The Silver Year: Chapter 14

Chapter 14

The Blessed Bitch

 

 

“Stand up . . . stand up​​ . . . stand up mate! You’re sitting​​ in a fucking​​ pile o’​​ puke and​​ piss!” Two tattooed arms forklifted Walter to his feet.​​ He​​ then​​ staggered to​​ a​​ nearby canal​​ where he​​ again collapsed to the ground.​​ Crawling​​ on his belly to the​​ canal’s edge,​​ he​​ then​​ evacuated his​​ demons​​ into the water—about​​ four​​ still-semi-solid​​ pot​​ brownies. ​​ ​​ 

“God​​ damn it. Now you’re really fucked,” the Aussie stranger​​ said​​ as he went over to Walter. “The locals​​ don’t take lightly to tourists chundering​​ in their​​ canals. That’s what these dunnies​​ and rubbish bins are here for.​​ Come on, we’ve got to get out of here before the police find you.”​​ 

He helped​​ Walter​​ to his feet​​ again​​ by​​ putting​​ an arm under him for support.​​ “Holy shit​​ you reek,”​​ the stranger​​ said. “Can​​ you​​ make it​​ a​​ few blocks? I’ve got a flat up the road;​​ let you​​ clean up and​​ get your head on​​ straight​​ if you’d like.”

As​​ Walter’s​​ vision stilled, his rescuer​​ came into​​ focus.​​ He was a mustached man​​ around​​ the same age as Walter.​​ His mouth rested in​​ a​​ permanent​​ smile​​ with​​ a severe gap​​ in the middle,​​ which was periodically interrupted by the cigarette he was smoking.​​ His medium build was dressed in black from his ragged Cleveland Indians cap to his dirty and frayed Vans shoes. His unkempt hair stretched out wildly under his hat​​ and his jeans only reached his ankles. His pulled-back flannel sleeves revealed extensive​​ tattoo​​ collages​​ up and down his arms​​ of horror​​ movie​​ characters,​​ obscure metal bands, and​​ bizarrely, more​​ Ohio​​ sports teams.

“Do I know you?”​​ Walter asked.​​ For some reason this stranger seemed familiar.

No, but now you do.​​ I’m Dug,​​ Dug DeMargo. And that’s spelt​​ D-U-G. You can thank my illiterate mum for that.​​ And you are?”

“Walter, Walter Huxley.”

Walter?​​ What,​​ are you a grandfather? I’m gonna call you Walty.”

“Okay…” Walter said still confused. “Why are you…”

“Saving​​ you? Don’t know exactly myself. I’m​​ pretty​​ drunk​​ and I almost pissed on ya until you started talking to yourself,​​ but it seems the right thing to do.​​ Also,​​ I don’t think you’re in any shape to be on your own​​ with all that​​ got​​ puke and piss​​ you’ve got on​​ ya.”

Walter looked down and realized​​ he​​ was​​ covered.

“But your choice,” Dug​​ continued.​​ “Just thought I’d offer. I’m just as fine leaving​​ you here and letting​​ you be someone else’s problem—most likely the police.”

Walter thought about it. All points of logic advised against going to some stranger’s home in an unknown foreign land, but with​​ a broken​​ cellphone,​​ no clue where he was​​ or the hostel​​ he was staying in,​​ he​​ was​​ in​​ desperate​​ need for​​ a savior—and a shower.​​ 

“I guess you’re right,” Walter​​ said. “Uh, thank you.​​ Thanks a lot.”

“Don’t mention it,” Dug said.​​ “It’s been a​​ shit​​ night​​ anyway, so​​ I’m willing​​ to throw the dice​​ on​​ something​​ different. C’mon, this way,”​​ he​​ said​​ then​​ skipped away.​​ 

“So,​​ you like the Indians?” Walter asked​​ as he followed Dug,​​ seeking to​​ know​​ more about his​​ savior. “You don’t sound like you’re from Ohio.”

“That obvious, huh?” Dug​​ replied.​​ “Nope, from a little place in Queensland, Australia​​ called Edmonton—nothing​​ like its Canadian counterpart. I had a roomie back in uni from Cleveland​​ who​​ turned me​​ onto​​ American sports and naturally all of Cleveland’s teams became my favorite.”​​ Dug​​ tore​​ out his​​ right​​ arm from his flannel and pulled up​​ his shirt​​ sleeve​​ to reveal a huge Cleveland Browns​​ helmet​​ tattooed on his upper arm and​​ a​​ Cavs logo on the inside of it.

So​​ lemme guess,” Dug said,​​ you’re from​​ Cali-for-nee-ya?”

“Is it that obvious?”​​ Walter​​ replied.

Yes, all you​​ Cali-for-nee-yans​​ look and sound like people in the​​ movies.”

Dug​​ then​​ paused​​ in front of an​​ entrance to an​​ upscale Victorian apartment complex.​​ 

“Is this your place?” Walter asked.​​ 

“Yep. Not a bad little shag pad,​​ huh?”​​ Dug​​ waved an electronic fob over a sensor​​ next to​​ the​​ entrance.​​ They then​​ entered a foyer with​​ a​​ set of​​ elevators​​ and​​ took​​ one​​ to the top​​ floor, then​​ went​​ to a door at the​​ end​​ of a​​ very​​ long​​ hallway, where Dug waved his​​ fob over a​​ sensor again to​​ unlock​​ it.​​ 

Once inside​​ his apartment, the polarity​​ of Dug continued to perplex Walter. In contrast to his​​ black attire and​​ disheveled appearance, the immense apartment was​​ colorfully​​ and​​ immaculately​​ styled​​ in loud tones of red, orange,​​ and dark​​ blue.​​ The matching furniture was modern and from a windowed​​ balcony​​ door, the Herengracht Canal was visible.

“Shoes off,” Dug said. “And don’t even think about sitting​​ on anything​​ with those​​ stinking​​ fucking​​ clothes​​ . . .​​ Here,​​ you can put​​ ‘em​​ in this.” He handed Walter a trash bag from the kitchen. “Shower’s down the hallway,​​ and I’ll get​​ you some new clothes​​ and put ‘em in the guestroom for ya.​​ We look about the same size…”​​ he said looking Walter over.​​ “Shit, now that we’re in the light, you​​ actually​​ look like you could be my brother​​ or something.​​ Except for that dumb hat. And​​ what’s up​​ with​​ the​​ ridiculous​​ flares mate?​​ Did you go to​​ a throwback party​​ tonight​​ or something?”

Walter laughed.​​ “I always wear​​ bellbottoms—or​​ ‘flares’​​ as you call them,”​​ he​​ said.​​ “They’re​​ just a part of who I am.”​​ 

“Ha, right.​​ That’s because they’re so​​ goddamn tight​​ you​​ probably​​ can’t get them off.”

 

The​​ shower was a​​ renewing​​ lift​​ and​​ just enough of home to help​​ Walter​​ find the rest​​ of​​ his mind.

After,​​ he was taken to​​ the guest​​ room,​​ or​​ what​​ Dug​​ called​​ his​​ “Box​​ Room”.​​ Dug​​ ran a​​ small​​ record label​​ out of his home​​ and​​ boxes​​ of records, shirts, and other paraphernalia​​ were stacked along every wall of the room.​​ Other than a queen-sized bed and a small nightstand,​​ the boxes were the room’s only inhabitants.​​ Also, even though Dug was in the music industry, he seemed unaware of Walter’s past​​ in it, and for now, Walter was keen to keep it that way.​​ 

“It’s nothing​​ big,”​​ Dug​​ said​​ of his operation.​​ “Just​​ a grassroots type of thing. We mostly do reissues, and the original acts we have are​​ real off-the-wall, extreme​​ metal​​ bands,​​ freeform​​ jazz,​​ hard house—stuff no one listens to.”​​ 

“Seems more than​​ just​​ a grassroots type of thing…” Walter said gesturing to the elaborate abode​​ around them.

Well...” Dug said​​ aloofly, “let’s just​​ say I​​ come from some money, and​​ that’s what pays for the digs.​​ This” he gestured to the boxes, “this is just my rich kid pet project​​ . . .​​ Anyhow, here’s some pants, socks,​​ and​​ some unworn​​ undies I had,” he said throwing them on the bed. “Feel free to take whatever​​ shirt​​ you​​ want​​ out of these​​ four​​ boxes here, but only these​​ ones.”​​ He pointed​​ emphatically​​ to​​ four boxes​​ of band shirts​​ on​​ the right-side​​ wall.​​ Other than that,​​ let me know if you need anything else.

After​​ Dug left, Walter​​ was disappointed to find​​ the​​ pants​​ Dug​​ gave​​ him​​ were highwaters​​ like​​ his, and​​ instead of hiding​​ Walter’s​​ cankles,​​ they showcased them. But​​ his bellbottoms were​​ irredeemably soiled.

For his shirt,​​ Walter​​ found​​ one​​ in the box of mediums​​ with a​​ four-armed, feral-looking woman​​ on it with blue skin and bright, red hair​​ centered between​​ two monarch​​ butterfly wings. Made out of what looked to be​​ splashed paint and organic-looking​​ matter​​ swirled together, the image had a textured depth, and the woman’s​​ glowing green​​ eyes​​ seemed​​ to follow​​ his​​ as​​ he moved them​​ over the shirt.

Circling the image in a lowercase Sanskrit-like print was written:

​​ 

to say life has no meaning is not to say it has no value

​​ – luna hunny

 

Why did that sound like an answer to a question he didn’t know he was asking? He then remembered​​ why. Amber’s suicide note.​​ Faintly,​​ music​​ then began playing​​ inside​​ his head and a​​ voice​​ he imagined was​​ the woman’s began to sing the​​ lyrics.

Walter​​ put​​ down​​ the shirt.​​ 

He​​ took a few deep breaths​​ and lightly slapped his face.​​ Perhaps​​ his head​​ wasn’t completely cleansed of bad chemicals yet.

 

Dug​​ was​​ behind an island counter​​ in the kitchen​​ pouring​​ himself a beer from a tap​​ built​​ into​​ it​​ when Walter entered.​​ 

“Who is luna hunny?” he asked

Dug’s​​ eyes shot up quickly, and for a moment Walter thought he saw a flicker of panic in them.​​ 

“Uh, sorry, what’d​​ you say?”​​ Dug asked.

“luna​​ hunny.”

Dug​​ squinted at the shirt. “Bloody hell​​ if​​ I can remember,” he said.​​ I’ve had​​ so many bands​​ over the years, I​​ can’t remember​​ em all. I’m mostly​​ just​​ a​​ European​​ distributor for​​ vinyl reissues and​​ bands​​ outside​​ of​​ Europe.​​ I hardly​​ ever meet bands​​ face-to-face, and they’re always coming​​ and going.​​ It’s a cool shirt though . . . Care for a pint?”​​ 

“I’m good​​ for now,”​​ Walter​​ said.​​ “Just enjoying being sober again for the moment.”

“Figured, but thought I’d ask.”

Dug then​​ viciously​​ clamped​​ onto​​ his beer and guzzled it like a crocodile swallowing​​ a small fowl.​​ It was followed by​​ two​​ less rapid​​ shots​​ of​​ Jägermeister,​​ Dug​​ seeming​​ to enjoy​​ them more.

Hm-hm-hm…”​​ he​​ said. “Don’t care what people say about it, but Jäger is the shiz tits.​​ Stuff tastes like Dr. Pepper​​ and always makes me feel better.​​ Although,​​ it’s usually​​ also​​ what made me feel​​ bad​​ in the first place, but you know, the hair of the dog that bit you or some shit.​​ But​​ in that case…”​​ he made a​​ large, Jack-Nicholson-like grin, however, his​​ gap​​ made it look much more comical,​​ “…there’s something​​ else I need to make amends​​ with.​​ He​​ then​​ ducked beneath the counter​​ and reappeared​​ with a​​ large​​ bag of​​ what looked to be​​ cocaine.

“Want some?”​​ Dug​​ offered​​ to​​ Walter.

“Never really been my thing,”​​ he​​ said, “but don’t let that stop you.”

Dug​​ poured a pile onto​​ the countertop,​​ chopped​​ it​​ into​​ a​​ fat line, then​​ dove​​ in​​ like a seabird. After, he​​ arose more relaxed than​​ he’d been the entire night.

“I have a feeling​​ you’ll want my next treat​​ though,”​​ Dug​​ said​​ and​​ dipped​​ again beneath​​ the​​ counter, coming up this time with​​ a large​​ bag of weed and a​​ glass bong blown into the shape of a​​ nude and​​ upside​​ down Marilyn Monroe. Her legs were wrapped around​​ the​​ mouthpiece protruding​​ from her crotch, and inserted into her mouth was​​ the​​ bowl. While the American icon looked absurdly degraded, it was hard to deny the awesome artistry of the piece.

“Wanna take a hit outta Marilyn’s pink bits?” Dug​​ asked.​​ “I got the​​ finest​​ Pineapple Express​​ you’ll ever find. If you need up, it brings you up; if you need down, it brings you down. It’s never treated​​ me wrong; hangovers, spins, binges, depression, anxiety—it cures it all.​​ I​​ swear it’s fucking​​ magic.​​ I got​​ it​​ from this​​ Sinatra-looking​​ motherfucker up the road​​ who​​ grows it himself and only shares it with​​ friends—never sells it. However,​​ I​​ managed to get a​​ couple of​​ ounces​​ for​​ some rare records.​​ Here,​​ come​​ take a whiff.”​​ 

Well...” Walter said after he did. “I guess​​ if​​ I need to pick a poison,​​ that’s the​​ one.​​ And after all, I am in Amsterdam.

“That’s the spirit!” Dug said. “Let’s​​ go to​​ the​​ balcony​​ though​​ to smoke.​​ The view’s​​ much better.”

 

Outside, they both sat in silence, saturating the​​ sounds around them​​ while passing​​ Marilyn back and forth. The top-story​​ balcony​​ overlooked a bend in the canal, allowing their eyes and ears to venture​​ far into the city. Bicycle bells chimed,​​ water​​ lapped,​​ a classical guitar played​​ distantly,​​ a group of girls​​ giggled from below; the city was alive and​​ murmuring with a​​ cadenced​​ clarity.​​ A​​ freeform jam of life, Walter​​ thought.

​​ “Ya know…” Dug turned to Walter with his index finger pointed to the air​​ as if readying a conductor’s baton. “There’s music​​ in​​ the sound of life,​​ you just have​​ to shut up once in a while to hear it.”

“Did you just read my mind?”​​ Walter​​ asked.​​ “I​​ was​​ just thinking sort of the same thing.”​​ ​​ 

“Na mate, it’s this weed. It creates connections between people;​​ puts​​ ‘em on​​ the same​​ plane​​ of perspective​​ if you know what I mean.

Walter couldn’t pinpoint it, but he did feel an odd sense of chirality to Dug. ​​ 

​​ “Yeah, maybe​​ so,” Walter said putting his lips to Marilyn’s pink bits. “Either way,​​ this is​​ some​​ great​​ fucking​​ weed.”​​ He then lit, ripped,​​ and exhaled, then passed Marilyn to Dug.​​ 

“Walty,” he said taking it.​​ “I don’t do anything​​ but​​ fucking​​ great—or I​​ at​​ least​​ always​​ try​​ to. God knows I’m far from​​ always​​ perfect.”​​ 

“Well,” Walter said as Dug took a hit, “at least you’ve never managed to end up in the bottom of​​ a​​ urinal​​ talking to yourself covered in puke​​ and piss.”

Dug​​ coughed the hit out and began laughing.​​ “Yes,” he said hoarsely, “I’ve​​ never managed that​​ in a literal sense,​​ but​​ sure have​​ plenty of times​​ metaphorically.​​ I guess that’s why I​​ felt the need to help you​​ when I found you.”

Dug​​ then​​ momentarily lost his loose posturing and fell into straight sternality​​ as he​​ took a swig of beer​​ and​​ lit a cigarette.

My life’s full of fuckups,” he said exhaling his first puff, “great,​​ giant, donkey-dick​​ fuckups.​​ But that’s the risk you take living in the moment; you run the risk of all the risks you take. But had I always kept​​ it​​ straight, I never would’ve learned​​ the lessons I needed from my mistakes. And​​ that’s how I’m able to​​ forgive myself for​​ them.​​ Otherwise,​​ mistakes​​ only continue to​​ lead your life​​ astray from the moment, and the moment is where real life lies. Not the past, not the future,​​ now.​​ But so many people can’t live in​​ now,​​ and it usually has one or a mixture of three​​ versions: people who don’t​​ want to face their​​ mistakes, so they​​ lead their lives in the future—real anxious types;​​ ones who​​ can’t​​ forgive​​ their​​ mistakes,​​ so they dwell in​​ the​​ past—real depressed types, and ones who​​ try to​​ mask​​ their​​ mistakes with​​ someone​​ or something​​ else—real pathetic types.​​ But it’s​​ only natural. Living​​ for yourself and with yourself​​ goes against the very success of our evolution. We are afraid to be alone​​ with our​​ true​​ selves,​​ mistakes​​ and all.​​ However, if​​ you​​ can​​ find​​ comfort​​ in​​ that fear,​​ the world​​ gradually​​ becomes a much easier​​ place​​ to​​ navigate.”

Dug​​ then​​ relaxed back into​​ his​​ careless​​ manner.​​ “But what​​ the fuck​​ do I know?” he said snubbing out his cigarette in an ashtray.​​ “I’ve​​ been covered​​ deep​​ in my own shit​​ more times than I can count, but​​ if it weren’t for​​ shit, I never would’ve ended up in​​ wonderful Amsterdam. So,​​ shit’s not all bad.”​​ 

“What kind of shit?”​​ Walter asked.

“Shit I don’t want to​​ really​​ get into right now. But​​ originally, I​​ came​​ to​​ Europe to study mathematics at Cambridge, my first blessed mistake.”

You​​ studied​​ mathematics​​ at Cambridge?”​​ Walter​​ asked.​​ ​​ 

“Yeah, but in​​ my​​ sophomore​​ year I realized​​ Cambridge​​ just wasn’t my​​ shit, so I decided to move to Paris​​ since it always seems to be the​​ place​​ where​​ people​​ go to​​ figure​​ their​​ shit​​ out.​​ I​​ then​​ got tangled up in the late-night jazz scene, and about​​ three​​ months​​ later​​ I​​ was putting​​ together​​ my first​​ operation, reissuing​​ old, out-of-print,​​ jazz records. I then took on some local acts, and before you know it,​​ I was off and running.

“Soon after​​ that,​​ though,” Dug continued,​​ “I​​ met​​ my second blessed mistake,​​ a​​ beautiful​​ Parisian​​ cabaret dancer​​ who shall remain unnamed. That’s how much of a mistake she was and how much respect she deserves. But​​ still,​​ when I say​​ she​​ was​​ beautiful,​​ I mean​​ she was​​ flawless. And she had​​ the best ass I still have ever seen​​ to this day.​​ Anyway,​​ although she was a dancer, her​​ true​​ passion was painting—real abstract shit. She’d​​ mix​​ her​​ vomit into the paint, along with some other things at times:​​ semen, blood, piss.​​ When it came to her​​ art,​​ the​​ weirder the better,​​ which​​ was also her philosophy in bed​​ too.​​ She​​ was​​ into shit​​ no other girl I’ve met was into.​​ And I’ll admit,​​ I’m into some weird shit.”

“Like what?”​​ Walter asked.

Dug lit off a firecracker-like​​ laugh. “I ain’t telling you. That​​ shit stays​​ between her and​​ me​​ . . .​​ Anyway,” he continued,​​ “she was the freak​​ of​​ freaks, and​​ daddy liked—actually, I loved.​​ I loved​​ her​​ so much I let her convince me to move my label to Amsterdam​​ after​​ only a little more than​​ six months​​ together. She had lived in Paris her whole life​​ and​​ said she needed a ‘change of scenery’ for​​ new​​ inspiration,​​ and​​ of course​​ I was happy to appease. However,​​ three​​ months​​ after I moved here, she​​ told me one day she’d fallen in love with someone else and​​ that was it.​​ I never found out who or​​ how,​​ but after a while I didn’t care. I realized it was my​​ prick​​ that was in love, not me. However,​​ I​​ did​​ end​​ up falling in love with​​ Amsterdam,​​ so I stayed.​​ That was two years ago now.​​ Not​​ even​​ sure if that blessed bitch even still lives in the city.

Dug​​ lit​​ another​​ cigarette, took a long, slow draw, then​​ blew a​​ giant​​ smoke​​ ring.​​ “But I’ve​​ been passing​​ out enough pieces of me,”​​ he said.​​ “What’s your story​​ Walty?​​ What​​ was​​ your​​ journey to the bottom of an Amsterdam dunny?”

“I’m still trying to piece that together​​ myself,” Walter said. “But before that I was on a Contiki tour. Have you heard of Contiki?”

Dug began laughing. “Explains a lot,” he said. “Of course I have. Contiki’s a Kiwi company and us Aussies love those things. But also, can’t tell you how many one-night stands I’ve returned to Hotel Nieuw Slotania.”

“Is that the Contiki hostel?” Walter asked.​​ “I kind of forgot where I’m staying.”

Dug laughed again.​​ “Jesus,” he said, “and to think if I never found you?​​ Yes, and it’s not​​ that​​ far.​​ You​​ begin walking now and you’ll be there in twenty minutes. Hopefully you stick around​​ a little​​ longer​​ though.​​ I’m really enjoying​​ our time together. Haven’t laughed this much in a while.”

“Me too,” Walter said.​​ “It’s weird, but I feel like​​ I know you​​ from a past​​ life or something, and you’re not the first person on my trip I’ve felt that way about.​​ I was​​ a physics major at UCLA.​​ Maybe​​ I read a paper by you?​​ I was reading a lot​​ of student​​ theses​​ back then.”

“I told you,” Dug said, “it’s the weed.​​ I​​ assure you,​​ you’ve​​ read nothing by me. But physics mate?​​ That’s what my uni roomie from Cleveland was studying—actually still is. Sometimes he still sends me stuff to get my take on it, but mathematics is much more​​ a​​ leisure activity for me nowadays.”

“Physics is for me too. However,​​ mind if I throw some stuff at you?”

“Of course not,” Dug said crossing his legs and taking a long draw​​ of his cigarette. “I hardly ever get to​​ talk shop​​ with anyone​​ anymore.”

And for the next​​ half​​ hour they​​ did.

“Not that I’m any authority,” Dug said,​​ “but I think you​​ might’ve​​ undersold yourself on​​ theoretical physics.”

“Thanks,” Walter said. “I do miss it a lot​​ sometimes.”

“Hey,” Dug​​ thumped​​ him on the chest. “It’s​​ always still​​ in​​ there.​​ You can go back any time. You don’t need school.​​ Shit, they’ve​​ got MIT​​ courses online for free now. If someone wants to become a theoretical physicist​​ without school, it’s never been​​ a better time.”

Dug​​ looked​​ at his​​ wristwatch. “Well,​​ surprisingly​​ it’s​​ only a little after​​ midnight,” he said. “If you’re up for it, we​​ can blab​​ more​​ someplace​​ else—preferably an establishment with alcoholic drinks and​​ some​​ women.​​ Plus, it​​ is​​ your only night in Amsterdam.​​ But don’t worry. I won’t let​​ you end up back in​​ a​​ dunny.

“I am feeling​​ much​​ better now,” Walter said. “And you’re right. I do​​ only​​ have​​ tonight in Amsterdam​​ . . .​​ All right.”​​ 

“All right,​​ all right,​​ all right!” Dug said standing excitedly. “We’ll keep away from the Red Light District for now. We’ll​​ go to a locals’ sector​​ where there’s a great lounge I like. But first, shall we partake​​ of another bong rip before we get on the​​ tando?”​​ 

“The​​ tando?” Walter asked.​​ 

“My​​ tandem bicycle. It’s​​ a beach cruiser from your part of the world.”​​ 

Walter let out a belly laugh. Nothing​​ sounded better to​​ his​​ stoned mind.

 

After pulling it out of his garage, Dug threw his leg over the beastly tandem. It was the gaudiest thing Walter had ever seen, and​​ was more motorcycle than bicycle, painted candy gloss white with red pinstripes running down each​​ of its​​ oversized​​ fenders.​​ Attached to the front handlebars was a chrome headlamp, large enough for a motorcycle, and a​​ large​​ basket with a built-in stereo.​​ Dug flicked a switch in the center of the handlebars and the bike became accented with more red and amber lights than a semi-truck.

“Safety first,” he​​ said. “You ever ridden a tandem?”

“No, can’t say I have,” Walter​​ said.

“Well, you’re in for an adventure.​​ But first, some rules.​​ Rule one,​​ leave the​​ piloting to me​​ up front. As you can see, you​​ also have​​ handlebars, but they are connected​​ to my​​ seat,​​ so if you try to steer them,​​ the only thing you’ll​​ be​​ steering​​ is my arse, and you’ll knock me off balance if you do. Rule two,​​ synchronicity. Peddle with me and not against me.​​ And​​ lastly, don’t ring your fucking​​ bell unless I say so.​​ Now get on.”​​ 

Walter threw his leg over​​ the beast​​ and sat on the over-cushioned seat.

“All right,​​ position yourself,” Dug​​ told him. “On the count of three, we’ll take off​​ . . .​​ One, two, three!”

The bike had a wobbly launch, nearly tipping over, and by instinct,​​ Walter​​ tried to correct by steering.

“Whoa!” Dug shouted​​ back. “What’d I say about steering?​​ I swear, it never fails.”

 

The streets of Amsterdam welcomed​​ them back​​ warmly.​​ A slight breeze carried the sounds of a city still very much awake at twelve-thirty in the morning as the enormous bicycle floated down the paths like an old, cushy Cadillac.​​ 

Walter took off his hat—his​​ only article of clothing to survive the urinal—to let the cool wind tickle every follicle of​​ his​​ scalp as his cheeks​​ stretched into a broad​​ smile. The sky had cleared, leaving a dark backdrop for the evening’s show of stars, while Dug blasted​​ Queen’s​​ “Bicycle Race” on repeat and barked incoherently at the​​ rising​​ full​​ moon. People’s reactions to the bike were mixed. Either​​ they​​ shook their heads at its​​ ridiculousness, or chimed their bells with approval as they passed by. In the latter case, Dug would​​ then​​ shout, “Ring the​​ bell!” and took a swig of Jäger from his bottle riding shotgun in the basket.

After crossing​​ three major canals, they​​ went through a network of back alley residential streets that ended at a line of local dives and restaurants along an intersection of two smaller canals. As they drew closer to one dive, Walter was hit by music and a voice unlike any his ears had​​ ever heard. A funky rhythm line loped like a three-wheeled​​ jalopy,​​ while a​​ wild​​ vibrato snarled with sensational​​ emotion. The music and voice then​​ lifted​​ like​​ a​​ geyser.​​ California!” The word waterfalled over the air. “California!” it spouted again.

“What bar is that?” Walter asked Dug.

“Which one?”

“The one with the music.”

“Some old man’s blues joint. You don’t wanna go there. It’s horrible. No girls, only grimy old men.”

“But that sounds like a girl singing . . .​​ And​​ that voice, it’s-it’s...​​ I don’t know, but it’s doing​​ strange things to me. It’s so​​ moving, yet strange and sexual all at the same time. I’ve never heard anything like it. We have to stop.”

“Believe me,” Dug said. “You do​​ not​​ want to go there. It’s not a place for tourists, just a lot of old men and seedy scumbags who will probably pickpocket you the moment you step in. Where we’re going​​ is much, much nicer; a lounge full of fine women who get drenched at the sound of an American accent.​​ Don’t worry, we’re almost there.”

“But I’m more of a dive bar type of guy anyway,” Walter said.​​ “Can’t we just check it out?”

Dug ignored him and kept pedaling.

“Dug!” Walter shouted.​​ But Dug turned up the music and remained unresponsive. “Fucker!” Walter​​ said, then​​ pushed back on his pedals and gave his handlebars a sharp jerk to the right.

“What da fack!” Dug yelled as the bike went squirrely.

Unable to regain control, it eventually ejected them off, and came crashing down on its side, its bells shrilling painfully as it skidded down the pavement.

“What the fuck​​ Walter?!” Dug screamed.

“I’m sorry,” Walter said. “I don’t know what came over me. I just wanted you to stop.”

“Well, we’re stopped! You happy?! Jesus Christ, I save you,​​ bathe​​ you,​​ and​​ clothe you, and you repay me by wrecking​​ me bike?​​ You’re a real fucking​​ wanker, you know that? . . . My baby!” Dug cried as he lifted the bike and inspected it over for damage. “Great.​​ I’m gonna have to get it repainted now. Look at all these scratches.”

“I’m​​ so​​ sorry Dug,” Walter said.​​ “I’m really sorry.​​ I don’t have a lot of money, but I’ll give you everything I have left for repairs.”

“Oh, it’s fine,”​​ Dug​​ said​​ after Walter’s beggarly face seemed to soften him a little.​​ “It’s not that bad I suppose. I can probably paint ‘em over myself. But just why Walty? Why would you do that when I’ve been nothing​​ but a mate to you?”

“I don’t know,” Walter said just as confused. “I just wanted you to stop so badly. It was like this sudden urge. Then when you ignored me something came over me…”

Walter’s attention trailed back to the music which had continued to chug along unchanged. Dug noticed and shook his head​​ cynically.

“Please Dug?” Walter begged again. “Just a song or two?​​ It’s my only night in Amsterdam. Shouldn’t we be spending it how I want to?”

“No.​​ You lost that privilege when you decided to crash my​​ bike.”

Well,” Walter said, “it seems I never had that privilege to begin with​​ anyway.”

Well,” Dug said,​​ if it was any other bar, I’d be fine. But not that one. Really, I’m looking​​ out for you. Remember, I’m supposed to keep you out of trouble,​​ and that bar is not a tourist-friendly place. C’mon, the other place is just five minutes​​ more​​ up the road.”​​ Dug​​ then​​ put his leg back over the beast.​​ 

Inside, Walter was being torn apart.​​ The music—and especially that voice—had gaffed his heart​​ and wouldn’t let go.

“Fine,” Walter said​​ after a while. “If it’s five minutes up the road, I’ll meet you there. I’m sure​​ the​​ big bike out front will​​ make it​​ easy​​ to spot. I just need to see who that band and especially that girl is. I’m sorry.”

“Of all the bars in Amsterdam...​​ Dug said shaking his head.​​ He​​ then pressed​​ the​​ pedal forward,​​ and​​ soon disappeared​​ into the night. And like that, Walter was alone again . . .​​ alone again. ​​ 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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