It was Arms Akimbo, the stripper, and the evidence she manufactured, the letter she wrote which punctuates this sensation, presaging neither ghost avoidance nor shrinking by lightning, ran like this:
If you think I'll wait for you Bacon'n'eggs, you've got
another thing coming. You done run off for the last time. And etc.
Life being life, it was all out on the street and the few messengers who arrived arrived with one note of alarm in their otherwise unremarkable leaks and we killed those who made us sad and those who did not stuck around like yesterday's high pressure system and became generally part of the action.
This was the city and the city had a million innocences but it had a million cankers also and this is the story of a couple of each and the people responsible and the people hurt but the consequences are left to historians. We loved and lost and loved again. I in particular though I want no part in the narrative other than voice. It was Arms' legend then and it's Arms' now. She was everything to everybody and even Styx could not believe in her for more than a night at a time though it was Styx who catalyzed and Styx who spoke the truest line about Arms which went like this and I record it here faithfully:
Arms was Arms and love is a bad face mask but a good remedy.
Styx Quetzalcoatl was most famously the drummer for The BamBam Five but at the time of this saga the Five were no more having gone the way of all flash and Styx was gigging at Ruby's four nights a week with an experimental fusion trio with Henry the Hammer Jensen on bones and a chick they called HoneyDo blowing any number of wild wind instruments. They were hot like most of the nights on Beale and a godly crowd nominally attended.
It was on one particular steamy night when the sidewalk was a stroll through a barbecue pit and the denizens were halfnaked and the other half unclothed that Arms wandered into Ruby's after her night's performance a few doors down at The Tainted Lady. Now it would be asinine to imply that Arms didn't know Styx already at least by reputation or Styx Arms since Arms was the most popular act on Beale what with the stoat and all but their paths had not necessarily intertwined if you see what I mean until this fated evening in midsummer broil.
Arms slid into the club like a trickle of semen and the music seemed to increase in syncopation and size and Styx certainly seemed to flail with renewed vigor though he himself might not have glommed onto why right at the outset. Arms insinuated herself into the ripening atmosphere and sat at a back table with Jimmy the Snake and one or two of the Tiller boys and the heat in the joint rose accordingly.
And on a break which shall go down in infamy Styx sidled over to the aforementioned way station in the dark desert of Ruby's All Night and Into the P Wee Hours Supper Club and Dance Hall and put a calloused hand onto the cheapsuited shoulder of Jimmy the Snake and said Howdo and nodded at one or two of the Tiller boys and smoked a look at Arms and said:
And Arms by way of howdo said in a dusky Armatrading kind of vocalizing:
We ain't but we gonna.
And I believe it was that night but of course how could I know being at least a third party that Styx and Arms consummated in the upstairs room of Oswald's boarding house where Styx hung his head and where the bed music carried down the stairs and out into the street where the ungloaming was tangerine and woodsmoke and it mixed with the still lively though muted sounds of some club band and the birdsong and cicadas from down by the river and day broke and it broke again and it was a new morning in Memphis and elsewhere.
Unbeknownst to our hero there was a spare wheel on this bike and it was the sort of a sticky wicket Styx was peculiarly sensitive about having lost one or two loves of his life to slicker men with slicker pitches and having walked away with a simulacrum of pride not showing nowhere but moreover with his tail tucked where the sun don't shine especially on a black man. This certain third stone from the sun was a gangster if that's not putting too fine a point on it who was in and out of every club on Beale with his scaly hands in many a pie, yes and we already passed his cohorts by briefly earlier at the table at Ruby's and they were already as this story staggers forward running off to tell the man himself what transpired in the heat of the night at the table at Ruby's. Though what they seen was hardly remarkable and what they knew nugatory.
His name being Ricky the Rake Romito.
But back up to an earlier time at the gentleman's club where Arms dances nights and meet a fellow exotic dancer of Arm's who went by the honied moniker of Callie Pigeon and it was her overheated heart that Ricky first stole though after he owned it like many of us have experienced it lost its luster and lust and Ricky was trying to fling it from hisself with the same determination he might put into a thumbscrew or sidebet.
Now Callie was a white woman (with eyes the color of nickels) and Ricky was as black as his heart and Styx was the color of fine mahogany and Arms, well, Arms was sort of a mochafied flypaper ginger (and when she stripped it was like a long cool quaffa ice coffee like something under the skin sexual and then again not just) and the only reason I mention this is for the historical ramifications, better to be upfront about, and though Beale had its magic which precluded judgmentalisms there was and still is alive in the land a smallmindedness which makes these distinctions requisite. But let us saunter on.
Ricky and Callie went hot as Memphis in June for a while but then like I say Rick went north and Callie began to sense His Holiness not quite around much and she confronted him in the club one night as she worked down to just a g string and kneepads and he seated himself in the front down along the runway and soon as he was down Callie noticed a small Puerto Rican girl about the size of a country ham on his right arm and she went threeways berserk. She leapt offa that runway limbs windmilling and Ricky lost a cap off one of his front teeth and this little gal with him lost her wig which went flying heavenward and set itself right on Mona Jewel Mobly, the stripping comedienne, and things was real interesting for about ten minutes or so. Until Ricky let go a right cross which set Callie like a grounded jet back up on that runway with her legs splitwise from her perfect rumpal area and her breasts looking like prayers to the gods and her eyes as crossed as Jesus.
And that was the end of Callie/Ricky and Ricky shortly thereafter started in to messing with Arms and Arms was all lonely and funky at this time and fell for his crooked charm and she and Callie got real cool for a fortnight or so but then they became best friends and told each other their hearts' deepest recipes. And the deepest one was that now Arms had awoken and she couldn't stand Ricky but she was deadon scared of him and he was bound and determined she was his until the atom split. And though this was an old story it was as true as the dawn and Arms found herself a bird in a gilded cage so to speak and Ricky used her like a flashy ring and here about now enters our hero as you mighta guessed.
So Styx set about a courtship which is famous for its intensity as well as its smoking intrepidness. Mostly he wrote like he had never written before because he had never written before, love letters leaking from him like seepage from a wound and it was a wound, heartdeep and as serious as war. Arms found letters in her mailbox, on her nightstand, tucked into her panties lying lightly and hesitantly in her drawers, tied to the collar of wandering dogs. Notes drifted into her windows at all hours; they arrived wrapped around rocks, bobbing into her toiletbowl delivered by ball-cock floatation. They ran on and on. They ran like this:
I love you more than either
of my hands, more than
my ball and chain.
I have half a hundred
amusing things to tell you, the
rain is electric, etc.
If you move away I will
I would do anything for you,
silence, drugs, pillage, socialism.
I only want you out in the light
honey, I break jaws
for the Philharmonic.
Wake up the sorority,
I want to soliloquize.
Your eyes, where are you,
your eyes are after me.
What can I do, tear out
this sadsack blood sac, poke
out my blinkers.
I'll cut my teeth for you,
take a fancy sobriquet,
Nothing is more noxious than
this, I cannot distinguish
this sodapop leakage.
I am mysterious to the point of
soap opera. The case is
this, what I want and all
excess and ohs,
It was as relentless as weather, as seductive as eating. Arms fell hard, believed in love, in its necromantic mystery, in its pure power to transform. She was transformed.
They were a couple; coalesced. They were alive, snapping their fingers to no particular rhythm, almost vaporized with the tension between flying and just staying themselves, yes. The destitute places in each of them re-lit.
They heard the same note all night. They dreamed about a stationwagon, abandoned in a parking lot, on the front seat four polaroids of newborn babies. And, later, about men standing at every door in a neighborhood, waiting to knock, in every hand a freshly minted death certificate. They awoke from their dreams and held each other, and the dreams blew away and at dawn, always, they made love with a thoroughness nearly previously unknown in this old world.
"Nothing is written."
Lawrence (you know, of Arabia)
This is what Styx had written on the tailend of one of his many love letters, as cryptic as a prophecy. Arms didn't know whether this freed her or imprisoned her and she didn't rightly care at the moment. At the moment.
What was Mr. Big doing while this was transpiring, where was Ricky? From most accounts we get the idea he was in St. Looie on business, the devil's business I'm saying, and this is what we should call the official version, though it is my personal conviction that he was elsewhere. Now I don't know where your religion takes you and I ain't gonna talk about mine none either but I believe as sure as I'm the nameless narrator of this narration that Ricky wasn't around while Arms and Styx were wrestling with the capital L because he had transformed himself into an animal spirit and he was prowling around the river bottoms of Northeastern Mississippi as he was wont to do occasionally to re-fill his empty metaphysical tank. I'm just saying.
Ricky was a werewolf, there it is.
So he didn't come into the city for a while.
Arms in Styx's arms.
Styx working his left hand along the fallow river bottoms of his paramour's lower back, Arms pushing her furry pubis bone hard against her man's hip.
Styx all mouth on Arm's bare midsection, tongue here and there, naval basing; Arms' long ladyfingers juggling two balls at once, keeping Styx in the air.
Styx running one definite drummer's finger down the crack in the world, finding the source of warmth and moisture, Arms panting moving like an immaculate creation seeking the always difficult not to say hard center of things.
Styx and Arms Akimbo, a Catherine Wheel, heads in each other's townsquare, devoted moles, Arms' mouth full, Styx soliciting.
Arms on Styx, Styx on Arms, Styxarms, Armstyx, rocking, rocking, and then one long low saxophone note, the one pure note, the fix, the cure, the sound of the world being torn apart and born again.
And in this oblivion they did not hear, children, the return of the man who could become lupine. They were not aware that danger was near, no. Across town, in an office building on North Main, in one of those urban-renewal catacombs of soullessness and progress where the spirits of the dead among the living are sanitized and made presentable, Ricky the Rake threw down his bag, threw up his lunch (the fetlock of a Wolf River Wild Pig) and put his ear to the wind. He stepped out onto the balcony and lifted his head to the southwest and a foreshortened howl slipped into the breeze off the river, fluttered toward town, toward the east end of Beale Street where Styx and Arms were falling back limp as sacks into the world of men.
I don't know where you hail from stranger but on Beale Street news travels fast, so fast it is breathed in and out with the greasy odor of barbecue, and Ricky was not in the fungal backroom of The Tainted Lady five minutes when Jimmy the Snake so named for obvious reasonings was forking tongue into his ear with bad news, horrible news, news no man should reckon with without reckoning with it.
Now Ricky was cool, he was cool. He stapled Jimmy's paisley tie to Jimmy's pustuled forehead, pulled his pants down and threw him into the middle of Second Street, took a deep breath and called the Tiller boys to his office at the club (one of many he had at various and diverse clubs on Beale).
"Bring me that drummer," he seethed through verdant teeth.
When half a beat later they threw before him a peddler of women's toiletries they had found trying to interest the hookers in depilatory cream Ricky sat the Tiller Boys down for a long talk during which they seemed to glom onto the situation at hand and set off anew in pursuit of their quarry.
Styx was helping Arms glue flowers onto the ample rump of their dear companion Callie with a homemade potion of flour salt and sperm designed to stick quick but still release quicker than the jism (Styx' mental and physical contribution to their agglutinative endeavor) which earlier that afternoon both women had helped him donate to the cause, taking turns with various body parts separating Styx from his precious elixir. This all in the spirit of close comradeship you understand as the girls harbored no lingering jealousies and often Styx helped them with their respective acts, yes, with primed heterosexual responses to this bump or that grind and rewarded them especially with the glory of his fullsized erection when something was sure as fire first rate.
"Right here on your perfect lower left cheek a perfect hibiscus, dear one," Styx said as he took a little longer than was necessary to paste it in place.
"Styx you old hounddog," Callie said with a tinkle, "Hadn't you done worn out today that maleness you carry around?"
"Never child," Arms answered and put her tongue into Styx' inner cheek as she remunerated him with a wet one.
"This is not exactly FT-deum," Styx said, running his hand through a curve of poppies.
When Callie's tailgate looked like a nosegay from Victoria's most secret secret, the three sat down to a quick repast of lemonade with quinine, eggrolls and avocado slices. Arms was just licking her fingers to prepare a speech when the door burst inwards in resplendent gangster movie fashion and Arms speech went the way of the ending to Kafka's The Castle.
"Grr," the Tiller Boys said, practically in unison.
"Boys," Styx said.
The Tillers tilted this way and that bumping into costume racks and cardboard boxes in their foray across the room not forgetting to gaze longingly at Callie's near denuded form partially obscured with bouquets. Was that a nipple or a pistil, pubic hair or pedicel cilia?
They finally made it to Styx' side and each took a meaty musician's bicep roughly in their sweaty rookers.
They requested that he accompany them.
Ricky was spitting chicken wing bones into a metal trash can with musical aplomb, a rhythm Styx who was never tuned out tuned into, when Styx who was not a brave man by any stretch strode toward him spats splayed pugnaciously.
"Man about town, man of the world, johnny on the spot, man of the hour," Ricky said in greeting.
"Long may you run," Styx approximated back.
"As I live and breathe," Ricky said.
"Speak to me of many things."
"Can't buy me love," Ricky ricocheted.
"As my mama used to say philosophically, Kant never did nothing," Styx replied, relaxing into the stream.
"You're an ex-drummer," Ricky off-handed.
"And you're a werewolf," Styx answered, turning on his sharp heels and moving out the door, out onto the street and out of sight. The next time we hear from him it will be under different circumstances indeed.
Ricky was all rage and grief and he overflowed like a sputtering kettle spewing henchmen into the hemisphere with sharpened intentions and halfcocked ideation of semidestruction and mayhem, all with Styx name on it. Styx, we don't know how, it's missing from the legend, was temporarily disappeared.
With this Ricky was satisfied and was soon enough at Arms' door with goldtoothed smiles and bouquets of violets, which only an hour before he had peeled off the tempestuous backside of Callie Pidgeon after burying his face in her fields which served to mollify an angry but lonely Callie who succumbed to Ricky's backhanded charms against her better judgment and allowed him to snake his way between her blackeyed susans and moisten the warm loam of her innerness, as Ricky, free from the noisome interference of that bat-legged drummer, attempted to re-establish his proper place in both women's lives (feeling as he did that suddenly he could tame any filly, a potent, though potentially foolish, surge of manly power, linking him, in his delusion, to all womankind) using necromancy and wolfish allure. Arms let him in, awash in worry and lachrymose despair as Styx had been gone now for two weeks. Ricky was a rickety comfort; Arms leaned on him gingerly, as one would a tower of Tinkertoys, moldy Tinkertoys. When Ricky patted her pleasant shoulder and asked if there was anything he could do, Arms warning system knocked out in the storm, she blubbered and fizzed into his embrace. Ricky slipped a sweaty palm under Arms arm, his goal the tender, beating swell of the side of her right breast, and Arms was off the couch and on the floor, howling to be left alone, completely alone.
Alone Arms began to imagine that Styx had been a phantom, an ensorcellment of neediness and wishful thinking, a haint born of emptiness and longing and that their cohesion had been an illusion. This is a dangerous time and you all know who've been there that the soul is a jerry-built engine and requires constant lubrication and sometimes cheap store brands look as good as a sweet dose of 10W-30.
She thought maybe Styx was a phantasm, a spook that sat by the door and now, as is only right, he had gone out that door.
(Actually, a solid though frightened Styx, had been taken, Tillerwise, to the Gulfa Mexico and put into a rowboat bout the size of an owl and a pussycat and pushed toward Cuba or Haiti or points southward. The Tillers considered this a job-well-done and went home, whistling. Styx drifted adrift for days living on gullspit and fishblood, only to surface later in the story.)
She and Callie got together for tea and sympathy and together worked on re-sexying their respective routines, bringing in kitchen implements, bath toys, pictures of ex-presidents and baby blankets to spice up their strip careers, wrongly perceived as fading. Together they perceived that things were better, that their individual appeals were not gone but stronger (hips as round as the earth's rotation, breasts like the faces of gods) and they rightly praised each others lubriciousness, and knew that, though they could fall into each others laps and temporarily dispel that well of loneliness, that they would need a gender-different opinion.
Off the street came simple Freeman Blemish, downtown's sweet and flatulent rag-man, all smiles and watery eyes, unsure of his ability to serves as judge in what he did not understand was a display of an age-old resplendence. And when Arms and Callie, in tandem, worked their disrobing witchcraft, Freeman spittled and wept and farted, the end result of which was a puddle of ragman, a worthless adjudication, to be sure.
And this is how Ricky the Rake worked his way back into the two women's good graces, presenting hisself as connoisseur extraordinaire, as The Final Word in taste and appreciation. Mr. Testosterone. The women would strip, and Ricky would rate. This is how it was. At least in this tangled old tale which is only a pulserate off tangentially from an accurate rendering of tired reality.
Nightly, or more correctly afternoonly, the strippers and The Boss, met for tuning up, for a little sexual threesquare, and every evening the girls had a new wrinkle to their acts, and though age was a constant moss on their clappers, they began to ring as clear as any twenty year olds on Beale or beyond, yes sir, and when word got around that there were two strippers at The Tainted Lady could turn you inside out with desire, that club became the hottest spot this side of the sun, man, and those two beautiful women the toasts of that sunny Dixie town. So, afternoons were for practice: Showtime sometime being menage time (Ricky partial to a particular kind of oralism and analism which his wolfish side relished and which required two females and two sets of lubricated orifices) and nighttimes reserved for The Show of Shows. Seven nights a week. Yearround. Wearing thin quickly, our two stars, tarnished by fatigue and utilitarianism, cottoning on to Ricky's devilishness once and again and that fading spark of wishing left in Arm's soul for her departed Styx began to grow like Tinkerbell's light, a small tintinnabulation becoming brass cymbals, a symphony in her soul. Arms missed her man.
And soon the threesome, tiresome, became a twosome, Ricky's true attentions obviating. He gravitated toward his goal, and Callie, spurned again, grew morose to the point of old age, and began to bend and wither, curling like an ash, dissipating. Callie's light began to dim.
Three weeks passed. Ricky and Arms were fucking regularly, void of any feeling, dogbushed, a wolf and its prey, Arms so empty she was listless; she was without list. Floundering in the fantods.
And at the club, as her act grew in strength and popularity, she found herself (after losing herself so to speak) the sole act, Callie having inconveniently dematerialized. Arms still stripped like a turpentine whirlwind, clothes evaporating from her seemingly flying to the winds, sucked off by natural forces, and she spun and spun, as if subject to that same willful wind, an abandoned dreidel, denuded like a winter tree, while the legions cheered. Arms naked was still, let's say it one more time, worth the price of ammunition.
One night, Arms luded into nodding dollhood, on Ricky's overly hirsute elbow, the two misfits drifted into Ruby's looking for a little busman's holy day, a drink without their fingerprints already on the glass: Live Long and Prosper, Ricky's libation of choice, Arms sticking to straight Stoli on top of her medicine. Some goldtoothed clan pulled the man aside and left a limpnecked Arms at the bar humming "Mississippi Lowdown Blues" to herself and staring at the profile of the old crone next to her without seeing and the old crone oblivion bound as well.
A light from the attic cracked the code of the two individual's stupor and eye to eye they stared until dawning came slowly on little cat's feet. It was Callie Arms was settled next to; Callie like maybe she'd look in the next millenium. Callie sucked dry and spindled, an apple core face, limbs like twisted rope, hair of steel wool; Callie, gone over to the other side and still walking round.
"Lawsy, Lawsy, what in the world? What in the fucking world?"
"Arms, Arms," Callie bawling now.
"Speak to me, gal."
"Cal, I'm gonna slap the shit outa you."
"I'm under a spell, Arms. I'm under a mutha of a spell. It was Ricky did it, it was him. Oh, Arms," and she broke down into mumbly sobs.
"We gonna take care of this, Calgal. You listening to me? We gonna see to this."
And Arms was off that stool and striding out the door when Ricky caught her from behind. Some say it was a sap Arms swung like a Louisville slugger, some say a sock full of fishing weights, some say it was just her sweet balled up fist, but something powerful caught Ricky the Rake upside his jaw and landed him on his goldwatch, out like a waterless gar on the sawdusted floor of Ruby's, out like a mothergrabbing light. Something powerful caught Ricky and set up the penultimatum of our plot, you see, getting us from there to where we going.
It was magic commencing.
As storytellers tell: Meanwhile In the Crescent City way down south where the humidness is thick as stupor and mosquitoes sound like bandsaws and the music is a sometimes dreadful sometimes soulful mix of gumbo and blues and marching bands on a street off a street around Tchoupitoulas south of Calhoun in a backdoor alleyway stood a man who was all man and all something else.
He was all man and he was the devil.
He was darkeyed and beetlebrowed and sweat ran off him like frog-secretions and he stared out into the darkness like he own the darkness and he whistled low between his teeth.
He whistled like he was calling something unearthly and expected it to come to his beckon.
Without going any further lemme tell you that this partman was formerly a drummer in Memphistown, formerly with the BamBam Five, formerly the lovemate of our own Arms Akimbo, and he was formerly called Mr. Quetzelcoatl by many and Styx by them what knew him best. And Styx, though crossedover, he was still but Quetzelcoatl he was no more, now nomenclatured surwise Ygg.
And no one knows from whence that name came and no one asked.
Styx spat once, glanced at the moon (and the moon glanced back), turned and went in. He bent to pick up a beatup portmanteau and he stood for a moment in that dingy frontroom gathering his thoughts.
He stuck his head into the doorway into the adjoining room and spoke low like his voice came from elsewhere besides his throat.
"I'm leaving," he said.
And out of the dim a voice answered. It was the voice of the dim, a woman's voice.
"If that's a question, yes."
"I'm owing you."
"Time'll take care a that. You be on that train."
"Am I - ?"
"Only alone can you be sure."
"Your strength, it's -"
"Old as Scratch."
"Go on now."
And with that he turned and the night surrounded him, a black vaginal night. He slunk back toward Memphis like a viper, like a hellhound.
Back in Memphis beside the roiling uncoiling brown snake of the Mississippi on the street of life on the street of the blues in the middle of an otherwise insensible afternoon in the back room of a nondescript boardinghouse near the Malco theatre where the movie was some new talkie starring men and women who were living out everyone's dreams drinking and fucking and snorting and being paid the ransom of king's but who projected through the projector a dazzlingly torpid sense of excitement and simultaneous wellbeing that the rubes lined up they lined up they all lined up. There was a confab commencing. Arms and Callie, Callie and Arms.
Heads together like witches, eyes rolling inward. They were intent on breaking the spell of the wolf, for spell it was.
"We need to put him down like an old dog, dogbody him, put him down hard."
"With no evidence."
"No corpus, yes."
"Let the river take him."
"Feed him to the hounddogs."
"They won't eat one of their own."
"He won't burn."
"Chop him up, pieces too small to bother with, scatter him down Highway 61."
"What then? What then?"
"We need magic."
There lived near Beale in those days a very old woman, some say a conjurewoman, and her name was Selma. Legends abound about Selma, conflicting yarns, some reverent about her powers, most descrying a fraud.
She knew the mojo, the conqueroo, spake to the spirits, sure. But agreement was she used it to scare kids, fleece the fleeceable. No serious magic there and besides she was old, old as the delta.
Her house, round by Central School, was so off the street, one thought one had found an empty lot, a derelict address. Selma's place sat behind a doctor's house, a respectable, upright white man who had a daughter at Miss Hutchison's, a son at Yale. Selma had something on the good doctor, it's told, something from wayback, when the whiteheaded whiteman was a college man, looking for love. It's told they had a child together, this once wild whiteman and this black witch from East of Eden, but this is fabulous, this is taletelling. To travel to Selma's through the doctor's backyard was like parting a curtain on the good, solid world. Like entering another element, maybe air, maybe something else.
Arms and Callie knew the way to Selma's.
The three women met in the sitting room, on dusty Victorian furniture, over dusty madeleines.
"It's a man, ain't it?" Selma broke the stillness.
"Yes'm," Callie, who looked as old as Selma, spoke quickly.
Selma picked up a memory cookie and found the middle distance. "I had a man once, oh once," she said, and maybe she was casting back to a secret assignation in the garage of a young med student, whose uncircumcised love would know her and, because it had to, move on.
"He's made Callie age," Arms put in.
"Hmmm," Selma said, studying Callie like she was in a cage. "No one can make a person age. Comes from within."
"He done it," Callie said, a might shakily.
"Can't undo that," Selma said and nodded her head, agreeing with herself.
"We want him rearranged," Arms told Selma a tad defiantly.
"That I can do," she said, and after a long pause, a long blank space in the world, Selma cackled a bloodchilling cackle.
And when the women left they were not confident, carrying their little asafetida bag of wrinkled herbs. They looked at each other and managed weak smiles; they were heading toward hell armed with a tumbler of tepid water.
The Tiller boys were in bed with twins (yes, the famous fanfoot Schweik twins, Isabela and Adelaide, who stripped for heads of state worldwide and then went on to profitable careers as literary agents), in twin beds, side by side in the overly large foyer of Ricky the Rake Romito's lofty warehouse apartment. They acknowledged the entrance of Arms and the old crone by her side only with sideglanced nods, concentrating as they were, on the four bouncing breasts alive above them.
"Oh," one Tiller said.
"Uhh," the other one said, seemingly to Arms.
The women breezed by them, determination in their darting eyes.
Ricky was at his desk when the pair burst in, head back, asleep perhaps, or daydreaming, the avengers thought. Actually Ricky was getting sucked off by a new waitress he'd hired, a teenager from Central, who smacked her head on the underside of the large desk under which she was concealed.
"Ow," she said, rising into view, a sad smile as she lazily covered her small pink breasts.
"What the fuck?" Ricky roared.
"Jig's up," Arms said, her voice as shaky as the cheerleader's knees as she shuffled into her clothes.
"Scram," Ricky said to his new employee and she did.
"Bye," she said running on tiptoe past. "Oops," they heard her say in perfect Doppler, as she whisked through the foyer.
Ricky's face began to lose its apoplexy and he settled back into his overstuffed chair.
"C'mere, Arms and finish this job," he grinned.
Arms slipped a finger through the tiestring on her bag of tricks. She stared into the red eyes of her nemesis.
"And you, old woman, make tracks. Arms and I have some business to attend to, I'm thinking of making her a partner in the club."
Ricky detumesced, losing interest in that side of things temporarily.
Arms reached into the bag and held out what looked like a small quantity of tobacco. Ricky looked at it. Callie looked at it.
Ricky reached over and plucked it from Arm's palm and tossed it between cheek and gum.
Callie and Arms said a short incantation which they had not practiced and sounded in unison more like a rumble of dyspepsia. The three stared at each other for a few heartbeats.
"Well," Ricky said. "What else?"
The women didn't know what else.
And as sudden as cloudcover Ricky's face contorted, twisting up like a squeezed balloon. His ears purpled, his hands wobbled in the air, his legs shot straight out in front of him, and his member, still protruding from his fly, grew like a squash, stretching out into the room in obscene exhibitionism, an unthinkable obscenity, a mind of its own, apparently. This is the way it's told.
"You bitches try to poison me," Ricky howled and a different strength took over. His clothes shredded from his limbs, hair everywhere. Ricky Romito was becoming a wolf right before their eyes. A staggeringly large wolf, and a healthy one. A wolf with a penis like a jumbo lipstick. A wolf intent it seemed sure on using aforementioned beastly member.
Selma's magic was poor stuff compared to the Boss of Beale Street's lycanthropic shapeshifting.
Callie fainted dead away.
Arms wanted so to join her but could think of no good way of depriving her brain of sufficient oxygen. The wolf licked his atrocious lips.
Now here is where the stuff of legends are made and where, I have to be honest, a few of us may part ways. There are those who do not believe in the timing of heroes, whose idea of storytelling does not extend to deus ex machina stunts and suchlike. So be it, I make no judgments either way. I wasn't in the room, though I was nearby, yes, and I'm just relating the way the thing has gone down now for years. It is strong stuff, the elixir of myth, not everyone may drink here.
The door, busy door, again burst inward. A darkness fell upon the room, a shadow across the illumination from the overhead fixture, in the doorway, framed by unnaturally still Tillers, a numinous presence. A frozen scene: a wolf in midmolestation of a beautiful, half naked young woman, a passed out octogenarian, a champion standing by. The woman a hand to her vulnerable bare chest, the wolf's tongue drawing slowly up the woman's perfumed neck. The woman feeling the grip of horror slipping away, minutely, incrementally; sorrow leaving. The wolf, his jumbo lipstick rescinding, his hunger for blood on the rise. The Man.
The wolf coiled on its haunches and sprang as fast as an ejaculation.
Styx, for that's who stood in the room, a dark hero on a mission of light, held up his hand, one solid hero's hand like a papal foul call and the wolf fell to the floor as if shot. His red eyes stared upward wildly. He lay as if pinned, as if quadriplegic.
Styx let the hand stay aloft. A murkiness entered the room, a prickly heat. The air was staticky, popping and humid. A pool of spinning caloric light found its way into the upheld hand of Ygg, a puny maelstrom of power, which somehow filled the room with storm. Ricky's pitiful stare softened Styx momentarily, the red eyes appeared to be bleeding with tears.
Styx flashed his hand downward and what looked like lightning, what possibly was lightning, blazed forth and the craven beast at their feet whimpered once and began to shrink. He went down down down, no trick of the light, a dissipating wolflet. And when he was the size of a middling walking stick, or mantis, Arms bent down and plucked him up, by the minuscule scruff of his neck. He yapped and it sounded as if a triangle had been struck.
Styx reached into his cloak and pulled out an empty 8 ounce jar whose lid had already been punctured with an ice pick. Here they placed the once powerful Ricky the Rake Romito.
Some say that jar still exists downtown, in the unofficial museum of darkness in Voodoo Village. Some say the tiny figure lives on, fed on unborn mice and the droppings of flies, and that certain nights, when the moonmagic is right, he becomes again a tiny man, a tiny naked man with a lilliputian red penis which he waves savagely at the glass much to the merriment of all, on certain nights, on certain moonmagic nights in Voodoo Village.
Now the rest of the plan was easy. Arms wrote the letter, the letter which they felt cleared them all, the letter designed to make it look like Ricky fled the Bluff City, hat in hand, tale between his legs, in search of other deviltry, made it look like he was gonegonegone, like the carpetbagger he was, instead of a specimen, a shrunken essence. The letter left among Ricky's abandoned things, on his desk next to his baseball signed by The Memphis Red Sox, underneath his mouthpiece from Handy's horn he used as a paperweight. Left for the authorities (who never came) to find.
Truth was nobody cared. What was the loss of such a bad egg to Beale, eternal Beale? Beale which forgave all, having seen it all. Beale with Time on its side, time and music.
Music and Time.
Toward the end of most evenings, like say in the penultimate number, something like "Half a Body Hoedown," or "Twist Me Up Woman" Styx would wake from a torpor of repetition and his hands would take on a new life, and the beat was like the beat at the center of things, like the lifeline number. And the crowd would dance the Vitus dance, and the drinks would exit through the sweat of the gambollers and rise up to form clouds near the cakefrosting ceiling and later, a week from then or so, it would briefly rain in Ruby's. A soft replenishing rain which made people feel good about things, yes, if only briefly. If only for a while.
Arms and The Man
on the bandstand
It was Arms it was Arms it was always Arms.
And the new band was good, Children, fiery good. The Hammer was back and they added some strings and bassoons and the Tillers sat in most nights on washboard and kazoo. Good times.
And Arms, who stuck by the heroic drummer and gave up stripping (except on nights like this when the music swole up like a storm and she would bump and grind next to her husband's drumkit, pulling off her shirt and skirt and reminding the gathered there what was lost and what was found), who wrote the letter which she signed annabellee yrs and who married her drummer was the happiest woman on Beale and beyond. Even making Callie smile from her toothless mouth, Callie who became mother to the orphan couple, Callie whom they took care of in her dotage, yes, because that's the way things were done then. They were done right.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Corey Mesler. All rights reserved.
"I told a white fella once, I said, Hey man, if you were black for one Saturday night and on Beale Street, never would you want to be white again."Rufus Thomas