Friday, December 28, 2007

BIG MONEY, Chapter 23

At the two-gas-station corner of Broad Street and Willow, a black or midnight-blue new Lincoln Town Car matches my turn. When I straighten out and accelerate, the Lincoln’s wide headlights perfectly mimic my Camry’s modest speed, holding exactly half-a-block back. Like I was towing the puppy.

We’re traveling north on Highway 35, but I’m guessing my Friday evening just turned south.

Figures I’m being followed. In two weeks time, Austin Carr has seen two lifetimes worth of threatened financial ruin, fights, beatings, fires, assaults, and murder. Not to mention interrogations, accusations, and obfuscation. I’ve been betrayed, befuddled, and bewildered. Of course I’m being followed.

I slide the Toyota over a lane and lock the doors. For the umpteenth time since Mr. Vick sailed for Tuscany and Walter sold my friendship for half a million dollars, I ask myself how violence and disaster so easily enter my life? Potential injury or death, a nonexistent love life, and looming bankruptcy stalk my good humor like a trio of vultures.

Just before the next intersection, I flip the wheel hard left, ducking in front of oncoming traffic and bouncing the Camry into a Burger King. A triple-beef, triple cheese sounds good. My libido needs to substitute.

All four of the Camry’s wheels go into a slide, but I swerve and pump the gas pedal just in time, carefully avoiding the eight-foot plastic, TV-commercial famous King character who serves as menu to the drive-thru line.

Think this U.S.-built, Japanese car with Mexican and Chinese parts would have wiped off that happy bastard’s frozen smile?

In my mirror, I see the Lincoln Town Car cruise past the second and final Burger King entrance. I don’t get even a peek at the driver or passengers, thanks to his tinted windows.

I skulk in BK’s back lot five or six minutes. No sign of the Lincoln. I should have ordered a Coke and that triple-triple while I sailed past the King. Maybe a shake and an order of fries.

Two parked cars leave, and I spot an alley. Should I run for it? Seems like the natural thing to do. For me, anyway. I did the peyote thing with a Native American friend once, as a kid, and discovered through trial and hallucination that my animal spirit guide is a horse. Nervous, with extra-long legs for the get-out-of-here giddy-up.

I yank off a nasty, rubber-burning K-turn in front of an angry mom and two wide-eyed kids in a mini-van, hit the unmarked back exit sliding left, doubling back toward Branchtown. Austin Carr is The Transporter.

Must be garbage day tomorrow. Overflowing tin and plastic trash cans litter the dark alley on both sides. Instead of a palomino stallion, I feel like a bowling ball curling down a waxed lane. The Camry racks up two spares and a strike. Trash cans are flying.

I’m twenty-five feet from the next side street when a black shadow fills the alley. I hit the brakes too late, skidding to a bump-stop against the black or midnight blue Lincoln Town Car’s rear door. In the same thumping moment, the Camry’s steering wheel explodes and an air bag punches my face.

By the time I get the giant nylon marshmallow out of my mouth, fight my way outside, I’m standing beside the one and only Tony Farascio. He’s wearing his usual golf magazine apparel, a full-boat grin on his George Clooney lips. His sausage of a thumb points toward the Lincoln that’s been following me.

The shotgun-side window slides down. Gina waves.

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