I woke up the next morning and Lucy was gone. The Spanish princess was gone too. Cal stood out of bed looking bewildered, asking me if I thought the girls were thieves in the night. We checked the room and nothing had been stolen.
“Well,” said Cal. “Was it all just some crazy dream then?”
“No it wasn’t a dream.”
We got our bags, checked out and left the hotel. It was early in the morning but already the air outside was hot.
“Wherever they are,” continued Cal, “they’re probably near. Never too far.”
It was then that we heard a voice yell “You two!”. We turned around and saw a tiny, rat-faced little man, with long black hair tied back in a pony tail. He was a pimp, or so it seemed, since he was yelling about how Scarlett, the Spanish princess, was his girl and how we definitely owed him some money.
Cal and I exchanged looks, then we looked back at him. “Who are you?”
“My name is Leon,” he said. “We got ourselves quite a situation here, boys. Scarlett’s disappeared. I been searching ’round town all night and mornin’ lookin’ for that señorita and I hear that she’s hangin’ with two boys stayin’ at the Del Armes Hotel. So I wait here this mornin’ looking’ for those boys and sure enough I see you two fellas, matchin’ the description perfectly.
“Dashing, handsome, intelligent-looking,” said Cal. “A sight to behold aren’t we? It is a mighty fine pleasure to meet you, Leon. Jude here is a future law-school dropout who plays guitar, but I warn you, he doesn’t play for free. All inquiries can me made through his agent…which I guess would be me.”
“Shut yer trap, blondie–”
“–I can’t find Scarlett anywhere and she done split with all my money!”
“Well,” Cal said, “Guess that sucks to be you.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what, young man,” he said, pointing his finger in the middle of Cal’s chest. “You are gonna get me my money.”
Cal turned to me with his eyes wide, and with a quick smile gave me a wink. Then he turned back to Leon and smiled to him. What happened next happened fast. He slapped him hard and kicked him in the groin before knocking him down, then he grabbed me and we both ran to the car.
As we drove off, Leon rose from the ground, chased us, and was actually able to keep up, weaving and hopping through passerby and hollering about the two young punks running off with his loot as we drove slowly through the congested Quarter.
“This is not seriously happening,” said Cal at the wheel, grinning and giggling the entire time. We made it out of the Quarter and finally back onto the highway, shooting out of New Orleans like a bat out of hell.
“Jesus H. Christ and all the angels and saints!” Cal was howling with laughter.
“What the hell was that for?!”
“We had to make a move.”
“Things didn’t have to get physical. I could have reasoned with the man.”
“Would have taken too long. I want to get to Hollywood and be an actor already.”
“That madman is gonna be chasing us all across America.”
“Don’t say that!”
“Not if you think about it.”
“Law of attraction, that is what the Secret says.”
“Shut up. Damn you. You think he caught our license plate?”
“Probably, he was chasing our car for long enough. He was a fast little man, wasn’t he? On second thought, he may very well be chasing us. Don’t forget, pimps have resources.”
“Whatever, let’s just keep moving.”
“The pimps represent everything wrong with this world. They’re holding this country up. Well not anymore.” He looked at me. “Not us. We’re not gonna get held up by pimps. Say it.”
“We’re not gonna get held up by pimps.”
We grabbed a quick breakfast not far from Baton Rouge and then drove on into Texas. We stayed the night in Dallas, where we bought beer at a convenience store before I had the grim idea of parking the car in Deally Plaza where we sat on the hillside and drank under one of the trees.
There was a band of three bluegrass musicians sitting near one of the benches nearby. We walked over to them and started talking about the blues and old roots music. They were young guys but they could play well. One of them offered Cal his banjo to try out and Cal graciously accepted.
“Man if I ever was gonna learn an instrument it’d be this. I play the bongos but that’s about it.”
“Well it ain’t about the instrument man, but how you play it,” he said.
“Ha! Well in that case I’ll hand this one back to you,” said Cal. “Jude here is the musician anyway.”
The guitar player offered me his. People will often say that musicians are strange and protective about letting people play their instruments. I’ve never noticed that to be true, at least not if you are a musician yourself. Anyways I played a few Johnny Cash songs and then “Girl from the North Country.”
“Is that a Johnny Cash song,” he asked me?
“Bob Dylan. But he recorded it later with Johnny Cash.”
The whole band liked the song and I told them I’d been playing it a lot lately. It was about a man who recalls a beautiful woman he knew from long ago, wondering if the girl, now later in life, remembers him at all.
“I don’t know why I play it so much,” I said. “It’s an easy tune I guess. Catchy.”
The band continued playing late into the night as we listened and hung out with them and drank with them. We were like some band of traveling orphan kids. Later I would look around at the surrounding Deally plaza and notice how quiet it was. The whole place was small to me and felt like it had been covered in coats of paint, to hide a blemish long feared to never go away. I grew pensive and Cal asked me what I was looking for. I joked and I said an epiphany.