The cops came by this morning.
Somehow I wasn’t expecting them so I was expecting them. I guess I knew the day was going to be pretty crummy anyway because Susie wasn’t there. It must be Saturday because of all these Saturday morning cartoon noises. You know, the coyote going off the cliff, the long whistle of the fall, the faint ka-boom.
The gasper and his gaspettes were out there. I could hear him wheezing and laughing and then they’d laugh. Coyote gets pimped again. Ha ha ha gasp.
It was the first time Susie wasn’t there with my grapefruits and toast. Instead this fat sullen pimply girl came in with scrambled eggs the color of pale pee and a couple of sausages as black and hard as hockey pucks but less tasty. Dry toast. Tomato fucking juice.
And cops for dessert.
I was just trying to get back to Bilbo’s birthday party to clear my mind from the cartoon explosions and the bad tomato-caffeine afterbreath when here they came. No county mounties them. Your official Michigan Highway Patrol state policeman’s trooper caps. A matched pair. Bad and Badder Yet.
Bad’s badge nameplate said “BERNARD”.
“Are you Stephen Earheart?”
“Mike,” I said.
Badder’s badge said “WOLFF.” He said “What?” He didn’t sound like as friendly as Bad.
“Mike,” I said. “I go by Mike.”
Bad said, “Stephen. Mike. Do you know how you got here.”
Telling the truth was easy. “No, sir, sir, I sure don’t.”
“You don’t remember coming here.”
“No, sir, sir, the last thing I remember…” and I started to laugh because I was quoting fucking “Dead Man’s Curve” and without conscious volition my left hand, the one with the IV needle in it, started making a D chord and so I laughed and winced in the same breath.
This did not please Badder. He leaned across the rails of the bed. I could smell the stink of his Aqua-Velva and even worse coffee than they were giving me here. He looked vaguely like someone I’d known. This was not reassuring.
“Where is Ronald Rednarski?”
He didn’t actually say it. It was more like a hiss and a growl combined. A griss.
“Sir,” I sad, kinda scared now. “Sir, I do not know any Ronald Rednarski.”
Badder didn’t have to say he thought I was lying. I didn’t think I was lying but he seemed to think I was and I began to think he was right.
Bad said, “What is your occupation, Stephen.”
“Mike,” I said.
“Mike,” he said.
“I’m a professional musician and a college student, sir.”
Badder leaned closer. Boy, if I ever get breath that bad, cut out my tongue.
Uh-oh. “Marquette down in Milwaukee.”
Bad took over. “Do you have a Marquette ID?”
“You guys or the hospital or somebody does. Sure. Photo looks just like me. Student number sixty-nine forty-three.”
“Were you enrolled this past term?”
Uh-oh squared and cubed.
“No, sir. I was taking a one-semester leave of absence. My GPA is 3.0. I was in the Honors Program. But they raised tuition and I needed to make some money so I went on the road with these guys who were high…”
“One of those guys was Ronald Rednarski?” said Badder, not so much asking me as telling me.
“No, sir,” I said, honest as I could be. “They were guys from my home town…”
“Which is?” said Bad.
“Peoria, Illinois, sir. I met them…”
“Them?” said Badder. This was more like a snarl and a sneer, a wedding of contemptuous cousins.
“Charles Croger and Barry Bardwell, sir. We went to high school at Lancaster Institute. It’s a Catholic boys’ high school…”
“Catholic boys,” said Badder, like he’d found a dead rat in my words.
“Yes, sir,” I said. Not for effect, but for effect, I took the Mary medal I’d worn since my first girl friend had given it to me. It was blue and silver and beautiful. She was blonde and beautiful and gone.
Badder looked at it like it was the dead rat’s intestines.
Bad picked up the inquiry. I was starting to like him by default.
“These were your friends?”
“Yes, sir. Former classmates. Bandmates now.” Or were we? Where were Crow and Bird?
“And your band was…?”
I knew this one. “The Wreklny, sir”
“The Wrelkny” said Badder. He sounded like a rabbi hissing Hitler’s name.
“What does that mean, ‘The Wrelkny’”?
Uh-oh to the sixty-fourth power. I lied. Badly.
“I don’t know, sir.”
Bad saved my life for at least maybe a minute.
“So it was just a nonsense name?”
I wanted to hug him, the poor dope cop. “Yes, sir. Kind of existential.”
Bad and Badder both frowned. Bad word there, existential. Stupid Stevie. Dumb Mike.
Bad saved me again by lobbing me a softball.
“What instrument did you play in the band, Michael?”
Michael? Did play? Do play.
“I play Rickenbacker 360-12 electric twelve-string guitar, Fender Telecaster six-string electric guitar, and harmonicae. Harmonicas. Mouth organs.”
The last two words were two too many.
Badder’s face was closer to mine than anyone who hadn’t kissed me. He didn’t seem inclined, which was fine by me.
“And what did Ronald Rednarski play in the Wrelkny?”
“Sir, I do not know any Ronald Rednarski. Bird—Barry Bardwell—he played Fender bass. Crow played electric piano and Farfisa organ. I played the guitar. We all sang”
Badder’s teeth gleamed like executioner’s knives.
“And who played the drums?”
Uh-oh and Hail Mary full of grace.
By this time I am noticing that whatever was in the IV drip that made me feel peaceful and contented and healing had definitely left the UP for the winter. The bad sausage was fighting with the tomato juice and the peewater eggs were cheering the coffee to join in.
“The Drummer,” Bad and Badder said at once in harmony, yet. The Everly Cops.
‘Yes, sirs,” I said. “He played the drums.” Even to me that sounded both stupid and smartass at the same time. I had the pleasantly queasy feeling that I used to get in Fr. Paradise’s physics class about five seconds before he gave me a detention slip. Going to jug I am. Again.
“The Drummer played the drums,” said Badder. “WOLFF” said his badge. I felt like Little Red Riding Hood. St. Sam the Sham, be with me now.
“Yes, sir, he did.”
“And his name was…?” How white your teeth are, Grandtrooper.
“Drummer,” I said. “That’s all we ever called him. That’s all I ever knew him as. He was in the band when I joined. He was just the Drummer. He was a real good drummer.”
Six more words too many.
Bad sighed. He sounded like my mother when I told her I was going to take time off from Marquette for a semester or two. Sad. Resigned. Patiently displeased.
“Mike, please, sir.”
“Michael, okay. Can you tell me anything about the whereabouts of your other two friends in the band.”
“No, sir.” The truth is so easy. “But if you find them tell them I’m here at…”
Uh-oh in the beginning was the Word. Where was I?
“St. Clare Hospital,” said Bad. I was ready to rename him Almost Good. Or at least Not So Bad.
“So I’m still in Ishpeming.”
Now I’m flummoxed, honestly.
“Marquette’s down in Milwaukee.”
“No, this Marquette is up here. It’s where the Air Force base is. We know that your band and some of those guys were friends.”
Uh-oh and shut the fuck up, Stephen Michael Francis Earheart the First.
“Oh. Right,” I said. “Sure. I guess whatever happened to me kinda scrambled my mind.”
Badder sneered and snorted. A snert.
“You’re scrambled all right, kid.”
Saved by Miss Pimple of 1967.
“Time for your bowel movement,” she said cheerfully.
“What a good idea,” I said.
Bad and Badder stood up. They were both nine feet twelve.
“We’ll be back,” they said in unison.
No harmony this time.