Key West author Reef Perkins shares more of his hilarious book,
***Twelve Gears and Gone***
(Click here for previous chapter)
Ticks Ratfield sat in an old White Freightliner tractor/trailer rig. He was fueling up at Randy Cooter’s Cowbone Truck Stop, six-hundred miles northeast of El Paso. Ticks one-hundred-twenty pound cowboy body shook in sympathy with the ancient diesel that rattled like an overloaded washing machine. I’d rather be riding a Brahma bull, he sometimes thought, and sometimes did. Ticks carried a load of squealing hogs in the trailer, bound for slaughter in Alamogordo.
Now, Ticks was a real cowboy and not one to cotton unto weakness but he, he, had a danged weakness of his own. He was a lonely dreamer. And now, in this moment of continued need, the Spirit of the Sand sent him a sign in the form of a blond-haired woman, running out of the desert wearing a pair of red sling back pumps. It was a dream he’d had since he started driving the big rigs. “I’ll be hornswoggled! There she is, my all day daydream!” And it looks like she’s a-headin’ straight fer the air pump.”
Ticks rubbed his eyes and chin at the same time. His tanned leather face looked like a crumpled Tootsie Roll wrapper. In the same moment, he noticed a man in WW II army fatigues emerging from the bush. The man dragged two sticks through the dirt behind him. Nice furrow for beans, Ticks caught himself thinking. The stranger was following the blond woman. The man might be a stranger in these parts. But the woman, Ticks could tell, was no stranger to her parts.
Ticks sensed danger and did what any good man would do. He jacked the big White into gear, stomped on the gas and blew the air horn. HOOOONK! The passel of passive porkers suffered an unaccustomed G-force and hit the back wall en masse. Had the hogs been standing in a line, several tons of startled protein could have turned into an ungainly sausage that looked like a two-ton centipede with a wiggly pink tail.
Ticks plowed ahead, hoping to cut between the stranger and the fast moving, endangered, double breasted, red-heeled, road-running dreamsicle.
Ticks calculated his moves and then hit the air-brakes with both feet. The now seriously perplexed passel of porkers shot forward into the front wall of the trailer. Numerous instant and obscene noises occurred, the air brake pump popped a pressure valve and the trailer jack-knifed. Hiss……..
When the dust settled, Blu was taking a whiz on one of Ticks steaming tires, Ticks was trying to get his seatbelt undone but his cowboy hat covered his eyes and Beth, well, she was cutting the end of yet another air hose. Life for her would remain uncomplicated, until the quarters ran out.
The boys pooled their quarters then waited and watched, captured by the sight of Beth conquering her most pressing air pressure needs. Shortly, the three perplexed personalities gathered up and formal introductions took place.
“Howdy, I’m Blu,” Blu said, zipping his fly.
“Howdy Blu, I’m know’ed as Ticks.” Ticks pushed his cowboy hat up off his ears with a sucking sound.
“Howdy Doody.” Beth panted. She squeezed the last bit of air out of the hose and threw it to the ground like used lover.
“Tex?” Blu tried to get it right.
“Nope, it’s Ticks. They call me Ticks. I may be small but I got me a bad bite. And plus, I git rained on last!”
“Ah, yeah, cool.”
“You folks look pretty rough. Do you know where you are at?”
“Earth.” Beth said with innocent conviction.
Ticks liked her style. “Close, my dusty darling, real close … This is Texas. So go on, jump up in my rig, Missy, you too, Mister Blu. If its earth you folks are hankering for why I know how to get there from here. Giddy up!”
The oily stink of diesel and compressed pigs hung in the air. The continuum of life went unnoticed and the arid desert absorbed their souls like water. The stink stayed put.
“Stanks, don’t it? Gotta light?” Beth bumbled to start the conversation. She fired off a bone rolled with a tampon wrapper and herb pilfered from Herb. Then she curled up next to Blu. The bone was smoked and gone before the boys could get a toke in sideways. “What’s the plan, baby Blu?” she mumbled from near his armpit.
Beth knew if she put a question into Blu’s mind he would run with it until the air ran out, just like her. He’d run until there was nowhere left to run. Then he’d bury the idea and dig it up later. Good boy, Blu. Beth knew well that the dogs of men’s morbid curiosity soon tire and even the wild ones eventually return for food and simple love.
She liked that characteristic about Blu and scratched him behind the ears when Ticks wasn’t looking. The stench in the cab wasn’t half-bad once the truck got moving and the Sonora dirt weed proved to be pretty good shit. Beth tripped out early, crawled over the seat and into the dank sleeper-bunk behind Ticks and Blu.
Beth farted, nodded out and caught some zzzz’s. Ticks and Blu rode side by side in silence, except for opening the vent windows at certain required times. The chugging diesel burned liquid fossils and white-line fever set in.
Ticks turned the radio on and popped a Tic Tac into his mouth without moving his lips.
To Blu, the Tex-Mex stations sounded like someone set fire to a chicken coop and was trying to beat it out with pots, pans and shrieks. Ticks kept an insistent Latin beat on the steering wheel with his gnarled thumbs.
After a while, Ticks took notice of Blu’s missing ear. “What happened to your ear, partner?”
“Lost it in a apple bobbing contest at a 4H show. I was young.”
“I cain’t stop looking at that hole in the side of yer head, man! Dang thing makes me want to puke.” Ticks let go of the wheel with both hands and faked a hurl out the window. “Whoo-eee! That is ugliness in the flesh!” Ticks kept staring at the side of Blu’s head.
“Chill,” Blu said and put his left hand up to his ear hole. He tried to make his hand look like an ear so Ticks would keep his eyes on the road. His arm got tired.
After an hour or so Blu made the mistake of saying he thought it was cool how Ticks shifted gears. The White had an old style, twelve-speed, manual transmission.
Throughout the night Ticks shifted through one set of six gears, then pulled a lever and switched to a second set of six gears, double-clutching every time. It was a lot of work. But now, every time Ticks shifted, he looked over to make sure Blu was watching. Every damn time he shifted, Blu had to watch him. They were in hill country. If Blu didn’t look, Ticks didn’t shift. He’d run the old mother diesel up until the RPM redlined and black smoke poured out of her stack. Ticks wanted Blu to see the muscles ball up in his arm, muscles the size of a chicken leg.
Yeah, it’s weird, but do-able, Blu thought, and inhaled the night wind. He caught a whiff of Beth’s hair. It calmed him.
The driver’s seat was badly worn so Ticks installed two lounge-chair cushions on top to prevent his “ownself” from dropping ass-first into the hungry springs. He sat about six inches up off the main seat, high enough he could see over the dash. His legs were short. He compensated for his lack of vertical accomplishment with a pair of custom, high-heeled, cowboy boots. Ticks could clutch, brake and throttle with his heels.
Blu also noticed that Ticks constantly let go of the steering wheel and used both hands to push his oversized cowboy hat up off his ears. Ticks mentioned earlier that his ears always hurt.
Blu dismissed the idea of suggesting a babushka and finally posed a reasonable question, “Well hell, Ticks, why don’t you get a smaller hat?”
Ticks looked puzzled and focused intently on the voltmeter.
Blu reached behind his seat and pushed Beth’s tongue in, then, having nothing better to do, he contemplated the hat situation. He soon spotted a pair of yellowed jockey shorts sticking out of the glove box. He got Ticks to put them on his head, underneath the hat, to keep it from slipping down and affecting his ability to see the road. Ticks’ waist size and hat size were about the same. Blu steered the rig while Ticks donned the underwear, the jockey shorts looked like a nasty French beret flapping traditional surrender in the dry desert wind.
Ticks looked in the rear view mirror and adjusted his cowboy hat. He looked over at Blu and smiled. “You one smart sumbitch, Blu!” The faded yellow label was visible above Ticks’ sunglasses. He looked like an underwear commercial gone bad, but Ticks grinned and leaned over the steering wheel and stared down the white line like a near-sighted sniper.
The pair began to talk and soon found they both liked Kenny Rogers and neither of them knew, as Kenny had suggested, “When to hold’em or when to fold’ em.”
“What do you do, Blu?”
“I’m trying to be a hero.”
“How long you been trying?”
“Hell, I don’t know, it comes and goes.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. You gotta be slicker than snot on a door knob to git by nowadays, know what I mean?”
“You betcha, Red Rider.”
It was quiet for awhile. A while made of miles.
Just before dawn, Ticks pulled into a large, dirt paved truck stop, “Let’s get us some grub.”
Beth was still asleep. Blu and Ticks got out, locked the doors and moseyed into Wyatt Burp’s diner.
Walking in his custom boots was difficult for Ticks and gave him an unusual gait. Blu couldn’t help but think that Ticks looked a little like Beth, from behind. But, of course, everything looked like Beth from behind to Blu.
Beth. The word slid off his tongue and landed softly, like ice cream from a cone, like mud on a puddle, like sun on sand, like…shut up!
They entered the diner. With a cowboy flourish, Ticks took off his ten-gallon hat and started chatting-up the waitress. Her nametag read “Rosa.” She was a nice-looking Mexican woman with long black hair, a big butt and a gold tooth in the front of her mouth. Rosa started laughing the minute Ticks took his hat off, but Ticks misunderstood and winked at Blu. Ticks prided himself on being a “swordsman” and had shared some of his graphic exploits with Blu during the trip. He’d told Blu, “Some women is just drawed to me, they surely is.”
Ticks nodded at Rosa, “Man, she seems friendly, eh?” The words slipped out the side of his mouth. Rosa picked the Jockey shorts off Ticks’ head with a fork and set them on top of his hat. Ticks’ face turned red as a Texas sunrise and he gave an “aw-shucks” kick at the floor. He almost tipped over. Rosa caught him and laughed again.
They sat down. Ticks looked at Blu, looked in the area of Rosa’s nametag and ordered. “Rosa darlin’, gimme some scrambled narrow face eggs and some rattlesnake bacon, hold the fangs!”
“I’ll have the same.” Blu piped.
Ticks laughed and got excitable. Rosa was already laughing and excitable. Blu was hungry. A few minutes later, the chicken eggs, Ticks called them “narrow face” or “profile birds,” arrived and were consumed with gusto by both parties. Ticks farted, Blu burped and Rosa laughed. It was a good night.
They were about to head out when three dusty Mexicans walked through the door and started after Ticks. “Hey Gringo, that’s my girlfrien’. What are you doing talking to her? Porque asshole?” one of the Mexicans chirped.
Ticks changed from lover boy to a ball of rock-hard meanness in a nanosecond. “I ain’t doing nothing. I’m eatin’ some danged narrow face. She’s the waitress. Buzz Off! Compren-fucking-do?”
The Mexicans started to get abusive. It wasn’t looking good. Is this the “It” that will change my life, Blu wondered and grabbed a few ketchup packets. Finally, the owner came out of the kitchen gripping a baseball bat. He was a right-hander.
“Get the fuck out of here, all of you,” he said to the Mexicans in English. He looked over at Ticks and Blu, “Sorry about them jerks, guys.”
“Hey, no problemo, we all got a little asshole in us,” Blu responded and winked. Not sure how to reply, the owner faked a bunt to Rosa’s butt and returned to the kitchen.
Ticks went into the bathroom, adjusted his hat and went outside. Blu was running around trying to take a whiz on tumbleweed. “Blu, git over here!” Ticks called.
They walked toward the truck parked near some dusty scrub pine. Some kids had toilet papered the bushes nearby. Suddenly, out of the weeds, came the Three Amigos. Striped with pink 3-ply toilet paper, they headed straight for Blu and Ticks. Blu tried the only phrase he knew in Spanish “Hay probelma aqui?” The lead punk didn’t pause to answer. He walked forward with jerky rooster steps.
“See, Blu, they got their asses on their shoulders. It’s bad for balance.” Ticks watched them turkey trot towards the White. “You take the two on the outside, Blu. I’ll take the guy with the knife.”
With bowed legs, high-heeled cowboy boots and a Stetson hat with undershorts sticking out the side, Ticks looked silly but did not blink or retreat. He conjured up some cowboy cool.
Blu pulled his belt off and wrapped it around his left hand. He’d seen it done in a movie.
The Mexican with the knife approached and prepared to listen to the skinny gringo beg for his life. Ticks talked softly with an innocent grin. El Knifo leaned forward to better hear the gringo’s plea for mercy. It was the part of being a punk the punk liked best. The punk wanted to get this takedown on film, to show his fellow gang members and girlfriends. He reached into his pants pocket with his left hand for a disposable camera.
“Let go of that thing,” Ticks said, pointing towards the aggressor’s crotch, “it’ll grow!” Ticks winked at Knifo’s buddies. “Neenee, nawnee, nooney…” he continued. El Knifo couldn’t stop listening to the high-heeled trucker and looked down, toward his ridiculed chilli pepper. He did not notice that Ticks had him off balance. Mistake numero uno.
Ticks eased up in front of El Knifo, who was three inches taller. He winked again to distract the two evil-looking second-string punks then – ZOT! Ticks reached in toward the Mexican’s belly button. “Coochee Coochee,” he tickled with a whisper. El Knifo looked down again. Mistake numero dos.
Ticks instantly stepped forward, head butted Knifo’s chin, slapped his arms apart, grabbed his head, held the hombre’s knife arm back with his elbow and locked his hands behind the uncomprehending dusty brown neck. Using the Mex’s head for leverage he jumped up, wrapped his legs around the Mex’s waist and pulled his head toward him. After riding the staggering antagonist for a few feet, Ticks bit the Mexican’s nose off. Blu could hear the crunch. Like the sound of a snapped bean! He had not seen that one in a movie.
It happened in less time than it takes to tell.
Ticks spit the brown nose out underneath his armpit. PHOOWEE! The pulsing snout skittered through the dirt. Ticks jumped off.
El Knifo freaked, dropped the blade and watched blood blowing out of the hole where his nose had lived. His eyes were crossed. “Holy Sheets!” he exclaimed and dropped to his knees to pray or, maybe to find his missing nose in the oily loam.
The right-side punk recognized the “snapped bean” sound and puked. The left-side punk screamed and ran back into the TP’d bush. “That stubby fucker won’t be hard to track,” Ticks noted wryly.
“Stubby Fucker, isn’t he a musician?” Blu didn’t wait for a response. He dropped his belt in the sand and checked his trousers for stains.
Ticks turned and looked at Blu, “You know, Blu that always leaves me a bad taste on my West Texas tonsils. Let’s go have us another coffee.”
The pair walked back into Wyatt Burp’s. Beth was still asleep in the tractor. Ticks started talking to Rosa again. He even told Rosa that he just bit her boyfriend’s nose off. “Talk about blood, man! Holy Hay-Zeus!” He slapped the counter. Bottles of Habanera sauce tinkled politely. “They’s some big fucking vessels in your nose, you know.”
“Si.” Rosa laughed.
Ticks had a glob of blood in his armpit where the nose passed by. “Dang Beaner winged me.” He laughed like an idiot and tried to clean it off with a napkin. Rosa thought it was funny and poured salt on his shirt. They were both laughing like idiots. Ticks winked at Rosa, “Fucking Mexicans, I’d sure hate to eat a whole one … wheweeee!” Rosa laughed again. Ticks was on a roll, “Leaves me a baaad taste.” Ticks scrunched up his face and stuck his Texas tongue out. Rosa laughed from her soft belly. She must have seen a lot of crazy things in her day and found the best response was laughter. Plus she liked Ticks’ style. Blu ordered an omelette, ate half of it and wrapped the rest in a napkin.
Blu tossed five bucks on the counter. Ticks patted Rosa on the ass and they headed for the door.
Back in the truck, Beth was still sleeping soundly. Blu pushed her tongue in, tucked a piece of the omelette under her nose and fastened his seat belt. The first thing Ticks did was look over to make sure Blu was watching. His chicken muscles were balled up high and tight. Ticks was ready for action.
The big White Freightliner coughed to life and they drove out of the parking lot. Blu saw the nose-less Mexican out his side window. The unsuccessful Pancho Villa had a rag on his face. He was still looking for his nose in the dirt. It would probably be even harder to find after Ticks drove over it on the way out.
“Hay problema aqui?” Blu hooted his one phrase out the window, then turned and grinned at Ticks. Ticks nodded approval and their private ritual began. Ticks hit the clutch, Blu watched. Ticks shifted into low gear. Blu watched.
An hour or so down the road Blu’s adrenalin wore off. Beth twitched awake, ate the entire leftover omelette in one bite and stretched. Both men stopped breathing. Blu inhaled her scent and felt a stirring in his loins. His dry nasal passages whistled like a hungry young bird. Loins?
“You know, Ticks, we’re not going a lot farther than here, so the next town is good for now.”
“You got it, Red Rider.”
Ticks would miss the girl, his wild-ass desert angel, his dusty darling, but at least his dream came true, once.
Half an hour later Ticks pulled off the road, screeched to stop and tipped his hat toward Beth. “Vaya con carne, my dusty darling.” Before either Blu or Beth could say anything, Ticks nodded with a wink and slammed the Old White in gear. The ever-cheerful pigs, still bound for slaughter, oinked their last goodbye. The pair stood in the dust and listened to the sad squeals fade. Twelve gears, and gone.
Blu started to tell Beth what happened.
“That guy, Ticks, well he, he bit the nose offa …”
“Don’t get weird on me, Blu.”
“Don’t you get weird on me, neither.”
They looked around the deserted intersection.
“Now what? Are we screwed, Blu, or what?”
“Well, in order to be screwed, we’d, ah, have to, ah, screw.” Blu turned slowly with, “that look” in his eyes.
“Oh, Blu!” Beth smiled and dropped her coffee sack dress in the sand. She was breathing hard. She knew she was easy, but, under the right circumstances, who isn’t? It was her balancing thought.
“Run from me baby; let me catch you in the wild! Like salmon!”
“Ooh Blu… OK!” Beth giggled. Her naked body kept the promise her dress made. Her sling backs threw diamond dust against a desert sky. She hauled ass into the bush. She didn’t try too hard. Blu cut to the chase and harpooned her in the sparkling sand. Call me Fishmeal.
During the melding, Beth noticed Blu’s third orb and was about to make a wise-ass remark when she heard the rattlesnake. “Don’t move,” Blu said, then suddenly, and without warning, Blu orgated with a passion he had never known. His primordial grunting and humping intimidated the deadly snake who quickly surrendered to the much smaller, but obviously hungrier challenger. The cowed rattlesnake slithered away, dragging its flaccid rattle through the sand. Nice furrow for beans, Blu caught himself thinking. They made love under a sun burnt sign that read, “Pinhole, Texas -Pop. 8E2.
Finally, the hard breathers bumped to a stop and fell apart. They lay alone together with pounding hearts, fuzzy dreams and fresh coyote dung. In the after-glow of hot sand sex, Blu said Beth nine times to sooth himself. It was the first time she’d let him do it. Of course, it was the first time he’d tried. Beth sliced across the hot sand toward Blu and looked up with sweet puffy lips, “Oh, and thanks for the omelette, Blu man.”
They eventually got up. Beth walked back and picked up her dress, put it on and adjusted her sling backs. Blu zipped up, but forgot his third orb and suffered a major groin snag on the upstroke.
He went down on his knees in the persistently hot granules. Beth turned to see him grasping his groin and moaning.
“Not again Blu, not now.” she said, not totally serious. Beth breathed deeply and, like moths to the flame or darts to the board, they were drawn to Pinhole and the next chapter in the dog-eared chronicle of their lives.
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About the Author
Captain Mark T. “Reef” Perkins is a marine surveyor with a colorful past. From commanding a 150-foot 300 DWT US Army diving ship off Vietnam to smuggling in the Caribbean, Reef Perkins has become a living legend. A graduate of both the US Army Engineer Officer Candidate School and the US Navy Salvage Officers School, he’s a man comfortable in or out of the water. Raised in rural Michigan, Reef now lives in Key West where he can get his feet wet. He is the author of the bestselling memoir, Sex, Salvage & Secrets.
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Screwed, Blu’d and Tattooed copyright © 2013 by Reef Perkins. Electronic compilation/ print edition copyright © 2013 by Whiz Bang LLC.
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