“Jimmy must have his hands full with kids and Deanna’s hot little ass parading around all day. Great looking little thing, but there was a lot there you had to put up with,” Hub said turning toward Val.
“Well, right now I don’t care if he’s got a dozen of the little rug rats running around. A hot shower, clean sheets, a couple hours of decent sleep, and not waking up next to your ugly ass in this truck will go a long way to makin’ me a happier boy. Maybe we can sweet talk little old Deanna into cooking something up, watch her strutting her stuff around the dinner table,” Val said.
They drove passed a dingy billboard advertising Gulf Breeze Court.
“That can’t be it, you think?” Hub mumbled, beginning to get an unpleasant feeling in the back of his mind.
Val sat suddenly silent, strangely trancelike, staring out at dilapidated one story buildings, every fourth one seemed to be a fundamentalist church or vacant. About four miles further down US 41, they saw a turn for Seminole Boulevard, and the entrance to Gulf Breeze Court. Gulf Breeze Trailer Court. Hub was doing a mental scramble for a way, any way, to put the best face on this. So much for Jimmy’s gated community.
Val seemed to visibly shrink, a stunned look on his face, like he’d just shot himself in the foot and couldn’t believe it. Seminole Boulevard was initially gravel, before quickly petering out to hard packed, rutted dirt. The first right took them past some pretty dismal trailers, faded metal siding peeling off and flapping in the light breeze. Broken windows covered with cardboard, bales of hay stacked around the base of trailers for insulation. More than one car up on blocks and trash bags, lots of trash bags.
“Not much of what you might call ‘lawn work’ taking place around here,” Hub joked as they passed three or four more cars in various states of disrepair. A couple of shirtless fat guys, sporting tattooed backs, huddled under the faded hood of a late model Mercury and gave a disinterested look when Hub drove past.
“You think those guys work the night shift? That’s how come they’re home in the middle of the day?” Hub joked, trying his best to inject some humor into the situation.
Val had grown noticeably pale and looked like he was heading into shock.
The next right was Andrew Jackson Trail. Hub turned and there, about midway down the road, sat a faded red Bronco parked in the shade of a big old tree, lots of dead shit hanging off its branches. The address on the mailbox read 2746 until on closer inspection Hub noticed that the upper portion of an eight had peeled off and just looked like a six.
“Jesus, can’t believe that damn Bronco’s still running.” He half said to himself, remembering Jimmy’s lack of driving skills.
Hub remembered Jimmy’s dogs, too, as soon as he pulled in next to the Bronco. Two of them were chained to an old tire laid over a large metal stake pounded into the ground. The stake held the tire somewhat in place. Both dogs were mutts, very large mutts, drooling, barking mutts.
“Christ, it’s a miracle those two worthless things aren’t dead yet.”
The dogs were straining, growling, barking and baring their teeth. Long, thick gobs of drool dripped out the sides of their mouths, catching in the breeze. Two large, grimy plastic salad bowls lay upside down in the dirt. A dirty little boy, head shaved, a miniature Jimmy in grayed underpants, nibbled at the remnants of something as he sat on the tire. The snarling dogs strained to attack Hub’s truck, pulling the tire up and down against the metal stake. The child sat there, riding.
“Shit, that kid’s the spitting image of Jimmy forty years ago,” he said to Val.
“Jesus, you ever see Deliverance?” whined Val, half-running to place Hub between himself and the dogs.
The trailer was white, originally, but years in the sun, wind, dust and rain had turned it more of a molting gray. The corners of the trailer and the area beneath each piece of plastic lap siding were covered with a damp sort of moss. It most likely accounted for the moldy smell that hung in the humid air.
“Hey! Hey, Jimmy, Deanna! You guys in there?” Hub pounded on the door.
Deanna had been a drop dead gorgeous blond Norwegian farm girl from out around St. Peter, Minnesota. That was back in 1981. This morning, she filled the doorway from left to right, wearing frayed cutoffs, a faded Florida Seminole’s T-shirt, blowing cigarette smoke toward the ceiling from under hair dyed a reddish color not found in nature.
If she had once sported a beauty queen’s figure, it had long since disappeared, replaced by one, large, continuous round shape, a real life Humpty Dumpty. Her arms rested like over-stuffed sausages along side slabs of pork, her breasts and waist a far distant memory. Her bare legs and arms, where they weren’t bitten by insects, had a too-pinkish cast, flabby and severely dimpled, as if she’d been left out in a hailstorm.
Jimmy oozed into sight behind her. As a younger man, he had never been considered what you might call good looking and nothing had improved with time. A big man, though not as big around as Deanna, Jimmy looked like he’d run just shy of three bills, but strong from forty-plus years of hard, physical labor. Not the sculpted, individually developed, weight-lifting-with-a-trainer muscled look, just big, broad and rock solid.
Jimmy’s flushed face was framed by a full, unkempt, mostly dark beard, tinged with just the slightest hint of gray below his ruddy cheeks. He had a shiny bald head and thick glasses, recently upgraded to bifocals that forced him to move his head up and down when he focused. He was wearing blue-jean cutoffs, similarly frayed and slightly smaller than Deanna’s. Thick legs stood like fence posts with calves the size of melons set into unlaced work boots. A torn, stained, dingy gray T-shirt completed his ensemble. He was slurping from a can of diet Pepsi and nibbling a piece of chocolate cake. He held both in his left hand, while partially covering a loud belch with his right hand that puffed out the cheeks on his round, reddish face.
“Well, just look what the cat dragged in, Hub Schneider,” said Deanna, blowing a cloud of smoke out the door.
“Hub, buddy, how’s it going, man?” Jimmy said spitting some cake crumbs onto Deanna’s shoulder. “Wondering if you were ever gonna make it. Well, come on in, man, come on in.”
Outside by the truck, the dogs continued to bark, growl and strain at their chains. Val hung close, figuring he would only have to outrun Hub should the dogs break loose. He’d been half kidding a moment ago when he asked Hub about the movie Deliverance, now, he wasn’t so sure. The step up into the trailer was actually the height of two steps, forcing you to grab a grimy doorframe and pull yourself up into the tiny entry area. The door just hung open, slapping against the side, no spring or handle attached to close it. The original handle, long since destroyed, had been replaced by a loop of copper wire running through a jagged hole. Val wasn’t about to touch the door, the wire, or the doorframe. He took a two step start, leaping up and inside, landing directly behind Hub, guessing the door would ultimately blow shut.
“Hey, Hub, looking good, man. Glad you finally made ‘er down here, beginning to wonder what the hell happened to you two.”
Jimmy looked over Hub’s shoulder at Val, wiped his hand across his T-shirt and thrust it in Val’s direction.
“Hey, man, I’m Jimmy. You must be Hal, nice meeting you.” He tilted his chins down toward his wife planted in front of him. “This here’s Deanna. Baby, meet Hal.”
“Val! Val Harwood,” said Val, shaking Jimmy’s hand, sort of like grabbing a sticky brick, nodding toward Deanna but not wanting to touch her, mumbling,
“Nice to meet you. Hub’s been talking about you all the way down.” Val couldn’t help staring at the chocolate cake crumbs nesting in Jimmy’s beard.
With Hub, Val, Jimmy and Deanna, there really wasn’t room for the four of them to stand around the doorway. Val continued to take it all in, growing more wide-eyed by the moment, knowing immediately that he wasn’t going to spend the night, let alone two or three nights.
“Well, come on in, clear a space and sit down,” said Deanna, over her shoulder as she waddled into the kitchen area. She shoved her cigarette into a corner of her mouth, tilted her head sideways to avoid some of the smoke, and moved a pile of clothes from a plastic and stainless steel kitchen chair onto the table, clearing a spot for herself. Jimmy followed her, cramming the remainder of the chocolate cake into his mouth. He tossed a mound of clothes from a second chair in the direction of a worn, green recliner edged with strips of grimy duct tape curling up at the ends. The clothes landed partially on the recliner, a couple of items spilling to the floor, Jimmy’s diet Pepsi splashing in the process, neither Jimmy nor Deanna seemed to notice.
Hub watched as Deanna pushed a plate encrusted with what remained of fried eggs, toward the center of the table. She had never been much in the way of cleaning, and it appeared Florida had done nothing to improve the situation. He grabbed a mound of clothes from his own chair and handed them to Jimmy, who simply tossed them in the general direction of the recliner.
Val remained standing, hands safely in his pockets, leaning gingerly against the kitchen counter, trying not to touch anything. He couldn’t determine if the mounds of laundry were dirty or washed; he guessed dirty. There were five grimy, egg-smeared plates beneath the food scraps and cellophane wrappers littering the Formica kitchen table. A small four-burner gas stove was buried under half-full pots and pans. Val decided that unless they had Spaghetti-o’s for breakfast, it was yesterday’s mess on the right front burner. A heavy, pungent smell of garbage and coffee grounds sitting for a few days mixed with cigarette ashes hit him and seemed to gain strength the closer he leaned toward the sink heaped with dirty dishes.
“Well, we just wanted to stop in and say hi, before we moved on. We’ve got a meeting today with some folks in Tampa, but didn’t want the two of you worrying ’bout us,” Hub said straight-faced.
Val didn’t blink, but he could have kissed Hub. He made a mental note to pay any motel bill for the next couple of nights, meals, gas, anything, just as long as they didn’t stay here.
“In fact, kinda hate to run, but we probably should be heading out. Just ‘cause we’re not exactly sure where we’re going, not knowing the streets and all. Just, wanted to let you know we made it down here alright.”
Hub was getting out of the chair, giving Val a quick look, his wide eyes telling Val to move toward the door, now.
Val was already in motion.
“Well, thanks for letting us know you’re okay. Now, once you’re settled in, you give a call, plan on supper here and a night of just taking it easy, drinking a case or two of beer.” Jimmy said, not at all surprised by the short visit. Deanna stood behind Jimmy, sucked the last of her cigarette down to the filter then crushed it out in the congealed egg.
Val kicked the door open with his foot, still not touching anything with his hands.
“Great meeting you two,” he yelled, jumping down to ground level and half running for the truck.
The dogs had just stopped barking but the sight of Val seemed to rile them up again. They strained against their heavy chains, the stake holding the tire wiggling back and forth, fortunately remaining in place. The dirty, barefoot little boy in underpants continued to ride the tire up and down, trance like, oblivious to the barking dogs growling and straining for Val.
In seconds Val was in the truck, immediately locking his door. Hub hung back a moment, walked toward the truck, chatted with Jimmy and Deanna but never really stopped, gradually, steadily making his way toward the driver’s door.
Jimmy and Deanna just continued to talk over the dogs growling and barking. The little boy paid no attention to any of them, he apparently hadn’t moved, yet somehow looked even dirtier then when Hub & Val had arrived just a few minutes earlier. Hub waved a final time through the windshield as they backed onto rutted, dirt packed, Andrew Jackson Trail.
Val was waving, smiling, talking through his toothy smile,
“Jesus Christ in heaven! I will tell you right now, I promise I’m picking up the tab on a motel room for the next two nights. We’ll figure something out. But thank you for not making me spend another moment in that place. God, I just want to go somewhere and hose myself off.”
“Yeah, you gotta sort of wonder what old Deanna and Jimmy do with their time?”