Vanilla ride, p.2

Vanilla Ride, page 2


Vanilla Ride

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  We drove over to No Enterprise in my pickup. The truck is one of those Dodges with a backseat and four doors and a short bed. I had recently traded for it and it ran good.

  It was raining and it was a cool day, especially for early fall. Just the night before we had been sitting in my yard in shirtsleeves, and now it was cool enough to wish for excess hair on your chest. As for women, I don’t know exactly what they’d wish for. Probably a nice coat and a pair of shoes. I know Brett liked coats and shoes, especially shoes. She had enough in the closet to shoe a couple of monster-size centipedes, as long as they liked their footwear to come from Payless, Wal-Mart or Target. Equating women with shoes might be an old sexist cliché, but it didn’t change the fact Brett had a lot of shoes.

  What Leonard and I had were some windbreakers. Mine was blue. Leonard’s was beige. We made a point of making sure we weren’t wearing the same colors. It’s hard to be convincing as tough guys when you’re wearing matching outfits.

  We had the address from Marvin, and of course the thing to do was not to just drive right up on the place, as that would be foolish and dangerous, but, since the two of us together sometimes can only manage the IQ level of a ground squirrel, that’s exactly what we were going to do. We tried to come up with some nifty sophisticated plan on the way over, but we kept getting distracted and singing along with the CD player. We had to listen to Leonard’s music. If I didn’t want to, he pouted. He can pout big-time. Since we were in my truck and it was my CD player, I should have chosen some of the music. I wanted to play Amy Winehouse. He didn’t.

  Anyway, we drove over there singing to Kasey Lansdale’s Back of My Smile CD, some Hank Williams, and a bit of Ernest Tubb. All good stuff. Then we listened to Patsy Cline. Neither of us had the balls to sing along with Patsy. That just isn’t done. By the time we were five miles outside of No Enterprise it occurred to us that we had yet to concoct some kind of strategy, so we stopped off in town at Big Burger, a local place that served food and was also a filling station with an open garage. Inside the garage was a lube rack and a lonely-looking guy in blue khakis sitting on an old-fashioned Coke crate turned on edge. He was reading without fear of insult a sex book titled in bold letters Poontang Palace. The book was probably older than the reader, and considering the size of the town he probably read more books than he lubed transmissions.

  Inside, they took our order and a lanky guy in an apron brought it to the little table where we sat, placed the hamburger plates on the plastic checkered tablecloth, and went away. They made a good hamburger and some French fries that tasted as if they had been put out on the drainboard and pissed on the night before and left to dry. We both bought potato chips as a replacement and pondered how a place could make such good hamburgers and such shitty fries. What kind of cook could fry a burger and couldn’t dip some French fries in a deep fryer without screwing them up?

  At that moment it seemed like a question equal to “why are we here?” We came closer to solving the French fry enigma than coming up with any kind of plan to deal with our problem concerning Gadget and her keepers.

  “We’re just going to rough him up, aren’t we?” I said.

  “He hit Gadget.”

  “We don’t really know Gadget.”

  “She’s Marvin’s granddaughter, isn’t she?”

  “She is.”

  “All I need to know, Hap, ole buddy.”

  “So, we punch him in the head a little and we take Gadget with us.”

  “We can punch him lots of places. He’s got friends, we got to punch them too.”

  “Okay, so we punch him and anyone else gets in our way, and we punch them all kinds of places, and then we take Gadget.”

  “Always been the plan, far as I’m concerned.”

  “And if she doesn’t want to go?” I asked.

  “We could take her.”

  “That wouldn’t be smart, and it wouldn’t be any good. You know that. We told Marvin that.”

  “You told him,” Leonard said, sipped his coffee and looked out the window at cars going by on the highway.

  “But you know it’s true,” I said.

  “Yeah, I know it. But I don’t like bastards like this guy and I don’t like what he’s done to the granddaughter…. Ever notice how many cars are red these days? That used to be bad luck, a red car.”

  “No. I haven’t noticed. We don’t know this guy has done anything. She might be making him do it.”

  “Making him do it? Sayin’, ‘How’s about hittin’ me upside the head’? That what she’s doin’?”

  “I don’t mean she deserves it. I mean it may be some kind of sexual ritual. He punches her in the eye, then she sucks his dick. Then she punches him in the eye, and he goes for the taco. Then they start all over again.”

  “That what you think?”


  “Just like to hear yourself talk, don’t you, Hap?”

  “Pretty much,” I said.

  “So we’re back to roughing his ass up and seeing she wants to go with us.”

  “Yeah, that’s pretty much it,” I said. “That is the plan. I mean, why do something smart and safe and well coordinated, when we can just drive up on them and start throwing knuckles.”

  “Sometimes it works.”

  “Sometimes it does. And sometimes we get our asses kicked around.”

  “I know,” Leonard said. “I’ve seen it happen. But that ain’t often, is it?”

  “Once is too goddamn often.”

  “Point taken. Chocolate pie?”


  We finished off our lunch with chocolate pie and more coffee, considered having another slice and another cup but talked ourselves out of it, reminded by the fact that we had a job to do, a promise to keep, and we didn’t want to do it toting too much weight in our bellies.

  Outside I took a peek in the garage. The reader was still sitting on the upturned Coke crate, engrossed in his book. I sort of hoped no one would want a tire changed or a manifold replaced. I’d hate to think such intense concentration might be broken. A car backfired out on the highway. The dedicated reader didn’t move. He didn’t bat an eye. I guess he was at the good part, where someone was about to put the arrow in the target.

  Leonard came over and stood by me, said, “Come on, doofus. I been standing out by the truck waiting. Let’s roll.”

  Following Marvin’s directions over to the place, we listened to some more music and sang along some more, this time with Willie Nelson. I thought I did a pretty good “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” Leonard didn’t think so. We sang “In the Jailhouse Now,” which I thought might be a form of prophecy, considering what we were about to do.

  Where we were going was kind of a peckerwood suburb, which was pretty much a clutch of fall-defoliated trees, some evergreen pines, a listing mobile home, and a dog hunched to drop a load in what passed for a yard. The dog was medium-sized, dirty yellow, and looked like the last meal he’d eaten was what he was dropping. He was working so hard at dropping those turds, his eyes were damn near crossed, had the kind of concentration that made you consider he might be close to figuring out the problems of string theory. He didn’t look owned. Had the look of a freelance dog. Maybe there was something to be said for that.

  The yard wasn’t much. The rain had stopped and windblown leaves had bunched up all over the place. There were some cars parked there, and there were some people standing next to the cars. Eight guys, to be exact. They looked pretty young. There was a fellow standing in the doorway of the trailer in Scooby Doo shorts scratching his nuts like a squirrel sorting acorns. He was young too. I didn’t see anyone I thought was Gadget, unless she had been disguised as the stray yellow dog or was in that fellow’s shorts hiding next to his nut sack.

  We parked and Leonard got my .38 snub-nosed revolver out of the glove box and stuck it in his pants and pulled his shirt and windbreaker over it. I have a gun permit, as does Leonard, but that gun wasn’t on it. It wasn’t even registered. It was
for nefarious deeds.

  I said, “Don’t use that.”

  “Hey, better to have and not need than not have and need.”

  “What about me?”

  “You didn’t want me to use it, but now you want to carry it? I don’t think so.”

  “It’s my gun.”

  “Tough shit. Use your suave and debonair fucking charm.”

  We got out and started walking toward the trailer. The people in the yard rapidly divided into two camps: the scared and the nervous. Some of them got in their cars and drove away quickly. They would be the buyers. The rest started inside the trailer. They would be the drug-selling posse. The guy in the shorts let them pass, then took his position again, hand in his drawers. He looked at us like he thought he was tough enough to chew the edge off a Buck knife. I didn’t think he looked as tough as he thought. However, sometimes looks can be deceiving.

  There was what passed for music coming out of the trailer. Rap, I guess, but it sounded like someone beating an active washing machine with a log chain.

  I said to Leonard as we walked up, “Take it easy, play it cool.”

  “Cool is my middle name,” Leonard said.

  “No,” I said. “No, it isn’t.”

  We were close to the front door when the man holding his balls, a black guy with pale skin and a longish Afro that made him look like a time traveler from the late sixties, early seventies, said, “Man, you two are fuckin’ my game. You didn’t come here for what we sell, I can tell.”

  “Ain’t this where they’re having the revival?” Leonard said. “I been wanting Jesus in my heart, or up my ass or somethin’. Way you’re digging, is he in them Scooby shorts with you?”

  “You a funny nigger,” the black man said. “You don’t know shit. Scooby is cool. What the fuck you want?”

  The idea that our bad guy guarding the door was worried about our dissing Scooby amused me a bit. We had stopped about four feet from the door. The trailer was up on concrete blocks, so the guy in the doorway was standing above us. He was still playing pocket pool. By this point, my nuts would have been chafed and my hand would have been tired enough I would have had to call in re inforcements. His legs had bruises on them. I figured that would be from Marvin’s cane. Behind him, in the slight darkness, I could see movement, and the sound of the music was loud enough and bad enough that the idea of kicking someone’s ass was beginning to appeal, if for no other reason than their lack of taste.

  “I don’t like being called a nigger even when a nigger calls me that,” Leonard said.

  “That some kind of joke too?”

  “You see me laughin’?” Leonard said.

  Another man, a lanky but muscled white guy with a close-shaved scalp, appeared at the Afro guy’s shoulder, looked out, said, “You want I should take care of them?”

  “I ask you shit?” the Afro man said. “You hear me ask some shit from you? Go on in there and sit your white ass down. Pet the fuckin’ dog or pat my old lady’s ass, but don’t be gettin’ in my game unless I call on you.”

  “Have it your fuckin’ way,” the white guy said, and disappeared back inside the trailer.

  “I’m pettin’ your gal’s ass,” the white guy called from somewhere inside.

  “That was like just a fuckin’ thing to say. Don’t you do it, asshole,” the Afro guy said, glancing inside the trailer. Then he looked back at us.

  I said, “Could you ask him to turn down the music? I think I saw a bird fall out of a tree.”

  He ignored me. “You cops?”

  “We look like cops?” Leonard said.

  “He does,” he said, pointing a finger at me.

  “He’s white,” Leonard said. “All white guys look like cops.”

  “I resent that,” I said.

  “We ain’t cops,” Leonard said. “Now, get your hand off your bulbs, we maybe can do a little business. But you and me. No matter what the business. We ain’t shakin’ hands.”

  The Afro guy didn’t pull his hand out of his shorts. His eyes narrowed. “All right, you buyin’ somethin’ or not?”

  Leonard said, “You’re right. I fess up. We don’t want to buy anything. To be precise, we’re here to take somethin’. It’s Gadget we want.”


  “Yep,” I said.

  “You guys are nuts. Ain’t nobody around but you two, and there’s four of us and a badass dog, and you’re tellin’ me you’re takin’ my woman?”

  “If you had two dogs,” Leonard said, “now that would be different.”

  “There’s a dog?” I said.

  The guy in the doorway shifted his nuts to the other side of his shorts and looked exasperated. “Gadget ain’t goin’ nowhere, man. She’s my hole.”

  “Damn, that’s a romantic reference,” I said. “You say you got a dog in there?”

  “She ain’t goin’,” the man said.

  “Only if she wants to go,” I said. “And maybe even if she doesn’t want to. We’re kind of up in the air on that part… What kind of dog is it?”

  “Ah,” he said, “I get it. You two from that old nigger. Her granddaddy That fuckin’ cripple.”

  “Whipped your ass with a cane, didn’t he?” Leonard said. “That was some lively old cripple, wouldn’t you say? Your legs look like a fuckin’ zebra with them bruises.”

  “He caught me off guard.”

  “He hit you with that stick like he was dustin’ a rug, Tanedrue,” the white guy said from somewhere inside.

  “You shut the fuck up,” Tanedrue said.

  He turned back to us.

  Leonard laughed a little. “Tanedrue? That’s your name? Your mama made that name up, didn’t she?”

  “It’s African.”

  “Naw it ain’t,” Leonard said. “If that don’t scream ignorant backwoods nigger, I don’t know what does. That was my name, I’d stick a sharp stick up my ass and impale myself.”

  “That’s it,” Tanedrue said, and reached back into the trailer with his right hand. For a slight moment he was distracted, which of course was what we were waiting for.

  Leonard moved quickly, caught Tanedrue by the feet, jerked them up and out. Tanedrue’s head smacked on the bottom of the trailer doorway and then Leonard dragged him down the metal stairs so that his head bounced on each and every one of them. I saw a bit of blood fly out from Tanedrue’s skull, then he went limp and tumbled off the stairs, his hand still in his shorts. No doubt about it, he was one tenacious ball handler.

  We kept moving, straight into the trailer.


  The white guy with the shaved head was the first one at the door. Leonard hit him between the eyes with a swinging elbow so hard I’m sure a distant relative in bad health in the old country crossed his eyes and died. The blow made the goon spin around and away from us. He went down on one knee and held his head, just to make sure it was still attached. While he was on his knees, his legs slightly spread, Leonard kicked him in the balls like he was making a soccer goal.

  I was in right behind Leonard. As I entered, the music smacked me like a fist and the stink of the place draped over me like a blanket. Then a dog jumped at me from the shadows. It was a big, dark, growling dog and it was part of the stench. It went for my throat. I moved to the side slightly and caught the dog by the collar with one hand as its teeth snapped in the air, and saliva from the snap popped across my forehead. With the other hand, I caught its hind leg and picked it up high as I could manage. It was a heavy dog. I saw a window out of the corner of my eye, just over a stained kitchen sink. I tossed the dog at it, hard as I could. The window cracked and the dog went through it in a shower of black and tan fur and a tinkling of glass, its body doing a kind of horseshoe maneuver from the impact. The dog let out a whelp and a yip and then I heard nothing but the sound of its body striking the earth outside. There was blood and fur on the jagged glass. I suspected fleas had pulled parachute cords.

  I heard Leonard say, “Come to papa,” and when I turne
d my head, I caught sight of Leonard holding a big bushy-headed white guy by the back of the neck, slamming his head into the wall so hard a mirror fell off and shattered.

  As I turned, a thin black guy came down the hall at a rush, clubbed me in the ribs with a right hook that nearly caused me to piss myself. I tried to kick him, but there wasn’t any room. In a reflex action he shoved out with both hands, hit me in the chest and knocked me down on top of the guy Leonard had kicked in the balls. The ball-kicked dude was resting politely on the floor whimpering like a little girl who had lost her dolly, hands between his legs.

  “You hurt my dog,” said the guy who shoved me.

  I rolled up and he kicked at me and I scooped my hand under his leg and grabbed his face with my other hand and used my closest leg to sweep his standing leg out from under him. He hit his head on a counter, his teeth snapped together on his tongue, and he went down, blood foaming out of his mouth. I smelled something that made me think he’d bent a biscuit in his skivvies.

  I heard a shriek from the back, looked down the hall. A young, long-legged woman was running at me. She was a dark-skinned girl with a lot of processed hair, maybe some extensions, and for all I knew a recent manicure and a toe ring. She jumped on me with her legs spread and straddled me, her ankles locked around my back; she had hold of my hair with one hand and was clawing my face with the other, still shrieking.

  I hit her with a right cross between the eyes and she let go, though her legs stayed hooked. She fell back on her head, then her legs came undone and they sort of melted toward the floor with the rest of her.

  Leonard was still working on the big hairy guy, had him by the mane and was smashing his head into the wall, cracking the paneling. All I could tell for sure was the guy now had a very flat nose and his lips looked like fat fishing worms that were coming apart. One of his teeth was embedded in the paneling and there was blood on the wall. One more slam and a big crucifix fell and bounced on the couch and then bounced on top of the ball-kicked guy and then onto the floor.

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