Halloween ‘89
October 31, 1989
Tuesday


The dirty Cameo White ’69 convertible Pontiac Lemans’ gas tank and our stomachs were all running on the same kind of empty as I steered the drop-top into a convenience store / game room on Hardy street and killed the rumbling 350 cubic inch Pontiac V8 at the pump.  Flynn’s cars were just like him, always thirsty and they drank a whole hell of a lot.  Flynn hopped out of the convertible Lemans, took a sip from his whiskey flask and started to clean the car out of all the trash from all of our riding around the past few days.  I clicked the pump nozzle on automatic and watched the mechanical roller numbers on the pump spin by as the Lemans drank long and deep.

“I’m going to take a leak.” Flynn declared slamming the convertible’s door.

“Try to be civilized and use the bathroom this time instead of the alley behind the store.” I said.

Flynn flipped me the bird over his shoulder as he hobbled towards the store.  He had yet to admit that he probably needed to see a doctor about what he’d done to his ankle down at Hoffman's junkyard this past Saturday.  Flynn was like that, a tough old stubborn son of a bitch ... sometimes even too stubborn for his own good.  I nodded in silent agreement, watching the dollar and gallon amounts add up on the face of the pump, feeling the jerk of the fuel hose as it gurgled high octane into the nearly empty gas tank of the Pontiac.  I clicked the pump off at just over twelve dollars, hung the nozzle up and stepped over to the store to pay for the gas.  I was back in the driver’s seat with the 350 idling loudly under the hood when Flynn limped back over to the Lemans and carefully got into the passenger seat.  I didn’t even bother to open the driver’s side door but cleared the side of the Lemans with a key and chain jangling bounce and a soft blasphemy when he hit his hurt ankle on the floor board.  I sat down in the driver’s seat, stuck the keys in the ignition and cranked the 350 cubic inch Pontiac V8 under the hood.  One, two, three, four rotations and the Pontiac V8 hammered to life.  The needle of the gas gauge went all the way to the right to show that the tank was full.

“Was she thirsty?” Flynn asked.

“Almost dry.” I said.

“Drive over to the package store.” He said, lighting up and taking a long drag from his cigarette.  “I’ve got to get something to drink.”

“You’ve got something to drink.” I commented.

“I’ve got to get something more to drink.” Flynn corrected and gave me a little boy not getting his way look.

“Not a prob.” I said, dropping the three speed automatic down into gear and leaving the parking lot to merge with traffic on Hardy Street. 

“How much was the gas?”

“Call it a ten spot and two singles.” I replied.

Flynn nodded and dug into his wallet on a chain, pulling out a ten and handing it to me.  I looked at the ten with no sight of the other two singles coming.  Finally I wadded the ten up in my hand and shoved it into my jacket pocket.

“Close enough for government work.” I said flatly.

The wind came at us, blowing Flynn’s long salt and pepper hair back as he took another swig from his flask, shook it, and got a dour look on his face.  His personal fuel tank was now on empty.

It was Tuesday, October 31st, 1989 … it was Halloween in Hattiesburg and we were well on our way to having fun.  There was a big party at North Gate Inn just down the way on Highway 49 North and we were going to meet Joy and her friend there.  Joy said she and her friend were dressing up and that was something that I didn’t want to miss … seeing Joy in a Halloween costume, especially one she had hinted at involved her being a Greek goddess with those sandals that had the leather thongs going up her legs, a split up the side white dress, a golden tiara woven with olive branches and leaves and some fake gold jewelry that she had cobbled together.  I only hoped that the reality of her costume exceeded what my imagination was preparing me for.

South 27th Avenue Package Store.  I’ve always liked package stores because of the smells and the exotic elixirs that you could find available for sale there.  I liked the advertisements, the rotating displays, the lighted displays ... all drawing you in, inviting you to partake of carnal liquid pleasures.  The shapes of the bottles and the way that they were arranged on the shelves, the advertising posters from the various manufacturers, the worn carpet where countless customers before me had paced these aisles looking for a little bit of liquid happiness and a short term answer to their wordly woes.  I’ve always wondered how one became a proprietor of a liquor store … it seemed like really good money that came with a lot of hardship and one of the main requirements seemed to be a thick skin.  Did cops go on to retire and open up package stores?  I think that would be a natural progression or was package store ownership passed down from family generation to family generation like a funeral home operator?  Was it something you went to school for to learn how to do?  Did you wake up one morning and say to yourself “I want to spend the rest of my life dealing with drunks and potential armed robbers all the while standing on my feet all day long and listening to scratchy bad radio or watching bad television shows on a small black and white television.”

I imagined that the money was good, I mean, liquor stores were always getting robbed so the point of robbing some place was the fact that it had money, lots of money, and that it had that money often.  On the other hand, even though you might make a lot of money owning or running a liquor store, I had just never seen a happy person behind the register of a liquor store.

Ever.

Working at a liquor store probably wasn't as cool as working at like a porn store or a sex shop.  I mean, how many times did you ever hear of an armed robbery at a porn shop?  ... and that was about all that I needed to see in order to know that I didn’t want to sell liquor to sad people the rest of my life.  Money was no good if you weren’t happy about having it and liquor store employees never seemed all that happy.  In fact, most liquor store employees that I did business with acted like they were concession stand operators at a funeral home.

There I was ... thinking too deep again and I suddenly found myself standing alone on the imported wine aisle.

Where was Flynn?

Losing Flynn in a package store was like losing a 6 year old in a toy store ... with about the same inevitable outcome.  I started walking the aisles, looking for the hippy that I had lost and trust me, it was easy to lose a hippy like Flynn in a place like this.

A few minutes later I found Flynn on whiskey row, squatting there and comparing prices to volume, trying to make a decision on what type of concentrated rocket fuel he wanted to use in his personal time machine.  Apparently whatever voices he answered to in his soul had come down to either Jack Daniels or Johnny Walker.  He squatted there, in front of the shelf, trying to make up his mind.  I looked down and saw the handle of his Model 1911 Colt .45 semiautomatic sticking out from its leather paddle holster in the small of his back.  Damn, I thought, looking around then stepping between Flynn and anyone else who might see the pistol sticking out in plain sight.  A package store was not the place to be flashing your hardware around, the counter clerks tended to get a little nervous if they saw hidden guns strapped on their customers.

"You might check your Colt." I whispered, squatting on my heels next to him.

Flynn turned around, patted the small of his back then pulled his vest down to cover it.

“Oh.  Sorry.  Was I advertising my hardware there, Top?” Flynn said, not even looking up at me.

I nodded.

“Thanks.” He said, finishing tucking his vest down over the holstered Colt.  “Wouldn’t want to spook the sheep up front, now would we?”

Sometimes I didn’t think Flynn really cared if people saw or knew he carried a gun or several guns with him.  For Flynn, a gun was like his whiskey flask and a pack of cigarettes, always on him, never far away. 

“You ever think about getting a permit to carry that?” I asked him.

“Don’t need one.  The Second Amendment is my permit to carry.  Look it up sometime."

I shrugged my shoulders, not wanting to get into an argument about gun control with Flynn.

Flynn looked at the two different brands of whiskey.  For all the time he was taking he might as well have been carbon dating them.   I watched him do a small duck walk between the brands, rubbing his beard with his rough hand as he considered his options.

… and considered his options.

… and considered his options.

“Either or, come on, Flynn.  Pick one and let’s go.” I said,

“Damn.  When did you go and start your period?” Flynn asked looking up at me.

“I’m hungry.” I told him.  "You know how I get when I’m hungry.”

Flynn grunted something indiscernible.

“Jack Daniels.” I said.  “I can’t even believe you were thinking about Johnny Walker.”

“Johnny Walker is okay.”

“Johnny Walker is horse piss.  Sipping whiskey is for limp wristed debutants.  Get the JD and let’s go.”

Flynn mouthed “get the JD and let’s go”, mocking me as he picked up two large bottles and a smaller bottle which I knew he would use to refill his flask. 

“You should vary your taste …” he said.  “You know, drink something different every now and then.”

“Why?” I asked him.

“Because … it’s … different ... and different is good.  Sometimes..” Flynn said, obviously trying to think of a better answer than that.

“Why change when I like what I like?”

Flynn grunted as I followed him up to the register where he set the whiskey bottles down on the counter.  The cashier’s tag said her name was Kathy and she looked like she had seen a long day, itself part of a long life, itself full of unwanted things and unasked for situaitons.  A cigarette was slowly smoldering in an ashtray that served as a graveyard for a bunch of crumpled up cigarettes and a deeper than normal bed of ashes.  Flynn ran a hand through his wild hair then slapped both of his hands down on the counter on each side of the whiskey.

Kathy looked to Flynn.  Flynn looked to me and nodded towards Kathy with his head.

“Pay the woman.” Flynn told me flatly, tapping his palms on the counter and looking out the big front windows of the store towards the hospital down the street.

I didn’t say anything and she didn’t ask to card me because both Flynn and I looked like we had just come back from a small third world bush war.  I don’t think that I ever got carded during my teenage years, I guess because I always looked and acted a lot older than I was.  Hell, when I was fifteen I used to walk in and by Husler and Oui and Cherry at the local convenience store and the clerks never once asked to see any ID.  I reached into my back pocket, pulled out my wallet and pulled out a twenty.

“This morning I got your smokes.  A few minutes ago I got the gas for the rag top.  Now I’m buying the whiskey.  I guess you want me to pay for the food as well?” I asked him.

The woman laughed a little then caught herself.

“I gave you a ten for the gas.” Flynn said.

“Will miracles never cease?   Hell, you’re not a cheap date, Flynn, you know that?  You better put out for all the money I’m spending on you tonight.”

Flynn blew me an exaggerated air kiss and the woman laughed out loud as she shook her head and made change of the twenty I gave her.  She handed me back what was left of my money and put the whiskey in a big paper grocery bag.  I turned around and Flynn was gone.  I looked around the store and when I turned back around to Kathy, she had taken possession of her cigarette again, assumed a standing relaxed position and exhaled deeply, blowing smoke out into the air in front of her.

“He went that way.” She said, motioning with her cigarette towards the parking lot, turning her head and blowing out smoke.

“Thanks.” I said, picking up the brown grocery sacks of whiskey which seemed to weigh far more than I would have thought.

I spied a box of matches near the register, flipped a quarter onto the countertop and slid the box into my jacket pocket.  You never know…

“Is that your old convertible?” she asked, looking out the window at the dirty white Lemans parked in front of the store.

“It’s his but he’s got an early start on his drinking and a busted right ankle so I’m driving for him tonight.”

“Nice car.” She said, nodding her head towards the Lemans and exhaling smoke against the huge plate glass window.

She looked like she wanted to tell me a story but I didn't really want to hear it so I cut our conversation short.

“Thanks.” I replied, grabbing the brown paper sack of whiskey bottles and leaving the store.

When I got outside I put the bag of whiskey in the back seat of the Lemans, glass bottles clinked against glass bottles with a sound that I found more enjoyable to listen to than not.  Flynn was nowhere in sight.  Great.  I'd gone and lost my hippy again.  I looked around and finally saw Flynn standing about two hundred feet away at the side door of Burger King, motioning for me to bring the Lemans on over to the BK parking lot.

Bastard, I thought and shook my head because Flynn was so unpredictable sometimes.  I sank down into the driver’s seat of the Pontiac, fired her up and drove the rumbling convertible Lemans convertible slowly over to the parking lot at Burger King, parking where I could keep an eye on the Pontiac from where I intended to sit inside. 

Flynn was good enough to spring for my food since I had quenched his droptop's as well as his thirst tonight.  Of course, I’d been the one driving us around and I’d been the one with the heavy foot most of the day but it was the principle of the matter.  Twenty minutes later we were staring at two plastic trays full of the debris of trademarked American fast food. 

"Do you think that the Whopper patties get those burn marks on the grill or do they already come with the burn marks on the patties when they're frozen?"

"Huh?" I asked as looked at Flynn.

"Just kinda always wondered about that ... are these real grill marks or fake grill marks?"

"I don't follow."

"Look.  When you get a Whopper it has these grill marks on it ... the dark lines that make it look like it was flame broiled but are the grill marks made as the burger patty passes over the flames back there or are the grill marks already part of the patty, you know, decoration, pre-added, before the patty ever hits the fire?"

I sat there, staring at Flynn, because I just didn't know how to respond to that.  Cody had been the expert on Burger King ... kind of wish he was here.  I missed the Lone Star Gigolo sometimes.  I smiled because right now, if he were here, Cody and Flynn would be having a pretty deep existential conversation about Whopper patties.  When I still didn't give Flynn an answer he waved his hand like the discussion had been closed.  Probably for the better, that.  Flynn leaned back in his bench, put his arms across the back to each side letting his head fall back and hit the back of the seat.  Suddenly he jerked forward with a sober look on his face … scary sober ... his used car salesman smile replaced with the used car salesman "I'm going to sink this deal" look.

“I’ve got an idea.” He said in a voice that almost made me think he was possessed.

“You’ve got an idea.” I said, cautious as to what it might be.

“Let’s get some candy!” Flynn said, slamming both palms down flat on the table top in front of him like he had just come up with the greatest idea of the evening.

“What?  Do you mean candy as in candy or candy as in ... drugs?” I asked, not knowing whether to laugh or take him serious.

“Candy candy!  It’s Halloween, damn it!” he said.  “I haven’t gone trick or treating since I was a kid.  When was the last time that you went trick or treating?”

I thought back …

“1979 … ten years.”

“Well, there you go.  We’re overdue for some Halloween fun.”

“Well, for you we could skip the costume … you look scary enough as it is.”

Flynn flipped me the bird as he took a guarded drink from his flask.  He passed it across to me and I helped myself to a quick hit.  My next burp tasted of Jack Daniels and Whopper … not the world’s most pleasant taste combination and I made a face to match as I weathered the short term gastrointestinal erruption.

“So … What?  You want to cruise around the neighborhoods and go door to door trick or treating?”

“Naw.  Fuck that.  I’m too old for that crap.  I just want some candy.  I’m an adult now, I don’t have to beg for candy from strangers … I can buy it myself!  I just want some candy.  I can't really explain it other than all of a sudden I kind of want to feel like a kid again, you know.  It’s the night for it.”

Memories of my own childhood Halloween nights came rushing back, pleasant memories of a more innocent time.

“Sure.  Why the hell not?  Why do kids have to have all the fun anymore?”

“I wouldn’t say that …” Flynn chided.  “Halloween isn’t like it used to be.  Halloween used to be fun, big fun but now it’s dangerous.  You got people putting stuff in the candy, people protesting Halloween saying it’s all Satanic and crap and not letting kids have any fun.  I’d hate to be a kid today because no one lets you be a kid anymore.  All these assholes are taking all the fun out of being a kid.”

I nodded.

“No, it’s certainly not like it was when I grew up.” I said.

“Trust me.  It may have still been fun when you were growing up but it was way fun when I was growing up.” Flynn said.

“So you want candy but you don’t want to go trick or treating?”

Flynn nodded.

“How are we going to get Halloween candy if we don’t go trick or treating?” I asked.

“How about we go to the store and get some candy?  We’re adults.  We can do that.”

“I guess we can do that …” I mused.  “Plenty of stores around here selling that stuff tonight.”

Flynn closed his hands in front of him, staring down at the table, lost in thought.

“Hell!  I’m dying for some candy corn.” Flynn half whispered.  “I really am.  I haven’t had candy corn in a long time …”

“Candy corn?” I asked, wanting to laugh but not knowing if I should or not.

“Long time.  Yeah, candy corn and some of those Kraft caramel squares.” He added.  “The individually wrapped ones.  Mom used to melt those up in a pot on the stove and dip apples in them but I’d eat most of them before she ever got a chance to put them in to melt.  I’d eat myself sick on those little caramel squares but it was worth it.  God, I loved those things.”

“Brach’s Nougats.” I mused, suddenly remembering a childhood favorite.

“What?” Flynn asked.

“Brach’s Nougats.  Maybe they have some Brach’s Nougats.” I said softly.

“Some … what?”

“Brach’s Nougats.  You know, that white candy that came shaped like a melted cinder block and had all the red, yellow and orange bits of gumdrop type candy stuck in it.  I used to free base those as a kid.”

Flynn got this look on his face, a look of recognition.

“Man!  I had forgotten about those!  The little white candy with the different colored jelly bean type bits mixed inside?!” he exclaimed, using his hands to gesture in the air in front of him.

“Yeah!  Those!”

“Oh, man!  I remember those!  I used to get a little brown bag of those things at the drug store I used to work at.  Stuff like that brings back some memories.”

“I haven’t seen those nougats in a while …” I mused, sadly.  “Last time was at Jitney Jungle near Cloverleaf Mall but they don’t carry them anymore.  One week they had the display … the next week it was just an empty spot on the floor.  That was ten years ago.  It broke my heart, as a child.”

A mutual sadness flashed across us; there we were, two adults reminiscing about different types of candy from our childhood.

“You know what I miss?”

“What?” Flynn asked.

“Willy Wonka Oompas.  Big, quarter sized M&Ms with peanut butter inside the candy shell.  They were good!”

“Never had them.” Flynn said.

“You missed out.” I said, pointing an accusing finger at him.  “Trust me, you missed out.”

“So … they were just big Reese’s Pieces?”

I shook my head.

“No.  Better.  Bigger and better.  Sweeter.  They stopped making them about ten years ago and that really made me sad as a kid.  Sometime about the same time that those Fifth Avenue candy bars stopped coming with the two almonds on top …”

Flynn snapped his fingers and pointed at me.

“I remember that!  Fifth Avenue candy bar used to have two almonds on top and then they just stopped putting the almonds on top … and somehow I just accepted that.”

“You accepted that because there’s nothing you could do about it.  We’re at the mercy of the evil candy company empire.”

Flynn smiled and nodded, lost in his own thoughts.

“What about those layered peanut butter bars … the kind of silvery gray ones with the black stripes?  You bite into them and they just crumble into these peanut butter tasting candy shards in your mouth and when you're chewing them they just gum up all around your teeth and you have to get your fingernail to scrape them off?”

I nodded.

“I loved those.  I think Lance made them.  They still make the little candy bars around Halloween but I haven’t seen a full size candy bar like that in years.”

“Yeah.  I got one at a Chevron in Florida two years ago but I never see them around here anymore.  Thought they might be making a comeback so I only got one.  Haven’t seen another one since then …”

Silence and then Flynn slapped the table with both palms.

“We need candy.  What do you say?  How about we hit K&B?”

K&B was a local drug store; somewhat of an icon of local pop culture with its electric opening pedestrian gates and even its own brand of beer which wasn’t fit to give to a hobo.  K&B usually had a lot of Halloween stuff … candy, costumes, decorations … but their prices were higher than most which, after the way that my day had been consuming the contents of my wallet, pretty much put K&B off as a primary choice for candy provisions.

“K&B is going to be expensive.  Maybe Sunflower or we could even do County Market if you want to get over on that side of town.” I said.

“Do we really want to go County Market?” Flynn asked, raising his eyebrows just a little.

I thought about it and shook my head.  The last time that Flynn and I had gone to County Market together had been to pick up my paycheck and the manager on duty had caught up with me, told me that he was short-handed and asked me to come in to work that night.  Feeling somewhat obligated to do so I had agreed.  It had been the end of an otherwise promising evening with Flynn spent out roaming the streets and getting into all sorts of trouble.  Since then, it was a standing rule that Flynn and I didn’t go into County Market if we had anything better to do that night because the chance of getting called in to work wasn’t worth the risk of shopping there.

“No.  We’ll skip County Market because I don’t feel like working on Halloween and missing the party at Northgate.”

“Well … I’m sure that Rose’s will have whatever the hell we want.” Flynn said.  “And probably some stuff that we don’t want as well.  If they don’t then there’s Sunflower just down the row.”

I looked at my Timex.  It was 6:32 PM.

“We’ve got time.  Things don’t get rocking till about eight at the Halloween party.  Before that it’s just the losers showing up to mingle.”

The big Halloween party at Northgate Inn was a new event for us.  I’d heard about the party from other people but this would be the first year that Flynn and I actually planned on attending (and the first year that I could remember when I didn’t have to work on Halloween night at County Market).   Joy was supposed to show up later and she said that she was bringing a friend from work so things might get interesting.  What really had gotten my attention was when she told me that she and her friend were supposed to be dressing up, some kind of costumes that they had been working on for the last week, and that her costume would be worth seeing.  Flynn and I were going as ourselves, no costume required though next year I promised myself that I was going to dress up just for the hell of it.  Flynn snapped his fingers and brought me straight back to the present.  I shook myself out of my thoughts.

“Yeah.  We’ve got plenty of time so first we go get candy.  Lots of candy and then we go party our asses off until midnight.”

“So … What are you going to do with your share of the contest money?” I asked flatly, leaning forward on the table with my arms folded.

“What contest money?” Flynn asked, taking another guarded swig from his flask.

“The costume contest I’m going to enter you in tonight at Northgate.  As ugly as you are, first place is a cinch!  We’ll win big!”

I managed to clear my bench seat just quick enough to avoid the over the table lurch and two fisted grab that Flynn attempted as he reached for me.  On the way out, Flynn did manage to whack me on the back of the head, hard, with the flat of his empty tray before he put it on top of the trash dump.  I turned and chased him out into the parking lot.  For a half drunk hippy with a bum ankle Flynn sure could run like the wind when he wanted to.  The manager just shook her head as she and the rest of the customers in Burger King stared at our backs as we left.

It wasn’t like Burger King was known for their upper class society customers …

 

Flynn leaned forward in the passenger seat and refilled his flask with whiskey as I drove the convertible Lemans down Hardy street to the University Shopping Center. 

"Try not to hit any bumps while I'm pouring." he said.

I chose to ignore his comments on my driving.

Starship’s “Sarah” was playing on the twenty year old radio and the occasional crackle of static from the factory speakers only added to the ambience.  Before I could even finish parking Flynn was out of the convertible Lemans and hurrying on into Roses’ department store like a kid with a blank check.  I got out and shut the door.  There was no real use of locking the Pontiac, not with the top left down.  There wasn’t anything of any real value inside the Lemans except our recent purchase from the liquor store and I put that in the trunk then shut the trunk with a solid slam.

Flynn was gone.

It was spooky how he did that, moved so quick and silent that he would be here one instant and gone the next, especially with his messed up ankle.  I walked on into Rose’s department store and a rush of childhood memories came back at me. 

This was the store where I used to buy my toy guns and later my Kenner Star Wars action figures.  When Halloween came around, my mom would bring my sister and I up here to let us buy a Halloween costume.  I remember how hot those costumes were, that narrow slit for your voice that you always stuck your tongue in and got your tongue caught in the opening.  The elastic mask strap that always broke about the sixth house you went to so you ended up just wearing that hot costume which was like a big vinyl apron.  The fake vampire blood that I'd bought back in 1979.  It was crap, more like jelly in a tube, but I used that fake blood when I played with my Star Wars figures ... blaster shots and light saber strikes.  Some of my Stormtrooper figures still had traces of the fake blood down in the cracks of the details of the figures ... probably never be able to get that out but ... another good memory from my youth.

At one time, Rose’s had been a shining department store, a multi-aisled commercial product selling Mecca to a seven year old that had just moved from Jackson to Hattiesburg and about the only thing that was familiar to me at the time since there were at least two Rose’s department stores in Jackson as well.  It was a link, a tenuous one, but one nevertheless that I remembered fondly.

Now, the once grand store was old and dingy … it was dying from lack of business and lack of care and it was getting passed by with newer, more modern department stores.  Rose’s smelled old, despite the sharp, invasive scents of heavy industrial cleaners that could never wipe away the entropy that this store had seen in so short a time.  The walls showed where old advertising and ancient product promotion posters had once hung, the evidence being paint that had torn off or the yellowed remains of transparent tape still clinging on the wall.  I walked by a support column that had been clipped by something large and heavy … large enough to fracture off a good sized paint chip.  I looked at the layers of paint underneath, exposed, running my finger over the wound in the metal support.  Like rings on a tree, each layer told of another age of this store, an age long passed.  The support column had been repainted so many times that it was hard to tell what the original color had been.  My memory told me that it was a royal or navy blue but even my memory couldn’t be sure.

I looked around at the department store.  It seemed a lot smaller to me as an adult than it had to me as a child.  As a child, Rose’s had been huge!  It seemed to take me forever to go from my mother in the clothing section all the way across the store to the toy section.  Every time I went to the toy section, there was always new stuff!  Now the store felt cramped, cluttered and unloved.  There appeared to be a lack of order, as if chaos was the easier floor plan to follow for displaying merchandise.  Shrink wrapped pallets with unopened boxes of merchandise blocked off some aisles, forcing customers and their product laden shopping carts to detour through another section in order to get where they wanted to go.  The suspended ceiling was dust covered; the dirty air vents set therein blowing reconditioned air out of some ancient, rusty machinery probably mounted on the roof above.  Now, Rose’s was in decline, having to compete with super retail giants like Wal-Mart just down the road and it showed everywhere I looked in the aging retail outlet.

The cashiers were bored, mostly college kids looking for a part time job.  An old, darkened stairway led up to the manager’s office but the lights were out in the stairwell and it was full of yellowed Federal employee rights posters and old notices that were thumb-tacked to the wall itself.  The front part of the store had even been converted into a sad attempt at a VHS video rental area in an inglorious and blatant grab at the money that was still to be made in the VHS movie rental market.  The rest of the store had fallen into decline as well, the brands that were sold I didn’t recognize and they looked like they were being marketed to the lower income segments of the market.  As a child, I remembered that the bathrooms had been equipped with pay toilets, that is, you had to pay a dime in order to open the bathroom stall and use the urinal therein.  Part of me wondered if the bathrooms were still set up that way, part of me didn’t care … it was just another memory of another time of this place that I now stood in.

The store made me feel sad.  It felt like part of my childhood, my happy childhood, had been left in the hands of amateurs and mismanaged right into the ground.  How appropriate that I should be standing here on Halloween night.  My memories, my childhood memories, were just ghosts now haunting this once familiar place, nothing more than echoes of better times, happier times … more innocent times.  I could almost hear the laughter of my friends and me, having ridden our bicycles up to the store, locked them with chains outside to a post and then run into the store, happy, with our allowances and money in hand to buy toy guns, plastic model kits, Star Wars figures, Presto Magix and candy on a late Friday or early Saturday afternoon.

Memories.

This store was full of really good memories …

Old memories.

Fun memories.

I shook off the ghosts of the past and moved on, looking for the candy aisle where I knew that I would find Flynn.  It wasn’t hard to find, either although this late at night on Halloween the pickings on the candy choices were slim.  What candy was left Rose’s still had a lot of and that’s where I found Flynn; he already had a beat up old shopping cart and was throwing the stuff that he wanted into it with more than regular abandon.  I watched as he dropped a bag of hard candy over his shoulder into the shopping cart.  I looked through his pickings, found a large bag of the candy corn he had wanted, a bag of Kraft caramel squares, a bag of assorted taffy, a big pack of Pixie Sticks (which Flynn swore he was going to snort when I questioned him about them), and other fondly remembered childhood candy favorites …

Snickers.

Milky Way.

Three Musketeers.

Milk Duds.

Whoppers.

All reduced to a quarter of their original size, a size now apparently referred to by all of the candy manufacturers as the “fun” size.  If chopping something down to a third or a quarter of its original size was now considered "fun size" then I guess that midgets were just "fun sized" human beings.  When I told Flynn this he laughed like that was the funniest thing that he had ever heard.

"Fun sized!" He guffawed.

When Flynn was satisfied that he had gotten everything that he wanted, he started pushing the shopping cart towards the front registers.  I managed to stay about three steps in front of him, debating with myself whether I would have to pay for our candy as well when we checked out.  If I did then I was definitely in trouble because Flynn had filled the shopping cart with enough candy to choke a herd of horses and flatten my wallet.

… and there, at the front of the store, near the end of the registers, was that wonderfully familiar, wonderfully inviting Brach’s candy kiosk with the individual sections each housing everything from Starlight Mints to the red cinnamon hard candy hot tots.

Brach’s.

Straight from my childhood and here it was, again.  It was like seeing the promised land of candy.

“Holy!” I whispered, stopping in my boot steps and staring at the Brach’s candy display, not sure if it was real or not.

“Huhdefuh?!” Flynn asked, surprised at me suddenly stopping right in front of him and driving the heavy shopping cart up the back of my ankles, almost knocking me down.

“Jeez!” I muttered under my breath, moving around on my injured ankles, looking at Flynn in a not-so-kind way.  “Run over me the next time, will you?”

“You’re the dumbass that stopped right in front of me …”

I shook my head and hobbled off to the side, heading quickly towards the Brach’s kiosk unwilling to believe that it was real until I touched it.  Flynn must not have noticed the kiosk because it took him a second to see where I was going and when he did, his face lit up with a childish grin.

“Oh!  You have got to be kidding me!” he said loudly.

Flynn abandoned the shopping cart, walking up and looking at the kiosk like it was the lost Ark of the Covenant.  Together, we stared at the Brach’s display, eyeing the selections.  Everything that we remembered from our younger years … it was all here and there was plenty of it.

“I don’t believe it …” Flynn said.  “Pinch me, I’m dreaming.”

“After the way you ran over my ankles, I think I’d just rather kick you square in the nuts.” I replied.

Before Flynn could retort, I saw the tiny paper bags in their slot on the kiosk and pulled out two of them, handing one to Flynn.  There, not a foot and a half away from my waiting paper bag were the white nougat candies that I had longed for all these many years.  I saw a price tag that said the candies were a nickel each.  I think that about two bucks worth was all I could fit in the little paper bag without splitting it.  Looking at the bag again, I pulled two more of the tiny paper bags from their holder, stuffed one inside the other double bagging it, and then refilled the reinforced bag with the nougat candies.  For good measure, I did the same thing again and soon had two, double-bagged, stuffed to the limit brown paper bags full of my favorite candy of all time.  Flynn saw what I had done and duplicated my effort with his own small share of the nougat candies.

“Ready?” I asked, turning back towards the shopping cart.

“A lot more than I was a few minutes ago.” Flynn said, smiling.

The cashier wasn’t happy about having to count out the individual nougat candies and there were nearly a hundred of them, between Flynn and me, if I remember correctly.  Overall, it was almost twenty bucks worth of sweets, in two heavy paper grocery sacks.  We’d spent almost double on candy what we had spent on gas all day and the Lemans was anything but miserly when it came to sipping high test.  Between the whiskey and the candy, I believed in my heart of hearts that Flynn and I were set for one hell of a night of fun ... we may even be looking at getting diabetes with this much sugar overload.

My Timex told me that it was nearly seven when we left Rose’s and headed back to the Lemans.  I carried one of the paper bags out and Flynn carried the other.  My mouth was full of two Brach’s nougat candies and Flynn was tossing back hard on a torn open bag of the candy corn.  We were just like two kids again, on Halloween, with our candy.  I was waxing in the childhood memories when we saw movement from inside the Lemans.  Someone was laying down in the front seat doing … something.

“Hey!” Flynn said as he stopped dead in his tracks.  “There’s somebody fucking with my car!”

“You sure?” I asked, standing next to him and trying to look across the parking lot.

“Sure I’m sure.  There’s someone bent down in the driver’s seat.”

A scraggly white guy partially rose up in the driver’s seat, did a quick look around and then ducked back down.  He wasn't a kid ... he looked more like early to mid twenties.

“Hey!  That asshole is trying to steal my car!” Flynn growled, starting to break into a fast trot towards the parked Lemans.

You didn’t mess with Flynn ... or his cars.

Ever.

He was kind of particular about that in that kind of way.

Flynn dropped his candy and the paper sack split open, spilling his candy on the pavement as he ran towards the Lemans, his salt and pepper hair flowing as he ran.  We reached the Lemans just as the guy rose up to look around again. He seemed nervous and desperate.  It wasn’t hard to make the assumption that he had been up to no good there in the Lemans and that he certainly hadn’t expected us to catch him red handed.

“You stupid motherfucker!” Flynn screamed at the guy, reaching into the Lemans for the guy ... and missing.

To be such a wiry fuck the guy was quick.  Flynn's hands were reaching for the spot that the guy was and he suddenly wasn't there and only his quick reflexes kept him from Flynn's wrath because if Flynn had gotten his hands on the guy then Flynn would have swept the parking lot with him, literally.  The guy didn’t even bother with the door in getting out of the Lemans rather he just tumbled over the front seat into the back seat then rolled out over the side and hit the parking lot with a thud, landing in a squat on the passenger side of the Lemans and immediately springing up to run.  Flynn moved like a rocket propelled hippy, clearing the front of the car and cutting the guy off from running away in that direction.  The look on Flynn's face was that of a sociopath anticipating personal gratification and I honestly thought that I might just see my first live murder tonight.  I stood near the left rear of the Lemans, ready to grab the guy if he ran my way.  The guy stood there beside the Lemans, shaking, scared, unsure of what to do, feinting this way and that, judging his chances with one or the other of us.  I  looked over inside the Lemans and saw some hand tools scattered out along the front seat and center console.  I really couldn’t believe that someone was trying to steal Flynn’s Lemans there in the Rose’s parking lot, on Halloween night. 

"Hey!  Check it out!  It looks like he was doing a pretty good number on your steering column." I said flatly.

“Son of a bitch!” Flynn shouted.  “Were you fucking trying to hotwire my car!?!”

The guy took one look at Flynn and me then tried to bolt.  When he saw that he couldn’t get away from us, that he was trapped between the Lemans and a pickup truck with me at the rear of the Pontiac and Flynn at the front he reached into the Lemans and picked up a long flat tip screwdriver, holding it like he was going to use it to stab one of us.  There we were with this guy caught between us threatening us with a screwdriver but that is exactly what was happening.  It was all just a little too much and I had finally just had enough.  I guess Flynn had reached the same breaking point because Flynn drew his Colt Model 1911 .45 semiautomatic from his middle of the back pants holster where it had been hidden.

“Trigger treat, motherfucker!” Flynn said staring wild eyed down the slide.

Looking at the sudden appearance of a very large amount of firepower pointed at him and realizing that he had obviously brought a screwdriver to what was to become a gunfight, the guy dropped the screwdriver, jumped back in the Lemans, cleared the windshield, ran down the hood of the Lemans, jumped over Flynn and was gone, running and ducking as he weaved among the other cars and trucks in the parking lot.  Asshole to elbows all the way, bobbing up and down like he was hitting hills and valleys as he went.  I stared over at Flynn, his Colt still held out and aimed at a suddenly vacant spot of air in front of him.

"How the ... fuck!?" Flynn said, still not believing what he had just seen.

What we had just seen.

“Man!  That cat is gone!  Look at him run!” Flynn whispered.

Flynn lowered his Colt, carefully de-cocking it, shoving it back into his small of the back holster and concealing the holstered pistol again behind his vest.  There was a long span of silence between us as we stood there in the parking lot, near the convertible Lemans, each of us trying to come to grips with what had just happened … or had almost happened.

“Glad we came back out when we did …” I said, thinking about how things might have gone if Flynn's drop top had been gone when we got back to the parking lot ... or if Flynn hadn’t had his Colt.

“Yeah.  Like I said … Halloween isn’t like it used to be …” Flynn said, looking over into his car at the damage that had been done.

It wasn't anything that Flynn couldn't fix and probably fix in a short time it was the principle of what the tools and exposed wires represented.

"Damn.  If there's one thing I can't stand it's a fucking thief." Flynn muttered, leaning over on the door and shaking his head.

"Want me to go back inside the store and call the cops?" I asked.

Flynn seemed to think about that, he really did, then shook his head.

"Naw.  Nothing they can do but take a report.  Just more busy work for them.  I can't even remember what the guy looked like.  You?" Flynn said, taking his flask out and tossing back a swig.

"Me neither." I said, not really wanting to involve the police in anything tonight ... or explain why Flynn had a concealed Colt .45 without any kind of permit to carry it.

He handed the flask to me but I shook my hand and he put it away again before looking down inside the Lemans at the damage.

"How bad is it?" I asked.

Flynn shrugged his shoulders.

"Nothing I can't fix.  Just the fact that I'm going to have to fix it is what pisses me off."

I nodded and agreed.

"Stuff like this didn't use to happen in Hattiesburg ..." Flynn said.

“You almost got the Lemans jacked in the Rose’s parking lot.” I said,  turning around to walk back the way we had come.

"No.  Some asshole almost got his ass smoked dead to God and Hell in the Rose's parking lot ..." Flynn said matter of factly.

"SMOKE!" Flynn said loudly, making a braced pretend gun finger, indicating recoil then doing a silent "bang" with his mouth.

"Bad night, either way." I laughed.

"Bad night for that asshole trying to jack my Pontiac, not for me.  Mess with a man's car you might as well be messing with his woman and messing with his woman is a shootable offence in Mississippi."

"Do tell." I said.

"I shit you not." Flynn said.  "Fuck with my car and I'll punch your ticket into the afterlife most Riki Tik."

I laughed and started to walk away.

"Hey!  Where are you going?" he asked.

"Some dumbass dropped a whole paper sack full of perfectly good candy over here and I was going to go see if any of it was worth picking up for later ...  Free candy, you know." I said.

Realization his Flynn then.

"Shit!  My fucking goodies!" he said loudly, pushing off of the Lemans and breaking into a jog, managing to both catch up to me and push me away at the same time.

"Finders keepers." I said.

"Fuck that!  Hands off my booty!" he said as he pushed me and ran past.

I didn't make the obvious reply that I could have made at his expense.  

When I got to Flynn he was squatted down, picking up as much of his candy as he could.  It was obvious that the bottom of the paper sack was busted out making it pretty much useless so instead Flynn buttoned up the bottom two buttons of his denim vest then used it as a kind of basket.  He held the bottom of the denim vest with his left hand held across his stomach and with his right hand he was shoving bags of candy and individual pieces into the open top of his vest.  He looked, for all the world, like some pirate trying to figure out how to carry treasure and not having had the forthwith idea of bringing along anything to carry said treasure in.   I reached down to help him pick up his candy.

"That's two for me ... one for you." I said, moving some candy over near me and a much smaller amount over near him.

"That's what you think, asshole.  I'm not above pistol whippng your ass right here and now in this very parking lot if you touch my candy corn.."

I laughed and helped Flynn get his candy back to the Lemans.  We put it all in my paper sack, agreeing to sort it when we got back to his house, that is, if there was any candy left.  Flynn hopped over into the Lemans, not even bothering with the door, bouncing in the seat twice as he landed.  I did the same though with less bouncing.

He held up the keys in his hand and looked down at the damage done.

"Think she'll crank?" I asked.

He nodded.

"Another few minutes and he'd have had it hot wired.  Most of this shit he did looks cosmetic.  I'm going to be pissed if he broke anything."

Keys in the ignition, Flynn cranked the Lemans and I was happy that it still cranked and I guess he was as well.  As it sat there, idling, Flynn reached behind into the back seat, opened up a bag of candy corn and started to eat it, smacking some and enjoying himself in the process.  Thinking about what had just happened to us, I turned to face him as he chewed his candy with reckless abandon.

“So ... let me ask you something ..." I began.

"Yeah?"

"Just where the hell did “trigger treat, motherfucker” come from?”

Flynn just shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

“I don’t know.  It just seemed like the right thing to say at the moment, you know, with it being Halloween and all.” he said as he put the Lemans into gear and we drove out of the Rose's parking lot.

 


 

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