Wednesday, April 13, 2011


John McFetridge

This week I'm way behind on some deadlines. Well, truth be told, when it comes to the novel I'm working on I'm more than a year behind deadline. I just missed another deadline that would have seen the book published this fall so now I'm working on the next deadline that will bring the book out next February. Or March.

And I'm getting very close to finished.

It started out as a piece of flash fiction about a reunited rock band playing a casino and then another flash fiction and then I thought I could turn it into a novel. We'll know for sure in about three weeks.

In the meantime, here's the first chapter:

The High had been back together and on the road for a couple of months playing mostly casinos when the lead singer, Cliff Moore, got the idea to start robbing them. Not the casinos so much, the shylocks working them.

It was two in the morning, they’d played the Northern Lights Theatre at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee, nostalgia show with Grand Funk and Eddie Money, and Cliff was in a minivan in the parking lot getting a blowjob. Out the van window he saw the bass player, Barry Nemeth, walking between parked cars, looking around like somebody might be following him and putting a wad of cash in his jacket pocket. Cliff said, “What the fuck,” and the soccer mom looked up at him and said, you don’t like it, and Cliff said, no, it’s good, honey, “Really good, I’m almost there.” When he finished, he signed another autograph, the mom saying the first time she saw The High was in Madison, must have been seventy-eight or seventy-nine, her and her friends still in high school sneaking into the show at the University of Wisconsin. She said, “It was you guys and Styx, remember? I had a crush on you ever since.”

Cliff caught up to Barry standing outside the tour bus having a smoke and asked him about the money, when did he have time to get into the casino, and Barry said, no, he didn’t win it, he stole it.

Cliff said, “You mugged somebody,” and Barry said, fuck no, “The money’s from a shylock. Come on,” and got on the bus. Cliff started to follow, felt a hand on his arm and looked around to see two very hot chicks, had to be teenagers, but maybe legal, looked exactly the same; long blonde hair, tight jeans, low cut tees, like twins, same serious look on their faces and he said, “Hey ladies, looking for some fun?”

One of the girls said, “No, we’re looking for our mom, she was talking to you before.”

Ritchie came up then, squeezed between the girls, shaking his head at Cliff, saying, “At least they’re not looking for their grandma,” and Cliff said, “Fuck you.”

On the bus Cliff walked past Ritchie and sat down beside Barry, saying, “What’re you talking about, shylocks?”

They were settled in then, heading to Niagara Falls, going to open for the Doobie Brothers and Barry said, “You know, loan sharks working the casinos.”

Cliff said, “They work for the casinos?” and Barry said, no, “They don’t work for the casinos, they work at them. They cash cheques.”

“We don’t get paid by cheque,” Cliff said, “it’s direct deposit.”

“They buy jewellery, cars, whatever. Usually the same guy sells the speed and meth.”

“So how’d you get the money?”

“This guy, I sold him a microphone,” and Cliff said, shit, “Now you have no mike,” and Barry said it was one of Grand Funk’s, “So the drummer doesn’t sing back-up, so what?”

Ritchie walked down the aisle then, going into the bathroom right behind Barry and Cliff and Dale, the drummer, sitting across the aisle beside his wife Jackie said, “You take one of your monster dumps in there, you fucking hot bag it,” and Jackie said, “Dale, please.”

She looked across the aisle at Cliff and Barry and said, “What is it happens to you guys, you get on the road and you’re teenagers again?”

Cliff said, “Again?” pointing at Dale, saying, “He ever poke you as much as that iPod,” and Jackie rolled her eyes and looked away. She and Dale married nearly thirty years, she was the only wife left on the bus. Dale said, “Do not stink up this fucking bus, there’s bags in there.”

Now Cliff was whispering but nobody was listening anyway, saying, “They fired a roadie, it was you? How much you get?”

Barry said he got two hundred for the mike, five hundred for the Stratocaster he lifted from Eddie Money – guy never played it anyway -- and a hundred and fifty for the back-up singer’s leather boots back at the Northern Lights Casino in Minnesota. Cliff said, shit, “That chick was so pissed off, man, that was a catfight, she went after the black one hard.”

Cliff was looking right at Barry now and he said, “All this time we haven’t seen each other, it’s like I don’t even know you anymore.”

Barry said, yeah.

Cliff said, “They always have the cash to pay you, just like that?”

“Shit, these guys are mobile fucking pawn shops, they buy anything. They buy cars, it’s all cash, people take it right back into the casino.”

“Full service business.”

Barry said, you know it. “This guy tonight, he probably had twenty, thirty grand on him. I’d like to get my hands on that,” and Cliff said, what do you want to do, sell them the bus? But that’s when he had the idea.

Ritchie came out of the bathroom, dropped a plastic grocery bag in the aisle between Cliff and Jackie, and said, “Here, you want it so bad,” and kept going back to his seat behind the driver.

Jackie said, “Oh for Christ sake,” making a face like he dropped it in her lap and Dale reached past her, grabbed the bag, opened the window and threw it out in one motion, saying, “I’m not riding in a stinking bus.”

Cliff said to Barry, “Twenty grand? You think so?”

“Remember that hockey player’s brother, guy on the Red Wings, got picked up at the casino in Detroit, loan sharking?”

Cliff said, yeah, vaguely, he remembered something about betting on games, too, wasn’t the brother a goalie? “Wasn’t he tied to the Saints of Hell, the motorcycle gang?”

“Probably. Gotta be tied to somebody to work the casino. They picked him up, it was on the news, him and his girlfriend, had forty-five grand in cash on them, a pile of jewellery they’d bought, government cheques they cashed.”

Cliff said, shit.

Barry said if they could get their hands on a big money item it would make the tour worthwhile and Cliff said, “This whole reunion thing was your idea, you think I wanted to get back on the fucking bus, ride with these assholes?”

Barry said, no, “You wanted to keep selling yuppies million dollar fucking bungalows in Toronto, bust your hump seven days a week, suck up to everybody in sight, hoping they don’t do the deal with their brother-in-law.”

Cliff didn’t say anything but he thought, yeah, the real estate was getting tough. Tough to get a listing, tough to keep a client, working eighteen hour days, always on call, working every minute of long weekends. He was ready when Barry called with this idea of putting The High back together, heading out on the road.

Cliff said, “Maybe you don’t have to sell them anything,” and Barry said, what do you mean? Cliff said he had an idea, but wait a minute and he went in the bathroom.

There was a plastic bag full of other plastic bags in the little sink and Cliff got one out and stretched it over the toilet seat thinking it was just like all the dog owners in his neighbourhood back home, always carrying bags, always ready to pick up the shit. Won’t give the homeless guy in front of the Tim Hortons a dime for the newspaper he’s trying to sell, but they get on their knees to pick up dog shit.

He started to undo his belt and thought, no, really just need to take a leak, this is just nerves, butterflies, but bad ones, worse than getting up on stage ever felt, and then realized, well, you start thinking about ripping off connected guys in casinos, it’s got to give you some nerves.

Gives you a rush, too, though. Cliff pulled the bag off the toilet and started pissing, thinking, yeah, add twenty grand to what they were getting for a night on stage, putting the band back together starts to look like a great idea.

1 comment:

Keith Logan said...

I like where this is going! Great plot so far.

At first when I tried to read it, at the end of a long day teaching, I read too fast and couldn't keep up with the back and forth dialogue. This morning my brain is working better and I can follow just fine.

Your style, as it is evolving, does demand attention on the reader's part. No skimming. The funky way you mix dialogue and exposition means the reader has to parse at a higher than normal level. What attracts you to writing this way?

Anyway, I'll be there as a reader.