SHORT STORY | GUNS AND GIRLS IN CARS
It's midnight at the Dairy Queen when a ruby red DeSoto pulls up next to me. The girl in the shotgun seat has corn silk Goddess hair that's pulled back in a bronze streaked pony tail. She's pretty in a plastic, Christmas tree angel sort of way. A little too perfect if you ask me, but she's still fun to look at, so what do I care? The second she sees me she sticks her head out her window and shouts at me: "You have gotta get me out of this dirty little shit hole river town. And I mean right now!"
Before I can say, "Over my dead body," she crawls into my heap of Jap crap like she thinks she's test driving a Maserati, and the minute we take off and hit the drag, she screams, "Floor it".
Little does she knows I've already got the damned thing floored but I keep gunning it anyway. She's obviously disappointed, and giving me one of those little Ann Margaret she winks and, cool as a custom pool cue whimpers: "Is this all you've got under the hood?"
I have no idea how to respond to that, so I keep my trap shut and we cruise the drag in merciful silence. None of this seems real to me and for all I know I could be dreaming. You should see this girl. If Olivia Wilde took off a few pounds and Peroxided the living crap out of her curly locks, that's exactly who she'd look like.
The night is sticky and wet, just like the girl's skin, and we're speeding down a dead end road in a stolen car with out-of-state plates, running like birds from a burning tree. I don't know where we're going. I've been running from something or other my whole life and I've never known, but at the speed we're going, we oughta be there in no time.
I know the girl, but just barely, and I doubt she remembers me, because we didn't exactly run in the same circles. Let's just say I never cut the crusts off my cucumber sandwiches during lunch at the country club and leave it at that. We did go to the same school though, up until my junior year that is, when I decided to take a little time off to further my education at the Illinois State Reformatory over in Pontiac.
The girl's name is Amanda Johansson, and she has no idea how insane she is to be driving around with somebody like me. Oh, I know all about her wild ways and her supposed nympho streak, but what's the craziest thing a teen queen like her can do in a back water dumpster of a town like Fulton, Illinois? Wear white after Labor Day? But that doesn't stop her from sitting over there like she's riding shotgun on a Homecoming float, flipping off her fans in the parking lot with one of those back handed, Queen of England waves. Her mom's the President of the Fulton PTA and her dad's a cop, for Christ's sake. What a pair we are, the ex-con greaser and the jaw-dropping, rich bitch cheerleader. Just like in the movies. Only this ain't the movies. It's 1969 and Amanda has no idea what kind of trouble she's about to get herself into. But that's how it goes when you're bored out of your gourd on Desperate Avenue, and the streets are on fire, and the mean-assed sizzling summer air is too hot to breath.
Sweating through our clothes, we leave the drag behind, cross the Lyons Bridge, and flee up into the limestone cliffs above the Mississippi River on the Illinois side, blowing right through the broken heart of a sad pale afternoon into the cool shadows of a quivering stand of blue spruce trees. I always thought I'd end up dead or in prison, but I never dreamed I'd have such pretty company on the Yellow Brick Road to ruin. If only Amanda knew.
The bank job I pulled this morning had gone down so easy I figured it must have been some kind of set up, but more likely, security just fucked up and let their guard down. Those Fulton Dutchman are tough little bastards, and maybe they got over confident, who knows? I was in and out of there in ten minutes tops, with fifty large and a foot tall stack of unmarked twenties for spending cash. I changed cars in a friend's chop shop south of Fulton and eased as sweet as can be across the river into Clinton, Iowa to grab a burger for the ride west. And here I am, back in Illinois again, right where I started, sitting right next to frigging Miss Fulton of all people. Not exactly the smartest move I could have made, returning to the scene of the crime, but if you saw this girl, there's nothing you could do about it either.
Before we go two miles, Amanda says she wants to get out of the heat and go up to Eagle Point Park to watch the eagles soar. What the hell. I got a clean car with out of state plates, an unregistered gun in my pocket, and I'm in no hurry. It's a nice day for a little Sunday drive up the Iowa side. It's roasting in this car and I don't have any A/C, but hey, I've never seen the eagles soar. Unfortunately, it's late and the sun is going down, and we don't see no fucking birds. So we cut around Clinton to the north and hit the old Lincoln Highway, heading west.
Amanda doesn't seem to give a shit where we're going, but apparently she's been sandbagging me. I can’t believe my ears when she says, "I've never been to Minnesota. Whatdaya say, huh?"
"Ok, by me," I say, "why not? But I got a stop to make first."
We're parked in front of a podunk bank in DeWitt and I know what you're thinking, but I just can't seem to control myself. Call me crazy, but I've got an urge to impress this spoiled little tart, so she doesn't think I'm making all this shit up about my glamorous life of crime. What fun is it if nobody knows? But apparently, she's known who I was the whole time and has already figured out why we're sitting here idling in front of the First Central Bank.
"I know what you're going to do in that bank, Jamie T. Loudermilk," she coos, enunciating each syllable of my name like a nun English teacher. Giving me an I-own-you-now look she goes on, "And don't think I don't know all about your bad-assed rep. You think I'd get into a hot car with John Dillinger if I didn't know who he was first? You think I'm stupid?"
"Let me think about that and get back to you," I tell her.
This knowing-who-I-am development takes me some time to digest. Maybe I'm the one who's stupid, but I'm also the one who's been robbing banks for a living for several years now, and I haven't gotten caught yet. I'm a professional. I'm very careful and I don't get greedy. It's not like I've got an MBA from Harvard and gave up a career as a Wall Street tycoon or anything, but I do my homework. I was born into this life and took to it right from the start: just like my old man and his old man before him. So what if Amanda knows who I am? Reading my mind she says,
"Do you have any idea who my daddy is?"
I blast back before she gets too cocky, "Yeah, I know who he is. He's a cop, and I'm pissing all over myself I'm so scared."
"Not just any cop, Mr. Smarty Pants, he just made Chief of Police of Fulton, the town in which you just robbed the First Star Bank of Des Moines. I heard all about it on the police scanner that Daddy keeps in the kitchen. Ring any bells there, Mr. Clyde Barrow?"
"Well, I heard they had a lot of money in that bank and figured they wouldn't notice if a few bucks went missing, so what could I do?" Giving her my best Charlie Starkweather leer I add; "So, you plan on ratting me out, or what?"
Remarkably unimpressed for a half-dressed dick tease, she says, "Maybe yes, and maybe no." Then she clams up, looking at me like she's measuring me for a prison jump suit. Wrong answer.
I know I should just shut the hell up, but I'm sitting a foot away from a teeth grinding, bed board banging beauty queen, and I'll be damned if I'm not going to at least try to get some kind of romantic traction while I got a chance. Anybody in their right mind would wanta boff this hard body honey. But when she starts ranting at me I have second doubts:
"Ok, James, here's the deal. My born again Baptist daddy and I don't exactly see eye to eye on the issue of Rowe vs. Wade, if you catch my drift, and it seems that, since I got myself knocked up by that dirt bag halfback, Rick the Prick Mossburger, my dad wants me to have the baby and then hand it over to some lily white, la dee da, country club bimbo that he's got lined up in Chicago. But that is not going happen, let me tell ya. Not in this life time. Have you seen this body? Do you have any idea what pulling a baby out of this wash board belly will do to these boobs? She yanks up her tank top and gives me a sneak peak. Just my luck, I'm doing seventy-five and she's not wearing a bra, and damned if I don't about plow straight into a muddy sorghum field. I haven't seen teats those nice in Playboy OR Penthouse, not that I ever look at the pictures. And if that's not enough to give me a stroke, she drops her shorts to her bush and gives me one of those Betty Boop centerfield poses and wags her tongue around like she's swatting flies. Shit. Just my luck. She's not wearing panties either. I'm fairly certain that I'm having a coronary, and I don't know how much more of this shit I can take.
"So you see," she rambles on, "I'm not about to birth no damned baby. You can only airbrush away so many stretch marks, and the camera doesn't lie. That's why I need a ride to Rochester, Minnesota, so I can see this doctor who guarantees that I won't have to worry about having some nine pound alien ripping my guts out and ruining my chances of becoming a New York runway model. We got that straight?"
She's trying hard to impress me with how cold she is, but her lips are quivering and I'm not buying it. It's my job to know shit like that, and the eyes don't lie.
But I've got other problems. I'm still trying to recover from the gander I got at her privates and I'm afraid my zipper's about to blow. "Ok. Minnesota it is," I say, trying to turn down the steam a bit. All my instincts are telling me I would be a lot better off if I just pull over right this minute, pop a cap between her shoulder blades, and dump her delectable body in a cornfield somewhere. I know she'll finger me if we get pinched, and I wouldn't put it past her to have a police radio and a gun in her purse. Which gives me an idea. I ratchet it back a notch and let the car rumble while I calm down and wait for the traffic in front of the bank to trickle off.
"So what's the deal, Goldie Locks?" I ask her. "You know who I am and what I do for a living, so, considering your being in the family way and all, I thought I'd ask whether you wanted to sit in the car while I take down that Mickey Mouse bank or wait in the car? It's your choice."
I already know the answer but it's fun watching her stew over it. Just like I thought, she's not having any of that girly sitting-in-the-car bullshit and just about takes my head off: "You think I came all this way to fry in this hundred and ten degree, turkey roasting oven of a juke box on wheels of yours while you have all the fun. Screw that!" That a girl.
"Ok, ok. Don't have a hissy fit," I tell her. "You can go in with me. But just stand there and don't say shit while I grab the cash. And don't pee all over yourself if things go haywire. You think you can handle that?"
"Just stand there, don't say shit, and don't pee on myself. Ok, got it!" I can't tell if the sarcastic little twit is pulling my chain or not.
I can't believe I'm doing this. I know I'm thinking with my Johnson, but I couldn't stop now if I wanted to, which I don't. I know it's insane to take her in there with me, but just thinking about the look on her daddy's face when he finds out that his cherubic angel volunteered to take down a bank makes it simply impossible to resist: not to mention the fact that the odds of my getting laid are skyrocketing by the second. After all, girls love guns, cars, and kick-assed criminal types, and robbing banks is what I do. It's just that I've never had such a good looking accomplice before and it's throwing off my game.
As soon as we hit the bank, I jump the cage and grab the teller. She's gotta be ninety so I go easy on her. Just because I rob people doesn't mean I'm an some kind of sicko. But Holy shit, when things go wrong in my line of work they sure go wrong fast.
My pony tailed accomplice, Bonnie frigging Parker over there, is ordering people around, slamming old ladies to the ground, and waving a damned .357 Magnum the size of a giant pot roast in their faces, and then, bam! she accidentally unloads a round though the tin roof. The gun's got a kick like a pissed off mule and slams her tight little ass to the floor. It's raining dust and plaster all over everywhere. I'm cracking up. I gotta be nuts to be pulling a job with this whacko. And when she starts stuffing tens and twenties into what there is of her cut off shorts, I don't know whether to laugh or run. There can't be room enough in there for more than a couple bucks.
I don't know what she thinks she's going to do with all those marked bills once she gets done with her on-the-job training, but she can figure that out for herself. Believe me, I've got other things to worry about. Like getting the hell out of here before those sirens outside get any closer. There's so much screeching going on in the bank that I have to howl over all the racket at Amanda, "Hey, Bonnie! You wanta maybe move things along over there? I'm in a bit of a hurry here!"
Who knew Amanda would turn out to be a flipped out, closet, thrill seeking space case with an itchy trigger finger? Jesus! Now that I think about it, maybe I should be the one who's worried.
We're flying down a dirt road heading north past Decorah when Amanda tells me she's gotta go water the lilies. I'm tempted to tell her that she maybe should have thought about that before she voluntarily jumped into a car at the Dairy Queen with someone she knew to be a degenerate bank robber and then helped him knock off a bank an hour later, but why bother? She's busy fondling the cash like it's Monopoly money, which is basically what those marked bills are. You'd think that a rich girl like her would have seen that kind of bread before, but from the way she's about coming in her shorts all over it, I guess maybe she hasn't.
I hate to break her concentration, but just south of the Iowa/Minnesota line near Burr Oak, I pull over in a corn field and jump out. I ditch the car and cover it up with corn stalks and juniper bushes as best I can. While Amanda squats over a patch of poison ivy and she does her business, I make a mental note to pick up some Calamine Lotion while I'm in town, boosting a new car for our trip to Minnesota. God knows she's going to need it with the rash she's about to get.
As I head down the road on foot, Amanda shouts at me over her shoulder, "Get a blue car. I've always loved the blue ones."
The car I hotwire is a 1967 Z28 with a 302 cubic-inch V8 engine, dual exhausts, 15x6 inch wheels, a close ratio, 4-speed transmission, concealed headlights, chrome beltline trim, and "dog dish” hubcaps…and it's blue. As blue as John Coltrane's album, Blue Train. Just because I don't have a straight job doesn't mean I have to skimp on the finer things in life. It's just as easy for the cops to catch you in a beat-to-crap Toyota Corolla as it is in a souped up Chevy muscle car, so why not? I figure if we go down, we may as well go out with class in a fiery, twisted ball of sizzling, red hot American steel.
When Amanda takes a look at the throbbing, big, bad, blue, heart pounding, overpowered, sex machine I'm driving, I'm thinking that she's going to do me right there on the spot. She's getting all soggy just thinking about it and slides over next to me. And as we go sailing off through a sea green ocean of corn she casually drops my zipper and goes to work. Who the fuck says crime don't pay?
Crap! We don't make it half a mile before we get pulled over for a burned out tail light of all things. Thank God I switched the plates. The cop's alone and he's got his Smokey the Bear hat tilted at a rakish angle. Apparently cops around here don't travel in salivating, rabid packs like they do in Illinois. And what kind of dip shit, Johnny Appleseed, peckerwood state trooper would take a job that requires you to wear a black, Gestapo looking outfit in ninety five degree heat for anyway?
When Smokey notices Amanda's eye-popping boobs toppling out of her tank top and sees her licking her Brigitte Bardot lips like she's slurping the sprinkles off a strawberry dip ice cream cone, he immediately turns on a dime and takes a detour over to her side of the car. She's got him so lathered up that when he whips out his pad, he drops his pen. The second he leans over to pick it up, Amanda casually cracks him in the side of the head with the car door and knocks him out cold. Fuck me! I hit the gas and we cross the Minnesota line doing a hundred and five. Holy Jesus! I've robbed twelve banks in two years and never once ran into this barbaric kind of shit.
Amanda's twisting a strand of her golden streaked hair back and forth between two skinny white fingers like she's twirling a baton on the fifty yard line at halftime in front of a five hundred, cheering, Fulton Steamers football fans. I think she's going to have an orgasm if I hit a ninety-five. I'm up to a hundred and eight before she stops howling like a monkey and asks me for a cigarette.
When we hit the Winona city limits just east of Rochester, I pull over in front of a Greyhound Bus Depot and kick her perfect little, cantaloupe butt out of the car. The look on her face is priceless. You'd think she's just seen "Ole Yeller" die. I reach through the open window and squash a big, fat wad of clean fifties into her sweaty palm and tell her to take a hike. I may be stupid but I'm not insane. I know she's the most lip smacking gorgeous creature I've ever laid eyes on, but she's a certifiable nut job, and from now on, I'm going back to working solo. I'm slow but I learn fast. She's practically shrieking at me. "What did I do? I thought we were partners!"
Partners my ass. I don't do partners. Well, I would, but not with a teeny bopper psycho who doesn't know shit about guns and couldn't spot a counterfeit fifty if it bit her in the ass. I just look at her, standing there blubbering by the side of the road. I can't resist giving her a little something to think over before she does whatever she's going to do about the baby she either is, or isn't, going to have, and tell her: "By the way, just so you know. My mom got banged up when she was sixteen and put me up for adoption. Ain't that a some kind of coincidence though?"
From the look she gives me, you'd think I'd smashed a grapefruit in her face. She's really got the water works running at full blast now, and I can see a quiet blue river of blood that I hadn't seen before pulsating just beneath the surface of the parchment thin skin on her neck. It makes her seem vulnerable somehow. Like she needs protection. She ain't so tough. And I should know? I'm a professional criminal and it's my job to know. I'd never done one damned decent thing in my life that meant shit to anybody, but just because I trashed my life doesn't mean I have to fuck hers up too. Not taking her to Rochester and leaving her here at a bus stop in Winona instead, after cleaning out her purse and leaving her just enough money to get her back to Fulton, is the least I can do for her, even if her dad is a cop and she's a rich bitch risk junkie from a nasty little one horse river town like Fulton.
I slam the hammer down and we squeal south. I know better than to look back but I just can't help it. She's still just standing there on the shoulder of the road, crying her eyes out, but she's obviously not so distraught that she can't stop long enough to count the money I gave her. I don’t know what I'm worried about, she'll probably commit suicide after she discovers that all her credit cards are missing. The sun is setting over the shivering, golden rows of corn and my Chevy's all revved up, purring like an ass kicking, wild cat. I don't get a hundred more yards before I stop to take one last look in my year view mirror for old time's sake. I can't believe my eyes. A baby blue, 350 cubic-inch V8, Chevy Super Sport with an RS package, rally tape stripes, mag-style wheels, special “SS” wheel covers, and a vinyl roof, crawls up beside Amanda and rumbles to a stop. She casually as can be leans against the shotgun window, looking like a sad, lost puppy with two black eyes. When the clueless deadbeat in the driver's seat stops drooling long enough to open the door for her, she gets in and I watch the red tail lights sputter and fade into the treacherous, black Minnesota night. Well screw me black and blue and tattoo me too. What the hell do you know about that?
It's about six months later and I'm cruising past the Hillcrest Family Services Clinic on West 7th in Dubuque on my way to the Wisconsin Dells where I have a safe house-slash-cabin and a year supply of food and water stashed, when I see Amanda, sitting on the Clinic lawn with all the other pregnant unwed mothers, wearing absolutely nothing but a dollar's worth of cotton and a mouth watering tan. It looks to me like she's put on some weight, ok, a lot of weight, but she's still looking good. When I honk and wave, she gives me the finger. Like that's a surprise. I toss a couple clean fifties out the window and watch them flutter away in the sweet summer breeze. It's a beautifully blue afternoon. I'm in no particular hurry, but I know better than to stop.