going is one thing. Getting torn down and kicked out is another.
Just get on the bus and go. Nobody cares, anyway.
And every impractical shade of his soul just wanted to roll over and quit, to fulfill the destiny of the song that he must have always known was his own story:
“‘Then beat the drum slowly, play the fife lowly.
Play the dead march as you carry me along...”
A wasted life come to a dead stop in a town where he didn’t belong. He could just sit here in a heap of trash, in a puddle of puke, not exert himself to do a single thing, until his soul and body both simply gave up and gave out.
“…Take me to the green valley, lay the sod over me,
I'm a young cowboy, and I know I've done wrong...’”
Maybe one of the gangs or weirdos or drugheads hanging around here could finish him off even quicker. That must be how he was fated to end his days: his life’s blood spilling out of him on a dirty street, his last breath spent imploring strangers to mourn for him because nobody else would.
No. There is someone.
Don’t even go there.
Aw, shut the hell up.
Uncounted hours later, Mike hauled himself upright on unsteady but determined legs. He brushed soggy potato peels and rotted apple cores off his shoulders, finger-combed cigarette butts out of his hair. The fifty dollars in his left sock scratched at his ankle; he ignored them. He felt in his pockets for the cool metal spheres amounting to exactly 43 cents. Enough for two subway trains, 13 cents to spare.
And he stepped outside of himself, watched some other walking dead man go through the motions of taking the train to 59th and Columbus Circle, transferring to the A train, discounting and forgetting every station name flashing by in succession, until at last he saw it: “West Fourth Street–Washington Square.”
The dead man felt a spark of life, propelling him just that little bit along West Fourth Street, turning right onto MacDougal. He did not even bother to brace himself for, or stop his ears against, the onslaught of folk and jazz sounds that would come spilling out of the clubs and coffeehouses. He would welcome those noises, if they included the jangling rolls and drones of a banjo plucked by nimble, skilled fingers.
No onslaught. Only whimpers. Half the clubs he passed were shuttered. By now the full dark of late evening had fallen, so he almost didn’t even see that one of them in particular had boards over the doors and windows, with burned-out gray where there had once been bold rainbow letters: Say What?
Mike began to run. The Say What was gone. Unknown old “Fred” was gone. Did that mean… ?
He reached the little side lane off Bleecker Street, searched frantically for the three-story brick row house with its mansard roof and dormer windows. Still there, thank God. Some windows even had lights on, though not the garret. The front door was wide open. A bearded, beatnik guy with a stupid goatee sat on the stoop, but if the house was as crazy as it had always been then Mike should be able to just walk in with no challenges to his right to be there. Without a word, as if he’d lived here forever, he sauntered up the front steps and had one leg over the threshold when he felt a tug on his shirttail.
Mike swung around with a face full of thunder, but before he could vent his wrath the guy simply held up a cigarette to him.
“No,” Mike snarled. “Outta my way, duckbreath.” As insults went, it didn’t even make any sense—not up to his usual standard. But it freed his shirttail and allowed him to race up the stairs, tearing past the open rooms with their colored lights and candles and whiff of paints and non-standard brand smoke, until he made it to the top landing.
Grabbing the handle of the garret’s door, he gave it a twist: locked. Damn it, in such a free and easy house, where did they get off locking the door? “Hey!” he shouted. “Hey, anybody in there?”
He pounded his fists against the wood. “No bullshit, now! Come on, open up!”
After several excruciatingly slow minutes, an unknown voice rasped: “Keep your hair on, I’m coming.”
Mike heard shuffling and muttering through the door, then the universal sounds (thump! expletive!) of someone stubbing their toe against a heavy object in the dark. A faint click. More shuffling. The door opened a mere crack. The soft yellow glow of an electric light stole through the gap.
One blue eye peered out at him, not a speck of welcome in its depths. “Who the hell are you?”
“Is Peter there?”
“Maybe he is and maybe he ain’t. Who wants to know?”
He’s here. Thank the Lord. “Will you just tell him that… uh… Tex is here?”
The lone blue eye took on a harder cast. “Tex? That really the best you can come up with?” The door started to shut.
Mike stuck his foot in the crack. “Look, I’m on the level. Peter knows me, I swear.”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t know you. But I know bad news when I see it, so why don’t you just go fuck yourself—”
“What’s going on?”
The warm, deep voice that haunted his dreams and nightmares floated out onto the landing. Mike lunged forward, grabbing the door frame and clutching it so tightly his knuckles throbbed.
“Peter? Peter! For God’s sake, it’s me. It’s—Tex.”
“Pete?” Blue Eye glanced back into the room. “You know this clown?”
“Yeah… well, I did…”
With a near howl, Mike shoved the door all the way open and charged inside. For a moment he could do nothing more than gape at the room he had once found as cozy as a home. It hadn’t changed. The table was still loaded with the old cast-metal lamp and geriatric record player and tons of newspapers and magazines. A guitar case and a banjo case still rested on either side of the little bookshelf in the dormer window. The window itself was open, a futile attempt to catch a breeze in the muggy, stifling August night air. The horrible yellow couch still had exposed springs on the far right cushion. On its left side was a pillow and half of a rumpled bed sheet, the other half drooping down onto the planked floor.
And then he wondered if he’d somehow hit his head on the garret’s sloping mansard ceiling without knowing, because damned if he wasn’t seeing double.
Standing in front of the couch, staring at him, were two Beatles. Two sandy-haired Beatles. In stereo. Fair and trim and—and he must be even more precariously balanced on a tripwire of sanity than he’d thought, because an obscenely perfect picture, utterly wrong and right, popped into his head of these two identical fair Beatles in a clinch: exploring each other, pleasing each other in wonderfully innocent, wicked ways. It was the weirdest yet most erotic thing he’d ever imagined in his life. Capture his deranged fantasy on film, and the 42nd Street porn houses would sell out all shows until Christmas.
“Jesus, man!” one of the fair Beatles broke the spell. “Whatever explanation you got for barging in here had better be damn good, or your ass is grass.”
The illusion at once settled into less explosive reality. The two were neither touching nor even really identical. The irate blue-eyed one was a bit shorter and stockier, with a more angular face. His longish hair was blondish, slightly coarse and thin. He wore only a long Giants football jersey, while the other…
Oh, but the other…
Mike had seldom been very appreciative of Peter’s looks. Right from the start he’d downplayed and dismissed them: awkward, nothing special, big ears, not unpleasing. “Pleasant” was about as effusive as he’d ever got. But the creature before him now—bare but for a pair of skimpy red shorts—longish, silken strands of hair that spun from sandy to warm gold, brushed forward, hiding those big ears and exquisitely framing that ethereally sweet, lightly freckled face—soft brown eyes wide with shock—slim, toned body refined to a harmonious blend of curves and lean muscle—
Peter had finally grown into himself. Free of Mike all this time, he had achieved an apotheosis: a picture of healthy young manhood in all its open, honest beauty.
Overwhelmed, Mike fell to his knees. He flung his arms around Peter’s waist, pressing his cheek against Peter’s stomach. Unable to control his own body, he started rocking back and forth, almost moaning when he heard the cherished voice say with its well-remembered uncertainty:
“Uh… I guess that’s as good an explanation as any?”
The blue-eyed one only pointed a finger to the side of his own head and twirled it around in a circle several times. Obviously the guy had made up his mind about Mike: looney tunes.
“He… he just needs some help right now.” Peter lifted Mike to his feet and started walking him toward the alcove. “Good thing it’s my week for the bed.” He still looked and sounded shell-shocked.
“Pete, you sure about this? He’s a strange one. Ten bucks says he’s done jail time. He’s got that look.”
I know exactly what you are, those hard blue eyes said to Mike.
“If he has… I’m sure it was just some mistake. We can talk about it… later.”
“Well, okay. But I’m right here if he starts going bananas on you.”
Docile as the child he’d never been, Mike allowed Peter to guide him through the alcove and help him onto the lumpy old mattress. Peter switched on the light bulb hanging down from the ceiling and rummaged through the milk crate stood on its side to serve as a nightstand. Eventually fishing out a small plastic bottle, he sat down next to Mike and commenced a battle with the twist cap.
“Aspirin?” Mike blinked. “What in the world is that for?”
“I couldn’t think of anything else.” Peter grimaced as the cap still defied him. “That’s what everyone always says to do, take two aspirin.” He gave the bottle another twist. “I can’t—” He pulled at the cap again. “You—you jerk!” he suddenly shouted, bursting into tears and slamming the bottle down hard.
The cap flew off, dozens of little white tablets scattering across the planked floor.
“I had all this stuff in my head, all these things I was going to say if I ever saw you again, and now you’re really here but I can’t say any of them because you’re like this, and I never wanted to see you like this, and it’s like you won’t let me like you but you won’t let me be mad at you, and you show up now after all this time, at this time of all times and—and—I don’t know what to do!”
Mike reached up to touch Peter’s wet cheek. “That’s easy: let me see you. I know I don’t deserve it, but it’s all I need. Just to see you… almost can’t believe you’re real.”
Peter sobbed again and moved closer, cradling Mike’s head in his lap.
“Couldn’t believe it when I saw you tonight,” Mike said, nuzzling into the warmth. “You look—I swear, I thought you looked like a fuckin’ angel, come to save me…”
A gentle hand stroked his greasy, filthy hair. “Tex—”
“…thought, take me up on your wings ‘cause I finally see the light...”
“Tex…” Another sob. “There’s something I have to tell you—”
“… I thought, that’s it, I’m done with runnin’ alone, now I’m come home…”
The hand in his hair stilled.
“That’s my name. Actually, it’s my middle name. My first name is—well, it sucks and I hate it, so I don’t use it.” He lifted his head to meet Peter’s eyes. “For people who matter, I ask them to call me Mike.”
“Hi, Mike.” Peter smiled shakily through his tears. “I’m Peter.”
Mike smiled back as best he could, but by now he had nothing left in the tank. “I’m so tired…”
“Listen, Tex—I mean, Mike—I really have to—”
“Peter…” He dropped his head back onto the pillow. “I am just so damn tired of it all…”
“But I—um, okay.” Those gentle hands settled Mike back onto the mattress and drew the sheet over him. Warm, full lips brushed against his whiskered cheek. “Just… go to sleep… Mike.”
Closing his eyes, Mike allowed himself to drop his guard and drift away in someone else’s bed—safe and secure in the knowledge that Peter was still at his side, his warmth and strength enveloping Mike in a protective cocoon. He not only felt Peter’s presence but heard it, in the form of strong, sure whistling of that tune that told Mike’s own story, one that Peter had cared enough to remember even after all this time. The familiar lyrics fluttered through the cotton fog in his brain as sleep finally claimed him.
“I’m just a young cowboy, and I know I’ve done wrong…”
He awoke to natural light. Not the cool gray of early morning, but the uncomfortable yellow glare of high afternoon. He sat up and stretched, glancing around the alcove and taking in three relevant facts: one, he was still in his clothes and felt utterly disgusting; two, all of the aspirins had been picked up from the floor at some point; and three, Peter was not with him.
Not quite panicked but not quite assured, Mike clambered off the mattress and stumbled around the corner of the alcove partition. He squinted in the brighter light. He slowly made out the back of a lone figure standing on the far side of the main room, gazing out the dormer window. The figure wore shapeless chinos and a plain shirt, with longish sandy hair brushing the collar.
“Peter?” Mike nearly whispered.
The figure turned around. Wrong, all wrong! The angular face, the hard blue eyes—Mike recoiled. The guy wasn’t ugly or anything, but he wasn’t Peter and that was all that mattered.
“Behold, it lives. You can make your own breakfast, Tex. I ain’t your butler.”
“Who—who are you?”
“Oh, don’t go minding me. I’m nobody special. Just a guy who happens to, you know, live here.”
His head clearing from sleep, Mike finally started taking notice of this guy as something other than an unsatisfactory copy or an obstacle blocking his way to Peter. Like the way he talked. There was a very faint trace of a drawl there, not really like Mike’s own and not nearly as pronounced, but just enough to suggest some slight common ground. Possibly the same make, though definitely not the same model.
But still, it didn’t mean squat compared to the most important thing: “Where’s Peter?”
“Gone to California.”
Mike gritted his teeth. “Look, pal, think as bad of me as you want, but the way you answer all my questions with a bunch of lip is getting old fast.”
“I told you exactly what you asked. Right now Pete’s somewhere on the interstate in a Greyhound bus.”
Mike staggered back, bumping into the couch and dropping flat onto the bad right cushion. Several springs poked at him, and he didn’t even feel them. It’s not true, he’s just bullshitting me, no way did Peter leave—then he saw it: only a guitar case by the little shelf in the dormer window. No banjo case.
The cry was almost a wail. That was it, he truly had nothing left. He might as well curl up and—
“Why not?” The guy shrugged. “This scene’s gone dying. The Beatles killed it. So we can stay pure and starve here, or we can learn to be Beatles and go where there’s showbiz folk who give a damn. Most of our friends already left. I’m heading out next month myself, after I finish some gigs I promised to do.”
The guy turned back to the window.
“Truth to tell, I was hoping Pete would make the move a long time ago, for his own good. He don’t belong here. You need a suspicious mind to get by in this city, and that ain’t him.”
Boy, you sure have a lot of faith in your friends, Mike wanted to sneer. Where did Mr. Lip get off saying stuff like that? Peter wasn’t weak, he did all right for himself… Yet Mike also felt a weird debt of gratitude to this guy, thankful to know that someone had been looking out for Peter the whole time he wasn’t. Even if said someone was to all appearances as cordial as a cactus.
“But,” the guy said, “something kept him hanging around this shithole. Guess now I know what it was.”
Don’t go calling New York a shithole. Peter loves it here—loved it here—
Suddenly the guy marched over to the couch and thrust his face right into Mike’s.
“I could kill you, man. You know how long I been after him to get out of here, go somewhere safe? A long time. Now he was finally hearing me, finally believing there’s no reason to stay. I got him to agree last week that today would be the day, that he’d use some of his guitar money for a bus ticket. Yesterday he was even looking forward to it, getting ready to start all over in a new life. Then you turn up. And this morning he’s all saying he don’t think he should leave, can’t leave you alone by yourself, all that crap. I said to him, yes, you can leave and you damn well should. Thank God he did.”
Mike felt no instinct to justify himself, to push his accuser away, or even to shout back at him. He couldn’t argue with anything he was hearing.
“This should’ve been the most exciting day of his life, and instead he leaves in tears. I could kill you.”
When Mike finally felt able to speak, he only asked one tiny, weak question: “Why didn’t he tell me?”
The guy pointed to the flimsy partition dividing the main room from the sleeping alcove. “Not exactly top security here. I heard everything last night. He was trying to tell you, but you were so wrapped up in yourself you didn’t listen. I’m guessing that is pretty much the way it’s been with you two as well.”
He sat down next to Mike—on the good cushion—but with no lessening of anger in his face or voice.
“I got one question for you, and one only. Think real close how you answer, because I’m not so attached to my guitar that I won’t impale you with it if you say the wrong thing. So tell me straight: Does Pete know what you do? Or when your meter’s not running, do you just get your jollies yanking the chain of someone who trusts you?”
The rush of memories swept over Mike, and this time he let them come. “I tried to tell him,” he said. “I did. Showed him, too. Hell, I showed him best by… leaving him.” He spoke with no defensiveness or defiance. It was the bald truth: despite all of the evasions and excuses and rebuffs he’d offered to Peter about everything else, he had tried to do the right thing in this one regard. More than once. “But… it didn’t really seem to make any difference to him.”
“Okay… I buy that, actually.” For the first time, the guy visibly relaxed. “Sounds like him.” He ran a hand through his longish hair and sighed. “Well… I guess you can crash here if you need to. And I’m assuming you do. At least until I split next month.”
Mike had hardly begun searching for words of thanks when the mood abruptly shifted again.
“But you’re taking the couch every night; I won’t suffer that beast for your sake. And take a shower, will you? You reek. Change my bed sheets, too. God knows what cooties you left in ‘em last night.”
All too easily, Mike himself shifted and fell back into donning his old armor. “When did I become the butler?” he retorted. “Screw this, I don’t need your so-called hospitality!” He lurched to his feet and stomped to the door, wrenching it nearly off its hinges. “I don’t need nobody.”
“So long then, Tex. And by the way, the spare key’s above the door.”
With only 13 cents left of pocket change, the subway was just a shade too far beyond his means. So, driven by an indefinable mix of anger and guilt and loss, Mike walked all the way up to the Port Authority terminal on 42nd Street. As he got closer, he started noticing a line of people snaking around the blocks. A lot of blocks. And these people were… teenagers. Mostly teenage girls.
After counting eleven blocks of queued-up teens, he found the source. With a pang he recognized the modest, tatty, second-run theater he and Peter used to go to—now a sparkling, revamped, first-run cinema draped with posters showing the top halves of four heads with very distinctive hair: “Starring in their first full-length, hilarious, action-packed film! The Beatles in ‘A Hard Day’s Night’!”
A hard day’s night? What was that supposed to mean? Did it mean anything, or would it be clear if you forced yourself to think about it? Mike forgot his anger and the rest of it, intrigued by this puzzle. That was the Beatles, never worrying about being nice or harmless or brainless. He spotted another notice on the marquee: “See them live at Forest Hills, August 28 & 29!” Too bad Peter would miss the shows…
Well, so will I. Yet he couldn’t help sneaking another look at the movie poster. At all that hair. Peter’s looks better. Heck, how would *I* look with hair like that? Either he would look like a wild man raised by wolves or… or like night to Peter’s day. The image conjured up by the latter was… not unpleasing.
Shaking his head, he left the Beatles and the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees behind but knew that both would stay with him. And, he now admitted, he was cool with that.
The clerk at the Greyhound ticket counter in the Port Authority terminal confirmed that a one-way fare to Nashville was still thirty-five dollars. Mike reached into his left sock… and found himself idly inquiring as to the price of a ticket to California.
When asked which city was his destination, he had no idea what to say. “Give me a ballpark figure, so I know how much I’m looking at here,” he replied. He could just about afford the ballpark figure. If he didn’t mind sleeping in a ballpark, after he got there.
But which city? How could he—I know who knows.
And how would he find Peter out there? How would Peter find him? Would Peter even want to look? It was impossible, they didn’t even know each other’s last names, how would he ever—I know who knows.
But will the one who knows tell me? Or will he still keep looking out for Peter, like he always has been?
Go for it. For once, don’t be practical. Just try. It’s the right path to choose.
Mike started heading back to the Village with a much lighter step than before. So carefree was he that on his way through Times Square he nearly skipped over another pedestrian, who stumbled backwards and hissed at him: “Watch where you’re going, asshole!”
Mike stopped at once. He knew that peevish, grating voice. “Ginger?”
The hunched figure in clashing plaids and stripes slowly turned toward him, and Mike nearly laughed aloud. The attempt of the incomparable Ginger Snaps to grow a Beatles haircut gave him the look of a man wearing a red mixing bowl on his head. But the amusement faded when Mike saw that half of Ginger’s face was stained with a sickly blue-purple bruise radiating from the vicinity of his left eye.
“Is that—can that indeed be Mr. W. H. Wool Hat that I see before me?”
“Indeed. Ginger, you look like you been shot at and missed, and shit at and hit. What happened?”
“I wish I knew.” Ginger gave a tired, mirthless laugh. “I’m all about keeping them happy and satisfied, but sometimes you get one…” He shrugged. “How do you always get by without a scratch? If anyone’s asked for a trip to the moon, it’s you.” He frowned at the top of Mike’s head. “Haven’t seen you around here in ages. Where’s your hat?” He glanced about, past Mike’s shoulder. “And your little friend?”
When Mike hesitated, Ginger confounded him by looking sympathetic instead of gleeful.
“You blew it, didn’t you?” Ginger nodded without waiting for an answer. “I saw that coming a long time ago. Always wondered why a boy like that hung out with you. I thought, how long before Wool Hat finds a way to piss him off? Don’t know why he looked at you like the sun shone out of your ratty ass.”
“Yeah, well, I didn’t love him for his sense.”
And when he saw both of Ginger’s eyes widen—one bruised, one clear—he realized just what he had really said, what he had never openly declared to anyone until now.
And he was cool with it. He’d say it again. He’d stand here in the middle of Times Square and shout it.
“You always were a dumb shit,” Ginger said with something almost approaching fondness.
“I sure was.” Mike clapped a hand on the shoulder of his old rival. “And now… I’m retiring. This patch is all yours, man. But a word of advice: get out while you can, before you lose yourself. It’s your call and everything, but that’s what I’m telling ya. As for me, I got other fish to fry.”
“C'est la vie, as they say. Well, good luck,” Ginger waved after him as he walked away, “you dumb shit!”
On the stair landing, Mike reached up to feel along the top of the door frame for the spare key. At least with his height, he didn’t have to stand on his toes. Through the garret door he could hear the strumming of an acoustic guitar and a husky, resonant voice.
“… ‘cause I couldn’t stand the pain,
And I would be sad if our new love was in vain...”
His fingers closed around the small piece of metal. He unlocked the door and opened it to find Peter’s friend sitting splay-legged on the floor, leaning back against the couch with his guitar wielded almost like a weapon, eyes closed as he sang to himself:
“So I hope you see that I would love to love you—”
The slam of the door closing startled the guy out of his reverie. He opened his eyes and lowered his guitar to his lap. “Well, look who it is. Tex, what a surprise.”
A red LP sleeve lay nearby. It was just like the poster: four half-faces with lots of hair and attitude, and those tantalizing words of paradox—“A Hard Day’s Night.” It didn’t surprise Mike. He could hear even in this guy’s unadorned rendition those unique funny chords that marked a Beatles song. It also sounded like a bitch to sing, which made the assured guitar accompaniment even more impressive.
“You’re, uh, pretty good,” he grudgingly acknowledged.
“My, my. Thank you kindly. I’ll be sure to put that on my CV.” The man studied him for a while, then set his guitar aside. “You know, Pete told me a few times about some guy he knew who could sing and play well. Real well. He said the world should really hear this guy. Now, I won’t go trying to guess who that was, but I’m thinking this guy might want to haul ass out to California himself. Maybe… oh, I don’t know, say, to somewhere in or around LA.”
“Really. That’s what you’re thinking.” Mike searched hard blue eyes as guarded as his own. “You don’t think Peter’s got a chance to be happy out west and maybe don’t need that guy’s shit in his new life?”
“Funny, I don’t remember saying anything about that guy going out to join Pete. All I said was, that guy knows music, so he might want to try that scene. Or, he could just decide it’s easier to not borrow trouble, and stay here and piss his life away. Glad that ain’t my problem.”
“So while you’re doing all your thinking, you ever thought how this guy is supposed to just go off to LA and make music with no plans or nothing? Like, maybe he don’t even have a guitar?”
“I think he could borrow one, or rent one. No law says it has to be carved fresh from the tree. Second-hand’s been good enough for me, so in my opinion it’s too good for this guy.”
“And,” Mike asked with equal parts hope and desperation, “you given any thought to how this guy is supposed to make it work when he don’t even know how the hell to find him out there? That maybe he don’t know Peter’s last name, and Peter don’t know his?”
“Well, like I said: not my problem.” The man stood up straight, returning his guitar to its case. “I need to go to the store and get some food, since you’re likely to be eating me out of house and home for a while.” He felt in his pockets for his wallet, counting out some bills. “I expect you to pay your way as long as you’re here, and I don’t mean by turning tricks. Keep your johns the hell out of my pad, and start making money with your real talent.”
On his way out the door, he paused and pointed to the rickety, sagging table.
“By the way, not saying or suggesting nothing here, but Pete forgot his driver’s license. Memory like a sieve, our boy. He’ll have to turn it in when he gets a California license, so I was gonna mail it to him once he’s settled out there. It’s on the table, with the newspapers. Just thought I’d mention it.”
The door shut after him—then immediately opened again.
“And take a damn shower, will you?”
Mike waited until he was satisfied that the door would not open anymore, then ran over to the table. He didn’t even have to search. There it was, sticking out of the stack of newspapers, cut off by the overlapping corner of today’s Daily News: a small, plain, typed square of cardstock.
~New York State—Driver License
~This certifies that the person named and herein described is…
~Peter H. T—
Mike clutched the little card in his left fist, stopping just short of kissing it. Peter, I know your name. I’m gonna find you out there. Oh, and I guess some thanks goes to that annoying-ass friend of yours, too.
And I know firsthand you got a good memory when you want to. You remember stuff that matters. So did you really “forget” your license? Or will you be looking for me, too?
Could they cross paths in Los Angeles, a place described as 72 suburbs in search of a city? He had to narrow the odds. Had to find some way to let Peter see him. Some way to stand out in a crowd…
The grin that exploded across his face was at once silly and triumphant. He thrust his right hand deep into his pocket and pulled out his raggedy, green wool talisman.
He almost kissed that, too, but he didn’t put it on his head. Not yet. Not till after he washed his filthy hair. But soon. So very soon.
Just wait for me, Peter. We’ll see each other. We’ll find each other. Didn’t dear old Uncle Walt say so?
It’s a small world, after all. A small, small world.
“To success—or a very loose definition of it!”
Davy clinked his bottle of Pepsi with those held by his three new friends and settled back to soak up the bright California sunshine. He had never known such vibrant, enveloping light in Manchester. It bathed the whole house, seemed to bring the beach and ocean even closer, making the place appear more habitable than it really was.
He looked at his new friends with gratitude and excitement. The four of them were young, they were enthusiastic, they were exhausted and elated and unsure of the future—and they were a band.
The two founders were Mike and Peter. Exactly which of the two did what was a bit hazy to Davy, but he understood that they’d spent a year unlocking the secrets of rock and roll, working rubbish jobs to scrape up enough cash for electric guitars and amps. They were still looking for a good, used motor to get to gigs, yet in the meantime they’d taken out a lease on this beach house that had seen better days but was big enough to accommodate a full band. Then, they’d got to work on assembling that band.
Micky had answered a flyer they’d left on a bulletin board at the grocer’s and was already more or less settled in as drummer and vocalist.
Davy they’d only recently spotted in a club singing the Broadway song “Comedy Tonight.” He’d noticed them right off, as well. The tall, glowering bloke in the funny hat wasn’t too keen on Broadway, but the blond one glued to his side seemed to like the sentiment of the lyrics—“Nothing that’s formal / Nothing that’s normal.” Maybe, they appeared to wordlessly decide together, Davy was their kind of guy.
Davy, for his part, had taken his measure of the other three pretty quickly: Micky crackers, Peter slow, Mike silent. None of them was a bad sort, and they each had their own brand of talent. They stood as much of a chance as any band. Together they just might make it, or at least have a good time trying.
All that this new band needed was a name, which in due course they acquired thanks to a cinema owner who ordered the four “long-haired apes” to quit his premises at once. Apes = monkeys = Monkees. When you took over an insult for yourself, Mike maintained, you took away its power to hurt.
And tonight they’d just taken the huge step of playing their debut gig as the Monkees. The club was small, the audience smaller, but they’d pulled it off and got paid. Now they were back home, celebrating their success by passing around the Pepsi. The hard stuff, Micky had joked.
Davy noted with idle amusement the arrangement they seemed to have naturally fallen into: he, Micky, and Peter sitting at Mike’s feet while Mike lounged above them in their pad’s only armchair. There was no official decree, but they all tacitly acknowledged Mike as their leader. He was the big brother who took care of things and looked out for them, so he had earned the right to perch on their “throne.”
Between swigs of soda, Davy tried to shed more of his “new guy” baggage by asking the others how they’d come to find themselves in California. Going first was fair, so Davy himself told them he’d just heard it was a good time for an Englishman to be in America. Thanks to the Beatles, those barmy Yanks couldn’t get enough of all things British. Peter mumbled something about playing banjo in “the Village,” which Micky translated for Davy as Greenwich Village, an artists’ haven in New York City where starving in obscurity was considered a good career move. Micky himself confessed to feeling a little left out. He had no tale to tell of an epic journey to the Golden State, since he was already from here.
“Would you believe I used to be an undercover CIA operative assigned to kill Castro?” he almost begged. No, nobody believed it, but they wouldn’t have him any other way.
Only one of them had yet to say anything.
“What about you, Mike?” Davy asked.
“Oh, don’t even bother,” Micky laughed. “Mike doesn’t talk about himself. Ever. I say that if we give him a year, he might at least own up to belonging to the same species.” He playfully slapped at Mike’s right knee, to show there was no malice in his words.
Mike fixed Davy with a stone-faced stare.
“Mike is from Texas,” Peter offered shyly.
“Really? Well, howdy there, pard’ner,” Davy joked in an execrable attempt at a Southern accent. In his normal voice, he tried again: “So how did you get to California? What were you doing before?”
Davy saw Peter glance at Mike in a way he would have to describe as worried. Mike looked back, both of them exchanging some message understood only between themselves.
Mike stretched out and leant back in the armchair, lacing his fingers behind his head.
“Well,” he said in his slow drawl, “if you must know, I was a hustler on 42nd Street.”
Minutes ticked by in silence.
Peter looked at Mike as if he were watching a sunrise.
Davy thought about asking for another translation.
Micky burst out laughing. “What did I tell you!”
Mike just winked.