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September 26, 2022

We'll Start Tomorrow

By Michael Price

On August something, 2008 -- I'm pretty sure it was a Sunday, but don't hold me to that -- at 4:57 a.m., longtime Minneapolis basketball phenom and local rapscallion Derek Manikote woke up, in his own bed, in his half of the room, rolled over, brushed a hamburger wrapper to the floor, and whispered, "Hey ... what the hell happened?"... to me, of all people, Luther Christenson, the since-kindergarten-across-the-alley best friend, just as I was getting up off the other side of the same bed, to take a leak.

My underwear felt different.

Psst ... Jose Cuervo is a dink, pass it on, but please do it quietly.

"Did we do something?"

"God knows," I droned, rubbing my eyes for focus, because I certainly had no idea, clicking the bathroom door behind me.

But that was later. And it was of some significance, but probably not as much you might think.

What came right before that made my Cuervo-is-a-dink sub-plot second page material compared to the earlier of the weekend, and happy to say, my homo-ambiguous tale was obliged to take a back seat to at least a couple other circumstances of singular note, also involving my buddy Derek.

I peed for about five minutes in Derek and Mercedes' toilet, sitting, with a lot more starty-stops than usual.

* * *

The preceding morning, I picked up Derek from rehab, his fourth. He was released about 10:30.

"I think I'll hang this with the others," he said, faux-proudly presenting his latest certificate of temporary sobriety, once we got in the car. "Spruce up the place a bit. Ma won't care. Wall space is cheap."

"It's lovely," I lied. "How is Mercedes?"

"One more of these babies and I think I should get a freebie tune-up, sometime next year, maybe, right before the N.C. double-A, at a treatment facility of my choice, one that has cable."

"Right," I sarcasted. "Like you paid for any of the other ones."

"Ma's fine. Mercedes is always cool."

Derek had graduated -- that's what they called it -- from three previous treatment programs, all since college, the first one with honors, which means he got out of bed in the morning. The second and third were court ordered and not nearly as much fun, or so he said. Following completion of the three, he had managed to keep his nose relatively clean for nine months, a year and a half, and a half-hour, respectively, in a period spanning the previous seven years. I used to tell him that he was the only guy I'd ever met that never came down, figuratively and figuratively.

This time, he seemed different.

Which is precisely what I said after the second time I picked him up, but not the first or third.

"Wanna get in a game?" he said.

We hadn't indulged ourselves in an old fashioned, neighborly competitive, Saturday morning and early afternoon basketball marathon across the street on the Stevens Park asphalt in weeks, well before the start of Derek's latest rehab, which was unusual, even as we neared our thirties.

We got on a team right away and lost two games all day.

Derek was still, by far, the dominant player on the court, still quick, still a real hang-timer, still with that uncanny knack of always getting himself into position to score, with or without the ball. When he did that, all he had to do after that was ... well, score ... which had never been a big problem, for as long as any of us could remember.

If there was a chink in Derek's basketball armor, at age 28, that was it. Physically, he was fine. Maybe lost a half-step and an inch or two up.

Maybe.

But he could go cold, now, every once in a while, miss a bunch of easy shots in a row -- on occasion, mind you --ones he usually made. It wasn't a very big chink because he could still score like crazy, even cold, really jazz it up, make up the whole thing as he went along.

But he seemed streakier, now, a little less predictable.

The two games we lost that day? They were actually back to back, early afternoon. Derek seemed bored, for some reason. He kinda disappeared for a while and, therefore, we lost.

Otherwise, he was incredible, still -- about five and a half hours worth of incredible.

I played okay, about five and a half hours worth of okay. Mostly, like everybody else, I just watched Derek.

Still.

Walking home afterward, Derek, me, and Gene -- another long time Stevens Park buckets buddy -- were invited to what we used to call a kegger, an old fashioned backyard kegger. Although, shockingly, I never actually heard that word used that day.

Things change, I know, but why would people stop throwing anything called a kegger?

The guy who invited us lived in the building right next to sis' and my place, The Grandview, but we'd never seen him before, which didn't seem all that strange; Minneapolis is a big city.

"Sure," said Derek. "Bring your own meat to grill? Perfect day ..."

"Derek ..."

"It's my graduation, Luth. I got the rest of my life to be good. I'll start tomorrow."

Derek and I were grilling weenies and burgers until 11:30, along with about twenty other individuals we knew for one night only, all podded about in the garage-lit back yard, single-bulb streaked right down the middle, behind the building next door. A second keg was tapped. ELO, Tull, Boston, Zeppelin; out came the hard stuff. Shots of tequila. Pot. Keg #3. Somebody said something about Angel Dust -- never confirmed, but it did get a little weird back there that night.

Gene, Gene, really was a dancing machine that night, most notably with a lovely black Lab named Honey for a large portion of the evening. They were excellent together and occasionally funny. Not to be outdone, Derek, Derek, the waltzing rebuttal, offered his arm to the only short haired miniature Dachshund at the event, a black and tan little cutie named Brutus. Adorable, of course, but their footwork was atrocious.

I saw a couple cops about midnight but once the kegger's volume was adjusted to their hormonal satisfaction, they went away. I don't think they ever came back but I really have no idea, because that was the one night -- ever, prior to or since -- that I tried to play chug-a-lug-along-with-Derek, keep up with him attitude adjustment-wise, just for one night. To this day, a real puzzler as to why the hell I did that. And I guess I must have puffed just enough of the everlasting joint that kept going around and who knows what came after that?

And I mean that, exactly as stated: who the hell knows what came after that. And where might I locate this lovely person or persons?

Headline: Omniscient Author Suffers Gruesome Memory Lapse.

Never again, Luther, never again. Always know your competition, always know your limitations. And don't forget about all the head boom-booms the next morning.

Headline: Derek and I meet a couple gals from the neighborhood and Mercedes shows up with a couple guys named Enrique.

Now, under normal circumstances, neither happening from Headline #2 would seem to cry earthshattering historical relevance, but on this particular late night-early morning, those were the last two things Derek remembered and, apparently, I was out on my feet shortly thereafter. At least I think that was me. I reminded me a little of me.

We have been told -- Derek and I, by more than a couple people after the fact, who evidently were also at the kegger -- that we were entirely witty from then on.

Okay.

Probably the Who's on First? routine; we'd been doing that one since we were creatures. Not very well, mind you, but always with adequate energy, I'm proud to say. I played Costello, I'm sure ... but you already knew that.

Turn To Stone was on the turntable, a little E.L.O.; that's the last thing I remember hearing. They played excellent music all night ... I think.

* * *

I flushed, assessed the damages in the mirror, then waded my face through two cupped-hands full of cold water, times about twenty, for a few pensive minutes, bordering on wasting time.

It was silly to try to piece the night together after Mercedes showed up with her nattily attired gentlemen, Dos Enriques (I can't believe I remember their names and so little else), and the two other girls, who I am quite certain were introduced to us but could never prove that either, because most of the stuff that happened around that time of the night were non-memories -- lived, but not really; lost forever, yet never had.

I didn't even bother to dry my face. Just ... out with it, Luther, let's just do this.

"Derek, hey listen," I opened the door, the room suddenly a-spin, now apparently ready to face the music of the day, music which seemed to have a slightly gayer bass line to it than it did, same time the day before, "Look, what happened last night ..."

But Derek was gone.

I went back to bed. I thought it prudent, under the circumstances, especially considering all the head throbbage.

* * *

Policemen knock differently than regular people; that's what woke me up for good.

"Honey, can you get that?" murmured a familiar voice from the other side of the curtain.

"Mercedes?"

"Derek?"

"Noooo ..."

"Minneapolis police department -- open up, please," no-nonsensed it's way through the crack of the door.

"Derek, is that you, honey?"

"No, Mercedes, it's me, Luth," I mindlessly tossed over the dividing curtain, which was actually an old Mr. Moose blanket from Derek's youth, very tattered around the edges, hung over two very much used mobile chalkboards, both of which having been wheeled home, many years prior, from the church sale, two blocks down, held every spring and fall since forever, 19th and Nicollet, across from the mini-mall, for 50 cents each.

"How long have you been here?" I inquired with vacuous interest, into a wrinkled moose antler.

There were whispers -- more than one, I feared. Apparently, something was very funny. "Heard the whole thing, about 2:30," laughed Mercedes. "Didn't we, honey?"

"Honey!"

Same knocks, but more. "Police." And louder. "Open the door."

"I'll get it, babe," murmured a man's voice from the other side, followed by a dry but audible kiss. Then, obviously intended for me, back through the antler, a bit louder, "I'll get it, uh ... Luth, is it? Nice meeting you."

"Likewise, I'm sure. Mercedes..."

Knock, knock.

"Coming ..."

It was 9:30 in the morning and the room was still spinning, but it was spinning the other way now -- backwards, but slower -- like a slow dance, the Lionel Ritchie lovey-dovey crap, the stuff that always gets totally butchered by the house band.

That shit sucks every time.

* * *

"I walked to St. Paul."

"You what?"

"I walked to St. Paul."

"You walked to St. Paul."

"Yeah."

"Why did you walk to St. Paul?"

"I was hungry."

"What?"

"White Castle. There's a really good one right before you get to the capital. On the left."

"Derek, that's crazy."

"Yeah ... about this morning, Luth? We didn't really ..."

It was 7:45 p.m. The sun was medium-low in the west. It was still hot, though, in the dark of my naturally lit room, and I was still nursing my head in a major way. Derek had knocked on our door, very softly, which, for him, was decidedly different. We were alone. Ma and sis used to spend a lot of time together, out -- strictly an author's convenience at this point in the story.

"Derek..."

"Mercedes, ma ... she says the cops wanna talk to me. That's what she said."

Many words scrambled to escape my mouth. These are the ones I chose:

"They think you raped a girl, Derek."

"I did?"

Honestly, some guys can be so insensitive.

"No, of course not," I stated with convincing emphasis, staring another hole in his head, as if that was needed. "Unless I helped. Ya know?"

Derek looked away. "Oh yeah. See, I didn't forget about that, Luth. Maybe we should talk ..."

"Save it for later," I stopped him, head in hands, with hammering ambivalence. "Let's do this first," I suggested, prioritizing for the both of us, him more than me, but not by much. "You gotta talk to the cops, Derek, ya gotta. They've been at your place off and on all day. They're looking for you."

"Yeah, I kinda took the back roads. Especially on the way back."

"How the hell do you take the back roads across a river?"

"I improvised."

"Who's this girl, Derek?"

He looked at me, clearly befuddled -- clearly, and boy, do I know befuddled when I see it -- and said, "I don't know, Luth, I honestly don't know. I don't think there was one. Do you?"

I was physically unable to think hard that evening or I would have, sure as hell I would have. "No," I agreed, easily. "I gotta believe I'd have remembered something about that. A girl, I mean. Or a space for one." I held up my hands, about a foot apart. "In time, I mean. A space." I looked confused and was very convincing doing so, if I may say so, which led to, "I don't know."

"Yeah," said Derek, "that's what I think, too." He got up and walked to the kitchen. "Mind if I ..."

"Of course not."

"Split one?"

"Sure."

That was the first time, right then, when he was icing the two glasses and pouring diet clear-something over the top, that I remember thinking how tiring it would be to be Derek.

Then, right away, I remember thinking, I wonder if he ever thinks that, too.

Derek returned with our sodas, looking taller in the descending light of day. "I know I have to do that," he shrugged, "but I really don't know why. I don't know anything ... do you? Do we?" He frowned and rubbed his forehead. "Boy, I really don't like where this is all going, Luth. Sorry about that."

"Forget it," I said, but would have preferred not to, at least not that loud. "Let's just do this. I'll get the book."

I was about to expound on the decline of the Yellow Pages through the ages, when...

Policemen knock differently than regular people, especially if you make them wait.

Then, even more so.

* * *

This is what happened. And I'm not kidding.

The young lady that accused Derek of rape, earlier that morning, was found stabbed and killed at approximately 2:00 that afternoon, in her bedroom, two doors down from The Grandview, by a knife that looked just like the one in our kitchen drawer, thought Derek, when he saw it for the first time.

If I had been required to -- and I was pretty sure that's what it would come down to, eventually -- provide an alibi for Derek concerning the rape thing, after the party that morning, I certainly would have done that, but only because it's the law. Even if you're drunk. And stupid. And more than a little embarrassed.

And from what Mercedes tells me, especially when you're drunk, stupid, and more than a little embarrassed; I bow to Lady Expertise from across the alley.

But concerning the girl's murder, I had no idea where Derek was that afternoon, nobody did, yet he was in plain sight the whole time, as he stressed over and over again, officially and for the record. And his answer of "Wigglin' my ass across town" failed to impress the city's finest right away.

They'd had a long day, too.

And finally, to cap off one of the more eventful days, certainly, in post-kegger history, a guy jumped off the I-94/Nicollet Avenue Bridge, just before dark, which, under normal circumstances, might not have seemed like such a major news story. Unfortunate, yes, but it's a big city. These things happen.

However, in his suicide note, which was twice folded and neatly wrapped in tin foil and stuffed down his sock, the guy confessed to the murder of his girlfriend, earlier that day. He was very specific, and at some length: after lunch, with a knife, in The Conservatory. Which, as it turns out, was the name of the dead chick's apartment building, The Conservatory -- two doors down from The Grandview -- which I hadn't realized until it came up in the investigation.

The guy went on to write -- very eloquently, evidently, right up to the end -- that his girlfriend had been secretly obsessed with Derek for years, some sort of rare fanatical disorder, much like many of the mentally ill folks on Criminal Minds, the serious nut-cases, the unfortunate souls with the unreadable credits that fly by after the final blackout, those for whom my tear ducts have been more than occasionally activated ...

... And, of course, she had the shrine in her bathroom, with the bulletin board tacked with Polaroids of Derek doing this, that, and the other, about ten times over. With the candles, and incense ... really quite impressive if you could get past the creepiness.

A gal who could be "embarrassing in public" and "forgetful during foreplay" -- those were the guy's exact words.

There was also some mention of a whiffle-ball obsession, which seemed odd. Derek and I hadn't played whiffle-ball in two years.

A "cop acquaintance" of Derek's, from the neighborhood, told us it was the wordiest suicide note anybody had ever seen down at the precinct.

But I guess it was good. I guess the guy could write pretty good.

* * *

Derek and I never did discuss the unprecedented happenstances of that early morning in August of '08. We talked about talking about it, but never did.

See, I told you; comparatively speaking, it wasn't all that big of a deal.

But I kept his underwear. Can't believe they fit.

Article © Michael Price. All rights reserved.
Published on 2015-01-19
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
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