Nancy studied her self-appointed host. He was even more out of place inside the Civic's cramped interior than Ned had been, with all his eccentricities.
"Excuse me for asking," she asked, "but is everyone in Los Angeles so . . . exterior?"
At that moment the Civic was buffeted by the wind from a passing catering truck, its mustached driver looking sweetly tired after what must have been a long day. When she turned back to Rip he seemed quieter somehow, and had, she was grateful, returned the mouse-colored automatic, which he had formerly brandished in his left hand as he held the steering wheel, to the pocket of his leather jacket.
Rip looked at her as if deciding whether, having just kidnapped her, he could trust her further. Apparently he could, because he said, "You've touched on a sore point for many of us Southern Californians, Bruthas and Homies alike. Namely: How does one protect one's most vulnerable inner self from such a relentless, pervasive and brutalizing culture? If you answered, 'By projecting an outward image that mirrors the enemy,' you'd be in the area of right." He shook his head sadly, and something clanked in his hair.
Nancy considered this. Could she snatch the gun from where it was poking out of his pocket, shoot him once or twice, and still keep control of the speeding car? Suppose the automatic's hammer snagged on the lining of his pocket?
"To be honest," Rip continued, "I don't even like driving all that much, let alone carjacking, but it's my only entrance to a world that means everything to me. I refer of course to the one of gangsta rap."
"But where do you get the rest of this stuff?" Nancy asked. "Have you ever been to college?"
"I took a philosophy course for college credit once in prison," Rip admitted. "I got a B. I was flying right up through the Middle Ages, but that Enlightenment -- Whew! It stopped me in my tracks."
As he spoke, Nancy noticed that his hand had edged closer to the automatic, probably a subconscious reaction to his insecurity with Descartes and Hume. Well, he wasn't alone. But it was a pleasant hand, she thought, if you just took away the gold rings, assorted scars, homemade tattoos, and fingernails yellow and thick as claws.
The same hands as Paw-paw's, she thought to herself suddenly. Sweet Jesus, she hadn't thought about him for years. Paw-paw, tall and broad as a family-size refrigerator. He walked with a mysterious limp and carried a cane of polished Florida cypress to lean on.
Paw-paw was her step-grandfather, her grandma's fourth or fifth or seventh husband -- no one knew which of her men-friends Grandma had actually married. "Boyfriend, husband, uncle? What's the difference?" Grandma'd ask, then she'd start to laugh, tilting her chin down so that she'd have to look up through her long eyelashes at whoever she was talking to and Nancy could see why men had turned to goo under her grandmother's gaze. All her life she'd seen Grandma casting her spell over all kinds of men of all ages and wonder why she, Nancy, was so incapable of that kind of charm. Where had that part of the gene pool evaporated to?
Paw-paw smelled good, a mix of cigarillos and Florida water. A sweet-natured man, he was never mean when he drank, and sober or drunk, he sure did love her grandma. Still, his very existence had embarrassed the shit out of Nancy's mother. There were rumors about his ancestry. When Nancy was 7, she'd bopped her first cousin (on her father's side) hard on the head with her shoe when he called Paw-paw a nasty name behind his back.
Naturally, her mother was no better. She never came right out and said it; instead she'd whisper in a nasty know-it-all tone, "Everybody in town knows Paw-paw's been touched with the tarbrush."
He'd shown Nancy how to shuffle and fan a deck of cards like a professional and pick the horse that always won, or at least placed. Paw-paw made sure she knew why Man o' War was the greatest racehorse that ever lived, and as a small child she believed these were a set of skills that would help get her through life with a degree of equanimity, until her mother disabused her of that notion.
Then Nancy had what she knew (even while she was having it) was a dime-store epiphany. "It was her. It was her. Nothing has ever made my mother happy, except unhappiness."
"Well, some people are just like that."
Rip. In her trip down memory lane, she'd completely forgotten about him and his gun. She saw an opening and took advantage of it; with one graceful motion she grabbed the gun away from him. Her audacity gave her the advantage, and Rip knew what it looked like to see somebody's brains splattered across a windshield. Determined to avoid that fate, he threw his hands up in a gesture of supplication.
"Drive," she said.
"For Godsake, idiot, take the wheel."
Which he did.
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