Blood In The Groove

Blood In The Groove

Growing up in the ‘80s helped me discover that music is more than sound coming through a scratchy radio. I never met anyone who could fully grasp just what music meant to me, but I did find a way to make it my life.

Grooveyard Music sits just outside the Garfield’s Crossing town square in an unassuming two-storefront building. The locals have heard my motto a hundred times. “If you can name it, I can snag it.” Records, CDs, tapes, the occasional 8 track and once even a reel-to-reel. I have stuff from every genre lining three walls. Everyone in town has come to see my set up at least once. There is nothing I love more than seeing someone walk through the front doors for the first time. They stop for a few seconds, because it looks more like walking into someone’s house -- someone that has a crazy wild music collection. I think they find it inviting, and it’s certainly a different vibe than the Hot Wheels Diner up the road with all its lights and chrome, and the jukebox blaring some obnoxious music. I give them free coffee and tea and I’ve always got some good tunes flowing through my kick-ass speakers. Lots of times, I'm playing stuff most people have never heard of, but they like, and I’m able to give folks a little music education. It’s kinda nice to be able to help them learn and find what they are looking for, even though I’ll never admit it.

I’ve arranged the store to look and feel like a great place to hang out. My music is arranged on rough-cut lumber shelves running along the outer paneled walls. I salvaged the paneling from my parents house before I sold it, which adds to the cozy, down-home feel to the shop. Honestly, though, the paneling is mostly covered with dozens of posters I have acquired over the years -- the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers, Zeppelin 4, Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, Kiss’s Destroyer, all the classic icons.

In the center of the room, I have a mish-mash of overstuffed couches and chairs. One of my favorites was the last one my mother bought before she died. It’s  blue and white plaid and had been in my parents’ living room. This couch was my mother's favorite. With that couch and the paneling, it feels more like home to me than a place I work. There are coffee tables in between, garage and estate sale finds. I much prefer a broken-in vintage look than today’s modern streamlined trend. The chairs are also thrift finds. One is a faded green corduroy that has had rips in the arms and seat repaired with red thread. Grandma always said a man should know at least how to sew on a button, and thanks to her training, I’ve created a beauty. A deflated maroon La-Z-Boy recliner that has lost most of its stuffing and doesn’t recline anymore. I spruced it up as much as I could before Tony spilled half a can of Old Style last movie night. It still stinks like a cheap brewery.

The floor brings it all together. It’s made of barn wood that has mostly faded to gray but still has a few flecks of the original red here and there. The wood came from the soybean farm my parents left me. I sold the farm along with the house, but I never lost the feeling of wanting my parents near. And their memory isn’t all I brought with me to Garfield’s Crossing. The Groove’s floor is always buffed to a perfect shine, an enduring habit I picked up at Knox.

Now the music is where I don’t skimp at all. In addition to the most eclectic and comprehensive music collection I’ve seen assembled, The Groove’s got two Pro-Ject Debut Carbon turntables and two Marantz CD players, each hooked up to its own Outlaw RR2160 Stereo Receiver with high-quality headphones.

I’m usually sitting behind the hightop  counter on swivel barstool made of battered oak and worn leather. The surface of the counter is covered with nickels under a clear epoxy. Scratched and chipped wooden dresser panels cover the wrap-around. Each tarnished brass knob is unique as is the cut and color of each dresser panel. Everything here’s got history and I think that  adds to the general relaxed vibe I worked hard to create. The whole thing looks pretty thrown together. Kinda like me.

People walk in and usually find me drinking from an olive green enamel coffee cup with a “Probably Whiskey” label on it. Some days it is whiskey. I have a handful of regulars who stop in to talk about music, town gossip and drink coffee. This is kind of ironic -- in fact, my whole set up is -- because in general, I like to keep to myself. I’m not very social to begin with and when I listen to music, I like to focus. But since opening the Grooveyard four years ago, I have learned to enjoy the banter with the regulars and even to play their little trivia game. While some of them hang out, they try and stump me with obscure music questions, to see if I know as much as I claim. I proved it over and over again.

I remember once, I’d been winning Tony’s music trivia challenges every day for a week. It had gotten to the point where he wanted to make bets. I caved and bet him that he couldn’t stump me. The bet was a bottle of The Lost Blend by Compass Box, and if I lost he would get an original 1st UK pressing on red/plum Atlantic label of Yes’ album Fragile. I don’t think he’d ever heard of Yes. He only knew that the record was worth about $100 bucks.

“Come on Cash, it’s been every day this week. I got you this time, I looked it up. I know I got you,” Tony said, sure he was going to win this challenge.

“It has to be music related, remember? No cheating and asking me goofy shit about the pyramids or Machu Picchu.” Even though chances are I could answer those too. Having a slow business allows for plenty of time for a curious man to read.

“OK man, here goes: Who is Seamus?” he asked with a laugh. He pronounced the first syllable like an expanse of water, but I knew what he meant.

I leaned back in my chair and closed my eyes. This was an easy one. I was going to wait a minute before I answer just to play with him. I could hear him fidgeting as he waited, drumming his finger on the can of Coke I gave him when he walked in.

“Give up?” he asked laughing as he strutted over to the “Y” section of the records to claim his prize.

“Hold on a minute.” I rubbed my forehead for effect. “You mean the Collie that belonged to Humble-Pie guitarist Steve Marriott who howls through the entire two minutes and fifteen seconds of the song? That Seamus? Track five on the 1971 Pink Floyd album Meddle? That Seamus? Never heard of him.”

Tony’s face crumpled in defeat.

I gave him a shit-eating grin and quipped, “I expect my bottle within the week. Thank you and please play again.”

Tony or Sarah -- really, none of the regulars have any concept of the depth and breadth of music knowledge I’ve cultivated in my lifetime. Their questions are rarely a challenge. But they keep trying and I give them credit for that. They keep me sharp.

* * *

“Pull over when you see a place that looks promising. We gotta get Bill some help before we head back or he’s not going to make it,” Terry told Frank as he leaned back to check on Bill. He's not looking so good, Terry thought before turning back to catch a glimpse of the sign welcoming them to Garfield's Crossing. Bill was passed out from the blood loss, and Terry could hear that his breathing was shallow and sporadic. That’s what happens when you would rather play video poker than go over the plan for robbing a bank, Terry thought woefully.

“Did you see that sign?” Frank asked. He was finally sobering up and the adrenaline of the shootout at the bank was wearing off. He was worried about his brother, if something happened to him, Aunt Claire was going to skin him alive. He hoped the bleeding wasn’t as bad as it looked. Like when you cut your neck shaving and it bleeds for a bit.

“Yeah, weird, ain't it?” Terry agreed. The welcome sign with a sword protruding from a skull next to a flowing river creeped him out more than he cared to admit.

Frank nonsed the grocery getter through the small town. They came down main street from the west. A few minutes later, they pulled up in front of a record store. The windows were mostly covered with faded posters of Nirvana’s Nevermind, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, an Arctic Monkeys logo and the cover of Pink Floyd’s iconic Dark Side of the Moon. “This place looks good, it’s dark and quiet,” Terry said, “There ain’t nobody here so we don’t have to worry about no busybodies”

Frank parked the Town and Country directly in front of the store. “Oh shit, Terry it’s bad, man. There’s blood all over the bench seat back there. An’ Bill’s just laying there looking pale as shit. You better take a look, ” Frank said looking over his shoulder. In the process of pulling Bill into the van back at the bank, they had left smears of blood on all the seats and Frank could see drops of blood on the floor mats. “I guess it wasn’t such a bad idea to get the windows tinted after all, shows you what you know, Anna,” Frank muttered. Who could have known three years ago it would be used as a getaway car and an ambulance for Bill -- the one he had gotten shot back at the bank. “I’m sorry brother, I didn’t think it would matter which bullets I was using,” Frank explained reaching in the back of the van to pull Bill out.

***

Callie and I were lounging on the blue and white plaid couch. I had Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged playing on the 60-inch rear projection TV. Now and then, I showed concerts or movies at the Grooveyard, and invited a few people to bring in beers and some popcorn. The RCA wasn’t in great shape, but the audio made up where the TV lacked. The twang of the guitar and Cobain wailing about a Lake of Fire and where bad guys go when they die filled the shop.

Callie had her bare legs draped across my lap. She looked her best when she wore a sundress. I watched her as she played with her long blonde hair. She was flipping through one of my favorite issues of Rolling Stone. Hunter S. Thompson was on the cover. I loved how she looked engrossed in what she was reading, like her green eyes were absorbing the words.

The bells above the door jingled and we both looked up to see who was coming in. It had been a nice, quiet Saturday afternoon.

Three guys burst through the door. One was being half dragged, half carried by a second guy wearing a tan T-shirt and camouflage cargo shorts, sporting a shaved head. The thug being dragged had close-cropped blonde hair and was holding a wad of something blood-soaked to his chest. The third guy’s hoodie was faded green with black smudges on the arms. He brushed his shoulder-length, carrot-colored hair out of his eyes. The moment they were all inside, he pushed the door closed then threw the lock. As he turned around, I saw a pistol in his hand.

When Callie saw the gun and the blood I heard her whisper, “Cash…”

“Shhhh…. It’s OK,” I said, putting a hand on her leg.

“Put him over there,” the guy holding the gun pointed to the couch across from where Callie and I were sitting. With a grunt, the bald thug dumped the bleeding accomplice down. “Christ, you’re heavy,” he said.

“Now you,” carrot-top pointed at me with the semi-automatic. “You’re going to help us.”

I took my time sizing him up. He was shorter than my 6’2” and maybe 50 pounds lighter. He didn’t look like an athlete, and he certainly wasn’t a soldier. Even with a bum knee, I could easily take this chump. Being a wise trooper myself, I decided they were too far apart for me to  rush one without catching a bullet from the other. I wished I had something, anything I could use to my advantage. The remote was on the coffee table, but that wouldn’t make enough impact. I considered my hardcover copy of Gunderson’s “Pink Floyd All the Songs.” That thing weighed about five pounds and might pack a punch, Still, it felt like a risk. My eyes fell on the cane Sam Blaylock made for me, leaning against the wall to my right.

“What do you want from me? This is a record store, not a hospital.” My voice was calm.

“You don’t have a first aid kit? What if someone gets a splinter off one of these?” He hit the rough wood with the gun.

“I give them a discount.”

He crossed to me, grabbed my well-worn Led Zeppelin shirt and tried to lift me up. I didn’t budge and all he succeeded in doing was stretching the collar of my T-shirt out. That was enough to get on my bad side.

“Stand up,” he barked as he let go of my shirt.

I tapped Callie’s legs and she swung them off me so I could stand.

“Look here, fella, I don’t want to shoot you or this nice-looking lady here.” He reached out to touch Callie’s blonde hair with his Glock as she moved her head away. “You sure are pretty, sweet-thing.” He moved closer to her. I reached to brush the pistol away from her and to stop him from touching her. I felt the barrel hit my chest. “Don’t be a hero, Romeo” he said, pushing the muzzle into me.

All I was thinking about was getting him away from Callie and making up the 20-foot distance between me and my Jericho 941 under the counter.

“Now, are you going to help out and play nice or do I get to have some fun with sweet-thing here? Or how about I shoot you and do what I want anyway.” He jabbed me in the chest again with the Glock. I felt anger rise in my throat, but swallowed it hard.

“Yeah. Fine. What do you want from me? ” I spat the words out as kindly as I could, knowing that cooperation would get them out of my shop quicker.

“That’s better. I knew you would see things my way. Now, about that first aid kit?” he asked again.

“There’s one upstairs in my apartment. You want me to go?”

“Hell no! You ain't going. You, come here,” he yelled to the third man on the team. The bald man had been kneeling, doing what he could for his fallen comrade. I could hear him trying to reassure the guy everything was going to be alright.

I’m not so sure, I thought.

“Shut up and listen.” Carrot-top was clearly exasperated with his partner. “Take the girl upstairs and get the first aid kit. It’s...” he looked at me, prompting with his gun.

“Bathroom. The cabinet on the wall opposite from the sink. She knows.” I nodded at Callie. I had shown her the first night she stayed over. One can never be too careful.

“Get up,” the bald guy growled, grabbing Callie by the arm and yanking her to her feet. I gritted my teeth, but held my cool.

I knew better than to blow up now. I wasn’t armed and I didn’t want to get Callie hurt, my main concern is her safety.

Callie and I had become close over the past few months. She stayed the weekends with me and during the week went up to her place in New Hope, Tennessee. I didn’t know how she was going to handle this situation we found ourselves in. I did know this, I hadn’t liked anyone in a long time as much as I liked her, and I was going to do whatever it took to protect her.

“Up and down. No funny business, got it?”

“Relax Ter-”

“Shut up with the names, dumbass! How many times do I have to say it?” the ringleader yelled, cutting him off.

Watching the gunman force Callie upstairs filled me with a hot rage. About halfway up her foot slipped and she fell and hit her knee. Without missing a beat her pursuer grabbed a handful of her hair and yanked her to her feet. I leaned forward and was stopped by another jab with the Glock. “Easy, buddy. Don’t do anything stupid that you or your pretty lady might regret.”

This was one of those rare occasions that I regretted my shop never being too busy. If it was busier, it would only be a matter of time before someone showed up and notice the locked door while my sign still showed “Open.”

The DVD recording of MTV’s Unplugged cycled back to the beginning and Cobain started singing About a Girl.

“Why in the hell would you want to work in a music store, man? Vinyl is dead as a doornail.” Carrot-top, who seemed to be chief of this trio, laughed at his own joke as he looked around the store.

Great, now he wants to have a conversation. “I love music, man. It’s magic. Look,” I said, pointing to one of the frames on the wall, a white-on-black image, and read, “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. ― Plato”

“What is that supposed to mean?” the guy asked with a sneer.

“It means exactly what it says. I don’t understand the confusion.”

“Is that some hippie shit? You a hippie? You kinda look like a hippie,” he said, eyeing me.

You’re one to talk.

I tried not to laugh ‘cause I couldn't be less of a hippie. Even though I was wearing a faded black Led Zeppelin T-shirt with the iconic hermit on it, with faded blue jeans and black Converse All-Stars. On top of that, my hair is buzzed short, another holdover from my days in the service. I’d say that’s a pretty far cry from bell bottoms, unkempt hair and the reek of patchouli.

I thought of my buddy Hall, who had served with me in Korea. He hated hippies. Hell, he hated most everything. But he would never have befriended me if I were a hippie.

It seemed an odd time to conjure up memories of Hall, but the memory of that snowy night near the DMZ was never far from me. It came to me every time my knee caught, which was a dozen times a day. My injury from that accident got me discharged, but it cost Hall his life. I would have given anything to have that pain in the ass gunner at the ready with me here.

“Hey you two, hurry it up,” the gun hero yelled up the stairs, interrupting my thoughts. Asshole, I thought, you don’t even deserve to be in the same breath with Hall, much less the same room.

The guy on the couch suddenly woke up with a start “Terry, Terry - man, don’t let me die,” coughing between words.

Terry stiffened, hearing his name, but knelt down to talk to the bleeding man, “It’s going to be okay, don’t worry,” he said, trying to soothe his partner. “We’re going to get you fixed up real quick, just shut the fuck up about the names, alright?” He was trying to be confident in front of the injured man. The blood soaking into the couch and the color of his skin told a different story. He wasn’t long for this world, that much was undeniable.

“No, you don't...” he gurgled. “You don’t understand, man. I can’t- don’t let me die here.” he said, before losing consciousness.

I unclenched my fists and let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding as Callie and her captor came down the spiral staircase at the back of the shop. She had my red backpack slung over her right shoulder. The first aid kit had some nice upgrades not usually found in store-bought kits.

“Come on move it!” The sock puppet jabbed Callie in the back a few times on the way down the stairs.

Looking at Callie, Terry pointed to his bleeding accomplice on the couch, ordering her, “Don’t just stand there. Fix him up.”

Callie looked at me then back at Terry, “I don’t know anything about gunshot wounds, I’m an artist, not a doctor.”

Terry turned to me, “You then. Take the bag and fix him up.”

From his shallow breathing, I could tell that it was going to take more than what I had in my bag to help this guy.

“Do it. Now!” Terry grabbed the bag from Callie and threw it at me. He shoved her down on the couch. “I’m going to keep her company now.” He sat down next to her and put his hand on her thigh. She tried to get up but he held her fast. I gave her a look that implored her to remain calm, while also holding the promise that she was safe.

I turned my attention to the dying man. With a deep breath, I closed my eyes and let my mind and hands fall back to my training. First thing I needed to do was control the bleeding. I reached for the blood-soaked oxford he was clutching to his chest.

Terry was growing impatient. “You better get to it or you are going to have two gunshot wounds to fix,” he said shoving his gun into Callie’s ribs causing her to whimper. I could see she was shaking from fear, but was proud of her for keeping it together and not breaking down into hysterics.“You want that? Or maybe we’ll cut her up real good. Maybe we’ll cut you both up. That sound like fun to you!? Now get to fucking work, before I lose my patience and burn this shitty place down with you in it.”

Unfazed by his attempts to sound like a badass, I opened the bag and pulled out rubber gloves, the clotting spray, some 4X4 bandages, along with the medical tape.“I’m going to need some help getting him into a position where I can work. Help me get him on his back and someone prop up his feet.” I slid the rubber gloves on, then removed the bloody shirt. Quickly, I sprayed the area with the clotting spray then grabbed the gauze bandages and pressed them to his chest. I turned around to face the two men staring at me. “I’m going to need some help here. I can’t hold this in place and tear off the tape at the same time.”

Terry exhaled violently. “Get over there and help him fix up your brother,” he said to the bald thug.

As he knelt down next to me, I instructed, “Tear off eight pieces of tape at least six inches long. We have to cover the bandage.”

“Where did you learn this stuff?” he inquired impressed with my patching up of his accomplice.

“I took a correspondence course,” I said.

“What does that mean?” he asked.

“Nothing, forget it.”

He quickly picked the tape up and started ripping and handing the pieces to me, “You’re going to have to put the first ones on while I hold this.” I nodded toward the bandage. “Put them on the outer edges. I’ll get the others when I let go.”

We worked together to get the tape on. After that, I went back to the bag and pulled out an IV set and a bag of saline. I got it started and flowing without any problems. My hands remembered what to do. Then finally I took out the blood pressure cuff and stethoscope to see if I could get a reading. After several tries, I told the men, “This isn’t good. Your friend's blood pressure is dangerously low.”

“Do something, then!” Terry jumped up and stormed over to me.

“I told you, man, this isn’t a hospital! I don’t have the necessary equipment and drugs to help him. This bag is to get you to the hospital. It’s not a permanent fix.”

He spun around and pointed the Glock at Callie’s chest.

Callie screamed and dropped flat onto the couch.

If only I had my Jericho.

“What if I shot her in the same place? Then what? I bet you would save her!” Terry shouted.

“No, I wouldn’t or couldn’t. There are some injuries that take more than the middle of a record shop and a first aid kit to fix,” I said, peeling the gloves off.

“This is bad, Terry. What are we going to do?” the bald guy asked.

“I don’t know, Frank! And, while we are at it, why don’t we tell these two Bill’s name!” He clutched his head with one hand and pressed the slide of his Glock against his forehead.

Kurt strummed and plucked through his solo in The Man Who Sold the World. The Fender amp warbled hazardously through the shop.

Suddenly, Terry roared “I can't think with that fucking noise! ” He whirled and shot my television screen, silencing Kurt Cobain. That elicited another scream from Callie. “Shut up!” Terry snarled.

“All you had to do is ask, man. The remote is right there.” I pointed to it on the coffee table. “First Courtney, now you. Dude can’t catch a break.”

“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! All of you! Just shut the fuck up!” he said, pounding his fists against his temples. I hoped he’d slip and put a bullet in his skull.

I caught Callie’s eye and gave her a worried, but questioning look. She nodded just a little.

I stood up slowly, leaning heavily on the armrest of the couch. The pain in my knee was murder. It felt like someone was going at it with an icepick. It buckled a little and I sucked a breath through my teeth.

“What’s your problem?” Frank asked.

“Nothing, I’m fine. Just need a minute. I can’t kneel or crouch down like I used to.”

Laughing, he said, “It must be rough, huh, old man?”

I shot daggers through him with my eyes. “I said I was fine. I don’t think he is, though.” I nodded toward the guy on the couch. I’d been watching his breaths grow more shallow and further apart.

“What? Why— what’s wrong?” Frank practically knocked me down getting close to his friend. “Terry, I don’t think he’s breathing, man.” He pushed the wounded man’s shoulder.

Terry snapped out of whatever was wrong with him, “What? What’s the problem?”

“It’s Bill, I don’t ... I think he’s dead.”

“No... No. No, he’s not! He can’t be. We gotta get him out of here.” Terry said beginning to pace around the shop. He turned on me and shouted, “Don’t just stand there, do CPR or something!”

Bill’s chest didn’t rise and fall. I knew all too well he was gone. “Look, I don’t know what brought you here, but you need to go. You have to go, now.”

“Are you crazy? Who do you think you are telling us we need to go? I don’t think so, buddy. This is far from over.” He got right in my face and pressed his gun so hard into my eye it ached. “You’re not in charge here, far from it, in fact. What I say goes, you understand?”

“Yeah, man, I understand,” I said. “Can I sit down at least? No sense in me standing here hovering over a dead guy.”

“He’s not dead!” Terry shouted. He dropped his arms to his sides, “Is he? I mean are you sure?” he asked, sounding worried.

“He was pretty bad when you guys brought him in. I slowed down the bleeding, but from the way it looks, I was too late,” I explained, sitting down next to Callie.

We sat staring at the dead guy across from us. I could feel her trembling and wished desperately there was something I could do to ease her fear. The last thing I needed was her getting hurt. If I were here alone this would already be done.

“Frank, go check and see if you can feel a pulse,” Terry directed.

“I can’t feel anything,” Frank said, holding Bill’s wrist.

Getting desperate, Terry screamed at me, “Get your ass over there. You check. This dumbshit couldn’t feel his dick if it were dangling between his legs.”

For the third time, I pressed my fingers to Bill’s neck. I told them Bill had a pulse. I didn’t feel much of anything, but I didn’t want to give them a reason to make a run for it. It was weak, and as I stood there staring at him I thought I saw his chest rise and fall slightly.

* * *

Sadie stood behind the counter of the Hot Wheels Diner staring at the ribeye steak sandwich and fries order getting cold and the Cobb salad next to it getting warm. “I'm telling you, Samantha. Something isn’t right, girl. That boy wouldn't let his lunch sit for this long, especially when he’s got company, if you know what I mean,” she said into the phone.

“How’d you know he’s got company?” the sheriff’s dispatcher asked.

“Half of his to go order was a Cobb salad and a Diet Coke.”

“He does have company! That rascal. Have you seen her?” the dispatcher inquired, hoping for some juicy gossip.

“A couple of people say they seen a blonde at the shop with him on the weekends. Do you think you can send someone over there? Check up on him?” Sadie asked.

“And what if he’s you know … preoccupied?” she giggled.“How would that look for the Sheriff's Department? Interrupting him while he’s entertaining a guest?”

“I’m going to call over there. Can you please try and send someone by?” Sadie asked.

“I’ll see if anyone is patrolling over that way, alright? How’s that? And if Cash answers the phone let me know and I’ll call off the drive-by.”

* * *

The ringing phone startled everyone. It had been quiet as the grave since Terry killed Kurt Cobain.

“Don’t even think about answering that,” Terry said, glaring at me.

“We can’t hang around here all day, Terry. Someone is bound to come by and try that door. When they look in they are going to know something is wrong,” Frank said, trying to be the voice of reason.

“Damnit, you’re right. We have to get out of here. This place got a back door?” Terry asked.

I confirmed there was an alley out back.

“That where your car is?” I could see the wheels turning in his mind.

When I nodded, Terry directed Frank to get a bag from the van.

“We’re switching cars.”

Cautious not to make any sudden moves, I watched as Frank twist the lock on the front door. Terry was looking for a chance to teach me a lesson.

Through a slight gap between the posters, I saw Deputy Mazzy get out of his police cruiser and look at the van parked outside, talking into the walkie on his shoulder.

Frank noticed him and flipped the lock again He darted back behind the cover of my shelves, “Shit, that was close,” he panted.

* * *

Mazzy tried the door, but it only clunked in its steel frame. Mazzy didn’t know Cash well. No one did really except a select few. It was a mystery to the folks in town how he kept Grooveyard Music open with the little business he did. Some people said he was one of those dot com millionaires laying low, others said the shop was a front for the Dixie Mafia, that they used it to launder money. If anyone knew the truth they weren’t saying.

Mazzy tried the door again. It  hadn’t magically unlocked and still wouldn’t open. He could not see anything for those damned posters covering the front windows. “Cash? Cash, you in there? Everything OK? The door’s locked.”

“Yeah, we’re fine here, just having a private party,” Cash called from behind the glass door.

“In the middle of the day?” Mazzy didn’t buy that for a second. Cash never closed this early on a Saturday. The shop was quiet too, Mazzy had never known Grooveyard to be anything short of a noise violation.

“Yeah, I felt like closing early and celebrating. Hey, Mazzy, do me a favor, would you?

“Yeah, Cash?”

“Tell that no good son of bitch Blaylock if he ever flies my flag upside down again I’m gonna kick his ass.”

An adrenaline hit flushed Mazzy’s cheeks. As a former Green Beret, Mazzy knew that an upside-down flag was a military call for help, but as far as he knew Cash Bishop wasn’t in the military. And he couldn’t figure out why Cash was threatening Sam Blaylock with an ass whooping.

“Uh, sure thing, Cash.” Mazzy had a funny feeling as he walked back to the squad car. He wasn’t sure he should leave, but he was sure he needed backup. He got on the radio and asked Sheriff Jackson to meet him at the Hot Wheels Diner after he got off the phone with Sam.

* * *

“What was that all about? ”Terry asked checking the bandages on Bill’s chest. He seemed to have forgotten about switching out the cars. That was apparently too risky.

“This guy who thinks he’s funny. He doesn’t come into town often and when he does he’s always messing with my flag.” I pointed to the American flag that always flew in front of my store.

“Sounds like some petty shit high school girls do,” Frank said, oblivious to the concept of strategy.

* * *

Mazzy called  over to Blaylock’s Ironworks to talk to Sam about the message Cash had asked him to deliver.

Jamie answered and after a minute of chit chat Mazzie got her to get Sam for him.

Mazzy didn’t want to beat around the bush anymore as soon as they exchanged greetings he got down to business.

“How well do you know him? I mean threatening you and using a police officer to do it seems silly. You could file charges on him and I would hate to think what you would do to him if he actually tried to kick your ass.”

“I’ve gotten some music there that Jamie couldn’t live without, so she claims.” Sam laughed.

Sharing the other man's chuckle Mazzy asked, “There’s no bad blood between you two?”

“None, I got no idea why that grunt’s trying to pick a fight with me?”

“Grunt? He's Army?” Mazzy seemed surprised.

“Yeah, medical discharge. Got hurt. Some kind of accident. That’s why he’s got that limp. Probably why he likes to drink too.”

“How do you know about his discharge? He doesn’t talk about anything but music,” Mazzy offered.

Sam said, “He saw my anchor tattoo, we got to talking and he showed me his crossed sabers tattoo and we’ve been friendly ever since. If I’m in town I'll stop in for a coffee and shoot the shit with him for a bit. He’s a decent enough guy for a scout, even if they are a bit fucking off by design.”

“I never spent much time with scouts when I was in, they seemed aloof. We never mixed with them,” Mazzie explained.

“You go talk to Sheriff Jackson, Mazzy,” he told the deputy, “I’m going to go see what the hell is going on. That man’s in some kind of trouble and asking me for help.”

* * *

Inside the store, things kept getting worse. Terry was on his hands and knees looking between the posters in the window. He saw the sheriff and his deputies across the street. “Shit.” He didn’t know what to do, this was far beyond any worst-case scenario he had thought up.

“I know, Terry. It’s not looking too good man,” Frank said. “We’re surrounded, trapped even. And Bill ... he’s dead.”

“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this! This is all wrong. Today was supposed to be easy,” Terry groused. He was out of options and had debts to pay.

* * *

Sam parked his truck outside the blocked off area. He paced up and down the street feeling helpless, it was not a feeling he cared much for.

“Sheriff! Over here!” Sadie was waving to Abe Jackson from the other side of the squad car down the street. It looked like she was holding a cup holder with four cups of coffee in it.

Sam walked over to where Sadie was standing and waving. “Sadie, what are you doing over here, it’s not safe!” He chastised her.

“Hush up, Sam and listen to me,” Sadie said, handing him the coffees. “Cash isn’t alone in there.”

“What do you mean, Sadie?”

She told Sam about the salad, Diet Coke, and the blonde woman people sometimes see in there, the Toyota Camry with Tennessee plates parked in the back.

“Well, hell, this changes things,” Abe said after Sam called him on his cell phone and shared Sadie’s gossip. “Damnit, we can’t just sit here, ” Abe said, hitting the trunk lid of his cruiser.

* * *

Terry directed Frank, “Give me the phone for this place. We’re getting out of here.”

I slowly limped over and slid behind the counter. When I reached for the cordless phone, my Jericho was right behind me. “What do you say, can I grab something to drink?” I pointed to the fridge.

Terry thought about it for a second and said, “Yeah, go ahead. Nice and slow. Don’t do anything you’ll regret.”

I made sure to move slowly. I took four Cokes out of the fridge and sat them on the counter right above the concealed Jericho. “Damn. Hold on a minute, my shoe came untied.” I dropped behind the counter.

“Get up! Get where I can see you! Frank get over there!” Terry shouted. Frank took a few steps and stopped when I stood up.

When I popped up I put my left hand on the counter, keeping my right down at my side.

“Go on over there and get our drinks. Then loverboy here can bring Miss It hers,” Terry directed.

Frank came over and grabbed the Cokes then turned his back to me. For the briefest of seconds, I was blocked from Terry’s view by Frank. It was now or never. I reached under the counter and grabbed the Jericho. I brought it up and shot Frank twice in the back.

When Terry heard the shots he moved right and I tracked him, squeezing off three shots. He managed to get one off and hit me in the left shoulder. When he fell to the ground he didn’t move. When my ears stopped ringing, I heard Callie screaming.

I limped over to Frank, never taking my aim off him. There was already a puddle underneath him. I pushed him with my foot and he didn’t react.

As I approached Terry, I knew he wasn’t going to be a problem anymore. The back of his skull was missing. I pushed him over and saw that the bullet went in through his left eye.

The front door exploded and Sheriff Jackson, Deputy Mazzy and two other deputies barreled into the shop. I put my right arm up, Jericho dangling from my index finger and shouted “Clear, the room is clear!” I didn’t want to get shot again.

“Get an ambulance, we got a man hit,” Mazzy said when he saw my shirt was wet with blood

“And the coroner,’ I added with certainty and resoluteness. I nodded toward Carrot-top. “That asshole is lucky that first shot killed him, cause I’d damn sure take pleasure in shooting him again.”

Callie had her head buried in her lap. I went to her and pulled the throw from the back of the couch to wrap around her. As I knelt to put the blanket on her shoulders, she grabbed me and held on so tight I was afraid she might squeeze all the blood out of me. Her sobs made me forget about everything buzzing around me. I just wanted to comfort her.

“Hey, hey look at me.” I pulled back and held her face in my hands. “You’re okay. I’m okay. And those assholes are never going to hurt anyone ever again.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, Cash. But, wow, you were so brave. I somehow knew we were going to be safe. Still, now that it’s all over, I can’t explain it. I’m …”

“You’re probably in shock, sweetie. I know this is a horrible thing to see. I’m so sorry you had to see it. But you handled yourself so well and I’m so proud of you.” Now, tears came to my eyes, as I pulled her to me and kissed her, then held her close. The paramedics would be there soon enough to check us both out.

* * *

The next day I was trying to sweep up bits of glass leftover from the sheriff's entrance and having a helluva time thanks to the sling supporting my left arm.

“Come on, let me help you.” Sam Blaylock said, reaching for the broom I was fighting with.

“Fine, here take the damn thing. Jesus, what a mess,” I said, looking around. I had a busted front door, a blood-soaked couch and a shot up television. Not to mention, there was blood and brain bits everywhere. I should call a cleaning crew for this mess instead of trying to do it myself. The important thing was Callie wasn’t hurt. All this other stuff is just stuff, it’s replaceable.

“You going to open up again?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, I don’t see why not. It’s not like they came after me personally. They didn’t know who I was. It could have happened to anyone, you know? You, or Sadie, or the museum...”

Sam, who had been known to take a piece of iron to a man or two, chuckled, “I don’t think it would have happened to me.”

“If they caught you alone in the shop and you weren’t expecting it, I bet they could have.”

“Maybe,” he conceded. “Now, what’s this nonsense about you kicking my ass?”

“I had to think of something to get your attention and quick,” I said.

“And you did,” he nodded.

“When I get this thing off, I’ll show you what I meant,” I teased.

“Oh, you think you can kick my ass?” He laughed with me.

Extending my hand to him I said, “Thanks, man.”

He took my hand in his rough mitt. “Anytime.”

Callie called from the top of the stairs. “Cash, why don’t you come upstairs and lay down for a little bit? Don’t overdo it.”

“Get on out of here Sam, my nurse is beckoning.”

“No problem, I’ll be back tomorrow to check up on you.”

“You don’t have to, you know?”

“Yeah, I know. But if something happens to you and Jamie has to wait for some music I’ll never hear the end of it.” He snickered.

“Right. Thanks for thinking of me, you big jerk.” Smiling, I closed the side door as Sam walked around the building toward his truck.

“Cash….”

“I’m coming, hold your horses.”

When I finally got to the top of the stairs Callie was waiting for me. She put her arm around me and led me toward the bedroom.

THE END



Dead End / Part Three

Dead End / Part Three

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