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River City:

The Beat Of A Different Drummer Man
By Derek Hawkins

I stepped through the front door of Joltin’ Joe’s Java Junction to get out of the late October rain, and to get myself a caffeine fix. And maybe to check my email too. The shoulders of my denim jacket were soaked from the rain and dripped small puddles onto the floor. I wasn’t worried. I was ensuring some minimum wage slave swab jockey would keep his job. The great philanthropist I was.

By the way, I suppose I should tell you little about myself before we get much further along into the story. My name’s Kix. I’m the drummer for the rock band Windjammer. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of us. You will. We’ll be on M-TV any day now. Anyway, I’m in my late twenties, I’m single, and I live here in River City. Oh, and I’m rich. My parents died in a plane crash shortly after I turned nineteen. We lived up river in Moneyville, big fancy house with yards the size of a football field, manicured gardens, and servants out the ying-yang. I hated it. Mom and Dad had my future all planned out for me. Ivy League schooling, going to work with dad every day taking the train into River City to the office. Marrying me off to the debutante daughter of some old friends of their’s. That was their plan, but it wasn’t my plan. So I went off to college in the car they bought for me, while they went off to Europe for a month, dropped out of school the third day, bought myself a drum kit, moved to River City and sold the car. The rest, will be held back until I write the tell all memoirs of my life as a rock and roll giant.

While I’m digressing, let me tell you a little about River City as well. Not surprisingly, there’s a river that runs through the center of the city, dividing it into two halves, east, and west. River City is your typical port city. Lots of industrialized areas, lots of water front, lots of corrupt politicians and criminal activity. And then, there’s everything else. Shopping areas, high rise hotels, a casino. Residential areas made up the balance of the city itself.

And then there is Moneyville. Its actually called Stephensville, but once the wealthy began building mansions there, everyone not actually living there (and more than a few of us who did live there) called it Moneyville. The town lies about 45 miles up-stream from River City. It’s where I grew up. It’s a land of seven figure property values nestled between the two rivers that join up to flow down to the sea through River City. Mansions as far as the eye can see. I couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Anyway, that’s a little bit on River City and Moneyville, now back to the story.

I stepped through the front door of Joe’s and as usual, the motion detector let out a little obnoxious “yee-haa” greeting when ever it gets tripped. I was sitting at a terminal, my denim jacket still dripping on the floor, when Vera Childers walked up. Oh, let me back track for just a second and tell you about Joe’s place. Joltin’ Joe’s Java Junction is an internet café-type coffee house, done up in a combination western and railroad theme. The staff all wear western shirts and blue-jeans one size too tight. And then there’s the decor. There’s paintings of locomotives and railroad mementos battling for wall space with pastoral scenes of Kentucky thoroughbreds and saddles and a guitar autographed by Willie Nelson. The mp3 player jukebox in the corner was stacked to the gills with old country songs, and any song that ever even mentions a train in it, from “Orange Blossom Special” to Steve Goodman’s “The City Of New Orleans”. Joe Kamanski, the owner, was nothing if not a bi-polar decorator. The fact that the Junction was located just outside of the downtown business district, far away from anything remotely country was an amusing twist of irony.

Vera looked down at me with her ice blue eyes. “Hi, Kix. What can I get for you today, sugar?” Her accent just floors me every time I hear it, that sweet Southern drawl, with a hint of her northern Mississippi up-bringing underneath. Her honey blonde hair was braided down her back, over a royal blue cowgirl shirt, complete with white piping and fringe.

“The usual,” I said. “A double cappuccino and a couple of oatmeal raison cookies.”

Vera smiled again. “And some internet access?”

“Of course.” I smiled right back.

“I’ll be right back with that order, Kix.”

She was five foot six and slim, with blonde hair to her mid back. Watching Vera walk away in those jeans... damn I love this place.

Vera was behind the counter at the central terminal turning on access for the machine in front of me. The door opened again, and a father came in with his son, about ten years old. The child was in a little yellow rain coat and hat, the kind made famous by Paddington Bear. Vera looked up at the door, and I watched her go stiff. I looked back to the door, and the father was adjusting his son’s raincoat, and then the pair stepped back outside into the rain. Vera seemed to lose the tension that immobilized her a moment before, and began working on the terminal again. I watched the welcome splash screen pop up. The Joltin’ Joe’s Java Junction logo, a coffee cup with a steam locomotive on the front and a cowboy hat perched on the handle, flashed and then disappeared. Vera looked up and waved at me, and I waved back. I had internet access.

I opened an internet browser and pulled up the website to check my email. While I waited, the front door opened again, “yee-haa” went the sensor, and Lori walked in. Lori was a redhead, about five foot nine and athletically built. Normally, she was a fairly attractive looking woman, but just now she’d walked in looking wet and bedraggled.

“You’re late.”

“My car broke down,” she said to Vera, “and I had to walk the last four blocks in the rain. That’s why I’m late.” Lori had been here about two months now. Something about her bothered me. A nagging little doubt about her screamed to me that she was grossly over-qualified to be a coffee house waitress.

I turned my attention back to my email. Along with a couple pieces of spam mail, and a couple of newsletters I subscribe to, was a flyer-type email announcing a gig this weekend at Zapp’s Uptown Club by DeeDee’s Cyko Dawlz. The Cyko Dawlz were a female indie-punk band that we have played with a couple of times. All four girls took “Dee” for an on-stage last name, ala the Ramones. There’s Jenny Dee, Sandra Dee, Kelly Dee, and Miki Dee. I’ve had the dubious distinction of having been involved one way or the other with all four of the girls over the years.

“Here you go Kix.” Vera set my order down on the table next to me.

“Thanks, Vera,” I replied, and looked around the café once more before settling back into my email. Over at the far end of the counter sat poetry guy. I didn’t know his name, but I saw him in here regularly. Always at the counter, always with a cup in front of him, sometimes a pastry. And he always had some book of poetry that he was reading from. Today it looked like a dog eared copy of Yeats, but I wasn’t quite sure.

One of the nice things about Joe’s computer terminals was that they are all linked to the mp3 juke box, so you can make requests right from your seat. I poked through the extensive digital selections, and finally settles on a pair of songs, “Runaway Lovesick Train”, and “The Brakeman”, by a group called The Lonesome Travelers. The Travelers were an acoustic side project for a pair of guitar players in a rock and roll band from New Orleans. They played some swingin’ country music; some of it country through a New Orleans view point. I had made a trip down to that city for Mardi Gras this year, and happened to catch the pair on a rainy Wednesday night at a little club. How they ended up on the juke box here at Jumpin’ Joe’s was a mystery to me, but I am so glad they did. “Runaway Lovesick Train” really had nothing to do with locomotives, but “The Brakeman” was a perfect fit for Joe’s place.

There were some others in the café this afternoon as well, passers by for the most part, with one or two regulars. One of the regulars was the Junction’s resident Trekkie. He weighed a buck oh five, five foot three, and had had his forehead surgically altered to look like a Klingon. He was wearing a Star Trek uniform of some kind, and clipped to his belt was his communicator, er.. cell phone. This guy was an uber-geek all the way. His phone rang, of course the ring tone was the original series Star Trek theme song, and he answered it. “Hello.” I could only hear his side of things, but I had to fight to stifle a gut busting belly laugh. “No Mother. I am thirty-eight years old. How many times have I told you not to call me Terrance. You may address me as Commander Morgotths.” More silence, then “Yes, I will stop at the store and pick up your medication when I beam home.” He hung up. “I am living with the Borg Queen herself,” he grumbled.

I turned away from the Trekkie and tucked my chin down to my chest to keep myself from laughing at him. One of the passers by I noticed was an older guy, around forty-five or so. He was creepy looking, dark brown hair in a bad perm hanging over beady eyes that raced back and forth. Medium build with an olive complected skin that was choppy looking. He had on acid washed jeans and gym shoes, with a short waisted jacket, even though it was still warm out. I observed several empty iced tea glasses in front of him.

“Yee-haa” went the door again. I didn’t look up at it, as I was engrossed in an international movie data base. I was on the hunt for information on an actress. Two nights ago, I happened to flick onto a movie, “The Witches Of Siquijor”, from the Phillippines about nine or ten years ago. It was in Spanish, with subtitles, and I didn’t understand a word of it. However, the heroine in the film was this stunningly beautiful actress by the name of Rosa Javier. Normally, I don’t go for those artsy-fartsy foreign films, but this actress just bowled me over. I had to find out about her, and to see if she’d ever made any films in English.

I was exploring away when I bumped my napkin with my elbow and knocked it to the floor. Clumsy oaf! I bent over to pick up the napkin, and was righting myself in my chair when I saw a pair of nut brown heels, which gave rise to two shapely calves with a skin tone the color of creamy magnolia petals. A camel-tan wool skirt started just above the knees, angling up towards curvaceous hips and a smallish waist. A brown weave belt lassoed the skirt in place. Tucked into the skirt was a white long-sleeved button down dress shirt, unbuttoned to mid-way down the shirt, and over a white cotton t-shirt. A brunette page boy bob hairstyle framed a knock out face. Almond-shaped brown eyes peered through a pair of thin wire framed glasses. She looked like she could have walked out of a Banana Republic catalogue.

More petal soft skin showed the graceful line of her neck, marred only by the faint red scars that were nearly invisible under her chin and behind her earlobes. I could only guess that she’d had plastic surgery at some point in the past, but she only looked about thirty-five.

“Men are still throwing themselves at my feet,” She muttered, and then looked extremely cross with herself. She sat down at the terminal next to mine.

I sat up in my chair again, and then I looked over at her face again. The bottom fell off my jaw. The woman looked at me staring back at her with a slack-jawed expression. “You’re Rosa Javier,” I said in a stage whisper.

She shook her head at me, just once, but with all the finality of a Supreme Court Judge’s verdict. “No,” she replied, also in a whisper, “my name is Katrina Degamo.” Movement in the corner of my eye snapped me out of my daze. Turning my head to the front counter revealed a confrontation in progress. Standing at the counter was a man with long hair, glasses, and wearing a dirty flannel shirt. In his hand was an automatic handgun, and the weapon was pointed squarely at Lori. Indecisiveness shone in her eyes, and something else flashed through too, something I couldn’t quite read from my seat.

“I said, empty out the register!” the man shouted at Lori, who began pulling cash out of the drawer. “Faster!”

My first superfilous thought was “It’s still seventy-one degrees out, who wears flannel shirts in that kind of weather?”. Then reality snapped into place for me. This guy was robbing the store, and Lori, or someone else, could end up injured or killed.

The robber turned his head slightly. “Nobody moves and no body has to get hurt. As soon as Red here gives me the money, I’m out of here.” He waved the pistol at Lori again. “C’mon Red. And no reaching for a silent alarm, or you will get hurt.”

I looked around slowly at the other patrons in the café. Everyone seemed to be transfixed in their seats, afraid to move or breath. Trekkie guy’s cell phone was still on the table top next to him. It gave me an idea.

I leaned over towards the Klingon wanna-be as much as I could. “Psst,” I said, in a stage whisper lest our robber notice. “Commander?”

“What?” he replied, almost as quietly.

“Give me your cell phone.”

Trekkie guy looked blankly at me. “Give you my what?”

Exasperation clouded my mind for a moment. God, these trekkie types could be so absent from reality when they wanted to be. “You’re communicator. Give me your communicator.”

A light dawned in his eyes. The little geek realized that I had a plan of some kind. He tossed the phone to me underhanded, and below the line of the tables. I raised my mental estimate of Terrance a half step. Maybe he was smart enough to realize the need for quiet and caution.

The phone flipped over and over and I caught it just as it began to drop down toward the floor. I looked at the Trekkie. He looked at me. Buy me some time I mouthed to him silently. He nodded slightly to indicate that he understood. I leaned in a little closer to the monitor screen and began dialing.

“Grrr” the Trekkie growled, sounding like an angry Chihuahua, but getting the robber’s attention. “Mr Robber? Yes, I am talking to you. What you are doing has no honor.”

“I don’t care about honor, I’m after the money.”

Keep it up, I silently urged him. I knew from looking at the hat rack by the door that Joe was in the building. His denim engineer’s hat hung at the top of the rack, next to his pristine white Stetson hat. Several weeks back, he’d given me his card with his cell phone number on it, to give to one of my band mates. They had been discussing the possibility of some acoustic performances in the café, and I memorized the number. Joe answered his cell phone, finally after the third ring. “Joe,” I whispered into the phone, still leaning forward towards the monitor to hide my actions, “the store is being robbed. Call the police and then come quickly.” I hung up the phone and leaned back again, as though everything was normal.

Terrance was still having a go with the crook at the counter. “You hold a phaser on a woman and demand money from her. There is no honor in that. If you did not have that weapon in your hand, I would cut you down with my Bat’leth in single combat, granting you the honorable death which you do not deserve.”

“Just shut up!” The robber barked, then “C’mon Red!”

I reached down to the inside pocket of my jacket and pulled out the ever present set of drumsticks that I keep in there. Guitar players keep guitar picks in their pockets in case they need them suddenly. I’m a drummer, so I carry drumsticks.

Terrance stood up quietly and moved towards the center aisle of the seating area. I stood and slipped down to the end of the row, farthest away from the robber and started up behind him. This was going to be close. Where is Joe? I wondered. I watched Terrance turn the corner and come around the end of the tables and advanced slowly on the robber. I was silently closing the distance from the rear almost in position now. Lori was stuffing money into the bag from the second register. I was almost in position.

Terrance’s boot stepped in a small water puddle and squeaked on the dry floor during his next step.

The robber whirled around and pointed the gun at Terrance, who froze. Joe came out of the back room office at that moment. The dirty flannel swirled again as the thief spun and pointed it the gun at Joe. “What’s going on here?” Joe asked.

He still hadn’t seen me coming up behind him, and now it was time to make my move. I took a drumstick in my left hand and quickly measured up the distance. I only had one shot at this and it had to be perfect. The robber was looking at Joe, his field of vision off the front door for the moment. I whipped the drumstick behind the robber’s head at the front door, praying I hit the mark just right.

“Yee-haa!”went the door - I had done it, the drumstick was enough to trip the sensor. Dirty Flannel whipped his attention to the door way to face the new threat. I closed the distance between the two of us in two quick steps and struck a vicious down beat on his gun hand, smacking him right in the middle of the back of his hand. Reflexively, he let go of the gun.

The gun clattered to the floor in one instant, and in the next Terrance and Joe were right there on him, the three of us wrestling him to the ground. Police sirens screamed around the corner of the block, Joe had made the call.

“This wasn’t supposed to happen!” The robber cried out, somewhat muffled with his cheek pressed firmly to the linoleum tiled floor.

“Song not playing the way you thought it would mate?” I couldn’t resist the next line, and anyway it came out of my mouth without even thinking about it. “You’re marching to the beat of a different drummer man now.”

* * *

I watched the Policemen work the scene. Dirty Flannel was taken away in the back of a squad car, and now other officers were taking eyewitness statements. I was not exempt this, and neither was anyone else there, except for Miss Degamo, who must have slipped out as the police arrived, for she was no where to be seen. Later on, that would strike me as very strange, but for now, the thought had yet to occur to me Detective Sam Gordon questioned me at length about the whole robbery, my part in stopping the would be robber, etc.

Gordon stuck out his hand. I noticed a white spot on his ring finger that stood out in sharp relief to the rest of his tanned skin. “That about sums things up Mister-“

He was about to use my real name. ”Call me Kix, Detective. Everyone else does.” I shook his hand. Good firm handshake. The rest of him looked firm too. Gordon was in his early thirties, six foot one and probably two-hundred and ten pounds, almost all of it muscle. He had short dark hair and dark eyes. His eyes seemed to be sponges soaking up every detail, letting nothing go unobserved. He probably was a fairly decent detective.

“Mr Kix,’ he finished. “We’ll contact you later when it’s time to take this guy before the judge. We may ask you to testify in court.”

“I can handle that,” I said, then changed subjects on the good detective. “Divorced?”

He nodded reluctantly. “Six months ago. How did you know?”

“The tan line from your ring tipped me off.”

“Sharp eye. I stopped wearing the ring only a week ago. Bridget and her mom live in Mobile now. Bridget is my daughter by the way.” He sighed. “Divorce is almost the norm when you’re a police detective, called out at all hours of the day and night. I guess Helen couldn’t handle it any more.”

I shook his hand again and then made my way over to the counter where Joe, Lori, and Vera were standing. “How much do I owe you, Vera?”

Vera was talking to Lori, trying to cheer her up after such a traumatic experience, looked a little dumbfounded at me. “Huh?”

“I’ve come to settle up my bill.”

Joe snorted loudly. “Get out of here, Kix,” he said, and then broke into a grin. “Your money’s no good here anymore.”

“C’mon Joe don’t do this to me.” I protested.

“I’m serious. Your money’s no good here anymore. You stopped a robber from cleaning me out of today’s profits, and you kept my staff and my customers from getting hurt. You won’t spend another dime in here, Kix”

I looked the old coot with a devilish gleam in my eyes. “Well then, if I can’t spend my money in here anymore, at least your waitresses are going to be getting some very good tips from now on.” All three of them laughed loudly.

I walked to the door and started to bend over to pick up the drumstick I had thrown at the door and then I stopped myself. There was already an evidence marker tag next to the stick. Oh well, I thought. It served its purpose.

I stepped through the front door, which had been propped open when the police arrived and everyone started coming in and out of the café, and noticed Detective Gordon talking to a news reporter. I didn’t see a camera crew around, so I assumed she was a print paper reporter. She was tall and thin, with a bookish but no glasses look to her, and short red hair topped everything off. She struck me as somewhat classy in her dress, and yet also made me think that somewhere there was a library short one librarian.

Gordon turned, the interview over, and noticed me standing there on the sidewalk. “Miss Nelson,” he called out, and the reported turned back towards him. “Here’s our hero of the hour now.”

Now, I’ve played in honky tonk red neck bars before, the kind with the chicken wire up over the opening to the stage to protect the band from flying beer bottles thrown by upwards of a thousand drunken idiots, and never feared for my life so much as I do talking to reporters. I hate talking to reporters. Mom and Dad had been well-to-do socialites, and after their death, I was besieged by reporters, camped out all around the Mansion I’d come home to close down for days and days. The Confederates at Vicksburg could hardly have had a worse time than I had been put through. I hate talking to reporters.

She turned to me. “Mr Kix, is it?”

I nodded somewhat reluctantly. And so, the siege begins.

“Kate Nelson, River City Dispatch. Can I ask you a few questions?” She asked charmingly, with her dazzling-est smile in place. The old spot light smile I call it, for in the hands of the right personality, it can be turned on and off light a spot light. I should know, I’ve used it more than once on stage. I usually went home with at least her real phone number too.

“As the hero of the hour, as Detective Gordon put it, I really can’t say no, now can I?”

“No, I suppose not.” She smiled again encouragingly. “Could you explain what happened, I’m sure all our readers would like to know how you foiled that robber.” Seeing no escape, I briefly outlined what happened inside Joe’s. She smiled and nodded in all the right places, taking the occasional note on her notepad. I was sure she’d gotten all this from Gordon already.

At the end she asked me, “Did you at any point fear for your personal safety?”

Now, that seems like the ultimate dumb question a reporter can ever ask of someone who has just foiled a robber armed with a gun, but I answered it anyway. “Well, Kate, life is like a song, you know? There are some songs that are short, like a good energetic Ramones tune, and then some songs seem to go on and on, like the entire side of an album. I knew that I still had credits left on the cosmic jukebox, and my song would keep on playing on.”

End

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