Chapter 2 - Billy

2 Years Later—Summer, 1986

Billy’s latest Saturday morning struggle was made somewhat more complicated because he was somewhere in the waking process: not still sleeping, not fully awake, and definitely not fully sober. Billy’s first realization that he was waking was when his brain started processing pain. “Pain,” not completely unwelcome. “Pain. Ah yes, I earned this skull-crusher mixing liquors again last night,” Billy recalled. “I’ve gotta learn to stay the course on just one distilled flavor.” The idea of cutting back on the quantity of liquor intake did not cross Billy’s mind while awake, asleep, or suffering through a raging hangover. That thought was never initiated.

Billy grabbed at the tail end of his dream: winding roads with an ever-familiar biker leaning way into the turns. The bike goes faster and faster. The rider’s helmet flies off as he turns to smile. Oso. Time standing momentarily still, he drops a gear while goosing the throttle and the front wheel jumps as he launches forward towards the horizon. Oso becomes a smaller and smaller dot in the distance, but he’s still turned and smiling.

Too late, his subconscious-influenced dream was slipping back into, well, his subconscious. Noise was registering on his brain penetrating the fog of his pain. Slowly Billy began mentally processing the intruding information, “Music? Radio? Alarm! Who in the hell set an alarm? Did I? I think not!” In his first conscious physical act of the morning, Billy struggled to get an eye open. He made an involuntary groaning sound as light reached his optic nerve and said hello to his brain. “More pain, and bright light.” He reasoned, “If it’s morning, it’s certainly not early.” Squinting, Billy barely made out the red digits of his LED alarm clock radio, “09:30am.” Using the red blur as a target he swatted with his free arm and managed hitting the snooze bar on the clock and knocking his watch off the bedside table.

“New problem,” Billy wondered. “Free arm? Why is only one arm free?” Something warm and firm was resting on his pinned arm, holding him in place. He rolled over towards it and the strong smell of stale cigarette smoke entered his awareness and something was tickling his nose. He identified the tickle and made a mental note, “Hair—lots of it.” He took another whiff, “Aloe, peaches, and nicotine.” Waking faster now Billy opened his other eye for more clarity, “Long, straight, chestnut hair.” He struggled with his hazy recollection of the previous night. Billy rolled— “Hmmm, ‘long-haired naked gal’?” —slightly with his free hand to allow him to extract his pinned arm. Her breathing barely changed, “Apparently she’s in no hurry to wrestle her way back into the real world. Why am I?” He tried to settle back in. No good. Some nagging feeling kept surfacing. Some thought was trying to remind him why he needed to crawl out of this comfortable bed with an obviously beautiful bed warmer in it. “Lindy, not the girl in bed—double check—it is MY bed, must have set the alarm again.” He had a brief flash of the previous night and seeing Lindy in his room. “Something about food, yea, that’s it—breakfast! I need to meet Lindy for breakfast.” A short list of related thoughts sprang into his mind: “Food, coffee, juice, WATER.” The last thought was finally the push he needed to get moving to his feet, “Water. I need water.”

Sitting up was a big accomplishment. Billy pondered, “Now for my next trick…” Grabbing the bed, then the table, then a chair, and finally the bathroom door handle he was able to steady himself enough to reach a water source. He left the bathroom light off. Barely tolerating the ambient light coming from his room, he thought, “Pee in the toilet and drink from the sink. Better make that a conscious decision. I don’t want to mix that one up!” From his years working at the bar, he knew that any piece of porcelain could be re-defined as a toilet and he was not about to bring that habit home, rental or not. To be extra careful with his aim, Billy leaned all the way over the toilet and steadied himself with his outstretched forearm against the far wall. His eyes were only inches away from a sign he had memorized from reading frequently, “Pilots with short pitot tubes or low manifold pressure please taxi close.” It gave him a short chuckle then he stuck his head sideways under the faucet and drank large gulps of water. Looking up from the sink as he washed his hands he saw the note, written on the mirror in toothpaste.

The note was from Lindy; this was not the first time she was responsible for getting him home after drinking too much. Billy vaguely remembered her driving— “Hmmm, Ant-ya? Yes, Antje” —and him home, and staying long enough to use the bathroom. “She must have slipped in and set my alarm too.” The toothpaste read, “3 aspirin, Kassi’s- 10, C.A.Y.A.” C.A.Y.A. was shorthand for ‘Come As You Are’. Lindy knew that if Billy stopped to shower, he wouldn’t leave until the hot water ran out. There was still the possibility that he might even crawl back into bed with his new German lady-friend if he didn’t get moving and out of the house. “Euro-gal, I better leave you a real note, the pencil and paper kind,” Billy thought. “At least someone is getting to sleep-in this morning. I wonder if you are dreaming in English or German; probably both. Hey, maybe I can speak German in her dreams. That would be totally cool. Achtung!”

Billy threw on blue jeans, Timberland boots with no socks, a dancing Rasta-bear t-shirt, and Ray-Ran Aviator sunglasses and headed out into the summer sun. The sunglasses were just a start. They were a cheap knock-off pair of the popular Ray-Ban brand that he’d picked up for next to nothing in the city on Canal Street, the Ray-Ran logo clearly infringing on the Ray-Ban trademark. He was still trying to think of a second word in German while he carefully slid his helmet over his pounding head and lowered the tinted sun visor. He wanted the padded helmet over his ears before starting the big, loud motorcycle that formerly belonged to Oso, who had once taught him some swear words and slang in Spanish. Other than that, his foreign language vocabulary was extremely limited. Billy straddled the saddle, grabbed the grips, and mumbled from under his helmet, “Phoenix, to Kassi’s! Vamanos!” but the autopilot must not have been fully awake yet either. Billy manually kicked the bike to life and took it off of its stand. Fortunately, the trip to Kassi’s Diner was a short one.

Lindy was on her third cup of coffee when Billy arrived at Kassi’s. Her long, auburn hair dragged across her cup when she reached for the low-fat milk, which she preferred to the heaviness of cream. Lindy had paper napkins spread all across the table and was making notes for her songs and music. Some started soaking up the dribbled coffee and she swore under her breath. Billy slid into the booth across from her without noticing her attractive, athletic figure. Though he undressed every other beautiful woman with his penetrating gaze, he didn’t look into her hazel eyes, but rather at the menu straight-away. He didn’t notice that her hair was wet, from both the shower and her coffee, and that she had already run three miles this morning and was well into her day. She was dressed-down in ripped jeans and one of his old New York Giants souvenir jerseys and still looked radiant. He didn’t notice that either, though she would have preferred him to.

“You got me home again, thanks,” started Billy. “But, how did my bike get there?”
Lindy took her time with her reply. “One of life’s great mysteries,” she finally offered.
“You’re a lot of fun this morning. Don’t you ever sleep?” Billy’s voice was raspy from the hard night and he turned a clean coffee mug upright as a signal to the waitress that he needed some caffeine. The boyishness of his good looks and charm were amplified by the comical imprint his hemlet made in his damp hair. At twenty-two, he still only needed to shave about once a month.
“Not all at once. I’ll get the rest of my eight hours over the course of the day. I already ordered you a coffee when I saw you pull up, and the French Toast Slam. They didn’t have a German one. You already had that at home, I’m sure.”
“Play nice. What’s the matter Lindy, don’t you like German gals?”
“Oh no Billy, it’s not that. She’s sweet. If she were sticking around I’d take the time to warn her about you. But, that’s the point isn’t it? She’s leaving tomorrow.”
“She is?” Billy tried to look surprised.
“Don’t play that game with me. The way it works, Billy, is you usually pretend not to remember what I say when you’re drunk. You surely remember that your bed buddy is here on ‘holiday’. We had this conversation last night on the way home. You’re the King of the Pre-sabotaged Relationship. You specifically picked her because you knew she was a short-timer here in the U.S.”
“What makes you so sure she didn’t pick me? Aren’t I every European gal’s American Dream? Besides, what would you write about if I didn’t give you all this free material?”
Looking like she was consciously biting back a retort, Lindy took a deep breath and glared at Billy. At almost six feet tall but he hadn’t filled out in the shoulders yet. Though strong and athletic, he had a wiry look about him which made him look young for his age. His easy smile was very disarming and it had once inspired her to coin the term ‘corporate deviant’ to describe him. He had a habit of subtly tilting his head and switching focus from eye to eye during conversation that captivated her attention and added a feeling that he was enraptured while she spoke. Beyond that, his qualities were hard to define but she conceded that most women loved him and men either bonded, respected, or became jealously intimidated with minimal interaction.
She changed the subject by asking, “You feel like practicing later today?”
Billy considered. Still feeling the alcohol intensified pulse pounding in his head, he answered, “No amps or microphones. My head is still ringing from the alarm clock. Did you have to set it so fucking loud?”
“You know I did.”
“Very funny. Well, maybe I can brush the skins through some of your light acoustic work, if you don’t sing too loud or crack any high notes.”
Lindy grinned, “Good, I’ve got something new to run by you.”
“Something I can laugh about for a change? Please? Or, is it another adventure deep into your self-help, psycho-dribble again?”
Lindy responded defensively, “At least I’m doing something constructive, and maybe even trying to help you a little too if you’d let me. I know how I got home last night!”
The arrival of their food cut their conversation short. Both ate like someone was going to take it away from them if they didn’t wolf it down.

They finished breakfast. Billy paid for everything because he owed Lindy for the safe ride home, and followed her out to the parking lot. He noticed the tie-down straps in the back of her pick-up truck and asked, “What are those for?”
Lindy smirked, “Guaranteed to hold 2000 lbs. Your bike only weighs 420. We used these straps to bring Phoenix home for Oso when he first got it, don’t you remember? I dug them out of a box in the basement. The way you’ve been drinking lately, I knew I would need them eventually.”
Billy’s jaw dropped noticeably, “And how does my bike get into, and out of, your truck for that matter?”
“You wanted to know how you got home last night. You’re not the only one who can ride, you know.”
“Lindy, your truck bed sits about four feet off the ground. Who are you, Evel Knievel?”
She explained, “I backed my truck up to the loading dock at The Fallout Shelter and rode the bike right in. I never had to lift the bike at all. I had to ride up the stage ramp to get to the loading dock level and I got a standing ovation doing it. I’m thinking about trying to include that in my act as a closer—the crowd loved it last night.”
Billy’s was more than a little surprised, “You rode through the club on my bike?”
“Better than letting you ride it. ‘Friends don’t let friends drive drunk’ you know. Derek helped me tie it down to the truck bed. He’s a good boss. He takes care of his employees even when they can’t take care of themselves.”
Billy raised his voice, “That’s crazy, and it still doesn’t explain how you got the bike out of your truck bed back home at The Leaky Tiki Lounge.”
“Well, I had some help there too: Dog and Spy. We used a keg loader that I borrowed and you and I have to bring it back to The Shelter tonight. That would have been your first clue Sherlock, if you weren’t so hung over. It’s leaning up against the side of the back porch. It makes a great ramp from the tailgate to the ground.”
Billy snorted, “Stunt biker bitch.”
Lindy blew a faux kiss, “You say the sweetest things. You really know how to charm a girl. A simple thank you would have been soooo boring. Speaking of charming a girl, are you going to go home with food on your breath and not bring any for your new fräulein friend from the Fatherland?”
Billy conceded, “Ugh, good point. I’ll grab her something to go. See you later. Wait, what time did I commit to practice?”
“You didn’t. Mid afternoon will do. Get your fräulein home. She’s staying with a friend at your old alma mater, by the way. Oh, and sober up. You look like you’ve been up all night.”
Billy gave a sly grin, winked, and retorted, “I have.”
Lindy didn’t miss the reference. She winced and replied, “You’ll hear me in the basement when I’m ready,” then turned and walked away.
Lindy fired up her truck and Billy stumbled back into Kassi’s to grab something that he could fit in his saddlebags so he wouldn’t have to wake Antje empty-handed. His thoughts were already wandering, “Fräulein. Good word. I think I just doubled my German vocabulary.”

Billy lived in the right half of a three story duplex with his housemates Dog, Spy, and Just Dan. The four bachelors didn’t exactly keep an immaculate mansion. Even less so since the future for this house was now uncertain. They had stopped paying rent when they started getting bank notices for their landlord. One happened to ‘slip’ open and it appeared that the mortgage was not getting paid. Their landlord had stopped answering their calls and they speculated that he was either on the run or in jail. Or, more likely, he overpaid for the house in the first place and walked away from the money he put down when he couldn’t afford the mortgage, taxes, insurance, and upkeep. At least that’s how Spy, the numbers-man of the house, had once tried to explain it at a back-porch gathering. The combination of the resulting state of disrepair and the duplex’s vertical layout resulted in the housemates dubbing their bachelor bunker “The Leaky Tiki Lounge.” Eventually someone realized that a Totem Pole was vertically stacked, not a Tiki, but by then the name had stuck.

Lindy lived in the other half of the duplex with her air traffic controller housemate Roxie. Their side had much less mess and was more sparsely furnished. Both sides were painted in the same generic bone-white on all walls and ceilings with a very light shade of grey for the trim. The wall-to-wall carpets were a blue-grey that hid dirt well, a feature that the current residents looked upon as a plus since they had only one old vacuum cleaner between them. Anyone walking into either side of the duplex would immediately recognize it as a rental.

Lindy used the basement as her sound studio. Her stomach rumbled as her breakfast settled. She ignored it and finished tuning her guitar. The guys had torn down the dividing wall making one large basement even though the rest of the house was set up to be two separate apartments. This increased the real estate of their more crowded side of the building and also made it easy to traverse between apartments without a key or being exposed to the outside elements. “More room for me,” thought Lindy as she stretched her neck, scanned the open space, cracked her knuckles, and got ready to get down to business—making music.

From her couch she could see the guys’ major contributions to the basement: a dartboard, a chalkboard for scoring cricket, and a bubble hockey game—the house favorite for killing time. Plastic players that spun and slid in tabletop slots squared-off to get a magnetized plastic puck into the opponent’s goal. Each player was controlled by its own handle with just a knob for the goalies. The tabletop was protected by a large transparent plastic bubble, hence the name. Lindy smiled. She was the game’s reigning champion. She spent most of her time in the basement and used the game as a diversion from long guitar practice sessions and to break up writer’s block when it occurred. Lindy knew that puck control was more important than shots on goal and would practice passing around the opponent’s stationary players when she was alone. When the puck stopped where her team couldn’t reach it, she would walk around the table and play the other way. The game had a way of sucking her in. But, this distraction allowed her to focus on the task at hand while she contemplated lyrics or music in the back of her head. She considered the game to be her muse and kept her guitar and her notebook close at hand for when a rhyme or riff appeared promising. When the guys played, they had to do a vodka penalty shot every time they lost to the Russian team and a Jack Daniels penalty shot every time they were beaten by the U.S. Penalty shots could also be assigned for infractions of any other house rule, especially the breaking of anything, even breaking wind if the perpetrator could be properly identified. Her nose twitched just thinking about so many prior infractions to the thick basement air.

Billy rode down the driveway along the right side of the house, parked in front of the detached garage, and grabbed the grub from his saddlebag. He threw his helmet on the covered but unscreened back porch. It rolled up next to ‘The Loco Beer Fridge’ which was an old refrigerator covered with leftover house paint to conceal the rust. Protruding from the refrigerator door was a Molson Golden tap. Along its left side was a schedule for replacing the keg with Just Dan’s name listed next. He threw hiws change from Kassi’s Diner into the small donation slot cut into a padlocked box was welded to the fridge wall. No two chairs on the porch matched. Each side of the duplex had its own rear entrance which most occupants preferred over the matching front entry doors with inadequate overhangs that offered limited protection from precipitation.

Billy entered the kitchen, pilfered an open carton of orange juice from the real refrigerator, took a swig, and carried it along with the Kassi’s takeout to his small room on the first floor. Since he was partially responsible for the noise, pronounced ‘music’, which came from the basement, he was elected keeper of the ground floor. He was surprised he didn’t hear Lindy playing yet. “So much the better for getting back to sleep,” he thought.
Dan and Spy each had rooms on floor two, and Dog had the third floor loft, mostly because nobody wanted to be exposed to his piles of dirty laundry. Wagering often broke out at the back porch gatherings on when Dog would clean his room enough to see the carpet. This bet was rarely paid off as nobody wanted to go up two flights of stairs to check.

Antje was still asleep and only halfway covered by the twisted blanket. Billy traced her with his gaze and almost decided to wake her. Instead, he dropped the food and juice on his desk and barely got his boots and riding jacket off before climbing back into bed. Sleep came to Billy a lot quicker than waking.

On to Chapter 3