Igneous Charles “Charlie” Uther hated driving his wife’s car. No matter how many Saturday afternoons he spent cleaning it out, vacuuming the carpets, and pickling his hands with fabric cleaner, his wife’s car was a wreck by Monday afternoon. Then again, twins, and an Irish triplet, all under the age of 3, did that to any car. Today, this Friday, followed a Saturday that Charlie had missed cleaning the car, and it showed. There was a blast pattern milk stain across the back of the driver’s seat; something sticky all over the parking brake, enough Cherrios to keep a full grown man regular for a week in the front floor board, and an extremely dog-eared binky in the ash tray. Charlie had not smoked for five years now, but he still tapped his finger on the pulled out ashtray. At least, he did in his own car, which was somewhere between Louisville and Chicago, bringing his wife home from her mother’s sister’s daughter’s wedding, and getting much better gas mileage than the old 1990 Beamer.
George Wiston’s “Lullaby” played softly, on repeat, in the rear speakers. Charlie had heard the song so many times that it often got it stuck in his head, on repeat, and forgot that he was nowhere near a radio.
William “Willy” Johnson Smith hated walking, particularly in the rain. His car was nothing much more than scrap metal now. He had been driving it to work about two months ago, out at the UPS hub, and was hit by a drunk driver. Willy had not had insurance, and spent the weekend in jail, and later worked three hundred hours of community service in lieu of the fine that he could not pay, having lost his job due to being in jail. Maybe had his son not been sick costing Willy all his leave time, or his team lead not been a total waste, or something, then maybe, it would not have all gone that way. Maybe was not something that Willy really thought about anymore. He had made up his mind to put an end to the stack of bills, the eviction notice, and get himself through until UPS stopped fighting his unemployment claim.
The rain padded down on the sidewalk. Willy tried to ignore it. He was too wet to care much anymore anyway.
Charlie drummed his fingers on the large manilla envelope that sat in the passage seat, and sighed. Five green traffic lights had come and gone while Charlie, and a half dozen other cars, had sat waiting for the 16 wheeler to figure out that it was not going to get under the bridge. Charlie had thought about pulling the u-turn, and tracking back around the college campus, and then had decided against it. It was a straight shot up 3rd Street to his accountant’s office. All he had to do was drop off the family and the business tax papers. The refund would be very useful just now, since the economy had so recently “exploded.” The suspension on the Beamer needed work, and life was almost quiet at the moment, saving the Honourable Winton’s piano. Charlie though it best just to wait it out, and watched the large truck back-up, forward, back, forward, slowly turning around.
Willy stood back from the streetlight on the corner. He did not want anyone to see his face. The rain had soaked through both his red sweat suit top and the black one on beneath, and to his skin. He felt the rain coming through his boots as he stepped out of the way of two female ROTC cadets, running down the sidewalk in the grey P.T. t-shirt and shorts. He felt slightly mugged by the red sweat suit because it was too small for him normally, and was tight with the second suit below. As soon as it was done, he would pull off the red, and be just any other guy in a black sweat suit. If he had luck, that would give just enough confusion to let him get across downtown to his cousin’s garage. He would have to remember the cell phone.
Charlie turned onto 3rd street, and slowed to watch two female ROTC cadets running down the sidewalk past the law school. He could hardly see them because of the tinted windows his wife had insisted on having installed when the twins were born. The tints were great on sunny days, but at night, they were nearly impossible to deal with. He watched as the two female ROTC cadets crossed behind his car, toward the dormitories on the other side of the street. The word ARMY was stretched and bent around their chests.
Charlie returned his attention to his driving just in time to remember that the road soon split by a large island that featured a large statue to someone or another. Charlie thought about how funny it was that he had walked past that statue hundreds of times going to and from the Business School, and had never thought to look at the nameplate. He slowed the car to a halt at the traffic light that was put in to allow students to cross the road without interrupting traffic at the major intersection a block later.
Willy watched the large sedan sized BMW roll to a halt three feet past the line. The windows were tinted, gold trimmed the deep blue. Willy took a deep breath, clinched the grip in his pocket, and dashed for the passenger door.
Charlie sat wide-eyed as his passenger door flew open, and a very wet man piled himself onto the envelope of tax documents.
“What the Hell…” Charlie said letting the sentence trail into nothingness at the sight of a Tariq 9MM Pistol levelled at him.
“Drive down the next block, and pull up by the high school,” Willy said cradling the pistol in his arm.
Charlie nodded and ran the red light.
“Shit man,” Willy said. “Don’t go acting crazy dumb.”
Charlie nodded, slowed, watched the red light change to green, and drove on.
“Just up here,” Willy said. “Right in the dark patch.”
Charlie gripped the wheel tighter. His hands trembled, slightly vibrating the wheel.
“What do you want?” he asked.
“Wallet, watch, phone, car,” Willy said, “and for you to get lost.”
“Umm…” Charlie ummed, “pulling into the darkest spot he could find.
“Don’t umm me asshole,” Willy said. “You’re getting jacked, don’t be an idiot.”
Charlie stopped the car, watched his hand tremble violently as he put the park in park, and returned his hand to the wheel.
“Wallet, watch, phone, no problem,” Charlie said, and switched off the CD player.
“Man, don’t be a hero,” Willy said.
“Look in the back,” Charlie stammered.
Willy turned and saw three car seats taking up the whole of the back seat. The two on either side were tucked in with pink blankets, while the one in the middle had tossed the blue blanket on the floor.
“Three?” Willy said turning back to look at Charlie. “Man, you dumber then you look.”
“Damn, damn, damn,” Willy said stomping his foot on the floorboard. “You should put up a ‘Baby on Board’ sign or something. Let people know you get a damn day care in the car.”
Charlie thought about saying that there were two hanging in the rear window, and then thought about how large a whole a 9MM fired at point blank range would leave in him.
“Look I’ll give you what I have, just let my family be, all right?”
“Shit man,” Willy said, “shut-up. I got to think this out.”
Willy looked out the window at the rain beating down harder.
“They weren’t supposed to be here,” Willy said jerking his thumb backwards. “I can’t just leave them by the side of the road.”
“I could drive them home?”
“I could just go directly to jail to, no way man.”
“Why are you doing this?”
Willy gave Charlie a severer look.
“Are you on dope?” he asked. “What the Hell? I got nothing, and I’m taken your something. Man, you a fool.”
Charlie stared out the window across the street. The old apartment buildings that looked like under kept barns, built back in the 1970s for the booming college population of draft-deferments, were well lit inside. Not a soul standing outside in the rain.
“Look, let me drive back to campus,” Charlie said. “Back to the Business School. It’s covered there. I can take the kids out, and at least they will be dry. The night janitor there smokes, he’ll let me in.”
Willy looked back over his shoulder. The little one in the middle had managed to squirm its leg out of the harness.
“Yeah, all right,” Willy said. “Get going.”
Charlie put the car in drive, put on the turn signal, and moved slowly into the road. He rolled the Beamer up past the large tan brick that was the Youth Performing Arts School. At the corner, Charlie felt his heart flutter as he pulled up behind a Metro Police Cruiser.
Charlie looked over at Willy.
Willy just looked back at him, rain still dripping out of his hair.
The light turned green, and the police cruiser went straight into the dark night.
Charlie put on his right turn signal and made the turn.
“Man,” Willy said, “I think you just used more turn signals than most people in this city ever do.”
“Well, I teach driving,” Charlie said.
“No kidding?” Willy said. “I got taught driving.”
Charlie was startled by the laugh that he heard from himself.
They sat in silence as the Beamer came to a stop just before the next stop light.
A small blue sock flew between the two men.
Charlie looked up into his rear view mirror to see his son looking up at him.
Willy turned to look over his shoulder, placing his chin on his shoulder.
“Cute kid,” Willy said.
“My wife did all the work.”
“Ain’t nothing to getting knocked up.”
The light turned green.
Charlie put on his turn signal, turned, and preceded into the full force of the rain. He drove slowly around the S-curved road.
“Where did you learn to drive?”
“What?” Will asked. “Shoot man, this ain’t no social hour.”
“Fort Leonard Wood.”
“Yeah? I was out there, long time ago. 88 Mike school?”
Willy cocked his head at Charlie. He then resettled himself, positioning the Tariq just below the nook of his left arm.
“Yes,” he said.
Charlie took several deep breaths.
“That’s where I learned to teach,” Charlie said. “At Leonard I mean. I was an instructor at 88 Mike school, before we came out here.”
“Yeah? Why’d ya come out here?”
Charlie drove on in silence for a while. That was not where he had meant to go.
“You remember all those scandals?”
“Yulp,” Willy said. “Fucked up my BCT, and my AIT. We were locked down the whole time.”
“Yeah,” Charlie said, “locked down. Well, I was the first one. Barely missed Leavenworth.”
Willy let out a blister of laughter.
Charlie watched as the Tariq shifted erratically in the man’s hand.
“Man,” Willy said, “I oughta shot you in the ass just for that. You got any idea how many people you fucked up?”
Charlie shook his head, as he came to a stop at a T-intersection.
“No,” he said looking out the driver’s side window for traffic coming up from under the train over-pass. “I can’t imagine. I kept reading about it in the paper, and then it spread everywhere. Jackson got locked down right after I got tossed out, and then Lee too.”
“Man, I hope it was worth it, a lot of people paid for you,” Willy said.
“It wasn’t,” Charlie said. “We were both drunk. It was pretty sloppy.”
Charlie made the right hand turn.
“You forgot your turn signal.”
“Oh,” Charlie said. “Did you get your CDL?”
Willy shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I was slotted to go when Afghanistan erupted, and then all I wanted was out.”
Charlie slowed, put on his turn signal, and turned left on the university campus. The drove past the yellow flashing lights of a Parking Enforcement tow truck.
“Those bastards jacked my car once,” Charlie said, “in the middle of a snow storm. I was flat broke, and they kept going on about how I had to pay the fine to get my car back.”
“Yeah?” Willy said. “What’d ya do?”
“Kept on yelling till the cops showed up,” Charlie said with a shrug. “I got my car back.”
“Thanks for not yelling,” Willy said looking out the window at the dull red brick buildings.
They circled around a red modern art statue that sometimes looked like a dog, sometimes a dragon, and sometimes a three-dimension Korean cuss word, depending on what direction you looked at it from, and stopped in front of the Business School.
Charlie put the car in park, and turned off the engine.
Willy looked out the window at the University of Louisville Business School.
“My GI Bill timed out on me,” he said. “They changed the rules while I wasn’t looking, and when I finally got down here, they told me I was too late. Like, I had to start before last year, and I have nothing now.”
“That’s our kinder gentler nation for you,” Charlie said. “Look, I’m going to reach in my coat and get you my wallet, and phone. I don’t wear a watch.”
Charlie pulled out a wallet, a small leather case, and his cell phone. He handed the wallet and the phone over to Willy, before opening the small leather case. He pulled out a business card, and handed it to Willy.
“Look,” Charlie said. “I’ll make you a deal.”
Willy’s eyelids narrowed.
“Leave the gun here, and come see me on Monday. I’ll give you a job.”
“I run a training company now, for CDL drivers. Got a small shop too, for our rigs. My man is always complaining that I should get him some help.”
“I always wanted to learn heavy wheel engines,” Willy said. “Why should I trust you?”
“You’re holding a weapon on my family, and asking me why you should trust me?”
“Yeah right, dumb question,” Willy, said looking down at the Tariq. “I brought this back with me.”
“How long were you over there?” Charlie asked.
“Three years,” Willie said. “They got me back after I got my first discharge papers. That’s the reason why I never got down here- I was fuck’n over there. I got reactivated but that didn’t count for time-in, it counted for time-out since I wasn’t on regular contract.”
“How about I hold onto it for you?” Charlie asked. “I’ve got a fire proof safe at the office. We’ll put it in there on Monday. Just leave it with me in the mean time.”
A second blue sock flew between the men, and landed on Willy’s red suit sleeve. The sock was wet through with drool.
Willy looked down at the sock and then back at the kid, who was shoving his toes up his nose.
“My son is just a bit older than him,” Willy said.
Willie handed the wallet and the phone back to Charlie.
“Charlie Uther?” Willy asked after looking at the card. “What kind of name is that?”
“Welsh,” Charlie said.
Willy nodded, and pressed the clip release, ejecting the clip. He then cleared the chamber, sending the bullet to the floor, rolling under the seat. Willy then handed the Tariq over, grip first.”
With a calm hand, Charlie took it, and slid it over into the map pocket of the driver’s door.
“Well, catch you later,” Willy said opening his door, and stepping out.
Charlie reached out and caught Willy by the sleeve.
Willy turned a glared at him.
“Look under the seat,” Charlie said. “There is a small baesh billfold under the seat flap.”
Willy reached under the seat, and brought it out. He opened it to see several $50.00 dollar bills.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“You’re signing bonus,” Charlie said. “This is my wife’s car. That’s emergency money, and you need it more than we do.”
“That’s real white of you,” Willy said.
“Whatever,” Charlie said. “I expect to see you on Monday. Just leave that white shit in the parking lot.”
Willy nodded, got out of the car, slammed the door, and walked off between the two halves of the Business School.
The two older children woke-up.
“Mommy?” asked his eldest by 242 seconds daughter.
“Mommy’s still with Grand,” Charlie said as the tears started to stream down his cheeks. He turned around, and put the blanket up over his sleeping son’s feet.
“Daddy why cry?” asked the other.
“Because we are all right,” Charlie said wiping his eyes. “Because everything is going to be all right.”
“Can we see Kipper at home?” the younger daughter asked.
“Wiggles!” the screamed the eldest.
“Inside voices please, and yes, all night long babies, all night long,” Charlie said as he put the car in drive.
Willy stuffed the billfold into his suit pocket, and took off across campus towards Frat Row. Of all the things that had ever happened to him, he figured that had to be the weirdest. All he wanted to do now was get home to his son, and hug him, all night long.
The old janitor waved nicotine stained hand at Willy as he ran by.
* For the men of SVC Battery, 2/138th FA, originally constituted on the 21 January, 1839 in the Kentucky Militia as the Louisville Legion and currently serving under the United States Army Regimental System.