SHORT STORY | THE NOT SO GREAT ESCAPE
From a phone booth in Jackson, Mississippi, Zeke calls his ex-wife Ruth, and chews her out for an hour for not picking him and Buster up outside the Federal Correctional Institution at Yazoo City earlier in the morning. Imagine their surprise after they'd spent two months planning their daring escape only to jump the last fence and not find Ruth and a car waiting for them where she'd promised them she'd be. It's not like they'd asked her to bring a Hummer load of RPG's, a crate of hand grenades, a million in cash, a helicopter, and a picnic lunch. Just pick them up, drop them off, and go home. Why is that so much to ask?
When an irate Zeke calls and quizzes her about it later, Ruth replies sarcastically;
"Well, I would have come got you, but I had a broken nail, split ends, and PMS, and what the hell kind of thing is that to ask of an ex-wife anyway, having me traipse around Yazoo City at two in the morning picking up two deadbeat felons? An EX-wife, I might add, who you cheated on, lied to, and dumped for a thrill-a-minute white collar life of crime with your low life pond scum of a derelict partner Buster Slocum, of all people. It's just too much, Zeke. Screw Buster and his dipshit pipe dream of burning down his own bar for the insurance money. I'm sure that little escapade would have ranked rank right up there in the annuls of true crime drama with the Lindburgh kidnapping, but who would have believed that it took two of you to pull off that psychotic prank: One of you to hold the match and one to light it. Worrying about how you two rocket scientists ever made it over the wall of a minimum security Club Fed prison will NOT make Movie of the Week any time soon. Let's just face it; you're not exactly the The Bird Man of Alcatraz, ok?"
"Jesus," Zeke's thinking. "who blew a balloon up her butt?" But he knows better than to say it out loud. Normally, Ruth has the mouth of a trucker but considering Zeke's newly minted escape artist reputation she's holding her tongue,. "Ok, Zeke, so where are you now?"
"We're in Cuba deep sea-frigging-fishing for tuna. Where you think we are? We don't have a car!"
"I don't know where you are Zeke, that's why they call these things that I'm asking you, questions."
"We're in Jackson in a phone booth across from the Metrocenter. You still got a car don't you?"
"Not one that I'm driving to Jackson any time soon. Why? You need a lift?" She's not kidding. She wants to know.
"A lift would be nice," Zeke puffs, his incredulity strained to the max. "You think maybe you could put down your bon-bons, turn off Oprah, and unglue your rear end from the couch long enough to come get us? It's only a half hour trip from Madison to Jackson for Christsakes. I'll spring for gas, a manicure, a hair appointment, and some damned Midol. Is it too much to ask to help out the man who stood by you thick and thin when you were having your operation?"
"You mean the operation I had because you didn't show up to take me to the doctor in time on account of you having to meet Buster at Trixie's Massage Parlor to discuss the intricate details of his brilliant burn-down-his-own-bar-for-the-insurance scam?"
"Yeah, that operation. But I showed up, didn’t I? And your appendix didn't explode on account of me being late, did it?"
"My appendix was fine. It was my ovaries that had to go, you insensitive asshole."
"Sorry about that, but you have to admit, I did pick you up like I said I would, and I did take you to the operation like I said I would, am I right?" Beyond exasperated, Ruth smacks her freshly painted lips and barks back, "Just what part of the word "divorced" don't you understand, Zeke?"
Under the circumstances, standing in a phone booth under the glare of a lime green, neon street light at three in the morning on one of the busiest street in Jackson, wearing a Day-Glo orange jumpsuit, Zeke decides not to push his surly ex-wife too far and lets it drop.
Ruth knows she's going to Jackson. It's just that she doesn't want Zeke to get any ideas about her dropping her drawers every time he tries to tickle her fancy with his next hard-on of a bright idea. Who does he think she is anyway? She keeps telling him over and over again, "We're not married anymore Zeke. Get over it. Jesus, who knew the term final divorce was an oxymoron?"
Unfortunately, Ruth's car won't start. It seems Zeke had forgotten to get the alternator fixed before he got pinched and she can't get the dilapidated piece of Jap crap to turn over. Undaunted, she keeps cranking away on it until it floods. "Damned you Zeke," she's thinking, "you can't run one simple errand for me, and now I gotta get a jump from my dirt bag boyfriend and drive all the way to Jackson to haul your sorry ass home. This is just too much."
Zeke's sitting at the counter in Winona's Wine and Diner just off Highway 80, explaining to the bored shitless waitress how he's a clown in the circus and how his buddy Buster, took off and left him out here in the middle of nowhere in his orange clown outfit and how he forgot his wallet and could she maybe spring for a cup of coffee and a burger and a pack of Camels.
The high hair, gum-smacking waitress has obviously been around a shitload of blocks, but still can't resist such a creative sob story. "Oh, hell, why not, I'll believe ya," she says, "I thought I'd heard em all, but I gotta tell ya, that's a peach."
Zeke waits two hours but it's obvious Ruth isn't going to show. He's smoked two packs of Camels but is so wired on caffeine that his fingers are shaking and he can't light them anymore. This life on the run isn't as romantic as they made it out to be in Cool Hand Luke and Zeke finally accepts the inevitable; he's better off living inside than outside like this, having to depend on people like Ruth.
"So how long you been out?" the waitress asks.
"Out?" Zeke asks, as innocent as a new born robin.
"You know, when did you get out of the joint?" she asks. "Your orange zoot suit kind of gives you away there, Birdman, if you know what I mean."
Zeke sees no percentages in playing it cute. He knows what she means and figures he's got nothing to lose playing it rough;
"OK" he tells her, "but how 'bout you close up shop and we take a little ride somewhere?"
He's waving a black bar of soap in her face like it's a .357 but the waitress just stares at him; "That's the worse fake gun I've ever seen," she says. "You expect me to believe that thing's for real? It's a stupid bar of Lava soap, you dim witted moron. Even a blind drunk can see that."
Zeke just can't seem to buy any respect. "OK," he says, so tired and frustrated he's stammering now, "so you got me. But I know your shift must be about over. I've been the only customer in this contaminated waste dump for the last two hours. How 'bout you close up and drop me off somewhere and we pretend we never had this little chat?"
The waitress looks into Zeke's soft, sad puppy eyes and cracks a resigned, lonely smile; "Well, you are kind of cute and it just so happens I was about to get off work anyway, so hell, why not?" She figures that when the cops pull her over she'll just flash them a little cleavage, flutter her eyelashes, and tell them that she got kidnapped by a deranged clown who said he was John Dillinger, and what else could she do? Cops eat that psycho bullshit up.
An hour later, Zeke stand up on the roof of the waitress's '77 beater Pontiac and takes a practice jump or two, and then leaps, landing square on the rug he'd tossed across the fence that surrounds the prison earlier that morning. Once he makes it across the concertina wire he drops to the gravel in the yard and ducks down in the shadows, making his way back towards his cell block. Not a sound. No sirens, no flashing search lights, and no botoxed blond FOX news bimbo reporting live from the scene. Shit, Zeke's thinking, this whole fiasco just flat sucks. The irony of the joke that he'd just told the waitress about the dyslectic wetback that swam across the Rio Grande into Mexico seems lost on him.
The next morning, Zeke walks the yard, puffing on a hand-rolled fag, swaggering like he's been on the lamb for six years instead of six hours. Looking over at a rapid pack of treacherous, dead beat, white collar felons who are checking stock prices in the Wall Street Journal, he nonchalantly mumbles to his check kiting bunkmate Shorty; "Just look at this place. Ever since me and Buster escaped, things have gone to shit around this namby pamby cesspool. It's a crying shame, that's what it is."
Shorty looks at Zeke like he'd just dropped in from outer space; "Escape? What escape?"
"You know... me and Buster. Last night. We escaped. I'm sure you heard about it, it must be all over the yard by now."
Nothing. He may as well be shooting blanks at a scarecrow. "We fucking escaped, Goddamnit! We jumped the wall. You know, like in the movie, The Great Escape."
"Sorry, Zeke. I must have missed that one. Since I got a job in the laundry I don't get see many movies."
"Fuck you, you sarcastic dick wad. Me and Buster escaped last night. Just like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke. Only Buster's still out there!"
"And now you're back. You want me to get you a job in the laundry?"
"I don't want no fucking job in the laundry, Shorty. I want you to shut the fuck up about the laundry. Can you do that?"
"OK, calm down. So, you escaped. How come you came back then? You couldn't get a job on the outside?"
Too weary to bother explaining to Shorty that he'd only been gone for twelve hours, Zeke sucks wind, his pride gone; "Never mind, Shorty. Just you never mind."