This story was first published in serial form in the author’s newsletter, Unagented Trash.
All I wanted was to go fishing. I couldn’t take my truck because my wife had took it in the divorce and between rent and beer and alimony I could never save up enough to buy a new one. And there was a little issue with my license. I got around most places on foot, which had the pleasing effect of cutting twenty pounds around my waist, but my favorite spot was too far to walk and it was hot as sin already. I thought about calling my mom but I knew she’d give me hell for wasting the day at the strip pits instead of looking for a job and I didn’t have the energy to think up a convincing lie, not in that heat.
I had two neighbors, neither one of whom I wanted to spend the day fishing with. People called us The Three Yahoos. We were these sad bachelors living out in nowheresville, the edge of town where you can’t tell if it’s still town or the sticks. If you could call what we did living. I didn’t mind that people said that about us even if it wasn’t very clever.
Rick was my neighbor about half a mile to the north. He had this nice little Toyota pickup with four doors and good air conditioning, but you didn’t want to knock on his door unannounced. He was one of these anti-government people whose yard was littered with homemade landmines and if you managed to sneak your way through his front yard without getting blasted to smithereens he still might just pop out from behind a tree and shoot you. He didn’t have a cell phone, you just had to hail him on the CB radio and I didn’t see the point. It was just too hot for any type of nonsense.
I walked down to Dale’s house. All he had was this old truck from the eighties. A Chevy. It didn’t have AC but it did have those nifty truck windows that open from the side to give you a good cross breeze. And it had that little sliding window in the back that I always liked because you can set a cooler there in the truck bed and reach through the window when you want a beer. People talk about horsepower and torque, but what really makes a truck is a cooler full of cold beer. The problem with Dale was he was a vegetarian, and he would want to bring his dog along. Took that mutt almost everywhere he went. Dale loved that dog. Relative to getting shot in the face by a paranoid maniac with a trust fund, a little fishing trip with hippie Dale didn’t sound that bad.
I call him a hippie but he probably wasn’t one in the traditional sense. He was just kind of an odd duck. Not that I’m one to talk.
Dale smiled and waved when he saw me walking up his gravel drive and he said he wouldn’t mind at all giving me a lift out to the pits. It occurs to me that “strip pits” sounds a little unseemly but all it means is when they were mining coal around southeast Kansas back in the day they used these big machines to dig up the surface material and the holes that got left behind eventually filled up with water and now the Department of Wildlife keeps them stocked with rainbow trout and channel catfish.
“Let me grab my gear,” Dale said, “and holler for old Duke and we’ll head out.”
Dale had a real nice garden with big red juicy tomatoes and strawberries and sweet corn and all kinds of good stuff. It was a garden to be proud of and just looking at those tomatoes I was hoping he’d offer me just one, I’d sit there and eat that thing just like an apple, but he didn’t say anything and I was too polite to ask. He grabbed an old coffee can off his little potting bench and filled it with worms out of the compost heap.
“Nice garden,” I said.
“Yep. Been a good season. Lot a rain. Not too much rain.”
And that was that.
We walked back to the truck. He settled his rod and tackle box in the truck bed and went in the house while I piddled around outside. I wasn’t sure how long he’d be inside and I couldn’t decide if it would be worth it to let the tailgate down so as to have a place to sit, or if that would be presumptuous, but before long he come out of the house with a blue cooler, and that made me feel better about choosing Dale to ask to be my fishing buddy for the day.
“Grabbed us some ice cold beer,” he told me, “and a couple fresh tomatoes.”
He pronounced “tomatoes” the way God intended, “tomatuhs.” “You like tomatoes?”
“Do I like tomatoes? Shit I’d eat a homegrown tomato just like it was an apple.”
That made him smile. He liked that and I began to feel like this was going to be a real nice fishing trip.
He set the cooler in the back of the truck and told me to grab a beer if I wanted one. I got a cold beer out of the cooler and by the time I got the can open it was hot but it still tasted good. I said we’d need to run by my place and grab my rod and he just nodded and opened the passenger door and said “Go on, Duke. Up you go buddy.”
I said, “You let that dog ride up front with you?”
“Sure. Old Duke goes just about everywhere with me.”
“Most people make their dogs ride in the back.”
“Most people ain’t quite civilized,” he said, and it wasn’t like I could disagree with that statement.
I hesitated, and he said “He don’t bite,” and I climbed in and Dale shut the door for me, real ginger-like like we were on a date.
After we picked up my gear Dale insisted that we stop at the McDonald’s in town before we went on out to the pits.
“Duke loves McDonald’s,” he said.
I never saw nothing like it. Dale, a grown man, ordered a Coke, a Big Mac, and a vanilla cone. We sat in that truck, two yahoos and a mongrel, and I ate myself some French fries and a burger and watched in horror as he traded licks of that vanilla cone with his old dog. When they were done with the ice cream Dale unwrapped the Big Mac, slid the beef patty out and fed it to his dog, and then Dale ate the bun with ketchup, pickle, lettuce, and tomato. Some vegetarian, I thought, but I didn’t say anything.
You might be wondering, how in the world is it lunchtime already and they haven’t even got out to the fishing spot? Well, there are people who believe in timing their fishing trips just right. There are people who keep track of what time of day the fish bite best at all the different fishing spots in their locality. There are whole websites dedicated to catering to the fastidious whims of these people, snobs in my opinion. I am not one of these people. And in my defense it was only around eleven, still technically morning. Besides, one of the pleasures of fishing is sitting around complaining about not getting any bites, which you can do any time of day.
Well I was sitting there in the cab of Dale’s old Silverado, just minding my own business, munching away on my burger and trying to ignore the disturbing display of a fifty-year-old man devouring a pattiless burger, when I saw her. I flat couldn’t believe it. And to make matters worse, she saw me. You’ve heard the expression “The dog that bit the car.” I don’t mean to imply anything negative about my wife, it is after all just an expression, but there are some dogs that when they bite the car they know precisely what to do with it, and it is in that sense that I say my ex-wife Bev, whom I hadn’t laid eyes on in near two years, looked like the dog that bit the car.
“Quick,” I said with a mouthful of burger, “get this son of a bitch started,” but it was too late. The woman was quick on her feet and we were slow on ours.
Dale spilled his Coke and Duke sneaked the last bit of my burger in the shuffle to bug out but all our trouble was pointless, which I take now to be a metaphor. Bev sidled right up to the truck and inserted herself right inside through my open window. I didn’t know what to expect, aside from the worst, and my heart seized up and I thought I was going to die right there with my ex-wife’s head looming over me.
“Carl, you big dumbass,” she said, “I need your help!”
Well I knew better than to get involved, but I couldn’t help it either. It was fate. Or predestination. Something. Whatever your belief system there was no not doing it. Our souls were welded together, two rusted-out pieces of metal not even worth scrapping, joined up for eternity. Me and Bev had already been married and divorced three times and I was afraid what would happen. I might could survive a tornado or a shootout with the police but I couldn’t survive another heartbreak. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me four times, shit, I don’t even know. Skeptics will say it’s cliché to attribute my multiple DWIs to my woman troubles, but it is objective, scientific fact that the reason I was in Dale’s truck instead of already out on the pits with a line in the water and a cold beer in my hand was because that woman had broke my heart, then put it back together, then broke it again and repaired it again only to break it again even worse than the first two times. The last time we got together the way it happened was she knocked on my door one night and she said “My septic’s backed up on me and I don’t have the money to get it pumped and I really gotta poop” and there was just something in the way she said she had to poop, I can’t describe it, but the next thing you know she was practically moved in. This time it’s bound to work, we said. Third time’s a charm, we said. Let me tell you, the third time is a whamdoozie. The third time breaks your spirit, like a wild horse that’s just been so abused it dies on the inside and lives the rest of its life as an in-the-flesh ghost. The third time’s a curse. The fourth time, I couldn’t even imagine what hell lay in store for me. I was both the character in a horror movie, too stupid and clueless to turn around and walk away, get free of danger, and the audience screaming “TURN AROUND YOU BIG DUMBASS, DON’T GO THROUGH THAT DOOR.” Naturally I went through the door, as if I was an actor just following a really bad script. I might have had my doubts but it was right there in the script.
She laid it all out. She’d fell behind on some bills and decided the only way to make it up was to try her luck at the casino, and when that didn’t work she borrowed money from some dudes, the type of dudes you definitely don’t want to owe money to, and now she was late paying them back and the only way she could see to get the money was to rob a bank.
“I wasn’t feeling optimistic, let me tell you, but then you boys come along at just this moment. That can only be a sign from God.”
“More out of curiosity than anything,” said Dale, “but what bank are you trying to rob?”
“Arvest Bank down on Third.”
“All that alimony,” I said, “and it still ain’t enough to cover your gambling debts.”
“You hush, old man. You don’t know my affairs. If you gotta know I was laid up in the hospital with appendicitis and that shit’s expensive. I swear to God, you save your money and don’t buy them new shoes you want even though they’re on sale just so you can stay on top of everything and all of a sudden a completely useless part of your body breaks down and you’re gonna die if you don’t have an expensive surgery and the next thing you know you’re in debt up past your tits to the Irish mafia. But I believe this’ll work. I swear my big problem was I had concocted the perfect three-man plan and all I been needing was the other two men and here you are.”
“Yep,” I said. “Here we are.”
“Well. Are you in or what?”
She wasn’t asking Dale. He didn’t even factor. It was just natural that he’d be in. If there was one thing Dale hated more than hamburgers it was Arvest Bank. This man had once spent a week standing outside of an Arvest Bank, holding a sign that said “Arvest Bank Stole My Money.” Until the dang cops hauled him away. It’d been something about overdrafts.
There was no fighting fortune. I may be a dumbass but I ain’t a fool.
I’m in,” I said. “I’m in, I’m in.”
“Good. Scoot over.”
So we headed for the bank.
“Well, said Bev, “we really are packed in here.”
I was in the middle with the dog on my lap, his hot breath in my face, the warmth of Bev’s leg against mine.
“Here’s the plan,” she said. “Dale I guess you’re the getaway driver seeing how this is your truck and Mr. DWI over here no longer has a license.”
“I don’t see how that’s pertinent,” I said, but she was off on her plan and she didn’t hear me.
Bev would go in first, posing as a customer. Exactly five minutes later I was supposed to go in with a ski mask she handed me over my face. She gave me a handgun to wave around, as well, but it wasn’t real.
“Now what in hell am I supposed to do with this?”
“It’s just theater, Carl. No one’s going to inspect it, we just need it to put the fear of God in people.”
“Well what if there’s some hotshot in there with a real gun who decides he wants to be a hero? I ain’t getting shot today, Bev. Not today.”
“Well that’s why you’ll have me as your hostage. You run straight to me and grab me from behind and point that gun at my head and scream ‘EVERYONE ON THE FLOOR’ and then you’re gonna look at the Brinks man and say ‘Not you.’ Got it? We’re not even gonna mess with the tellers or the vault, all we want is that Brinks man. This bank is real sloppy, they just take it in right through the front door and I’ve got their schedule worked out.”
Dale piped in then. He said, “Question. Won’t this aforesaid Brinks man be armed?”
“He will be armed,” said Bev, “but here’s the thing: he happens to be in love with me and he won’t let this dumbass,” meaning me, which I’m sure was clear anyway, “shoot me. He’ll probably be slow on his feet anyway because I put a little Benadryl and laxative in his coffee this morning.”
“Now Bev . . .”
I hated that Brinks man as a rival, but I also felt a sense of solidarity with him. We were rivals, but we were brothers. Of course I would have put the laxative in his coffee myself if she’d asked me to.
“Don’t you Now Bev me you son of a bitch.”
The truck jerked to a stop and old Duke flung back against the stereo and I was flat stunned to see we were at the bank. Up until now it had all been theoretical, but here we were at the scene of the crime, preparatory to the crime.
Bev got out and shut the door and leaned back in through the window and said “Five minutes. Not four. Five. Synchronize your watch.”
“That ain’t how that works,” I said, but she was gone. God, that woman. I watched her walk and I could feel those feelings.
“This is a bad idea,” I said, and Dale said “I don’t know, seems like she’s got it all worked out” and I didn’t say nothing.
The robbery went okay. It was almost unremarkable, kind of anticlimactic for the most part. Pretty good for our first robbery, I’d say. All according to plan.
The only hiccup was as we were heading out the door this woman was coming in and she looked at us but apparently didn’t see my fake gun or the heavy-duty briefcases we were holding. She goes “Well hey girl” and Bev just snapped at her, she said “SHUT UP, CAROL!”
Dale pulled up and we threw the money in the back of his truck and split. Somehow I got stuck in the middle seat again with the dog on me.
“You know,” said Dale after a few minutes of no one saying anything, “it does occur to me that I shouldn’t have used my truck for the getaway vehicle. And that I should have also been wearing a mask.”
“Well I only had the one mask,” said Bev.
“Nevertheless,” said Dale.
“Let’s just get to the spot. I’m not worried about it,” said Bev, but you could tell she was worried about it, that she’d realized there was a small little hole in her plan. It was like the time during our second marriage when we lived there on Twentieth and I rented a little excavator this one time because Bev got it in her head that we needed a koi pond. “It’ll be peaceful,” she told me. “We’ll set out by the koi pond and meditate. You’re gonna love it babe.” It was a nice idea but the problem was I accidentally hit the water line. It wasn’t that hard to fix, I just went to the hardware store and got some one-inch PVC and a couple of couplers and some pipe cleaner and cement glue. I had a lot of trouble cutting my pipe to the right length and getting it to line up right with this tee in the line, so I dry fit everything to make sure I knew the exact size to cut my pipe. Well that worked but I noticed once I turned the water back on there was a little leak where I had forgot to glue the end of the pipe where it goes in to the coupler.
I tried to help by saying “Maybe your friends can get us a car. Maybe they can get rid of this one.”
“Yeah but that shit costs money,” she said. “Everything costs money, Carl.”
It didn’t take long to get to the drop point, which was a gravel yard south of town. I had to chuckle as we pulled in and I saw one of them thin blue line flags flying on the gate. That was pretty smart. That was pretty funny.
“Hey Bev,” I called after her.
“Something I’ve always wondered.”
“Well,” I don’t know why I thought this was going to be funny. “Ask your friends if they know where old Jimmy Hoffa’s buried.”
“You always were a character.”
I liked it when she said that. There’s not anything else remarkable about me. It made me feel good and I should’ve known better.
“Some people get so caught up being a character they forget how to just be a person.”
“Now I don’t know what that means, Bev.”
“Think on that,” she said. “You think on that.”
Bev went up to this guy and I heard him say “Five minutes.” Everything was five minutes. I can’t speak for the others but I was getting antsy. I filled the time by making chitchat.
“I got a question, for you Dale.”
“Well I thought you was a vegetarian but here you are heading out to go fishing with me.”
“Well I don’t eat meat but I’ll eat me some fish now and then.”
Old Duke, who had slid over into Bev’s seat like water finding level, well he sighed and laid his head on my leg.
A couple minutes went by and the guy who’d told Bev five minutes got a phone call and when got off he said “He says he’s held up and to just give me the money.”
He was a jacked-up white guy with a goatee and wraparounds. He was counting a fat wad of cash just as nonchalant as nonchalant could be. I could scrap in my day but he would have kicked my ass, I ain’t too proud to admit it.
Bev made to hand over the briefcases but then she stopped and I heard her say “This ain’t right” and my throat closed up tight.
“What’s not right, lady?”
“This is mine,” she said. “I worked for this. I risked my dang life for this money. I devised the perfect plan for this money. Them boys in that truck risked their lives for this money. They deserve their share.”
He sort of perked up and Bev said “Nope. Uh-uh. No deal.”
The dude’s eyes went wide and he goes “Just give me the money, bitch” and I said “Dale, run this son of a bitch over.” You could tell the dude heard Dale put the truck in gear but it didn’t quite register and by the time he thought to run he was already flying forward. He landed in a tangle and Bev run up to the truck and tossed the money back in the bed. Then she stopped.
“Bev, what’re you doing? What are you doing Bev?”
She ran over and picked up that fat wad of cash he’d been holding. She run back to the truck and opened the door but Dale started driving before she was in, and I reached over the dog and grabbed her arm and she rode on the running board.
“Dale what the—” Well I saw what the, it was a gun. The dude was pointing a gun at us. Not for long though because Dale drove right over his leg. It sounds awful when I say it like that, but shit you should have heard the sound of this dude’s leg getting run over by a truck, if you want to talk about awful. You might not sleep for a while. He hit the dude’s leg twice, once with the front passenger tire and once with the rear. We were all quiet. Bev scooted the dog over and got herself settled and Dale made our second big getaway of the day.
Duke was sitting squeezed in between me and Bev and he had his sad old bird dog head resting on top of the truck seat, just staring out the back window.
We all stayed pretty cool. For three people who were wanted by the fuzz and whatever kind of hooligans Bev had got mixed up with we were pretty damn sanguine. Or we seemed that way. You never know what’s going on inside someone’s head, or at least I don’t.
Dale said, “Where to?” and Bev said “Mexico. Let’s go to Mexico. We’ll go to Mexico. We’ll drink margaritas.”
Mexico, I thought. Shit, I thought. I remember thinking I could go for one of them fish tacos, but I don’t think I said anything about it. I was processing the day’s events. I didn’t have anything useful to say at that juncture so I just kept quiet for a while. I had things to ponder and I could feel them closing in on us, the way a dog that’s scared of storms will start to shaking long before you hear the thunder.
It was kind of a bummer not having a driver’s license or a car but the way I got to looking at it was my old Husqvarna got me where I needed to go and there wasn’t any law, as far as I could tell, about drinking and driving on a riding mower. Plus I didn’t have to pay car insurance. Once it became a lifestyle choice instead of a punishment I couldn’t see myself ever going back to the old way of being tied down to an automobile. Other than that it was a pain in the rear to get out to the strip pits. I was starting to freak out a little bit, just sitting there thinking about our situation, all the things that could go wrong. I was thinking how funny a thing life is, I had gone to Dale’s looking for a ride because I didn’t want to get shot knocking on Rick’s door, and now I couldn’t picture any scenario that didn’t end with my body filled with bullet holes.
It didn’t take long before we noticed someone on our tail. Dale thought maybe it was just an asshole driver but Bev looked in the rearview and said it was them. Then she went back to fiddling with her phone. She had downloaded an app that lets you listen to the police scanner, which was handy but also nerve-wracking.
The car behind us veered left and sped up to overtake us and Dale said “Are you sure?” and Bev said “Uh huh” and Dale swerved and caught their front end with his tail and ran their asses right off the road.
“No backseat driving,” he said.
I will say that son of a bitch was the epitome of grace under pressure. Just as cool as could be.
Bev shut off her cell phone and tossed it out the window.
“Boys,” she said. “I got bad news. It seems likely that we’re all gonna die. The pigs is on our trail and it’s just a matter of time till they catch up to us.”
We were approaching the Neosho River. I wished we could just pull off and go fishing.
“I’m sorry, boys. I really thought we could pull this off.”
We passed a truck broke down on the side of the road. It was not the sort of truck you would expect to see broke down on the side of the road. It wasn’t brand new but you could tell it was well cared for. It was a green Ford F-150 with a long bed and a green topper. I took it as a sign from the heavens and I said “Stop the truck, Dale.” He slowed but didn’t stop and I said “Damn it, Dale, you stop this damn truck this damn instant. Back up, back up to that truck.”
“What the hell,” said Bev. “Even if you knew how to hotwire a car there ain’t no use hot-wiring a car that’s busted down on the side of the road.”
She’s right about me being a big dumbass. You and I may achieve the same results, but I will have done so by the most convoluted means possible, and that’s what makes me a surpassing dumbass. Sometimes that’s just what you need.
“Y’all won’t believe this but I got an idea.”
Dale had pulled back so he was right in front of the green Ford, and I told him to get out and help me, and I crawled out his side behind him.
I don’t know if my guardian angel worked out a deal with the guardian angel of whoever owned that truck or what, but it was lucky that topper wasn’t locked. Otherwise my plan wouldn’t have worked. But I popped that window open and put down the tailgate and me and Dale went to work detaching the topper. Bev was yelling at me but she didn’t get out of the truck. We didn’t have time to argue, we just had to act. I was sorry to steal someone’s topper like that but it had to be done.
Soon enough Bev did get out though and she come over and said “With all the money you got now you could just buy you a truck topper, instead of stealing one. We gotta get outta here first though.”
“This ain’t a truck topper, Bev. It’s a boat.”
“Like hell,” said Dale, but he still helped me load it in his truck because I had seized the moment. We were married to the plan now.
“Let me drive,” I said.
“But you don’t got a license,” said Bev, and then she laughed.
Half a mile down the road there was a pulloff that went down to the river. It was back in the woods on someone’s property. I drove the trail back into the woods until there was no trail. I saw a huge muddy spot and purposefully got the truck stuck there.
I killed the engine and looked at my co-conspirators and said “Let’s haul ass.” It was the coolest thing I ever said.
The first thing was we had to convert that topper into a boat. Dale had a thing of FlexSeal behind the seat, I’d started digging around back there looking for duct tape and saw that FlexSeal and I said “Hot damn!” and we went around all the joints on the topper where the fiberglass meets the windows while I laid out my plan.
“I know a doctor that’s got a farm not three miles south of here. This river goes right through his place. I cut hay for him sometimes. He’s never there except on weekends and I figure if we can get to his place before the cops track us down we can all climb into this big RV he’s got and head for Mexico and won’t no one know it’s missing till we’re already across the border.”
“This is a hare-brained scheme,” said Bev.
Dale and I had the topper sealed up as good as she was gonna get. We tossed the briefcases into the upside-down topper and started carrying it to the river by an intentionally convoluted route.
“Take big squishy steps,” I said. “We’ll walk north a bit just to throw them off our track. Grab them rods, Bev. Grab them rods.”
Dale said goodbye to his old truck. That was a sad moment.
“This is real crackpot stuff. I love you,” said Bev, “but we both know you’re a big dumbass and this dumbass idea is gonna land us in prison. Oh Jesus how’d I get mixed up in this?”
I didn’t bother reminding her that I was the one mixed in, me and Dale, and she was the mixer. I just said “Trust me, no one floats this part of the river. You need permission from the landowners and they’re all too damn stingy and hypocritical to share the river with the rest of us common folk.” I shook my head. “There ain’t nothing freer than a river, and these sons of bitches—“
“Stop yapping,” said Dale. “Where the hell does this river even go?”
“Grand Lake, eventually. She enters there at Twin Bridges right along with the Spring River. It’s a beautiful sight but we won’t get to see it. We’ll be cruising the open road in that doctor’s RV. That should be enough footprints now, y’all get out in the water and let’s head the other way.”
The front end of the topper, front when it’s right side up I mean, was almost square. There was a bit of an angle but you’d still call it the square end or the flat end. The back sloped out at I’d say a twenty degree angle or so. We flipped it over and made that end the bow and we had ourselves a jonboat.
“They’re not gonna fall for it,” said Bev. She needed a hand loading into the makeshift boat and when our hands touched there was an electric shock. We both jumped. I realized I’d leaned against some damn farmer’s electric fence that had been strung real low across the river for no useful reason other than to be a dickhead.
“Not a good omen, Carl. That was not a good omen,” she said.
She was fine. I climbed in and we shoved off out of the little eddy we loaded up in, out into the big beautiful muddy river. I almost had a good feeling about the whole situation.
Bev was still offering constructive criticism: “You’d have to be plumb stupid to fall for a crack-brained gambit like this.”
“Have you ever met a cop, Bev?”
You could see the illumination in her eyes and in her mouth, the way it went from a scowl to a prelude to a smile.
“You know I might eat my words later, baby, but you could almost be onto something.”
Just the fact of us being out on the river now, not sinking, was the most persuasive part of my argument. I think we were all a little bit skeptical but the damn thing floated. It was cozy, there was just enough room for three bank robbers, our loot, and a bird dog.
“Okay,” said Bev, “now we’re really squeezed in here.”
“You know,” said Dale, “fix this up with a trawling motor and rig some seats and she wouldn’t be a bad little boat.”
Dale always knew the right thing to say.
“Floating is nice,” I said, “but I’d rather be fishing. Bev where’s them rods?”
She hadn’t grabbed them. And we forgot the cooler. Of course there wasn’t room for it anyway but I couldn’t help imagining we could have somehow towed it behind us.
“A rod, a rod, my kingdom for a rod!”
I like a river that’s as lazy as I am and in that particular part of southeast Kansas the Neosho River is as lazy as I am. Normally that would be great but it meant I had to paddle and all I had for a paddle was either a big stick or a small log, depending on your outlook. It was mainly only good for pushing off, I’d sink the end in the muddy bottom of the river and lever us forward and haul the stick/log/paddle in and jam it back against the river bottom and push off. It was the most convoluted method of paddling ever invented, not particularly useful in the deeper spots but still a perfect accouterment for a man who does everything in the most convoluted way possible. As sure as fish swim or nineties Chevies rust.
A fish jumped. I was sorely missing my old fishing rod. I would’ve done near anything for a cold beer.
“I pulled in a monster of a catfish right around this bend here,” I said to no one.
“You been through here before? Why didn’t you bring me?”
“You know how it is, Dale. When you ask permission to fish on someone’s land you don’t necessarily want to push your luck by bringing your buddy. Especially when you didn’t exactly ask permission. The good news is I know this river up and down. I could float this river in the dark. I have before.”
“I’m inspired with confidence, Carl.”
The thing is, she sounded sarcastic but I think she also meant it.
I am a lot of things but one thing I’m not is a liar. All the things people have said about me, that I’m a liar never has been one of them. I will tell what happened with that cop and you can believe it. I don’t really feel any compunction about what happened to that policeman. In the grand scheme of existence there’s no way to deny he had it coming. I have to admit I’ve always been somewhat prejudiced against your everyday law enforcement officer. If you ask me, a police officer is an amalgam of the two worst types of school days characters, the hall monitor and the bully. If you ask me the police in this country have too much power, they think they can get away with anything, and too many people are willing to let them. They need to be taken down a peg. Damn cops. There’s two things every red-blooded American should hate: cops and bankers. A lot of people would disagree with me. You can’t talk sense to people. But here it is, the Carl’s honest truth: that cop had us cornered. If you listen to him tell it he claims he was going off a hunch, but the truth is he just needed a whiz at just the right moment.
We came under a bridge and there he was. He looked me straight in the eyes and all I thought was well hell. Our guns were fake and my arms were tired from paddling and we were floating on an upside down truck topper carrying too much weight in human and cash cargo. We were done for and I knew it.
I was about to tell Bev she didn’t even have to say it, she was right, it was a dumbass plan and I was sorry, when that policeman’s expression suddenly changed. He took to hopping around going “Oh shit shit shit” and then I saw a big ugly water moccasin on the ground in front of him. He pulled out his gun and unloaded it on the poor snake but he didn’t aim real careful and he shot himself in the foot, the big dumbass. That snake was shot all into bits but unfortunately for that cop one of those bits still had two fangs and a dose of venom and when he reached down to grab his wounded foot he lost his balance and fell and landed with his face next to the flopping snake head and damn if that snake didn’t get its revenge. The sucker bit him right in the face. Don’t tread on me and all that.
We hauled ass out of there, I mean to the extent hauling ass was possible. I shove-paddled until my fingers bled and then I just kept shove-paddling. I don’t have any soft feelings for cops and especially not for that one, but I was glad to hear he didn’t die and highly irritated to hear that he was claiming we had shot him, that we had initiated a shootout. No, he as good as had us but unlike Dale he had no grace under pressure. He lost his nerve because he was too much a cop.
Nothing real eventful happened after that, other than we spooked a couple herons that weren’t used to humans floating through their hunting grounds. Mainly we just shot the shit while we calculated the odds on whether we could get to the doc’s place before the cops could get a boat in the water.
“I didn’t know it at the time but when I lived down in Joplin I lived right up the street from the Bonnie and Clyde house. There’s a historical marker sign there now that wasn’t there before. Bonnie and Clyde holed up in this garage apartment for twelve days. Cool little garage. Eventually someone called the cops on them and there was a shootout where they killed two cops and got away. It’s a shame they don’t teach you this kind of history in school, you just have to find out about it when you get out of school, and a lot of folks just don’t. Shame.”
“Really?” said Bev. “Someone called the cops on old Bonnie and Clyde? Really?”
“Yup. Interesting fact. I swear I learned more history within a month after I graduated high school than I ever did in all my years of school. Another interesting fact—”
“I just can’t get over it,” she said. “Imagine being the stuckup teacher’s pet who called the cops on Bonnie and Clyde.”
“You know, that’s us,” said Dale. “Bonnie and Clyde and their third wheel.”
It had probably been an hour since we saw that cop and so far there was no sign of any more, but we were on alert. I think we probably went twenty full minutes without saying anything right before I brought up Bonnie and Clyde, and for this bunch that’s got to be a record. We were all feeling nervous I think but also allowing a little bit of hope to creep back into our souls. Or at least I was.
“I got a question, Carl. How we even gonna know when we get to the doc’s place?”
“It’s easy,” I said. “You can see his house from the river. No way you could miss it.”
This will seem like a narrative device but I shit you not it’s true: just at that moment we slid around a little bend and the doctor’s house came into view. His stately manor is what he liked to call it but it was nothing more than a monstrosity. Too big. Too showy. But whatever, the doc was nice enough. Treated me good and threw me a lot of farm work and he paid okay.
I steered us toward the bank, took longer than normal but we made it. I stayed in the river after everyone was on shore with the loot. I pushed the boat out toward the middle and we watched it sail away.
“I’m almost gonna miss that boat,” said Dale.
“I ain’t,” said Bev. “Where’s that damn RV? Let’s go y’all, let’s go!”
We hustled up to the metal barn the doc had built to store the RV. If we’d been thinking better we would have left the loot down by the river and just driven the RV over, but we were pretty frantic at that point. We lugged them heavy briefcases and the cash we’d stole from the Irish, which was about $10,000, all the way up the hill.
We were really lucky in that the doctor had left the keys just sitting in a cup holder. I mean, I had a key to his house anyway and I could’ve just walked up to the house and got the RV keys off the pegboard where he stored all his many keys, but I was dog-tired and I didn’t want to walk that far.
They were all watching me, Bev and Dale and even Duke, as I warmed up to start that engine. The problem, once I turned the key, was it didn’t want to start. I tried it three or four times and then I lifted the tip of my old Bass Pro hat and scratched my head for a second. There was a process to get her started, but I was following it and I couldn’t think of anything I was forgetting.
“What’s the hold-up, sweet cheeks? We should be moving. Let’s get moving.”
“I don’t know, this usually works.”
I tried her again. It was like that RV was an old dog that you nudge to wake up and it lifts its head up ever so slightly and looks at you for one second and lays its head down and goes back to sleep.
“Oh this ain’t good,” said Bev. “No sir.”
My daddy used to say about me “That boy could break an anvil.” Bev knew how to get to me but there was nothing she ever said that cut me like that. That man could fix anything, all I ever wanted was for him to be proud of me, and all these years later if I let myself dwell on that expression of his I could just break down, that’s the power he has over me still. I could hear him in that RV, whispering from the grave in a ghostly voice, “That boooooooooy could breaaaaaaak an aaaaaaannnviiiiillllllll.” I almost lost it. That old engine just about beat me, until Dale said “Whack it good. Give it a good whack.” So I did. Right on the console, one good resounding whack. I looked at them and said “I don’t care what you believe, we’re gonna close our eyes and all hold hands and pray to whoever that she starts. On the count of three you say ‘Amen.’ One. Two.” On three we said “Amen” and nothing happened. Damn them two robbers looked defeated.
“Hang on,” I said, and I popped the hood. “I know one more little trick.”
“What is it?”
“It’d take longer to explain than to just go do it. Just trust me. You just watch and you’ll see.”
I’m always happy to lay out a plan when I got one but my plan was to just act like I had a plan and hope for a miracle. What some people might cynically call a fool’s luck, others might refer to as providence, or serendipity, one of them types of words. It all depends on your outlook. It always depends on your outlook.
I knocked around in that engine for a minute or two, twisting this, banging on that, and it was good they couldn’t see me over the hood because I had no idea what I was meant to be doing, and then I saw it. I don’t know squat about engines but there was a bigass mud dauber nest in some sort of tube. I generally try not to bother mud daubers since they’re the only known predator of the black widow, but I made an exception. I dug at it and knocked it with a stick until it come loose. Those mud daubers, they’re not aggressive, and they have some real benefits, but they can be a nuisance. They’ll make a nest in anything. A gutter. Your nice pretty new wind chimes. The seat of your kayak if you don’t take it out in the water enough. Speaking of seats you might have heard about this technique called perineum sunning, it sure don’t have a catchy name, where you take off all your clothes and point your butthole straight at the sun, I don’t know if it’s a natural Vitamin D suppository or what. I am not here to judge or offer my opinion, although I bet it feels pretty good every once in a while, but just don’t do it in mud dauber country. People talk about cockroaches outlasting us but I promise you when the humans are gone the earth will turn into one gigantic mud dauber nest.
I hollered “Hey Bev, try her now, hon” just as confident-sounding as could be. Bev slid over in the driver’s seat and turned the key and for one split-second, a split-second that was also an eternity, I lost all hope and believed in nothing because nothing I did ever worked out right and it was clear that infernal engine was not going to turn over—but then it did. That old RV grumbled to life. Dale took the honor of driving us out of there. He’d signed up as the getaway driver, after all. Bev was like to strangle me she was so ecstatic. To be honest, if she strangled me I wouldn’t mind, if the last feeling I ever feel is her arms around my neck and her face against my head and her boobies smushing up against me I don’t think I’d see anything to complain about.
“I hate to leave that truck,” said Dale.
“You can buy a new one,” said Bev. “A nicer one. No offense.”
“It was a good truck, Dale,” I said.
Dale pulled out onto the empty highway. We had a lot of miles ahead of us and no one on our trail.
There wasn’t nothing to do so I thought I’d prod Dale some more on his ethics around meat consumption since all I got was a shifty answer before.
“So what’s the story, Dale?” I said. “How is it a good old boy like you turned out to be a vegetarian who buys hamburgers for his dog?”
“Well,” he said, and he looked at me a beat. He instinctively petted the dog on its head. What he really needed was to take a drag on a cigarette at that moment, to make it more cinematic, but of course he didn’t smoke. None of us smoked. I sort of pictured him doing that though, and he took long enough to pick up his sentence that he definitely could have taken a drag off a smoke, a pretty long one. “My philosophy is if I ain’t hungry enough to kill an animal, I don’t deserve to eat it. I’ve tried but I can’t kill a deer, and I don’t think I could kill a cow, or even a chicken really. Old Duke, on the other hand, I’m sure would be happy to, so he deserves to eat it.”
“Damn it, Dale,” I said. “Damn it if that don’t make more sense than I expected. Damn it.”
Bev asked if I was about to go vegetarian and I said no, but I didn’t have a lot of faith in my answer until Dale said, “I don’t mind killing a fish, though. Go figure.” And then I thought that nothing really matters. Of course it probably matters to a cow. Damn it. Damn it. Damn it, Dale.
“Pescatarian,” he said. “If you want to be precise pescatarian is the word for it.”
“That sounds like a religion,” I said. “Actually it sounds like a dirty word.”
“Well it’s not.”
We drove. On and on. Only stopped for gas. I put it all on my credit card since I was never going to make another payment on it. We figured Dale was the least likely of us to be recognized if we’d made the news, so we sent him in to a truckstop with the Irish cash to get food and pop and an atlas but aside from that we only stopped for gas. I guess there were a couple truck stops that had little dog runs and Dale would let Duke out real quick to do his business.
I took the second shift. The road just went on and on. My co-conspirators were all asleep. Even the dog was asleep. I got to thinking about my dad. I wasn’t much of a ballplayer. I was always off-kilter, swinging off my back foot, a strikeout king, forever batting ninth. I found myself, in a little league game, up in the count three and oh with bases loaded, bottom of the ninth, two outs, tie game. The type of high-pressure, high-glory situation you fantasize about when you’re kicking around the yard tossing up rocks and swinging at them with sticks. The type of situation that marks you as a hero or a loser. I swung away. Come to find out this was against the coach’s signal to take, but I didn’t understand his crazy signaling system so I just stood there looking goofy and nodded my head like I knew what the hell he meant by tugging on his ear three times instead of scratching his butt like normal. And when that big meatball come across the middle of the plate I swung for the fences and that was enough to knock the ball on a soft line drive barely over the short stop’s glove. For once, I was a hero. After the excitement, the high fives, the shaking hands with our opponents, I found my dad in the crowd and he put a hand on my head. Some farmer come up to him, didn’t say a word to me, and said “Hey Mick was that your boy knocked in the winning run?” And Daddy said “Uh-huh. It’s like they say, the sun still shines on a dog’s ass.”
All I could think was there was still time for something to go wrong. Except it didn’t. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
The border just sort of snuck up on us and blew right past us. We had pictured something more dramatic. Leading questions, a search of the RV, a suspicious border cop. Come to find out that mainly happens on your way out of Mexico, and on your way in it’s all pretty laissez-faire. It was almost a letdown, but a letdown of the good kind, and it didn’t take long for it to just turn into straight-up relief. I pulled the RV over in a parking lot. We didn’t know where we were going but we were free and we were loaded.
Bev grabbed my face and said “Kiss me you galoot” and I did. And I did it again. And again. God that woman. I was reeled in, ready to be gutted, breaded, and fried up. I almost asked her to marry me right there but I decided that’s what that cop would do. I kept my composure. I stayed cool even though I wasn’t.
Dale goes, “Now that was a midlife crisis for the books. Always knowed mine would be a doozy.”
Bev laughed and she leaned over and gave Dale a kiss on the cheek, then she pulled me out of the driver’s chair and said “Cabo, Dale. Take us to Cabo.” Dale goes “Do you have any idea—” but she didn’t hear him. She took me to the bed in the back of the RV and screwed my brains out as we rolled on through Mexico. That’s what I told her, I said “I don’t got no brains left. You screwed em all out.”
She laughed. She liked that. She nestled up against me. We were still naked, sweating under the sheets.
“We did it. I almost didn’t think it would work but we did it,” she said. “You did it.”
“Well you know what they say,” I said.
“What do they say baby?”
“It don’t matter,” I said.
“Now what kind of a thing is that to say?”