(Note that this is Part II of the story. Please read Part I first.)
Robbie was sitting up now, her head resting on the top of the back seat.
“Are you alright?” Judy asked, with her typical concern.
Turning completely around, I was up on my knees, facing the girls. “Yeah, you ok??… & where the hell’s your boyfriend? We gotta go!”
With her eyes fixed on the ceiling, Robbie was still trying to catch her breath. “I’m sorry you all. I’m fine. Guess I just lost it for a second, but Iszzy said he’d be right behind me & I panicked when the door wouldn’t open right away. Where is he? Michael, should you go get him?”
“Nah, if he told you he was coming, he’ll be here.” I knew the girls had been uncomfortable with our ‘getaway’ from the start…[they just weren’t getting the same kick as me & Isz] …so I tried to turn their attention away from the moment. “Wadda you guys wanna do after this? We could get some breakfast, maybe at that all-night truck stop on ’75.” They each looked at the other & kinda hunched their shoulders, not saying anything.
I asked Robbie if her parents had met Iszzy yet, seen the wanna-be rock star. She giggled & said “I’m not sure they’re ready for that yet. I know my dad’s not. He ran off the last guy I was seeing. Bobby was a nice guy, but he didn’t have a job & my dad said that he didn’t think the boy had ever changed his jeans… & he really didn’t like me riding in his van. It was the coolest VW bus… all psychedelic, & had Mickey Mouse painted right on the hood!”
“Well, Judy’s mom isn’t crazy about me either…doesn’t care for the long hair & beard. She’s always comparing me to Judy’s old boyfriend & generally thinks I’m a bad influence. She’s probably right.”
“Mackel, my daddy likes you…& as far as my mother…”
”OH MY GOD, HERE HE COMES!” screamed Robbie.
Right away I knew I’d messed up. By this time, both of my feet were resting in the seat. The car was turned off & I was lost in conversation with the two southern belle’s in the back. Not what my partner had hoped to see from ‘the driver’ and believe me, Iszzy has never let me live this down, reminding me again & again over the years who blew our chance for a clean getaway. In his words at the time, “Halc, you f***ed me.”
Again, Robbie screamed [along with Judy] “HERE HE COMES!”
Clutching the steering wheel, I spun myself forward and attempted to start the car, pumping the gas pedal up & down a million times [but it wouldn’t turn over, you know, like it always won’t do in those scary movies]. Immediately spotting his ride, Iszzy thought, ”Man this is gonna be great. I’ll jump through the window [just like they do on The Dukes of Hazzard], we’ll speed away…laughing like hell as we lose em’ in the dust.”
Didn’t happen exactly like that. The car was flooded. You could smell that gasoline smell. Time crawled. Seconds passed like minutes. It felt like forever before my car sputtered to a start… & the radio blasting away. Crazily enough, ‘Gimme Three Steps’ was playing. I’d say it fit.
“I was scared and fearing for my life. I was shakin’ like a leaf on a tree. ‘Cause he was lean & mean, Big and bad, Lord…"
“I-S-S-E-E-E-E!!!” …Robbie continued to yell.
Judy didn’t want anything to do with what was taking place… didn’t wanna hear it and didn’t wanna see it as she slumped lower & lower in the back seat, almost in the floor. Robbie would later kid Judy about it; how both eyes were shut tight as could be & how she was cupping those tiny ears with her hands.
Seeing Iszzy break towards the car, I gunned the engine, pressing the pedal to the floor. “C’mon man, let’s go!”
“Won’t you give me three steps
Gimme three steps mister,
Gimme three steps towards the door
Gimme three steps
Gimme three steps mister,
And you’ll never see me no more.”
What happened next, I swear to you, happened in slow motion.
Iszzy had only taken three or four steps in our direction when the linebacker [all 250 pounds of him] broke through the front door of Joe B’s. He had one thing on his mind… make the tackle. With this guy right on his ass, Isz chose flight over fight & scrapped his ‘Hollywood exit’. Leaping from the sidewalk over the dinged up newspaper stand, he belly flopped onto the hood of my car. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. But even crazier than watching Iszzy fly through the air was to see the football player take the same path and land right on top of him… & both of ‘em, cheek to cheek, looking at me through the windshield. I can still the disappointment on Iszzy’s face; as if to say “why isn’t this car moving?” But it was way too late for that.
I didn’t quite know how to react to what I had just witnessed. I really wanted to laugh. I wanted to laugh hard. But there was complete silence; no one was saying a word… and I guess I kinda gave Isz a break by staying quiet [for the moment]. Not that he would have done the same. There’s no way in hell he woulda kept his mouth shut if the shoe had been on the other foot…& I was the one being carted away.
I turned off the car…looked over my shoulder to check on Judy & Robbie. They were huddled together, both of them showing faces of disbelief.
“Stay right here guys, lemme see how much trouble we’re in.”
Not wanting to draw attention, I slowly got outta my car, pressing the door closed; not allowing the weighty door to slam shut. The burly bouncer had a death grip on Isgrigg’s upper arm, slowly escorting him back to the restaurant [leaving bruised finger imprints that Isz would proudly show off the next couple a days]. I followed them through a small crowd of eight or ten that had grouped around the entrance. Heard a few cheers of support & saw smiles from a couple of girls I remembered seeing earlier. It was well after midnight & the place had just closed. From what I could tell, the only people left inside was that skinny dude from the kitchen, our waitress & a squatty older Greek guy, who was squeezed into an outdated dark gray three-piece suit that he was about 30 pounds too heavy for. ‘Mr. Fashion’ turned out to be the owner. I joined Iszzy, leaning up against the cigarette machine. His shirt was hangin’ out, sweat was rollin’ down the sides of his face & in his eyes; the complete look of disgust he had is still fresh in my memory.
“Godd***n Halcomb, you’d be hell in a bank robbery.”
I cracked a smile & glanced at the kitchen guy… who kinda snorted through his nose & shook his head, shuffling through the front door. Standing alone next to our booth with hands resting on her hips & a puzzled look twisting her face, our waitress called the owner over. He jerked his tie loose, pulling it out of his shirt collar & stuffed it into his pants pocket. Looking towards the floor, he ran his stubby fingers through greased hair. Raising his head, he scowled at Isz & grunted “C’mon.”
Her emerald green eyes were still bright after a long night of waiting tables, but she looked tired. A small grin found its way to those pouty lips as she fanned herself with the bills, waving them back & forth. Apparently she hadn’t made it back to our table since Iszzy split or she woulda seen the cash he left, more than enough to pay our tab.
“Y’all aren’t gonna believe this.”
The owner snatched the beer soaked check from our table… reading it up & down, squinting through coke bottle eyeglasses. He looked at Isz… read the check again… looked at me. “What the hell’s goin on?”
We were as confused as he was. As it turned out, Iszzy [in his haste or drunken stupor, whichever you choose to believe] pulled two ten’s out of his pocket, instead of the two one dollar bills he thought he was leaving as a tip. Isz & I didn’t even try to explain [what are ya gonna say??]. We were just damn relieved that we didn’t get our asses kicked or find ourselves chained to the kitchen, washing dishes till our debt was worked off.
“I guess there’s no reason to hold you two any longer, the money’s right. Just go on & get da’ hell outta here. I don’t wanna see you in Joe Bologna’s again.” [Over 25 years passed before my next visit].
The front door shut behind us… the dead bolt turned immediately. Sounded like one of those prison movies with the cell door slamming shut. Thankfully, we were on the outside.
“What happened?” asked Robbie, running up & throwing her arms around Iszzy’s neck. Still pissed, he didn’t wanna talk about it. Isz pushed her arms down & climbed into the back seat.
Judy was sitting up front and turned towards me as I got behind the wheel. Starting the car, I leaned over, brushing my face across hers & whispered, “I’ll tell you about it later.”
A light rain began to fall soon after pulling away from the curb. Slowly driving across town, the dark tree-lined streets were quiet. No one said a thing. Squeaking wipers dragging across the windshield was the only sound.
I followed the signs to South 75. It was almost two in the morning & we were on our way home, back to Richmond. Judy had gradually moved closer to me, holding my hand in hers. Taking a deep breath, I took the whole night in… inhaling the sweet ‘after-the rain’ smell… making our
way down the lonesome highway.
Judy slowly leaned forward, deliberately moving her hand to the radio, all the while looking at me with eyes open wide & raised eyebrows [as though asking for permission]. Carefully, she turned the knob clockwise, clicking it on. And just like always, she grabbed my arm & squeezed…hearing the first few notes of the song… that ‘black water’ song.
I straightened up. Searching for his eyes in the rearview mirror, I found ‘em in the blackness staring right back at me. Robbie had fallen asleep on his shoulder. It had been a long eventful night for the
four of us. I looked at the road in front of me, returned to his eyes, again to the headlights coming from the south & back to Isz.
“C’mon man, give me a sign.” I thought to myself.
Isz opened his eyes a little wider…staring right at me. He gave me a slight nod, along with a short kick to the back of my seat. That’s what I was looking for.
“Go ahead Jude… turn it up.”
“Mississippi moon won’t you keep on shinin’ on me
Yeah, keep on shinin your light, gonna make every thing
Pretty mama, gonna make everything all right
And I ain’t got no worries ‘cause I ain’t in no hurry at all.”