We spent the night in Salinas, and Ivanka was off by a day. She joined us in our bed that night. I had no worries of being haunted by Tom Wellow, at least not that night. The presence of two beautiful nude women erased his images.
I was initially afraid to touch Ivanka, due to the abuse she had suffered. She finally explained that it was obvious I was gentle, I would not hurt her, and she wanted both Bekka and me. She had never taken Ecstasy before, and was interested in trying it.... At least with us, as she extended trust to us, and not the Romanian guys who wanted to get her high. I figured they had a lot of bad speed mixed with god-knows-what, or GHB, or Rohypnol. Date rape shit. The oddity was the number of clients that wanted to feed her date-rape drugs: dude, you've already paid for the sex, you don't need to turn the girl into a mannequin first.
I made it explicitly clear that MDMA is a vacation: not the sort of thing you do every day, or every week She did enjoy it (and how) and hoped she'd be able to find it in San Francisco. I assured her that yes, MDMA would be available, only marginally more difficult to get your hands on than marijuana.
Ivanka was a bit confused that it would be Bekka giving her instructions on how to drive the Falcon: After all, I was the only person she'd ever seen driving it. We had to remind her that it wasn't my car, it was Bekka's. As much as Bekka enjoyed the Falcon, she still considered driving a bit of a chore, something to be accomplished and not really something to take pleasure in. It was an activity which accomplished a goal, and that was it.
In a way her not driving was what aided the battle with Tom Wellow. The style of driving needed to dispatch of him was something I understood, whereas Wellow would have ground us to a halt against the guard rail, then shot us all to death with the gun I'd planted in his car. Knowing how to strategize, how to use the other vehicle's weaknesses against it --- the Lincoln had a decent top speed but took a while to get there, not to mention the gooey handling --- were a couple of many things in my mind
That and the ability to dehumanize myself, that helped.
In San Francisco, Bekka asked me about that: I had a look of complete passivity on my face when Tom came after us. I explained it as concentration.... But it was more than that. I had sacrificed my own humanity, just for a little while, because either Tom Wellow or us were going to die, and I'll have been damned if it was gonna be us. I was both concentrating on keeping us alive and unscathed, and deciding how to kill Tom Wellow, using the road and his own car. I explained maybe a quarter of this to Bekka and Ivanka : how do you tell someone, "I'm perfectly capable of committing murder, and using a car (the right one) as the weapon. I've sacrificed that bit of my humanity, and I mourn it, but there's nothing to be done. It went away on a stretch of 101 north of Santa Barbara when I purposely forced another person to wreck his car into a telephone pole, killing him.... And I carried that bat in case he wasn't dead yet. To save one person I care about dearly and another I barely knew, I gave away a little tiny bit of my soul."
I never told them that. I never told them that's why Bekka taught Ivanka how to drive the Falcon. I didn't want that piece of me to wear off on her. Call it superstition, but I wanted Ivanka to stay pure,and I was afraid she would pick up that chunk of evil I gained that day. I don't wish it on anyone.
I sat on a bench in front of the just-opening Wal-Mart, sucking down Marlboros and Mountain Dew watching the Falcon zip back and forth at speeds between five and forty miles per hour. Ivanka was getting used to the feeling of the pedals, adjusting to the use of the clutch, brake, and throttle
There was a corner of the lot they seemed to be avoiding: it was populated by fairly high-end motor homes. Several had TV satellite dishes mounted to the roofs.
The Falcon dawdled up the that area of the lot, creeping along at just above walking speed.... Then Ivanka laid into the gas, twisting the wheel over and spinning a couple doughnuts. A bit sloppy, but not bad for a first attempt, not bad at all. I could hear the girls laughing all the way across the lot. They rolled away for some more practice.
What confused me was the sudden dispersal of retiree-aged folks in bathrobes, many clutching coffee cups. Some were irritated, others amused. I had the feeling that if informed the doughnut had been performed not only by a novice, but by a 22-year-old girl, the level of appreciation would increase (especially if our Eastern European blonde bombshell was sticking by her preferred dress code of "tight and revealing."
The correct term for these urban campers finally floated into my brain: Snow-Birds. These were retired couples who had dropped a good $350,000 into the Okie condos currently on display, either sold or rented out their houses, and followed the seasons, anchoring in their childrens' driveways: their kids' in Oregon during the summer, the ones in Arizona during the winter. Those with no driveways simply caravaned to random Wal-Mart, bouncing all over the country. Wal-Mart enjoyed their presence, as they acted like de facto security guards, helping fight off the horrible plague of teenage kids getting stoned in their cars, or (worse yet) lightweight sexual activity by the same.
(Strangely enough, the welcome mat was not thrown out for many others, such as those so poor as to be living in their cars, or in shell-style campers on the back of pick-up trucks. They would have the police called on them for, um.... They'll be sure to think of something. Meanwhile the cars and campers would be impounded for the same reasons --- being poor in a public area --- yet the owners of the land-yachts are greeted with a smile and a wave. A pig is a pig, and double-fuck Wal-Mart.)
The Falcon sat immobile thirty feet from the cluster of land-yachts. The yacht inhabitants stood uneasily, not sure what to expect. Suddenly techno-style dance music erupted from the interior, and two barefoot girls burst from the car, jumped on the roof and hood, and began swaying, shaking, and grooving to the music --- some serious dirty dancing, with blouses being removed one slow button at a time. Nudity was hinted at, but never quite reached. If this was a demo of Ivanka's abilities, she wouldn't be at one of the cheap clubs long, she'd be at the Century or O'Farrell within weeks: the girl could move it, well and with style.
The women rolled their eyes and flounced back into their motor homes; the men watched, first in silence, then with clapping, then whistles, then cheers. Their wives came back out to retrieve them, literally yanking them inside by the arm. I got behind the wheel and faded down the volume. Then I helped the girls off the roof. There was enthusiastic cheering from the men still watching. One Herbert said, "I tell ya, you girls sure kin dance! Are ya from a club around here?"
Ivanka tole him with a smile, "No. We were bored, and we wished to practice. I am going to San Francisco and become a dancer. Do I dance well? I wish to dance well."
Another man said, "You two doin' a double act? Ya both dance more'n well, yer great!"
"John! Git the hell in here!" "Cole, get in here! You think some young things like them are gonna care about yer fat bald ass?"
We were starting to rub off on Ivanka. She yelled, "Your husband, he is good man!"
"He's a horny old bastard who won't leave me alone!"
Ivanka walked up to the door and said, "You should be proud and happy your husband wants you. You have a good man who loves you well."
Silence reigned from inside the motor home, I felt a nerve had been hit. We got in to the Falcon and moved much closer to the front of the store. As long as we were here, we may as well get some shopping done: basic articles of clothing, a few towels, underwear, jeans, a couple blouses and skirts, toiletries..... stuff to fill a couple suitcases. Again, Ivanka cried at the generosity. When she left Santa Barbara, she had a pair of jeans, a pair of slacks, three blouses, three bras, three pairs of panties, some cheap sneakers from Rite-Aid.... And that was it. All other clothing was of community use for working, even make up. At home as a girl, her school uniform doubled as her Sunday dress. She cried over what we'd purchased her at a Wal-Mart; she'd be hysterical over what we'd pick up for her to work for dancing and as a booth girl.
And a couple hours later, we were coming into the most beautiful city on the North American continent, San Francisco, California. We were in sunshine, yet watching the fog roll in over Potrero Hill. I wanted to stay on the 101/Van Ness/Lombard Street, so we exited the freeway and wandered over the hill, watching for a decent motel. Not a problem: we found one with off-street parking, checked to see if they'd allow three to a room (they did, did we want one or two beds? I told him one, and we had a good room with a California King bed), paid for the room a week in advance, we brought the bags up, the TV got turned on. We all stretched out, channel-surfed briefly, and all three of us promptly fell into a dead sleep for about six hours.
I woke up around nine, the scream caught in my throat. Despite the gruesome damage done to his body , nearly ripped in half lengthwise, Tom Wellow was still alive and he was coming after me, a fucking gun in his hand ready to kill me and then the girls and there was nothing I could do because like a dumbass I'd thrown away the bat so the girls would die and it was all my fault and I hated myself for my arrogance-----
I gently rolled off the bed, turned on the tap in the bathroom sink, and stuck my head in for a minute, telling myself that dead men can't hold guns, corpses can't drive Lincolns....
.... But Romanians can set off a 20-year-old thug's startle reflex by rubbing his shoulder unannounced. I shot across the bathroom, bouncing into the wall next to the toilet, both fists balled. My eyes were like baseballs.
"I scared you! I am sorry!" Ivanka cried out.
"It's okay. I was.... Just having a bad dream. I was dreaming I hadn't killed Tom, and he was after you two and I couldn't do anything about it. Like I said, a bad dream." I sighed. "I've had too much death and near-death in my life recently."
"Yes. Bekka told me of the woman in the motel. You are a brave man. You saved the woman's life, you saved the lives of Bekka and myself. You are allowed to be afraid in your head."
A soft, nearly mournful voice from the doorway said, "But the beautiful bastard isn't perfect, so he beats himself up. I need to go, can you two make out on the bed for a while? Maybe a good meal will help. We can make plans for tomorrow and get a good square meal in all of us, no fast food. I crave diner food with veggies."
Due to her lack of money, Ivanka was in a constant bind when it came to food. If a client didn't spring for a meal, she didn't eat. Tom and his brother didn't care whether Ivanka or any of the other girls ate: that tip money was theirs, as far as they were concerned. Sometimes she could talk the client into taking her out to a fast food place so she would not be nauseous with hunger. It was bits of information like this which helped me get over aspects of the nightmares: I had removed a chunk of evil from the world, which probably not be missed even by his mother: her and his brother had probably already divvied up his possessions like highwaymen, with no more emotion or sympathy than if he was a dead rat.
The desk clerk suggested a diner with good food at the corner of Lombard and Divisadero which, at this hour, would be nearly empty. They wouldn't pick up until after midnight, as partiers from Marin began slogging home. This left me time to straighten things out with Bekka.
"Dammit, I'm not trying to be perfect. I just want to try and do things right.... Especially when lives are on the line. It's hard to be confident when you're scared to death, when you feel weak and powerless. When I gave that woman mouth-to-mouth, I was shit scared because I was sure I was gonna fuck up. Battling Tom Wellow, all I could think of was all the things that I could do wrong. I 'd just like to feel confident in those situations."
"But.... Lenny..... You're asking for just what I said. There would be something wrong with you if you weren't scared. You're supposed to feel scared; it's part of being human. If you didn't feel like that, there would be something wrong with you, big time. You wouldn't be human. You have to be scared when someone is trying to kill you. And yet you did everything right. You pulled off what needed to be done, both times.... You thought of all the things you could do wrong when Tom Wellow was trying to kill us so you could make the right decision, okay? You're not a fucking movie hero, they aren't real. Real people get scared. It's how real people process.
"Lenny, I just don't want you second-guessing what has already passed. You can't do that. Tell you what, tell me what was going on in your head when you were up against Tom Wellow."
"Well.... When he clocked me, I knew I had to just plain dispatch of him, so I gave him that ball shot. There was nothing else for it; he'd have beat me senseless."
It made me happy to see you do that," said Ivanka. "He shall suffer that in hell, for eternity. After the way he treated the other girls and I, It is truly fitting for him to be kicked in such a manner."
"And what about when he was chasing us on the highway?" asked Bekka.
"Well.... I knew I could outrun him in a heartbeat, but there was no room to move. When he pulled alongside I knew exactly what his plan was:knock us into that gorge, then go down and shoot us. Right then I wasn't scared, I was mad.... So I decided to try and goad him into wrecking his own car, that's why I gave him the finger, to get him to move rashly. It kind of worked: it damaged his fender and tire. I still had to get some room to move, which is why I tapped that travel trailer, knowing he'd swerve to the right shoulder and I'd have room to get through. Tom, being the man he was, would become enraged and just start trying to plow his way through in any manner possible
"I'd backed off to eighty or so just to not attract attention, and Wellow is coming up from my rear. I started to open back up, but I saw all the smoke coming off his tire and realized his rubber was being eaten away by the fender, and the heat generated was going to make that tire go boom, in a big way.... And I was right. Lifted the front end, threw him into the ditch, and put him into the telephone pole. Exit Tom Wellow; he went through the windshield and he pretty much cut himself in half with the pole.
"When I grabbed the bat it was superstition: I somehow expected Tom to get up and come at me with a gun in his hand, and it's be all over. All that work and I'dstill have blown it. I'd still have failed. But when I was fifty feet away I threw away the bat: from that distance it was obvious there was no way he'd survived.... But I keep on telling myself I should have checked for myself, that even split in half the way he was, he somehow lived."
We continued on in silence for a half-block, when Bekka suddenly said, "Lenny, stop walking." I did as she requested.. She walked up to me and wrapped her arms around me; I reciprocated. "Lenny, you are a hero. You can't avoid it, and you can't ignore it. You saved three lives in the space of a week: the woman in the motel, and mine and Ivanka's lives yesterday. It wasn't luck or chance, it was you using your intelligence and knowledge and skill to keep people from dying. Nobody else cares what you call it, they call it being a hero. You don't have to shout it from the rooftops --- although I feel like doing it --- but that's the position you're in, babe. Adjust. And kiss me."
"Kiss me too," said Ivanka.
That was when I decided I liked San Francisco: three people can stand on the sidewalk and make out and passersby think it's cute, not offensive.
"I-it's beautiful," I said, leaning on the counter where the swivel seats are.
"What's beautif---- Oh. Yes. Yes it is beautiful, and you can indulge yourself 'till you're bloated, Lenny."
After a week or so on the road, I'd finally found a soft-serve ice cream machine. Shining stainless steel, vanilla, chocolate, or swirl. Waiting for me. Not to be too crude, but I was gonna take that thing like a five dollar whore. I wondered if it would fit through the door, if I could wheel it down the street to the motel room --- love would find a way to get it up the stairs --- and install it next to the TV set. I had no intention of stealing it, just.... Renting it, buying several gallons of mix, and indulging the girls and myself in soft-serve-y goodness until we were sated on the nectar of the gods.
"Lenny, what has you so excited?" asked Ivanka.
"He's finally found fake-ass ice cream," smirked Bekka. He's got a serious jones for soft serve. I mean, the stuff's okay, but he acts like it's a food group."
"Food.... Group? I do not understand." I decided to skip at least part of this thrilling discussion by using the bathroom....
And I had everything zipped up and put away when shouting came from outside. "Wallets onna table, bitches! You, faggot, git that register open, now!"
I honestly couldn't decide what had me more pissed off. The fact that the fact that a crackhead had called women I cared about bitches, or that I was yet again being placed in a situation where my life and those of others were in danger. Maybe I was just sick of the bullshit. I didn't want to be a hero any more.
I slipped off my engineers and crept up behind the robber's back, using the strongest mental telepathy I could muster to tell the cashier and cook, "Don't look at me." Grabbed him by the shoulder and poured scalding-hot coffee on his face. He screamed, firing one one round into the counter as I stripped the pistol from his hand and onto the floor of the far side of the counter. He wanted that pistol back, so I gave him about a half-dozen shots to the gut and yelled at Bekka and Ivanka, ""Grab the fucking gun!" Then I did a leg-sweep, putting him to the floor and stomping on his neck. I told the cook, "Here, if he moves, break his fucking neck, and I'm not kidding. Kill him. I am so fed up with this shit. You too," I told the girls. "Kill him if he moves."
The police arrived in under two minutes. One of the first things a cop asked me was, "Are you crazy?"
"You wanna unpack that one, officer?"
"Jesus buddy, you took on a guy with a gun while armed with hot coffee!"
"It was the weapon I had at hand. Maybe if it was possible to carry a concealed weapon in this state there weren't be so many problems. Think of it as a noble experiment, y'know? Besides, it worked in 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High', so I figured I'd give it a shot.. And I want my damn ice cream."
"You want what?"
"I want my fucking soft serve. Fuck dinner, all I want is a big bowl of swirl."
"Bowl of swirl, coming up!" said the waiter.
"Thank you! You're a prince among men."
"Thank you, you're a hero. I don't care if you're gay or straight, I'll give you anything you want, sugar."
"Sorry, straight, and not for lack of trying. I'm flattered, though. If I make a switch, you'll be the first to know.."
"Honey, it'll make my year. More ice cream?"
"Just a little, thank you."
"I wish I had a camera. I'd put your picture up with a note saying you get all the soft serve you want from us. Sugar, that was truly heroic."
What the hell. I forced myself mostly hard and wrapped my arms around him. His eyes and smile grew wide when he felt it pressing against him. "Baby, just don't call me a hero. The pay stinks and people overrate you. In a week I've saved the lives of seven people, if I include you and your cook. I don't know what the fuck is going on, but it keeps happening."
"Sugar, the answer is obvious. You're a damn hero, like it or not." He muttered in my ear, "I wanna suck on whatever's pressing against me."
"Can't now. Cops. Maybe after., and if it's okay with the girls."
"The cop assigned to me said, "Look, if we could get on with this...." So I went over all the details I could remember, starting with hearing the shouting and ending with my scalding him, then standing on his neck and giving instructions to kill him if he moves. For some stupid reason, I also brought up Tom Wellow --- not by name --- and his wreck.
"You wanted a pimp dead, huh? Any particular reason?"
"Besides hating pimps? This one wanted me and my two friends dead. Him or us. Besides, I didn't want him dead, I just wanted to be left alone. He may have wrecked his car, I'm not sure. I saw a cloud of dust and he was no longer behind us. No clue what happened."
"No clue at all, huh? You didn't get out of your car with a bat in your hand...."
I gave him a nice dishonest smile and said, "What would I do that for, officer?"
The cop stared at me and said, "Yeah. Someone's got their wires crossed. You and your old lady were just trying to help out some broad who didn't wanna be a hooker no more. She'll probably land here in the city and get a job working as a booth girl, or nude dancer or something. Nice sedate work, you know?"
"Exactly, officer. Say, you wouldn't know a good place for a nude dancer to land a job, now would you?"
"I wouldn't know," he said, and made the face of a man who woudln't know.
"One last thing, sir. What do you drive?"
"It's an old Ford."
"Yeah, and those things all kind of look the same, huh? Coulda been anything racing on the 101 near Solvang, I guess. Well, thank you for your time." He paused a moment. "You know, there's some guys that just happen to have thing things happen to them. No fault of their own, it's just the way things go. You should try a new color on your car, just for fun. What the hell, you know?"
I thanked him for his advice and hit up the waiter for another small bowl of soft serve, then joined Bekka and Ivanka at their table, while they were noshing on tempura mushrooms, onion rings, fries, and sliders. Before she could say anything, I told Bekka, "I promise I'll have a perfectly normal breakfast in the morning. Honest.
"I can't but help think about how we'll explain our vacation to your dad. I just had a cop suggest we re-paint the Falcon. Whole new color, and something very different. Something to do with an incident which took place south of Solvang. A strange idea, but one that makes sense to me."
"Funny, my cop said I should take Interstate Five coming home. I think we both talk too much to cops."
Ivanka said, "Police in Bucharest, they can be very.... How you say... Corrupt. You wish to avoid speaking with them."
"American police can be goons, but not crooks. Not as often, anyway. Besides, if things go well, you won't be with us. You'll have started a whole new life here in the City. Long story short, the Ford will have gone from yellow to blue. And damn soon."
"You know, we were supposed to discuss plans for tomorrow over dinner," said Bekka. Ivanka nodded in a manic way, and with a manic smile.
"My vote?" I said. "This seems like the sort of place for a good breakfast. Then we lock ourselves in the motel room and abuse every kind of drug we have, except for the crystal meth. Lots of mushrooms and Valium, though. You two can smoke your weed. Around dusk, when we're still good and high, we find a good restaurant over on Chestnut Street. Then we make plans for Wednesday while we're still high, and adjust them in the morning. How's that?"
Ivanka said, "I wish to try the mushrooms. I do not like the crystal, though."
"There's a drugstore across the street to make the mushrooms go down easier for Ivanka. You know how they can be your first time," said Bekka.
"Settled?" I asked.
"Settled," said Bekka.
"I shall enjoy it," said Ivanka
The only tense moment was when we had to force Ivanka to admit that her working while high on mushrooms was a bad idea. Normally a paragon of grace and sensuality, while high, Ivanka had the dance moves of an injured turkey.