Chapter 93

“Out goes the ego
on the road to hitting bottom
looking up through the gloom.”

“Reports out of Guyana now have the death toll from cyanide-laced fruit juice rising to the hundreds and hundreds, while the bodies of Representative Leo Ryan and others are being returned to the Bay Area. Closer to home, Police Chief Charles Gain states that rumors of local Peoples Temple-related violence, so-called hit squads, are unfounded so far. But after the U.S. State Department looking the other way so far, the FBI has finally joined the investigation…”

“That’s plumb crazy…”

“And what we just went through wasn’t?”

“In other news, District Eight supporters of former Supervisor Dan White have delivered more than a thousand letters and petition signatures in favor of his reappointment. But City Hall is not tipping its hand, and columnists such as Herb Caen are having a field day with what they term White’s too-little, too-late efforts. Details on these and other stories at the top of the hour, plus your Thanksgiving weekend weather. So keep your dial on KGO…”

“Nuffa that,” Eric said, pushing a pre-set button to KFAT’s FM signal from Gilroy, which was deep into a Little Feat marathon, Lowell George belting ‘Trouble’ off the ‘Sailin’ Shoes’ LP. “I got enough on my plate as it is…I mean, those fuckin’ surfers been giving me shit ever since I moved into that garage.”

“Uh, you’ve still got some blood running down your cheek there…”

We must have been damn near Mussel Rock Park before I even dared to look back through his Porsche coupe’s rear window, preferring to dance up and down his radio dial and co-plot our course due north. We had beat a retreat out the San Pedro access road, past clustered veterinary clinics and realty offices, by local shanty grottos, fresh catch joints laced with starfish, hand-whittled pelicans and barnacles the size of beachballs, kitchen additions sagging out back as if built on quicksand pilings the night before. Pacifica’s fish houses were sprinkled through an otherwise uncharted landing of boatyards and makeshift drydocks—a choppy, sea-sickening gumbo of rotting hulls, rusting scuppers and teetering abandoned dreams.

The stretch north of Pacifica had started out hospitably enough, a gently arching thread through roadside gas marts and seaside cottage cafes. Parceled in among coarse sprigs of scrub pine and spindrift eucalyptus were half-shelled craft shops and buccaneer shanties behind bunkers of overturned jeeps and boat haulers, as if to shore up these cliff dwelling condos and clustered enclaves against rising tides and hostile torrents. Only the fortifications all seemed to be positioned toward the highway—an indication, perhaps, of where the real threat was perceived to be.

Just man and the sea, that swirling tide pool symbiosis, and civilization east of Route 1 was no life worth tying a tow line to, and those landlubbers be damned. Maybe it was the salt spray, the constant concussive pounding of the waves, but these shore dwellers were so thoroughly off the deep end that most eastsiders were more than delighted keep their distance. Rather, they gazed safely down upon the coastniks from skylit homes upwards of Sweeney Ridge or the relatively shaky roofed condo complexes halfway downhill. Either way, their real payoff was a daily dose of migrating gray whales and flaming ocean sunsets beyond the seaside rubble. We weren’t so fortunate: had no Pacific panorama, couldn’t so safely distance ourselves from the coastal precipice. There would be no sunset of consequence, anyway—just cold, raw hemorrhages of pink, peppering a dense pewter fog, and that narrow horizontal continuum of sea and sky.

“Throw me that rag behind you there,” Eric screamed, goosing the Porsche up through its gears, nodding his swelling head over his right shoulder.

“That thing is plain greasy,” I said nervously. It just wasn’t surviving Eric’s bloodbath, better not to press my ticket out of here any further. Besides, I could have sworn I heard something banging to the rear of the car. “You’ve got to get to a doctor or something…”

“Get me the damn rag,” he peered dejectedly into his rearview mirror, as if noticing only now how that rock had shattered and spider webbed his back window glass. That’s when he caught a glimpse of the van. “That truck, man, they’re after me in their van. I shoulda ran all them bastards down at the garage.”

Once we had cleared out of Pacifica, stemmed its tide of peaking bows and plummeting sterns, nearly offing an old salt in a Cabrillo crosswalk, we gunned up Cabrillo Highway north for some labored breathing room. It was a monster of a climb out of Pacifica’s coastal trench, a full gun, second-to-third gear struggle, even with all four cylinders timed and tuned, the 912’s transaxle wound tighter that a dentist’s drill into old molars, its Solexes belching up the flood of petrol they could no longer meter and float. Gradually, the beleaguered Porsche scaled Cabrillo Hill’s most severe resistance—shoreline cliffs to one side, modest ranch style housing to the east—even began to gather steam as we arced right toward the ridgetop. Eric’s coupe spurted up to the crest, which was now bordered by craggy embankments of coyote brush and coastal sage steering us further above and away from the shoreline. It honked like a greased goose, bleated like a post-frijoles bout on the stool.

The 912 lurched and drifted into a spine of rocky, stratified banks, barren save for spare sprigs of scrub brush and chaparral, with hilltop housing tracts that had suffered a relentless salt wind barrage, left and right. The downside was a wholesale burial of any ocean views below and behind tentacled skylines of tissue box housing tracts whose pastel variations belied the utter drabness of their physical and spiritual condition—a bare walled existence crammed into this peninsula of plenty, starter homes that finished off too many a California dream.

Cabrillo Highway itself soon snaked up left and became hostage to whatever the traffic could bear. Both two-lane strips were bounded by rusty chainlink fences, bent and battered grotesquely by errant big rigs and self-destructive DUIs. A two-foot median barrier weathered an unending assault of diesel emissions, dusty debris and chill, gusting mist. The only color remaining along this stretch were the ice plants, scattered brush and fir trees, with stunted lupine twisting out pale violet from rocky outcroppings up and down the ridges. Plus the black van filling Eric’s mirrors with all the purpose and authority of a heated CHP pursuit.

“Wait, where are you headed,” I asked, as he veered off Cabrillo into an exit ramp.

“Takin’ a shortcut…”

“Shortcut to what?

“You’ll see, we’ll shed those assholes like rattler skin.”

Sweeping right beyond the overpass, Eric turned inexplicably into the Route 35 coverleaf, into the comparative straightaway of Skyline Drive, a roadside clump of cypress trees blocking a rolling sprawl of San Bruno and Daly City beyond. He dropped his rag and lit up a Marlboro this time, casting a glance at a snippet of the open sea far below us, wavy like spilt dishwater, seeming to take stock of the situation overall. Thus distracted, he almost wiped out two Motobecane Mirages and a Gitane as he side drifted/swayed through a Caltrans mandated bicycle lane along the eastern edge of Skyline north.

The tour geared bikes had shifted all sixteen speeds up the broadened shoulder, which had long served as a People’s pipeline for hippies and worse thumbing up and down the coast, from Mendocino to Baja without a hitch. Such innocent times then: before DEA snitches, the Zebra killer, and Manson’s poppy power harem began infiltrating the stone friendly Volksies and happy campers, before door locks clicked tight as mandated shoulder harnesses and everybody froze up like Atlantic City bound tourists on the Garden State Parkway. And before pile drivers of Eric’s stripe began riding the white line like the center crosshairs of a Grand Prix video game.

“Jeesus, you could have just run those bikers down,” I didn’t bother to look back, what with the 912’s window glass cobwebbing all around, but that slight banging was still going on.

“Agh, tough shit,” he re-centered into the passing lane, apparently unawares. “Looked like a bunch of smug-ass environmentalists, anyway. Back from some ‘nuke the whales’ protest.”

“What’s that got to do with three counts of manslaughter?” I fretted, rubbernecking over my shoulder despite myself to spot the cyclists gathering their quick release wheels and taking down our license number with unchained passion, namely Eric’s rusting Ohio plate, stickers two years in arrears.

“What they have to do with that damn van?”

The van had followed us through the cloverleaf, teetering centrifugally onto the highway shoulder, right wheels aeroplaning in excessive speed. But the driver, Zak or whoever, steered sternly into the slide, at the moment it could have gone either way. He nearly took out the regrouping cyclists as well, then merged off a swerving Pinto like positive and negative poles, which only appeared to make him even more determined to climb all over Eric’s case.

“How do you even know it’s those surfers,” I grabbed for the useless little door rest as Eric gunned his fluky coupe, but it all but came off in my hand. “How many black vans must there be…”

“Just leave it hangin’ there.” Eric hit fourth gear with his tachometer needle stuttering up to a good six grand. “It’s them. With their goddamn ‘Welcome to California, Now Go Home’ bumperstickers, front and back.”

“Well, there’s something plastered on that bumper, all right,” I allowed, trying to focus around that window damage to indeed spot a black van following through the interchange. “But even if it is, what are they going to do, ram your car with a longboard?”

“Naw, more like runnin’ us off the nearest cliff…” He scanned off to the bushy, fog-shrouded embankment to our left.

“Say, where is…” With a V-8 muscle Mustang blowing past us on the blind, slow lane, I reached for a seat belt or shoulder harness, my bucket seat ratcheting back against the jumpseat—nothing there, no such restraint. Here was an oddly secluded stretch, dark seascape to the left side, cluttered urban continuum down the peninsula to our right.

“Took ’em out when I was sheetmetaling the floorboard,” Eric exhaled, accelerating into a left leaning upgrade. “Had to, brackets had already pulled up through the rust.”

“Yeah, well, the way we’re going, those surfers won’t have to force us over the edge,” I cringed, knees up against the brush metal glove box, fearful that any rapid deceleration could send my seat rocketing through the dashboard. “We’ll save them the trouble…”

Gray fog was thickening over Skyline Drive, enveloping its narrow shoulders and tract packed hillsides in a windy, desolate funk that engendered those wild swings in mood and behavior so peculiar to the coast. Here, Route 35 ran a slight downgrade, to where my knees made distinct impressions in the glove box door. The wind bent cypress and bushes covered bank to our port side tapered down to reveal sea facing homes cropping up to the west. Modest curves and sparse patches of traffic soon served to even out the level our roadrunner playing field. Still, it was clear enough to see who enjoyed home field advantage.

“Just remember, we’re in this together now,” Eric growled, downshifting around a mound of ragged shrubbery, heaped stonage and poison oak that neither rainstorms nor Caltrans roadblasters could dislodge. He goosed into the next soft right curve, drifting a bit heavily toward the high side of Route 35’s center median. Close cutting the low, blind side was a screaming yellow 2002tii Beemer, fog lights firing, startling the hell out of us both. “It’s just you and me, man—I mean, if those jerks do catch up…”

“Huh? I swear, that wound’s messing with your head,” I counted the spreading stress cracks roadmapping in the windshield before me. “Just keep your eyes on the road, will you please.”

“They’re gonna bird dog us all the way, I swear. But they ain’t nailin’ my skin to the wall,” he carped. “Tell you what, I’m all ready—even got this idea for a middle-finger salute that springs up in the car’s rear window when assholes like that start ridin’ my ass end. It’ll pop up from either an electric or pneumatic button on the dashboard here. Yeah, gonna get right on that sucker, call it a ‘Fuckin’ Finger of Fate’…”

“Really? Whoa, hold a sec,” I heaved in relief, even though my floor-loose bucket seat began tracking forward on the slight downslope, then aft again as Eric pushed it around a clot of cars in the slow lane, back and forth, like an electric paint mixer at Kelly-Moore. Coming out of left, coastward curve, we approached a slight stiffening of traffic, yet a rearward glance yielded no sign of the black van emerging from behind an occlusion of cypress and Monterey pine. Beyond Skyline’s grassy, lupined median strip, a row of split-level rooflines teetered to our port side, as peninsula clutter tottered to our east. “Poof, no need. No van, just like magic—so they must have turned back, huh?”

“Oh, they’re there somewhere.” Eric puffed away, the cab now clouded over in Marlboro Country, as were my throat and lungs. Maybe it was his head wound, or the test-pattern car windows closing in on him, but he wasn’t buying into any half-full glasses. “All I know for sure is I’m getting a humongous headache, and my ears are ringing something fierce.”

“Think I’ll crack my window a bit,” I coughed, ducking my head out, then pulling back in— such the better to move things along. As Route 35 descended further, the rear walls of white and pastel tract housing tightened up toward its guardrails on my side, while dim home lights clustered along on his. “You know, that overheating engine? Didn’t really rig it, did you?”

“Rig nuthin’. I rehab cars, that’s what I do,” Eric spouted, Bogarting his smoke, eyes darting between the mirrors and teeming six-lane road ahead. “Some guys are firemen, some guys build houses…”

“Some guys are surfers…” Got me to wondering how I’d gotten myself on the downside of dudes like those.

“The righteous ones, maybe—any case, I don’t go gettin’ down on their thing. Me, I rebuild these heaps, ain’t like dealin’ dope or nuthin’. This here’s my calling, you know? Long as I can remember, when other things got screwed up, all I had to do was buy another car to work on—zammo, just like that, everything was cool again. When I was doin’ Vee Dubs and Jappers, it was buy ’em, rehab ’em and sell ’em on the spot—everybody was happy. So maybe these sports jobs are a little hairier to deal with, but this here’s still my gig.”

The deepening, darkening fog, further obscured those peninsula housing tracts down there, and likely as not, their suburbanite dwellers wouldn’t be able to make us out at all. By now, the sprawl was little more than fuzzy beads of street lights beneath San Bruno Mountain, incandescent hedgerows punctuated by the commercial signage along El Camino Real and I-280’s amber stream. Landing beams of low-gliding airliners barely cut through the soup overhead on instrument approach to SFO, the jets otherwise invisible, wingtip to red blinking wingtip. Nearer in, ranch-style rooflines rose to either side, indistinguishable from one another by and large. But reappearing to our rear, that black van, clearly darted through traffic, headlights flashing low to high.

“Hey, I can dig that, sort of like bachelor’s choice,” I nodded, trying to relate to his sudden guy-talk grudges and sincerity, if not the incessant metallic banging to our rear. “You know, as opposed to women’s prerogative…”

“Don’t go bringin’ up no women, OK? Just sayin’, fresh wheels always work for me—new smells, new challenges and thrills.” He gunned the backfiring Porsche rightward toward the outside lane, snuffing his butt. “I mean, what do chicks do? They jump in my shit about it, that’s what!”

“Aww, guess there’s no pleasing some people, huh?” Under the circumstances, damned if I was going to be one of them. I reached into my jacket pocket for a multi-vitamin I’d picked up at that health food store up Parnassus from Tassajara Bakery—it was either that or a Darvon, and I rolled it around my fingers, thinking it was the only thing between me and whatever loomed out there along Skyline, not to mention whoever was riding those flashers.

“Well, up theirs, all of ’em,” he lit another, his mind seeming to race under pressure. “They don’t like my car, don’t appreciate my life’s work…same thing happened to me in Akron—Colorado too. If nuthin’ else, I got my pride!”

“Same problem?” I gagged, throat and lungs burning like a fireplace flue, Eric blowing heavy enough smoke to counter any carbon monoxide fumes lost through the rear side window wings.

“Same car…”

“Eric, no offense, but this isn’t exactly a frame-off restoration here, either,” I gasped for breath, pressing back steadily deeper into the sprung seat, pocketing the capsule for future reference. “And it sounds like we’re talking about a car with scrap iron for an engine…”

“Not to you maybe,” Eric recoiled, as he motioned rearward with his thumb. “But that Porsche was a product of my own two hands…cost me a hundred bucks’ worth of body tools just to free up the damn wheel wells. I’m a professional, I tell ya!”

“This one, too?” I looked about the cabin, black van again gaining size and ground.

“Damned straight…brought ’em out here one at a time—where the money is—you know, to get a fatter haul.”

Whatever the visceral attachment to these Porsches of his, whatever the resulting aesthetic insensibilities, Eric could not avoid the rude awakening that, at these heights, his pliers and wire fine tuning had reduced the sports cars’ legendary prowess to pedestrian smoke and rings. At any rate, brutally steep inclines like Cabrillo Hill were history, even though there was little doubt that black van and company were rapidly climbing the charts.

“Yah, I bust my ass workin’ all day on my vehicles, and those guys are out surfin’,” Eric stress test tapped his cracking door window. “And they’re gettin’ on my case about it?!”

“This, from a guy who once told me he was on vacation from a vacation,” I replied, grasping the dangling arm rest as my seat rocked forward. “Anyway, they’re locals, Eric, probably were born there on the boards…”

“So, what’s your point,” he gruffly fist cuffed his stubbing cigarette, reinhaling his exhaled smoke in one cyclical flow, as if recycling this toxic cloud was going to spare the environment.

“My point is, they got here first, you know? Maybe that’s why they can do what the hell they please. Besides, it looks like they’re all busy enough, surfing and pumping iron at the same time…”

There was no disputing that the van was pumping extra unleaded, head and amber lights flashing to a quickening pace. The truck had maneuvered to the inner, passing lane, crowding a Mercedes turbo diesel over to the right. Cleared for approach, the black box accelerated up toward

Eric’s rear end, then lurked to our blind side, keeping calculated distance while keeping pace.

“Know what I think? I think they’re the ones who fucked that engine up…” Eric stiff armed the spoked steering wheel, spitting his smoked down butt to a vinyl matted floorboard.

“Come on, why would they do that?” I studied Eric as he played hit and run with his rearview mirrors, cranking up the Tubes’ ‘What Do You Want From Life’, via the static of KSJO.

“Just to bust my balls, that’s why,” he snapped, single fingering around his flip-top box for one of his few remaining smokes. “They set me up, sure as shit…”

“The guy paid you big bucks for the thing, and you’ve got the cash. What kind of set-up is that?” I coughed as Eric fired up another Marlboro.

“That’s what I’m sayin’. The buy was a set up,” Eric fumed, his mind racing faster than his getaway car. “Why didn’t I see it, man. Send a stooge over to fake the deal, then overheat the engine or something so they can come back and hump my ass for a bigger refund…”

That’s plumb crazy,” I waved the smoke out of my face, with another glance over my left shoulder, again hearing that banging at the Porsche’s rear end. “You sure your head’s holding up okay?”

“They probably had wires, too. Bet they taped the whole goddamn thing at the Iranian gas station. Well, it ain’t gonna work, I tell ya.”

“C’mon, Eric—nobody destroys a presumably good automobile like that…”

“Bullshit, whose side are you on, anyway?!”

“Your shotgun side at the moment,” I fudged, beginning to feel the surfer’s pain, like a stitch in the abdomen, while feeling squeezed by some traffic barging in on an entrance way from Westmoor Avenue. “But I’m only trying to make sense of this mess, no need to get bent out of shape about it. Just do me a favor and keep an eye on your blind side there, will you please?”

“I’ve done you enough favors already, all right,” Eric seethed, glancing to his right. “Like fifty smackers and meal money.”

“Wim’s, gotcha. Uh, that guy you had business with up that way—any chance he was a welder?”

“Does some brazing. Him and his son are real handy, so what about it?”

“Gotcha, chip off the ol’ block…”

BEEP, BEEP. BEEP, BEEP, BEEEEP! The eastern sky ahead had assumed a yellow pasty blow, as the crowded lights of Daly City began to eat through its thinnest lower strata with Krylon diffusion. Skyline Drive had lowered noticeably, reduced hereabouts to a meandering of gentle curves and the oscillating topographic wave form of the coastal ridge line. Whereas a bushy embankment rose to block out dim house lights west of us, the backsides of Daly City tract homes pressed up close to the right shoulder coastal sage and shrubbery. Still, that didn’t keep us on the straight and narrow, rather prompted a preoccupied drift toward the bougainvillea flecked median, which netted Eric this inordinately horny response.

“Damn, I knew I should have kept the blue 912 and pawned off the red one, stuck the asshole with that heap,” he muttered, course correcting as he squelched the radio as War declared, ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’?

That dark truck held its stalking position, its engine roaring, as in third gear, then shifting in and out of fourth, creeping closer, then falling back, like a tomcat teasing out his crocheted ball. Every few minutes, its right turn signal would flash once more—winking and revving—marking the van’s presence, calling its roll, reminder notices from the bagmen, bills of sale seriously overdue. Seemed matters could have stayed this way for miles and miles, except Eric couldn’t see his way clear for that.

“Shakedown’s what it is, with all their cease and desists, complete and immediate recompensation,” Eric rattled, goosing his Porsche with a backfire of protest.

“Sooo, what are you going to do?” I was thinking he’d probably have been better off starving in Santa Cruz, instead of scamming Marina Green.

“I dunno, they’re talkin’ malicious criminal intent, with asset seizures and punitive damages—all in capital letters and underlined, signed by every goddamn lawyer in the firm. Last notice demanded payment by overnight mail. Shit, I ain’t got no mouthpiece, am lucky if I’ve still got half the bucks… have to freeze up all the cash I have left—yanked it out of Wells Fargo and buried it away, can’t risk spending another dime, understand?”

BEEP, BEEP. BEEP, BEEEEP, BEEEEEPPP!!  That horn again, increasing in pitch and volume, shriller than a riot squad bullhorn, as the gainly stoked van rared it pug nose into full mirror view. I caught a quick corner eyeful of that agitated truck, the fire in its large round headlights, the menace in its black boxy silhouette—from oversized wheelwells and roof-racked surfboards to the rumble of glasspacked exhaust. Even over the continued banging from the 912’s rear end, I could make out a number from that musical—uh, yeah ‘West Side Story’… ‘Maria, I just met a girl named Ma-ri-a’. Now, why the hell would gnarly surfers be playing that? The Ventures, Dick Dale, maybe, I pondered, a means of avoiding Eric’s fevered jockying, all the better to steer away from the clash at hand. “Buried it, like you did with your Chesapeake? At the Presidio’s pet cemetery, or…”

“Bruno? I didn’t bury my dog,” his voice crackled and tailed off, as he drew a backward bead on the van, flooring sharply into the center lane, leaving the truck behind a cruise-controlled Lincoln town car. “He was a goner, man. That’s why I heaved him into the bay there off Marina Green—like them Neptuners do…hold on tight!”

“Only with cremated remains, Eric, not…”

“Ashes, carcasses, what’s the difference? Saved a step, that’s all, mourning’s just the same…”

“Guess only the sharks would know,” I said, plastered against a back tracking seat. “Then what about your stash, whereabouts did you bury that, in your garage there or…”

“Cost you $50 to find out.”

sr dingbats

What with Eric’s resurgent move, the van had nowhere to go but nose down and brakes to the floor as the Lincoln before it had done in response. It might have slid into the Porsche altogether had Eric not floored his pedal to the metal himself, a dual-carb spurt of red-line acceleration spared us, if only for some tough, tire-screeching lengths. Just when he needed another power surge, when he’d spotted another opening to spread the distance between us and the black van, his coupe bogged in a passing move around some Ford Torino, choking worse than bad gas in a Bugatti.

“I told you I don’t have than kind of money right yet,” I muttered, hearing tire tracks and the recurring racket to our rear.

“C’mon,” Eric raged, grabbing his lighter, firing up once more. “I’m gonna need my bucks, man! I’m tellin’ you, people sue people in this state.”

“So sue away,” I winced, turning away from Eric and some oncoming headlights across the median. “I wouldn’t bullshit you about that.”

BEEP, BEEP. BEEP, BEEEP, BEEEEEPPPP. Whatever the van was running, it had no motivational qualms about catching up. It edged around the Torino into the slow lane, then slid back in behind us on the inside, revving—no gas sipping six banger there—lights flashing again in defiance. Eric retreated to the right lane, whereupon the van moved up nearer his left rear side, its shotgun window cranking down slightly. Sounded as if words were forthcoming, but weren’t discernible thus far.

Indiscernible to Eric, at least—who could not muster acknowledgement nor a suitable response, other than to flip the bird into his juddering rear window. Aiming to cut the coupe leftward once again, he quickly discovered that the black van was up to here with his crowding, up to his door frame, to be exact, inching slightly forward yet. Seemed they knew that by hemming the 912 in from the drivers’ side, and enabling the following Torino to do the same up ahead, this lane-jumping German junker peddler had nowhere to go but exit right, and there wasn’t one of those in sight.

“OK, I’ll grant you a little extension out the goodness of my heart,” Eric grinned, ignoring the challenge completely, the picture of denial, almost delusionally so. “Now what do you expect for your money? That I’m gonna cop to chicken wiring that heap’s front fenders and patched up the engine’s cracks? Fat chance of that, never happened.”

BEEP, BEEP. BEEP, BEEP. BEEP, BEEP, BEEEEEPPP! The van closed near enough to where we could read some writing on the door, even through his crinkled driver’s side window. I did so as the freeway light stanchions shed some light, that ‘Maria’ music track rising with proximity. “Guess I just hope you stay in your lane here, that’s all—and what’s that damn banging back there?”

“Sounds like a bumper guard popped loose,” he regathered, locked in suddenly, nevertheless nudging back over toward the passing lane, a skosh into the van’s indigo aura. “Shit, these bastards picked their spot, I’m pickin’ mine. No goddamn rich surfer retards gonna take me out, man—that’s exactly where I’m at!”

“R-r-right, but I’m more worried about where they’re at, Eric,” I gasped, palms flush against the dashboard, up to kneecaps in negative energy. “I mean, like two inches from that side mirror of yours.”

“Yeah, sure, just watch me,” Eric scoffed, punching the Porsche, eyes dead ahead as he rubbed the rag against a head full of ache and bravado dread. “That horn shit is gettin’ real old.”

“You know, there’s some writing on the side of that van,” I leaned over behind his seat for closer scrutiny. The lettering was garish and peeling gold leaf, arching above and below a smaller free-form slogan that could have been etched in with a lacquer-tipped can opener. “Maria, it says, Mageno Y Maria…Painting Company…”

“Say what,” Eric inhaled a fresh smoke, gazing ever so slightly rightward, as to avoid the very notion, accelerating toward the breakdown lane, now in the shadow of a tight, windblown copse of cypress and Montereys.

“Yeah, and then it says, ‘We Paint By Numbers’ in quote marks. Wait, those aren’t quotation marks, they’re little tiny joynts,” I squinted, the van pouncing forward to stay narrowly up on the Porsche. “With little puffs of smoke and everything, rising to the rooftop surfboards—how weird…”

“No way, Jose,” Eric replied stiffly, “ain’t nuthin’ written on the surfers’ truck—that much I know, and ain’t no damn surfboards on their roof either.”

“What, you think I’m making up, ‘Magano Y Maria’,” I found myself begging for an exit sign, even if it meant Daly City or that garden spot of graveyards in Colma. All I got was an interchange sign for access to I-280, several miles up. “Christ, I don’t even know about those figures inside that thing. Far as I can see, they don’t look like surfers at all.”

BEEP, BEEP. BEEP, BEEEEP. BEEEEEPPPPPP!!”  The horn went beyond rude awakening, beyond mere cannon fire across the bow, even drowning out the clatter from the 912’s rear. It was becoming a measure of containment, a concrete forming bar with Eric’s name carve in, dropped like a gauntlet to his bleary, bloodied rite of passage.

“Ain’t never been no damn writing on that truck, I tell you,” he mumbled, slanting the coupe, myopically charging the dashed white lines. “Just let me ease in front of it here…”

“Dammit, Eric, open your eyes, will you,” my head snapped back against the side window as the Porsche bolted ahead. “It’s all over the van’s side doors, for crissake!”

But it was much too late for more positive IDs. The van pulled even with bug zapper intensity, its side window dropping, a huge foam rubber 49er finger wagging forth. BEEP, BEEP. BEEP, BEEEEEPP! “Ay, amigos,” shrieked a giggly young woman, dim facial outline and painter’s cap peeking out from behind the finger. “Como esta?”

“Uh, Eric, wait,” I gently blocked his arm as he prepared to shoot her a finger of his own. “Must be Maria…”

“Up hers,” he yelled, trying to crank down his all but granulated window for a better look, sliding ever closer to the van’s gold leafed doors. “Spics, they’re even worse than surfers!”

“Mira alli,” she screamed, piercing through the roar of two overwinding engines, pointing her big finger back toward the Porsche’s rear end. “Tengo algo para ti. Su guardia de parachoques esta colando y chispas! Si, bumper drag…”

“Yah, sure,” Eric snorted, chewing on his Marlboro filter, drawing within spitting distance of the slightly weaving van. “And I got something for you, consuela.” With that, he shot her and her driving companion the middle digit, without even pressing a button.

BEEP, BEEP. BEEP, BEEEEPPPP! Tu muy loco en la cabeza!” SSSPPLLAAAAATTT. In payback for Eric’s unbrotherhood, she scowled and dumped a half-gallon of peachstone interior latex across the 912’s hood and windshield—streaking the side window and door, seeping into his cracked glass—as the souped-up van gunned away down Skyline like a fuelly funny car off the Pomona line. “Adio, buenos noches!” BEEP, BEEP, BEEEEEPPPPP…

“Uh, you all right,” I asked him with all due caution, trying to placate the fucker, peachy liquid forming Rorschach tests across his windshield. “Funny, closer up, those surf boards were actually extension ladders…”

The wind diffusion allowed for select vision, a little peep and straining here and there, until Eric’s worn windshield wipers smeared it further around. Indeed, without major contortions, I could make out the van’s rear bumper sticker as it accelerated ahead: ‘No Quiero Habla AmeriKKKa’.

“Beaner bastards, I’ll kill ’em,” Eric fumed, impulsively hitting the cigarette lighter and gas pedal in tandem. Problem was, ol’ paint could do nothing but bog.

“But first, we’d have to catch them…” I finger traced the peach glaze as if to spread it thinner through the windshield glass, gradually taking the paint bath more personal myself.. Nearly same age, same rage: this mook was rubbing off, bringing out the worst in me—looking like he had his Saturn deal coming around. In any case, he was triggering a visceral response I’d not harbored for quite a while now, much less the Me I any longer cared to be. Yet all I could see were two round tail lights rocking past a Ford Torino, disappearing into the goop gray distance.

“I ain’t shittin’, man,” Eric screamed, as if his face were now streaking with Glidden latex, still tossing and torching one butt after another, though the entire cabin began reeking like an Earl Sheib spray booth. “Gonna look ’em up in the Yellow Pages—track ’em down and off them spics right quick!”

“Aw, let it be, Eric, write it off as karma or something. Important thing is to stop the bleeding.” I picked up on a misty green exit sign, wondering why he was steering westward in the face of an upcoming exit to the east, which was the one Magano Y Maria took. Instead, we blew through the expansive, amber-lit Daly City sprawl closing in our starboard side, houses tapering off from the cascading bluffs to the left. “You know, it just occurred to me that the surfers likely wouldn’t have wasted their time chasing us anyway. Because they know you’ll eventually have to return to your storage garage or what’s left of it. Bet they’re gonna loot and trash it, for sure…”

“Smart ass, takin’ sides again, are ya? ” Then he blew a smoke ring, and shot me the bird. We’ll see about that.”

Care for more?

Chapter 94. Deeper into accusations
and acrimony, comes an unforeseen grabber
amid grim darkness at the edge of town…