Be Paranoid Be Prepared

A James Martin Adventure

by Dina Rae

James rolled into his townhouse in the light of day after pulling an all-nighter.  Since dropping out of college, his social life revolved around drugs, booze, and bimbos.  At twenty-two years old, he thought he was living a rock-n-roll fantasy.  The time on the clock brought him back to reality.  Sleep would have to wait.  His shift began at four.James worked at Club Apocalypse, Houston’s leading stripclub, for five months.  His official title was head bouncer.  The bar could be rough, but his hulking stature was enough to detour potential trouble-makers.

As part of the club’s promotion, Wayne, the owner, insisted his staff dress up in different themes throughout the last week of October.  Tonight was zombie night.  James took a quick shower then applied white and green pancake sticks to his face and neck.  He drew black circles around his eyes, looking more clownish than horrific.  His costume was not original, but the effort was there.  A dab of fake blood was smeared over his mouth for a more gruesome effect.

James took a costume break and dumped the rest of his cocaine onto his bathroom counter.  He rolled up a dollar bill, the remains of his cash, and snarfed it up.  His blue eyes brightened.  The rush from the blow staved off his exhaustion.  He hadn’t slept in thirty-six hours and had to make it through a ten hour shift.

A few drops of blood drizzled out of James’s nose.  Not wanting to ruin his make-up, he refrained from wiping his face.  His blood blended with the fake-blood glop.

He finished his monster look by gelling his wavy blonde hair into a double Mohawk.  With green hairspray coloring, he sprayed a skunk line down the center part.  Unsure of what to wear, he opted for an old pair of ripped jeans and a leather biker vest with fringe.  The pants were too big from recent weight-loss.  He grabbed a piece of rope and tied them at the waist to keep from falling.  His last accessory was his trademark necklace of puka shells and shark teeth.  No more scary than usual, he thought.

He wished he had more coke.  Someone was bound to have some at the club.  His new best friend, Big Enchilada, Big for short, would know who to ask.  Big bartended and managed the bar.

James’s job duties consisted of crowd control, checking IDs, protecting the girls from handsy drunks, and whatever task needed.  Wayne, the owner, began training him for other aspects of the business.  James was paid well.  Besides his cash salary, he pocketed incredible tips from seating men in the VIP area and designated dancing tables.  Big Enchilada made even more money.  Neither of them could compete with what the ladies brought home.  A thousand dollars for taking it all off and bouncing on someone’s lap was the nightly average.

James’s father wanted him to graduate from college and work for the family.  His older brother, Adam, was their favorite and first choice for continuing the oil empire, but he left for New York, determined to make it on his own in the financial district.  The torch fell upon James, but he also disappointed his father by dropping out of college.   He claimed that sitting in a classroom all day was too confining, omitting the voices he heard inside of his head since adolescence.  As a grown man, the voices became more audible, more frequent, but he still did not understand.  He feared for his sanity.  Drugs and booze kept the voices away.

His parents grudgingly accepted his decision, even enabling him to live without responsibility.  They gave him one of their vacant townhomes to live in, rent free.  His only bills consisted of the phone, cable, and food.  Despite his advantages, he was piss poor broke.

James arrived to work early.  With exception of Wayne’s red Porsche and Big Enchilada’s Harley, Club Apocalypse’s parking lot was empty.  The doors were locked for another hour.  James let himself in with his new set keys, proud to have the owner’s trust.

“James, my boy, glad you’re here.  Be the first to sample my latest concoction.”  Big Enchilada slid a tall glass of clear liquid with red swirls in front of an empty bar stool.

James took a seat and gulped it down.  He admired Big Enchilada’s festive costume.  “Who are you supposed to be?  Frankenstein?  Thought this was zombie night,” James said.

“I’m a green zombie, you moron.  Is it the suit?  Because I’m big-boned?  Nevermind.  You still haven’t told me what you think of the drink.  How ‘bout Brains?” Big Enchilada asked.

“Big-boned?  Is that the p.c. way to phrase your…physique?  Never seen a big-boned zombie,” James said with a smile.  He knew Big Enchilada well enough to bust his chops.  “Ah, this is spectacular!  A masterpiece!  Keep ‘um coming.  And the name…Brains.  A sure-fire seller.  I’ll put it up on the chalkboard with the rest of the specials.  Four bucks?”  Big nodded.  “Looks like veins and tastes like sweetened vodka.”  James hoped the strong drink would slow down his heart and racing mind.

“Should be crowded tonight.  Amateur night plus Halloween week…” Big reasoned.

“Damn!  Forgot about that.  Throw in that it’s 1999, and all hell could break loose,” James interrupted.

Big Enchilada scratched his stubble underneath his double chin.  “You’re right.  Vince, Gary, and Kathy aren’t scheduled until nine.  And Wayne’s worthless.  He’s up there right now with Christine.”

Both shook their heads in disgust.  Wayne was notorious about using the girls like his private harem, dangling their jobs over their heads as incentive to keep him satisfied.  The girls often told Big Enchilada the more perverse highlights.  Despite their repulsion, they went along.  There was too much money at stake for them to get self-righteous.  Those who had been there for a while took advantage of their position, expanding their services to their favorite clientele after hours.  Wayne was just another john.  To the new and naïve, Wayne was the devil.  Eventually, they learned.  Exotic dancing had a way of hardening them up.

“You think he’ll come down from his throne and help us out if it gets too crowded?”  James asked.  Big Enchilada shook his head.  “Got a favor to ask…Do you know where I can score some blow?”

“C’mon, James.  Look at yourself.  You’ve lost at least twenty pounds since you’ve started working here.  You need to take it easy on that stuff.  Juan is making burgers and wings for the buffet tonight.  Why don’t you go back there and get something to eat,” Big Enchilada suggested.  “Don’t you want to go to work and make money?  Maybe pay your bills?”

“Big, appreciate your concern, but I’m a big boy and I’m fine.  Can you hook me up or not?” James curtly replied.

“I suppose, but don’t want to.  Guess you’ll hear it from someone else.  Rumors going around about the new girl.  Heard she got a hold of a few oz.s.  She’ll be here any minute,” Big said, shaking his head.

On perfect cue, Debba pounded on the door seconds later.  The bus she took pulled away from the corner.  She was dressed in an overcoat and sky-high heels, wearing opaque green tights and fishnet stockings.  James drooled.  She took off her coat and hat, revealing her bleached hair and an orange teddy.  Her heavy green skin makeup and blood red lips looked much more sexy than scary.

“You look great,” James stuttered.

“Yeah, I’ll be in the dressing room.”  Debba rushed past him.

“Wait!” James hastened his step to catch up with her.  “Listen, I heard you might have some blow.  Could really use some right now.   I’ll pay you at the end of shift.”

Debba nodded and invited him into the dressing room.  She dug through her purse and handed him a seal.  “It’s over a gram.  I want a hundred by close.”

James readily agreed to her price.  Wayne paid them on a nightly basis.  She knew he was good for the money.  Unfortunately for James, amateur night had no preferential seating arrangements, taking away any extra income.  He’d still have enough to cover his debt.

Minutes before the doors opened, Christine and Debba sat at the bar and enjoyed their complimentary Brains cocktails and listened to Big Enchilada’s jokes.  Juan, the cook, was setting up platters of food for the free happy hour buffet.

Two big cowboy types and their women were already lined up at the door.   The women were dressed like zombie hookers, undoubtedly wanting to give the pole and stage a try.  They thrusted, humped, and twirled while waiting for the club to open.  Neither woman was particularly attractive.  That was what amateur night at Club Apocalypse was all about-getting drunk and naked in public and feeling like a Playboy centerfold.

James unlocked the doors and Big Enchilada peddled his drink special.  The place quickly filled up.  Wayne occasionally popped in and watched the crowd grow.

“At this rate, we’re going to need more people,” Big Enchilada suggested.

Wayne dismissed his request.  “We got others coming in at nine.  Most are here for the free food.  It will be alright.”

Big Enchilada and Christine kept the drinks flowing while James handled the door.  Debba took the stage.

It was time.  Debba grabbed the microphone.  “Welcome to Club Apocalypse, y’all.  Let’s give a big hand to all of the ladies that came out to entertain us this evening.”  Applause followed with hoots and hollers throughout the room.  “Y’all help yourself to the free buffet over by the bar.  Miller bottles are two bucks and Brains are four bucks.  Ya ready to rock?”  Again, the crowd applauded and cheered.  “I’m Debba Goes-Down and I’ll be preparing these lovely ladies for a night of dancing.  Love the costumes.  Those of you who didn’t dress up, don’t be afraid.  This is all about taking it off!”  Debba paused for more cat-calls, whistles, and rowdy comments.

Smiling, she wrapped up her introduction.  “There’s a sign-up sheet being passed around.  Please sign up as the name you want me to announce.  It might surprise some of you that my name, Debba Goes-Down, is not my real name.  Don’t tell anyone.”  She laughed as did the audience.  “So be creative.  This is your night.  Big Enchilada is giving away some terrific prizes-best dancer, best costume, best at the pole, best lap, and I’m sure he’ll think of some other categories.  Again, thanks for coming out.  I’m going to start the party by giving you ladies some ideas on what to do up here.  Hit it, James.”

James hit the play button of the surround sound stereo.  Pour Some Sugar on Me blared throughout the bar.  Debba wrapped her long, limber legs around the pole, contorting herself in all kinds of positions.  She displayed gymnastic-like flexibility as she rolled around the stage.  The crowd howled, excited to be there.  Once her song was over, she encouraged small groups of amateurs to get on the stage.  She demonstrated some easy tricks on the pole, hip rotation, kicks, and moving from the stage to the tables.  Several songs later, all of the participating women were finished with their training session.

Debba loosened the amateurs up with free shots and encouraging words and Big Enchilada gave away Club Apocalypse t-shirts away.  The place was jammed with no more available seating.  Wayne refused to turn additional customers away.  Dozens stood in the back, watching the women transform into strippers.

James didn’t know if it was the cocaine or the large crowd, but paranoia overwhelmed him.  “Big, it’s not even seven o’clock yet.  Did you call Vince or Gary?  Maybe ask them to come in early?  What’s their numbers?  I’ll do it.  We can’t wait until nine.”

“I asked Wayne earlier…I’m gonna call them anyway.  Go get Wayne.  He needs to help out.  I can’t keep up,” Big Enchilada ordered.

James recruited the owner from his office.  He grudgingly helped tend bar.  James helped Christine serve the tables, and Debba announced the stripping solos.

One by one the Houston women grew braver, bolder, and more provocative.  About midway through the long sign-up list, a woman, one of the first to arrive, took off all of her clothes, posing in positions that showcased her lady crevices.  Loving the attention, she leapfrogged across the front row tables.  James worried about her falling.  He wormed his way through the crowd and carried her away.  She was wasted.

The next woman, also one of the first to arrive, upped the ante in risky performances.  Not to be shown up, she also took off all of her clothing except her garters and garter belt.  She was the first of the amateurs to straddle the men seated by the stage, grinding them and arching her back as if she was simulating what she would be like in the bedroom.

James was more concerned with the big cowboy who escorted her into the club.  The man predictably looked hurt and jealous.  His woman hopped on and off strangers’ laps, enamored with the male attention.  Men were sticking dollar bills in her garters and garter belt.  James moved toward the tables.  A couple of other amateur dancers joined in with the show and erotically straddled the male patrons.

James moved in.  He was inches away, but split seconds too late.  One of the big cowboys stood up and decked the latest recipient of his woman’s lap dances.  His friend followed suit.

The rowdy but peaceful crowd turned ugly.  And as James feared, they were outnumbered.  Even if the other bouncers came in early, things wouldn’t have changed.  James desperately looked at Big Enchilada.  Rock songs played while the men beat each other to a pulp.  Some fought out of jealousy, some for defense, while the rest fought because they liked to feel part of a barroom brawl, because that’s a fun night in Texas.

Higher than a kite, James tried to focus.  The scene reminded him of a Michael Jackson Thriller video with everyone dressed like zombies and monsters.  James turned his head and saw Wayne on the phone, probably 911.  Big was standing on the bar, loading a shotgun.  He pointed it towards the ceiling and fired, as he had done before.  The warning shot usually got everyone’s attention.  But not this time, not today.

The cowboy who threw the first punch of the night reacted to the gunshot by drawing his gun.  He aimed it at Big Enchilada then pressed the trigger.  James could almost follow the trajectory.  Bull's Eye.  Blood, skin, hair, bone.  All of it splattered over the mirrors and back bar.  Big Enchilada had no face.  His body slumped to the floor in slow motion.

James shrieked, but his voice sounded far away.  He barreled his way through the crowd.  But before he could reach his faceless friend, Debba came out of nowhere, wearing her overcoat with purse in hand.  “Forget it!  He’s dead!  You gotta get me out of here before the police show up!”

He paused.  She was right.  James had a few warrants out for his arrest along with a month left of probation.  His involvement would only mean more trouble.  He threw his arm around her and zigzagged through the angry mob.  He was fairly sure no one else noticed Big Enchilada’s face was blown to smithereens.  All were too busy beating on each other and waving their guns around.

They made it to the parking lot and peeled away in James’s truck.

“My house is only a few miles from here.  Turn right.  Twin Oaks Apartments,” Debba said.

“I know.  I took you home last week,” James answered.

“I have my own truck.  Just don’t want anyone knowing my car,” Debba said.

“Can’t blame you there.  The girls get their fair share of stalkers at the end of the night,” James answered.  They drove the rest of the short distance in silence.

“Wanna come in?” Debba asked.

He was surprised she asked.

“To talk, have a drink, or a line…after what happened.  But that’s it.  I don’t want to be alone right now.  And I can’t deal with the police.”

“Me neither.  I have my own legal problems.  Little stuff,  DUI mostly.  On probation and failed to show up for court.  I never hurt anyone.  Just haven’t gotten around to clearing my name,” James confessed.

“Sorry about your friend,” Debba said as she unlocked her door.

“You saw?  We must be the only ones,” James said with sadness.

“That’s why I grabbed my stuff.  Probably more dead bodies as we speak.  What a bunch of hot-heads.  I know that I’m new to the club, but sensed this was a really bad idea.”  They entered her small, ground-level apartment.  “Have a seat at the kitchen bar.  Let me see what I have to drink.”

The galley kitchen had a cut out opening in the wall.  A breakfast bar with barstools on the other side was the extent of her dining area.  He looked in the adjacent living area and was taken aback.  No couch or chairs or TV.  Instead, four rows of metal shelving filled with cans and jars of food and vats of honey took up the entire space.

“Sale at the grocery store?” James said with sarcasm.

“Just relax and have a drink.  I’ll explain my odd home décor later.”  Debba set a chilled bottle of Absolut on the table and two coffee cups.  She threw down a small baggie of cocaine and a store savings card.  “Help yourself.”

They gulped down the vodka and inhaled a couple of thick lines.

“Debba, you are full of surprises.  Let me see, you’re a drug-dealing stripper…That’s not completely unheard of…who likes to hoard food.”  James pointed to the living room.  “Wait, no way!  Guns and ammo on that bottom shelf?  And in the far corner…Is that a Geiger counter?  Gas mask?  This keeps getting better and better.  What are you afraid of?  World War III?  Y2K?  End of Days?”

“You really want to know?”  James nodded.  “Okay.  In all honesty, something big is on the horizon and I want to be prepared for it.”  Debba poured them each another vodka.  “I shouldn’t have done that line.  I don’t even do coke.  It makes me more paranoid than I already am.”

“Hey, I just saved you from Hell.  I need a better answer than that!  You have enough food and weapons for an army.  Details, darlin,” James said with a smile.  Debba’s mystique had piqued his curiosity, making her even more attractive.

“Dancing, dealing, anything for a quick buck goes into this lifestyle.  You want me to bare my soul?” Debba asked.

That’s not all I want you to bare, thought James, but he nodded.

“I believe that secret societies are conspiring to take over the world, okay?  Y2K is a little too obvious, and the people running things are too smart.  I believe they will takeover in steps.  They’ll use some kind of event, something big, threatening, and it will lay a path down for the other events to follow, making the transition seem natural, as if we don’t have a choice in the matter.  World government will come off as the only solution to peace…”

“Like China or Russia attacking us?” James interjected.

“Maybe, but I think they are part of the takeover, they’re involved.  Our rivalry is a distraction.  I’m talking about New World Order,” Debba said.

“Rings a bell.  What the hell is it?” James asked as he cut himself another line.  Debba shook her head as he offered.

“It’s a theory.  Freemasons, Council of Foreign Relations, Club of Rome, Illuminati…There are quite a few of these inner circles.  They will unite and position their pawns in key positions to make the takeover run smoothly.”

“C’mon.  How do you highjack the world?” James asked.

“Like I said, in steps, not all at once.  It’s a complex process.  For instance, our elections aren’t really elections.  Presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, and whatever leader for whatever free country are picked in advance by these inner circles.  Elections are staged.  The media is bought and only report what they are paid to report.  Wars, coups, uprisings, all staged to stir up the masses.  We are being lied to.”

“You’re either the most paranoid woman I have ever met, or you’re right.  So our news, politics, and businesses are nothing but mind control.”

“I know this sounds ridiculous.  I don’t have any hardcore proof.  If I was gonna do it, I’d financially ruin as many countries as I could, making everyone desperate.  Whenever things got hairy, I’d play the race card or the abortion card or the religious freedom card or the civil rights card, anything to keep the masses from seeing beyond the curtain.”

“So how are a handful of people gonna rule over six billion?” James asked.

“They don’t.  They first kill off the trouble-makers, the ones who make lots of noise and won’t join them.  These trouble-makers will just disappear without a trace.  The next ones to die are the ones without skills, leaving them with smart, productive citizens who can some way benefit them,” Debba answered.  She looked dead serious.

“Is this really you?  Or is it the cocaine talking?” James asked.

“The coke is wearing off.  This is who I am.  I’m twenty-six years old and refuse to die without a plan.  I also refuse to be someone’s slave.  I purchased a tract of land out west by the mountains for when the time comes.  That’s where I’ll hide.  I want to build an underground bunker once I earn enough money.”  Debba poured herself a third vodka.

“Wasn’t something like that built underneath the Denver Airport?” James asked.

“That’s a retreat for the inner circle,” Debba said.

“What kind of bunker do you plan on building?” James asked.

“If money was no object, I’d build it big enough for twenty, thirty people.  Have all kinds of security, food, water, maybe plumbing.  Energy sources like solar, wind…”

“I think I love you,” James blurted.  She smiled.

They talked for hours about her dreams of living off of the grid.  James liked to listen.  He didn’t have any dreams, but things seemed possible with Debba.  She gave him a sudden sense of purpose.  He almost told her about his father, his trust fund, and how he could make it all happen.  He’d have to clean up his act.  She gave him a reason.  By midnight and an empty bottle of vodka, James leaned in and kissed her.  Her lips tasted sweet.  Blackness followed.

Two days later James woke up in a hospital bed.  He later learned he had experienced an overdose.

“A woman dropped you off at the ER.  She left your truck here at the hospital and took a cab home,” the nurse told him.

He tried calling, but Club Apocalypse was closed.  Houston’s finest declared the club a crime scene.  He drove over to her apartment immediately after his release from the hospital.  A strange old man answered her door, claiming he had lived there for years and didn’t know Debba.  James knocked on every ground-level apartment in the complex.  He still hadn’t found Debba.  Did she exist?  Did the evening even happen?  His mental state was so fragile.  Suddenly, he remembered what she said about the troublemakers.  Disappear without a trace…  Was she a trouble-maker?  Did she know too much?  Was New World Order really happening?

Years later, James still thought of her, especially after his brother died in 911.  She had been right about everything.  He needed to finish what she had started.

Acknowledgements: This one's for you, Otis! God rest your soul! Special thanks to my hubby, Mike, for his ideas, input, and ear.

Dina Tosto/Dina Rae