Hoyt looked out the passenger side window of Culley’s Dodge Neon and did not recognize the world passing by. This profound disconnect existed between the world as he imagined it should be and the reality as it presented itself. He could have blamed this detachment on the dirty dime he served behind the razor blade wire of the bloody Bilt, a sentence he earned for being Cullman County’s greatest meth manufacturer and also for shooting a kid’s ear off with a .22, but, truthfully, he believed he’d been on the outside of everything since his rotten birth.
Lately, his malaise had come to be personified by a certain neighborhood hipster pedaling the backroads on a fixed gear bicycle. This fella cultivated a ridiculous mustache and wore a funny hat that wasn’t quite a fedora. Hoyt had seen these hats for sale at many a Hindu-operated gas station, these dusty oddities usually hanging above and to the right of the cash register. Every time he bought a pack of smokes, he’d glance at the hats and feel those tendrils of hipster aggression uncoiling in the deepest, darkest section of his brain.
At least now he knew there existed a target to hone in on, a jackass with a comically large mustache jutting off his face and little stick legs propelling a clownish yellow bicycle. Hoyt didn’t know the fella’s name, but he believed if he could just stomp the guy’s head into the concrete one real good time, he could somehow make peace with his shitty life.
Hoyt shared his idea with his colleague in criminality, and, of course, Culley had something negative to say. “Whatcha gonna do? Beat this kid to death because he looks like an asshole? Jesus Christ, Hoyt, where would it end? Mass Murder? Stay outta Wal-Mart, that’s my best advice to you. There’d be no end to the asses you’d feel compelled to kick.”
“I’m not saying I gotta beat down everybody, Culley. Pay attention. I’m saying one dude. One goofy fucking mustache. One pair horned-rimmed glasses. One stupid ass hat. See how I feel once I beat him half-dead; go from there.”
“That’s just silly.”
“It’s not for you. It’s for me. I don’t give a shit what’s silly to you.”
Then why’d you bring it up to me? Culley thought that oughta be the next logical thing to say, but he decided to just keep his mouth shut. Hoyt was clearly working through some anger issues and despite a tenuous friendship which managed to last half their lives, Culley knew that Hoyt could become plum unpredictable when the overwhelming urge to hand out ass-whuppings told hold of him.
“You want to put in my David Allen Coe cassette? That usually gets me feeling better about things,” Culley offered.
“Yeah, it wouldn’t hurt none to hear some ‘Long-haired Redneck’, I guess. You know the ladies use to say I looked like Merle Haggard.”
“I don’t see it.”
“Back in the day. Before Biltmore Prison.”
“Still don’t see it. Sure they weren’t saying ‘pure haggard’.”
“Why the fuck they say that? You even know what Merle Haggard looked like?”
“More or less. You do look country, though. I give you that.”
If Hoyt resembled anyone, it was Culley. Culley was a bit taller, Hoyt a tad broader across the shoulders. Culley’s teeth outnumbered the gray, rock bottom remainders in Hoyt’s yap. Hoyt’s hair was thicker, his eyes somewhat more crazed. The tattoos bunched heavily along Hoyt’s arms, whereas Culley kept his tattoos placed more strategically, a howling wolf on his shoulder, a grim reaper on his forearm. Their dirty jeans could have been purchased from the same thrift store rack, their work boots from the same Wal-Mart shelf. Hoyt’s Somewhere in Time T-shirt and Culley’s Can I Play With Madness T-shirt were both give to them by the Reverend Eddie Vacuum who bought his Iron Maiden shirts in bulk from some sketchy fella out of Scottsboro who thrived on copyright infringement.
“Leave them hipsters alone. I think a shot of leg would go a long way toward setting you right,” Culley said.
“What the hell you know?” Hoyt said, hoping to just kill the conversation so he could get back to staring out the window, listen to some David Allen Coe, and think of all the women who never called him by his name, either.
“We got an invite to see Eddie Vacuum’s band play the Hair Metal Symposium this Saturday night at the Hog Palace. Bound to be some trashy women there who don’t care about their lives enough to say no to coming home with us. Big hair. Painted on jeans. Knee high boots. If that don’t put a smile on that fucked-up face, there’s no hope for you.”
Hoyt’s jaw muscles trembled like tumblers falling into place.
Culley watched him out of the corner of his eye, but a smile never did appear on Hoyt’s fucked-up face.
Culley went back to concentrating on his driving just as a newer model Mustang shot past his Neon. Though he had the gas pedal mashed to the floorboard doing a respectable sixty miles per hour, the douche bag piloted Mustang made him look as though he were driving in reverse.
“You know who I hate?” Culley said. “Dipshit douchebags wearing backward flat brim ball caps with fashion symbols on them. And jackassy beards that look like they’ve been smeared with shit because the dumbass is past forty and trying to hide the gray.”
“And then they drive Mustangs.”
“Yep. And then they drive Mustangs.”
“We need to make some money if we’re gonna make any headway at the Hog Palace Hair Metal Symposium,” Hoyt said. “Some real money. Not confederate flag selling money.”
“They’re hiring at the Wal-Mart,” Culley offered, lips twisted in a grim smile. “Third shift, janitoring.”
“I’m not White Lion when I say I wouldn’t mind putting the White Snake to some of these Twisted Sisters,” Culley said, grinning like a jackal at the way he incorporated old hair metal band names into his verbal repertoire.
Hoyt, who’d been hearing this bullshit since Culley picked him up an hour ago was less than amused. The Hog Palace was living up to its name tonight. Most of the women present for tonight’s battle of the hair metal cover bands were shamefully obese or woefully old or both or they just weren’t interested in engaging Hoyt in conversation.
The Reverend Eddie Vacuum, friend of the family and owner/proprietor of the local fringe church/thrift store/professional wrestling megaplex, found Culley’s wit exceptionally hilarious. “These Cycle Sluts From Hell are Treat-ing us like a bunch of Ugly Kid Joes,” The Reverend added. “I’m like Enuff Z’Nuff already. Give my Great White a chance to Kingdom Come in your Faster Pussycat. Know what I’m saying?” Eddie glanced quickly over both shoulders, making sure his wife Charlotte was out of ear shot.
Culley’s hair metal knowledge was a bit more limited than the Reverend who actually fronted a band performing tonight. He thought he caught some of the references based on the hard emphasis Eddie put on certain words. “I hear you. I ain’t Def Leppard.”
“Both of you, shut the fuck up, before I Saigon Kick you both in the Blind Melons,” Hoyt said.
“Blind Melon’s not hair metal,” Eddie said. “They’re not metal at all, actually. Kinda mellow. Folksy. Like them, though. Very underrated band, especially the second album. Shannon Hoon is still missed.”
“You need to pay more attention to the shut the fuck up part of what I said,” Hoyt warned.
He glanced around the venue with eyes that would vaporize ninety percent of the people in attendance if he could. This was life for Hoyt. Every trip outside his house trailer upped his anger quotient. But he felt the desperate urge to fuck, and every moment the ladies refused to flock to his genitals, the greater the desire to punch faces became.
Culley monitored his friend’s fading humor through a series of sidelong glances. Hoyt had been getting edgy lately. He knew Hoyt was hurting for money. None of their criminal activities had panned out lately, and Hoyt’s talk of shaking down some area meth manufacturers made him nervous. Culley didn’t relish a career collecting Wal-Mart shopping carts; he really didn’t like the prospect of catching a shotgun blast to the face compliments of some crank crazed dixie mafia motherfucker.
Hoyt tended to disregard consequences. Culley just wanted to make it through the evening with some telephone numbers and at least one Vixen he could get his Hanoi Rocks off with.
While Hoyt sulked, Culley circulated. The Hog Palace usually catered to a more shitkickery clientele. Its dance floor was large enough to sustain an army of two-stepping jackasses who found profundity in the lyrics of Luke Bryant anthems. Strangely enough, the area had undergone a transition of sorts. There developed a sudden proliferation of hair metal cover bands celebrating the glam rock of the mid to late eighties, and the Hog Palace began focusing on an entirely different style of mullet.
The lady patrons who ultimately approved or disapproved of these night club aesthetics with this presence showed up in Aqua Net drenched droves. Their nightclub wardrobes switched from tight denim and boots to tight denim and boots. A little extra fishnet here and there. Tim McGraw concert tees discarded in favor of Ozzy Osbourne.
Culley moved among them, smiling, struggling for meaningful eye contact. The witty conversational skills he impressed Eddie and Hoyt with earlier abandoned him now. He couldn’t even recall the name of one god damn glam rock band’s name at one point when he tried explaining to one half ass decent-looking brunette the fun game he hand his friends played, working band’s names into casual conversation and how he excelled at it.
Hoyt wasn’t at the bar five seconds before he found someone to focus his rage upon. The man bun and scraggly beard were all reason enough to despise the man. What really put Hoyt’s teeth on edge were the Dream Theatre T-shirt he wore and the incredibly intricate vaping instrument the dude sucked on intermittently, commenting to no one in particular how mellow the Fresh Island Infusion tasted. “Pineapple and coconut with champagne infused blueberries with just a subtle hint of lime garnish.”
Hoyt enabled the jackass to make the mistake of commenting on the vape’s flavor by standing near him at the bar when he ordered his Coors. He reacted to the fella’s conversational gambit by knocking over his microbrew with his elbow. The comic skeleton on the beer’s label made quarter turns in either direction like a gut-shot victim as beer gurgled from the neck. The Dream Theatre fan made a show of securing his vaping instrument in a sophisticated fanny pack before addressing the fallen beer. By then, Hoyt was on his way back to Culley and Eddie who greeted him with lopsided grins and diminishing hopes.
“What did that Ratt do to Warrant such an Extreme reaction?” Culley asked, getting his mojo back.
“I didn’t like him,” Hoyt said.
“The band that just played all those Slaughter covers was Carnage,” Eddie Vacuum said, hoping to mollify Hoyt with some shop talk.
“They gave me a fucking headache with all that screeching,” Hoyt said.
“The lead singer, Wyatt, is a friend of mine. He’s stopped by the church a time or two. Took communion. Sung a few Iron Maiden hymns. The girls love him.”
“I think he sucks.”
“Hoyt, do you even listen to any glam rock? Hair metal?”
“Sure. Sure. Metallica. Some Megadeth. Dio, back in the day. Foreigner.”
“Hmmm… Well, you might like this next band, Gentle Ruckus. They do some pretty awesome Quiet Riot covers. So good, you’ll see. The actual drummer of the real Quiet Riot wanted to join their band, but, you know, the singer’s brother plays the drums, and you don’t cross family, even if it means having an in on the carnival circuit.”
Credit due, the singer did possess a very pretty head of hair. Very Farrah Fawcettian. He thanked the crowd for coming, announced their name a highly detailed back story of how Quiet Riot’s drummer really wanted to join his band and how he had to gently let down one of his childhood idols. The singer introduced himself yet again, Zeke Zydeco, a name which sounded suspect to Hoyt, and Gentle Ruckus launched into “The Wild and the Young”.
The audience who were far from youthful and no longer particularly feral, screamed to drown out the shoddy sound system.
Hoyt caught Culley’s eye. Culley immediately telepathed Hoyt’s thoughts, an experience akin to walking through toxic mist. My head hurts and I want to beat somebody to death.
Culley shrugged. The band sounded pretty good and the ladies looked like they were loosening up a little bit. Maybe he could integrate himself among them, mention how he use to play a little bass. Sure, he’d never played an instrument in his life, but Eddie Vacuum would back his play. He’d use the excuse of chronic tendonitis in his wrists if any of the ladies called for a demonstration… and had a bass guitar handy. Unlikely as that scenario might be, Culley’s luck dictated a high probability of this bullshit occurring.
Hoyt turned his back, walked toward the door as he shook out a cigarette. Since his prison stint, Hoyt found himself increasingly anxious among crowds. Too many moving pieces, here, too many banging heads. Even the Reverend Eddie Vacuum was getting his skullet swaying in time with the music.
Outside, Hoyt lit a cigarette. He exhaled a plume of smoke into the crisp night air and felt himself begin to relax, the muscles in his chest loosen. His headache began to dissipate, the constricted blood vessels in his scalp he could imagine opening up, a feeling akin to cutting the blue wire two seconds before the nuclear bomb detonates.
He walked toward the side courtyard of the Hog Palace. The area was dark and isolated since most of the smokers congregated in the rear with the tokers. He set his beer down on a picnic table and finished his smoke and lit another. The music, muffled as it was, sounded all right. They were playing “Love’s a Bitch.” Hoyt knew this because Zeke Zydeco was one of those jackasses who the need to introduce every fucking song as if it were new to earth.
Hoyt was just beginning to feel human again, or at least backing away from the cusp of mass murder, when he heard someone say “there’s the man of the hour” and just knew it was directed at him.
Hoyt didn’t recognize the voice, but knew the figure stepping out of the shadow by size. 6’6, three hundred pounds. Lank, greasy hair, protruding forehead, jaw like an anchor, the same Live After Death T-shirt he wore the first and only time he met the massive bastard.
“Moon Slice or Moon Dog or whatever the fuck you call yourself.”
“Moon Pie. Cause when people ask me how I got so big, I tell ‘em I eat a lot of Moon Pies.”
“Good thing they don’t ask you how you got to be so goddam ugly,” Hoyt said, flicking away his cigarette distastefully. “Folks be calling you Dick Suck.”
“You a funny motherfucker,” Moon Pie wasn’t smiling. “The Reverend said you a funny motherfucker. What you think, Bubala? He a funny motherfucker?”
Bubala stood half a foot shorter than his friend. In the dim illumination put forth by the Christmas lights strung across the courtyard, Bubala looked instantly familiar though until now they’d never been introduced by name.
“Oh, he’s a motherfucker. I don’t’ know so much about funny.”
The red bandana Bubala wore didn’t come close to obscuring the medical bandages swathed around his head. His left eye was still so red you’d think he could squirt blood if he winked real hard. He wore a Scorpions T-shirt under the black leather vest festooned with Invaders insignia.
“All them bandages of your head, I imagine it takes some time for my jokes to sink in.” Hoyt tried keeping it funny, scanning the darkness for the silhouettes of any more Invaders, specifically a certain little red-headed sausage-fingered dwarf who trucked with these motorcycle gang wannabes.
“You’re referring to the knock I took upside the head. I’m guessing you wouldn’t know anything about some bushwhacking son of a bitch who’d club a man half to death and steal every last goddam Confederate flag within a half mile radius of his fallen body, would you?”
Funny he should ask that. Little less than two weeks ago, Hoyt and Culley knocked out a couple Invaders with lead pipes before stealing enough Dixie flags to overflow a Dodge Neon. When they hocked the flags at Reverend Eddie’s thrift store, the entire score netted the duo a cool twenty dollars.
“Sounds like something them Southside niggers would do,” Hoyt said.
Culley had spray painted BLACK POWER on the cinderblock wall of the Invaders’ hang out. It was a subterfuge Hoyt doubted had the desired effect on the gang’s psyche considering Moon Pie, newly baptized into Reverend Eddie’s fucked up faith, had been hanging around the store recently.
“That was my first thought, honestly. But them ghetto clowns know better than to fuck with us.” Bubala slapped the large AB emblem tattooed on his forearm.
“So what’s that got to do with anything?”
“So what?” Hoyt showed his SB tattoo amidst the swirls of ink coloring his arm. “Southern Brotherhood. For folks who truly hate niggers, rather than just tolerate them.”
“Tolerate? Who tolerates jigs?”
“You do, jackass. Aryan Brotherhood, friends of niggers for long as I can remember.” Hoyt had to laugh.
This Bubala joker was throwing off some serious bitch vibes. He stood there, exaggerating his butt hurt sentiments to a homosexual degree, flexing his steroid swollen muscles, narrowing his eyes, grinding his teeth, shifting his weight from one foot to the other as if he were going to do anything other than stand there and take the insults.
Moon Pie stood stock still as a totem pole. Only his eyes moved between Hoyt and Bubala.
“You do not know what the fuck you are talking about.” In his building rage, Bubala took the time to enunciate his words perfectly.
“Sure I do. Those AB boys, they’re pretty all inclusive these days. Doing my dirty dime at the bloody Bilt, I seen Aryan Brotherhood playing checkers with niggers, lifting weights with niggers, sharing sissies with niggers. In fact, you can always tell when the Aryan Brotherhood’s getting anxious, they got black dicks hanging out their mouths.”
“You’re so full of shit,” Bubala spat. “Where’d you do your bit?”
Hoyt looked at him with a mixture of pity and disdain he normally reserved for Jeff Gordon fans. “Ten years at the Biltmore Federal Penitentiary.”
“I guess that makes you think you’re a tought motherfucker, doesn’t it? ‘A dirty dime at the bloody Bilt’ he says, like that means something to me. I did two months at Huntsville Correctional. I’ll tell you what I hated more than anything is trying to make grilled cheeses in the cell. I hate how that prison cheese don’t melt; it just blackens and burns.”
“Cheese?” Hoyt blurted. “I got stabbed fourteen fucking times.” He pulled up his shirt revealing the scarred, mottled mess of flesh stretched along his left side from the top of his ribcage down to his waist. “This was from the second race riot while I was there. The one the Aryan Brotherhood decided to sit out of. The one that was so bad it got every prison system in the entire fucking state locked down. I was going toe-to-toe with this fire plug-looking nigger and he was blasting me in the side. I’m wearing out his head, but every time he hits me in the ribs it feels like bombs are going out cause he’s shivving the shit outta me.”
“I’m gonna stop you right there,” Bubala said. “Cause I don’t give a shit what happened to you in prison, you ain’t smart enough not to get your ass shanked nightly, whatever. It doesn’t give you the right to steal our Confederate flags the day before our first annual Invaders Ride for the Freedom to Celebrate our Southern Heritage. We had to ride our bikes passing around a couple of goddam Dixie hankies Goat Fucker Udee had stuffed in the bottom of his sock drawer.”
“What’s going on out here?”
Culley and Eddie came around the corner, their cigarettes glowing like two red Marlboro eyes.
They caught Bubala’s attention just long enough for Hoyt to step forward and punch him right in the bandaged head. Bubala made a strange “gurk” sound and dropped to the ground unconscious.
Hoyt balled his fists and stared up into Moon Pie’s jack o’lantern-looking mug. “You got a problem with what I just done?”
Moon Pie glanced at the Reverend Eddie Vacuum. Eddie shook his head, no. Moon Pie repeated the gesture. “Not unless you killed him,” Moon Pie added as if to prove some level of autonomy remained to him.
Hoyt wasn’t exactly sure. He toed the Invader and got a slight groan out of him.
“Christ,” Culley said. “You have to hit him so hard?”
“Didn’t have time to wrap my fist in padding to make you happy,” Hoyt said.
“Yeah, but couldn’t you just hold back a little. Never mind, there any more of these fuckers running around here?”
Hoyt shrugged. Culley stared at Moon Pie.”
“Don’t look at me,” Moon Pie growled. “He’s just an acquaintance. I ain’t responsible for what he does, who he runs with.”
“You two looked pretty chummy when it was just the three of us out here.”
“You were shooting your mouth off at him. Any man’s gonna defend himself. I didn’t side with either one of you dummies.”
“All right. All right. He’s just an acquaintance,” Culley said. “Then you won’t mind if I do this.” Culley grabbed the Invaders vest and peeled it from Bubala.
“Then you won’t mind if I do this,” Hoyt added, reaching into Bubala’s back pocket and withdrawing the man’s wallet.
“That’s pretty sorry,” Moon Pie said.
“He ought not to have fucked with me. Now he ain’t got no wallet.”
“As much as I want you guys to see me own the band with my band, The Reverend Eddie Vacuum and the Powerslaves,” Eddie said. “It’d probably be best you guys get the fuck out before this poor bastard wakes up, or dies, or someone finds him.”
“The Invaders are gonna find out this Motley Crue is Every Mother’s Nightmare after we Stryper’d a few more asses,” Culley grinned.
“Seriously,” Eddie grimaced. “Up the irons. And get the fuck outta here.”
On the way home, Hoyt sitting in the Neon’s passenger seat, he took out the driver’s license from the stolen wallet. “Joe Bubala. I know where you live, now. Maybe I oughta send you a thank you note for the eighty bucks you donated to the Southern Brotherhood cause.”
“Eighty bucks, huh?”
“And he gets to go back to his boyfriends and explain why he don’t have a sassy leather vest no more. How’d you do?”
“I got a phone number. Girl named Natalie gave me her number. And it’s her real number, too. I dialed it right there standing in front of her.”
“Yeah. Only problem is I got two days learn how to play the bass guitar.”