Slash and burn across the states
|For the Sake of Tomorrow
Ryan Mitchel Collins
Sir and Mickey got the raw opium a few weeks before, illegitimately of course. Mickey stole a car while he was lost and blacked out, walking home in his own neighborhood in the middle of the night. Instead of going home, he decided to drive to New Haven, going about 130mph to clear out a house one of his friends tipped him off about. From what I hear, it was like “Taking candy from a baby, Charlie.”
The new Range Rover parked out front with New Jersey plates didn’t even scare him; it’s what convinced him to go in. He made out with something like twenty pounds of the stuff. Sir drove Mickey up to the woods when Mickey sobered up. They torched the stolen car in a magnificent blaze, a sacrifice to the gods. To Mickey and Sir, it was all like some fairy tale. They’d finally found what they thought was the American dream, and justified their actions by saying “We’ve paid our dues, and now it’s time somebody paid ours.”
Sir introduced me to Mickey in the spring, not long after they’d gotten out of the pen. From what I was told, Mickey’d spent more time in—prison—than out during his life. He was a wildcard, and to me there was nothing more exciting. There was a certain buzz when he came around. Mickey was a person who didn’t get the breaks in life. While the rest of us went to high school, he had a daughter and was hustling the streets by twelve.
He was about five ten—very well built due to all the extra time he had on his hands in prison. He looked like the kind of person you could trust and hold a good conversation with. Somewhere along the line, he’d found out it paid to look like an officer. People never suspected, or even doubted him. Mickey was also well read, and you could tell he was intelligent, but intelligent like a fox. The Art of War was his favorite book. Everything was a battle tactic to him. He had this certain sense for the streets you couldn’t teach anywhere—the way he carried himself—it was one of a kind. His past was a mystery to me. I never asked, he never told.
Sir was a family friend who’d done some time for a scam he’d made out on for a little while, but it caught up with him. His family hired one of the best attorneys they could find to get him off. After the trial and his subsequent conviction, they cut him off.
His wife left him, taking the kid and dog, promptly moving back to her hometown with her mother in Southern California near Los Angeles. She was engaged within the month, to one of Sir’s childhood friends of course. She wrote him a letter while he was in jail to tell him as cold and calculated as she could.
I knew Sir well when we we’re in our early twenties, so when he got out of prison, he started coming around again with a giant beard and the new name “The Sir.” The rest as they say is history; a few jobs here and there, and we were a motley crew of sorts.
They would always make money, but would spend it twice as fast. I had some money from my family, and didn’t need small jobs for cash. Mickey’s trip to New Haven wasn’t a small job, and they came to me the next day. It all sounded too good to be true.
I found myself supplying cash for operations until they started moving it. Sir and Mickey told me they would repay every penny borrowed, and I believed them. The plan was suppose to go something like—they supplied the stolen product, and I gave them customers. Profits were to be split in thirds.
Because they needed money right away, we found ourselves making connections with a guy some guy we met in a bar named Henry. Apparently, I gave him my number and the fake name Jimmy; the exchange of numbers happened somewhere in-between shooting my mouth off while I was drunk; telling him we had some great stuff—I even gave him some for free. He called me the next day, told me he wanted to meet in a week, “Outside of Brunswick.” He wanted two pounds, so this wasn’t a deal to overlook, plus he was paying more than we could ever dream of getting in Westover.
It didn’t take much convincing for Sir and Mickey to follow my plan. At first they were cautious—not wanting to get popped selling to some random—but when they figured the total sum, they changed their minds immediately. They kept saying, “Cash money, Charlie,” and by the end of the week, we were on our way to Brunswick.
Sir and Mickey argued the whole way about prices and logistics, like they always did. I stayed quiet smoking cigarettes, gazing at the sliver of a moon, crushing it with my fingers. We preferred to travel by dark, and Sir had a theory, “It was impossible to get made in the middle of the night if you were going fast enough.” It was a hundred miles to Brunswick from Westover, and my headache burned with intensity the more space we traversed from home.
In my pained boredom, I imagined we were bootleggers, like my forefathers before me—crossing borders in the middle of the night, dogging government officials at every corner, with some incarnation of Sir at the wheel, always peeling around the corners of the generations. In my mind angry men with exotic firearms were chasing us. Every once and awhile, I’d have to throw a grenade at them when they got too close.
“That should hold them for a second I should think, Sir. I really let’m have it with that last one.” I looked back at the damage unleashed and loaded a fresh clip in the ak-47, making steady aim.
They chased us in Range Rovers; all of them had New Jersey plates. It looked like they we’re all dressed in Armani suits. Sir gleamed from ear to ear, he was proud of his Dodge he’d named Rambo. It was performing magnificently.
“We’ve got bogeys starboard, Sir. Slow Rambo down and let me get some. Charlie’s havin’ all the fun,” Mickey lampooned. He cocked back his Browning automatic rifle, ready to unleash hell.
Sir complied and slammed on the brakes; the jolt snapped me back to reality.
“We’re here, sir,” the Sir glutted.
“He has that look on his face again, like he just got woke up from one of his naps. We’re here, Charlie, you know, the place?” Mickey gleamed with his ethereal smile, laughing in the darkness.
We waited at the tree line outside Brunswick. It was on the east side of town, where a long time ago, I would shoot empty Jack Daniels bottles after we’d finish them with a toast to our health. This time I wasn’t shooting the eagle, but I had it nearby.
“Call him for fucks sake, Charlie. Do we have to wait here all night? We need to be bar-side, breaking out some of those bones by midnight.”
“Sir, I’m gonna need you to calm yourself and let me call him, and may I have one of those por favor, Senor?” He playfully held out a cigarette after I asked for one and pulled it back as I grabbed for it, eventually handing it over. “Y un encendedor por favor, senor?” I lit the cigarette and picked up my phone, searching out Henry in my phonebook.
“Henry we made it. We’re waiting at that spot I told you about.”
“Yeah, we’ve got it all.”
“Twenty grand like I said earlier.”
“Ok, cool, brother, see you in about twenty.”
We waited for about ten minutes before the Questions started in.
“Where is he?”
“If he’s not here, you should call him, shouldn’t you?”
“What if you told him the wrong place?”
With each question I assured them everything would be ok, and Henry was a stand-up guy. That was a joke considering I’d known Henry for all of five minutes in my life, but they didn’t know that. For all I knew he could have been J. Edgar Hoover, arisen from the dead, come to put our asses in the stern, and I was just too drunk at the time to realize it, or worse yet—too stupid to see it coming.
They smoked cigarettes one after another, exchanging nervous glances. “Charlie, if we get busted I’m going to kill you. You’ll wake up in the middle of the night with a pillow over your head when I get out of Jail. About 4am, if you know what I mean?”
“Mickey, you just concentrate on not saying anything. I’ve got some business to do here.” We could see the approaching headlights and Sir shined the spotlight through the obscurity of night at the approaching truck, I recognized the passenger under the gleam as our rendezvous Henry.
He got out of his two-ton Chevy, his gleaming white cowboy hat and all. “Jimmy, glad to see you made it in one piece. Have to say, we had some doubts if you’d make it. I mean delivery service and all!”
We got out of the truck, rolling up the windows, all smiles and no worries; the thought of all that cash in our pockets forced a smile, even on my face. Henry seemed like the kind of guy who enjoyed a good old-fashioned icebreaker.
“That’s why they call me Jimmy on the spot, Henry. Always there if you need one, but rarely used.” I walked up to him and shook his hand, which he received whole-heartedly and warmly.
“You got some wet hands there, Jimmy—everything all right? And who the hell are these guys?” Henry’s facial expression grew rapidly tighter as he scrutinized Mickey and Sir.
“Everything’s fine, Henry; this is, Mickey and Sir.”
“Mickey and Sir?”
“Yeah, hey, listen—we’ve got to get back on the road here soon; we’ve got another appointment at midnight. So sorry to rush you or anything, but the quicker we could do this the better,” I say wiping sweaty hands on my pants, going back to the truck to get the stuff. For some reason I’d forgotten my eagle in the truck, so I grabbed it casually while I was getting the briefcase, and I stuffed it down my pants slowly, not wanting to alarm Henry. The eagle’s so big, it’s obvious I have a gun, but in the middle of the night it’s hard to tell what the bulge was. I came back with the suitcase and set it on the hood of the truck, opening it up for him.
“Better than advertised. Jimmy, you really do know how to do business. This is some heavy stuff you know? Where’d you get it?” Henry’s eyes light up, smiling enigmatically at the splendor before him. He pawed at the stuff for a second, the excitement in his face never diminishing.
“We’ve got our sources Henry. It doesn’t matter; I mean they’re fighting a war to control the stuff in Afghanistan now. And by control it I mean mass produce it. It should start flooding the streets anytime now, in pharmaceutical form of course.” I laughed at the bullshit flowing out of my mouth as the heavy winter cold made my breath visible.
“Well, there’s a demand to say the least. My guy just lost a bunch and he needed some right away. I remembered you gave me your number and a sample that night, so I had to pull the trigger. It just worked out too perfect. Yeah it was just too perfect. You said twenty grand right?” he said, fingering the tip of his cowboy hat.
“Yeah, like I said three times before, Henry.”
He went to his truck and produced two money stacks. Foolishly, I grabbed at them when he was walking to me, thinking I was the rightful owner.
“Hey, hey, what the hell do you think you’re doing, Jimmy? Did I say our business was concluded here? Did you think you could have this? Goddam, Jimmy, you should know better than that.”
“Sorry, Henry.” I looked over at Mickey and Sir, who were both shaking their heads.
“I’ll let it slide this time kid, but next time, next time, I don’t know. Now let’s get down to the business at hand shall we? So here we have the goods,” he looked at the briefcase and smiled, “and here we have my Colt python.”
“Really, sir?” the Sir said.
“Yeah what the hell, Henry? You pull that out to show off your heat or what? It’s pretty nice.”
“Shut up, Jimmy you little yuppie shithead. See we’re all gonna play a game called do what Henry says, so make like good little thieves and line up by my truck. Go on, move.” He shoved his menacing elephant killer at me, and I really didn’t think it was worth dying over, so I decided not to make this an old fashioned shootout. It seemed like my gun was going to fall out of my pants the whole time backing up to his truck.
“Really good, Charlie. You make a deal with a guy who holds us up? If he doesn’t kill you, I’m going to when this is all over.”
“Thanks, Mickey. You’re a real help.”
“Now what game did I say we we’re playing here? I said, we’re playing the let’s do what Henry says game, and I sure as hell didn’t say talk.” he said this, reinforcing his will by aiming at us with more intention. It was the first time a gun was pointed at me. There was no correct expression for the panic I felt, my heart was sunk with fear.
“There we go, that’s right. Now all three of you empty your pockets and throw everything in front of you, and do it all slowly.” All the extra loot comes out of our pockets—Henry watches in glee—and all the while I’m thinking of a plan.
“Now is that all the stuff you guys brought, or if I go and search your truck am I going to find more?” Henry pointed the gun more at me than anyone else when he asked the question. Naturally, I thought he was talking to me.
“That’s all of it Henry. We really didn’t bring any extra, planning to get robbed if you know what I mean?”
“You think you’re a tough guy then, Jimmy, or Charlie, or whatever? Well why don’t you step right up and see what happens when you test the Henry?”
This guy doesn’t have the balls to shoot me is what I began to think as I stood up. He simultaneously cold clocked me with the butt of his gun.
Out I went as my consciousness fluttered into a million pillows, all of them comforting. It was like floating off into the unknown of a baby’s first sleep, never knowing if there’s ever going to be an awakening, or what an awakening was. The melody of the angel’s chorus rhythmically hymned, and all was peaceful.
“Shall we wake him, Sir?”
“Not yet, sir, he took a pretty good one to the temple.”
“That guy bashed Charlie so hard he fell on his ass after, Sir. How does that happen?”
“I was there, sir, and I still have no idea, but I remember you grabbing that rock while he was giving old Charlie the once over. And what I remember even more is the way you beautifully guided that rock into old boys dome piece. Very nice work, sir Mickey.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Of course, sir.”
“You know what I will remember the most, Sir?”
“The way you knew how to tie those knots, so we could tie Mr. Henry to the hood of his truck. That was brilliant, Sir, just brilliant.”
“Oh thank you, but what I thought was brilliant was how you decided to strip him naked and—”
“Oh, Sir, he’s waking up!”
Looking up, I felt my head throbbing like a portal to hell. But what a surprise held like a splendor before my eyes. There, on the center console was the briefcase with the money stacked on top, and my gun used as a paperweight.
The next few weeks were lived in ominous travel. It took a little time to recover from my concussion, but before long, I was ready to go. It wasn’t the first time I’d had a concussion. I would get them all the time as a boxer. We didn’t want them to track us, so we stuck to a plan, and that of course was to go from town to town, never staying long enough to attract attention.
This was a problem, considering the attention my associates and I were prone to attracting. There were a few bumps along the road in Chicago and St. Louis. Nothing to the effect of drawing police attention to ourselves, but we weren’t worried about the police at this point, we just wanted to lose whoever it was Mickey stole from. I’m sure they’ve figured out who we are and where we lived, so going home at this point was out of the question.
Mickey getting into a scrap in downtown Chicago didn’t help us lay low any. He got it pretty good, and disappeared for a day before he showed up at the hotel. We were about to leave him and split up his share. We thought he might have got picked up. I was both relieved and sad he showed back up.
He was all black and blue, and apparently it was a narrow escape for his life. He’d got the bright idea to stumble into a parking lot drunk, and do some cocaine on a random trucks tailgate. The owner of the truck and a few of his friends came across Mickey using their truck for lewd purposes, and told him to scram. He acted like he was going to leave, telling them sorry and all, but right as he was making way, he turned around and lunged at the biggest guy with an overhand right. It missed completely. On the ground the whole group pounded him senseless.
After they’d set in on him for quite some time, they decided to choke him almost to the point of death. Mickey was pretty sure they would have killed him had it not been for some old man and women that came along and threatened to call the cops. They didn’t let go of him right away. It took three or four threats of the police getting called before they let him go.
And when they let him go, they told him to go home and not swing at them again. When they started to let him go, Mickey tried to swing at them again, missing. They all got one last shot on him before they finally let him go. “Maybe even three rights to the jaw,” Mickey told us.
“Why’d you leave us, and why the hell would you swing at him then?”
“They wouldn’t have let me go, Charlie. They would have chased me down and beat me from behind like a dog. It was better to try and knock the leader out. I mean why didn’t you use the gun when you had it on you the whole time? John could of shot us right there and then if he wanted to.” he said, applying ice to his wounds.
“That was a different situation, Mickey. Tell him, Sir.”
“I’m going to have to go with Mickey on this one, Charlie. I still don’t understand why you didn’t use the gun on John when you had the chance. He could have killed us all,” he said looking at Mickey’s wounds closer. “But then again, I have no idea why you would have taken a swing at them if they were letting you go. You both equal out on this one.”
“I don’t know what any of us have been thinking, running around scared like this. John is taken care of and who cares who else they might have, it makes no difference. We can deal with anyone they have. You and Sir, both of you dragged me away from my daughter. I’ve never been away from home before. Sorry if I let the pressure get the best of me, you both know I’m not normally like this. Charlie, I’m blamin’ you for everything. This is your fault.”
“Snuff it, Mickey. None of us would have any money if it weren’t for me. You just try and stay out of trouble and quit getting so soused. Every time you get that drunk, you end up pulling some stunt.”
“Oh it’s not my fault, Charlie. You’re the one—“
“Just stay off the booze until we figure this all out.”
After our confrontation, Mickey laid off the liquor. But not before he got drunk and told us the rest of the story—how he jumped to life when he heard the sirens getting close; told us how he crawled into and alley and laid unconscious for the better part of a day. It wasn’t he was some raging drunk or anything like that. He just had a problem being away from the only home he ever knew. I tried to think about how it would be if I’d never been anywhere besides the town and state I was born in, but the thought was too constricting. This was all new territory for him. Every hill we crossed was a place he’d never been before, a shroud revealed from the hidden corners of his mind. The colors were being filled in on the once gray area of the map.
We were going to Mexico eventually, via California of course. Mickey and I’d never been, and Sir’s stories about the majestic beauty of the place enchanted us. You could really see the gleam in Mickey’s eyes whenever Sir mentioned the word California. His eyes lit up probably even more than his daughters on Christmas morning.
We had a whole plan, and most of it was my plan. We were going to go lay low in Mexico and try to sell the opium to the cartel. Sir vehemently disagreed. We would lay low for a while, and of course monitor the situation from afar. We would go through all the significant cities on our way to Los Angeles before we dipped south of the border. We would make it a vacation of sorts. None of us ever really had the opportunity to go across the country like this, and we were going to take advantage of the situation. Mickey would make plans and have ideas on where we should go along the way, but all along, Sir and I eyed each other—knowing we couldn’t let him make any plans. Mickey was like a kid again and he showed it to a hitchhiker we picked up outside of St. Louis.
It was Mickey’s idea to pick him up on the pretense he’d never picked up a hitchhiker. Sir and I didn’t see this as too big of a problem, and we thought nothing of it as we pulled to the side of the road and welcomed this kid into Rambo.
“We’re going to the Grand Canyon, and the giant crater in Arizona. Oh, and the Hoover dam. We’re going all the way to California. Have you ever been there, Billy?”
“No, not ever.” the hitchhiker Billy said. He haggardly returned Mickey’s stare.
“Well you should come with us,” Mickey said to the complete shock of Sir and I. “I’m sure you would have a good time with us, we might even need help with a few things.”
“Well, Mickey. You said your name was Mickey right?”
“Well, Mickey the thing is. You see the thing is, I would love to come with you to see all these great spots and do all these exciting things; but I have a family I’m trying to get back to outside of St. Louis.”
“Do you have any kids, Billy?” Mickey’s eyes were immersed on Billy dreamily. “I have a daughter.”
“Yeah, I have three.”
“What’re their names?” he said enamored on the point.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know the names of your own kids? You should be ashamed of yourself, Billy.” The hitchhiker fidgeted after this damnation.
“Give the guy a break, Mickey.” I said trying to ease the tension, “I can’t stand when you jaw at people all the time, it gives me a headache.”
“No it’s ok,” Billy said. “The reason why I don’t know all their names is because I haven’t met the youngest born. One things for sure, and I think you were starting to catch onto it there—I’m not the world’s best father.”
Billy started to cry a little from the looks of it and Mickey affectionately responded, “Me too.” They almost hugged, but it never really happened and they both seemed to turn away, and there was a long awkward silence in the truck.
Mickey and the hitchhiker were sitting in the back and they became less visible as darkness slowly crept in on the fading evening. Lights of the highway and the occasional passing of another car made them visible in the back again. You could hear them talking shattered words over the music ever so often, but for the most part I started to slip into a beautiful dream in the passenger seat, but not before I heard Billy offer Mickey a dose. I was too tired to stop him and I thought to myself, “At least he’s not drinking.”
I’ve never really been able to fall asleep in a car. The only thing I’ve been able to do while trying to fall asleep in a car is—see my life from strange perspectives in a halfway state between-sleep. The problem I’ve always had is I’m too attached to the thought of who I am. It’s hard to see myself from different angles. I want to change all the obvious problems, but can’t. It’s not really a sleep, but the mere impression of sleep that sometimes feels the same; but there’s always a foggy layer coating consciousness when you awake.
And I take my waking slow. Sometimes it takes some time to completely wake up, but when you do—waking hits you slow and hard, always making way to reality. And Billy talked to Mickey in my halfway state with mad-wild eyes. Looking as if life depended on whatever was to take place in-between his there and now.
It didn’t matter really, they were gone by that point and there was no bringing them back. Time had to do its trick before they would come back down. Their talk was rampart; they would lose focus before they could finish their topic. They would change topics without finishing points, or making one for that matter. Billy kept asking Mickey what happened to his face and why he was so banged up, but Mickey would respond time after time, that he’d, “Cut himself shaving.” And I would wince every time he committed this blatant lie. We wouldn’t ruin the fun of watching Billy’s response, and in the short time I paid attention to him and his habits, I could tell he was a very gullible man, and had no idea the sort of crowd he’d so suddenly surrounded himself with. I wanted to tell him this company would lead to his demise, but I didn’t have the heart.
We could see St. Louis come up in the distance and I was excited to see the gateway to the west. It stood before me like I’d seen it in the pictures, but it was real before me, defying nature and all things east of it. We were entering into the great American west and there was nothing stopping us except our own ignorance. And the Billy, Mickey tandem, showed plenty of it. At some point I heard Mickey say he was, “Cold,” asking Billy if he had a sweater in that, “great big backpack of his.” Billy being a seemingly generous man—produced a hardy looking plaid jacket. Mickey gawked at the striped chaos, but gladly put it on, marveling at the simple checkered pattern all the while. He had lost his mind in all the confusion and travel. He couldn’t handle the pressure that came with this kind of lifestyle, but worst of all, he had no idea he couldn’t handle it.
All these things flooded my mind as Sir pulled into an affordable looking hotel. It was called the Golden Nugget. The clerk inside seemed reasonable enough and he gave us the suite after I talked to him about college a little bit. He was a sophomore and working at the hotel during the nights, so he could, “Do his homework.” It seemed innocent enough to me. But I could tell he was hiding something in his look. Perhaps it was the fact I was hiding something from him in my backpack, but our conversation was somewhat edgy amongst the placation. I thanked him for his generosity and brought my suitcase up to the room.
The suite was something after a miner’s fantasy. Maybe it was the golden hue immersing the entirety of the room; or maybe it was the gold satin sheets draping over the edges of the bed. It was decent enough; I just hoped we wouldn’t shatter that poor clerk’s reputation for giving the suite at such a low price to the likes of our company.
I called the Sir, informing him what room to come to, and before long he emerged through the door. Mickey and then Billy followed, but it took them sometime to make their way through the half-cocked door. The room mesmerized them, and you could tell by the sort of shimmy they did after looking around. It must’ve been the golden hue, but who really knows what they were thinking. They were past the point of no return, and there was no turning back for them now. They reminded me of how I was in high school.
Sir and I took to our sleeping positions and began to wind down, but this wasn’t the time for Mickey to unwind. He kept saying, “I have to get out of here, the walls are closing in. Can you see that? They’re breathing at me.” The way he repeated those words with horror, convinced me he was truly losing his mind being away from home.
“I’ve gotta go on a walk. I can’t stay in here another minute. Billy, this is your city isn’t it?”
“Well not really Mickey, I told you that I was from just outside of St. Louis. I’m from St. Peters, Missouri.”
“That’s nice. Me too.”
“No you’re not, Mickey,” Sir and I both blurted out.
“We’re all from just outside St. Louis don’t you think?”
“Whatever, Billy, let’s go on a walk around your city.”
“I told you, Mickey. Oh what the hell? Let’s go.”
And like that, they were both gone out into the bright world they sought out so much. We comfortably slipped into a coma of sorts, and slept hard, undisturbed. We began to worry again when Mickey didn’t show up at checkout time, so we negotiated with the clerk to extend our stay one more evening. He gave us an even better bargain, considering we hadn’t burnt down the hotel down, and there was minimal noise reported coming from our room.
We sat and waited. We waded our time by making plans and dreams out west for ourselves. Mexico seemed the best idea on account of the drug wars going on. Sir thought it would be easy to slip in unnoticed with the raw opium, considering how nobody cared what was going into Mexico, only what was coming out. Once we got there, he wanted to talk with the locals in Spanish, find out where the cartel was least crazy, and get rid of the opium. The idea seemed crazy to me, but at this point, I wasn’t going back home.
When I thought of home, the only thing I could feel was a deep nostalgia, but a sick nostalgia. The thought of home was like a sickness eating at my flesh, beckoning me into the eternal grave. The thought of my sticks of furniture being given away by my asshole landlord for a reasonable price brought me some comfort. He would try to find me and persecute me to the full extent of the law, but there was no finding me. He was never going to find me. They could have my lifetime supply of nothing, and all those things disgusted me now. It’s hard to believe I was so attached to all those meaningless objects. There was no going home. The road to Mexico was my only home at the moment, and that was all-the home I needed. No possessions and no attachments.
We talked about how we were going to split the money and leave Mickey if he mucked up too bad. We loved the guy with all our heart, but he was a liability to both our lives.
The hours passed one after another with the ticking of the old clock in our room. We played cards and talked about more schemes. How we were going to spend the money and all that, but too much of that made my head hurt and I fell asleep to Sir still talking.
The next day passed without the triumphant return of Mickey, and I was seriously concerned for him this time. There was no way he would survive this far away from home without supplies. I knew he was a survivor, and my fear would relinquish with this thought after a while. He had about a thousand dollars on him, but no cell phone or identification. We’d waited for two whole days, and we didn’t even get a phone call. He apparently had our cell phone numbers memorized, so that wasn’t the problem. I kept reading the police reports in the newspaper to see if he’d committed some vicious act against society, but I didn’t come across anything.
When we woke on the third day, the decision was made to pack our bags and ready ourselves for the rest of the trip west. We didn’t want to leave him, but it got to the point where we really didn’t have much of choice either way. We had no idea where he was, or for that matter where he could be. My guess was he’d done something stupid again and wound up in the big house. It was all just conjecture at this point, but the obvious fact remained—he wasn’t where he was supposed to be. We should’ve split the money up earlier and given him the choice to go back home in Chicago, but we didn’t.
We started up Rambo and waited for another hour listening to music and smoking cigarettes, talking about all the crazy things Mickey had done on the trip. We even went looking for him downtown, and checked the jails—nothing. It was like he’d vanished into the smoggy air, and it was obvious we had to be on our way without him. If he’d only held it together long enough to get out of the Midwest, he might have seen paradise!
We crossed into Missouri and hopped onto I-70 west. We eyed St. Louis in the rear view mirror knowing we were leaving a man behind in the depths. He was in over his head from the start and I don’t think he ever thought about the consequences involved with the operation. The thought never crossed his mind—at least I think it didn’t—that he might never see his daughter again. It wasn’t like he saw her all the time anyway, but once a month. And when he did see her, his mom always had to make the arrangements and bring her to Mickey, serving a chaperone.
I was glad there was nothing holding me down except my own fear. I was free to leave and roam wherever I wanted to go. There was no daughter, or significant girlfriend calling, asking where I was, or when I was going to come home. It was a good feeling to be sailing along the highways in Rambo.
The Sir was always the silent type, and you could tell he was a very thoughtful man by the way he spoke—when he did speak, he would say everything really slow, as to avoid any confusion about what he was trying to say. When I asked him what he thought about Mickey, he merely responded with a, “Well, sir. If I was him I’d do it too.” I had no clue what the hell that meant, or how it related to anything, but it seemed good enough for me. I wasn’t here to figure out any deep philosophical questions, or find my purpose in the world. I was merely here to be content for once in my life and not wonder anymore what possibility was lurking just around the corner. To see something yourself is better than hearing anyone else’s stories, and I’d heard plenty of other people’s stories—sick to death of it. This was my time. America called my name and the response was quick and measured. Possibilities of dreams and nuances could be reached in theory, but everything could flux at any given moment. We were in synch with our limits now, and ourselves; but the great mystery of life surrounding us moved. It moved in measured rhythm, carrying us with it on a great journey.
We flashed through Missouri and stopped in the City of Fountains, but only to take in as much as quickly as we could. We were eager to get as far away from home and the St. Louis situation as we could. We were frugal with our money and held out on Mickey’s portion in case he found us somehow. Sir and I divvied up our cut of the money, so in case we got split up or something, we wouldn’t be in dire straights. We ate lunch in the City of Fountains. We had some of their famous barbecue for lunch. It was the best barbecue I’d ever had in my life, and with every succulent serving I felt better, and more ready to accomplish our trip. Renewed.
The goal was to try and make it to Denver in time to catch last call at some place the Sir knew about called, the Gin Mill. We had 600 miles to burn between here and there and twelve hours to midnight. He kept telling me about the nightlife in Denver; how we were sure to find some cheep entertainment there, because Denver was a young-awake city. He told me about the history of Denver and when it was a territory, the place was like a twenty-four hour carnival that refused to stop, and men never hesitated to use their revolvers, “unlike me.” I’d never been past Kansas City before, and the Rocky Mountains were something I’d dreamt of seeing. People tell me how the peaks cascade the front range of Colorado, spawning the great Colorado River that flows all the way to the Pacific.
The waitress and all the kitchen staff thanked us as we rushed out of the barbecue place named Smokin’ Pokin’ BBQ. I gave them a peace sign and nearly sprinted to Rambo, so anxious to get to Colorado and Denver—I wished there was a button I could push to transport me there instantly.
“You know someday, Charlie, they’re gonna have something completely different than these gas hogs like Rambo. Our children’l have the luxury not worrying about filling their tanks with the oppression of the world. They’ll be smart enough to make something different for themselves. I mean they’ll have the luxury to look at people like us and see where we went wrong.”
“I hope you’re right, Sir. My only fear is the next generation is being raised by this generation. You and Mickey both have children, and both of your wives barely let you see your children. I’ve seen so many situations like that, I can’t help but wonder what that’s going to do to this generation. Not to mention all those preservatives and junk they’re being fed. It all has to make a mush of the mind at some point.”
“You may be right in some aspects, sir, but don’t underestimate the strength of the human will. No matter how much they poison me, I’ll never stop. I’ll keep going and fighting to the very end, no matter if it kills me.”
“You’re a true American, Sir.”
“Dam straight. They’ll have to kill me before I find my piece of the pie, or when I do find it, there’ll be no stopping me.”
“I think we’ve found it.”
“Our piece of the pie, I mean.”
“It’s not over yet, Charlie. The way I see it, we have two enemies tryin’ to track us down at this point.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, we have the men Mickey stole this from, and Mickey himself now. You know him and you know he’ll be very pissed off we took off without him. He would of waited for us if it was him waiting.” Sir tightened up after saying this as he lit a cigarette.
“Well it wasn’t him waiting for us. It’s not like we did anything wrong. He’s the one that gets in these situations. We all warned him to take it easy and ride this one out, but he kept doing ignorant things. Ignorance is a disease. I don’t want to talk about Mickey anymore. He’s gone and we’re here, he knows how to get a hold of us if he needs to; there’s nothing holding him back from calling us, even if he is in prison, you still get one phone call right?”
“I believe so, sir.”
“Well, there you go, so why doesn’t he know to give us a call? I mean it’s the courteous thing to when you’re in a position like this. You know—the position of having drug dealers with guns chasing us because we stole their raw opium? Oh, and being on the run and staying out of trouble. Come on Mickey! We’ve places to go and things to do, and you think this is the perfect opportunity to leave us hanging and disappear with a hitch hiker?”
“Maybe they fell in love, sir?” The Sir cracked a giant smile after he said this, and I knew he was ok, and we would make it to California at least. The thought popped in my head he was planning on only going that far. He would probably try to win over his ex wife, who undoubtedly wouldn’t take him back, and then I’d have to go to Mexico by my lonesome, but the thought of being alone didn’t scare me, it comforted me.
We stopped talking and cranked the music as loud as it would go, leaving all our worries in swirls of music and motion, waves of speed moving us on. Watching our country go by in the blink of an eye. It wasn’t just us moving anymore, I could see the world moving around its axis, propelling us across the eternity of the universe. Philanthropists.
And when we finally crossed into Colorado, it was as flat as the Kansas we just crossed. The first thing I expected to see was those cascading peeks. It took sometime before I even saw a mountain. We pulled into Denver a half hour past midnight, and past the threshold of the plains into the heart of downtown Denver. It seemed the Sir had been here a few times the way he knew his way around town, and in no time we were sitting bar side at the Gin Mill. Sir was enjoying his favorite cocktail (a long island ice tea) while I took in a scotch on the rocks.
It was like a different world out here, the way the people moved and looked. There were young beautiful people everywhere, and they all seemed to be pretty classy, well most of them. And to top it off they were all pretty friendly; we made some friends, lots of friends.
The night was an experience I wish Mickey could have been with us for. There were endless drinks women bought us. There was new music here and new people, it was a celebration of the places we’d been and the places we were going. Sir looked like he was having the time of his life the entire night and the smile never faded. We fought against our fading youth in a celebration of the night. All the fun stopped when I got a ring on my phone. I could barely hear the voice, but I could tell it was Mickey. I didn’t tell the Sir, and we rode out the evening not thinking about what we were going to do, but what we were actually experiencing. And we experienced it all.
We both ended up at separate places by the end of the night. He went with some beautiful woman to another night club, and I went home with an innocent girl who only let me get to third base, but that was ok with me, and I didn’t bother her for anything else. Her name was Aubrey, and we ate breakfast together after we woke up in the morning at some sidewalk café that had good coffee.
After we finished, she had to go to work and I took her number and kissed her on the cheek. I flagged down a cab, and as I was leaving she told me, “look me up next time you’re in town.”
I smiled and waved goodbye, getting into the cab. It didn’t occur to me before until then, I could be in whatever town—whenever I wanted. I wondered about the next time I was going to be, “in town.”
How old would I be and will life have passed me by the next time I come into town? Will it be with a family I created, passing through on some family vacation? I wondered if I would call Aubrey again if I came back to town. She was a beautiful girl, and she told me in her hometown they compare her to some movie star. That didn’t really matter to me, I liked her innocence—it was refreshing to be around, especially after being around Mickey and the Sir for so long. I didn’t tell her any details about myself, except I was traveling across the country, which she found interesting.
Sir and I met at some restaurant in downtown and he told me all about his previous nights’ sexual conquest, and belittled me for not, “closing the deal.” I laughed and played along letting him be happy for a minute. His smile hadn’t gone away from the night before. It was obvious he’d enjoyed himself.
Right before we bit into our meal, I casually mentioned Mickey called the night before. He stopped everything immediately, even the smile.
“What’d he say then?”
“I couldn’t hear him really. It was too loud.”
“So what did you do, Charlie?”
“I hung up on him. Told him we’d call him tomorrow.”
“Oh, well I’m sure that didn’t piss him off more. I’m sorry, Mickey, we have all the cash and raw drugs, but we’ll have to call you back tomorrow. Real nice, sir, I mean, what if he needed our help or something?”
“Little late for that now, uh? Eat your food and don’t worry about it. We’ll give old Mickey a call on the number he called from after lunch.”
We finished lunch and paid our tab, thanked the middle-aged waitress for everything, who left her number and a smiley face on the tab. I walked outside and tossed Sir my phone.
“There you go, Sir.”
“Oh no, sir. I’m not making the call.”
“Well you’re the one that’s so anxious to make the call in the first place, why don’t you just go ahead and pull the trigger on this one, senoro?”
“Because I’m not the plan guy here, Charlie. That’s your job.”
“You heard me. I’m not the plan guy in the group, that’s your job. And I look to keep it that way in case things go wrong—I can blame you for everything of course.”
“How were you ever born a man? Give me the phone.” I called the number and somebody answered in Spanish with a, “bueno?” I handed the phone back to the perfectly fluent Sir, and he determined from the conversation that Mickey’d stolen the phone from a Mexican man, and then returned it after use.
“Well that gets us nowhere,” he said hanging up the phone and handing it back to me.
“Well Rambo can sure get us somewhere. Let’s get back on the road and see if he calls back or something. In the worst case, we can send him a bus ticket or something. Really this shouldn’t be our responsibility. He’s supposed to be a professional or something like that.” The thought of Mickey being a professional brought about a chuckle from both of us.
And chasing the early setting November sun, settling gently on the horizon, we flashed through downtown. Not even stopping, we just kept heading west. Sir had brilliantly brought along five-gallon gas cans he’d filled and lugged along in the bed of the truck. “Helps keep some weight in the rear, sir,” he would say, always with a half smirk on his face. You couldn’t tell if he was smiling or condescending. It was hard to put your finger on the Sir, and I could start to see why he and his wife had problems. Sir never really talked about his son, or even act like he missed him, but I had a feeling it was always on his mind.
I never wanted to have kids and I never really found anyone I could have a family with. My relationships always ended in some tragedy or betrayal, but it wasn’t important to me how the bridge burned in the end, just as long as it burned well. The important thing to do was to never look back and face the future with certainty and positivity over-flowing with love and generosity. Even if I’d lost someone I cared about, that person would always make it back to me through someone new.
My family always wanted me to settle down near them and start some family, and find some job. Get two dogs and a house, pay taxes, purchase vehicles, go on vacations to places you are merely a tourist, live the American life—the good life. It broke their hearts when I moved away as far as I could from those expectations. It was hard to explain the full depths of my restless soul. There wasn’t a fiber in my being that wanted to stay put and settle. College was a breeze for me and I thoroughly enjoyed the simplicity of higher education, sometimes even marveling at the grandiose fashion in which colleges coaxed these young believers of capitalism into debt. It was great to live bohemian, watching a generation desperately trying to have everything they couldn’t afford. The nice cars, in-fashion clothes, cell phones and plans their parents paid for, until the cash ran out and their houses got foreclosed on.