Mounted above the motel’s name, the word “Vacancy” predominantly displayed in bright red block letters. Tony steered the Impala into the driveway and through the opening in the four foot galvanized chain link fence. He parked near the door marked “Office.”
“Wait here,” he said with both eyes in the mirror looking at Rudy. “And no shit from you. Remember who has the gun.” He got out of the car and stepped into the office.
Rudy rolled down his window to freshen the stale, smoke-filled air. Hank lit another cigarette and turned just enough to exhale the smoke toward Rudy in the backseat.
“You’re a real work of art, ain’t ya?” Rudy roared.
“Takes piece-a-shit to know a piece-a-shit,” Hank replied. He faced back toward the windshield and took another drag.
Rudy pushed the door open with his shoulder, stepped out of the car, and slammed the door closed. After he zipped his sweatshirt against the cool of the early evening air and pulled his hood tighter around his ears, he leaned against rear fender.
Rudy had met Hank at Xandar Studios not long after he had taken the job there. He was in such a need of a strong male influence when he made it to LA, he grasped at the first man to show interest. That was Hank. Star struck in the beginning due to Hank’s rock fame in the late 70’s and early 80’s, he enjoyed the bit of celebrity that lingered around him. Even though he worked with some of the most prominent people in Hollywood, they didn’t know he existed. His name might roll in the movie credits, for which he took pride, but he knew he was just a tool to make them look good. Hank, on the other hand, became a friend.
Hank liked to frequent the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood. There, while Rudy sipped soda, Hank sucked down beer and entertained anyone who would listen with detailed stories about life in the band and on the road. One evening, Rudy let Natalie Beaumont slip into the conversation. He had seen her a couple of times at the studio, and even though he hadn’t spoken to her, he thought she seemed real nice. When Hank said he should ask her out, Rudy confessed he was just too shy. “For a guy, you’re not bad looking,” Hank said, “maybe she needs a friend.”
When he saw her on the set a week later he froze. Although he should have been used to it—the girls at school and his father’s love—the hardest thing for Rudy was rejection. He wasn’t alone, though. Hank stood next to him with a raised eyebrow and a nod. “She’s beautiful. What’re you waiting for, man? If you don’t ask her out, Rudy, I will,” he said and shoved Rudy toward Natalie.
As Rudy approached her, his stomach ground until it felt like a gurgling pile of mush. She faced away in the midst of a conversation. All he could do was stare at her perfect profile. His mouth dropped open wide enough to fit a tennis ball. The flush of embarrassment warmed his cheeks, so he lowered head and turned away.
As his hand shot up to wipe his mouth, from behind him, she spoke. “Yes?”
Rudy lifted his face and slowly rotated back. Her sensual smoky eyes bore a hole right through his soul. She cocked her head to the right, smiled, and raised her eyebrows like the apex of a question mark. When he finally found his voice and asked her out, she said, “Not right now.” And without hearing the rest of what she said, he apologized and backed away.
Right after this, Hank introduced Rudy to Tony Alonso. Like Hank with his Boston upbringing, Tony came from the east coast. The two had some prior connection which he had not quite figured out, but Rudy thought it may have been illegal in a petty-crimes sort of way. He knew that after Hank’s fame had evaporated, panhandling hadn’t been enough to support his drug habit.
At Hank’s apartment after work one night, Hank brought Natalie up to Tony. Much to Rudy’s embarrassment, Hank made him out to be this introverted kid from Detroit. Tony suggested they try to get Rudy and Natalie hooked up—“We’ll play matchmaker,” he said, “it’ll be fun.” Over the next hour, they began to concoct the scheme. The more they talked, insisted and encouraged, Rudy, with beer from Hank’s refrigerator and not used to that much alcohol in his body, at first resistant, finally came around and began to feel it just might work.
That was before last night. Over time Rudy had grown to lean on Hank as a surrogate for the father he hated. Yet, in the warehouse, in a flash of uncontrollable rage, he had punched Hank in the face. The feel of that leathery flesh under his knuckles vented both the anger for Hank’s vicious attack on Natalie, and the betrayal of their friendship. Now Rudy realized he hit him just as much to release his own frustration for being such an irresponsible judge of character.
Over the months of their acquaintance, Hank had always come across as passive. From what Hank said when he boasted about his one-night-stands with the groupie girls while touring with the band, he never forced himself on them. They came to him willingly. As he reflected on it in light of the last day, though, Rudy saw that his father and Hank had similar natures. They both found a way to escape their own flaws with their drug of choice. The chemicals impaired their judgment, and in time it bred disrespect in the weaknesses of others to compensate for their own. Alcohol, in Rudy’s brief experience, made Hank docile. He never expected him to become violent. Not like his father. Where Father turned mean, and took it out on Rudy and his mother, Hank’s cruelty in the warehouse, though, seemed out of character. But something manifest in that place that drew the darkness out in Hank’s nature—a darkness Rudy couldn’t have foreseen. And now, damaged so much that at sixteen all he wanted was to get away from home to leave the emotional and physical abuse behind, he was in a worse situation than he ever imagined possible in Detroit.
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© Jearl Rugh 2012
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