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FICTION: Hey Baby by David Lawler  

Posted by Scott Wilson

Sweet Mopar, '71 Roadrunner down 318, just out of Caliente on the Exchange. Roads were dirty and dead. Kyped a cool bottle of real French champagne from the last Western Inn; swore I saw snow bouncing off the sodiums, then coming down right in front on the windshield. I was driving the car, but it weren't mine, just my buddy Texas Wheeler. He came out on the flight, transplant from back East - Baltimore, and he gave me a couple hundred and a Master Charge to bring the car out myself.

Noisy Mopar, '71 Roadrunner down 95 closing in on the Freeway and getting close to California roads, dirty and dead. I passed the ranch and the hippie-chick, definitely hippie 'cause of the naked little boy, about a year old, walking badly, strapped to her hip, and she wasn't all that dressed up neither. Long hair, she waved and I waved back. They were on the outskirts of the ranch property. She had a dune buggy, and I would have stopped to check it out, but I was on a deadline. For some reason, Texas needed his car bad, but I been out to California and I'd never drive that thing on those fucked-up roads.



Fast Mopar, '71 Roadrunner down 375 passing through Nevada. I was thinking I should detour, get up to Reno where it got cold, put the top up, maybe find one of those great brothels my brothers were always on about - Grade A, disease free, and you don't have to call the next day - fuck it! Sounded great. I put the brakes on when I saw the pay phone with the one wire going up on a pole and out to creation.

"Hey Texas," I said into the receiver. I looked up the bored, lonely wire. I looked at my watch. "I'm in N-V. How soon do you need the thing?" He told me a little less than a week. I could definitely take a detour and chill out in Reno if I wanted to - then it'd only be a matter of flooring it on the freeway. "Yeah," I said and looked at my watch again.

The thing about me and Texas was that he didn't know that I knew. Must-a thought I was a moron, thought I wouldn't pop the trunk. Why would I need to? I had a couple of shirts from the dry cleaners, got 'em from Paris, shipped direct, expensive money shirts, and needed the best treatment. I popped the trunk, put 'em in the back and what do I see? A handful of sealed bags, white stuff inside - either cocaine or heroin. It wasn't like he trusted me with his precious car. He just didn't want to get busted hauling so much dope over ten borders and he figured if I didn't know, it wouldn't hurt me. Not bad, and he didn't even tell me to avoid the cops, perfect shit.

"Don't worry. Your precious baby is in good hands. I'll get her there in one piece, I promise," I told him on the phone as I popped in another dime. I figured I'd blackmail him when I got in, threaten to tell the cops since they were starting to come down hard on dealers.

I saw my beauty queen a couple times driving up to Reno. Think she was hitching at the same time I was driving, and maybe she rode with a reckless dick going crazy at the wheel, but she made it up to the border before me and my Mopar. She could've been a mirage, but she was a damned sight better to look at then these ugly roads in my red eyes. She stuck out her thumb when she saw so I stopped and she tried to get in.

"What's up with the door," she asked me.

"No-no," I said, "You gotta jump in."

"This a race-car?"

"It certainly is," I said.

"Cool," she said, and then she hopped in with her big bag. She was wearing a sheer red shirt, nice triangle of flesh pretty low so I could get a hint of tit. Always loved that saying "Gas, grass, or ass", was secretly hoping she was busted and wasn't holding. Curves about her, for real, looking nice. She had big eyes when she looked over at me.

"What's your name," she asked.



"I'm Roy," I said and I stuck out my hand.

"Julie," she said. She shook my hand warm. Crazy clouds up there breezing past like white smoke, fluid and alive and totally wrong. It started to cool down, getting up in mountains. Sometimes the road would just go out, turn into gravel and dirt, and then go back to hot, slick asphalt.

"Where you going," Jules asked.

"Heading for Reno at the moment."

"Reno? You don't wanna go to Reno."

"Ain't ever seen it, want to." She smiled and shook her head. I guess I look like a dummy. Nobody cotton to my understanding, so they think I'm simple or naive or young, but I had nothing on Jules. She looked like a kid, gone run away from the folks, probably from Oswego. She had three gold rings on each hand, silver and gold bracelets on each arm, French manicure and clean, glossy lips. In other words, she didn't look dirt poor.

Later, she checked my map, told me I was fifteen minutes outside of the town. Small town, I reckoned. I like small towns and I hated Baltimore - smelled like shit all over. Out here, it was god-damned clean.

"Want to shack up," I asked her.

"Forward, ain't ya?"



"I'm tired. Need sleep. You can get your own room."

"We'll split it," she said, and then she opened her bag. I saw some cash, I mean a lot of cash, looked like crisp new bills too with the bands still on 'em. I whistled a one-noter.

"Where'd you get all that bread?"

"I robbed a bank," she said.

"I'll bet you did," I said laughing, "But don't worry. It's on me." I flashed the Master Charge and she made like she was impressed. I started to like her right away, secretly started to hope she didn't put out so easy. We could do a little dancing first. She looked a little tired, and then she passed out by the time I parked in the lot outside the cool, tall hotel.

"Give me your best room that's available," I told the Clerk as I flashed the credit card. Poor Texas gimme the charge card for the job and he must've been making crazy money dealing with a load like that. "Gimme a suite," I said, "With a mini-bar and a goodie fridge and an ice bucket. You got food," I asked.

"Yes sir. We have a full menu."

"You hungry," I asked Jules.

"I could eat."

It was better than the Western. That was one room, dingy carpet and the bed felt disgusting, El Cheapo sheets, fluorescent bullshit on my eyes, TV locked down to the floor like I was gonna steal it, so I grabbed the real French champagne out of spite.

This was three rooms connected and some thick shag, two big-ass beds. I wasn't gonna share unless she was serious about screwing me, but truth be told, we were both too tired for that. Half-kitchen with a full fridge and a generous little drink bar. Central heat and free soaps and the TV wasn't even bolted down. They trusted their guests. I had a steak and potato, okay except it was thin, and she had turkey club sandwiches and soup. We ate and left our dishes outside the door for pick-up. After that, I put my head down on the pillow and fell to sleep. I think I heard singing as I slept. I don't remember.

Middle of the night, I got up to piss. When I came out, I caught sight of Jules in the bathroom light. She had her thumb in her mouth. I came over, pulled the covers over her bare shoulder and she twisted a little and slept calm, looked adorable.

"I got us breakfast," she said with a bag in her hand. I got up and stretched, went back to the bathroom. "It's on me."

"When'd you get up," I asked.

"Early. I'm an early-bird." I sat up in my bed and I felt a sick chill down my back so I covered up with the cotton spread. She put it out before me - pancakes and sausages, looked good so I dug in and we ate on my bed.

"The hotel make this?"

"I stopped at the restaurant on the corner."

"So where'd you get all the money?"

"I told you," she said, her eyes getting wider and wider, had it down practiced and patient. The look of the girl who wanted a pony for her birthday, and she probably got that pony, I'll wager.

"Bullshit."

"Okay, I stole it from my Dad." Somehow that made more sense. She was just too perfect-looking, unspoiled, had to rip off Mad Daddy Jules Warbucks. He had a twirly mustache and an ass-bald head, big fat dude with a red smoking jacket. Checked on his funds and found them sorrowfully depleted, then she split. He'd probably come after.

"Why your Dad?"

"'Cause he's a bastard. Why not?"

"So you're a rich little thief-type. Should I be worried?"

"Just don't piss me off," she said. She lit a smoke and threw me the pack. I looked at the brand. It was my brand. "You got anything worth stealing?" I shook my head.

"I'm due in Sacramento a couple days. Wanna hang with me," I asked her. She showed her teeth and smiled. I wasn't gonna say I was a lonely schmuck or some shit, but she could gather because I sounded hopeful, and boy, did she swing. "What do you think?" She stuck out her hand and nodded her head.

We hit the road and stayed in Nevada; up that straight line and just outside California's reach, got plainer by the minute and colder too. I put the top up and we bundled in sweaters bought from Reno's best clothiers, wool on top of tees, and then we started to sweat so I rolled down the windows.

We picked up Sleeping Fox hitchhiking just outside of Empire at the Pyramid Lake. That’s what we called him – Sleeping Fox. He didn't talk much, probably vision quest residue floating around in his head, imagined he was riding with a blonde and a sun-burnt white man, top up and taking the long way to Paradise.

"He's Sioux," Jules told me.

"How can you be sure?"

"You're not from around here. Trust me."

"Okay, I will," I said, rolling my eyes.

"I think he's sleeping," she said.

"He's probably meditating. They like to meditate," I said.

"You don't find it trippy?"

"What? That he just got into the car with his eyes closed and didn't tell us where he was headed?"

"Sure."

"Maybe he's astral-projecting or some shit?"

"No. He'd have to be naked. What's the point of traveling inter-dimensionally with clothes?"

"None whatsoever."

We crossed the border to Eagleville and that's when Sleeping Fox suddenly stood up in his seat and started shouting to the top of his spacious lungs. I put my foot down on the brake. Jules turned in her seat and watched. We skidded to a halt on 299 and he jumped out of the car, turned to face us and said, "Thank you for the ride."

"No prob," I said.

"Bye," Jules said with a sweet smile and wave of her hand. He turned and headed for a collection of huts and sky-smoke near a set of mountains.

"Weird dude," I said and off we went.

We were North now, Red Bluff and more mountains and a national forest, all gilded green and lovely. I spied a camera in Julie's bag, took it out and bought some film at a drug store. I put her on the car, relaxed and reclining, tossing her golden locks about.

"Are you into photography," she asked me.

"Sometimes," I said snapping a 110 and burning out a cube. I was not into taking tourist shots, unless I was touring Julie's face. "I went to see some island-looking thing, South Carolina, took a whole bunch of shots."

She sat up on the hood, played with her legs. I got this crazy red glow from the sky against the hood and her face was a dizzy, blurred haze. "Boy, you really pop," I told her and she gave me these big, lost eyes, orphan-child time but she was too old to have anybody worried about her at this point. I put in another flash cube, got her lying on her belly, legs up on the hood.

"I feel like a fashion model," she told me.

"Yeah, you look better than a fashion model. You look real, like you're not made of plastic. You got skin, you know?"

"You making a pass at me," she asked.

"I'd have to be crazy not to," I said, getting another shot, and she would've turned red, but her skin already had a healthy color to it. Jules smiled and she was tired, so we stopped when the film ran out. We got back into the Roadrunner and left the mountains behind.

After that, it was a string of crazy towns down 505; Corning, Orland, Chico, and Paradise. We took rooms in Paradise - just to say we'd been. It was all red rocks and clean dirt-smell, little Main Street town and the best hotel we could find. I was beginning to really dig California, at least these places and nothing close to the smog, Los Angeles of lower at the border - that was a bad trip, but here? Forget about it. I figured if I'd get some money from my little enterprise, I'd stake out a claim in Paradise. Maybe I'd ask Julie to join me. I liked looking at her. I'd build a house with a great view of the San Andreas Mountain out the master bedroom, and we could sit up there and smoke weed and watch the sunset. Would she go for it? I thought she might up until the point she pulled her gun on me, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I was napping when she came in with a shopping bag and hair styled up nice with big curls, probably natural curls, looking like a living doll. She pushed, prodded at my tired arms, said, "Hey, Roy." I opened my eyes, coming into focus, pretty mysterious eyes, mouth and lips slightly parted; she licked them and asked, "Wanna see my new dress?"

I sat up, said, "Absolutely." She grinned, jumped into the bathroom and shut the door. I stretched my arms, looked for a smoke. My pack was empty so I crushed it, dug through Julie's bag, got a new pack and tore off the top. I saw her bundles of cash and under it, a gun, snub-nose, black handle, shiny like never been fired. Maybe for protection, thought, pretty girl hitching practically dirt roads in the lonely night, needed good protection, but you could shoot somebody's balls off while they were driving and getting fresh.

She came back out, looking like an angel. Sheer white at the top and her sleeves, a Spanish skirt, frilly at the ends, went against her tanned legs - oh so right!

"What do you think," she asked in her very sly way.

"You look like a dream," I said.

"Wanna grab a bite? On me?" I grabbed my coat. There were some nice picture windows in a red building on the drag; dressed-up waiters going by, and they looked like they had steak, so we went in. I held the door for her like it was a date.

"I was thinking about your plan," she said as she poured wine for us. "I don't like it." I raised an eyebrow.

"Why?"

"'Cause you might get hurt."

"Texas thinks I'm an idiot, or I'm naive, or something. Maybe I am an idiot, but I don't care. I don't like being used. Maybe I'll drop a dime on him instead. What do you think?" She got cautious and her eyes went wide.

"They'll find you," she said. "I know druggies. They're crazy, and they don't forget, Roy. I'm serious."

"You sound like you speak from experience." She put her hand forward. I sat up and took her hand and leaned in.

"I got a better idea," she said in whispers.

"What?"

"We could sell it ourselves and pocket the cash. I know a couple rich cats in Modesto. They got a big house in the wine country. They would take it off your hands and then your friend would have to deal with them to get it back."

"Let's dance," I proclaimed, changing the subject. "You want to dance?" A tune came on that was always good for me. Need Your Love So Bad, great twangy blues and strings, beautiful measure. I grabbed Julie's hand, led her to the mirror balls and we clutched, moved our legs. She was a willowy thing, small and unbound. I got tipsy on her smiles, so full of life; her curls landed and jumped from my shoulder. She was a soft gal, spirited and she made space between our chests and looked at me with all the worries in the lost world.

"I don't want you to get hurt, Roy."

"I know and I appreciate it." She put her hand on my cheek and gave me a look like she was dealing with a bad seed, a stupid kid. I had a couple years on her, but I knew she was feeling it. She shook her head, looked up at me and smiled like the Cheshire Cat. She was gonna have to take matters in her own hands. She made sure to get me ripped first.

I don't think we screwed or anything, but I woke up without a stitch of clothing on, not even tighties. The sheets were a sweaty little tangle. I got up and went to the window, saw the Roadrunner was gone, naked parking lot and it was midday. Jules let me sleep, but she'd gotten up in the middle of the night.

Son-of-a-bitch, she did screw me, ripped off the car and made for Modesto or wherever the Hell she decided to unload the packaged dope in the trunk. She left me a chunk of cash on the small writer's desk in the corner of the room and the developed pictures from Red Bluff. I picked it up and she wrote a little note on the top twenty, next to gaunt, ugly-ass Jackson's face, a little comic thought bubble, read: "Sorry, love you Roy." She ripped me off! I loved her too, loved the Hell out of her. I really hoped we did something last night, anything.

I bought a big, fat Caddy El Dorado from the Paradise dealership, stickers still on the windows; tracked her through Modesto, with the pictures and asking anybody I could find if they saw her. She was hard to miss. She passed through Modesto, went and turned North, leading me off the trail, straight through Stockton and back up to ... gobsmack straight to Sacramento, again - Son-of-a-Bitch, I cry. What was she up to? Pretty blonde in a '71 Roadrunner with fixed doors you had to hop in to get the bastard rolling. She was fun, no doubt.

It was Rancho Cordova, right on the path where I saw the '71 Roadrunner; it was mine, well it belonged to Texas, but it was my car for the duration. Parked outside a really big wood lodge, California Redwoods all around and cold, crisp air. A great place for a drug and money swap, or a cash-and-dash, whatever made your boat float. I snuck in and around since it was a Caddy, she wouldn't know it was me, probably thought I wouldn't tool about in a guzzler, but it had leather seats and air conditioning from a borrowed Master Charge. The last renter left a dime bag in the glove compartment and nobody either noticed or cared, so I took it.

I saw her inside near the windows, standing and looking unimpressed, never knew her (in our quick time together) to be unimpressed. She was a different person, and I started putting it together. Holy shit, I saw Texas in there and a big desk with the shit all scattered on it, and he had a briefcase. Time to break up the party, I guess. Maybe the both of them wouldn't see me coming, but it looks like after he handed over the briefcase (money in it, I guessed), he took out his gun. I jumped over a low coral brown wood fence and stalked close to the window, looked for entrance. Julie got me good and drunk, left me naked in my bed, split with my car and completed the deal because it was her god-damn deal to begin with - for the first time (first time?) I was the perfect rube. Now she was the rube with the gun on her. I felt like Superman. I had to help Lois fucking Lane in the midst of the swarms, rescue on the way, served medium rare to order.

Back door was open so I slipped in and held my breath, heard shouting.

"Just give me the money and I'll go," Julie said through tears. I think her hands were up.

"I'll just shoot you, take the money and the shit," Texas said. Made sense, I thought.

"You're an asshole," she said.

"What happened to Roy?"

"I cut him loose," she said. She cut me loose. Is that what she said?

I was in the kitchen looking for a weapon. He had a hot set of cast-iron skillets hanging from the bar ceiling. I took the heavy square pancake skillet, looked like it could hurt and made a mad dash for his big-window study. Julie did have her hands up and she saw me and I put my finger to my lips, indicating the shut-up. I came up behind him from the open door, frying pan in hand.

"Hey Roy," I announced loudly and just as he turned, caught a glimpse of the soul, I bopped him hard across the face and the gun skidded to Julie's feet. She reached down, picked it up and Roy went down, a little pool of blood on the Berber. She got up and pointed the gun at me.

"Get your hands up," she instructed.

"What? Why? I just rescued you!"

"Get 'em up, Roy," she said, waving the gun all about.

"Be careful with that thing." She serpentined to her big bag and pulled out a lady wallet and flashed a silver badge.

"I'm sorry, Baby," she said.

"You're a cop," I asked like a little boy lost at the carnival. Big eyes and all, bigger than her eyes. Again, she shook her head and I was the perfect rube. "You're a lady cop?" She nodded her head. "You set me up," I asked.

"I didn't set you up, Roy. He was gonna kill you."

"Are you gonna shoot me?"

"I don't want to shoot you," she said. She was begging in her eyes. "I want you out of here."

"You followed me all the way from Caliente."

"Yeah, I did. I was doing my god-damn job, Roy!"

"What are you going to do," I asked.

Julie dropped the gun to her side and let out a breath, leaned a hand on the big desk and looked at me. There was shit at work that didn't really involve me, except I was the transport and she was supervising, pretending to be the connection, all the while plotting the arrest of a big-time druggie - my "buddy" Texas Wheeler. She held out her hand with gun in it.

"Here. Take it," she said. "I need you to do me a favor."

"What?"

"I need you to shoot me. It's the only way you'll get away clean. I'll tell them Texas shot me."

"I ain't gonna shoot you, Jules."

"Please," she said. She was crying now. "You have to shoot me. Shoot me in the arm."

I took the gun out of her hand, looked at it, and looked at her face.

"I can't do this. I think I might be in love with you."

"Really," she said. She cocked her head and smiled. She came up to me, planted a big kiss on my lips and she was some piece of beauty, sweet lips all hot on me and her breath was candy. She clutched both sides of my head, and made it last even longer. Good kisser, born to savor of sweetness. I was momentarily dizzy like I felt a couple times in her company. She kneeled, took the briefcase and gave it to me. "Go get out of here. Do that thing you told me about. Find a nice, big house on the edge of the mountains and look at the sunset."

"I want you with me," I told her.

"I'll be there. After the smoke clears. But first," she held my hand with the gun in it.

"Alright, stand back," I said. I took aim and shot her in the arm. It looked bad. There was blood. I clipped her on the side of her arm and she started to fall, and I took her in my arms.

"Okay give me the phone. I have to call it in before I pass out," she said. I scrambled and my head hurt. I grabbed the phone and gave it to her. "You have to get out of here right now. Don't take the Roadrunner."

"I love you," I said, and I meant it.

She grabbed my head, kissed me and told me she loved me too. This was weird.

I came up past Caliente on a dry day, harsh Nevada heat; saw the dune buggy and the hippie chick with her little naked boy. They were on the outskirts of the crazy ranch. They both waved and I waved back. I came up and circled 'round, going back to Paradise and the San Andreas Mountain, hoped to stake out my claim.

I found my house and paid for her straight, clean cash out of a briefcase a beautiful woman had given me one time - after I shot her in the arm, of course - never forgot that, shit. Had a godly wood balcony looking toward starry skies and awesome sunset, sat out there with the bag of weed from the glove compartment of the Caddy, and I started rolling and rolling and rolling.

I was retired. No more favors for friends. No more playing rube and bouncing on older boys laps. I was going to spend the rest of my days in Paradise. I was rehearsing for the moment she may (or may not) come driving up that road; the gravel clinging to the tread, bouncing up and hitting the muffler and the transmission. I hoped she was treating the Roadrunner with respect, keeping her smooth hands on the wheel (both hands), and her lips in the rearview, licking her lips and smiling and maybe thinking of seeing me again.

We could be together forever; forever looking at sunsets and sunrises and orange skies in Paradise. The concept didn’t alarm as it once would, particularly because it had been hard to look at all the beautiful creatures of the world and speculate inside my mind the nature of my yearning. I was lonely now, lonely again and felt cut and bruised. We shared a lot in such a short time and I felt like I needed Jules. I needed her.

One day going into night, it was turning great, scary red and orange twilight. I rolled a joint and heard that beautiful Mopar '71 roar coming up my half-finished driveway. I saw her and her hair flapping and flowing in the stiff breeze. She saw me sitting plain as the sunset and came to a screeching halt; took her sweet time getting out of the car.

I went through the door and came down the stairs. Jules looked good but for the healed gunshot in her arm. She kept a promise, kept me out of the arrest and subsequent conviction of old friend Texas Wheeler. He got a life sentence for that and some other misdeeds I won't go into here. She had that great smile from the Red Bluff pictures, looked real and wonderful. We were walking toward each other in the barren, cold dry place, red rocks and dirt all around, perfect for a garden some time in the future.

“Hey Baby,” she said.

"Nice car," I said.

"I stole it from some boy I knew."

"He must've been a nice boy to let you take his car."

"He was beautiful," she said. “He was the most beautiful boy in the whole wide world.” We got closer, still a bit of a gap between us.

“So how do you feel about spending the rest of your life in Paradise,” I asked her. She smiled great teeth, looked down at the red dirt between us as we got closer and closer.

“We barely know each other.”

“We know enough, don’t we?”

Jules took me in her arms and she kissed me like it was going out of style, holding my hands and she laughed in relief and we looked up at quickening stars dancing, reflecting bright in the succulent locus of the atmosphere. She then looked me in the eyes.

“I ain’t going anywhere,” she told me in a whisper.

Turned out, Jules got one commendation after another, promotion to Lieutenant Inspector, got herself transferred; desk-duty at the Paradise Sheriff’s Office, no more drawing guns, and no more dangerous beats. We got to be in a family way, so we had to make it legal, got married a month later.

My mind always came back to the day the smoke cleared, as Jules put it. She jumped in my arms and kissed me and we both laughed like fools in the California dust.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 7, 2011 at 2:34 AM . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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