May 21, 2018
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The River Road Incident
by Frederick Foote (short, PG-13)
Such a treacherous road, and so many still -- still -- take its evil trail...
I'm taking the River Road in a Three Series BMW with the top down and Ruby Red Keds in the passenger seat. Her curly, crimson tresses are rippling in the wind, and she makes giggling sounds in the morning light as I snap through the curves and hit the turns at top speed. Sliding and riding in the California sunshine with a pretty girl at my side and no particular place to go. It is a glorious day.
I love the twist, turns, rise and fall of this levee road. I've been doing this run in a dozen different cars for the past twenty-three years.
Ruby taps my shoulder and makes an eating motion.
I smile at her, run my hand up her thigh under her short shorts. She squeaks in mock alarm, shifts her leg to give my hand better access.
I move my hand back to the steering wheel as we approach a curve with a thirty mile per hour speed limit. I smile at Ruby and say, "Fifty." She smiles and vigorously nods her head yes.
We rip through the curve, and I take the next intersection south for the small town of Colton with an advertised population of one-hundred-sixty.
I drop down to the forty mile-an-hour speed limit on the dull flat road besieged by farm land. I let my greedy right hand go exploring again. About a mile from the River Road Ruby points excitedly to an Italian restaurant just ahead. The eatery sits alone in the fields, but the parking lot has eight to ten cars, including two Sheriff's squad cars.
Ruby gives me a quick kiss and vaults out of the car without opening the door. She stands there on this mild May morning in all of her glory. Her brown skin glistens and her white shorts and sleeveless top sparkle in the sun. Her hair is like a revolutionary banner in the breeze.
It is a picture I want to hold in my mind forever. Arm and arm we enter Dante's Italian restaurant and bar.
A cute, chubby, white, freckle-faced waitress about Ruby's twenty-four years greets us at the door.
She introduces herself as Francine which's confirmed by her name tag. "A table for two? That's such a cute car. You guys must be having so much fun driving with the top down."
Ruby points to Francine's notepad which the waitress promptly provides. Ruby writes, "It is fun. Handy would be glad to take you for a short ride with us if you like."
Francine squeals in delight as she leads us to our table. The excited waitress turns to me, "Would you really?"
"Of course I would, but it's not my car." I nod at Ruby who points at me shaking her head no. I take the pink slip from my shirt pocket and show her where I have transferred the title to her. The two girls are dancing with delight, and they both hug me like I was Father Christmas.
The BMW's two years old and is in mint condition. Ruby's a perfect fit for the little red convertible. I intended to give the Beamer to her when I met her six weeks ago. At this stage of the game I don't have a lot of time for semi-fast cars and bright and beautiful young women.
We have a delightful meal. Ruby and Francine are like long-lost friends.
I leave Francine an over-the-top tip. The waitress gets permission from Dante to take a 15-minute break.
The girls take off. I move to the bar.
The joyriders are back fifteen minutes later on the dot.
Francine gives us both tremendous hugs and kisses us on our cheeks as Ruby and I leave.
Ruby tosses me the keys to her car. She wants to ride the River Road again. She gives me a quick note saying the river ride's better than the best roller coaster, highest zip line, or fastest downhill ski run. She also adds, "You don't have to ever give me the car or anything. Even if you're leaving me. You know that, right?"
"You and this ride are like a lock and key -- you're made for each other." I swear her kiss is as sweet as honey and her embrace's an invitation to heaven. We start back to the River Road.
About a half-mile from the River Road a Sheriff's car pulls me over with lights and siren. I recognize the red-faced, portly young deputy from Dante's. He's all huffed up in official hostility and righteous indignation. His partner's backing him up standing beside the squad car with his hand on his pistol.
"License, registration, insurance card. Keep your hands where I can see them."
"My information's in the glove compartment. I'm going to ask my friend to get them for me. Is that okay?"
"Get a move on with it. We don't have all day."
I know this is just a charade. I bet the cops ran the license plate before they even left the restaurant. I'm not sure what the nature of the harassment is. I wonder if they are stopping me because I'm black or because I'm driving an upscale brand car or because of the age difference between me and Ruby or they may just think I'm a rich show-off. It doesn't matter. In a few minutes, we'll be back on the River Road.
"Officer, I couldn't agree with you more. Let's not waste time. If you are going to write me a ticket, please write it and let us be on our way. It's a gorgeous day. We should all enjoy as much of it as we can."
"You need to shut up. Put your hands on the steering wheel and don't move or open your mouth. Got it?"
I put my hands on the steering wheel. Five, ten, fifteen minutes go by. Ruby's growing increasingly anxious.
"Officer, whatever you're hoping to dig up on us you're not going to find it. I'm going to ask you one more time to let us go, ticket or not."
"I told you to shut up. Get out of the car, both of you."
I turn to Ruby. "Stay in the car. Officer, Call the Duty Sergeant or the Officer of the Day or whoever's in command of this shift and get them out here right now."
"Get out of the fucking car!" The officer's screaming.
"No. If we get out of this car, it will be a terrible day for everybody here, especially you two. Get the Duty Sergeant."
Suddenly, a woman's screaming in horrible pain from the shrubbery near the passenger side of the car. Ruby leaps up, standing on the seat, terror on her face.
The red-faced cop pulls his gun, fires one shot. The shot that hits Ruby in the head mixes her blood with her hair, knocks her halfway out the car.
"A peacock! It's a peacock! You shot her! You stupid murdering motherfucker!"
I hold her in my arms until the EMT's pry her out of my grasp.
* * *
The cops lie. They blame me. They claim I started to get out of the car to attack them while Ruby was trying to flee.
It's all bullshit that the DA accepts as gospel.
What saves me is the farmer's camera on the light pole. The farmer that, coincidently, owned the peacocks, set it up to catch cattle rustlers. The video shows the murder in exquisite detail.
The DA refuses to charge the cops. They're given suspensions for lying in their reports.
I join Ruby's mother and sister in suing the County. Win or lose, it won't change anything.
I take Ruby's car for a last run on the River Road. I approach the thirty miles per an hour curve that we took at fifty. I turn to Ruby. "How about sixty?" In my mind, I see her smile again.
Article © Frederick Foote. All rights reserved.
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By Frederick Foote:
In This Week's Press:Grind -- John Patrick Robbins
~ "...how could I say no..."
Forerunners -- Sanjeev Sethi
~ "...follow your feather..."
Poutine and Clair Part Four -- Dan Mulhollen
About THE ODDS 13 -- Bill Harvey
~ He's here, he's there, he's ... everywhere?
The River Road Incident -- Frederick Foote
~ Such a treacherous road, and so many still -- still -- take its evil trail...
After Life 29 -- Sand Pilarski
~ Gerry the ghost's memories have given Roj something new to think about: a life spent in relationship with God. But Roj has no life left, so now what?
walking to work poem (after frank o'hara) -- John Grochalski
~ "...and i have every house on this walk memorized like bad poetry..."
Fremont Street Stormtrooper -- Ryan Quinn Flanagan
~ "...so that you never have to stop gambling..."