We stopped in Delano but avoided the politics. Instead we talked about the Dodgers and the Giants.
We stayed in a shack with an old friend who worked in the fields. Don brought home a hooker. You had to piss outside and she didn’t like that so she pissed on Don. Don didn’t mind, but our friend got angry. He said his wife was sleeping. We said we didn’t know he was married, but he threw us out in the middle of the night anyway. We slept in the car.
I organized cannery workers in Stockton for twelve years. I worked for the Teamsters. For the last six months, I’d been unemployed. Don and I met in Fresno, in August, on a day when it was a hundred and twelve. We’d been traveling together for three months.
The next morning we drove south. The roads were slick with oil. We watched a truck crash through the center divider and turn over.
After that we stopped for a beer. We had driven only twelve miles.
In the bar there were scores of cats and dogs and some men and a few skinny women.
“Take one of these dogs, will you?” asked a bleached-blonde woman with buck teeth and decent tits.
“We’re on the road,” I said.
A big guy with a beer forced a scrawny black dog on Don at gun point. Don told me later he did the guy in the men’s room. He said it wasn’t coerced, just a friendly blow job.
We put the dog in the car and drove away in a dust storm.
In Bakersfield we visited a carnival. The freak show wasn’t much. There was a guy with three arms, but so what.
The rides were okay.
Don tried to pick up a man with tattoos and a mustache. The man was running the roller coaster. Don struck out, but the guy was nice about it. He told Don not to take it personally. My pal Don settled instead on a sixty year old red-headed woman in a tank top. He did her behind the fun house.
“Sex is sex,” Don said.
In the meantime, I was celibate as a priest. I hadn’t gotten any since we left Portland.
Don won a big, stuffed dog by throwing wooden rings around a bowling pin about eight feet away. We put the new dog in the car with the old dog and the first dog ripped the second one apart. The carny’s dog had real bones and teeth. It was the real thing, a St. Bernard, stuffed by a local taxidermist named Doctor Breaux. We looked it up in the phone book. He was the only guy listed.
I drove fast. The white lines dividing the road flicked like strobe lights. I took another sip of Southern Comfort.
The doctor served us tea. He stood behind his product. He gave us a new dog, this time a Great Dane. Our dog still snarled at it. We gave our dog to the doctor. An even trade. We got back in the car.
“I want to see Lucy,” I said.
We headed straight for Pacoima.
We stopped for gas in Lost Hills.
The car almost died on the Grapevine. The Great Dane came in handy. We ate at Stucky’s and at Denny’s. That was all the money we had.
The road curled through the mountains like Shirley Temple’s hair. I like old movies. I let Don know what I like. I can talk to Don about things like that.
At dawn we took a spin around the Tom Bradley landfill. The dump wasn’t open yet. There was a guy sitting on top of the trash heap. He looked like Buddha. Of course he did -- you know, cross-legged and all. Don said he was Buddha. Lucy laughed. She said we could stay at her place or take her to a Motel 6. Her brother was home.
The next morning Don and I headed out north again -- by ourselves, two buddies, driving to Delano.
One good thing - we hadn’t seen a cop in over a week.
A truck crashed where the Five and the Ninety-Nine split. It was filled with chickens. They all escaped. Unscathed, it seemed. It had started all over. Just like before. It would be six months before I made it down to see Lucy again.
Death at Night
Jandra said that she was going to go see him and I said that it was dumb and a bad idea, and that you couldn’t talk to him when he was like that.
“You’re just jealous,” she said.
We’d never been a couple, and she never talked to me like that, but, “Suit yourself,” I said.
We were standing under a streetlight.
She was shivering.
I was sweating a little.
We were different like that.
Bobby had run off screaming after throwing a drink in her face.
”I’m just going to stop by and see him – kiss and make up – and go home,” she said.
A light rain started to fall.
“Do me a favor,” I said. “If you’re just going to stop by his house, and make nice, then meet me afterwards at PJ’s for a nightcap.”
“What’s the point?”
“It’s on your way home.”
“You’re being paranoid.”
“You’re taking a chance.”
“That’s crazy and you know it.”
“PJ’s. Last call’s at one-thirty.”
We stood silent in the drizzle for a moment.
I forget which one of us turned to walk away first.
I went straight to the bar.
Even though I knew a bunch of people who were there, I sat alone on a stool.
A couple of people came up to me.
“Joey, we got a table. Come on over and join us for a beer.”
“I’m meeting somebody,” I said.
I huddled over my drink.
“You meeting Jandra?”
“Naw,” I said.
Bobby was maybe my best friend though I hated his temper.
I’d known Jandra since 8th grade. We spent a lot of time together.
The whole neighborhood hung out at PJ’s.
A few more handshakes and pats on the back and they left me alone.
By last call I’d been there about an hour and I’d had four drinks.
Jandra never showed up. No call, no text, nothing.
The place cleared out at two.
I smoked a bowl in the parking lot with Richie.
I kept looking around and side to side.
“Who you looking for?” he asked.
“Ah, nobody. Hey, thanks for the weed, man.”
“Good stuff, huh?”
I don’t smoke much. Really I was just killing some more time, thinking she might show up late.
“Yeah, really good. Thanks, man.”
I hardly ever say “man.” I do around Richie. I guess because he’s a stoner.
I went home and had a couple of shots of Jack so I could sleep.
The next day, I was hung over and I forgot to take my cell phone to work. It wasn’t until I got home that I found out that Jandra was dead and that Bobby had killed her.
Larry Fondation is the author of two novels and a short story collection set in inner-city Los Angeles. Unintended Consequences, a new collection of short fiction, is due out next June.
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