BAD MOON RISING
BAD MOON RISING
To my friends and saviors
Linda and Randy Siebels
To the websites and e-groups that educate and inspire
those of us with the incurable cancer multiple myeloma .
“A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane, and smells like Cheetah.”
“Good morning! What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000.”
—Wavy Gravy at Woodstock
“We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles away from home to do whatAsian boys ought to be doing for themselves.”
—President Lyndon Johnson
“There’s a bad moon on the rise.”
—Creedence Clearwater Revival
“Tin soldiers and Nixon coming … Four dead in Ohio.”
—Neil Young’s “Ohio” about Kent State
JESUS CHRIST WAS NOT A HIPPIE
In the summer of 1968, the good Reverend Cartwright, last seen setting himself on fire whileattempting to burn a huge pile of Beatles records, purchased six billboards around town to makesure that believers and nonbelievers alike got the message that Jesus Christ had not been like
.hippies during his time on earth
Three weeks earlier, an eighty-six-year-old woman had written the local newspaper to defend ourresident hippies from the slings and arrows of those who hated them. She said that given howthe adults had screwed up the world there just might be a chance that these young people hadsome ideas worth listening to. Further—and you can imagine the bulging, crazed eyes of thegood reverend as he read this—further, as a lifelong Christian she was pretty sure that if
Jesus Christ walked the earth today he would walk it as a hippie. Not, I assumed, in
.Birkenstocks, but you get the idea
So now Reverend Cartwright was on the attack. Seeing the billboard, I realized that it was infact time for his radio show. Lately I’d been using it as my humor break for the day. Forlunch I’d pull into the A&W for a cheeseburger and a Pepsi and sit in my car and listen to hisshow. It always opened with a tape of his choir—one of the worst I’d ever heard—singing somesong about the righteous Lord and how he was going to disembowel you if you didn’t do exactly
what he told you to do. Then the reverend would come on. He always opened—as he did
today—with the same words: “I spoke with God last night and here’s what he told me to tell
I’d been hearing his show all my life. My father used to listen to it on the days he wasn’tworking. He’d laugh so hard he couldn’t catch his breath at times. I’d be laughing alongwith him as my mother would peek in and say we shouldn’t be wasting our time on a moron like
.that. But then, she didn’t understand our weakness for The Three Stooges, either
Today, as I jammed extra pickles under the top of my bun, the reverend said: “If Jesus Christwas a hippie, as some local infidels are saying, then that would mean that Jesus Christ wouldsanction what goes on at the commune right on the very edge of our town. A town I havepersonally sanctified to the Lord. If you will support me with your prayers and your pledges Iwill see that that commune is closed down and the infidels driven from our midst.”
His pitches for money were the dullest part of the show, and since he was obviously headed inthat direction I twisted the selection knob looking for some news. I counted three stationsplaying “Harper Valley P.T.A.,” a song critics likened to a three-minute hillbilly version of
Peyton Place.the novel
I found a newscast and quickly wished I hadn’t. The war the war the war. It had brought down
.LBJ and had returned to prominence Tricky Dick Nixon
When I finished eating, I sat back and smoked a cigarette. Right then I felt pretty down, but
.nothing would compare to how down I would feel less than ten hours later
“I am just way too groovy for this scene, man.”
If you were a teenager saying “groovy” you could get away with it. If you were a thirty-four-year-old Buick dealer all gussied up in purple silk bell-bottoms, a red silk shirt, and a goldheadband, all you were was one more drunk at a costume party where everybody was dressed up ashippies. Or their idea of hippies, anyway.
“That’s you all right, Carleton,” I said. “Just way too groovy.”
Wendy Bennett gave me a sharp elbow, not happy with the tone of my voice as the six-twoCarleton Todd swayed over us, spilling his drink all over his hand. These were her people, notmine. Wendy Bennett came from one of the most prominent families in Black River Falls.Occasionally she wanted to see some of the friends she’d known from her country club days.Some of them I liked and surprised myself by wanting to see again. They were ruining my oldtheory that all wealthy people were bad. It just isn’t that simple, dammit.
“Don’t worry about ol’ Carleton,” Carleton said, his eyes fixing on Wendy’s small, elegantbreasts. We both wore tie-dyed T-shirts and jeans, our only concession to costume. “I’m usedto his insults. I was just in the TV room watchin’ the Chicago cops beat up the hippies. Yourboyfriend here called me a couple of names in there.” He opened his mouth to smile. Drooltrickled over his lower lip. “But I called him names right back. If I was a cop I’d clubevery hippie I saw.”
“Carleton, you’re a jackass,” Wendy said, steering me away before I could say something evennastier.
Don Trumbull’s mansion sat on a hill in what had been forest, a bold invention of nativestone, floor-to-ceiling windows, and three different verandas. At night the windows could beseen for half a mile. Now, like people in a play of silhouettes, human shapes filled the glasslengths, many of them wobbly with liquor.
“I’m proud of you.”
We were on one of the flagstone verandas, the one that loomed over the downslope to the river.Moonlight glittered on the water and stars served as a backdrop to the pines that staggered upthe steep incline of the far hills.
Men with Rotarian eyes drifted by, slightly drunk and silly in Nehru jackets. I wondered ifthey hated costume parties as much as I did. Tonight’s fashions were dictated by all the slickmagazine spreads about hippies, the problem being that the spreads featured Madison Avenuehippies. Collars so wide and droopy they looked like elephant ears; medallions that would havesuited Roman soldiers; and of course fringed leather vests for both men and women.
The hippies I knew really did live back to nature; dungarees for boys and girls alike and narya Neiman Marcus item among them. The musical Hair had become a hit signifying the sexual
revolution that people talked about with disdain or envy. There were whispers that therevolution had inspired more than a few people here. Why leave sexual freedom to just the kids?The more we became a bedroom community for Cedar Rapids, the more modern parts of the populacebecame.
We sat on the edge of the flat stone railing and let the breeze have its way with us. “Ialways wanted to be in a Disney movie. Did I ever tell you that?”
“No, not that I can remember.” The Disney remark signified that she’d reached her limit forthe evening. She generally got wistful then and I felt terribly protective of her.
“Not to be Cinderella or anything like that. But to be one of the animals that are always inthe forest. They always seem so happy.”
I was too much of a gentleman to remind her of Bambi’s fate.
“No regrets. No fears. Just grateful to be alive and enjoying nature all day long.” Then shegiggled. “God, I just remembered what I said to Carleton.”
“I’m sure he’ll remind you.”
“He’s really not so bad.”
“If you say so.”
“C’mon, Sam, it’s not that bad, is it? You like some of these people.”
“Yeah, I actually do. But most of them aren’t here tonight.”
“It’s summer. A lot of them are on vacation.”
She yawned and tilted her perfect head back. When we went to high school together her name wasWendy McKay. Because of the Mc in her name and the Mc in mine we sat together in homeroomwhere, eventually, she was forced to talk to me. She’s admitted now that proximity alone hadforced her to converse. We were social unequals. She was from a prominent family whose genepool had endowed her with shining blonde hair, green eyes, and a body that was frequentlyimagined when teenage boys decided to seek the shadows for some small-town self-abuse.
She married into the Bennett family believing that her husband loved her. Unfortunately, as shelearned all too soon, he’d still been in love with a girl he’d known all his life. After hewas killed fighting in Vietnam, it all became moot.
As we had both passed thirty, we didn’t try to delude ourselves. She’d gone through a periodof sleeping around and drinking too much. She’d ended up spending a lot of money on a shrinkin Iowa City. I’d come close to being married three times. We wanted to be married; we evenwanted to have a baby or two. But unlike me, Wendy wanted to go slow. So I kept my apartment atMrs. Goldman’s even though I spent most of my nights at her house, shocking numerous guardiansof local morality.
“Am I drunk? I can’t tell.”
“Damn. Don’t let me do anything stupid.”
“Why don’t we make a pass through the house once more and then head home?”
I stood up and took her hand. She came up into my arms and we spent several minutes making outlike eleventh-graders. I opened one eye and saw over her shoulder the couple who had appearedunheard on the veranda. I smiled at them as I eased out of the embrace. They didn’t smileback.
“It doesn’t do you any good to watch the tapes of those cops beating up the hippies,” Wendysaid as we passed through the open French doors and went back inside where three youngmusicians with long hair were playing guitars and singing Beatles songs. Somebody somewhere wassmoking pot. As a lawyer and a private investigator for Judge Whitney, I had the duty to findand arrest this person. I decided to put it off for a few months. “You just get depressed,Sam.” She didn’t sound as drunk as either of us thought she was.
As we mixed with the throng inside, she said, “Remember, don’t watch those tapes again. Youget too worked up.” Then she hiccupped.
The networks were running tapes of this afternoon over and over again, the ones of Chicago copsclubbing protestors. The protestors weren’t exactly innocent. They screamed “Pigs!”constantly; some threw things and a few challenged the cops by running right up to them andjostling them. There were no heroes. But since the cops were sworn to uphold the law it wastheir burden to control not only the crowd but themselves. Dozens of kids could be seen withblood streaming down their faces. Some lay unmoving on the pavement like the wounded or dead ina war. In the TV room of this mansion several men stood watching the tapes, their handsgripping their drinks the way they would grip grenades. When I’d been in there, about a thirdof the men were against what the cops were doing. The rest wanted the cops to inflict maximuminjury. One man said, “Just kill the bastards and get it over with.”
For the next twenty minutes we circulated among the faux hippies. Most of the people we saidgood-bye to were cordial and even amusing, aware of the irony of middle-aged hippiedom. Oneman, a school board member I’d disagreed with on a few fiery occasions, even patted me on theshoulder and told me he agreed with me about the Chicago cops. “No excuse for what they’redoing. I would’ve said something in the TV room but I didn’t want to get my head taken off.”I probably wouldn’t be as fiery next time.
For a roomful of people dressed as hippies, most of the conversations sounded pretty square.The men discussed business; the women discussed domestic life and gossiped a bit. While Wendyexcused herself to go to the bathroom—still hiccupping—I let a drunken city councilman tellme that he was going to start sending me all his personal legal business because “The bigshots want too much money. You have any idea what they charge an hour?” Then, weaving aroundwhile he stood in place, he raised his drink, aimed vaguely for his face, and said, the glass afew inches from his lips, “You don’t have the greatest reputation, but for the kind of stuffI’ll be sendin’ you it doesn’t matter.”
Wendy reappeared and rescued me. Her hiccups were gone. She looked around the largest of therooms and said, “I wish there were more people from our class here.”
“They aren’t successful enough to be here. I only got in because you brought me.”
“You’re like my gigolo.” She laughed, but a certain dull glaze remained in her eyes. Whereliquor was concerned she was the ultimate cheap date. A couple of drinks and she was at leastsemi-plastered.
“Let’s try the front steps this time,” I said.
I grabbed a cup of coffee for Wendy. We sat on the front steps of the enormous house, enjoyingthe midwestern night. Trumbull, the man who owned it, was the director of four steel plants.His wife was from here, so they bought this place, turned it into a masterpiece, and lived init during the warm months. Florida was their home when the cold weather came. The drive thatcurved around the place was crowded with cars. We’d be long gone by the time most of themleft, so we wouldn’t have any trouble getting out. But many people well into their cups weregoing to have some frustrating moments if they all tried to leave at once.
Wendy caught a firefly. She cupped it in her hand and said, “Hello, little fellow.”
“How do you know it’s a fellow?”
“Take a look.”
In the shadow of her hand a golden-green light flickered on and off. “Yep, it’s a fella allright.”
She laughed and let him go. After her head was on my shoulder she said, “I know these aren’tyour kind of people, Sam. But remember, your kind of people aren’t my kind of people,
“I thought you liked Kenny.”
“I don’t mean Kenny. I mean your clients. Some of them are really criminals. I mean badpeople.”
The front door opened behind us. Our haven had been invaded again. We could have kept ontalking but we were self-conscious now. I got up and helped Wendy to her feet.
“Hope we didn’t chase you off,” a woman’s voice said from the shadows.
“No. We were leaving anyway.”
When we were out of earshot, Wendy said, “Very nice, Sam. You’re really learning socialskills.”
“You mean instead of saying, ‘Look, you sorry bastard, you ruined our whole evening.’?”
“Exactly.” She clung to my arm woozily and kissed my cheek. “See, isn’t it fun being politeto people you hate?”
“Look who’s talking.”
As we drew closer to my car, I slid my arm around her shoulders. We had our battles, but mostof the time there was peace, something I’d never had much of in my past affairs. I’d startedto believe what I’d heard a TV pop psychologist say, that some people liked agitation in theirrelationships. I’d just always assumed that was the way it had to be. But Wendy showed me howwrong I’d been.
Somebody called my name twice. I turned around and shouted back.
“There’s a phone call for you, Sam,” the female voice said.
I yelled my thanks.
“A client,” Wendy said.
“Poor old Sam.”
“Poor old Wendy.”
“I don’t mind. Right now, relaxing at home sounds better than this anyway.”
A woman named Barbara Thomas was waiting for us on the porch. She was another one who’dskimped on costuming herself. A very flattering pair of black bell-bottoms and a white flowingblouse. She’d been in our high school class and had married a lawyer. She was one of thosegirls who’d ignited many a speculative sexual conversation among boys. She’d always seemedaware of just how stupid we all were.
“Hi, Barb. How’re your twins?”
“Exhausting but beautiful, thanks. There’s a phone in the den, Sam.”
They stayed on the porch while I worked my way through the costumed revelers. The den was asbig as Wendy’s living room and outfitted with enough electronic gear to make me suspect thatthe owner of the house might be in touch with Mars. He was some kind of short-wave enthusiast.Four different kinds of radios and three different gray steel boxes that made tiny chirpingsounds contrasted with the traditional leather furnishings.
I picked up the phone. “Sam McCain.”
“Sam. It’s Richard Donovan.”
“You really needed to call me here, Richard?”
“Look, we’ve got a real problem out here.”
Donovan was the leader of the commune. He brought rules and regs to the otherwise disorganizedlife out there. When one of his people got in trouble in town—usually being harassed for noreason by one of police chief Cliffie Sykes’s hotshots—Donovan was the one who called me.
“Again. That’s the weird thing. I kind of sobered up but now—”
“Let’s get going. I know this curve where I’m going to push you out. It’ll be fun.”
“Yeah, well, the first thing you’ll have to do is help me to the car. I’m really dizzy. Allthat drinking I used to do. I must be out of practice.”
She wasn’t kidding. I had to half carry her to the car.
A month earlier a gang of bikers had invaded the compound and smashed up the farmhouses andmade several of the male hippies strip. For a few people in Black River Falls—anywhere youlive there are a few people—it was a tough call. Who was more despicable? Drunken bikers orhippies?
The commune had a history. Shortly after the war two brothers decided to get a GI loan for alarge farm they would work together. They built two modest clapboard houses about forty yardsapart and proceeded to marry and raise their respective families. They were decorated warriorsand popular young men who’d been raised on a farm in a smaller town twenty miles west of BlackRiver Falls. Everything went according to Norman Rockwell for the next nine years, but then,true to many of the stories in the Bible, one brother began to covet the other brother’s wife.Well, in fact, he did quite a bit more than covet, and when the cuckold caught his brother andwife making love in the shallow wooded area behind the outbuildings, he became so distraught heran back to his home, killed their only child (a girl of seven) and then killed himself.
The survivors left the farm, the bank foreclosed, and despite the efforts of a couple of otherfarmers to buy it and lease it out to starter farmers who couldn’t afford the purchase price,the land refused to cooperate. There was a scientific explanation for this, as a stateagronomist repeated to anybody who listened, but locals preferred the notion that the land was“cursed” because of what had happened on it.
The hippies came two years ago. Twenty or so of them stayed in the main house, the white one;another fifteen or so stayed in the smaller, yellow house. Some of them worked in town; some ofthem raised a good share of the food they ate; and a handful, from my observation, were sostoned most of the time that they couldn’t do much more than tell you what they’d seen intheir last acid vision.
Peace and love, brother. Age of Aquarius. Brotherhood of Man. Every once in a while, stoned onnothing stronger than beer, I’d get caught up in one of the many rock songs that espousedthose precepts. But then I’d remember Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, both of whom haddied earlier this year, and I’d remind myself of how naïve it all was. There was no peace andlove in the slaughter of Vietnam or in the streets of bloody Detroit or Los Angeles.
In some respects I felt sorry for the hippies. I understood in a theoretical way what they wererebelling against. Our country was war-happy and our culture was pure Madison Avenue. What Ididn’t understand were the ways they’d gone about expressing their distrust of society. I’dlook at their babies and wonder what kind of lives the little ones would have. The same for thesanctimony of their language. Without seeming to realize it they were just as doctrinaire asthe straight people they put down.
Then there were the drugs, which was how I’d gotten involved with the hippies. Since no otherlawyer in town wanted to deal with them, and since the public defender’s office had only twoattorneys, who worked eighteen-hour days as it was, I decided to help as many as I could.Clifford Sykes, our police chief, was jailing everybody who even looked as if he could spellmarijuana (something I doubt Cliffie himself could do).
Marijuana I had no problem with. But I couldn’t see the social or spiritual benefits ofdropping acid. I’d heard too many stories from the emergency room about young people who neverquite recovered from their trips. In March two high schoolers had contrived a suicide plan andhad, while acid fractured their minds, locked hands and jumped off Indian Point. They wereskewered on the jagged rocks below.
These days chickens, cats, and an arthritic old dog had declared the weedy yard in front of thelarger, two-story white farmhouse their private domain. A rusted plow and an old-fashionedrefrigerator with the cooling coils on top sat on the edge of the yard, remnants from the farmbefore it had been deserted by the owners long ago. The enormous garden was in back. They weredutiful about keeping it plentiful. No matter how much pot, acid, and cheap wine filled thenight they were up early to work their land. They’d planted corn, carrots, beets, spinach,lettuce, and cabbage. Using a battered wood-fired stove, they also baked bread. That wasanother surprise. One of them gave me a slice with strawberry jam on it one day, and damned ifit didn’t taste good.
I snapped off the ignition key and slid out of the new Ford convertible I’d bought after myold Ford ragtop got too expensive to keep fixing up. Or maybe I got it to signal my father,who’d died three years ago, that in my thirties I was finally becoming the man he’d wanted meto be.
Now, as I stood under the glowing span of moon and stars, a song by Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young began streaming from the main house. A breeze fresh as a first kiss made me close my eyesfor a moment and ride along with it to long-ago summers when my red Ford ragtop and the lovelyPamela Forrest had been my primary concerns.
When I turned to look at the house I saw Richard Donovan coming down the steps. His father wasa colonel in the army, and Richard had inherited his military bearing. Richard even had auniform of sorts—blue work shirt, brown or black corduroy trousers. They were always clean.The girls usually wound up doing the laundry for the boys—feminism, the new “ism,” had yetto make its mark on this commune—but Richard did his own. I’d seen him hanging his own shirtand a pair of trousers on the clothesline one day. He told me he didn’t trust anybody else tokeep his stuff the way he wanted it.
In the windows on either side of the front door, faces watched us silently. Whatever hadhappened out here, everybody knew about it and they were waiting to see how I was going toreact when Richard finally told me what was going on.
He was handsome in a severe, gaunt way. There was something of the Old West in the face,pioneer stock I suppose, and now anxiety filled the blue eyes and bulged the hinges of his jaw.
“We have an audience, Richard.”
“Of what I’m going to show you. They’re like little children. If I wasn’t here this placewouldn’t exist.”
Nobody would ever accuse Donovan of being modest. Or having a sense of humor. He was theabsolute lord and master of this place as well as the final arbiter. The first few times hepaid me to represent him—he didn’t seem to have a job so I wondered where the cash camefrom—he lectured me on how the country was going to be once the government “abdicated” andpeople like him took over. I didn’t like him much, and I suspected the feeling was mutual.
His gaze roamed to the tumbledown, once-red barn downslope from us. In my high school summersI’d detasseled corn, the hottest and hardest work I’d ever done, eight a.m. to seven p.m., intemperatures frequently rising to one hundred. By noon you’d eaten your weight in bugs. At theend of the day, waiting for the bus to take us day laborers back to town, I’d always throwmyself on any amount of hay I could find in the cooling barn and go instantly to sleep. Thisbarn, however, looked as though it might collapse on me while I slept.
He nodded in the direction of the lopsided structure and started walking. The ground here washard and lightly sand-covered. The voices from the watchers grew louder as the music stopped.Some of them were on the porch now. They knew a lot more about what was going on than I did.
The barn was within several yards of the woods and the woods were less than a city block deep.Behind them ran a two-lane gravel county road. High school kids wanting to raise some hell hadgotten on the commune property by coming up this way. They waited till late at night when the
hippies were asleep and a good share of them stoned as well. They smashed a few windows andspray-painted some swastikas on the houses. Donovan was the only one who confronted them. Hejumped on the leader of the kids and broke his nose and arm. Cliffie Sykes had been persuadedto charge only the kids. But the parents of the boy who Donovan had hurt had now sued him incivil court. I’d handle the trial when it came up.
There was no door on the barn. Shadows deeper than night awaited us inside. Donovan stalkedright in. I lost him for a few seconds. That’s how dark it was. Then suddenly there was lightin the form of a dusty kerosene lantern put to life with a stick match he blew out a second toolate. He’d burned his fingers and cursed about it.
It was a conventional barn layout with stalls for animals and space for storing equipment. Thehaymow above us was accessible only by a ladder. The stalls were packed with boxes. This was astorage area. Since a good share of these kids—like some of the other hippies across theland—came from prosperous families, I wondered if they’d brought along some of the goodiesfrom the old days.
The smells ranged from old manure to wood soaked by decades of rain. A few brittle bridles hungfrom posts; horses had probably been commonplace. As had a leaky ceiling; ruts from tractortires still gouged the dirt floor in places. Tin signs from the thirties had been nailed to thewalls, pop and cigarettes and chewing tobacco and gasoline. This was a time trap; if you stayedhere long enough you could probably hear ghost music from that era.
“Nobody here knows anything about this. I want to make that clear.”
“I take it somebody’s dead.”
“Yes.” His face was taut with sudden anger. “They’ll probably be out here with pitchforksand torches when they find out.”
“You’re getting ahead of yourself. Calm down.”
“Yeah, calm down. All the bullshit we have to put up with just trying to live our lives. Youlive in a shithole of a town.”
He was already getting tiresome. “Show me where the body is.” He looked as if he was going tostart preaching at me again. “Now.”
Donovan walked to a stall that held fewer boxes than the others. “Here.” Then: “Superdogkept barking so loud I had to see what was wrong. He brought me over here. At first I thoughthe was crazy. I mean, who cared about these boxes? But then I took them down. I should trustour dog more.”
The boxes were quickly stacked outside the stall. A filthy brown blanket had been thrown over ahuman body. A small, slender foot with a very white sock protruded from the bottom of theblanket.
I started forward but he stopped me. “I know who she is. She came out here a lot. The wholecommune is in real trouble now. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the cops didn’t kill herand plant her here to make us look bad.”
“Well, right now crazy sounds pretty sane to me.”
“Who is she?”
“The minute I say her name you’ll know how much trouble we’re in.”
“Humor me. Who the hell is she?”
“It’s Vanessa Mainwaring.”
“What the hell was Paul Mainwaring’s daughter doing out here?”
The laugh was cruel. “A little high-class for pigs like us?”
“Don’t give me any more of your overthrow bullshit right now, Donovan, or I might tell you togo to hell and I’ll walk away. Don’t forget, there isn’t another lawyer in town who’ll workwith you.”