Bring on Them Twangy Gittars

If any of us has a soundtrack to his life, Drin thinks, it’s got to be me. Not classy and elegant and spare, like the music that Dance plays in the orchestra, or the fiendishly complicated things he swears at when he’s practicing.Drin’s sound tracks are brutally simple and plain-spoken.

Drin leans on the wall by the bathroom door, looking into the dusk of the hotel room. Emma hasn’t moved; she’s still sitting in the same chair where he left her, the glass of water untouched, the remote at the same angle. Only her knees are propped up in a slightly different angle. Waiting, with that sad, stubborn twist to her mouth.

I tiptoed in the room
I know you got to have your rest
She says, “Come lay beside me,
I’ve been waitin’ since you left”
She’s sweet to me
Must be the luckiest man alive
And did I tell you baby
You are the joy of my life…

(John Fogerty- Joy of My Life)
He rests his head on his knuckles a moment, eye shut. Sometimes he will look in and see Dance asleep with her, curled up against her like a really large and totally pushy tomcat, leaning into the warm spots. He feels the same softness for a man who just does things for both of them, and doesn’t talk about it much. It always catches him by surprise, makes his throat hurt a bit.

In that level, soft voice that Drin has begun to dread in the last ten hours, Emma says, “What was Dance upset about?”

Behind him, he hears Dance washing out his snake-patterned trunks in the sink. Why Dance would have picked out that pattern in the first place, Drin has no clue. Well, it does break up his outline admirably–makes it far harder to tell when Dance’s happy boy is having thoughts that the rest of him would rather not advertise right then. And when Dance’s little man is happy, it’s not exactly easy to hide. Dance gets quite a different kind of sound track.

Possibly like one of Fogarty’s ruder tunes.

Well you wriggle to the left, you wriggle to the right
Do the ooby dooby with all of your might

Ooby dooby, ooby dooby, ooby dooby, ooby dooby
Ooby dooby dooby dooby dooby dooby do wah do wah do wah

Yell you wriggle and you shake, like a bit rattle snake
You do the ooby dooby ’till you think her heart’ll break

Ooby dooby, ooby dooby, ooby dooby, ooby dooby
Ooby dooby dooby dooby dooby dooby do wah do wah do wah

(John Fogerty – A Tribute to Roy Orbison)

Dance still has his sense of humor about it all, but over the last few weeks, he’s been more complex, a lot more intense.

Keep on chooglin’
Chooglin’,
Chooglin’.

Maybe you don’t understand it.
But if you’re a natural man,
You got to ball and have a good time
And that’s what I call chooglin’.

If you can choose it, who can refuse it,
Y’all be chooglin’ tonight.
Go on, take your pick, right from the git go,
You gotta choogle tonight.

(John Fogerty – Keep on Chooglin’)

Since they left the car behind, the warning flags are up, and Drni is afraid it may turn into something quite different–-this time, one of Fogarty’s better-known tunes.

Shadows fallin’ in my room
Ghost riders dancin’ on the moon
Night is closin’ in again

Clutchin’ to my tremblin’ bed
Call your name ’til I’m out of my head
Walkin’ the backstreets
Lookin’ for clues
I got to get you back
If it’s the last thing I do

I’ll go walkin’ in a hurricane
I’ll come crawlin’ in a drivin’ rain
I’ll keep searchin’ ’til I go insane
I got to have your love…

…Everytime you go away
I got the same old wild goose chase
Hangin’ on to misery
I should-a quit you long ago
Just packed it up and hit the road
I’m just a junkie
Addicted to the flame
I’m hooked on the danger
I can’t quit this game

I’ll go walkin’ in a hurricane
I’ll come crawlin’ in a drivin’ rain
I’ll keep searchin’ ’til I go insane
I got to have your love

(John Fogerty – Walking In A Hurricane)

Behind him, he can hear Dance reading his mind again. Oh, yeah, he knows the song Dance is singing. He knows that song too well. And he knows Dance is not singing it about the woman here in the hotel with them.

It may look easy
When you look at me
But it took years of effort
To become the mess that you see
Now what kind of woman
Take you for a ride
Down the rattlesnake highway
An’ leave you busted up inside
All busted up inside

Smiles like a cobra
With her rattlesnake eyes
‘n leave you for dead on the highway
Just mumblin’ at the sky

She did me wrong
She did me wrong
She did me wrong
Tell me… she did me


Smiles like a cobra
With her rattlesnake eyes
‘n leave you for dead on the highway
Just mumblin’ at the sky
Now she did me wrong
She did me so wrong
She did me wrong
You know she did me so wrong
Get me outta here…

(John Fogerty – Rattlesnake Highway)

“He’s doing better,” Emma says gruffly, frowning. She knows he will hear them talking. He always does. “What was it?”

Drin feels himself flinch. She isn’t going to like this. Then he tightens his shoulders under the load, and he tells Emma, “He wanted to go back home and get the animals.”

pull down shade with cast shadow of cat standing on casement frame of window
shadow of the cat in the window

He can hear her make a little noise. Then she puts both hands over her face, leaning forward over her knees, and wrapping her arms about her thighs, head bent.

Drin tells her quietly, “He knows we can’t call friends to go take our pets, that’s a tell that they’ve had contact from us. I’m not sure if we can do anything about the safety of our co-workers except walk away and never look back–and that may not be good enough.”

She rakes her hands through her hair, presses down on her skull as if she can squeeze answers out of it. Then she wipes her eyes, and sniffles into her closed fist, and rocks back and forth a moment, eyes squinted tightly shut. He’s only seen her do this tight squinting face a few times, when she was bringing all the resources she has to bear on the problem. If she thought there was a chance she could get away with marching back in that house herself, she’d do it without a second thought.

It amazes him, somehow, that both of them are willing to put themselves at risk for a fuzzy, charming, bounding little lump of energy like the puppy. Or for the kitten, who mostly moves from lap to lap, purring and begging attention shamelessly.

Then Emma blinks between her hands and says, sharply, “We could use a public phone, call through an anonymizer service of some sort, if you know of one, and leave a message for one of the animal welfare groups to check on them. If it’d be safe for anybody to go into the house. I daresay the neighbors will have heard Puppy whining and crying to be let out by now.” She stares up at Drin. “Will it be safe for the welfare people to go in?”

“Can’t guarantee it, not when you’re dealing with stupid. But anybody with sense would expect the neighbors to call somebody in, and they have to know they aren’t going to have any more information on us. If there’s some disaster, that draws more attention without accomplishing anything.”

“Money?” she says.

“Preparation is everything. That’s why I gave you two those new cell phones and why I wasn’t spending much.”

“Aside from your bloody car! Are they going to pick that up?” Emma says.

Drin smiles for the first time.

“Okay, Batman,” Dance mutters behind him, “you’re having entirely too much fun.”

Drin sobers then and tells them both, “I don’t want you two dependent on me being right there. I’ll give you and Dance access to accounts and pawnables and cash. I knew he couldn’t pass the metal detectors in banks and post offices and airports, so I set up drops that ought to work for both of you.”

Emma looks up at him with her eyes wide and hurt and too surprised yet to be angry. When it sinks in, she’s going to be bloody angry. Hoarsely, she says, “Talk.”

“It used to be a war,” Drin says. He can’t hear Dance moving, but he is there behind Drin suddenly, the warmth radiating off his body in a wave of moist air. One of the first things Drin got out of their shopping bags was the kid’s ear thermometer, to check on Dance’s temperature. Dance is irritated by it, but puts up with it, and claims he always has run hot. No kidding, Drin thinks, weary of it all.

Emma is looking at him with her Impatient Librarian stare, though she doesn’t have her reading glasses falling down her nose just now. He struggles on, and hears how rough his own voice is.

“You hear stories from the old guys, from vets, sometimes. Plenty of trained dogs in service during… various wars… end up going home with their handlers and living long, happy lives doing other kinds of work. Some of them had to be put down right away, too aggressive and easily frightened for civilian life around families and neighbors. Some of them were supposed to be put down but their handlers… didn’t do it. They found ways to get past the rules and fiddle the paperwork or just smuggled them away in time, or all of those.” His throat tightens up.

A warm hand flattens on his back, slides up his shoulder blade, and then Dance’s arm slips under his elbow and cables around his body, giving him a one-sided hug.

“That,” Drin says, and he has to clear his throat, “you can’t remember any of that now, but that’s what happened with you, Emma. You probably will never be able to remember it. Dance called you back here to this… time frame… whether he knew it or not, because he needed your help. I’m not sure how you did it, but you came back here and found him. Then he called me to him. I can’t… I can’t deny a call like that. Same as you’re a retired.. scenthound, I guess that would be the best analogy, I’m a retired farmer. I used to do things you’d call farming, some parts of it are the same as it ever was. People still need to grow big fields of pulse and grain and kelp, you know? But some of the crops are much more.. exotic. The technology can produce things that look like…”

“Like the bug boys,” Dance whispers.

Drin sighs. “It’s not right, it’s sure not legal, but their mangled little Mengele projects always happen tucked away in backwater places just like this, and the proof melts away into little puddles. Nobody ever sees what they get up to. Their monsters can’t pass regular urban checkpoints any more than Dance can.”

He feels Dance turn his head and lean that hard skull into his back. Emma can see Dance leaning into him, standing there with his feet wide on either side of Drin’s, that amazing body flattened against him.

Dance’s silly tricks with cell phone reception during the last few weeks have showed him that this means more than being hugged by a naked man with a raging hard-on. He gives a small little sigh, and feels his shoulders relax a little bit. It feels good. It feels really good. It feels as warm as if he’s wearing a bullet-proof vest. He’s afraid that it’s a whole lot better than that.

“If I’m a retired military dog, to follow your analogy, then what is Dance?” Emma demands.

“I’m not sure,” Drin says, feeling the warmth of Dance’s arm gripping gently around his ribs. Dance’s arms are not quite as lethally strong as his legs are.

“Why not?” Emma asks.

Drin looks at her. She hasn’t asked one question about her own history, her own convincing memories, her own outrage. Not one. Even for Emma, the Research Fury, this is odd. He looks at her, and she makes an impatient gesture, eyes blazing. Get on with it! is written all over her face.

Drin takes in a deep breath, lets it out. “I don’t know if any of the people who would know are still alive,” Drin says.

“The best revenge,” Emma says, narrowing her eyes as she gazes at Dance.

Dance lifts his other arm and wraps it around Drin and nods his skull into Drin’s back. “Outlive the bastards.”

“And Dance has been proving all of them wrong anyway,” Drin says, lifting his hand and resting it over Dance’s wrist, brushing at his skin lightly.

Dance murmurs into his back and presses his cheek into Drin’s shoulderblade. “So you know what they think I am?”

“Well, I know you’re not a Mowgli,” Drin says, amused. He knows his voice sounds odd. It’s that light assured voice from the past that will melt away on him any moment now, after delivering some horrid package of dismay that it can’t face. That’s right, run away and leave blurry old me with the mess, as usual. “Or one of the Shere Khans or any of the more basic Kiplings I’ve heard about. All of those series were classified afterward as illegal usage, even for further military designs. Believe me, something like RNA traces of a Baloo coming out of somebody’s work will light up alarms across every hot little certification board– anyway. Not that the authorities ever put much effort into tracking down the associations responsible for creating them.”

“Too many embarrassing details?” Emma says bitterly. Then, reluctantly, she added, “Am I— ”

“No,” Drin says quickly. “Scenthounds are still dogs whether they’re working for airport cops or SWAT teams or–”

“Or farmers?” Dance says softly, and spreads out his hands along Drin’s stomach. Strokes the bruised side so gently.

Drin blinks hard, tipping his head back. “Yeah,” he says.

Emma looks at them a moment, hugging herself with her arms pulled tight round her knees. She blinks away another sudden glitter of tears. They both know this is a good sign, that Dance wants to touch them.

Drin tugs lightly at one of Dance’s wrists, and Dance allows it to be lifted, and the fingers intertwine with his. Drin leans his face into Dance’s arm, and kisses the inside of the brown forearm, and sighs, and releases it. The arm settles back around his waist. Dance will wait as long as he wants.

Emma turns her head away, and covered her eyes with one hand, and then wipes away a shine of tears with a harsh push of her hand.

Drin beckons her with his other hand, and she rises. She pulls the robe tighter around her. She stands up in front of Drin, very straight, and looks up seriously at him, exhaustion sharp in her expression. He looks at her damp tangled hair and the black tired shadows under her eyes. Her skin looks soft and bruised as a ripe peach. He reaches up and rests a finger on her cheek, just touching her, and he glances downward at the brown arms wrapped around his middle.

“Okay?” Emma says.

“You smell good,” Dance says, and the nearest hand comes up from Drin’s body.

Emma puts out her hand.

Dance’s string-calloused fingers stroke the back of her hand, along the inside of her forearm. “You always smell good to me,” Dance says, sounding sad and bewildered.

Emma turns her body into Drin, slides into the curve of his arm. She rests her head against Drin’s chest. “I guess big tough military dogs aren’t supposed to need any other people to–”

“Depends what kind they are,” Drin said. He draws in another deep breath. “After the war was declared done, while things were being decided, the authorities were alarmed enough at what they found out that they… kept some other people who are… similar to Dance… locked up in a sort of sedated stasis state for a long time. So long that it gave most of them permanent brain damage, and some of them died as a result. It was ruled inhumane later, after the damage was done. Those two scar lines on Dance’s face are probably from being locked up like that with extra restraints for too long. They probably didn’t think he’d be alive when they opened him up again.”

Thank God he happened to visit Fozzie and Preacher was able to crack those locked brain cabinets in time to give him what is left in there. He’s been here too many times. Haven’t we all, in our various ways?

Did you hear ’em talkin’ ’bout it on the radio
Did you try to read the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I’ve heard it all before
It’s like Deja Vu all over again

Day by day I hear the voices rising
Started with a whisper like it did before
Day by day we count the dead and dying
Ship the bodies home while the networks all keep score

Did you hear ’em talkin’ ’bout it on the radio
Could your eyes believe the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I’ve heard it all before
It’s like Deja Vu all over again…

“So if they … had to admit to it … to things like… me … there’d be a lot of … repercussions?” Dance says.

“Yeah,” Drin says.

“Then why didn’t they just kill me and get rid of the evidence?” Dance asks, as if this bewilders him the most among all the unanswerable questions.

Drin shakes his head, eyes shut. “I don’t know.”

“But somebody went to a lot of trouble to archive perfect information for Dance. Somebody put him here, made sure the records looked wonderful, and expected him to be here a long time. They put effort into it,” Emma says then. “Not like you or me. Drin, you know your records are a bloody palimpsest, so you might as well shout spook from the rooftops, right? But mine seem more normal. A little scuffed and imperfect–”

Drin chuckles. “Because you know– knew– how to do it, and you probably did your own records, before you left your old job.”
Emma stands rigid. Drin strokes his hands up and down her back. He can feel the muscles are knotted.

“So somebody let us go. Somebody planned for us to stay… parked here awhile,” Dance says.

Drin blinks.

“And somebody else messed up the plan,” Dance says then, working it out.

“Okay, so if everybody’s retired, we’re old, nothing to see here, move along–” Emma says, puzzled.

“Does old buried ordnance ever stop being dangerous in Flanders?” Drin says mildly.

…One by one I see the old ghosts rising
Stumblin’ ‘cross Big Muddy
Where the light gets dim
Day after day another Momma’s crying
She’s lost her precious child
To a war that has no end

Did you hear ’em talkin’ ’bout it on the radio
Did you stop to read the writing at The Wall
Did that voice inside you say
I’ve seen this all before
It’s like Deja Vu all over again
It’s like Deja Vu all over again

(John Fogerty – Deja Vu)

Dance grunts.

“Fuck yeah, we rust out,” Emma growls.

Drin stands there, wrapped up in the two of them, and wonders what in hell he ever did to deserve love like this. He sure as hell hasn’t been giving them enough of what they need, lately.

“I have an idea,” Emma announces. “You know your old Fogie tunes?”

Drin blinks at her. “Fogarty rocks!” he says indignantly.

“He’s a wicked old boy,” Emma says, with a gleam in her eye. “But he’s given me an idea–-go out where the bug boys fall off their cybermaps, and the locals will crop-dust them.”

Dance makes an inquiring noise.

“You know, country bars that’ve been around for years, but of course we haven’t contacted them before. I’ll see if we can find a couple of weekend gigs for Dance where they’ll just see some Asian guy with a guitar and nobody’s going to look twice at him. Cajun-style, maybe.”

“Vietnamese,” Dance says. His accent is heavier, he’s losing bits of his English, the way he does when he’s upset. “Fusion zydeco, stuff from your immigrants working in fishing boats of Louisiana. It’s not like the expert session musician in LA. I can be some kid out from work, come in out from nowhere, as far as the bar scene is concerned. Really old club guys will call friends, track down who you belong to, if they like it and they want to keep you awhile.”

Drin tips his head back, brows lifted.

It is Emma who asks, “How do you know that?”

Dance chuckles. “Session musicians humping union scale between recording gigs. Couple of the Vietnamese guys were very fine on any instrument we handed them. We had dinner one night at that nice pho noodle place. They tell about playing in the South. They were easier on speaking Vietnamese. You know, they laugh so much on my accent. I sound like mountain hills, far back. Maybe I am Burmese tribesman, I take their heads! Nagas, they’re called. They said those Naga tribes are really great musicians. I mean, when they’re not playing with snakes. I guess stories grow pretty wild.”

Drin feels a precarious sort of black humor bubbling in his middle.

It’s Emma who asks the question. “How did a Korean kid like you learn to speak that kind of Vietnamese?”

“What a fun question,” Dance says mildly. “You tell me.”

Well, if you want
To ease your mind
You just go on
Take it to the river
When you’re down
Well, that’s alright
You just bring it
down to jelly roll

We’re gonna run
A-jump and shout
We’re gonna slide
Way back in the country
There’s a place
Where they treat you right
You just bring it
down to jelly roll

The little girls
Way down south
They got their way
Honey drippin’ from their mouth
If you ever get some luck
You just bring it
down to jelly roll

(John Fogerty – Bring It Down To Jelly Roll)

Drin tips back his head. What Dance says about the bad dreams he’s had, some nights, sounds like a really special sort of hell.

Way out there in the cotton
Sun beatin’ down so hard
Sweat rollin’ off this shovel
Diggin’ in the devil’s boneyard
Sure like a cool drink of water
Soft rag to soothe my face
Sure like a woman to talk to in this place

It’s a hundred and ten
Hundred and ten in the shade
Goin’ way down
Mama won’t you carry me

Handle so hot I can’t stand it
Might shrivel up and blow away
Noonday sun make you crazy
Least, that’s what the old men say

Bottom land hard as a gravestone
Couldn’t cut it with an axe
Gonna lay me down right here
And that’s a fact

It’s a hundred and ten
Hundred and ten in the shade
Goin’ way down
Mama won’t you carry me…

(John Fogerty – A Hundred And Ten In The Shade)

Emma says, “So you think you can convince people that your parents worked the shrimp boats on the coast, for a weekend at least?”

“Well, white folks who don’t speak the language, sure,” Dance says.

“Why am I hearing the word ‘dumb’ in front of ‘white folks’?” Emma asks.

“If the shoe fits,” Dance says, solemnly. His face splits into a grin at her look.

“We’ve got the weekend free to get out of Dodge,” Emma snaps, glaring up at Drin. “I’m not giving up on this whole thing blowing over and being able to go home and answer all those phone messages building up and–”

“Emm,” Drin says, smiling down at her. “Did I ever mention I love you when you’re being stubborn?”

She buries her face into his shirt buttons. Her breath tickles at him. Then she lifts her head again and mutters, in her broadest Oz accent,“Most likely that’s just as well.”

Dance’s fingers nudge him, and Dance chuckles. “Watch out, she’s getting her Aussie on again.”

“You just like watching his eyes roll back in his head,” Emma says crisply.

“’s not fair,” Drin mumbles. “I can’t help it.”

Dance’s hand slides lightly up and down Drin’s hip, rustling his jeans. “Yeah, I know.”

It makes him wonder how far and how hard the bug boys will chase them. Or whoever is using the bugs as a feint.

I got a feelin’ way down inside
I can’t shake it, no matter how I try
You can’t touch it, you just know
The earth is gonna shake and the wind is gonna blow

Well that’s all right
This premonition is killin’ me
But that’s all right

I must be crazy, I must be seein’ things

Out on the highway pickin’ up clues
So much is mis-seen , so much to lose

You must be different, been rearranged
Can’t pin it down but I know it’s not the same

Well that’s all right
This premonition is killin’ me
But that’s all right

I must be crazy, I must be seein’ things

I can’t eat, I can’t sleep
All of a sudden I got witches in my feet
It’s like waitin’ for, the shoe to drop
I know it’s comin’ but I don’t know where to stop

Well that’s all right
This premonition is killin’ me
But it’s all right

I must be crazy, I must be seein’ things

Well that’s all right
This premonition is killin’ me
But it’s all right
I must be crazy, I must be seein’ things

(John Fogerty – Premonition)

“I like that idea,” Drin says. “I think we should pick up a new pawnshop axe for Dance and a big beatup rock ‘n’ roll wagon to roll in, and hit the road tomorrow.”

“Amps,” Dance says, leaning into him. “Maybe backup speakers. The places that Emma’s gonna call, they might need some help with the speakers dying on them. Happens every time I’ve ever been in a dive like that.”

Drin smiles. He tightens his arm toward Emma, and walks toward the bed. “Come here, you good-smelling girl.”

Dance starts humming. Kris Kristofferson is a long way from John Fogerty, but… maybe not. Drin could just about hear Fogerty doing a cover of Bobby McGee. Dance sings softly into Drin’s back. “…free is just another word for nothing left to lose…

===

Challenge: Cornered
Title: Bring on Them Twangy Gittars
Writer’s Notes: A followup on events in my first “cornered” piece of fic, “You Get to Explain Later, Right?” and the second one, “Later is Right Now, Start Explaining.”
If you think this looks like a Fogarty tribute via YouTube, you’d be right, but for an odd reason. At work, listening with headphones to his cd Blue Moon Swamp tracks, lyrics kept leaping out at me and sinking in their fangs.
Makes it bloody hard to concentrate on work, I’ll tell you.

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