“What the fuck is this?”
Hoyt leaned forward in his Salvation Army Laz-E-Boy and set his Natural Lite down on the carpet between his feet where it was immediately knocked over, gurgling the last four ounces which easily reached the perimeters of the perpetual beer stain.
He glared at the television. His eyes shifted to the wall clock, back to the television, to the glowing numbers on his cell phone, back to the 45” Vizio. Hoyt could not understand what was happening. Here it was 7:02 in the pm on a Wednesday. He checked the channel as many times as he checked the clock.
“Where the hell are my Duke boys?”
Rather than his Dukes of Hazzard in the 7pm time slot on the TV Land channel, there was some bullshit show about four really old women gibbering about sex and shit he didn’t even want to imagine they were capable of. It was a goddam outrage.
All he knew to do was phone his cohort in crime. Culley was a smart ass who thought he knew everything about everything. This was not the case. However, Hoyt had to begrudgingly admit, Culley did know a little bit about a little bit. Maybe the sumbitch knew what happened to his Duke Boys.
Culley didn’t answer his phone the first time around. This did not surprise Hoyt. Once his unemployment checks ran out, Culley had lucked into a lucrative career collecting up shopping carts at the Super Wal-Mart on the outskirts of Cullman County. He was shitting in high cotton, a guaranteed twenty-four hours a week and ten percent off all Wal-Mart purchases. Hoyt liked him better unemployed and immediately available for shenagins.
Hoyt texted 911 CALL ME FUCKER, waited three minutes, then keyed Culley’s number again. Culley answered on the fifth ring, sounding like he was in the sort of mood to say something Hoyt would hold him accountable for in the near future.
So Hoyt got right down to it. “I’m sitting here. Same Duke Boys time, same Duke Boys channel. It’s ten minutes after seven in the pm. And there’s no fucking Duke Boys on the Vizio. What time is it by you?”
“Oh, you poor, clueless bastard. You ain’t heard the news have you?”
Hoyt felt his sphincter draw up. “Heard what? I don’t watch the news, you know that shit.”
“Dukes of Hazzard ain’t coming on, brother. Not any time soon.”
“What’s going on, Culley? What’s really going on?”
“You’re gonna wanna be shit-faced when you hear this. I get outta here in twenty. Meet me up at the Horse.”
Culley knew the woman saw him, looked him straight in the eye. Hell, his fluorescent vest was bright enough to guide ships to harbor. Yet this woman wearing a fancy, sequined Alabama University sweatshirt that screamed disposable income walked her empty shopping cart right past him and his caravan of carts and parked her cart in the far corral he had cleared only moments before.
He’d swear before god and his host of cocksucking angels the woman smiled at him, and not the fetching sort of how about hopping in the back of my hubby-financed Escalade for a five minute fuck romp kind of smile either. This was more of a fuck you and your fluorescent Wal-Mart vest smile Culley had become increasing familiar with these last few months.
Culley wanted to grab her by the throat and choke the hell out of her, screaming “don’t you know who I am, bitch? Don’t you know I’ve killed people? Who you think you’re fucking with?” Fortunately, fear of prison restrained this impulse. Punching her in the face wasn’t an option, either, not with all the cameras Wal-Mart had pointing all over the place.
Besides, that would be misogynistic. And that just wasn’t Culley’s style, no matter how badly he wanted it to be.
“You have a great day,” Culley smiled as she rebounded past him from the cart corral.
“Hmmm,” she replied.
Hmmm? What the fuck does that even mean? That he isn’t important enough to warrant a ‘fuck you’? Christ, the back of his hand begged for the bitch’s mouth.
It saddened Culley to think the only thing holding him back from salvaging a little pride was the fear of losing a guaranteed twenty four hour work week and ten percent off all his Wal-Mart purchases. He watched her climb into her white Escalade and pull away, not even pausing at the crosswalk where an elderly couple had to give up their right-of-way to let her pass.
With the chirping of his cellphone, Culley forgot all about his Wal-Mart angst. His partner in situational criminality, Hoyt, came up on the screen. “Just fucking perfect,” Culley muttered. “This is what I need right now.”
The Plush Horse was about an hour away from becoming an interesting place. The smattering of customers drinking at the bar, presently, didn’t intend to stay any longer than forty-five minutes.
“Now I watched just about every episode of the Duke Boys twice, not once I ever see a nigger get lynched on that show. Fact is, I don’t recollect even seeing a nigger nowhere near Hazzard County. Now how they gonna label the show as racist?” Hoyt was livid.
Culley was not. “It ain’t got nothing to do with the show. What they’s fired up about is the Confederate flag.”
“On the General Lee?”
“Well, everywhere, but, yeah, on the General Lee, too.”
“Well, fuck them. I can’t believe this shit. You telling me some white boy goes and shoots up a church full of jigs and now I don’t get to watch the Duke boys jumping their General Lee through barns and giving Boss Hogg the fits?”
“That’s one way of putting it, I guess. He did have a Confederate flag selfie.”
“So fucking what? Ted Bundy had his picture took with Bob Hope. Did all the brunettes in Florida get together and ban Christmas specials?”
“That’s society for you. Wouldn’t be surprised, government comes for our guns.”
“That’s next. I’m telling you, Culley. This is open war against good, honest, white folk.”
“By discontinuing Dukes of Hazzard?”
“By everything. They start with the psychological warfare. Letting the gays marry like normal people. Giving that Olympic runner tits and a Woman of the Year award. How bad is it? Three billion women in the world, and you wanna tell me not one of them is better than some goofy-looking jackass with fake titties? We’re through the looking glass, and it’s so goddam muddled, I don’t know we’re looking in or looking out. It’s no wonder you got these white boys getting crazy-eyed, shooting motherfuckers. I ain’t judging them, I’m just saying. Why they gotta take my Duke Boys, but them Kardashians are still running around, unharmed?”
“I don’t know, Hoyt. I just think it’s a damn shame, we gotta yank every Confederate flag off the Wal-Mart shelves so no one gets their delicate sensibilities offended.”
“Where I gonna get my Confederate flag needs met, should I want one?”
“Well, that’s some bullshit. I run with the Cullman Klavern for almost twenty years, until they priced me out with all their horseshit upgrades, saying I gotta get new vestments every year. I wanna tell them, it’s fucking white robes! You know? What’s wrong with the robes my daddy pass down to me? Yet every year they expect me to pony up another three hundred dollars on top of what I’m already paying in dues just to have a 2015 edition with the red iron crosses cross-stitched along the hem. How’s that gonna help me hate the niggers any more, or solve the miscegenation problem?”
“What’s your point?”
“Point is we don’t salute the Confederate flag so much. Even in the Cullman Klavern, we carry the American flags. Cause for one thing, we’re good, honest Americans. Another thing, we don’t want to marginalize our Yankee brethren.”
“Hopefully, the blacks don’t catch hold of that little tidbit, we’ll have to discontinue all the Evel Kineval products.”
“That’s got me to thinking…” Hoyt threatened. “That fuckin’ Monkey Muslim in office, he the one outlawed selling Confederate flags?”
“No. No one outlawed anything, man. It’s just frowned on, you know. Political pressure and colored folks threatening to boycott stores. That sort of thing.”
“So, whatcha saying is, it’s just more difficult to buy one, now, right? But you can’t go to jail for selling them? For a mark-up if we wanted.”
“It’s not illegal,” Culley agreed, “but who we gonna sell them to? Anyone flies the rebel flag’s already got one. And we don’t have any, no how.”
“Exactly. We can steal them, wherever we see them. And when the demand gets high, we sell them. I drove past The Yellow Ribbon on the way over here. Every last beat-to-hell Harley and welfare Goldwing had a Confederate flag hanging off the back. That goddam pick-up that cocksucking little midget drives looked like a Southern Brotherhood float for the shitkicker pride parade, there’s so many Dixie flags hanging off it.”
“Hoyt, you already got your bell rung by them assholes, once.”
“Now, it’s round motherfucking two, Culley. And my eyes are wide open, now. Them Michael Jackson impersonators thought they had the drop on us, too, and we straightened them pedophiles out but good.”
“Those guys… weren’t really… just because they dressed like MJ didn’t make them kiddie fuckers, you know?”
“No. Cause now they dead. They ain’t fucking nothing.”
“Shit, Hoyt. I don’t wanna go there. I can’t go there, right now.”
“Don’t worry about a thing, brother. I got it all planned out. This is gonna be my silver lining to losing the Duke Boys. Even know who’s gonna sell’em for us.”
“Reverend Eddie Vacuum.”
When Culley and Hoyt pulled up to Eddie Vacuum’s establishment with a backseat piled high with rebel flags early the next afternoon, the Reverend Eddie was already showing signs of industry.
“What the hell he dragging behind him?” Hoyt asked.
“What’s it look like? You telling me you never played in a little princess castle before?”
The plastic castle playset Eddie dragged along behind him looked as if it had served a long line of reckless royalty before succumbing to a Bolshevik revolution or two. And Eddie was still asking fifty bucks for the ruins.
The Reverend Eddie Vacuum had inherited the low, white brick building from his father who for thirty years prior had unimaginatively utilized the real estate for an auto repair shop. Upon his father’s death, Eddie realized there were more lucrative endeavors outside the sphere of vehicular repair and transformed the space into a church/thrift shop/professional wrestling association.
Despite not being the Lord’s day, Eddie wore his church vestments, tight Wrangler jeans, an Iron Maiden “The Trooper” T-shirt and professionally tailored, patent leather wrestling boots, air-brushed with Iron Maiden’s skeletal mascot also named Eddie swathed in mummy bandages, crackling lightning striking the metal latch holding his skull cap in place. Reverend Eddie’s religion of his own devising was a strange amalgam of Christianity, Egyptology, Iron Maiden lyrics and homilies culled from Wrestlemania storylines.
Culley visited a Reverend Eddie Vacuum Sunday service once. He was not converted. He just could not accept Ric Flair into his heart as his Lord and savior. One good thing about the church, Culley didn’t feel as though he were being judged and found lacking by the five other members of the congregation.
Hoyt had a similar experience dropping in on the Powerslave Wrestling Association’s Friday night slobber knocker event. Twenty jackasses standing inside a garage watching a handful of jokers slap the shit out of each other inside a homemade ring. Every wrestler spending more time talking shit into the microphone than applying wrasslin moves.
Neither Culley nor Hoyt had ever stepped foot inside the thrift shop.
Eddie Vacuum confused though hopeful expression melted into a look of amused dissatisfaction once he recognized the two men. A gap-toothed smile lifted the sides of his handle bar mustache.
“Culley and Hoyt! Holy Christ, it’s the Smash-and-Grab Brothers. I didn’t recognize your new wheels. You traded in the ole Chrysler Lebaron for a 2002 Dodge Neon, huh?” He wiped his hands on his denim and reached in for a double handshake.
“Nah, the Chrysler finally give up the ghost, man,” Culley said. “Had to sign my life away for this Neon from that car lot in town; what use to be a Food World parking lot before the Wal-Mart Supercenter come to town, shut everything down. I got a pretty good deal on it. Sixty-five dollars a week until the Red Chinese come in and take over everything.”
“You should have brought the Chrysler up here, brother. I would have moved the ring out of the garage and maybe tried to fix what’s wrong with it.”
“You ever notice, Eddie, how you never see anyone showboating a fully restored Chrysler Lebaron at the Big Star Diner the last Saturday every month. There’s a reason for that, and it’s because the cars truly ain’t worth a fuck.”
“Fair enough,” Eddie bobbed his head. The long hair hanging off the back and sides swayed with the motion. The few stray strands jutting off the top of his scalp just sort of danced languidly in the breeze. “Just thought I’d offer. From one stranger in a strange land to another.”
“There is something you can do,” Hoyt said. “You can help us sell these Confederate flags we got back here. Strike a blow against Obama and any folk wanna take an aggressive stance against our Southern heritage.”
“I’m from Jersey,” Eddie said. “But I get what you’re saying. How’d you come by a backseat full of rebel flags, anyway?”
When the first heavily-bearded jackass wearing the hundred dollar pair of blue jeans entered the Plush Horse, Culley and Hoyt knew it was time to leave.
Hoyt drummed his fingers on the bar. “Let’s run by the Yellow Ribbon and see if we can’t confiscate some of those flags,” Hoyt suggested. “Maybe strangle a smart mouth midget if the opportunity presents itself.”
“Don’t see why not,” Culley said. “I ain’t in favor of trying to fight a barload of bikers if it comes down to it, though.”
“Me, neither. I’m just saying, though. Somehow, we catch ahold of that midget, we shouldn’t let the chance pass to choke him out.”
“Ok, then.” Culley motioned for the bartender and requested two shots of Southern Comfort. “Here’s to our next business enterprise.” They clinked shot glasses and downed the liquor. “Maybe this’ll get me outta Wal-Mart before I end up beating a soccer mom to death up there.”
“That’s the spirit,” Hoyt said. “I was starting to think that whole Michael Jackson episode had gentled you down but good. Shriveled your balls up.”
“Nope, my balls are just fine. I just like to temper the testicles with some common sense every once in a fucking while.”
They exited the Plush Horse, crossed the parking lot into the shadows behind the neighboring car wash where Culley hid his Dodge Neon. He unlocked the trunk and lighted the interior with his phone’s flashlight app. There was an entire Law and Order season’s worth of crime paraphernalia packed into the small confines. From the Nazi method of meth manufacturing to kidnaping, from home invasion to auto theft, Culley was prepared for any illegality. For this job, the fellas decided on a couple eight inch lengths of lead pipe and a can of spray paint.
Hoyt watched in disgust as Culley wrapped the end of his pipe with an Alabama Crimson Tide T-shirt he kept in the trunk for wiping off his dipstick when he checked the oil like a motherfucking thug.
“What the fuck you doing with your pipe?” Hoyt asked. “Padding it? What’s the point of knocking someone on the head if you’re just gonna deaden the blow with… what’s that? A commemorative annual beating of the Auburn Tigers shirt?”
“I don’t want to fracture any skulls. Don’t worry, Hoyt. It’s still stout enough to scramble some brains.”
“Who says I’m worried? All I’m saying is I prefer my pipes naked. Course, I know how to handle them.”
“I guess that’s where we differ, then.”
It took every bit of the ten minute drive for Hoyt to process the previous conversation. As the signage for the Yellow Ribbon appeared at the corner of the next block, Hoyt suddenly felt the need to clarify his remarks. “When I say naked pipe, I’m talking about this here lead pipe; I ain’t talking ‘bout dicks, you know.”
“Oh, I know.”
“Ok, I’m just saying… because you had that look on your face.”
“The look like I’m talking ‘bout dicks look.”
“Hoyt, that could be any look.”
“All right, slow down some,” Hoyt hissed. “Let me get my reconnaissance on.”
Culley crept past the Yellow Ribbon, the gray Neon practically invisible in its anonymity. He turned left on the side street and eased through the gauntlet of rebel flag draped motorcycles and the midget-owned Dodge Ram.
“I don’t see that sausage-fingered son of a bitch anywhere.” Hoyt said.
“I see two Invaders standing outside, sharing a joint,” Culley observed. “The double doors out front are closed, that’s good for us.”
“Looks like there’s a good couple hundred dollar’s worth of dixie fabric hanging off about ten dollar’s worth of rice burning motorcycle,” Hoyt added.
Culley parked the Neon behind the midget’s truck. He left the car running and the back door wide open. They secured their pipes in their waistbands and immediately set to work stripping the flags off the truck. As Hoyt stripped the flags off the makeshift poles attached to the back of each motorcycle, Culley shook a can of spray paint and defaced the sides of the truck with the words BLACK POWER.
“The hell you doing?” Hoyt whispered.
“Save that for last, goddammit. We gotta get these flags before one of these jackasses gets wise.”
The odor of marijuana permeated the air signaling the arrival of two sentries wearing the Invader colors. Aside from the denim vests, the Invader bikers didn’t look much different from the hipsters invading the Plush Horse earlier in the evening. Same outlaw beards cultivated to be acceptable both in duck blinds and office cubicles. Denim perhaps a bit too tight for alcoholics. Hair slicked back for the ladies.
Hoyt busted the one on the right upside the head. Culley had to hit the one on the left twice before he dropped unconscious; Hoyt knocked his out first blow.
“Ha!” Hoyt crowed. “You see that! One shot. Your’s looks like he wants to get back up again here in a second.”
“Well, look, you crazy motherfucker. You cracked his skull like an egg; he’s bleeding all over the place. His brain starts swelling up and he dies, you’ll be back in Biltmore for the rest of your life.”
“He’ll be all right. What the hell you doing, now?”
Culley brought his spray paint back out and sprayed the fallen Invaders faces and hands black.
The retrieved the rest of the flags from the motorcycles. Culley piled up his flags in Hoyt’s arms and sent him back to the Neon. Culley wiped down his pipe and stuck it between the door handles to keep anyone else inside the Yellow Ribbon from coming out through the front door. He shook the can one more time and spray painted FUCK YOU WHITEYS across the door before running back to his car.
On the drive back to the Plush Horse, Hoyt connected the dots.
“Oh, you want the Invaders to think the niggers done it. Took their dixie flags and what not.”
Culley nodded affirmative.
“That’s some mighty fine thinking,” Hoyt allowed.
A week passed before the Reverend Eddie Vacuum called the Smash-and-Grab brothers back to his house of worship, pawning, and wrestling. Church had just let out and Eddie stood in the vestibule of his garage shaking hands with the exiting handful of parishioners as Culley and Hoyt entered the parking lot.
As the faithful dispersed, one fella stayed behind and accompanied the reverend to the open driver side window of the Neon. The dude was a big metal head, not because of the long greasy mullet or Iron Maiden Live After Death T-shirt, or steel studded belt around his waist or the leather wrist guard clamped to his left forearm. The guy was just gigantic. Six foot, six inches, three hundred pounds of hellion. He looked like he could flip a Dodge Neon end over end if he took a notion to.
“Hello, Reverend,” Culley smiled. “Is this your altar boy you brought with you?”
Eddie laughed, good-naturedly. “Oh, hell no. I don’t think Moon Pie has ever been a boy, have you?”
Moon Pie grinned green teeth. “Maybe once back in the late summer of ’92,” he said.
“You two oughta congratulate him. He just got baptized into the faith today.”
He crossed his forearms across his chest. “Up the Irons,” he intoned.
“And also with you, buddy.” Hoyt said.
“What you baptize him with? Lava?” Culley asked.
“No. When Moon Pie decided to accept Ric Flair into his life and vowed to acknowledge Iron Maiden as the greatest metal band in the universe and Bruce Dickenson as the voice of the heavens, he removes the ceremonial Judas Priest concert Tee and puts on the Iron Maiden shirt to symbolize his devotion to the faith.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Culley hedged. “Now, you said you were able to sell every last one of those Confederate flags we brought you in last week.”
“Every one of them. Once word got out we had them, they flew off the shelves. We must’ve had every shitkicker from Scottsboro to Cullman County come through here. It’s how Moon Pie here got introduced to the fold. He might even do a little wrestling come Saturday night.”
“Fantastic.” Culley couldn’t help but notice the holes Moon Pie was boring through his forehead with those newly zealous eyes. “How much our cut come to?”
The Reverend Eddie Vacuum flipped a crisp twenty dollar bill from the front pocket of his Sunday denims. “Here you go, boys. You find any more flags, you let me know, we’ll do business again. Up the irons.”
Culley stared dully at the green portrait of Andrew Jackson smiling back at him.
“Twenty fucking dollars,” Hoyt mumbled in amazement.
“Twenty fucking dollars,” Moon Pie echoed. He placed his ham hock sized hand on the door frame. “Is there a problem with that?”
“No problem at all,” Culley said. “Up the irons, Moon Pie.”
“Up the irons.” Moon Pie and Eddie Vacuum spoke, simultaneously.
“Up your ass,” Hoyt sputtered. “You thieving, scum-sucking bastards. Goddammit.”
Moon Pie and Eddie Vacuum exchanged raised eyebrows.
“Don’t mind him,” Culley said. “We’ll pass this along to the brothers we bought these from, since,” Culley looked at Moon Pie, “we didn’t actually steal these, we’re just acting as go-betweens for a whole gang of black panthers operating out of the Cameron Projects on the south side of Huntsville. We’ll take our five dollar cut and deliver the rest to their headquarters.”
Moon Pie looked at him as though he were crazy. Eddie Vacuum nodded his head as if this were the most sensible thing he’d heard all day.
“Let me ask you one thing before we take our twenty bucks and run,” Hoyt said. “What the hell does the Nature Boy Ric Flair have to do with Iron fucking Maiden.”
Eddie Vacuum shrugged. “Absolutely nothing. Why should it?”
“Good enough for me. Culley?”
Culley shifted the Neon into drive and slowly rolled out of the parking lot onto the boulevard. In the rearview, he watched Moon Pie take note of his license plate.