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Marco Etheridge

Sanchez and DQ

The first time I laid eyes on Donald Quinn, the crazy old dude we ended up calling DQ, he was sprawled out on a filthy cot in the back room of Terry’s Bar. The old man had been on the run for two days at that point, and he looked it, hair all wild, eyes blinking up at me, like a puzzled owl. Didn’t know the whole story right then, but I damn sure learned quick enough the who and where of DQ—that and a whole lot more.

There were three of us in that stinking back room: me, the old scarecrow on the cot, and Terry. Fat Terry was looking sideways at me, like somehow this is all my problem, and would I please get on with solving it? That’s the trouble with having a reputation for taking in strays. Do it once or twice, pretty soon everyone in the ward is bringing you lost critters.

My name is Sanchez. One word. I used to have another name, but I long since lost the need for it. I’ve lived in this neighborhood all my life. Born and raised in the same house. When my folks passed on, they left me the house and a bit of money. It ain’t no fortune but enough for a fella to get by on. Thanks to them, I have a roof over my head, and I don’t have to work no more. Good thing, since there’s not one job here in the ward, unless you want to be a cop or a crook. I’m too old for either.

I should explain to you about the ward. This here city is big, hot, and heartless. It don’t give a damn if a body is dreaming or dying. The city is a hard place is what I’m saying. Our ward is part of the city but separate. You either belong in the ward or you don’t, simple as that. We got hustlers and hookers and thugs, just like the rest of the city, but they’re ours. That’s how the ward is.

Truth be told, I’ve got a weak spot for lost things. I live by myself, so there’s some extra room in the old house. That and the bit of a yard out back. That first year after my folks passed, I took in the odd dog or two, a few stray cats that needed tending. Word travels fast in the ward. It weren’t long ‘fore folks were bringing me lost animals. Hell, I even had me a goat for a spell. My only advice on goats is don’t bother.

So, when Fat Terry found a lost old man sleeping in his back room on a Sunday morning, he called me. I got that nutcase off Fat Terry’s cot and managed to walk him back to my place. And, that’s how Donald Quinn, or DQ, ended up taking over my life.

Having all them stray animals around taught me a lot about skittish things, and DQ was skittish as a colt. The first thing you gotta know about DQ is that he saw the world differently from other folks, and I’m not talking about his philosophical outlook. His eyes bugged out most of the time, like he was seeing angels or demons coming out of the woodwork. Turns out, that was most often exactly what he was seeing.

Over a few bowls of soup and a bunch of word salad, I got some of DQ’s story. He had run off from an old folks home. I knew the place. Nasty joint, just old people storage, a horrible institution where poor folks with no family end up. I didn’t blame DQ for running off, not one bit. Or rather, walking off. Old DQ just put on his hat and wandered out into the streets, wearing nothing more than his bathrobe, striped PJs, and slippers.

You might think a crazy old man walking the ward, dressed in nothing but a bathrobe and stripy PJs, would raise some eyebrows, but the fact is he blended right in. We got more than our share of crazies and bag ladies. Another lunatic didn’t make much difference to anyone.

I don’t mean this to sound like the old man just told me his story. First off, DQ is out of his gourd. Then, you got to factor in that he talks like a character from Shakespeare. I swear, he uses words like “forsooth” and whatnot. Parsing out the real story was no easy feat.

So, DQ is wandering the streets, probably talking to himself, when he meets a woman. Believe me, I heard all about her, over and over. Says she was the most beautiful woman in all the world. His lady love, that’s what he called her.

I asked him this and that, what she looked like, what she was wearing, trying to figure out if he met a real-to-life woman or maybe Joan of Arc. He described her pretty well, right down to the clothes she was wearing, and that’s when it hit me. He’d hooked up with one of the streetwalkers, and I figured I knew which one.

“Now hold up a minute,” I said, “You talking about Allie Love, big, tall girl, works over on Saint Claude?”

That set him off for sure, head nodding and spit flying from his mouth. I learned right quick not to sit too close to DQ when he got excited, and he was always excited.

“Yes, my good Sanchez, but you must understand. Her false name, her clever disguise, it is all a ruse to hide her true identity. She is the lady Eleanor Dancing, and I now know that she is my lady love.”

I figured this for a good laugh later on, especially when I told Allie about it, but I played it straight with the old loon.

“You tell Allie Love any of this, about her being your lady love and such?”

His eyes got all solemn, and he shook his head real slow.

“Of course not, dear Sanchez, and you must never utter a word of this. If her secret were to be known, she would be in the gravest peril.”

I’m not making this up. DQ really talked that way. Still does.

To get back to it, you might think an old dude lost on the mean streets of this ward would be frightened half to death, but that’s not who DQ was or is. I’m not convinced he even knows what being scared feels like.

DQ wandered up one street and down another, bathrobe flapping around his stork legs, and him expecting an adventure to turn up just for his amusement. He searched about until he came to Terry’s Bar.

Terry’s is nothing but a low-down tavern, but that don’t stop DQ’s imagination. As far as I could tell, nothing ever got between the old man and his fantasies. He stood there on the sidewalk, outside that dive, and convinced himself it was a castle. Castle or dive bar, either way, inside he went.

The first booth in that dark cave was occupied by a few of the local working girls, and the sight of them hookers stopped Mister Donald Quinn in his tracks.

As I would learn all too well, DQ couldn’t pass up the chance to tell a woman, any woman, that she was the most beautiful thing on God’s green earth. Blue-haired granny on her way to Rock of Ages or a six-foot drag queen working the avenue, it didn’t matter to DQ. They were all beautiful, and he was determined to tell them so.

DQ commenced chatting those girls up, throwing out “beautiful ladies” and “angels of heaven,” like he was tossing Mardis Gras beads. That old man’s flowery talk melted those hard hooker hearts like so much butter. They yanked him into that booth like it was a lifeboat and he was a drowning sailor.

Those tight-fisted girls started buying DQ drinks, believe that or not as you will. I guess they figured to loosen DQ’s tongue and get some more of those compliments out of him, but there were two things they didn’t know. DQ would compliment them all night long, drink or no drink, and that skinny old rake held his booze like a camel.

The hookers were happy, because they’d found themselves a new pet, one that shelled out compliments like a gumball machine. DQ was happy, because he was surrounded by beautiful ladies. And all of it fed his fantasy about castles and whatnot.

After a few drinks, DQ decided the time had come to address his court. He did just that, too, bowed to the hookers, bowed to the rest of the tavern, then set off on a speech not one of them understood. And while performing his oration, he also managed to block the aisle next to the shuffleboard table. That’s what started the trouble.

There were these three teamsters trying to play triples on the shuffleboard, and those fellas didn’t give two hoots over whatever DQ was ranting about.

The largest of them teamsters tried to ease DQ out of the way, but DQ was on his game now and wasn’t about to quiet down. He called them big fellas “naughty knaves” or some such, which the teamsters took all sorts of wrong. The hookers rallied to DQ’s defense, and things were about to get violent when Sonny rang the bell.

Sonny is Terry’s kid, the night bartender, and not the brightest bulb in the pack. I never credited him with more than the ability to pour liquor into a glass and hit it three out of four. Just goes to show you don’t know folks until the shit hits the fan.

By now, the whole bar was watching. The melee was about to start, hookers on one side, teamsters on the other, and DQ in the middle. Sonny waded right in, his billy club in his right hand and a towel draped over his left.

Then, Sonny commenced talking and stopped the lot of them mid-riot. I know one of them teamsters, and he told me later that Sonny’s yapping was almost as bad as listening to DQ. Turns out Sonny’s been reading more than is probably healthy for his brain.

Soft in the head or not, what Sonny did was pure genius. He announced that DQ was a knight of old; that the hookers were his ladies in waiting, and the teamsters were his lusty squires. Everyone laughed at this, winking and poking elbows.

Pretty quick, Sonny got DQ down on one knee with his head bowed. Sonny garbled some pig-Latin over that gray head, tapped the billy on each of DQ’s shoulders, and the knighthood was done.

The rest of the night settled down to a dull roar. The hookers went off to work, the teamsters listened to DQ’s stories while they played shuffleboard, and all was well. Come closing time, Sonny realized DQ had nowhere to go. So, he locked the old man in the back room, called his pop to tell him, then locked up and turned out the lights.

That was how I found myself in the stinking back room of Terry’s Bar on Sunday morning, puzzling over an old scarecrow on a cot. Fat Terry and the rest of the world had decided this was all my problem, so I got on with solving it.

Fat Terry and I managed to get the crazy old coot on his feet. Then, I walked Donald Quinn out into the morning sunshine. It ain’t but two blocks from Terry’s to my place. I held DQ by the elbow and steered him up the sidewalk, while he blinked like an owl and talked nonstop every step of the way.

Things were pretty quiet for those first few days. Well, not so much quiet, since DQ talked from sunup to sundown, but quiet in the sense that he didn’t cause another riot. And that’s mostly because I kept him in the house.

I learned a bit about DQ in the process. While DQ might exaggerate about giants and fair ladies and whatnot, he was telling the truth about that old folk’s home. He called it a dungeon, and I believed him. No way I wanted to see him end up back there.

At the same time, you got to understand about DQ. At any given moment, he was either planning one of his adventures, in the middle of acting it out, or beaten senseless because of what he’d just done. I had to keep an eye on him every second. It was worse than when I had that damn goat.

Of course, I had heard how much trouble DQ caused at the bar, but it wasn’t until our first adventure together that I got a peek into DQ’s addled brain.

I suppose it was a mistake taking DQ shopping with me, but it was that or chain him up in the yard. And if we’d left the house five minutes earlier or later, we might have dodged the whole mess, but we didn’t.

We were on Saint Claude and hadn’t even made it to the grocery yet. Then, I saw Allie Love strutting down the curb and, over on the corner, a couple of the local dope peddlers.

Those punks flipped Allie some sass, and she, of course, tells them right where they can stick that shit, and all of this at full volume, mind you.

DQ stood there with his mouth hanging open. That lasted about two heartbeats. Then, he charged. The old boy got three steps on me before I figured out what was about to happen. Too late to stop it. Allie Love scampered off like a scared rabbit, and DQ was on them punks like a baying hound.

“You sodden-witted scoundrels! How dare you sully the name of this beautiful lady? Apologize this instant or face the wrath of her faithful knight!”

It wasn’t the kind of talk they were used to, but dim as they were, those punks knew disrespect when they heard it. The tall one popped DQ upside the head, and he went down like a chopped tree. The fat one caught me a cuff or two before I could make them see sense.

“Ease up, ease up! He’s just a crazy old white man. Don’t know what he’s saying.”

Them two stood there looking perplexed. One of them slid back his coat to flash the cheap pistol stuck in his waistband. I showed him my hands.

“Just let me get him out of here. He ain’t worth your time.”

They looked down at DQ spluttering on the ground, looked at my sorry ass, and probably figured the cops might show. The one sporting the piece waved his hand at me, like he was shooing me off. Goes without saying, I pulled DQ up off the pavement and scurried his skinny ass out of there.

After that, things got better and worse at the same time. Better, because I started to enjoy DQ’s company. I listened to his wild tales and saw the world the way he saw it. No one was ordinary in DQ’s crazy eyes. Everyone was either noble and fair or a scoundrel and a knave. There was never a dull moment as long as DQ was around.

The downside was that DQ would not let go of his nonsense about Allie Love. She was the lady Eleanor Dancing, and that was that. He pined for her, like a schoolboy. He begged me to deliver a letter to her. He harped on it over and over until I decided to humor him. Stupid me; I let him badger me into leaving the house without him. That was when he escaped.

I spent most of that afternoon looking for DQ. I even walked past that shitty old folks home, in case he’d wandered back there somehow. I was about to give up on it when I passed Al’s barbershop and saw Father Mike sitting in the chair.

Father Mike is our hippie priest, one of them young, earnest priests from up north somewhere. Al is the crustiest old barber you’d ever care to meet, been cutting hair in the ward since he took over the shop from his daddy.

Not knowing what else to do, I pushed open the door and went on in. While Al finished up with Father Mike’s hair, I told them my sad tale. No better place for a confession than a priest and a barbershop put together.

They both got to laughing about it and told me not to worry. Al said he’d seen DQ go by not an hour ago. Father Mike told me he had a plan, gave Al a wink on the side, like I wasn’t sitting right there. They told me to go on home and wait in case DQ showed up there.

I went on back to the place, but I can’t tell the lie that I wasn’t worried. Truth is I was sick with it. What if DQ ran into them drug dealers? What if the cops picked him up and dragged him back to that dungeon? I fretted and paced for what must have been a good hour. Then, out of nowhere, a knot of folks appeared in front of my porch.

There was Father Mike, Al the barber, and Dorothy, Al’s niece and one of the prettiest women in the neighborhood. And in the middle of the clutch was DQ, smiling to beat the band and fawning all over Dorothy. He looked up at me, and I swear his face glowed, like a saint.

“My good Sanchez, here you are and in the nick of time. We have rescued this fair princess from an evil fate; and now, we must offer her sanctuary.”

I looked to Father Mike, who laid a finger alongside his nose. I shrugged and opened the front door. The whole lot of them trooped inside; and soon, we were having a merry time. DQ was back, safe and sound.

Weeks went by, and DQ got to be a fixture in the ward. Crazy as he was, folks took a shine to him. He would hold court in Al’s barbershop or Terry’s Bar, and no one minded. Folks enjoyed his wild stories.

DQ had this sense of wonder about him, like he saw everything through brand new eyes, like he was seeing everyone and everything for the first time. Thing was, it was infectious, if you know what I mean. It got under your skin. Sure got under mine, anyway. I found myself seeing things I’d never seen before, even though I probably looked at them a thousand times.

During that short time, I got real fond of DQ, real fond indeed. It couldn’t last, of course. Eventually, someone at that dungeon of a nursing home figured out that they were one lunatic shy of a full roster.

I was sitting on the front porch when that unmarked Crown Vic pulled up. I knew one of the cops, LaFontaine, an enormous detective who’d been around the ward forever. He rolled up on me but not hard.

“Afternoon, Sanchez.”

“How the fight, Detective?”

He gave me a little smile for a big man.

“Same. Listen, we’re looking for a missing person, a senior citizen named Donald Quinn. You know anything about that?”

Weren’t no use playing dumb, but it stung all the same.

“Yeah, he’s inside talking with Father Mike.”

“Okay, I appreciate that. We need to return Mister Quinn to the Unity Manor facility.”

I snorted at that one.

“Send him back to the dungeon, you mean.”

LaFontaine pinched his nose and gave me a look.

“I’m not happy about this one, Sanchez. But, you know we got to do this.”

Then, I was thinking about DQ, instead of feeling sorry for myself. How would the old man take it, being shoved into that cop car? That’s when Father Mike stepped out onto the porch and saved the day.

Father Mike laid it out to the two cops, how DQ is fragile on account of his wild fantasies. He gave them a play that would make it easier on the old man. LaFontaine was shaking his head, like now he’d heard it all. Then, his partner said something, gave him a nudge, and it was done.

Father Mike told DQ that an enchanted coach had arrived to take him on an adventure, and that we were both going with him. DQ ran to the window; and sure enough, he saw a magic coach. Then, DQ beamed that goofy smile at me.

“Come, good Sanchez, we must away!”

It damn near broke my heart.

DQ grabbed us by the arms and rushed us down the front steps. He called the detectives his “good yeoman”, and they managed to play along. We all piled into that Crown Vic, the two detectives in front and the three of us in back, with DQ in the middle.

That cop car rolled through the ward, while DQ rattled off a story about an evil sorcerer and whatnot. Father Mike and the other cop listened to DQ, I stared at nothing feeling bad, and LaFontaine watched the street. Next thing, LaFontaine nudges his partner and points to the sidewalk.

“You see these two chuckleheads? Pull over, partner.”

“We got civilians in the car.”

“Yeah, it’s cool. I promise not to shoot the fools.”

The Crown Vic nudged to the curb, and LaFontaine popped out, like a very large jack-in-the-box. And I’ll be damned if the two fools he was after weren’t the very same punk dealers that roughed up DQ and me. Them two didn’t look so cocky, not with LaFontaine giving them the talk.

“Antoine and Clyde. Ain’t that a shame. And, out in the daylight. I thought I warned you two about working this part of town.”

The two of them shuffled around on the sidewalk, looking at their shoes.

“You peckerwoods deaf? I’m talking to you.”

It was the fat one who answered him, the one who had flashed his pistol at me.

“Naw, we ain’t working nothing. Just going up to get us something to eat.”

The skinny punk had hunched down and stared into the back seat. I gave him the eye, and he scratched his dumb head.

“Hey, why you cops got a padre in the back seat?”

“Who I got in my car ain’t none of your business, Clyde.”

Then, the fat one joined in looking and saw DQ.

“And there’s that crazy old white dude. What you got here, a clown car?”

I swear I saw steam shooting out of LaFontaine’s ears. It was right then that DQ lunged across the seat and launched his head and shoulders out the window. He lit into them punks better than a hardshell Baptist preacher.

“Here you are again, you scoundrels! This is your last chance. Name Eleanor Dancing a beautiful lady, or face the wrath of my good yeomen!”

Antoine and Clyde had no idea what a yeoman was. They stared at DQ, like cows staring at a shiny new bucket. LaFontaine watched those two fools, a big grin plastered on his face.

“You two best answer Mister Quinn here. And, remember I am not in a tolerant mood here, you understand me?”

I almost felt sorry for those punks. They looked like two kids called up in front of the class, with no clue what the teacher was talking about. LaFontaine had to throw them a bone to get them started.

“Antoine, I think you need to say something about this man’s lady.”

“Uh, yeah, right, uh… Yo, Clyde, what was her name?”

“He calls her Eleanor Dancing, some shit like that.”

“Damn, man. I really gotta say this?”

LaFontaine shook his head.

“Naw, I can have a car here in five, take you to lockup for the night. Even if you’re clean, I bet they find a few warrants on both of you.”

Clyde gave Antoine a push.

“Right, so like, that lady Eleanor Dancing is very fine.”

“I’m not sure I heard you. Mister Quinn, Father Mike, did you hear that?”

I swear to you that fire was shooting out of DQ’s eyes.

“No, good yeoman, I did not hear the varlets. They must declare themselves or suffer their fate.”

LaFontaine was chuckling by now, and his partner was laughing out loud. The detective waved a meaty hand.

“Clyde, why don’t you give it a try?”

Clyde muttered something under his breath, then caught the big cop’s eye. He must not have liked what he saw, because he leaned down and gave it to DQ, loud and clear.

“Yo, Mister Quinn, your girl Eleanor Dancing is a fine lady. Finest on the street, you hear me.”

DQ beamed like a kid on Christmas morning. Father Mike pulled him back into the middle of the seat. Clyde and Antoine looked to the big cop, who waved them away and slid back into the Crown Vic. His partner eased that big car away from the curb, still laughing to himself.

“Hey partner, maybe we should roll with Mister Quinn full-time.”

LaFontaine just smiled.

It was a sweet victory. DQ was as happy as I’d ever seen him. But none of it gave me more time with DQ or took the sting out of seeing him led into that sorry excuse for an old folks home.

Father Mike and LaFontaine walked DQ in. I couldn’t do it; had to stay outside with LaFontaine’s partner. He was decent enough to leave me be.

After the deed was done, the cops dropped us back at my place. The old house seemed like a tomb without DQ around. Father Mike promised he’d look in on me, then took off to his parish. I guess I was one of his lost flock now. I damn sure felt lost without DQ around to hear.

I moped around the house for the better part of a month. I told myself lies about how much I enjoyed this quiet life and swore to myself I would never take up with any more crazy old men. Mostly, I was genuinely miserable.

It was a warm Sunday morning that promised to turn hot. I was sitting on the front porch, hoping Father Mike might stop by after his sermons and such. I was staring at nothing when I saw a scarecrow of a man strutting up my walk.

Damned if it wasn’t DQ in the flesh, sporting a decent suit of clothes and a straw trilby perched on his white hair. I looked behind him, expecting to see the cops hot on his tail, but the street was empty. I rushed down the steps, happy as a pig in mud.

“My good Sanchez, how I have missed you!”

He had both his hands around mine, and he wasn’t letting go.

“DQ, what the hell are you doing here? Did you escape again? Are they after you?”

The old man tilted his head back and laughed up at the sky. I swear the whole ward must have heard that laugh.

“No, dear Sanchez, you do not understand. The curse is broken! The evil enchantment is no more. I have the parchment here with me.”

He patted a satchel that hung from his shoulder.

“You’re right, DQ, I don’t understand. C’mon, we better get you out of sight.”

He let go of my hand and held one finger to the sky.

“There is no need, Sanchez. As I said, the curse is broken. I have checked myself out, as you say. I am a free man!”

“Wait, you mean for real? You checked out of that shithole for real?”

“Yes, Sanchez, checked out for real and true.”

“Holy shit, you’re not kidding, are you? I can’t wait to see the look on Father Mike’s face when he sees you. But, what happens now?”

DQ smiled, reached out a hand, and grabbed me by the shoulder.

“Now, Sanchez, we are free to begin the adventure.”

About the Author

Marco Etheridge is a writer, occasional playwright, and part-time poet. He lives in Austria. His writing has been published around the globe. When not crafting stories, Marco is a contributing editor and layout grunt for a new ‘Zine called Hotch Potch.

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