[Book Extract] In the Midst Of, by C. M. Barons

“Better hit the road,” Hollis urged, “want to get to our next stop by midnight.”

We were along for the ride. The glaring retail landscape gave way to a gloomy wasteland. Realty signs begged car dealerships and shopping malls: the design for mediating dairy farms and ranch houses.

Red and white neon advertising Genesee Beer queered forward progress. They beckoned from ‘The Hutch’s’ tinted windows. Boxy-looking with railings and plenty of glass, it was a poor takeoff on a California beach house. My eyes had to adjust; contrary to Moe’s, the lack of light suggested someone had forgotten to throw a switch.

Thirty-year-old women in seersucker and denim lounged at the bar, a get-together of the secretarial pool that outlasted happy hour. Hollis was in targeting mode when a youthful Persephone made her entrance. She tarried as if unsure she’d found narcissus or nettles. He veered to the buffet table, loaded a plate with hors d’oeuvre and intercepted her midway to the bar. Cheese on crackers, rolled ham and cocktail franks served as oblation. “You work at Big N department store, don’t you?”

“Yeah!” she was surprised, “how’d you know?”

“You helped me out with a price check last weekend.”

“…on a shirt, right?” Her eyes twinkled. She was pleased at recalling the incident and helped herself to a ham roll.

“There was more to it,” he lied, “I confessed to falling under your spell. It was either your stunning eyes or sexy legs. I was so taken; I burst out singing that David Cassidy song “I Think I Love You” in front of all the customers in your line.”

“Yeah-right!” She smelled bullshit.

“I would have,” he continued, “but I forgot the words. I had the chorus down; the first verse wouldn’t come to me. Anyway, it’s more than coincidence we ran into each other.”

“Partridge Family! You’re on the make.” If she intended to put him off, her smile and posture were not cooperating.

“…won’t lie about it.”

“You’ve got a lot of nerve.” She sustained her smile.

“Hey, you can’t argue with destiny.”

“I guess not.”

“Listen,” he admitted, “I’m with two friends…just got back in town so I’m stag tonight. We’re on our way to a party in North Chili. It’d make my night if you came along. …My guest.”

“I don’t even know you!” She laughed just enough to egg him on.

“Hey. What better way to get acquainted? Besides, you just got off work; you’re probably making up for lost time. Who knows where you’ll end up. If you’re like me, you hate being alone tonight of all nights. It’s no way to start a year; you know what they say? Besides, this is destiny!”

“Uh-huh,” she sounded ambivalent, “Don’t lose that thought; I’m gonna pop in the ladies’ room.”

As she walked off, he turned toward us. I had a beer ready for him.

“Man!” he gushed as if he had won ‘Final Jeopardy,’ “I could see pinholes in her blouse. Woolworth, Newbury’s and Big N; their salespeople wear name tags Only Big N would be open regular hours on New Year’s Eve.”

“How’d you rule out waitress?” I challenged.

“…Had to be a sales clerk, the timing is wrong; waitresses change shift at 4. I’m going way out on a limb and guess her name.”

Cindy smirked. “How do you intend to pull that off?”

“Her purse has a monogrammed zipper. I narrowed the possibilities to Christine, Cheryl or Cathy. She’s not bold enough for Cathy; not demure enough for Christine, so I’m opting for Cheryl.”

Persephone had made cosmetic enhancements. Her eyes accented with mascara and eye shadow; her lips, pearly pink. Hollis escorted her in our direction. “I don’t forget a name; it’s Cheryl, right?”

“Close enough! It’s Cheri. One up on me, though. Haven’t a clue what yours is.”

“Cheri, this is Cindy and Brian. I’m Dan; everyone calls me Hollis — take your pick.”

“I like Danny.” She made the name sound juvenile. “So… Danny, you know where Union Street is? I better drop my car off, home.”

“It’s on the way; north or south of 33?”

“I don’t know!” she squawked, “I get my norths and souths mixed up; it’s left.”

“Left is good; just lead the way.” We tailed Cheri to her house.

“I’ll just be a minute.” She held up her index finger to ward off doubt. “…Wanta get outa these grubby clothes.”

She reappeared jogging toward us in a hot-pink tube top. Half-skating across the icy driveway, she struggled into the sleeves of a purple suede coat trimmed with white fur. Encased in skintight Sergio Valente jeans, her rump glided across my front seat. Silver platform shoes pivoted under the dash ahead of the slamming door. “Hit the road, Jack!” Having indicated readiness to leave, she inflated a bubble of chewing gum, popped it with her teeth and gobbled-up the remains.

Cheri may have been twenty. Her hair was razor-cut and frosted, blond on auburn. The jeans and tube top picked out curves otherwise undetectable. She epitomized a Doors song. ‘Well, she’s fashionably lean and she’s fashionably late she’ll never rank a scene she’ll never break a date but she’s no drag just watch the way she walks.’ “What kind of music you guys like?” she wanted to know, “I had Wings on in the car; their new one, Venus and Mars. ‘Listen to what the man said’ is pretty cool. Band on the Run was better though…” Her review was truncated by an abrupt left turn.

“We’re looking for a townhouse.” Hollis’ pointer was ineffective. We were in an apartment complex; the buildings were identical. Monotonous architecture had been compensated for; his friends piled beer out front. On the chance their marker might be missed, the windows rattled as Ian Hunter sang “All the Young Dudes.”

Cindy and Cheri negotiated six packs cluttering the sidewalk. Hollis was underdressed, clad in a jacket. He rang the doorbell and hopped up and down to keep warm. We didn’t wait for an answer. Taking our coats, he crammed them in a hall closet and channeled us through a foyer. The party was partitioned; each room dedicated to an activity. Guests had to find their niche.

A sweaty guy with bushy sideburns yodeled, “Hey Dan!” He had drinks in each hand that slopped the floor as he stumbled in our direction. “Where’s yours?” He shoved a cocktail at Hollis. “Thanks Mike.” Hollis turned to Cheri. “Looks like a screwdriver; want it?” He gave her the dripping glass and wiped his hand on his pants.

“Long time, no see.” Mike teetered clinging to Hollis’ arm for support. “Where’ve you been keepin’ yourself?” Hollis retrieved his arm. “…doing the college thing; you know.” Mike gripped the corner of his mouth and shook his cheek making a salacious sound effect. “You must be lovin’ them horny college girls!” Hollis rolled his eyes, “Where do we get a drink around here?”

“In the basement, man,” Mike steered, “Pat and Gary got a bar down there.” Hollis slung a nod herding us down the stairs. He waylaid Mike at the door. “Did you get your noisemaker and hat yet?” Mike was flummoxed by the question. “…Find some for the rest of us while you’re at it.”

A bar had been jury-rigged with planks and sawhorses. The bartender had nothing to do but roll a joint. “Popular spot,” Hollis opened. “Yeah,” droned the bartender, “most everybody brought their own.”

Half-gallon bottles of liquor lined up across a washer and dryer. The basics were represented, whiskey, vodka, gin and rum. They bore clever labels implicating name brands: Black Suede, Schnierkov, Gilbert’s and Don Rico. The copy-cat names were amusing.

The bartender wet the joint between his lips so it wouldn’t canoe and set it in an ashtray. “Name your poison.” Cheri exchanged the screwdriver for a rum and Coke.

“You don’t have the makings for a Tequila Head Slam, do you?” Cindy appealed. “I don’t know,” he sighed, “what’s in it besides tequila.”

“I was hoping you’d know,” she came back, “I just like watching it fizz when you slam it on the bar.” She and I strung along with Cheri, ordering rum and Cokes. Hollis wanted beer and was directed to a refrigerator. No Carling, he took Heineken. Returning the bottle opener, he introduced himself. The bartender reciprocated as if building a resume, “I’m pretty handy with a wrench.” He stepped from behind the bar. “…Helped Gary build this…” Leading us to a car covered by a fitted tarpaulin, he peeled back the tarp as if sharing a view of his sister showering. The glimpse was sufficient to identify a 1968 Chevelle SS. Built for the street, it was custom finished in silver metal-flake and broad, black racing stripes. Dual-quad Holley carburetors set on an Edelbrock tunnel-ram jutted through the hood cut-out.

“That’s a 396 under those double-pumper four-barrels,” he boasted. I moved ahead to get a better look, but he yanked the tarp back in place. Like the fickle curtain in a 42nd Street peep-show, he had left me short-changed.

“Boy, I’d match my 427 Shelby against that on the eighth mile,” confided Hollis.

The bartender returned to his station and lit the joint. He took a couple hits and passed it to me. I usually backed away from strange weed but accepted. Cindy took a puff to appear sociable and passed it to Hollis. After indulging himself, he confronted Cheri, “…You get high?”

“Sure,” she fudged, “Why not!”

“How about a shotgun? All you have to do is inhale; I’ll do the rest.” Hollis reversed the joint so the lit end was between his teeth. He positioned the joint so the smoke jetted at her lips. Her eyes bulged, her hand clamped over her mouth and cheeks ballooned; all leading up to a fit of coughing.

“You gotta cough to get off!” The bartender intoned as if it were his mantra. Hollis righted the joint and took another hit.

“Hey everybody,” someone shouted from the upper floor, “It’s almost midnight!”

Hollis parted with the joint and led the procession up the stairs. He guided Cheri into the living room and claimed a spot on the couch. Cindy and I shared a wicker papasan chair. Pat and Gary, the brothers hosting the gala, were busy dispensing champagne in plastic glasses. I had trouble keeping their names straight. They looked nothing alike. Their guests had an odd habit of referring to them jointly as if they were a legal firm.

One of our hosts handed Hollis a glass of champagne. “Dan, when did you get here?” Hollis checked his beer bottle. “About fifteen minutes ago.” He reckoned time by consumption. “Glad you could make it,” the host went on to the TV and turned up the volume. Chatter in the room yielded to the set. Dick Clark, live from Times Square, was counting down, “Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…Happy New Year!” Glasses collided, noisemakers rattled and streamers filled the air; confetti clung to heads and shoulders. The room closed in as revelers finagled hugs and kisses.

I embraced Cindy and whispered in her ear, “There’s no one else I’d rather be with tonight.”

Two guys with guitar cases at their sides deposited their gear on the living room floor. Gathering chairs from the kitchen, they situated them in the wide entryway at the far end of the room. Guitars in hand, they sat down, fishing strings, finger picks, and capos from compartments in their cases.

One of the musicians wore his hair in an ‘Afro’ that burgeoned from a denim hat. He was beaming at those calling his name, “Luis! Luis!” Laughing nervously; his attention bounced between tuning his guitar and responding to song requests. His partner’s fans were less rambunctious, conducive to tuning a 12-string guitar. Luis’ wife was seated next to us. “Luis’ a wreck… hasn’t played with Kevin in forever. He threatened to leave his guitar home. I told him Pat and Gary would kill me if he didn’t bring it.”

Luis and Kevin were the main event. Stragglers jockeyed for places to sit. Once the couch and chairs were taken, people sat on the floor. The surplus congregated in doorways.

“Whatcha gonna play, Kevin?” Luis inquired of his partner. “It’s your gig; don’t ask me!” wisecracked Kevin. Luis laughed. “Doggone it…you hambone!” His extemporaneous picking graduated to a recognizable melody, ‘Little Boxes’ as recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary. Kevin joined in on 12-string, while Luis sang. The song was dated if not obscure, yet it received ecstatic applause. The response energized Luis, who directed a crack at Kevin, “You think you can keep up on this one?” He laughed at his less than serious challenge and strummed ‘Steamroller Blues’ by James Taylor.

The musicians didn’t waste time; one song followed another: ‘Johnny B. Goode’ by Chuck Berry, ‘I Am A Rock’ by Simon and Garfunkel, ‘Four Strong Winds’ as covered by The Kingston Trio, ‘Evil Ways’ by Santana. Their final number was a duet version of Don McLean’s ‘American Pie.’ As they set aside their guitars, the audience broke into a chant, “‘Whitey’s Song,’ ‘Whitey’s Song.’”

Luis deferred to Kevin. “It’s your song!” Kevin objected, “Don’t look at me!” Luis hovered over his chair extorting the audience, “We can’t play it without Whitey!”

Someone in the know hollered, “He’s upstairs losing his ass at poker!” Luis’ wife went after the song’s truant namesake and dragged him to the living room. Satisfied, Luis resituated himself and sang ‘The Ballad of Whitey’s House.’ The lyrics described a tragic event, “There was a raid at Whitey’s house, the morning papers read, But I was oh-so-lucky, I was home in bed.” The room rollicked, acquainted with Whitey and the goings on at his house.

I began to feel isolated; surrounded by strangers, hemmed in by their restrictive chumminess. Hollis and Cheri were off somewhere. I suggested to Cindy that we look for them. They had claimed a private corner in the hallway. I meandered over as they wound up an involved kiss. “When are we heading back to the city?” Cheri hurled a look over her shoulder. “As soon as possible!”

The car was cold and Cindy snuggled with me in the back; Cheri struggled with the heater controls. I leaned forward between the bucket seats. “Those guitar players really had it together. …Not too many picking folk songs any more.”

“Luis and Kevin click,” Hollis concurred, “They have that comic element. …Reminds me of the banter between Tommy and Dickie Smothers. They should build on it.”

He made tracks getting back to the city. The pace didn’t deter appraisal of every bar we passed. Sustained interest gave the impression he might stop. Cindy and I found it amusing, characterizing him as a cruise director. The bars were ports of call; not a far off depiction. Barhopping to Hollis was a social science. Portraying him as an anthropologist would have suffered from accuracy.

“You’re not taking us there are you?” Cheri griped.

“Sure…why not?” There was no room for debate; he had shut off the engine and removed the key.

“I don’t believe it!” Her dissent did not extend to remaining in the frigid car. The object of her disapproval was a corner bar slightly larger than a phone booth. ‘Lobo’s’ looked innocent enough, assuming any bar could look innocent. Cheri’s cause for alarm became evident. The place was wall-to-wall leather and tattoos. A sign at the door prohibited colors. One surmised rival Outlaws and Hell’s Angels could spot one another with or without a club patch. Management had bent over backward to promote public safety.

Hollis called to the bartender. “Where’s Reggie?”

“…Ain’t my day to watch him.” The zinger fluttered strands of the bartender’s handle-bar moustache. “Check in the back.”

“How’s his stick tonight?” Hollis put on.

“My mother could beat him.”

Cheri’s disenchantment was evident even to Hollis. “Trust me,” he assured her, “Ignore the attitude and relax. These folks are in uniform. Think of them as mailmen or the ice cream man. Contrariety doesn’t qualify as sport; we’ll put this under the heading, rencontre. Let’s just say, this isn’t as irresponsible as it looks.” Whatever that meant, we flocked behind him, walking a gauntlet.

A regulation pool table had squeezed into a tiny room. Its felt was immaculate; the only immaculate thing in the place. The grandiose table amounted to 9 feet of solid oak with ornate details in raised molding. The pockets were set in a rosewood rail with diamond inlay, mother of pearl. It was not a typical barroom table; no coin slot, no ball-return, the pockets: laced-leather. A mass of wood and slate, it perched on turned mahogany legs capped as Ionic columns. An equally massive beer gut sagged across the end of the table; its owner prostrate, lining up his next shot. The cue seemed flimsy clutched in his gigantic hands.

“Don’t miss!” Hollis shouted, “Could be your last chance to win back the money you owe me.” The hulk elevated his gaze above his cue. Squinting in our direction, a grin cleaved his face. “Owe you?” He turned to his minions, “Dipshit-here has me confused with some loser!” They stoked his ego with obedient laughter. “You’ve been tail-rider too long, Reggie,” Hollis retorted, “The fumes fried your brain!” The laughter ceased.

Reggie abandoned his game and lumbered around the table. A swag lamp illuminated the sway of his pendulous gut. Narrow hips demanded a belt to hold his pants up. More torture device than accessory, it crimped him like a garrotte.

He headed our way, disposition obscured by harsh light. Emerging from the haze, he exploded a laugh that outdid the Lynyrd Skynyrd song on the jukebox. “Haven’t you heard? There’s this technicality: statute of limitations. …Gotta stay on top of stuff like that. ‘Course, long as you’re here, no reason you can’t lay down a little money.”

“…We playing for the whole enchilada?” Hollis lubricated, “or keep it simple; twenty bucks and you break?” With a grandiose sweep, the big man raked every ball on the table to the far end. He pointed at the rack hanging from a peg on the wall. Hollis removed the wooden frame from its place and gathered the balls. Reggie tried to rattle him, repeatedly hammering the cue ball against the cushion where Hollis racked.

Reggie’s break was ear-splitting. Hollis acted indifferent, sizing up cue sticks. He stole a peek when two, solid balls dropped in opposing corner pockets. The rest of the rack seemed glued to the table. Reggie calculated his next shot. Hollis tended to chalking his cue.

The balls were in tight formation leaving Reggie few options. Scattering the balls would be to Hollis’ advantage. After consideration, he played safe, coming off the bank to dislodge the ball at the nose of the rack. The impact was so meager it barely moved the ball.

The dilemma passed to Hollis. He reached in his pocket for the blinders drolly referred to as ‘reality filters.’ Lining up a two ball combination, he sank the nine in the side pocket. The cue ball snapped back, liberating the eleven-ball. He pointed at the corner pocket and called a two corner bank. The cue caromed between adjacent cushions, striking the eleven-ball. The eleven hugged the rail and dropped into the corner pocket. Slamming the pack, the cue ball broke out his thirteen-ball. He circled the table, chalking his cue stick. Crouching low, he stroked his shot. Bottomright English imparted a rotation guiding the cue ball, once more, into the mass of balls. His ten and twelve-ball were ejected, and he disposed of them, one in each side pocket.

“…Enough of that shit!” Reggie grumbled.

Hollis had three balls to shoot, counting the eight. He could ‘see’ the fifteen, though it wasn’t well positioned. He had to concern himself with missing. His attempt fell short but left the cue-ball wedged between the six and eight-ball. “Cute!”

Reggie complained, “Playin’ jake on me.” He put away a cross-eyed bank, leaving the drop on the six. The ball found the pocket, and he paused to chalk his cue. The population of the bar was crammed in the doorway. Hollis entertained himself, twirling his stick like a majorette. Cheri had discovered a hero, “He’s rockin’! I mean, freak-me-out!”

The game was even-up. “A lot of green, Reggie!” His last ball, the four, hugged the rail on the extreme end of the table. Further complicated, it lay in the shadow of Hollis’ fourteen. Reggie had to kick off the bank at a shallow angle. A grimace crooked his face as he connected with the cue-ball; his execution tinged by the telltale stutter of a miscue. The four-ball went in. The cue ball ‘followed the car’ hanging at the pocket and dropping amid pathetic groans. I almost felt sorry for him.

His scratch left Hollis a clean shot on his fifteen. Applying side-spin, the cue ball arced behind the eight, setting up a shot on the fourteen. Sinking the fourteen, he turned his attention to the eight-ball. He had parked the cue in position for his favorite three-cushion finale. He snapped off the shot, exhaling audibly. Reggie looked on as if his ’68 Sportster XLCH had been side-swiped by a garbage truck. “You and my probation officer. Two-a-ya could fuck up a wet dream.”

“Desk jockey?” Hollis burbled, “Did I prescribe getting a job?”

Reggie’s authority sagged. “I’m short the twenty; you’ll hafta collect from my old lady.”

“Forget that; I’ll be tied up all night! She’s scheming right now to rip-off your stash of meth and hustle a ride to Vegas. Just buy me a shot!”

“Bitch’d be doin’ me a favor,” Reggie muttered, draping his arm over Hollis’ shoulder,

“Let’s have a drink.” The crowd stood back as the pair made their way. Reggie tossed a couple drink chips on the bar. “Pour two from the bottle that ain’t watered down.” The bartender placed shot glasses in front of them and yanked a bottle of Jim Beam from the top shelf. The bourbon had no time to breathe; they jerked the shots and drained them. The empty glasses touched down hard; I expected them to shatter.

Our next stop was last on the road. Anyone driving past The Arcade was liable to end up in the lake. Noting the marquee, a Cleveland powerhouse called The Down Boys was playing. It was two o’clock; the doorman guaranteed, “We got an extended license: booze ‘til four, party ‘til six.”

Balloons ranged the floor, skittering under people’s feet. The stage glowed in a wash of light framed by speaker boxes. The Down Boys were playing the trippy part of Zepellin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love.’ The audience heaved like an angry sea impounding the musicians.

Hollis insinuated himself among the crowd, pushing his way toward a huge bar with at least a dozen bartenders behind it. Patrons were lined up three deep, waiting for service. Garnering attention, he ordered two buckets and passed one back to me; in it, four 6½ ounce bottles of O.V. on ice.

We tethered to a ceiling post ringed with a shelf for drinks. On stage, the keyboard player milked the sedate piano lead-in to ‘Locomotive Breath’ by Jethro Tull. Hollis took Cheri by the arm and led her into the mob. Cindy, who had been at my side, faced me, twining her arms in mine. I pretended to be removed from the 300 people buffeting us.

Her hand cradled the back of my head, she drew me close and whispered words lost in the band’s sudden deluge. The guitar player had sustained an E minor, cranking the volume so the sound fedback and distorted. “I didn’t catch that,” I shouted over the onslaught. “I said!” she yelled, “I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be with tonight.” The sentiment survived her tone. “I take it tonight is working out according to plan?”

“Plans and Hollis don’t really go together, but I’m having fun, the two of us. You know,” she teased, “I actually missed you over Christmas.”

“No kidding.” I did the Joe Cool bit. “Didn’t you miss me,” she played along, “even a teeny, little bit?” My hands were at her waste; I kissed both halves of her lips. “I had this twinge on Friday,” I needled, “then remembered I’d be at Mom’s Saturday; she doesn’t mind doing laundry. I figured I was good for a week.”

“Is that how it is?” She pretended anger. “Our room has two beds, you know!”

Following a medley of Tull songs, the keyboardist dangled the opening bars to ‘Lazy’ by Deep Purple. My full bladder warranted listening from the men’s room. I could have made out the band at the urinal except for the loudmouth blocking the door to the adjacent stall. He had the occupant trapped in a relentless harangue.

“You-fucking-scumbag! …Balls a-you got showin’ up here! Vinnie’d fuckin’ kill ya. Yeah-you, psycho; he ain’t forgot. We were fucked by lawyers, first round, but the fight ain’t over. Not for a minute. You ain’t slidin’ again. Payback’s w-a-y overdue. For Mary Jean, what you done; you’re payin’ big!

“…And what’s with the beard?” the lambasting went on, “You can shave your ass and walk backwards- I’d know ya. Nuthin’d be sweeter, just grindin’ that puss into this wall. But Vinnie’s got dibs. Eye for an eye, mutherfucker; your number’s up!”

My debate over sticking around ended when a scuffle broke out. I heard a crash; the toilet paper dispenser skidded beyond the partition. “This is for shits and giggles, cocksucker!”

The thud of a well-landed punch preceded chatter of the toilet seat disturbed by a collapsing body. A guy in a varsity jacket backed from the stall and made his break, clipping me with an elbow as he hurried by. Off-balance, I managed a glimpse; his skin was ruddy and hair, military short. ‘The Black Knights, Rome Free Academy’ was emblazoned on his black and orange jacket.

I peeked around the partition. Hollis was at rest on the toilet and pitched against the wall. Hand under his jaw, he looked up at me as blood trickled down his cheek.

“Guy must have been wearing a ring,” he snickered.

“What was that all about?” An adrenalin rush took hold of me as he straightened himself up.

“Damned if I know; his mistake, I never saw the guy before.”

“Are you kidding? He wanted to kill you!” A fool mix-up was hard to swallow.

“The guy is drunk,” he insisted, “accused me of hitting on his buddy’s girlfriend.” He squinched blood between his thumb and fingertip, testing its tackiness. “Minor damage: a cut on the cheek; have a beer and forget it.”

“Hollis, that asshole isn’t done with you. He’ll wait-you-out in the parking lot. At least tell the guy at the door what he looks like. I can’t believe you’re going to blow it off.”

Hollis wandered over to the sink, moistened a paper towel under the faucet and dabbed at his cheek. “It’s superficial,” he asserted checking the mirror, “Nothing to it, won’t even scar.”

He went after Cheri while I scanned for the guy in the varsity jacket. Winter tans and short-hair were scarce; if the creep hung around, he wasn’t calling attention. The band played ‘Rock Steady’ by Bad Company.

“What happened to Danny’s face?” Cheri must have been dissatisfied with his explanation; she was gaping at me.

“I told you,” he emphasized, “Some drunk sucker-punched me.”

“Well, it doesn’t make sense,” she contended, “You go to the bathroom, and somebody you don’t even know, slugs you in the kisser.”

It didn’t make sense to me either, and I was a witness. His explanation was plausible, but inconsistencies dangled like blond hairs on a dark-haired gentleman’s jacket.

I wasn’t in the habit of questioning his word, but there were aspects of the incident that begged answers. What was that about lawyers? Like the pins mapping his past, evidence was insufficient.

Cindy pulled me aside. “What did happen in there?”

“There was a wall between us; I didn’t even realize Hollis was involved until it was over. I heard yelling; this guy threw a punch and left. It’s really about Vinnie and Mary Jean; they’re at the bottom of everything.”

“Who are they?” she puzzled.

“Vinnie has a vendetta against some Hollis lookalike over something that happened to Mary Jean.” It sounded ridiculous.

Cheri had her handbag open. Between kisses, she dabbed at his wound. The hook to Alice Cooper’s ‘Schools Out’ triggered a surge toward the stage. “Maybe it’s a love triangle,” Cindy proposed, “He doesn’t have much respect for boundaries.”

“The only two who know for sure,” I posed, “One didn’t stick around, and Hollis isn’t saying anything.”

Cheri’s need to administer healing was satisfied. The packet of tissues, key to her doctoring, had been put away. She waved to us giddily, body angled backward; thighs pressed against Hollis. He supported her with hands applied to dimpled buttocks, two appurtenances underscored by jeans that conformed like paint. Her tube top stretched across her chest, modeling her petit breasts. “Are we gonna dance or what?” she hooted.

The band moved on to Alice Cooper’s ‘Under My Wheels.’ She and Hollis bolted into the pandemonium. Cindy held out her hand, and I opened a path. The volume intensified nearing the stage; the bass drum pounded my chest. Cheri signaled us, and we zigzagged over to dance to ‘Billion Dollar Babies.’ They may have danced; I simmered under lights, pinned by sweaty bodies.

The Alice Cooper set screeched to a halt, the singer swabbed his face with a towel and scooped up a beer from the drum stage; “I don’t know about you,” he postured, “but I need this!” As he tilted back the bottle, the audience howled and saluted with raised drinks.

“Management has advised us…and this could be vital to you die-hards out there; last call for alcohol!” Hollis was a step-ahead. “So get your butts to the bar and load up, ‘cause ya know what? This party’s crankin’ ‘til dawn! How many Bowie fans we got in the house? This one’s for you… from Diamond Dogs- ‘Rebel Rebel!’”

Cindy and Cheri ‘chick-danced’ while I cooled off on the sidelines. ‘Rebel, Rebel’ had unleashed an appetite for Bowie; “Ziggy, Ziggy,” the crowd chanted. ‘Jean Genie’ should have satisfied them, but they wanted more. The band had no more, so they went on break. The lights dimmed and merriment withered. I hooked up with the girls. They had claimed a patch of stage. Cheri wriggled her top back in place, thrumming, “‘the jean genie let yourself go!’”

(c) C. M. Barons, 2008

About the author

C. M. Barons was born in Rochester, New York. He studied journalism at SUNY New Paltz, graduating in 1976 with a BA in Communication Arts. He has worked, among other things, as a photographic editor, a proofreader and a sports editor. In the Midst Of is his first novel.

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  1. […] An extract from his first novel, In the Midst Of (New Age World Publishing, 2008) is available on New Writing International. […]

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