Tito Lives

We were cleaning up after dinner when I got a call from the Travelodge.  Marty and Monty insisted that I come over to try out some new contraption.  By the tone in Monty’s voice, I knew they had something dubious underway.

When I arrived I found their room unlit, with only the faintest dusk squeezing under the Venetian blinds.  My friends lay beside one another on the queen-sized bed, gazing at the asbestos ceiling.  I had much catching up to do.

The culprit, I discovered, was a gravity bong.  Monty had been struck by inspiration some time after they checked into the hotel.  He’d gone out and purchased a large hard-plastic bottle from the hardware store and had fashioned it into a device that had already gotten heavy usage.

‘Check it out,’ Monty said.  He got up and stumbled toward the bathroom and stood over the half-full tub.  ‘There it is,’ he said, looking down at the bottle, which loomed out of the bathwater like a plastic citadel.  He picked it up out of the water, shaking it.  He twisted off the plastic cap.  ‘Here’s the bowl,’ Monty said, taking the cap and refitting it over the lips of the bottle.  ‘And here I’ll load it up.’  The cap had a copious bowl built into the top; he packed it full.  He set the bottle down in the tub, so it was again standing high out of the water.  ‘And now you hold the lighter.’  He handed me the lighter.  ‘Hold it over the bowl.’  I poised the lighter over the bowl.  Monty knelt just under me, leaning over the tub, and with two hands he slowly began to lift the bottle out of the water.  ‘Light it,’ he said.  ‘Light it quick.’  I lit.  The flame was sucked through the bowl and the load burned red.  ‘It’s the vacuum,’ Monty explained.  ‘See the smoke swirl?’  I looked down at the bottle and saw violent smoke thrashing to get out.  Even after the weed had incinerated the smoke still swirled.  ‘Now get down here.’  I knelt beside Monty.  ‘On the count of three I’m going to take off the cap.  When I hit three you should have your lungs empty and you should start drawing on this here bottle.’  The swirling smoke wanted to get out.  ‘One.’  I tensed in anticipation.  ‘Two.’  I exhaled hard, readied my lungs.  ‘Three!’  Monty pulled back the cap and I lunged at the bottle.  I sucked in hard and could feel the frenzied smoke scraping down the walls of my throat.  I filled my lungs up and sat back and felt the smoke wild inside me before I pushed it out hard.

‘Quality,’ Monty said.  ‘You’re in, man.’

I stumbled back to the living room with Monty, obliterated.  Marty was still passed out on the bed and Monty flopped back on the mattress beside him.  There was no chair for me but I didn’t need one—I sank into the floor.

‘That’s pretty powerful,’ I said, not quite getting the words out right, waving a hand toward the bathroom.  I picked up a spare Nurf football off the floor and began to toss it up in the air in a loose spiral, catching it on the way down.  I grew bored of the motion.  I sat up and hucked the ball at Monty.  It bounced off his face and onto the floor.  Monty didn’t notice.  He looked down at the carpet and I could see him concentrating on something.

‘What’s wrong,’ I said.

‘I miss Tito,’ he said.

‘You burned Tito up, remember.’

‘That was all just an accident.  Marty went insane.’

‘Well I’m afraid the cost was Tito,’ I said, trying to sound stern but giving myself away with a goofy smile.

‘I miss all the Jacksons,’ Monty said.

‘You guys don’t have the same spacious accommodations anymore,’ I said.  ‘You don’t have room for all those dolls.’

‘We only need one,’ Monty said.  ‘Only one.’  He reached down and picked up the football and took aim at Marty’s nose.  The football caught Marty across the face and Marty startled awake.  Monty leaned across the bed, looming over diminutive Marty.

‘We need to go get another Jackson,’ Monty said.

‘Where,’ Marty said, looking up at Monty.

‘I saw a department store downtown—just a few blocks away.  They’re open late.’  Marty began to nod with glee.  ‘You’re coming with us, Jack,’ Monty said, turning to look at me over his shoulder.

‘Fine,’ I said.  ‘But if I’m going to do this I don’t want to spectate.’

‘No problem,’ Monty said.

We piled into the truck, with Monty behind the wheel, and drove a few short blocks to a local department store, called Johanson’s.

‘This is it,’ Monty said.  ‘This is where we get the new Jackson.’  The truck wasn’t the ideal getaway vehicle but that wasn’t going to stop us.  Monty piloted the truck up to the curb, right outside the side doors.

‘I’ll keep her running here,’ Monty said.  ‘Don’t take too long.’  It seemed like we needed a better plan but Marty sprang out of the truck before we could confer.  I followed him, walking fast to keep up.  Hard to believe this spry creature had been inebriated beyond consciousness just ten minutes before.

Marty steered us deep into the women’s clothing section, deeper than any two men should go, until we stood just outside of lingerie.

‘There’s a good one in there,’ he said, pointing.  I followed his finger and saw the mannequin, maybe five feet tall, full figured and blond.  She wore a matching pair of lacy black underwear.

‘My kind of girl,’ I said.

‘Monty says they’re asexual,’ Marty said.

‘If I steal this thing I get to name it, and I say it’s a girl.’

‘It’s all the same to me.  Now I’ve got you covered.  When you see your opening you go take the thing and I’ll keep a lookout and tell you if anybody worrisome comes along.’

‘Is there some kind of all-clear sign or something,’ I said, just realizing how suspicious we looked.

‘It’s all clear unless I say,’ Marty said.  ‘Now do it.’  Marty began to back away from me, and soon he had engrossed himself in a rack of sweater vests and was pretending he didn’t know me.  I was on my own.

I eyed the mannequin from across many racks.  She stood halfway between me and the cashier desk and well within the cashier’s sight line.  I looked at the woman who was working the cashier, weighing my opponent.  She was an older woman, about the age of my mother.  She wore a down-to-business gray suit.  I don’t know if she felt me looking but as I was checking her out she looked up and our eyes met.  I looked away and feigned at taking interest in the nearest rack.  She watched me pick through a rack of panties, doing my best to look natural.  Then she moved out from behind her cashier’s desk and headed straight for me.

‘Can I help you?’  I stepped back from the rack of panties, trying to stay cool.

‘Just browsing.’

‘Were you shopping for someone in particular?’ she said without any irony.

‘Not really.’  I’m sure she’d IDed me as a colossal pervert.

‘You let me know if there’s any way I can be of some help.’  She spun back toward her desk.  I slunk away from lingerie and escaped into women’s tops, where I found Marty examining turtlenecks.

‘She’s on to me,’ I said just above a whisper.

‘You’re bad at this,’ Marty hissed.

‘I’m getting the hang of it.’

‘I’ll set up a distraction.’

‘What are you going to do?’

‘I don’t know—but you’ll know it when you see it.  Be ready!’  He strolled toward lingerie.  I hung back at first before sliding back to the edge of the section.  I could see Marty approaching the desk, talking and waving his hands.  The cashier seemed eager to help—she nodded with vigor and stepped out from behind her desk.  Marty began to head in the opposite direction and she followed him, putting her back to me.  I saw this for what it was—a distraction, the best Marty could come up with.  I broke toward the mannequin, my eyes on the back of the cashier’s gray suit.  As I got close to the mannequin I looked more closely at her blond short-cropped hair and empty plastic blue eyes.  I’d already named her.  Luscious.  Luscious Jackson.  She was mine.

I reached Luscious’ side and looked her straight in the eye.  She stood on a pedestal, attached by a steel rod that joined with her back. There was no time to figure out the attachment—I bear-hugged Luscious and lifted and she came free.  With some effort I swung her under my arm, turning my back on the cashier and walking fast.  Shoppers scattered the path and seemed disturbed by my passing.  I did my best to make it look like I did this all the time and failed to convince anyone.  Just as the side door came into view I heard a noise from behind me, then another: a building chorus of hey-you’s.  I began to run and the truck was now in sight.  I cleared the side door and was onto the sidewalk when a sturdy fellow from the shoe department got me, coming from behind for the neck tackle.  He didn’t bring me down but the blow sent me reeling. With the truck just out of reach I made one final desperate heave, pitching Luscious toward the bed of the pickup where she landed with a thud.  That was enough for Monty.  I met his eyes and he flashed a salute before turning on me and scooting away from the curb.  I felt an inkling of betrayal as he spirited away—abandoning both Marty and me—but had little time to dwell on any of this.  A tie salesman caught me around the waist and brought me down.  By the time the floor managers arrived to join the pig-pile, with security guards in tow—that’s when I figured I was pretty well caught.

‘We’re calling the sheriff,’ one of them said as he hoisted me to my feet.

‘Go ahead,’ I said, ‘call the sheriff.’  I scanned the store for some sign of Marty but there was none.  I figured this was best.  It was easier for me to take the heat alone.

I waited a half hour before Mitchell arrived.

‘Every time I find myself needing to talk to you,’ Mitchell said, shaking his head, ‘that’s when I find you at the end of some dispatch.  When I heard the call I was hoping it wasn’t you.’

‘Sorry to disappoint you,’ I said.

Mitchell grabbed me—rougher than he needed to—and hauled me out to his cruiser, which waited by the curb.  He flung open the back and heaved me in.

‘Let’s get something straight,’ he said as we left the parking lot.  ‘What you do reflects on me.  While your friends are staying at my mother’s house, their behavior also reflects on me.  In this county being a Calvert means something.’

‘So I keep hearing.  Are you sure you’re not more concerned with getting reelected?’

‘I’m taking you home,’ he said, not dignifying my question.  I had an urge to say something crass, but I also saw he was about to let me off without any punishment.  I knew a good deal when I saw one, so I kept my mouth shut until we turned off onto my aunt’s driveway.

‘Sorry,’ I said, sounding more indignant than I meant to.  ‘I guess it was kind of a jackass thing to do.’

‘Yeah you could say that.  Mitchell let me out of the back and uncuffed my hands.

‘Sorry sheriff,’ I said.  I tucked my tail between my legs and scurried into the house.

‘Oh Jackson.’  I turned back toward Mitchell.  ‘This is my final favor.  Next time you won’t get off so easy.  Just remember what I said earlier—there’s trouble brewing.’

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