L.A. County

A story about what life can be like in one mans head.


1. Just this one chapter folks.

LA County
Tony Coote

... are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas". The old song seemed tired as it ran around the inside of his head. He touched the tuner and found a country music station.
'Better', he said. He was driving across Texas, heading for California. He had something important to do there.
It was early on a Sunday morning; Saturday night had been a heavy time. He had a fuzzy head and a nasty taste in his mouth. Looking for coffee, he found Cathy. Sitting at the table, crying. And he knew. Knew as sure as the cold tiles under his bare feet that it was over.
"I'm going to LA", she said, "with Gene".
"Gene?” he said, sounding half-awake but feeling like he'd somehow been emptied of everything he was.
"Yeah, he's going to visit with his folks and I'm getting a free ride with him". And there it was, like a cold dead thing on the table between them. Totally black and white, needing no more words.
He didn't need to ask if she was coming back - he knew her too well for that.
Now, a year later, under a clear Texas night sky, he was making his own pilgrimage. The song on the radio was that old classic "Stand by your man".
"Always get a good story in a country song", he said out loud.
After she'd left with Gene, good old Gene, he'd tried to get on with life but couldn't quite get to grips with things. He'd dated a young nurse but she'd sensed the darkness inside him and then he'd ended it with the classic line -"It's not you, it's me".
Gene, who introduced him and Cathy to the Crab Shack and Muldoons Bar. Who had spent more than a few nights on the old couch after a they'd drank too much wine. Gene, who could be a total pain in the ass but who made up for all that because he was also the best friend a man or a woman could hope for.
It was Gene that had told them about the tiny apartment available for rent. He'd helped them move in and then stayed to help paint. Gene was a good old boy.
Then he'd felt the need to visit with his folks in LA. And Cathy had gone with him. They'd left that same day, just Cathy and an old friend.
That had been not quite a year ago, but close enough not to matter. Then, two days ago, the letter, the first and last letter, had popped through his mail box.
"I hope you are well and have moved on with life", she wrote, "I think you should know that me and Gene are getting along ok and he has asked me to be his wife. And I have said I will".
He had been driving for nearly ten hours and felt the need to stop, just to feel the ground under him. That and he could use a rest room. He had decided not to take the freeway, preferring instead the quite back roads. According to the Texaco road map there should be a gas stop just under ten miles up the road. He would pull in there and maybe get a little bacon and biscuits. Time seemed to have taken on a different quality out in the vast stretches between the towns. He was almost sure that the gas stop would take at least ten minutes at a steady sixty, but here it was already. Sillmans Gas & Auto said the sign over the two gas pumps on a deserted forecourt. He pulled in and parked at one of the pumps and got out. It sure felt good to stand and stretch his stiffened back. He walked over to the door of the main building which looked to be in total darkness. He tried the door and found it locked. Then he saw the sign in the window, "Open At 6.00am, Sharp!”. He checked his watch, four twenty two.
"Great", he said to the Texas night. At least the rest room wasn't locked and he went in to take care of that little problem. He also washed his face and neck with cold water and dried on paper towels. Feeling refreshed he went back to the car and opened the trunk. Reaching into the small sports bag inside he brought out an old friend of his own. This friend was a coal black forty five. He stood in the moonlight and looked at the gun, turning it over in his hand. The moon had almost left the sky but still the barrel caught the light. He thought it the most perfect thing in the world.
He walked now across the two lane blacktop to a fence made from four by twos. Beyond the fence crops seemed to go on for miles. Looking around now he found he could see for miles in any direction. It made him feel small, like an ant on a pool table.
He looked back down at the Colt again.
"Better", said. He brought the colt up slowly till the business end was pointed straight at his left eye.
"Sure can't miss at this range", he said.
Then he lowered the pistol and walked slowly back to the car. Reaching into the sports bag he got out a box of ammo and a cleaning kit. He quickly broke the gun down and with practiced ease cleaned every part of it. When he had reassembled the gun he took out six bullets and loaded the chamber. Checking the time on the dashboard clock he found that he was still an hour early for Sillmans to open.
He sat in the car and closed his eyes.
He woke with a start when an old man tapped on the window.
"How you doing son?” said Sillman.
"Just fine, sir. Sure could use some coffee though".
"Amen to that, come on in the diner and I'll fire up the machine"
A short time later he was sitting at the counter with coffee, bacon and eggs. He listened to the old man as he talked about just every little thing.
"You got to excuse my rambling on like this son, but we don't get much in the way of company out here in the boonies. Where you headed anyhow?"
"Oh, I got some business to tend to out in LA", said the man.
With typical country bluntness the old man asked "What kind of business?”
"Oh, just a little chore to take care of with an old friend", said the man.
Old man Sillman looked at him, a long, hard stare. He had been around the block a few times in his long life. Had fathered children and lost two sons to Vietnam. He enjoyed Wild Turkey, women and poker. He still walked with a limp after his second wife had taken a twelve gauge to his ass and blew a piece of it to hell. And he was still around.  He was a shrewd judge of man flesh and figured he knew trouble when he saw it. And he could see it now in this man.
"Take some advice from an old man son. It, whatever 'It' is, ain't worth it. Now, I know that right now it feels like a good idea, feels like there ain't no other way. But you're sure as shit wrong about that one, yes sir".
The man sat for a long half minute, looking at Sillman with steady eyes. He put his empty cup down on the counter, reached into his pocket and pulled a twenty out.
"That ought to cover it", he said.
"More than enough", said Sillman, as he pushed the twenty back to the man, "But you can pay me when you pass through, on your way home. After you get finished up with your old friend in LA".
The man looked down at the money and a wry, ironic smile crossed his face. "Ok, old timer, ok", he said as he stood and turned to leave. He got as far as the door when Sillman spoke again.
"You mind me now boy, she ain't worth it".
The man stopped and turned his head to look at him. Then he raised his hand in a half salute.
"Obliged", he said.
Sillman watched the man walk to his car and get in. Watched as he drove around the parking lot and out onto the road.
"Yes sir", he said to himself, “Trouble".
One hour and fifty miles later the man was thinking about what the old man had said. How he'd said "Whatever 'It' is ain't worth it". And the second time he'd said, "You mind me now boy, she ain't worth it". Somehow the old man had known what was in his heart and in his head. It was only a short conversation but he'd remember the old man, at least for a while.
He crested a hill and there before him he saw the lights of LA County. They looked like diamonds in the sky. He pulled off the road and got out of the car to see them without anything to colour his vision. Looking down he traced the main freeways into and around LA.
At eleven forty he parked in the car park of the LA County Episcopal Church. He was waiting and watching as people arrived and left. Business was brisk at the LA Episcopal. People came singly and left joined.
He was watching when the big black car came around the corner and stopped in the pull in outside the church. The driver got out and came around the car to open the doors.
She looked different now, a little more weight maybe? Longer  hair too.
The knee length white dress and the shoes were new. The small purse she carried wasn't - he had bought that for her a thousand years ago, in Texas.
The man was wearing a tuxedo. He looked uncomfortable in it. He would have looked better in boots and jeans. Gene was a boots and jeans kind of guy.
The two of them waited as another, smaller car pulled in and three people got out, a woman and two men. Then the group walked into the church.
He sat in the car and waited for ten minutes, he timed it on his watch. Then he walked in to church.
It was darker and cooler inside the chapel but he could see the altar clearly. He sat at the back next to an old man who was gently snoring.
At the altar the padre was speaking, reminding the people there about the solemn and binding nature of the vows they were about to take.
He thought of old man Sillman and what he had said, "Whatever 'it' is, it ain't worth it".
Now they were kneeling. He saw the soft glow of her skin and the shine of her hair. Then they stood and the padre was saying '...now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss the bride'.
They turned to each other and after a brief embarrassed pause, kissed.
'Congratulations', said the padre, looking at his watch. Then the rest of their party came around and congratulated them, kissing the bride and pounding the grooms back.
Then the padre coughed and indicated that their time was up. The turned and began walking up the aisle. They saw him standing there and they stopped.
He didn't say anything. He just stood watching as that big, heavy caliber gun came up and told them both goodbye.

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