“That corpse you planted last year in your garden, has it begun to sprout?
Will it bloom this year? Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?”
Say, were you around Baldwin Park in the `70s? If so, do you recall The Cat’s Meow? It sat on the southeast corner of Ramona and Puente Avenues. (Years later, after the infamous and tragic parking lot shooting it would close down and reinvent itself as a lounge and then a restaurant.) In its day, The Cat’s Meow was a cocktail-serving topless bar. Nicole, my sometimes girlfriend, was a dancer there. I worked down the street in a warehouse behind The Keg Liquor Store.
I knew from the start that I was not going to be able to hang onto Nicole. She had her exquisitely manicured hooks out for bigger fish than me. It irked me now and again, but I had friends to comfort me – Lucky Lager and my dangerous, but reliable old pal, Jack Daniels. Nicole told me often that she loved me, but we just weren’t meant to be together. Hey, I dealt with it best I could. Then one night at the bar she comes up to me and says, “I want you to meet someone.”
That was when I met Martin. He and I shared three things: We both favored `57 Fords (especially the Custom 300 “Post” models) over `57 Chevys, we both owned lots of guns, and we both were in love with, and rejected by, Nicole.
“I’m the jealous type,” Martin told me early on, “I wish I could be more like you though.”
Martin was two years older than me. He was a big guy, six-two or three, and two hundred some pounds of Modesto-born muscle. Over a couple of months the two of us became good friends. We got drunk together and went shooting out in the desert a lot. We’d take turns driving our `57 Fords around to different bars. We’d sit in my little apartment after hours sipping Jack Daniels, telling stories (sometimes about Nicole) and reloading ammo until the sun came up.
Once, after we got back from shooting in the desert, we were cleaning our guns and drinking bloody marys and he said, “You know she’s in Las Vegas right now with that Persian asshole with the porn mustache and the Porsche?” I nodded affirmative.
“He’s a pretentious dick,” I said as I glanced into the newly oiled action of my favorite rifle.
“You ever think about just killing her ass?” Martin said looking up from his powerhouse .44 custom made, lever-action carbine.
Taking my eyes from my cleaned and oiled Savage .308 bolt-action, I glanced askance at Martin. “No fucking way,” I said, “You’re joking—right?”
“Dude, all respect to you, but you don’t love her like I do. No one does, or has, or ever will. Hell man, I been in love with that woman since we were kids.”
Martin always made me a little nervous. Once he told me that I was the only friend he ever had in his entire life. He just seemed so tortured and in such desperate need of a friend. Frankly, I really liked the guy, weirdness and all. I changed the subject and killing Nicole never came up again. About a month later Martin just up and disappeared. Nicole said he did that all the time. He’d show up out of nowhere, hang out around her for a spell, and then disappear back into somewhere again. She told me he’d been doing that since they graduated from high school together up in Modesto.
Years slipped by filled with alcohol and nothingness. My fever for Nicole melted just a little. The Cat’s Meow closed its doors forever after the security guard was gunned down in the parking lot. I moved on to other bars and a couple more doomed romances. After a while I completely lost touch with Nicole. I heard she hooked-up with some rich dude and he bought her one of those big new houses over where Streamland used to be. Sometimes, with a half-pint of JD between my legs, I’d drive around that neighborhood just hoping to see her out watering the lawn or washing her latest new car that he bought for her. I never did see her. Then, one early afternoon at The North Forty Tavern, who should come through the door but Martin!
He hadn’t changed much, maybe a little of his muscle had turned to fat, but he was still an imposing and scary looking guy. We talked about our latest weapons. I told him since he’d left I didn’t get out to the desert much although I hit the range once or twice a month. We went out to the parking lot and looked over a stunning electric blue and dark gray Custom 300 he had restored. “Damn Martin,” I told him earnestly, “that is the most beautiful machine I ever saw!”
“She’s got a stroker Thunderbird Special with two-fours and four-speed Hurst floor shifter. This is the real deal here son—the cat’s meow!” We both laughed at his nostalgic reference.
Nicole’s name never came up. He wanted my address. When I asked why, he just said he wanted to send me something. When I asked him what, he just put me off with, “You’ll see.”
Martin disappeared again after that day at The North Forty. A month went by. A package arrived, postmarked from Barstow. There was no return address. I opened it, fully anticipating it to be from Martin since I didn’t know anyone in Barstow, and I remembered he always talked about living up in the high desert someday. Inside was a letter, a pink slip and keys. Here’s the letter:
Nicole told me she thought highly of you and never intended to hurt you. Thing was, Nicole was not “normal” and neither was I. Nicole is my sister. We’d been lovers since she was thirteen and I was sixteen. We hid it from our parents for years. She could never accept it, but it never seemed unnatural to me. We are soul mates and being brother and sister meant nothing to me. But in high school she starting freaking out and sleeping around. I wanted to move down here where no one knew us and get married. But she couldn’t deal with it even though she said she loved me. Again and again she’d spend a night or two with me and then leave. Years later I met you, and I knew you loved her, yet you handled her promiscuity so well, and God knows I tried to accept it as you did, but it ate at me and made me insane with jealousy and rage. I did some seriously bad things to some of her lovers. She often got very angry and depressed over all that.
You know where she is now? Remember that .38 Ruger with the suppressor we made out of a beer can and steel wool? Well, I shot her in the head with it while she was asleep after we made love. That day I saw you at The North Forty and we went out in the parking lot and I showed you my car, she was in the trunk. After I left you I drove out to the desert and buried her just off that power pole road at that spot where you and I used to go shooting out behind Bell Mountain.
The pink is in the package. I signed the car over to you. My guns and reloading stuff are in the trunk. On the key ring there’s an extra key. It’s to where the car is. The address is at the bottom.
I am paying someone to drive me out to where I buried Nicole. Tomorrow I’m going to dig her grave up and get in it with her. This guy is going to shoot me with that same .38 that I shot her with, in the temple – right where I shot her. Then he’s going to fill the grave back up. I hope he kept his promise and put the dirt back over us because I paid him good money to do it all. I’d appreciate it if you would come out here though and make sure he really did cover the two of us back up. In fact, both Nicole and I would appreciate it.
Thanks for everything, your friend, Martin. (Goodbye. Enjoy the car and the guns.)
The `57 was in a storage facility by Legg Lake. In the trunk were the guns, reloading equipment, and a large, crimson, long-dried blood stain. The next day I drove Martin’s `57 up into the desert and located the grave. It had been filled in. I stayed out there `til near sundown shooting my new guns, drinking whiskey and talking like a crazy man to the two of them.
These days, I drive up to the grave nine or ten times a year and spend the day shooting. Mostly Martin’s incredible .44 carbine. Of course, I always take his `57. You know, I’ve never cleaned the blood stain out of the trunk. It’s all I have left of Nicole.
BIO: There’s so much “strangeness” out there in the mine field of our world and Daniel Delehant just tries to write little shards of it here and there without getting blown-up.