My hands shake even as we ride with Shawn out of
I turned 19 today, but almost didn’t live to tell about it.
If not for Shawn, me, Louise, our two black cats named Jewel and Spitfire, and our dog, , would be lying in the desert bullet-ridden, perhaps the last murder of the Manson family.
This is not how I planned my birthday, fleeing town in a dust cloud in the direction of LA.
All I wanted was to trip and see the lights. Gil even spared some of his precious LSD for the occasion.
I took the day off from Burger Chef, one of those fast food places on the eastern approach to The Strip, not so far out as Hoover Dam, but in that direction.
We never expected The Manson Family to show up at the place where we were crashing, even though Chris – the guy who we stayed with – seemed to fit in with them, a real character, a man who had tried once to blow his brains out with a gun and only half succeeded.
He once made me feel his head where the bullet came out with half his skull and a good chunk of his brains.
I’m still not sure just how crazy he was before the shooting. He’s certainly crazy now, and angry, half his body crippled as a result of the wound, forced to living his life using only one hand.
I remember how impressed I was when I saw him strike a match and light his own cigarette, folding the match out and using his thumb to rub it against the striker.
He’s angry at us because I got paid today and haven’t offered to pay him for our stay. I wanted to conserve our cash so we could get a place of our own sooner and get the hell out of his hair.
All that became moot the moment the Manson Family arrived. They’re angry, too, over Charlie’s arrest and they take it out on anybody they encounter, and they encountered us.
They waved their fists at us and told us to get and stay out or else.
I actually thought the whole thing funny at first, looking to Chris to tell me that this was some kind of joke.
His look told me it wasn’t. So we left, dragging our few possessions behind us.
What chance did we have?
I still figured we might get the 1949 Chevy from Gil’s friend in North Vegas, a rust bucket for sure, but one that we might use to get around, to and from work, and maybe even live in it until we found some rooms.
Gil tried to cheer us up by calling Chris paranoid, and promising us the man would change his mind later once the Mansons moved on.
He suggested we stick to our original plan and take our trip through the bright lights of that desert city.
In Gil’s car, we drove up and down The Strip as if we owned it. We even stopped to watch the fountains rise and change color. When we got to where we knew Howard Hughes lived, Gil got a strange idea on how we could make some money and get The Manson’s off our backs.
“Maybe we can kidnap him,” Gil said.
“Kidnap who?” I asked, all three of us well off this planet so as not to know exactly what we were saying or its implications.
“Howard Hughes,” Gil said, his eyes glittering, for even though he had taken three or four times as much acid as we had, he was a close to being straight as we might have been having taken none at all.
He was always on acid, and this world was his normal world, not something over the rainbow the way it was for us.
“You’re nuts,” I said, but let him lead us into the lobby of the tall hotel anyway, where we found the universe blocked by a giant of a man that a hotel bellhop told us was Howard Hughes’s body guard, a man as broad shouldered nearly as he was tall, with two gorgeous women clinging to either arm.
Even Gil got discouraged, and decided maybe we should drive out into the desert and wait for a nuclear bomb to get set off.
We saw sunrise instead, like two giant flaming red birds lifting off from the horizon, threatening to explode over us.
We didn’t notice the car approaching until it was upon us, with a reckless fury we knew meant no good.
Chris’s friend, Billy, hoped out near us carrying a gun. He said he intended to use it on us.
I’m still unclear whether or not the Manson Family had ordered him to kill us.
Shawn, who works with me and Gil at the Burger Chef, came then in a car of his own. At first, he tried to calm Billy, and when that didn’t work, he tried to shove me and Louise into his car, and drove away.
I’m still not sure if Gil survived.
We heard no gun shot.
Shawn suggested we go to the police.
I told him I’m wanted by the police and would wind up in jail if I did.
At that point, Louise told me she’d left some things back at Chris’ place and she would not leave town without the stuff.
Shawn said we were crazy, but drove us back there, and waited outside by the car while Louise and I went in to collect our stuff.
We were just packing the last of this into Shawn’s car when we saw Billy’s car coming up the road, and Billy holding the wheel in one hand and his gun in other.
Shawn didn’t need any encouragement to step on the gas.
Now, we’re driving to LA, glancing over our shoulders wondering, did Gil survive, and will we?