Rise At Nine

all material © Taylor Johnson

The following is an excerpt from tj's first novel, Rise At Nine. We pick up the action at 11:45, as the narrator remembers a trip to the ballpark................


The nice thing about caffeine is that it wakes you up. I don't usually mind, but today I'd rather stay numb, even if it is almost noon. Nicotine will wake me up some more, but I need this cigarette. It came from a crumbled pack of Marlboro Lights on the table. That means I bought cigarettes in a bar last night. It's the only brand they even bother to put in bar machines in The Citadel anymore.

I'm going to have to motivate myself some more. I'm awake from the caffeine and nicotine, but my headache's back. I really need a Gulp Grande. I'll have to decide between root beer and cherry cola, but that can wait. I'm also terribly hungry. I usually keep some Happy Hippy Food Co-op -- okay, I buy a little food there -- frozen burritos in the freezer. Frozen stuff doesn't go sour, and these are meatless anyway. If you want them to have some flavor, all you have to do is dump salsa on them. I use a lot of salsa.

Before I do anything, I've got to take a shower. I smell like an old beer that's just run five point five miles in ninety nine degree heat.

We never knew if Chico had really seen Big Johnny.
"He doesn't exist," Charlie insisted.
"He does," I said. "I told you I jammed with him."
"Probably an imposter."
"Not."
"Forget it for now dudes," Chico said. "What's the gig, Jon?"
"It's a party. A chick I knew in school has some friends that want to throw a bash and they want a band. That's all I know, but i imagine it'll be all we can drink and see if we can trip the circuit breakers."
"Who's throwing the party?"
"I don't know. But Margeaux's a pretty classy chick, even if she lives in Richman. Some of the preppies over there think the bands from Bohemia are really cool, but they're too chickenshit to hang out in the Club Zone."
"So if they live in Richman, why don't they just hire whomever they want? All those people got money."
"Yeah," said Coffee. "But they got no clues. Somebody probably looked in the yellow pages under 'bands,' and called your friend Margeaux when they only found banjo players. They could afford Bryan Ferry, but that's not the point. It's none of my business, but you could use it as a tune-up gig."
"Goddam right it's none of your business," Charlie snapped. "Who the hell are you anyway?"
"We went through that already," Chico said.
"Oh yeah."
"What do we know about this gig other than maybe?" I asked.
"Nothing," Jonathon answered. "All I know is there's a message on the voice mail saying they need a band for a party. For all I know right now, we could be playing on a private tennis court on unplugged under Junkie Bridge."
"Neither of those ideas sound too hot," Charlie grumbled.
"I was speaking facetiously."
"Screw it," Chico said. "It's a gig -- sort of anyway. Let us know, okay Jon. Anybody busy tonight? It's half price bleacher seats at the ball game."
"What about the new tune?"
"Tomorrow."

"All you ever want to do is what you want to do," Lydia complained at the apartment. "I mean, sports are boring. And stadia are gross. Why didn't you ask me first?"
"I'm asking you now."
"What makes you think I want to hang out with the guys?"
"I thought you might want to hang out with me. You're my homegirl."
"Why is this so last-minute?"
"Because I just thought of it. I like hanging out with the band. But I like hanging out with you, too." I kissed her neck. It seemed to help.
"You're sweet," she said. "I'll be ready in fifteen minutes."

We were the last to arrive at Jonathon's apartment. He was on the phone. Chico tossed me a couple of beers.
"Hey hey," he said, nodding to Lydia. He looked at me, and motioned toward Jonathon. "He's talking to that chick about the party."
I looked at Jon, watching his intense brown eyes shoot around the walls. He has just showered, and still had plastic wrap around his head to protect his dreadlocks. His lean frame slouched a bit as he paced in tight circles, swinging his right leg to the side with each step.
Chico sat on the kitchen counter, swinging his feet. "Should we get a manager?" he asked.
"We're probably not ready yet," I said. "Why?"
"George called me again."
"Who is George?"
"You met him."
"What about him?" Charlie whispered, motioning toward the couch where Coffee was chatting with Lydia. "He seems pretty sharp."
"I don't think he's interested," I said.
Jonathon hung up the phone. "We're all set, guys (Hi Lyd)," he said. "Saturday next. It's a birthday party at some kid's house in Richman. We gotta learn 'Happy Birthday.' They don't care when we start or how long we play. There's no pay, but we can pass a hat. Plus all we can eat and drink."

Our baseball team really sucked, but nobody cared, especially in the bleachers and especially on half price night. In the inexpensive outfield seats -- where people went mainly to yell and drink -- it didn't matter that the owner of our team had dropped the word "Citadel" and changed their name to "George's Cowboys." I hoped the rumor wasn't true that he had signed a sponsorship deal that would change the name to "George's Pepsi Cowboys" the next year.
We got to the game in the top of the first inning. From our distant vantage point in the packed bleachers, we could tell there was a game going on somewhere, but we didn't particularly care. We stocked ourselves with cold hot dogs, warm beer, and soggy nachos. A cheer rose loudly from a large group of opposing fans as we sat down, and Coffee caught a home run ball without spilling anything.
"Nice catch," said Jonathon.
"Yeah homes," Chico shouted. "Great catch!" He slapped Coffee on the back, spilling beer onto several shoulders in front of us.
"What happened?" asked Brainless Charlie.
A woman with three children sat a couple of rows down from us in the next section. They didn't look local; in fact they looked vaguely Basque. Their clothes were old and torn. She cradled the smallest child to her breast, feeding. The largest, a girl, rhythmically swung a switch at the seats in front of her. The boy threw a ball into the air and tried to catch it. He missed. He tried again and missed again. No matter how many times he threw the ball in the air, he never caught it. I don't know what kind of ball it was. It looked like a dirty tennis ball, but it didn't bounce. It hit the concrete with a muffled thud and rolled. Sometimes it only rolled a couple of inches. Sometimes it rolled all the way to the bottom of the tier. He was a very small child, and couldn't throw it very high.
Nobody sat near them. Even people in the least expensive seats in the ballpark didn't want to be too close to this family. I don't think they stank, but I wondered how long the mother had scrimped to save enough money to buy tickets for her family, and how she felt now that they were there and nobody was watching the game.
A loud mixture of cheers and boos startled me from my thoughts. It was only the second inning, but another home run was soaring our way. Lydia grabbed my arm.
"I need to go to the ladies room," She hissed. "Will you come with me?"
She pulled me toward the aisle. I glanced back in time to see another home run ball bounce off my empty seat and into Coffee's hand.

"Wait here," Lydia said as she entered the women's restroom. "Don't go anywhere!" She returned in a few seconds. "Hurry!" To my astonishment, she pulled me quickly through the door to a stall at the far end. She latched the door behind us and began to kiss me furiously. I tried to protest, but the heat of her tongue in the secret corners of my mouth quickly evicted logic from my brain. I reached up to fondle her breasts, which were somehow already bare.
I clutched her tightly, biting her neck. Her breath hot in my ear. Neither of her feet touched the floor, but I felt no weight in my arms. I stepped a little into the ether, surrendering my body to carnal subconsciousness. Her fingernails scratched my stomach in her haste to open my pants. She sighed and stroked me as I balanced her bottom on the toilet tank and kissed her chest, first between her breasts, then suckling her nipples while my free hand searched and found.
I'd rarely seen Lydia so ready. As I touched her, she bit one of her hands to muffle a scream and clawed painfully at my back with the other. She pushed me away, gasping, but gripping me with one hand. She sat on the toilet, taking me fully into her mouth; no build-up, no calm stroking and kissing. In one sudden move, she had taken all of me. I strained, completely erect with the rhythm of her muscles.
She climbed back to her perch on the tank. My job was obvious. As I pushed, I felt a strange pressure.
"What's that?" I asked. She beamed at me with sweat beading on her forehead and a lascivious curl in her upper lip. "Ben Wa balls."

In the fifth inning, we arrived, sniffling, back at out seats. Chico raised his eyebrows and winked. Another cheer went up, momentarily making me wonder how much everybody in the ballpark knew.
"Look out!" Coffee yelled, as a baseball struck my shoulder, bouncing through the air and into his hand.
"Never seen anything like it," Chico said, smiling at us. "That's the fifth ball he's caught tonight. Where've you kids been?"
"Who are you?" Lydia snapped. "My Mother?"
"Hell no. I just know what I see."
"Oh," I said, wiping my nose. "So now you're Mr. Logic?"
"There's a song in that," said Jonathon.
"Oh my God," Brainless Charlie muttered, speaking for the second time that night. "What do you see a song in now?"
"Their conversation," Jon told him. "First he's Mr. Mom, then he's a logician. The two Spocks; Doctor and Mister. On second thought, never mind."
"Thank God for that," said Charlie, showing some taste for once. "I'm going for a beer. Anybody need one?"
"Yeah," said everybody.
"Uh-oh."
"Don't sweat it, homes," Chico said. "I'll go with you."
The game wasn't close. Five home runs -- all by the visiting team -- had sailed into the bleachers, and Coffee had caught them all. The people sober enough to know the score were bored, and the drunks were starting to think about dodging DUI traps. Lydia leaned on my shoulder, glowing.
I started to play a little game I call tittie tan. It's similar to those games where you see how many different license plates you can spot during a car trip, except in this game, you watch women. If they are well tanned, especially with bleached hair, you try to guess what color their breasts are. Are they as darkly olive as their shoulders? Do they look as brightly bleached as their hair? Or is the truth somewhere in between? Of course there is no way of knowing if your guess is right, but that's not the point.
I didn't play for long. I felt deeply satisfied from my surprise liaison with Lydia, and I slipped my arm tightly around her shoulder. I started to doze.
"Here comes another one," Coffee yelled as he leapt and caught another home run. "Can you believe this? Man, this calls for a drink. Where the hell are those guys?"
"I don't know," Jonathon yawned. "How long have they been gone?"
"A while. Ah, here they come."
"Hey man," Chico panted, "we just saw Big Johnny!"
"Again?"
"I'm not kidding, G's. Charlie saw him too."
"It was him, alright," Charlie agreed. "He took off when he saw us. We chased through a couple of sections, but he gave us the slip."
"We might have caught him if you hadn't yelled."
"Oh well," said Jonathon. "It was probably just another imposter. How about those beers?"

In the eighth inning, Lydia cradled her head contentedly on my shoulder. The score was fifteen to three.
"You guys want to get out of here pretty soon?" I asked. As I spoke, another cheer rose from the visiting fans. A ball lofted toward us; another home run hit directly at Coffee. He caught it without even standing up. He now had eight.
"We can bail whenever you guys want," he said.
We rose and drained our beers in unison.
"Hang on a minute," Coffee said.
The silent family was still there. They hadn't cheered. They hadn't booed. As far as we could tell they hadn't spoken at all. None of them had gone for food or sodas. The boy still threw his dirty little ball into the air. Once, it had rolled all the way down the steps, but the left fielder had returned it. The girl still beat the benches with the switch, scowling. Neither the switch nor the benches seemed to have suffered any damage. The infant clung to its mother, suckling. No one had spoken to them.
Quietly, with an expressionless face, Coffee walked over to the mother. Without comment, he handed her all eight home run balls. She looked at him gratefully, without smiling.


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