For someone without what most referred to as common sense, Dennis Allen Marquardt graduated from high school in the top ten percent of his class. He knew he would. Dennis had always considered himself gifted. His parents had hopes he'd go on to college but Dennis had other ideas. Dennis played the electric guitar. Dennis wanted to form his own band and become a rock'n roll super-star.
On a clear day, a tune he hated, from the comfort of his second-floor bedroom in his parent's upper middle-class home, Dennis could see the hazy outline of hills separating Hollywood from the smog-bound valley beyond. Dennis also saw himself in one of those Hollywood studios recording what would undoubtedly become a Platinum album.
Earphones covering ears that looked pasted to a cleanly-shaved head, Dennis was playing his favorite guitar, one of three, plugged into an amp tuned low enough not to piss-off his older sister or upset his mother's afternoon social fund-raiser in the downstairs den. His dad had given him the Fender Stratocaster, a gift for his fifteenth birthday, and between listening to Slash, Randy Rhodes and Kirk Hammett, he practiced daily to get down those rocker's string-burning riffs.
Dennis had learned how to ingratiate himself with parents, probably the only facet of common sense he'd ever exercised. However, he didn't have a clue what they thought about unless it related to him, and furthermore, he didn't care. Parents spoke a different language, couldn't speak his, and he seldom took time to exchange more than a few perfunctory words unless there was something he wanted. By thirteen he'd learned to stay away from his sister, realizing how much pain she could inflict with a well timed word to easily influenced parents who thought their daughter could do no wrong. She was bilingual.
For Dennis, there was only one music, and it was enjoyed most when played at a sound level bordering on pain in a sweaty, moaning throng-filled auditorium of screaming body-blossoming girls and hungry young men. It was the rush of adrenaline when the lights went out, strobes and pounding throb of super bass shaking walls, volume increasing until his scalp crawled. It was spotlight circles cutting swinging arcs through artificial smoke, flood-lit colors shifting, fingers bending strings and running up frets, feedback slamming into his gut, the thunder of drums, vibrating crash of amplified sound. Eyes rolling back in his head, teeth chattering until he clenched them to keep from biting his tongue; nothing but an intense immense tidal wave of sound. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.
Dennis held no hope for anyone who liked Disco.
At that moment he saw the light on his bedside phone begin blinking, pulled off the BOSE earphones and set the Stratocaster on his bed. "Yeah?" he said, indifferently as possible.
"It's me, dude. When're ya comin' over?"
Crazy-eyed Ralph Munzie played bass, had the temper of a mad pit bull that hadn't been fed for a week and had abandoned school at sixteen to have sixty percent of his body tattooed with scenes that made mothers hide teenage daughters. At eighteen, Ralph was a walking museum of salacious horrors that made most look away in disgust. Ralph seldom buttoned the front of his shirt, nor could he understand why anyone might ask him to, since the ink-work had cost more than his bass and amplifier combined. After all, reasoned Ralph, if Ralph ever reasoned, most girls he knew not only liked the tattoos, they seemed eager to perform the intriguing acts depicted on most of his upper torso and other patches of flesh not usually exposed to public view.
At the present, Ralph was living with a twenty-seven year old pneumatic insurance company file clerk named Wendy who led a double life. On weekends, Wendy dressed like a teenage groupie, installed seven studs through interestingly placed piercings she was more than willing to expose, and slam-danced with the roughest skin-heads in the moshpit. Theirs was a special relationship.
Dennis looked at his Mickey Mouse watch. "It's almost five. My ol' man'll be home in an hour. I'm gonna try to borrow the car. Is Josh comin' over tonight or is he meetin' us at the center?"
Josh was the drummer, a six foot obsidian-eyed weight-lifting Native American with jet-black mane down to buns, narrow strands in front of his ears braided and ending with feathers from some birds of prey. Josh seldom spoke, made up for it holding drum sticks, and had a passion for small bikini-beach figured blondes with insatiable appetites for multi-partner sex-acts. Twenty, and the oldest of the group, Josh usually drummed wearing a bone and claw necklace, deerskin loincloth, moccasins, and tattered blue-jeans, upper body oiled to show off the results of hours spent at the gym. There were always lots of perspiring young blondes ogling that hormone powered act.
"Josh's at the center," Ralph said. "He's settin' up the sound system with Ollie an' the guys from More's Better. The lights are already done. Man, that laser trick that Light Headed Moments got is like better than sex. We're gonna cook it tonight."
"So, see ya in an hour," said Dennis, voice still indifferent. "Gotta get somethin' to eat. Later."
He hung up wondering if he should change what he was wearing, all the while chewing at a ragged hang-nail that had been bothering him for hours. Sound making its way up from downstairs signaled his mother's fund-raiser was over.
Grabbing a black and green plaid shirt, Dennis put his guitar in its case and opened his bedroom door. His sister's door was shut so he made sure to bump it hard with his guitar case as he walked past. He was down the stairs before she opened the door to see what had happened. Going to the kitchen, he raided the frig, made a roast beef sandwich with mustard and horseradish on sourdough and drank a half quart of milk.
"Going somewhere?" asked his mother, a Technicolor aging bird gowned in bright colors and chiffon scarves, a costume so predictable Dennis sometimes imagined her wearing the same thing to bed.
"When dad gets home," he answered, using milk to wash down the last bite. "We got a gig tonight at the center. Gotta practice before and do a sound-check. We go on second tonight."
"That's nice, dear. Is it a school dance?"
Dennis wiped his mouth with a sleeve, pondering why mothers made such a big deal over rock'n roll makeup, yet wore even more eye shadow and false eyelashes themselves.
"Dance? Yeah…that's it. We're playin' for a dance."
"How nice, dear. Be nice and don't get in trouble."
"Don't worry," said Dennis, hearing the sound of the garage door opening. "It's just a dance." He was waiting next to the car when his father got out. "Hi, dad. How was your day? Could I use the car to take our instruments to the center? We got a real gig tonight. We're getting paid. I'll be careful. We'll even put some gas in the tank."
Mr. Marquardt stood by the open car door, briefcase in hand, a business-suited man who'd had a long day.
"Hello, Dennis. My day was all right. Fraught with problems, but none so difficult they couldn't be solved. You want to use my car? What's wrong with your mother's?"
"Who knows," said Dennis, shifting weight to other foot. "I think it's gonna be in the shop for a week."
"A week?" Mr. Marquardt said, obviously not pleased with that piece of information. Lips twitching back at one side of his mouth, he exhaled audibly. "I suppose. Don't be back too late. And use premium."
"Thanks, dad. We'll be careful… ."
Mr. Marquardt watched his son drive away, wondering where he'd gone wrong in plans to get Dennis into college, wondering if parents and teens ever communicated. Sighing again, he closed the garage door and went inside.
Dennis was sweating like a sinner on Judgment Day, the last set wringing every ounce of testosterone from sound-shattered body. Too bad it hadn't been his shirt, which needed wringing-out even more.
Ollie Wells, rhythm guitarist, was sitting across the room on an amp case, spiky red hair glistening with sweat. Skin that had never seen sun, Ollie's was strangely transparent. No jewelry, no piercings, no make-up Ollie was a garage-band guitarist with no time for special effects, a nineteen year old from Modesto, California who thought new clothes were too close to wearing a costume. But oh, how Ollie could play the guitar.
Ralph was replacing a broken string on his Fender bass, absorbed in what was for him an almost religious act. Wendy, trying to get his attention in Spandex and black lace was licking sweat off his face.
Blocking the open dressing room door, Josh was holding court over three blonde teens who were bubbling with self-conscious excitement. Unable or unwilling to stand still as they gushed over a hearing-loss performance, all three girls were talking at once.
"Go outside and shut the damn door," Dennis said, head in hands still ringing with the sixty-cycle bells of mega-decibel over-exposure.
enveloped in teenage fantasies, Josh went out in the hallway and shut the door. Giving up getting his attention, Wendy sat down on a metal folding chair and watched Ralph finish stringing the bass.
"Well," Ollie said, standing and picking up his guitar case, "guess it's time."
"Wanna ride?" asked Dennis, wiping the front of his guitar with a soft white cloth and putting it in its case. "Gotta get some gas… ."
"Sure. I'm staying at my sisters. Over on Sampson. I moved out of my apartment."
"No problem," Dennis said. "How about you, Ralph? You guys need a ride?"
Ralph looked up from his bass. "Wendy'll pay for some gas. Her Toyota's got its period." He laughed when nobody else did. Putting his instrument in its case, he locked it, then looked at himself in the mirror. "That was a fuckin' good set. Too bad I broke the fuckin' string." He grinned and did something disgusting with his first finger to the image of a spider-web-clothed butterfly-winged bodacious beauty hugging his other forearm.
"No problem," Dennis said. "No one knew but us. Come on. Josh can catch up with us at the car… ."
They went out the back entrance and headed for the side lot where Dennis had parked. They passed Josh getting into a car with the three giggling blondes. "See you guys later," Josh said, and grinned as one of the girls shut the car door.
"More room in the car for us," Dennis said, glad he didn't have to give Josh's companions a ride somewhere he didn't want to go.
The parking-lot light had burnt out where he'd parked and the car sat almost alone in long shadows. Key in hand, Dennis started to unlock the trunk and paused when he found the lid partially open.
"Put your cases back here," he said opening the lid, "they'll fit… ." Words piled up behind mind-stopping shock. It wasn't so dark he couldn't see the body. He stood, jaw slack, and stared. "Wooooooo," slipped out of his open mouth like someone had kicked him in the stomach, but he didn't drop his guitar case. "What the fuck?"
"What?" Ollie took a step closer and looked where Dennis was staring.
Wendy and Ralph moved in, four pairs of eyes on the body in the trunk. No one spoke. No one was breathing. Using his case, Dennis poked tentatively at the folded figure. Nothing. He looked around at the three silent faces.
"Jesus Christ…is he dead, or something?" Ollie asked. He frowned and stepped back from the car.
"He died two thousand years ago," laughed Ralph, then stopped another glib shot before it could escape. "Hey, so who is it? Who in the fuck would put a dead guy in your car?"
"How in the hell should I know?" Dennis responded defensively, head ringing, feet welded to pavement. "Jesus. Whata we do now?"
"Call the police?" Wendy offered, making a sour face but unable to look away from the macabre scene.
"That's fuckin' smart!" Ralph said, shrugging uneasily. "Like we look like we're stupid or something?"
"No…no, maybe she's right," Ollie said, trying to get a better look. "We're not involved in this. We didn't kill him."
"Is it a guy?" Wendy asked, turning away, unwilling to look closer.
"I think so," Dennis said. "Jesus Christ…what am I gonna tell my folks? They'll never believe me. They'll never let me use the car again."
"So what do we do?" Ollie asked. "We can't drive around with a dead guy in the trunk of the car."
"Why not?" Ralph, as always, was filled with his own sense of strange. "Half the fuckin' people in L.A. do it every day."
It didn't go over their heads but no one laughed. All around them motors were starting. Car doors slammed, impatience shoving to get out of the lot, concert-goers loud and noisy. No one stopped to talk.
"I can't just leave him in the trunk and let my ol' man find him." Dennis was experiencing a worse headache than the one he'd been suffering. "Holy shit… ."
"Guys.” Wendy, voice pained, uncomfortable. "We have to call the police!"
"How did he get in the trunk?" Ollie asked. "Wasn't it locked?"
"I thought I locked it when I took my case out," Dennis said, still stunned. "I guess I didn't. Who woulda put him in my trunk?"
"Maybe he got in there to keep warm and died," offered Ralph, trying to be helpful instead of funny.
Ollie and Dennis laughed nervously.
"I think I'm going to be sick." Wendy’s face was even paler than usual.
"Holy shit," Dennis said, shaking his head, "what should I do? Three rock'n roll punks with a dead guy in their trunk. What are the cops gonna think? My ass is really cooked. Come on, you guys…whata we do?" Stomach churning, he did all he could to keep from tossing chunks.
Hand over mouth, Wendy ran behind the nearest car. There were sounds of her puking. Guitar cases still in hand, the guys stood peering into the open trunk.
A minute or two later Wendy joined them. “I think we should call the police," she said quietly, hand still covering her mouth.
"Okay…I'll call," Dennis said, his world suddenly larger than it had been only minutes before. "Nobody touch the car or anything…maybe there are prints."
"Good thinkin'," Ralph said, nodding like he couldn't stop. "I ain't touchin' nothin'!"
Dennis came back a few minutes later. "They're on their way. They said don't touch anything. Holy shit, I'm scared, you guys. This is too weird. What's gonna happen? My folks are never gonna believe this." Shaking like he had the chills, he was still doing battle with a stomach trying to get out of his mouth.
Three black and whites wheeled into the lot, red and blues flashing. Seconds later six uniformed officers were pointing flashlights into the open trunk.
"All right kids…stand back, but nobody leaves, understand?"
An officer leaned in and carefully moved the body enough to see the face. The smell of Southern Comfort filled the air, the open bottle under the body. A beam of light illuminated the face, a kid in mid-teens, mouth half-open, eyes closed. Then the body jerked. Three rock'n roll guitarists almost pissed their pants.
"He's not dead… ." One of the cops gave the other officer a hand, and the two lifted the kid out of the trunk. "He's intoxicated. Let's move guys. Let's check vitals. You kids stand back over there."
Officers went through the routine like they'd done it too many times. The band watched from a distance. One officer called for Paramedics. A few minutes later an orange and white ambulance drove into the lot. It didn't take them long to do what they did and they were back on the street with Oscar Awards Night sirens and lights.
One of the officers motioned Dennis back. "This your car?"
"My father's," Dennis said, shaken but no longer afraid he was going to get sick, but facing something he'd never considered.
"Let's see your license, registration and insurance certificate." The cop was already writing something on a clipboard pad and checking his watch.
Hands shaking, Dennis found the certificate stapled to registration in the glove box and, along with his license, handed them to the cop. The officer made more notes.
"All right, Dennis, tell me what happened here."
Dennis was still holding his guitar case, headache so intense he wished he could go to sleep and wake-up somewhere else without one. "We…we did a concert tonight, and afterward we came out here to put our stuff in the car and found that kid in the trunk… ."
"Do you know the boy?"
"I've never seen him before." Dennis, heart still racing, felt enormously relieved by the turn of events. "Is he gonna be okay? I mean, like, he isn't gonna die or something, is he?"
"Not unless he finds another bottle tonight," the officer said. "He's lucky, son…drinking like that can kill. You haven't been drinking, have you?"
"I don't drink."
Officers were going through the car from front seat to back, everything from glove box to trunk laid out on the ground. Dennis stood silently waiting. The officer shined his flashlight light in Dennis' eyes.
"What's you address, son?" Dennis told him while the officer looked at the registration. "I'll need everyone's name and address. Just stand over there in front of my car and be quiet."
One by one, the officer interviewed Cathy, Ralph and Ollie. Then he spoke with other officers for five minutes before motioning Dennis closer again.
"Okay, son; you can go home now. We may call you again about this if anything else develops. From now on be sure to lock your car."
"Yes sir," Dennis said.
After the police left it took the kids five minutes to put everything back in the car. No one said anything but Ralph, who ragged on the cops for leaving all the stuff on the ground.
"Damn cops," he mumbled, putting the spare and the jack back in the trunk and closing the carpeted floor cover.
On the way home no one spoke until Dennis dropped Cathy and Ralph off at her place. "Thank you, Dennis. That was so scary. God, I'm so glad that kid wasn't dead." Cathy got out. Ralph got his bass out of the trunk.
"Me too," Dennis said. "Later."
He dropped Ollie off at his sister's and was home in the garage at one-thirty. When he took his guitar out of the trunk he checked the lid to make sure it shut and latched.
"About time." His father, bathrobed and obviously annoyed, was standing in the door between kitchen and garage. He glanced at his watch. "You call one-thirty in the morning early?"
Dennis hesitated, then sighed, the relief of being home strangling super-star ego. "Something happened after the concert," he began, as his father walked around the car inspecting it for possible damage, "something real weird, Dad. I'm sorry I'm so late… ."
"Weird?” A skeptical father. "You actually discovered something you find weird? I have to hear about this. Perhaps I should have a witness should someone question me later. Weird? Should I sit down?"
For the first time in his life Dennis could relate to that attitude. He just wasn't sure just where to begin. But the more he talked the better he felt so he talked until his father finally held up his hand.
"Dennis, it's after two and I have to get my sleep," he said, shaking his head slowly, perhaps unexpectedly overwhelmed by the magnitude of his son's revelations. "You did the right thing tonight, Dennis. I'm sorry that the police didn't put everything back in place after the search. I'm sure you're discovering it's far from a perfect world. Maybe we can talk more tomorrow."
"Sure," Dennis said, headache still a problem but feeling strangely light for having experienced what had happened in that lot, "and Dad…thanks for being so understanding and everything… ."
Mr. Marquardt turned at the bottom of the stairs and looked at his son. "I'm glad you talked to me, Dennis. I hope this won't be the last time, and I hope you don't need a scare to get you going."
"Thanks. Guess I could get a little better with verbal communication."
"And in so doing, handling life," his father said, and smiled, "like the rest of us."
"Dad." Dennis looked down at the floor, "I forgot to put gas in the tank. Could I give you the cash?"
"Thank you for offering, Dennis. Under the circumstances I can understand why you might have forgotten. Let's put some in the next time." He smiled and headed up the stairs, then turned and smiled again. "Good night, Dennis. Get some sleep, son."
"Right," Dennis said, and nodded, feeling something close to the first and only time he'd ever gotten stoned, fuzzy around the edges but unexplainably happy. "Good night…and Dad…thanks again… ."
* * *