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A Short Story

Highway 101


R.E. Prindle

     After the death of his son Michael, David Hirsh lost control of his mind.  In a fit of anguish he abandoned his wife, daughter and aged father Solomon.  He fled to the West Coast where he settled in the Los Angeles suburb of Montecito.  There, quite mad and unbalanced he joined the Hasidic synagogue with Frankist leanings.

     The echoes of Frankism that believed that the Messiah would come only when all the evil had been expended from humanity still reverberated.  David Hirsh changed his name to Yehuda Yisraeli, sinking into a life of depravity.  He entered the pornography business.  At that time the business was primarily still photos.  While Yisraeli did some work with women he specialized primarily in men and young boys.

     From the border below San Diego to LA is a mass of military camps.  The great naval bases at San Diego alone housed tens of thousands of sailors.  The Marines owned the area of Pendleton.  Lesser bases were in Long Beach and LA.  All these men, far from home, open to whatever adventure might come their way, were a happy hunting ground for Yisraeli.

     It was while he was cruising downtown San Diego looking for prospects that he spied Dewey Trueman standing on a corner.  Dewey had been an object of hatred for Yisraeli and his son in Michigan.  When his son died Yisraeli had tried to kill Trueman who was then known as Farley Gresham.  Trueman had graduated from high school then fled the Valley going North.  He, in turn, was driven mad by Yisraeli’s persecution in the Valley.

     He had been fortunate to be taken in by Angeline Gower, a waitress in Grand Traverse.  There after a year and a half he recovered sufficiently to strike out on his own.  His recovery was incomplete.  Unable to bear the reality of existence he disappeared in the woods of the Upper Peninsula to resurface in Milwaukee.  Undirected and still unable to function he reluctantly joined the Navy.  The Navy shipped him West to San Diego.

     When Yisraeli spotted Trueman his heart churned with joy.  As Dewey had never actually known him there was no chance that he would be recognized; yet as he knew Dewey, he leapt back against the wall of the El Cortez Hotel.  His act was so outre that Dewey noticed him.  Yisraeli was petrified, sure that Trueman would leap on him.  Not recognizing him, Dewey dismissed him as just another queer, the plague of the sailor.

     Yisraeli had rapidly built up a roster of men who posed for him.  Through these he was able to locate Trueman’s ship, appropriately named the Teufelsdreck.  Then he had been able to play tricks on Trueman anonymously.  But tricks are only tricks, he wanted to avenge the death of his son on Trueman.  He saw no reason for Trueman to live when his own beloved son was dead.

     His attempt to have Trueman incarcerated in an insane asylum had failed.  He now concocted a plan to lure Trueman to his death.  Trueman had been hitchhiking up to San Franciso every weekend for some time.  The customary route lay up 101 to LA and then up I5, at that time Highway 99, to Modesto and across to the Bay Area.

     As these roads were heavily traveled they afforded no certain way to obtain possession of Trueman.  But, Yisraeli reasoned, if he could get Trueman to take 101 all the way, that less traveled road would give him the opportunity he needed.

     Homosexuals not being stupid go where the boys are.  The boys are in the Navy.  The Navy has a high percentage of homosexuals.  At one time the aircraft carrier the Kearsarge was so heavily infested that it was known as the Queersarge.  Open warfare existed between the straights and queers, instigated by the queers, don’t misunderstand me.  Mess halls and passageways became battlegrounds.  The Navy in desperation brought the Kearsarge into Alameda took off the old crew and placed an entire new one aboard.

     While the Teufelsdreck was fairly heavily infested the queers still remained less open than on the Queersarge.  The Teufelsdreck was a closet ship.  Yisraeli, who had become a source of income for many men had contacts aboard.  They put the bug of 101 in Trueman’s ear.  It was a hard sell.  One o one did not have a good hitchhiking reputation.  At that time above Santa Barbara the highway was nearly vacant.  Still there was a streak of curiosity in Trueman.  He wouldn’t mind seeing the length of the fabled 101.

     Prodded once again he decided to give it a try.  Yisraeli’s system was alerted.  Among Trueman’s friends aboard ship was a Sonarman by the name of Joe McLean.  Joe or Mac as he was alternatively known was devoid of morals.  Back in Texas he had been given the opportunity by a judge to choose either the Navy or prison.  Between a rock and a hard place McLean chose the Navy.

     The lack of morals is not always clear and obvious in the military.  Always on the make Joe had been recruited for a photo session with Yisraeli.  He would be Trueman’s cicerone.  The hit was plotted between San Luis and Paso Robles in the wild Coast Range.

     Trueman wasn’t clear why he took Mac along.  Hitching is tough enough alone let alone two at a time.  Perhaps it was the newness of the route.  The two took the bus to the end of the line in San Diego then got out on the highway.  It was imperative to get a ride immediately at the end of the line  before the cops or Shore Patrol got to you.  The Navy frowned on hitching, it was imperative to get out of town fast.

     On this, the first leg of that strange trip luck was with them.  They were dropped off at the end of the freeway in LA in one ride.  In those days, 1958, the northern extensions of the freeways were not yet built, so that a hitcher was usually dropped off at the end of the freeway.  If on 99 this meant a difficult hitch up Lankershim Boulevard through North Hollywood to the Grapevine.  On a Friday night this meant beating your way through thousands of territorially minded cruising teenagers.  One of the great spectacles of the era.

     If 101 then you had to beat your way up Sepulveda Blvd. out to Ventura and Oxnard.  This route was even less attractive than North Hollywood.  At that time the Age of Concrete had not yet taken full possession of the soul of LA.  The city was filled with marvelous plaster cast buildings in imitation of every famous building in the world.  The whole city looked like a huge movie set.

     LA was a very exciting place of light airy corruption.  Nothing and nobody was for real, everyone was there to be used and discarded.  Sunset Strip was still one of the most dynamic party streets in America, probably the best, although the seeds of its demise could be found on the odd lot where Beatniks held forth; not real Beatniks but LA movie style poseurs.  LA could never be quite as gritty as SF.  Still, the evil was apparent amid the glitter.

     Dewey and Mac beat their way up Sepulveda, between the canyons, not yet filled with garbage, out toward Oxnard.  The canyons on either side of what would become the freeway were literally filled with garbage and then covered with earth.

     Midnight found them standing on the LA side of Oxnard.  There appeared to be little hope then a car pulled over.  If it weren’t for queers in LA a sailor would never get a ride.  Both Dewey and Mac piled into the back seat.  Dewey, always tired, wanted to get some sleep.  The driver protested, demanding that at least one ride up front.  Joe, who was never tired, readily volunteered.  Dewey lay down and went to sleep.  He was awarkened shortly after by the lack of motion of the car.  Only half conscious it became clear to his muddled mind that they were parked and that Joe and the driver were engaged in sex.

     ‘What if he wakes up?’  The driver said.

     ‘It’ll be too damn bad for him.’  Joe replied.

     Dewey chose not to emerge from his sleepy haze going back to sleep.  He was awakened by the bright California sunshine as the car sped down the highway.

     ‘Where are we?’  He asked sleepily.

     ‘Just left Santa Barbara.’  Mac replied.

     ‘Santa Barbara!’  Dewey shouted.  ‘Hell, we should be in San Francisco by now, if we drove all night.  What’d you guys do, stop somewhere?’

     ‘No man, we’ve been driving all night.’

     ‘Must have been ten miles a goddamn hour.  We’re not even up to San Luis Obispo.’

     ‘San Luis is just up ahead.  I’ll buy you guys breakfast then drop you off.  I’m not going any further.’

     Dewey usually drove straight to his goal, nothing diverted him, so he was really angry that they weren’t any further.  Was he being disengenuous about the stopover or did he truly imagine that he had no idea why they hadn’t gotten further?  Even with Trueman’s phenomenal capacity to shuffle unpleasant situations into the dungeon of his subconscious I am really hardpressed to explain his dissimulation.  Perhaps he was making the best of a bad situation; perhaps it was the better alternative to admitting that his friend was not the type of person he wished to associate with.  Friends are always hard to come by, even moreso in the Navy.

     San Luis was an incredibly beautiful little city at the time.  Even amongst the sere hills of summertime California the city sparkled.  The restaurant the driver chose was so spotless it glittered, this was America the way Americans like to think of it.  But for Dewey the dark remembrances of the previous night cast a pall over his mind.  The intuition that his friend was queerish disturbed him.  Accepting breakfast from a queer was impossible.

     Dewey refused the driver’s offer of breakfast grousing mightily while the other two ate.  His black mood and the heavy dark burden of his past contrasted sharply with the bright cheerful character of his surroundings.  He wanted away.  On the one hand the beauty was such that he could not participate in it as much as he admired it.  On the other hand the thought of the corruption seated across from him amdist the spotless splendor, blithefully ignoring it, crossed his mind as such a severe contradiction that he couldn’t handle it.  He groused even more violently until the driver gave him an uncomprehending look and left his breakfast half eaten.

     Dewey savaged him even further as he paid and left.  The other patrons looked at this dark visage hoping that he would leave.  Dewey wouldn’t let Mac eat either, driving at him until he got back out on the highway.

     Joe was now angry.

     ‘I think we should go back.  By the time we get to Frisco we’ll have to turn around and come back anyway.’

     ‘Hell, no.  I don’t know why it took us over six hours to get from Oxnard to this side of Santa Barbara but whatever you guys were doing cost us a lot of miles.  You go back.  I’m going on.’

     ‘We weren’t doing anything Dewey.  The road was torn up so we had delays.’  Joe pleaded making it up as he went along.  The technique had always worked except for that one time with the judge.

     ‘Yeah, right.’

     About that time a ride came along.  They both piled in.  The heat had not built up yet so that the day was gloriously beautiful.  It was so beautiful that it even penetrated the impenetrable gloom of Dewey’s mind, casting aside the scales ever so much.  The air sparkled.  As the rolled along the Coast Range narrowed the valley so that it came  up alongside the road.  As they entered the mountains the driver dumped them out completely in the middle of nowhere.

     One o one was no ninety-nine.  Still a two lane highway the cars were few and far between.  Dewey continued to grouse at Mac who retreated into himself to avoid Dewey’s reproaches.  Then a driver stopped.  The strangeness of the stop alerted Dewey’s suspicions.  Once you’ve hitchhiked enough, like anything else you become sensitive to the unusual.  Normally a car overdrives the hitchhiker by at least a hundred yards making him run for his ride.  It’s a form of fare, really.  This guy  rolled up slowly and stopped in front of them as though he had been looking for them.

     Even more peculiarly the driver insisted they get in the back seat.

     ‘It’s my turn to sleep now.  Get up front with the driver.’  Joe whispered.  Dewey acquiesced.

     ‘I’ll ride up front and talk to you.’  Dewey volunteered.

     ‘No. No.  Both of you get in back.’  The Cowboy said.

     The driver’s always right but the act placed him in so much jeopardy that it caused Dewey to wonder.

     ‘When it gets stranger than I am, it’s time to get out.’  He thought to himself.

     The driver, a cowboy, was a real nice guy but he seemed to be inviting disaster, encouraging it.  Then up the road along which the cowboy was ambling, he was a real slow driver, he spotted two more guys hitchhiking.  Further they were city boys, looking cocky beyond endurance, definitely out of place.

     ‘This is wrong.’  Dewey thought.  ‘Everything is out of place.  Something’s going down here.’

     ‘I’m going to stop and give these two guys a ride, too.’  The cowboy announced.

     ‘No!’ Dewey almost shouted.  ‘Let them go.’

     ‘Why?’  The driver asked complacently.  ‘I gave you guys a ride.’

     Premonitions are impossible to explain.  Dewey wasn’t able to do it.

     The Cowboy stopped.  ‘Hop in, boys.’

     They didn’t even ask how far he was going.

     ‘Wrong, wrong, wrong.’  Dewey thought.

     When they fixed their eyes on him Dewey knew that it was all wrong but he had no idea what.

     They were arrogant Wild Boys dressed in a manner that implied they had never been out of LA.  They were too good looking, sporting a confidence that was not born of the moment.  Dewey thought that they should have cars of their own.  There was no reason for them to be by the side of the road.

     Dewey looked around and picked up on the car that stayed carefully half a mile behind.  The car was driven by Yehuda Yisraeli.  It was up to the Wild Boys to get the Cowboy’s car off the road behind the hills where Dewey could be killed.  Mac who had not been let in on the full story was scheduled to die also.

     The scene could have been the basis of an episode of the TV series Bus Stop or, with shotguns, a Peckinpah movie.

      ‘There comes a time in everybody’s life to die.’  Wild Boy Bill said laconically.

     ‘Yeah.’  Said Wild Boy Jim when no one responded.

     ‘Sometimes you die naturally, sometimes you have a little help.’

     No response.

     ‘You ever killed anyone?’  Wild Boy Bill asked Dewey.

     ‘Are you kidding?’

     ‘We could kill this stupid driver here.  Make him take a side road into the hills.  Out here no one would ever know.’

     ‘So?  What’d he ever do to you?’

     ‘He was stupid enough to pick up wild guys like us.  No one should ever offer help two guys like us who don’t need it.  You think he’d know better.  That merits death.  Besides I like to kill.  It’s a real kick.  Let’s do it.  Turn up that road, Cowboy, let’s kill you.’

     All of a sudden the idea appealed to Joe.  ‘Yeah, OK, let’s do it.’

     ‘No!’ Dewey shouted.  ‘Don’t turn down that road or let me out.’

     The driver sort of coasted past the road indecisively.

     The gig was up.

     ‘Let us out here.’ The Wild Boys said.

     ‘Who the hell gets out in the middle of nowhere.’  Dewey thought, not realizing that he, not the Cowboy, was intended as the victim.

     Then as he looked back the Wild Boys got in the car which had been following.  Yisraeli did a uey and headed back to LA.

     Dewey sat there puzzled unable to figure it out.

     The plan had simply been to get Dewey off the road behind the hills and kill him.  They had hoped to disarm him by getting him excited at the prospect of killing the Cowboy.  In Yisraeli’s mind torn by hate and prejudice he projected his state of mind on Dewey and thought Dewey would jump at the chance of killing someone, anyone.

     The Cowboy was involved.  Behind a couple payments on the car, Yisraeli’s offer had been to bail him out.  When Trueman was aroused to commit murder they were all to turn on him.  Yisraeli was to drive up, set up a movie camera and make a porn snuff film out of it.

     It was a good plan.  No one would ever find Trueman and McLean’s bodies.  When they failed to show up for muster it would be assumed that they were AWOL.  Thirty days later someone would show up on their parents doorstep to see if they were in their homes.  Then the search would be over.  Of course Yisraeli hadn’t thought about the consquences of selling his snuff film.  Sent out to every corner of the earth Trueman or McLean might be recognized, but, even so perhaps nothing would ever come of it.

     But Dewey refused the bait and plan came to nothing.  Virtue is indeed often its own reward.

     The Cowboy went about five miles further before letting them out as he turned into the sunbaked barren hills.

     ‘That guy doesn’t know how lucky he was that I was here.’  Dewey thought, completely unaware that he had saved his own life.

     Dewey tried to get his amazement across to Joe but Mac merely said matter of factly,  ‘We should have done it.  It would have been a lot of fun.’

     Dewey was so shocked he just shut up until a driver dropped them off in Paso Robles a  couple hours later.  If you like desert Paso Robles was a pretty little town.  By this time the temperature was 105.  The Navy Blues were getting a little toasty.  Even in the heat the town didn’t look bad, just hostile.  Like all those little towns the people distrusted strangers passing through.  Frequently the townspeople could become dangerous.

     The oaks, after which the Pass of Oaks took its name were strewn over the hills across the highway.  Paso Robles Union High sat among them.

     Dewey’s mind was reeling from the discovery of Joe’s homosexual proclivities and his ready acquiescence to the murder of the Cowboy.  Dewey began to rag on Joe pushing him to explain himself.  Joe couldn’t and didn’t want to: if Dewey couldn’t undertand, he thought, then Dewey sould shut up and let it pass.  Dewey felt hurt and betrayed by his misjudgment of Joe’s character;  he continued to demand explanations.

     Joe as if to keep Dewey away from him was standing around him ike a basketball player with his hand stretched out to Dewey’s hip to direct his activity.

     ‘You boys passing through, I hope.’  Said the Highway Patrolman amiably as he leaned across the seat of his air conditioned squad car.

     ‘Not only a free country.’  Dewey snarled.  ‘But see these clothes, Navy uniforms.  We’re out of your jurisdiction.  Give us trouble and you’ll be talking to the Admiral.’

     ‘Now, don’t get smart with me boys.  I just asked a civil question.’

     ‘Well, we might go over and have a coke at that drive-in.’  Dewey said.  ‘Hot.’

     ‘No.  Don’t even do that.  The only thing keeping me from running you boys in is those uniforms.  You see we’ve been having a little trouble on this stretch of highway.  People have been disappearing.  Those guys over at that drive in are a little edgy.  They’d like nothing better than to get you guys into a fight and stomp your ass.  I’m trying to do you a favor if you’ll let me to keep you out of trouble.  Just keep passing through.  Any problem?’

     ‘Who’d want to stay in a place as hot as this?’  Dewey said sarcastically.

     ‘I’ll take that for a yes.’  The Patrolman smiled driving away.

     ‘Man, you didn’t have to be so rude, Dewey.’  Joe, who had been remanded to the Navy from the court, admonished.

     ‘Really?   You were ready to kill a guy for kicks and you have the nerve to criticize me for being rude to a cop who’s running us out of town?  Strange world isn’t it?’

     A rock skidded past their feet.  Looking toward the drive in Joe and Dewey saw a group of four young men shaking their fists at them.

     ‘Move along or tne next rocks will brain you.’  The leader shouted.

    ‘Maybe 101 wasn’t such a good idea.’  Dewey said as he and Joe moved another couple hundred yards down the road.

     It was hot.  The cars were few and far between.  Whenever a car hove into view Dewey uttered a little prayer.  They were all going unanswered.  Then from a distance of a couple hundred yards Dewey saw a car coming along with two obese men, the passenger with his arm around the driver and sitting close to him.  Dewey looked closely; the two men seemed familiar.  As they drew abreast the passenger gave a little start and pointed to Dewey.  The driver sniffed acknowledging what he said.  As the car passed both threw their noses in the air.  It would be a while before Dewey could remember who they were.

     In December of ’58 when he had hitchhiked back to Michigan he had been picked up by these two men in Amarillo, Texas and dropped off in Tulsa.  The men who had introduced themselves as Darrel and Derold patrolled the highway from Amarillo to Tulsa picking up and killing hitchhikers.  Something misfired with Dewey so after giving him his ride they decided to abandon Oklahoma for San Francisco.

     Now, some four months later they had chosen 101 to continue their predations.  While Dewey didn’t place the pair something clicked in his mind that associated their appearance with the murders the Highway Patrolman had mentioned.  Speaking almost to himself in reference to Oklahoma Dewey ejaculated:  ‘Look at those two old fairies.’

     Joe not understanding Dewey’s reference point took umbrage at his contemptuous exclamation.

     ‘I’m embarrassed for you Dewey.  I think affection between any two living creatures is the most wonderful thing in the world.  You should apologize to them here and now, even if they can’t hear you.’

     Dewey looked at Mac with some wonderment.  The term ‘two living creatures’ didn’t escape him as he correctly divined that Joe would take a sheep if he could but he could only deal with one of the conflicting thoughts he had at one time.  A contempt for Joe boiled up in his mind that quickly subsided but Dewey said mockingly:  ‘Aw, Joe, aren’t you the guy who always says what you don’t know won’t hurt you?’

     ‘I don’t know what you mean.’

     ‘Sure, you do.  Those guys don’t know what I said so their feelings can’t be hurt.  Why should I apologize to someone I haven’t offended?’

     ‘This is different, Dewey.’

     ‘No, it isn’t, Joe.  It’s all the same.’

     As their eyes met the reality of this trip down 101 shown clearly in their eyes.  For a brief moment the truth of their feelings for each other was apparent but the light flickered out and the deceit of their situation on Joe’s part and the hope of Dewey’s once again became the reality.

   Neither spoke to each othere for the duration of the hitch that was long and slow.  Arriving in Oakland as the morning sun came up there was litle to do but turn around to make the loop down 99 back to San Diego.

     Dewey and Mac split up each going his separate way.

 The End









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