Gypsy King

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Gypsy King

Post  Crustacean Freak on Sun Nov 24, 2013 9:40 pm

This is a story I wrote earlier this year and posted the first half on SSLF. But with my car having been out of commission for the past month and a half, I decided to go back and look at it, and did a little bit of revising. Here's the story of a couple of Arizona punks in the mid 90s.

By C.A. Peacock

I tore up the plains of the American southwest aboard a rust-soaked Winnebago, looking for trouble in my younger years. In the hot spring of 1994, I found it in a girl called Penelope.
She took the Arizona highways for ruin in the cockpit of a baby blue 1975 Ford Ranchero named Gypsy King. Running beer for local breweries paid her well enough for the rent on her tiny single-bedroom apartment in South Phoenix. She never checked her odometer and hit the gas pumps without hesitation. It was better to drive back then, when the cars were cheaper and filling up a tank cost you less than twenty bucks. She could cross over into California every weekend if she so desired, but the allure of the coast never grew on her like it did on me. Penelope preferred the desert highways and tiny, junk bars of northern Arizona. And it were lucky she did. Otherwise, I might've been a dead man at the ripe old age of twenty-four.

My fists ripped through the thick cigarette smoke that carried the laughs and gasps of a dozen patrons. My knuckles connected with a bigger man's jaw. I was in a drunken rage. I didn't know why, but I needed to beat the ever-loving shit out of this man. He looked like a blurry gorilla, but the woman huddled and damaged on the floor was my real concern. The man had to die. And so I bashed my bloody knuckles into his face again as he collapsed on the floor in a heap of steroid-infused muscle, bone, and skin. But still, he breathed. And he still had to pay for the woman's bruised and beaten body.
I felt a familiar stream of blood trickle down my back. And then the pain came. Sharp, and twisting, this man's buddy shoved a blade deep into my shoulder. He stood over me, and yanked the long blade right back out and stared at me. He cursed at me as his friend coughed up blood and a couple yellow teeth. That was when she waltzed into the bar beneath a head of short, oil-black hair and a roughly-worn police cap.
I knew she looked strange in full police regalia, but the rest of the onlookers stepped back as the gorilla's friend dropped his knife, and the gorilla himself spat in my face. Even as I bled and was pulled out into the back of a dark parking lot in Heber, I continued spewing hatred at the gorilla. Penelope propped me up against the back bumper of her car.
“Don't fuckin' tell anybody,” Penelope removed her police cap, and discarded her police officer jacket into a black trash bag in the bed of her car, “but I ain't a cop. We're getting you to a hospital. I hope you have health insurance.”
“No ma'am.” I tried to laugh.
“Well shit. I guess I'll have to stitch you up myself, huh?”
Penelope looked down the dark stretch of rural road. Each side lined with countless trees that made up Tonto National Forest.
“I hope you're not a chickenshit. Get in the back and keep pressure on the wound,” she jumped into the driver's seat, I crawled into the Ranchero's bed and I could hear the ignition roar to life, “We're going camping tonight.”

That was the first time of many that she stitched me up, and she did a hell of a job for working by the light of a gas lamp. After that night in Heber, we discovered a shared interest in jumping into muddy puddles of trouble. The next day, we drove down to Phoenix together in Gypsy King for a couple of days to see what we could stir up in that hot sprawl of a cityscape. Penelope continued to make her deliveries on schedule, and I continued to make little scraps of change from odd jobs (some more legal than others).
As the months passed, Penelope's suppliers began to catch on to us pulling a couple bottles aside from every other shipment. Needless to say, they were none too pleased. Her suppliers dropped off one by one until only her younger brother's small-time operation was all that remained. Her gas money ran low, her savings dried up, and our collected income was dedicated to food, toiletries, and just enough gas money to keep up with her brother's shipments. Life got darker and dimmer and as the sex and beer became less frequent, we realized we had to find some other way to make money. She was as stubborn as I about settling down and finding a “real job”. So we took the next logical step.

We poured the last of our gas money into Gypsy King's tank as my Winnebago sat idle in a motel parking lot in South Phoenix. Her brother, a skinny kid named Gene, lent us a little extra protection in the form of two pistols for his deliveries. The alcohol we were openly moving turned to some hush-hush soft drug smuggling. Marijuana, mushrooms, ecstasy, and acid lined the inside of Gypsy King's spare wheel's hubcap. More importantly, the heat we carried gave us the freedom to venture deeper into the slummier parts of the city, where we could really cause some trouble.
A lanky hippie of a man stood behind the counter of a small convenience store, his eyes glazed over from doing the same old shit every night, five nights a week. A dirty magazine sat opened behind the counter in plain sight. He knows he's not on camera, I thought to myself.
He scanned a pack of condoms, rolling papers, and a two dollar scratcher ticket that won me precisely jack-shit. I couldn't do what he did, repeating the same thing every night to get by. Penelope couldn't do that. And my shiny new black 9mm pistol definitely couldn't do that. Penelope leaned over the counter suggestively, and the man leered at her chest. No subtlety, just a straight eyes-to-tits gaze. She reached behind her back, and retrieved her silver pistol from the back of her belt, and tapped the top of the register.
“Like what you see? Because I like what I see.” She taunted, as the cash drawer popped open and the clerk dropped the scratcher ticket he had just scanned.
“If you don't call the cops, maybe you'll get to see a little more of me next time I'm in here.” Penelope smiled as the clerk pulled off the best expression of confused arousal I've ever seen.

That night, we ditched the Ranchero's plates and picked some older ones off a car in a badly secured chop shop in Tempe. We laughed all the way to the rich, white city of Scottsdale and bar-hopped until the last bar in the city had closed. We were young and reckless, and our foresight was about as far-reaching as which grocery store we would buy frozen pizzas and potato chips from that day.

The bar crawl left us broke, and me drunk, in the hot sun the next June morning. I puked into a garbage can outside a strip of local artsy-fartsy establishments just as bleached blonde piece of plastic carrying a chihuahua sneered at me. I could almost muster a “fuck you, too, lady” but Penelope beat me to the punch as she grabbed a handkerchief to wipe off my mouth with one hand and flipped the bird at the woman with the other.
“Have I ever mentioned you're somethin' else?” I asked.
Penelope chuckled.
“Normally post-coitus.”
The Gypsy King sat parallel-parked before us, a yellow ticket flapping against her windshield as I expected the worst. In my state of inebriation, I could only conjure up images of our late-night gas station robbery, and a forthcoming sentencing in a court of peers resembling the plastic pieces of Scottsdale trash who sneered upon my person. If I weren't trying to impress a lady, I might've cried right there. Penelope walked around to the driver's side of the car, and plucked off the ticket. She smiled, and read it back to me.
“Rubberneck Joe & The Owl Boys, playing tonight at The Red River Opry in Tempe. Doors open at 7 PM. 21 and over. It's just local band's flier.”
I breathed a sigh of relief, and stumbled awkwardly to my feet.
“So, you all ready to roll, cowboy?”
“One sec.”
I missed the trash can and ejected the remaining alcohol in my system onto the wheel arch of brand new Mercedes.
“Okay, now I am.”

We kept on rolling that way for another three months. We stole some thick wallets, broke into some unlocked storage facilities, sold some trinkets, sold some drugs, smoked some weed, drank some booze, made love, and kept living like it were our last day on all of creation. Some weeks we skipped town and camped in the northern parts of the state to escape the heat (both the weather and the cops). It wasn't until the middle of September before our luck finally went out during a beer run to California. And it went out like burning tire on a stretch of unloved highway.
Gypsy King was vandalized by some punk kids in South Hollywood, an anarchist's “A” painted in red over the hood of the vehicle. Penelope rocked it, but I felt like perhaps we were becoming a more well-known presence than she thought. Cop cruisers follow us longer, kids whispered to each other as we drove by, and street gangs nodded at us as we drove past. Penelope always said it was the car, and she would proclaim that was a truer fact than the sun rising in the East, and LA drowning in smog in the West.
Gypsy King cried for a tune-up that we couldn't afford. We took her to Penelope's second cousin in Riverside, who diagnosed the old King as living on borrowed time, dying from thousands of miles of mechanical neglect. Her oil was always changed regularly, but the rest of the car slowly fell apart in the span of a single month. By Halloween, we were stuck in California, and our fair chariot sat on blocks in the parking lot of an authentic Mexican food restaurant. I dug around the passenger seat and scrounged up some spare change and put out an SOS from a payphone to my uncle in San Diego. It was my first contact with him since his wife passed, and I skipped out on her funeral to see a concert. His reaction was predictable.
“Get your life together, kid. I'm not bailing you out this time.”
Click, and dial tone.
As if he ever bailed me out before.
We called as many people as we knew, asking for some kind of help, and the most we got was an offer to stay on the couch of Penelope's sick pervert of a cousin. The guy was accused of rape, and had enough money to stay out of jail, but remained guilty-as-shit in the eyes of the people. We spoke with the owners of the Mexican food restaurant, and learned they were a very kind couple who had run their establishment since Jimmy Carter was in office. They lent us a couple sleeping bags and pillows and let us sleep in the back of the store overnight until we could get back on the road to Phoenix. As long as we cleaned some dishes and kept the store clean, we had good food and a roof, albeit somewhat leaky, over our heads. I didn't mind the work. It reminded me of the work I did in high school, but I could tell the stagnation frustrated Penelope. At night, she often left the store and threw her sleeping bag into the bed of her Ranchero and stared up at the sky. I think nothing tore her up more than the damage her car suffered.
I thought we were cut from the same cloth, but as we washed those grease-stricken pans and salsa-encrusted bowls, I could see that behind her amber eyes and the locks of her growing dark hair she was working out a plan to get us out. She stalked the local streets before she joined me in the back of the restaurant at night, speaking with people who once nodded toward us under flags of rival gangs. She had a way with words, and had a hard time making enemies with dangerous people.
We were not cut from the same cloth. Hers was stained in blood, and mine is stained in sweat, and though mine is thicker, hers was stitched from a thousand microfibers of a dozen cultures. Her life was something else. She was something else.

It was a chilly Thursday morning in December when I awoke to find Penelope never returned the night before. I feared the worst, but knew that she was as tough as the metal truck bed she spent hundreds of nights in. I casually dressed myself to begin my daily duties of preparing the restaurant for the day, but was taken aback when my eyes met the sun-busted parking lot that stretched before me. My fears materialized as I noticed Gypsy King was vacant from the lot. Only four cinder blocks and an oil stain remained.
I sought out the dark characters of LA, and grilled them for answers. I caught a few punches with my broken face, and absorbed a knife wound in my bruised side. No answers, and no leads. The world had forgotten about Penelope, or at least pretended to.

A wrench had been tossed into the engine of my mind as I struggled with my next plan of action, or inaction. After weeks of the latter, I called up my uncle again, and asked if he could join me for lunch at a small cafe down the street. It was a ten minute walk for me, and an hour long drive for him. I would have never done this for him, but he had a bigger heart than I. We met in the late afternoon and talked about the last ten years over the course of three hours. The time blew past like an Arizona sandstorm, and by the time I returned to the restaurant, my sleeping bag sat in the back alley in a dumpster, and all my other clothes were missing. The owners were gone, but the back door was cracked open. I shouted, and my calls were met with police sirens. I felt a quick bash against the back of my skull and the world went soft. Then the world went dark. Then the world went quiet.

The next moment I remember, I was sitting in a dim room, the scent of wet cement filling my lungs. A figure stood in the shadows. Long spikes emerged from the figure's skull. The figure looked feminine, but the voice that came through was deep, masculine, and booming.
“You didn't look for her. Why?”
I blinked, trying to adjust my vision to the low light, but the lights were shut off completely.
“Do you know Penelope? Where is she?” I asked.
The figure shifted.
“Why didn't you skip town when you had the chance?”
I shifted in my seat.
“I didn't get the chance.”
The figure walked the perimeter of the wall to my blind spot. As the figure walked, I could still make out the spikes emerging from the figure's head.
“Well, now you get to watch our great revolution,” the voice paused, “from the throne of the good king.”
The good king? Could he mean- I thought, as the wall before me lifted. It was a garage, and before me sat a fully-restored Ford Ranchero, baby blue with two thin white racing stripes, and an anarchist's “A” painted over the hood. A string of teeth hung from the rear-view mirror, and a dark-skinned man dressed in black leather with a baby blue bandana over his mouth sat on the bumper. He sported black wayfarer's and a shaved head, and a cordless microphone in his hand. He spoke.
“The Gypsy King.”
The figure behind me whispered into my ear.
“We're going to lay waste to this city.”
Penelope walked around to face me, sporting a bright blue spiked mohawk. She smiled.
“You know, you're a bastard for not looking for me, but you made the right choice.”
She unlocked my cuffs and led me over to the passenger door of her car, and ushered me in. I sat in the cushy black leather and pointed to the teeth and looked back at her as she entered the driver's seat.
“What are those?”
She smirked and turned the key. The car uttered a beautiful roar.
“Dead bastards.”
I looked back at the man in the blue bandana in abject horror. He nodded at me.

I spent that night with Penelope, driving through Los Angeles speaking with dozens of gang leaders. I was instructed to deliver the same message to every single one.
“The gypsy is done.”
And after the message was uttered, it was off to the next without another question. I asked myself what I had gotten myself into at many of those stops, but I trusted we were just a few days from returning to Arizona. The talk of a golden revolution and the grand reveal of her restored car just seemed like her brand of extravagant humor. I trusted this was her way of saying goodbye.

It weren't so easy to say goodbye.

We finished our rounds at three in the morning, and returned to the small garage labeled “Domestic Auto Specialist”, from which we left hours before. The man in the blue bandana was gone, and Penelope led me back to the crummy office, where we made love on a lumpy mattress and slept for at least half a day. With the little bit of sunlight we had left, she drove us up to the San Gabriel mountains where we watched the sun fall off the horizon. Then the lights of LA lit up the hazy night sky. We hopped back into the Gypsy King. She smiled.
“I think I finally found a place in California I like.”
I chuckled.
“LA? Really?”
She nodded, and played with the string of teeth.
“They're ceramic. Based on the dental records of mass murderers,” she stroked my arm with her forefinger, and looked up at me with the light of the city reflecting in her eyes, “I had you going, though, didn't I?”
I shrugged. Her smile faded. She looked back at the city. Her hand was gripped around the over the stick shift. I closed my hand over hers.
“When are we going home?” I asked.
“When I'm ready.”
She threw the car into first gear and began careening down the mountain back to the city. Her gaze was locked on the dirt road before us, her high beams illuminating the dust she kicked about around every curve until we screamed onto the pavement.
My temper was wearing thin.
“Penelope, listen to me,” I asserted, “I love California too, but this is getting insane. It's time to go home.”
“Not yet.”
“We're out of money, out of favors, and I'm running out of patience.”
She turned took an off ramp and turned sharply onto a major street. She ran the red.
“Pull yourself together, Penelope!”
She put her whole weight into the gas pedal. The speedometer ticked past seventy.
“We're not finished yet. One more night.”
“Pull over and let's talk about this, please! Look, there's a Shell station up ahead on the right.”
She grunted, and clicked the digital watch on her wrist. The screen lit up and showed a time of 8:38.
“We can grab a pack of Camels and a couple sodas, what do you say?”
She spun the car around, the black tires screeching on the black pavement, kicking up black smoke that stunk of new rubber. The car screeched to a halt in the middle of the gas station parking lot. She yanked the parking brake up and jumped out, slamming the heavy metal door behind her. I got out and followed her as she stomped up to the storefront. She waited for me in front of the glass double doors.
“What the fuck is your problem?” she screamed at me.
“I'm ready to either go home or get-” I cleared my throat, “get some answers.”
She threw the door open and walked into the convenience store, crossing her arms as she did. The woman behind the counter was watching the local news on a small TV set mounted from the ceiling. She briefly acknowledged us, and went back to watching. Penelope looked back at me. The intensity was fading from her gaze.
“I'm sorry for earlier,” I could tell something was changing in her mind, “I'll fill you in about what was gonna happen when we get back in the car. Just grab us some sodas. The smokes are on me.” She smiled.
I went to the back of the store and grabbed two glass bottles of Coke. Penelope waited at the counter.
“One box of Camel Wides, please.” She asked the clerk.
The clerk still stared at the television. I handed Penelope a bottle.
“Did you two hear about this?”
On the television set, a reporter was standing before half a dozen cop cars and several men and women in baby blue bandanas sitting on the pavement in handcuffs.
“And once again, this heroic raid was the result of the cooperation of the LAPD and Riverside Police Department's Edward Nonah.” The on-location reporter went on.
Penelope's eyes widened. The news report cut back to the studio.
“If you're just tuning in, the LAPD has just thwarted a terrorist attempt on Grant Memorial Bank on 50th and Jefferson. Following an anonymous tip regarding a planned attack on the bank to incite fear, police detained eight major gang leaders and an undisclosed number of other gang members involved in the operation. The primary suspect still on the loose is a woman that our sources call 'The Gypsy', a highly influential anarchist. There's currently no known incentive behind these planned attacks, besides a show of brutal force.”
Penelope dropped her bottle, and looked at me in terror. A sketch resembling Penelope appeared on the report. The clerk and I stared at the screen. Penelope backed away.
“If you see this woman, please contact your local police-”
The door's small bell jangled as Penelope bolted out the door to her car. The clerk looked at me, then out the window, then back at me. I stared back at Penelope, who was ripping her license plate off with a screwdriver. She looked back at me and blew a quick kiss before jumping back into her car. The Gypsy King peeled out onto the dark road, her deep red taillights dipping behind a hill.
“Sir?” The clerk said, “Are you going to pay for those?”
I pulled a ten out of my wallet and grabbed my pack of Camel Wides and my intact Coke.
“Sorry for the mess, keep the change.”
I walked out into the cool desert night and could just barely hear the hum of the Ranchero as it faded out into the chirps of crickets and hum of cicadas. In that moment, I realized that even Penelope can't win over this hazy city. After smoking half a pack of cigarettes on the curb of the convenience store over the course of a couple hours, I picked up a blue payphone next to an outdoor cooler labeled “ICE” and called my uncle to ship my stupid ass back to Arizona.
I walked out to where the Gypsy King had sat hours before and noticed the string of ceramic teeth sat on top of the gas pump. I grabbed them and shoved them into pocket, and went back to the curb and lit up another cigarette, as I waited to leave this so-called City of Angels.

Several years passed, and I saw her across a Wal-Mart parking lot in Mesa as I stepped out of my Winnebago. She had been painted white, and not a trace of anarchy graced her angular lines. Unassuming, was the word. The only thing that gave it away was the black-haired woman holding the hand of a toddler as they both walked away from the old King. I looked at the string of teeth hanging from my rear-view mirror. I grabbed the teeth and walked towards the pearly white Ranchero. I wrapped them around the driver's door handle, and walked into the store. Part of my hoped she wouldn't see me. I hoped it would be another uneventful grocery run to Wal-Mart, but another part of me shouted and yelled in my subconscious for her to see me. For her to entertain me with the tale of her daring escape, of what she meant to accomplish in LA in 1995, and for how she changed from a raging punk to a mother. That didn't happen.
I waited by my Winnebago with a bag full of canned goods as I waited for her to leave. I saw her walk back to the Ranchero and untangle the string of teeth from her door. She looked about for a moment before she caught a quick glimpse of me. She smiled and looked back down at the teeth. She blew a kiss across the parking lot, and that was the last I saw of the Gypsy King before she disappeared behind a hill at sunset, her elephantine engine roaring as loud as she ever did.

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