An except from my misspent twenties for chuck wendig’s flash writing ‘True Story’ challenge: here
The two of us were just about out of our heads on sleep deprivation and Tom Clancy when we hit the California border. A straight shot from Montana through Idaho, paranoia radio country, Utah and the long nothing that is northern Navada will do that to you. It hadn’t been quite twenty-four hours since Jake and I had decided with all the enthusiasm that two boys in their twenties with a few beers in them are capable of that it would be a good idea to leave Missoula MT at eleven o’clock at night and drive straight through to Sacramento.
Sacramento is where Ray was getting married.
Jake and I were both in the wedding.
We had snuck through Idaho militia country where they hated long and loud in the name of Jesus on the radio, catching only an hour or two of sleep in a rest stop parking lot somewhere near Pocono. We had sped the rest of the way on adrenaline, caffeine and Tom Clancy audiobooks. Utah and Nevada are a blur of techno-thrillers and wastelands. Utah is just barren. Northern Nevada is a whole other thing, the kind of empty that chips away at the sanity. Listen, I’m from Eastern Montana (the part without mountains and trees) so when I talk about empty I know what I’m talking about. If the bombs ever dropped, nobody north of Vegas would ever notice the difference. There was one spot, marked in a fit of black humor as a town on the map, that turned out to be just a bunker surrounded by barbed wire. We decide we could hold it and kept driving.
Seriously, it’s empty enough to make Reno look like civilization.
Soon after Reno we hit the California border. Or rather, we got in line to hit the California border. There was a line that must have gone back a mile or two. California Highway Patrol had decided that this was a good day to do a border check. Or maybe that’s just how the Cali border is, I don’t know, I haven’t been back to California since.
We wait, what else could we do? And finally it’s our turn. A middle-aged Highway Patrolwoman comes up to the driver’s side window and it’s obvious from her face that she’s done about a thousand of these today and had about a thousand left to do.
Jake, who was working as a bail-bondsman at the time, considered himself to be something of a fellow law enforcement agent, rolls down the window and gives her his best, shit-eating, grin.
“Something I can help you with, officer?” Jake’s got a voice like a TV announcer and the crazy son of a bitch can be damn charming when he puts his mind to it.
“Yeah, are you transporting any fruits or vegetables with you today?” Her voice is flat and unaccented, like a robot’s. If there was a point where she gave a fuck, that point was well before she got to us.
“Open your trunk so I can take a look.”
“Sure thing, ma’am!”
What I saw and what she didn’t was that, grinning and pleasant all the time, while Jake was popping the trunk with one hand, his other hand was creeping towards the .38 in the door.
This is probably a good time to step back and tell you something about my buddy Jake. Jake liked to think of himself as a dangerous guy. He was always coming up with crazy action hero names like “Jake Danger” and “Jake Anger”, that last a personal favorite, and he had been that kid in school who was really into martial arts and knives and swords. He had, in fact, collected enough swords to arm our whole HS production of “That Scottish Play” (don’t look so impressed, we weren’t that big a school), which led MacDuff to face off with MacBeth wearing a kilt and wielding a katana. By the time we were in college he had graduated, as any good Montana boy would, to guns. Man loved guns. Not liked. Loved. He worked two jobs and one was at a sporting goods store, where he worked just for the employee discount so he could buy more guns. His pride and joy at the time was a sawed-off, illegally-modified Mossberg assault shotgun he lovingly nicknamed “The Violator”.
Anyway, he was never without a firearm of some sort on his person and his car was an arsenal. There was a .38 in the driver’s side door. For me there was a Walther P22 on the passenger’s side sun shield, because Jake was, you know, a sharing sort of guy.
So my eyes are on the door and my mouth is shut.
But like I said, this is a long day for the Highway Patrolwoman and she ran out of fucks to give hours ago. She takes one look at our luggage, apparently decides that none of it looks like a crate of smuggled oranges, slams it closed and waves us on our way.
I’m still looking at the door. And the gun.
Finally, when we’re out of earshot, I snap out of it and ask, with what I consider to be considerable restraint, what in the name of every holy fuck he thought he was playing at back there? Or to put another way, why did we almost get into a gun battle with the California Highway Patrol?
He calmly explains to be that he has the Violator hidden under our luggage. The weapon he carefully and lovingly made as illegal as he could possibly manage. He does this as if explaining gravity to a grade-schooler, like it was a self-evident fact.
Naturally, I inquire, with straining patience, why in the fuckity fucking fuck did he bring that monstrosity with us?
He continues, same calm tone, that it was a for a joke.
“A joke?” I screeched in the full realization of the four felonies I had become an accessory by unwittingly helping him transport this thing across a quartet of state lines.
“Yeah, you know, we’re going to a wedding, right?”
“Shotgun wedding, get it?”