Mike and Danny: Big Hopes
Note that these stories, including this one, are not an endorsement of unsafe sex. They take place many years before the appearance of AIDS and before it was standard practice to use condoms to reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted diseases. Remember always: that was then, this is now. Sex is precious, and so are life and health.
Randy stood by the road, his thumb out again. His old '48 Dodge pickup had made it this far from Nevada and finally gave out, a hundred miles short of Tecumseh, where his buddy Wallace was out on parole and living with his sister. He'd left the truck behind a Mobil station where a high school kid who pumped gas thought he could get it running again and traded him twenty bucks for the title.
So now he was hitchhiking. He'd seen Nebraska this way before, just last summer, when for some reason it was a whole lot easier thumbing rides. All you had to concern yourself with then was keeping out of the thunder storms.
He'd got wet to the bone just once in a downpour and walked two miles to a truck stop, where he changed his clothes in the men's roomwhich anyway turned out OK. A trucker driving a big Peterbilt came in for a piss and catching the sight of him bare assed as he put on a dry pair of levi's, the guy had offered him a ride all the way to Rock Springs, Wyoming.
When he got home, the other pair was still wet when he took them out of his travel bag. And the trucker had given him a beer mug from a bar in Fort Worthas a souvenir of the fierce, groaning, sweat-dripping sex they'd had in the sleeper, the guy's boots planted hard against the roof of his cab as Randy went to work on him.
But November, he was discovering as he waited for a ride, was different. It would freeze your nuts off in nothing flat.
He'd called and left a message with Wallace's sister that he was on his way. She'd tried to persuade him to hold off for a while, give Wallace a chance to get settled. But he could hardly wait to see his old buddy from the days when they cowboyed together and got to planning a ranch for mustangs.
It was going to be a way for them to make enough to be on their own somewhere together. A seventy-year-old bachelor uncle who was fond of Randy was leaving him an acreage with some pasture and a big horse barn not far from Las Vegas. All he wanted from Randy was to let him stay there in the same house he'd lived in all his life, till they carried him out feet first, as he liked to say. He wouldn't spend any of his last days in a goddam nursing home.
But Wallace had complicated matters by getting himself busted by a Nebraska sheriff for stealing a car. And now that he'd done his time and got out on parole, he couldn't leave the state. Couldn't even venture far from Lincoln, where he had to report every two weeks to his parole officer.
So Randy had taken the money he'd saved, plus fifty bucks from his unclewho seemed to understand without a lot of explaining why Randy needed to go see his friendand he was going to spend Wallace's parole time somewhere close by so they could be together again. He'd look for a job andnow that he'd sold the old oneget himself another pickup.
He saw the GTO come off the interstate and pull over to the roadside diner behind him. Two guys got out and went inside. Five minutes later, when they came out with styrofoam cups of coffee, he ran over to them.
"Give a guy a ride?" he said.
"Where you headed?" asked the driver, a young guy with a long ponytail.
"Well, that's on our way. Get in."
And Randy tossed his bag into the backseat and jumped in after it.
"Name's Randy," he said. "Rhymes with candy." He shook hands with the two guys. They told him their namesKenneth and Deaconand that they were on their way to Topeka.
After the chill of waiting for a ride along the road for most of an hour, it was nice and warm inside the car, and he enjoyed the pull of the engine as it took them back out onto the highway. The flat, harvested fields that he'd been staring at as he'd stood there began slipping past the windows and into the distance behind him.
"Hey, I like your car," he said.
"Thanks," Kenneth, the driver, said.
The other guy, Deacon, turned in his seat and said, "So who you got waitin' for you in Tecumseh?"
"Buddy of mine," he said. "A good buddy."
By the time they'd got to Lincoln, Randy had told them about Wallace, the plans they'd made together, and that he was looking for a job so he could stay until Wallace was free to return to Nevada with him.
"It's kind of outta your way," Kenneth said, "but if you know how to rope and ride, my brother has a ranch up in the Sandhills. He might need somebody. I know for a fact he's got one cowboy there laid up right now."
So when they dropped him off in front of a big old county courthouse in Tecumseh, Kenneth wrote down a name and a phone number on a scrap of paper and handed it to him. Randy folded it and put it in his back pocket as he watched them drive off.
"Now there was somebody for you," Deacon said as they headed south out of town. "Too bad he had his heart set on somebody else."
"Do me a favor and let's stay off that subject," Kenneth said. "I'm already thinking this is going to be the story of my life."
"I wouldn't say that if I was you. You're still young, and after last night I'd say you still got potential."
"I don't want to talk about that either."
"I thought you were enjoying yourself."
Kenneth had quickly stripped out of his underwear and rolled naked onto Deacon in the narrow bed, burying his face into the hollow of his shoulder. And he had hung on like a shipwreck survivor as Deacon put his arms around him and stroked his back and then his butt.
"I'll level with you. I was trying to imagine I was with Butch again."
"Did it work?"
"But you sure came, I noticed."
To keep from making noise in the quiet house as the bed creaked under them, they had lain side by side hugging each other around the legs and sucking each other's cock.
"Your dick isn't like his," Kenneth said. "Your balls aren't like his. You don't taste like him or smell like him."
"How about getting sucked?"
"That wasn't like him either."
"Better or worse?"
"But better or worse?"
"What's with you? I wasn't talking about that."
"Well, since you're comparing, I'm curious."
"To be honest, I wasn't thinking that way while you were doing it."
"Ever try thinking a little less? You know, you get your head full of ideas and they can get in the way of just livin'."
"But you've been doing this all your life. It comes easy for you."
"It's supposed to be easy. That's when it's the most fun."
"Fun," Kenneth said, shaking his head, like Deacon was making no sense. "Is that all it is between you and my uncle?"
"Is that's what's eating you? You're still worried about Ellis?"
"You belong to him," Kenneth said struggling for words. "Seeing the two of you together, that was perfect. It gave me hope. Now we've screwed that up."
"If we're still comparing, let me tell you something. That little sixty-nine you and me did last night was nothing next to what happens when I'm with Ellisand I mean nothing. When that man fucks me, there's no question, I know I've been fucked."
Kenneth was getting angry now. "But wouldn't you care if he was fucking somebody else when you're not there?"
"What if he did?"
"I know it's me who matters most to him. That's all I care about."
They drove on in silence for a while, and Kenneth wished for all the world that his life was simpler.
"I can give you some tips on sucking cock," Deacon finally said. "If you want."
Randy had asked around until he found someone outside the post office who knew of Wallace's sister and where she lived. It had been a long walk to the edge of town along a dirt street where dogs barked from behind chain link fences.
The house sat in a yard with a broken front walk and a yellow Big Wheel tipped on its side near the porch steps. He went up to the front door, pulled open the screen, and knocked.
After a while, a young woman who seemed hardly more than a teenager appeared at a window, pulling aside a curtain to get a look at him. Randy had expected someone with dark coloring, like Wallace, and straight coal black hair, but she was fair and blue eyed. When she opened the door, a boy about four or five stood behind her, one arm wrapped around her leg.
"I'm here to see Wallace," he said. "Is he here?"
"He's at work," she said.
"Where does he work?"
"Are you his friend from Nevada?" she asked.
"Yes, I'm Randy."
"It's not a good time to be seeing him," she said.
"Are you his sister?"
"He's trying to start a new life," she said. "It's not good for him being with people he used to know."
He understood why she might be suspicious of him, and he gave her his best smile to show her she didn't have anything to worry about.
"I'm not that kind of person," he said. "I've never been in trouble with the law in my life."
"When you called," she said, "I tried to tell you not to come."
"Wallace is my best friend. There's no way I couldn't be here now that he's out."
A man who looked like he'd been asleep came into the room behind her. "What's this all about? What do you want?" he said. He was in his stocking feet, his shirt hanging out of his pants. His face was pale, with several days' growth of beard.
"I come to see Wallace," Randy said, starting to explain himself all over again.
The man pushed open the screen so that Randy had to take a step back.
"If you know what's good for you, you'll go back where you come from," the man said, stepping out onto the porch. In the light of day, Randy could see that he was older, with a beat-up face and a nose that had been broken at least once.
"I don't understand," Randy said. "Me and Wallace have plans."
"Not any more." He was now backing Randy away from the front door and off the porch.
"Look, I didn't come here to make trouble. I just want to see my friend."
"You got no friends here. Now get lost."
"But you got me all wrong," Randy said.
"Get off the property now, or I'm calling the sheriff."
The man picked up Randy's travel bag and tossed it toward him. It fell at his feet, and he bent to pick it up, stepping backward a few steps to make sure he wasn't being followed, before turning and walking away.
He was determined not to go anywhere until he found Wallace. If he had a job, Randy was thinking, he had to be working around town somewhere. Tecumseh was no big city, and his being new in townand an Indianthere were surely people who knew of him, even if they didn't know him by name. He'd just keep asking.
In the diner downtown, he found a waitress who said she thought he was working at a machine shop, where her boyfriend had a job. And after quickly finishing his steak and potatoes, Randy had hurried to find the place.
When he got there, it was the middle of the afternoon. He found a foreman, who looked him over, and explained over the sound of metal presses and welding coming from another building in back that the workmen got off at 4:00. He'd have to wait until then.
So he waited, standing outside a big open door, unable to see anything inside the building's shadowy interior but heavy equipment and the movement of men in dark coveralls.
He kept puzzling over the meaning of what had happened when he showed up at the house of Wallace's sister. There had to be some misunderstanding, and as soon as he talked with Wallace he was sure it would all be cleared up. He pictured them walking back into the house, and Wallace explaining with his easy laughter that Randy was not whoever they seemed to think he was.
Two men stepped out into the sunshine to smoke cigarettes, and Randy went over to them.
"Either of you know Wallace?" he asked them.
They looked him over before one of them said, "The Indian?"
"Why do you want to know?" The guy was freckle-faced with red hair. He'd unzipped the front of his coveralls partway to show wisps of chest hair curling out over the top of his undershirt, and the bill of his shop cap was broken into a sharp angle over his eyes.
"Friend of his," Randy said. "Came from Nevada to see him."
"So what do you want him for?" the guy said.
"I just wanna talk to him."
"When you do," the other one said, "you can tell him we got enough redskins around here." He was a skinny guy with tattoos on the knuckles of both hands.
Isn't this town named after an Indian, Randy wanted to say, but he kept his mouth shut, not wanting to press his luck with these two. The two men said nothing more and finished their cigarettes, smoking them down to the filters and then crushing them out on the ground with their boots.
"I'll tell him you're here," the redhead said as they went back inside.
But Wallace didn't come out until the shop fell silent at 4:00 and the men quit for the day, walking out of the building in ones and twos carrying their lunch pails. When he finally emerged, he looked around, blinking into the late afternoon sun before he found Randy standing there by a gas pump, his travel bag on the ground beside him.
He looked surprised and walked over to Randy, hugging him and pounding him on the back. He smelled of motor oil, hot metal, and smoke from the welders. The strength in his embrace was just as Randy remembered it.
"How'd you get here?" Wallace wanted to know.
"Didn't you know I was coming?"
"No." He held Randy's face in his hands for a moment like he might kiss him, but then let them drop to his sides and slipped them into his pockets.
"I talked to your sister on the phone."
"She didn't tell me."
"Man, I have missed you."
Wallace shook his head. "I can't believe you came all the way back here just to see me."
"I wanna take you back to Nevada with me, soon as they'll let you go."
Wallace didn't say anything. He looked at the ground and kicked at a stone with his boot. "I'm not goin' back," he said.
"What do you mean? I got us a ranch. You remember my uncle? He's leavin' his place to us."
"I can't leave now."
"I'm gettin' married. I got a kid."
"Don't ask me how it happened. It just did."
And he explained that living with his sister, before he'd gone to prison, he'd got to know a friend of hers, a girl named Emily, who had a little boy Alfredohis father had been a field worker from Oaxaca, a man without papers as it turned out, who'd been sent back to Mexico.
"Does she have blue eyes?"
"I met herand the boy." They were the ones who had come to the door.
She'd taken to him right away when they met, Wallace explained, and they'd become friends. Then one night when his sisterreally his half-sisterand her brother, the guy with the beat-up face, had been away for the day, taking Alfredo with them to the state fair in Lincoln, the two new friends had the house to themselves. And as night fell they got to kissing, and before either of them seemed to know it, they were on the couch having sex.
The baby, Wallace Jr., came nine months later, while Wallace was in prison.
"When we get married," he said, "I'm going to adopt Alfredo."
"What about you and me?" Randy said.
Wallace looked away. "I blew that, pardner. I'm sorry," he said." I'm a father now. I got responsibilities."
Randy looked into the eyes of his old friend and felt his heart breaking, his big hopes crashing down around him.
"This can't be," he said. "This just can't be."
Wallace had offered to put him up for the night. Once everybody in the house understood he'd be leaving first thing in the morning, Wallace said, there would be no problem. If somebody objected, he'd take care of it.
But much as Randy wanted to have a few last hours with Wallace, he knew he could not go back to that house and face the people there who had taken his best friend away from him. Angry tears in his eyes, he had turned from Wallace, picked up his travel bag from the ground and walked away.
He heard Wallace calling after him, but he didn't look back. He wasn't sure how he got there, but in a while he was standing by the highway, headed back to Nevada, his thumb held out to the passing traffic.
But no one stopped for him. And as the late autumn sun sank into a hazy film of clouds in the west, he felt the chill of the waning day gather around him and seep from the cold ground into his boots. He had tried not to cry, but the backs of his hands were already getting sore from the tears he'd wiped away, then rubbing them on his jeans.
The chance of a ride at this hour was becoming unlikely, as the highway seemed to be carrying only local traffic, people heading home from work to be with their families and, after a warm meal and some TV, a warm bed. He missed his old pickup and wished he could just be in it, driving back west.
The lights had come on at a filling station across the street, and he crossed over to ask the guy he'd seen pumping gas about a place to stay for the night. He found him inside, sitting behind the counter looking at a hunting and fishing magazine.
"You got your Deluxe Motor Inn along that way," he said, pointing back toward town. "Or your Prairie View Lodge out that way." And he pointed the other direction.
"I haven't got a lot of money to spend," Randy said.
"Well, I don't know about that," the guy said. He was maybe Randy's age, a shop cap pulled down tight on his head, with the bill turned up, and long sideburns that came down past his ears. "Where you from?" he wanted to know, looking at Randy up and down. "You some kind of cowboy?"
He'd found that people back here in the midwest weren't used to seeing men wearing hats and boots, and he often found himself the object of stares and curiosity. To them he was like a character walking out of a western movie or TV show. For a while it had tickled him and even put a bit of a stride into his step.
Tonight he had no patience for it. He just felt like he was maybe what he'd always been seen as by others, a foreigner far from where he belonged. And he didn't bother answering the guy's question.
"I'm lookin' for some place not fancy that ain't gonna cost me an arm and a leg," he said.
"Well, you go on up to Lincoln. I hear they got a new Motel 6 on the interstsate."
"I don't have a way to get there. I'm hitching."
"Where's your horse?" the guy said, and then laughed. "Sorry, just jokin' a little with ya."
Randy was ready to walk out, realizing the guy was not likely to be of much help.
"Tell you what," he was saying, looking over Randy's shoulder at a clock on the wall. "If you're willin' to wait, I close down here in about an hour. I got me a place at a rooming house the other side of town. The gal runs it only rents by the week, but she might put you up for the night if we sweet talk her little." He winked his eye. "Hard to say, she just might have a weak spot for a cowboy."
Randy thought about this and realized it was maybe his only chance for a place to bed down out of the cold for the night.
"OK, I lost my pickup today, and I lost my best friend," he said, trying to smile. "But I guess I still got a little sweet talkin' left in me."
"That's the attitude," the guy said. He reached over the counter to offer his hand. "By the way, my name's Luther."
"Randy. Glad to know ya," Randy said and shook the guy's hand, noticing that the name Lucky was stitched onto the name patch over the pocket of his uniform.
"Is it Luther or Lucky?" he asked.
The guy laughed, like it was another of his jokes. "I was sleepin' in the back seat of a car went off the road back when I was in high school. The two guys in front, one was DOA and the other never came out of a coma. I woke up the next morning and didn't have a scratch." He shook his head like he still couldn't believe it. "So it was Lucky Luther for a while, and then just Lucky."
"Were the other two guys friends of yours?"
"Oh, yeah. My best buds."
Somehow the deaths of the other two had left no mark on him. Randy wondered if the guy was really all there.
There was a ringing bellding-ding! ding-ding! as a customer pulled up to a pump outside, and Luther went to the door. "Hey, no use hangin' around here," he said. "There's a bar in the restaurant at the Deluxe. I like to stop there for a beer on the way home. I can pick you up when I come by."
A beer sounded good. Maybe three or four. It would take more than that to drown his sorrows, but it was a start.
He took his travel bag, following Luther out the door, and he walked about ten minutes up the road in the growing twilight toward the glowing neon sign of the motel.
True to his word, Luther showed up at the bar about an hour later. Randy, by then, was feeling no different, though he'd started knocking back shots of whiskey with each new bottle of beer.
"Pabst," Luther said to the bartender as he sat down at the bar next to Randy, shouldering up to him. "You doin' OK there, cowboy?"
Randy shook his head. "It's gonna take more than this."
Luther was still in his work clothes, except he'd taken off his cap, and Randy could see that his dark hair was thick and wavy. He pulled a pack of Camels from his shirt pocket and tapped one out. He offered it to Randy, who shook his head no. He didn't smoke.
"I been thinkin' about something you told me," he said. "About those two friends of yours got killed in that car wreck."
Luther nodded as he lit his cigarette with a lighter.
"Did you miss them when they were gone just like that?"
Luther shrugged and reached for the bottle of beer the bartender was putting in front of him. "Livin' each day's a roll of the dice."
"I'm not like that. I'd of been bawling my eyes out."
Luther didn't look at him, just took a drag of his cigarette. "I did a little of that," he finally said. "After the second funeral. Just to get it out of my system."
Randy was wondering now if Luther was just acting tough, to show the world he could take whatever kind of luckgood or badthat got thrown at him.
"You a real cowboy?" Luther said. "Home on the range, and all that?"
Randy nodded, signaling the bartender for another beerand another shot.
"I always wanted to do something like that."
And Randy half-listened to the guy as he talked about his idea of riding all day and sleeping under the stars at night. He'd probably seen too many westerns. He had no idea that cowboying was actually hard work and there'd be no sleeping under the stars on a night like this one.
When they finally got up to go, Randy realized he'd drunk more than he thought. His head was a little swimmy, and he nearly left his travel bag behind. Luther had been the one to notice he wasn't carrying it.
It was dark when they got outside, the cold air hitting him in the face like a fist, and he felt Luther's hand taking his elbow as he took a misstep off the curb along the parking lot. "Easy there, cowboy," he said.
Luther had an old Ford Falcon with a cracked windshield. He revved the engine for a while, once he got it started, before putting it in gear and driving off.
"A friend of mine promised me his Malibu when he goes into the service," he said, like he was making an apology. "All I gotta do is keep up the payments."
"I'm a pickup man myself," Randy said. And he remembered again that he didn't have one anymore.
At the rooming house where Luther lived, it turned out there weren't any empty rooms. So Luther said, when he came from asking the woman who ran the place.
Randy had fallen asleep in the front seat of the car while he waited. He had never felt so weary.
"I can drive you to one of the motels," Luther said. "Or you can bunk with me. We can't bring in womenbut there's no rule against havin' another man," he laughed.
Randy thought about what was left of the money in his pocket after all the drinks at the bar, and wondered if he had much choice. "Guess it's gonna be me and you," he said, too tired to care either way.
They went quietly up the stairs and down a dimly lit hall where Luther opened a door with his key, and they went inside. Switching on the light revealed a small room with a few pieces of furniture and a bed neatly made.
A hairbrush, an alarm clock, and a shaving kit were carefully arranged atop an old-fashioned chest of drawers. There was a bay window with curtains and pull-down window shades and an upholstered chair with a floor lamp beside it.
"Home, sweet, home," Luther said, extending an arm like he was offering it all to his guest.
Randy set down his travel bag and took off his coat and hat, eyeing the bed and wanting to just lie down on it.
"I'm bushed," he said. "Hope you're not gonna mind if I just hit the hay right away?"
Randy sat on the edge of the bed and started taking off his boots. He'd bought a new pair for his trip to Nebraska, and they were still tight on his feet. With all the alcohol in him, he was having trouble getting the second one off.
"I can do that for you," Luther said, and Randy lay back on the bed as he let Luther pull on the boot until he felt his foot begin to slip out of it.
"You OK, cowboy?" Luther was saying. Randy had drifted off to sleep for a moment and was still lying across the bed.
He felt Luther's hand on his leg as Luther got onto the bed beside him.
"Yeah, I'm fine," he said. And he saw that the light in the room had changed. The fixture on the ceiling had been switched off and the floor lamp in the window was now glowing softly.
Luther's hand was now in the crotch of his jeans, massaging him there and finding his cock. Randy sighed, rocking his head from side to side.
"You like that?" Luther said now close to his ear.
"Feels good," Randy said, closing his eyes.
Then Luther was undoing the snaps of his shirt and rubbing his face against Randy's chest, feeling with his lips for one of his nipples and then sucking it into his warm mouth.
In a minute Randy felt hands unbuckling his belt, and his body seemed to float into the bed as the weight of the day slipped away from him.
Luther was over him now, his face pressed against Randy's cheek.
"Hey, cowboy," he whispered. "I've been wanting to fuck you since I saw you standing out there along the road."
Continued . . .
© 2008 Rock Lane Cooper