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Kaius Tau

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The Subterrestrials: Lucky Number
By Kaius Tau
Sunday, December 20, 2009

Rated "PG13" by the Author.

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An installment in a series of short tales concerning the Subterrestrials, among them the feloniously attractive Big Mambo and Diamond Jackie, and their heady journeys through the demimonde of a medium-sized American city— a burg just large enough to support a colorful cast of criminals and ne'er-do-wells.

Little Sammy Chong’s special Hallowe'en, invitation-only poker game lasted until about 4:30 AM. Afterward, Diamond Jackie and her beau, Big Mambo, began the journey back home while drunkenly singing various selections from Broadway musicals and throwing M-80s left over from Independence Day into the street. They would've taken a cab, but they'd not fared well at the tables. They were lucky to get out with the dram of whiskey they had. So, the situation called upon their pedestrian skills—not a terribly difficult affair since Little Saigon was fairly close to Big Mambo's digs at the ignominious Harrison Hotel in the seamy and dilapidated Lava Bed.

“We'll have to sell the Blaupunkt that I stole from that Mercedes in Volunteer Park the other day,” Big Mambo said. “We'll get a good return on it at Sal's Pawn & Loan.”

“With that,” Diamond Jackie said, “we can buy into the cockfight under the pergola tonight. I'm pretty damned good at handicapping the chickens, as you should know by now.”

“Only one more reason to love you, my larcenous little peanut.”

The couple weren't dressed in the same fashions that one normally finds among the city's denizens at such an early pre-dawn hour, yet said looks were virtually de rigeur at one of Little Sammy's gambling events within the walls of the Wah Mee Massacre. Big Mambo's attire consisted of a formal tuxedo, spats, and a blood-red rose affixed to his lapel; for her part, Diamond Jackie looked stunning in a floor-length evening gown the color of Big Mambo's flower and sparkling with scarlet rhinestones, her tiny feet showing off a pair of red fuck-me pumps sporting glittering stiletto heels. They were duly noticed by rubber-necking motorists crawling up Yesler Way's overpass at Fourth Avenue, heading from Pioneer Square's after-hours nightclubs and toward the interstate.

The couple, while traversing the bridge, were accosted by an unshaven, unkempt homeless gentleman wearing a black-and-white Who t-shirt. His request for spare change came as no surprise to either Diamond Jackie or Big Mambo. However, they had only a single sawbuck left—out of roughly five hundred with which they'd begun the previous evening—and couldn't see giving the last of their cash away for nothing. However, Diamond Jackie came up with what she thought was a brilliant solution: Have the ragged little man sing for his fortified wine. So, eying his Maximum Rock & Roll garb, she suggested that he sing “Pinball Wizard” to her satisfaction.

Sing? Sing? I―I―I jes' wanna buck er two,” the poor sap said.

By the fiery hells,” Diamond Jackie said with an unmistakable tone of insistence, “you aren't getting something for nothing. The world simply doesn't work that way, or haven't you noticed?”

C'mon,” the old man pleaded, holding his palms out, “where's yer humanity? I'm just anglin' fer a half-decent donation. I gots wine to buy. Sure yiz understand that.”

Humanity,” Big Mambo said, “is a luxury we can scarce afford. Hardly anyone shows us the barest sliver of humanity most times. Society is a very tough town.”

Damn straight, cat daddy,” Diamond Jackie said, clapping him on the back before retuning her attention to the crusty old derelict. “We'll give you a tenner just to sing 'Pinball Wizard.' That t-shirt of yours tells me that you can. And you look to be about the right age for a first-generation Who fan.”

Ten, huh?” he said, rubbing his unshaven chin. “Y'ain't shittin' me, er ya?”

Like the lady has already told you twice,” Big Mambo said with a note of exasperation, “ten solid. No shit. It's all on the up-and-up. The ten spot is yours for one bloody song. Certainly you can do that.”

Ten bucks, the bum reasoned, would buy him at least three pints of Rosie. The offer was too good to pass up. Bumming a total of ten off downtown's businessmen and administrative assistants, mostly in quarters as if usually turned out, often took all day. The terms that this couple offered him were too good to pass up, even if it meant embarrassing himself in public. He had a furious hankering for a pint, and the Dome Market would be opening at six. He looked around to see if there were other observers. There were none, save for the drivers on their journeys homeward. They probably wouldn't take time to notice him singing.

He smoothed out his t-shirt and gathered up his filth-encrusted second-hand chinos. Coughing a couple of times to clear his throat, he comically said “Mee, mee, mee, meemeeeeee.” Running through the gamut of keys during this warm up, the man couldn't establish a single consistent one. Neither Diamond Jackie or Big Mambo could restrain themselves from laughing. The man's cheeks flushed. But he gave himself a moment to let his embarrassment pass. Nothing was more important than those three pints of fortified wine; he could stay drunk all day and never have to hit the entryway of Nordstrom's to panhandle. It would be like a vacation.

“Get on with it, already,” Diamond Jackie said, waving the ten spot in front of the man's nose. “The more you delay, the further this dinero gets from you. We don't have all morning. These shoes are killing me.”

The man girded himself and, with a gravelly booze-inflected voice, began to sing:


Ever since I was a young boy

I've played the silver ball

From Soho down to Brighton

I must've played them all 


Big Mambo slapped his knee and loudly chortled. Diamond Jackie, crying with hilarity, buried her head in his shoulder. Drunkenly, they wobbled and stumbled around on the sidewalk, unrestrained laughter threatening to drive them to their knees. But the disheveled old hobo kept singing, running through the gamut of keys, while eying the ten dollar bill that Diamond Jackie grasped in her hand. He then paused for a moment, trying to recall the song's words He told the couple that he might not remember them all. “Well,” Big Mambo said, “that would be just too damned bad, wouldn't it? Now, do the deed or return to your refrigerator box broke.” Diamond Jackie waved the banknote in the dark air, and said, “What my squeeze said.” The man scratched his lice-infested head, and started up again:


But I ain't seen nothing like him

In any amusement hall

That deaf, dumb, blind kid

Sure plays a mean pinball


Presently, a police cruiser sidled up next to the trio. Car #6409, Officer Hank “Wolfman” Duval. A real ball-buster. Corrupt as all hell, meaner than a junkyard dog. And he despised the Big Mambo-Diamond Jackie contingent for its near-constant forays into the patently illicit: Indulging in consciousness-altering chemicals such as MDMA and cocaine; involvement with the city's illegal, underground gambling operations; friendship with pimps and whores, con men and petty thieves, drunks and stoners, and associations with a whole plethora of criminal types. While rationalizing his kickbacks and payoffs, he begrudged Big Mambo and Diamond Jackie their fun; the Wolfman, for his part, was suffocating beneath a frigid wife, ungrateful kids, and burdensome responsibilities. It simply wasn't fair that this godless and dissolute couple should enjoy their various venal and moral sins. That they were young and pretty further irked the lawman.

Well, well, well,” the Wolfman said, leaning out of his window, “if it isn't Big Mambo and Diamond Jackie, dressed to the nines I see. What kind of evil-doings are you two about on this lovely morning? Anything I can run you in for? Who's your tacky little friend? One of the derelicts you like to collect?”

I ain't nobody,” the bum said. “I'm jes' a guy wit' no address. They's no reason fer ya to roust me, copper.”

I'll be the judge of that, you smelly old hobo,” the Wolfman said. “But my immediate concern is with Big Mambo and company. Why the formal wear? I'm guessing that you've recently spent some time at the Wah Mee Massacre. Right?”All things being equal, that joint should burn to the ground.”

But it won't,” Diamond Jackie said with a note of satisfaction. “Not as long as Little Sammy pays off your sergeant. Right? It's the worst kept secret between here and San Francisco, bar none. Right?”

My guess,” Big Mambo added, “is that none of your sergeant's take trickles down to you. Hence your resentment of the Wah Mee. But, of course, you always have your little Vietnamese mom-and-pop stores along South Weller Street. Your circuit probably doesn't net as much money, but it's better than nothing. Right?”

Watch your fucking mouth,” the Wolfman said, “or, if need be, I'll make up some kind of charge to put you away for a couple of days. I've got no compunction about making you pay for your sass.”

Color me panicked.”

Just then, the Wolfman's police radio squawked like a metallic guinea hen. Code 289, Salvation Army on South Avenue Fourth—a prowler or suspicious person on the scene. The Wolfman keyed his mic open, telling the dispatcher that he'd respond. He then turned on his siren, and shot Big Mambo and Diamond Jackie the finger. He told them that, if he found them on Yesler Way when he returned, he'd run them in for loitering or vagrancy or some other trumped-up charge. He then sped down the street, his tires squealing. Diamond Jackie slipped her hand into Big Mambo's and watched as the Wolfman's car turned on the Second Avenue Extension and circled back onto Fourth South. She sighed deeply.

Okay,” she said to the bum a couple of moments later, “you have one verse to go, old man. Then the ten is yours.”

Think you can remember the words?” Big Mambo asked.

'Spect so,” the bum answered. “Hit's prolly th' most famous verse of 'em all.”


He ain't got no distractions
                Can't hear those buzzers and bells  
                Don't see lights a flashin' 
               Plays by sense of smell  
              Always gets a replay 
              Never tilts at all 
             That deaf, dumb and blind kid 
             Sure plays a mean pinball


Big Mambo and Diamond Jackie enthusiastically applauded. The old man smiled at the approval, then broadened his grin as Diamond Jackie pressed the ten dollar bill into his deeply wrinkled hand. Big Mambo slapped the man on his back as Diamond Jackie blew him a kiss, effusively praising his rendition. The old gutterpup beamed, partly from a half-drunken sense of pride and partly with the knowledge that he'd shortly be able to refuel. Big Mambo raised his hand in the Vulcan salute and said, “Live long and prosper.” The tramp returned both the salute and the sentiment. Both Big Mambo and Diamond Jackie laughed airily. The transient fellow them crumpled up the sawbuck and stuffed it into a front pocket of his chinos. He bade the couple goodbye and started up the street where, after reaching the Dome Market, he settled into a crouching position in anticipation of its opening.

The couple then started down the shallow hill, resuming their trek to Big Mambo's apartment. Once there, the plan was to fry up some eggs and sausage for breakfast, then passionately engage in what Diamond Jackie called their “blood-on-the-walls sex.” Afterwards, they would catch a few winks, enough to recharge their batteries, then prepare to sell the car radio and beat a path to the cockfights where they felt confident of recouping the previous night's losses. In the meantime, as they strolled hand-in-hand down Yesler Way, they simply fell quiet and enjoyed the vaguely coolish Indian Summer morning.

And life was good.





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