It was getting cold out and Billy thought Duke would never show. Eventually, though, the blue pickup rolled up in front of the complex.
“Come in outta the cold, boy,” bellowed Duke. Billy slipped into the passenger seat. “You in the doghouse again?”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Billy, “just drive. Somewhere. Anywhere. Just drive.”
Duke pulled out. “No particular place to go,” he said in a sing-songy voice—some old tune. Chuck Berry? One of those old rock’n’roll guys, anyway.
“Beers in the back,” Duke offered. Billy reached behind the seat and found the case of cold buds Duke had stashed back there. He didn’t waste any time popping one. He noticed, now, for the first time that Duke was steering with one hand, holding a beer in the other.
“You know, “ Duke drawled after a few minutes, “I don’t give a shit what you and Alice might be going through tonight. Y’all are gonna be alright….I know. I like a girl with spirit.
“Shit, redneck, you like her that much you can have her!”
“Sorry, kid, I’m off the market,” Duke smiled.
Billy took another pull off the beer. “Anymore I just think she’s getting the upper hand in the relationship. I don’t know why it’s always gotta be a goddamn power struggle.”
“Well,” said Duke, “there’s some women’s just bent that way. They think they gotta ‘train’ their men.”
“Yeah, well, she’s gonna learn, I’m not here to be trained,” said Billy.
Duke laughed. “I know you’re deep in it, now—maybe you’ll pull past it tomorrow or maybe next week, but you kids have got a good thing….I know y’all fight now and again…”
“Now and again,” huffed Billy, taking another pull off the beer.
“I know y’all fight every now and again,” Duke repeated the phrase, louder and more firmly, as if he were trying to override Billy, “but that’s a good thing. You wanna stay real and grounded with your woman, and sometimes you just gotta have these knock-down-drag-outs. Me an’ Marlene have been together twenty goddamn years ---she stayed there for me the whole goddamn time I was in the big house.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” muttered Billy.
“Well,” shrugged Duke, “yeah, yeah, yeah! I been around the block, I’ve had good times, I’ve had bad times, I’ve done hard time, which is the slowest time, the worst kind of time…I think I know whereof I speak…I ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I know a few things!”
“Maybe so,” sighed Billy, deflating. “Just…when I know what earthly good the knock-down-drag-outs produce, maybe….”he trailed off and shook his head.
“I’ll try and bring my tea leaves and help you read ‘em kid,” Duke laughed. “You’ll be alright---ain’t nothing you two are goin’ through that folks ain’t been goin’ through since Biblical Times. Pass me another one of them beers, willya?”
The two men cruised on through the countryside for some time, shooting the shit on any number of subjects---how Meadows, the bullet-headed little sonofabitch, ever could have made assistant foreman; the lottery and whether either one of them would ever win it and what they might do with the money if they did; how the Hogs, as good as the season was going, would probably never have a championship program again; Alice’s obsession with “Dancing with the Stars”. Midway through “Dancing with the Stars”. Duke slammed on the brakes.
“Shit,” yelled Billy.
“Deer,” said Duke. Billy saw the deer wandering back off the road into the trees.
“Christ,” said Billy, “just keep on telling the goddamn Democrats hunting is cruelty and we can’t thin the herds!”
“I’d like to have thinned out the herd right there,” said Duke, taking his foot off the brake, “if it wouldn’t have cost me my truck….know how long it’s been since I had me some venison chili?”
“I never cared a whole lot for deer, personally,” said Billy. Relaxing again. “I like my meat tender.”
“Tender like your women?” Chuckled Duke. Billy shot him a wounded look, which made him laugh even harder. “Oh, now don’t start cryin’ on me---I’m just bustin’ your balls. Venison chili’s real good, Billy, you’d like it---you need to let it simmer and carmelize overnight. Nice’n’tender.”
“Hey,” said Billy, switching gears, “what are the chances of your running by Wally World? I gotta pick us up a turkey for Thanksgiving.”
Duke’s eyes twinkled. “You sure you kids are gonna make it to Thanksgiving?”
“Shit,” said Billy, rolling his eyes.
“I think I can swing that trip for ya,” said Duke. “You know, me and Marlene are doing a Turducken this year!”
“A Turducken! That’s a chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey! It’s a Turducken!”
“Shit,” said Billy, “that’s like a bad wreck---you can’t identify the bodies, because you can’t tell where one bird ends and the other begins!” Duke laughed. “Turducken, huh?”
“Turducken,” laughed Duke.
Billy smiled, then turned halfway and felt around in back. “I think we’re all outta beers, buddy…”
“Figure maybe we could swing back around to the liquor store?”
“ Doubt it,” said Duke, “it’s after midnight!”
“Oh, it’s alright, I got more back at the house,” Duke said.
“Cool.” A possum waddled out into the road. Duke swerved to avoid it.
“Goddamn, Mister Compassionate, let’s get back to the house in one piece,” yelled Billy.
“Nature’s little speedbumps,” sighed Duke, his heart sinking back down from his throat. It was then that a set of headlights pulled out behind them and caught up with them fast.
“That’s a cop,” said Billy.
“I’ve been drinkin’ off and on all day,” said Duke.
“It’s cool,” said Billy. “Just drive straight, play it cool.”
“I got a quarter in the glove compartment” Billy was now sensing the agitation in Duke’s voice.
“Man, it’s alright,” said Billy. “You think they’re gonna be able to search you if you don’t let ‘em? You think they’re gonna want to do the paperwork? Just play it cool!”
“They’re on us,” rasped Duke. He was looking alarmed, now.
“Dammit, Duke,” cried Billy. “You draw these kinds of things to yourself…Alice told me about that---some shit on Oprah!”
“Oprah?! What the fuck are you talkin’ about, Billy?!”
“If you think you’re gonna get caught, then you’re gonna get caught!”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?!” Behind them, the cop turned on the blues.
“Okay,” said Billy, “just pull over. Remember—you don’t have to let them search you!”
“Fuck that shit,” yelled Duke. He floored it, just as they hit the Leatherwood Curves.
“I’m not goin’ back to the joint!”
“No, you’re not,” said Billy. “Duke, Jesus Christ, you’re making this something we can’t get out of!”
“I’m not going back,” screamed Duke as the cops gave chase. “I have a good life, it’s not ending like this!”
Duke was going so fast at this point that he nearly blew the guard rail. Turducken, Billy thought again. A carload of joyriding high school kids came around the bend and that was the last thing Billy knew.