Everybody knew that Jerry was a freak, but if anybody knew he was dangerous, they neglected to tell me. All we were after was a little crank, just enough to tide us over till our regular connect was up and running again. All the tweekers knew that Jerry sold dope, he certainly crashed enough parties, hawking his wares, making bold claims of “pharmaceutical purity”, and bragging about his biker connections, but nobody I knew ever actually dealt with him…I don’t really know why…the subject just never came up. But here we were—that’s me and Jim—perched like bookends on opposite ends of Jerry’s greasy couch, getting more and more nervous by the second. Jerry had disappeared for the umpteenth time in the last half hour, this time going into the bedroom and shutting the door behind him.
“Jesus Christ, it’s hot in here,” Jim mumbled with his usual eloquence, pushing his hair back from his forehead. “This guy’s givin’ me the creeps. This was not one of your better ideas.”
“My idea?” I whispered back as harshly as I dared under the circumstances, “Just what, exactly, makes this my idea?”
“Well, he’s your friend…” Jim shrugged.
“No, he’s not!”
“Whatever,” Jim said, “Anyways, we’re wastin’ our time with Freakzilla, back there, and I, for one, am ready to get the fuck out of here.”
“Okay,” I replied, “so when Jerry comes back out here just get our $250 back and we’ll be on our merry way.”
“Oh shit! That’s right…he’s already got our money!” Jim clinched his eyes shut and started shaking his head back and forth. “Nope, I don’t like this one single bit.”
“No worries, I’m sure Jerry will perfectly happy to give you a prompt refund.”
“Fuck you” Jim mouthed right before we both cringed at the sound of a tremendous crash coming from the bedroom, followed by some of the most artful cursing that either of us had ever heard.
“Get the hell out of here, Cleopatra!” Jerry screamed as the bedroom door slammed back open and a tri-color calico cat shot across the living room, a blur of frenzied fur and clicking claws, scrambling its way to the relative safety of the kitchen.
“Check this out,” he continued, emerging from the bedroom, now fully attired in cammo fatigues instead of the cut-offs and wifebeater he had on when we first arrived. “Man, I can not wait for huntin’ season! You got another cigarette?”
“Sure,” I said, fishing out one of my last three Camels from the pocket of my shirt.
As he reached for the smoke, Jerry had to shift the crossbow he was holding to cradle it in the crook of his left arm. It was a really nice crossbow, as far as crossbows go…blackened steel bow, folding shoulder stock, rubberized Pachmayr pistol grip, and a telescopic site…but, in Jerry’s hands, it just looked evil.
“Oh great,” Jim said, staring at the crossbow with undisguised horror.
“Ain’t it?” Jerry crowed, not noticing. “Man, this thing’ll nail a friggin’ deer at two hunnerd yards…dead as a hammer! Man, I can not wait for huntin’ season. And look at this,” he said, holding out a gleaming black crossbow quarrel. “Graphite shaft, polymer flights, and four-way, razor edged huntin’ tip. I’ll tell you what, this’ll take your lungs out the other side of your body!”
“Oh great,” Jim said again, grimacing.
“Yeah, man,” Jerry agreed. “Great!”
“Yeah, Jerry, that’s really cool, man,” I started. “But, look man, do you know how much longer this is gonna take? I mean, like, do you have any idea when your girlfriend…?”
“Lisa,” he interrupted.
“Yeah, man, do you have any idea how long it’s gonna be before Lisa gets back with our stuff? I mean, it’s been, like, three hours already.”
“Should be any time now. This shit always takes a while. Lisa’s meskin, you know. She gets the stuff from her cousins…they’re all meskins. And when you’re dealin’ with meskins, things take time. You know how it is.”
“Sure, man, we know,” I agreed. “No problem.”
“Ugh,” Jim sighed from his end of the couch. “Mexicans.”
“Now don’t get me wrong,” Jerry added quickly. “Meskins is good people…lotsa fun to party with…but they do take their time.”
“Anyway,” said Jerry. “What’s the hurry, man? I mean, we’re just chillin’, right? Nobody comes around to just chill, anymore. Ya’ll got some place to be or sumpthin’?”
“Well, no, not really, but…” I started.
“Cool!” Jerry cried triumphantly as Jim glared at me sideways. “Hey! I know…ya’ll wanna see sumpthin’ really cool?”
“Well…” I started.
“Gimme a sec,” Jerry said, tossing his crossbow into a chair and disappearing in to the bedroom once again, the as yet unlit Camel still dangling from his lips. “I’ll be right back.”
Jim and I just stared at one another as sounds of crashing and cursing began to emanate from the bedroom. It sounded like Jerry had an entire demolition crew busy at work doing something back there. What it was, I hadn’t a clue.
“He’s probably gonna come back out here with a bazooka this time.” Jim stated. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Whatever, just be cool, man. Lisa will be back with our stuff soon and we’ll be on our way.”
“Yeah, right.” said Jim, thoroughly unconvinced. I can’t say that I was all that convinced myself.
“What the hell is he doing in there?” Jim asked, pushing his hair back again. “Jesus, it’s hot in here, and we must be the only things in here that Cleopatra hasn’t peed on yet.”
Before I could even begin to speculate, our ears were treated to one final wall-shaking crash from the bedroom, followed by a piercing “WHOOP!” from Jerry.
“Found it!” he declared, bounding back into the living room and brandishing a VHS cassette like it was the Olympic Torch or something. “Man-oh-man, you dudes are in for a treat…this here’s the shit!”
Jim and I just looked at each other.
“This is Black Sabbath’s last tour with Ozzy,” Jerry continued, waving the tape under our noses. “I was at this show in Dallas…fourth row, center. Van Halen opened up for ‘em. Man, what a fuckin’ show!”
Jerry reached down to the coffee table for a fist-sized pewter cigarette lighter in the shape of a human skull, and, after several tries, finally managed to light the Camel I had given him, which, by this time, was bent upwards at a crazy angle. After a couple of long drags, he exhaled a thick stream of blue-tinged smoke up into the blades of the ceiling fan, and walked over to his ancient wooden console TV and turned it on with a click. He pushed the power button on the VCR that was sitting on top of the set, and after the display lights came on, he shoved his tape into the machine, folded his arms across his chest, and stepped back to watch.
“Ya’ll ever see Sabbath live before?” he asked, glancing from the screen to the couch as he took another drag on the Camel.
“Not with Ozzy,” I answered. “I did see ‘em last year with that oth—“
“What the hell is wrong with this thing?” Jerry interrupted, stepping back over to the TV. “I’ve only played the damn thing like twice.”
He ejected the tape, snatched it out of the machine, gave it a good shake, slammed it back in, and pushed the play button a couple of times.
“That oughta do it,” he said, stepping back and folding his arms again. “Man, you two are in for a treat…Sabbath with Ozzy was the real deal. Heavy fuckin’ metal, man.”
“Yeah, man, well I always wanted to se—“
“Godammit!” Jerry screamed, leaping back over to kneel in front of the TV, which was still only showing snow on the screen. “This piece of shit’s gonna work, whether it wants to or not!”
“Maybe you should let Jim take a look at it,” I suggested. “He’s pretty handy with electronic stuff.” Jim threw me one his looks, but I ignored it. “He wired up pretty much everything in our hou—“
“Nah, man, that’s all right,” Jerry interrupted, looking over his shoulder directly at us. “You two just sit tight on that couch…ol’ Jer’s got everything under control.”
Something in Jerry’s tone, something that hadn’t been there earlier, caused me to shut my mouth, sink back into the couch, and glance over at Jim. Jim must have heard it, too, because the look of annoyance he had been giving me changed to one of alarm, his eyebrows arching and his lips pursing into a tiny “o”. Against our better instincts, we obeyed Jerry’s command, and sat there while Jerry demonstrated exactly what he meant by under control.
He started by using one thumb to flip up the slot-gate on the VCR and peer inside while using the other thumb to repeatedly push the eject button with an ever increasing amount of force. When that didn’t get him anywhere, Jerry began jabbing and mashing every button he could find on the front of the VCR, punctuating this activity with the occasional open-handed slap to the top of the machine, muttering and cursing under his breath the entire time. Finally, with a grunt, he stood back up.
“Well, fuck it.” he said, bringing his fist down on top of the VCR with a bone-crushing impact. “Just fuck it!” He just stood there, breathing hard, and staring at the snow on the TV screen.
“That’s okay, Jerry, we can see Sabbath the next time we come over.” It sounded stupid. I didn’t really want to say anything at all, but the silence was just awful. It didn’t matter, anyway, because Jerry wasn’t listening. After a few more seconds of staring, Jerry reached behind the console and yanked the power cord of the VCR out of the wall. Then, he picked up the machine, turned to face us with a serene expression on his face, and calmly started winding the cord around the VCR.
“Good idea,” said Jim. “Take it to the repair shop and get it…”
And that’s when it happened. One minute, Jerry was standing there, smiling with his VCR tucked under his arm, and the next, he had leapt into action, the machine raised high above his head in two hands, his feet braced firmly apart, and his face, a perfect shade of heart-attack purple, frozen in a mask of self-righteous wrath. Jerry heaved with all his might, launching the VCR across the room to crash into the wall in the far corner, and slide to the floor with a sickening crunch.
“Take that, bitch,” he casually remarked to the broken machine. It answered him with three loud beeps, and then started belching out loop after loop of shiny crinkled videotape, which, stirred by the breeze from the ceiling fan, began writhing and crawling all over the living room floor.
“Far out,” said Jim, who then began to giggle despite, or maybe because of, his fear. Jerry started snickering, too, and then I joined in as well. The three of us laughed and laughed. I laughed until my side started to ache, until I could barely breathe, relieved that the tension had finally broken.
Cleopatra was in a jovial mood, too. The billowing mass of videotape on the floor must have looked like an amusement park for cats to her, because she sprang into the middle of it, pawing at the strands and rolling to wrap herself in the coils.
“Scat, Cleopatra!” Jerry said as he simultaneously stomped his foot and clapped his hands at her. “That mess is big enough without you gettin’ all tangled up in it.”
Cleopatra didn’t acknowledge Jerry’s command at all, and continued her play. Apparently she knew something about Jerry that Jim and I didn’t. Maybe Jerry wasn’t as scary as we first thought.
“So, you dudes wanna play some cards or sumpthin’?” Jerry suggested. “I think I got a deck around here somewhere. You got another cigarette?”
“I don’t know, man,” I said as I retrieved another Camel from my shirt. Cleopatra had started running circles around Jerry, winding videotape around his legs with every pass. “You really think it’s gonna be that long till Lisa gets back? We’ve gotta get home pretty soon.”
“Who knows?” he said. “Like I said before, these things take time. Sometimes she’s gone for da—Godammit, Cleopatra! I said leave that shit alone!”
Jerry booted Cleopatra back towards the corner, turning her into a furry, yowling, tape-wrapped missile. By the time she came to a stop next to the wrecked VCR, Jerry had stepped over to the chair where he had left his crossbow, and picked the weapon up, a purposeful grin creeping onto his face. He raised the bow to his shoulder, and aimed it straight at the cat, and mumbled, “Hold still, bitch.”
“Jerry, no, man!” was all I could manage before he squeezed the trigger.
The thrum of the bowstring was followed by a brief whoosh as the quarrel cut through the air faster than the human eye could track. It missed Cleopatra—barely—and thunked into the VCR, and stayed there, quivering for what seemed like an eternity. Cleopatra, now aware that Jerry meant business, scrambled part way up the wall, across the curtains, and launched herself through the air, coming to a kind of panicked landing on the back of the couch, directly in between me and Jim.
Jerry zeroed in on Cleopatra with his eyes full of murder.
“Now where the hell did I put them other crossbow bolts?” he asked no one in particular as he braced the bow between his knees to re-cock it.
We didn’t wait around to find out. Before we even had time to think about our crank or our lost $250, Jim and I were out of the door and racing toward my old Monte Carlo. I got there first, hopped in, and fired up the engine. As I leaned across to unlock the passenger door for Jim, Jerry emerged from the apartment, crossbow in hand, gesticulating wildly.
“Hey, man,” he screamed. “Where’re ya’ll goin’? What about your stuff?”
“Call us when you get it,” said Jim, slipping into the car. “Something came up, and we gotta split.” Then he turned to me and whispered, “Step on it!”
“Okay, I guess I’ll just call ya,” said Jerry, looking confused and forlorn. “Hey, wait a minute, man, I ain’t got your number! How am I s’posed to call you if…“
The rest was all drowned out by squealing tires and flying gravel, and I didn’t let up on the gas until we had cleared the parking lot. Fuck the crank. The only thing on my mind was escape, and even though I didn’t bother to ask, I’m sure Jim felt exactly the same way. We rode in silence all the way home, each of us lost in our own private thoughts. When I finally pulled up in our driveway and shut the car off, my heart rate had returned to normal and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
“Well,” said Jim from the passenger seat. “Got any more bright ideas?”