--- R O B E R T L E H M A N N
When I was depressed, my mind felt so weak that I could not make decisions. Or if I was able to make a decision, I was too powerless to maintain it. So even though, in our two weeks together, Isobel and I were becoming a unit welded together by our romance, I was still so depressed that I couldn't make a final decision about going back to college. Isobel cleared away the brush in my brain.
"If you go back to college, I'll come with you," she told me.
My heart leapt at the prospect of having my hot little ferret with me while I trudged to class.
"But I think that dean at Cornell had it right," she went on. "You need to take a break. Your mind is not lined up for studying."
She was right. I couldn't concentrate enough to read, but even so I argued with Isobel that if I dropped out now, I might lose my momentum, and never go back.
"You are running on the track that your father built for you," Isobel said. "Your father doesn't see you-unless you're going to college. He's scared to death that you'll stop doing what he wants. But you'll never get through school doing it for him. If you make it through college, it will be for your own reasons."
"I don't feel any reason to be in college," I said. "I had one course that I could stand, and it was just luck that I enrolled in it."
"If you are destined to go to college, you will go," she went on. You have your scholarship. You can admit yourself to any school, any time, and pay your own way. You don't need your father's support to go. You pay a high price for the meanness of his support. You'd be better off without it."
I stood nervously in front of my old man and told him that I was taking a leave from the university. Isobel stood beside me, her arm linked through mine, very much my partner. Maybe having Isobel there helped my father to behave. He didn't respect pussy, but he admired it. Also, I had been so crazy since I'd come home for the break. It had penetrated even his mind that I might not be quite right. Against every one of his instincts, he had to admit that I didn't look fit for school right then.
Shortly after New Year's, with Isobel beside me, I pointed the Impala convertible east, and we made the 350-mile drive to Ithaca. Never had I made the drive with a lighter heart. I had my baby on board. Isobel had gotten on a scotch kick, and she brought along two fifths of White Label. I had a small bag of cartwheels.
We used the scotch to wash down the cartwheels and I thought, "This the way to travel."
Isobel and I had made it home just before dawn the night before. We had planned to start our trip at eight that morning. We were about seven hours slow in getting on the road. When we reached Cornell, we found that my dorm was closed for vacation. Typically, it had not occurred to me that the buildings would be locked down tight and empty. We called the Campus Security, and asked them to let us into my dorm. The silence at the other end of the phone was so long that I thought that they'd hung up, but it was only incredulity. They gave this long song and dance about the dorms being totally closed over vacation, no admission. When I said that I was a student drop-out and wanted my stuff now, they said that I'd have to wait until Monday, and get the Dean's permission to make a removal.
We were temporarily set back by the cops' firmness. Temperamentally, we weren't inclined to turn tail and drive back to Cleveland. Even if we were, we needed some rest before we left. So at midnight, we tried one motel after another, down in the town itself. Another thing that we hadn't done was bring enough cash. Only two motels still had their lights on, and neither one would take my check.
"What are we going to do, baby?" I asked her.
I was glad that she was there to make up my mind for me.
"We could sleep in the car with the heater on?," she said cautiously. "But I don't know if we've got enough gas to get through the night, and I haven't seen a station open."
"So?" I said.
"Maybe we should just get in the dorm, sleep over, pack your stuff and leave," said Isobel.
"But the building's locked up," I said.
"If we work our way around the building, we'll find a place to get inside," she said slowly.
"You mean break in?" I asked.
"Not break in. More let ourselves in."
To disguise our location, we parked the car in the lot of the dorm across the street from mine. Then, we got out of the car, and shivering from the cold, prepared to probe my dorm for weak spots. Just in case, Isobel brought the jack handle from my trunk. She wasn't entirely satisfied with the jack handle.
"You should carry more tools in your car," she advised me. "There are many times when it is handy to have the correct tool."
I was exasperated.
"How could I know to bring tools?" I said. "I'm sorry all I've got is a lousy jack handle."
"That's perfectly all right, baby," she said. "It's a very good all-around tool?and weapon."
On its front side, the dorm had room windows right at ground level. They had to be cranked from the inside to get them open, and even then, the part that opened was narrow. Isobel, as skinny as she was, wasn't sure that she could slide through.
"I don't like breaking into a building in an area that's lit," she said. "Let's see what's around back."
The dorm's back wall was uninterrupted brick for ten feet above the ground. The building's utilities and workshops were in this basement. At ten feet, narrow clerestory windows ran across the wall. There was no dumpster or pile of pallets which we could use to climb toward these windows. Isobel wasn't even sure that they opened. She didn't want to have to smash out a large area of glass, which would make noise. And she didn't want to crawl over broken glass so that she could drop to the floor inside.
The only other openings in the back wall were a loading dock door and three ordinary doors, two together, near one end of the building. We tried the loading dock doors, sliding the jack handle under their bottom, and trying to prize up. They didn't budge. The two doors together were windowless, hollow steel doors with a guard plate over the locks.
"I don't think we have the tools to crack those," Isobel said.
"Are you on about my tools again?" I asked her.
Isobel ran her warm tongue up my cold face. Her breath felt hot.
"The only tool of yours that I'm concerned with is right here," she said, giving my crotch a squeeze.
The third door, about midway down the building, was wooden, solid at the bottom, with four large glass panes filling the top. Through the panes, everything inside was pitch black. Isobel laid her cheek against the glass and peered at the lock.
"Inside, I can't see whether it's a knob lock or not," she muttered. "Give me the jack handle."
She took off one of her gloves, laid it against the glass near the lock, and tapped the glove with the tool. She had to hit it several times before there was a muffled crash and tinkling, and the glass gave way. With her gloved hand she gently rocked the remaining glass until she'd loosened several large shards, and dropped them soundlessly in the snow. She carefully put her hand through the hole, found the lock, and smiled.
"Somebody up there likes us," she said.
Isobel was very much in touch with her luck. It waxed and waned, she said. Finding a door that opened easily was a good omen. I heard something click in the lock. She withdrew her hand, turned the outside doorknob, and pushed. The door swung open. We were in a repair area. It was hard to see anything, because we only had Isobel's Zippo to explore with.
"Where do we go from here?" Isobel called softly.
At the far end of the shop, there was the rolling door leading to the loading dock. Two identical metal doors were set into the far wall. I walked across the shop and tried one of the faceless doors. It opened on a small utility room, barely bigger than a closet. It had shelves piled with supplies. I tried the other door. It opened on a short flight of stairs. At the top of the stairs was a door which gave access to the first floor lobby of the building. This was the door that we needed. Aided by her lighter, Isobel crossed the space and climbed up the stairs to me. She was still holding onto the jack handle. In the lobby, Isobel and I punched the button for the elevator. With the building so shut down, I didn't be know whether the elevator was running, but soon we could hear the cables and weights moving in its shaft, and the doors opened. We rode to Five. My room was all the way at the end of one corridor, a location which had added to my sense of isolation when I'd been at! school. In front of the door, Isobel asked me for my room key. Halfway though a search of my pockets, I stopped.
"I am the biggest idiot," I said. "I didn't bring it. What is wrong with me?"
I put my hands against a wall, and butted my head against it. Isobel soothed me. She rubbed the back of my neck and kissed my forehead.
"It's not the end of the world, baby," she said. "We'll figure out this door. Come on, help me."
She was able to calm me some. Even if I wasn't helping her break into my room, I had quieted enough to give her a chance to concentrate on the problem. It really wasn't that difficult. The door was wooden, sunk in a metal frame. The door opened out, which was good, because the door's edges were not overlapped, on our side, by any metal. If we solved the lock, we would be able to pull the door toward ourselves. Isobel tried forcing the point of her jack handle straight into the bolt. Nothing. The lock bolt was cut on a bias, but the weak side faced into my room, leaving us to deal with the strong side. From above, Isobel tried forcing the tip of the jack handle straight down, hoping to snag the diagonal part of the bolt, but she wasn't able to make it move.
"You've got muscles," she told me. "See if you can push the pry bar far enough into the bolt to snap it open."
I tried, but it was just too tight. We needed more force. Isobel looked frustrated.
"It looks like we've got to go back down to that shop and find a hammer," she said.
"Let me try one more thing," I said.
I unlaced one of my tall, black workboots, and holding it by its steel-capped toe, hammered its heel into the jack handle. After five hits, I felt something start to go. Five more, there was a crack, and the door was open. Isobel was happy. We were still very high on the amphetamines and the whisky. Isobel grabbed me around the middle, and tried to lift me off the floor. It was funny watching her scrawny body exert itself. But she did get me up on my toes.
"I'm so glad that my lover is manly, with big, dirty boots," she told me.
She looked around the room, at the ghastly, orange-painted cinder block walls, and the sad narrow single bed.
"Church Boy!" Isobel said. "If this had been my room, I would have killed myself."
Isobel bounced invitingly on the bed. How I wished that she'd been there in September, October, or November. Maybe I would still have been in school.
"Did you ever get a girl to lie down on this bed with you?" she asked with sweet concern.
I shook my head no. Isobel's question just brought back how lonely and ugly I'd felt while I was at college.
"Well, there's a girl on your bed now, and she'll make you happy at least once. Want to get laid one time in this sorry place before you leave it forever, baby?" she asked.
I told her that I was too uptight to stay in this room. Someone might see our light from outside.
"Turn out the lights and let's do it fast, like we were teenagers in a car, drunk out of our skulls."
"We are teenagers, Isobel," I said. "We're drunk, and I'm worried that someone's going to tow our big car downstairs."
"Are you turning down my offer?" she asked warningly.
I shut up and took off my pants.
By the time that we had rolled around on the bed, and chewed each other for awhile, it was about four a.m. By then, we didn't feel as blitzed by the drugs. The room was cold, but I had enough blankets on my bed to keep us warm. We were naked. Our clothes were strewn around the room. Isobel was getting tired. I asked Isobel what she thought of moving my belongings out right then.
"Baby, I just have to sleep," she said.
"I'm worried that Security will find us," I said.
"Don't worry," she said. "If they'd seen our light, they'd have been up here long ago. We're safe here for the night."
We were safe there for the night and most of the following day, as it turned out. Once the speed wore off, we were exhausted. We slept deeply, well past noon. When I woke up, Isobel was sitting by the window, hunched over smoking, one small, pointed boot jerking up and down as she jiggled her knee. She was wearing yesterday's outfit, but all her outfits were one design. She wore long, slender skirts, which came down to within a few inches of the floor, and a thin, long-sleeved sweater, just enough oversized to drape her slender body. Summer and winter, the sleeves on her tops were long, because she had started putting drugs into her arms, and she had to hide the marks. She'd been smoking cigarettes since she'd gotten up.
"What time is it?" I groaned.
"A quarter to four," she answered. "Did you have a good sleep, sweetheart?" she said.
"When did you wake up?" I asked her.
"About an hour ago," she said.
"You didn't have to sit around and wait for me to wake up," I scolded.
"You had such a nice look on your face," she said. "Like you were having good dreams."
"Come here," I said.
She was so sweet that I had to hug her. She came willingly to my bedside, and leaned down to let me kiss her. I was funky, but she didn't seem to mind that. Feeling her frailty, I decided that I hadn't finished with her during the night. I ran a hand up inside her skirt, all the way to her crotch. I felt something, pulled my hand back a little bit, and laughed.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Your underpants are crusty," I said.
I broke up.
"Up yours," she said. "It's your come."
I was concerned. Isobel and I were new to each other. What I'd just said was dumb and unfeeling. I begged for forgiveness, and she was forgiving. Sort of.
"If I had a higher opinion of your ability to understand, I'd stay mad at you," she said, sweeping my hair out of my eyes. "But I'm just grateful if once something is spelled out, you get it."
I looked at her, confused. I didn't get it.
Moving me out of the room was easy. In September, I had brought five cardboard boxes and a suitcase. I had never settled into my hellhole room. Due to my discouraged state of mind that fall, I had only taken stuff out of one of the boxes. Now, packing in January, my clothes went right back into my empty suitcase, and the empty box was quickly filled with items from my room. I looked at the row of textbooks that lined my desk. Most of them had never been opened. I didn't want them. They just reminded me of my sour attitude during the term. I loved one course that I had taken, Medieval French, and I took its books with me, so that I could read more out of them at home. I wanted to be out of that bedroom as soon as possible, carrying the fewest souvenirs. My room held memories of all the useless days and depressing nights that I'd spent in it. Cornell had been my first effort at living away from my family's house. It had been a terrible effort. During the three months at the un! iversity, I'd just become crazier and crazier, and when I left school to go back home, I harbored a death wish. Sadly, I thought how easily Isobel could function on her own. I told her how I envied her skills to live independently. She hugged me sweetly.
"As rotten as it is to live in my house," she said, "the only way that I want to be on my own is with you. I'd be horrible company for myself."
"You can say that," I argued. "But even though I 'm older than you are, in all the ways that are important, I'm behind you."
We put everything in the hall, and closed my dorm room door. The lock was pretty broken, but it still clicked shut to hold the door in its frame. We shoved everything down to the elevator.
We pushed "B," but when the elevator door opened in the basement, there was a call from somewhere in the shop: "Who's there?"
"Damn!" Isobel muttered.
We quickly pushed the up button, and rode back up to "1." Hobbled by her skirt, Isobel clopped out the front entrance, down to the walkway and across the street to the other dorm's parking lot, where our car was stored. Wedging the elevator door open, I moved the five heavy boxes and my suitcase, one at a time, across the lobby to the front doors. I was in a sweat about what the guy downstairs might be doing. I assumed that he was a security guard, in the shop because he'd seen the door with the broken window. I couldn't assume anything else. I had to assume that he knew we were right above him on the first floor. I had to assume that he would disdain the need for backup and would creep up the stairs from the basement. Thinking about that, I took up the jack handle that we were still carrying around, and, white-knuckled, carried it with me while I paced and waited for Isobel.
I heard steps on the stairs. I stood across the lobby, by my stack of cartons next to the front door. If there was to be a confrontation, I wanted it to be at a distance, where I could gauge whether the guy posed a threat. The door swung open, and a security officer stepped through. A college campus was not the most challenging place to police, and some of the members of the force were blatantly out of shape. Our luck was failing, though. The man who stepped through the door was young and well-built. He carried a baton, unholstered, and on his belt there was a big pistol. He was startled when he saw me, but quickly snapped into an authoritarian mode.
"What are you doing here," he barked out.
Isobel quietly slipped through the doors and stood beside me. The cop was rattled a little by her addition to the scene.
"I'm just moving out my stuff," I said mildly.
I wasn't trying to escalate things into a scene.
"You can't do that!" he said.
"I got the Dean's permission," I said in a conciliatory was.
"When was that?" he wanted to know.
"Friday," I said.
"Who let you in the building?" he asked.
"There's an AR staying over the break. I phoned him and he let me in today," I said.
"We have no record of anyone staying over in any of the dorms. In fact, we have no record of the Dean giving anyone permission to remove their belongings. What's that in your hand?" he said, pointing to the tire iron which I was still holding onto.
He was starting to cross over to us quickly. With a quick snap, he unfastened the leather strip that held his pistol fastened in its holster. He pointed at the piece of steel.
"Put that weapon down immediately. And put your hands on top of your heads," he ordered.
Things were taking a very bad turn. Whether this jerk had called in reinforcements or not, he had to be dealt with right now. We put our hands up, and instructed, and watched him march across the floor. He had shifted his baton to his other hand, and was holding a hand on the loose-holstered gun. He stopped about ten feet away, and demanded ID. We lowered our hands and went through the motion of producing it. Suddenly, I launched myself at him. I was fairly good-sized, and strong. When I was in a tense situation, I was very strong. My adrenaline all poured into my muscles. The cop raised his baton to strike me and pulled his pistol free of its sheath. He tried to club my head as I drove into him, but he was awkward, and only succeeded in slapping me on the back with his stick. I conked the security man pretty well, tackling him backward and smacking his head on the hard lobby floor. A second behind me, Isobel piled onto the guy, tackling only his gun arm, grabbing his wrist w! ith her arms, and his arm with her knees. Like a terrier, she worried the arm back and forth, trying to make him drop the gun. Instead, he squeezed off a shot, which made a deafening roar and which made us really mad. This fellow was ready to endanger innocent young lives in the name of security. Isobel had his hand and arm locked up. She bent her head to his wrist, and started biting out of it. The guy cried out and dropped the gun, which skidded away. I was holding on to the rest of the fellow, wrapping myself around his torso and arm, and trapping his legs with mine. He and I were close to the same size, but I was stronger. I had him. Isobel cast loose from the arm that she'd been holding and scrambled after the pistol. Her hair had come loose, and she blew it out of her face to see. The guard looked apprehensive as she picked up the cannon and aimed it at him. She worked the slide to chamber a shell and cock the weapon.
"Be careful with that, miss," he said. "We don't want anyone to get hurt."
"You're the one who shot this thing," she said. "If you don't want to get hurt, stop struggling with my boyfriend and lie still."
I was fuming. His willingness to endanger us by firing that pistol had sent me around the bend. His baton had come free when I tackled him, and now that he'd stopped struggling, I grabbed it. I swung it back to swat him with it. He winced as he saw it cocked, and I held off. Isobel looked at me curiously.
"You tried to shoot us!," I exclaimed.
"It went off!" he cried.
"It went off because you pulled it loose and put it in your hand," I said. "What could we have possibly done that would have deserved shooting us?"
"I was under attack," he said righteously.
"You were under attack because you came charging across the room at us and pulled out your stick and were going to hit us," I said.
Suddenly, I gave up.
"Ah, what's the use?" I said.
I swatted him with the stick, hitting him where his neck and shoulder joined. Even before I'd struck him, he cried out in fear. He gripped the hurt part and winced.
"That serves you, you scurvy jerk," I said.
We got him on his feet, and pointed him toward the rear of the lobby. He wasn't showing much character, not that he'd lost his authority. He kept whining about what we would do with him. I hated this guy. I hit him several more times, and twice he fell down. Isobel had to remind me that I didn't have all day to play with him. At the back of the big room, we made him unlock the dorm office. This was a small space, staffed by volunteers during the school term, which held nothing but a desk, chair, and telephone. I ripped out the telephone, and we introduced the guard to his new home. He asked me to turn on the light, and I promised that I would. I locked him in, forgot about the light, and told him that if I heard a peep out of him, I would beat him to death. We quickly loaded the car, and, with Isobel at the wheel, got ready to creep away from the dormitory.
Our luck had held. In spite of the appearance of this obnoxious security cop, we had gotten away. It was 'way past sunset. Night was total. There wasn't a trace of dusk left. Despite all the sleep, I felt an urge to retire and rest. I told Isobel.
"Baby, we can't," she said. "We have to cover our tracks and get clear of the place. You take it easy. I'll drive."
There she was, behind the wheel, little Miss Competent. And there I was, curled up on the street beside her, old Mr. Dysfunctional. A light snow had started falling again. It streamed through the headlights as Isobel put the car in gear and started away from the dorm. We were quiet, and nervous as rabbits. Please Lord, let us just squeak off this campus. But soon enough we encountered the security community again. We had almost made it to the end of the school road, where it let out on the street, when an auto approached us. It was a patrol car. He put on his flashers, and waved with his arm out the window for us to stop. Oh-oh. Isobel slowed to a halt. Sergeant Serious slowly swung out of his car. Olive drab coat, woolly mustache lining his lip like a caterpillar.
"Now would be a good time to have a little speed chugging around inside me," Isobel said. "My thinking processes need speeding up."
I felt myself sinking as I watched the cop trudge to us through the snow. Damn, it was one of the guys who had searched my room in the fall, after an enemy of mine had squealed that I had a handgun. I did, but I had hung it out the window on a shoelace, and they didn't find it. Now, in the car, I was sinking into the seat, trying to hide. The cop flicked his flashlight into Isobel's face, and then mine. At least there was no immediate recognition.
"What are you youngsters doing here?" he asked.
It was time for Isobel to become an actress. Coatless, she hugged her skinny arms, shivering in her thin sweater top. Her eyes teared up before she started. Panicked, in a rush she explained that she was looking for the address of a professor in Collegetown, that the professor was a colleague of her father's, who taught at the University of Vermont, that she had been driving around on the basis of misguided directions for over an hour, that she was long overdue at the professor's house, and he would never forgive her, that?the floodgates let down, and she was unable to speak further. She was convulsed with wails.
Isobel's performance sidetracked Sergeant Serious from why he'd flagged us down. Although he was an unswerving investigator, Isobel had tapped his human side. Also, if she was a professor's guest, he needed to proceed diplomatically. He asked her what address she sought. Dripping snot, Isobel asked me for it. I gave out one on Canton Avenue. Isobel managed a blinding little smile as she repeated the address. Nice man going to fix for Isobel. This unexpected intimacy startled the cop. Even with her makeup running, Isobel was a little dish. He pursed his lips and blew out his breath, relaxing himself to help intense little Isobel. In his pocket notebook, he drew a tidy map which would get her where she wanted to go. She accepted it with gratitude, and reached for her ignition keys.
The Sergeant asked her to stay for a minute. He asked her whether she had spent any time parked in front of my dorm. Bewildered, Isobel answered that she hadn't spent any of time anywhere. She'd just been driving aimlessly around the campus, misled by false directions. He satisfied himself that he'd done some police work by writing down identification off our doctored Vermont driver's licenses. So our luck had turned bad for a bit, when we ran into the Sergeant. But then it had gotten good again after Isobel had used her head with him. As soon as we had cleared Ithaca and were on empty highway, Isobel proposed that we have a party.
"Let's take all the pills left in that bag," she suggested.
"That's about twenty-five," I said.
"Let's take them all," she said.
I wasn't sure that it was a good idea.
"I already see things, even without taking those pills," I told her. "If we eat these drugs, both of us may see things."
"Come on," Isobel coaxed. "Let's celebrate your last day at school."
That struck a chord. I measured out half the pills for Isobel. Each of us would be taking 120 mg of amphetamine. I usually took no more than 40 mg. If I took that many, before I took any more, I checked to see what those 40 were doing to me.
"Come on, soldier," Isobel said.
She pulled off the road into an empty gas station. I shook her dose into her hand, twelve cartwheels. She washed them down with swallows from a fresh fifth of White Label. I emptied the rest of the pills into my hand and, when they were all in my mouth, swallowed them with the Scotch.
"God, I'm really worried about going to college," Isobel said. "I couldn't put up with these rules and this 24-hour-a-day control! I can't imagine living in one of those rooms."
"Isobel," I chided, "you just saw a dormitory and some campus cops. There's more to the school than just those."
"Church Boy, get real. You told me that most of your college days were spent moping around in your dormitory. Your only visitors were the security cops who tore your room apart. Besides barely staying out of trouble with them and isolating in your room, what did you do?"
"I did other things," I protested.
"Like going to bars and getting into fights?" Isobel asked.
I let out a long column of air.
"Like going to bars and getting into fights," I said.
"Well you can rent a room in the Duncan Hotel, and have the same experiences. There are bars right around the corner where you can get your butt whipped."
"So what do I need college for?" I said. "The only satisfying part of school wasn't even school. It was jamming with guitar players that I met in those bars."
Isobel reached across the wide seat and squeezed my hand.
"See, the one thing that turned you on in college was hanging with musicians," said Isobel. "This an indicator for your future."
"Nothing developed from those jams," I said, pessimistically.
"You got more open to playing with people," my baby said to me. "And that was while the rest of your life was closing up."
"You want to know what was the best?" I asked. "One band asked me to sit in. Playing in front of people was a kick. It was like a drug." "So playing to a house made you feel comfortable and wanted," she said. "You saw that."
I ruefully replied. "My old man put so much pressure on me to be a successful student at an Ivy League school. The only friends that I was making were in music, and I didn't value them. They weren't students."
"Did you write any songs while you were up here?'
"A couple," I said. "They were awful."
"But you kept writing, even though you didn't feel like it," she said. "When we get back to Ohio, I want you to play for me the stuff you wrote up here in New York. Will you? Will you do that for little me?"
The cartwheels were beginning to kick in. She subsided into mirthful giggles. I looked over at her.
I told her, "I'm very impressed with your penchant for violence,"
"You were the guy that hit that guard. But I do love it!" she said. "Love it when I do it to someone. Hate it when it's done to me. Did you see his face?"
She was talking about the guard. How he looked when she pointed the pistol at him in the dorm office.
"Church Boy, I think that of the two of us, you're the one who's violent. If that poor geek gave you any excuse, you were going to beat the bejesus out of him."
"It's tempting to think of beating up an officer, any officer," I admitted. "And if you're not inclined to violence, why are you so handy with a gun?"
"Personal protection. Self-defense," she said.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"It means that once I got very scared, because I was badly beaten up, and I thought that I would die. Afterward, I went to my father and asked him to let me learn how to protect myself with a gun. And for once in my life, he came through. I got taught by experts, and whenever I think that there's any chance of danger, I put a gun in my purse."
"Like you thought there would be danger the night of Jake Kirschner's party?"
"I always take a gun to parties. I never know where I'll end up."
"Well, you scared the daylights out of that security guard. He was afraid that he was going to die. At your hands. From his own gun."
"That's fine," Isobel said. "People should be afraid of me. I am dangerous. I'm good to have as your friend, but bad to have as your enemy?. Oh, God, I'm starting to get high."
We both were getting high, fast. I offered to drive, and for once Isobel accepted. She realized that she'd never before taken so many whites.
"If this was crank, I'd know what was going on," she said. "But I've never eaten this much amphetamine."
My molars were grinding. Sparks were going off all across my field of vision. In case our lodger in the dorm office had been found, and the sergeant had called the troopers, I had tried to switch to State Route 5. This was a back road which made us harder to find, and would get us down to Horseheads and onto Route 17. In the headlights' blanched field, I began to see wolves.
"Farm dogs?" I thought. "No, they are too big."
We had missed Route 5. I knew that we were lost, but I couldn't slow down. A persistent roar was building up in my ears. The drugs were insisting that I keep moving. If I stopped, the wolves would get us. They'd chew right through our canvas top. All I had left to guide me were my instincts. A farm road would end in a "T," and I would have to choose whether to turn right or left. Beside me, Isobel had grown dangerously silent. Through the windshield, she was staring in horrified fascination at something that only she could see. Suddenly, she started to scream and didn't stop. Her hands were fists at her sides, she was glaring steadily in front of her. She was scaring me to death. She would run out of breath, drag in some air, and continue the scream. Wolves or no wolves, I stopped the car. I pulled her over to me, and tucked her face against my neck, so that she couldn't look outside anymore. The screams turned to sobs. She was crying like her heart would break. I stroked her! hair and rocked her. I looked up. A wolf was standing on my hood.
"Fuck you!" I told it.
"Fuck you, too," came a tiny voice from the crook of my neck.
She calmed down, but she stayed burrowed up against me like she was nursing. Whenever I stopped rocking her, she began to cry. When I rocked her again, her cries subsided to sleepy whimpers. Before long, she was asleep, slack-jawed, her wrists crossed behind my neck. I couldn't believe that, having taken so many drugs, she could sleep. I was so wired that I was jumping out of my skin. She'd only been up for a few hours, and despite the monster load of white-crosses that she had taken, she was sleeping.
"Baby?" I said cautiously.
"Yes, daddy?" came that same small voice.
"There are wolves all around the car, and Death is walking toward me," I said. "I want to start driving."
"But I'm sleepy," she whined.
I had never heard her talk like that. She sounded exactly like a three-year-old. She even felt small. Curled up on the seat, she didn't seem to take up enough room. I didn't want to move her. I didn't want to risk her getting scared again. So I tucked her close against me and started to drive. I had gotten so lost that I was completely turned around. I was driving north instead of south. I made more turns. A sign at a stopping point pointed to Sullivanville, one town which I had actually heard of. Somehow, we were now back on Route 13, headed for Route 17, and Route 17 would carry us all the way to Pennsylvania. I stayed on Route 13, and drove it into Corning. Isobel stayed asleep the entire way, draped around me, kneeling against me on the seat. Her weight was wearing on my neck and shoulders, but every time I got her to let go of me and lie down on the seat, she started to cry again, calling out to Daddy and crawling to hug me. In Corning, we got on the Southern Tier Highway, and we started to make time. Isobel roused herself and sat up straight, rubbing her eyes. She became more speedy, jittery and agitated, the way that I was. Our mouths were spitting cotton. She had once again become my Isobel, game for pr! etty much everything, not the strange toddler that had hung on my neck for an hour. She looked nonplused and confused. She asked me where we were, and I told her.
"I lost time again," she shivered.
"You were here in the car with me," I said. "You were talking like a baby."
"Was I a different person?" she asked.
"You loved your daddy," I said.
"Isn't that something?" she said. "I've hated that man as long as I can remember."
"Then you must have been pretty young an hour ago," I said.
Isobel was still curled up tight against me. The warmth and softness of her body calmed me. She lit a cigarette, and sat quietly, thinking about the dramatic change that she had just lived through.
"I don't remember any of it," she said wonderingly.
When she had finished her smoke, she began to get restless. She fiddled with the radio, but couldn't bring in anything that she liked. She reached over into the back seat, fished around, and came up with the scotch.
"I'm too hopped up," she muttered. "I want to come down."
She took a pull out of the bottle, and handed it to me. I wanted to mellow out, too. We had taken too much speed. The rush had made me psychotic, and Isobel as well. Then she'd had that strange sleepy interval. She asked me how much of the trip we had left. I told her that we still had to drive a lot of miles. She was impatient.
"Go faster," she said. "That way, we'll be home quicker."
The liquor was bringing back speed's gifts of smoothness and confidence. I scanned the big road. There was not a headlight in sight. I pushed down on the gas. The car had been doing an even seventy. I pushed it up to ninety.
"Faster!" cried Isobel, delighted.
105?.110?.The little road markers on the shoulders were flipping past us. The broken line marking the highway lanes was starting to blur. Isobel took an enthusiastic swig of the whisky.
"Peg it!" she demanded.
I pushed the pedal all the way down and held it there. The speedometer needle passed 120, and rested on the peg. The car was effortless to drive. It was a big new solid Chevy, stock except for two 4-barrel carburetors, a racing clutch, and an exhaust cutout. Isobel, still crouching on the seat, bounced up and down. She was electrified.
"Do you still want faster, baby?" I asked.
"How fast can this thing go?" she said.
We had to shout. The cold winter air was pushing through the ragtop.
"I don't know!" I roared. "I've always stopped at the peg!"
"Forget the peg!" Isobel yelled.
The speedometer needle crawled on around the dial to where 125 mph was marked. I kept the motor floored. The needle was stuck to the peg. I heard a tiny snap, the needle broke loose, and flopped all the way back to zero. Over the roar of the wind and the engine I shouted at Isobel, and she shouted back to me. We still hadn't passed a soul.
"We're at light speed!" she cried.
Isobel was gripping my arm in her excitement, staring out the windshield at all the highway stuff flashing past us.
"How fast do you think we're going?" she shouted.
"Maybe 130," I said.
It was the middle of the night, and we were miles from any town. I kept the car floored. The speed outside felt in synch with the speed in our systems. I took another belt of whiskey. The car started to shudder. I backed off the pedal a fraction of an inch, and the car slowed down enough to run smoothly again.
"This is like flying!" Isobel said. "Can we be home in an hour?"
"Maybe two," I said. "You like this, don't you, baby?"
"I've never gone so fast in a car," she said. "I love it."
Suddenly, far ahead, I saw a nest of flashing red lights. I tested reality with Isobel. She saw them too.
"Something's going on up there," I said. "I'm slowing down."
I took my foot off the gas, and let the car decelerate to what I estimated was the speed limit. As we drew close to the lights, I saw a flashlight waving up and down at us. Behind me, I saw the roof-lights of another cruiser, which was gaining on us.
"Oh no!" said Isobel. "Is he trying to clock us?"
"I think he's just hurrying to these lights," I said. "I'm way under the speed limit now."
It was an accident scene, a bad one. A trailer truck lay over on its side, blocking both lanes. A car had smashed into the belly of the trailer, and caught fire. All its glass had broken out. The paint was gone, and so were the tires. There was water all around the car. I saw the pumper from which the water had come. Hoses still lay snaked over the road. Up close, I could identify all the lights that we had seen from miles away. There were state police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances. All of them had their lights flashing, throwing a lurid red glow onto the wreck.
We slowed to a crawl. A cop was using his flashlight to indicate the left shoulder, where there was room to pass. We drove slowly alongside the gruesome wreck, morbidly fascinated by the destruction and the emergency vehicles. The burnt-out car, its nose buried in the belly of the trailer, was horrifying.
"I don't think anybody made it out of that car," Isobel said softly.
We were up alongside of the cop with the flashlight. Impatiently, he waved us on. I wanted to stop and ask him the gruesome details, but Isobel told me to forget it.
"Just get away from here!" she said. "This scene is going to give me nightmares."
I wanted to get away, too. I wanted to lose those flashing lights. I pushed down again on the gas pedal. We still hadn't passed a car in either direction for miles, so I decided that it was safe to speed again. All of a sudden, a pair of headlights and red flashers popped on a hundred yards behind us.
"That son-of-a-gun!" Isobel said. "He was clocking us with no lights on."
He flicked his high beams at me, and I pulled over onto the shoulder. Isobel stashed the whisky bottle far back under the seat. The trooper walked up my side of the car and signaled me to roll down my window. He shined the flashlight into both our faces. We didn't look too wasted. The car crash had sobered us up. About the only way he could have told that we were drugged was that our pupils were enormous, but he was looking for drunks, not pill heads. He told me that he had clocked me at ninety, and that I had been still accelerating. I told him that my speedometer was broken, but that fact didn't seem to mellow him at all. He wrote out a speeding ticket, gave it to me, and said to follow him.
"Where are you going?" I asked.
"To the JP," he said.
Upstate New York has a very weird legal system. In rural areas, instead of courts, they have justices of the peace, who are available day or night to judge on minor infractions. We followed the cop a few miles up Route 17. He turned off into a tiny burg named Friendship. Isobel made an ironic joke about the town's name, but we were both nervous. These JP's were little autocrats, with wide latitude to give out sentences and fines. During the previous fall I'd had trouble with a JP, while I was hitchhiking from Ithaca to Syracuse. A trooper had written me up for hitchhiking, and taken me to the JP. That JP assessed a fine bigger than the money I had with me. He settled by taking every penny I had. I had to hitch back to Ithaca. He didn't even leave me bus fare.
The trooper drove straight through Friendship. The town was so small that it didn't even have a traffic light. A mile or two past Friendship, he pulled into a long driveway that went up a hill. At the top stood a little white house. The JP let us into the house. He was dressed in a bathrobe. He was unshaven. He looked surprisingly young. He couldn't have been forty. We sat down in the living room, Isobel and me on the sofa, the JP in an armchair. The trooper remained standing, stiffly. I thought how similar his uniform was to the security cop back at Cornell. But I wasn't able to work up a laugh about the topic with Isobel. His stiff manner made him look like a Marine Corps DI. The JP seemed drunk. He talked to us in a friendly and casual manner, asking where we were from, what we were doing on the Southern Tier Highway. The trooper read the charge. The JP rubbed his stubble, appeared to be considering what to do.
"In my parish," he said, "speeding is fined at the rate of five dollars for every mile over the limit."
I heard him say this and my heard dropped in my chest, making a sickening thud at the bottom. This jerk was robbing us. Part of that fine would go to the JP himself.
"So your fine will be $125 plus fifteen for court costs. A total of $140," he said.
Isobel and I were thunderstruck. We had nowhere near that much cash with us. We explained this to the justice.
"Well, then," he said. "You will have to go to the lock-up until someone pays your fine."
This sounded suspicious to Isobel. The JP wouldn't make any money if we went to jail. He would have to turn over the collection of his judgement to the county court. Isobel assumed that he was looking for a deal.
"Neither of us has a friend who could bring you that much. I have the money," she said carelessly. "I'll write a check, and I will guarantee that it's good."
Alyssa, Isobel's sister, was the actress in the family. But if I had to pick one of the girls to lie convincingly, I would go with Isobel. She looked so casual and competent that she set the JP's wheels in motion. Courts accepted checks for fines. The JP made it a rule not to, but the girl looked honest and he had imposed a stiff penalty. He looked at the trooper, seeking guidance. The trooper looked stonily at nothing, avoiding the JP's stare. The trooper's job was to arrest speeders. It was up to the judiciary to deal with them. Harshly. The JP looked back at Isobel. She looked earnest. Silent tears were rolling down her cheeks. For the second time that night.
"You write that check, young lady," he said. "Just remember that I have your address and your boyfriend's. I have reciprocity with Ohio. If that check's no good, your police will pick you up and deliver your sorry asses back to me."
I started to relax. The JP was talking pie in the sky. No Ohio police department would honor reciprocity with a nickel-and-dime JP in New York. Isobel dragged a checkbook out of her bag, and solemnly wrote out the check on her lap. She handed it to the JP.
"I even put our telephone numbers on it," she announced proudly to Loser. "Those numbers are just to reassure you. I promise that you won't need to call us."
She smiled engagingly at the guy. The JP allowed himself to smile back, into the warmth an attractive young girl. The trooper looked like he was going to throw up. He preceded us out the door, got in his cruiser and roared off, leaving us to find our own way back to the highway. Isobel said that she wanted to take the wheel. As we were driving back through Friendship, Isobel cracked up.
"What a turkey!" she exclaimed, taking a needed pull on the whisky. "That money-grubbing little worm!"
"What did you give him?" I asked.
"I gave him one of my old checks," she said. "That account's been flattened for over a year. I just carry those checks for emergencies."
It was the middle of the night when we got back on the highway. Isobel punched it and the Impala sprung to life. We were flying like the wind again. I got nervous.
"Isobel!" I said. "What if we get clocked by another trooper?"
"If I get a ticket, I'll just write another check," she shrugged. "Get some sleep. You look all in. I'll get us home."
The next night, we were recollecting about the campus cop in the dormitory office. We wondered if by any chance he might not have been found. Isobel covered her mouth with her knuckles, stifling a giggle.
"Oh, my," she said. "We really ought to call. Just in case."
"Do you think that they haven't found him?" I asked.
"No, I'm sure that they have?" she trailed off.
"But you want to call, just to make it no doubt?" I asked.
"What do you think we should do?" Isobel said.
"You know?" I said. "That jerk really pissed me off. His job was to protect students, and instead of protecting us, he came at us, first with a stick and then with a gun. I feel like leaving him to sweat in his own juice."
"You do tend to suffer injustice at the hands of the authorities, baby," she said. "But they deserve mercy just like anyone else. If we were to phone, though, I'd be worried about the call being traced."
"By the Cornell Security?" I asked.
"After two weeks hanging out with you," she complained, "I'm thinking as paranoid as you do. I have no idea how fast they are in tracing calls, but I'd feel better using a public phone in a bar. And tonight, I'm too relaxed and comfortable to go out and do that."
Somehow, making that call got put on the back burner.
Enough days passed for us to finally say to each other, "If he hasn't been found yet, he's dead."
Two weeks later, I got a note and a newspaper clipping from Spike McNear, one of my friends by default in my dorm. In the note, he said that he remembered how mad off I'd been when Security tore my room apart.
"Somebody got some revenge for you," he wrote, referring to the article.
The article said that the trapped security officer, Francis Ivory Ankle, said that it had taken a horde of criminals to subdue him. Francis was sure that he could identify two of the assailants, a young man and a young woman. However, Francis insisted that it had taken several more people to overcome him, disarm him, and lock him in the dorm office.
"I'm just glad to be alive," he said. "If that gang ever crosses my path again, there won't be a need for a judge and jury."
A couple of days later, Isobel and I drove to a florist's shop. Inside, I bought a dozen long-stemmed roses. Out in the car, I slipped into the box Officer Ankle's billy club, sawed neatly in two, and his .45. We enclosed a message offering our services as protectors if he was ever again jumped while performing his security duties. Isobel had loaded her lips with tons of lipstick, and, as our signature, she pressed on the card a full-lipped, gooey kiss.
We tied up the box again and mailed it at a post office miles from where we lived.
"These flowers will wilt before they get there," said the postal clerk.
"Wilted flowers are fine, we don't want them to be fresh," said Isobel. "We want to send this guy wilted flowers."
© crossconnect 1995-1998
published in association with the |
university of pennsylvania kelly writers house |