Billy F. Marlin
Last week, of all things, I, the great Casanova of the North Valley, Billy F. Marlin, oh so quietly turned thirty-six. The big three-six was too close to over the hill. That birthday forced me to notice my long, straight, surfer-blond hair was thinning. Last month, holy shit, I found three strands of gray in my silky blonde mustache and one in my goatee. Unnoticed during the last year, my skin had turned from the healthy tan of my youth to a humbling pallid gray. My jet-black eyes were glazed and dull, probably from smoking too much pot. My good life was catching up with me. My devil-may-care lifestyle was tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “you’re getting older, Billy. You’re no longer a spring chicken.”
All week I’d ignored that naggy little voice. I’m only as old as I feel. I’m in my prime. I looked at myself in my chipped wall mirror and flexed. As a result of working out every day at the Marysville Fitness Center, I admired my perfectly formed biceps and patted my rippled, flat stomach. My first fitness objective was to keep my body looking good, but mostly the fitness center, along with Clancy’s Bar and Grill, was my place to find what me and the boys called babes.
One week after my pivotal, I’m-getting-older birthday I sat mesmerized on my avocado green, poly-vinyl couch. I held a cold beer in one hand, while the other hand fondled one of the budding breasts of my latest score, Tammy Fae Ballinger. In front of me in living color, though only thirteen inches of color, on a matching green plastic milk crate I’d borrowed from Safeway, I watched my number-one entertainment; daytime television.
Next to the couch sat an empty cardboard box on which to set my beer. The box, TV, couch and milk crate were the only pieces of furniture in my dinky living room. My two-room cabin was nestled in a quiet little out-of-the-way corner of town, backed up to busy interstate seventy. What else could a red-blooded American guy want?
The television story of the never-ending rain sparked my interest. The newscaster’s dire predictions of flooding gave me hope of future income, but what really caught my attention, what had me staring with open mouth wonder, was the television news anchor’s, what me and the boys at Clancy’s so fondly called hooters.
I saved that special term for only the most perfectly chested women. The news anchor, Yamelda Keating, was at the front of the line on my short list of perfect babes.
She yelled over the pounding rain, “water level at the Yuba and Feather River junction is nine feet above normal.” The camera panned a familiar part of the river. It was a stretch we’d all seen too many times.
In the late afternoon, with the help of glaring lights on the chocolate waters, the camera picked up the obvious; the river was less than three feet from the top of the levee.
The news anchor leaned forward and pointed at the churning mud. “I’m standing across from the exact spot where three years ago a hundred-year flood undermined the levee. It sent half of the town of Marysville under ten feet of water for the entire month of February.”
I didn’t hear a word. Between shots of the river and a weakening levee, I waited for the camera to pan back to her chest, especially since she was leaning over with that low cut blouse. I wondered just how it would feel to latch onto the Keating babe’s lip-smackin’ tits. Ya-melt-a has tits to die for. It was a nickname I’d given her last year during the intermission of a drunken Raiders game and it stuck.
“Billy,” squeaked Tammy. “Don’t squeeze so hard, you’re hurting my nipple.”
“Sorry.” I released her little nib.
I longed for the full body of a mature woman. I was tired of the little teenagers, the only women I seemed to score. I’d been told I was good looking, but that dark brown birthmark the shape and size of Poland stretching up my neck and lower right jaw was more than troublesome. It left me with a huge handicap when it came to babes. The goatee covered some of the birthmark, but not enough. My one missing front tooth –in a dentist’s nightmare of a mouth— didn’t help.
Hell, I’m thirty-six, got an iron body, I can press two-eighty. I got money. What more could a good lookin’ babe like Ya-melt-a want?
I liked sex with Tammy as I’d liked sex with every other little twit I’d been with in the past fifteen years, but somewhere deep inside was a seed of discontent. Something was not being satisfied, not being taken care of and I was sure Ya-melt-a would be just the woman to fill in that huge hole in my life. If I could have her for just one night. Maybe only an hour. Hell, fifteen minutes is all I’d really need to get straight.
Harry S. Trunk
I stood military straight in a fully vested, dress-for-success Armani navy blue suit. The three gold nuggets attached to my tie clasp had been found in the very river I was looking at. The clasp gripped my solid light blue tie exactly sixteen inches from the top button of my blue and white striped silk shirt. My dark blue slacks were precisely creased and cut to fall exactly in the center of my spit-shined wingtip shoes.
With professionally manicured hands folded behind me, fingers nervously twirling a pencil, I look through my window with twelve-inch tall gold lettering that spelled out my name for all to see; Harry S. Trunk. Through the glass, I saw the rising waters of the mighty Yuba. I stood four stories up in the tallest building in Marysville, directly over the very levee that had given the south side so much trouble three years ago, three years earlier and two years before that.
The north side of the levee had been reinforced and strengthened with concrete fifty years ago. The mighty Yuba never flooded the more affluent side of town, but the Yuba inundated the first floor of my building and my sixty slum houses so many times over the years I’d lost count.
Floods and threats of floods happened many times over my fifty-seven years. I’d seen much come and go in my little town of Marysville, but I could take to the bank the certainty that the river would flood. The only pressing question was, would it flood this year? I needed the flood.
The only thing out of place in a vision of corporate perfection was my cue-ball head, a flattened nose I’d acquired in a grammar school tussle and one glass eye which never quite pointed in the right direction. The glass eye was the very thing I blamed whenever I failed in negotiations with fellow businessmen. Everyone seemed so distracted by its wanderings.
I chewed a toothpick that twirled and flipped between my lips more rapidly with every inch of rising water. I gauged the nervousness of my day with the number of toothpicks I’d shredded. That day I’d chewed twenty-two to a pulp.
I wasn’t afraid that the thirty days of a solid downpour would cause the levee to flood. I wasn’t nervous because all sixty of my slum tenements were on the weak side of the levee. I wasn’t concerned that they might be inundated with the muddy waters of the Yuba. I was more afraid that the river might not flood.
Marie “Bunny” Ollinski
I sprinted across the parking lot trying my best to miss the deeper puddles. I wasn’t going to soak my new socks and be forced to work another shift in wet feet. I was about as tired of the rain as anyone in or around Marysville could be, but I had to get to work and my boss forbade his employees from parking close to the restaurant.
The torrents of rain decided to get stronger as I reached midpoint of the huge Lyndon B. Johnson municipal parking lot. Only Marysville would dedicate the crappy back street lot to our forty-third president.
While I strained to see more than ten feet beyond my Day-Glo umbrella, the rain turned to a wall of water.
Three quarters of the way across the lot, I felt wetness under my sneakers and gave up any hope of dry feet. At the very same moment, a gust of wind whipped my umbrella inside out. With a shift in resolve, I made a beeline sprint for the stark single light of the back door. I yanked on the rotting wood door and leapt inside. A warm blast of air hit my wet face.
“Hey Bunny,” called Sandy, my gum-popping co-worker as she picked up and balanced a huge platter of food in each hand. She bound into the chaos of the restaurant.
Jack, my boss, yelled from the kitchen, “Get your butt in gear, Ollinski, we’ve got a full house.”
I pulled my destroyed new umbrella closed and hung it and my rain slicker on the row of spikes nailed to the wall. I took a quick glance at the clock and read four-forty-seven.
Sandy rushed back from the main floor. “I need help, Marie. See what you can do with that disaster you call hair and get out here.”
I stepped inside the closet-sized employee bathroom and looked in the mirror at my limp bleach-blond hair. I almost cried. I’d worked more than two hours on my new style. All that was left of it and my creative two hours were three bobby pins and a limp yellow ribbon.
The hair dryer came out in a flash. I worked frantically, if not to revive the new style at least to salvage what was left in my remaining twelve minutes.
While teasing my drying hair, I glanced at the small amount of makeup around my eyes and grimaced at the smeared mess the manufacturer had guaranteed was waterproof.
Still drying my hair with one hand, I pulled some of the stiff institutional toilet paper out and wiped away the color.
At that very second, for the first time in my life, I saw them. “Oh my god,” I gasped. Horror struck, I set the drier and toilet paper in the sink. My right hand came up. I traced their horrible, ugly path. “I’ve got crow’s feet,” I murmured with a whine into the mirror. “I’ve got wrinkles.”
It hadn’t exactly been a great day. I’d felt like crying since I woke up, but wrinkles? It was my first lines in an almost perfect, you-could-be-in-the-movies face. I was looking at my first marks of age. I glanced at the clock and had only five minutes to consider the implications. Crying about getting old would have to wait. Whining about going over the hill was not an option. I had to earn a living and feed my two kids. There was no one else out there who would, including that sleaze of an ex-husband, Jake-the-snake.
At one minute to five, still soggy shoed, I stepped out of the bathroom, unbuttoned the top button of my blouse and walked onto the floor of the locally famous, Torez family Mexican Restaurant. The fifty-table room was packed and the crowd looked agitated. That fact never entered my conscious mind, but later I remembered something was awry.
CHAPTER #2 YA-MELT-A
I knew nothing of Billy Marlin’s fascination with my stunning body parts. If I had, I probably would’ve taken that job in Fresno last September. Fact is, I knew nothing of the hundreds of Billy Marlins out there in television land drooling over my famous –-though secretly enhanced– orbs. I didn’t go under the knife for all of those salivating pubescent wonders to ogle me. I did it for my goddamn career. Look where it got me, stuck in a jerkwater town in a dead-end job. All the networks could offer me was Fresno? God, I hated Fresno even more than this piece of crap little dipshit town.
For the second time that day, I stood under the roll-out canopy, next to the network motor home, atop the Yuba River levee, waiting for the crew to put the finishing touches on the setup. I looked across the river at greater downtown Marysville and the tallest building in town. Back lit by the only light shining on the top floor of the building, I saw the shadow of a man. Was he looking at me? I wanted to flip him off. He was inside his warm, dry office, while I was forced to stand in the downpour. I knew who he was. I knew all too well about Harry Trunk and I didn’t like anything about the slippery bastard.
“Okay, Yamelda,” yelled Buster Klouse, my producer.
I turned toward the crew. “Okay, what?”
“Somebody give me a goddamn umbrella.”
I stepped into the downpour and walked twenty feet to the inside edge of the levee. The floodlights came on and I looked over at the camera, microphone in hand.
Buster rocked to the rhythm of the countdown as he held one finger up. All I could hear was the thundering rain, so I waited for him to make a last rocking motion and point.
The second the little red camera light flicked on, I shifted from my, get-me-out-of-this-fucking-downpour grimace to that famous Yamelda Keating worried television smile. I did what I knew how to do best.
“We’re standing across from the very section of the levee that gave way and flooded our fair city three years ago.” I turned and pointed at the opposite bank, then down at the boiling water less than a foot from the top of the levee. I dutifully read the prompter so smoothly it sounded like the sentences were coming from my own thoughts. I reported about the levee, the water, the weather conditions and possible damages if the levee decided to give way again. My last sentence on the prompter before the live broadcast was over and I could get out of that goddamn downpour, was, “We’ve had two levee breaks in the last six years. This may be a third. We’ve suffered without the protection of a flood dam because our neighbors upstream want to preserve a silly little waterfowl area. Come on fellow Sacramento Valley residents, let’s get busy and build ourselves a dam so this problem won’t plague our fair city again.”
The camera and lights went dead. I ran twenty feet, ducked under the RV canopy, handed the umbrella to Buster and raced up the three steps into the warm, dry motor home.
Sylvia handed me a towel. I patted my face and hair carefully so as not to mess my makeup. “Jesus, no one should be out in this rain and no one should be forced to do an on-site newscast on a day like this.”
“Eits yer job,” Sylvia said in her heavy south of the border accent. I had no idea what part of Mexico Sylvia came from nor did I care.
“I resent doing the news in this little shit-kickin’ town.”
“Some days yous gets breaks.”
“Some kind of national news story would give me a shot at the bigs. Something juicy. I need something hot.”
“Yous needs breaks.”
“No shit, but there are no mass murders or spectacular plane crashes. There’re no drive-by gang shootings or riots. There are definitely no earthquakes or even any big fires. There is nothing in this crappy little town except for a car crash now and then and not even a multiple car crash. We have petty thieves and their opposites, the cops and this never-ending, goddamn downpour. I’m so tired of the rain.”
I watched the crew break down getting soaked in the process. Suddenly, the water surged and crested the top of the levee. When it spilled over it covered the crew’s feet.
I pointed out the window at the rising water and screamed, “The camera should be on this.” I swung the door open, stepped down into the muddy syrup and made sure the camera was rolling. Never one to shirk any possibility of breaking news, I hefted my umbrella and stepped away from the van. The lights followed me.
“The water has swelled,” I shouted with a horrified excitement in my voice. I pointed at the ground. “The water is pouring over the levee.” I sloshed sideways making sure I was still in view of the camera. To hell with my hair and screw the makeup, this was where I felt alive. I wasn’t reporting the news, I was the news.
I paced a ten-foot arc, splashing through the muddy water, continuing a constant monologue about what happened, speculating on what might happen, while the five-man crew scrambled to pack the gear. My arms swung. My face aglow. I watched Buster for any indication of when he’d had enough. I could go for as long as he wanted. There was an endless amount of verbiage I could throw at the camera.
A bright flash of lightning struck. A deep-throated rolling thump lifted me four inches into the air. Was it a quake? I braced myself for the tremble. I prepared to drop to my knees. I looked at the camera. No matter what, I was going to continue the monologue. I would dance with the tremor and shift to the subject of earthquakes. I wanted to be the first to report the quake. This broadcast was going to be a doozy.
When I landed, I was off balance. I felt my feet sink into the living earth and I screamed. I looked down and tried to lift a foot. One of my favorite high-heels slipped off. With fear in my expression I looked at the camera and it was still running.
“Buster,” I yelled as the loose mud gripped me. The water rose. It forced me further off balance. I put my hands out to break the fall. I fell to my knees in a foot of freezing water.
“Buster.” I yelled.
When I looked up there was nothing. The huge motor home was gone. The scrambling crew had gone with it. Worst of all, the camera and lights had disappeared. There was the dark silhouette of the four-story building with that single light. Before the water washed me over the edge, I saw the silhouette in the window. It was that sleazeball bastard Harry Trunk.