A cool night air descended. Now that he had left the valley, it smelled and felt good. It dried Mike’s sweat. He lit another cigarette, gave the 8-track a shove and set the cruise control for 70. The Calais moved like a torpedo.
Heading east into the desert, he had left L.A. far behind. The sky changed, the scent of the air changed and the feeling even changed. Miles rolling by, tires humming along I-10, soft glow of the instrument gauges and blue green reflection off chrome radio knobs. Frank sang about New York, the lonely and flying with him over and over. Mike watched a smiling 727 PSA flight pass low over him as it made it’s final approach into ONT. He crushed out his smoke in a never used ashtray and sang out loud “Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars” cranking up the volume.
By 3 am Mike made it to Indio and cut down 86. As he got deeper into the Coachella Basin the sharp fishy smell of the Salton Sea fouled the air. Mike stopped in Mecca to get fuel and a pack of smokes. Pulling under the service station's blinking fluorescent light, he caught a glint off the revolver on the seat beside him and decided the glove box would be a smarter place to keep it for now. He got out and started to fill the tank. The bad bulb buzzed back on above him, each time casting a jaundiced light over the island. Mike intercepted the attendant with a wave and “I got it. Thanks.” before he got too close. He then pulled a gallon can from the Caddy’s trunk, filled and replaced it. He walked over to the attendant stall and paid the old man a fiver and pocketed the smokes and his Blue Chip stamps. After pulling out he realized he’d forgotten to get the windshield.
The smeared bug guts did make for a glarey moon lit night. Mike’s mind was somewhere else as he passed Date Palm farms and closed roadside stands that sold burgers, fries and Date shakes to the tourists during the day. Mike was too busy replaying the night’s drama and then his plans for the immediate future. Francis Albert Sinatra crooned on and the night smelled worse.
Mike headed east on Dos Palmas Springs. The Caddy floated on over the swells and down into the troughs like a big blue ship. He would catch himself believing he was on the bottom of a great ocean. He could look out and spot long tall seaweed, seemingly moving with a current, and other strange flora one might find in a seascape... then he’d remember why he was here. An hour later he was deep into the Chuckwalla mountains. He decided it was time for a change. Frank got tossed into the desert night and Elvis was elected to close out the evening.
Mike wasn’t really in the mood for Love Me Tender but he let it play as the Caddy eased over the crest and glided, as only a Caddy can do, down into a deep and narrow valley. The sun would be rising in another hour. He brought the sky blue tank to a stop. Mike reached across and retrieved his .38 revolver from the glove box and turned the car off but left it in accessory. Elvis sang on as Mike grabbed the can of gas and a gym bag from the trunk.
It had been one long night for a man who’s used to getting to bed by ten so that he could be at his desk bright and early preparing for the day’s class. But the school year ended a week ago and this was his vacation. He never intended it to start this way, but there it was.
Mike opened the right rear passenger door and pulled the red picnic blanket off of the still breathing child molester. The man’s blackened eyes opened slowly and immediately caught the look in Mike’s own eyes. He made a feeble attempt to kick him away but only succeeded in losing more blood. The man gurgled something incoherent and closed his eyes again. Mike lifted the can and rapped it a few times on the inside of the door jamb, each time sloshing a bit out the top. The man jerked awake again and weakly thrashed about losing even more blood through multiple .38 caliber holes in his body. He kept thrashing while Mike washed down the Caddy's interior. The young teacher tossed the empty can on the child molester's chest and smiled at him when he pulled his trusty old zippo lighter out. Elvis hit his stride with Viva Las Vegas and Mike joined in at the chorus as he flipped the lighter open. Elvis...was about to leave the building.
Mike never thought about it again. The beating, the slow reload, the pleading, the screams, the roasted marshmallows or that drive through the smelly desert with Frank and Elvis.
I'm a retired truck driver and life long artist. I enjoy reading, writing, playing guitar, hunting wild boar, camping, building black powder rifles and riding motorcycles. I'm happily married to my first wife and have three grown sons and three dogs. I was born and raised in northern California and a Navy vet serving on the USS John Hancock DD 981.