Excerpt Chapter 2- "Crashing Sucks"

He’d been told twice already, and now for the third to stop fucking with the big Russian but Kit just couldn’t help himself. Technically it wasn’t his ladder the guy borrowed without asking, but having it come back with gobs of plaster all over it was simply unforgivable. In his mind that’s what started his feud with the painters, but Kit would be the first to tell you his memory wasn’t all that reliable. As it was, the oppressive heat of the basement combined with his morning hangover had him feeling even a little more fuzzy than usual. Obviously pickled, his Polish supervisor laughed at him as they walked shoulder to shoulder with a hundred men down the long hall to the elevator, surrounded by the smell of coffee and mid-week sweat. The building opened up at nine and his and the other crews funneled from the sidewalk down the stairs to the service entrance. There were only three jobs going but seeing as this was fifth avenue and the apartments averaged six thousand foot each, they could fit thirty plus trades in them at any given time.  

“What you thinking, huh, smart-guy? That guy picks you up one time, he’s gonna break you in half like your fucking swizzle sticks.” His thick accent was made no less comical by the fact he learned the language from watching television. 

“Come on, Peter, fuck that guy. You seen him eyeballing me.” This wasn’t his supervisor’s actual name, but “Peter” sounded more official than calling him ‘the Polack’ which is what everybody called him behind his back. “Anyway, his boss Sergei and me, we’re cool.” 

“Sergei, Big Boy, all those guys are Bratva, you Yo-yo.”

“Sausages?” Kit said. Peter answered with a smack to the back of the younger man’s head. 

“Stupid Hillbilly. Bratva is Russian, uh, how-you-say, mafioso.” he gestured with one hand in Kit’s face like an irate chef. “Like-a they cut-off-a-you-ballsack like-a the Robert DeNiro.”

“I don’t think Bobby DeNiro ever played a mob boss, but definitely stick with that Italian accent, it’s friggin hilarious.” He looked over his shoulder and the throng of painters were still back there, like a gang all in white. His giant friend stood a head above the rest of the crowd, a shock of white hair piled on top of glaring eyes that seemed intent on boring a hole clean through to the back of kit’s head. “He is a handsome feller ain’t he though?” he smiled and waved. 

By this point the group slowed and shuffled, nearing the elevator. When it was time for Kit and his boss to load up, the “B” lit up, the dented steel doors opened and a ragged old scissor gate was thrown open by a large Irishman with a blaze of red beard and stream of obscenities. 

“Ah Christ on a cracker, fucking Hillbilly.” 

“Hey, Mickie!” Kit hollered, “How you doing there, Pally?” He squeezed with his boss into the tiny space alongside a gaggle of swarthy Venezuelan carpenters with no English bound whatsoever that were bound for the fifth floor. The red haired man slammed the gate and threw a lever into position that, with a groan, set the contraption to it’s Promethean task for the millionth time. Chains rattled just overhead as they bounced around in the shaft.  

“Gonna be a long week if they let you back on this job again.” Mickie chuckled. “Hey Polish, my boss said I can soften this guy up for you if he gives you any more problems. I’ll even take care of him for ya no charge.” His pinstripe green shirt identifying him as maintenance was perpetually half unbuttoned in the heat of the basement, revealing great piles of red chest hair. Kit had accidentally on purpose squeezed in right next to him as he made a game of leaning in close and breathing on the man’s neck. 

“Nah, this is my piece-of-shit nephew. I take care of him no problem. Don’t you worry.” Peter said.

“That’s a damn shame, one would hope he’d inherited more brains than what he got.” 

“Ah, he’s my best carpenter when I get him sober. You’ll see.” said Peter.

“Heh. Good luck with that,” said the elevator man. “I betcha he winds up under a bus.”

“Hey Mickie, riding elevators with us smelly bastards all day must be hot work huh?” Kit said, and reaching over his shoulder, pulled a pinch of crimson curls from the man’s chest. The Irishman roared and throwing an elbow into Kit’s sternum, sent him cackling maniacally into his supervisor, and jostling everybody besides. The elevator rattled and shook, the Venezuelans chuckled nervously and as both Peter and Mickie took turns cussing him out, Kit decided it was going to be a good fucking day. 

True enough, Kit got into his pills early that morning so by mid-morning coffee break he was feeling no pain. Nevermind the job was over two stories and five thousand square feet, he still managed to discover a reason to squeeze past his big Russian friend wedged into the tiny servant staircase coming up from the kitchen doing plaster repair. The first time the tri-square hanging off the hip side of his tool belt cut a two-foot long gouge into the fresh plaster was purely accidental. The second time was purely for laughs. After the third time, the giant flew out of his crouch on the stairs and came bellowing after him. Kit tumbled out into the open area kitchen laughing like loon, recovered, and started bouncing around ready to scrape. His tools rattled and clanked in his belt. The guy had a massive vein on his forehead that was bulging almost as much as his arms. Kit thought he looked like an albino version of the hulk. “Oh yeah, we gonna have us some fun,” he said, but of course Peter was there to jump in the middle and ruin everything.

“Okay, Ha-ha Fun Guy, you get a time out” and collaring him, lead him to the elevators.

By lunch, Kit had already been fired, cashed his final check, and was prowling the East Village after hunting up his dealer. Fuck that job, he’d be a street walking cheetah. Or maybe he'd go back later for his tools and beg forgiveness or then again maybe not. He had a pile of money in his pocket, along with a bag of his shit and the rest of his young life to do whatever he wanted. He had a big, big smile. What was next- getting laid? Hm, might not be the best time for that. Getting drunk, now that was a given. He noticed his hard hat in his left hand. Now why on earth would he still be carrying this thing? He handed it to the next person he made eye contact with, an elderly gentleman in a suit who did not care for the cut of Kit's jib, not one bit. The old man took the hard hat and shaking his head, watched Kit amble on down the sidewalk.

It wasn't until he got to his girl's building that he noticed he'd lost his keys. The good-time buzz had worn off slightly. He rang the bell. Her voice came on almost immediately, “Hello?”

“Hey baby, I left my keys at work. I think” he said, leaning his head against the call box “can you buzz me in?” There was no response. He waited a minute, looked around at the people walking past and buzzed again. Then articles of clothing began raining down on the sidewalk all around him.

“Whoa whoa whoa!!” he yelled and backed out almost to the curb, looking up to her window. The mistake in this was that he provided the woman with a very clear target. A very nice cowboy boot almost connected with his face. He was high enough that even shrieking, long hair waving wildly in the wind all around her face, she looked more beautiful than ever.

“Selene, baby come on!” he shouted up to her.

“Don’t you come on baby me! Take your shit and go stay with your little Puerto Rican friend in Queens, you stupid wacked out fuck!”

“Aw, man.” This sent the last of the good-time feeling packing.  “Look, all me and Sofia did was make out that one time.” 

“Sofia?” the woman responded, incredulous “Who said anything about Sofia? I was talking...about...Marta...you motherfucker!” She took breaks in screaming to eject more items out the window, his battered leather jacket, the second of the cowboy boots he’d gotten her for Christmas.

“Ah God.” he said and held his head, pacing. He had fucked up now.

Foot traffic on both sides of the block had halted to watch the scene. Kit glanced around at his little babushka neighbor-ladies watching scornfully under their multi-color headscarves. He smiled and waved at them, chuckling. Just a little lover’s spat is all. No big deal. The babushkas weren't buying it in the least.

“Baby, just let me in so we can talk this thing out.” he pleaded.

“What is there to talk about that we haven't talked about a hundred times before?” she said, “Where you been all afternoon? You get off at three.”

The fact that it was after three at all came as a surprise to him. Noting he’d been kicked off the job much earlier than that, he suddenly had a large amount of time he had no way to account for, even if he tried. He shrugged and raised both his hands in an attempt to beg mercy.

“Marty called looking for you,” she said. Marty was his best jobsite buddy, an electrician. “He was worried on account of you getting fired today. He was afraid you might get into something stupid.”

“Man, fuck Marty!” Kit called, “It's no big deal, honey, I can make some calls, I'll get right back to work come Monday.”

“Kit that's what you always say. Did you know they impounded the bike?” she said, almost mournfully. 

“Ah jeez.” If they shared anything, it was that motorcycle. 

“Yeah, just this morning.”

Her face softened and she looked as though she were about to cry. He realized the bike might have been the tipping point. It was like a child to them. Mostly she just looked tired and beautiful. Hands on the windowsill, her white shirt was unbuttoned midway down and hung open so that he could see her small white breasts. As he held his hands up to her, he realized he would never touch those breasts again.

“Selene, you gotta realize this is such a cliche'd breakup technique.” he said. Laughter might not be the best option, but he tried a chuckle. She ignored it.

“How many jobs has it been now?” she asked “How many even this year, Kit?”

He puzzled over this for a minute. Looking up at the sky past the building and doing the math, he realized he didn't know the answer. He decided to try pity again, “Baby please,” he whined.

The girl in the high window shook her head mournfully and finally tossed down a faded green duffel bag.

“Good-bye, Kit.” she said, and closed the window.

Stunned, he looked around at his belongings strewn all over the sidewalk. First thing first he sat on the curb and discarded his work boots for his black harness boots. They were beat to hell and back but by far the nicest thing he currently owned. Next he leaned back on his hands and looked around. Foot traffic had re-commenced, with a collective sighing and shaking of heads. Woeful comments were muttered that mercifully he had no way of comprehending but guessed were in regards to the rapidly declining state of the neighborhood. Then, because there seemed nothing else to be done at that moment, Kit Maynard set to prioritizing which parts of his life could be salvaged from the sidewalk.

It was just after sunset, with his fourth beer in one hand and two more in his jacket, as he looked out at the world as more of a passenger than a pilot that he realized he’d achieved the level of obliteration he’d been striving for all day. The dufflebag across his shoulder was just heavy enough to have him listing to starboard a bit, but he found that by squinting his right eye he could account for the discrepancy and maintain a nearly fair course. Thus he staggered and chuckled his way towards only God knew where, other pedestrians at this point getting well out of his way. As the trash strewn streets of the Lower East side got darker he had the notion to perhaps consider where he might sleep that night, having already dismissed the notion of any food for the day. Of course, these were but trifling matters in the grand scheme of things. This street ended at Tomkins Square park, or maybe it didn’t. About the middle of the block, he slung the pack onto the sidewalk and tipped his beer way back. Finishing it off, he tossed the empty bottle in the general direction of a large trash pile and then hoisted the heavy pack onto the other shoulder and started on his way. However the change in the load caused him to veer heavily to port. He thought to himself, Okay then, I'll go this way for a minute. The new course took him between two parked cars, into the narrow street and then immediately up onto the hood of Sadie Johnson's Toronado.

Either by instinct or luck or by those watchful angels who care for drunks and reckless children, he rolled on impact up the vast expanse of the hood, his duffle bag absorbing most of the blow. The sensation was not unlike having a rolling wave crash one's body against an ocean floor. If he had a thought in his brain besides amusement it was “whoops not again.”

The car screeched to a halt and he tumbled unceremoniously back onto the road.  Sadie threw the door open and ran up to check the man she'd hit who, lying face up atop his pack, looked not unlike an upended turtle. 

“God almighty man the fuck you doing?” she yelled at him. He appeared to be looking wistfully at something in the sky above her. It took him a second before he met her gaze.

“Oh, hey. How’s it going?” He said.

“Motherfucker you stepped right the fuck out in front of me! I could have killed your stupid white ass!”

“Wow,” Kit said, “That was you? Far fuckin’ out.”

She pulled him by his hand as he got up as best he could, like a man waking from a dream.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“Depends who you talk to.” he said, brushing gravel off himself. He looked down and checked his parts. “I think I am, actually. Yeah, much better than the last time.”

“Last time?” she asked. A crooked smile was his only reply. “Okay look. We gotta get you outta the street, mister. A cop's liable to come by here any minute.”

This got him to focus, “Yeah, let's not have any police. Hey, can I get a ride?”

As they considered one another for a moment, there in the wild and dangerous heart of Alphabet City, a warm breeze came up the Hudson bearing the smell of something verdant struggling against winter. The exchange was not without misgiving, but held also a glimmer of recognition, like two rough beasts with only a trace of distant ancestry encountering one another in a forest.

“Sure.” she said “Get in.” 

She helped him stow the heavy bag in the back seat and Kit slid into the wide expanse of the turquoise front seat and they pulled off.

“Holy shit, this is nice.” he said.

“Thanks. What's your name?”

“Kit. What's yours?”

“Sadie.” she said. “Where you headed?”

“Nowhere. Anywhere. It doesn't matter.” he said, realizing with some irritation that the collision had knocked a modicum of sobriety back into him. Couldn't have that. “Hey, you want a  beer?” he asked, and pulled the two bottles from his jacket that had miraculously survived the crash.

“Yeah,” she said. “I sure would like a beer.” He prized the tops off with a lighter and handed her one.

“Question is- Where you headed this fine evening, Miss Sadie?” He said. 

“California,” she said, and tipped her beer back, drinking deep. 

“No shit?”

“No shit,” she said. “You looking to ride that far?”

He considered this for a minute. “Might do, actually.”


“Yeah, I got an Uncle in Oakland or some shit. Can’t remember exactly,” he said. “Wouldn’t mind laying eyes on him again.” He sank into the seat, propping one boot on the dash, pulling heavily on his beer and finishing it off.  

“You got money for gas?” she said. He reached into his boot and produced the roll of bills.

“On that note, can I buy you a drink?” He said.

“What you got in mind?” She asked.
“Only the finest. Take a right up here. There’s a place on the next corner, I’ll just run in.”

“That’s okay. I need to make a call anyway.”

As luck would have it, the package store he steered them to had both an open spot along with a pay-phone right out front.  He loaned her a quarter and went in for the booze. Luckily she could still remember the number without much trouble. 

“Hello?” The woman’s voice on the other end of the line was like a stone wall, but Sadie knew it well enough to catch a note of fear hiding behind it.

“Hi, Miss Simone. It’s Sadie.” Simone wasn’t her real name, and she shouldn’t be using hers, but if ever there was a time to abandon protocol, this was probably it.

“Oh! Sadie,” the woman said. “Before you continue, I’ve been compromised. Mind what you say.”

“It’s okay. Pretty sure the whole thing’s been compromised. I’m on my way out of town, I won’t say where to,” she took a breath. “Tyrone put his hands on me finally.”

“Goddamit I was afraid that might happen,” the woman said. “Fucking Tyrone.”

“Fucking Tyrone,” she managed to chuckle. “I just wanted to say goodbye, for now anyway.”

“Sadie, you were my brightest student,” the woman said. “I feel like I led you astray, down a path to destruction.”

“No, ma’am, not one bit. We were only trying to change the world is all.” Sadie said. “You think they were gonna let us get away with that?” She laughed again but it was nearly empty. Kit came out hefting a large paper bag, giving her the loopy grin of a kid who’s just caught something big and slimy in the creek. She waved and hoped there wasn’t enough light from the storefront that he could see her tears.

“Sadie, if you’re going where I think you are, I don’t think I’ll be hearing from you for a while,” the woman said. “You’ll call me when you get somewhere safe, won’t you?”

“Don’t worry, seems I’ve picked up a rider for protection.” She watched Kit getting settled again, stashing his package in the floorboard so he could commence with rolling a joint. 

“Oh dear,” the woman said.

“Yes ma’am. I definitely have a talent.” 

She held back after finishing the call and considered her situation. The new guy appeared harmless enough. She had the nine mil. under the seat in case he got squirrelly, but decided there was nothing about this man that scared her. She played with the idea of getting him drunker than he already was and robbing him. It wouldn’t take much. There was always the heavy hardware in the trunk if things went completely pear shaped. She felt hard and mean. No, she wouldn’t continue with this line of thought. It was only the bitter wind against her injured cheekbone. Like Miss Simone always said- Violence would poison the heart if you weren’t careful. She walked slowly back to the car, opened the door, and fell into the driver's seat.

“I’m ready for that drink,” she said. ”You got a nice red wine to go with dinner?”

“No ma'am. Meet my best friend Jim,” He pulled out a fifth of bourbon.

“Good deal. Here, give me that joint before you slobber all over it,” he obliged and she fired it while he fiddled with cracking the seal. “What else you got in there?” she asked.

“Handle of Kentucky sour mash, but he’s not as pretty,” he said. “But that’s for the long haul, or for however as long as you can stand me.” 

“Sounds like a plan,” she said. Puffing twice on the joint dangling in her mouth, she twisted the key in the ignition and the Toronado roared in agreement. The smoke stung as it ran up the side of her face, but she welcomed it.

Rudderless, they prowled the Lower East side, Sadie letting the man direct their passage while they drank and smoked. Sometimes the Toronado didn’t feel like taking direction and steered where it wanted.

 “You want to tell me where we’re headed or should I just make an educated assumption?” she asked.

“What I assume, you shall assume, for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” he replied. 

“I’m sorry?” 

He pulled hard on the bottle, winced and yelped and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, breathing fire.

“I loaf and invite my soul,” he continued, getting louder. “I lean and loaf at my ease, observing  a spear of summer grass. Oh hey, take this left.” She laughed at him and traded him the joint for the bottle. She tipped it up and let that old familiar heat hit her throat like a fond memory.

With Kit guiding her, the Toronado climbed the great ramp that severed the bottom half of the East Village, and mounting the embankments, glided easily between the hulking iron towers of the bridge, pointing them towards Queens. The river below glittered filthy and jeweled as it rippled along slowly under bordering lights. Further out, the borough ahead held a warm glow that they both recognized as the light of buildings on fire. Neither of them mentioned it. The air rushing in the windows was clear and crisp.

“Have you got no more Whitman, son?” She asked. “This would be the time for it.”

They had reached the apex of the span, he hung out of the window and bellowed like a mad poet, 

“My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air”!

The slow curve of the suspension cable dipped below them allowing full access to both wind and the smell of the City that was the embodiment of desperation.  

“Born here of parents born here from parents the same, and their parents the same!
I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin!
Hoping to cease not till death!”

“Nicely done,” she said. “Not too bad for a whiteboy.”

They descended the bridge, received again to the trash filled bosom, greasy lights hung overhead and a warm kaleidoscope of filthy bodega storefronts streaking past either side. Sadie was feeling happy. She knew her cut-off and they hadn't come close, another joint maybe and she would start to worry. The Toronado worked the whole breadth of the lane but was smooth enough to maintain a nearly straight course regardless of the condition of the driver. Anyway, it was late enough that Brooklyn was pretty much empty, and the big Olds commanded the road to the point that most everybody gave it room.

“Where we headed anyway?” she asked.

“Ass end of Williamsburg. I got a piece of business to take care of before we head out.” he said. He tipped the fifth way back, finishing it off. “Hey let me fill up the tank okay?”

“Sure.” she said, and found a station a couple blocks later.

Kit got out, handed the attendant some cash, located the gas cap, and managed to get the pump turned on. Sadie thought he held it together pretty well, considering. He came back and leaned in the window for the whisky bottle with a wink. Sadie’s eyes narrowed and she watched him fill up the tank briefly, then removing the nozzle, kneel down out of sight with it and the bottle. After a minute, he reappeared and looking around, topped off the tank. Getting in the car, the bottle set in his lap was full and wet and smelling of gasoline.

“Hey don’t smoke for a minute,” he laughed.

“What the hell you doing now?” she asked

“Science experiment.Trust me, it's gonna be fun.”

He guided her, turn by turn, as the neighborhood fell away into industry, long lonely blocks crowded by squat warehouses until they hit a chain link fence that stretched untold grimy distances either direction. Tall lights blazoned either side of a front gate covered in blue NYPD signs dictating all manner of instruction.

“Quick go right.” he said.

She turned just before the gate and prowled along one shoulder of the enormous yard. Massive halogen lights mounted on poles poured pale orange luminescence over a menagerie of vehicles layed out in all directions. Lines of cars turned into lines of trucks which faded into lines of motorcycles.

“Okay, slow up.” he said “Riight...abouutt... here.” She stopped.
Bending himself over the bench seat he rummaged around in the duffle bag and sitting back upright, produced a filthy white undershirt and a zippo lighter. He flicked the lighter open and rolled the wheel once to check the flame, then tore a single, thin strip of fabric from the shirt. Leaning against the frame of the open window, Sadie, watching him, sighed and wondered where the other bottle of booze had gotten to. 

“So I should only be gone about ten minutes,” he announced. “If I ain't back in twenty, haul ass and hock my gear.” He grabbed the bottle and opened the door.

The woman regarded him, her face aglow inlight coming through the windshield. She thought she had the situation figured, but decided she might as well ask anyway.

“And what is it we're doing here?”

“Crime of course” he laughed once and was gone into the shadows.

Kit ran at a crouch up to the fence, the bottle of gasoline under one arm. He felt around just above ground level as he went along until located the rift in the chain link he was searching for. Chuckling, he climbed inside. There was always a cut in the fence.

He guessed the dogs would be up near the front of the yard, if they were even out of their cages yet. It was entirely too early for this type of nonsense, he thought, but there was no turning back now. His head bobbed over the rows and back and forth, searching, searching, as he crept fast and low between machines, til finally he saw her.

He had wrenched this bike together over the course of a summer, cannibalizing parts from at least three other motorcycles, building upon the frame of one that belonged to his long lost dad. The reunion was short lived. He forced himself to ignore all the lines and details he’d long obsessed over and began pouring the bottle all over his machine. He unscrewed the cap from the gas tank and threw it over his shoulder into darkness, and then feeding the t-shirt scrap into the hole, poured gas all over that as well.

“Sorry, girl,” he whispered, “but if I can't have you, ain't nobody gonna have you.”

He produced the zippo from his jacket pocket, flipped the top and rolled the wheel, paused and held his breath for just a moment before he lit her up.

Sadie, back at the car, glanced again at the clock on the dash, thinking she should have offered to hold on to his bank-roll. Suddenly the door opened and Kit slid in, out of breath.

“Okay, we're good. Let's go.” he said

It was then that Sadie noticed the rising light of the blaze, even though she couldn't see it, coming from Billie Joe's burning chopper. 

“I might be ready for another drink after all that,” she said, shifting into drive and pulling off as quickly. 

“Way ahead of you,” Kit replied, and commenced to dig around in the duffle bag in the back seat.
Out the back window, the yard brightened with unmistakable color that accompanies a good size fire, shadows flitting and running wild across the other bikes, cars and trucks. A deeper orange contrasting the halogen orange, the sound of dogs barking as they ran for the fire, reckless howls rising in smoke. 



At some point it occured to the both of them that they might never get out of Nebraska. After nearly three days of steadily screwing each other across the great plains, they hit a wall of unseasonably late spring snow, wet and clumpy and almost impossible to drive in.  They opted to spend the night parked behind a hardware store, that in the near white-out conditions of the night before, was impossible to determine whether it was shut down or not. There was nothing to do but ensconce themselves in the back seat and fuck each other raw in Billie Joe’s sleeping bag and wake up in each others arms.

Sadie woke first and extracting herself from the tangle of the backseat, slid into her jeans and a three day old tshirt. She bent the driver’s seat forward and let herself out the massive door to pee in the snow. She immediately regretted not putting on shoes, the snow was wet and clumpy but no less cold than any other snow. She went around the front of the car, tucked away enough, she figured and squatted against the outside curve of the fender. She picked up a handful of snow as she started to shiver, and rubbed her face with it. Light, powdery and damp, it was clean and the last shower either of them had taken was in a hotel two days previous. Hunkered down, she cleaned her face neck and privates with it, and upon standing, rubbed her armpits and breasts under her shirt until the chill became unbearable. She gingerly raced back around to the drivers side and climbing inside the car, stripped down again, and trembling all over, nestled her back against Billie Joe who woke up immediately.

“Damn, girl, you are freezing. What did you do?”

“Bird bath in the snow.” She said. “Now warm me up.”

He enveloped her as best he could and she rolled and turned into him , pulling the sleeping bag over her head, nuzzled his chest hair. He blinked himself awake. The expressionless world outside the windows was pure and bright, but diffused enough to make it seem as if the car were floating adrift in a sea of white or a cloud perhaps and it was just the two of them and nothing else at all in the world. He considered this as he clutched the woman’s shivering form, her warm breath on his chest.

“What do you want to do today?” he asked

“Drive. Just drive. No more sex.” she said “My body needs a break.”

“Yeah, I’m sore all over.” he said “No more sex.”

They both chuckled at this, knowing they were both liars.

“We gotta get the fuck out of Nebraska. All this corn.”

“Horrible fucking corn.” he said

“Never eating corn again.” she said

“Corn wants us dead.” he said, “It’s why it sent the snow, trying to slow us down.”

“Yeah, I’ll drive today, you’re too slow.”

“The hell I am.” he said “You’re reckless.”

“You better, watch what you say, whiteboy, I got access to stuff under here. I can hurt you bad.”

“Lady I don’t see how you could put a bigger hurtin on me than you have already, but I’ll shut my mouth anyhow.”

He sat up and dug around in his duffle bag for anything that didn’t smell too horrible. Sadie, now warmed and head poking out of the sleeping bag, surveyed his body as he pulled on a shirt and pants. She’d never been with a white man before, much less a man as scrawny as Billie Joe. He was all muscle, bone and gristle. You could still see his ribs but he’d developed a glow about him. All she figured was that he didn’t look like a dying man anymore.

He clambered over the front seat and started the car, barefooted pumping the gas twice before turning the ignition.

“I keep telling you, you don’t have to do that.”

“I know, I know.” The motor roared to life, sounding eager to chew up more roadway. If anyone was gonna come out the back door of the hardware store, now would be the time. No one did.

“Dang, we need gas.” he said.

“And coffee.” Sadie replied. She got up and started getting dressed as well. “Lots of coffee.”

Billie Joe eased it into gear and the Toronado rolled slow, growling like a panther, out from behind the hardware store onto the empty main street of the still sleeping town they’d found themselves in. The blue light of morning it was hard to determine if any of the storefronts were operational or empty or maybe it was just a Sunday. Besides one or two perfectly laid tracks in the road of slow moving vehicles, the blanket of snow was completely undisturbed.

Just before the town gave up the fight and petered out entirely into corn fields again, the was a small filling station with a light on in the office. Billie Joe pulled in and shut her down alongside the pumps. Dry for a moment under a tall but leaky roof. The garage bays were closed and dark but there was a large man behind a desk in the office.

Billie Joe dug some cash out of his jeans and smelled his shirt once more. “I’ll go pay the man and see about coffee before I fuel up.” Then he noticed over his shoulder that Sadie was pulling her boots on.  “Unless you don’t mind pumping your own gas, ma’am?”

“You really must have me confused for some other woman.” she laughed.

Billie Joe stepped out into the cold and squinted against the few small flakes hitting his cheekbones as he ambled, hands in pockets toward the man in the office. A bell attached to the door rang when he stepped in. “Good morning, sir. Kinda late in the year for all this snow, don’t you think? Might cut into corn production.”

The man peered over his reading glasses at Billie Joe. “Mornin.” he said, and nothing else. Billie Joe noticed the booked spread open before the man’s massive gnarled old mechanic’s hands was none other than the King James bible. Passages were underlined on the delicate pages and there was a significant amount of notes made scribbled in the margins. Billie Joe felt his stomach sink and tried not to notice what chapter he was on, he could already tell it was well toward the back, in the firm and brimstone section.

“Uh, yeah, if you could lemme have ten dollars unleaded there, please sir.” For some reason, despite being seated, he noticed the man was wearing suspenders over his perfect blue shirt that clipped onto a belt and immediately remembered his father telling his never to trust a man who wore both suspenders and a belt. He cursed his powers of observation and tried not to giggle. “Also, if you could maybe sell me a couple cups worth of your coffee there, I’d much appreciate it.”

“Ain’t got no coffee.” the man said. “No cups.”

“Mister, are you saying you don’t have any coffee or don’t have any cups, because I can see both of the em right there.” Billie Joe responded. “I mean, I’ll give you five dollars for it.”

“Nope. No coffee.” the man said.

“How about nabs. You got any nabs? How about some Nip Chees?”

“There’s a store in the next town might have some of those things for you people, but not here.”

“So no Captain’s Wafers then.” Billie Joe said. He felt his eye go twitchy. He was seriously on the verge of doing something stupid.

“Nope. Just about twenty miles on down the road, which is where I suggest you be going now.”

“Okay then.” Billie Joe said, tossing the ten dollar bill on the desk. “You have yourself a nice day, sir.”
“You do the same.” the man said. Billie Joe made sure the door slammed behind him ringing the little bell on it loud and clear.

Sadie knew something was up but prefered to finish the gas and wait until she got into the driver’s side to inquire about it.

“You got a tire iron in the back there don’t you?” Billie Joe asked.

“Yeah” she said “What do you need it for?”

“I’m thinking I might go crack that motherfucker’s skull open and empty his cash register.”

“What the hell did he say? You weren’t even in there five minutes.” she started the car

“He didn’t say it, well he did with his eyes.”

“What, about me?” she said

“About us.”

They drove for a while after that without either of them saying anything.

Later, while sitting on the couch in the office with the crushing weight of Pearl across his lap, he would tell his Uncle Joe that the fight afterward was all his fault.

“I decided I couldn’t handle it, so I blew it up. I mean, it started out with something stupid, like the way she had the carb tuned or something, but I picked a fight I knew neither of us could win.”

“What did you say?” Joe asked.

Billie Joe closed his eyes and he was back at the place he seemed to always be whenever he closed his eyes anymore, sitting next to the black woman in her huge green car, hurtling across the landscape at impossible speeds.

“Listen here, whiteboy, there ain’t a thing about this car you need to tell me about, because I’ve been all over it, three times or more.” Sadie said

“Okay fine, I can’t seem to tell you anything anyhow.”

“Like what. What exactly is it you’re trying to tell me?” She asked.

“Well, how far do you think we’re gonna get with all this?” he said

“I don’t know about your sweet ass but I’m getting it all the way to Watts.” She was talking tough as usual, but her eyes told a different story.

“You know what I’m getting at. With you. And me.” he said “I mean, really. Look at us.”

But she wouldn’t look at him after that. She kept staring straight ahead at the end of the road that would never ever come.

“Anyway, she put me out by a farm supply place in the next hayseed town but I found a bar no problem. I guess that’s probably what I was looking for after all.” Billie Joe said. He rubbed the eyebrows of the dog’s massive skull as she looked up at him. “Stayed in there for about half a day till they asked me politely to leave. Which wasn’t problem really because I’d acquired a bottle of rail vodka when the bartender was taking a leak. After that I found a small yard for what I guess was Union Pacific and somehow managed to pick up something headed West and I pretty much stayed blacked out til I got to California and decided to find you.”

“My lucky day.” Joe laughed. “You don’t happen to remember the name of the town?”

“No way in Hell. Just another pissant Nebraska hole in the corn.”


If you could have asked the residents, they could have told you the name but likely would have agreed it had no special significance other than when they spoke to one other about where it was they lived. It resided on each tongue only as a formality and had long been forgotten for it’s sound and the shape it made when you spoke it out loud. A ghost word, maybe repeated quietly by their children, turning it over and over, but one well known by the black woman in the giant green car who’d driven for a hundred miles from it before she turned around, coming back to prowl it’s few narrow streets until well after dark. If they saw her, her slow circling might have made nervous a few of the neighbors cleaning up after dinner, but more likely, the same as if they’d seen the scruffy young man with the duffle bag ambling their streets earlier, they’d only given her a passing thought, something curious but not too far out of the ordinary to disturb their day, and if you could have gathered all the neighbors together and asked them to imagine the story that entwined these two souls together, they likely would have told you it was nothing they could have dreamed up in a million years.