V. Rivals Ride Shotgun
It Ain't Battle of the Bands. It's a Hell of an Olive Branch...
“Evening gang, it’s your friendly neighborhood AA sponsor here! Ol’ Doc has a good reason to personally introduce these youngsters; crazy SOBs bought a round for the whole house. While me and the crew get all y’all good and loaded, they’ll hit ya right between the eyes with some hard-n-heavy rock-n-roll. Ladies, gentlemen, and bastards of all ages; please give a bitching welcome to ‘Maelstrom and the Rockets!’”
While it felt like a betrayal at first, the beer helped it go down easier. But then I heard that cat scream, and it went right back to knife-twisting territory.
Did we blame Doc at the time? Hell naw, our man had to keep himself and his family fed, and the whole point of the Oasis Stage was to give up-and-comers a leg up. And it just so happened after one-two-three-four-five…anyhow, after having that stage for longer than any other act in the area, he finally had to give someone a chance to shine.
They just so happened to be the new hotness from out West.
The frontman was Maelstrom; Mick Maelstrom. Always dressed in black, with belts all over, and a bluesy shriek that’d strip paint off a house ten miles out. And that’s a compliment. Helluva mane too, all brushed to one side.
He was the color of sand, backed by a group of swinging grays. Bassist kept it rock steady, the drummer was a beast, keyboardist had plenty of soul in those ivory-ticklers of his, and could hop on rhythm guitar when needed. And the guitarist…well, let’s just say I had Harry and his lady Scarlet get a room so he could enjoy the rest of his night without listening to the hound play. He couldn’t best him, but he was good enough to press the savant’s buttons.
I could already see Rory steaming, but he wasn’t gonna do anything with me around. As for myself…fuck, I was pretty pissed with ‘em too. Like black-fur-bristling-on-end bad. They were fucking great, but it was just that quality that was driving my young ass up the wall, around the block, and back to my seat. We kept it cool for the rest of the night, and in the end, it was just us three plus Scarlet that closed the joint down.
“Play it smooth,” I says to Rory before getting up to meet the band.
As The Rockets were gathering their things, I sauntered up to Mick, and in an instant, that sonofabitch turned the whole sitch around on us.
“Holy shit,” he shouted, eyes wide as the desert. “Y-y-y-you-yo-you…fucking hell…you’re from Metröpolis! The pairs of ya!”
“And our axeman is having a little fun next door,” Rory said dryly.
The tan-furred frontman couldn’t stop beaming as he shook my hand furiously, shook Rory’s in kind, and went for the dotted outline where Harry would stand. The rest of the Rockets didn’t take any notice, just kept packing their stuff away.
Mick brushed it off. “Don’t mind the boys, they’re a little matter-of-fact these days…Say, I heard you guys are working on an album?”
“Well, noodling around on a couple of ideas anyhow.” I grinned, “You cats cooking up a few 45s anytime soon?”
“With any luck, and enough time, right fellas?”
The half-hearted “yeah” was reassuring.
I broke the ice. “Just wanted to say I dug the set. You got talent, peanut gallery and all. Didn’t know you could take all that Old World New Wave stuff and spin it around into something heavy like that.”
He bowed as if he stood at the feet of an emperor. “Thank you!”
“Wanna jam for a bit? I got my bass in the back of the truck.” Out of the frying pan and into the fire was my day-job, so I figured “what the hell, why not” to offering the dude a chance to play with me. Mick beamed as he went for his own rhythm guitar, a sharp black-and-red axe if ever there was one.
“You can stay if you want Mads,” I offered, “But maybe it’s best we let the egos file out, eh?”
He huffed, but agreed, and walked out the door. The Rockets followed suit, and when Harry and Scarlet finally came out, the lovers pawing each other every step of the way, I waved them on. “Get outta here before something crazy happens like marriage.” They got a kick out of that one.
Doc grinned as he saw me and Mick sit down on the stage, having gotten our rigs hooked up.
“Just keep it at 11,” he winked before putting on that dumb old prospector voice of his. “‘I’s just an ol’ fart losing his hearin’ by the day!’”
We got a laugh out of it before he hightailed it to his quarters, shooing the rest of the wait-staff out the door.
And I shit you not, the very second we sit down and finally start laying down a groove that could blow a bus in half…you guessed it…
“CALLING ALL PATROLMEN, CALLING ALL PATROLMEN!”
We both hit a sour chord and looked down at our CBs. Yes, our.
“You ain’t?” Mick started.
“Boy, you bet that Flying V I am.”
His eyes lit up for a spell before answering the call. “Mick Maelstrom, reporting.”
“Nic Ridgefield reporting,” says I.
“Didn’t realize you were in from the West, Maelstrom.” Commissioner comes on, all aglow. “Anyhow, we’ve got a chase in progress. Jasper Koenig, 5’ 5”, black fur. Scavenger filed under K.I.C. Took out a family of five for an Austin-Healey, gunning it for God knows where. Light blue, 1960 model. You’ll know it by its Arizona plates.”
“Is there a number on that plate, sir?” I ask.
“Damned if I know.” Commissioner replied, “How many rods come wearing plates anymore, especially Old World?”
“Point taken.” I nodded. “Ridgefield out.”
When Mick signed off, he looked to me with a puzzled kinda gaze. “Aren’t your bandmates Patrolmen too?”
I looked around all cool before whispering into the young buck’s ear something that never made it to the Commissioner in all my years on Patrol. Something that dog woulda killed me for.
“I had Rory and Harry take the batteries out of their CBs. They couldn’t catch a signal if it came in on a baseball.”
Mick snickered. He had a feeling I was one of the better senior officers on the force and he musta thought it pretty cool of me making sure my boys had a night off. We packed up our gear and headed out for our rides.
Now that tan lawman had an Impala so white, you could see it from space. He took care of that doll like she was the love of his life. He had a girl back West, but when she wasn’t around to collect on those heavy pets, you got a good idea who was taking in the surplus affection.
And no, that didn’t include screwing, you freaks. He probably got off on the adrenaline though, because when he turned her over, WHEW LORD, I was dry-heaving with damn envy. Sounded like the best eight pistons in the New West.
“She’s Saxon!” he shouted over the engine.
“She oughta be if she’s that lily-white.” I teased.
“No!” he shot back, “That’s her name.”
Mick switched on his radio, and I shit you not, every station on the dial would be playing a song from the band. One station was rolling on wheels of steel, the other would be serenading about crusaders, and then the station he liked most would be spinning the glam stuff. When “Ride Like the Wind” came on, he was in the zone quicker than you could say “It is the night.”
With nothing to go off of, the first part of the patrol was a good old-fashioned waiting game. We positioned ourselves out in the open. No towns in sight, no homesteads. Just a good old sandbox. At one point, we’d gotten so bored, we’d busted out the acoustic guitars and started noodling away, seeing as we had been so rudely interrupted.
And sure enough, just when those 12-bar blues was hitting sweet as wine, here comes our man, careening like a bat out of hell. He looked like he just left too. Skeezy little bastard had “those” eyes. You know the kind. The kind that you aren’t sure if they’re Halloween contacts or if Mama was hitting the sauce too hard after the best night of Papa’s life.
Our escaped villager of the damned kept driving his beady-eyed heart out until reached us, after which I pulled out the P.A. system, the four bullhorns folding out of the cab roof.
“COMMANDER KOENIG, WE’RE SENDING YOU OUT OF ORBIT!”
Mustn’t have seen the reruns because he just kept on coming at us. And coming, and coming, and insert innuendo here, until he had just clipped the both of us, nudging our ten-ton machines every so gently out of his way.
Clearly that wasn’t his intention, since he hit the brakes and whipped around to ram Mick specifically. Ever the crack bullfighter (if you count wasted hounds as bulls), he gunned the Impala in reverse, the sports car missing him once more. Saxon started circling the Healey like the cars were gonna sprout switchblades, only to wind up in a cockfight when our scavenger chickened out. That was our cue to give chase.
The two of us were neck and neck with each other and closing in on our target. The only thing wrong with the picture was that we were chasing a Britannic beast, and like all scavengers worth their scrap, Koenig knew how to drive her.
He also knew a thing or two about shooting, because sure enough, out came a Smith & Wesson Centennial of all things. A genuine Model 40 .38 Special, giving us round after round of white-hot electric lead. And while I was safe in my cab, Mick having his top down got me a little jittery.
I gave my Toyota Hilux a good kick in the tank and whipped out my Model 3. I get the windows down, and lean out to start shooting. And this cunt gets me right in my goddamn hand!
Out the revolver goes, tumbling into the sands and I’m just losing it. He didn’t shoot my hand off, hell he only graced me, but that’s the kind of shit that shakes you up. And like an idiot on autopilot, I slam the brakes and dart out with my back turned to the maniac, who keeps on plinking his penny-packing peacemaker. Now I’m out here dodging the shots left and right, and when I finally get the gun in my hand, he gets bored and starts lighting into Saxon and Mick, who is firing back with the biggest goddamned shotgun I’ve beheld in life.
Imagine if you will a Howitzer but with fine wood furnishings, and that’s the kind of gear Mick was packing. With Koenig’s eyes off the prize, I finally get a chance to light into him and boy do I…hit everything but our man in black.
You see…to keep my BP from hitting the ceiling at Doc’s, I had the old codger make me a couple of the cocktails one of the resident love-makers dug. This cute Latin honey named Sabina swore by vodka martinis, and while she had a special bottle of genuine stuff, I had Doc make mine with the synth on tap. I probably knocked back five, and took my freebie from the Rockets as the sixth.
To coin an old phrase, I was over-served.
I had managed to get: the rear-left tire, the gas cap cover, both brake lights, the right side mirror, the rearview, bingo, and then landed a shot on his neck. And as if God himself came down and revealed onto me, “kid, you couldn’t execute this man if I tied the noose for you and hung him from the pearly gates,” onward came the cavalry! And by cavalry, I mean Harry, behind the wheel of his gal’s Camaro, Sheba. Built tough as her lady Scarlet, the Chevy bowled over the Healey in a good clean shove that sent it spinning out of control. I can give you the play-by-play like it was yesterday.
He was dead on the first rollover.
Like the windshield flattened clean against the ground and that car wasn’t built with roll-bars. His neck snapped like a Pixy-Stik.
Second rollover, his head was almost coming off.
We never found out what happened to the rest of him because, by the third rollover, that car went up in a fireball, against a cliff-face, with an avalanche of loose stone burying the sucker.
All four of us kinda just double-took each other before convening.
“K.I.C. is toast,” I said on radio, winded. “Dead and buried.”
“Good work Ridgefield.” Commissioner commended. “Over and out.”
That was the fastest that bastard ever hung up on me, but I wasn’t complaining. Mick was pleased to finally have the asshole off his tail, and at first, I looked to Harry worried.
“Tell me you didn’t put the batteries back in, Richter?” I pleaded.
He looked to Scarlet, who grinned, and shared the smile with me.
“Speed,” he said (and I’ll never forget this), “The only time I see you driving that fast is when you’re on duty or you’re having a drag. And seeing as you two weren’t exactly in the race of your lives, I figured ‘what the hell, while I’m in the neighborhood.’ See ya Monday.”
Cool as a cucumber, that bastard drove off into the dust of the desert, leaving me with Mick, who could only chuckle.
“Good to have men like that at your back.”
And like any happy drunk, I agreed. “I love that son-of-a-fuck.”
I was stable enough to drive, but when I got back to my pad, Mick was cool enough to sit down on porch and finally have that jam session we were after. In fact, we really did rock ourselves to sleep that night. When we woke up, my bass still in hand and his Gibson still on his lap, I hit one note and the pair of us finished whatever the hell we had started.
As I made the cat some coffee, I’ll never forget what I heard him say.
“This is why you always keep the good rivals riding shotgun. Makes the competition not so bad. Makes catching crooks pretty easy too.”
I handed him his mug and tipped my hat. “It’ll be a while, but I think we can get our Capulets and Montagues to gel. Especially when we get grooving.”
We clinked our mugs and sobered up at the thought. It would take a while for sure, but with a cool kid like Mick Maelstrom to work with, it wouldn’t take long.
At least it seemed that way at first.
365 Infantry is a reader-supported publication devoted to quality pulp entertainment. Support the Force as a free or paid subscriber today!