September 6, 1970
I awoke at about ten thirty, a dirty taste in my mouth, feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. Susan's still form was on my left, and on my right were Jackie and the others. It was raining again, and the sounds of the drops beating on the fabric of the tent neatly obscured most of the noise from the campsites around us.
I moved to get a cigarette and the ashtray and felt Jackie stir beside me.
"Gimme one of those wouldja please?" she asked softly.
I rolled over and gave her a cigarette, and we lit up. My hand, which had swelled up, was quite painful. When she saw it, she took it gingerly between her own hands, inspecting it.
"This looks like shit, She said, cigarette hanging from between her lips. "You better go to the clinic and have them look at it. Something could be broken." She laughed wistfully, then continued, "Don't ya know you're never supposed to hit someone in the face? Bad news, Gordon, bad news."
"I guess I didn't think about it. I wasn't thinking very clearly at all," I said quietly. "I just saw Susan, all whacked out of her mind, and it happened. I knew it had to be some psychedelics, the way she was. I just went nuts. She was deathly afraid of acid, ya know? She'd never dropped before. Swore she never would."
Jackie nodded. "Yeah, we talked about it a couple of times." She took another hit off the cigarette, and blew a smoke ring up towards the roof of the tent. "She really was down on people that get wasted." She paused again, looking at me closely. She pulled the blankets down and absently scratched her bare breast with a long fingernail. She went on, "I wouldn't say you went too far in hitting him, though. If it'd been me, and I found my old man naked like that with another woman, I woulda kicked the shit outa both a them."
"Naw. I couldn't have done that. No way." I went on to repeat what Susan had told me about Candy's proposition on the advantages of group sex. I finished, saying, "Seeing her naked like that, and Dave telling me he'd got it on with her really hurt me. But even though I felt hurt, I could never a hit her. I just couldn't get into that." I paused to take a drag off my cigarette, then continued, "But when I saw that she was all fucked up like that, I knew she'd never do that to herself. Or voluntarily let it be done. That meant Dave had to a slipped her something. Naw, he fucked with her head badly, and that made me so pissed I couldn't fucking see straight."
"You did what was right. I mean, I really can't get behind the sorta shit your friend pulled at all, dosing people. That's really chickenshit, she said, as she ground out her cigarette. She placed the ashtray in back of our heads next to the tent wall, and then wrapped herself around me, hugging me close. In my ear, she breathed, "She'll be okay. They'll all be okay. Spacey as fuck, and feeling like shit for a while, but okay."
"God, I hope so."
She kissed me on the cheek and then backed off. "I gotta get going and get to the gate. Those fucking bikers have probably walked off with the place by now, and if I don't get back there and knock things into shape, there'll be hell to pay. You gonna be alright?" I nodded, and then she pulled me close and kissed me again on the mouth, sloppy and wet. Somewhat out of breath, she pulled back and whispered, "You owe me, Gordon. And I want to collect, soon. Okay?" She smiled.
"You got it," I whispered back. "Thanks, Jackie, really. I don't know what I would of done if you hadn't been here. Uh, all of it, I mean." I kissed her, and she squirmed hard against me.
Finally, she drew back reluctantly and began pulling on her clothes. After lacing her boots and gathering up her sleeping bag, she gave me a quick peck on the cheek and was gone, off out into the drizzle.
The sound of the door's zipper woke Candy, who sat up and stretched, moaning. She looked around, untangled herself from Janie, then moved over the top of her and slipped under the covers next to me.
"Got a spare butt?" She asked hoarsely, cradling her face with her hands.
I shook one out of the pack, and gave it to her. She lit it, then laid back, drawing a large lungful of smoke.
"So what the fuck happened last night?" I asked, still whispering.
She shook her head, and said, softly, "God, I feel fucked. I dunno what happened, I just remember you and Dave duking it out, sort of. You did, didn't ya?" She looked around the tent then asked, "Is he gone?"
"Yeah, he's gone. But what happened before I got here, though? You guys were really wasted. Dave said he spiked some wine?"
She moaned again. "Oh, yeah, the wine. Oh, fuck." She paused to draw a deep breath, and then continued, "Yeah, he had a couple a pocket-rockets a mad dog. We were all kinda fucked up, you know, silly? We'd had some wine down by the river with one of your friends and his lady. Dave came back here with the pocket-rockets. At first, no one wanted to drink any of it, 'cause that shit is really vile, ya know? He keeps harping on it, so finally, we all take some swigs, passing the bottles around." She sighed. "After you drink some of it, it starts to taste pretty good."
"So what happened?"
"Oh, I guess when we were just starting to buzz, he goes on with this orgy talk. Your old lady started freaking, cause about then, I think she realized she was getting high, and it scared the piss out of her. She wanted to go and find you."
"She tried to leave?"
"Yeah. But we were all coming on too, and we talked to her, convincing her she should stay. I mean shit, even when you're straight you can get lost out there with all those fucking tents. No way we coulda walked to the gate the way we were. Then she really started coming on, crying and screaming. We ended up all going in the tent and finally got her calmed down. After a while, Dave and Janie got naked and started balling, and we watched. And then me and Susan joined in after a while. I don't remember a helluva lot else."
"The acid was just too fucking intense. Like I said, all I can remember is we ended up going for it ourselves. All fucked up. I really don't remember much after that." She drew back from me and bit her lip, looking scared, "You're not pissed at me, are ya?" She asked.
Wondering about that, I decided I was, at least a little bit. I shook my head. "No. I'm not pissed at you. The one I'm pissed at is Dave, the sonofabitch. He spiked the wine and got her wasted on acid. That fucking asshole." I paused for a moment, and then asked, "Did he ball her like he said?" The knot in my stomach returned.
She shrugged. "The whole thing's pretty blurry. I kinda think everyone did everyone. Yeah. She was pretty into it there for a while. I do remember that."
Absently, I rolled onto my injured hand and jumped with the pain.
"Owee, Whispered Candy. "That's gotta hurt like a sonofabitch. You do that on Dave?" I nodded. She shook her head. "I really don't remember much of that. Just you guys rolling around on the floor, and me being scared. God, what a fucking night!" She paused for a moment, and then asked, "Dave isn't going to be back?"
"Nope. He's gone for good."
She hesitated, and then asked, "Uh, are we going to be able to stay here still? Me and Janie, I mean?"
"Yeah, I suppose."
"If I hadn't been so damned stoned, I might have been able to help get her up to the gate like she wanted. But I was really wasted." She put out her cigarette, and then rolled onto her stomach, looking at me.
This was all like a bad dream. It wasn't enough that the gate was supposed to be ripped off, but now this with Susan was the topper. I was torn between my sense of duty to Mitch, and my love for Susan.
I knew that I should stay with Susan to help her deal with what had happened, but at the same time, I didn't feel I could desert Mitch particularly with the rip-off probably coming down in just a matter of hours. Still, with luck she might sleep most of the day. I turned back to Candy.
"You have dropped acid before, right?" I asked.
She nodded her head, and said, "Oh, yeah. Lots of times. Never like last night, though. It seemed like every time we'd get done peaking, we'd go right back up on another one. I guess we must have drunk more of the wine. God, he must have put twenty hits in it, or something."
I reached out and touched her bare shoulder. "Do me a favor?" I asked. She nodded. "If you've dropped before, you know what it's like to come down from a bummer. You know how to help Susan deal with it."
"I'm not going to be here much. I've got a whole lot of shit happening." I drew a breath, and then went on, "Susan's never dropped before. In fact, she was scared shitless of dropping. After she stopped peaking last night she was really bummed, and something tells me she's gonna have a real hard come-down. Could you please just stay with her, and help her get through it?"
She smiled, and cupped my face in her hand, drawing her fingers over my cheek. "Sure. I ain't got nowhere else to go, anyways. But where you gotta go?"
I shook my head, and said, "I can't really explain." I paused, and then went on, "Right now, I better go get my hand looked at. I'll stop and get some food and come back here before I split. Cool?"
She nodded her head. I looked over at Susan's sleeping form, and then began to pull on my boots.
By the time I got to the OD Clinic, I was thoroughly soaked. The sky was a thick gray overcast, and although it wasn't raining hard, it was enough to do the job. The clinic was busy, with freaking, bloody and hurt people laid out all over the place filling most of the cots. Men and women dressed in white lab coats with stethoscopes draped over their shoulders were rushing around from patient to patient, carrying clipboards and other medical paraphernalia.
A conservatively dressed man at the card table in front took down my name and other information, then asked me to wait outside in the rain, because, he said, they were very busy with OD's, freak outs, and other more pressing cases. The screams and moans emanating from inside seemed to attest to this.
A half an hour later, I was ushered back in, now really wet, and was asked to sit on the edge of a cot, where a pretty, auburn haired nurse examined my hand. After a few long moments of poking and prodding, all which sent shooting pains all up and down my arm, the nurse left. Within a couple minutes, she returned with Dr. Johnson.
Recognizing me, he broke into a smile and said, "You security guys had a pretty rough night. You're about the fifth one to come in this morning. Then there were those three last night. Let's see your hand, shall we?"
I extended my hand, and there was more poking, prodding, and pain. Finally, he said, "I don't believe there's anything broken. I'd feel better if I could see a picture of it, but of course, that's impossible here. Here's what I'm going to do for you." He looked at the nurse. "Put a splint on it, and immobilize it with an elastic bandage." To me, "I don't want you to use this hand. Are you going to be leaving the festival anytime soon?" I shook my head no. "Okay. There should be some tenderness and swelling for several days. Leave the splint and bandage on for at least that long. When you get home, if it's still giving you a problem, go see your own physician and have him x-ray it." He smiled. "And whatever you do, don't hit anymore people with it."
He smiled again then left, rushing off to see the next case. The nurse came back shortly, and wound the bandage around the splint, then shooed me off out of the tent.
I walked back up the concession row. I had thought that the Ave was dirty before, but now it was really bad. Bad. Paper cups, paper plates with the remnants of a forgotten meal, broken wine bottles and other, less identifiable and more objectionable forms of refuse lay everywhere. Bummed-out looking people, sporting rain slickers or blankets draped over their shoulders, were slowly walking this way and that, on the muddy walkway in front of the shops. I stopped in front of the Grub Shop, and then decided to go see Allan first.
Allan nodded at me when I came into the booth, and I sat down at the table beside him. It didn't look like he had been to sleep yet.
I drew a deep breath, and then let it out slowly. "Thanks for last night, man, I said, "I don't know what I would of done if you hadn't gotten that asshole out of there."
He smiled thinly, pushed a thermos of coffee and a cup towards me, and then said, "That's what we're here for. That guy was your buddy?"
"Accent on the was, I said, pouring the coffee. "Was my buddy. You know he dosed Susan? Without telling anybody, he put a whole shitload of acid in this MD 20/20, and then harassed them into drinking it. Didn't have hardly any himself, of course."
"How long you known him?"
I shook my head again. "Oh, I've know Dave forever. He's always been a bit of an asshole, but never something like this. You know Susan was absolutely against dropping acid? I mean, she smokes a little weed and drinks a bit, but never any heavy shit."
I leaned forward and held my head in my hands, trying to come to terms with the world around me. The tinny strains of Bob Dylan's Just Like a Woman came through the partition from a radio in the next booth.
Allan broke the silence, saying softly, "It's cool, Gordon. She'll be okay. You did the right thing with your friend, getting him out of here." He paused, and then said, "If it makes you feel any better, we ended up having to thump him a couple of times. Tried to splatter one of my guys' heads with a tire iron when we got him back to his car. Danny and Jim had to give him some good ones to quiet him down."
"Huh." I savored the thought.
"Hey. Was he holding?"
I shrugged. "I dunno. I s'pose he musta had some weed left. Probably some acid too. Why?"
Allan smiled. "Maybe I could drop a dime on him? I got his license plate number. I don't think he could have driven far."
I shook my head, frowning. "Naw. We don't wanna get the heat involved."
"Whatever. It's your decision." He paused for a moment, and then went on, "Look, enough of this shit. Stop fucking moping. You wanna know what's been going on?"
I nodded, and then he began filling me in on the other events of the past night. From what he said, it seemed that very few people had much fun.
The rumors of a rip-off or bust were truly rampant and had grown to the point where it seemed unlikely that there was any way to control them. There had been a large number of other fights last night, and in one, a hippie pulled a knife and cut up three of the security staff before being subdued. In another incident, a heroin dealer who was outraged at being asked to leave, had grabbed a piece of firewood and knocked out a staff member.
Allan finished, saying, "This ugly fucking morning with the goddamn rain has made it even worse. The morning and early afternoon are usually our slack times, you know? Shit. Not today. I still got stuff happening all over the place." He paused. "Any way I can get some more people offa Saint?" he asked, blond eyebrows raised in question.
I shook my head. "I dunno. I'll have to check. He should be pretty quiet, today. We were maxed out early last night. And I didn't see hardly anyone leave after the music quit. I'll talk with him in a bit, but I think we can get you what you need. Leave only just a few there for security. No, there's not really going to be any traffic, in or out."
He smiled wearily. I asked, "Hey? You been to bed yet?"
He shook his head, and said, eyes closed, "Nope. Don't see any way I can do that. I've got some speed. I was just getting ready to drop some." He opened his eyes, and asked, "You want some? You look like you could use it, too."
I shrugged. "Yeah, I suppose I could. Whatcha got?"
He smiled, and reached into his pocket, bringing out a baggie filled with pills. "What do you want? We got everything. Black beauties, crisscross meth, dexies, you name it, we got it even some Benzedrine."
"Uh, how about a black beauty? That's gotta be best for the long haul."
He smiled, gave me one and took one for himself. "Ah, excellent choice. I think I'll join you. Need some more coffee?"
"No, I'm fine." I popped the pill in my mouth and washed it down with the remains of my cold coffee. I thought for a moment, and then asked, "Hey, you got any downers? For my old lady. I think that might help her."
He nodded, and then searching the baggie, put three pills down on the table. "Here. How about some reds? Do her up good. Sleepy time."
"Thanks, bro." I slipped the pills into the bottom of my cigarette pack, and then stood up. "Thanks. I gotta go get some food and bring it back to the tent, then get the hell over to the gate and check in. I'll talk to Saint on the way there. I'll call you on the radio and let you know how many people you can expect, and when. Cool?"
"Cool. And Gordon? Take care of yourself, okay?"
"I will. Later, bro."
I walked back down the line of ramshackle booths and talked with the owner of the Grub Shop for a while, as I ate a serving of his food. He didn't even bat an eye when I hit him up for three more servings. He put it all in a large paper bucket previously filled with fried chicken, covered it with tinfoil, and loaded me down with extra plates and forks. It was still warm when I reached the tent.
It had stopped drizzling by the time I got there, and Janie was sitting on a tarp by the fire pit, watching as the stage people prepared to start the day's entertainment. She eagerly took charge of the food, and began shoveling it onto the plates. She told me Susan and Candy were in the tent.
I took two plates and went inside. They were still under the blankets, Candy stroking Susan's hair. They looked up as I entered, and when Susan saw me, she began crying and held out her arms to me. I put the food on the floor and laid down next to her, holding her tight as she shook in a paroxysm of tears. We laid there and I rubbed her back and murmured soothing words, rocking back and forth. After a few minutes, she calmed down.
"Susan, listen to me, I said softly. "It's gonna be okay, really." She snuggled down closer to me, and drew a deep breath. I continued, "C'mon. I've got some food. You've gotta eat. It'll make you feel better. Please?"
She drew another deep breath, then weakly said, "Okay, and began to untangle herself.
Candy had already gotten her plate and was sitting half under the sleeping bag, chewing slowly. Around a mouthful, she said, "Yeah, c'mon, eat some. It'll do ya good."
I gave Susan the plate and fork, and reluctantly, she began to eat. I sat silently and watched her. I'd never seen her like this. Her face looked splotchy, red marks on her cheek, and her thick, curly hair was a deranged mass of tangles, with pieces of dried grass and small twigs hanging here and there. But her eyes were the worst. Quick darting, furtive movements, like a cornered animal watching for its own premature demise. She seemed like a completely different person.
I was on the verge of more dark thoughts when the speed I had taken came on, and shortly, even this bleak world took on a rosy glow. All of a sudden my thought processes became crystal clear, and all my weariness vanished, and I felt ready to run a marathon race. Maybe even two or three. I had become a superior being, capable of tremendous feats of reasoning, truly omnipotent and profound. I had all the answers.
Speed always had that effect on me.
Candy had finished her food, and had snuggled back close to Susan, who was eating very slowly, and not talking.
My mind raced with different important thoughts, as I watched Susan eat. Candy was watching me, and as our eyes met, I asked, "So how do you feel? Are you still high?"
She nodded. "Yeah. But it's nothing like it was. No trails or anything. Just a few rushes now and then, and I feel kinda weirded-out, that's all."
Susan, who had finally finished, glanced at me briefly looking embarrassed, then eyes averted, asked, "Please lay next to me?"
I looked at Candy. "Uh, do you suppose you could leave for a bit?"
"Yeah, sure." She rolled out from under the blankets and pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt, and left.
As Candy was dressing, I kicked off my boots, and got under the covers next to Susan. I traced the lines of her face with my fingers. I kissed her tenderly on the forehead, and then asked softly, "Want to talk about it?" She closed her eyes, and tears began to form on their edges. I went on, "Look, you don't have to if you don't want to."
She sobbed, and said thickly, "Oh, Gordon, I'm so sorry." Tears began to flow freely again, and I pulled her close. "What on earth are you sorry for?" I whispered. "None of this was your fault. I'm the one who should be sorry. I'm the one that got you to move here. If there's a fault, it's mine."
"No, it's my fault, she stammered, shaking. "I shoulda left when I realized what was happening."
"Candy told me you did try to leave. But it was probably just as well you didn't. If you had split, you might still be wandering around out there lost."
"So they said. You're not mad at what happened afterwards? I mean, I ... I ended up in bed with them."
As a matter of fact, I was, but I was damned if I was going to say so. I shrugged. "You're a big girl. And in any event, I don't think you would if Dave hadn't got you stoned." I thought I saw relief register on her face. I went on, "So how was your first acid trip, anyway?"
She shuddered. "First and last. Oh, God, I was so scared at the beginning. But then after I got going, it was kinda pretty, all the colors and stuff. Then later, it got weird and I was scared again." She paused, then went on in a shaky voice, "I don't like losing control of myself. And now, now I'm still all spaced out. I still see things." An edge of hysteria crept into her voice. "Christ, am I ever gonna be normal again?"
"Yes, you will. Soon." I stroked her hair. "Look. I got some downers from Allan. Why don't you take a couple and then you can sleep for a while. It'd be the best thing for you."
She shook her head. "No way. No more drugs."
"C'mon. I'm speaking from experience. Sleep is the best thing for you right now."
"No. I'll tough this out by myself."
"C'mon, do it. It's best." I took the pills out of my cigarette pack and held them out.
She shook her head. "I won't."
"C'mon, let's not argue about it, just take them."
She tried to draw away from me, shaking her head. "No! I got enough problems already!"
The speed was coming on strong now, and I knew I was right. "Goddammit. Just take the shit. I know what I'm talking about. Here." My arm was around her neck and I held her tight. Before she could do anything, with my free hand, I pushed two of the pills far into her mouth and then held it closed. She struggled for a moment, and then gagging, swallowed. I let her go.
She screamed, "What the fuck! You had no right. I... I..."
"Dammit Susan, I did it for your own good."
"Ohmigod... She slumped against me, racked with sobs.
I traced the outline of her cheek with my fingers. "It'll be alright. I'm sure of it. You just wait and see."
"I didn't want any more drugs. I just wanna be able to think straight again... I just wanna be able to look at something without it jumping around or changing color or shape. God, I'm all fucked up."
I stroked her hair. "It'll end soon. The downers'll make you go to sleep. When you wake up, you'll have a hangover, and probably feel like shit. But you'll be straight."
She continued to sob on my shoulder. Twenty minutes later, she was asleep.
I had just decided to leave when Candy came into the tent.
"How is she?" She asked, peeling off her clothes. Her breasts really were magnificent, taut and firm, small brown areolas and erect nipples. She smiled and laid down next to Susan, getting under the covers.
I looked away and then shrugged. "Susan's about as well as could be expected under the circumstances. She was pretty freaked, so I gave her a couple of reds. She oughta sleep most of the day."
"That's cool. Reds are great for when you got a bad hangover from acid."
I looked back at her. "Can you stay here with her like I asked? Even if she's asleep? I mean she'll probably sleep quite a while. But she could wake up and if she does, I don't want her to be alone. Okay?" Candy nodded. I continued, "Good. You want a red yourself? I got one left."
She smiled. "Yeah, that'd be outasite." I passed her the pill, and she put it in her mouth and swallowed without water. "You got any more? I like reds." She asked.
"I can get some if you need them." I looked at my watch. It was almost noon. "I'm gonna have to go soon."
"Don't worry about it. I'll take good care of her." She slid closer to Susan's back and put her arm over her shoulder, stroking Susan's neck with her fingers. She smiled and said, "I'll watch over her, and won't let nothing bad happen."
I ran my fingers around the rise of Susan's forehead, pushing some hair out of her eyes. A mischievous look on her face, Candy picked up my hand and moved it to her own breast, holding it there, pressing it into her.
"Maybe we can have that party tonight, huh?" Eyes closed to thin slits, she ran her tongue around the corners of her mouth, seductively. "I wanna ball you so bad it's making me crazy. Maybe all of us could do it together? Foursomes are fierce, she whispered breathlessly.
I drew a deep breath and looked at Susan's sleeping figure.
"I really don't wanna do anything that'd upset her. I love her, Candy. And I'd do anything for her." She pressed my hand into her lovely breast. I shook my head and said, "You're a damned attractive woman, and I've gotta admit making love to you is something I've thought about quite a lot lately." She smiled. The speed was coursing through my body making me think profound thoughts, and I felt a compulsion to explain myself. I went on, "Susan and I actually talked about that yesterday. Said she wouldn't mind, as long as I did it with her knowing about it first. But I'm still not sure I can understand where she was coming from, but at this late stage of the game, I'm not gonna test it. And that is god awful difficult, cause I've always been horny as hell, and being with her makes it even worse, not better."
She smiled and ran her tongue around her lips again. "I could fix that real fast, ya know."
"I don't doubt it. But I don't think this is a good time."
"She's asleep. She'd never know."
I smiled. "Thanks, but no thanks. Don't think I don't appreciate the offer, though. Christ, before I came to this festival, I never had much luck with women. Always the one left out, the one who ends up driving the others around, while they get it on in the back seat."
"I can't believe that. You're a great looking guy."
"Naw, it's true. But since I came to this festival and met her, now I got all these beautiful women, like you, wanting to get in my pants. I love it."
"So let yourself go." She smiled again, looking a little cross-eyed, mashing my hand into her breast.
I was horny as all hell. Speed usually had that effect on me. I really would have liked to make love with Candy to get even with Susan if nothing else, but I was worried about her, and even though I was a little angry at her, I didn't want to hurt her. And if she woke up and saw me and Candy going at it, she'd flip. Anyway, I figured if she hadn't had the acid, she wouldn't have done what she did.
"Naw, I can't." I took my hand off her breast and reached up, stroking her long black hair. "Maybe later. Okay?"
"You're missing the time of your life. Both you and her." She nodded at Susan, running her hand over her breasts. She laid her head back, looking at me through eyes almost closed, and said softly, "I'm damn good. Just ask her." She nodded to Susan again.
I stared at her. "Whadaya remember about you and her getting it on?"
She shrugged. "A lot. I remember she really dug it, too. She's pretty damned intense, ya know. I think she'd really go for a foursome with you, me and Janie."
I thought about how the three of them had looked making love after Allan had left. Susan had been way too spaced out to really be able to enjoy it, so it was hard to tell if Candy was telling the truth. And at the time, seeing them all together had really upset me. But still, I had to admit that in the long run, it was sort of a turn on. All three of them. Yes, I would have to find out what Susan really thought after she came down.
"You think she'd be into it, huh?" I asked.
"Damn straight. She loves to get off."
This was true. "I dunno, I said, gently running my fingers over the outline of Susan's face. "She's gonna have a world class hangover when she wakes up. Something tells me sex is probably gonna be one of the last things on her mind for a fair while." I shrugged, and then continued, "I dunno. Let's wait and see what she says after she comes down. If she's into it then, then we can have an orgy to beat all hell." I reached over Susan's sleeping form and gave one of Candy's nipples a gentle pinch. She smiled and I went on, "That be cool?"
"Yeah, I suppose."
I laid there looking up at the roof of the tent. A thousand miles away, flies were circling just under the green fabric, and for a moment I felt as though I would soar up and join them.
"Jesus, I feel really good, light, like I'm gonna float away. Damn that's some good speed."
Candy stifled a yawn, smiled and asked, "What kind?"
"A black beauty."
She nodded, and then did yawn. "They're really good. God, I'm getting sleepy."
"Yeah, I suppose the downer's coming on." I sighed. "I better get."
Susan stirred, and Candy stroked her hair, saying softly, "It's alright. It's alright. Go back to sleep. Everything's just fine." She looked at me and asked, "You gave her two reds?" I nodded. She went on, "Can you come back this afternoon, then? She oughta wake up by, say four or five. Maybe six at the outside."
I nodded. "I'll be here." I slid out from under the blankets, and put on my boots. "I'll be back by six at the latest, and bring some food. See you then."
I unzipped the door, and went outside. Janie was sitting listening to the music, which had just started. She looked up at me and asked in a cautious voice, "Is she gonna be okay?"
I nodded. "Yeah, shes gonna be just fine. How do you feel?"
She shrugged and said, "I guess I'm gonna live. But oh lord, what a hangover. Can't believe how wasted I got last night."
I said, "Look, why don't you go back to sleep. That's the only way you're gonna feel better. I gotta split, but I'll be back later with some dinner. Go for it, crash."
She nodded, and wobbling unsteadily, got to her feet. Standing in front of me, she said haltingly, "Thanks for being cool about everything. I'm really glad Dave is gone. When it comes down to it, he was a real asshole."
"Such is life. Go, get some sleep, and I'll see you later. Cool?"
She smiled weakly, nodding her head, then walked unsteadily into the tent. I took a deep breath, and headed off towards the gate, bursting with newfound energy. Better living through chemicals, I thought.
The batteries in my walkie-talkie had quietly expired sometime in the night I'd forgotten to turn it off. As a result, it took me the better part of an hour to track down Saint, and in doing so, I ended up having to walk through the countless rows of parked cars. He was down in the bottom of the south lot when I finally found him, talking with a group of festival-goers whose car was stuck in mud. They'd been trying to leave, and had gotten stuck attempting to pull out of the long line of cars. Where they were, the lot was on a fairly steep incline, and the wet grass had turned into mud under the car's spinning wheels as they tried to make it up the grade.
Saint smiled when he saw me. "Gordon, just the man we need, he said.
I smiled. "What's up?"
"What the fuck is that on your hand?" He pointed to the bandage.
"Uh, let's walk towards the gate and I'll tell you about it."
We left the group of people, still struggling with the car, and walked up towards the top of the lot. I walked quickly, and recounted the grisly details to him. He looked grim, and grew angry as the story drew on.
By the time I finished, he was in a rage, and said, "Man, you should of called me, you sonofabitch! People like that deserve to fucking die! No way, man. We're talking bigtime trouble. I seriously cannot handle assholes like that. How the hell did you ever call that man your friend?"
I shook my head, wondering about it myself. "I don't know, I said. "I guess ... I guess I just turned it off. The bad stuff. Part of the highschool trip. But he's never done anything like this before." I paused, and then said, "Look. If somebody had handed me a gun last night, I probably woulda shot him. But now, I don't know. Maybe we can go get him after the festival and beat the piss out of him."
Frowning, Saint shook his head violently. "No! That's way too fucking good. I believe in good old biblical stuff. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. What we should do, is load him up with about twenty hits of acid, then have someone buttfuck him. I know a couple a places up in Seattle where they could fix him up with that. Shit, we wouldn't even have to ask twice. They'd love fresh meat like that, and no questions asked. Slipping a lady some acid just to get in her pants is as low as you can go, Gordon. He deserves to have the exact same thing happen to him."
"C'mon, mellow out, bro."
"Your old lady just got dosed with LSD and pulled into a fucking orgy, and you're telling me to mellow out? What kind of drugs you on, boy?" He stood glaring at me.
The speed was making me float, and the world and everyone in it had a soft, hazy quality. I thought about that for a moment, then answered, "Oh, I got a black beauty from Allan." Lighting another cigarette off the butt of the one in my hand, I said, "And I wouldn't be here now if I hadn't got it. Everything is just too fucking intense. Look, Susan's gonna be alright. Dave will get what's coming, one way or another. If you're still pissed about it Tuesday when the festival's done, let's talk maybe we can go and find him and beat the piss out of him or whatever. But don't worry about it now. There's too much other shit coming down. I paused for a second and then went on, Now I don't want to broach another touchy subject, but I've got to. How are our group of calendar boys doing? Any news?"
He looked at me uncomprehending, and asked, "What the holy fuck are you talking about, now? Calendar boys? You really are fucked up."
"Calendar boys. The October 21st Movement. Those dudes. Heard anything new?"
He drew a deep breath and shook his head, frowning still, but his anger had vanished with the mention of the name. He said, slowly, "No, Gordon. I haven't heard anything new. Oh, we've had lots of sightings all over the place, but you check it out, it's all crap. Just a lot of scared people seeing ghosts in the night."
"You talked with Mitch, lately?"
"I saw him a couple of hours ago when I went up to get batteries. He was real nonchalant about the whole thing. Bikers still all over the place with those rifles. Mitch is just business as usual. Said he hadn't heard anything, but that he hoped maybe they'd come already, and been scared away by the bikers. I don't know, Gordon. Everybody else, including the bikers, are still jumpy as all hell."
I shrugged, and said, "Maybe they were scared away." The words sounded false as I said them. I hoped Saint couldn't detect how I really felt. I went on, "Look, have I got a deal for you."
He smiled and backed away, hands up in front of him. "I know that tone. I am not giving that asshole Allan any more of my people."
We hassled over how many people he would give up for fifteen minutes or so. I was finally able to get him to agree to send Allan all but about ten people. After extracting a promise that he could get them back if there was a rush to leave when the music finished, he told me I was killing him. I turned to leave.
"Gotta go, I said, smiling. "See what's happening at the gate. Be cool, huh?"
"What you mean, white meat?" He said, affecting a strong ghetto accent. "Us black folks invented cool. We bad, mofo. You honkeys is the ones who have to watch out for cool, hear?" He dropped the black accent, and with a slight frown, said, "You watch yourself, Gordon. I've got a really bad feeling about this day."
Everyone had a bad feeling about today, it seemed. I said, "I will, Saint. Take care."
"Later, bro." He turned, and walked off back towards the river road. I continued walking towards the gate.
There was a fair amount of foot traffic in and out of the gate when I arrived, and even a few vehicles were being let in to replace the ones that had left in the morning when it started raining. And although it had rained, the road with its cover of gravel was still in good condition.
The bikers, back now to the three of the previous day, were huddled around the burn barrel warming their hands. They waved and called out as I passed. I yelled a "Howdy," at them, and continued to the security trailer. No one home. I tried the communications trailer, but found only one of Jackie's ticket takers there, talking on the radiophone.
I went towards the gate, and when I rounded the corner of the trailer, saw Jackie, in back of the plywood ticket booth talking with Rudy and a couple others. I called to her and she waved, and then started walking towards me.
"Hi, she said, smiling, looking at me carefully. "How are ya? How's Susan? Is everything okay?"
"Yeah, it's okay." I looked around. There was no one at the picnic table. I jerked my thumb at it, and asked, "Can we go sit over there. I really need to sit down."
"You look kinda funny, She said, taking my arm and steering me to the table. "You sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, it's just that I dropped this speed, a black beauty. But it's starting to fade." We sat down, and I leaned against her.
She rubbed my back, and said, "When did you drop it?"
"Just a few hours ago."
"Shit, those things are supposed to be good for a whole day."
"Yeah, they're time release, or something. It's cool, I can feel it coming back." I breathed deeply, and she rubbed my neck. It felt wonderful.
"God, you're just a bundle of tension, She said, rubbing softly. "It's like every muscle in your body is set to run a race or something. I suppose with what's happened, and with what might happen, it's only natural. Hmm. What the fuck. So how's Susan?"
I told her what had gone on since she left, and what I had learned from Candy. She just kept shaking her head, and rubbing my neck.
When I got to the part about the invitation from Candy for a foursome, she snorted, and said stiffly, "That shit just makes my skin crawl. Gordon? Girls on girls, yuk! I mean, I can dig a good party, I suppose, as much as the next woman. I like getting my rocks off a whole lot. More the better. But if I ever, ever felt a woman touching one of my privates, I'd chop her fucking hand off. That shit is disgusting. I thought I was gonna puke last night when I seen them. Susan wants to do that stuff, fine, just keep it away from me." She paused, observing me carefully. She asked, "What, you wouldn't mind her doing it, Gordon? How could you?"
Indignation rising, I shrugged, saying, "Yeah, I minded it last night. A lot. But I'd rather see that than see her with another guy. Especially Dave." I thought of the sight of Candy laying with Susan and said, "I guess I'm not threatened by the thought of her being with another woman. And maybe it turns me on a little in a strange sorta way. What if it had been two men? Would that've disgusted you too?" I asked, looking into her eyes.
She looked at me closely, then asked quietly, "Are you queer or something?"
"No, not me. Men turn me off bigtime. I guess it's the way I was brought up. But how about you, would it turn you on? Two men going for it with a lady. Huh?"
"Gordon, it's un-natural, she said dryly. "The whole thing makes me sick. Women on women, men on men. It is not the way the Lord intended. Sex between two consenting adults of the opposite sex can be a beautiful and wonderful thing. But make it two women or two men, and as far as I'm concerned, it's fucking perversion, nothing more.
"You said it, I said, smiling. "Fucking perversion." She looked at me strangely, and then when she got it, she laughed. I continued, "Maybe you're right. Like I said, it did make me uncomfortable last night, seeing them together like that, not even being able to get them apart. It was like they were animals or something." I paused, kissing her nose, then went on, "But I don't know, I suppose it was the acid that made her like that. But maybe I am weird. Naked women really do it to me, and the more of 'em, the better. I guess I've always been a horny sonofabitch."
"You and me both, mister, she said, holding me close, my head buried in her kinky blonde hair.
"Huh. Uh, I might be able to do something about that, ya know."
"What, you gonna try out this open relationship thing you told me Susan has, huh?" She smiled.
"We'll figure something out." Tendrils of guilt started to clench my stomach, but my hormones got in the way. Her nipples were pushing at the thin fabric of her blouse, making little tents. I ran my finger around one, and went on, "I'll do what I can. Anything to help staff morale."
"That's my man." We both laughed.
I asked, "So where's Mitch? Is he around?"
She shook her head. "Uh uh. He went off with Amy just before you came. Said he'd be back later."
"Who's in charge?"
"I dunno. You, I guess."
I shrank at the thought. The laughter she and I had shared a few minutes before seemed remote, and the knot in my stomach now returned with a vengeance. Frowning, I said, "I need some more speed. I'm pretty sure we don't have any. You guys got any?"
"Sure. We got all sorts of stuff. White crisscross do?"
She came back in about five minutes with four methedrine tablets. I put them under my tongue, letting them dissolve. It tasted awful, but supposedly, it got it into your bloodstream faster that way.
We talked a little longer, both fantasizing about what we would do later, then we left laughing, her to the gate and me to the security trailer. We agreed to continue our discussion later.
The day went by fast, but it was just one problem after another. Where on the previous day, I had been able to run things fairly smooth and with a high degree of good humor, today was a series of screw-ups and disappointments followed by some truly remarkable lapses of judgment and reason.
Basically, I just lost it. Over and over. On one occasion, I told a group of about ten new volunteers the wrong time to show up for work. This resulted in them standing around for an hour with no one to tell them what to do, and many of them drifted off. On another occasion, I got irate when a concession vendor asked for a free pass for a second vehicle, and ended up screaming at him for being so tight, telling him I wouldn't let his people in unless they paid. Jackie took me aside and chewed me out for that one. The final straw, came when after I had just dropped even more speed, I got in a screaming match with Jim and Nancy over the issue of a who was going to do a money run. After that, and realizing my mistake, I retired to the confines of the security trailer, and didn't leave for quite a while. I smoked a couple joints and had a bottle of beer to calm down. But it was hard. Everyone was so uptight, and paranoia seemed to feed paranoia, making it even worse.
Reports of suspicious people and vehicles continued to flood in. It seemed everyone had something they wanted us to check out, and by late afternoon, various security staff were watching about four different groups of people. Without Mitch there, I was going slowly nuts. And he was the only one I knew of that could recognize any of the members of the radical group that was supposed to rip us off.
One group of six men and four women were actually observed with weapons and other strange looking items including walkie-talkies. The number of people was nearly right and they were acting suspiciously. The group was keeping to itself, and had camped in the woods away from most people. The other groups we were watching were somewhat less promising, and although it tied up a lot of staff, I felt I couldn't drop surveillance on any of the groups until after Mitch had a chance to eyeball them.
The gray overcast had broken and the blue sky was dotted with white fluffy clouds here and there, and the temperature was nearly seventy-five. By five thirty, I was sailing on an even keel, and even though the knot in my stomach had returned and I felt sick, I had regained much of my happy former self. I spent about a half hour apologizing to Nancy and Jim, then after talking with the bikers for a while, decided to leave and get some food and then go back to my tent.
I met Saint near the Y and borrowed ten dollars from him, then stopped by the security HQ for a couple minutes and obtained a dozen reds from Allan. I thought I'd stop by the tent before I got dinner and check on everyone.
The door was still zipped when I approached. I undid the zipper and stepped in. Everyone was still asleep, all laying in a big heap in the middle of the tent. To find out what had been going on, I decided to wake Candy first. I moved to her side and shook her gently.
Moaning about not wanting to wake up, she slowly came awake. She shook her head, eyes blinking rapidly, she said, "Oh, it's you. Hi." She rubbed her eyes and sniffed, then stretched.
"Howdy, I said softly, not wanting to wake the others. "How is she doing?" I nodded to Susan.
She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "She's doing good. We woke up ... what time is it now?"
"A little after six."
"We woke up a couple hours ago, about four thirty or so, and talked a little. She was pretty well off the acid, but really hung-over and spacey from the reds, She said, whispering. She frowned, then continued, "Gordon, she was really pissed at you for forcing her to take the reds."
"It was for her own good."
She shook her head. "Not the way she saw it. I tried to tell her, but she wouldn't listen."
This was not the sort of news I needed. I had done it for her own good. She was freaking out, and the pills stopped it, putting her to sleep. It was a kindness, an act of love. I knew I could make her see that when she woke up. I turned back to Candy.
"Look, why don't you get dressed and we can go down and get some food for everyone?" I asked, still whispering. "We can talk more on the way. Cool?"
She nodded, and then started to rise, and sort out her clothes from the general mess of the tent. Five minutes later, we were outside, heading towards the concessions.
"I need to go to the bathroom, first, she said, as we picked our way around tents and prostrate people lying in the early evening sun, listening to the band play down on the stage. She continued, "I gotta pee like a racehorse."
"Cool, I said, "We can go to the Sanicans by the concessions." I paused than asked, "So what did Susan say about me forcing her to take the reds?"
"Just that she was really pissed at you for doing it."
"It got her to sleep while she came down."
"Yeah, but she said that didn't matter. She said she didn't want any drugs. Drugs were how she got like that and she thought it was wrong to take more to come down. And she was really pissed about being forced to take them. She said you popped them in her mouth and then held her jaws closed until she gagged and had to swallow. Said you and Dave were the same, except Dave was sneaky. She cried a whole lot after that, and went on about how all men are shits, and how you can't trust them. Always end up screwing you, she said. We talked for a little more, then I was able to get her to go back to sleep."
"God, I hope she comes down off this shit, I said, passing Candy in front of me as we stepped over a man sleeping next to a tent. "I couldn't have done anything else. What was I supposed to do? Getting her to sleep was the best thing to do. Saved her from thinking about what happened until she came off the acid, and could actually think straight. I'll talk to her when we get back, she'll come around."
Candy glanced at me out of the corner of her eyes, frowning. "I don't know, Gordon. Just be careful with her, huh? I had a friend who freaked out like that, before. Took her weeks to get back to normal. Be careful how you talk to her."
The lines at the Sanicans were long, and it took nearly fifteen minutes for us to get our turns inside. When I was finally able to get inside, I almost wished I hadn't. It was so gross. A mound of toilet tissue and feces was heaped up rising over the seat, and it stank so bad I almost puked. I finished my business and got out as fast as I could.
Candy was waiting for me, still looking a little green from her own experience. "I never seen it so bad in there before," she said. "Usually, they're not like that until really early in the morning right before they clean them out. I wish I'd peed in the jar back at the tent."
After we moved downwind, we talked about what we should have for dinner. I knew Susan liked chicken, so I suggested we go to a stand up the way that had barbequed chicken.
As we were waiting for the food, Candy asked, "Say, you said you might be able to get some more reds. Did you?"
I nodded and pulled the baggie out of my pocket, handing it to her. "Here. There are about a dozen. Ought to keep you busy."
"Wow! Outasite, man." She said, looking at the pills. "There's more than enough for all of us. Janie really digs them too. Thanks."
"It's cool. Only thing I ask is that you keep Susan happy, I said, leaning on the counter. "I'm gonna have to go back to the gate, soon, so I'd really appreciate it if you could stay with her. Maybe you all could go listen to some music together or something."
"Who's supposed to play tonight?" She asked.
"I'm not sure, but I think Ten Years After is supposed to play. Maybe the Mahavishnu Orchestra, too."
She smiled at me and said, "Ten Years After? Really? That'd be so far out. I really love Alvin Lee."
"Yeah, me too. I don't know if Susan's into them or not. We can ask when we get back to the tent. If she does like them, and you guys want to, I'll get you back-stage."
Her eyes went wide with delight. "You could do that?"
"Sure. I told you I could. Just have to know the right people."
"God, that'd be fantastic!"
Our food came, and we trooped back up the hill, talking about the different bands we'd seen play, as we walked. Just before we left the concessions, I'd choked down three more hits of speed. I'd felt myself coming down again, and didn't feel I could make it without them. When we got back to the tent, Susan and Janie were sitting in front by the empty fire pit.
They looked up as Candy and I entered the campsite. Susan glanced at me coldly without speaking and quickly looked away, but Janie let out whoops of joy when she saw the food we were carrying. I let her and Candy dish it out onto the plates, and went to sit over beside Susan. She appeared to have recovered from most of her former distress. Her hair was more or less neatly combed and her face washed, and she'd put on clean clothes. She was sitting with her slender legs drawn up in front of her, arms circled around them, and her head resting on her tanned forearms. But appearances aside, her eyes were still darting around, and she looked scared.
I put my arm around her shoulders, drawing her close, and I leaned over and kissed her. She resisted, moving stiffly, and her lips were unresponsive. I pulled back a little and looked at her. She was frowning, and wouldn't look at me.
"Candy told me you were pissed about the reds, I said softly. "I had to do it, you understand. You really had to sleep."
She slowly shook her head, staring down at the vast amphitheatre. Candy came over and gave us our plates of chicken and potato salad, then left and went back to where Janie was sitting. Still shaking her head, Susan toyed with the food, and then finally spoke.
"Just don't understand, do you?" She said, slurring her words softly. "All I've told you 'bout how I feel on people getting themselves all out of it on drugs, you feed me more drugs? Force the pills in my mouth and then hold my jaws closed till I had to swallow." Tears were forming at the edges of her eyes.
"I did it because I love you, and I could see you were in pain. I didn't want you to hurt anymore."
"So you, uh, put me out of my misery, huh? She asked in a sarcastic tone. She shook her head and picked up the chicken breast, then took a bite, looking at me out of the corner of her eyes while she chewed. She was frowning, angry.
"I don't think I would use exactly the same words, but when it comes down to it, I suppose it was the same thing. Awake, you were going through hell. The reds knocked you out. Took you out of the pain you were going through at the time. It allowed you to sleep through the rest of the bad trip."
She swallowed, and then in a cold voice said, "Maybe I wanted to experience it. Maybe I like hell." She sounded like she was still pretty stoned on the reds.
"Why on earth would anyone want to experience that sort of shit?
"Because it happened to me, and I'm gonna have to live with that the rest my life, she slurred. "The sooner I work through it, the sooner I can move on, and put it back behind me. I have to deal with it. I can't pretend it didn't happen."
"I'm not gonna say you should do that, what I'm saying is at the time, sleep was the best. And you wouldn't of got there without the reds."
"Sleep didn't help me at all. That's just procast... procat... God, I can't think..."
"Procrastination... I supplied.
She nodded. "It just put it off. Do that, then it sits there, festering, and you end up with even bigger psychicalog... you know, psychological problems."
"The reds knocked you out. It was for the best."
"No! The one thing that I'm sure of, is that I'm not gonna use drugs to help me through this. I don't wanna mask pain. I don't wanna turn myself into a vegetable."
"Are you still high? Are you still tripping?"
She nodded, darting quick, jerky looks all around us. "Yes, I feel really dopey from the reds. The acid comes and goes. She put her hand on her jaw, "And God, my teeth hurt so bad, I was grinding them together all night. I just couldn't stop. The back of my neck is all stiff, too." I nodded. That fit with the other symptoms she was displaying. I figured the acid must have had a lot of strychnine in it. She shook her head, and then continued.
"Sometimes I'm completely lucid, the next minute, I'm Alice going down the rabbit hole." She drew a deep breath, then looked squarely at me, her old self. She asked, "Are you going to eat any of your dinner?" She was acting really schizoid.
I shook my head. "No, I guess not. I dropped a bunch of speed. Can't even really look at food."
She frowned and a tremor passed through her. I noticed her hands shaking. She asked, "Why'd you take speed?"
I shrugged. "Well, I was up most of the night. Only got a couple hours of sleep. I got a hand that may be broken that hurts like hell. I have to work, and be able to function well." Under my breath, whispering, I added, "And we've still got the possibility of getting ripped off tonight. I couldn't deal with all this shit without some kind of help."
Her body shook again, imperceptibly. She said, "You seem to think drugs are something you can take and they'll make everything better." Her tone was cold and unemotional, but her voice quavered.
"In many cases, that's true. You're gonna be a nurse, for Christ's sake. That's what nurses do give people medicine."
"With doctor's orders. And just how many years of med school d'ya have, Doctor Lawson?" Her words were slurred again, and she was glaring at me.
The day had not been good, and fighting with Susan was the last thing I wanted. Especially when she was still high, and didn't know what she was saying. But the rushes from the speed were making my brain fly, and I was becoming pissed off. I knew what I was talking about, and she wasn't listening to me.
"That's fucking bullshit!" I said. "C'mon, I've been getting high since I was about fifteen. No, I don't know all drugs, like a doctor, but with certain drugs like speed, I know the effects better than a goddamn doctor. I know how much I can take, and what it will do."
She was getting again angry too. Glaring, she met my eyes and said coldly, "And you know exactly how many reds to give someone who's coming down from a bad acid trip?"
"Yes, I do."
"Bullshit!" She almost screamed. "You're not a fucking doctor. You had no right to force the reds on me. Anymore than Dave had a right to put acid in the wine, then have me drink it. You're no better than him, you're not." She was red-faced and shaking, ready to cry.
I chose my words carefully. "Susan, listen. I did it because I love you. You hear me? I love you. Dave did it because he wanted in your pants, and knew it was the only way he'd be able to do it. But I love you."
She broke down and started crying, and I pulled her towards me. As her body shook with the tremors of her sobs, I rubbed her back trying to comfort her. Finally, studying the stage off in the distance, she spoke.
"You know, I've always wondered what I'd do if someone slipped me some acid, she said, softly. "I always figured I'd run to the nearest hospital and have them pump my stomach, and that everything'd turn out okay. But.... but for a while, I couldn't move. My arms and legs wouldn't work. I couldn't even speak. It was like I was out of my body, looking down at myself. God, it was so awful."
My love for her swept through me like a chill on my spine. Concerned again, I asked, "Did the girls help Dave do it? Get you to drink the spiked wine, I mean."
"No. No, not at all. Dave was the only one pushing the wine. And when the acid started to come on, the girls were surprised too. Janie almost punched him because she didn't want to get high." She looked up and I brushed a tear from the corner of her eye. She looked away quickly and continued in a shaky voice, "No, the girls were the one thing that held me together through it."
"Just being there."
"You remember them doing stuff to you?"
She nodded, crying softly. "Parts. It was different than I expected. But it kinda made me forget what was happening to me."
In a small voice, I asked, "Did you like it?"
"Sorta." A tremor passed through her body, and she continued haltingly, "I guess I had this deep down thought that I'd just die if I ever really kissed another woman. But then I did, and it was okay. The rest... like I said, it was different. And I guess I did kinda enjoy it." She paused to sniff then went on, "I told you that if you look at something long enough, there'll always be a positive side. Well I think that's the one positive thing that came out of this. And that's what I'm gonna focus on, not the acid, and not Dave."
My stomach sunk and I was horny at the same time. "You liked balling Candy?" I asked. "But I thought you really weren't into doing that?"
She shrugged. "It was weird. Watching Dave and Janie made me really horny, at least after I stopped being scared. Candy was coming on to me, so I just figured I'd roll with the flow. I pretended to myself that I wasn't stoned and that I was really into making love to her. Then after a while, I was into it. It was like I was acting a part in a movie, or at least that's what I told myself. It made me forget I was stoned." She paused for a moment then asked, "Why? That make you jealous?" She looked questioningly at me out of the corner of her eyes, and I could sense anger.
It did make me jealous. But mindful of our talk on the previous day, I suppressed my own anger and tried to be open-minded. I shook my head. "If being with her helped you through last night, I suppose that's cool. Whatever. And like you said, we don't own each other or anything. You wanna ball Candy, go for it."
"Are you angry because I did it?"
I shook my head. "No, I'm not. If it'd been Dave that you were hung up on, I might be angry. But not Candy."
"You think I'm hung up on Candy?"
"She's been a friend to me." She paused then hurried on, "She did help me get through last night."
"Whatever." It sounded like she was being evasive. If it was sex that was one thing, but love was a whole different ball game and I didn't want to be upstaged on that by anyone. Still, Candy was better than Dave.
She stared out in the bowl, and then finally in a shaky voice said, "By the time you got here, I was gone. Completely outa my body. Candy had gone to join Dave and Janie. And then you came and started hitting on Dave. That got me going all over again, the two of you fighting. I couldn't stand it. I lost control." She looked my way and jerkily shook her head, saying quickly, "But I guess I'm glad you did what you did." Her body shook again, all over.
I sat looking at her. She was breathing fast and her hands were shaking. Softly, I said, "Look, I'm sorry if that freaked you. When I figured out he'd given you acid or something, I just popped, I just wasn't thinking. I knew how you felt about acid. All I could think of, was hitting him, punishing him for what he did." She seemed to soften a little, so I decided to press the advantage. "I did what I did because I love you and I care what happens to you. The same with the reds."
She frowned again, and said haltingly, "If you loved me, and you knew how I felt about getting wasted on drugs, why would you force me to take the reds?"
"This is going around in a circle, Susan, I said, wearily. "Look, okay, I fucked up. All over the place. Everything I did was because I thought I was doing the right thing. But if you say it was wrong giving you the reds, okay, I can accept that. But please, please forgive me, because I really did think I was right."
She shook her head, and took a bite of her potato salad. She sat studying me, eyes still darting about, and then said, "I'll have to think about it. This has been one long, intense nightmare." She paused, frowning, then asked, "Say, what were you doing with Jackie, anyway? Why was she here with you? I remember her here with you."
"I told her she could sleep here, I said, defensively. "She just split up with what's his name, Paul? Didn't want to be alone. I know you guys are friends, so I just brought her back so she could have some company."
"I suppose she's okay," she said. "But I don't think you could say we're friends." Her brown eyes flashed at me for an instant, and she asked nonchalantly, "You sleep with her yet?"
All the guilt that had been laying dormant in me resurfaced with a vengeance. "No, I said, adding, "But what if I had? Like I said, I thought this was all free love forever? You know, an open relationship?"
She shrugged, saying, "Yeah. You're free to do what you want. I just thought you had better taste."
I thought of how Jackie had supported me through everything in the past couple of days, and was angry at Susan for knocking her. Possibly a little angry at myself, as well, having come close to sleeping with her and now lying about it to Susan, more or less. But, shit maybe Jackie didn't have the same cultured tones as Susan usually did, so who cared? She was intelligent and damned good looking, and she'd been a real friend to me.
"Better taste? Uh huh, right, I said sarcastically, thinking about her choice of bedmates. "I'll tell you what, Jackie is one damn nice person. I really like her. If she hadn't been here last night and put Dave away, he woulda ended up beating me fucking senseless. I don't know what I woulda done without her."
She shrugged. "You and Jackie will be fine together. Maybe she'll drop acid with you."
She really was acting schizoid. One minute nice, then next angry. It confused me.
"Where the hell are you coming from? Susan, you are the one I'm interested in, not Jackie. Look, I can dig what happened to you last night, getting dosed and all. But how about we just try to put it all aside, and go on from there. C'mon, just loosen up a bit, okay? You love me, right?"
She sat fuming silently, staring at the crowds of people standing in front of the stage, watching a band from the Bay Area perform. They were playing a Rolling Stones song, singing,
"Please allow me to introduce myself,
why I'm a man of wealth and taste.
Been around for a long long year,
stole many a mans' soul to date.
I was round when Jesus Christ
had his moment of doubt in faith.
Made damn sure the Pilate, washed his hands,
and sealed his fate.
Pleased to meet you well I hope you guessed my name?
What's embarrassing you, is just the nature of my game?"
Finally, she turned back to me, calmer now, and took another bite of her food, then said, "Yes, I do love you. Maybe you're right. Maybe I should loosen up. I'll think about it."
"We can talk more when you've come down all the way?"
After that, although she was still somewhat distant and a little standoffish, her anger seemed to have vanished, and we talked about other things what was going on up at the gate, the bikers, the black brothers from Oakland, the paranoia and false reports, and all the rest. She continued to get the shakes every now and then, and to slur and mispronounce words.
After we stopped fighting, Candy and Janie came over and sat with us. We talked about the bands that were going to be on stage that night. The girls were interested in going down there, but Susan wasn't. Then they listened with awe as I explained about what was going on with the possible rip-off, and the precautions we had taken. I probably shouldn't have talked about it, but at this late stage of the game, I didn't really care who knew.
After a couple of hours, Candy and Janie left to go to the Sanicans. It was late, so I prepared to leave. I got up.
"You have to go now?" Susan asked, standing up, beside me.
"Yeah, I'd better. C'mere." I pulled her close.
We stood in front of the tent, holding each other, kissing, her lips again warm and responsive. She buried her head on my shoulder, and spoke into my ear.
"I just can't believe what has happened to me. I feel so dirty, so, violated."
"It'll pass. Everything does, eventually. I think you're the one who told me that, huh?"
"Maybe. I just hope you're right. I don't want anything to ever come between us."
"Don't worry about that. I still feel the same about you as I did yesterday. Nothing's changed. Maybe we should make love before I go?"
She stiffened, and then said, "I don't think so, not right now. I think I'd really like to go back to sleep for a bit. We'll have time tonight."
I decided to see how far she would go. "With Candy and Janie too?" I asked. "Candy said she and Janie'd love to get into the act."
She shrugged. "If you like."
"All of us together? Including me with them? You sure you could handle that?"
She frowned. "You handled it with me. I'll handle it when you're with them."
"Huh." I paused for a moment, then said, "You know I still don't understand one part. I mean with me, you had to wait until you 'knew' it was right. Last night was one thing, okay, but now you're willing to go off to bed with them tonight and you don't think anything of it. Your attitude about sex has changed."
She shrugged again. "I don't know. Maybe I have changed. Does it bother you?"
I frowned and turned to study the stage. It did and it didn't bother me. I felt like she was using a double standard, where I had gotten the short end. On the plus side, me being able to make love to other women was great, but her making love to anyone else was still a little threatening. I guess when it came down to it, I really couldn't handle that. I looked back in her eyes.
"No, I suppose not." I paused then quickly changed the subject and asked, "Look, why don't you go and listen to some music down at the stage later, and get away from here?"
She shook her head, clinging to me. "No, I couldn't face being around a big bunch of people right now."
"It'd get your mind off of what happened."
"So what are you gonna do?"
Probably make love with Candy behind my back. God, I wondered, what if she liked her more then me? All sorts of dark thoughts crossed my mind. A wave of nausea and fatigue passed over me and I knew I'd been speeding too long. Probably time to take some more, I thought.
She leaned against me. "You can hear the music good enough from here. I'll just sit around, watch the show and talk with the girls."
With the girls. "You're sure you're alright?"
"Yeah, I'll be alright."
I let out a big breath. "Okay, well then I'd better spilt."
She nodded. "Okay." Smiling, she looked up at me and said, "We'll see about tonight when you get back. You don't want the girls here, fine. Just tell them you'll get them onto the stage and they'll be out of here like a shot. Whatever you want, I'll go along with." She paused, looking into my eyes, then added, "You will be careful at the gate?"
I held up my injured hand, and smiling back at her, said, "What, I'm gonna hit somebody with this? I don't think so."
She laughed, and took my hand carefully examining it. "No, she smiled, "I don't think you'll be hitting anyone. Be careful, though. Promise?"
"Then go, and get back as soon as you can. I need you."
"I will. Love you."
"And I love you."
We kissed, and then I walked off towards the security HQ. I could feel her eyes following me as I left.
I was about halfway down to the Ave when I ran into Candy, who was by herself carrying a large paper bag. She waved when she saw me, and walked towards me.
"Hi. What happened to Janie?" I asked.
"She got in the can first, then left before I was through. How ya doing?" She stood beside me, her left hand on my belt, her right arm around the bag, looking into my eyes, smiling.
"Oh, I guess I'm okay. Hand still hurts though. What you got in the bag?"
"I got some wine. Got a helluva deal from this guy. Buck a bottle. The guy's got a whole U-Haul full. Hey, you thought more about all of us having some fun tonight?"
I stared at her. The whole thing was just too weird. I was damned if I would take a chance on losing Susan.
Feeling very possessive, I said, "I dunno. I think we'd really just like to be alone tonight. I don't think she's really into partying right now, what with the acid last night."
She shrugged. "Hey, she likes to drink. She likes to drink a whole bunch. I'll just give her some of this wine. That'll make her forget everything. She'll be ready to party hearty then."
I didn't like the way this was going. "I'd prefer you didn't do that. What she needs is to go back to sleep."
"How do you know? She's one horny lady. We get her drunk, she'll wanna fuck everything in sight. You watch." She smiled, looking pleased with herself.
"Where the hell you coming from?" I frowned, and then said, "What you're talking about wouldn't be a helluva lot different than what Dave did."
"Maybe I should ask her, huh? She can decide for herself."
"Just leave her alone. She's got enough problems already."
"Problems?" She narrowed her eyes.
"Like getting dosed with acid." I was becoming angry at her insistence, and went on, "Not to mention getting it from you two as well. I gotta say it really pisses me off to think that you and Janie took advantage of her last night."
She drew away from me frowning, and said, "What do you mean, took advantage of her? We never took advantage of nobody."
"You know exactly what I mean. She told me how you came on to her. You're not going to tell me balling you was her idea."
"And how do you know that?" She laughed and continued, "She went down on me and Janie as many times as we went down on her. Maybe more. And she's got a helluva tongue and knows how to use it. I couldn't a been the first lady she balled. She knew too much."
"I know Susan. She isn't into that."
"You think so?" she said, sneering. "Well look again, big boy. You shoulda seen her, last night. Christ, this one time she took on both me and Janie, and Dave with his dick in her, doing her doggy style while she's doing us. You ain't never heard so much grunting and groaning. That lady'll fuck or suck anything that moves."
I looked straight in her eyes and said quietly, "Just leave her the fuck alone."
"Oh yeah? Who the fuck are you to tell me what to do?" She looked defiant.
"She's my old lady. That gives me the right."
"Like fuck, asshole, she said, a cruel smile on her face. "I got as much claim on her as you. Anyway, how do you know she don't get off more doing it with me than you?"
"You little cunt!" I exploded. "She was so fucked up last night, she didn't know what she was doing. If she hadn't been fucked up like that, she woulda never done shit with you!"
"Bullshit!" She exclaimed, eyes flashing and her body shaking. "She enjoyed the hell out of it. We both did. I know how to treat her right."
"Don't fuck with her, Candy, I said through tight lips, very angry. "You do, and I'll have you thrown out of here, just like Dave."
"We'll see about that!" And with that, she turned abruptly, and headed off towards the tent.
Watching her march off, I wondered if I shouldn't follow her, or go back and prepare Susan. What the hell, I figured. There really wasn't time. I shook my head, and continued to the security HQ, walking fast through the throngs of people milling about on the Ave, hoping my anger would dissipate.
A harried-looking Allan was sitting at the table in the back of the booth when I entered. He was talking on the radio, apparently to Saint. They were arguing about the transfer of people.
"But I just can't get them to you right now," crackled Saint's voice over the radio. "I got some big problems, stuck cars, and quite a lot of in and out traffic. Wait for an hour and let's see if things quiet down. Over."
Allan keyed the mike and said, stiffly, "You think you've got problems? You haven't even seen a problem till you get down here. I've got people trying to kill each other for Christ's sake. Hey, hang on a minute. Gordon just got here."
"Ten four, said Saint.
"So what's going on?" I asked, sitting at the table.
"Saint's being an asshole about getting me those people you promised," he said. "You said they'd be available at, what, seven? Well it's already eight o'clock, and he still won't cut them loose. Claims he's got too many problems. Shit, problems?" He laughed, looking angry. "You wanna know about problems? I had another three people sent to the clinic after trying to bust up a goddamn knife fight. Guy was trying to gut someone he claimed burned him on some dope. People are going nuts down here."
"Give me the mike, I asked. He passed it to me, and I spoke into it saying, "Saint, this is Gordon. Copy?"
"I copy, Gordon. Go ahead. Over."
"What's up bro? Our deal was that you were supposed to send Allan the people no later than seven o'clock. What's happened? Over."
There was static, and then Saint's voice came back. "Yeah, I know what our deal was. But I've got a lot of problems here. We caught a guy breaking into cars. Threw his ass out. Then a bunch of his friends came and tried to beat on my poor head. We were able to get rid of them finally, but I'm still worried. Lot of ugly people out here, Gordon. Plus, I've got those other packages I've got to take care of. What am I supposed to do? Over."
The other packages he was talking about were two groups of possible Octoberists he was keeping watch on. He had a total of about ten people watching them, working in relays so no one would get suspicious. The staff would hang out near where the people were, watching from a distance, and if the people moved, would follow them. Real cloak and dagger stuff.
I looked back at Allan, and then keyed the mike. "How many people you got on right now? Over."
"About forty. Over."
"Cut loose half of them and have them report to the security HQ here in fifteen minutes. Over."
He was mad. The radio exploded with his voice, "That's bullshit! I can't do it! It'd leave me with practically no back up, no reserve." The radio went silent.
I keyed the mike, "You gotta, man. However bad it is in the lots, it's worse down here in the bowl. C'mon, that gives you half again as many people as you had agreed to make do with. C'mon, bro."
"You're gonna fucking kill me, man! Shit!" There was dead air for a few moments, then he continued, "I'll do it, but you're fucking killing me. And if I do die, you're gonna have the ghost of this dead nigger haunting you for the rest of your un-natural honkey life. Dig?"
"I can dig it, man. Thanks, bro. Fifteen minutes, we'll see about twenty of your people here, right? Over."
"Yeah. Ten four, roger dodger, all fall down." More dead air, then, "Gordon, I think I want my momma."
"You and me both, dude. Catch you later, Cobra one, over and out."
"This is the Saint one, I be dead or dying. I'm gone."
Allan was lying back in his chair looking smug. He pushed some locks of his long blond hair away from his eyes. I put the mike back on the table and asked, "So other than a knife fight, what's going on?"
As Allan began to speak, we were interrupted by one of his staff. It was the tall thin volunteer who had been trying to make time with the girl, Audrey. He was out of breath, like he'd been running.
"Allan, you gotta come right away," he said, speaking quickly. "There's a dude fucking with one of the concession guys. He's really drunk, and he's got a broken bottle. I think he's gonna hurt someone."
Allan looked at me, and then nodded at the volunteer. We both got up and followed him, running down the line of shops.
In front of a T-shirt shop across and down from the American Dream Memorial, a ring of people were standing, watching something on the ground. There was a lot of noise from the crowd and from the stage, and it wasn't possible to hear what was going on. We pushed through the people, and found a man lying on the ground, bleeding profusely from an ugly wound in his stomach. His shirt was soaked with blood, and he was breathing fast, like he was in shock. I felt very close to puking. I never had liked the sight of blood. I stood there, unable to move.
Allan knelt down beside him, inspecting the wound. He yelled at the crowd, "Anyone got a cloth or something to put on this?"
A woman left and came running back with several T-shirts from the booth. Allan folded them up, and pressed down on the wound. He looked around and found the volunteer who had brought us there, and said tersely, "Come here. Hold these on, pressing on the wound. It'll stop the worst of the bleeding. I'm gonna run back to the HQ and call the clinic. Wait here until they get here, then come see me. I need a description of the guy that did this." He looked back at the crowd as he stood up. He shouted, "I need witnesses. Any of you see what happened, I want your names." Everyone shook their heads, and started to move away.
He looked at me then said under his breath, "Fucking people. Nobody saw nothing. Come on, let's get back and get on the radio."
We ran back to the HQ and in though the door. He sat at the table, and switched radio frequencies. He keyed the mike and said breathlessly, "OD Clinic, OD Clinic. This is the bowl security HQ. Come in, I've got an emergency."
A calm and pleasant sounding voice came back over the radio. "This is the Open Door Clinic. What can I do for you?"
"We got a guy cut up badly. A stomach wound, and he's bleeding bad. I've got someone with a pressure bandage on it, but the guy looks like he's in shock. You better get there quick."
"We copy, bowl security. What's the location?"
"It's on the Ave in front of the Fabulous Bolshevik Brothers T-shirt shop just the stage side of the American Dream Memorial. How long will it take you to get someone there?"
"You say it's a deep puncture wound to the stomach, profuse bleeding and the victim is in shock?"
"That's correct. How long?"
There was a silence as though the radio operator was conferring with someone at the clinic. He came back on, "Our team just left, and they'll be there in five minutes. Tell them to keep the pressure bandage on, and don't do anything else. Five minutes. Copy?"
"I copy, HQ out."
"Thank you for shopping at the Open Door Clinic. Have a nice day. Clinic out."
Allan looked at me and said, "I'm gonna go check on them, I'll be right back." He got up and ran out, back towards the bleeding man. I rested in the chair, turning the days' events over in my speed-blurred mind.
In that one day, one twenty four hour period, I had repeatedly hit one of my best friends and had him thrown out of the festival, surely ending a long friendship, not to mention possibly breaking my hand. My girlfriend was recovering from a bad acid trip. I had two other ladies who until recently, had both seemed to want to get in my pants, and at least one of whom was also apparently lusting after my girlfriend. I was consorting with rifle-toting bikers, even on a first name basis with them. Radical lunatics were supposed to be coming in, ripping off the gate and blowing up the stage. At the tender age of eighteen, I had risen to the point where I was in charge of most of the security operations of a large rock festival, and had spent the day, mainly, fucking things up. And now I'd seen a man who had a broken bottle shoved in his stomach, who might possibly die. And on top of it, the speed which I had taken was starting to make me so wired and jumpy, my skin crawled. I couldn't think straight. Too much had happened in too short a time.
Allan came back in a few minutes. He saw me staring at the wall, and asked, "You look like you're coming down, friend. Need another beauty?"
I shook my head. "I don't know. Just so much happening, I don't think I can keep up. Too much shit coming down. Seeing that guy laying there bleeding brought it home. This is supposed to be a rock festival, where everyone parties and has fun, and listens to good music. What the fuck's happening? This is getting really fucking ugly."
Allan reached into a cooler beside the table and dug out two dripping beers. He sat one in front of me and popped the cap off with an opener. He opened his and took a swig, then said, "It's human nature. We're a microcosm of the world as a whole. Everyone's got good intentions. At the start, everything's rosy, goes real great. We're gonna change the world, do all these wonderful things. Put pressure on it though, and the system and the people break down. Degenerate. Get ugly. We've got way too many people in here for the resources, Gordon. We haven't got adequate people to clean the grounds and pick up trash, or to pump the damn johns. And we should have real police, not us police that could actually lock up the people that hurt others. Christ, I'm gonna be an attorney. How do you think I feel about turning loose someone that just knifed a person? No way! I really feel that someone like that should be put in jail, to protect society. But not here. What we have here in this little world, is the first large-scale experiment in controlled anarchy."
I swallowed a mouthful of beer. "You can't control anarchy, I said, slowly. "The terms are incongruous."
"Maybe, but not necessarily." He shook his head, smiling. "That's just the best description I can give it. We're a society of fifty or sixty thousand souls, with no real laws, and no real system of punishment for someone who transgresses. That's anarchy. But yet we do try to control it. Yeah, it's all half assed. A security force that works with their bare hands. And the highest penalty is to be thrown out of the place. But still we attempt to control it. Mostly without a helluva lot of success. And now it's fighting back, getting really out of control, and the darker elements, the real assholes, are starting to have a field day. You don't know how glad I am that tomorrow is the last day. I don't think it could go any longer, without people getting killed. If that hasn't already happened. Only one reason I'm still here. Know why? It's silly, really. It's just that I care about people, and I don't want to see anyone hurt. And I think I do a lot better job at running this half assed security down here than anyone else I can think of. And if I left, it'd fall apart, and more people would be hurt because of it. So, I stay." He paused and looked at me, then said, "I'm sorry I'm bending your ear, Gordon. I figure your motivations are not a lot different than mine. I've enjoyed working with you. For a young punk, you're a pretty good boss." He smiled, raising his eyebrows. "Am I speeding? You betcha! And am I gonna drop more? Bet your sweet ass I am. Want some?"
I nodded my head. "Sure. Got any whites?" I took another hit from my beer.
He dug in his pocket and brought out the baggie. As he passed me the pills, he said, "Total anarchy doesn't work. That's what this experiment has shown. Great big fucking laboratory with fifty or sixty thousand people in it. All this hippie shit about everybody doing his own thing. Bullshit. A society has to have some structure, it can't exist without it. At least at this stage in human evolution." He put the pill in his mouth and chased it with beer. I did the same with mine. He continued, "The way things are, people need direction. They need laws. They need police to tell them what they can and can't do, and to confine those that truly fuck up. What we can see here now, is what happens when you take nearly all of the controls away. Sure, there are a whole lot of good people here, that are being nice, and just trying to have fun and listen to some music. But there's also a big element that can't handle it, and they're breaking loose, preying on everyone else. And that fucks up the whole trip."
"Are you saying the festival is a failure?"
He shrugged. I dunno. More or less, I guess."
"I gotta disagree with you."
"After what you've seen? After what you've been through and seen yourself?"
"Yeah. Definitely. Because for every one person who's been fucked over, there's been a thousand that have had a good time. That have learned something, that have grown. And that makes it worthwhile. Lately it's been hard for me to see that, 'cause things have been so fucked up. But the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that's right."
I shook my head. "I think you're wrong, I said. "I mean maybe you're right that what we have here is anarchy, but I still don't know that the festival is a failure. If we can learn from it and build on that, then we have succeeded. Any time you try something new, there are gonna be some fuck-ups. But in the short run, what will make it or break it is how we come out of it tomorrow night when the festival ends."
He looked sad, and shook his head again. "About that, I think you're an incurable optimist. But what I'm saying overall, is if we can't all coexist peacefully, then we lose. We're not living what we preach."
"Maybe, maybe not. I think we've done a damn good job for what we've got. Of course that's not to say we shouldn't change certain things. Particularly on the control issue. I'll tell you what. If it was up to me, I'd take the guy who gutted the T-shirt vendor and off the sonofabitch. On that, we do agree." I looked outside. The sun was starting to set.
"I don't think you understood me..."
I cut him off, "I'm sorry, I'd like to continue this, but it's almost dark and I've gotta get back to the gate."
He nodded, finishing his beer. "Hmm. You think it's going to happen tonight?"
"I dunno. I guess we'll all find out real soon." I stood up and drained the rest of my beer. It'd had a calming effect on me. I felt steadier than I had all day. "Take care. I'll check out the relay through Saint as soon as I get there."
"Be careful, Gordon. You watch it, hear?" He stood up.
"Damn straight. Do the same yourself."
He pulled me to him and hugged me. I'd never been big on hugs from men before, but I was moved by the gesture.
"What's the hug for?" I asked, "You're not going nuts on me too, are you?"
He smiled a strange smile, and then looking at the floor, said, "No. I'm just flipping out like usual. Get out and be cool."
I walked out the back door, off towards the main gate and whatever awaited.
It was pretty well deserted when I got there. Near the gate itself, there were a couple groups of people standing, talking, but that was about it. In the light of the setting sun, I could make out the forms of several bikers sitting back in the scotch broom, rifles cradled between their legs, waiting. I walked up to the security trailer. I could hear voices. I stepped inside, and saw Mitch and Walt, sitting at the table. They looked up, Walt looking grim.
Mitch smiled, and waving back towards the cooler, said, "Get yourself a cool one, Gordon. Heard you had another bad day." He sounded calm and collected.
I grabbed the beer, then stood by the stove and accepted the proffered opener, and popped the cap, taking a long drink. They were still looking at me. Mitch said, "Must have been worse that I heard." He was still smiling.
I nodded. "Yeah, it's been about as bad as I can imagine. You heard about Susan?" He frowned slightly and shook his head. I went on, "She got dosed with acid last night and kinda freaked. And some other stuff."
He noticed my bandaged hand, and asked, "Does it have to do with your hand? I'm not sure I want to know."
"I hit my friend, the guy I came here with. He's the one who slipped her the acid. And then I had him thrown out."
"What happened?" Asked Walt. "You musta punched him in the face or something to have fucked up your hand like that."
"Yeah. My hand hurts like a sonofabitch." I took another long drink, and said, "It's a long story, one that I'd really rather not get into right now." Mitch was still looking very concerned, and I held up my hand and said, "Susan's okay. I just came from seeing her. She's gonna be fine. It's cool. I just don't want to talk about it right now."
Mitch let out a long breath, then said, "You say she's alright?"
I nodded. "Yeah, she's doing good."
He said, "Okay. We'll talk about it later." He looked at Walt, and then said, "So you wanna tell Gordon what you've got going on?"
He stared, and then said, "Yeah, might as well share the good cheer." He straightened up, composing himself. His beard was neatly combed. He was still wearing the black suspenders and plaid shirt that made him look like a hippie lumberjack. He frowned, and then continued, "It's like this. The October 21st people? They're here. Mitch just IDed them." Mitch held up his hand, but Walt went on. "I had these guys being watched, then one of my people told me he'd seen someone who looked like this Morrissey guy. Mitch and I just got back. He took a look at the guy through some field glasses. It was him."
Shaking his head, Mitch frowned and said, "Now hold on a minute. I said it looked like him, and it did. But I'm not absolutely sure. I was too far away. Just couldn't get a good enough view to be sure. Let's see what they do. Keep someone watching them. Have them report back by runner if anything develops. No radios if they are here, they're probably monitoring our communications." He turned to me. "How about you, Gordon? You had some people under surveillance. Have you got anything?"
I bit my lip, thinking, then said, "No, not really. We're watching four different groups of people. One group was supposed to have some weapons, but they haven't done anything. And I've pretty well confirmed that none of the groups have anybody that fits the description of Morrissey."
Mitch shook his head, smiling again. "Well, then we continue to watch them and see what happens. Personally, I think seeing all our preparations have scared them off. I think we've done it." He took a long pull off his beer, and lay back in his seat.
Walt still looked grim. Looking at Mitch, he said, "I don't believe that and neither do you. There's too much stuff coming down. I've seen too many signs."
"And so have I, said Mitch, as he leaned forward and lit the candle sticking in the top of an old wine bottle. The bottle was caked with layers of wax, all different colors. It was almost dark outside, and the flame of the candle lit only the immediate area of the table, making it seem as though the world was closing in, shrinking. Mitch looked at Walt, and smiled thinly, his lips almost obscured by the bushy beard. Combing the beard with his fingers, he went on, "I've seen all the signs that are possible. What will happen, will happen. If we get hit, so be it. But it won't help even a bit if we run around in hysterics while waiting for it to happen. What we need are cool heads that can lead the others in the event something does come up." He smiled again, and drained his beer. "Simmer down, bro, we need you in one piece. Now go, get out there with your people, and be cool. Okay?"
Walt shook his head and said, "Okay. But I want you to know, I'm leaving tomorrow morning. I just can't handle any more of this stuff." He stood up, and at the door, looked back and said, "I had a good time working here, until all this shit came down. But now, all I can do is wonder if it was really worth it." He shook his head again and stepped out through the open door.
Mitch stared at the candle flame, wavering slightly with the subtle wind currents in the trailer. I sat down across from him, where Walt had been sitting.
"Has it been worth it?" I asked.
He shrugged and continued staring, his brow furrowed in thought. He was dressed as usual, in blue jeans and a black T-shirt. As he looked down at the candle, I noticed a small bald spot in the center and to the back of his head. He looked up at me with tired eyes and asked, "Get us both another beer, and I'll answer you."
I nodded, got up, and came back with two beers. He popped the caps on both, pushing mine back across the table to me.
He took a long pull off the beer, and then replied, "I've been thinking about that question a lot lately. And although I've waffled back and forth a lot mentally, I think the answer is that yes, it has been worth it. I believe we have accomplished what we set out for, here." He paused for another swallow of beer, and then went on, "Let's look at the reason we're here. The purpose of this festival, Rio del Sol, was to educate people on the struggle against the war in Viet Nam, and also, for them to have a good time listening to a little rock and roll. Yeah, maybe we've had some problems, but overall, everything's turned out pretty well. To me, that makes it worth the effort."
I peered at him, shadows flickering over his face as he continued to stare at the candle. "But what about all the shit that's come down?" I asked.
He looked up. "You mean, do I like the direction the festival is taking now? No, not necessarily. I think it demeans us to have to call in the bikers to protect us. They're the antithesis of everything we stand for. Having them here the past couple days has been a real challenge for my conscience. But has the festival been worth it? Damn straight!" He took a swallow of his beer, then continued, "Now enough of this morbid shit. I wanna know what's happened to Susan."
I took a deep breath and told him what had gone on, leaving out most of the parts having to do with Candy and Janie. He was frowning, looking angry when I finished. I closed saying, "As far as I could see, there wasn't anything else I could do, except give her the downers. She was really way out there. That's the only thing she still holds against me. But I'm gonna make it up to her. I will."
He sat silent, back staring at the candle for a long while, and then said softly, "I wouldn't have wanted to have had to make the decision you did. I know how she feels about drugs. We've talked about it quite a bit. I'm not going to say you were right in forcing the reds on her, but I can't say you were wrong, either. That's something you and her will have to decide, together. As far as your action in hitting your friend, then having him thrown out, well, I can understand your motivation. The instinct towards violence in a situation like that is pretty heavy."
"I couldn't even think of anything else."
"Yeah. You're grievously wronged, the gut level reaction is to strike out to punish him, I think you said. But you were wrong, Gordon."
"Because you dragged yourself down to his level. What's the story here? He couldn't get Susan to go to bed with him, so he slipped her some LSD and through that, basically forced her into bed. You couldn't deal with his actions, so you struck him. Two wrongs don't make a right. In any situation, violence is never the answer. Never."
Softly, I asked, "So what should I have done?"
He shook his head. "Using your authority to have him thrown out of the festival was probably the right thing to do. We've had people thrown out for lesser offenses."
"Huh. Ya know, Saint thinks we should find Dave, make him eat twenty hits of acid, then find some queens to buttfuck him."
"That's asinine. Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord. Trite, but appropriate. It is not for you or I to pass judgment on fellow beings. I'm not God this week. Are you? Is Saint? No, violence is wrong."
"Why? I mean, there are certain things that are just so, I searched for the right word, "... abominable, that you've gotta strike back. Look, I agree with you about non-violence, in theory. But we're not there yet. You can't always turn the other cheek. If you do, you'll end up dead because there are too many mean motherfuckers out there that are gonna eat you alive."
"Then I will have died for my cause."
"Look, I'm not saying that Saint was right in wanting to hunt Dave down and fuck him up some more. But I think what I did was justified. And I think we would be justified in doing something more than simply throwing out people that do stuff like that. That isn't strong enough. They should be punished."
"We're not any lawfully constituted government. We have no right to punish anyone."
I was becoming confused. "What the hell do you mean?" I asked. "I thought the big idea of this festival was that we were our own government? No cops inside the gate. We make our own laws, our own rules, and to some extent, we enforce them. What the fuck does that make us? It makes us a government."
"We have no right to govern, no one asked us to do it. We imposed ourselves on everyone. This is an anarchic state."
"Bullshit. We are the government. And when people walked or drove in through the gate, they agreed to it. The laws we made are, do all the dope, except smack, that you want. Anything goes, but don't hurt anybody else. They accepted that. If they fuck up, we have as much right to punish them as any government would."
"I disagree with that. Look, in certain instances, punishment such as imprisonment may be appropriate. But what it sounds like you're talking about here is no more than mob violence. And violence is wrong. Always."
"Then why the fuck do we have bikers out here right now waiting to kill people? They're a fucking accident waiting to happen. It's wrong for me to hit someone who slips my old lady some acid, but it's okay to kill someone who tries to rip us off? I'm lost, man."
He took a long pull off his beer. I was angry. It seemed like he was being intentionally obtuse, talking around both sides of the issue. Finally, he looked back at me.
"Gordon, the issue of the bikers coming here is a big problem for me. You're right, it's totally against everything I stand for. I think I just said that a little while ago. But there was no choice. Majority rule, right? Well, the committee decided. It's deterrence. They're convinced that if we present a good offense, maybe we won't have to actually fight."
"The end justifies the means? Pretend you're ready to kill someone so you don't have to kill someone? It could backfire. Where are you then?"
He looked out the window, shaking his head, then said, sadly, "I don't know where I'd be. I just hope the fuck they're right about the deterrence, because I really don't want to find out."
My anger had passed, and I was feeling bad for having hassled him. In many ways, Mitch was so wise, but in other ways, he was very naive. His unwavering stand against violence was unreasonable. It was too inflexible. It didn't take into account people like the Octoberists, and it didn't take into account people like Dave. Having been forced to accept the bikers at the gate must have been very hard for him, and it really did appear to be causing him a lot of problems with his conscience. But he was being stupid.
Still, a thought nibbled at the very edge of my brain But on the other hand, what if Mitch is right? I decided to back off.
"Look, I said softly. "I'm sorry I fucked with you. Hopefully, we have scared them off."
He looked at his watch. "Gordon, it's almost ten o'clock. Why don't you get the hell out of here and do your radio thing, okay? I really want to be alone." He seemed to be uncomfortable.
"I'd just as soon stay here and drink beer with you, man."
He frowned again. "Don't make me angry. Please, leave."
"Now, he said in a gruff voice. He was glaring at me. "C'mon, don't be an asshole. Leave. Take a few beers if you want, but leave. I just wanna be by myself."
"Mitch ... Oh, shit." I got up, drained my beer, and left.
After I called Saint on my walkie-talkie and checked in, I walked to the gate and found Jackie near the ticket booth, talking with Rudy and two others. They were all the staff that was on duty now, more than enough. I hadn't seen a car pass through in over fifteen minutes, so there wasn't a whole lot for them to do. We talked for a few minutes, mostly about a band that had played in the afternoon, then Jackie and I walked off by ourselves, up the fence line to where we'd sat the previous night. Because it had gotten chilly, we stopped by her tent and picked up her sleeping bag.
I was more mixed up than I ever had been in my life, my mind severely overloaded. The more I thought about what Mitch had said, the more I was sure I was right. But doubt nagged at me.
I'd listened to several divergent viewpoints, ranging from Mitch with who'd condemned all forms of violence, to Saint who believed it was necessary to respond in kind.
My gut feeling was that there should be a punishment that was appropriate and fitting for an offense. A person who had knifed someone being thrown out of the festival wasn't good enough. It wasn't appropriate. Okay, maybe we didn't have any jails at Rio del Sol, but there were other ways, without actually resorting to what Mitch feared, except in extreme cases.
I focused on what Allan had told me. He'd told me, that for a society to exist, it had to have structure. Without laws, and punishment as he had said, you'd end up with what we had here anarchy which to him, was unacceptable. The question was, is it really acceptable to me? I didn't see any halfway points. As far as I was concerned, you either had anarchy, or you had a structured society. But what happens to the individualism prized by hippies if you impose a structure?
I just couldn't see it. How the hell could we exist without punishment and controls? It was part of the good old Judaeo-Christian ethic our country was founded on an eye for an eye, like Saint said.
Yeah, I was against the war in Viet Nam. But that was more of a personal thing I didn't want my ass to get shot off. And fighting to help the Vietnamese free themselves from the yoke of communism so they could drive new Cadillacs wasn't my idea of a good party. That was indeed, senseless killing. But when it hit closer to home, like someone whom I loved getting dosed with acid or having the festival ripped-off, then I felt you had to draw the line.
The more I thought about what Saint had said, the more sense it made. I couldn't see where Mitch was coming from.
I laid it all out to Jackie, as we sat bundled against the chill in her sleeping bag. Mostly, she was uninterested, and wanted to talk about the possibility of the rip-off.
"Enough is enough, She finally said, hugging me close to her. "I agree with you. Violence is okay in some instances. But c'mon already, let's just lie together for a while and cuddle. Please? I'm too burnt out to talk anymore." She molded herself to me, and began running her hands up and down my back, kneading my tired muscles.
She was right, the speed had been making me babble, and I'd about talked the subject into the ground. I closed my eyes and held her to me. The sensations of her hands running over my back made the world seem far away made me forget all I'd seen and heard that day. Jackie was so very much a woman. She must have gone to the river and bathed earlier in the day, because she was all wonderful girl-smells, fresh and clean, maybe a hint of soap. I drank it in. Through our clothes, I could feel the rise of her breasts, and with her leg hooked over me, she pressed our hips together. God! She was so warm, I wanted to lose myself in her.
When Susan and I had talked earlier, she'd told me in a hostile tone that she didn't care what I did, seeming to think I'd already slept with Jackie. And this after she had started all the open relationship stuff, and what she'd done with Candy and the others. She'd said I had bad taste if I was interested in Jackie? Maybe she was jealous. I mean, what the hell? Jackie and I had been through so much together, and she was a damned good friend to me. We'd shared confidences and fears, good times and bad, and through it all, she'd been true. She'd supported me when I needed it, and had never really asked for anything in return. The only thing we hadn't shared was sex. That was unfair. Susan thought I'd already done it, so what the hell?
I began nibbling on Jackie's neck, biting gently, and she moaned, drawing a deep breath, pressing our hips together more tightly. We kissed, the tip of my tongue first running over her lips, and then searching inside, urgently. She responded with passion, whispering my name, and thrusting at my tongue with hers.
After a few moments, I drew back a little, pausing, and asked, "Now didn't we have an agreement? I owed you something, I think?"
Her face, two inches from mine, broke into a wide smile, laugh lines crinkling the corners of her eyes. Breathlessly, she said, "I do seem to remember something about that." She paused and whispered, "I want you inside me. I need you."
I gently pushed her onto her back, and the world had shrunk until she was all that existed. Her skin was soft as I reached under her shirt, trailing my fingers lightly across her flat stomach, then carefully, I caressed the twin swellings of her breasts, firm round globes, with pointy, erect nipples. She turned slightly and kissed me, her mouth warm and inviting, her tongue probing softly for mine. I rolled a nipple gently between my fingers, and she pressed her lips roughly against mine.
I moved my head a bit, so I could see into her green eyes, now dark pools reflecting the light of the full moon. They were so pretty, so warm. The knot in my stomach had vanished. I ran my hand back down across her stomach, and fumbled with the buttons of her jeans.
Aware that I was having problems, she placed her hand on mine moving it aside, then quickly undid the buttons herself. She drew a deep breath, and moving her hips upwards, moaned softly.
Night turned into day, then the force of a huge explosion shook the ground and rocked us, the warm whooshing air of the blast washing over us like a wave, and the deep rumbling noise riveting us to the ground where we lay. For that eternal moment, the row of trees running down the fence line was visible in great detail, a study in stark contrasts, the brilliant light casting shadows from the fence posts and among the trees. The light was gone in an instant, the world dark once more, but the ominous echoes of the blast continued to reverberate off the distant hills, and each time the sound returned, it grew weaker, and more faint. The staccato bursts of automatic weapons fire came from close by, with deeper, heavier shots interspersed. Jackie sat straight up, shrieked and grabbed at me. I pushed her back flat on the ground and laid half on top of her, trembling.
"Oh my God, oh my God," she sobbed, holding me. A cloud of smoke which was hugging the ground, drifted slowly over us, engulfing us in the sharp chemical tang of explosives, leaving it's odor on our clothes after it passed, burning it's powerful stench into our minds.
The firing continued, back and forth, and my only coherent thought was that I couldn't wet my pants. After a while, I held the radio up and keyed the mike. Fast and frantic, I cried, "Saint one, Saint one. Main gate. Condition zebra, condition zebra, you got that shit?"
He came back at once, and then began relaying the message to the stage. There were more bursts of shots from a different direction, then a strangled screaming cry which was cut off mid breath. A single bullet buzzed close over our heads, and I was sure I could feel its wake as it passed.
The radio was silent, and then Saint came back, his voice strident and terse. "Gordon, this is Saint. Stage copies and says they've got their own problems. What is your status, bro? What the fuck is happening?"
I keyed the mike, and shivering, spoke in a breathless, halting tone, "Don't know. Uh, lots of stuff happening. Oh, shit! Gonna check it out. Hang on."
Jackie shrieked, "Don't you dare go anywhere, you sonofabitch! You're staying right here with me!" She hugged me in a death grip. Another short volley of rifle fire ripped the night. My heart raced, and every sound was amplified. The hoarse rasp of her labored breathing, the noise of the air moved by my own heaving lungs, and the newfound stillness of the night filled my ears. No more gun shots.
Saint came back over the radio, his voice seeming un-naturally loud. "Okay. I'll be here, he said.
"Gate, this is Big Daddy at the command post, came Walt's voice. "I understand. Going to zebra as of now." This was his cue to shut off all inbound traffic. He continued, "Big Daddy standing by."
We lay there for several minutes, huddled close and shivering, contemplating our own possibly imminent deaths. The darkness was complete at first, although as our eyes readjusted, more details became visible under the light of the moon. As she lay holding me, shaking and breathless, I could hear Jackie praying in a whisper, to herself and to her God.
Finally, after the initial rush of adrenalin had run its course, I said, "Look. It must be over. There haven't been any new shots or screams for quite a while. It's gotta be safe."
In the moonlight, I could see a look of disbelief on her face, as she drew back to look at me. "How the fuck do you know that?" She whispered frantically, starting to hyperventilate again. "They could be ... they could be waiting out there for us. They may have killed everyone else. Stay here with me, where it's safe!"
The sharp crack of a lone shot shattered the night, echoing off the surrounding hills, and we clung to each other.
About ten minutes later, Rudy came and found us. He approached calling our names, saying not to worry, because it was all over. Jackie turned on a flashlight, and guided him to us. By the time he arrived, we'd gotten out of the bag and moved slightly apart, and having composed ourselves, were trying to look normal. He looked at us, standing rigidly by the fence.
"Is Mitch dead?" I asked as he approached. I'd heard shots from that direction, so I was bracing myself for the worst.
I could see him shake his head. "No, man. None of our guys bought it. Those goddamn bikers. They did it like clockwork," he said, an admiring tone in his voice. "Caught 'em infiltrating up there behind us like fucking VC, coming along out of the tree line. Bikers let off a goddamn Claymore mine. Guess you woulda heard the explosion pretty good, this close. The ones that weren't killed by the Claymore, they picked them off with their rifles. Full moon made it easy. Those guys never knew what hit 'em."
"We heard machine guns, I said. "That wasn't the bikers."
Rudy shrugged. "Well, from what one of them said, the Octoberists got off a few rounds. Yeah, they had some M-14s. Really rock and roll on full auto, man. But unless you know where to point it, an M-14 doesn't mean shit. The bikers figured it all out. Exactly where the Octoberists would come in. They laid down their fields of fire. Set their Claymore. It wasn't a fair fight, but that's the best kind, right?" He laughed. "Fucking Claymores the only way to go!"
I'd heard about Claymore mines from a friend whose brother came back from Viet Nam. A Claymore is a two or three pound shaped charge of plastic explosive that shoots out several thousand steel BBs in an arc of something over one hundred degrees when it goes off. Depending on how close in front you were when it explodes, a person could end up looking like hamburger.
We walked back to the semi-circle of trailers with Rudy, who left us and went into the communications trailer. In front of the security trailer, stood Mitch, silently staring off into the night. A small group of bikers was standing by the burn barrel in-between the trailers, passing a bottle of wine around, talking quietly, their faces reflecting the red light of the flames.
Mitch looked at me. In the stark light of the Coleman lanterns hanging by the gate, I could see his face was drawn into a grimace of pain, and there were the streaks of tears on his cheeks, running into his beard. A biker, Reb, approached.
Mitch wiped his eyes and then called out to him. "Reb ... Reb, I want to see the bodies."
Reb stopped short of us, a beer in his hand. Looking confused, he asked, "Bodies? Bodies? What the fuck you talking about?" He took a cigarette from a pocket in his leather vest, and lit it with a wood match. A thin smile on his face, he shook his head, blowing the match out with a long plume of smoke. "We ain't got no stinking bodies, man. I think you're fucking hallucinating."
"You know what I'm talking about, Mitch said quietly. "I want to see the people you just killed."
A frown crossed Reb's face. He stared at Mitch, eyes wide, angry, clenching the beer bottle in his hand. At least six foot four, Mitch was slightly taller than Reb, and probably weighed as much. Reb seemed to be running over the odds, figuring if he could take Mitch, and both men were glaring at each other, the contest of wills evident, a tangible force. I tensed and drew Jackie towards me.
Without warning, Reb grunted, and smiled, breaking the spell. "So, you dudes wanna see what we bagged, huh?" He said, taking a swig off his beer. "Why the fuck should I admit anything's been going on?"
Jackie pressed against me, a frightened expression on her face, and my pulse beat faster making me giddy.
Gentleman Jim came from behind us and stood by Reb. He said casually, "Sad evening, isn't it?" His Nazi helmet gleamed in the light of the moon.
Reb looked at him. "These folks wanna see the fucking pukes we just offed. We're all looking at life sentences for what we did for them, and now they wanna take a goddamn look. We need witnesses like a fucking hole in the head."
Gentleman Jim glared at Reb, saying, "Show some class, huh? We don't talk that way around citizens, then said to Jackie, "You'll have to pardon my friend, ma'am. He has no idea of how to talk around ladies. You'll forgive us?" Jackie shook her head and mumbled something. Jim nodded and said, "Whatever's fair. Now, so you want to take a look before we dispose of them, huh? You are the ones who arranged this. You realize if we're caught, you'll be considered accomplices? You'd be looking at the same sentences as us, no matter what." He turned to Reb, and said, "They're looking at life just like us, if anybody talks. They want to see the bodies, let's do it."
"Yes," said Mitch, his voice almost making me jump. "I'd like to see what we've done."
Reb shrugged, then he and Gentleman Jim turned and started walking off.
Frowning, Mitch looked at me, and said, "C'mon. I want you to see this." I looked at Jackie and she shook her head, eyes wide with fright. I squeezed her shoulder and went after Mitch.
Just inside the edge of the scotch broom, were four bodies laying on a green tarp. Several bikers were standing over them, rifles balanced on their toes, and another bottle of wine was being passed from hand to hand. They stopped talking when we approached.
Reb called out to the nearest biker, "Dewey. Gimme that flashlight." The biker handed him the light, and he turned it on and played it over the bodies. He went on in a somber voice, "Okay. As you can see, the two on the left were caught when the Claymore capped off. Not a whole helluva lot left. They were all in one piece, though, so I'm pretty sure we didn't leave parts of them out there. Have to go back in the morning and check it out. We got the other two when they tried to run for it. Goddamn righteous crossfire we had set up. They had nowhere to go."
He went on talking, but I couldn't hear. I stared at the bodies. Their figures were ghastly. The two killed by the mine were horribly disfigured, their flesh gouged and sagging, pools of blood in the tarp beside them. One had almost completely lost his face. Another who could have been a woman, had almost lost her arm at the shoulder, the meat a bloody, pulpy mess. The other two more closely resembled human beings. Or what had recently been human beings. The first, had no marks on his body, although his shirt was soaked with blood. His face was a mask of pain, his unseeing eyes glassed over, staring blindly at the sky. The second had a gaping wound in his stomach, entrails lying in his lap, looking like bulging, gross worms. His mouth was open, as though he was about to speak. The smell of blood was over-powering, its metallic, salty, penetrating odor making the bile rise in my stomach.
I managed to turn around and bend over before I threw up, the acidic mess stinging my throat as it fountained before me in a long, noxious stream. I emptied my stomach, and then convulsed, gagging in a fit dry heaves, the smell of blood and pulped flesh, and the smell of the vomit itself urging me on to greater efforts. Shortly, Mitch put a hand on my back.
"Gordon, he said softly, "Are you all right?"
I gagged and tried to find something more to bring up.
When I was able to stand, Mitch led me back to the security trailer. Jackie was there sitting, looking off into space, sipping a beer. I sat down next to her and she leaned on me, draping her arm over my shoulders. Mitch got me a beer, and sat down across from us.
Rudy appeared at the door, looking apprehensive. He looked at us, and then said to Mitch, "The cops are with Walt out at the Vail Road command post and they want in. They said they heard the explosion and shots, and they want to know what the hell's going on. Walt's not letting them through, and they're starting to get nasty with him. He wants to know what to do. What should I tell him?"
Mitch frowned, and then quickly said, "Tell them we heard the noises too. We had our security check them out, and found some people letting off firecrackers and an M-80. Tell them we confiscated all the fireworks, and may end up throwing the people out if they do something like that again. Use just those words and try to sound laid back, nonchalant. The cops may be able to overhear his radio. Go, and then come back if they're still hassling him. Have the bikers, uh, got everything tidied up yet?"
Rudy nodded, smiling. "Yeah, I heard them say we were clean here now. A couple of them just left in a van and they're driving it down to the river. I think that's where the, uh, things are gonna get planted. They cleaned up everything good. All their guys are out of sight, except the three out by the burn barrel, drinking. And those ones ditched their guns."
"Okay. Then tell Walt that if the cops press it, they can come down as far as the gate. But say that there's nothing going on. If they want to come any farther, they'll need a warrant. That's always been our policy. Right?"
"Then get on it. Cool?"
"Cool." He left quickly.
Mitch looked at me. "Gordon? Still got your walkie-talkie? I nodded. I'd hung onto it through everything. It was on the seat beside me. He asked, "See if you can raise Saint and find out what's happening at the stage. Now, please?"
Hearing Mitch calm and giving orders like usual had a cathartic effect on me. No longer paralyzed and momentarily pushing aside the hideous visions of death, I picked up the radio and pressed the key.
"Saint one, Saint one, this is the gate, I said, sounding calm. "You out there, bro? Come in."
The radio crackled with static, and then Saint's voice came through. "Yeah, Gordon, I'm still here. You okay? You sound good. What's going on? Over."
"Everything's wrapped up. Everything's cool, I said, serene and detached. "Have you heard anything from the stage? Over."
"Yeah, a runner just passed through here about two minutes ago. They're flying high, whatever the hell that means. You should see the guy any time. Over."
"That's what I wanted to hear. Hey, I think you and me are gonna get bigtime fucked up later, you copy?"
"Roger dodger, ten four wilco, sixty eight hike. I could use that right about now. Got another hour and a half of music down at the stage. How long you gonna be?"
"Not too long. I'm gonna hang out here and talk to Mitch for a while. I'll call you when I leave. Cool?"
"I'll be waiting for you. This is the one and the only Saint one, I'm out."
"Gate out. See you in a bit."
The sounds of pounding footsteps preceded the runner from the stage. He appeared at the door of the trailer, breathing heavy, out of breath, apparently having actually run the whole way. Mitch made a space for him, and the hippie sat down. He was in his mid twenties, was tall and thin, and had a long pony tail hanging down his back. Mitch nodded at me and pointed at my beer, then at the runner.
I got up and grabbed a beer from the cooler, opened it and placed it in front of the man. He smiled, and took a long pull from it, wiping his lips with the back of his hand. He drew a deep breath, and let it out slowly.
Mitch asked, "So what's the story? What happened?"
The runner drew another deep breath, and then said, "Everything's under control. We all heard the explosion and gunfire up here. So what happened?"
After cautioning him about secrecy, Mitch told the runner what had happened, going over all the grisly details, leaving nothing out. I learned that the man with the bad stomach wound had still been alive when the bikers found him, writhing on the ground, delirious with pain. The single shot I had heard at the end had been a biker shooting the man in the heart, because they had been told to take no prisoners.
Throughout Mitch's narrative, Jackie sat stock-still and silent, breathing through her mouth, tears streaming from her red-rimmed eyes. At the point where Mitch was describing how the biker had put the man out of his misery, she pushed against me hard, scrambling to get out of the trailer. I jumped up and let her by, and a moment later, I could hear her retching just outside the door of the trailer.
As Mitch had done with me, I went to her, and placing my hand gently on her back, asked, "Are you alright? Is there anything I can do?"
Holding her long hair back so it wouldn't become fouled with the remains of her dinner, she shook her head, still gagging. Finally, she stood up and held me close, head on my shoulder, breathing heavily through her mouth. Smelling the pungent odor again, I almost reverted to the dry heaves myself.
Several minutes later, while we were still holding each other for support, the runner swept past us out of the trailer and loped off into the night, presumably back to the stage.
I took Jackie's head in my hands, forcing her to look at me. Her eyes were wet, and wide with fright. I asked, gently, "Can you make it? Are you gonna be okay?" She nodded. "Shall we go sit down in the trailer now?" She looked at me and nodded again.
I took her arm, and guided her in front of me, through the door of the trailer.
Mitch was sitting silently, his hand grasping a full beer, gazing into the flame of the candle. He didn't look up when we entered and sat down.
I asked, "Did the stage get hit?"
Mitch shook his head, and without taking his eyes off the candle, said slowly, "Nope. They only hit here."
I was still feeling giddy from looking at the four bodies. I hadn't thought death would affect me so much, but it had. Looking at Mitch, I asked, "So who the hell told the bikers not to take any prisoners, anyway? I mean, what the fuck is this bullshit? Claymore mines and no prisoners? Somebody thinks they're back in 'Nam or something?"
He shook his head again, eyes fixed on the flame. "What's the matter, Gordon? Getting cold feet? I thought you were all in favor of something like this?"
"Maybe if they'd killed somebody. But wasn't this a little much? I mean, the bikers fired first, and the only thing they didn't use was napalm."
"Yeah, right. Well, I guess Reb thought both of those little touches up himself."
Horrified, Jackie said, "But ... but how could they do that? They didn't give them any chance to surrender. The whole thing was just cold blooded murder..."
"I know exactly what it is, he snapped, looking angry. "Reb did what had to be done. Or what he believed had to be done. He had all the right arguments. The Octoberists had automatic weapons. If Reb's people had given their positions away trying to get them to surrender, they could have been mowed down. And no way we could have taken the wounded person to the clinic or a hospital. They'd have had to call the cops. And anyway, the guy was a witness. Reb's gonna let witnesses go? Killing him was the only way, or so he said."
I replied, "But you said violence was never the answer. You said you could never buy into something like that."
He shook his head and looked at me. His eyes burned with a slow fire. "I haven't bought into it, he said. "But there isn't anything I can do about it either. What's the matter? Lose your stomach for violence when you saw the bodies? Not quite the same as it looks on TV, is it?"
I hesitated, and then shaking my head, asked, "Why did you drag me over there to look at them?"
He laughed. "Hah. You're so certain that that there's some type of middle ground, I just wanted you to get a look at what that sort of idea will always bring in the end." He looked angry and said, "I had to see them because I needed to actually look at what I had done and because seeing it, I am now more convinced than ever that what we did was wrong. I was hoping you'd come to the same conclusion."
"That we shouldn't have compromised and brought in the bikers?"
"I was unsure of that myself before today. That's why I went along with the committee on the bikers. I compromised my morals because of expediency. And now, I'm paying for it. Well, here's a big newsflash for you: there is no middle ground, Gordon. You can't get behind using force or the threat of force in certain situations because if you go that far, you've committed yourself for the rest and whatever follows. We fucked up so bad."
Jackie broke in again and said, "If we were defending ourselves that'd be one thing, but this..."
He nodded his head. "Exactly. No, I'm done. This has been way too much ... I'm gonna leave first thing in the morning. It's what I shoulda done two days ago."
"That's a fucking cop out, man, cried Jackie, angry. "Who's gonna get us out of this mess if you leave?"
"There's nothing anyone can do, now. What's done is done." He gazed at the candle flame again and said softly, "You know, all the last ten years, I've worked to bring peace. And since sixty-five, I've spent all my time promoting non-violent means as the answer to bring about the end of the killing in Viet Nam. And now this festival is the highpoint of my career. So what happens? We actually kill people and I helped set it up. I can't deal with this shit."
He looked confused, defeated. I felt sorry for what I had said earlier, and wanted to ease his conscience.
I said softly, "Look, maybe like Reb said, there was no other way. It would have been them or us. And as bad as it seems, as revolted by the whole thing as I am, I'm still damn glad that it isn't any of us laying on that tarp right now. That may be small comfort but it's still a fact. Better them than us."
He shook his head, eyes glistening. "I'd trade with them in a minute if it were possible. I just can't handle it, Gordon, he said quietly. "Intelligent life is sacred. No one has the right to inflict pain or suffering on another person. To willfully take another person's life is the ultimate act against humanity, and ourselves. It's not rational. It puts us back with the animals. It degrades us." He paused and looking up at me now, tears running freely, he went on, "Guys, I wish it was different, but there isn't anything you, me or anyone can do to change the situation. It's just too late." He laughed sorrowfully, "No, resurrections out of the picture. Fuck, I just cannot live with this."
"But Mitch... We didn't kill the people ourselves."
He stared at the candle for several moments, watching the flickering flame, then finally answered.
"But we did, he said, a twisted smile on his face. "There are four bodies laying in a van out there right now that can attest to that. We set it up, so it's the same thing as if I had pulled the trigger myself. But that's probably not even all. Just the tip of the iceberg when you really think about it."
"What the fuck are you talking about?" I asked.
He shrugged, and then said, "What about the ones that OD and die, or maybe just flip out and never come down? Same trip. Still our responsibility. We were the ones that put the festival on and made the dope available. What the fuck's the difference? Blow their brains out with a gun, or give them dope so they can OD and go nuts, or maybe die? You know how many overdoses we've had here?"
Jackie looked at me and frowned. I figured the strain had made Mitch crack. I shook my head, and said to Mitch, "Nope, I dunno. How many?"
"I don't know either, I've never asked. But every time I've walked into the clinic, it's been full. All those poor fucking people. I bet you that two thirds of them are never the same again. I can see it so clearly now. Really, what the fuck's the difference? Susan was right, you know, about acid and all. She used to tell me how she was so against people getting really wasted. Killing themselves a bit at a time, she said. And we, through this rock festival, have promoted that. We've had people blown up and shot dead, and we've encouraged others to try to kill themselves slowly with drugs. What fucking hypocrisy. I think I'm about ready to..."
"Stop it!" Cried Jackie. "Stop this shit right now! Mitch, you've gotta get your shit together, man. If we're gonna get outa this fucking mess in one piece, we need you with your head together." She leaned forward and begged, "C'mon, please?"
He nodded his head. "Yeah, I'll stop it. In fact, like I said, I'm done. Completely and totally. I'm going back to my tent and probably lie awake all night, then tomorrow morning, I'm gonna do what I should have done days ago. I'm gonna leave." He stood up and moved towards the door.
"Bullshit!" I said, shaking my head. "You can't go, Goddammit. We need you, man!"
"I can and I will, Gordon. I can't be a part of this any more. I can't. I've got some serious thinking to do, to come to terms with this. If I ever can come to terms with what we've done." He stopped at the door and turned back to face us. "The best thing I can do is leave." He paused for a moment, and then went on, "Gordon, it was nice knowing you. Stay away from the speed and you'll do fine. Nice knowing you too, Jackie. Either of you're ever down in LA, look me up and I'll pull out some a my hash. Susan's got my address." He took a deep breath. "Later, people." He turned, and stepped out of the door, off into the night.
I slumped back in the booth and stared after him.
Jackie looked at me and after a few moments, said, "Gordon, we are in some god awful deep shit. What the fuck are we gonna do now?"
Staring out into the night beyond the doorway, I shook my head. "I dunno."
"Mitch was the one that really made this place go."
"Can you handle the bikers?"
I shook my head again. "I dunno what I can do."
"How about Walt? Can we get him to deal with them?"
"He's leaving tomorrow morning."
"Oh, shit. That means you're gonna be in charge of everything then. Somebody's gotta be in charge!"
"It's all falling apart, Jackie. I don't think anyone's gonna be in charge any more."
She laid her head on my shoulder and clung to me. We sat there silent for some time, and I studied the flame of the candle and the wax as it ran down the bottle into the multi-colored pools in the saucer at its base.
About five minutes later, one of the bikers stuck his head in the door, looking us over. He disappeared, then a few moments later, Reb was there. Jackie stiffened when she saw him and clutched me tighter.
Reb stepped inside, and inspected us, concentrating his gaze on Jackie. He looked at me and said, "Damn fine looking bitch you got. So Mitch took off, huh? Told one a my guys he couldn't handle this shit."
I nodded head, and said, "Yeah, something like that, I guess. He's gonna split tomorrow morning."
Reb smiled. "Yeah, pussy motherfucker. No fucking balls like the rest of you college pukes." He reached across the table, picking up the beer Mitch had left, and taking a big swig. He went on, "So who's running this place now?"
I shook my head. "I dunno. Maybe you, I guess."
He stared at me, and took another swig of the beer. "You guess, huh?"
Jackie was pushing on me. "Gordon, let's get out of here, she said, under her breath. "Please!"
I looked at Reb and he was gazing at Jackie, his stained teeth looking yellow in the light of the candle still burning on the table. I stood, and helped Jackie out of the booth, and she clung close to me.
To Reb, I said, "We're gonna leave now. You took care of the bodies, right?"
"Hey, that's what we're here for, right? Us Shifters are here to serve." He laughed, "You fucking pussies. Citizens. Can't handle a little blood. You're all the same. Got your big plans, but if the going gets tough, who you gonna call? You call us to do your fucking dirty work, that's who. Shit... I could take you out there right now and slit your throat, and it wouldn't mean diddley to me. And you'd probably let me too, wouldn't you? Hey! What you staring at cocksucker?" He sneered. I quickly averted my eyes. He went on, "How about you, honey?" "Why don't you ditch this sack a shit pussy and I'll show you what a real man's like. Wanna fuck? Maybe suck my dick?" He reached towards her and she screamed.
"Hey man!" Roared the voice of Gentleman Jim, who had come up just outside the door and had overheard. "Show some class, huh? I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?" He asked Reb, who dropped his hand and moved back from us a little. He looked at Jackie, clinging to me, tears streaming down her face, crying softly. "Now little lady, I seem to have to apologize for my associate again. No manners at all. Why don't you two just leave, and let us go about our business. C'mon, it'll be all right. And what happened earlier? Not a word to anyone, huh. Don't want to see anyone else get hurt, right?"
I stepped forward past Reb, and then with Jackie following, we left. Gentleman Jim nodded at us as we passed.
As soon as we had rounded the side of the money trailer, Jackie pulled me to her, and asked quickly in a sobbing voice, "Where are we gonna go? What are we gonna do? We can't stay here."
I shook my head. "C'mon, let's go back to my place. Susan's there. C'mon, it's gonna be okay. It's gotta be."
I felt her nod her head. Still clinging to me, we started walking towards the bowl and the sanctuary of my tent.
Once again, there was a light on in my tent when we approached. Shaky from the adrenaline and the remnants of speed in my system, I stood at the door. Letting go of Jackie's hand, I unzipped it and stepped in.
On the floor sat Susan and Candy, both fully clothed with legs crossed, giggling. Between them was a half-full bottle of wine sitting next to the electric lantern. A couple of empty bottles lay beside them. Upon seeing me, Susan angrily slurred, "So you finally made it, huh? Oh, and you brought your other girlfriend with you, too. How convenient."
"Other girlfriend? What the fuck are you talking about?" She sounded drunk. Very drunk. I sent a burning look in the direction of Candy, who was smiling maliciously, then turned back to Susan. I said, "Susan, I want you to prepare yourself..."
"Save it!" Susan shouted, holding up her hand. Swaying uncertainly, and slurring her words drunkenly, she went on, "I find out from Candy that you and her've been doing it right along, with you lying to me about it. And now you bring Jackie back here too, and you've probably lied to me about her. Why? Why did you do this to me? Why did you have to lie to me?"
Before I could answer, Candy broke in. "I'm sorry Gordon, she said, frowning. "I had to tell her about us. I couldn't hardly face myself anymore, it was tearing me all up inside."
"You low-life slut, I said in a low voice, sitting down next to Susan. Quickly, I went on, "I haven't done shit with you. What is all this fucking bullshit?"
"Gordon, it's okay, said Candy smiling sweetly. "I told her all about us, y'know, making it here in the tent, and about the times we did it down by the river. You took me to that spot where you and her went. Had all those bushes with the little white berries on them, right? We lay there on the grass and balled for hours. Don't deny it. It just makes it worse. Why all the time we...
"Shut up, Goddammit! Just shut the fuck up right now!" I shouted, cutting her off. Fuming, I turned to Susan and said, "You can't believe this shit? I haven't done anything with her, and that's the goddamn truth." The anger welled up within me and I quickly said, "Fuck this shit. You wanna know what's up? I'll tell you what's up. The rip-off came down. Four people are dead! D-e-a-d. How's that for a mindfuck?"
Her eyes widened and her face became a grimace of pain. She shrilled, "Oh, God no!" She started sobbing hysterically, and leaned against Candy. Candy pulled her close, resting Susan's head on her shoulder, and began rubbing her back.
Seeing Susan turn to her for comfort made me even more angry. I said to Candy, "And you! I've had enough of your bullshit. You've caused way more trouble than you're worth. I want you to pack your shit and leave, now!"
Candy looked at me defiantly, and sneering, said, "Fuck you! I got as much right to be here as you do." She hugged Susan closer.
I shouted, "Like fuck! This is my girlfriend, my tent, and you'll do as I fucking well say!" I grabbed Susan's arm and tugged her away from Candy. Susan slapped me, stinging my cheek.
"No!" Susan screamed. "Leave me alone. She's not going anywhere!" She sat up wobbling, bracing herself against Candy. She took a long pull from the wine bottle, and then looked up at me, eyes full of tears, and angrily slurred, "She's staying. She's my friend. I trust her. Almost like I trusted you, you sonofabitch." She held the wine bottle up, studying it, and said, "No, if anybody oughta leave, it's you and that bitch, she said nodding at Jackie. She took another long drink, tears making tracks down her cheeks. Swallowing, she continued, "This is too fucking intense. I think I'm just going to pretend you're not here and finish off this wine. If I drink enough, maybe I can forget what you just told me, and what you've done behind my back."
"This is fucking bullshit!" I shouted at Susan. "Get off that shit. You're gonna get drunk?" Her eyes widened and I went on, "What the fuck are you doing so god awful drunk? What the fuck are you doing, Susan? You wanna get fucked up? C'mon. Let's take some more acid then, a whole bunch. We'll get fucked up together and you can screw me and Jackie both, Candy too. Be just like last night, huh? You wanna screw Jackie, Candy? She's got some nice legs, huh? Bet you'd really love to get in between them, right? Susan and I can watch. Hell, where's Janie? We'll get everyone going, have a real fuckathon! That make you happy, Susan?" I grabbed her arm turning her towards me and shouted, "What the fuck has happened to you? You were always so calm and rational, so dependable. You meet this chick from Yakima, and you go fucking nuts. And now you're dead fucking drunk. Where the hell's your head, lady? You want..."
"Stop!" She screamed, drawing back from me. She held up her hands, sobbing, "Stop! Just shut up! I don't want to hear any of this shit. I can't stand it. I just can't fucking stand it." Candy put her arm over Susan's shoulder. Susan paused, sniffing and sobbing, then slurring her words badly, continued, "Who the hell are you to criticize me for drinking? I can do whatever I want to. Oh, yeah, you think you're so fucking perfect, do everything just right, it makes me sick. So how much speed have you had today, huh, mister eighteen-year-old whiz kid, head of Rio del Sol security? Isn't he cool, Jackie? Gordon's a powerful man, you know that? Mr. Big. Never does anything wrong, no missteps ever. Knows exactly how much drugs to take for every occasion. Just perfection and a big pecker. Do you like fucking him, huh?"
Jackie looked like she wanted to vanish. I turned back to Susan and cried, "We haven't done anything. Goddammit, I want you to..."
"I said shut up, asshole!" She screamed, shaking with anger. "Bullshit, Gordon, I know what I see. You lied to me about Candy, and you lied to me about her." She nodded at Jackie. "Shit, you make me wanna puke. Candy told me what you guys did. The first time was right out in front of the tent, wasn't it? She lay in your arms and you got her off, then she blew you. Mister Perfection. It's all a front. You're a goddamn fake. Everything's alright in moderation, huh?" She held up the bottle again. "Well this is moderation too, Gordon. Me, maybe I'm drunk, but I feel damn good, like I finally know what I'm doing. I'm gonna try this a lot from now on. Maybe I can find the perfect high just like you."
I shook my head in wonderment, saying, "You're fucking nuts."
"Uh uh. No way. I like it, and I like Candy. She's a good friend. And she's awful good in bed, but then you already know that, don't you?" She laughed, eyes still streaming tears, very angry and very drunk. Candy leered at me, eyes almost closed, her hand on Susan's leg.
"I don't have time for this shit. I come here looking for some comfort and understanding, I get this shit. What the fuck is with you? Why are you trying to hurt me?"
"Because you hurt me, asshole, she said, eyes burning with fury. "You lied to me. Then you brought me here, let your friend force acid down me. Then after that's over, you forced more drugs down my throat. And then you lied some more." She shook her head, a pained look on her face. She said, "You and Jackie get out of here. I want to be alone." She turned back to Candy, resting her head on Candy's shoulder.
"You fucking bitch!" I said slowly. "Go ahead, maybe you should sleep with your fucking girlfriend, cradle robber. Me, Im outa here. And I'm not gonna be back. I want you out of here by Tuesday morning, when I come to get the tent." I paused, and then said, "I hope I never see your fucking face again, 'cause if I do, it'll be way too soon."
Susan looked back at me and said nastily, "Go on, get the fuck out of here, you're disturbing me. I'll be outa here by Tuesday morning. You'll get your stupid tent back."
Breathing hard with my rage, I started gathering up my belongings. I handed my sleeping bag to Jackie, and then shouldered my pack and we left.
Jackie and I stood in front of the tent, leaning on each other. She put her hand on my back, and said softly, "I'm sorry, Gordon. You want to come back to my tent? Or if you want, we can take the bags and go out in the woods."
I drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, then said, "I don't give a shit. C'mon, let's get the fuck out of here."
I took her arm and we walked off towards the gate.
We ended up sleeping in her tent. We were too tired to go any further. The speed I had taken had all worn off, and I was a jittery, spaced mess. Fortunately, Jackie had some reds, so we each took two each, kissed chastely, then fell asleep a short time later.