By: Mitchel Montagna
O’Casey had Buffalo Springfield’s Retrospective on eight-track. The song “Bluebird” ran for fourteen and a half minutes, long enough so that it skipped from track to track. In the middle of an extensive guitar jam, the music abruptly stopped. There’d be silence for two seconds while the tape changed tracks, then the song came roaring back. In O’Casey’s 1973 Corvette, “Bluebird” seemed to be playing all the time and its disruptive presentation befuddled air-guitaring potheads.
O’Casey had once been an Eagle Scout, but he was a long way from all that. He had two four-foot tall Yamaha speakers sitting on the Corvette’s back seat. O’Casey had connected those speakers to his sound system, and he blasted music so loud that it could vibrate your skull.
“Jesus H. Christ, O’Casey,” Shanahan cried one evening during the brief, blessed silence of the “Bluebird” transition. “I can’t fucking move back here, I’m going deaf…”
WAH THROB WAH, thesong returned like a cannon shot, drowning Shanahan’s voice and knocking him off his seat.
Bonney backed his Chevy pickup from its parking space with all the care he could muster, which wasn’t much. He’d just tossed back a dozen shots of bourbon. It had been a dark and overcast winter; tonight was more of the same. The gloom was bottomless. No moon or stars were out, and few streetlights burned this far above the valley. As Bonney’s vehicle lurched back, a rear tire mounted a cement marker then dropped back to the gravel drive, rattling his head.
“Good fucking God,” Bonney chuckled.
He still had the broad-backed body of the high school wrestler he once was. He had also played baseball and chased girls; many had chased back.
Today Bonney worked in a feed store and hunted between shifts. He was saving for a new 12-gauge Remington, and he was going to nail a six-point buck this season if it killed him. He lived in the hills of Walker Valley, and everywhere you looked dark maples covered the slopes like a thick head of hair. The land rose steeply till its angle gave as the treetops met the low sky. The hills were colorful in the fall and summer – winters were for hunting. Bonney loved the countryside, was suited to the freedom of the outdoor life. It generally kept him in good humor, but he’d shoot a dog without blinking, and once in seventh grade he’d hurled a fastball that accidentally struck the skull of a classmate and didn’t feel much of anything when the kid dropped.
As Bonney turned onto the narrow coal-black road, he decided that he wasn’t quite fucked up enough. He wanted mescaline, and knew where to get it. Bonney’s pickup careened down the hill, dark trees darting into the headlights like shadows then reeling away as he spun the wheel.
The next day Dallas would play Denver in the Super Bowl, and it didn’t promise to be much of a game. Morton vs. Staubach? Come on. That contest had been settled years ago, in Fitzgerald’s opinion. He anticipated sharing that view with O’Casey and Shanahan as he squirmed into O’Casey’s back seat alongside a throbbing, ear-pounding Yamaha.
“Jesus, will you turn that down,” he yelled.
It was of course the guitar solo from “Bluebird,” and Fitzgerald couldn’t tell whether it was before or after the track change. Well, that kind of uncertainty kept life interesting. Shanahan in the front passenger seat lowered the volume as O’Casey slapped the Corvette into gear.
Night had fallen hard and early. They moved behind flooding headlights as Fitzgerald gathered his thoughts. “The game’s gonna suck. Morton? Come on.”
“Orange Crush, man,” Shanahan said. “Lyle Alzado.”
“Craig Morton, man.” The three had spent Sundays during high school watching Morton play dismally for their favorite team, the New York Giants.
“He’s on a decent team now,” Shanahan said. “Besides, the game won’t matter.”
The car glided down a narrow road. There was no illumination except headlights. Beneath the music, the engine hummed calmly. “Whaddya mean it won’t matter?”
“You’re gonna get your brain fried,” O’Casey said.
“You got it?” Fitzgerald said excitedly.
“God damn!” Fitzgerald had never experienced a hallucinogen before. He had no idea what he was in for, and that kept life interesting, too.
O’Casey parked the Corvette alongside an empty corn field then they hiked along railroad tracks. Steam came from their mouths. On either side were woods of black bare maple. It was too dark to see more than a few feet ahead; the only lights were scattered glimmers from distant houses. But they knew the area well and could’ve walked here blindfolded. They approached the feed store where O’Casey used to work. O’Casey produced a crowbar from inside his coat and proceeded to pry open a side door.
“Holy shit,” Fitzgerald said.
Inside, O’Casey walked to a keypad mounted on a wall. He entered a security code. The unit beeped as O’Casey pressed each digit. “I hope they haven’t changed the number,” he said, making Fitzgerald’s stomach churn.
Fitzgerald listened for police sirens as the men walked past stacked bags of grain that emitted pungent odor.
“Just kidding,” O’Casey said. “Scott Bonney gave me the code.”
“Very funny,” said Fitzgerald.
Their only light consisted of faint glows from two Exit signs and O’Casey’s flashlight. Wearing fingerless gloves, O’Casey banged the top of the register then its drawer popped open. He removed stacks of bills then handed some to Fitzgerald and Shanahan. Fitzgerald pulled out his wallet, saw the bills were too thick then stuffed the money into his pockets. Taped to the bottom of the register’s drawer was a key, which O’Casey palmed. “C’mon,” he said.
They walked to the back of the store. O’Casey unlocked a door and they stepped outside. They waited in the chill air as O’Casey closed the door behind them then they walked across a dirt lot. Their boots crunched against the frozen ground. They came to a pickup truck that had “Weld-Byrd Grains” painted on its side.
O’Casey used the key to unlock the pickup. “Get in,” he said. “We have a stop to make.”
“The fuck’s going on?” Shanahan said.
“I don’t have the drugs yet,” O’Casey said. “We gotta go to a place Bonney told me about. He told ‘em people from work’ll be coming by. He says these guys are known for their paranoia. It’ll help if we have the truck.”
“Un fucking believable,” Shanahan said.
They piled into the front seat and O’Casey fired up the engine. They sat closely together. Fitzgerald inhaled the odor of gasoline. The pickup’s headlights exploded through the dark night.
O’Casey figured it was prudent to go into the dealers’ house alone.
“Call if you need us,” Shanahan said, and laughed.
O’Casey left the truck, walked across a patchy lawn surrounded by a chain link fence. The house was one story, dilapidated. It had a window in front, and a pale light glowed behind a shade. Shanahan and Fitzgerald watched O’Casey knock on the door. A dog barked so loudly and deeply you’d think the sound would rip the house apart. The door opened then O’Casey stepped inside. The unearthly barking stopped cold.
Shanahan and Fitzgerald smoked a joint and waited silently. There seemed to be no places around with lights. Nearby houses looked abandoned.
O’Casey returned in a few minutes. He opened the truck’s door, startling the occupants.
“Mother of Christ,” Fitzgerald said.
“You get it?” Shanahan said.
“Yeah.” O’Casey slapped a pocket of his jacket. He settled in behind the wheel. “They have a pit bull. I swear to Christ it’s blue.”
O’Casey started the engine. “You won’t believe this. Bonney’s dead. Got killed. Last night he drove his car off a fucking cliff.”
O’Casey flicked on the headlights, pulled the pickup onto the road. “He was here last night. These greaseballs were the last to see him, probably.”
“Wow,” Shanahan said in a daze.
They drove silently for a mile.
“Where?” Shanahan said.
“Halfway up 302 in Walker Valley.”
“Fucking maniac,” Shanahan said.
The pickup accelerated. Fitzgerald felt the vibration of the engine and a chill in his spine. Who was Bonney to him? Some redneck he hardly knew. But the guy was his age. Took up space, cast shadows. Fitzgerald watched the night go by like a cascade of blood.
O’Casey’s apartment comprised the first floor of an old house at the bottom of the valley near Circleville. The apartment was a cluttered mess. Fitzgerald figured that all the drawers were empty because items that should’ve been inside them were strewn about: plates, clothing, coins, towels, linens, papers, unspooled cassette tapes, magazines, record albums. Items you stomped or sat on when you weren’t paying attention or didn’t care.
O’Casey turned on the TV. The Super Bowl telecast was in pregame. On screen there was much pageantry. Fitzgerald and Shanahan sat on a blue couch. O’Casey squatted in front of them. In a palm, he showed them three tiny pills on a square of aluminum foil. Each was the size of a nail’s head.
“Basically, this messes with your brain chemistry,” he said. “For the next six hours you’ll be schizophrenic.”
“Don’t patronize me,” Shanahan said. “I fucking know.”
“Then what?” Fitzgerald said.
“Then what?” O’Casey rubbed his chin. “Then nothing.” He watched Shanahan take a pill then place it in his mouth. “That’s what.”
Shanahan washed the pill down with Budweiser. O’Casey nodded at Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald pinched one of the two remaining pellets then swallowed it. He took his own sip of Budweiser then watched O’Casey put the last pill on his tongue.
Nothing? Fitzgerald thought. That’s what he was afraid of.
O’Casey pulled up a chair and sat. The three men turned their attention to the TV.
“I feel like electricity’s running through my veins,” said Shanahan.
Fitzgerald looked on with interest since he felt the same. Fitzgerald’s veins tingled and his brain was overheating. He’d have a thought, consider it from a different perspective then flash to another place.
He was thinking that Earth could be a molecule in a parallel universe. Our own molecules could at the same time be functioning as their own worlds, with their own ecosystems. You had an infinite number of universes operating separately but dependent on each other, like rotating spheres with the same central nervous system.
God, Fitzgerald thought. That was deep. His brain sizzled. He decided that he had been wasting his life, limiting himself. He intended to rectify that with bold action – as soon as he could move.
Shanahan cried out. “Holy shit! Look at this fucking thing.” He held up his hand. “It’s gonna explode.” He fell to his side and laughed, curled in a ball. With his high Irish complexion, he looked like he was glowing. He could’ve been a neon sign. Shanahan’s eyes were slits, buried deeply.
On screen, the Cowboys strutted around. Morton stunk. The game was a blowout. Somebody kicked a field goal. The network replayed the kick; the ball sailed in slow motion trailed by dots. The special effect was too much for the three men. They roared and screamed at its outrageousness. In fact, they decided that football itself was outrageous. They couldn’t take it seriously.
After the post-game interviews the men sat enclosed in their own worlds as if in separate capsules. They were silent and ignored the television. O’Casey broke the mood.
“We gotta return the truck.”
Shanahan’s eyes were blood red. “What?”
Fitzgerald noticed that Shanahan was now pale. His skin was like rice paper. O’Casey, a big guy, looked bloated and his eyes were slits too. Fitzgerald’s veins still tingled and molecules shimmered on every surface he looked at. O’Casey stood, his gut pushing against his shirt.
“Need to get the truck back before tomorrow morning,” O’Casey said. “Need my car.”
Fitzgerald pulled a handful of bills from his pocket. “We stole money,” he announced. “Who cares about a truck?”
The men burst into laughter. “Ho ho, what were we thinking?” they hooted.
The laughter sputtered and the men panted, catching their breaths. “I need my car,” O’Casey repeated.
Shanahan and Fitzgerald stood.
Outside, the temperature had dropped but the men were impervious. They waited, alert, as if listening for something to stir beneath the silence.
Fitzgerald patted his back pocket from habit. It was flat, empty. Shit. Fitzgerald said that he had to go back inside for his wallet.
“Man,” Shanahan said. “It’ll be there when we get back.”
“It’s an obsession for me,” Fitzgerald said. “Gotta have it.” He laughed. “Hope I didn’t leave it in the store.”
“Me too.” O’Casey was holding the driver’s door open. “Well go on in. It ain’t locked.”
Fitzgerald ambled across the living room. There was the wallet on the couch. Thank God! He sat and started laughing again. Our attachments to possessions, he thought. He was going to do something about that, he was. He stood and walked out, anxious to go for a ride. But O’Casey must have had other ideas. Fitzgerald heard the truck’s engine; the red taillights were running away. The bastards had left him. More absurdity! He stood in the cold, drawing out definitions of bushes and trees as they hid in the dark. Soon the blackness itself formed shapes. Disembodied heads and claws floated by. Animals gathered. Fitzgerald hurried inside then locked the door with haste.
Someone was pounding the door, awakening Fitzgerald, who lay on the couch. He stirred, his head feeling empty, its content blasted away.
He stood then wove across the room. He had an ache behind his eyes. He wondered why O’Casey didn’t just walk in. Unless it wasn’t O’Casey.
Fitzgerald touched his pocket and felt a lump. It was money. The memory of last night’s caper came back. The door pounded. Fitzgerald grasped the knob, twisted and pulled open the door to shocking sunlight.
A State Trooper stood in front of him.
The man was older, well-built, wearing sunglasses and a hat with flaps over his ears. He wore a down jacket and boots. Fitzgerald held up a hand to ward off the sun’s glare. Behind the trooper light poured between bare tree branches and rose like waves. Fitzgerald figured the jig was up.
The trooper removed his sunglasses. The man’s eyes were pale as silver steel. “Kieran O’Casey live here?”
“Yes sir. I’m not him.”
“I know that. Are you family?”
“Do you know how I can reach his family?”
“He has a sister in Walker Valley,” Fitzgerald said.
Fitzgerald shook his head. “His parents are dead.”
The trooper wrote on a small pad. “Sister’s name?”
Fitzgerald supplied it.
“Do you know a Brian Shanahan?”
“I don’t suppose you’re a member of his family.”
“No. He has a mother. I don’t know where.”
Fitzgerald saw brief life in the trooper’s eyes, like a soft flame that came and went. “You don’t look well,” the man said.
“Super Bowl party.” Fitzgerald smiled. “You know how it is.”
“Yeah,” said the Trooper. “I do.” He touched the bill of his cap and nodded. “Have a nice day.” The trooper turned then strode toward his car.
“What happened?” Fitzgerald called. “What’s wrong?”
The man ignored him, fired up his engine then pulled away. Fitzgerald watched the thick auto exhaust rise then stepped into the bright cold morning to continue following it. The smoke dispersed, lost in the lofty scenery. Fitzgerald’s eyes swept along the crests of the hills blanketed in bare trees, brought to life by the sunlight. Its grandeur was intimidating. The hills were like the sides of a bowl, he thought, and he was at the bottom. You had to find a good road to get all the way out of the valley. Most never did, and he knew he wouldn’t either.
He heard a rifle shot somewhere far off. Hunters. He heard the cries of a blue jay. No matter how hard he listened he wouldn’t hear “Bluebird” again. Except the silent part. Nothing. He listened to the birds for a while.