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Evel Knievel and the Fat Elvis Diner

written by: Richard Wall

@writinblues

 

The man stared through glass at the immense, dark thunderhead that filled the horizon.
Cumulonimbus.
Impressive.
Towering like a huge anvil in the vast Oklahoma sky.
Even at this distance he could see the grey curtain of rain beneath it; see threads of lightning poking at the earth like the antagonistic fingers of a spiteful child.
Cumulonimbus.
Majestic.
His phone beeped, he knew by the tone that he’d received an email, but he kept staring at the cloud.
Proper Okie storm on the way.
He looked down and touched the screen of the phone to open the mail inbox.
One new message.
He didn’t recognise the sender and the subject line was empty, in the content pane were the words:
“This guy w...”
The man frowned, peered closer.
“This guy w...”
He tapped the message, watched as it began to load then looked up.
He stared at the weather for a while then looked down again at the phone. The screen showed a rotating hour-glass and the words “loading content.”
“This guy w...”
Wasn’t there a song called “This Guy”?
Who sang that? Was it Burt Bacharach?
No, don’t think so. Sounds like something he might have written, though.
Who was it?
He snapped his fingers. Herb Alpert.
Good God.
Herb Alpert.
Flashback.
Nearly forty years.
Herb Alpert didn’t sing very often but he got to Number One with this.
So dad said.
The man scowled.
Herb Alpert’s singing now alright, an earworm cavorting round and round inside his head.
Fantastic.
It all came back, a slow, lazy trumpet riff.
Pah-Pah-Pa-Pahhhh, Pa-PAH-Pah-Pa-Pa-Pahhh.
Music you’d hear in a lift, or a shopping centre, or an old folk’s home.
What the hell are those dad?
Leave it, son. Please.
Music you’d hear when a call centre puts you on hold.
Pa-PAH-Pah-Pa-Pa-Pahhh.
For God’s sake.
The man rubbed his eyes, tried to get the song out of his head. He looked down at the phone.
Rotating hour-glass.
Loading content.
Probably a bunch of photos, or a movie.
“This guy w...”
Tijuana Brass.
Yellow album cover. Dog-eared cardboard. Pictures of trumpets.
England, 1970’s.
Childhood.
Dad’s record collection; Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, George Formby, Glenn Miller, Jim Reeves, Ray Conniff.
Dear God.
Ray Conniff.
The man shook his head. How many times did we have to listen to Ray flaming Conniff and his singers blasting through the house?
Each to their own, of course, but for a small boy it was easy listening hell.
God save the Sex Pistols.
1970’s.
K-Tel Records.
K-Tel adverts on the black and white tv.
What was that thing? Oh yeah, the Buttoneer. Fixed buttons just like magic. Imagine that on Dragon’s Den; I’ll tell you where I am, I’m out.
The Buttoneer.
Was that K-Tel, or was it Ronco?
Why do I care?
Pa-PAH-Pah-Pa-Pa-Pahhh.
AHHHHHH.
Screaming helped a little. But not much.
The man sighed and looked at his watch. Another hour yet.
Tijuana Brass.
Childhood.
What’s Tijuana, Dad?
Somewhere ruddy foreign.
Ruddy. Dad’s favourite word.
Any place further than twenty miles away was “ruddy foreign.”
Thanks, Dad.
So, he’d looked it up for himself. Went to the library, found a Readers Digest World Atlas and discovered that Tijuana is a town in Mexico, on the Pacific coast just over the border from San Diego, California. To a small-town kid on a council estate in the sticks, these places sounded exotic.
The man grunted.
Exotic.
He went to San Diego with the navy. Took the tram to San Ysidro and walked across the bridge into Tijuana to see for himself. Ended up in the Zona Norte, the North Zone, where the only thing remotely exotic was the medical condition that he contracted from the Mexican hooker he picked up in a shabby, down at heel bar. After drinking his body weight in tequila, he waved her over and they went upstairs, while a mariachi band played in the street.
Got into trouble for that alright. Self-inflicted injury, the navy called it.
Seemed like a good idea the time.
When in Rome and all that.
Mind, she was fit.
Exotic.
He looked down at the phone.
“This guy w...”
Rotating hour-glass.
Loading content.
This is taking a while, must be the weather. Better be good, whatever it is.
He reached for the packet of Lucky Strikes, took one out, lit it, took a long drag then blew bored smoke rings.
Staring through glass. Thinking.
Growing up in the 1970’s.
Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special. Patch Pockets. Champion the Wonder Horse. The Sweeney. The hot summer of ’76. The Austin Allegro. Clackers. Action Man.
You ain’t havin’ an Action Man.
Please, dad.
Not a chance.
Corgi Toys.
Receiving, as a birthday gift, a die-cast model of a 1970 Dodge Challenger, the one from the movie ‘Vanishing Point’.
Capturing his imagination like nothing else. A glimpse into another world that ignited a life-long obsession.
For a small boy, the closest thing to falling on love.
American muscle cars.
Proof that God exists, engines have souls and heaven is in Motor City.
Dodge Challenger.
Standing still it looked like it was doing a hundred miles an hour.
Then one day, reading the Daily Mirror and seeing that ‘Vanishing Point’ was being shown on TV. Begging his dad to let him stay up and watch it. Drinking in every second of the movie. Entranced at the sight of the beautiful car bellowing across the American landscape to the soundtrack of Delanie and Bonnie and Friends.
Typical Yanks. Ruddy far-fetched.
Yeah, but look at the car, dad. That’s a Dodge Challenger.
Ruddy Yank tank. I’d rather have the Jag.
Didn’t even own a car, back then.
Why can’t we have a car, dad?
There ain’t no point. If I bought one I’d only have to ruddy drive it.
Can’t argue with that logic.
Had to make do with a Raleigh Chopper.
Every penny from the paper round went to paying for that. A pound a week to the neighbour who ran a Kay’s catalogue. Probably dead now. What was her name?
Hilda something.
The man smiled, then laughed out loud.
Pretending to be Evel Knievel. Imagination transformed the Raleigh Chopper into the Skycycle X-2, chalk lines on the road marked the Snake River Canyon and two breeze blocks and a plank made the launch ramp.

“Whilst undoubtedly a creative and imaginative student, he fails to apply these qualities to his schoolwork and this is reflected in his poor academic results. He has trouble concentrating and is easily distracted…”

Riding the Chopper 100 yards down the road, locking the back wheel to skid round in a perfect one-eighty, like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, and then taking a second to savour the atmosphere. The council estate became southern Idaho, kids from the estate became fans, imaginary cheers filling the air whilst overhead a lone eagle calls a lonesome “screeee” as it circles lazily on thermals above the canyon. A deep breath and a brief nod to the crowd then setting off and pedaling fast, notching the T-shaped lever from first to second and then up to third gear, kids becoming a blur but seeing dad in the front garden, the Chopper hitting the ramp, flying through the air, bouncing hard on the huge back tyre, losing control and demolishing Hilda-something’s wooden fence.
Thought dad was going to have a stroke, he laughed so hard.
That hurt, dad.
That’ll learn ya.
The man smiled again. Every accident, mishap or minor injury was met with the same response:
Watcha cryin’ for now?
Fell out of a tree, dad.
That’ll learn ya’.
Pa-PAH-Pah-Pa-Pa-Pahhhh
The ear worm was still alive.
Give me strength.
The 1970’s.
The music.
Melody Maker. New Musical Express. Record Mirror.
September 1976.
Skiving off school and catching the train to London with a mate whose uncle worked at the 100 Club.
What the ruddy hell were you thinking of? Your mum was ruddy demented.
International Punk Festival.
Subway Sect. Whatever happened to them? Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Clash.
The Sex Pistols.
Ever get the feeling you’ve been had?
Other concerts. Mohicans, spitting, safety-pins, pogo dancing, stage-diving. A fat kid, airborne; captured by the strobe lights and held in the air for a split second, the crowd parting like the Red Sea, the expression on his face.
The cheer when he hit the floor.
‘White Riot’ at maximum volume, dad storming into the bedroom.
Why do you have to play it so ruddy loud?
It’s The Clash, dad.
Ruddy noise if you ask me, ruddy turn it down will ya’?
Other bands, other gigs. The Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, The Clash again, still got the ticket from that one. What a night.
It’s up to you not to heed the call-up.
Good times.
The storm cloud was moving closer. Lightning flashes becoming more dramatic. Curtain of rain almost filling the sky.
Proper Okie storm.
Oklahoma.
Dad’s reaction.
What the ruddy hell do you want to go there for? Full of ruddy Yanks.
Thanks, dad.
No inclination to travel. Not interested in foreign food.
Want some curry, dad?
Wouldn’t give ya’ a thank ya for it. Ruddy mixed-up tack.
Got his news from the Daily Mirror and his social life playing crib at the local on a Wednesday night.
Same routine.
Week after week after week.
As a kid, it was a mystery. There were places called Denver, Colorado; San Diego, Tijuana and Detroit, where they built muscle cars. A whole world of exotic places. Why would anyone want to stay in such a miserable, grey, insular, rural existence in the back end of nowhere?
He’d never understood.
Until he’d left home and been through a war of his own. Seen at first hand the things that humans could do to each other.
Two bombs dropped on a ship in the South Atlantic. Watching helplessly as your best mate burned to death in front of you.
His screams in your nightmares.
Your screams when you wake.
Detachments to Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan.
After that he understood.
Understood that if you’re a twenty year old kid and you get your call-up papers and for the first time in your life you’ve got to leave the small country town where you were born and raised, put on a uniform and then spend the next five years fighting halfway across the planet before they’ll let you go back home - in one piece if you were lucky - and during those five years all you saw was suffering, death, bloodshed and destruction, if you made it home, why would you ever leave again?
Who could blame you for staying put?
Proper infantry fighting, too. Back then.
Like it is now.
Seventy years ago. Today.
Never mind your, over-the-horizon, fire-and-forget technology.
Never mind your precision air-strikes.
None of that for the blokes on the ground.
No siree, Bob.
What did dad used to say?
Poor ruddy infantry.
Just you, a Lee Enfield .303, a bayonet and your pals behind you.
House to house. Hand to hand. Look the other bloke in the eye and hope you can kill him before he kills you. Day after day after day.
Twenty years old.
Kill him before he kills you.
Like it is now.
Poor ruddy infantry.
Never understood.
Until that day in the old folks home.
Never seen dad undressed. Never even saw him without a shirt.
Until that day.
The day he’d walked in while the care assistant was giving his dad a wash. Eastern European, she was, smiling and stroking his head. Making time for him. Compassion on a weekly wage that no British person would get out of bed for.
The day he’d walked in and saw the scars for the first time, the puckered circle just below his left shoulder, two more on his back, the slice marks across the stomach.
His dad crossing his thin, bony arms, trying to cover his wasted body like a bashful virgin. Ashamed.
Jesus Christ! What the hell are those dad?
Nothin’.
Dad?
I don’t want to talk about it.
But dad?
Leave it, son. Please.
Dad getting agitated.
The care assistant putting her arms around him. Genuine affection in her eyes as she whispered soothing words in her native language, calming him down.
I never hugged him.
And then, clearing the house after dad died. Finding the medal and the letter from the King. The conversation with his uncle at the funeral, the story no one else knew.
Poor ruddy infantry.
My dad, the hero. And he never said a word.
I never hugged him.
Cried his eyes out the day I joined the navy.
So mum said.
You ain’t getting an Action Man.
The storm cloud grew closer.
A single, fat raindrop hit the glass. Then another.
Oklahoma storm.

Oklahoma City? What the ruddy hell do you want to go there for?
Cos Chuck Berry says it’s pretty.
Do what?
Chuck Berry, dad. Sang a song about Route 66.
Ruddy noise if you ask me.
Not like Ray Conniff, eh dad?
Oklahoma.
Had enough with the navy.
Fancied something different.
Came to America, no plans.
Bought a muscle car, a white 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T. 440 cubic inches, just like in the movie.
The real deal. It’ll pass anything except a gas station.
What else? If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.
Stamp on the loud pedal and it howls like a banshee and leaps forward like an attack-dog. Awesome in a straight line. On a corner, forget it.
A barely-tamed monster of a car.
Caned it across America, just like Kowalski in Vanishing Point. Arrived in Yukon, Oklahoma and met a waitress in The Fat Elvis diner.
Beautiful smile.
Beautiful lady.
Apple pie and cream.
Ah love yo’ accent, honey.
And I love yours.
Aw hell, I don’t have no acc-ey-ent.
What time do you get off, beautiful lady?
The nightmares stopped that night.
Married a week later, imagine that?
Three years and two kids ago and still together. Still got the car, too.
Thinking about her made him smile.
He looked down at the phone.
Photographs began appearing.
About time.
He reached across to the ashtray, stubbed out the cigarette and looked closely at the screen.
A bunch of people standing at the side of a road.
A cop standing next to his patrol-car.
To Protect and Serve.
He scrolled down to the next photo.
Grim-faced emergency workers looking down at something out of camera view.
Next photo.
Like a still from a Tarantino movie.
A blood-soaked corpse lying on a plastic sheet next to a pile of twisted metal.
The man looked closer.
Correction, half a blood-soaked corpse. The victim, a young man, had been torn in half at the waist, ripped flesh and entrails  fanning out from his stomach cavity. Shocked expression on his face.
Not surprised.
Next photo.
Emergency workers wearing blood-stained vinyl gloves, gripping the victim’s ankles as they dragged the lower half of his body from the wreckage. Gore trailing from the waist.
Next photo.
Both halves of the victim dumped on the plastic sheet, like a broken, shop-window mannequin.
Like a broken Action Man.
Next photo.
Two vehicles. Head-on collision.
The back end of an SUV sticking out from the radiator grill of a huge Kenworth truck.
Blimey, must have been going some.
Looked like the truck was eating the car.
The Fat Elvis Diner.
Apple pie and cream.
I don’t have no acc-ey-ent.
Beautiful smile.
Beautiful lady.
“This guy’s in love with you.”
The man scrolled back to the previous photos. Looked in fascination at the carnage laid out on black plastic.
That’ll learn ya.
Scrolled to the top of the message.
Read the first line.
“This guy was reading an email whilst driving.”
The man heard the blast of the horn.
Looked up through the rain-covered windshield of the 1970 Dodge Challenger.
Saw the radiator grill of the huge Kenworth truck.

Richard Wall

Richard Wall

NOVEMBER 2017 AUTHOR OF THE MONTH at Spillwords.com
Born in England in 1962, Richard grew up in a small market town in rural Herefordshire before joining the Royal Navy. After 22 years in the submarine service and having travelled extensively, Richard now lives and writes in rural Worcestershire.

Richard’s stories reflect his life-long fascination with the dark underbelly of American culture, be it tales of the Wild West, or of the simmering menace of the Deep South, or the poetry of Charles Bukowski, or the writing of Langston Hughes, or the music of Charley Patton, Son House, Johnny Cash, or Tom Waits.
Richard Wall

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