Escape to Freedom

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I woke up early and twitched around a bit, and tried like hell to grab that extra patch of sleep I knew was lurking somewhere in my future. At that particular moment, I had been hoping it was in my future. I’m not so sure I have much of a future now, though. At the time, I just wanted to postpone that sudden drop into the pit of Hell—that daily excursion we call life.

You know, if you wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and ask yourself what the hell happened to your life, then you’re probably walking in my shoes. They’re big shoes to fill. Not too many people can screw up a life like I’ve screwed up mine. Each morning I stand in the bathroom tightly gripping the counter so I don’t fall over, looking into those bloodshot brown eyes staring back at me from that piece of glass anchored to the wall above the washbasin. And every morning, I’m amazed that a waste of good space like me can make it this far down the road of existence.

But, duty called. The clock radio sitting on the night stand clicked over to 6:00 am, and began blaring loud classic rock. I rolled out of bed and let my bare feet slap the dirty carpet. I stumbled over to the counter, and dropped a packet of Guatemalan blend into the top of the coffee maker and poured water in behind it. I pushed the button to begin the morning routine the damned thing was designed for. My bladder dictated my next action.

For several weeks now I’ve been thinking about my options. I don’t have many, but they do exist. I, like every other human being on earth, have no right to complain about my life without realizing that I do have those options. Options that other living, breathing animals do not have. I can change my situation, or I can keep my mouth shut and endure it. The lesser creatures of the world do not have such options. They can only endure the life they’ve been born into, not knowing that other avenues might exist.

Humans, of all the creatures on earth, have been given free will. We get to choose the path we walk through life. We can choose to live. We can choose to die. Other creatures have no knowledge that there is the option of ending the life they live. They have no concept of death. Their only option is to live day to day, not thinking about what comes next. If we humans choose to live, we can choose to walk the right path, the left path, the path less traveled, or trod blindly where the rest of humanity is marching. Or, we can just end it, and pray like hell we don’t have to do it all again.

What it comes down to is that I either remedy my situation, or endure it. One or the other. Today might be the day I make that decision, or the decision makes me.

Last Thursday it all came to a head—again. Sometime shortly after daybreak I limped to the toilet and stood there forever, emptying my overfilled bladder. Damn. I think I have a bladder the size of a basketball. Once again my head throbbed like someone was using it for a drum, and my mouth tasted like it was full of dirty socks. Worse of all, someone was using the inside of my eyeballs as pincushions. The bruise on my left heal was reminding me that it was still there, planning on making my life hell for a few more days. And my ribs were still sore where I’d taken a punch from that pissed off ex-husband in Rosa’s two weeks back. In short, it was just another typical day in the life of a man who has an affinity for expensive bourbon and cheap women, and likes a good fight now and then.

I’ve always considered myself a livin’ lovin’ legend, but that oversexed blonde I hooked up with the night before at The Filthy Duece about killed me. Man, I’m getting old. I finished my business at the porcelain stool and stumbled back towards where I had hoped a few more hours of sleep awaited. I didn’t know what that day promised, but I was hoping it would wait awhile to spring its surprises on me.

Most women I take home don’t spend the night, but the blonde had still still been in my bed. The problem, at that time, same as now, had been that she was very much dead. When did that happen? She had definitely been alive at 3:30, and still speeding along like she had someplace to be and was running late. I thought I was a pro at the all night fuckfest, but that woman had me beat by two and a half laps in a four lap race around the bedroom.

I stumbled back to the bathroom and splashed some water on my face. As I was staring into the mirror I had been hoping she had just outran herself, or maybe she just had a heart attack. The gash over her left eye said otherwise. I steeled myself for the day ahead.

Here’s where things get tricky. I don’t remember hitting her, and I seriously doubt she did that kind of damage to herself. So, what the hell happened? Your guess is as good as mine. At some point, in the wee morning hours of October 3rd, I had lost all consciousness. The next thing I remembered I was staring at myself in the mirror, and wondering if maybe I hadn’t gone batshit crazy.

Sticking around in a situation like that is not a smart thing to do. You see, I’m six months out of Angola after serving a nickel on a bullshit assault beef. The son-of-a-bitch started it. I just finished it.

Natasha and I—Natasha was my main squeeze at the time—were in the French Quarter on a Friday night, really it was very early Saturday morning, when this drunk New York asshole grabbed Natasha in the most intimate of places. I took exception to his actions.

The prosecution cited my prior military experience, and my black belt in wing chun, as an excuse to label me a deadly weapon. The judge agreed. Shit like that happens when you’re a Texan in a state other than Texas. The fact that the poor Yankee bastard spent four days in the hospital probably didn’t help my case any, and the court didn’t even consider that I wasn’t the one who threw the first punch. That fact didn’t matter to anyone but me.

My cellmate at Angola was this big coon-ass named Bubba. I’m not shitting you one bit. Bubba was the name he was given at birth. I guess his momma was partial to the name. Or, was running low on choices. He was the eleventh of fifteen, twelve of them boys. He came from this little hamlet south of Thibodaux, down somewhere in the swamp, far away from civilization.

Now, I’m no slouch when it comes to physical attributes, but standing next to Bubba made me feel small. At six-five and 260 pounds of solid muscle, he had me beat by four inches and at least 50 pounds. I got my size in the weight room. He said his just came naturally. Oh, and it helped some wrestling alligators on weekends. Needless to say, we didn’t encounter too many problems on the cellblock. Having Bubba as a friend made those five years relatively easy—well, much easier than they could have been.

Bubba was four years into a dime stretch when I showed up. His previous cellmates had all requested to be moved within a week of meeting the man. It seemed that Bubba scared hell out of them. I don’t know why. Maybe they just didn’t understand him. When he got all wound up and started telling stories, with his arms and hands going every which direction, you did have a bit of a problem understanding him, what with the mixture of French and English, and some god awful dialect I think got left over from the last ice age. But after five years I knew what Bubba was going to say before he said it.

We’d swap stories late at night when most everyone else was pretending to sleep. I’d tell him about my family. You see, daddy was a bad ass. He had survived three tours in Vietnam, was proud of his purple heart, and bronze star. He claimed he was too damned mean for the VC to kill, so they just kinda left him alone after awhile. The old man didn’t take lip from anyone, least of all us kids. He’d knock mom around some when he got to drinking, and he’d lay into us boys once in awhile, but other than that he was a pretty decent father. Just a little ornery when he got to suckin’ on a whiskey bottle is all.

Bubba was an interesting character, for sure. To hear him tell it, he had a house full of kids, and a yard full of dogs. He was on his fourth wife, the previous ones dying during childbirth. Except his first one. I think he said she died of an overdose, and his third one could have died from snakebite. At any rate, he had enough kids to populate a baseball team, and even have a couple of relief pitchers riding the bench. I think he was using his time at Angola to rest up before going back home, and dealing with that band of hooligans he called his family.

Anyway, with the 14 outstanding speeding tickets in three states, the warrant for my arrest for assaulting my ex-wife, the third one, not the second one, and that last body they found in the motel room I had rented in OK City, I figured hanging around in Amarillo to answer the inevitable questions from some over worked detective in a rumpled suit would not be in my best interest. I shaved and took a quick shower. I figured I might as well leave the scene clean. I dressed in the same clothes I had arrived in, locked the door behind me, and stepped into the parking lot.

I took a moment to orient myself. The place looked vaguely familiar, but it could be that it was just another cheap motel in a string of cheap motels. I looked around and quickly realized that my car appeared to be lost. It seemed it had not made it to the same motel I did the night before, or it found a better class of parking lot to spend the night.

It really wasn’t my car. I had just borrowed it. It probably headed back to where it belonged to get it’s steering column repaired. I kind of mangled it when I took the ride from the parking lot outside that little stop and rob in the next town over.

Not having that automobile readily available posed to be a bit of a problem. I couldn’t go wake up the blonde and ask her where I had left the damned car, or even if she might have a suitable mode of transportation I might borrow. She was deep into sleep, well beyond rising up and greeting another day in another year of days that were just like the days before them. Anyway, I had left the motel key in the room when I stepped out into that brisk Texas morning. Beating on the door was out of the question.

I was facing a dilemma. I couldn’t head east, back towards Oklahoma. My ex-wife, the first one, was there, as well as the brunette—I wish I could remember her name—that I had parted company with at the Motel 6 on the south side of town, out near the industrial park where all those big warehouses are. The only thing I really remember about that particular woman is that the last time I had seen her she, too, had a distinctive gash over her left eye, and a big butt, and little tits. By now they’ve probably found her body, and are well into the process of linking her death to me. Yeah, I needed to stay on the move. I had to get far away from those bodies that seemed to be stacking up behind me.

I for sure couldn’t stay in Amarillo. If they connected me with the dead blonde I had left in my bed, they’d put me at the head of the line for a trip to that chamber of a room down in Huntsville. No, my most obvious route would be west towards the coast. California. That’s the best place for me. All the other states tend to leave you alone if you make it to California. That’s what I’d been told, anyway. You tend pick up a lot of useful information in prison, and I need all of it I can remember just to survive.

There’s a little truck stop on the east side of Santa Rosa, NM. I was in there once, many years ago. Last Thursday I was in the place for the second time in my life. I was lucky. It had only taken me 30 minutes to find a ride out of Amarillo, and the ole boy took me all the way into New Mexico. It’s not very far, but it is another state.

I hadn’t spent much time making my way out of that north Texas town where the wind seems to perpetually blow, coming in from all directions at all times. Fortunately I had been at a motel on the east side of Amarillo, out near where the truck stops are. So, when I couldn’t quickly find the Corolla I had left in the motel parking lot I walked the half mile to the Pilot. I made it known to the departing truckers that I would like a ride westbound. A redneck wearing a John Deere hat, and sporting several days of growth on his rugged face, gave me a ride in his rundown Kenworth. He didn’t talk much, and I listened even less. We made a great pair of travelers that October morning. He was on his way to Colorado. I was making my escape to freedom.

The drive from Amarillo to Santa Rosa is a short one. But it gave me time to think about the idea that old age is nothing more than a disease—an incurable disease. At the rate I am living life I seriously doubt I will live long enough to be diagnosed with such a not-so-rare affliction.

The radio was turned to a news station. The lead story was about the string of dead women that the FBI was following. The G-Men wouldn’t confirm it, but the talking heads on all the channels claimed there was a serial killer traveling the nation’s interstates. I knew the story better than they did, so I closed my eyes to contemplate my next move, eventually drifting off for a short nap.

Pete, the redneck in the Kenworth, woke me up when he pulled into town. He said he had to stop to take a piss and grab a bite to eat. He told me I’d have to catch another ride. I said okay. I think he said he was out of hours and just had to shut it down for awhile. I had other things on my mind.

I wandered into this little diner for a bite to eat. I really wasn’t hungry, but I figured some cholesterol and caffeine would keep me going for a few more hours. I had to stay a step ahead of my three ex-wives, two of which I owe large sums of back support to, one of which wants me dead, maybe two do, and I really wanted to stay out of the grasp of the numerous agencies investigating the deaths of several women along the I-40 corridor. I don’t think I’m the one that did those heinous crimes, but I don’t think they’d believe me anyway if they caught up to me.

I knew that the evidence was tipping the scale in my direction, but, last week I came to the conclusion that I am being set up. Oh sure, you’ve probably heard the majority of guilty people saying that very thing, using the old SODDIT defense. You know, some other dude did it. However, this time it’s really true. I’m almost positive of it.

I was sitting in a booth near the rear exit, and had just opened a menu, when Pete joined me. “You like some company?”

“Sure,” I grunted.

When the waitress walked up we both ordered coffee, and their daily special, biscuits and gravy. Pete got a couple of eggs, over medium, and a side of bacon with his order. I didn’t with mine.

“Goin’ California, you say. They say the sun shines all the time out that way, the beer is cold, and the women hot. Was always raining every time I was there, except once when I was going over Donner Pass. It was snowing then. Damn, I hate the snow. Anyway, I never talked to any woman out there I’d want to get to know. They all seemed kind of stuck up.” Those were the most words I think I’d heard Pete string in a line the entire time we were together.

“Yeah, I got a friend out that way says there’s jobs to be had.” Through the years, I had gotten pretty good at subterfuge, and Pete didn’t seem to mind.

When Francine, the waitress, delivered three plates of food to the table, two heaped high with biscuits and gravy, and one of eggs and bacon, Pete dug in like a bear just waking up from hibernation. I had been a bit more reserved, finishing my pile of stale biscuits and canned gravy a full cup of coffee behind him.

“Well, the law says I have to get me some rest. If you’re still around in eight hours, you’re free to ride a ways down the road. Just know I’m turning north at Albuquerque, though.”

“I might see you later tonight. I really don’t want to spend the night here, but who knows. I spotted a bar just down the road. Think I’ll go have a couple of beers and maybe take in a ballgame.”

Pete slid his way out of the booth and stood. He looked down at me. “You think the ride was worth breakfast?”

“Sure. You go on. l’ll take care of this.” I picked up both of our tickets and followed Pete to the front of the restaurant. The cash register stood at the end of the counter, about three steps from the front door. Francine took my money. I told her to keep the change.

By the time I got outside Pete was halfway to his truck. I turned right and began a slow walk to the tavern I had spotted. I figured a couple of cold beers would hit the spot. Fall weather was doing a good job of chasing summer into next year, but it hadn’t quite gotten there, yet. It had been a nice day for a walk, and I had wanted to enjoy my freedom. That day, a slow walk suited my mood.

You know, I should have slapped a restraining order on my ass years ago. Every time I’m around trouble just seems to find me. Not a bad town, Santa Rosa. At another time, under other circumstances, my time there could have been a pleasant visit. That day, it wasn’t meant to be.

Oh, I had that cold beer, alright. No ballgame, though. The tv was on the blink. I had to settle for cryin’ in your beer music, and the smell of stale booze. The bartender wasn’t much of a conversationalist, and that suited me just fine. I finished my beer and walked out the way I had come in.

There was a police car parked in front of the front door. Behind the wheel was a very large individual, talking on a cellphone. He was dressed in the customary fashion, and I assumed he had all the proper gear to go with the uniform. I quickly walked by, keeping my head down, trying not to look suspicious. I guess he had other things on his mind. He didn’t even give me a second glance. At that moment, I figured it was time I should leave town. I didn’t want to tempt fate.

This morning I woke up in Winslow. You know the place. The girl in a flatbed Ford, and all that crap. It’s a nice enough town, I suppose. At least I thought that way when I got here. I’m not sure I think that way now. Today might be the day I have to decide the path that I walk. I don’t have many choices, so it should make the decision an easy one.

After I completed my usual morning routine, I walked back over to the bed and stared down at the body I woke up next to. Native American. Young and beautiful. But, aren’t they all? What’s that make now? Eight? Ten? No, I think I might be working on a Baker’s Dozen. I should have been keeping track somehow. Don’t most people keep some sort of reminder of the places they go and the things they do? They do if they did it. I didn’t do it. I don’t know who did it, or how they did it, I just know I didn’t do it. At least I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it. So, I’m not keeping anything to remind me of something I didn’t do. I’ll just rely on my memory. Anyway, I travel light.

I poured myself a cup of cheap motel coffee and sat on the edge of the bed, thinking about last night. I don’t remember much after she sat down next to me, but I clearly remember how that beautiful woman got to the seat.

“Hi. Are you here alone?” She didn’t appear to be a large woman, but she didn’t appear to be a small one, either. She was dressed in a halter top, tight jeans, and sandals, her brown skin highlighting the white of her blouse. She wasn’t carrying a purse. Her clothes are tossed in the corner now, as we speak, if you want to look them over. I’ll probably just leave them there when I go.

But, it was her eyes that won me over. She had the most devastating eyes of any woman I have ever seen. When I looked into them it was as though I had dived into a deep, dark pool and became hopelessly lost, never finding my way way back to the surface. Needless to say, I was lost at first sight.

I kind of wanted to be alone last night, so I said, “Nope. I’m here with two of my closest friends. Beer, and football.” I tipped my glass to her, and looked up at the tv behind the bar. The Jags were up by four over the Titans with just under two minutes left in the game. Titans ball on the Jacksonville 37.

And, she wanted a friend. “You mind if I sit down?”

Other than the bartender, I was the only person in the place, and she wanted to sit next to me. “The stool’s empty.” I didn’t take my eyes off the tv. Time out, Jacksonville.

The bartender wandered down and asked my bar mate what she wanted to drink.

She had a pleasant, husky voice. “Like Dilbert said, ‘Alcohol doesn’t solve any problems, but if you think again, neither does milk.’ Double Crown, water back. It might not solve my problems, but it sure as hell couldn’t make them any worse than they already are.”

That got my attention. The bartender turned, and pulled two glasses off the shelf, an old fashion glass and a water glass. He sat them on the bar and began to put both of them to work doing the job they were intended to do. The brown liquid he splashed into the smaller of the two glasses just about filled it to the top. The water came from a beverage gun hanging just below the bar top. He made change for a twenty, walked to the other end of the bar, and turned to watch the end of the game.

I swiveled on my stool, head, body, and soul, around to my left, smiling at the woman who I figured I should get to know before the night was over. I was thinking I just might be able to solve her problems for her. To hell with the game.

I’ve spent the past couple of days in Albuquerque. I hot-footed it out of that town when I woke up in a house I don’t remember getting to. That scared the hell out of me—being in a house I didn’t know, and not remembering how I got there. Finding the dead twins was even worse. Not being able to remember even meeting the twins, though, put me in a panic. I’ve always remembered meeting the women. I just don’t remember unmeeting them, if you get my drift. I needed time to think, so I left town as fast as I had arrived.

I blasted my way into Winslow, intent on taking the time to consider a remedy to the predicament I now find myself mired in. Then the dark eyes, white top, and young body disrupted my thinking process. Two rides to get me into this town, and one woman to get me out.

The Titans won the game. I saw that on SportsCenter. I don’t know what happened to the young lady I met last night. She had sat down on the stool next to me. And now she’s in my bed. There is one thing she has in common with all the others, though. A nasty gash over her left eye.

I wonder what all the commotion is outside. This motel is not in the best part of town, but it’s still much too early for the kind of rustling noise I’m hearing outside my door. People are usually much quieter than that if they’re leaving a place this early in the day. I pull the curtains back and peak out the window.

It’s a wonder I’m not dead. What I see out there about stops the beating of my heart, weakens my knees, and creates instant vertigo. I pull back, let the curtains fall back together, and lean against wall between the door and window. I have to think fast. The place is crawling with cops. How’d they find me so quickly? I’ve been in town less than 24 hours, paid cash for the room, and tried to keep a low profile.

“David Fratelli, come out with your hands up. There’s no place for you to go.” The voice booms loudly from the bullhorn. A short cop, crouched behind a marked unit, holds the amplifying device in his left hand while clutching a semi-automatic in his right.

David Fratelli. That’s not me. What a relief. I pull the door open just enough so that I can get a look out.

“Sir, please stay in your room. We’ve got a situation here and it’s best you don’t come out until we’ve given the all clear.” A young man, attired in the battle dress of your everyday beat cop, pulls my door closed, leaving me and the dead girl to our own devices, mine more animated than hers.

There is only one thing for me to do—sit tight and wait out David Fratelli. I sure hope this doesn’t take long. I can’t wait around here all day. It won’t take them long after I check out to find the pile of clothes in the corner and, more importantly, the dead body in my bed. I wanted to be gone before daybreak, but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen.

I wonder what Fratelli has done to deserve all this attention. It’s got to be more than a speeding ticket. Maybe he’s been dealing meth, or pushing a little weed to the kids at school.

“David Fratelli, you have one minute to come out, or we’re coming in after you.” The little man with the big bullhorn sure is brave with this supporting cast spread out around him.

I’d like to catch the Amtrak that departs at 9:15. I don’t have far to walk to get to the train station, but I sure don’t want to cut it close. I want to give myself time to deal with any unexpected situations.

If David Fratelli doesn’t come out soon, I might be in a world of hurt. I wonder what room he’s in. I pull the door open just enough to get a peak out.

“Sir, close your door and stay put.” The same cop, in the same battle dress, in the same place. Persistent bastards, aren’t they?

Another 45 minutes has passed, but they at least now they have poor Mr. Fratelli face down on the pavement. Well, if he’s dealing meth, he’s not using. He’s a big ole boy, wearing a wife beater and frayed jeans, barefoot. Probably thumped on his old lady a time too many.

“Excuse me, Officer, can I come out now? I’ve got a train to catch.” It’s 8:35 and I’ve pulled the door open enough to speak with my new best friend.

“Sir, give us another few minutes and we’ll have this all wrapped up.” The young cop begins to pull my door shut.

“Can’t I just sneak out? I’m going to miss my train, and I’ve got an important meeting in Pasadena I’ve got to be at first thing in the morning.”

The young cop eyes me curiously. “If you’ll give me a few more minutes I’ll drive you to the station. I’ll make sure you get there in time.”

What a guy. I guess he takes pity on my plight. It’s been said that there’s never a cop around when you need one. I would be willing to argue that point with you.

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