The crew inhaled a daily blend of tobacco smoke, gas, lubricants, unspecified toxins, and fuming body odor. Conversation would be periodically interrupted with the launch of some unspecified throat projectile usually crash landing far side a grease pit topside one of the many hubcaps forgotten among oily rags and broken metal. Any case, these guys knew the difference between a bona fide street lemon and a precious limousine. I trusted them.
People around these parts call me Junior. Everyone had large families. We had twelve running around, all ages, sisters and brothers from seventeen to forty years old. The forty year old had been married twice and put on so many pounds dad thought he’d be her personal trainer – get her in shape and marry off again. Never happened.
I had a given name but no one ever used it – besides Howland was an awful name to give a kid. I asked dad why I got stuck with that silliness – he would say “Howlin’ Wolf,” down and dirty, baby, ride with me in my Cadillac.” What the fuck did that mean? So, I went with Junior.
By the day of my eighteenth birthday I had saved enough coin to pay down on a moderately priced rehab. I banked six hundred dollars setting bowling pins at ‘Mercy Be Lanes’. There’s something to be said about the game of bowling; it doesn’t really qualify a sport, mostly a reasonable excuse to forget television and down greasy fries. No more than that. It was also the best view of women in tight slacks stretching those curves.
Before early nine I meet with my financial advisor Rodney Stokes, technical assistants Hubert Tenafly and Lucious Sampson. The home team had a lead on a fair shape ‘56 Thunderbird north of Shelbyville, Indiana belonging to this retired Pillsbury plant foreman. Rumour says he once anointed himself town gigolo and carried on like he lived in Hefner’s Playboy Mansion until the body vengefully erupted in incurable patchy scales. Hearty blemishes and a cool ride don’t compliment one another.
Rodney swore a man in this condition would probably sell the wheels for less than a song maybe even a nursery rhyme. He reasoned a man with a bad skin condition probably shuffles about in good light avoiding contact with most humans especially the opposing sex, making him susceptible to low balling. I’ve never had much experience negotiating big-ticket items so giving Rodney the go ahead seemed responsible to me. Besides if the color wasn’t just right, we could always spray paint.
The four of us travel the interstate past main street Shelbyville to this farmhouse just outside town. Fenced in property, which looked as if it ran for miles gave a hint the original occupants once had substantial holdings.
A white cottage style house barely visible behind a yard stocked with broken farm implements, six feet of overgrowth, a couple rusted trucks, a humongous motor, possibly belonging to a locomotive circa 1900, underfed cow, busted swing set and a toilet, not in public use, stood silent some fifty feet or so off the main highway.
Tenafly eases the Buick onto the gravel roadside. Hubert loves spinning his old man’s wheels. In fact, he acts like we’re dignitaries summoned to a state function.
“Will you look at this place? This man has no pride,” Luscious says in a disdainful tone.
“Pride? How can a man have any pride when his pecker’s covered in blisters,” laughs Hubert.
Luscious smacks the dashboard before releasing a chest-ripping shriek.
“I’m serious man, I bet he spends all day yanking at his shorts and dropping ice cubes on his balls.”
“Who gives a shit, we’re here to steal a car not bring the cure,” I say.
Hubert is a big sight all six feet four inches of him, maybe even two inches taller in his pork pie hat and all of two hundred and sixty-five pounds. Luscious, although not quite as tall, can load a whole prefab house into a couple transport trucks in less than an hour. Rodney’s somewhere in between. Together, they make the mighty ‘don’t fuck with me’ tandem. I love hanging with these guys. They know cars, bartering and messing with heads.
I stand a tall 5’8” in boots and skin smooth and pretty like a chorus girl. I was born with muscle – God give muscle – don’t even need work-out. Mama says I’m beyond handsome in fact she says I’m charmed. I practice my smile. I know every corner of my mouth and how to control. Girls tell me they get jealous – no man should be this pretty.
“Junior, how do you want to approach this? You want the two of us go in first, then you come in and shut things down?” says Rodney.
“No need to rough the man up Rodney, I’m buying a car. This ain’t a shakedown,” I say.
Rodney tosses me this sad-eyed glance, liked I’d just stole all the fun out of the day.
As we make way to the front porch all kinds of sharp bristle like things stab at the skin.
"A mother fucker could die taking my blood without asking,” says Rodney shaking a clump of freeloading thorns from his shirtsleeve.
“Look man, I’ll knock first and introduce us. That way “bad skin” won’t suspect you’re here to rob his ass,” I say. “This dude have a name?” asks Hubert.
I dig inside a narrow shirt pocket and retrieve a torn slip of paper. “Jeremy Goines!”
“Jerry’s groin, you say we’re going to meet Jerry’s groin?” laughs Rodney.
After a few raps about the screen door I see this lumbering spectacle advance from the background.
“Yeah, what can I do for you?”
“Are you Mr. Goines, we’re here to see about the 56 T-Bird you’ve got for sale, “asks Rodney.”
Goines stays put some three feet out of view. “Who says I’ve got a car for sale?”
“Bob Benko at Downtown Ford,” says Tenafly.
“Benko?" You know Benko? I tell you what, come on back of the house and have a look for yourself. She needs a bit of work, otherwise she as coy as a virgin.”
Goines no sooner turns away when Rodney smacks the back of my head like some caffeine-jacked linebacker. “Virgin? We’ve got this silly ass hillbilly?”
As we cut around the rear of the house Goines appears in slippers and cotton housecoat. The poor fellow’s head was covered in big red cracking scales. I could see why he chose to seclude himself.
“Come on in the barn boys. ‘Ladybird’ has a couple months of chicken shit stacked on her. I’m sure it didn’t seep through and butter her natural skin. I covered her securely.”
“You know this was once my favorite ‘nookie’ chariot. You know Charlton Heston could have ridden this baby right up to Cleopatra’s front door. She’d have bent over backwards for him… Ha! Ha! Get it?”
Rodney rolls his eyes then stuffs a finger down his throat like he was expelling the statement.
“I couldn’t keep the “hootie” from jumping the leather. Sure will miss ‘Ladybird’,” says Goines. “All I had to do was glide up and down Main real slow and the “hootie” would flop about the hood until it was near ready to pass out and I’d watch it fall helplessly inside the ‘love cage.’ It was just that easy.”
“So, what you’re saying is you’ve got a big problem with barn owls up here,” says a sarcastic Luscious. “Barn owls? Where you boys been living-in an igloo?”
I could sense Rodney was getting ready to rag the man so I signal him stay cool.
“Sir, what do you mean by “hootie,” asks Hubert, knowing all along what he meant.
“I can see you boys are quite young and less experienced so I’ll try to explain without giving a doctoral on the subject,” says Goines.
“Man, what are you talking about? We ain’t damn stupid. You ain’t never got laid in your life. Look at yourself,” screams Rodney. “Ain’t nobody gonna fuck a messed up torso like yours - suck on this.”
A deafening silence blankets the barn.
“I think you boy’s better leave,” says Goines.
No one moves.
“I’m sorry boys, but I think it’s in the best interest of all of us, that you leave as you came,” Goines reiterates.
Iassess the situation, the missed opportunity.
“Listen Mr. Goines, Rodney didn’t mean anything by that. We came here to buy a car not talk sex. Rodney’s a devout Christian and gets offended by that kind of talk.”
Goines stumbles about like he’s going to close up then pauses.
“I tell you what. A good Christian boy sitting in my ‘Ladybird’s’ lap would do my mamma proud. Did I tell you about her?”
“Mr. Goines, we don’t have that kind of time. Hubert borrowed dad’s car and he’s expecting us back within a couple hours.”
Goines grips the speckled tarp and swiftly yanks it free sending hundreds of what look like shit dried croutons into the air unveiling the most beautifully crafted piece of modern machinery eyes had ever witnessed. Two-toned blue coupe; pastel on top and deep sea blue below the molding.
“Let me put the top down so you can peek inside. You’ll never forget this,” says Goines.
Goines slides inside, unlatches the roof exposing the immaculate white leather interior.
“She loved me more than any woman,” he starts. “I picked her out myself – she was playing hard to get but I knew she was mine the moment the headlights turn on. There was a spark in her ignition and soft interior – she laid there like first love begging my advances. I took her down the highway, along the river, out by the cemetery and seriously I could see hands wave beneath the ground. Everybody recognize her – her fury, the tango – the kick in her rear end – she’s all women.”
The three of us couldn’t muster a response. Not even Rodney who’s never short on wise cracks or profound observation.
“Turn her over Goines, let’s hear her moan,” Luscious says dropping a cynical glance our way.
“You’re not a fan of the missionary position it takes it.”
'Missionary? What kind of talk is that?. We’re not breaking bread together,” says Sampson.
Goines gently massages the passenger seat then reaches for the rearview mirror.
“It’s a tragedy the Lord cursed me like this. Can hardly stand looking back at myself. I wish I could see the clean face of that man who was full of life and loved women like they were beautiful things. ‘Ladybird’ brought me so much pleasure made me feel more important that I need be. You know what I mean?”
I could tell by the silence none of us had a clue what he meant.
“Why don’t you just put the key in the ignition and let us hear Ladybird beg for her lover man,” says Stokes.
“It’s not that easy big man. You never leave a battery in a car unless you plan to use it. When the looks began to slow I knew it was time to park Ladybird. A man has to look just right for a pretty lady you understand.”
“I tell you what, you show me some cash and we’ll hook her up? You fellows agree with what I’m saying,’ says Goines. “Now, which one of you has the cash?”
Rodney steps towards the priceless vehicle, slides two fingers across the hood and slowly paws his way back of the sleek frame ignoring financial considerations.
“Isn’t she something? I bet you never let the “hootie’ spill the jack juice in here?”
“You’re right about that, I never let anyone eat or drink or dip the stick in my Ladybird but me,” says Goines.
That was Hubert’s cue to inspect under the hood.
“Pop her open “doctor love” and let‘s take her temperature.”
Goines frees the hood allowing Hubert a clear view then slowly climbs to the outside of the vehicle.
“This baby can sail, check this engine out. 327?”
Goines doesn’t even bother answering.
“Hey pretty boy…what’ll they call you again…Junior?”
“Why don’t you situate yourself in Lady’s lap?”
That was the best invitation I’d had all day.
Once behind the wheel, I could see why Goines was passionate about his ride. You don’t touch too many steering wheels that feel like a woman’s grip and look pearly white or sit comfortably in an interior made from soft leather.
My face looked like the right face in the rearview mirror. The rich tan skin from a month of laboring in the fields stood out against the blue and white tones slightly out of focus between the back seat and tail. There was no doubt in my mind that the rightful heir should be.
While my assistants assess the hardware I thought I should get a quote on the price.
“So Goines, how much you offering her up for.”
“How much you willing to pay?”
Suddenly, Rodney’s head appears from underneath the hood.
“Hey, Junior why don’t you come here and have a look at this engine. I think it needs a serious overhaul - let me and Jeremy negotiate alone.”
It didn’t take much coaching to get me on side.
“Negotiate? You must be a businessman Mr. Rodney?”
“People say so.”
“How much you willing to pay to drive ‘Ladybird’ out of here?”
Rodney rubs his chin then scratches his wiry-like hair.
“Well Mr. Goines in the condition she’s in I say about six hundred dollars.”
Goines pauses then walks near Hubert and myself.
“Businessman, my ass! Why don’t we shut her down boys and you kids get back on the highway? Tell me, does it still cost a dime to ride that ‘speckled horsey’ at the shopping mall?”
Goines climbs inside pulls the roof forward and snaps the convertible top in place while the three of us look on like fools.
“I thought I told you kids to get packing. This is a man’s car and it comes at a man’s price. I’m sure you could find a nice Corvair that’ll suit your needs,’ says Goines.
Timing is everything. Rodney looks as if he met his superior.
“I’ll tell you what, since none of you have any business skills I’ll give you my price…. six thousand dollars.”
“Six thousand dollars,” screams Rodney, “I could buy a mother fucking house and an acre of land for that.”
“Maybe you should consider doing just that. You look like a big time sweet potato farmer.’
“You mother fucking head of crab meat…I ought to smack that arrogant puss of your face.”
Isensed it was time to use better judgment and abandon negotiation, if you want to call it that.
“Thanks, but no thanks Mr. Goines, sorry we wasted so much of your time,” I say while pushing Hubert and Rodney towards the backyard.
“I could really smack the asshole,” says Rodney, “but I don’t want to infect my fist.”
“I know, I know…no need to have this place swarming with cops. Let’s get out of here.”
We were nearing the front porch when a voice interrupts from behind.
We continue walking, when Goines butts in with another offer. “Look, I can’t go any lower than three thousand, so give me the six hundred now and find twenty-four hundred and we’ve got a deal.”
The revised figures catch us by surprise. After inspecting the rare beauty it was apparent the car would have greater value down the line and would be a wise investment.
“Goines, you’ve got a deal,” shouts Rodney. “We’ll be back in a couple hours with the down payment and some kind of guarantee.”
"Guarantee? Listen boys, I’m not looking for a guarantee; I want the financing on this to be done quickly. Cash!”
We sprint back to Hubert’s Buick then race down the interstate. During the drive back we conceive a method for clearing the debt over two years. I knew my old man would sign a loan for me. I was good for it. Besides, I let him earn interest off my earnings the past couple years. He still had the six hundred in his account.
It was near impossible to contain my excitement. The home team pit stopped at the garage and spread the news. The look on these grease monkeys faces was one of awe. These guys knew stealing a T-Bird in even less than satisfactory condition was well worth the investment.
Pops was late getting home, leaving me near panic. I was afraid another slick middle-aged “hootie bagger” would slip Goines a couple extra C notes then off he rides with the wind massaging his receding hairline, ascot waving ceremoniously at passer-bys.
I’d down three maybe for short colas and was about to clip the lid on another when I hear a car pull up.
Something in the sound of the engine clued me it wasn’t necessarily dad. Before I make it to the front door I hear a familiar voice, “Come on out here Junior, I’ve got something baaaaaaaaaaaaad to show you.”
Bad? I just saw bad and bad was real good.
“Come on Junior, what’s holding you skinny ass up?” I quickly pop the screen door and set my eyes on this huge white metallic invader.
“Dad, you’ve got a new car…I mean you’ve got a new old car. What are you doing with this?”
You had to know the old man. There were subtle ways in which he conveyed personal satisfaction. Today it was two hands on hips, eyes fixed straight on me, and that look of someone catching a three hundred pound rock bass. You could tell he scored big!
“She’s all yours Junior. She goes anywhere you want to go.”
The statement hit me like a bad case of influenza. The thought of steering the wheel of this ghastly tanker was frightening. Memories of “Ladybird’s” long curvaceous figure, feminine blue hues, leather upholstery, and manly-like engine rip through the back of my heart. This beast is a man-woman.
“Junior, come and have a look at this,” says dad. “It’s a 57 Plymouth Savoy. Check it out. It’s still got the original air foam seat cushions, armrest, dual sun visors, and V-6 engine. You’ll save a lot on gas.”
I was too mortified to respond in kind.
“You’re girlfriends will love this. Think of all the places you can get to. Hell, you could pack a hundred lunches in this baby,’ says dad.
Baby, this was no baby, the thing shouldn’t have ever been born. Maybe it just arrived in the condition it was in. Thank you Detroit.
“Cost only four hundred and fifty. I put four new tires on, that leaves fifty in the bank for gas. I suppose you want to take her for a spin? What’ll you think?”
When dad has that keen look in his eye I knew there was know way I’d consider hurting him although I was thinking seriously of putting the Savoy down.
“Catch! It’s all yours. You want to take a ride up to the A&W? We could go together. Dammit, I’m hungry”
A&W? Is he for real? The place is humming with GTOs, Corvettes, Mustangs, not to mention, classic roadsters. How the hell would I explain my presence situated in puking lime green interior and grossly out of fashion tail fins?
“Dad, I think I’ll take a pass for now, maybe give it a whirl after dark.”
The old man shot me a sober look, and then dropped the keys in the driver side window. “Do what you want,’ he says before passing through the front door, “You’ll never get a better deal.”
I felt like shit. Not only had I inherited the un-cool hog on the planet but I’d also knocked the joy off the old man’s face. How could I go from a moment of such elation to the pits of despair?
Truthfully, I was fairly content to borrow the old man’s Olds without inviting much grief. Christ sake, it was like everyone understood it wasn’t my choice. How the hell was I going to explain this?
The Plymouth sat for the next three days as I worked my way other side of grief. Redbone and Stokes must have called sixty to seventy times begging me to
Dad didn’t say much. I could tell he knew I had a good deal of thinking to do.
A stud has got to have the right trappings to express his magnetism and convince nubile ‘studettes’ of his unique gifts. The mirror has always been friendly and honest with me.
Late evening day three I decide to make peace with my new possession and run it outside town for a test drive. There were a couple back roads late arriving farmers travel after nine - perfect for driving my shotgun bride around.
Icaught her napping and collecting a layer of spent leaves near the carport.
The V-6 turns over quite easily. No coughs or stutters as I ease her down the driveway onto the blacktop highway. I contemplate jamming the pedal to the floor, out pacing the oncoming rush of cars. Instead I gently feed her the required dosage and slip gradually inside.
As I depress the accelerator it becomes obvious the V-6 would be far more effective propelling a pushcart. Let’s just say in a road test she might clock sixty in around two minutes.
It really doesn’t matter what you drive at night when the dark breeze crosses through open windows and the smell of cut grass and screaming locust mess with the senses. The maples, birches, spruces all breathing and spitting new air, the land freshly tilled, and sound of the last tractor pulling behind a barn makes you feel like loving everything, in or out of sight. I guess this is why farm people always smile.
Iadjust the rearview mirror and have one long look at my perfect face and give God the thumbs up then look again. The mirror is cracked – a piece missing near the right bottom edge rob part of my chin making me look weak and frog like. I just talked back at it and swore it wouldn’t be here by next morning.
Two hours latter I park her safely under a familiar row of trees. The next moments pass in solitude before I show a hint of emotion. I debated how I’d tell her she was my first without committing to a long-term relationship. It wasn’t even good sex, but more like a trial companionship.
As sun clears the slits in the blinds I get a call from Luscious.
“You got the money,” he asks.
Oh man, how can I break the news?
“Man, I got a car – a fucking white tractor with green upholstery dad bought with my money,” I respond.
“No, no, no – we need that cash man, this is a T Bird dude – girls don’t cruise on tractors or any other farm implement.”
“I know, I know, but its dad – what am I going to say to him – he was just thinking a deal is a deal and to him this is a great deal.”
“This is terrible, we are in a crisis here – we need your coin or the deal is going to die.”
I blow Luscious off and decide to drive back up to Goines and see if I can convince him to lower the price and possibly purchase as a committee.
It was late in the day and I’m growing accustomed to the stiff feel of the steering wheel and tank like size of the chasse.
About a mile from Shelbyville I see a fire truck and six or seven state police cars all crowded around a pond only a few feet off the interstate. I could see a tow truck pulling something remotely familiar from the swampy nesting grounds.
I decide to veer off the highway and park.
Hells bells – its Goine’s T Bird all covered in thick branches, vines, and decaying matter. Up the path a ways I see two ambulance guys loading a body bag in back of an emergency vehicle.
Next day, Hubert calls with the news – Goines was drunk and belligerent and in great pain and decided to make a hasty exit. One can speculate, but how does one read this stuff after face to face conversation.
“Looks like he left a note planning his escape,” says Hubert. “I’m thinking we’re in a better negotiation position.”
"What – I’m not driving a dead man’s car,” I respond – besides I’ve got a rolling tomb to consider.
“No, look here – I bet we could score it for three or four hundred dollars, says Hubert.
“You know my man, you will have to excuse me – I have a date...”
“A date in that tank – see it my way – that’s an ugly means of transportation and the only thing suitable would be a matching young woman, now the T Bird would bring you to the top where you could pick among only the rarest and most desirable.”
Dad came home from work just past six and first thing he did was ran two fingers along the skin of the hood of the Savoy and smiled – “Isn’t she lovely.”
“Oh, by the way son – heard about your pal changing lanes.”
“You know cashing out!. You know he left a note.”
“Seriously, what’d it say?”
“Jim Hardy the coroner told me he placed a curse on the car and anyone from that day on who sat in it.”
“I’m serious son, the man was into some voodoo shit, some kind of weird cult stuff, that’s why his skin was paining him; you lucked out. Besides, he’d a never sold it to you anyway – he’s been pulling this scam the past twenty years. If your pals continue to pursue someone’s going to pay a price, one that will make a dead man stand up and applaud.”
I open the Savoy’s driver’s side door – slide in and squeeze the wheel and drift into a fog when suddenly the passenger door springs open.
“She sure is pretty – why you sitting here wasting my time. I’m hungry!”
Jenny Mars! Yes…