Something About the Devil’s Pickup
legs ached and his asthma threatened to choke him into a gasp that would give him away. RJ’s yellow Chevy pickup sat monument-like
in the dirt road.
He’d ridden his bike to the top of Mootry Hill. Andre wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about RJ, a
doper and dirt bag, if it weren’t for his pickup. Josie, slobbering over
him in the cab, was his dumb stepsister.
no,” his stepmother said when RJ was in high school. “He’s
simply misunderstood.” Arlene came on like an earth mother seeing
innocence in all youth. Ha ha, New Mom.
Andre explained RJ sold crystal meth and bought vodka for kids, but she wouldn’t
The doors opened and the couple orbited to the back of the truck.
not here?” RJ demanded.
“Cause maybe we’re not alone.”
She was wearing cut-offs and a sleeveless
top. Flip flops on her feet in the woods. Not smart.
began pulling at her shirt and pants.
“Not in the dirt, RJ. Jeez, you’re terrible.” Josie gave a defensive
ha-ha, wiggled her butt and took a step away
to peel her clothes.
“Then on that door.”
RJ pulled a weather-beaten wooden door out of the brush a few yards from where Andre
hid. What was a door doing at the top of
the hill, Andre wondered. Mootry Point was
the end of the trail for many things.
watched with sick curiosity as RJ flopped on Josie. She resembled the frog he
had to dissect in biology. It was the first
time he had seen Josie naked, making conflicted thoughts tumble through his mind.
Neither RJ or Josie said a word. Josie lay like another piece of trash discarded in the woods.
“Go get me a towel from the truck,”
RJ said, rolling over.
“Where’s my panties?
Oh, goddammit, you kicked them in the dirt.”
told you to get me that towel!”
“I’m not going to run around
naked in the town park.”
RJ slapped her in the face. It sounded like a piece of steak tossed on a countertop. “Bitch, I tell you to do something, you do it.”
“RJ, that’s the last time you’ll slap me. I’m sick and….”
hit her again, knocking her head back. “Just
get out of my life, Josie.”
Josie scooped up her pants and shirt and
hobbled robot-like to the trail head, working to get her toes through her rubber flip-flops. “Bastard!” she screamed. Her last word ended in a sob.
* * *
RJ was maybe
two or three years older than Andre. Hard
to be sure since RJ had been left back one year and quit school as soon as he could. Thing was, RJ was blessed with being six feet
tall, about 190 pounds and movie-star handsome. Andre
was self-conscious, asthmatic, a skinny kid who could only envy RJ. Josie could’ve had any guy she wanted, but RJ’s magic lay
in the Chevy pickup.
Everyone oohed and aahed
over his 1960 Chevy C/K mustard yellow pickup. It had big-ass
bogger tires on chrome rims and eight yellow spotlights on the roof in a row of manic happy
faces. RJ had also done something to the
straight six engine that made it purr like a kitten at the curb and growl like a lion as
it laid rubber in first gear. The truck more
closely resembled a fire-breathing yellow dragon than a workhorse for hauling.
watched as RJ pulled on his pants, propped up the door and lay back to soak up the sun. And whiskey. And smoke. Then more whiskey before his head hit the door.
Andre inched out of the bushes. Three things
collided in Andre’s mind: RJ wasn’t
going to wake up for a long time, he’d made Josie cry after treating her like an
exercise machine, and there was a roll of duct tape in the truck bed. He
began pulling off long swaths of tape, wrapping it over RJ’s legs and around the
door, working his way up to his waist. RJ
didn’t stir when Andre drew the tape over his arms and chest.
“Try to get out of this one, asshole,” Andre
whispered. Before leaving, he rolled up the
truck windows. If the predicted storm arrived,
he’d be personally offended if the truck were to get soaked.
* * *
“I’m fine, Mom,” Josie repeated. Andre’s
stepmother persisted, inveigling the girl-woman into giving up information.
have a bruise on your cheek. It was boy trouble,
wasn’t it?” Arlene McManus was
wearing puce today, puce-colored cropped pants and tight-fitting top with a décolletage
deeper than Fairfield County women usually wore. She stood with
her wrist hooked provocatively on a hip, making Andre recall a kid saying, “Mrs.
McManus is a thong mommy. Can’t stand
the fact she’s not a teenager.”
bruise. I mean, my God.”
up to her bedroom.
The woman sighed dramatically and stared at Andre. “Your father’s in Afghanistan, Andre, so I’m delegating
you to be the man of the house, in a manner of speaking.”
knew the complications of being brought into the family fray. “So?”
I’m asking you to talk to Josie and see what’s wrong.”
his shoulders. “Nothing I can say that
Josie hasn’t heard before.”
* * *
didn’t appear for three days. In that
time, Andre had worried that RJ would storm up and beat the shit out of him. Maybe that he’d gotten so pissed in his little lizard brain that
he’d simply leave Josie.
returning from work at the bakery when Matt Riorden pulled up at the curb.
I need to talk to you.”
Riorden as a “nice guy” who had played quarterback for the Panthers when Andre
was a sophomore. He had dated Josie once
or twice before RJ came into the picture.
about RJ Kaminski.”
“What about RJ?”
She ran her fingers through her brown hair.
Andre came to the door, shivering in the cold snap. Josie leaned against the porch column with her arms behind her back.
“He hasn’t been home for the last coupla days. Seen him?”
shook her head.
“Seen his truck? Can’t
miss that yellow beast, can you? Or hear
his truck either.”
“Well, when’s the last time you saw him?” Riorden inched closer, staring at Josie as though
he were following a lesson plan for interrogation.
“Time and place, Josie. Where?”
“Uh, we drove around a couple days ago, then he dropped me
Lie! Andre put his
inhaler into his mouth and sucked.
“Around Danbury. Stopped
in the Sycamore Diner. RJ likes to show
off his truck.”
Riorden stared. Maybe
he didn’t notice Josie rubbing her nose. Finally,
he said, “Well, you let me know if he calls or you see him.” Then he turned back to his squad car.
the hell happened, Andre wondered. Andre
hadn’t taped RJ’s nose and mouth. Anybody
could’ve gotten out of that duct tape by chewing himself free or something.
breakfast on Saturday, Andre shouted upstairs, “I’m gonna take my bike and get
some exercise!” The announcement was all
he needed to communicate, as though the small ranch house was a recording instrument.
took forty minutes to get up to Mootry Point. Sweat
pouring into his eyes belied autumn’s chill, then he spotted the truck. The yellow dragon was now twenty yards off the trail, pushed down an
incline, dustier from wind and snow but still bewitching.
wondering where RJ was. Then he saw him,
farther off the trail under a pile of brush and leaves. He pushed aside the
branches. RJ’s eyes were closed, still impersonating the
A dead surfer.
downhill the whole way home. Thinking.
Who moved the truck? Who camouflaged RJ’s body? Hikers coming by wouldn’t have seen him. Probably
not seen the truck either. Somebody had rolled the truck down the hill
and covered the body.
The rest of the week, Andre scrutinized his half sister. She’d return from work late and, once, smelled
of beer. Didn’t go out socially.
Slept more when she wasn’t working.
was playing a video game when he felt a damp hand on his neck. He looked up,
ready to curse Josie, then saw it was Arlene who had helped herself to Josie’s wardrobe.
A too-tight sweater and a push-up bra made
her look like a dollar-store Dame Edna.
are you happy?” He smelled whiskey on
her breath. “I want so much for our
family to be normal. Till your father comes
home and we’re all together.”
happy. And normal.”
Her teeth gently tugged
at his ear. “Then try to act happy. Give me a hug now
and then. Show some appreciation for all that I do.”
heart beat faster. What did that ear bite
mean? Arlene wasn’t unattractive,
but his stepmother for Chrissake! “I
gotta go,” he said.
park worker discovered RJ’s body on the first warm day in March. Small
animals had gnawed at him, so the News-Times had to rely on a photo of the
truck the police impounded. The paper printed
a map of Tarywile Park with an X to mark RJ’s mortal end.
came back with another officer, asking Josie the same questions. Again, Josie
Shortly afterwards, he
heard Josie on the phone. “I’d
like that,” she cooed. “Awesome.
So, Saturday night?”
“And that would be some hotshot who
wants to cuddle and huddle?” His eyebrows
went up in little half moons.
“Matt Riorden asked if I’d
like to go out. Not that it’s any of
“It’s kinda my business.
I called the police station when the story got in the paper. Told them RJ had been a good friend and mentor.”
He shrugged. “RJ
didn’t have any police record, but they found weed in the truck. That made it a drug bust so the cops confiscated the truck. I put in my bid. Riorden
said something to the chief, and he said I could have the Chevy if I paid Blue Book price. No need to wait for the auction.”
buying RJ’s truck?” Josie’s eyes got
I told Riorden I really, really wanted it for sentimental reasons. My
dear stepsister’s old boyfriend, et cetera, et cetera.”
“Also, Josie, I want you to be nice to me. It’s the least you can do after killing RJ.”
never! I never!” Her eyes
for hiding his body and pushing the truck off the road.”
eyes opened up like olives on a white plate. “How
“Be nice. I’m
your alibi.” He walked out of the room,
knowing he’d delivered his best line ever.
Andre thoroughly cleaned
and waxed the truck. Registration and licensing
went through DMV without question. The clerk
even sympathized over the loss of a friend. “Can’t
ever tell how many crazies are out there,” the DMV lady said.
* * *
Electricity flowed through Andre’s
body every time he turned the ignition. The engine’s
throaty growl became a woman’s ecstatic moan when he’d roll in or out of the
school parking lot. “This is what it
means to be an American,” he told a friend.
“It’s not what you got in your head or pockets, it’s how many
cubic inches under your hood.”
to the lot after classes, he saw Deirdre running her hand over the fender.
Andre, help me? I gotta get over to the Mall
and pick up some pictures. I need a ride,
A clique of students had labeled Deirdre Owens “Snow White”
for her resemblance to Disney’s black-haired naïf.
Someone said her white skin looked like a condom filled with skim milk.
is RJ’s truck, isn’t it? He drove me
home once. What an egotistical jerk, but
I’m sorry he got killed. Sorry about
your sister, too. You know, cause they were
“Could’ve been worse for RJ.”
guy in Brookfield years ago. He put his wife
in the wood chipper. That’s worse.”
I can’t believe you said that!” Deirdre
laughed so that her breasts jiggled.
Friday night, Andre asked Deirdre to the
movies. Running out of words was the problem,
but Deirdre didn’t mind his silences when she was in the truck.
to get a cup of coffee and talk some?” she asked afterwards.
She shrugged. “Whatever. You know.
It’s Saturday night.”
They had sodas and hamburgers at the Sycamore
Diner. The lot was full of Chevy Bel Airs
and modified Model As and a sleek early Thunderbird.
Andre warmed to the glow of recognition when someone said, “Nice wheels. Nineteen sixty one or -two?
he said. “Drop center ladder frame is
why it sits lower. Independent front suspension.” Deirdre tightened her grip on his arm
first hints of summer wafted up the hills as Andre felt a weekend, a Disney princess, and
the sexiest truck in Fairfield County were all waiting.
for a drive?” he asked on impulse.
didn’t feel awkward letting Deirdre direct him to Candlewood Lake. Her
instructions seemed instinctual as she pointed to turnoffs and dirt roads.
here,” she said. Then she was in his
arms and pulling on his shirt.
Andre’s mind as her hands rubbed his chest. Blindly, he began
tugging at Deirdre’s clothes. “I
want to eat up the world tonight,” he whispered, not knowing what the words meant.
Josie said plaintively, “borrow your truck so I can run errands?”
kind of errands?”
A petulant moue touched her lips.
“I absolutely have to get to the bank.”
the matter with your car?”
“It’s making funny sounds. Kind of er-er-er
when I back up.”
Andre looked up from the TV set.
“Might be a wheel bearing. But
no to the truck. I have to pick up Deirdre.”
“Call Riordan. He’ll take you anywhere.
Why don’t you stop off at Mootry Point while you’re at it?”
stiffened. “What’s that supposed to
Softly, he said, “I saw you humping RJ in the woods. It wasn’t RJ’s fascinating personality. It was his truck you wanted. ”
mouth worked like a fish out of water. “You tied him up.”
smiled. “Somebody’s little joke, duct-taping him. But someone else
pushed him into the woods so he wouldn’t make it through the storm.”
and Deirdre were inventive at finding places to make love. Nice also that Arlene
embraced Deirdre like family, inviting her to dinner, having whispered chats, even borrowing
her clothes. “Love that pink jacket,”
Arlene cooed. “I need to know where you got it.”
too tight in the shoulders,” Deirdre complained. “Whyn’t you
take it? My Mom’ll buy me something else.”
was indifferent to Arlene as long as she didn’t put her cougar moves on him. Josie settled into a relationship with Matt Riorden. The episode with RJ didn’t come up again.
family. Just like a TV show.
came a week later. Friends from Newtown invited
Andre and Deirdre to share a bottle of spiced rum. As Andre stumbled upstairs
to bed after midnight, Josie said, “You’re bagged. Gonna have a big head tomorrow.
Want some pills to avoid the hangover?”
he asked stupidly.
“Like Alka-Seltzer, but pills.”
the pills into the bathroom, stumbling and dropping most of the blue capsules in the dark. He swallowed the remainder. Ten minutes later, he rushed back to the bathroom and began retching. Cramps seized his stomach in a vise-like grip. At the sink, he looked at the bottle Josie
had given him. In shock, he saw the container
had Arlene’s rat poison.
At breakfast, he worked hard to say “Good
morning” to his stepmother and the stepsister who had tried to murder him.
school, he sat in the Chevy debating whether to make an anonymous call to the police. Josie had no alibi for the afternoon when she’d
pushed RJ and the truck into the woods. He could
pin a murder rap on her. And if he was dragged in, what did they call
it? Justifiable homicide. She’d
tried to murder him.
“Nah,” he said out loud. But he chewed on the thought through dinner before driving to Deirdre’s
baby?” Deirdre slid into the passenger
“Just thinking about my weird family.”
stared into his eyes. “They’re not
weird. I like your mom.”
thong mommy of Fairfield County?”
not nice. She works hard while your dad’s
in the Army.”
He changed the subject. “Nice
weather. I’m going up to the lake. Okay?”
Deirdre’s lips curled
into a grin. “Can’t.
If I don’t stay home and clean my room tonight, I’ll be grounded.”
a tragedy, Andre thought. Everything in the
right place — the truck, a little money, a Saturday that could last forever —
but no girl.
“Bye-bye,” she called in her sing-song voice.
he sat in the truck seeing paradise draining away. Moments later, a Ford Taurus
pulled up across the tree-lined street. Startled,
he saw his stepmother extend a long leg onto the pavement and ease her body after it. He went cold, squinting in the growing darkness
at her high heels, cropped pants and Deirdre’s too-tight pink jacket.
I want to talk to you.” She leaned into
his window until her face was inches away. He
smelled whiskey on her words. “You
owe me an apology. I demand respect from
you while you live under my roof — our roof — paid for by your father in Afghanistan.”
tumbled in his mind. Two words came out,
but they were the wrong ones. “Hoochie
My own stepson saying…? Andre, I
have tried to make you like me, even a teensy bit, and all I get is…is manifest
She lunged forward, her mouth closing over his in a sucking kiss. Her arms wrapped his neck like fleshy
tentacles. “Andre, tell me you like me
even a little…?”
A sharp crack broke the still air. Arlene’s eyes opened wide, witnessing something
unseen, as she dropped to the asphalt.
you, Deirdre! Damn you, Andre!”
Josie’s shout echoed in the darkness.
not Deirdre,” Andre croaked. “It’s your
mom. Deirdre’s jacket, your mother.”
had never heard a scream like the sound coming from Josie’s throat as she peered
at her mother’s face, screamed again, and put the gun to her temple. A second shot reverberated in the street.
jumped from the truck, stepping on Arlene’s hand, and reaching down to touch Josie’s
how it was supposed to end? A normal family?
He had the truck, but now there were three
dead people. Maybe he could simply drive
away, keep on driving until he ran out of road.
He’d ask Deirdre to join him. Even
if she refused he’d have the truck and the truck would have him. It was the American dream, to let your
troubles stream out onto the open highway.
He was sorry they were
dead. But they’d be dead for a long
time and he had to go on living. He put his key in the ignition
and the truck seemed to respond with love.