Chris, Calvin and Sonny were on Interstate 8 headed east the next morning. Calvin attended an early mass and wasted no time in picking up the other two. “I’m dying to get my own wheels on the road” he explained. Chris made introductions when they picked up Sonny, and they drove straight down Fairmont to the freeway.
They drove through the pass between Mount Helix and Grossmont, and dropped into the El Cajon Valley. Sonny asked if they could pull off of the freeway for a moment and stop at a military surplus store that lay close to the offramp. Calvin did so and Sonny replaced the blanket that he had given to the shivering diver nearly a week ago. That purchase secured, they were soon rolling east again.
The day was already beginning to heat up. El Cajon Valley was always hotter or colder than San Diego, and on this day the gloom that had dominated the area the previous week had failed to blow in from the sea to cool things down. At this moment El Cajon was merely hot. In a few hours it would be more like an oven.
“So, you and Jackie seemed to hit it off pretty good” Chris said to Calvin. “I didn’t expect her to be that open.”
“Yeah, I felt pretty comfortable talking to her. I could see right away that she was hurting. I tried to be honest, and I tried to fill in as much detail about Tom’s life as I could. The little details can say more about a person’s life than the big ones do. She was very easy to talk to, and that helped a lot. Man, I know that you and Tom said she’s pretty, but she’s more than that!”
“Except when she’s taking a swing at your face” Chris said. “She just never did cotton to me at all.”
“Which shows intelligence and good taste” Sonny said, and which comment drew Chris’ right elbow into his ribs.
“She was OK with you, as far as I could see” Calvin said.
“We got over a hard place last week” Chris replied. “I’m not looking for any kind of a relationship with her now, although I tried for that a few years ago. I just want to be a friend. I suppose that to her I’m a connection to Tom now instead of competition for his time. Maybe that gives us room to be friends.”
“Well, she was always friendly to me” Sonny said. “She never made any stupid pollock wisecracks about me, for which I was grateful then and am grateful today.”
Calvin looked across Chris at Sonny’s large frame that was resting against the passenger door. “I can’t believe that anyone ever made stupid Pollock jokes about you” he said.
“Nobody did twice” Sonny replied with a grin.
“Oh, great. I’m the only guy who ever pissed off Jackie!” Chris lamented.
The three young men chattered on as the truck passed through El Cajon and ascended the grade to Alpine. They stopped for lunch in that town at a cafe with the unpromising name of the ‘Chat and Chew.’ Afterward they continued east, through the Laguna Mountains and on toward the high valley where the Campo Reservation was located. The banter continued, but it was mostly carried on by Sonny and Calvin.
Chris felt his stomach clamping down around the hamburger and fries that he had just eaten, creating an uncomfortable knot in his gut. He was remembering what Calvin’s uncle had said about the three goons who had jumped them wanting revenge. Those three goons lived out here, and they were driving right into their territory once again.
“So what?” Chris asked himself. “We kicked their butts before and there were just two of us”
“Yes” the internal dialogue proceeded. “But they expected us to be pushovers. They won’t make that mistake again. And will the bring guns? Knives? Clubs?”
“But there’s three of us this time.”
“Who says that next time there’ll only be three of them?”
Fear, or something very much like fear, mixed with some other primeval instincts in Chris’ mind and began to pour adrenaline into his system. That brew of emotion and chemicals reacted badly with the churning mash of lunch in Chris’ stomach, and with little time to spare he croaked out “Pull over man, I’m gonna puke!”
Calvin swerved onto the shoulder of the road and Sonny jumped out of the car. Chris barely cleared the threshold of the door before he cut loose, spraying a wave of lunch and beer and bile and stomach acid toward the bush that he had hoped to get behind before the flood occurred.
He wretched three or four times more before he finally sat down on a boulder that Calvin had narrowly missed in his haste to come to a stoop. “You OK man?” Sonny asked when Chris seemed to have regained his composure.
“Yeah, it’s OK. I’m cool.”
“What’s up with that?” Calvin asked.
“Ah, it’s nothing. I used to get carsick a lot when I was a kid. I still do sometimes.” Chris was lying through his teeth.
“Man, that was a load” Sonny said. “I’m glad you didn’t put that in my lap! You OK to go on?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m good. Let’s do this thing.”
They got back into the truck and continued to drive into the reservation. Chris cracked some jokes, projecting a comfort that he did not feel, in an eventually successful attempt to return the mood in the cab of the truck to the cheerfulness that had prevailed before he had gotten sick, and the episode was forgotten by the time that they rolled up the driveway of Calvin’s uncle’s mobile.
Sonny, remembering what Chris had told him about waiting to be invited in, didn’t make a move to exit the truck. Calvin jumped out of the truck immediately and began to walk around the front of it. He began to motion for the other two to get out also and then, thinking better of it, held up his hand, signaling for them to stop. He then continued up the stairs and onto the tiny porch, and knocked on the door.
The door opened almost immediately. Calvin’s uncle stuck his head outside the door and saw Sonny sitting in the truck. “You planning on giving every Anglo in the county a tour of the Rez?” he asked.
“It’s all right Uncle” Charlie replied. “He’s going to help with the towing. You gonna let me offer them some coffee?”
“Yeah. Chris is here too.”
“The guy that peed on the cowboy?”
“Yes Uncle. Chris is here too. The three of us came so that things would be more equal if we run into John Wayne and his punk friends.”
“That’s probably smart, even if they are white. Carlson and his bunch want your scalp so bad that they can taste it. Yeah, you can bring ‘em in. I won’t stay around though.”
Calvin turned and motioned for them to come in. Sonny and Chris exited the truck and walked quietly up the porch. Sonny had figured out that there was tension in the air and was quiet as he approached the door. Calvin’s uncle looked at him with an expression that would have been appropriate if Chris had emptied his stomach on the kitchen table instead of the side of the road.
Sonny walked past the scowling uncle and Chris followed. The older man’s expression softened minutely as he gazed at the bruises that were fading on Chris’ face and the clean and healing wound on the side of his head.
“I liked it better with the fishing line” the uncle said, and then walked out of the mobile home.
“He likes you” Calvin said with a laugh after the door had closed.
“Yeah” Chris replied. “Like he likes a goat head stuck in his foot.”
“No man, I‘m serious. I haven’t seen him talk to a white person unless he had something nasty to say. He was impressed that you let me sew you up, and that you helped me in a fight with other white people. and he really likes that you peed on one of them. He told me that he’s wanted to do that himself all of his life.”
Sonny looked at Calvin, then at Chris. “You peed on somebody?”
“So, ‘I liked it better with the fishing line’ doesn’t qualify as nasty?”
“No man. Context is everything. That was a term of endearment.”
“You peed on somebody?” Sonny repeated.
“Aghh!” Chris exclaimed. “Let’s get to work.”
“Coffee first” Calvin replied, and poured the coffee that his uncle had already made into three cups. Later, after Calvin told the story of the fight and Chris’ victory dance over his fallen adversary, they went to work. It was an easy task attaching the tow bar to the front of Calvin’s truck and fastening it to the trailer hitch on the back of his borrowed vehicle.
While they were closing the garage door Calvin’s uncle pulled to the side of the road in front of the mobile home and stopped. He walked up the driveway and Calvin met him half-way. They talked quietly for a couple of minutes and then separated. The uncle drove away and Calvin returned to where Chris and Sonny were waiting.
“They know we’re here.” Calvin told them.
“Who knows we’re here?” Sonny asked.
“Briscoe and Dennehey know” Calvin replied. “Uncle saw their truck, a blue ’68 Chevy. It drove past here while we were hitching the truck.”
“I didn’t see any truck” Chris said.
“Uncle did, and you can trust that. They left the Rez to the east, and you can bet that they called Carlson from the first pay phone.”
“Shit! Chris exclaimed. “Don’t those guys have anything else to do?”
“No, they actually don’t” Calvin answered. “They’re rich, remember?”
“So how’re they going to stay rich? Even rich people have to do something besides skulk and look for enemies.”
“Maybe, or maybe those shitbirds will piss all of their parents’ money away and end up poor folk like us.”
“Well, let ‘em start something” Sonny growled. Maybe it’s ass kicking time for them again.”
“I’d like to avoid that” Calvin said. “They know that there’s three of us and that two of us kicked their butts the last time. I’m guessing that they’ll bring some sort of insurance. We’ll go out the way we did the last time and see if we can get out of here under their radar.”
They climbed into the truck and started the engines. Calvin pulled slowly out of the driveway and then drove down the lesser used roads of the reservation. It was quiet in the cab of the truck; the banter of the trip east from San Diego had vanished.
Chris was looking for anybody that might be following them whenever Sonny got out to open and close gates. In the silence of the drive each was in his own thoughts, and the thoughts in Chris’ head ran to bullets ripping, heads exploding and fists the size of mallets opening and closing.
They came at last to the road which led to the Interstate. Calvin turned right and drove a few miles per hour under the speed limit, all the while glancing in the rear view and side view mirrors. Chris noticed that and looked in those mirrors too, from time to time. He saw nothing suspicious. At last they came to the on-ramp and soon they were in the thick of the traffic headed west towards the city.
Chris breathed a sigh of relief, and even Sonny relaxed what had been some very tense muscles. Only Calvin remained vigilant. “I guess we’re home free now” Chris said. “Not that I wouldn’t mind administering an ass-whupping to those jokers again if I had to. I’d just rather that I didn’t have to.”
“Well, you may get your chance yet” Calvin replied. “I think we’re being followed.”
That statement sent a shock through Chris and Sonny that caused them both to sit bolt upright. “You’re shitting me!” Chris said.
“I wish I was” Calvin replied. “Back three cars in the middle lane. Shiny blue pickup that nobody’s ever used for real work. I saw it on the road before we got on the freeway. Every now and then on the curves he’d come into sight for a minute. I’m guessing it’s Carlson’s punks, and maybe Carlson too.”
“Well shit” Sonny growled. “Why don’t we take the next off ramp and get this thing done?”
“I’d like to avoid that” Calvin replied. “I try to make violence a last resort. It’s a Christian thing. I’ll fight if I have to, but I’d rather not.”
“Well my religion is ‘Do unto others before they can do unto you’” Sonny said. “These guys are persistent. They’re not going to leave you alone.”
Chris listened to his friends discuss the situation. Sharp images of his bad dream arose in his mind, and with those images came the desperate panic that he had felt that night. That urge for survival, bred by years in Vietnam, fueled a desire to strike out; to hit and kick and bit and club and shoot, and do whatever was required to win the next battle and stay alive. The berserker was once again creeping out of the shadows of Chris’ mind, looking to lead a desperate and bloody charge against his adversaries.
Chris stared into the rear view mirror and struggled to regain control of his own mind. He looked carefully at the pickup and it slowly registered that it was just a normal pickup truck that could only carry normal sized people. those people might be carrying any sort of weapon, but they were just people and not iron-toothed, mallet fisted visions from hell.
The rising warrior receded and rational thought regained it’s place in Chris’ head. “We’ve got to do a little creative thinking here” he said. “We’ve got a situation and we have to manage it.” Chris’ wartime experience began to assert itself. A threat was presented, and a strategy was required to deal with it.
“I don’t think that they want to stop us and fight today” he continued. “I think that basically they’re cowards, otherwise they wouldn’t have attacked us from behind. They want to follow us and find out where we live. These are some evil bastards and they want to get me and Calvin on our own. We have to figure out how to screw up their plans.”
They sat silently in the cab as the truck rolled slower than the other traffic through Alpine and down into the El Cajon Valley. It was Sonny who first broke the silence. “They still back there?”
Calvin looked for the one hundredth time in the rear view mirror and answered “Yep.”
“OK. Here’s my idea. We can’t shake them, what with dragging your truck behind us, so let’s take the truck to my place. They don’t know me from Adam and, for now at least, they don’t have much of a beef with me. With that load off of your tail you can lose them pretty quick in downtown traffic. Chris, you get off at my place, and when they go to follow Calvin, you can walk home. I’ll go with you just in case. Calvin, you call Chris or me, or both of us for that matter, as soon as you get home safe. Then we can plan what to do next.” They debated aspects of that plan but ultimately that’s what they decided to do.
By the time that they had agreed on this they had crossed El Cajon and were rolling down the grade towards Mission Valley. They passed College Avenue and saw the college that Chris and perhaps Calvin would soon be attending, and came to the 43rd Street off ramp at the bottom of the valley floor. When the traffic light turned green Calvin progressed up the grade towards El Cajon Boulevard, and as he slowed down for that light he burst out in a peal of laughter.
The laughter made both Chris and Sonny jump in their seats. “What?” Sonny asked. “What’s that all about?”
Calvin continued to look into the rear view mirror, beaming with relief. “Yeah” Chris added. “What gives?”
“Take a look in the mirror” Calvin said. Chris and Sonny did as they were instructed and Chris instantly recognized the truck that belonged to Calvin’s uncle. It had just slipped in behind them, and Chris said “Excellent. Now there’s four of us.”
“It’s better than that” Calvin replied. “You see that old Dodge in the lane next to him? That belongs to Uncle’s friend, Nestor Vargas. If I’m right, they’re both about to have a little engine trouble right now.”
As he said this the light changed. Calvin took off down 43rd Street with all three of them looking in their mirrors. Sure enough, both vehicles sat motionless in their lanes. The two drivers emerged and raised their hoods and began to gaze down at their engines. As the three friends sailed through the green light at Orange Avenue they saw the light behind them turn red once again, and when it did the hoods came down and the two drivers reentered their vehicles.
Chris directed Calvin through the neighborhood, through residential streets and alleys, and soon they were backing Calvin’s pickup into the garage behind Chris’ house. When the truck was safely nestled next to the old Mercury that Chris’ father was restoring Chris said his goodbyes to his two friends. Calvin left to drop Sonny off before returning to his mother’s house. Before leaving however, Chris said “We’ve got to talk about what to do. We can’t let this shit go on. We gotta go to the police or something.”
“That’s never worked all that well for me” Calvin objected.
“Well, you’re not in this alone now, man” Chris replied. “If we gotta kick ass and take names to get some help, then that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Sonny agreed and stated that he was with them all the way. Calvin seemed to be struggling for words, and he simply grasped Chris’ hand and then Sonny’s. “Let’s go before I start bawling” he said to Sonny. They reentered the truck and rolled down the alley toward the street that led to Sonny’s home.