by Connley Landers
Steve Hardy and Rick Moore knew that stealing cars had risks. In 2010 a lot of cars had GPS systems that could lead cops right to you. Alarm systems were more sophisticated, too. The Dallas police even had juicy bait cars to entice the unsuspecting; popular models set up with hidden cameras to help convict some poor slob just trying to make a wild living—five to ten at Huntsville, and extreme embarrassment.
Rick said, “We have to be smart. When I worked at the Race Trac gas station on Central Expressway I learned what to do. We hang around outside and wait for some dummy to leave his keys in the car while he goes in to use the bathroom and then pay for something. We won’t have to wait for long. Stupid people can be depended on. As soon as the bathroom door closes, we jump in their car and split.”
“I follow. You’ve told me a million times.” Steve looked at Rick and frowned. “Your bra strap is showing.” Rick tucked it under his pink blouse and straightened his curly blond wig.
“You know, I think I could pick up a guy at a bar like this.”
“It depends on how many drinks he’d had. Your face putty does cover up your ugly–assed nose but makes it even bigger.” He smiled. “As long as it changes how we look in the surveillance video.”
Steve and Rick leaned against the packaged ice machine outside and watched the action at the gas pumps. Rick drank a tall-boy Coors. Steve pulled his boobs up.
Rick said, “We look like hookers working Harry Hinds Boulevard.”
Steve said, “Check this out.” A plump trailer-park retiree had pulled her Navy-blue Camry up to a pump and gotten out. She had a salt and pepper pony tail, a once white, daisy-flowered, sun dress and a clear, half-full urinal bag strapped to her calf.
Rick whispered, “She has a small plastic hose snaking up her thigh to East St. Louis.”
Steve said, “Gee, thanks!” The lady looked at the hookers, grimaced and rolled her eyes as though she was embarrassed by the brazen street walkers.
Steve shook his head. “We gotta get outta this place. If it’s the last thing we ever do.”
“We need out; another year in Mckinney in unthinkable. Got to do something drastic or we’ll die here of boredom or drink ourselves to death like my dad—or, come sloshing into Wal Mart with a urinal bag hanging down our leg like an old scrotum.‘There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.’ ”
“This tide is yellow. I saw her leave her keys in the car.”
“That Camry’s worth more than her single-wide. Let’s wait for someone who can afford a hit.”
A cream-colored Lincoln Towncar pulled up. A tall, thin man with a straw cowboy hat got out, put the gas nozzle into his tank and walked toward the boys. He had on sunglasses, a western shirt, and blue-jeans with a ring of keys that wind-chime tinkled from one belt loop. He bobbed as he walked even though he had no earphones an no mp3 player. As he got near them he took his glasses off, squinted and said, “When is this?”
Rick said, “It’s about five thirty.”
“No, what date.”
“Uh…. June the sixth.”
“Oh, my God!” He shook his head and went into the store.
Rick watched him walk away. “You see his weird eyes?”
Steve said, “Did he leave his keys in?”
“Dunno. Had a pound of keys on his left hip. Must have a lot of stuff that needs locked up.”
Steve walked over to the car and peered in. He nodded to Rick. Rick looked into the store and, as quickly as he could in his high heels, walked to the Lincoln. With only one teetering falter on the way, he put the hose nozzle back, and slid into the driver’s seat.
Steve and Rick’s ten-year Mckinney High School class reunion last weekend had been their main topic of conversation since then. “I wish, now, we hadn’t gone,” Rick said afterward.
“Well, maybe we needed the mirror. We might have gone on another ten years wasting away our lives.”
“Who goes to those things anyway? People who are at least okay with what they’ve done: careers, kids, starting families, getting their second or third divorce. I didn’t have anything to say.”
“You could have talked about going to school or your writing.”
“A year and a half at Collin County Community College and flunking out of an Associates program in English? I’d rather people not know about it.”
“I’ve always liked your stories, and Cathy likes your poems.”
“My girlfriend and my buddy? Think you might be a little prejudiced?” Steve shrugged and looked away. “We’re here for the choices we’ve made over these ten years. Dad always said that about his own sorry self. Drank until his liver rotted out. They wouldn’t give a transplant to a pathetic drunk. Dad wasn’t bitter but gave up after Mom left us. He tried to tell me the last time I saw him before he…. Don’t really remember what he said. He was pretty drugged up on pain killers, you know?”
“Didn’t he pass the last week of our senior year?”
“Yeah. Prom and funeral the same week. I didn’t even make choices—as if life just happened and I was a dead autumn leaf blown by some random north wind. We could call ‘overs’ in kids’ games. Wish I could do that now.”
Rick looked at the shift lever. The dash and dials were unfamiliar. “Jesus H. Christ, there’s no steering wheel!”
Steve said, “What’s that smell? Radio Shack? Ozone before a lightning storm. Make tracks outta here!”
Rick put his right hand on the shift lever. It was like a joystick handle which had a hole for his thumb like in a bowling ball. He put his thumb in. It felt alive, as though it was silly putty molding to his skin. A chill ran up his spine and his neck itched. The seat shaped to his butt. He got an erection, and felt the engine start. The rear-view mirrors hummed and adjusted themselves. The control panel twinkled up. A dime-sized red laser spot was on his forehead. His pupils dilated until his irises disappeared. The view blurred as if someone squirted water on the windows. “Woah! Wha…?” Everything went black.
The bright light hurt their eyes. They were parked in front of Mckinney Hospital. Rick looked at Steve and then at himself in the mirror. Steve stared at Rick, rubbed his eyes and angled the mirror his way. “Wow!” He opened the door, got out and ran down the sidewalk.
Rick and Steve were leaning against the packaged ice machine outside of the Race Trac gas station. Rick sipped his tall-boy Coors. “Thought you might be here when you didn’t show up at our ten year reunion last week.”
“Yeah. Just couldn’t go. Don’t know why I came back. I kinda lost track of you, buddy, but I’ve had a wild, wild ride. Much more fun than the first time.” Steve shuffled his feet and Rick smiled at him. “Rick, did you get to see your Dad before he…?”
“Yes, he was there in the hospital. He was doped up but wanted to tell me something. I came close when he held out his hand. His eyes were clear and focused. He came out of a fog. He squeezed my hand so hard. I didn’t think he had that much strength still in him. He said, ‘If you go to the beach with a teacup, bucket or a barrel, the ocean will give you its water—It don’t care, it’ll fill’er up—the vessel is up to you.’” Steve nodded and watched Rick without either of them saying anything. Rick took a long swig of his drink. A blue Camry pulled up to a pump. A fat, old woman got out with a clear plastic urinal bag strapped to her calf. The boys looked at each other and nodded.
Steve said, “So, what did you do?”
“I went to the University of Texas and got an MFA in creative writing. I’m teaching writing at the University of North Texas in Denton.” A cream-colored Lincoln Towncar pulled up to a pump. A tall cowboy with sunglasses got out and came toward the boys. As he got close he took his glasses off, squinted and said, “When is this?”
Steve said, “June sixth, 2010.”
“Oh, my god!” He went into the store.
Steve hesitated for a moment and then walked toward the Lincoln. “You coming?” Rick shook his head.
Rick toasted Steve with his beer. “Hey, Steve, thanks for liking my stories.”
A woman came out of the store with a five year old blond girl in her arms. The child saw Rick, said, “Daddy!” and reached for him with both arms. The woman gave the child to her Dad.
Cathy said, “That looked like Steve Hardy, hon.”
“Where’s he going?”
“I think he’s going back to the beach.”