Forty One.

Road Trip.

Next afternoon we were all at The Well, even Gina. She figured it out, but she wasn’t coming, said she was too old for that shit, said she wanted a normal life, but she was just scared from the last time.

Billy Boy was excited. He couldn’t wait to show the car he stole. When he took us to the parking lot and pointed to the car, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Joe rolled his and shook his head. Sadie and Jane didn’t comment at all, just walked over and leaned against the wall and started talking to each other. Billy Boy beamed as he stood with his arms outstretched in front of a bright yellow VW microbus.

Joe kept his cool. He was old Joe that day, the Joe I remember from early days, focusing on plans and calculations, assessments and mental checklists, all emotion aside, all business. The irony was, this lightened his attitude and put him in good spirits. “It’s sweet, B.B., but it’s a little con-spic-u-ous.” Billy Boy’s smile dropped, then his arms. Joe broke his heart. Joe tried to lift him back up. “It’s beautiful, B.B., really. But we need something that doesn’t stick out. Can you get us something else?”

Billy Boy jumped at the chance to redeem himself, literally jumped, like an excited puppy. He danced in circles, looked back and forth, up and down the street, then disappeared around the corner, returning ten minutes later in a powder-blue Buick.

Joe slapped the fender when he stopped. “Perfect. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Billy Boy jumped out and ran to Joe, “Can I drive, Joe? Can I?”

“No,” Joe answered as he opened the trunk to load gear.

“Please. Please.”

“No. Get in. Yo, Mann, got everything?”

I checked the gear: pry bar, flashlight, hammer, screwdriver, rope. “Check.”

“Please, Joe. Please.”

“No. Let’s go.”

Sadie and Jane waited for the drama to end, then walked over, dropped their bags in the trunk and climbed in back. I grabbed shotgun, and Billy Boy waited for Joe to relent.

Joe shut the trunk and jumped into the driver’s seat. “Come on, B.B. Get in the fucking car.” Sadie left the door open. When Billy Boy hesitated, she pulled it shut. His hand was stuck when Joe started driving. Billy Boy screamed like a girl until Joe stopped. He climbed in, holding his hand, whimpering, and mumbling about never playing piano again. When he felt no sympathy, he stopped whimpering and relaxed into the plush seat.

The car was perfect for the trip. It floated along the highway like a ship on the ocean. Every bump caused a rocking motion that made it hard to stay awake, but it also had an incredible stereo, making it impossible to sleep. Eight speakers, tape player, flashing lights.

“Hey,” Joe called to me, “Any tapes in the glove box?”

“Let’s see.” I shuffled some junk, a map, three pairs of gloves. I held them up to Joe, “Gloves…in the glove box.'” I dropped them on the floor and rooted some more. “Bingo.” I pulled out an 8-track. “Lynyrd Skynyrd.”

“Yes!” Joe punched the accelerator. The Buick belched and we careened into the sunset.

An hour later Billy Boy was hungry. We were barely to Frederick when he spotted Arby’s. “Roast beef and fries, please.” He ordered through the closed car window as we sped by. That sounded good to me, but I knew Joe wouldn’t stop yet.

“Not stopping yet. No way. We just got on the road.”

“But I didn’t get lunch, though…though. Please, Joe.”

“No.”

“Please.” It sounded like the argument over who got to drive.

“Here, drink this.” Joe grabbed a mason jar laying on the floor. He tossed it back to Billy Boy, who held it to the light.

“What is it?”

“I don’t know. It’s soda.”

“It don’t look like soda.” He set the jar on the floor.

“I don’t know,” Joe mumbled. “Just drink it and leave me alone.”  He looked at Billy Boy in the rear view. “You know what it is, B.B. It’s magic. Pure magic.”

“Magic?” Billy Boy eyed the jar. Even I didn’t think he was that dumb. Maybe he thought “Magic” was the street name for some great new drug. “Cool,” he said, retrieving the jar and holding it to the light again. He shook it and watched the liquid swirl. The light casting through shone purple on his face. When he smiled his teeth were purple too. “Magic,” he repeated, but Joe had stopped listening. Billy Boy looked at the jar again. He opened. He smelled. He drank. He paused. He puked.

For as hungry as he was, he sure had a lot in his stomach. The first wave splashed the back of Joe’s head. The next several sprayed in everyone’s general direction. Then he dry-heaved for a while and cried out “Dear God,” gasping and squeezing his guts. Sadie pushed him away, pinning him against the door while he dry-heaved. I was worried he might die right there in the car. Sadie glared at Joe in the rear view while holding Billy Boy at arm’s length.

When the dry-heaves stopped, he slumped over, hugging his stomach. He didn’t move for a long while, but appeared to be alive. Joe pulled into a mini mart and we bailed from the car. Billy Boy rolled out and crawled to the curb.

“Well,” Joe said, looking at the car, engine still running, doors wide open, puke dripping onto the pavement, “We need another car. Leave the puke. Bring the Skynyrd.” He smiled at Billy Boy sitting on the curb and looking pale. “Man, I don’t know what was in that jar, but remind me never to drink it.” Billy Boy looked up at Joe but didn’t respond.

We all changed clothes in the mini mart bathroom, except Jane, who managed to stay puke-free. Billy Boy felt better, at least well enough to steal Twinkies on his way out. He slouched on the curb eating them and scowling at Joe as meanly as his spikey-haired, weasel face could.

When Joe’s prank with Billy Boy derailed us, he had to come up with something to rebuild morale. He was leaning against a pole, staring at a stack of motor oil in the store window, when the idea came. He stepped from the pole, put his hands in his pockets, and smiled.

He took a step toward the mini mart, then looked back at us. “Maybe we should start here.” He nodded toward the store. “That clerk’s the only one in there. No customers in half an hour. That punk looks pretty pathetic, too. Jane could make him squirt in a second. Just flash some cleavage.” He circled the group. Everyone perked at the chance to get started. “What do you say? What do you saaayaay?” He sang and searched each face. He stopped on me, raised his eyebrows, “What do you say, Mann?”

“Why not.” I answered without looking at anyone else. “But I drive getaway.”

“Wouldn’t have it another way.” Joe slapped my back and laughed.

We drove out of town two hours later in a dark green Mustang II with chrome Cragars and dual headers, only a little less conspicuous than a yellow microbus, but it was convenient and quick, and we had the keys. We jumped on I-70 and headed west. Jane rode shotgun and jerked the radio. “I hate this place. The music sucks here. Reminds me of the south.” She gave up the search and hit Scan. The radio paused on every station and they all sucked. She searched the glove box and found some cassettes and a map. She dug deeper. “Whoa.” A glint of metal flashed when Jane withdrew her hand.

Joe saw it and leaned forward. “Yes.” He slapped the seat. Jane held up a snub-nose .38, like the one Duke kept under the seat of his tow truck. “Mr. Saturday Night Special.”

Jane pinched the barrel between her thumb and forefinger, like she was holding a rat by the tail. “Um. Here, Joe,” she handed it to him. “I don’t like guns.”

“Yes.” Joe reached forward, took the gun and kissed it. He checked the cylinder, then stuck it in his belt. I watched through the rearview. His smile was strange and his eyes glazed a little, like he was high. When he saw me, he winked.

“Listen.” Jane turned up the radio. “They’re talking about us.” They were interviewing the clerk from the mini mart we just robbed. There was a rash of robberies lately, and they suspected a connection. The clerk told his story, but got it all wrong. He said five black dudes with shaved heads stuck three guns in his face and demanded the cash drawer. He said they hit him over the head and stole the keys to his “dark green Mustang II with chrome Cragars and dual headers.” He struggled to grab one by the leg, but the other four beat him unconscious.

“Would you listen to this bullshit?” Joe hit the back of the seat. “Punk ass fucker is lying through his punk ass fucking teeth.” If there was one thing Joe hated, it was a liar, unless it was him. “We should go back and kick his ass again. You know what? Let’s go back. Mann, turn this boat around. Um gonna kick some redneck ass. Get my aluminum. Um gonna git me some battin’ practice.” He slapped the seat again. “You know, people should have the decency to be honest when they’ve been humiliated. Punk ass bitch.” Joe bounced so much he looked like Billy Boy. The gun slipped and fell on the floor. He must have forgotten about it. He held it up like it was the eighth Wonder of the World. Then that sinister smile came back and his eyes glazed again. He squinted at me in the rearview and growled, “Turn this fucker ‘round.”

Sadie responded first. “Fuck no,” she said flatly. “No way, Joe. You start that shit, I’m out.”

“Me, too,” added Jane.

Billy Boy mumbled, “Yeah…Yeah…, me, too…, what she said,” He stared out the window, then looked at his hurt hand.

“Ok. Ok, girls,” he looked at Billy Boy when he said it, then glanced at Sadie and Jane smiling, “Just trying to liven things up.” He put the gun back in his belt, looked over at Billy Boy and made a gun gesture with his thumb and forefinger, pointed it at Jane and mouthed “POW.” Billy Boy giggled, then looked back down at his hand. Joe called forward, “Gotta do better next time. No loose ends.”

“We’ll get it right.” I said.

Joe sat quiet for a moment, then slapped the seat again. “Punk ass fucker.” He was still fuming over the clerk’s story. I understood. A man likes a little recognition for all of his careful planning and hard work.

For the record, here’s how it went down. Jane walked in wearing a tank top, no bra, and insanely short shorts. She told Punk she needed whiskey but didn’t have money. She’d been fighting with her boyfriend and kicked his sorry ass out. Now she was lonely, horny, and needed a drink. Punk saw a chance for revenge sex and jumped on it like a fly on shit. He invited Jane into the back for a drink. She leaned over the counter and said, “Thank you, Sweetie,” showing cleavage and winking at him. She stood erect, arched her back to make sure she had his attention, walked over to the door and pretended to lock it. She crossed back in a way that only Jane could. Punk was too busy following her, first with his eyes, then his cock. He didn’t check the lock.

Jane knew how to distract a man. When she batted those lashes, and stretched and strained, and blew her sweet breath on you, it was hard to think of anything but sex. She stroked you with her eyes and stared at your mouth like she was about to kiss it, like she was hungry for it, her tongue edging the back of her teeth, all the while swaying gently, back and forth, lulling you, transfixing you in her blue-eyed gaze, until you were hypnotized, then BAM, like a cobra, she’d strike.

Joe burst in a minute later armed with a baseball bat. He wasn’t taking any chances, like the last time with Gina. He saw Punk drop to the floor like a sack of potatoes…no, more like a slab of beef, “SLAP,” onto the concrete.

Punk didn’t move. Jane stood above him, rubbing her fist. Joe stood for a moment, with bat raised, assessing the scene. He laughed, lowered the bat and looked again at the slab on the floor. “Um…, never mind.” He knelt down to duct tape Punk’s hands and mouth.

Sadie and Billy Boy were clearing the shelves when I caught up to Joe in the back room.

“Well, he’s still alive.” Joe joked, checking his pulse. He stood up, “Got him in one swing, huh? That’s fifty points. And, judging by the “slap” when he hit the floor, you get another hundred for the takedown.” Joe nudged me, “You getting all this?”

“Yeah.” I pretended to tally the score on my hand. “That’s a hundred and fifty, plus two hundred for successful completion. How much for appearance?”

We both scanned Jane and just shook our heads.

“Yeah,” she smiled, “I’ll be in the ice cream aisle.”

When we came back out to the front, Billy Boy was grabbing cassettes of Christmas music and pine tree air fresheners.

“B.B.,” Joe called, “drop that shit. Grab the cash drawer and get the fuck out of here.” Joe looked at me, “Let’s finish this.”

When the others left, we headed to the back with scissors and a razor. Joe cut and shaved Punk’s head in patchwork pattern and I wrote “MASTURBATOR” on his jaw with Magic Marker. He looked ridiculous and kind of scary. I felt bad while doing it, but not enough to stop. When I finished I checked my work for spelling and legibility.

“I thought we were doing the forehead,” Joe observed.

“The mandible is the message.” He didn’t get it, but he laughed and dropped Punk’s head onto the floor. “Let’s go.”

“Should we be concerned that he’s still unconscious?” I asked.

“Probably. Let’s go.”

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