Authors: Christopher Moore
A Comedy of Horrors
The Breeze blew into San Junipero in the shotgun seat of Billy Winston's Pinto wagon. The Pinto lurched dangerously from shoulder to centerline, the result of Billy trying to roll a joint one-handed while balancing a Coors tallboy and bopping to the Bob Marley song that crackled through the stereo.
“We be jammin' now, mon!” Billy said, toasting The Breeze with a slosh of the Coors.
The Breeze shook his head balefully. “Keep the can down, watch the road, let me roll the doobie,” he said.
“Sorry, Breeze,” Billy said. “I'm just stoked that we're on the road.”
Billy's admiration for The Breeze was boundless. The Breeze was truly cool, a party renaissance man. He spent his days at the beach and his nights in a cloud of sinsemilla. The Breeze could smoke all night, polish off a bottle of tequila, maintain well enough to drive the forty miles back to Pine Cove without arousing the suspicion of a single cop, and be on the beach by nine the next
morning acting as if the term
were too abstract to be considered. On Billy Winston's private list of personal heroes The Breeze ranked second only to David Bowie.
The Breeze twisted the joint, lit it, and handed it to Billy for the first hit.
“What are we celebrating?” Billy croaked, trying to hold in the smoke.
The Breeze held up a finger to mark the question, while he dug the
Dionysian Book of Days: An Occasion for Every Party
from the pocket of his Hawaiian shirt. He flipped through the pages until he found the correct date. “Nambian Independence Day,” he announced.
“Bitchin',” Billy said. “Party down for Nambian Independence.”
“It says,” The Breeze continued, “that the Nambians celebrate their independence by roasting and eating a whole giraffe and drinking a mixture of fermented guava juice and the extract of certain tree frogs that are thought to have magical powers. At the height of the celebration, all the boys who have come of age are circumcised with a sharp stone.”
“Maybe we can circumcise a few Techies tonight if it gets boring,” Billy said.
was the term The Breeze used to refer to the male students of San Junipero Technical College. For the most part, they were ultraconservative, crew-cut youths who were perfectly satisfied with their role as bulk stock to be turned into tools for industrial America by the rigid curricular lathe of San Junipero Tech.
To The Breeze, the Techies' way of thinking was so foreign that he couldn't even muster a healthy loathing for them. They were simply nonentities. On the other hand, the coeds of S.J. Tech occupied a special place in The Breeze's heart. In fact, finding a few moments of blissful escape between the legs of a nubile coed was the only reason he was subjecting himself to a forty-mile sojourn in the company of Billy Winston.
Billy Winston was tall, painfully thin, ugly, smelled bad, and had a particular talent for saying the wrong thing in almost any situation. On top of it all, The Breeze suspected that Billy was gay.
The idea had been reinforced one night when he dropped in on Billy at his job as night desk clerk at the Rooms-R-Us motel and found him leafing through a
magazine. In Breeze's business one got used to running across the skeletons in people's closets. If Billy's skeleton wore women's underwear, it didn't really matter. Homosexuality on Billy Winston was like acne on a leper.
The up side of Billy Winston was that he had a car that ran and would take The Breeze anywhere he wanted to go. The Breeze's van was currently being held by some Big Sur growers as collateral against the forty pounds of sinsemilla buds he had stashed in a suitcase at his trailer.
“The way I see it,” said Billy, “we hit the Mad Bull first. Do a pitcher of margaritas at Jose's, dance a little at the Nuked Whale, and if we don't find any nookie, we head back home for a nightcap at the Slug.”
“Let's hit the Whale first and see what's shakin',” The Breeze said.
The Nuked Whale was San Junipero's premier college dance club. If The Breeze was going to find a coed to cuddle, it would be at the Whale. He had no intention of making the drive with Billy back to Pine Cove for a nightcap at the Head of the Slug. Closing up the Slug was tantamount to having a losing night, and The Breeze was through with being a loser. Tomorrow when he sold the forty pounds of grass he would pocket twenty grand. After twenty years blowing up and down the coast, living on nickle-dime deals to make rent, The Breeze was, at last, stepping into the winners' circle, and there was no room for a loser like Billy Winston.
Billy parked the Pinto in a yellow zone a block away from the Nuked Whale. From the sidewalk they could hear the throbbing rhythms of the latest techno-pop dance music.
The unlikely pair covered the block in a few seconds, Billy striding ahead while The Breeze brought up the rear with a laid-back shuffle. As Billy slipped under the neon whale tail and into the club, the doormanâa fresh-faced slab of muscle and crew cutâcaught him by the arm.
“Let's see some I.D.”
Billy flashed an expired driver's license as Breeze caught up to him and began digging into the pocket of his Day-Glo green surf shorts for his wallet.
The doorman raised a hand in dismissal. “That's okay, buddy, with that hairline you don't need any.”
The Breeze ran his hand over his forehead self-consciously. Last month he had turned forty, a dubious achievement for a man who had once vowed never to trust anyone over thirty.
Billy reached around him and slapped two dollar bills into the doorman's hand. “Here,” he said, “buy yourself a night with an Inflate-A-Date.”
“What!” The doorman vaulted off his stool and puffed himself up for combat, but Billy had already scampered away into the crowded club. The Breeze stepped in front of the doorman and raised his hands in surrender.
“Cut him some slack, man. He's got problems.”
“He's going to have some problems,” the doorman bristled.
“No, really,” The Breeze continued, wishing that Billy had spared him the loyal gesture and therefore the responsibility of pacifying this collegiate cave man. “He's on medication. Psychological problems.”
The doorman was unsure. “If this guy is dangerous, get him out of here.”
“Not dangerous, just a little squirrellyâhe's bipolar Oedipal,” The Breeze said with uncharacteristic pomposity.
“Oh,” the doorman said, as if it had all become clear. “Well, keep him in line or you're both out.”
“No problem.” The Breeze turned and joined Billy at the bar amid a crunch of beer-drinking students. Billy handed him a Heineken.
Billy said, “What did you say to that asshole to calm him down?”
“I told him you wanted to fuck your mom and kill your dad.”
“Cool. Thanks, Breeze.”
“No charge.” The Breeze tipped his beer in salute.
Things were not going well for him. Somehow he had been snared into this male-bonding bullshit with Billy Winston, when all he wanted to do was ditch him and get laid.
The Breeze turned and leaned back, scanning the club for a likely candidate. He had set his sights on a homely but tight-assed little blond in leather pants when Billy broke his concentration.
“You got any blow, man?” Billy had shouted to be heard over the music, but his timing was off; the song had ended. Everyone at the bar turned toward The Breeze and waited, as if the next few words he spoke would reveal the true meaning of life, the winning numbers in the state lottery, and the unlisted phone number of God.
The Breeze grabbed Billy by the front of the shirt and hustled him to the back of the club, where a group of Techies were pounding a pinball machine, oblivious to anything but buzzers and bells. Billy looked like a frightened child who had been dragged from a movie theater for shouting out the ending.
“First,” The Breeze hissed, waving a trembling finger under Billy's nose to enumerate his point, “first, I do not use or sell cocaine.” This was half true. He did not sell since he had done six months in Soledad for dealingâand would go up for five years if he was busted again. He used it only when it was offered or when he needed bait when trolling for women. Tonight he was holding a gram.
“Second, if I did use, I wouldn't want it announced to everybody in San Junipero.”
“I'm sorry, Breeze.” Billy tried to look small and weak.
“Third,” The Breeze shook three stubby fingers in Billy's face, “we have an agreement. If one of us scores, the other one gets cut loose. Well, I think I found someone, so cut loose.”
Billy started to shuffle toward the door, head down, his lower lip hanging, like the bloated victim of a lynch mob. After a few steps he turned. “If you need a rideâif things don't work outâI'll be at the Mad Bull.”
The Breeze, as he watched the injured Billy skulk away, felt a twinge of remorse.
Forget it, he thought, Billy had it coming. After the deal tomorrow he wouldn't need Billy or any of the quarter-ounce-a-week buyers of his ilk. The Breeze was eager for the time when
he could afford to be without friends. He strutted across the dance floor toward the blond in the leather pants.
Having wafted through most of his forty years as a single man, The Breeze had come to recognize the importance of the pickup line. At best, it should be original, charming, concise but lyricalâa catalyst to invoke curiosity and lust. Knowing this, he approached his quarry with the calm of a well-armed man.
“Yo, babe,” he said, “I've got a gram of prime Peruvian marching powder. You want to go for a walk?”
“Pardon me?” the girl said, somewhere between astonishment and disgust. The Breeze noticed that she had a wide-eyed, fawnlike lookâBambi with too much mascara.
He gave her his best surfer-boy smile. “I was wondering if you'd like to powder your nose.”
“You're old enough to be my father,” she said.
The Breeze was staggered by the rejection. As the girl escaped onto the crowded dance floor, he fell back to the bar to consider strategy.
Go on to the next one? Everybody gets tubed now and then; you just have to climb back on the board and wait for the next wave
. He scanned the dance floor looking for a chance at the wild ride. Nothing but sorority girls with absolutely perfect hair. No chance. His fantasy of jumping one and using her until her perfect hair was tangled into a hopeless knot at the back of her head had been relegated long ago to the realm of fairy tales and free money.
The energy in San Junipero was all wrong. It didn't matterâhe'd be a rich man tomorrow. Best to catch a ride back to Pine Cove. With luck he could get to the Head of the Slug Saloon before last call and pick up one of the standby bitches who still valued good company and didn't require a hundred bucks worth of blow to get upside down with you.
As he stepped into the street a chill wind bit at his bare legs and swept through his thin shirt. Thumbing the forty miles back to Pine Cove was going to suck, big time. Maybe Billy was still at the Mad Bull? No, The Breeze told himself, there are worse things than freezing your ass off.
He shrugged off the cold and fell into a steady stride toward the highway, his new fluorescent yellow deck shoes squeaking with every step. They rubbed his little toe when he walked. After five blocks he felt the blister break and go raw. He cursed himself for becoming another slave to fashion.
Half a mile outside of San Junipero the streetlights ended. Darkness added to The Breeze's list of mounting aggravations. Without trees and buildings to break its momentum, the cold Pacific wind increased and whipped his clothes around him like torn battle flags. Blood from his damaged toe was beginning to spot the canvas of his deck shoe.
A mile out of town The Breeze abandoned the dancing, smiling, and tipping of a ghost-hat that was supposed to charm drivers into stopping to give a ride to a poor, lost surfer. Now he trudged, head down in the dark, his back to traffic, a single frozen thumb thrust into the air beaconing, then changing into a middle finger of defiance as each car passed without slowing.
“Fuck you! You heartless assholes!” His throat was sore from screaming.
He tried to think of the moneyâsweet, liberating cash, crispy and greenâbut again and again he was brought back to the cold, the pain in his feet, and the increasingly dismal chance of getting a ride home. It was late, and the traffic was thinning to a car every five minutes or so.
Hopelessness circled in his mind like a vulture.
He considered doing the cocaine, but the idea of entering a too-fast jangle on a lonely, dark road and crashing into a paranoid, teeth-chattering shiver seemed somewhat insane.
Think about the money. The money.
It was all Billy Winston's fault. And the guys in Big Sur; they didn't have to take his van. It wasn't like he had ever ripped anyone off on a big deal before. It wasn't like he was a bad guy. Hadn't he let Robert move into his trailer, rent free, when his old lady threw him out? Didn't he help Robert put a new head gasket in his truck? Hadn't he always played squareâlet people try the product before buying? Didn't he advance his regulars a quarter-ounce until payday?
In a business that was supposed to be fast and loose, wasn't he a pillar of virtue? Right as rain? Straight as an arrowâ¦.
A car pulled up twenty yards behind him and hit the brights. He didn't turn. Years of experience told him that anyone using that approach was only offering a ride to one place, the Iron-bar Hotel. The Breeze walked on, as if he didn't notice the car. He shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his surf shorts, as if fighting the cold, found the cocaine and slipped it into his mouth, paper and all. Instantly his tongue went numb. He raised his hands in surrender and turned, expecting to see the flashing reds and blues of a county sheriff cruiser.
But it wasn't a cop. It was just two guys in an old Chevy, playing games. He could make out their figures past the headlights. The Breeze swallowed the paper the cocaine had been wrapped in. Taken by a burning anger, fueled by blow and blood-lust, he stormed toward the Chevy.