EDITOR'S NOTE: Wimpole Street Gazette is proud to introduce our first serialized novel, the mysteryDESERT HOUSE by ROMEY KEYS. Every two weeks we will be adding a chapter, so stay tuned.
CHAPTER 12: TRAPEZE GIRL
“How did it go?” Maggie was waiting at the door when they came back.
Ryan just raised his arms and let them fall. Frank kept walking. Susan followed him.
“So things didn’t go well,” said Maggie.
“You could say that,” said Ryan. “Yeah, you could say that.” His voice still carried the anger and bitterness from the meet. He headed upstairs to his suite.
Frank went straight for the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator he took out a large bottle of water, twisted off the cap, and began to drink. Susan came in and stood by the table watching him. Johns stopped chopping spinach. He finally finished and lowered the bottle.
“Who the hell picked this place to live?”
“You mean this Desert House?” said Susan.
“I mean Palm Springs. It’s as bad as Vegas. Who the hell was it followed some wagon across the desert until they got here and then said, ‘Hey! 100 degree heat. This is the place for me. Let’s stop here.’”
“Heat?” said Johns. “This isn’t heat. You should be here in August.”
Frank went looking for Ryan.
Ryan had gone up to his bedroom. Frank found him sitting in the rocking chair, an opened bottle of water at his feet, tuning the Taylor 12-string. He didn’t stop or look up when Frank came in. Frank stood, waiting. Ryan finished tuning and began to pick out a song. Frank recognized the tune.
“Trapeze Girl,” he said.
Ryan nodded and continued playing, improvising on the original spinning new threads out of it. The song told the story of the trapeze girl, with the long black hair, who tempted death high up in the roof of the tent. Going back and forth between the trapezes while the young man watched her from the ground, his feet planted amidst the sawdust and peanut shells, clutching the magic ticket that had let him into this magical world. While the jealous clown watches from just beyond the lights. Then suddenly there was silence.
“I always liked that.”
“It was the first thing I wrote for the album. There’s beer in the cabinet, I keep it there for the guys. Sometimes we come up here and just play.” He took a drink from the bottle of water.
Frank opened an antique Mexican armoire that had a mini-fridge inside and chose a bottle of water instead.
“There’s a lime in there.”
Frank looked and found a small cup covered with plastic wrap. He chose a seat at the highly polished wooden table in front of the fireplace. Ryan started playing “O My Darling Clementine.”
“This is the first song I learned to play. Some buds and I performed it in the Kit Carson High School Spring Junior Show in Red Rock. I accompanied my four best friends, Danny Hoover, Billy Kelvin, Randy Holmes, and Chuck Swenson. They dressed like cowboys and sang. I was afraid to try singing and playing at the same time, so I just played. I saw Chuck when I went home this year. He’d be in the band, but he just wouldn’t leave that little town. He just loved it too much. All he wanted was to marry his best girl, get her pregnant, and start ranching.”
Ryan started playing again. “How did I get into this, Frank? All I wanted to be was a rock and roll star and have people like me.” He laughed, “And fuck a lot of girls and make a lot of money.” Life was flowing back into Ryan. “Shit. If it goes on, we’ll ride it as far as it goes.”
Ryan put the guitar on its stand and picked up the water.
Frank said, “We’ll have to get in touch with Naomi before she does something dramatic.”
“I’ll call Josh.”
“I don’t think Josh is going to be that much help from here on out. We’re going to have to manage Naomi.”
“How?” said Ryan.
They both sat there. Ryan took up the guitar again, letting his fingers play on the strings. “Do you think I’ll get out of this?”
“The odds are good, but it will take some work.” Frank finished off the bottle of water and went to get another one.
Ryan began singing the “Trapeze Girl” again. Now he sang of the young man standing with his back to the darkness surrounding the ring. His back to the evil clown, the young man was mesmerized by the beautiful girl flying through the light.
“I never heard that verse before,” said Frank.
“It goes on.”
“How does it end?”
“The dancer goes back to the clown in this version.”
“The kid from the sticks never wins.”
“Never turn your back on a clown. That’s the moral.”
“I like the version on the CD. At least he gets to sleep with her and gets carried away by the circus train,” said Frank.
“More commercial,” said Ryan. “Though getting to be part of the dark circus isn’t all good. A lot of nightmares helped create that circus.”
“Who was the girl?”
“Ah, everybody asks that. And I tell them, there was no specific girl. She’s the spirit of woman.”
“Who was she?”
“She was, is Astrid. I met her in Paris. She had grey eyes and black hair. And this old European knowledge of the world. This sounds like that same old story.” Suddenly he became serious. “She’s the mother of my only son, Michel. She still lives in Paris. Michel comes over to visit in the winter. Sometimes I see her. She doesn’t like me much now. Though she likes me a lot more now than she did when we broke up. She’s a little crazy. Partly because of me. The second big fuckup of my life. Michel, he’s one of the things I got right. Maybe because she raised him.” He stopped playing and put the guitar down again. “Sometimes you miss things. You think you can always replace them. Or you can come back later. Other people, though, they have their own storylines to live and they leave you behind. You get back, planning to take care of things, and they’re gone.”
“You must have been going through a lot back then.”
“You have kids, Frank?”
“Have kids. They give your life a purpose.”
“My life has purpose.”
“It’s not the same. You get a different interest in the future. And it grounds you in the present.”
Frank looked around the room for a picture of Astrid and Michel, and found one among the photographs on the round table.
“Is this your son?”
Ryan got up and came over to the table, picking up the framed photo. “Beautiful lady. Those grey eyes. Shame her name isn’t more melodic. Too short and blunt. Makes rhymes difficult. She should have been named Melinda or Giselle. Unimaginative family.”
“So that’s the trapeze girl.”
“You should see her when she’s angry. She gets as scary as my mom.” He put the picture down. “Someday I’m going to write another song about her. Being a mother has changed her a lot. I’d like to capture that side of her.”
“Were you married?”
“No marriage back then. Free love. I’m surprised I only had Michel. Damn, some of the guys left kids all over the place.”
Maggie came through the door. “Should’ve used condoms, Ryan.” And then, she added, “I know your history. I’m surprised more of you guys didn’t get shot back then. A lot of little teenyboppers want to be with the band, nine months later they get a little bundle that lasts a lifetime. And daddy’s off down the road.”
“Rambling men, Maggie. We did some wild things back then.”
“Rambling boys,” said Maggie. She came over to the table and began picking up and putting down the pictures. “You’re still doing wild things. Michel has probably got the girls all over him now.”
“He’s going to be a pretty good guitarist.”
“Johns wants to know if you guys are going to come down and enlighten the rest of us about the day’s events.”
“There’s not a lot to tell,” said Frank. “Things got a little confused.”
“Could you be a little more specific?” said Maggie.
Stanislaus Fredrik Sohn stood at the sink, head down, supporting himself on his arms. Little spots of blood formed ovals on the tiles. His wadded shirt lay in a corner. Sagging against the support of his arms, Stan Sohn, still consumed by the rage that had hit him at the restaurant, wanted to dig his fingers into the ceramic surface until he left gouges. His mind was racing in circles around Frank Caldwell. He was beating Caldwell into a bloody corpse. Caldwell would rise from the dead and Sohn would beat him down into the baking surface of the parking lot. Then Caldwell would lift himself up, mocking Sohn and releasing the rage again. Worse was the shame of having been beaten. Twenty years ago, he thought, twenty years ago, I would have beaten them both. Junior was alive then. Together we could have taken anybody.
He was the oldest male now, leader of the Palm Spring Sohns. Fifty years old and finally he answered only to himself. Fifty years in this town and finally a place at the table. It was his turn. He had inherited.
Sohn stepped into a shower the size of a room. He stood still under the big stainless steel shower head, letting the water cleanse him. Getting prepared to face the family. Another struggle. Have to get his Uncle to shut up. Son of a bitch thinks he should be in charge of things. The women would be the worse. Genevieve had ripped him a new one on the way back. Getting drunk. The scene in the restaurant followed by the scene in the parking lot. Storming out after those men. And topping it all, he let himself get beaten up by some thug Ryan hired to defend him. Why didn’t I hire people like that? Genevieve said, “You’re fifty. You should know better.”
He had tried to fight off the sorrow that hung over the house since his father’s death. Had finally come up with the idea of the brunch, get people happy drunk for a change. And then this had to happen. Another defeat. Sohn stood there beneath the shower under a torrent of water, pelted by the water, and thought of revenge.
He could hear his wife the moment he stepped from his bedroom. Down the hall in her bedroom, she was raising holy hell again. A maid passed him with a quick smile, carrying a tray toward the sound of his wife’s voice. He watched the pale pink of the maid’s uniform and the white apron silently moving away from him. He had a sudden memory of his mother being helped down the hall by two of the maids. Then the image of his father: a man the age he was now, face red from the sun and drink, in tennis whites, filling the passage. He remembered his grandfather hauling himself upstairs after a night out drinking with the likes of Zanuck. He’d leave his Thunderbird in the drive in front of the double doors with the lights on and the motor running. A big brutal, old man. A vicious drunk.
And now everything was going to shit. “How do I hold it together? Will I have to become a fucking animal like my father? It’s bad enough being responsible for the whole family.” The things his father had done and his grandfather. He looked down at the big hands that had failed him so recently. Clenching them into fists he headed down the hall to the stairway to make his appearance. Down the stairs he went, nothing for it but to play his role. But he’d be goddamned if he’d be like his father.
“My god, what are people going to think of us!” The voice came down the hall behind him. It was his bride. That’s what we always call them, he thought Brides. My lovely wife. The gun at my back. Pausing in the arch leading into the living room, feeling everyone’s eyes turn toward him, Stanislaus thought, I need Pilar now. My woman. The one I belong to.
ROMEY KEYS was born at home in Lanham, Maryland in 1947. The doctor delivered him between breaks to catch a boxing match on the radio. He has a Ph.D. in English Literature. He taught at UCLA for eight years. Now he's a Documentation Specialist for hire.