Vanilla ride, p.8

Vanilla Ride, page 8


Vanilla Ride

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  I didn’t have an answer. I got weak and went to one knee. I turned away from the carnage we had just made. I saw the ball-kicked guy’s skull down by the curb. The weenie dog appeared, grabbed it, headed off between a couple of houses, running like he had just caught a touchdown pass.

  Leonard and I walked over to the Caddy and looked in at the guys in the front seat, ones pushed back by the air bags. One of them was moving.

  “Should I shoot him?” Brett asked. “I want to shoot him. Other one’s alive, I’ll shoot him too.”

  “No,” I said, pushing the shotgun down. “We’re done.”

  I could hear sirens wailing, coming closer and closer.

  “Glad you could make it,” I said to Leonard.

  “Me too,” he said. “Your neck’s bleeding.”

  I put a hand to my neck. I had been grazed. I couldn’t believe it. That was the worse I had got, except for a stray shotgun pellet and some broken glass.

  Brett handed me the shotgun. “Wait right here. I’m fixin’ to slap the shit out of Gadget.”

  I didn’t stop her. She went across the street, jerked Gadget to her feet, and slapped her so hard it knocked her down again. “Get up, bitch,” I heard Brett say.

  Gadget didn’t move.

  Brett kicked her in the ribs. “Get up, bitch, or I’ll stomp your head in.”

  Gadget reluctantly got up, and Brett slapped her down again.

  People were starting to poke their heads out of their houses, move out into their yards. Four police cars and a medical unit arrived. We dumped our guns on the Caddy’s hood, walked out into the street slowly with our hands up.

  Brett didn’t move. She stood in the yard looking down at Gadget, who was crying louder than before.

  “Get up, bitch,” I heard Brett say, “and I’ll give you something to cry about.”


  They separated us and put me in a poorly lit cell with a burly tattooed guy with greasy hair and a lot of muscles and a way of looking at me that made me feel like a pork chop with a butt hole. At least he had all his teeth and no pustules on his face. We would at worst make healthy if not overly attractive children.

  He was sitting on his bunk and I was sitting on mine. My hands were shaking a little bit; they still tingled from all the shooting and I could smell cordite on my clothes, and there was another smell inside my head, a cloud of death and doom.

  The cell’s walls were as pink as a baboon’s ass and we were both wearing pink jumpsuits to match. It was a new jail philosophy. Tough guys didn’t want to go back to jail because they’d have to wear pink and sit in pink jail cells. Some thought it was an idea that worked. I didn’t believe it. Some redneck decides to shoot his wife over the fact she burned his squirrel potpie, I could hardly believe he’d be considering before the deed: Well, damn. I better hold up on this killing. I stick a broom handle up Bessie’s nose, set her on fire and shoot her eye out, I’ll have to wear pink and sit in a pink room, and them’s girl colors. What if the fellas see me?

  I wondered how the fella across from me felt about wearing pink. Maybe he didn’t like it, but it certainly hadn’t been enough to keep him out of jail, and from the looks of him, he’d been here before, maybe had a pillow with his name stitched on it.

  Fuck rehabilitation. Go for the pink to embarrass them.

  My partner put an Elvis smile on his face, eyed me for a while, said, “You don’t get much pussy in jail.”

  “That’s a natural fact,” I said.

  “It ain’t available.”

  “You, my man, are like an oracle. You see things the rest of us don’t. You are Nostradamus in pink. You are a ripe cherry blossom in an orchard of dullards.”

  He eyed me for a moment, trying to figure out if what I said was an insult or a compliment. Then he picked up where he’d left off. “Not real pussy.”

  I was already tired of this guy.

  “Sometimes, you got to make your own nookie,” he said.

  “You got you a theme, don’t you, buddy?”

  “You hear what I’m sayin’?”

  “Are you suggestin’ that I’m pretty in pink?”

  “Poontang is where you find it, boy.”

  I saw where this was going, and it was where I’d figured all along. I jumped off my bunk and was across our little gap before he could open his mouth again. I hit him as hard as I could, right across the cheek; it was like I dropped a fucking anvil on him. He fell backwards on his bunk, but his ass was hanging off and the weight of it pulled him onto the floor. He lay beside the bunk twitching like a Pentecostal having a Jesus rigor. There wasn’t any blood, but he was going to have a bruise and a headache and his pink jumpsuit was going to have floor nasty on it.

  I backed to my bunk and sat down and watched until he quit twitching. Then I turned my attention to how many years I would be behind bars before they put me to death by lethal injection for the shoot-out we had just been in. Maybe they could put me and Brett and Leonard in a room together. We could hold hands from our cots while they put the needles in our arms. I looked at the guy on the floor, the man without pussy.

  I sat there and thought on things and tried to figure how I had come to this. Mama always told me to stay away from guns, and though I could use one and I was a good shot, I had never been comfortable with them. Though I agreed that guns didn’t kill people, people killed people, guns sure made it a lot easier and far more successful than hunting down victims with a pointed stick.

  If I hadn’t been armed today, I’d have been deep napping inside my truck amidst broken glass and a bloody car seat with a hole in my head, Brett dead beside me, a yard gnome and a Vote Republican sign still standing. So there had to be something good said for guns, and maybe we could even throw in a few kind words for erratic driving, but if we had all been carrying those pointed sticks it might have been less of a massacre. When you really think about it, humans are a scary branch of evolution, especially the male division. Man can turn anything into a weapon, even his tongue.

  Perhaps living in Texas was my problem.

  Maybe if I had been born in Connecticut.

  Nah. They talked funny and it was cold up there.

  I thought about Gadget and Tanedrue and the trailer, and how me and Leonard had whipped those guys’ asses. I thought about those birthday and Christmas cards on Tanedrue’s mirror; his mother had meant something to him, and he to her, and now she’d have him to grieve over. I thought about the shooting, the way I had acted and felt, about how something had clicked inside of me and turned me hot as the core of the sun, about how the bloodlust had taken me over and wrapped me up tight until I exploded. I thought about how Leonard was, and Brett. I had seen something close to joy on their faces. I figured mine had probably looked the same. Maybe we all deserved execution just because we could do what we did and not blink an eye. It wasn’t just self-defense. When it all came down and I felt that click inside of me, I had been scared but exhilarated too, and in the moments of the happening I had felt born to kill. Now I just felt small and sick to my stomach and a little weird. Like it had all happened to someone else and I had watched it from a distant rooftop.

  My life had been too full of quick punches, blood, and gun smoke. I wanted to go with Brett to some island and live off coconuts and screw until it killed us. I wanted to never throw a punch again. Never see a gun again, not even from a distance, not even a picture in a magazine. I wanted to never be mad again. I wanted to not have to worry about my code of honor. I wanted it not to matter. I even wanted to get away from Leonard.

  I was tired of the whole dirty, bloody thing that was my life. I was beginning to consider heavily that old saying about being careful when you fight monsters so that you do not become one. In that moment, I was feeling pretty monstrous. It was as if I had been born under a violent star.

  I wondered what Leonard was thinking about.

  He was probably in his cell sleeping on his bunk, dreaming of vanilla cookies and Dr Pepper. Happy in p
ink. He was alive and had helped keep me and Brett alive. For him, that was enough, and for me it should have been.

  The guy on the floor stirred and started to sit up. I thought: Fuck it. In for the snout, in for the tail. I stood up and kicked him in the head as hard as I could under the jaw. He went down again and didn’t get up. This time he bled. I sat down on my bunk and watched the blood run out of his mouth.

  Hap Collins, you are one walking, talking contradiction. I also decided I didn’t deserve execution after all. I probably just needed a spanking. Maybe someone could call me some names and send me home without my supper. I felt myself tremble as if something cold had crawled up my spine.

  I watched some shadows advance down the hall. I heard some prisoners yelling and talking. Somewhere someone was watching a television. There was no television in my cell. Not even a deck of cards. Just the man without nookie, lying unconscious on the jailhouse floor.

  After a while a big shadow came down the hall. It fell into the cell, and pretty soon there was a guy following it. He was one of the cops who had arrested us. He was a big guy with a belly that was teasing the buttons on his shirt. He was bareheaded and he didn’t have much hair. He stood at the door to my cell, looking through the bars. He stared down at my pal on the floor, said, “What happened to him?”

  “Faintin’ spell,” I said. “Saw a mouse.”

  “A mouse, huh?”

  “It was a big mouse.”


  They brought the three of us, wearing handcuffs, into an interrogation room that smelled strongly of Pine-Sol and too much mop soap and more than a sprinkle of urine. The floor was a little slick. A roach lay legs up in the corner.

  There was a mirror on the wall, long and narrow, and I figured it was one of those see-through jobs where they could watch into the room from the other side. They couldn’t fool me. I had seen TV and movies. The mirror was smeared in places with fingerprints and nose prints, and some stains that were probably not worth knowing about. There was a single fat bulb hanging down from a frayed, dust-covered wire and the dust was so thick and dark it looked like fungus. I half expected the wire to snap and spray the room with sparks and set the place on fire. I saw a video camera in the top corner of the room on metal struts. Boogers were smeared on the wall, and some of them were big enough to use as bricks in construction. I had the uncomfortable feeling that one of the larger ones was looking at me.

  They put us on one side of a long table with initials and fuck-you messages carved into it. I looked up. The camera was pointing right at us. I gave it a smile.

  They had already talked to us separately, right before tossing us into our individual cells. Now they had us as a trio, the three of us sitting there in all our jail-suited glory, pink roses in a light green booger-dotted room. They brought us there and went away, and we sat alone for a moment, and then the door opened and two men came in. They were not in uniform.

  I knew one of them. His name was Drake and he was a detective and we got along all right. We had had reason to meet before. I hadn’t shot anyone that time, and he knew Marvin, so he had been nice to me. I got off easy. I hit a man at a Dairy Queen because he hit his wife when she dropped his DQ Dude on the way to their table. I thought this was a bit excessive, even though Dudes are good and inexpensive if you go with the basket, French fries, and a drink. The wife got mad at me and I was the one that went to jail. As the old saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished.

  Drake was whip-lean, black as straight coffee, with a soft-looking face and a boxer’s flat nose. His shirt was lime-colored. It matched the paint on the walls. He didn’t have on a tie. His top button was unbuttoned and his shirttail was pulled out. If he was trying to look any more casual he’d have come in his underwear carrying a teddy bear and a pacifier.

  Drake knew Leonard too. Who didn’t? Brett he also knew of. I could understand that. A lot of men knew of her and wished they knew more of her.

  I had no idea where Gadget was, or the two who had been in the front seat of the Caddy. I wondered if my cell mate was still napping. I wondered if the weenie dog was somewhere hidden, nibbling on his prize.

  Drake had another cop with him. A pink-skinned, redheaded guy with freckles and fat lips. Kelso was his name. He was leaning in the corner of the room acting like he couldn’t believe what the human condition had come to.

  Drake sat on one side of the table and we sat on the other. Brett in the middle. The chairs were shorter on our side of the table. It’s an old trick the cops use to make you feel less significant than the interrogator. We didn’t give a damn, though. We were tough enough to tear doughnuts in half.

  Kelso kept his corner, turning his head to take us in with those disappointed eyes. Drake lit a cigarette and asked if we wanted cigarettes or coffee.

  “Have you got those little flavored creamers?” Leonard asked.

  “No,” Drake said.

  “Any cookies?”

  “Nothing like that,” Drake said. “Some coffee. Standard shitty creamer with some sugar packs. Or Sweet’N Low. But maybe we can bring in some caviar and nice crackers.”

  “Could you?” Leonard said. “That would be damn nice.”

  Drake made a point of ignoring Leonard. He looked at me and Brett. We asked for coffee. Drake nodded, turned to Kelso, said, “Is the camera on?”

  He knew we knew how it worked, so he wasn’t trying to be cagey.

  “Nope,” Kelso said.

  “Good,” Drake said. “Leonard, you can go fuck yourself.”

  “From your lips to God’s ear,” Leonard said.

  “Go on, man,” Drake said to Kelso. “Get the coffee.”

  Kelso left. I guess it was his day to be fetch bitch.

  Drake looked us over. “So, you people have had quite a day. Enough dead to put a dent in the population. If only you could have set fire to downtown and shot a busload of orphans, it would have been perfect.”

  “Hap ran over a yard gnome,” Brett said. “That damn sure ought to count for something.”

  “Yep,” Leonard said. “It was a big day, and frankly, I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m a little tuckered, and this pink outfit makes me feel like I’m in my jammies. But, just to let you know, I really feel humiliated. This suit, it’s got to be the right cure for evil. Wearing this, no one would ever stray again from the straight and narrow. You wouldn’t even catch me jackin’ off in the men’s room if I thought I’d have to wear this fucker again.”

  “That’s a relief,” Drake said.

  “Thought you’d want to know,” Leonard said.

  Drake tapped his fingers on the desk, said, “You’re going to call it self-defense?”

  “Our lawyer will,” I said. Of course, we didn’t have a lawyer yet, but I wanted to sound like a big-time experienced criminal.

  I turned to Leonard, said, “I met a guy in my cell who wanted to fuck me. I knocked him out. Was that anti-gay?”

  “Did you write any anti-gay graffiti on him or the wall?”

  I shook my head.

  “I think it’ll be all right,” he said.

  “No talking amongst yourselves,” Drake said. “You know you did a bad thing, you three?”

  “Yep,” Leonard said.

  “What about those guys in the Caddy?” Brett asked.

  “They’ll live,” Drake said.

  “Gadget?” I asked.

  “She’s under arrest.”

  Kelso came back in, but he didn’t have our coffee. He leaned over and whispered in Drake’s ear.

  “What?” Drake said.

  Kelso nodded.

  “Goddamn it,” Drake said.

  Drake got up and went out. Leonard said, “What about that coffee?”

  “Fuck the coffee,” Kelso said.

  “That’s some kind of goddamn way for a public servant to talk,” Leonard said. “And you with the camera running.”

  I kicked Leonard gently under the table.

  “I saw that,” Kelso said.
And that’s good policy. You should shut the hell up. And the camera is still off, dick cheese. That way, I wanted to kick your ass it wouldn’t get recorded.”

  Leonard just smiled. Even with handcuffs on, Leonard would be a load and he knew it, and I could tell Kelso knew it too.

  Kelso glared at me, said, “The jailer said you hit your cell mate.”

  “He didn’t buy the mouse story?”

  “Drake said you two think you’re funny.”

  “There’s that insult again,” Leonard said. “It could take the edge off our comic timing.”

  “I think you’re funny,” Brett said, reached her handcuffs over and patted Leonard’s hand.

  “Thank you, dear,” Leonard said.

  “Laugh it up,” Kelso said. “We’ll see what the jury says.”

  We were the sort that when we were nervous we couldn’t help but run our mouths to show we weren’t nervous. It’s not a good habit, but it’s ours. That comment shut us up, though. We sat there in silence, brooding in our pink jumpsuits, until the door opened and Drake came in and looked at us and sighed. He stood there for a long moment, just studying us, like we were a species formerly thought extinct. I thought any moment the rubber hose would appear, maybe a blowtorch and some pliers and a couple of angry German shepherds. He turned to Kelso. “Take their handcuffs off.”


  After our handcuffs were off, Drake and Kelso went out, leaving us alone. We sat and waited, looking in the mirror that most likely had someone on the other side. At first I counted smears on the glass, boogers on the wall, anything to keep me busy. But that grew boring.

  We turned and looked at one another, as if one of us might offer some sort of solution. No great answers unfolded. The nature of the universe was still safe. Stephen Hawking still had the inside track.

  We sat there for a long time, then finally began to talk. Brett said, “What’s the point of this?”

  “They want whoever is on the other side of the glass to take a good look at us,” Leonard said.

  “Why?” Brett asked.

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