MAYBE TOMORROW – A novel by Peter Nolan Smith Chapter 2

The clouded horizon buried the autumn sun and a moonless darkness soon smothered the Connecticut Hills with a wolfish gloom challenged only by the funnel of holiday traffic on the Interstate. Few travelers noticed the rundown motel hidden in the woods off exit 74. Its neon sign had been out of order since the summer.

A red GTO with Maine plates was parked before Room # 21.

Behind the locked door a shifting kaleidoscope of TV reds, greens, and blue cascaded over the queen-sized bed, on which a young man and a teenage girl watched THE BIONIC WOMAN with opposing levels of interest and when he tossed the empty beer can into the corner and the skinny brunette in the red dress asked, “When we leaving?”

“After I’m done my beers.” Mike Valle was getting his money’s worth out of this stay and the tattooed mechanic lifted a beer can from the cooler. “You want one?”

“One’s my limit.” Tammi West grabbed a cigarette from the pack on the night table.

“All the more for me.” Mike popped the top, fantasizing about a night with Lindsey Wagner. The female lead of the TV show was almost as pretty as Farah Fawcett, who was THE BIONIC MAN’s real-life wife. The girl on the bed couldn’t compete with either star and he took a closer look at her out of the corner of his eyes.

Tammy’s shoulder-length hair was a non-specific brown unlike the blonde goddess in THE BIONIC MAN. Her tomboy body would never graced the centerfold of Playboy. None of this mattered for her sordid reputation in their hometown transformed her into a goddess.

The teenager watched Mike drink his beer. They had been in this room for over an hour. He was moving slower than thawed mud and his thickening tongue slurred every other word. Semi-trailers’ diesel engines throttling on the highway sang a song of ‘let’s go’, but the rising scree of empties signaled this room was their destination for the night, unless Tammi got him moving and she sat up in the bed.

“You said we were driving straight to New York.”

“What’s the rush?” New York City was a hellhole filled with Jews, niggers, spics, queers, and weirdos. He wasn’t scared of any of them. The .38 under his seat was made for target practice in that town.

“The more miles between me and Maine the better.” Smoking was a new habit and she coughed, as the tobacco rasped into her lungs.

“You afraid of the cops?” Mike slipped a hand up Tammi’s dress. He had no trouble getting his fingers under her bra and he was disappointed to discover that her breasts were mostly bra.

“You crossed three state lines with a sixteen year-old girl. Somewhere in this country that’s against the law.” She squirmed out of his grasp hoping the danger of transporting a minor might register in his brain.

“Being an outlaw don’t scare me.” None of his fellow workers at the Kittery Navy had ever accused him of being a deep thinker and he bragged, “I’ve been to reform school for breaking and entering. Robbing summer cottages’s an easy way to get liquor in the winter.”

“I’m not looking to break any laws.” Her face didn’t match the one on the driver’s license which she had stolen from her stepsister, so any stop by the police was a direct ride back to Kittery, Maine.

“Wild thing, no one’s looking to break any laws.” The re-run of THE BIONIC MAN paused for a commercial break and Mike hooked a finger into her hair. He lowered his face to the straight strand. The smell of Breck shampoo and cigarettes was a turn-on and he whispered, “We’re a team. Anyone ever say you’re a dead ringer for Faye Dunaway?”

“All the time.” She fought to keep from laughing out loud, since the Hollywood actress dated movie stars and she was an underage runaway stuck with a loser.

“That’s us. Bonnie and Clyde on the run.” Mike undid the zipper of his jeans. His reward for driving halfway to New York was going to be more than light petting. “I saw that movie three times. I really liked the scene of them in bed.”

“I like the getaway scenes better.” Tammi squirmed away to the edge of the mattress, but he hauled her closer to him.

“I think the hotel scene came first.” His left hand flicked open her bra strap. “Bonnie didn’t give Clyde a struggle.”

“He couldn’t get it up either.” She let him fondle her breasts. He was in no mood for a refusal. “You know I could drive your car, while you drink those beers.”

“No teenybopper’s drivin’ my Goat.” Mike had paid cash for the muscle car after a winter of double-shifts at the Navy Yard. Cruising around Portsmouth and Kittery was fun. The highway was less so, since the gas gauge hit EMPTY fast at any speed over 60.

“I learned to shift gears from my older sister. She has her license.” Tammi had driven her stepmother’s banged-up Cutlass, while the old lady was asleep. A neighbor had snitched her out and her stepmother had tanned Tammi’s backside with a belt. No one back home trusted her and she couldn’t blame them.

“You learn anything else?” The pipefitter toyed with her nipples.

“Yeah, never take a ride with a stranger.” Maybe it was better Mike didn’t drive drunk.

“That’s real funny, because we’re not strangers.” He roughly pulled up her dress.

“I never met you before.” Kittery wasn’t a big town.

“That’s right, but I know you. Everyone in town does.” His right hand mauled her thigh.

“What you hear?” Tammi stiffened with shame.

“Some stories about this and that.” Mike yanked down his pants without getting them farther than mid-thigh. His underwear remained around his waist. He had been wearing them two days.

“They’re not true.”

“Maybe not, but this afternoon I saw you walking on Tenney Hill Road in that red dress, black leather jacket, and high heel shoes. I told myself, “That’s Tammi West.” I stopped and asked where you were going and you said, “New York or the highway.”

“I don’t remember saying anything about a hotel room in the boondocks.”

“This was a pit stop for beer and something else.” Her body wasn’t that of Farah Fawcett, but if he shut off the TV, he wouldn’t know the difference in the dark. “You know what I mean?”

“Men only want one thing from a girl.” Tammi prayed this would be quick. It usually was with drunks.

“Same thing you gave up to the football team after the Saco High game.” Mike tugged off Tammi’s bra.

“That story is a lie.” She pushed him away with a strength born from a long-held anger. “I went to the Fort McClury with the quarterback, Brad. His friends showed up. I’m lucky a police cruiser entered the parking lot. The football players drove off. I walked home. Nothing happened.“

“Really, well, I heard you did them all. Same thing last summer at that rich kid’s party in York. That a lie too?” Mike fondled Tammi’s breasts. People had seen her on the bed in the big beach cottage. Someone counted the boys. The number was more than ten. “You make friendly like that and we’ll be leaving soon.”

“So you want to meet that girl?” Tammi couldn’t deny the truth, but no one listened to her side of the story, which was one more reason she was running away from that town and once she got rid of Mike, she never would have to hear this story again.

“Yes, I do.” Mike crudely rolled her nipple between his thumb and index finger.

“We do it, you think you can get back in the car and drive like the devil to New York?” She reached down his jeans. He wasn’t even hard.

“You put it that way and I’m Satan’s chauffeur.” Mike wrestled off his jeans and shoved apart her legs.

“Then I’m your slut.” Tammi shut her eyes expecting a rough entry, except the pipefitter passed out atop her chest. She tapped his face lightly twice and once hard before slipping out from under him to whisper, “Sorry Clyde, but Bonnie’s moving on to better things.”

Cars were on the highway. Half of them were New York-bound. Neither the police nor her stepmother could find her in that city and come the summer a Greyhound bus would take her to California, Florida, or New Orleans, where Tammi West could disappear forever.

The teenager stole into the bathroom and gently shut the door. She slipped back on her bra and panties, then pulled down the hem of stepsister’s red dress. Standing At least Mike hadn’t ripped anything.

Standing before the mirror Tammi wrapped an elastic band around her hair to make a ponytail. A quick smear of lipstick and rouge added a couple of years to her face, not that many driver cared about the age of a teenage hitchhiker. She crept into the bedroom and grabbed her black leather jacket from the floor. It had belonged to her father.

After picking up her high heels, the young girt rifled $80 from Mike’s wallet, then tiptoed to the front door. The click of the lock was loud.

“Where you goin’?” The pipefitter demanded through a firefight of blinks.
“Out for some air.” Tammi yanked at the door.

Not fast enough, for Mike leapt out of the bed to seized her wrists and shake the frail teenager like a ragdoll.

“I didn’t blow off my mom’s turkey for you to split on me.”

“I’m not splitting.” Tammi had never been good at playing the innocent.

“Then why was your hand in my pants?” Mike kicked his jeans against the wall.

“I was looking for cigarettes.”

“Bullshit. The cigarettes are on the night table.” Mike’s fingernails painfully pierced her skin. “You’re little thieving whore, that’s what you are.”

“No, I’m not.” She tried to twist free, but Mike wasn’t that drunk. “Let me go.”

“Not until you give me back what you took.” The naked pipefitter slapped Tammi’s face.

The back of her head slammed against the wall and her knees buckled for a second, but her step-mother had hit her harder and the teenager shook off the stars swimming in her eyes. Tammi West was no man’s punching bag and she swung her shoes with all her might.

The points of the high heels cracked into Mike’s skull and his eyes fluttered like a slot machine twirling round and round to skip cherries. A second shot dropped him onto the floor on his knees.

“You bitch. I’m gonna teach you.” Mike fell on his side. The fight had been knocked out of him for the moment.

“You’re not teaching me nothing.” Tammi had learned his kind of lesson from too many other people and she darted out of the room straight across the parking lot into the woods. The underbrush snatched at her legs and she lost her footing in the cold damp grass. Thrown off balance the teenager skidded down the embankment to the Interstate, losing a shoe in the tumble.

Scrambling to her feet Tammi was overwhelmed by the deluge of the oncoming headlights. Her stepmother had cut out scores of newspaper articles about runaway girls mutilated by highway weirdos. The local police had conducted yearly seminars warning the girls in her high school the dangers of hitchhiking. She had no choice.

A supercharged V-8 engine roared in the motel the parking lot. Mike was on his way. Someone had to stop for her and she didn’t care if her ride was a homicidal maniac as long as she was gone before the GTO got here. She stuck out her thumb and ten seconds later a big white Olds lumbered past her by a hundred feet into the break-down lane. Tammi hobbled on one shoe to the passenger door and jumped inside.

“Go, mister, go.”

“Go where?” The long-haired driver was examining her from head to toe.

Tammi must have looked like bad news, but she slammed shut the door and shouted, “Anywhere, but here.”

“You want me take you home?” The hippie asked with brotherly concern.

“Not home. Anywhere. Go.” Tammi prayed that the dozy driver in the suede jacket wasn’t stoned like most of the heads in her high school. She needed someone who could drive like THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

“Okay, I’m going already.” The hippie checked the mirrors and pulled into traffic at a less than urgent speed. “A girl your age shouldn’t be out here this time of night.”

“I’m 16.” The young driver didn’t look like a pervert in the dashboard light, but Tammi moved closer to the door.

“More like 15.”

“15, 16, I’m plenty old enough to be here or anywhere else.” Tammi rubbed the bruise on her face. “Where you headed, Mister?”

“New York.”

“Same as me?” She couldn’t believe her luck.

“You have family there?”

“I have no family there, which is why I’m going there.” Tammi bit her lower lip and glanced over her shoulder. A hundred headlights filled the back window. Only one of them mattered to her. “Shit.”

The red GTO roared up beside them.

“Mistah, I swear to God this guy kill me, if you stop.” Tammi clasped her hands together in a frantic plea. “Go faster.”

“You think this piece of shit can outrun a Goat?” The driver looked over at GTO.

Screams contorted the face of the slick-haired motorhead. The passenger window was open, but his words were lost in the wind.

“I can’t read lips, but your boyfriend doesn’t seem too happy about you skipping out on Thanksgiving dinner.”

“He’s not my boyfriend.” Her fists squeezed the air in frustration with the hippie’s thickness.

“He’s no stranger either.”

“Watch out,” Tammi shrieked in warning.

The GTO’s swerved within an inch of driver’s side and the hippie steered the Olds 88 clear of a collision.

“This will knock the fight out of that asshole.” The hippie reached under the seat to come up with a tire iron.

“Mister, don’t stop. I’m serious about him killing me.” Tammi begged the driver.

“No one’s killing anyone tonight.” The hippie juked the steering wheel to the left and the GTO veered away from the Olds 88. “My father always says a car is the most dangerous weapon in America, especially when the driver doesn’t give a shit about his car.”

“Mister, he has a gun.” The pistol was pointed straight at them.

The long-haired driver slammed on the brakes and the GTO nosed ahead of the Olds, as a flash of fire spurted inside the muscle car. No bullet had cracked through their windows and the hippie dropped the tire iron on the floor.

“You’re right, we’re not stopping.” He clenched the steering wheel with both hands, finally realizing that this was no game.

“What are you going to do?” She locked her fingers together not to God, but to the driver of the 88.

“Not giving him a second chance to kill us.” The hippie checked the road ahead and behind of the two cars. The Interstate was strangely empty. “Hold on.”

The Olds swung behind the GTO and the driver stepped on the accelerator.

The big car’s steel bumper rear-ended the tail end of the muscle car. the GTO fishtailed off the highway into a copse of sapling. Tammi clapped her hands with delight, as the driver pushed the Olds over 100 mph.

“Keep an eye out for the GTO.” He didn’t break a smile.

“I don’t see it.” Tammi’s heart was beating a drum roll in her chest.

“That doesn’t mean he’s not coming.” The hippie narrowed his eyes. A road sign announced an exit a half-mile ahead. The Olds reached the off-ramp in thirty seconds and swept up the exit onto a country road.

“This isn’t the highway to New York.” Tammi folded her arms into front of her.

“Don’t worry, I’m not a murderer. We’re taking the back roads to avoid your friend. It’ll add an hour or two to the trip, but better than having someone shoot at us again. That okay by you, Cinderella?”

“Whatcha mean, Cinderella?” The hippie might not be trouble, but she had already been hit by one man tonight.

“You’re wearing a party dress with one shoe, so I think___”

“Mister, this ain’t no pumpkin truck, I’m no Cinderella, but I do have a drunk stepmother and a wicked stepsister at home,” Tammi snapped, and then apologized, deciding she needed this ride. “Sorry, mister. It’s been one of those nights.”

“I hope they don’t happen all the time.” He checked the rearview mirror and slowed the Olds down to a safe speed.

“Enough.” She rubbed her face, nearly on the verge of tears.

“You have a cigarette, mister?” She had forgotten hers at the motel.

“There might be a pack by your feet. They’re not mine, so I have no idea how long they’ve been there.”

“Old is better than none.” Tammi smoked in silence and waited for the hippie to say something. It didn’t take him long.

“When I was your age, I fought with my girlfriend. I never hit her.” He was looking at the rising bruise on her cheek. 

“Then she was lucky. Guys hit girls and worse.”

“This isn’t just about the guy with the GTO. Care to tell me about it?”

“No.” She sighed a cloud of smoke, then shrugged with adolescent apathy. “You want a story, listen to this. At the Turkey Day pep rally this football jock bragged about how he and his team fucked me and cheerleaders called me a slut. We fought with the head cheerleader and I won. The dean of discipline sided with the goody-two-shoes instead of the town slut. I got suspended for two weeks. At home my stepmother and I got into a shouting match. I ran away. That guy in the GTO gave me a ride. He was wrong about my enjoying a cheap weekend in a dirty hotel and I fought him off and stole $80 from him. I reached the highway. You stopped and we went. End of story.”

Tammi trembled from reliving some parts of this story. She couldn’t figure which ones.

“Fucked up Thanksgiving Day.”

“You got that right, mister, one more thing. A favor.”

“Such as?” The hippie cracked his window to vent the smoke

“No more questions.” Tammi tugged the mini-skirt over her knees.
“Sure, if you do me one.” The driver shrugged his answer. He had heard enough.

“What?” She expected the worse.

“Stop calling me mister.”

“You have a problem with ‘mister’?” Tammi called every man over twenty-one that to keep them from thinking that they were her age, for juvenile fantasies died long deaths in men.

“Mister makes me feel a thousand years old. I’m only 25 and the name’s Sean.”

“And mine’s Tammi. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to catch some sleep, Sean?” Tammi laid her head against the cold glass. Maybe the hippie was a killer, but at this point dead sounded better than alive.

“I’ll wake you in New York.”

“Thanks, Sean.” Tammi shut her eyes. A few minutes later she was asleep and the Olds 88 cruised along the dark country back roads at the legal limit of 55 MPH.

The hippie turned the dial without finding a station unaccompanied by static. He shut off the radio and glanced over to the girl on the front seat. She should have been home in bed, but her business was none of his and he stepped on the gas.

Ten seconds later the Olds disappeared into the shadowless night. A dog barked at its passing and then went back to sleep. New York was less than a hundred miles away.

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