I didn't know how to tell Benny's Story until recently it became clear.
1977 was the year. I was 20 and had moved into my first apartment north of Six mile on West Parkhurst Place in Detroit.
The upper in a two flat on a sleepy side street had a long hall way that shot straight down the side from the front door all the way to the back door. A Shot Gun...bad Feng Shui, but I was so excited to have my first real grown up apartment alone, so I took it.
Apparently this layout comes from a Southern style of architecture styling. Built for the ease of cooling one's home, but we all know it got the name because your Pa could aim his shotgun through the front screen door, down the hall and shoot at his naked behind as your “date” was fleeing out the back door.
Never happened here though.
Nope. No guns in this story, just bad Feng Shui. Should have been my first clue but as you know... shoulda-coulda's don't count.
It faced North, the apartment, was in the middle of a quiet block, right off Woodward Ave. across from the golf course with a huge front porch. The four reasons for taking it where; 1)Out side space is hard to come by in the city and 2) the fact that it was within walking distance of my weekend job. The living room had a real fireplace and there was a sun room off the back kitchen with lots of light. A four piece bath room in between the bedrooms off the hallway, good enough. 3) All for Five fifty a month, utilities included. 4) The best reason was that the landlord didn't care what I did to it, when he found out that I was a Visual Merchandiser, fresh out of college, willing to decorate the shabbiness into chic. We make magic, you know, I think he liked my ideas. Or rather... me.
Sweet. I could party after my shift at Steven's Saloon and make it home safely, without loosing my parking space. The Saloon was a notorious gay hang. A long and dark men's bar, filled with sturdy antiques, stain glass and lined with barn siding. Not for the faint or prissy, lots of...“stuff” happened there including a writhing flesh filled T dance on Sundays.
I never told my parent's about this extra job. Maybe because it didn't last long or because I grew up in a straight home. No alcohol, I mean. My father worked for the MLCC, Michigan Liquor Control Commission. This bar definitely wouldn't be pass the acceptable test. In fact, he would have pulled their license so fast it would have made your head spin faster than downing a double puff shot.
The Saloon was my best friend Billy's hang. It was to close to his shared flat, right across Woodward Avenue in Palmer Park, in fact. He frequented Steven's a lot and introduced it to me, as well as Benny, the lead bartender on Sunday afternoon.
It didn't take me very long to figure Benny out, after he moved in.
Benny was hot.
All american HOT. He had a great body, sparkly blue eyes and was Fun. Everybody knew him. Seemed like everybody wanted him. He was a big flirt and had a way with people. He was also Steven's favorite and seemed to attract money.
I wasn't the same kind of hot as he was.
I guess we both were attractive, in our own youthful ways back then, but that was the marketable difference between us. I didn't know it or see it but Steven did.
I came from a different background. A college kid with a good upbringing. Pressed oxford and grey flannel cologned, from the other side of the tracks. Far from where Benny came from.
This is just what Benny saw as the draw. A fresh face at the bar would attract a different type of crowd. A more monied crowd. The type of clientele that would spend dollars on a good time, or at least that's how he sold me to his boss. He got me a job at the Saloon. We both saw dollar signs, but that's where the similarities stop. I didn't know his good time was something way darker than mine.
* * *
“God Damn it Benny. Where's my car?” I yelled into the receiver. “What do you mean Billy said I wouldn't mind? You can't just hijack someones car cause you can.”
I called down to the saloon knowing he would be there after eleven. Benny opened early on Sundays for the T Party. After I discovered my car was missing from in front of the building, as were the spare keys, which he knew hung in the front closet, who else could it have been?
“What do you mean it's parked up on Woodward? I didn't mean you could take it whenever you felt like it. I said...in an emergency. An after hours orgy at The Pitt Stop isn't an emergency. God Damn It!”
I slammed the receiver down.
So much for a leisurely morning start. I pulled on my jeans and Trojans sweatshirt and hiked up the seven blocks or so to retrieve my brand new yellow pinto. With the extra cash I was making at the bar I could finally afford a new car. Detroit was practically giving cars away back then and I covered fifteen stores. It was an important part of my job to be able to shuffle all over Detroit with props and mannequins. I spotted it in front of the Pitt Stop, an after hours club that had been an old gas station and drove it back to a spot on the street. Out front where I could see it, crisis averted, thank you very much boys.
I forgave both of them Benny and Billy. Got my keys back and a promise that it wouldn't happen again. No harm done... bla bla bla. Suck-ups got me drunk that afternoon.
It was the second time that it happened...
Sunday morning the very next weekend Gerry Scott called. “Hi Gerry. What? Where's Benny?...Oh... sure I'll be right there. Give me ten. ” I yawned, hung up the phone and noticed the time, eleven fifty am. Gerry and the other bartenders where waiting outside the front door of the bar. Benny hadn't opened.
Even worse, all of my silver dollars... tips I had been saving from work... forty or so, shiny silver dollars, missing from the jar on my nightstand!
“That's it. Little shit.” I cussed out loud. I pulled on my jeans and went out into the hall. Benny's door was closed, I don't know why I knocked because I didn't expect him to be there. His keys were on his dresser and his bed hadn't been slept in. Not that he ever made it but I could tell somehow that he hadn't slept in it. I shoved the keys into my pocket and went back to finish dressing.
Then it dawned on me to check on my car. I scrambled up front and out on the balcony. That's when I lost it.
“Shit. He did it again.” No yellow pinto in sight. Nada. Zip. “Yup.” I scratched my head, trying to wrap my brain around the fact that the spare keys missing from the hook in the closet and how could I have been so dumb to trust him. I slid on my loafers and headed for the bar.
“Hi guys.” I waved from a block away. Three tall men looked after my greeting. “Don't ask. My car's missing too.”
“What the hell? The little hooker steal it.” All three laughed. Gerry clearly disliked Benny. “I can't believe you let him room with you. He's trouble. The register is always short when I work with him.”
I didn't respond. I unlocked the door with Benny's keys and slipped into the dim stank of Steven's Saloon.
“Prop open the door will you, please, Tommy.” I called from behind the bar counter. “Let's air out this joint.”
The breaker panel was behind the stain glass church window near the far end of the bar. The usual hisses and chirps responded as I flipped the breakers on. I could hear Gerry unlocking the back as I went for the cash boxes in Steven's office. Mike was already in the kitchen turning on the deep fryer.
The first customers were already starting to stumble in when I returned with the three drawers. Thanking my lucky stars each seemed to have the usual hundred in small bills. I had Gerry and Tommy recount their drawer just to make sure Benny had done that part of his job right the night before.
I figured Benny would show up sooner or later and we would have it out.
But for now on with the show.
We put our heads together and came up with a list of bell ringing specials for the four hour T dance. Gerry would man the microphone and I would wine the fire siren. The bar would run drink specials for the length of a song played on the juke box. The kicker was that the patron would have to preform the task to get the special price. Like, “for this song and this song only...show us your hairy arm pits and get your next drink for fifty cents.” We'd start first with 'Hair of the Dog Bloodies'. It usually made sense to start the serious drinkers off on Sunday at noon with a little medicine for-what-ails-ya. Believe me, this was a tame task, they got racier as the afternoon wore on and the clothes came off.
I usually worked the floor and made lots of money running drinks. Today I worked the first register since Benny was M.I.A.
I knew most of the regulars by now and we were well into the first hour of debauchery, when two good looking men straddled up to my end of the bar.
I nodded at them and finished my pour then sid down to wait on them.
“Welcome to Stevens' Saloon Gentlemen. What can I get you?”
I could tell that they hadn't been in before by the surprised look on their faces. The shorter one, uneasy in his pants, stared at the couple going at it in the corner.
“Ah...nothing to drink. Actually we're looking for a Terry Dean.” He slid his leather bound badge at me. “You wouldn't know if he's working today?” His smile told me even before he pull the badge away that he knew who I was.
“Well,” My heart raced, “that would be me officer. Is there a problem?”
“That all depends.” He cooly replied.
“On what.” I looked straight into his big brown eyes. They were kind and not menacing. He winked.
“You're not in trouble Terry. We need a positive identity.”
I swallowed not understanding what he was saying.
“We found a 1977 Yellow Pinto this morning.” He paused politely.
“Oh...Oh you found my car?”
“Were you missing a car?” The short sidekick sniped.
“Well as a matter of fact, I am. But I have a strong idea I know who has it.” I shot back.
“Yes, well that's why we're here.” The taller handsome detective said. “We found your vehicle parked along side the woods about a mile up on Woodward Avenue. The reason we stopped was because the front passenger side door was wide open.”
“What? I'll kill him.” I was seething mad now. “I mean...that car is brand new. When I get my hands on Benny...” The shorter detective cut me off.
“We've been following the local male prostitutes working the Palmer Park Course stretch. Benny, as you call him, was found stabbed to death approximately thirty feet from your car in the woods this morning.”
“We think he was 'involved' with drugs.” The tall dick said quietly.
I stepped backwards and paled, feeling for the counter behind me. “I...he just moved in about a week ago. Who would do such a horrible thing to Benny?” I could hear my voice quiver.
“You wouldn't know about any of this would you?” The kinder detective smiled. “Quite a shocker huh?”
“Ya.”I was speechless, feeling like I was about to toss my cookies.
“Well, we'll need you to come down to the station to identify your roommate. You can pick up your car as well.”
“OK. Now?” I looked down the bar at Gerry. He was giving me the shoulders treatment and mouthed, “What's up?”
I shook my head sideways, like I wasn't sure and scrunched my shoulders back at him.
“That would help us tremendously. We'll need to take a statement.”
“We're short today because he didn't show up for work. I can't believe this...I can't leave these guys, we're swamped.”
“When are you done with...” The short dick gasped as he turned to watch two shirtless men climb onto the shoulders of two others, locking arms in an pro wrestler kind of move.
“I get off at four. But I'll call the owner and...”
“That won't be necessary.” He brusquely cut me off. “We'll pick you up at four.” He winked.
“Out front.” The short one blurted.
“Yes, out front. I'll come back, myself. To take you down to the pound and we'll get your car back. Will that be OK Terry?”
“Yes I guess. Yes...that's OK.” I replied.
“OK then it's a date,” he smiled. I swear he was flirting. The short dick was already out the door. He pointed a finger at me then two back at his eyes as he stared me down.
“Don't worry about him. He's straight.” The tall dark and thensome detective stood. “Do me a favor, don't tell anyone yet...just until we get a positive ID.”
I noticed he wore his blue jeans tighter than his partner did. His tight red T shirt, tucked perfectly into the front of his 501's. He took his time scoping the room out as he stepped to the exit. His tight military cut shined, silhouetted by the sun as he turned to leave.
He waved, “See you at four Terry,” catching my stare.
2012 (c) tgwithin