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Walter Giersbach
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devilspickup.jpg
Art by John Thompson © 2018

Something About the Devil’s Pickup

 

Walter Giersbach

 

Andre’s 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. 

“Oh, 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 listen.

The doors opened and the couple orbited to the back of the truck.

“Why 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.

RJ 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.

 

Andre 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.”

“I 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….”

He 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.

Andre 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.

Squirrel-like, 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.

“You 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.”

“A bruise.  I mean, my God.”

Josie stalked 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.”

Andre knew the complications of being brought into the family fray.  “So?”

“So, I’m asking you to talk to Josie and see what’s wrong.”

Andre rolled his shoulders.  “Nothing I can say that Josie hasn’t heard before.” 

 

*  *  *

 

The cop 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. 

Josie was returning from work at the bakery when Matt Riorden pulled up at the curb.

“Josie, I need to talk to you.” 

Andre categorized 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. 

“It’s 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?”

Josie shook her head.

“Seen his truck?  Can’t miss that yellow beast, can you?  Or hear it.”

“Haven’t seen 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 off.”

Lie!  Andre put his inhaler into his mouth and sucked.

“Drove around where?”

“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.

What 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. 

 

*  *  *

 

Before 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.

It 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.

He squinted, 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 Silver Surfer.

A dead surfer.

Andre coasted 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. 

He 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.

“Andre, 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.”

“Yeah.  I’m 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.”

Andre’s heart beat faster.  What did that ear bite mean?  Arlene wasn’t unattractive, but his stepmother for Chrissake!  “I gotta go,” he said.

 

*  *  *

 

A 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. 

Riorden came back with another officer, asking Josie the same questions.  Again, Josie played ignorant. 

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 your business.”

“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.”

“Mentor, my ass.”

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.”

“You’re buying RJ’s truck?”  Josie’s eyes got big.

 “This week.  I told Riorden I really, really wanted it for sentimental reasons.  My dear stepsister’s old boyfriend, et cetera, et cetera.”

“You little shit!”

“Also, Josie, I want you to be nice to me.  It’s the least you can do after killing RJ.”

“I never!  I never!”  Her eyes widened.

“Okay.  Accessory for hiding his body and pushing the truck off the road.”

Her eyes opened up like olives on a white plate.  “How did…?”

“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.”

Walking to the lot after classes, he saw Deirdre running her hand over the fender.

“Hey, Andre, help me?  I gotta get over to the Mall and pick up some pictures.  I need a ride, pretty please?”

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. 

“Yeah, c’mon.”

“This 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 going together.”

“Could’ve been worse for RJ.”  

Whaaat!”

“That guy in Brookfield years ago.  He put his wife in the wood chipper.  That’s worse.”

“Jesus, 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.

“Want to get a cup of coffee and talk some?” she asked afterwards.

“Talk?”

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?

“Sixty,” he said.  “Drop center ladder frame is why it sits lower.  Independent front suspension.”  Deirdre tightened her grip on his arm

The 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.

“Go for a drive?” he asked on impulse.

“Why not?”

It didn’t feel awkward letting Deirdre direct him to Candlewood Lake.  Her instructions seemed instinctual as she pointed to turnoffs and dirt roads.

“Stop here,” she said.  Then she was in his arms and pulling on his shirt. 

Reason deserted 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. 

 

*  *  *

 

“Andre,” Josie said plaintively, “borrow your truck so I can run errands?”

“What kind of errands?”

A petulant moue touched her lips.  “I absolutely have to get to the bank.”

“What’s 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.”

Goddammit!”

“Call Riordan.  He’ll take you anywhere.  Why don’t you stop off at Mootry Point while you’re at it?”

Josie stiffened.  “What’s that supposed to mean?”.

Softly, he said, “I saw you humping RJ in the woods.  It wasn’t RJ’s fascinating personality.  It was his truck you wanted. ”

Her mouth worked like a fish out of water.  You tied him up.” 

He 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.” 

 

*  *  *

 

He 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.”

“It’s too tight in the shoulders,” Deirdre complained.  “Whyn’t you take it?  My Mom’ll buy me something else.”

 

Andre 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.

Normal family.  Just like a TV show.

The incident 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?”

“Pills?” he asked stupidly.

“Like Alka-Seltzer, but pills.”

He took 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.

After 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 house. 

“What’s up, baby?”  Deirdre slid into the passenger seat.

“Just thinking about my weird family.”

She stared into his eyes.  “They’re not weird.  I like your mom.”

“The thong mommy of Fairfield County?” 

“That’s 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.”

Life’s 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.

Alone, 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.

“Andre, 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.”

Thoughts tumbled in his mind.  Two words came out, but they were the wrong ones.  “Hoochie mama.”

Whaaat?  My own stepson saying…?  Andre, I have tried to make you like me, even a teensy bit, and all I get is…is manifest indifference.”

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.

“Damn you, Deirdre!  Damn you, Andre!”  Josie’s shout echoed in the darkness. 

“That’s not Deirdre,” Andre croaked.  “It’s your mom.  Deirdre’s jacket, your mother.”

Andre 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.

Andre jumped from the truck, stepping on Arlene’s hand, and reaching down to touch Josie’s face. 

Was this 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.

 

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Walt Giersbach’s fiction has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Big Pulp, Corner Club Press, CommuterLit, Connotation Press, Every Day Fiction, Everyday Weirdness, Gumshoe Review, InfectiveINk, Lunch Hour Stories, Mouth Full of Bullets, Mystery Authors, OG Short Fiction, Over My Dead Body, Paradigm Journal, Pif Magazine, Pulp Modern, r.kv.r.y, Short Fiction World, Short-Story.Me, Southern Fried Weirdness, The Short Humour Site, Wilderness House Literary Review, The World of Myth and Written Word. Two volumes of short stories, Cruising the Green of Second Avenue, published by Wild Child <www.wildchildpublishing.com >, were available from online retailers until his publisher ceased operations. He served for three decades as director of communications for Fortune 500 companies, helped publicize the Connecticut Film Festival, managed publicity and programs for Western Connecticut State University’s Haas Library, and moderates a writing group in New Jersey.

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