The sun had not yet shown its face; perhaps it never again would…
Standing ominously against the dreary backdrop of the Chicago skyline was an imposing old building, one that would appear abandoned if not for the gaudy posters plastered across its darkened windows. Each garish printing promised some upcoming concert or play, and every foretelling was a bloodbath of color bled pathetically across the glass.
Only the posters betrayed any hint of perennial life in this run-down palace of an event center; otherwise, this wreck of a building just blended seamlessly into the seedy Chicago city-scape.
Homeless people lounged restlessly beneath the shelter of the front awning, arranging their blankets and cardboard boxes to suit their individual needs. This, it would seem, was the ‘norm’ in this area; the Homeless sleepily arranged their cardboard homeless homes, too outcast to even attract even the notice of the local gang-bangers.
Only one random vagabond rose from his tattered blanket, taking a swig from his pint of cheap liquor as he tottered down the stairs toward the street in front of the event center…
He stopped before a telephone pole, eyeing the cheaply-printed placard nailed to its oaken surface.
Have you seen this man? read the sign.
Upon the printed request was a picture a somewhat corpulent man, balding, and with hair coming out of his ears. Underneath his photo read ‘Last seen at Goldthwaite Center’. The bottom of the paper had a printed phone number, posted by the local detective investigating the disappearance.
The homeless man wiped his bearded face, looking up and down the street. Each telephone pole had the same placard stapled to it; this, it seemed, was the Chicago Police Department’s idea of an ‘investigation’.
Maybe the homeless man just wanted some toilet paper. Or maybe he just happened to have some luckily-scored marijuana, but no rolling papers. Or maybe he just needed to cover up some of the tears in his cardboard box.
At the end of the day…
At the end of the day, it was anyone’s guess as to why he went up and down the street, pulling each sign down and stuffing each one into the pockets of his filthy coat.
At the end of the day, it didn’t matter whether the signs remained posted, or were torn down. The day was still just as bleak, and the theater just as run-down…
And the missing man was still just as missing.
Bobby McGee loved rock n’ roll.
Of course he loved rock music! His mother had named him after Janis Joplin’s iconic song; how much more ‘rock n’ roll’ could a man possibly get? (Granted, Bobby McGee had originally been a woman named ‘Roberta’, since the song had originally been written by the country music icon Roger Miller… but then, Bobby’s mother hadn’t known that at the time of his birth; she was only seventeen at the time, after all.)
Bobby had spent the last twenty years of his life seeking out great concerts wherever he could find them, from Styx to Megadeth, and from Kansas to Godsmack; he was the eternal ‘fan boy’ of all things Raucous and Rebellious. In fact, Bobby might even have been a groupie if not for the fact that he was hairy, short, balding…
And the wrong gender.
Bobby stood in front of his designated seat, straining his neck to watch his new favorite front-man shredding away on his guitar.
Bobby bobbed his head to the music, smiling away as he adjusted his ‘hi-fi’ earplugs. The drummer was pounding the kick drum so hard that Bobby could hardly read the band name printed on it: Death by Volume. This band had sold twenty million albums (or digital downloads thereof) in a mere four years; Bobby mentally recited these numbers with a sense of awe that bordered on reverence. This was the highest-grossing tour of all time, shattering the records set by both Michael Jackson and Guns n’ Roses combined.
Truly, this was an epic evening! He was lucky, Bobby thought, to have scored a ticket.
He pumped his fist vigorously to the savage music, glorying in the sonic hedonism of it all. Above all else, Bobby always looked forward to the next guitar solo; the guitarist/vocalist, Steve Valmer, was his favorite ever! Steve always shredded along at a lightning pace, making it all look so easy as his fingers flew up and down the polished mahogany neck of his ‘axe’. Strobe lights, pyrotechnics, and endless clouds of dry-ice smoke only added to surreal aura of the display
Bobby lowered his fist as the music died for a few minutes.
“HOW’S EVERYBODY DOING TONIGHT?!” roared Steve Valmer into the microphone, pulling his long, blonde hair away from his face. “Y’ALL FEELING ALRIGHT?!”
Bobby roared along with the crowd; his parched throat was aching already, but he didn’t mind.
There was nowhere he’d rather be… than right here!
“I wish my wife was here with me tonight,” said Steve. “But she’s in Brazil right now, shooting a movie. Speaking of which, we’re filming here this evening. So everybody shout with me, ‘HI SADIE’!!!”
Bobby joined the crowd in the deafening greeting, feeling a quiet stirring of envy.
Steve Valmer had married the veteran actress Sadie Lee years before; the couple had two children. Sadie had always been Bobby’s secret crush; redheaded, slender, and beautiful, she’d starred in the Bobby’s favorite film, a psychological thriller called I Have Not Forgotten.
“So…” continued Steve, “our children, Todd and Brielle, are backstage. I asked them if they wanted to come watch Daddy play, and they asked ‘do we have to…?’”
Bobby laughed along with the rest of audience, licking his lips as Steve segued into the band introductions.
Bobby hated to miss any part of the show, but he couldn’t stand his dry throat anymore!
As fast as his chubby legs could carry him, Bobby sprinted up the stadium steps, towards the elevated mezzanine above. It was quieter up here, far removed from the roar of the arena below. The mezzanine consisted of a few merchandise booths, and a lot of bars.
“Tall Budweiser, please…” Bobby panted to the nearest bartender.
Taking the double-deuce can (and paying way too much for it), Bobby turned and half-jogged back towards the steps.
He slowed a bit, ready to begin his downward trek when someone stepped out from behind the nearest merchandise booth.
“I’M sorry!” said Bobby, plowing into the slender woman. “I didn’t see you!”
“It’s okay…” mumbled the woman, adjusting her dark sunglasses and setting her baseball cap back on straight. “I should have watched where I was going.”
Bobby took a step back, eyeing the woman as he clutched his beer can. There was something very, very familiar about her…
“Sadie?” he whispered. “Sadie Lee?”
“Maybe…” said the woman coolly, lowering her glasses and looking back at Bobby with brilliant, bright-blue eyes. “Who’s asking?”
“I… I’m just a fan!” gushed Bobby. “I’ll bet I’ve seen I Have Not Forgotten fifty times!”
“I’m flattered,” said Sadie, smiling. “Usually with guys your age it’s The Crow, or Natural Born Killers.”
“May I have an autograph?” asked Bobby.
“You got a pen?”
“Oh… no…” said Bobby sheepishly. “I can get one from the bartender, though.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Sadie. “I’ll tell you what: If you promise not to tell anyone I’m here, you can watch the show with me from my private box. I’m not exactly in the mood to be mobbed, you know?”
“Of course!” yelped Bobby stunned. “I… I thought you were in Brazil?”
“So I’m told,” said Sadie evenly, motioning with her head. “C’mon, follow me.”
Bobby followed Sadie up the stairs into the VIP section, trying hard not to stare at her rear end. It was hard not to; Sadie was wearing ‘painted-on’ blue jeans, and besides…
It was Sadie Lee’s behind, after all.
I can’t believe this is happening, thought Bobby as he took a draught of beer en route.
Sadie nodded at the two black-clad security guards flanking the door of her private box, and opened the door.
“After you,” she said affably, holding the door open.
Bobby followed Sadie into the booth as one of the guards pulled the door shut behind them.
“Have a seat,” offered Sadie, motioning to one of the over-stuffed chairs.
Bobby sat down in the daze, no longer interested in the concert… and quite unable to break his gaze away from his teenage crush.
“You look as though you’ve just found Jimmy Hoffa!” teased Sadie, baring her sparkling eyes as she set her glasses on the sideboard.
Bobby watched in amazement as Sadie took off her baseball cap, letting her fiery red locks spill down to her shoulder blades.
He took another gulp of beer, bug-eyed…
“Cat got your tongue?” teased Sadie, reaching for a volume knob mounted on the wall. “That’s a cliché, I know, but it always comes to mind when I meet a tongue-tied fan. Here, let’s turn the noise down so we can talk; I’ve heard this performance a hundred times before, anyway.”
Bobby tried to muster the courage to speak; all he could manage was ‘uh…’
“Oh, you guys are all the same!” giggled Sadie, actually slapping Bobby on the knee. “I’m not Queen Elizabeth, man, and even she poops and pees like everyone else! Here, let’s do this like normal people…”
Sadie held out her slender hand, smiling. “I’m Sadie Claire LeFountain, publicly known as Sadie Lee. And you are…?”
Bobby mustered every ounce of his courage…
“I’m… I’m Robert,” he stuttered. “Robert Evan McGee, but my friends call me Bobby.”
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” said Sadie, quoting Janis Joplin as she shook Bobby’s hand and sat down. “There, was that so hard? So do you live in Chicago, Bobby McGee?”
“No, ma’am,” replied Bobby politely.
“You can drop the ‘ma’am’!” interjected Sadie firmly. “‘Sadie’ will do just fine, thank you.”
“Sorry, uh… Sadie,” amended Bobby. “No, I’m from Georgia originally, but now I live in Montana; I manage a hardware store there. I had to take a road-trip to get here, because the closest show to me was in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it sold out before I could get a ticket.”
“A ticket?” asked Sadie, raising a pretty, perfectly-groomed eyebrow. “No girlfriend?”
“No…” blushed Bobby. “I… I’m not good with the ladies, I’m afraid.”
“And yet here you are with me!” giggled Sadie. “Score! What makes finding a girlfriend so hard for you, Bobby McGee?”
“I… well, I don’t meet many women in my line of work, at least not single ones,” blushed Bobby. “They all just come in with their husbands.”
“So you don’t meet women at work. Where do you hang out when you’re not working?” quizzed Sadie.
“Well… I spend my weekends at the Comic Shack, playing Magic, the Gathering…” moaned Bobby, hanging his head.
“Wow!” laughed Sadie. “That’s a crying shame, Bobby McGee. If it makes you feel any better, I find you quite charming.”
“Really?!” chirped Bobby, taking a slug of beer.
“Balding head, beer breath, and all!” chirped Sadie. “Do you know what the curse of being a celebrity is?”
“Nope,” said Bobby.
“It’s always wondering…” said Sadie, her brow furrowing, “who really loves you, and who just wants to use you. It gets harder as you get older. I was twenty-five when I shot I have Not Forgotten; now, I’m two decades older. Oh, I work out and my dieticians monitor every bite I eat; I’m aging better than any middle-class girl ever could… but in the end, will I just be put out to pasture for being too old? Not every girl’s a Meryl Streep, you know.”
“Well…” said Bobby, “would it matter? I mean, you’ve made more great movies than most actresses out there, and I’m sure you never have to worry about money. I mean, why worry about your future when you’ve had such a great past?”
“The Celts believed…” mused Sadie, leaning forward and resting her chin in her hand, “that the gods needed belief – and adoration – to continue their existence. Without such, they had no sustenance, no life-force. The Irish who refused to succumb to Christianity came to believe that the gods – and the faerie-folk with them – disappeared from the world of men, unable to survive the slow decline of worship.”
“I don’t follow…” said Bobby, chugging the last of his beer and setting down the empty can.
“I mean…” said Sadie patiently, “that when one’s entire adult life is judged as a success or failure based on the opinions of others, what happens when the limelight fades? Can one really go on living, or would Existence just then become a mockery of Life? I suspect that one’s breath might then become a mere clock, ticking away toward the end.”
“I suppose I don’t know,” said Bobby tactfully. “I’m just a hardware store manager.”
“And so you are,” said Sadie, wiping away a tear. “Would you care for a drink, Bobby McGee? A nightcap with your old crush, as we watch the last of my husband’s concert? I can get anything you like, and I do mean anything!”
“Aged Scotch?” asked Bobby hopefully. (He was oh-so-fond of well-crafted, aged Scotch whisky, but alas… the expense!)
Sadie smiled as she leaned forward and tapped the intercom button on the sideboard. “Two doubles of Clan McCutcheon!” she ordered. “Served neat, please.”
Bobby’s eye bulged out at that; he couldn’t believe that he’d actually heard someone ordering such an insanely-priced beverage so casually.
Sadie seemed rather contemplative as she waited for the whisky to arrive, so Bobby let her be as he watched the concert winding down. (He did give her the occasional side glance, though, and he was pretty sure that she caught him at it.)
A tuxedo-clad waiter arrived in short order, demurely delivering two tumblers of whisky. Bobby took his with shaking hands, still feeling more than a little dumbstruck by his current situation.
“I told you I could get anything!” said Sadie smugly, raising her glass. “Cheers, my new friend!”
Bobby clinked his glass against Sadie’s, and took an appreciative sip.
“Wow…” he breathed, “I could never afford this!”
“Enjoy your taste of the good life,” said Sadie with a wink. “The spotlight burns out pretty fast, I’m afraid.”
Bobby took another sip as Sadie turned up the volume switch, and rested her chin once more upon her slender hand.
Sadie was obviously intent on enjoying the rest of the concert, so Bobby lapsed into silence. (He was more interested in Sadie than he was the concert, but he tried to be discreet about his staring…)
Sadie’s lingering smirk told him that he wasn’t quite as successful as he wanted to be.
Bobby sipped away at his insanely-priced whisky as the concert rolled towards its spectacular finish.
Steve Valmer played through the finale, exited the stage, and waited as the audience demanded one more song…
Only when the curtain call was finished did the lights finally come back up. Bobby set down his empty tumbler with regret, wishing that he’d asked the waiter to leave the bottle. (Not, of course, that the waiter had actually brought the bottle; Bobby grinned at the ridiculous thought that the bartender probably guarded such beverages with a shotgun.)
“Well, I suppose that’s that…” said Sadie flatly, rising.
She took a few steps back from Bobby, and extended her hand. “It was lovely meeting you, my new friend,” she said brightly.
Bobby rose to shake her hand…
And fell flat onto his face.
“Are you okay?” asked Sadie, with a concerned expression.
Bobby rolled onto his back, eyeing Sadie with slightly-crossed eyes. Her face was blurred now, as grotesque now as it had earlier been beautiful.
“I don’t feel so good…” moaned Bobby.
Sadie knelt over him, brushing her crimson locks away from her porcelain face. “Did you drink too much, honey?” she cooed.
“I don’t think so…” slurred Bobby. “Can you help me up?”
Sadie rose, laughing. “Having trouble walking, are you?”
“Y… Yeah…” moaned Bobby, his head spinning.
“But we had such a lovely time!” giggled Sadie. “You can’t pass out on me, like some random drunk! What kinda date is that?”
“Sorry…” moaned Bobby, his head flopping sideways. “What’s happen… happ… ha…”
Sadie knelt over him, her sky-blue eyes suddenly growing very, very cold.
“You wanna know what’s happening?” she whispered. “Do you really?”
“Y… Ye… uhhh…” slurred Bobby.
“I poisoned you,” said Sadie, with no hint of emotion whatsoever.
“Huuuhhhh…?” wheezed Bobby.
“Shut the hell up!” ordered Sadie. “You’re dying; you can’t talk anymore. Let me tell you something, my adored fan…”
Bobby stared in comatose horror as Sadie rose again, looking scornfully down at him.
“You were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Sadie. “I’m supposed to be shooting a movie in Brazil. That movie’s finished already; it comes out next month. I didn’t like being naked for half the damn thing, but that’s how my world works; you either peddle your ass, or you’re brushed aside. There is very little difference, in the end, between an actress and a prostitute.”
Sadie took a sip of her whisky, and set the tumbler back down.
“In my world…” she continued, “you do as you’re told. I’m supposed to gloriously re-unite with my husband and children in two weeks, and it’ll make headlines; I can’t risk you blowing our fairy-tale reunion scam. People magazine will run a cover story, in which I’ll give an interview about hard it is to balance being both a mother and an actress. My husband will appear on the cover of Rolling Stone, his career pushed forward by the publicity from People. The truth is that I cheat on my husband all the time and nannies are raising my kids, but that’s how it goes; it’s all a game, nothing more. Do you see?”
“Uhhhhh….” gurgled Bobby.
“The truth,” smiled Sadie, “is that I don’t give a rip about my ‘husband’, nor does he about me. We do what we want, whenever we want, and we answer to no one except our own. The only sin we could ever commit is disappointing our handlers, our producers and financiers. As long as we toe that line, we can do whatever else we want. We’re above social expectations, above accountability… even above the law.”
“Thpb…” drooled Bobby.
“We are what everyone longs to be, the New Gods and Goddesses,” intoned Sadie. “Our handlers raise us up, the media heaps praise upon us, and thus we are worshipped. It’s all a charade, a grotesque masquerade; we are the modern Iscariots, the People of the Lie.”
Bobby burped, only dimly noticing that he’d wet his pants.
“It’s all right in front of you,” whispered Sadie, kneeling again. “We’re a complete farce, right out in the open, and hidden in plain sight. We speak in code, and laugh at your kind because you can’t figure out that code.”
Bobby’s vision began to narrow…
“For instance,” smirked Sadie, “‘Served neat’ is code for ‘add a dash of cyanide’. Wanna know another code phrase?”
Bobby puked a little as Sadie rose, and began choking on his vomit as she tapped the intercom button on the sideboard.
“Hello?” she said calmly. “I need a custodian, please. Could you send up Todd?”
Letting the intercom button go, Sadie turned to Bobby.
“‘Tod’ is the German word for ‘death’,” explained Sadie affably. “Get it? It means I just killed someone – again – and I need the body carted off. The custodian will arrive with a covered trash can, stuff your carcass into it, and no one will ever know what became of you. Isn’t that oh so clever?”
Bobby felt his breath slowing down, and his heart beginning to falter…
Sadie knelt over him one last time, and kissed his forehead gently.
“Thank you for watching my movies,” she whispered. “It was truly lovely meeting you, my much-appreciated fan. May there be many more just like you.”
Bobby’s eyes rolled back in his head as Sadie rose; he never saw the door open, or the janitor coming in…
He didn’t feel his neck breaking as the custodian forced him into the narrow trash can, and he felt no trace of shame as his urine was unceremoniously mopped off the floor.
When the mess was finally tidied up, all that had once been Bobby McGee was pushed downstairs with the rest of the refuse.
The sun not yet shown its face; perhaps it never would.
The nameless vagrant finished rolling up his pinch of marijuana, and raised it to his withered mouth. He took an appreciative puff as he lit up his treat, and held his breath to let the much-appreciated drug take effect.
The transient choked a little as he finally released the first cloud of rancid smoke; he leaned against the cold brick wall, already feeling his senses going numb.
As the vagrant took yet another puff, one of his impromptu rolling-papers blew away, idly snatched up by a passing breeze. Only the wind knew what the cheaply-printed placard read, and the wind would never betray the answer to its question…
Have you seen this man?