Don’t stop for pretty women with engine trouble

A guy gets more than he expected – an excerpt from the book

A RABBIT RUNS across the road and the man driving the Cadillac Eldorado swerves to meet it. Motoring along a two-lane road that cuts through a marshy forest, the driver takes advantage of the V8 engine’s 305 horsepower as well as the factory-installed air conditioning.
      With one hand on the steering wheel, he uses the other to turn up the volume on the radio. There’s no one in the back, so the driver has tuned in to ten-seventy on the AM dial. It isn’t a station his employer would listen to.
      The deejay begins an outrageous radio patter full of rhyming and signifying and speaking to the astounding benefits of a particular brand of pomade. The assertions go miles beyond what can be achieved through even the most exaggerated claims related to anything tonsorial. Then he hollers out the time and the station’s call letters before playing Hold Me Baby by James Cotton.
      The man enjoys these times when he drives with no one in the back, which means he can listen to Nat D. Williams, or Rufus Thomas, or some of the other colored announcers on the radio. Furthermore, the Cadillac serves as an extension of himself and it seems to make up for things he cannot control, such as his height.
      And right now, even though he is only running an errand for his employer, he can pretend that he owns such a fine and fancy automobile. In fact, in a year or two, he plans to own a similar car. Except his is going to be a convertible in cherry red. He turns the radio louder. He taps his hand on the wheel as he sings along with James Cotton.

      “Hold me baby
      Hold me in your arms
      Hold me baby
      Hold me in your arms
      You can squeeze and love me
      Baby, all night long.

      “Say she’s mean?
      Treats me nice and kind
      Say she’s mean?
      Treats me nice and kind
      Don’t worry about my baby
      Because I know she’s mine all the time.”

      But he stops singing when he notices a brand new two-tone, blue and white Mercury Montclair parked on the side of the road. He also notices the hood is up. And what’s more, he notices a high yellow woman with a complexion like a tan paper bag standing and waving beside the car. She wears a tight red dress that reveals a pair of well-formed legs. She has fine features, and she wears her hair cut short with curls like Dorothy Dandridge. And being a man, he pulls over to get a better view. She looks drop-dead gorgeous and she looks like she needs help.
      The man brings the Cadillac to a stop. He steps out of the car and into the steamy air, oversweet with honeysuckle, and shuts the door with a whack. He’s five-foot-four with two-inch lifts in his shoes and he’s conscious of his small strides as he walks the twenty yards back down the road. To make up for his lack of height, the man affects a rolling swagger.
      “Can’t git her started?” he asks.
      “No. It was driving fine. Then there was this noise and the car died. So I pulled over. My man’s gonna kill me when he hears about this. Oh, he told me to never mess with his car.”
      The man beams as he says, “Aw, he don’t need to know nothin’. Lemme take a look.”
      She smiles back and says, “Would you?”
      “Sure I will. I know me a thing about cars.”
      The man removes his chauffeur’s jacket, as if he is a surgeon preparing for an operation, and he holds it out to her. She takes it and folds it with care, while the man rolls up his sleeves.
      “Sugar, try to start her while I listen to the engine.”
      He opens the car door for her and watches her legs as she slides onto the seat. She twists the key. The car goes chugga chugga chugga chugga.
      “Try again, sweetheart.”
      She does and the car keeps making the same chugga chugga. That’s when another man, a big colored man, steps from behind the trees. He has a body and face like a bear. His eyes seem too small for his head. He creeps toward the guy leaning over the engine.
      “One more time,” he tells her.
      TThe car goes chugga chugga chugga chugga. And the noise covers the last two footsteps, the swish of the tire iron, and the grunt as the man crumples to the ground. Then the motor catches, the engine starts. The assailant scoops up the man and swings him into the trunk. He tosses in the tire iron, slams the trunk shut, and slides through the open door and onto the passenger seat. The woman leans over and kisses him on the mouth as they speed down the empty road.

Get Descending Memphis to find out what happens