THE ROAD TRIP

THE ROAD TRIP

I was deep into a mystery set in a pueblo in Northern New Mexico when the phone rang; I had a feeling that this call was not going to make my night.

“Hello, Teddy it’s Auntie Dallas.” Dallas Longworth Ruiz is not my blood relation; she was my mother’s roommate her first year at Vassar and poor mother never got rid of her once the woman decided they were destined to be best friends for life – decades before BFFL’s existed.

“How are things in El Paso, Dallas?”

“Shitty, I broke my hip and am using a goddam walker to hobble around, can’t play golf and the wench I hired for home health care left me high and dry last night just because I called her a wetback whore. I’m waiting for the agency to send over a new girl but she’s already five minutes late.”

Wanting to change the subject before the old viper could continue her litany of complaints I asked the next expected question, “How’s Raymond?” Raymond Peerless Ruiz was Dallas’ stepson and she thought the sun rose and set in the rotten bastard. A meaner more conniving kid never lived; I hated Ray as a child and still bore ill will toward Dallas’ precious stepchild. My mother had to bribe me to play with Raymond as did his father. Robert Ruiz was under no delusions about his miscreant spawn and spent as little time with his sole offspring as possible. Poor Mr. Ruiz, a salt-of-the-earth guy, always did his best to do the right thing hence his decision to marry a trollop who claimed to be carrying his baby. Of course, “Free and Easy” Dallas Longworth was not expecting Robert’s child and rumor was he filed for divorce as soon as that became apparent but scotched that once his son and wife bonded. Mr. Ruiz wanted Raymond to have a mother and there weren’t many women who would take on that onerous job. The man was clearly too nice for his own good but I too benefitted from his extreme kindness in many ways. The only deep sea fishing trip I took as a boy was on Mr. Ruiz’s boat off the coast of Baja. Raymond was seasick the entire trip and stayed below. I pretended his dad was my dad and it was one of the best times of my childhood. Mother and I attended Mr. Ruiz’s funeral shortly before her own death. I had not seen nor heard from Dallas since her husband’s wake.

“Raymond’s in Albuquerque at Balloon Fiesta and due in Head, Texas to wish his grandmother a happy 100th birthday the day after tomorrow. Poor boy’s a little under the weather and needs some help getting there.” I knew what was what: Ray was once again on a bender and too drunk to travel on his own and step-mommy dearest expected moi to play caregiver/chauffer.

“No.”

“Huh?”

“N-O. NO! I’m not playing nursemaid/driver for you drunken sot of a stepchild.”

“Your mother…” I cut her off at the pass; after so many years of playing the fool in a polite farce I had had enough.

“Never liked you and despised your ill-behaved stepchild.”

“I’ll pay you well and don’t tell me you don’t need the money because I know your wastrel grandfather wasted the Morley millions, if Ray doesn’t show up and wish my mother-in-law a happy birthday his ass-licking cousins will ace him out of his share of her ranch.”

“No, I refuse. You may be stinking rich but there are some things dinero can’t buy.”

“I’ll give you the Remington bear.” The bitch knew my soft spot and she had just rammed her fingers into it. As a child I coveted the small statue and raced to see it every time we visited Casa Ruiz, a sprawling hacienda in the hills overlooking El Paso where Robert Ruiz reigned as the king of west Texas government-contracted construction.

“You cover all expenses and I want the bear in my hands before I start this no doubt ill-fated journey.”

“Edith’s birthday is day after tomorrow; I can’t get the bronze to you by then.”

“No bear, no deal.” I ended the call and shut off both my cell and the landline before returning to see what the hot blonde had uncovered in her sleuthing at the pueblo.

II

The next morning when I turned on my cell phone I had a voice mail from Auntie Dallas, “The Remington will be at the hotel desk along with a thousand dollars cash in an envelope addressed to you. Don’t let Ray know I’m paying you to take him to see the tart-tongued old bitch, he still thinks you are his childhood friend. Unlike you Raymond values friendship. After this, I think it best we sever our relationship; I can’t understand how Becky raised such a rude child. Had I known how incorrigible you were I would have tried to help her more – God knows she got none from that penniless bum she married and as for her father he was the most useless…” I deleted the message and turned off my phone. A thousand bucks even minus my expenses would be a welcome cash infusion and I had coveted the bear since I first laid eyes on it. I dressed, drove to Pete’s Diner and pondered the offer over a bacon and cheese omelet. Finally I knew I had no choice, I needed Dallas’ dinero to pay a few niggling bills and sadly would probably have to list the bear on Eclectic Offerings my online emporium because I had three godchildren with birthdays around the corner and no funds with which to gift them.

I bit the bitter bullet and dialed Dallas, “Where is Ray staying and what time will he be ready to roll?”

“I told you that on my message…”

“When you got bitchy I hit “7” and deleted it. Now repeat the information for me – civilly – or I might decide this gig is too big a pain in the ass, call it off and then tell you exactly what my mother thought of you and believe me you don’t want to know how the only member of your college class who would acknowledge you socially really felt about you.”

Dallas was no fool she had cleverly landed the richest husband she could find with her bad-girl reputation and when it came time to play poker she knew not to piss off the dealer. “The Sandia Plaza suite 999, you’re to call him from the desk at eight a.m.—don’t let Ray tarry because Granny Ruiz goes to bed early and he needs to spend a minimum of four hours with her. The old bat times her grandchildren’s visits and if they don’t stay an acceptable length of time the visit doesn’t count. I’ve already had his gift to the spiteful harpy delivered – it’s a Mark Twain Tramp Abroad first edition for her collection. Make sure Ray knows this and doesn’t forget.”

“Okay, I’ll be there before eight but I’m giving you notice that if Raymond gives me any trouble his ass stays in Albuquerque and I keep the bear and the cash.” I ended the call to indignant sputtering which I knew would soon become incessant cussing once Dallas gained control of her malicious tongue.

III

I arrived at The Plaza at seven counted my cash, secured the Remington in my car safe and returned to the lobby. My call to room 999 woke Raymond’s ass and he cussed me out and slammed the phone in my ear. Pal Ted proceeded to the rude bastard’s room where I beat on the door until the hairy ape opened it, I entered grabbed Raymond by his scruffy neck and tossed the stinking subhuman into the shower. “Don’t come out until you rid your body of that putrid smell and brush your teeth and use deodorant. I’m not smelling an unkempt primate all the way to Head, Texas!”

While Ray washed away old booze and stale sex, I ordered a full breakfast for deux charged to Suite 999. The room looked like a minefield and I pitied the maid who would have to perform a cleaning miracle on Ray’s sexual battleground which was littered with mini-bar detritus, room service shrapnel, torn clothing, sex-toys and used condoms. Underwear, his and hers, was strewn about the room and Mr. Ruiz’s penchant for sexual gymnastics had resulted in damage to many of the furnishings. Raymond’s bill would be monumental. I regretted not ordering a bottle of champagne with breakfast, not for our consumption, but as a personal thank-you from Ray to moi for services to be rendered. I could have walked to the car with a Bollinger magnum in hand and Raymond would not have noticed in his sodden condition. My charge exited the bathroom and I got my first close look at my road trip companion.

“What the hell happened to your eye – don’t tell me a fist did that? I think I should take you to an emergency room.” Ray’s left orbit looked like something from a horror movie and my eyes watered just to look at it.

“I was appreciating a sexy redhead in the hotel bar and her husband didn’t appreciate my appreciation. He had a foot on me and at least fifty pounds, the big bastard socked me in the eye and ran away before I could recover and give him a taste of his own medicine.” I was sure pudgy Raymond had been down for the count and the insulted husband had likely taken his sweet time strolling from the scene.

“I really think you need to see a doctor.”

“Already have, he says it looks worse than it is and there’s little to be done for a black eye. The concierge took me to the Medi-Redi clinic on Lomas Avenue as soon as I regained consciousness. I was supposed to ice it down but I passed out when I got back to the room. When I woke up it hurt like hell so I took a handful of pain pills that knocked me out again. This is the first time I’ve been out of bed in two days. I take it you’ve been pressed into service to take me to see Grandma Edith. It’s a waste of time, the old witch doesn’t like me and she hates Dallas; I could kiss Granny’s ass from now until Doomsday and she wouldn’t put me in her will. Let’s scratch the trip and go to some strip clubs I’ve heard about in the south valley.”

“Icksnay to that idea, I don’t have a death wish. I contracted to deliver you to your grandmother’s house and I intend to fulfill my part of the bargain.”

“YOU’RE CHARGING FOR A FAVOR FOR YOUR OLDEST FRIEND?”

“Raymond, we are not nor have we ever been friends.” The shocked satyr gasped in disbelief, “Why not?”

“Because you were a little bastard to me, making fun of my weight and short hair – calling me names and destroying my toys for the sheer hell of it. Grandfather’s Lionel train set was featured on Antiques Road Show last week and it would bring over ten grand in today’s antique toy market because it was one of Lionel’s rarer models – remember when you blew it up with cherry bombs you stole from the fireworks stand?”

“I called you names because we were pals.”

“Elmer Fudd is not a nickname for a pal, it is an insult.”

“Well, you looked like him – fat and bald.”

I looked at the sad specimen before me and while puberty had been kind to me it had done him no favors, hirsute to the max with acne-pocked skin Raymond looked like a low-grade Mafioso thug. “Get dressed; we’re on the road in half an hour.”

“Or?”

“Or I leave your ass here, place a call to Dallas and tell her you said she could and I quote, “Fuck herself if she thinks I’m going to go all the way to Head, Texas to wish ‘Happy Birthday’ to a senile old bitch.”

“You wouldn’t dare.”

“Of course I would, get dressed or suffer the wrath of your stepmother.”

IV

Something told me I should observe my charge in the bathroom mirror as he dressed and it was a good thing I did: the slimy bastard was loading his pants pockets with pills and a silver cigarette case retrieved from a hidden pouch in his suitcase went into his inside jacket pocket. Time for Teddy to frisk and confiscate!

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?” I had pulled Raymond’s jacket down pinning his arms while I turned his pants pockets sprinkling little plasticine packets of multi-colored tablets on the tile floor. Then I pulled up the sport coat, reached inside and took the silver case from the interior pocket. I flipped open the lid and six perfect joints lay lined up and ready for Ray’s smoking pleasure. I stomped the pills to dust and flushed the marijuana down the john.

“YOU BASTARD THOSE DOOBIES COST ME FIFTY BUCKS EACH, I GET THEM FROM BOB MARLEY’S COUSIN!”

“Tough shit, get this straight Raymond I’m not putting up with any illegal shenanigans on this trip; step out of line and my contract is voided and you are on your own. Now eat your breakfast so we can get on the road.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Fine, I am so you can watch me eat.” And that is what he did, I relished every forkful of the hotel’s wonderful eggs benedict washed down with excellent French roast coffee and topped off my repast with a fresh fruit compote.

V

We were on Interstate 40 heading toward Santa Rosa when Raymond first spoke, I had been enjoying the silent treatment and hoping it would continue until we reached Head. No such luck.

“Now, I’m hungry.”

“Tough shit.”

“I want food or I’m calling Dallas and telling her how badly you’ve treated me – she won’t pay your fee!” Ray still whined just like the little tattle-tale he had always been and obviously always would be.

“Call her and be damned. I collected my fee in advance and have no problem aborting this mission.” My truculent charge shut up and the silent treatment returned this time punctuated with angry fidgets and deep sighs. If Raymond kept this up I would be compelled to kill him and I wasn’t going up the river for murdering the likes of him.

“There’s a Tucky’s up ahead, they make decent breakfast sandwiches and their coffee is tolerable.” Silence. I drove on and when we were about to pass the exit the petulant child deigned to speak.

“Okay, stop if you want to…”

I turned the blinker on and whipped up the ramp in front of an old woman in an ancient VW bug, granny got pissed and I got the finger. “You know you’re not much of a driver.”

“Raymond, I advise you to keep all comments you may have pertaining to my driving or regarding me to yourself if you value your life. Now go order your breakfast, eat it quickly and then we will hurry you on to Grandmother’s house.”

“I’ll order to go.”

“The hell you will, I’m not having you dripping food on my suede upholstery.”

We wasted half an hour shopping in Tucky’s after Raymond finished three breakfast burritos and six cups of coffee with heavy cream and sugar. When we left, my charge had a large shopping bag full of gewgaws, calorie-laden treats and useless shit.

“Put that pecan roll back in the bag no eating in the car.”

“Geez, Elmer you sure are a grouch. Glad we lost touch over the years!”

I laughed sadistically – well as close to that as I can and Ray saw his barb had not injured me and like all bullies he crumbled when thwarted. Little Raymond looked hurt and a tear fell from his good eye. I laughed again for real this time and the pinche bastard punched my dash with enough petulance to injure his hand. I laughed even harder and leaned in close; he drew back.

“Does that stupid single tear trick still work on Dallas? Damage my car and I will kick your ass out and leave you on the side of the road!”

We had reached the state line and Mr. Ruiz was whining to use the john and I too could stand a break so I turned into The New Mexico Portal and we exited the car into a blowing wind that whipped Raymond’s coat over his shoulders. He turned around and fell flat on his ass when the sirocco hit his chest. Mr. Roly-poly began to roll across the parking lot and I had to run to catch him before he rolled into a patch of cactus.

“Help me up, Ted; I think I broke my knee cap.”

“Since you fell on your ass I sincerely doubt it, here sit down in the car and get your bearings.” That wasn’t all Raymond got in the car, he plucked a bag of junk food from his stash and took it with him to the welcome center coffee bar where he proceeded to consume enough carbs and fat grams for a family of four for two days.

Once we were back on the road my passenger curled up and slept off his sugar buzz. We were turning off the interstate onto Texas 69 when Raymond rose up and announced, “I feel sick.”

“There’s a service station over there, I’ll pull in get gas and you can use the john.” I entered the Ezy On ‘n Off Minimart and was coming to a stop when Ray threw open the door and bolted to the men’s room. The attendant who had just cleaned the facility jumped out of the way as Mr. Ruiz ran through the door while dropping his pants mooning everyone on that side of 69.

I filled the tank, wiped the windows and paid the sole employee; the sounds emanating from the men’s room said Raymond was still busy. It was beginning to rain so the attendant motioned for me to park next to a beat up truck under a shed where fresh produce was sold in the summer months. He joined me there for a chaw and a jaw; I politely refused the plug of tobacco he offered.

“Maybe you ought to go check on your pal; he hit the bathroom like a bat outa hell.”

“He’s not my pal. I’m driving Mr. Ruiz to his granny’s hundredth birthday party in Head.”

“Dick Head.”

“Yep, he is that.”

“Not him – the town it’s real name is Dick Head which it went by for eighty odd years but back in the sixties they cut off the Dick.”

“Huh?”

“Township was named for the founder Richard Head who went by the name Dick and it was always called Dick Head until 1962 when the town mothers got up a petition and had the name legally changed. Folks around here, especially them with rival football teams, still call it Dick Head.”

My phone rang and it was my cousin Thalia Lady Beaver calling from merry old England for a natter.

“Teddy, tell me all the gossip in Morley and don’t leave out a single sordid detail.”

“Thalia, I can’t talk right now I’m on a mission.”

“What kind of mission?”

“I’m driving a dickhead to Dick Head, Texas.”

VI

My dickhead exited the john looking better than he had all morning. “Facilities are all yours.”

“I’ll pass.” The sounds I had heard while Raymond was in residence convinced me I didn’t want to go there.

“I think those Fat John sausages I bought were a little old and the pecans on the nut roll were definitely rancid, Tucky’s has gone downhill or at least that store has.”

“Raymond, why on earth did you consume food that was spoiled?”

“Because I was hungry.” Ask a stupid question get a stupid answer. “I need some carbonation, a tall-boy or two and I’ll be just fine.”

“No beer, you can have a soda but no alcohol.”

“I want a beer and I’M GOING TO HAVE A BEER OR AS MANY AS IT TAKES TO MAKE ME FEEL BETTER!”

“No liquor on my watch. Get a soda from the machine and get back into the car.”

“Make me!”

“I could and not a break a sweat.”

“Just try it!”

“Say if you fellers are aiming to fight can you hold off until I call some of my buddies – business has been slow and I’d like to make a few bucks.” The attendant had his cell in hand and was already dialing.

“You want to charge your pals to watch our fight? Some friend you are!” Ray looked askance at the man, well his good eye did – the other one was wandering a bit.

“No siree, they ain’t much happening here and they’d appreciate the invite! And I might win some dough betting on the winner; course I’ll have to place the bets quick ‘cause soon as the boys size you two up they won’t want to bet on the outcome of this match.”

Raymond reared back his rounded shoulders and puffed up his sagging chest, “What kind of odds will you have to give them to bet on my ex-pal here.” “I ain’t betting on you fat boy; any fool can see you’re going to lose and pretty darned quick – I might ought to get the guys to bet on a pool on how long you last before the young guy mops the parking lot with you.”

“Young guy? He’s a year older than me!”

“The hell you say!”

Raymond now deflated accepted the cola I gave him, got in the car and l handed the gas jockey a twenty: ten for the mess Raymond made in the john and ten for sticking the pin in fat boy’s balloon.

We drove in silence down Highway 69 for half an hour, passed through downtown Head and stopped at a supermarket at the edge of town to buy a scrawny orchid plant to take to the birthday girl. It wasn’t much of a floral offering but it beat my arriving empty handed. I drove on until Raymond directed me to turn through two huge stone pillars emblazoned with a horizontal “H” indicating the entrance to Sleeping H Ranch.

“This road is terrible! If I take out the undercarriage of the Lincoln, you or Dallas is paying for it.”

“Granny likes the road this way – it keeps people away from the house. Get used to it we’ve got three miles to go before we reach Head House.” And a long dusty three miles it was.

The beautiful mansion before us was a total shock after the wretched road that took out my shock absorbers. A Victorian palace of native stone and beveled glass sat regally in a copse of cottonwoods filled with sculptures. I spotted a Moore and a Botero before Raymond directed me to the side yard where a gravel parking lot was filled with late model autos.

“Granny has oil wells.”

“How many?”

“Two or three hundred.”

“How many acres?”

“Fifty-five thousand, she sold off a lot over the years to buy her art collection.”

VII

The woman who greeted us at the door looked decades younger than her age. She was a big woman, tall and broad shouldered with steel gray hair in a chignon and bright blue eyes shining – a handsome woman with presence.

“Raymond, we held luncheon for half an hour and then decided not to wait any longer. But you are in time for the cutting of my cake; I’m afraid it’s not a very festive party. My little announcement during sherry put a damper on the day. My grandchildren are unhappy that I signed papers this morning establishing The Harlan Head College of Fine Arts, a memorial for my dear father. My art collection and the ranch are now property of a non-profit which will hopefully one day become the art center of the great state of Texas. Let those carpetbaggers in Marfa compete with that!”

“Dallas was right, you did have something up your sleeve; can’t say I am at all surprised.” Raymond shrugged his shoulders and entered the house leaving me to introduce myself.

“Ted Morley from Morley, New Mexico. I’ve known Raymond since childhood; thank you for allowing me to crash your party. Ray was feeling under the weather so I drove him on this little road trip.”

“I have eyes, son; Ray’s been in another bar fight and couldn’t drive himself. Ted Morley – Theo Morley’s grandson?”

“Yes mam.”

“I used to see him at horse races – poor man was under the delusion he could handicap – lost a considerable fortune betting on nags.”

“Yes, he did, unfortunately.”

“Welcome young man. I apologize for my sad party, come have some cake – I baked it myself so it will be good but I am afraid the company will not.”

Miss Edith’s delectable three layer devil’s food cake was topped with a pink wax one and two zeros which were lit before the reporter/photographer from The Head Lion, Head County’s arts and literary journal snapped his shot. The young man took his slice to go, wise boy!

“Ted Morley, meet my granddaughter Mona Saylor, that is her husband Skeets cracking his knuckles at the table – he’s the golf pro at the local country club. To their left is Monroe, Mona’s brother who’s in a state of shock over my endowment; he’s a science teacher at the local high school. The young man standing at the window talking to himself is Rittenhouse, the middle son of my middle son; his brothers couldn’t be here today. Randolph is incarcerated for faking his father-in-law’s signature on a bill of sale and Romney is in the hospital recovering from a bullet he received in his left lung while screwing another man’s wife. Ritt, come sit down and have some cake it’s time for your meds and you need to take them with food. I want to thank you one and all for the thoughtful birthday presents and after my little announcement this morning I am sure you probably wish you had not brought them.”

Raymond looked at me with blind panic and I knew he had forgotten what Dallas had sent. “Ray, which first edition did you choose the Clemons travel log or the Jack London?”

A look of relief spread across his face as he recalled my earlier admonition, “The Clemons.”

“Good choice, I have an online business dealing in antiques and fine art and Ray called me looking for a first edition but I had none so I sent him to a couple of dealers who had suitable selections in stock.”

Our hostess gave me a wary look but turned her attention to Mona and Skeets who were not happy campers by the sick looks on their faces. “I love the sculpture, Anthony Quinn was a better artist than actor; I know you purchased it on credit expecting to pay the balance with wealth you will not inherit. I shall send the gallery a check to relieve that debt. Monroe I am going to frame the map of the stars you gave me and hang it on the back porch so I can refer to it when using your lovely telescope – a thoughtful and useful gift. And dear Ritt I love the poem you wrote and want to share it with your cousins:

I Love Grandma

I love grandma because she is good to me

I love grandma because she takes care of me

I love grandma because she gives me cake

And most of all I love grandma because she’s so Goddam Rich!

Well, at least one of my grandchildren is honest.”

Once birthday girl ended her speech, everyone but moi fled the dining room and I too was preparing to take my leave, “Mr. Morley, sit down I have a few questions for you. Alicia, you may clear after we leave the table, please bring me the bottle of cognac I reserved for my birthday celebration. Now Theodore Morley IV isn’t it? How the hell did you wind up playing chauffeur for my lowlife grandson – the truth young man no sugar coating or white-washing. By the way, that was a valiant lie to save Raymond’s ass – you are certainly Theo’s grandson – he was a scoundrel but a charming one.”

I told my tale including the cash payment but omitted the inclusion of the Remington in my fee. Wheels were clearly turning in my hostess mind and I sipped my excellent brandy pretending not to notice the awkward silence.

“My bear!”

“Excuse me?”

“I remember you as a little boy! Ray had so few friends it wasn’t hard to recall one who always had to admire my little bear when he came to visit. My papa was addicted to fine art and spent himself into the poorhouse buying it; he gave me that bear on my tenth birthday because he had no money to buy me the bicycle I wanted. I loved it and gave it to Robert the day Raymond was born to celebrate the birth of his son. He never thought much of it and neither did Ray. My daughter-in-law gave you the sculpture to haul Raymond here. Dallas isn’t half as smart as she thinks she is giving you a Remington in return for a fool’s errand – sorry that came out wrong – I’m not calling you a fool but Raymond trying to worm his way into my will is a true fool’s errand.” “The statue is in the car, I’ll go get it and return it to you.”

“No, you obviously love it and I would prefer someone who cherishes it to have my dear little bear, besides if it is part of my estate the college will get it and I am sure they will sell off the minor pieces that don’t fit the central theme of my collection which is mid-twentieth century modern.”

“Well I am afraid if I keep it that will be its fate as well. As you know my grandfather decimated the family fortune and I am forced to flog wares on the internet to support myself which is actually a fun business but unfortunately I can’t afford to keep many of the treasures that pass through my hands. I have three godchildren with birthdays coming up and I need funds to buy their presents.”

“You must give extravagant presents, young man!”

“I’m afraid I do but they are my family and are good children grateful for my gestures and deserving of everything I give them.” “Then sell my little bear and make three young people happy with the proceeds. You had an odd look on your face when I told Raymond about my bequest – was that because Theo ran through your expected inheritance?”

“Well…”

“The Ruiz grandchildren have no claim on the Sleeping H Ranch or my art collection which was purchased with funds generated by the ranch. I was Rolando Ruiz’s second wife; his sons were by his first wife who was the love of his life. Ours was a marriage of convenience, I was a plain thirty year-old school teacher with no matrimonial prospects and he was an important man in El Paso who needed a mother for his sons. Rolando wanted someone from a good family worthy of his social status and I wanted a life of my own away from the ranch. He paid off the mortgages on The Sleeping H and my father gave his blessing to our union. What began as a business deal ended as a close and loving friendship once Rolando eased into old age and no longer felt the need to bed every female who made herself available to him. The Ruiz males come by their bad behavior naturally and though I did all I could to curb that proclivity, I obviously failed. Robert was the only decent one and he screwed up his life royally when he married the whore of west Texas. I don’t know what hold Dallas had over him but whatever it was he couldn’t break it. What is that I hear in the driveway? Sounds like someone’s dying!”

VIII

I raced outside and the source of the disturbance was a black Ford Bronco with the tailgate lifted. The Bronco was a-buckin’ because the couple whose intertwined legs were sticking out the back were a-fuckin’ and making enough noise to scare every horse in Head County. They completed the act to screams and shouts and an audience, half the help in the house were on the side porch watching. I was standing next to the automobile and Edith was at the bottom of the porch steps when Raymond and Mona exited the Ford with clothes dishabille.

“Oh God, not again – Ted take Ray and hightail it out of Texas! When Skeets gets wind of this he will kill him, he’s a martial arts nut, the last time he caught those two in flagrante he beat the hell out of both of them and promised to kill Raymond if he ever did this again. I’ll drive Mona to the bus station and put her on the next bus to El Paso; she can stay with Rolando’s sister Inez in Juarez until this blows over.”

I did as bidden and we were in the Lincoln with the motor running when our hostess rushed to the car. “Ted, I apologize for this sordid mess. I hope you will return to The Sleeping H and allow me to make amends for this egregious breach of hospitality. Come again anytime but please come ALONE!”

By the time we reached the highway my reprobate chum had put himself back together and was sitting with a smug smile on his face. I looked at him, shook my head and scowled.

“What? You never heard of fucking-cousins – apparently not – well you see it goes like this…” “Shut-up! I do not want to hear about your sexual escapades with relations! My family may be a lot of things but incestuous they’re not – we don’t diddle each other. Raymond today’s discovery explains a great deal about you. Don’t say a word to me until we stop to eat unless you want to walk back to New Mexico. We’re going to The Big Texan in Amarillo and I’m ordering a big-ass steak and you’re paying the tab after what you’ve put me through today!” We drove in silence, me thoroughly pissed and my passenger looking like he had not only swallowed the canary but had carnal relations with it before dining. I must admit after his boffing escapade in the back of the Ford Raymond looked much better, fornicating with your first cousin must have curative powers because the swelling in Ray’s eye had gone down considerably and in general he presented a less, though still, seedy specimen.

We arrived at our destination and I went to get a table while my dining companion hit the men’s room. I finally ordered because I was starving and when my salad arrived – a huge bowl of all kinds of good things topped with homemade ranch dressing and crunchy croutons – Ray had not joined me. I peacefully consumed my excellent meal without the displeasure of Mr. Ruiz’s company. If I were forced to pay my hefty tab, I was ditching Raymond, but not here, somewhere down the interstate where he would have to walk or hitchhike back to Albuquerque.

“Ladies and Gentlemen we have a brave soul on our stage who has risen to the challenge. If he consumes a 72 ounce steak with all the trimmings in one hour, his meal is on the house; if he fails he pays!”

There my dining companion sat on the dais grinning like a well-fucked possum with fork and knife in hand. Raymond tore through the steak and baked potato in no time flat; he slowed down on the salad and was struggling when he hit the shrimp cocktail until he realized that he could toss a prawn into his mouth and swallow the crustacean whole. He finished the enormous meal with five minutes to spare. Ray asked for and received a mug of beer which he drank, belched loudly and then stood to the applause of the entire restaurant. Needless to say Raymond did not pay the tab for my much smaller porterhouse and he was still receiving adulation when I paid my bill and went to the gift shop to make a few purchases. Mr. Celebrity joined me there and was signing autographs when I left him to take my bags to the car.

“Get this thing on the road and don’t spare the horses!”

“What have you done – I’m not aiding and abetting a felon!”

“My hot redhead was in the bar when we arrived and she expressed her sympathy for her jealous husband’s over-reaction; they’re staying in the motel next door and the big bastard was out visiting old friends so we played hidey dick and let me tell you she was worth a beating but not worth dying for! Hubbie’s back and he spotted me in the gift shop. Haul ass!”

“Calm down, how can you be so sure he’s after you?”

“Because he shouted at me and said he was going to finish what he started In Albuquerque – I gave Trixie my business card so she could call me the next time she’s in El Paso and her over-muscled spouse found it and came looking for me. He was waving the card as he came barreling down the hallway after me. The big goon isn’t nearly as dumb as he looks!”

“How did he know it was yours?”

“My business card has my photo on it.” “I’m not a part of this; you can deal with the man here and now in the parking lot.”

“Ted, please I apologize for ever calling you Elmer Fudd and for purposely breaking your toys when we were little – please start the car!”

“No way, Ray.”

Please man! Isn’t there anything I can do to induce you to take me to safety?”

“Buy a replacement for my grandfather’s Lionel that you blew up.”

“Done deal! Now roll! Hubbie has a pal with him and he is even bigger than Mr. Trixie!”

“Not so fast, hand me that tacky diamond pinky ring – you’ll get it back when I get the train.”

“It’s a four carat solitaire worth a dozen trains.”

“Then you should be happy to redeem it for a Lionel deluxe collector’s edition train set circa 1940.”

“Here take it and hit the road!”

I pocketed the gaudy jewel, threw the Lincoln into drive and tore out of the parking lot.

IX

We were on I40 cruising slightly past the speed limit and all was well until a humongous red monster truck appeared in the rearview mirror. I had already seen two state troopers and figured I stood a better chance with them than the man shaking his fist out the window on the driver’s side. I certainly stood a better chance with the cops than I did with the man waving a handgun out the passenger window of the very big and very fast truck bearing down on us. I prepared to floorboard the Lincoln when my passenger unbuckled his seat belt.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Raymond was opening the moon roof, “Saving our asses from certain death!”

I looked over and my jars of jellies, jams and wildflower honey from The Big Texan gift shop were in the passenger seat – Ray was preparing to make like Eddie Rickenbacker. His first bomb fell short, the second hit the bumper of the mammoth truck but the third hit the windshield where it shattered splattering choke cherry jam obscuring the vision of the maniac driving the killer auto. The next three found the same target and eventually the windshield shattered under Ray’s assault. The crazy man on the passenger side was now leaning out of the window firing his pistol wildly and Raymond scored a direct hit to his head causing the man to fall back inside and the truck to slow down. But not for long, soon the weapon on wheels was bearing down on us again and I was sure we were not long for this world when Raymond Rickenbacker pulled his ace out of the hole. A quarter-stick of dynamite appeared in his hand, was lit, held and tossed into the giant vehicle as it appeared in the lane to our right. The explosion rocked the Lincoln, I hauled ass and the truck veered off the interstate and drove into an arroyo where it crashed.

Ray closed the moon roof, adjusted his crotch and sat down, “Don’t ask.”

I didn’t.

X

Things were calming down when pulsing blue lights appeared in my rearview mirror. “The cops are behind us, I’m pulling over. We know nothing about anything. Thanks a lot Raymond! I can’t believe you’ve suckered me into a male mid-life crisis version of Thelma and Louise!”

“Chillax, I got this.”

The cops stopped behind us, exited their vehicle and approached; one stood at my door while the other leaned into Ray’s open window.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Ruiz.”

“Good afternoon, officer.” Raymond was cool as a cucumber but I was in meltdown my shorts were wet from sweat. I had unsettling visions of becoming Big Bubba’s bitch in prison and my hands began to shake. I hoped the steroidal cop peering down at me through his Ray-bans wouldn’t notice.

“You see the wreck a few miles back?”

“Wreck?”

“Yep, a drunk in a monster truck – he’s out cold and the guy riding with him is babbling about a mad bomber and for some odd reason he’s covered in blackberry jam. They had a weapon in the car that had been fired recently – you see or hear anything that might help us figure out what happened?”

“Afraid not, though now that you mentioned it I may have heard some shots – didn’t register as gunshots – we’re childhood friends on a road trip. We’ve been busy catching up on old times and not paying attention to much else. Mind my asking how you know my name?”

“Oh sorry, you left your Visa card at The Big Texan cash register as security for the steak challenge and forgot to retrieve it. Jim-Bob the manager is my brother, he asked me to deliver it to you.”

“Well thank you officer, that’s very kind of you.”

“Just a little Texas hospitality, you boys drive safe.”

The muscle-bound behemoth standing next to me doffed his cap and the two officers returned to their car and we slowly pulled out and headed directly to the state line. I spent a half-hour in the men’s room at the welcome station.

Ray was busy playing games on his phone and didn’t notice I had turned off the interstate in Tucumcari until we stopped in the parking lot of a closed gas station.

“What are we stopping for?”

“You’re taking the bus back to Albuquerque and I’m going home. There’s one that stops here in a couple of hours; I’ll be pulling into my driveway about the time you catch it.

“NO WAY!” “Oh I think you will take the bus and like it because if you don’t I am going to call your wife and tell her all about your trip to Balloon Fiesta and your coital reunion with your first cousin.”

“Call away, we’re separated.” “By distance only, she’s at an ashram in Sedona. It’s her money you’re spending like water and I hear through very reliable sources that she’s told you one more embarrassing situation and she’s dumping your ass sans spousal support. You would be back living with Dallas, dependent on her for every nickel you spend. You have no job and haven’t had for years. I have connections everywhere and can usually find out the gossip on someone in a few hours – I made sure I did my homework on you and your bitchy stepmom before I agreed to this goddam road trip. Now get out of my car. You buy your ticket at the minimart across the road; the bus picks you up here. GET OUT OF MY CAR! NOW!”

“You bastard, ELMER FUDD ASS!” Ray was standing next to the Lincoln with his Tucky’s bag in hand.

“Raymond, kiss that ass good-bye.” I raised the window and left Mr. Ruiz cussing, shaking his fists and kicking rocks much as he did when he was a young boy throwing a tantrum.

Thus ending the road trip of Elmer and Ruiz.

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