BANG BLACKER JOHN
G. Kenneth Weir
New York City, December 8, 1980
It suited Martin Key fine that the Amster Grill was near empty.
Martin dreaded people in general, and the fewer of them in his wheelhouse the better. He insisted on a table at the back of
the Amster, as far away from the door and tip jar as possible.
Leave it, he told the waitress when she went for an old newspaper. Coke.
Large. And a menu. Thanks.
John Winston’s pale, thin mug was on the front page of the Post-Gazette’s
Entertainment section. Key eyeballed the loud block headline – LIEBERMAN SHOOTING BLACKERS LEGEND – and envisioned
a rack of bones curled naked around a Rickenbacker, a dissipated serpent, hissing at the world from beneath a dull mop of
hair. Shona Lieberman had already imperiled the image of Flick Shotten of the Dread Mumfords with her four-pager in the July
1979 issue of Bredford of the rocker sniffing gardenias. Only recently, with the release of a walloping new live album,
did Shotten regain his rep.
John Winston’s face took up all of page C-11. Key scowled. He spat
on the image and tore at it with his fingers.
This seat taken?
Key looked up. A soft-eyed wisp of a man in a trench coat stood just shy
of the table.
Sure, I guess, Key replied, stuffing a few fries in.
You’re flying solo, said the man. On your own.
Free country, Key said. What’s it to you.
The man leaned across the table and said: I’ve been watching you.
Yes. Three days now. Watched you last time you were here, too.
What, here, said Key, in this diner.
No, Mr. Key, said the man, stealing one of Key’s fries, here in New
Key wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
You’re staying in the Bowery, said the man. Little fleabag called the
Okay, you got me, said Key. You’re after me. But why.
Because. You’re watching him.
Key grimaced. The man’s bland eyes studied his. Without blinking, the
man intoned the name: John Winston.
You’re after him, aren’t you, Key. Waiting for that golden chance.
Key blinked hard.
Good sandwich, said the man with seeming amusement. I’ve had it before.
I get double meat, they always skimp.
Forget the sandwich, said Key. What the hell do you want.
The man flagged down the waitress and ordered salami on rye. He picked up
Key’s newspaper and chuckled: Welly-welly-well. Seems our boy’s losing his cherry.
And just what’s that supposed to mean, Key demanded.
The Lieberman shoot, look. Johnny’s been talking about getting her
to shoot him for years.
The man put a hand to his mouth and whispered: I think it’s all his
sow of a wife’s idea. I’ve met her. She’s crazy as a soup sandwich.
I don’t believe you, said Key. John’s many things, but he’s
Shit, then you’re really out of the loop, son. He’s a peacock
all right. Since setting up here in Manhattan, he’s gone totally Village. Again, though, I say his weirdo wife’s
behind it. You know, that whole avante garde thing of hers, the new art, the finger snapping. Weirdo shit.
So he’s gone uptown, Key shrugged. What’s that got to do with
me, Mister …
The man called himself Shelley. He told Key to relax, that the CIA was interested
in coming to ‘an arrangement’.
I don’t know what you’re saying, said Key. You got dirt on John,
fine. That’s your business. How about you just say your piece and go.
Shelley ran a hand through his fine white hair and said: Your full name is
Martin David Key. You were born in October of 1955 in Austin. Your last employer was Carr-Gibbons Global in Honolulu. Night
watchman. You quit nine days ago, signing the front desk ledger as ‘John Winston’.
Who the hell are you, Key demanded.
Your wife is May Kim, Shelley went on. She came to the US from South Korea
around the time you graduated from West Purdon High in Austin. The two of you – sit the fuck down or I’ll have
you killed – met through mutual friends, and were married by a Justice McGarvey.
You guys moved to Hawaii two summers ago. Things were fine until a while
ago, when your problems came back. The voices. The visions from God.
Key’s mouth hung open.
I know it all, Key. Everything.
Key downed the rest of his cola.
Cheer up, son, said Shelley. You’re not in trouble.
I told you, said Key, I want John Winston.
Cut the shit, said Shelley. I’ve seen you haunting the sidewalk in
front of his apartment building. I also saw you outside River Green Studios.
Yeah, nice try, Key. We both know Winston’s recording there.
But … you …
You were down there last time you were here too, said Shelley. You had a
nice little spot across the street, behind a big trash can.
Where were you, said Key.
That’s not important. What is important is that you and I want
the same thing.
Which is …
Shelley snatched another fry and said: Two things I know about you. One:
you’re obsessed with John Winston. Two: you want him dead.
Dead, said Key, shaking his head. But I idolize him.
Sure, Key, but your diary …
In a flash, Key remembered he’d lost his diary last time he was in
New York. The deli was filling up. The drone of conversation filled the air. The waitress served Shelley his sandwich.
He’s a fraud, said Key, rubbing his temples. I hate his guts.
Shelley smiled as he munched.
He lies, Key continued. He doesn’t deserve any of it – money,
fame. He talks about peace and love and a better world – and all the time he lives in luxury and travels first class.
Shelley nodded and gave the thumbs-up.
He’s the father of all lies, said Key, struggling for air.
Shelley said: Well. Father of all lies. I like it.
Filthy rich, Key stammered. So much f-fucking money he can’t even spend
it all. Weak, that’s what we are. It’s shameful, that’s what it is.
We all want to change the world, Shelley said. Big deal. Earth’s full
of people who prosper despite their evil. Winston sensed a need and filled it. You think he’s full of shit, fine. But
Key proceeded with caution: He needs to know the harm he’s done.
Go on, said Shelley. Please.
I remember when the Blackers were big, said Key. I’m talking the Placid
Lucidity album. Impeccable. Three number ones at the same time. The Blackers made Elvis look like a two-bit hillbilly.
Oh yeah, the Blackers, said Shelley. I liked Julian Coyle a lot. Wasn’t
too big on Winston until his solo stuff. I think he really arrived with that first album on his own.
Key smiled and said: I used to cut my hair like him. There was no one could
touch him, ever. I even began eating a macrobiotic diet. God, I wanted to be John Winston.
You were hooked, said Shelley.
Yeah, guess I was. But not anymore. The John Winston I once loved –
that John was a lie. Dead. I see it now, man.
Que sera sera, said Shelley. Life goes on.
Shelley’s casual manner seemed to injure Key.
Easy for you to say, you’re somebody. I’m nobody.
We are what we think we are, Key.
Right. So what are you.
I don’t know. Just a guy with a job to do.
You want him to die too, said Key.
You bet, fella. I got brass balls, though. And the big dogs are behind me.
Biggest, yeah. Winston’s been a pain in their ass for years, with his
revolution talk and donating to protest groups.
Yeah, that’s him, said Key. Shit disturber.
Winston’s a huge danger to America, said Shelley. He needs to just
Totally. I agree.
One thing stands in our way, Key.
We need our fall guy.
* * *
Key and Shelley strolled up Broadway.
Out in the open, talk came easier. Both were military brats – Key’s father was a retired Army man, Shelley’s
a US Ranger killed on Omaha Beach. Key found it incredible that he and Shelley had the same taste in food, liked Asian women,
and collected old guns. When Shelley told Key he owned a pristine Colt Army Model 1860, and that the gun might have
once sat snug in the holster of a certain Ulysses S. Grant, Key was beside himself with awe.
The Dakota Building, though not the tallest structure along Central Park
West, cut an imposing figure. It burst into Key and Shelley’s fields of view as it always did: fortress-like, mystical,
forbidding. Key pictured the building a century ago, standing alone, glowering down on the trees and open fields like a disapproving
uncle. Even among the brash skyscrapers, the Dakota was striking.
Key and Shelley stopped across the street from the Dakota’s front entrance.
Tell me what you see over there, said Shelley.
Key squinted and said: Front gate. Guard box.
Well, there’s the courtyard.
That’s it, said Shelley. Elevator’s there at that jut just before
the yard. Guess how many steps between the curb and the elevator.
Key’s lips fluttered as he counted: Twenty five. Give or take.
Very nice. Thirty, actually. Give or take.
How do you know.
I just do, said Shelley. Now let’s say it takes fifteen seconds to
get from the curb to the courtyard, then another fifteen to catch the lift. That means I’ll have seconds to take
him down. After that, Key, well …
It’s all mine, said Key dreamily.
That’s right. It’s all yours, son – the cameras, the fame,
the whole kit and caboodle. People will never again say the name ‘John Winston’ without also thinking of the name
‘Martin Key’. In a way, you’ll be inseparable.
At first, Key seemed content. But then he began to express concern over the
plan. Shelley was quick to quell, explaining that it was he who would be doing the firing. Key wouldn’t even
have to be the one to kill his hero.
Key agreed that it was perfect. They’d both have the same revolver,
and Key’s would be missing three slugs, which was how many shots Shelley would take on the rock star. Key loved the
idea, and he said so. The liar would be dead. Key would get all the credit for a murder he didn’t even commit.
You make it sound so easy, Key gushed.
Simple Simon, said Shelley. It can’t fail. Unless.
What, said Key. Unless what.
Do you trust me, Shelley asked.
Key nodded and offered Shelley his hand.
Let’s do this then, said Shelley. Let’s kill Mister Peace-and-Love.
* * *
Steam issued forth as the man in the security
booth shoved another tater into his mouth. Key’s legs shook in the lamplight.
Evening, said Key. Nice night, huh.
The guard’s eyes winked.
Key, was it?
Back again, I see.
Yeah, sorry I left so abruptly last night, said Key. Awful rude of me.
You missed him by two minutes, said the guard. Limo pulled up, and when I
turned to tell you to get ready, you were Gandhi.
I’m so sorry.
The guard put down his cheeseburger and burped: So happens you’re in
luck. A little birdie tells me a certain Englishman is on his way home right now.
Awright, keep it down. You wait over there by that grate. I’ll send
him your way, don’t worry.
By ten to eleven, Central Park West was
silent. Key glanced across the street, noting with some alarm that Shelley was nowhere to be found.
Here we go, said the guard, emerging bear-like from his booth. You stay put
now. I’ll fetch him over.
As Key watched the guard meet the limousine, he considered for a moment disappearing
down Seventy-Second Street. It would have been so easy. But then, a snatch of lyric came to him:
Be a giver, not a taker
Love her, don’t forsake her
Love is a beautiful thing
Love resides in everything
Liar, he muttered, glancing across the street. Phony.
Winston and his wife of eleven years Yuki Yokohama emerged from the limo,
skinny, disheveled. John was wearing a yellow jacket and tight white slacks, carrying a stack of tapes. Key was transported
back to the moment he first laid eyes on the front cover of the Allenby Road album. Four cocksure young rockers crossed Allenby
Road in London. It was the first truly meaningful moment in Key’s life.
The lyrics came fast and hard now:
Love is the rapier
Love is the angle
Let go of yourself
Let go of yourself
Let go of yourself
Hello, brother, said John Winston. Waiting long?
N-no, John, er, I mean Mister Winston. I’d have waited all night.
Winston said: Flanny says you want me to sign something for you.
Key fished around in his pockets.
A buck, said Winston, halfway amused at the dollar bill.
It’s all I have, Mister Winston. And no pen too. God, I’m so
Winston guffawed and said: You’re in luck. I always gots a pen, mate,
in case I gets me a big ideer, see?
Winston signed the dollar and handed it back to Key. End of transaction.
Rocker and wife proceeded arm-in-arm toward the elevator, with the security guard eagerly leading the way. Key threw the dollar
away. He counted to ten, whipped out the .38 Charter Arms Special Shelley had given him, and spread into a classic firing
Key fell to one knee, regained his balance momentarily, then collapsed like
a felled tree to the pavement. Dark, frantic thoughts filled his skull. Desperate chatter was everywhere, first echoing within,
swarming and swimming around like tadpoles, then without, loud, jagged.
This the guy?
sniffing around here the other day
Shell got him
call the wife
Great work, Shell.
Key was surprised at how foreign his name sounded. The strange, driving rhythms
of the Blackers’ megahit “Let’s Keep Moving”, which in the summer of ’66 set the free world
on fire, gave Key permission to let go. John Winston’s bestial howl over the song’s incendiary bridge, which many
in high places have deemed to be the pinnacle moment in rock history, was all the spring Key needed to rip himself free.
G. Kenneth Weir has been writing fiction for some years now. He currently day-slaves as a copywriter
in grim downtown Toronto, although he's not entirely sure why. He once said hello to Yoko Ono--she looked right through him.