By Dr. Rocket with Ms. Gonzo
*Last time, as you recall, a beautiful young singer was unexpectedly offered a great deal of money to drive a van filled with pot from Texas to L.A.*
Suze slowly realized just how tightly she clutched the cash-stuffed envelope as she stared out the front window of Rob’s big Delta 88. She fought the urge to count the bills.
Come on, even if it’s not exactly seven thousand five, it’s more money than you ever had in your life. Plus another payment like it in L.A.!
“Whooo,” she sighed, the sound masked by the engine. Put the stuff away, now, let’s show some dignity.
She tucked the precious mass into her big purse and refocused on her now-former bassist and new boss, who hunched silently behind the wheel, his grim expression dimly visible by the glow of the dashboard. This is a switch, gonna be takin’ orders from ol’ Robbie. Gotta get used to that, I guess.
“Well, what’s next, chief?” She put just enough of a funny inflection in her voice to make Rob’s lips twist upwards a bit.
“Out to the farmhouse to get us the van, and Billy. We are pretty much ready, or should be, if my bro’s on it. He wanted to make the gig, but I told him he hadda finish packing the load.” Rob fell silent a moment, thinking about the music.
“By the way…”
“You really sang great tonight.”
“Thanks.” I’m gonna miss the compliments, ain’t I.
“What a night. I didn’t think we could do better than that first set. Was I wrong. After the break we tore the roof off.”
“It’s called warming up.” She stopped. Remember, he’s the boss now. Gotta not forget.
“Maybe if you put a band together out in California…” he mumbled, and ground to a halt. How cute, he cares. She was hit by a sudden thought.
“Coffee!” Suze exclaimed. “If we’re drivin’ tonight, I gotta have coffee.”
Rob nodded and pulled into a brightly-lit 7-11. She realized where they were, and opened her mouth to stop him, but it was too late. She looked around the parking lot anxiously. Well maybe he’s not here, that last time was enough, Lord.
One of the main reasons Suze was determined to give up her band and leave Garland was an exceptionally strange and obnoxious former schoolmate named Imants Haselberger. He was obsessed with her, as well as what he called “fighting crime.”
In recent months he often hung out at this very convenience store at night, writing down the license plates of late evening patrons he thought were suspicious. What he did with the plate numbers, no one knew. Suze had run into him here a few weeks back, and it had been an awkward mess.
She’d known him from seventh grade on, and he had been emotionally fixated on her for most of that period. She dreaded seeing him at any time, but under the current circumstances it would be unbearable.
Because on top of everything else, Imants’ father was a high-ranking FBI man.
Imants was earnest but strange-looking, with very thin lips, a narrow face, ears that stuck out and bulging eyes, an appearance not unlike that of the pulp horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Due to his father’s rigid upbringing, he was aggressively ultra-conservative politically, and a religious zealot.
Suze had done everything possible to discourage Imants’ constant efforts to be around her, but somehow he often found and cornered her. His persistent ability to pop up in her life at random was uncanny.
As she poured her coffee at the self-service bar, a familiar sinking feeling came over Suze as Imants strode in and hurried down an aisle towards the rear of the store. How the hell does he always find me? She paid, hoping to get out before he noticed her, but Imants unerringly approached. She took a deep breath and tossed her blonde hair. One last time, she would try to be polite.
“Imants, what a surprise.”
He blinked at her, still in her low-cut stage dress from the gig. She knew he thought her music was the Devil’s work, and her provocative clothing an outrage. “Suze, I’m so glad to see you,” he finally blurted. “Your phone was shut off and when I went by your apartment they said you had moved.”
Suze, her smile perilously close to a grimace at the thought of Imants questioning her former landlord, spread her hands out palms up. This was going to require outright prevarication, she realized. “Yes, stayin’ with friends until my new place is ready.”
The young Asian clerk handed her the change with a wide grin for his buxom blonde customer. The clerk’s eyes flicked over to Imants, dismissed him, and snapped back to Suze. “Thank you, please come again,” he said, nodding vigorously.
Imants, averting his eyes in ongoing embarrassment from her stimulating décolletage, struggled to speak. “Friends. Ah, I see. May, uh, I have your friend’s number? I want to discuss the church picnic next Saturday. You haven’t been to church since your father died and I am worried…”
Suze hastily interrupted. “Imants, please understand. My personal spiritual beliefs are really none of your business. I believe God loves me whether I go to that church or not.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, but your father…”
“My father is none of your business, either, bless his soul. I won’t… I don’t want to talk about him.”
Imants was numbed by this assertion. Suze had changed. Why? Maybe the shock of her father dying last year had triggered some madness. If Suze doesn’t go to church, she’ll be condemned to hell for all of eternity. I won’t let that happen. I owe it to her father. I do.
“Can we talk about this later? How do I reach you?”
“I, I don’t have the number with me. Maybe I’ll give you a call, been real busy. Hey, gotta go, see ya!” She walked rapidly out into the warm Texas night, trying to remember the last time she had called Imants. Five years, back when she felt sorry for him?
A couple of teenaged boys standing outside gawked at her as she walked quickly towards Rob’s Olds, grateful Imants hadn’t thrust some damn book at her. He was always trying to get Suze to read various tracts and texts including, memorably, a book by J. Edgar Hoover. Suze, who loved books, glanced at a few pages, cursed, and threw away the dog-eared paperback in disgust. “Masters of Deception,” bah. What she knew of the FBI, just from the recent news reports, horrified her.
Undeterred, Imants quickly followed her out the door and right up to Rob’s Olds. He stammered questions about where her friend lived and where she was going at the moment. Suze waved him off, miffed at his annoying creepiness, and hastily but firmly said “Goodnight, goodnight, see you soon,” opened the door to a blast of music, hopped in the front seat, and firmly closed it.
Imants’ bulging eyes stared at Suze, then over to Rob through the window for a moment. A wave of sadness mixed with anger overcame him, and he frowned at Rob, who was listening to a James Brown tune on the radio.
Rob noticed him, as he turned to face Suze. Frowning in turn, Rob stared back at the figure standing outside. Imants turned away, and his groan of despair was lost in the funky bass, blaring horns and thumping drums on Rob’s’ stereo.
Suze settled into her seat and exhaled sharply, shaking her head. Rob grunted, turning the music down. “Who the fuck was that? He looks familiar.”
She glanced over at him. No way I can explain Imants, and if I mention the FBI dad, Rob will bust a gut. Anyway, I’ll never see Imants again! That was an amazing thought, and she beamed, feeling liberated. “A final ghost of my old life.”
‘Yessir.” Her voice shifted down a half octave. “Let’s blow this town, baby. Crank that music back up!”
Rob did so, his attempts to figure out the bass pattern forgotten, just in time for James Brown to yell “Hit me!” Rob nodded at her exuberant dance movement to the music, while seated. Somehow, he noticed, she managed to not spill the coffee in her hand as they motored out of the lot. “Poppa don’t take no mess,” sang The Godfather of Soul, and Suze sang along cheerily.
He slowly smiled. This might be the best run ever.
Imants watched from the brightly lit and buggy store entrance as the Olds drove off, his pale face now expressionless, brain racing. Carter, that guy was, Rob Carter. Played evil music in the group Suze sang in. Imants searched his memory. From the high school, right, Carter’s class was two years older. Dad in jail for tax evasion.
That long hair was a clue, some kind of hippie. Devil spawn driving away with Suze, his love.
A passenger jet roared overhead, and Imants shivered. Hate planes, hate flying. One of the teenagers at the edge of the 7-11 lot laughed loudly at something being said, then yelled “Hey Eee-monz, ain’tcha gonna write down that plate number?”
He stared blankly at the kid, and felt something shift in his soul.
Heart beating faster, he walked quickly back to his father’s new ’75 Chevy Monte Carlo sedan. Driving the car, specially modified by the Bureau, always made him feel larger than life.
As he got in he reached over and put his hand on his father’s classic dark leather Gladstone Bag on the passenger seat, and felt a strange surge of confidence. The bag, which had belonged originally to his father’s German father, somehow always gave him a mild jolt when he came in contact with it. He clenched his fist. I gotta do this, gotta save her.
He cranked the starter, shoved the automatic transmission into drive, and raced out of the lot, burning rubber down the road after the Oldsmobile. The teens stared in astonished silence.
Imants steered with one hand as he wiped the sweat from his forehead, still accelerating, his eyes searching the darkness ahead. There, those tail lights way up there. He jammed the gas pedal to the floor.
Enough was enough. Time to figure out exactly what that freak Rob Carter was up to with his, well yes, his future wife Suze Benson.
(To be continued in Chapter Three: The Drug Van)