Bear Zabarte—Carson City, Nevada
When Flo barfed her birthday dinner all over the floor, nobody, not even my chicken-shit boss, Pinky, would have gotten pissed-off, at least not if they’d known what led up to it.
Saturday was Flo’s thirty-something birthday. All day I’d treated her like she was the Queen of Sheba ‘cause when Flo’s the center of attention, she’s happier than a pig standing belly-deep in mud.
For dinner I took her to the High Roller’s Buffet at the Nugget Casino, the best all-you-can-eat spread in northern Nevada. Flo loaded up her plate with some king crab legs, a chicken enchilada covered with that spicy green sauce, a few jumbo shrimps, and a giant heap of green salad. I followed behind her, grabbed the same, except I dumped less salad on my plate to leave room for a thick hunk of roast beef, and a slab of barbequed spare ribs.
After dinner, some of the “Three Card Poker” dealers serenaded my babe with Happy Birthday, and then for the big finish, I drove her to the new Carson City Expo Center so Flo could see the Brady Blackstone concert.
Shit, if it hadn’t been Flo’s birthday, I wouldn’t have wasted my time or money going to a Blackstone concert. The tickets started at sixty bucks, and that was for a hard seat in the nosebleed section. Besides, watching Brady Blackstone prance around the stage didn’t turn me on anymore. Don’t get me wrong. I used to be a big fan back in the days when he played his guitar and sang so sweet. Then he got to be a Country-Rock star with hit records, and a big-time concert tour. I didn’t go for the new Brady, but I had to admit that taking in two million a concert wasn’t bad money.
According to Flo, in the history of the whole damn world, there were only two performers worth paying money to see—Elvis Presley and Brady Blackstone. She was so crazy about those two dudes that when she moved into my place the very first thing she did was stick up two 8x10 photos over her side of the bathroom sink. And every morning, before she jumped into the shower, she’d light a candle below the pictures of her two heroes. So when I heard that the Brady Blackstone concert tour was coming to Carson City, I knew, one way or another, she’d be there. Sure enough, Flo came up with two free tickets.
The big question is why am I so damn broke that I can’t scrounge up two Benjamins for a pair of concert tickets?
Everything started out okay after Flo moved in. I’d pick up a few days of work for Pinky and then I’d tend bar three or four nights around Carson City. Pinky paid me more than tending bar but I still wasn’t bringing in enough to keep Flo happy.
What did she need? Shit, a list of what she didn’t want would be shorter. One of the first things Flo did when she moved into my place was to find a beauty parlor and make an appointment to get her hair done and a manicure every damn week! I got my hair cut four times a year and looked okay. So her hair-do every week seemed like a lot of wasted scratch to me, but Flo promised me that a weekly trip to the beauty parlor was something all broads did.
While tending bar, I’d cover some of my shortage through tips and skimming a bit from the register, but now I’m broke all the time ‘cause Pinky put the screws to me. He found out I was doing some bartending on the side and he didn’t like that. Pinky told me to quit bartending or he’d fire me. Shit, I was between a rock and a hard spot. With Flo around, I needed to bring in three thousand a month just to keep my nose above water. Pinky paid me a hundred and fifty a day, plus expenses, so I had to work five days a week to make my nut.
So now you know why I was a little short on cash and had to depend on Flo to come up with the Blackstone concert tickets.
How’d she pull it off? It turned out that Alice Spurlock, the broad who did Flo’s hair every week, had a son, Jack, who worked in Brady Blackstone’s backstage crew. That was all Flo needed.
“Omigod!” Flo shouted to Alice. “Except for Elvis, Brady is my all-time favorite singer. I'll do just about anything to see him before I die.”
Flo told me that Alice stopped right there, in the middle of washing Flo’s hair, dried her hands, grabbed the phone, and called her son. Then she handed Flo the phone and inside of thirty seconds my babe had conned Jack Spurlock out of two free backstage passes to the Blackstone concert.
I tried to get out of going with her, but Flo let me know that if I stayed home and watched a baseball game on TV, our sex life would dry up faster than a fence post in the desert. So I said sure I’d go and now after a great dinner, I pulled into the Expo parking lot ready to see Brady Blackstone, in the flesh, in style, and for free.
Being as I come from a long line of dumb Basque sheepherders, I didn’t have a clue just how good backstage passes are, but as soon as we drove into the parking lot, I learned real fast. The parking dude took one look at the tickets and said, “Yes, sir, just follow the VIP signs on your left.” I did and pretty soon another guy waved us over to a parking place about twenty feet from a door. Jack Spurlock was waiting inside, and he showed us all around the backstage area, even the bathroom where Brady Blackstone himself had once parked his royal butt on the throne.When she heard that, Flo’s eyes lit up like a pinball machine. I figured that before the evening was out, she’d find a way to get in there, sashaying along in Brady’s footsteps, I guess you’d call it.
After showing us the rack that held all of Brady’s guitars for the show, Jack glanced at his watch and said, “Before I take you to the hospitality area, I’m going to let you in on a little secret concerning Brady’s entrance. Before we open the arena, Brady and I go inside a black box sitting on the ground floor located in the center of the audience. We wait there and he drinks wine until the warm-up acts are over. Once the band starts his entrance music, I help Brady onto a chair that carries him over the audience to the stage.”
Seemed kind of weird to me, but Flo said, “Wow, I can hardly wait.”
Jack’s tour ended up at the hospitality spot where all the people with backstage passes could get free beer and free guacamole and chips. But the best part was that our backstage pass got us into ‘Brady’s Corral’, a roped-off section between the rest of the audience and the front of the stage. Flo told me we were standing where a fancy orchestra would be if we were going to watch an opera, like I’d ever go to an opera!
Brady’s Corral was cool. I could drink beer and rest my elbow on the stage. Before he left, Jack gave us earplugs and warned us to use them, ‘cause the giant speakers were so close that the pounding noise might melt the fillings in your teeth.
The warm-up acts? They weren’t so bad, but they weren’t great either. I was on my third beer when the band started to play and a cute redhead bounced onstage. I had heard her name once before, because she had won one of those stupid TV talent shows. Her back-up band was okay, a little too loud, but okay. Once the redhead hit her first note though, I’d heard enough. I put in the earplugs Jack gave us and headed back to the hospitality spot for another beer. I knew warm-up acts were generally second rate, but the redhead couldn’t sing her way out of a wet paper bag. For the next ten minutes I kept my earplugs in, drank beer, and concentrated on her bouncing boobs.
After the no-talent babe, the next act up was Kyle Roubidoux. He was a young good-looking dude in a pair of jeans so tight that I thought his zipper was going to explode. I could tell all the women thought Kyle was sexy. He sang a bunch of pretty good songs, and Flo went wobbly-kneed every time he flashed his baby-blues in her direction.
The audience was pretty charged up when it was finally time for Brady to make his grand entrance. The lights went out. The band got real loud. The crowd screamed. A spotlight caught Brady Blackstone as he cruised over the heads of the audience toward center stage. About the time I thought the thing he was riding on should be slowing down, it seemed to speed up and Brady crashed head first into a metal beam holding up one side of a giant TV screen. A chunk of something flew across the stage and smacked Flo on the arm. She gave me a nasty look, like she thought I’d done it.
I yelled over the band, “Didn’t touch you, Babe.”
She brushed at her arm, like she was trying to shoo away a fly, then stared at her hand. It was covered with blood, a wad of brain, and some black hair.
Her mouth fell open and she looked down on the floor where a super-sized burger hunk of Brady Blackstone’s scalp had ended up. The color in Flo’s cheeks drained away faster than a toilet could flush, and she hurled her High Roller’s Buffet dinner all over that hunk of head lying there. Flo started to crumple, like her backbone had turned to Cream of Wheat. I caught her before she hit the deck and pulled her away from the bloody mess on the floor.
I said, “You’ll be okay, Babe. Hell, if that nasty thing had hit me in the arm, I’d have barfed, too.”
I looked up just in time to see the rest of Brady Blackstone’s body slip to the stage. That was when the whole place went nuts and twenty thousand Brady fans started to scream and yell out their hero’s name as they figured out Brady lying there might not be part of the act. Finally the band stopped playing and a deathly silence settled over the arena.
A guy in a suit ran onstage and bent over Brady’s body. He whispered something in Brady’s ear, nodded, and then grabbed a mike.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Brady’s had a little accident, but don’t worry, he told me he’s okay.”
Two guys rolled a stretcher onstage and the suit blocked the view of most of the audience as they lifted Brady’s body on top the stretcher.
The suit stood up and said, “As a precautionary measure, an ambulance will take Brady to a nearby hospital where he’ll be checked out. I’m sorry, folks, but the concert is over. Please exit the arena in an orderly manner.”
I looked at the slab of brain on the floor. “Babe, the suit’s feeding the crowd a crock of bull. Nobody could lose that much of his head and live.”
The suit followed the dudes as they pushed the stretcher off stage and the house lights went up. The stunned audience stood and started to clear out. Some of the women were sobbing as they inched their way up the aisles toward the doors of the arena.
Flo looked at me. “But he said Brady’s okay.”
“He had to say that or he’d never get the crowd to leave this place.”
The color slowly returned to Flo’s face. “So you’re pretty sure Brady’s dead?”
I wrapped my arm around her. Flo wanted me to say no, but I’d rather she heard the truth from me. “I’m afraid so.”
Her lip quivered, she took a deep breath, and flicked a tear off her cheek with her finger. “I’m okay now. Let’s get out of here.”
Out of the blue I heard a man’s voice say, “If it isn’t Bear Zabarte. I should have known you’d be hanging around. You and dead people just seem to go together.”
Shit, it was Detective Ice Conner, the lowest of all Carson City’s cops. Me and that bastard never got along and I wanted to punch his lights out, but I knew this wasn’t the time or the place. For Flo’s sake, this being her birthday, and now in mourning for Brady, I tried to be nice. “What are you doing here, Ice?”
“Picked me up a good paying moonlighting job. I’m in charge of security for the concert.” He stepped closer and his eyes bugged out as he took his sweet time casing out Flo. “Who’s the broad?”
I growled, “She’s no broad, damn it. This is my lady friend, Flo.”
Ice turned his head and smiled. “Pardon me, ma’am, I think Bear forgot to introduce us. My name is Detective William L. Conner.”
Flo dried her eyes and said, “How do you do. My name is Florence Sonderlund.”
I stepped between them and said, “Ice, got any idea what happened to Brady?”
“Don’t have a clue. Looked to me like some kind of chair malfunction. Hell, I just read last week that every year there’s a pot-full of skiers accidentally killed riding those damn chairlifts.” His eyes locked on Flo’s massive rack. “Pleased to meet you, ma’am. Excuse me, but I’ve got to head to the lobby to make sure all the doors are locked after everybody leaves.”
I said, “See you around, Ice.”
He flashed me his high-power death stare. I don’t think he liked me calling him Ice in front of Flo.
Before the bastard walked up the aisle, he leaned toward me and whispered, “I hear you’re working for that shrimp shyster, Pinky Delmont. Bear, I know we’ve had a few disagreements in the past, but if that chicken-shit lawyer throws more work at you than you can handle, I’m available to pick up some of the excess.”
“Oh sure, I’ll call you.”
I closed my trap before the rest of what I wanted to say flew out - yeah, I’ll do that when elephants fly! Shit, Ice Conner couldn’t solve a murder if the killer strangled his victim while the two of them stood between first and second base during a World Series baseball game.
Eventually, Ice figured out that I knew all he was doing was staring at Flo’s boobs. He turned, licking his lips, and walked up the aisle toward the lobby.