9. Love Unconditionally

Moments later, that same Sunday night on September 3rd in 1967, granddaddy, grandmama, and I rushed down the steps of the Old Gates Home on our way to Corpus Christi to find Jessup. Who should be driving up but Johnny Brown, aka Loco Lobo, in a brand new baby chick’s ass yellow 1967 Mustang convertible. There riding shotgun was Maria, my favorite cathouse madam. We hurried across the front yard toward their car. I made the introductions as they jumped out of that fine looking Ford automobile.

“This is Loco…I mean Johnny Brown and Maria Magdalena del Mar, two of Jessup’s friends from…Del Rio,” I said, but conveniently left out the Villa Acuna border blaster radio station and Las Puertas del Paraiso whorehouse parts of the story. “Johnny and Maria, this is my Granddaddy Earl Lide, and my Grandmama Kathleen.”

“Good thing you folks are here,” granddaddy said, almost breathless. “Jessup might be in a world of trouble. A mob hauled him off a few minutes ago. We think they’re takin’ him to the Corpus Christi Pier, and it ain’t to go fishin’. Billy, do you know where the hospital is?”

“Yes sir, the hospital’s about two blocks from the pier.”

“That’s right. You ride with Johnny and Maria over to the hospital and see if you can bring that girl to the pier,” granddaddy said as Johnny and Maria nodded their agreement.

“That girl…is Bobbie Beth Rayne. That’s her name.”

“If Bobbie Beth’s up to it, maybe she can talk some sense into this mob. Kathleen and I will head straight for the pier and see what’s going on there. Let’s get movin’ people. We ain’t got time to stand around jaw jackin’ in the front yard,” granddaddy said as he clapped his hands together. Then he and grandmama climbed into his Caddy.

“Who’s Bobbie Beth?” Maria asked me, narrowing her eyes. That woman sure did have a suspicious streak.

“I’ll explain on the way.”

As Maria opened the passenger side door and jumped in the back seat, she said, “Beely, let me ride in the back. Ju need to show Johnny the way.” Both cars lurched out of the driveway and rumbled down Shoreline Drive.

A little while later, as we entered through the front doors of the hospital, Johnny looked around, sized up the situation, and cooked up a plan of his own on the fly as he said to me, “Maria and I will figure out a way to distract the nurse while you find Bobbie Beth so we can sneak her out of the hospital. This is a small town setup, so there shouldn’t be any security guards snooping around, but keep your eyes peeled just in case.”

We approached the front counter and I asked the nurse, “Could we please have the room number for Miss Bobbie Beth Rayne?”

The nurse, an attractive girl in her early twenties, searched her patient register and said, “Miss Rayne is in room number 117, but it says here, she’s still not receiving any visitors.”

“Miss, this is real important,” I said, but Johnny cut me off.

“Why don’t you go wait in the car?” Johnny asked as he glared at me pointedly. He turned his body toward me so he blocked the nurse’s view and gestured I should go outside and find another way into Bobbie Beth’s room. I glommed onto the impromptu sign language, so I staged a big pissed off production about being upset and stomping out of the hospital.

Johnny reverted his focus back to the nurse and asked, “Young lady, can you carry a tune? You’re pretty enough to sing in a rock & roll band.”

“Why yes,” she said. “I sing in the choir at church, and I was in another band for a while too, a Peter, Paul and Mary kinda folk trio called Benny, Barney, and Maureen. We played a few gigs around town, picnics and things.”

“My real name is Johnny Brown, but you may know me by my radio name, Loco Lobo.”

“Oh my God, you’re Loco Lobo?”

“That’s right lovely lady, and I have two tickets for tomorrow’s Labor Day rock & roll show that have your name on ‘em,” Johnny said as he pulled the tickets out of his bright white Guayabera shirt pocket with a magician’s flair.

“That is so cool!”

“We be so cooooool we gon’ take the Eskimos to schooooool,” Johnny said as he assumed his Loco Lobo on air persona, and then peeked down at his watch. “My, my, my, would you look at the time. We gotta split, but I’ll see you tomorrow, right young lady?”

“Oh yes, Loco Lobo, I’ll be there for sure.”

At the other end of the U shaped building, I tip toed in through a side door, located 117, and slipped into Bobbie Beth’s room. She was breathing quietly, either asleep, or still unconscious, an oxygen mask over her nose and mouth. I moved a green plastic chair over beside the bed, eased down into it, reached out and held her hand. Then I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and prayed in a whisper.

“I know we haven’t talked in quite a while, not since my Dad died, but it’s me Lord, Billy Waters.” I cleared my throat, and believe me when I tell you there was a whole lot of shit in my throat that needed to be cleared out. Shit I said and wished I hadn’t, and shit I should have said, but didn’t. “You gotta help this girl, Lord, I might be in love with her. She’s gotta live. And I gotta know one more thing, Lord. I need know if Jessup got her pregnant.” By that point I had my head buried in the bed sheets, breathing hard, and even a bit disoriented from all the excitement. Then I heard this angelic voice that sounded like it came from Heaven above.

“Of course not, silly,” the voice said. I raised my head, and saw Bobbie Beth’s smiling face as she removed the oxygen mask. Picture me rattled, heart racing, but relieved.

“You’re okay, oh my God, you’re okay.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you,” Bobbie Beth said in a weak scratchy voice, as she ran her fingers through my sweaty hair, which felt crazy good.

“I thought I was talking to God, and this woman’s voice answered. There for a second, I thought maybe God was a woman, and it freaked me out,” I said, the words tumbling out of me as I made an effort to recover my composure.

“If God is a woman, I hope she’s just like Aunt Bea, watching over a great big Mayberry.” This potential new cosmological order with its accompanying gender power shift seemed to make perfect sense to Bobbie Beth.

“Come on, we need to go. Can you walk?”

“I think so. Wait a minute. Go where?” Bobbie Beth asked as she tried to sit up, and then swung her legs gingerly over the side of the bed.

“Jimmy’s got a mob together, and there’s no telling what they’ll do to Jessup if we can’t stop ‘em. We need to get you over there to the pier so you can tell ‘em it wasn’t Jessup who did this to you.”

“Jimmy’s totally lost his mind, and gone way off the deep end. I must have lost my mind too. What in God’s name was I thinking?”

“We don’t have time for you to throw a pity party for yourself right now. We gotta go. Jessup’s in trouble. He needs our help.”

“Okay, okay, I hear you. Gimme a couple of minutes to pull myself together. I wanna help Jessup too. Can you find me something else to wear? This hospital gown’s a little drafty… in the back.”

I searched the deserted hallway, happened upon an empty employee lounge, and swiped a white lab coat so I could pass for an orderly. I scored a Candy Striper outfit for Bobbie Beth that was probably a size too small at least, because she could barely get into it, but man oh man, did she look cute in that get up. Bobbie Beth put her arm around my shoulder for support as I steered her toward the same door where I came into the hospital.

“Oh, by the way, a couple of Jessup’s friends are giving us a ride over to the pier. One of them, Maria, is Jessup’s girlfriend. She’s the jealous type, so you might wanna clear Jessup of any wrongdoing pretty early on in the conversation.”

“Um, okay,” Bobbie Beth said as she noticed my recently acquired worldliness.

As we made our escape I asked her, “How long were you awake back there?”

“Long enough,” Bobbie Beth said as she grinned at me with one of those all-knowing smiles that transcend space and time.

“Oh boy.”

Out in the hospital parking lot, Johnny revved up the motor in the Mustang and hollered, “Hop in boys and girls. Let’s get this rock & roll show on the road.”

Bobbie Beth eased into the back seat as the Candy Striper skirt rode up on her beautiful thighs. “Hi Bobbie Beth, I’m Maria. Beely told me all about ju,” Maria said as she squeezed Bobbie Beth’s hand real hard and studied her. Maria didn’t see trouble in Bobbie Beth’s eyes so she lightened up on her. “Our driver is Johnny Brown, like me, another friend of Yessup’s. Ju might know him better as Loco Lobo.” I threw the lab coat out the car window into some bushes as we departed the hospital parking lot.

“Thanks for the lift. Billy tells me my bad news ex-boyfriend, Reverend Jimmy Sunday, is over there at the pier stirring up some trouble, which should have been his middle name. Jimmy got me pregnant, and must have caused the miscarriage when he slapped me around. Even worse, he tried to blame it on Jessup, one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met,” Bobbie Beth said, and made a new friend that night in Maria, who hugged her like a long lost sister.

“Crucify Me!” Shouted Johnny in his Loco Lobo voice as we galloped away from the hospital in that Mustang on our way to the pier.

We screeched off the pavement and into the parking lot of the Corpus Christi Pier and Pavilion in that baby chick’s ass yellow convertible with the Ram Air Intake scoop on the hood and black racing stripes down the side, spraying sand and gravel in big rooster tails behind the tires of the car every time Johnny gunned the motor to maneuver through the parked cars.

We scrambled out of the car almost before it stopped near the entrance to the pier and walked as quickly as Bobbie Beth could manage out to the pavilion. She wobbled a bit, still a little woozy from the pain medication, but the sea breeze seemed to help revive her.

When we reached the pavilion, we spotted the four Herren brothers, armed with axe handles no less, holding granddaddy and grandmama hostage. Jimmy, with his slicked down hair and uptown preacher outfit, had a .38 pistol tucked under his belt. He surprised us all with this sinister minister thing he had going on. Jessup stood on one of the large ornate carved wooden chairs behind the pulpit, the middle chair as I recall, completely against his will I might add, staring serenely off into eternity, or wherever that place happens to be where we go to next after we leave this world.

The hangman’s noose cinched up tight around Jessup’s neck begged two questions, easy to ask, but hard to answer. What’s the next move, and who’s going make it? Jimmy launched his lynching party as he threw the other end of the rope over one of the roof joists like some kind of a cockamamie cowboy lassoing a real bad idea.

The preacher man yanked the hanging rope tight, nearly cutting off Jessup’s wind, and stretching him up on his tip toes, the noose getting better acquainted with his chin whiskers. I could see Jimmy was up to no good, and Jessup had nowhere to go but down, a bad way down. Jimmy tied the loose end of the rope to a hand rail with an anchor hitch knot, quick, secure, and certain of its purpose, as only the son of a merchant marine could have tied that knot.

The red, white, and blue polyester bunting fluttered dangerously close to where the cord for the huge metal cross plugged into the outlet. A random spark from the plug caught the willowy material on fire. The flame bit and ran up the thin fabric, leaping into the rafters like a mad pyromaniac monkey on a mission to burn. The old dry wood of the rafters provided good kindling so the fire spread quickly, burning aspirations into ash, and rapidly transforming a place where people had come to find forgiveness of their sins, into little more than cinders.

The stunned revival crowd gawked with fearful eyes and mouths agape as flames raced through the rafters. Jimmy prowled the stage like a rabid animal and then suddenly, he spied Bobbie Beth, and ogled her up and down. To me, she looked like a woman who was ready to get that damned fandango going, get down to the truth, and get even in the process. The crowd panicked, and most of them bolted, fleeing down the pier back toward the shore. After the mass exodus, only a few dozen of the morbidly curious, including the Herren family, remained in the pavilion to see what would happen next.

“Well now sugar, how nice of you to join us,” Jimmy said to Bobbie Beth through a forced smile and clenched teeth, jaw twitching, and spirit seething. She edged up closer to the stage right in front of the pulpit, hands on her hips, leaning into the moment chin first with a defiant stance, able to withstand any blows.

Despite being weak from her ordeal, she prepared to defend Jessup, ready to tell the embarrassing truth, and more than equal to the task of taking on Reverend Jimmy Sunday. She positioned herself crossways towards the stage so by turning her head from side to side she could address both Jimmy, and the dwindling hardcore crowd that stayed for the climax of this revival gone from rabble to riot.

“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world, and don’t you dare call me sugar,” Bobbie Beth said, as she fired a shot across Jimmy’s bow showing the grit in her gut and the gravel in her kick. She looked good too, cool as a cucumber and habenero hot all at the same time, an incandescent incarnation of Texas womanhood standing there in that Candy Striper outfit, a size too small at least, and boy howdy did she fill it out just fine.

You could tell by the expression on her face that Bobbie Beth was globally pissed off, DEFCON ONE big red button pissed off. Let’s blow this shit up and start all over again pissed off. Like a spellbinder turned sidewinder, Jimmy whipped the snub-nosed Saturday night special out of his pants and waved the gun around for effect, a bit of a limp dick effort if you ask me, but a gun’s a gun, and it do tend to get folks attention. Looking like a long drunken crooked stick, he lurched toward the chair where Jessup stood precariously, his tip toes quivering, straining to keep contact with mother earth, terra firma, as the preacher man braced himself to kick the chair out from underneath my new hippie friend.

At that very moment someone placed their hand on my shoulder and a familiar smell, so strong, almost an odor, but no, a scent, an aroma, a bouquet, wafted over me, maybe call it a fragrance if one were to be generous. For some reason that same familiar Shakespeare quotation popped into my head again so I whispered to myself, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” What was that smell?

Enchantimar!

Right behind me stood none other than Miss Rose Flowers, the happy go lucky hooker whom I’d met earlier at the rusted out singlewide trailer parked on the outskirts of Pair O’ Dice called the Ponderosa. Rose smiled and patted me on the arm like she was my favorite aunt. She wasn’t, of course, no relation of any kind whatsoever, and yet she acted so comforting, as though she might take me over to the dance at the VFW hall later, or maybe to the picture show.

“Jessup didn’t get me pregnant, he did,” Bobbie Beth shouted to the remaining crowd as she pointed a finger at Jimmy. “Reverend Sunday got me pregnant.” The Herren brothers looked to Papa Hugo for guidance, who nodded his head up and down. They released granddaddy and grandmama.

Rose asked me in a throaty whisper, “What should we do?”

“We need some kind of distraction.”

“Why have only one distraction when you could have two?” Rose asked as she moved toward the stage, unbuttoning her blouse. By the time Rose reached the stage, looking up at Jimmy and the pulpit, she was near Johnny and Maria, who were standing about ten feet to the right of Bobbie Beth in front of the stage.

After Bobbie Beth delivered her thunderbolt, Jimmy tried desperately to keep the flock from scattering. “Even after all he’s done to her, she’s still in love with this hippie. She’d say anything…do anything…to protect him,” Jimmy yelled to the crowd, although Rose’s double distraction left him trying to keep one eye on the crowd, one eye on Bobbie Beth, another eye on Jessup, and whatever eye he had left on Rose’s twins, making him look like a cross-eyed catfish.

Bobbie Beth’s eyes grew big as pie pans too when she saw Rose approaching and disrobing. Bobbie Beth asked her, “What are you doing?” Rose handed her blouse to Johnny who folded it over his arm with care.

“I’m a friend of Billy’s. Knockers up,” Rose said to Bobbie Beth as she winked at me, unhooked her bra and unleashed her double barrel bazooms. Rose handed her brassiere to Johnny, who smiled as he inhaled the Enchantimar scent on Rose’s bra. The way this evening was turning out, Johnny must have thought he’d died and gone to rock & roll heaven.

“Crucify Me,” Johnny said in a Loco Lobo whisper, and you could tell he meant it. Maria stood next to Johnny. She was soaking it all in, and seemed almost bored. Come to think of it, that would have been a pretty slow night at Las Puertas del Paraiso.

Those folks brave enough to stick around for the finale gasped, impressed by the sheer size of Rose’s hallelujah hooters. Papa Hugo’s eyes just about popped out of his head, so his wife Hilde gave him a hard shot to his ribs with her elbow that left him breathless. Jimmy damn near swallowed his tongue because he was sure enough distracted now, seeing those monster mammaries in their naked, size 38 DD glory.

Bobbie Beth flashed me the stink eye over what Rose said to her about being a friend of mine, and the wink Rose sent my way didn’t help my cause any either. Bobbie Beth shifted her attentions back toward Jimmy and continued her indictment. “Shall I go into intimate detail about how you seduced me in front of the altar? How you told me we were already married in the eyes of God? How you…”

Just then, one of the flaming rafters came loose from the ceiling of the pavilion and fell with a crash onto the stage. Jimmy lunged toward the chair to kick it out from underneath Jessup.

The preceding passage was brought to you by Princess Ashwagandha and Enchantimar perfume, and includes the beginning of Chapter Nine in The Gates of Pair O’ Dice.