Out of the Blue –
I didn’t start out as a mystery writer. Most of my short works have been speculative fiction—SciFi, dark fantasies and horror.
Johnny Two-Times is just one example. A tongue and cheek satirical look at a future retro fad, this is a radical departure from the Lance Underphal Mystery series.
By: Michael Allan Scott
I’m proud of myself, picking out new beachwear all by my lonesome. But checking the holo-mirror, I begin to wonder if the neon thong clashes with my blue-white pallor. What the hell. I step through the curtain to face the music, and McDuff erupts with laughter. Trying to second-guess McDuff is always a crapshoot—one of her many endearing qualities.
“What?” says I.
“Not the holo-beach,” she says. “Were going to a real beach—on Earth.” She holds out her palm. “Wait. I’ve got something for you.” She dashes out into the hall, leaving me standing there.
I don’t know how she always manages to do this to me, I feel like I’ve just done a face-plant in an overlarge pile of elephant flop.
She drags a large khaki duffle through the hatch. Rummaging around, she pulls out some bizarre-looking clothes and tosses them on the berth. “Here.”
Doubtful, I pick up the colorful rags. This has got to be the most garish garb I’ve ever laid eyes on. “You want me to wear this?”
“Hey, those are genuine. Hawaiian shirt and baggies. I got ’em at RetroMart. It’s what all the surfers used to wear.”
Who am I to argue? When it comes to fun and fashion, McDuff is always right. It’s one of the things I love about her. (And those long legs don’t suck either.)
As a rocket jock, it’s easy to deadhead back to Earth. Plus, it’s only half-price for my techie friend, McDuff. She’s always thinking. Cheap vacation. And with McDuff leading the way, I’m sure it’ll be an adventure.
We push our way through the rowdy crowd at the door of Joni Mitchell’s, a local watering hole they call a bar & grill—whatever that is. They’re all barefoot, with long hair. McDuff tells me it’s the latest. The retro hippie/surfer craze. She says this is the hottest place on Earth, period authentic, down to the live show.
I don’t know how she finds these places. A little backwater dive in the old abandoned beachfront district of Oceanside, a real slum. And our dayglow togs don’t seem to be fitting in. Everyone else is wearing plain, short-sleeved collarless shirts and long, drab blue pants, flared on the bottoms. Odd. But it doesn’t seem to faze McDuff. She’s as giddy as a schoolgirl. And what the hell, I’m just along for the ride.
As we work our way toward a table closer to the stage, I notice there’s something strange going on here. Alarmed, I lean forward so she can hear me over the din. “I think we should get outta here. This place is on fire!”
She throws her head back in a loud laugh then turns her twinkling eyes on me with a mischievous grin. “They’re smoking.”
Now, I’m as hip as the next guy, but I sure as hell don’t want to risk my license. And from what I’ve heard, smoking anything could be highly illegal. I ask her, “What are you getting me into?”
“Hey, it’s okay here—really.”
It doesn’t seem likely to me, but what the hell, I’ve followed her this far.
While I’m pondering a dismal future in the brig, a long-haired waiter leaves a tray at our table. McDuff picks up a small metal case from the tray, opens it and pulls out a white stick that looks to be made of paper. To my horror, she puts the damned thing in her mouth and lights it.
Wrinkling my nose in disgust, I ask, “What’s that?”
She blows a puff of white smoke my way and says, “A Camel. You want one?”
The tobacco fumes catch me off guard, and I choke momentarily. “I thought Camels were extinct—some kind of weird horse that used to live in the deserts of Earth.”
She puffs away. “Probably. But it was also a cigarette.”
I mumble to myself, “Wow, they used to name cigarettes. I’m impressed.”
My curiosity is getting the best of me—probably a fatal flaw. It’s a weakness of mine that McDuff knows all too well. She passes me her cigarette and lights another for herself.
After choking and spluttering with red-faced embarrassment, I start to get the hang of it. A few more drags and I’m feeling a bit light-headed.
With a self-satisfied grin, McDuff is thoroughly enjoying my distress.
Through my thickening mental haze I notice something’s happening on stage. Two longhairs (in what McDuff tells me are genuine Levi’s) are bounding around. They’re shaking their fists in the air, yelling, “MORE!” When I ask McDuff, she tells me it’s part of the show. They’re apparently an old-fashioned concert audience—whatever that is. Maybe it’s just my third cigarette, but I’m completely baffled. At least McDuff seems to be enjoying herself.
By the time the next act comes up, I’m feeling a little dizzy and my stomach is flopping around like a gaffed mackerel. When I’m finally able to focus, I can’t believe my eyes. It can’t be him, he’s been dead for more than a century. But this guy has got to be the best impersonator I’ve ever seen. “Wow!” The straw-blonde hair, the wire rim glasses, the twinkling blue eyes, that classic all-American smile—this boy is the spittin’ image. I’m in heaven.
I look over at McDuff and she gives me a sly grin. She knows I’m a die-hard fan of classic American folk music, and John Denver is one of my all-time faves. I’ve got every one of his recorded performances on both datacard and vidball.
He’s dressed in classic retro garb, plaid golf pants and a polyester short-sleeved shirt. An authentic wooden guitar adorns his chest. Clapping enthusiastically, I can hardly wait to hear him sing and play. I’m getting a little misty-eyed just thinking about “Rocky Mountain High”—all sweet and clear.
Yet something isn’t quite right and I don’t think it has anything to do with the queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. He introduces himself as Johnny Ventura, which might be okay except that when he starts strumming, it’s something I’ve never heard before. I wonder if maybe it is the cigarettes. He’s probably just warming up. No, the melody sounds like “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” but I don’t remember any lyrics like “iridescent sheen on troubled waters.” Oh well, it’s a clever variation, if not historically correct. And after a whole set of near misses, I decide to invite him over on break.
“Johnny Ventura,” he says, extending his hand.
I give him a clammy grip and say, “Luke Skytripper. And this is my trusty sidekick, Neon McDuff.” As he sits I ask, “Do you do the original versions, too?”
He gives me a puzzled look and says, “Those are the original versions.”
“No, I mean like John did ’em.”
“The name’s Johnny,” he says, suspiciously.
My head is really spinning now, but I can tell I’m not getting through to the boy. “No, I mean like John Denver.”
He says, “Who’s John Denver?”
I can’t believe my ears. It must be the cigarettes. I didn’t know they were hallucinogenic. I look at McDuff. “Did he say, ‘Who’s John Denver?’”
A little green around the gills herself, she gives me a befuddled, “I think so.”
It’s suddenly all too much and I bust up, laughing. Looking back at Johnny in utter disbelief, I ask, “You mean to tell me you’ve never heard of John Denver?”
He gives me a deadpan, “Nope.”
It finally sinks in. He’s dead serious. “Wow . . . We gotta talk. Let’s get some air.”
Out on the crumbling asphalt of an ancient road, the chilly night air is full of a thick ocean breeze. I’ve heard of Earth’s oceans. Never seen one. Johnny tells me the beach is this way as I stumble along behind. I’m thinking McDuff always was smarter than me. She’s waiting in the pod.
Reaching a rusting fence, Johnny stops. He says, “Beach perimeter, this is as close as we get.”
I can’t see anything from here. “Why?” I ask.
“Too dangerous,” he says.
I’m disappointed. I wanted to see a real live beach, not to mention an Earth ocean. I ask again, “Why?”
“Too toxic,” he says.
“Oh.” At least the night air is beginning to clear my head. I lean against the fence, straining for a view of the oil-slick waves I hear crashing on a tar-sodden shore, trying to imagine what it looks like.
He turns to me and asks, “So, who is John Denver?”
“I can’t believe you’ve never heard of John Denver.”
“He’s one of the classics—a real American folk artist. He was actually the official balladeer for the state of Colorado.”
“Never heard of him.”
“I guess not too many Earthers listen to the classics these days. But your music . . . and well . . . you look just like him.” I’ve just got to ask, “Have you ever been to Colorado?”
“No, I was born and raised in the Monterey Bay area. You know, Cannery Row, Steinbeck country.”
“I think that’s the place where ol’ John augered in.”
“Died in a plane crash.”
“Yeah, back in the 1990s.”
We stare into the blackness through the rusty chain links, listening to the rumbling surf. McDuff always tells me I’m too nosy, but I just have to know. “What got you started singing in dives like Joni’s?”
“Bohdi, I guess . . . ”
“You’re a Buddhist?”
“Studied some. Learned to meditate. Even did some past-life regression. That’s how I met God.”
Now, I’m as enlightened as the next guy. I can recall some past lives of my own. But meeting God? I can’t stand it, I’ve got to ask. “What does God look like?”
“He . . . ”
“God’s a He?”
“Yes . . . ”
“Oh boy, wait ’til McDuff hears that.”
Annoyed, Johnny says, “Do you want to hear what he looks like or not?”
“Well, he’s a little old man . . . looks kinda like a hairless chimpanzee with thick glasses . . . insisted I call him George.”
“No kiddin’?” I say, trying to be polite and yet at the same time, wondering why God would wear glasses.
“Yeah . . . told me to write songs about nature. He said I was born to it. My way to spread His word. Said he needed all the help he could get.”
“I don’t doubt that,” says I. “Problem is, that whole nature thing is long gone—dead and buried. No one does that anymore. You’ll starve to death trying to peddle that stuff.”
“Yeah, I noticed.”
“Maybe you should take a different tack, try something a bit more lucrative.”
“Like what?” he asks.
Sometimes my bright ideas scare even me. I pull the datacard from my gaudy shirt pocket and clip the headphones on John Boy. He starts to sway, humming gently. The words, but a whisper. And yet, he knows them all.
I may be dense, especially after fogging my brain with tobacco smoke, but I know the genuine article when I hear it. Johnny’s voice soars, singing sweet and clear, every word, every phrase perfect. There can be no doubt, this boy was once John Denver.
When the datacard winds down, I ask him, “Ever hear of celebrity impersonators?”
His eyes light up. “Yeah, sure!”
He’s got it now. He’ll be a hit, reviving classics system-wide. If they’re good, impersonators make big bucks. He’ll probably need a manager. Thank God I’m a country boy—whatever that is.
Copyright © 2014 by Michael Allan Scott, all rights reserved.
I hope you found this little tale entertaining.
Of course, your comments are always welcome.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, check out the book trailer for Dark Side of Sunset Pointe. The new book trailer for Flight of the Tarantula Hawk is in the works, soon to be completed.
For more on Michael Allan Scott and the Lance Underphal mystery series, go to michaelallanscott.com
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