First, some big news! The Rusty Nail has published an exclusive interview with yours truly, along with three of my poems and three pieces of art. You can purchase and download a digital copy or purchase a hard copy here.
And now... on with the show...
“Welcome back to KBLK. This is the Sandman, takin' you through the black with the blues. It’s 3:30 a.m. and whether you’re just coming in (good for you, Wild Thing) or just heading out (it sucks to be you!), I’ll be movin’ you through it with some soulful sounds. It’s triple threat, double down Tuesday, so for the next little while, you’ll get two from the luscious voice of Etta James, two from that bluesy rocker, Joe Cocker, and a couple from the smooth kid on the scene, Keb’ Mo’. Soak it in, suck it up, and let it ride… you’re with the Sandman on K-black.”
Roger “Sandman” Sandusky flipped the microphone switch and, with a single stroke on the computer keyboard, started the next set of six songs. First in the queue was Etta James, singing “I’d Rather Go Blind.” He smiled at the irony of that. He’d gotten the nickname Sandman from a college girlfriend about a million years ago, it seemed. She called him that because she said his voice - a low baritone that sounded like Sam Elliott but without the drawl - was one that should be telling bedtime stories. His voice was the only thing she liked about him, and he couldn’t blame her. His voice was nature’s way of making up to him the fact that he’d fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down. He and the girl had gotten it on a few times, but it was clear she wasn’t really into him. However, when they were done and the lights were off, she’d keep the questions rolling just to keep him talking. Finally they argued about their relationship, although arguing wasn’t the right term. He talked and cajoled, and she sat there staring at the carpet. Finally he’d raised his voice and said, “Look at me, god dammit!” She’d retorted, “I’d rather go blind!” Then she stormed out of the room and he’d never seen her again.
Throughout his college years people would hear his voice and tell him he ought to be a disc jockey. He finally gave in and did a volunteer stint at the college station. He was a hit, an overnight sensation. It was an odd feeling to walk around campus and hear his name whispered by complete strangers. From college, he hopped around to various radio stations. At first he sort of felt like a con artist, seducing people with his voice when anyone who saw him in public would avert their eyes. But he got used to it. In fact, he grew to love it, grew to love the anonymity while still being part of the crowd.
Etta went on to sing one of his favorites, “At Last.” Sandman reached under the desk for the familiar crumpled brown bag, pulled it out, broke the seal on the bottle that was in it, and poured a shot (“Who am I fooling?“ he thought. “It’s at least a quad shot…”) of bourbon in his coffee mug. The first sip of bourbon went down equally fiery and smooth, as if it was the spirit of Ms. James herself. Ten years ago he’d been hired for the graveyard stint at KBLK and he’d fallen in love with it. He was alone in the booth, pushing music he loved. After his first month there, he’d begun bringing in bottles of bourbon. The invention of the backpack, and the public acceptance of people carrying them everywhere was a marvelous thing, to Sandman’s way of thinking. For the past ten years, six nights a week from 11 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., Sandman was at the switch, swinging the blues and sipping the booze, and that was just all right by him.
Just as Joe Cocker started telling his saucy minx that she could leave her hat on, Sandman heard the soft burring sound and noticed the phone light blinking. He switched the mug to his right hand and reached for the handset with his left. “Y’got the Sandman… do for ya?”
“Hello, Sandman. Nice triple threat tonight. Good choices.”
“Thanks, Ma’am. Whatchya doin’ up? Comin’ or goin’?”
“Neither. I can’t sleep most nights. I catch your show a lot.”
“Glad you’re tunin’ in. But you oughta see about gettin' some sleep. That’s no good.”
“I used to sleep like a baby, but since my son died three years ago, I just haven’t been able to.”
“So sorry to hear that. What happened, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“Hit and run. He was 17, had just graduated and was working the breakfast shift down at Dom’s to make some extra cash for college. Rode his bike there every morning at 4:30. Some asshole flattened him and just kept going.”
“God. How awful. Did they catch the guy?”
“Nope. The cops didn’t have much to go on, just some silver paint that scraped off on his bike. They think whoever did it was drunk.”
Sandman felt the hair on his neck prickle. He took a hefty gulp of bourbon. “What a shame.”
“Shame? It was a fucking tragedy. But, you know what, Sandman? Or, can I call you Roger, or Mr. Sandusky? Three years of sleepless nights gives a person all kinds of time to research, process information, and contemplate.”
The soulful rocker, Joe Cocker, launched into his rendition of “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Sandman felt cold. The bourbon wasn’t warming his blood at all.
“Look, lady… I…”
“You’ve got two and a half more songs worth of time to listen to me, Mr. Sandusky. I suggest you do.”
Sandman tossed back the rest of the bourbon in his glass, swallowed hard, and poured another. “Fine. Lay it on me.”
“You see, Roger Sandman Sandusky, I spent a lot of time watching the road where my son was killed. I’d sit out there from three ‘til five every morning. It’s a mostly deserted road at that time. But guess who drives down that road at 4:40 a.m., six days a week?”
Sandman took another sip, and even though the bourbon was wet, he heard a dry click when he swallowed. “I don’t know what you’re trying to imply, but…I…”
“Shut up, Sandman. Listen. Here’s what else my three years of sleepless research taught me. When my son was killed, you were driving a silver SUV. Records show that you sold it two weeks later for a very low price. Almost as if you were trying to get rid of it. I also know that at 10:30 every night, you go to the E-Z-Duz-It liquor store and buy a bottle of bourbon. Given how relaxed your voice starts to sound throughout the night, I’m guessing you’re into that bottle pretty good by the time you leave work.”
Keb’ Mo’ belied the “Perpetual Blues Machine” with his upbeat rhythm.
“What do you want from me?” Sandman asked, almost in a whisper. His throat felt completely dry.
“Want? I want my son back, you worthless fuck. I know that’s not going to happen. Let me tell you what else I’ve managed to do in three years. I got myself a job working second shift at a liquor store. I’ll let you guess which one. Ever heard of Tetrodotoxin?”
“No… I… holy shit, lady…” Sandman had a vague recollection of some middle-aged brunette behind the counter at the liquor store. He was having difficulty breathing. His lungs felt heavy.
“Tetrodotoxin, also known as TTX, is the poison that comes from puffer fish. It’s highly toxic and pretty much lethal, being that there‘s no known antidote. Also, do you know how easy it is to loosen the seal on a bottle of bourbon, add a few drops of TTX, replace the cork and seal, and then give it to the guy who comes in for the same thing every single day? Oh, it‘s so very easy, Mr. Sandusky. So, so easy. Mr. Sandusky? Roger? Sandman… oh, Saaaaaandman….”
Sandman was slumped forward, phone in his hand, head resting on the table as if he was taking a nap.
Keb’ Mo’ began to warn his woman, “I’m in a dangerous mood…”
The woman’s whisper came through the receiver in Sandman’s hand and into his dead ear, “This one goes out to you, my beautiful boy, Brian. G’night, Sandman.”
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Wendryn gave me this prompt: Sandman. I gave FlamingNyx this prompt: She was tempted to cause a scene...