The published version of THE BLUE ROUTE opens with an attempted hit and run in Los Angeles. Earlier drafts of the novel, however, began with the following, entitled “Rancid”…
At twenty-nine, Rancid hadn’t actually wet the bed in years…as far as he knew. Rance’s wife Jo-Ellen had recently taken to sleeping in the spare bedroom. She claimed that this was due to his snoring, and because of the fact that Big Rance had once rolled over on top of her in his sleep and dislocated her elbow. But Rance had now become obsessed with the possibility that…a mishap…had occurred.
It was all his mother’s doing, according to the shrink out at County. After the old man ran off with the apprentice pipefitter and they’d been forced to downsize to the one-bedroom apartment, ten-year old Rance had to sleep with his mother. So to speak.
True, the bed been soaked and stinking on occasion in the morning, and Mother had blamed him, had begun calling him ‘Mr. Wetzel.’ But the shrink, a chunky soul brother wearing thick glasses and a bowtie, a dude that reeked of past urine-eee-sis himself, had posed an intriguing question. What if it was Mother herself, the boozer and liar, who had…lost control…during the night and then conveniently passed her culpability and shame on to gullible young Walter? What kind of world was it when a guy couldn’t even trust his own mother?
In any case, Walter Ransome now set the alarm on his clock radio to go off every two hours, so that he might urinate safely and check the sheets for damp spots. Everyone had their problems, after all. There wasn’t any use crying about your lot in life, about the hand you were dealt.
Rancid, just drifting back to sleep after his most recent visit to the bathroom, was awakened by a persistent knocking at his kitchen door. He scratched at his beard, squinting at the illuminated digital clock on the night table radio. It was 12:11 a.m.; eleven minutes into the day before Christmas, 1978.
Downstairs, Rancid pushed back the edge of a curtain. He peered through a glass pane before opening the door. The temperature had dipped below freezing. The sky was clear as polished black glass, nearby buildings eerily luminescent beneath the light of a full and shining moon.
The Kid stood outside, smiling strangely. “I have sss…something to show you, Rance. Back in my domesticile.”
“Now?” Rancid would rather have gone back to sleep on a bed of nails than deal with The Kid, with the bipolar cycles, the stuttering, the malapropism-marred intellectual pretensions…
“Yes, NOW. Get dressed, please.”
Rance considered his options. It didn’t take very long at all: there were none. The Kid, small and baby-faced, appeared innocuous. Rancid, however, knew better. He knew as well that The Kid was carrying three untraceable handguns, an Italian-made stiletto switchblade and a spring-loaded sap.
Thus Rancid, while annoyed that The Kid, four years younger, persisted in treating him like a none too bright child, didn’t argue with the request. With the order.
Ten minutes later the two men crossed the narrow gravel alley separating the house and backyard from the barn-like four-car stone garage.
They climbed an exterior staircase, entering The Kid’s second floor apartment through the kitchen. The apartment was nearly as cold as the night outside, the heat apparently turned off along with most of the lights. There was an 8mm movie camera mounted on a tripod in the living room. Rancid noticed two hypodermic needles and several empty, stoppered glass vials on the floor. An odd smell that caused Rance’s nostrils to twitch permeated the air; it was like a busload of people with bad body odor trying to mask the stench with cheap perfume.
“What did you want to show me, Billy? I need to get back to…”
The Kid pointed across the hall, into the bedroom.
Walter Ransome stared into the shadows, squinting as his eyes adjusted to the ambient light. He felt very warm and lightheaded suddenly. He gripped the edge of a table for support.
The Kid’s girlfriend hung from a heavy rope knotted around her neck and tied to an overhead beam. Patti was naked, her skin waxen. Her tongue protruded. Her eyes were open, and staring. What appeared to be bruises or needle tracks could be seen on the inside of her right arm.
“Jesus Christ. Is she…”
“Deceased? I’m not the medical examiner, mind you. But my educated guess is yes.”
“It was a sss…suicide. Drugs.”
“Drugs? But she’s…”
“Such a waste, too. Patti had so much to live for. In any case, I’ll require your assistance, my fff…friend. To clean up. To make this…tragedy…disappear.”
Rancid shook his head. He stepped back, nearly tripping over a chair. “No.”
The Kid tilted his head toward the woman. “Don’t make the same mistake that Patti did.”
“Choose life, Rance. Say no to drugs. And ropes.”
Walter Ransome, perspiring heavily in the chilly apartment, looked around, desperately attempting to conjure up some means by which he might escape this waking nightmare.
He could not.
He said, “What do you want me to do?”
They cut the rope, lifted Patti Wiesner down and wrapped her in a heavy blanket. The two men carried the body, rigor mortis already setting in, to the trunk of a new black Mercedes-Benz parked next to the garage. Rancid, a mechanic and car thief, had seen the Mercedes, a rare and very expensive 450 SEL 6.9, once before. He didn’t know who it belonged to or what The Kid was doing with it. He didn’t ask.
Rance said, “What about her clothes, and those needles? Shouldn’t we…”
The Kid shook his head. “Others will handle those details.”
Rancid and The Kid drove from the working-class neighborhood not far from Philadelphia International Airport across streets dark and deserted in these frigid first hours of morning.
The landscape changed noticeably during their journey, following socio-economic levels like a series of terraces. Bleak, congested blue-collar towns gave way to the pleasant, anonymous sprawl of middle-class suburbia and ultimately to areas of deep woods, serpentine country lanes and estates where the horses enjoyed better accommodations than the children ten miles to the east.
With Christmas less than twenty-four hours away blinking multi-colored lights had been left on through the night in some homes and businesses. The car radio was tuned to a station playing holiday music.
Silver Bells, Silver Bells
It’s Christmastime in the city…
The Kid took a circuitous route, utilizing a confusing series of back roads and residential streets. Rancid had no idea where they were. He might as well have been wearing a blindfold. He had no idea where they were going, either. It wasn’t a time or place for questions. Rancid closed his eyes. He began to hyperventilate. Nauseous and clammy, he wrapped his sweat-slick right hand around the door handle and squeezed. He badly wanted to roll out and run, take his chances. He didn’t.
Some twenty minutes later The Kid drove the big German car down a steep residential street in an upscale suburban neighborhood and into some woods. He pulled over at what appeared to be a construction site. Several bulldozers were parked in a meadow, along with a pick-up truck, a backhoe and a portable toilet.
Rancid looked up, at what he at first believed to be a mirage, or a drug induced hallucination. There was a six-lane highway directly in front of them, the highway spooky and silent in silvered moonlight. The sole traveler on the road was a possum that moved about as fast as Rance’s obese, arthritis-plagued mother in law.
“Where are we?” Rancid studied the detached and isolated stretch of asphalt. It formed a valley of sorts through the middle of a hilly, densely wooded area. The empty road continued on as far as the eye could see in either direction. It was truly creepy, like something out of The Twilight Zone.
“You are gazing,” The Kid said, arms outstretched, “upon an interstate highway.”
“But…where are the cars?”
“There are no cars, Rance. It isn’t that sort of highway. This is a sss…secret highway.”
“Where does the secret highway go?”
“Nowhere. It’s a ddd…dead end. Fittingly enough.”
The two men stepped from the car. Rancid nearly slipped and fell on the fine coating of treacherous black ice that covered the ground. As The Kid opened the car trunk, a giant figure materialized out of the darkness suddenly. Rancid cried out, cowering.
Walter Clyde Ransome stood six feet tall. He weighed more than two hundred and fifty pounds. But the monster in human form that loomed over him now must have been at least eight inches taller and some one hundred pounds heavier.
The Kid and The Monster, homely and frightening, with massive tattooed arms, laughed at his reaction. The Kid wasn’t the sort to bother with introductions.
“Certain people,” the big man said, “aren’t very happy about this, Billy boy. You were supposed to…”
“I know what I was SUPPOSED to do,” The Kid said. “Shit happens, as a great philosopher once philosophilized. We move on.”
Rancid wondered what that was all about.
He really didn’t want to know. With these people, Rance understood, too much knowledge wasn’t a good thing. At all.
“We can’t bury her,” Rancid said, his teeth chattering from both cold and fear. “The ground is frozen.”
“Thanks once again, Rance,” The Kid said, frowning. “For stating the obvious and the irreverent. We wouldn’t have noticed that little ddd…detail if you hadn’t brought it to our attention.”
“We ain’t gonna bury her, dude,” the giant said. “We’re gonna make her part of history, with the help of that concrete mixer over there. We’ve gone this route before, FYI. Basically the mixer liquefies the departed. We pour the mix into the frame for the roadbed, and they get laid.”
“This undertaking—no pun intended—could prove a bit mmm…messy,” The Kid said. “No worry: I have gloves, aprons and sss…surgical masks in the trunk.”
Rancid closed his eyes once again. He groaned softly, fists clenched by his sides, his heavy body quivering oddly for several seconds.
The Kid sniffled, looking down. He turned on the flashlight that he held in his right hand. He directed the beam at the front of Rance’s pants, glistening wetly in the light. “It appears that you’ve sss…suffered an adversity, Rance.”
“I got a disease,” Rance said defensively. “It’s called ‘urine-eee-sis’.”
“Do they have a telethon?” The Monster asked, laughing so hard that he began to cough. “Sponsored by Pampers?”
The Kid said, “People with diseases like yours don’t ride in a Mercedes. You have money for the bus, I hope?”
“It’s the middle of the night, Billy. It’s Christmas Eve. I don’t even know where we are, man, and I don’t know nothing about busses. Little old ladies and high school kids take the bus.”
“Old ladies, high school kids and you.”
“Please, Billy. I might get on the bus and have to…go.”
“You might have to go, period.”
“I’ll be okay now. I’ve emptied my bladder.”
“Yes. I can see—and smell—that.” The Kid shook his head, sighing. “Guess the Johnstown Flood here is riding with you, Sludge.”
“Don’t give Rance any ideas, please. Now let’s wrap this ppp…production up. I’ll be management. You two are the labor force. You do a good job, there may be a little sss…something extra in your holiday paycheck.”
When they were done The Kid lit one of his French cigarettes. He stared at the full moon floating eerily above a cornfield in the distance. “Now,” he said, breath misting in the frosty air, “let’s not hear any griping regarding a lack of ppp… progress on the highway here. Those politicians, engineers and lawyers could learn a thing or two from our industrialness.”
“ ‘We’ can,” The Monster said, smirking. “You on the other hand…”
“You aren’t planning to have another accident, are you, Rance?” The Kid asked. “In the car? If so, we’ll just have to…leave you here. With the poor hungry animals. And the fresh cement.”
“I’m fine now. Really.”
“Your memory isn’t,” The Monster said.
“You’ll forget that tonight ever happened,” The Kid said, exhaling cigarette smoke. “Won’t you?”
Walter Ransome said, “I already have.”