Bix Hertlein waking up slumped in the driver’s seat of his ‘64 Buick Riviera. Bix’s left hand covers a hole in his gut, his right grips a trumpet. A blood spattered bottle of rye sits between his legs. Dark outside. Stopped on a dirt road flanked by orange groves, sled’s 465 Wildcat engine idling, headlights on. Passenger seat—empty.
Better this way.
Better for her: Bix’s destination is Ybor City and The Coconut Club—Outfit owned—a suicide run. Bix has his reasons.
The seat’s slippery. Bix hits the dash light, scopes. Sweat, blood—so much blood. Lifting his hand from his stomach, Bix grabs the rye, drinks. Busted lips burn. His perforated stomach sizzles. Bix drops the bottle out the window, moves his left hand to the wheel. His right hand never surrenders the horn—Bix’s bread and butter baby.
Fuel at half a tank. Crate’s a gas hog.
Bix kills the dash light, shifts the Buick into Drive, pins the pedal.
Lowdown jive. This mottled sound he’s been searching for coheres, surfaces from somewhere deep inside. Bix wants to stop and give it a blow. Nix. He hits I-4 doing a hundred.
Tampa’s a forty minute drive. He’ll drop it in twenty.
Ybor City. Bix’s old man croaked there circa ’56 with a tapped out liver and a silver dollar taped to his bellybutton for luck. Luck wasn’t James Hertlein’s lady.
Hertlein Sr. dug opiates, cheap booze and wild snatch.
Hertlein Sr. played a smooth horn.
Hertlein Sr. chased an uncatchable sound and died the Sultan of Blues riding a morphine habit to hell.
Pedigree flaws running parallel.
City limits and Bix tells himself: she’s safe back there. Others have come and gone but you wouldn’t scoot on Adelaide.
No. Not her.
Running on fumes.
Drive by. The Coconut’s foggy plate glass windows show Mexican girls in hula skirts and coconut bras serving fat dagos Mai Tai’s in the lounge. Bix’s room is around back.
Musty sheets. Moth eaten brown bedspread. The dump’s neon sign cuts through thin green drapes. Bix opens the nightstand drawer, pulls out the Gideon Bible. He shakes the Bible. A silver dollar falls to the bed. Bix pockets the coin.
Stopped cold. Ticks on the clock—nil.
Easing onto the bed’s creaky mattress, back against the wall. A flash of yellow from the sign hits Bix in the eye. He moves to the other side of the bed, hacks blood, puts the trumpet to his lips. He doesn’t blow, just holds it there. Huffing. Puffing. Trumpet man getting gassed this easy—straight gutter gigs until rapture.
Watching the door.
They’ll be coming soon.
Retribution in blood.
Bix squeaks out a clinker, eyeballs the mouthpiece. Red. His chops are hamburger. His knuckles raw. Christ. Nothing left of Bobby ‘Tone’ Corollo’s face after Bix got through with him.
Rampant confusion. Thinking: Adelaide used me.
No. Not her.
Voices outside the door. Loud—fucker’s in there.
Pedigree flaws intersecting.
Bix takes the coin from his pocket. He yanks his shirt open. Buttons pop. Buttons fly. Bix lays the silver dollar over his leaking belly wound, places the horn’s mouthpiece hard against his lips. Broken fingers pump the valves and Bix plays.
He screams like he used to before shit went south.
Hitting this note at a high arc and pushing self-indulgent lies to the wayside—this pre-death clarity coming on—confusion dissipating.
Headlights on their tail. A snubnose .38 in Adelaide’s hand. Bix begging her—it doesn’t have to be like this.
Adelaide saying, “Babe, there can’t be any other way.”
And Bix fucking knows: Adelaide. Green eyes and raven hair, body built right for her trade—gone. Seven kilos of heroin and three hundred large—gone.
Bix—an Outfit mascot pulling a double-cross.
Adelaide—a yard-an-hour Outfit girl doing the triple-cross shimmy.
The door’s kicked open. Three men with .12 gauge pumps. They don’t ask questions.
Men like these never ask questions.
Holding like a police siren in the night. The pitch is right and true and everything Bix wanted it to be.
Thinking: Adelaide. She said she loved me.
No. Not her.