The Pontiac had been a project of mine for a while. I had taken out the original 307 motor, which had about 150,000 miles on it, and put in a 454 from the rusted-out Chevelle SS my stepdad left in the garage. He’d be pissed, but he’s also locked up for a while, so I wasn’t worried. The Ventura is basically the same car as a Chevy Nova, and mine was a ’71, mostly black except the hood still primer gray. I needed to finish painting it but I was broke from the transmission. Needed a new radio too, the AM/FM dial was lousy and wouldn’t pick up much of anything. But the car was fast with that big engine in there.
Reggie never was that good a friend of mine, but he knew I spent a lot of time working on the car. He had an apartment not far from where I lived with my mom. She’d been having a hard time with Dale locked up, and I was happy to stay with her and save rent. Reggie would come around the house every now and then wearing his backpack, looking like an overgrown school kid. He’d drop by to talk and bum cigarettes, probably because I smoke Winstons and he only had generics. He always asked me about the car, how fast it would go. He said he had a Camaro once but totaled it drag racing after a pint of Jack. He didn’t have his license anymore and he could never hold down a job. He’d work a couple of weeks doing construction, get paid in cash one day, wind up in jail that night.
But lately he’d been good. He cut his hair short and got a job at Jimbo’s doing oil changes. He’d been there six weeks I think, so I figured he’d reformed. Reggie came to me one day asking for a ride.
I was smoking on the porch when he walked up in his ratty jeans and bust-up sneakers. I knocked one out of my pack because I didn’t want to hear him ask again. “Thanks,” he said, scratching at his scruffy neck like a dog. “How’s the Ventura runnin’ today?”
“Just fine. I got the tranny shifting real smooth now. No slips.”
He clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Bet you could get it up to a hundred real quick.”
“Racing ain’t my thing.”
“Well amigo, I got paid today. You mind runnin’ me to my bank?”
He shifted under his backpack, which was kind of slung over his right shoulder. I always figured Reggie to be the type of guy who’d cash a check at the liquor store. But I had the day off and nothing else to do. “Guess not,” I said. “What bank you use? First America?”
“Naw, I’m at Heritage, over there on Cheatham.”
“Well just let me get my wallet. I want to get a sandwich while we’re over there.”
“Hey that’s fine, buddy,” he said. “Tell you what, I’ll buy you lunch for the ride.”
I didn’t expect Reggie to be a generous guy either, but I wasn’t one to refuse a meal. We got in the car and I fired up the engine. “That’s got a good sound,” he said, pounding his fist on the dash. “Let’s see how fast we can get this thing goin’!”
I kind of sped through the neighborhood but I didn’t go as fast as he probably wanted to. It was summer and there was kids running around. We hit the main strip and he kept pushing on me to gun the car faster and faster. And I did go fast, faster than I usually would, but I knew my car would do a lot better out on the highway. I should’ve been worried about getting a ticket, but something about Reggie made me feel like I could do anything I wanted and get away with it.
We got across town pretty quick. I started to pull into this barbecue shack, but Reggie asked me to take him to the bank first. Outside the bank Reggie said to just pull up by the door. “I’m just running in and out,” he said. “You can wait here.” He grabbed his backpack and left the door open. I turned on the radio and looked at my watch. It was 3:56, Friday afternoon.
It was goddamn hot in the vinyl seat and I had to squirm around to keep from sticking. I messed with the radio and found an Allman Brothers song, lit a cigarette and looked out at the road. There wasn’t too much traffic even at this hour. I was hungry. All I wanted was some pulled pork with slaw on it and a large sweet tea.
It really shouldn’t have surprised me to see Reggie run out the bank with a stuffed garbage bag in one hand and a bigass pistol in the other. It really shouldn’t have surprised me at all, but goddamn it did.
“Are you fucking serious?” I yelled at him.
He jumped in the car. He was smiling the whole time. “Come on, Barry! We gotta go!”
“What the fuck, Reggie!”
“Ain’t no time for that, man,” he shouted. “Move your ass!”
I threw the car into drive and sped out into traffic. I could hear a cop siren already in the distance, so I gunned it straight out of town and soon there wasn’t much around us at all but the pines.
“Hey Barry,” Reggie started, ass-up and looking through the rear window even though there was nothing to see. “I’m like Butch Cassidy, and you’re the Sundance Kid!”
“What the hell you thinking, Reggie? Getting me mixed up in this?”
“You got the car, man. What else you need this fast-ass car for?”
“How about getting to work?”
“We won’t have to work one day more after this.”
“You didn’t shoot nobody, did you?”
He sat back down and lit up one of his generics. “Course not, man. It’s just to scare ‘em, is all. It’s all old-timey, see, but it still works. You want me to shoot it?”
“Fuck no. Where’d you get that?” Thing looked like it was straight out of the Civil War.
“Got a buddy at work.” Reggie set the gun down on floorboard and opened the bag. There was a lot of money in it. I had no idea how much and I don’t think Reggie did either. I’d always figured he’d go down for robbing a convenience store over sixty bucks or something. Not something like this.
“They get all the deposits from restaurants and businesses and shit like that. Over there at the Heritage Bank.”
“I knew they was about to get all their cash out for the truck. I’d cased the place, you know, I took this real serious. I’d checked it out and knew if I got there right then I’d just have to walk in looking all tough and shit and tell them what to do.”
I listened to him go on about how goddamn smart he was for twenty minutes, speeding through the countryside and passing the two or three cars that wound up in front of me. I thought about how I’d get arrested and wind up in prison, right next to my stepdad, how he’d yell at me through the bars and give me all kinds of hell about the Chevelle SS. I thought about my mom all alone. I thought about turning us in, turning Reggie in.
“We gotta get rid of that money, Reggie. What if it’s got one of those paint-bombs in it or something?”
“Naw,” he said. “I was watching them when they put it in there. I saw em try it with some kind of dye thing like you’re talkin’ about. But I told her if she put that shit in there, I’d come back and rape her and kill her.”
He was probably serious, I thought. I mean—I’m sure he said it, but now I wondered if he really meant it, because I couldn’t put nothing past him anymore. I didn’t say anything for at least thirty or forty more miles. It was too loud in the car anyway with hot wind blowing through the windows. I just watched the needle vibrate around a hundred, watched the afternoon flicker in and out of the trees. If I had been alone or with anybody else, I might have actually enjoyed myself.
We came up on a little unincorporated town. I slowed down when the signs dropped the speed limit in steps from fifty-five to thirty. There was a diner and a motel there—one of those empty, family-run, small-town joints. I told Reggie I was hungry even though it was a lie. My stomach was all knotted up. “How about you buy me some lunch now?”
There were two semis parked at the side of the diner near the motel. The lot was empty except for those big rigs and my Ventura. I started to park away from the buildings so I could take off at high speed if I needed to. Then I thought, I ain’t making no goddamn getaway; I’ll come out hands-up if I have to. I parked nose-in right against the window. “You think they’re gonna know it’s us in there, Reggie? You think they’ll know it was you?”
“These folks don’t know shit,” he said. “Probably one cop in this whole town. Barney-fuckin-Fife with his one bullet in his shirt pocket.” He put the pistol under the seat and left the car carrying the bag of money. “Open up the trunk for me,” he said, pounding on the metal. I’d taken all the locks off when I was painting and I told him so. He tossed in the bag and slammed the trunk shut. “Guess we’ll just have to watch it out the window. C’mon, let’s eat.”
There were two truckers smoking cigarettes in a booth in the corner but they didn’t seem to notice us. The place smelled thick with bacon grease and it made me kind of hungry and made me kind of want to puke. A girl sat behind the counter reading newspaper comics and chewing gum. Reggie and I went to the other end of the restaurant. The girl got up and strolled over like we were just a couple of nobodies, which I guess we really were.
“What y’all want to drink?” She kept chewing her gum. She was a pretty girl even without makeup. She had a few freckles.
“Cherry Coke,” Reggie said, with that big, dumb smile on his face. “And what’s your name, darlin’?”
“Stacy. You know what you want to eat?” She smacked the gum in her mouth.
“Yes I do, darlin’. I’d like a T-bone steak and eggs. Over easy. You get them make the eggs nice and runny for me. You got some onions and cheese to put on ‘em? And some hot sauce?”
I ordered a BLT and some water and she walked away. “Nice little piece of ass there,” Reggie said. “Give me a cigarette, man.” I lit one for myself as well. Reggie smoked and stared across the diner at the girl. “Maybe we should get us a room here at the motel,” he said. “This’d be a good spot to lay low.”
“You’re fucking crazy,” I said. “You think this is fun or something?”
“Kinda, man. C’mon, we’re gonna be livin’ large real soon. Steak and eggs, Barry. And hell, with your share—”
“So how much is my share?”
“Shit, man, I ain’t even counted it yet.”
Reggie looked at me through the smoke. “How about twenty?”
“How about half.”
“You know I did all the work,” he said. “I had another buddy backed out last minute and he only said thirty. Hell, he helped me plan the whole thing.”
“You never even asked me about all this.”
“Shit, man, I asked you for a ride.” Somehow Reggie made it seem like it was my fault I was in all this, and I suppose it was. Reggie was a goddamn liar and nothing was going to change that. He didn’t have any friends, either. He probably stole that gun from the flea market. “I’ll take forty, then. I drove the car.”
“Look man, I don’t want to dick around no more. I don’t even know how much is in that bag.”
“I want my fair share,” I told him, “Or you’re gonna find yourself in some serious legal shit.”
“What you tryin’ to say?”
“I’m saying they’ll go easy on me if I turn you in.”
Reggie put the cigarette down. “You listen here,” he said. “We been friends a long time, Barry. But if you ever even think about goin’ to the police I will blow your goddamn head clean off.”
“What, with your old cowboy gun?”
Right then the girl came back with our food. Reggie’s plate had a thin brown slab of meat and two bright yellow eggs. He stubbed out the cigarette and smiled at his plate like a little birthday boy. “You are sweet as pecan pie,” he said to the girl, looking her up and down.
She seemed to like that, blushing a little as she walked away. Reggie picked up the steak knife and broke open one of his yolks. “Thirty-five,” he said. “And that’s all we’re gonna talk about it. After we eat, I’ll go get us a room.”