Back to the World
by James Shaffer
Table of Contents|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
Johnnie Rae Piper is born in a tarpaper house outside Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, in 1950. His mom raises and home-schools Johnnie while his father, Tom, is off fighting in the Korean War. When Tom comes home, he’s changed: he has drinking and gambling addictions.
In 1969, an unlucky number in the draft lottery sends Johnnie to Vietnam. When he returns home, a year and half later, he finds he has exchanged one set of problems for another. A local loan shark is putting the muscle on Tom, and the criminal organization is widespread. Johnnie tries to help his father, with the aid of three cowgirls: Darlene, Jamie Sue and Kelly Jo. All of them are in for a wild ride.
15: John Piper Heads West
I headed out along the highway the next morning. I knew Ed’s search party would be out looking for my daddy and me. I hoped my daddy was far away and safe by now. It would take a while for Ed’s men to search all the small towns and truck stops on the way to the New Mexico border; I felt I had some time before things got serious.
I didn’t have much luck until late afternoon. I was hitching west, about five miles from the New Mexico border, when three girls picked me up. They pulled off the road in front of me in a red 1960 T-Bird convertible. My feet were aching, and my backpack was heavy. The thick ledger, a bundle of money and the loaded gun gave me pause; the added weight weakened my resolve.
The girls’ car skidded to a stop on the gravel shoulder about fifty yards ahead of me. The driver punched the accelerator, revving the engine. The glasspack muffler’s deep rumble split the still desert air. She hit quick bursts on the accelerator a couple more times. Either she was impatient or just racy. I wasn’t sure. It was a long fifty yards at the end of a trying day, but she waited for me. To show my enthusiasm, I trotted the last few yards till I was right up beside the car.
A dark-haired girl was lounging the back seat, filing her nails without looking up. She stretched out her long fingers and surveyed her handiwork. The other two stared down the highway into the setting sun. George Thorogood was playing on the radio. All three girls wore sunglasses. I dropped my backpack at my feet, stood up straight, and pushed my Stetson back off my wet brow.
“Thanks for stopping. Where you headin’?” I asked.
The driver spoke. “For a hot shower and a cold drink. You coming?” She turned to me and pushed her sunglasses down her nose with the tip of her index finger, peering at me over the top of the frames.
The girl in the passenger seat twisted and leaned back against the door. She propped her feet against the edge of the driver’s seat. I watched as she casually opened and closed her legs, fanning a musky scent in my direction.
Lucky me, I thought. Pink is my favorite color. She tilted her head to one side, peering up at me through mirrored lenses. The driver pushed her glasses back up her nose. “So what’ll it be?”
“A hot shower and cold drink sound real good,” I answered without hesitation.
“Then hop in, cowboy.”
I jumped into the back seat and pushed the backpack to the floor between my feet. The warm leather seat caressed my aching muscles. The driver hit the gas, and we fishtailed out on to the highway, heading into the setting sun.
I glanced back down the road, checking for other vehicles. It was empty. Behind us, a cloud of red dust hung in the still air. The muffler’s rumble was the only thing that trailed us down the highway. The girl in front smiled over the top of the passenger seat and winked. I gave her my best smile back.
I was on the run. At the bottom of my knapsack were twenty thousand dollars, a fully loaded Colt .45 magazine-fed, semi-automatic pistol and an accountant’s ledger. She didn’t know that. They say what you don’t know won’t hurt you. They’re probably right, but it can get you killed. I learned that hard lesson in another life. Back in the world now, the same lesson applied. I added a wink to my smile.
I learned the driver’s name was Darlene. Her looks wouldn’t stop a bus, but they’d slow it down some. What she didn’t have in looks, from the way she talked, she made up for in determination.
The girl in the passenger seat, Miss Pretty-in-Pink, was Jamie Sue. Given her revealing nature, I figured her to be the generous type. She was also the talker.
Kelly Jo sat next to me in the back. She’d exchanged a nail file for a compact mirror and stared hard at her own reflection as she stroked her eyebrows with a wet fingertip. She hadn’t said anything. Being the silent type, she was hard to figure.
Jamie Sue told the story of three Dallas girls heading west looking for adventure. Three easy riders, I thought.
“We’re changing our perspective,” said Jamie Sue seriously, as if she’d rehearsed it. “Exchanging sunshine and oil for sunshine and beach. All we’re looking for is a good view of the Pacific Ocean.”
“Not much beachfront in Dallas,” I said.
She leaned over the back of the seat. “Ha! You’re funny.” She giggled.
“I can be, if I’m forced to,” I answered.
At that she laughed again, spun around in her seat and clapped her hands like a cheerleader at a college ballgame. I didn’t know what it meant. I guessed she was happy.
Kelly Jo added nothing to Jamie Sue’s running commentary. I started to wonder about her when she turned to me and asked, “What’s your name, cowboy?”
* * *
The death of my mama while I was overseas had left a big hole in my life. She’d taught me everything I knew, made me read books on every subject; and when I was too young to stay home alone, she’d take me with her on birth patrol. I’d sit in a chair in some stranger’s hallway, read my books and listen to the screams, the ones that started life. In the jungle, I heard the ones that ended it. I’d come full circle.
It was during my R&R in Hawaii, between my first twelve months in Vietnam and the start of my next six-month stint, when I decided to disappear. I made some enquiries and connections in Honolulu and had a new set of ID’s made. I mailed them home, hoping my daddy would save my post for me on the hall table. He had. I retrieved the package the day I’d arrived back in the world.
Maybe I could find a safe place where no one could find me. I saw it as a chance to take a new number. By destiny or fate, by the mating of two people in the heat of a midsummer passion, my birth on April 24 and the number two had sent me to Vietnam. Numbers run to infinity. I figured if I chose a new one, the odds were good.
* * *
I turned to Kelly Jo and told her the name on my new ID. “My name’s Jake. Jake Hawkins.”
Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer