Skywriting at Night

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Chapter 31

     Johnny and The Turk had a firm image of their reality, even if it had very little in common with the rest of the world's, and one of the concepts that kept them well grounded in it was that their reality didn't change from one situation to another; they behaved exactly the same no matter where they were. And in order to make each locale feel comfortable, they always—but always—sat in the last row. After all, if there's one thing humans like more than sex it's comfort, and Johnny and The Turk were as stereotypically human as one could get.

     Johnny spent the revival meeting slouched in his seat cleaning his fingernails with the tip of a knife blade, an action which had impressed him no end when he saw it in a James Dean—or was it James Cagney?—movie. Granted it would have had a much stronger effect had it been done with a knife blade longer than the three-inch penknife Johnny used, but after all, this wasn't exactly Southside Chicago. The Turk was being what his father called a fussbudget, fidgeting in his seat and forcing Johnny to unwittingly prove that he actually fostered a bit of paternal instinct by repeatedly telling his friend to sit still. Neither of them had any concept of why they were sitting under the tent or why they didn't just get up and leave. Examining their motives would have been too much like lancing two huge boils.

     When the prayer cards were passed out, Johnny bent his in half lengthwise and used a corner to pick his teeth, another affectation he'd picked up from the movies and proceeded to use as often as possible, though never when he actually needed to get something unstuck from between his teeth, for which he insisted on using a Minty-Pik. The movies, as you can see, were Johnny Kasouska's Emily Post.

     "Hey, don't do that," The Turk said sharply.

     "And why not?"

     "It's blasphe...uh, whatever-you-call-it. You know, it's not right."

     "And when did you get so religious, Father Turk?"

     "I just don't think it's right, man."

     "Well I don't think you're right," Johnny said shaking his head and making a big show of continuing to pick his teeth. "I'm bored. Let's blow this pop stand."

     As he stood up, Johnny tossed the bent, folded, and mutilated orange card on the ground. The Turk picked it up and put it in his pocket along with his own yellow one.

     Had Johnny looked at his card things might have turned out quite differently, though considering Johnny's misguided idea that he controlled his reality, it's pretty much a sure bet he wouldn't have paid it any attention. The card showed a drawing of a gorilla-like policeman dragging the mustachioed man by the feet. Above the drawing were the words:


     Johnny couldn't have gone to jail much more directly had he been teleported, for at the very moment he and The Turk emerged from the tent, six cops converged on them, throwing them up against one of three police cars on the scene, frisking them, handcuffing them, and putting them in the back seats of separate cars. When they got to the police station they were strip searched, fingerprinted, photographed, and booked on charges of grand theft auto, reckless driving, and malicious destruction of property for stealing and wrecking Duncan Bruce's car.

     Johnny would spend the next eight months at the Bluemount Learning Center, a juvenile correctional facility where he learned little more than how to pick a lock with two safety pins and which stolen cars have the best resale value for the hot-wiring time invested.

     The Turk, however, didn't fare quite as badly. When informed by the cops of the inevitable prospect of losing his anal virginity in the state penitentiary—The Turk not being quite smart enough, nor experienced enough to know that he most likely would have roomed with Johnny at the Learning Center—he quickly and loudly turned state's evidence, regaling the police with every detail he could remember about the car robbery as well as every other petty trouble Johnny had ever even thought about getting into.

     Thus, within hours, The Turk picked up an envelope from the desk sergeant filled with his personal belongings and left the police station with his father, looking forward to spending the night in his own comfortable bed. As he put his wallet, seventy-two cents in change, a lucky rabbit's foot, and a nail clipper in his pants pocket, he finally looked at the yellow card he'd picked up at the tent meeting. He saw a drawing of the mustachioed man, who had sprouted angel wings, clutching his cane as he flew out of an open bird cage.

Community Chest

     Some needs are just naturally more immediate than others.

     * * * * * *

     As the Quite Reverend John Joseph Matthew Paul III was crawling on the ground retrieving the crowd’s generous donations, Tripoli self-consciously recrossed his legs while pulling his dark blue pleated wool skit down to cover his knees. Bobby Biggs was staring at him. Not like someone who thought he recognized him but couldn't quite put his finger on where he knew him from, nor like someone who wondered why the mailman was so smartly dressed for an afternoon tent meeting. No, twelve-year-old Bobby was very simply staring at Tripoli's legs, his eyes noticeably traversing from calf to knee to—when his skirt would hike up high enough—lower thigh. It made Tripoli very uncomfortable to know that he could titillate a teenage boy, though had he not blocked out so much of his own youth he would have recalled that virtually anything can get a rise from a hormone-drenched teen.

     Tripoli stood up and straightened his white cotton blouse with the Peter Pan collar. He picked up his small navy purse, having ditched the ugly brown mail satchel in the jeep. As he walked down the outer aisle of the tent he smiled gently, nodding at everyone he passed. Each person acknowledged Tripoli's silent greeting, some with a returned nod, others by mouthing "Hi", and several men with a quaint tip of their hat. Suddenly he felt a tap on his back.

     "Miss?" a voice said apprehensively.

     "Yes?" Tripoli answered, turning around to find Bobby Biggs standing with his hands thrust deep in his pockets, his lips pursed tightly.

     "Uh, I was, uh, wondering if maybe, uh, you know, if maybe you'd like, uh, my prayer card?" he stammered.

     "Don't you want it?" Tripoli asked softly, making Bobby blush.

     "Well, uh, you see, I don't really need it, I mean, I don't think I'll really use it a whole lot, and I thought, uh, well know, maybe you'd like another one."

     Tripoli reached out and took the proffered card. "Well thank you very much, young man," he said. "I'll cherish it always."

     With that, he kissed his white-gloved fingertips and placed them gently on Bobby's cheek. Bobby blushed, his face looking like an overripe tomato that at any second might pop open on its own accord, splattering blood everywhere. He turned and ran.

     Tripoli put the orange card in his purse. He hadn't taken one himself because he hadn't dropped any money into the Parkay Margarine collection tub when it had been passed down his row and, not having been to a tent meeting before, he assumed the prayer cards were meant only for those who had made a contribution. Like everything else in life, he assumed absolution had a price.

     He didn't give another thought to the card Bobby gave him until he was stopped at a traffic light on the way back to the Post Office while sitting in the red, white, and blue Postal Service jeep. The orange card showed an illustration of the mustachioed man holding a dog under one arm while pushing a howling baby in a carriage.


     Tripoli drove straight to his house, packed a suitcase, and aimed the jeep for the open highway. When he arrived in Atlantic City he followed the card's advice and drove directly to the boardwalk. He hadn't walked more than twenty feet when he saw a large poster advertising a beauty pageant that was to be held that very night offering a grand prize of $25,000. After getting a hotel room, Tripoli went to the location office of the beauty contest, filled out a two page application, and paid the $25 entry fee in cash.

     That night Tripoli not only made his beauty pageant debut, he won first place—winning prizes which included a diamond tiara, a fur coat, a lifetime supply of vitamins, and the promised $25,000—in the Mister Miss Glamour Queen Pageant, launching him on a new, and what would be extremely lucrative, career.

     * * * * * *

     The night of the tent meeting, Bobby Biggs had an erotic dream about Tripoli, waking up confused and embarrassed by his first encounter with a wet dream. Over the next two weeks this would become a nightly occurrence—with a varying cast as inspiration—until one morning his mother confronted him with the soiled sheets, after which he took to sleeping with an old sweat sock enrobing his adolescent unit, fastening it securely in place with a rubber band. On the fourth night of this ritual he awoke in excruciating agony, his penis grotesquely swollen, visibly throbbing, and colored an unearthly dark purple, the result of an overly tight rubber band. Scared it was about to dry up and fall off—like most children, confusing tales of gangrene, frostbite, and amputation—he woke up his parents, who were forced to take him to the emergency room since he absolutely refused to let them examine him. The intern masquerading as an emergency room doctor, who of course just had to be a woman, assured him that he would be a little sore for a day or two, but fine. Physically. Little did she suspect, for it was out of her sphere of training, what toll the psychic trauma would ultimately exact.

     As a complication of terminal embarrassment, Bobby Biggs would die a virgin.

     * * * * * *

     Whitey Heppelwhite stuffed his yellow prayer card in his shirt pocket and rushed out of the tent. He hadn't intended to stay away from the store as long as he had—after all, he was only supposed to have gone to the Central Merchants' Association meeting—and he just knew that the Food House was falling apart without his cohesive presence.

     When he got back to the store, everything was humming along smoothly; customers were being checked out, shelves were being restocked, bags full of groceries were being carried out to the cars. Feeling relieved, he went into his office and looked through the small stack of mail which had been neatly placed in the center of his desk blotter. Slitting open his personal bank statement he noticed something radically wrong. Whitey was compulsive about reconciling his checkbook and prided himself on knowing the current balance at any given moment. According to the new bank statement, The Penultimate National Bank seemed to think he had more money in his account than he did.

     $342,178.69 to be exact.

     On Monday morning, Whitey would make a very large withdrawal of cash from his usual branch, board TWA flight 742 to Buenos Aires, and vanish off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again. When the police walked into Whitey's office at the Food House looking for clues to his mysterious disappearance, they would discover a small yellow card sitting exactly in the middle of his desk blotter. On the card would be a drawing of the mustachioed man about to faint at the sight of a hand thrusting a fistful of money at him through the slot in a teller's cage.

Community Chest

     So it was a little off. What's $341,978.69 amongst friends?

     * * * * * *

     Candy Warsh wandered out from behind the stage curtain. The Quite Reverend and Crunchy Castleton were kneeling on the floor gathering up money. The tent was empty save several small groups of people who were taking the opportunity to socialize with little seen friends. Candy was about to walk over and ask the Quite Reverend whether he needed help when she felt a hand gently touch her shoulder.

     "It's good to see you here," Officer Jenkins said. "But then again it's good to see you anywhere."

     Candy was happy to see Jenkins, since of all the police in town, he was one of her favorites.

     "You need a lift?" he asked.

     Candy screwed up her face and thought for a moment. "Sure," she said, "if it's not out of your way."

     "No problem," he answered with a smile and a surge of anticipation. "You know I'm always glad to give you a ride."

     Officer Jenkins' police car was parked at the far end of the lot, which had by and large cleared out by then. As he held the car door open for Candy, she bent down and picked up a discarded yellow prayer card from the ground, then got in the car and slid across the back seat. As Jenkins got in beside her, Candy looked at the drawing of the mustachioed man greedily standing with his palm outstretched towards a shocked looking bride and a groom digging deep in his pocket.

Community Chest

     Candy thought this was not only a sound recommendation, but a fair price to begin charging for the services which until that day she'd distributed freely.

     * * * * * *

     Rubber Boots sat in a beat-up blue sedan waiting for his father. Since they’d been forced to take a taxi downtown—Johnny and the Turk having stolen their car—one of Duncan's friends agreed to drive them home. But Rubber Boots had quickly tired of standing around listening to his father and his friends’ obviously embellished tales of the previous night's drinking escapades. He was bored. He already looked through everything in the glove compartment trying to figure out what kind of person kept one leather glove, a tin of Ex-Lax, a three-way light bulb, a Hohner Blues Harp in the key of A, and a plastic hand grenade that fires caps in their car.

     He looked out the car window hoping to catch sight of his father and his friend coming towards him. Slumped down in the seat wondering how long he was going to have to wait, he reached in his pants pocket and pulled out the orange prayer card he'd chosen. On it, the mustachioed man was being dragged backwards by his neck, which someone had hooked with the crook of his own cane like a badly received vaudevillian who had whistled Waiting For The Robert E. Lee like a bobwhite while juggling four rubber chickens one too many times. The card read:


     He turned around in his seat. Suddenly, what had made absolutely no sense when he'd read it in the tent held renewed promise. Getting out of the car, he counted back three parking spaces, cautiously approaching the car which was parked in that spot. As he curiously peeked in the back window of the police car, Rubber Boots received his first view of oral sex—an act which, even though he'd heard about it, he had never considered to be a real possibility before—not to mention a glimpse of Candy's perfectly shaped breasts, the sight of which he found to be extremely exciting. Although Rubber Boots would fantasize about Candy's breasts every night for the next two weeks, he never dreamed he would actually get the opportunity to fondle them with anything other than his mind; he had no way of knowing—nor was his imagination even remotely able to stretch that far—that he was destined to have that pleasure nightly, since many years down the road he and Candy would get married.

     Not many people get to see their first blow job and their future first wife at the same time.

     * * * * * *

     When Rubber Boots’ father finally made it to the car, he boisterously informed his son that he'd invited his friends to stop at the Randy Bar on the way home, with the drinks and a Virgin Mary for Rubber Boots all being on him. Duncan, you see, was a firm believer in omens, and his yellow prayer card read:

Community Chest

     Although the illustration showed the mustachioed man scratching his head in indecision while being handed brochures entitled Buy A Yacht, World Tour, and Rolls Royce, Duncan instantly decided the Randy Bar was a much more appropriate way to spend the impending windfall.

     Three hours and a $165 bar tab later, he and Rubber Boots arrived home to await the inheritance that would never arrive.

     * * * * * *

     Rubber Boots wasn't the only one to happen across Officer Jenkins and Candy in the back seat of the police car, for after Rubber Boots left with his father and his friends, the Chief of Police arrived at the parking lot. Curious about why the apparently empty cruiser had been left sitting in an isolated corner of the parking lot, he stopped to check it out and was also treated to his first live viewing of oral sex, though this time Officer Jenkins was taking the active role. As the Chief yanked open the rear door, accompanied by Jenkins' surprised gasp and Candy's satisfied one, a yellow card slipped out of Jenkins' pocket and fluttered to the ground. On it was a drawing of a police officer holding the mustachioed man by the scruff of his collar while threatening him with a billy club.

Community Chest
Go Directly to Jail

     The Chief of Police was not only glad to oblige, he was morally obligated to do so.


Chapter 32 ]

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  Skywriting at Night - a novel by Mad Dog

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