I was looking for the gun. I remember thinking, “No one will find it here,” but now I couldn’t remember where that was. Man, that sucks. It was somewhere here, in this apartment, for sure…right? Was it time for a prayer to St. Anthony? The phone rang. It was Danny.
“Hey dude, I’m sorry, but last night I had to throw the tweed jacket you lent me over a gravestone to throw off the cops,” he said, ” They were chasing me through the cemetery and I had to think fast. It was very Macgyver.”
That’s what I loved about those early morning calls from Danny. They always made me feel better about myself. I told him not to worry, that it was a thrift store purchase. I was glad to contribute to a good cause. The old, Throw the Tweed Jacket on a Gravestone to Misdirect the Police, seemed as good as any.
It was 9:30 in the morning and seemed as good as any time to crack my first beer. I knew Danny was probably on his fourth cocktail, so I was lagging.
“Obviously, it worked, eh?”
“Like a charm. It bought me enough time to jump a fence and crawl on my belly like GI Joe through the arroyo for a few blocks, then I got up and ran the rest of the way home. I was coughing up black shit for hours after that.”
I was impressed. Danny wasn’t much into exercise and much into Marlboro Reds, so I could imagine the rebellion his body staged after a little adrenaline-fueled run through a boot camp obstacle course. He wasn’t a young man anymore.
I could see him bent over, hacking up splatters of tar and tooth, generic gin flowing from his brow into his stinging eyes, then straightening up, shaken and stirred, but un-arrested. Fear is a magical juice. I know. The sound of a cop’s utility belt clanging close behind has allowed me to perform athletic feats that would make any Sunday night highlights reel.
In those moments of crisis, of extreme focus, you simply don’t tell yourself “can’t.” You will, Sonny Boy, and not just that fence, but the one after, and the one after. Chopped at the knees by a dog house roof, you roll over, land on your feet and are up running again. The Bactine can wait, Mom! I have to moooove, really have to move.
Hip check the mailbox. Accidentally step on a Tonka truck and do the splits. Scissor kick it off and roll into a crouch. Thrust your heels into the ground and lunge for the gate. Pray it’s unlocked. Oh shit! Scale it! Scale it like Spidey. C’mon, you eat chain link for brunch. Scramble up and over the top and drop. Favorite t-shirt ripped. Fuck! Now is not the time to mourn, keep running. I loved that shirt, The Exploited- Let’s Start a War. Keep those legs pumping.
Their donuts and coffee are no match for fear fuel. You are a wing-footed Greek god, a leaping Chinese acrobat, a mutant fugitive from the laws of Physics. Rusty nails, barbed wire, and broken glass can’t hold you down, can’t incarcerate your spirit. Watch out for that kiddie pool. Clothes line. The rake!
It’s not for everyone. Balance, agility, stamina and body strength, are all critical. An outstanding warrant or two also helps in boosting performance for this extreme sport, if it counts as a sport. It’s certainly extreme enough.
After looking for the gun in the oven for the nineteenth time, I gave up. “St. Anthony, St. Anthony, something is lost that must be found, could you please ask God to bring it around.”
“You lose your gun again?”
“Yeah, it’s here somewhere, so what happened?”
I heard him light up a cigarette and exhale. He said he took a couple of Valium that night and decided to shoplift some dinner and drink from Albertsons. He said he went in feeling relaxed and comfortable. That night he might have been a little too relaxed and comfortable.
Danny was usually pretty relaxed when shoplifting. He would walk around the store like it was his personal pantry. He’d go to the seafood department order some crab legs, oysters or clams, maybe a lobster tail or two. They’d wrap it up and he’d thank them, then make his way down the spice aisle. Let’s see. Pick up some saffron, some tarragon, a little lemon pepper. Okay, now over to the liquor department to grab a big bottle of Tanqueray, and then just stroll out the front door. No big deal.
Usually it wasn’t, but that night the benzodiazepine had loosened his grip on the bottle. It dropped and smashed on the ground by the car.
“Oh shit, that hurts just hearing about it. Did you break down and start sobbing?”
“No big deal, I think, I’ll just go in and get another.”
“Yeah, that’s too comfortable,” I said, finishing my beer. I knew how these stories go, the just go back and get another.
I got up and went to get another. I picked the phone back up.
“So you didn’t think they would remember you from a whole thirty-five seconds ago?”
It’s not like a guy like Danny would blend in with the your average suburban supermarket crowd. He could look a little serial-killerish when lounging around in his Rock and Roll leisure wear. Charles Manson hair pulled back under a bandana, t-shirt torn and transparent from age, jeans burned with cigarette holes and dragging in threads behind dirty flop-worn sneakers.
I always thought he dressed like Keith Richards, if Keith Richards lost his luggage for two years.
That was the reason he wore the tweed sport coat I had lent him, for camouflage. It was my costume of choice for court appearances, a basic tweed, tailored waist, and no elbow patches, as they have been proven to irritate jurors. I’d have preferred a black pin stripe with purple tie, but those poll negatively. So I settled for something academic and modest, if not entirely innocent, an able-to-turn-over-a-new-leaf look.
The only thing Danny would be wearing for a court appointment would be an orange jumper with steel accessories. He was wanted back in Texas for a little escape thingy. He had asked to borrow the jacket a few nights before, but I didn’t ask why. I figured out later that he had planned on using it as a disguise.
He had calculated that under the cover of tweed, he wouldn’t look like a thrill-killing drifter with a body waiting in the trunk. Instead he’d pass himself off as some sort of college professor or atomic scientist, just there at Albertsons to pick up his complimentary seafood and premium gin, before getting back to the body he had waiting in the trunk. That was his plan at least. Flimsy the first time, but really not going to fly for a Just Go Back and Get Another.
Hey, there’s that homeless physicist from Los Alamos again. He scared me the first time. Why is he back? What in God’s name does he want? I think he’s here to kill us all. Oh God, I’m too young to die! Wait, he’s just getting a bottle of booze…and walking out the door. Security!
Danny said they were on him like a pack of wild dogs. The assistant manager gave chase, followed by a squat little squaw doing security, a high school football player bag boy, and the seafood department dude.
“That sounds like a fairly easy foot race to beat out, except for the football hero,” I said, ” That might take getting dirty.”
Danny thought so too as he hauled across the parking lot. He turned the corner and almost got run over by a cop car cruising around. The cop had to lock it up screeching. Danny looked at the cop’s face and saw he was totally freaked about almost hitting him. Danny unfreezes first and takes off, but followed by all these store employees. I started laughing.
“What’s this? An angry mob of citizens chasing some werewolf with tenure. Perhaps this will require further investigation.” He was fucked now.
“Yeah, ” Danny said, “I just leveled up without getting any extra powers.”
Now the cops joined the chase in their squad car. Lights, siren, spot light. Danny ran up the landscaping incline to the street, and saw Rosario cemetery across the way.
“Yes, into the darkness that only death can provide.” A very good place to lose them.
Only the two cops were following at this point, but there were more of those coming soon, just as sure as a very special Christmas is coming to Branson. That’s what we called “The Window of Opportunity.” It’s the least amount of cops you’ll have chasing you. You have to lose them now, before the dogs, helicopters, and SWAT team get there. This is it. If this is not your time, then this is the only time it will be for a long time. Now juke that light!
It’s motivational. Like I said, it’s not uncommon to surprise yourself with exceptional ability. Draping the tombstone in tweed being a good example. Quick thinking. Like when he was making his way up out of the parking lot, he carefully set the bottle of gin down intact instead of just dropping it. That way someone would be taken out of the chase having to retrieve it. Either that or he just could witness another bottle of Tanqueray shattering that night. The point is he wasn’t running total spaz, and I appreciated the self-discipline under pressure.
Danny made it into the graveyard while the cops were still driving through the gate. He got the brainstorm to hang the jacket over something to make it look like he was there, and of course, not be. He said he saw them flashing the spot light on it when he went over the fence and ultimately to freedom, at least the freedom that being a raging alcoholic provides.
I looked in the oven again. “You actually hung it on a tombstone?”
“No, it was more of a statue thing. ”
“A statue of what?”
“I think The Virgin.”
That didn’t seem right, even to me. Using Jesus’s mom to help you hide from the cops. I don’t know.
“You better hope they didn’t take Our Lady of Guadalupe in for questioning, or worse, charged her with aiding and abetting.”
“Hey man, I wasn’t going to take the time to look around for the least sacrilegious mannequin.”
“Jesus, Danny, I guess.” It felt good to know someone worse than me. “I think you owe Her a prayer asking for forgiveness.”
“Dude, I’m Jewish.”
“Uh, and last I heard, so was she. Anyway, you got your cardio for the year. Glad you made it, Danny.”
“Thanks, and sorry again about the jacket.”
“No sweat,” I told him, and leaned back on my bed. Something poked me from under the pillow. “Thank you, St. Anthony!”
For Danny, getting caught in that little act of petty thievery would’ve meant going back to prison. He shouldn’t have been fucking around like that in the first place. But I understood the madness, all too well. I didn’t feel better than him about that. We were always risking big stakes for penny ante payoffs. Our stupidity was breathtaking. Constantly drinking our judgement impairing potions didn’t help much either.
The first year I was sober, I got a flat tire on the freeway at night. I was working on it when a C.H.P. pulled over behind me. My first impulse was to take off across the ice plant. It was Pavlovian. Then I realized, wait, you’re not drunk, you don’t have guns or anything in the car. You have a license, registration and insurance. You’re okay. You’re just a citizen changing a flat tire. That kind of normalcy felt exotic.
The cop turned out to be cool and even hung out with me as I struggled with the tiny Japanese jack. We cracked jokes and talked about firearms while he held his flashlight above me. It was nice not to have it come swinging down on my skull. When I finished, I thanked him and we shook hands. “Switch to a .40 caliber!” I yelled as I drove away. He smiled and waved. I felt better at that moment, pulling away from that cop, watching him disappear in my rearview than I ever did getting away from one. Well, almost. Let’s not get crazy.