The question hung in the air accusingly.
“What made you think you could get away with smoking that
in question obviously being the sher bidi
herbal cigarette I had been smoking in the snug of the Ye Olde Ale House
mere moments before.
Our accusers were two young men, apparently undercover cops, who’d had their eyes on us and followed us out to our car to make the pinch. From the looks on their faces, you would have thought they’d just found the weapons of mass destruction in Al Capone’s vault.
Everything about their speech and demeanor suggested that they’d spent hours preening in the mirror while practicing lines like “Freeze, scumbag!” or “You talkin’ to me?” They certainly seemed to fancy themselves some latter-day Starsky and Hutch or perhaps, judging from their bad 70’s coifs, a couple of Charlie’s Angels.
On the other hand, they’d probably never run into three more unlikely criminal masterminds than the odd squad before them: Fred, who would have been happy to argue some point of Catholic orthodoxy with them; M., who could make a pair of panties drop at 50 paces by merely gazing in their direction; and, of course, caught between the sacred and the profane once again, yours truly, trapped in a world he never made.
The same terrible trio would once again get themselves in dutch with the authorities during a cross-country trip in a U-Haul, during which Fred would attempt to turn onto the ramp of a rest stop at too high a speed on a snowy day. The truck came to an abrupt stop when a tree confronted it, the strong upper branches of which had peeled the top of the U-Haul back as if it were a sardine can.
What was it about us that seemed to bring out law enforcement?
Back at the Ale House,
we were made to stand with our palms against the car and our legs apart as we were searched for more of the deadly herbs.
“Where’d you get the stuff,
man?” asked the one with a moustache.
“Yeah, where’d you get the stuff?
” said the other, clearly the sidekick.
“It’s an herbal cigarette,” I protested. “I bought them at a tobacco shop.”
“Oh, yeah?” said Moustache as he started to search me, “What tobacco shop? What tobacco shop sells that?
“Any,” I said helpfully.
“What’s your name, smart guy?”
“Well, Bob,” said Moustache, “looks like you could use some new pockets
here, huh?” He’d discovered my coat’s hole-filled pockets and from the tone of his voice, I could guess that he thought that I kept them that way intentionally so as to quickly dispose of any evidence, should a situation like the one before us arise.
Meanwhile, Hutch was actually going though the car, searching for incriminating evidence but coming up with nothing. Slowly, it was beginning to dawn on Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade here that it was possible they had made an error.
The funny thing was, it didn’t make them any less belligerent. They kept up the same blustery patter as they turned to leave, attempting to save face with such sentence fragments as “Well, you just better not…” and “If we catch you with that again…” It was all nonsense, but the last thing in the world they could do was admit they’d been wrong. There would be no apology or further discussion.
It was as if it hadn’t happened.
We all got in the car feeling a little shell-shocked. M. reached into the glove compartment for something and gasped.
“What is it?” Fred and I asked in unison.
“Oh my god,” he said, sounding a little shaky. “I had dope in the glove compartment!”
And the stars shone down on the pitiless Boulevard D’Morte, cuisinart of the carless, as they lent some of their brilliance to the electric magnificence of the drive-in signs, and demonstrated that mercy was not obsolete as we pulled out of the parking lot and savored the vagaries of fate and life and what was to come.
Maybe it was the last break we’d ever get. Maybe it was a going-away present.
But this, all of this, was years and years and years ago.
I sit here, now, in a future that doesn’t exist yet and figure they’re all going to catch up to me eventually. And in another one I’m looking at me writing this and wondering if he ever suspected what was to come.
All of it has been lived, all of it, everyone’s breaths suspended in the air, the air that ends at the edge of space.
Beyond that, all is forgiven.