Of all the people in our crappy little town who might’ve pulled over right about then here’s this kid Morton all got up in fake mustache and sideburns and sunglasses like I‘m not even sure he’s him until he’s right in front of my face, Dwight Morton, Ikey or whatever the hell they called him, cruising the blacktop in mommy’s Sedan de Ville like hey nothing to it.
“What’s with that shit?” I asked him after we’d pulled away.
“Aw you know” he said, petting the mustache like it was really his. “Makes me look older.”
I had to hand it to him. Up close it looked pretty goofy but from a distance through the glass I could see how a cop might not look twice because he looked plenty tall propped up on a Houston Yellow Pages like that. He thumbed in the dashboard lighter and stuck a cig in his mouth and while he was smooching the cig around trying to light it that mustache got a tad out of sync with the rest of his face and I couldn’t help laughing and it felt so good I wished I could keep it up and hahaha myself right on across the county line but when he cracked open his window to suck out the smoke we caught wind of the sirens blaring back in town and snap it was all I could do just to sit there trying to act normal again.
“I wonder what that’s all about?” he said, but not like he was really wondering a whole hell of a lot.
“Me too” I told him thinking he’s got to figure something’s up with me the way I keep my eyes glued to the shotgun rearview but he didn’t say squat, not even when I asked could he drop me by the interstate, no nosey goddamn questions about this or that just “okay.”
But it still felt pretty dorkish with us barely knowing each other like same town and same neighborhood and same schools etc. but we never hung out together or anything and at most said hey every now and then when we passed each other alone in the hall at school or on the sidewalk or wherever so it wasn’t like we were strangers or I thought he was an asshole or anything I just never paid him much mind.
“North or south?” he asked me when we got to the entrance ramps.
Which caught me a little off guard since I was sort of making this trip up as I went along .
“North” I ended up saying. “Fort Worth, as a matter of fact.”
Then the kid surprised the shit out of me because instead of stopping to let me out he floored it and the rollercoaster rush of that Caddy whizzing onto the interstate made me feel for quite a few seconds that everything might somehow turn out all right.
“What’s the deal?” I wanted to know.
He adjusted one of his sideburns and whipped into the passing lane.
“Fort Worth” he said like he picked up some kid and drove him there every day.
“I mean it’s a pretty long trip from here.
“ Tank’s full” he said. “I got cash. Over forty bucks.”
Which was at least the best news I’d heard all day and maybe the best news I’d heard my whole life.
“Like whose gonna stop us?” he went on.
But I wasn’t going to touch that one, at least not right away.
“Maybe we ought to keep it under the speed limit” I told him.
“Okay” he said, letting up on the gas. “I mean what’s the hurry, right?”
By the time we made a pitstop near Waco it was dark and the stars were brighter than they’d ever been before except of course they weren’t any brighter than usual and just seemed that way to me right then because I was looking at them different like I was somebody else or something so I guess what it boiled down to was me trying not to think about what happened that afternoon and I did pretty good there for quite some time keeping it away from my mind and blocking it all out but hard as I tried to stop it kept coming back just in blips and flashes at first then pretty soon all in one piece.
And it started out to be such a regular day, too, completely regular, I’m telling you, nothing out of the ordinary except I did get some particularly excellent tit and squirrel shots off Cindy Lewis during World History then lo and behold who do I bump into at the Dari King after school but Melanie Hurtle and she’s all pissy about some fight she had with her dad and my lights and buzzers are going off left and right because my friend Bill’s big brother Bob actually screwed dear Melanie once out in her poolhouse on an air mattress and it’d gone down the same way as with me now, the Dari King after school, the fight with her dad, same.
So I was all ears all the way to her house listening to her squawk about how mean her daddy was and how tough she had it and thinking how there must be some thing about rich girls that makes you want them because Melanie was no beauty queen like nice tits and maybe cute in a butterball way but her perfect clothes and fingernails and teeth and hair and perfume and jewelry and that country club of a house with the pricey cars parked out front and the fairway of a lawn—class, I reckon, Melanie Hurtle had class, the slut, so it hit me when we got to the driveway that this was probably going to be a oneshot deal and she wouldn’t want to go out with me or anything like Bob told us
“She gets into a fight with daddy then heads across the tracks lookin for some lowlife to screw.”
So all good and when we got to the front door she put her hand on the knob and tossed her hair over her shoulder just so and looked back at me right in the eyes saying
“Wanna go for a swim?”
And I said “sure” like what the hell? and fell in behind her with my hands stuffed in my front pockets the way a guy does when he gets wood in public.
I’m telling you that house was so big it echoed like a museum or church and our leather shoes on the marble floor made enough noise to roust the maid, Mrs. Alvarez, Jerry Alvarez’s mom, who’d never liked me and thought I was a bad influence on Jerry which we all thought was pretty funny with him being one of the worst thugs in the whole goddamn school but the way the lady looked at me then I guess I should’ve known something was up because okay so she didn’t like me so fine but there was something in her face besides that like something was going on with Melanie that I should’ve picked up on it but didn’t until it was too late and looking back maybe Mrs. Alvarez had tried to catch my eye and maybe shook her head whispering no hijo no but I can’t be sure because all I could think about was I didn’t have a swimsuit with me and my BVD’s were all holey and stained like I swear to God I might as well have been wearing blinders and earplugs and a little chain connecting my nose to Melanie’s pussy the way I walked through that house.
As it turned out I never needed the swimsuit because as soon as we got inside the poolhouse she asked me real matter-of-fact if I wanted to kiss her and off we went all lips and hands and tits and ass and twat like so much for kissing on the first date and running the bases and so on because this was the remedial course where you had to learn fast dumbass because you’re already way behind so a little more of this and a little more of that and pretty soon we’re half-naked on the air mattress with me licking her nipples and her reaching down and stroking my cock and I remember thinking God don’t let me shoot my wad before I get inside when a voice calls out
Of course it couldn’t have been her older brother or some jealous boyfriend or the yard guy—no, it was her old man.
“You in there, Melanie?”
He had his tennis duds on and a racket in his hand and his face was all hot and bothered and dripping with sweat and when he saw us there on the air mattress hustling to get our clothes on he freaked.
“Well you little whore” he said. “You goddamned little whore. I told you what would happen if I caught you bringing some trash in here like this again. I told you. Didn’t I? ”
She just nodded and whimpered a little and didn’t say boo until he swung around to face me and then she’s all
“Don’t hurt him, daddy. Daddy, please don’t hurt him.”
And I looked at her like Jesus Christ girl don’t give him any ideas.
“What’s your name?” he wanted to know.
I dummied up and fought with my jeans until he asked me again and I told him “Pete, sir” and once I’d managed to get a foot through each hole and was ready to hike up I said it again with a fake last name.
“Well then” he said, kind of practicing his swing like forehand and backhand and some slicey deal but all pissedoff and hardass talking through his teeth like “Well then forehand Mister backhand Pete slicey deal Summers backhand.” Etc.
Then he stopped the racket action and gave me a look, saying
“You greasy little piss-stained son of a bitch. You think I raised my daughter up to marry some goddamn truck driver?”
Exactly where the truck driver bit came from I wasn’t sure but I wish he’d never said it because it was too perfect and I couldn’t help myself like my mouth just took over not giving a flying fuck what might happen to the rest of me.
“I don’t know, sir” I told him. “But all the truck drivers do speak very highly of her.”
He couldn’t believe his ears. Even after all the crap he’d thrown at me and her he just couldn’t seem to get it through his brain that I could stand there and crack a joke about her to his face like that, and to tell you the truth I was somewhat shocked myself.
Melanie was crying to beat the band by then of course, not because she gave a rat’s ass about me but for some reason.
“Daddy, please” she wailed. “Daddy, stop, please. Count to ten. Daddy. Please count to ten.”
But that only seemed to make him madder, at least at first, then sure enough he did start counting and taking a swing at each number with some of the backhands hissing by a foot shy of my my nose and by the time he got to ten he did seem a calmer but not much.
He looked me over like I was a walking talking turd then aimed his free forefinger at my face.
“Don’t you dare” he told me. “Don’t you ever dare talk to me or anyone else like that about my daughter. Got it?
Then off he went with more of those practice swings getting himself all worked up again like he was counting back down to one instead of talking.
“Because backhand if I forehand ever backhand hear…”
He was pretty good at tennis, I reckoned, good form and all that, and he really did want to make sure I had it the way he kept putting the ball in my court with each Got it?
“Yes, sir” I said, getting myself positioned to bolt. “I won’t say a word.”
And he stood still for a tad catching his breath and calming down some until I added
“There’s enough talk already.”
Which made him see red again once it clicked but I was through the door by then—almost, and he turned out to be a lot quicker than I figured so he managed to nail me pretty hard with a serve to the back of the head but he was so spot on he hit me with the strings and the racket bounced off almost painlessly but knocked me off balance enough he managed to connect to the back of my right shoulder with a much more ruthless slice of the racket’s aluminum edge before I stumbled out of range.
I ran back towards the house and ended up in the garage and like an idiot tried opening one of the doors by hand and it wouldn’t budge of course because it was an automatic deal and by the time I found the button and pushed it here he was again cussing a blue streak over the grind of the door-opener.
“I meant what I said, punk. Every goddamn word. Now get the hell off my property. Got it?”
That’s when I saw them, those three things I wish I’d never seen.
“Got it?” he repeated when I didn’t hop to with sir-yes-sir.
I’m telling you that Porsche must’ve been brand spanking new and the lawnmower looked pretty new too---a Lawnboy, green, one of those two-cycle jobs---but the lawnmower didn’t matter except maybe if it hadn’t been there the gas can wouldn’t have been there either and that new car smell! Because the top was down it was everywhere until I started sloshing in the gas then the gas smell was everywhere and if you’re wondering why a guy like me would do something like that here it is. As soon as I whipped out my Zippo the guy’s whole attitude changed. Of course I knew it was all fake and that he was just acting like I was another human being or whatever but the point is he changed.
“All right now just hold on a minute there, son” he said. “Let’s think about this.”
But what he didn’t know was that what was about to happen had already happened in my head so it was a tad too late for talk.
“Maybe I overreacted a little” he went on. “It’s just that sometimes Melanie and I have these quarrels. You can understand that, right? How a father and daughter…”
I clicked open my Zippo and fired it up.
“Really now. Don’t do this. You might burn the whole place down.”
“Good” I said, even though to be honest I hadn’t thought it through quite that far yet.
“Seriously. I mean what do you want me to say? I shouldn’t have hit you, all right? I apologize, all right?”
And like straight out of the movies I told him “too late, Jack” and tossed the Zippo at the front seat.
I’ve got to admit I ended up with a lot more boom than I’d bargained for, like a guy should never forget how explosive gasoline can be, especially in an enclosed area like that garage, so we were lucky we each managed to crawl outside.
Melanie and Mrs. Alvarez were on hand by then to help get Daddy back to his feet and before he cleared his head enough to think of looking around for me I was gone, down the driveway and into the street hoping like hell to be just as far away as possible when the flames got to the Porsche’s fuel lines. I stopped near the railroad tracks to catch my breath and took one more look back thinking maybe it wasn’t quite as bad as I thought but no, even from that far away you could see the house was a goner too. So the way I saw it at that point there was only one thing left to do which was hit the road, but exactly how and where and when I was going make that happen I didn’t have a clue until Morton pulled up.