Two irrepressible midlife losers Lester McKue and Mike Bochsleiter, goodhearted, dead-enders are on a three-day odyssey across Idaho. Lester is a short-changed dreamer who believes the Gospel according to Readers’ Digest. Mike is a bargain basement schemer whose latest game is selling burial and cremation polices for the Peaceful Assurance Company of Hackensack, New Jersey. Ricocheting through the simmering summer of 1967...
Two Scoops of Seafood
TWO SCOOPS OF SEAFOOD
FINDING THE OFF-RAMP TO DREAM CITY
This was even worse than the swampy sinking of his guts when he had stumbled out to the mailbox, rubbed his eyes open and read the letter’s very first word in bold print: GREETINGS. That was the first time Uncle Sam had been after his ass. This was much worse. This was more than a summons to four years of lugging a fifty-pound pack through herds of blood-sucking bugs at basic training camp. This was way past bad. Maybe the end of the line. The miserable, bloody end of a disappointing sojourn which had trapped them in such dire circumstances. By rights, Lester McKue mused glumly as the sirens wailed in the foreground, he should be standing with the satchels stretching his long arms, hanging in Mike’s shadow on the stoop of some hick, spud farmer’s doorstep.
“Peace of mind, Ma’am,” Mike would be blabbing with a sin-easy grin plastered on his ruddy mug. “Pure and simple. For now and the great hereafter.”
Mike sold the suckers the policies. Lester wrote up the certificates, made out the receipts and took the money. The Peaceful Assurance Burial and Cremation Company of Hackensack, New Jersey, offered a simple no frills, no fuss, term policy of five-hundred dollars to care for the deceased’s remains. Nothing fancy. Just a decent box and a quick fritz in the furnace, but the beauty of it was that nobody had to worry about their loved ones squandering the family fortune at the funeral home. So long as they kept up the premiums of five bucks each month they were guaranteed a check for the full five-hundred when their number rolled up.
And the grabber was that only fifteen dollars cash kicked in the coverage. It was such a cinch, such a sure-fire plan to restock Mike and Lester’s meager resources and get them back on the road to financial security unduly denied these gamy go-getters so far. If only these damned detours didn’t keep getting in the way. That was the trouble. And now they were both bound for the joint – the big one, a Federal slammer with machine guns, barbed wire, tin cups, swamp water in the toilet bowls, Bogie brutes brawling at chow call, wise guys thrown into the hole and razor-faced screws itching to slap the shit out of any asshole who looked crosswise at the slop on their trays. That’s what it was going to be like from now on. Lester saw lots of prison flicks, and Bogie’s were the best. The tough guy had been in stir at Sing Sing, Alcatraz, Joliet, Folsom – genuine hard time. Even if he always got sprung by the last reel.
Lester wiped a stream of new sweat from his brow. This was big-time bad news. He didn’t know if he was going to be able to stand up to the screws, the hot seat, the G-men grilling him or the lineup with the smelly cons shoulder to shoulder squinting under the spotlights while the stoolies on the other side of the glass fingered the suckers: “Okay, Number Five – you, McKue! Step forward.”
Lester gulped and made his Adam’s apple bounce like a ping-pong ball. “What if I break down an’ squeal on you guys?” he choked, loosening his necktie.
“Squeal about what?” Mike snapped. “About who for crissakes? Will you shut up?”
“I don’t know if I can stand the torture part. I seen ’em pull Peter Lorre’s teeth out with a crescent wrench.”
“You know. The fat, little foreign guy with the lisp. The poor sap Bogie always slaps around in his pitchures.”
“How could they pull out anybody’s teeth with a crescent wrench?”
“The Nazis was real experts. Sometimes they did it just for the fun of it, although could be some of ’em was dentist trainees come to think about it.”
“Well, they didn’t know squat about tools,” Mike sneered, checking the view ahead as the flashing lights bounced off the windshield. “You use pliers to yank teeth. My old man pulled out a baby tooth once when I was a kid, slick as skiing down a snot slope.”
“What difference does it make what friggin’ wrench they used?”
“Will you shut up? This isn’t the fuckin’ Nazis – it’s the fuckin’ Feds. They ain’t gonna pull nobody’s teeth. We ain’t done nothin’, remember? Nothin’.”
“Nothin’? I say we just pull over, Mike, an’ give ourselves up. Right now. No messin’ around – just pull over an’ stick our hands up.”
“What? Give ourselves up? Are you nuts or what? We ain’t done a goddam thing, Lester.”
“I seen all them shows on the television – the whole fuckin’ town makes a move on the jail, knocks the deputy on the head an’ drags the prisoners out to the nearest tree for a necktie party.”
“What are you talkin’ about?”
“I seen it a hunderd times, Mike. It’s awful. The guy’s face turns all blue, an’ his tongue sticks out stiff as a pastor’s prick.”
“You been watchin’ too much Gun Smoke. What the fuck does that have to do with us, huh? There ain’t even no decent-size trees around here. Couldn’t hang a friggin’ jackrabbit from these stumps.” The Buick shivered, clunked and stumbled up to twenty miles an hour with Mike’s boot jammed flat-out on the gas pedal. “Shit! She’s dyin’ on us again.”
“At the last minute before the guy drops, the marshal rides up an’ shoots the rope in two. He’s always a crack shot – hits it on the first try, an’ the guy gets saved. Now what if these Feds ain’t got no sharpshooter good enough to hit the rope with the first shot, huh? We’re goners, Mike.” He tugged on his shirt collar.
“Will you shut up? You’re startin’ to make me crazy.”
“Oh, Christ,” Lester moaned, looking over his shoulder at the black and white cruisers and the steely-eyed troopers bearing down on the wounded Buick Special gasping at the roadblock’s first barricade. “How’d we get in this fuckin’ mess?”
Mike shoved the gearshift lever into park and slapped the wheel. “Goddam piece of worthless junk!”
“I’m givin’ up before they fill the car fulla lead,” Lester bleated, making a move to jump out on the passenger side with both hands thrown over his head. “I’d rather be a live con than a dead hero.”
“You lamebrain.” Mike held him back with a butcher’s grip. “You’re the one who got us into this snafu in the first place.”
As a matter of fact, Mike had a point. Sort of. It didn’t start out this way just a few days ago. Who would have thought, right? Who could have guessed they’d be standing by the side of the frigging freeway waiting for Elliot Ness maybe ready to snap the cuffs on? Who would have figured?
They were just minding their own business, baking like limp noodles in the midday sun, bound for Boise and a retirement home full of easy prospects when Mike spied a roadside tavern through the sluggish heat waves.
They never should have pulled over for a cold one. Should have cruised right on by.