That’s All She Wrote
We were barrelassing down the interstate toward the Texas coast in Ray’s rusty old RAM. Windows down. Wind howling through the interior like a demon lover, clinking empty beer cans together, stirring up candy wrappers, Cheez-It bags with nothing left but cheese dust, maybe a few leftover grains of blow from a wild night. Jesus, mounted on the dashboard by the truck’s previous owner, swayed back and forth in a quasi-religious version of the Texas two-step. It had been raining all morning but now the sun had reappeared, beating down like a ballpeen hammer on a tin roof on the set of a long-lost Tennessee Williams play.
My name’s Jimbo.
We passed three dead armadillos on the shoulder and the bloated carcass of a feral hog. Tough luck for the local critters.
Next, a steaming single car wreck came up on the right. It looked like the car had done a double flip before coming to rest at the bottom of the rain swollen drainage ditch. Must have just happened. A man sat stone still in the driver’s seat, his door wide open, his head thrust back at an odd angle. A woman climbed over him and eased her feet down into the six inches of rain runoff. She wore pink panties. That was it.
She staggered around in the ankle-deep water as if she was lost. Or had mislaid her life. Blood streaked one cheek.
Ray slowed to get a better look, wheels crunching on the verge.
“Hey,” I said. “Maybe we should offer a Good Samaritan hand to the maimed and the mutilated.”
“Well, now, what the fuck do you think they were getting up to just moments go?” asked Ray.
“I’d say some kind of hanky-panky,” I said.
“A risky business indeed when you’re doing 90 mph and the windshield fogs up due to lust,” said Ray philosophically.
Ray stopped the pickup, set the parking brake, disembarked and edged down the embankment and right up to the woman, who stood stock still watching him come. When he arrived, she hurled herself against him, wrapping her arms around him in a desperate hug, as if he was about to head off to certain death in Afghanistan. I saw her whisper something into his ear. I imagined what her bare white breasts felt like pressing again Ray’s chest. His hands gripped the twin orbs of her buttocks as though they were a god send. Some guys had all the luck.
Ray stepped over to the car, some kind of Toyota or whatever, and put two fingers against the man’s neck. After a minute Ray looked back up at me and give an exaggerated shrug.
I heard her say: “My bag.”
Ray ducked down and leaned into the car, almost as if he was embracing the dead guy. Reappeared with a tote bag in hand big enough to hold a half dozen dead possums after an all-night possum hunt. When I was growing up in the East Texas piney woods, nothing beat a slow cooked possum stew.
Ray handed the bag to the woman, swooped her up in his arms and carried her like a bride up the steep side of the gully, careful about each step he took so as not to fall. Suddenly remembering she was topless, she held one arm across her breasts, the other hooked around Ray’s neck.
I was like: Whoa! What’s up, dude.
Ray opened the back door of the crew cab and set the woman carefully on the bench seat as if she was made out of something that might break easily.
“There’s a T-shirt you can put on in one of those bags on the floor.”
Then Ray winked at me.
“Jimbo, this here is Debbie from Dallas. Debbie, this is my best buddy, Jimbo.”
She found a white T-shirt and slipped it over her head. It fit pretty good. Her nipples pressed against the cotton like the twin knobs of an old-timey radio. I had this intense desire to change the station, adjust the volume.
A Cadillac had pulled up at the side of the Interstate behind us. A man in a cowboy Stetson stood looking down at the wreck.
Ray cranked the RAM awake and put her in gear.
“Debbie doesn’t want to stick around and get caught up in a whole big accident clusterfuck with Highway Patrol and ambulance guys and what not. Doesn’t know who the dead guy is. Thought we could give her a lift somewhere.”
With a spray of gravel, we sped back onto the highway.
Well, I thought, this could be interesting. Or weird as shit.
* * *
Why, you may ask, were we barrelassing south on the interstate?
Ray is a minor American novelist. Teaches Rhetoric and Communication Skills to freshman at Knotty Pine Community College, a tad northeast of Dallas in a town called Murder. I’m an IT guy there. We’d hung out for a few years and that morning were in Ray’s office drinking coffee. Day three of the Fall semester and we were the worse for wear from a late previous night at the John Wilkes Booth Tap.
We didn’t go there very often because of its Republican ambiance. They even had a photo of a 1922 lynching hanging above the urinals in the men’s shitter. There was no women’s shitter. The gals had to pee outside in the bushes or between the parked cars.
When we did wander in and meander up to the bar, there were always one or two women with hairy arm pits and (presumably hairy) nether regions to talk to. Chit-chat and (in your dreams) lots more. Usually of a religious disposition, pretty (but not spectacular) and, for the most part, possessed of (outstanding) tits, these women, grad students or older, pined for an academic discussion over a Stoli Martini with a pickled onion (a/k/a a Gibson) or a Russian Mule. Baudelaire was a popular topic. Or Sylvia Plath. Or Chekhov. As the evening wore on, the topic under consideration invariably shifted to out-of-body sex research.
A rap on the door of Ray’s office ripped these two-bit recollections to shreds.
The mail guy stuck his head in, gave Ray the stink eye, handed him a letter in a pale blue envelope.
“Fuck you too, Harry,” said Ray.
Ray slit open the envelope with his finger, wrangled out the letter and looked at it.
“Well, shit,” he said.
I picked up the crushed envelop, held it to my nose. The scent of el cheapo cologne (on sale at Marshall’s) whacked my sinuses like nettles. Whatever the letter said, it couldn’t be good news. The return address: Wanda Smith care of Ray’s beach house in Galveston.
Ray leaped to his feet, shoved his cellphone in his back pocket, checked for his wallet and keys.
“Got to go to Galveston.”
Why Galveston? One reason might be that it was the location of the beach house Ray had recently inherited from a rich, childless uncle. Along with a yellow Stingray and (according to Ray) several valuable paintings—including one of Ulysses S. Grant taking a piss at the side of the road in the summer of 1864. Ray’s uncle had been found in the trunk of his Coup de Ville with a bullet hole in the back of his head.
Ray was known to allow the occasional femme fatale to reside rent free in the beach house. To keep the place tidy and shipshape. One such babe, heavily tattooed and calling herself Wanda Smith, had even managed to finagle her way into Ray’s heart.
“Today?” I asked.
I didn’t get an answer as Ray leaped for the door. I followed anyway.
* * *
Ray and I and Debbie proceeded apace down ye olde interstate. After an appropriate period of mourning for the dead guy, Debbie leaned over into the front seat. The pong of recent wild sex wafted. Her blond hair, chin length, swayed in the AC cranked to high. A coy nose sniffed. Very kissable lips, the kind you linger over, painted a flamboyant vagina pink, parted to display dazzling pearly whites cast in a shit-ass grin. Almond-shaped eyes the color of stone-washed blue jeans gazed at me, then Ray. In summary: lush, cocky and fearless.
“Thanks, boys,” she said. “That was a bit of a tight squeeze.”
“Hey, no problem,” said Ray. “What something to drink.”
“Got any Jack?”
“Sorry, sweetheart, we’re shit outa Jack. But we’re got half a paper cup of cold coffee with two sugars and a spritz of Half & Half. Or a diet Coke with all the ice melted.”
She turned and looked at me.
“You there,” she said. “Maybe you’d like to help a girl out?”
“Hey, I’m a good listener.”
“What kind of cock you got hangin’ there between your legs? I mean, is it dying for some action? ‘Cause I wanted to suggest maybe stopping at a motel. Of course, you’d get the two for one rate.”
“Oh, man,” said Ray. “I’ve got VD.”
Ignoring Ray, she ruffled her hand through my hair.
“You on board with a little X-rated divertissement, sport?”
I looked at Ray.
“Hey, Bat Man,” I said. “How about we stop at a gas station so Debbie and I can use the men’s room. You can get some cigarettes. Ice cold drinks. Or even have a turn.”
“Sorry, no can do, Robin. Galveston is calling me el pronto.”
“Oh, baby,” lamented Debbie.
She reached for Ray’s crotch, but he batted her hand away.
“Who was the dead guy?” asked Ray.
“Don’t start with that shit,” said Debbie. “I was just workin’. He picked me up outside the downtown Dallas train station.”
“Train station? What the fuck were you doing at the train station?”
“I took the train in from DFW ‘cause the asshole who was supposed to pick me up in a limo was a no show. Story of my life. I was just standing there outside Union Station, taking in the Dallas skyline, this car stops. The front passenger window rolls down. Single guy behind the wheel says, get in. I lean down and glance at him. He’s wearing shades, a white shirt and tie. And his dick’s stickin’ out of his fly like the leaning tower of fucking Pisa. And since I had some cash flow problems, I said to myself: ‘What the hey?’”
“Swell. Where’d you fly in from.”
“Harlingen. Down the valley. I worked the oil fields for a while.”
“Is that right?”
“Hold up, now. How’d we get so far off topic, speaking of which, how’s your dick, cowboy. Limp? Or the opposite? It’s a shame you won’t let me help you out in that department.”
“It’s Ray, sweetheart,” said Ray. “Not cowboy. And the status of my dick is private.”
With a sigh Debbie sat back.
“You’re bummin’ me out,” she said. “I’m totally broke. Should have taken that dead creep’s wallet.”
We drove on in silence for a while. Then I tapped Ray on the shoulder and pointed to the gas gage which had slipped into the “hey, douchebag, you’re in the zero, zip, nada zone.” Just then we were passing through some dying, two-bit town—of which Texas has a multitude. Ray veered for the exit. Next moment we were on the Columbia Pictures’ back lot set for The Last Picture Show. Two rows of single story, and a couple two story, brick storefronts faced each other. Three blocks down, a Dairy Queen and a QT gas station did the same.
Turning left, we cruised thru downtown Barryville. A sketchy-looking fat lady in a white halter top and super-stretchy, grape-colored workout pants waved. Here and there cowboy dudes leaned in doorways picking their teeth or strutted up or down. 10-gallon hats, open-carry side arms, ostrich hide boots. How many Antifa nihilists have you gunned down in cold blood today?
We passed seven bars, a gym, a secondhand store, a vape and CBD oil shop, tattoo parlors up the wazoo, a bunch of empty storefronts and a liquor store. At the liquor store Debbie said:
“Y’all can let me out here.”
“You sure?” asked Ray.
“How the fuck is it your business whether or not I’m sure?” she snapped.
Ray stopped the truck. Debbie dismounted.
“Good luck,” I said, leaning out the window to take in her glorious stats one last time. I noticed she had a couple of tats on her legs. Tropical themed. (I have a love hate relationship with tats on chicks. Oddly erotic on the one hand. Ugly-as-fuck graffiti on the other.) Her skin was golden. She’d rolled up the sleeves of Ray’s borrowed T-shirt to show her stone-smooth rounded shoulders. Was I in love or in lust? Did it matter?
With a puff of air, she flipped me the bird and pushed through the glass door of the liquor store.
We continued down the main drag to the QT station and filled her up.
“Man, I could eat something,” said Ray.
By chance the QT station doubled as a takeout barbecue. We ordered brisket sandwiches, Mexican Coca-Colas, slaw and potato salad sides, plus pickle and raw onion slices. At the edge of the gas station, we pulled over and ate like jackals.
Ray wiped his fingers with a moist towelette.
“Damn that was good. But we’ve got to get going.”
He turned the ignition key. When the engine rumbled alive, he reached out and adjusted his side mirror.
I looked behind.
Running toward us, barefoot, purse over one shoulder, boobs bouncing like wildebeests on the run, waving frantically. Debbie. I had an instant hard-on.
Ray’s RAM waited. She caught up, opened the crew cab door and jumped in.
“I guess Barryville sucked eggs,” said Ray.
“If I were you,” said Debbie. “I’d step on it.”
In one hand she held a pistol. In the other her purse yawned open, revealing a goodly clump of cash.
“Thought you said you were broke,” said Ray.
“Was,” she replied. “That liquor store was an f-ing windfall. But we should blow town before the owner breaks out of the closet I locked him in.”
She grinned, happy as a lark at her newfound liquidity.
At a stoplight Ray held his phone left-handed down between his legs and texted me: “Need 2 dump this honey ASAP.”
Back on the interstate, Debbie pulled a pint of Jack from her bag, twisted off the cap and took a long swig before passing it to me. What choice did I have? I took a long swig. Passed the bottle to Ray. Etc. Etc.
Dropping the empty bottle on the floor, Debbie climbed over the seatback into the front seat. Be still, my heart. She had taken off her panties but not the T-shirt. Through the thin cotton, I kissed her nipples as if they were wild strawberries. My penis morphed into the leaning tower of Pisa (just like the dead guy’s), upon which Debbie forthwith impaled herself. Oh, God!
Afterward, she disimpaled herself. Looked over at Ray, whose eyes never left the highway.
“Hey, stud. Lighten up. You’re next. After I pee.”
“Yeah, pee. My bladder overfloweth.”
Moments later Ray pulled onto the shoulder and stopped. But didn’t turn off the engine. Thick trees stared from both sides of the highway.
“You’re such a gentleman,” said Debbie. “Be right back.”
She opened the right crew door, jumped down and over a narrow ditch, her purse slung over her shoulder. Partially hidden by a tree, she squatted.
Ray hit the gas.
* * *
A little while later we passed Huntsville. They killed murderers there. And probably a few innocent folks as well. But we hadn’t murdered the guy in the wreck (or anyone else). Still, a chill crept on little mouse feet up and down my spine.
Around 4 we rolled into Galveston. Straight down Broadway, past Rosenberg Avenue and the Texas Heroes Monument to 14th Street. A Victorian fantasy is the way I described Ray’s inherited beach house. Porches up and down done up with decorative arches. The façade a whimsical mishmash of gewgaws and doodads painted white with red and yellow trim.
“What the fuck!” shouted Ray, reacting to the absence of the Stingray from the side porte cochère where he kept it parked. That was just the beginning.
The paintings (of some considerable value according to Ray). Gone. The liquor. Gone. The finer Art Deco pieces, including the piano, the thick handwoven Oriental rugs, the Louis XIV china, the silver. All gone.
Ray’s eyes went into orbit. He swooned, collapsing onto the beautiful hardwood floor.
“Shit. Piss. Fuck. Cunt. Twat. Anus. Dick. Clit. Cock. Gook. Jizz. Slut. Penis. Vulva.”
Wanda, the heart throb, had transmogrified into Wanda, the fucking grifter. She had cleaned him out.
I found a bottle of small-still bourbon that had been overlooked and poured measures into a pair of left-behind Waterford tumblers.
Ray had made his way to a left-behind Bauhaus lounge chair (1931), the only piece of furniture in the living room.
I handed him one of the glasses.
The ultimate insult. On the dining table she’d left a whole dead fish long past its prime wrapped in yesterday’s Galveston Daily News (since 1842). I tossed the fish out the back door. The local feral cats would throw one heck of a party tonight.
“Well, son of a bitch,” said Ray.
He reached into his pocket, pulled out Wanda’s crumpled letter on blue linen paper and opened it.
“Dear Ray,” he read aloud.
‘OK,” I said. “What did she say?”
“That’s all she wrote,” said Ray.
He crushed the letter into a ball and threw it across the room. It bounced off the wall and lay still. Exhausted, we drank the fifth of bourbon, smoked a jay and crashed.
* * *
The sun woke me about 8:00, streaming into the upstairs bedroom where I’d succumbed to slumber.
Where was I? Oh, yeah, Galveston. Why was I here? I’d come to help my friend Ray whose hot patootie Wanda had shown her true colors as a rip-off artist.
When I looked out the bedroom window, Ray’s truck was gone. So was Ray.
I ended up taking a Greyhound back to Dallas. An old girlfriend (Babs) picked me up and dropped me back at my apartment in Murder, Texas. I asked her in for a drink and she stayed the night. Was she still hoping I might change my mind about entering into a long-haul amatory relationship?
Ray was absent without leave from his professorial job at Knotty Pine Community College. After two weeks the college fired him. Babs and I moved in together. I liked to cuddle and so did Babs. She also liked to fuck.
A year went by.
Babs and I were still together.
I followed Ray’s meteoric literary rise in the newspapers. His new novel clawed its way to the top of the New York Times best seller list. He got a movie deal. He lived in London, Bogota, Istanbul and wrote political pieces for The New Republic.
For our first anniversary Babs and I flew to Paris for a week in February. She’d always wanted to go. The day we arrived, icy winds skated down the Seine. It was colder than a witch’s tit.
After checking into cheap lodgings near the Beat hotel (9 rue Gît-le-Cœur), where Burroughs and Ginsberg had lived back in the 1950s, we sought shelter from the winter blast in a nearby bar.
There, unbelievably, at the marble-topped bar, drink in hand, wearing an expensive sheepskin coat, stood Ray.
And next to him? Who else but Debbie?
Her white see-through silk blouse, sans bra, reminded me of the first time we’d met. Then it had been summertime. Today she looked cold.
Rumors of them hooking up had appeared on the paparazzi websites. And that they were living in Paris. But still, running into them like this was one far-fucking-out fluke.
I’d also come across a story online about a woman who’d been found dead in the driver’s seat of a yellow Stingray at the bottom of a Louisiana bayou. She’d been there a couple of months (or longer) when they dredged her out. Some said an accident, some suggested suicide, still others voted for foul play—but as far as I know, nothing came of it. A driver’s license found on the body identified the deceased as Wanda Smith. What do you think?
As Babs and I walked toward the bar, Ray looked up and recognized me. His eyes flashed delight.
“Well Goddamn, if it isn’t Jimbo!”
After a grappling, wrestler-like bro huge, Ray stood back, his arm around Debbie’s waist.
“You remember Debbie,” he said.
“Boy, do I ever,” I replied, the tip of my dick tingling.
Who can predict the kinky and outré twists and turns of fortune? Certainly not me. I was just along for the ride.