This article is part of the Eastwood series.
The Firebird launches out of the cul-de-sac like a pinball. Morrison roars down residential streets. The car almost goes up on two wheels every time he takes a turn.
"North side," I read out the address for the second delivery. "It's Campertown."
Campertown has streets with names, but most of the signs have been torn down and sold for scrap. If we're lucky there might be some makeshift signs erected by good Samaritans.
Morrison takes us out through the north gates of Malibu and tries to orient himself amid the tangle of cross-streets and dirt roads packed with foot traffic. He uses the horn liberally. We both shout at the surprised locals as our big steel monster rumbles down thoroughfares that rarely see anything bigger than a motorcycle.
We nearly run over a woman and her clutch of kids crossing the road like a family of ducks. Morrison blasts the horn at them and some of the kids start throwing rocks.
"Man, fuck this place," he grouses and swerves around them.
When we finally find the street we're looking for it's blocked by an old school bus with half a dozen flat tires and no windows. There's a detour that seems to go through a chaotic heap of shacks and shipping containers rigged into makeshift housing. I don't like it. There should be kids playing on a broken down school bus.
"Take it," I tell him, "but be careful."
Morrison takes the turn and makes it about a hundred feet down the cramped and winding detour.
The first shot is from something big, maybe an old bolt-action 50 or something. It craters the hood and stops the engine dead with a metallic bang.
I'm not even sure which one of us yells the word, but we both throw open our doors and roll into the dirt. The shit hits us a second later. A storm of fire comes in from a 180 degree arc ahead of us. They're behind debris in the road, they're on top of shacks and shipping containers; they're all over the place. Our only way out is back the way we came.
I reach for the case on the seat of the Firebird but a wave of bullets is crashing into the window and plucking at the leather seats. The case seems to be surviving the occasional bullet impact, but it will have to wait.
"Back that way," Morrison shouts and points down the way we came.
"Thanks, genius!" I squeeze the handle of the Magnum like I'm trying to crush it.
The passenger side window shatters over my head and rains pieces of glass down on me. The car is what we used to call "trick cover" in Venezuela. It's something you get behind because it looks safe, like a thick jungle fern, but when the shooting starts the bullets slice right through it like it isn't even there. That's what the bullets are doing to the door of the Firebird.
"Go, I'll cover you," Morrison offers like it's a good deal.
"Wonderful," I shout back to him.
I run for it and he starts firing with his nine. I doubt he is hitting anything, but I'm not going to take the time to award points. Bullets snap and hiss through the air past me and send up coughs of dust from the road on either side.
After five long seconds I throw myself behind the jutting face of a shack that is not flush with its neighbors on either side. Bullets immediately begin to shiver the corrugated tin walls. Someone inside the shack moans with terror.
I look sight down the barrel of the Magnum at the closest of our attackers, a pock-cheeked Arab with an olive Shemagh around his neck. It's a 200 foot shot, easy, and god damn I wish I had one of those 27s out of the trunk. Morrison looks to me and I nod. The moment he launches himself from behind cover I take the shot.
The Magnum booms and kicks like a karate expert. The Arab drops his gun and falls from the top of the shipping container. I fire twice more, wildly. Morrison slams into cover next to me. He's bleeding, shot through his same arm in almost the exact same spot.
"Jesus Christ you are unlucky," I shout over the racket.
The punks are coming out of their positions to pursue us, headed towards the cover of the abandoned Firebird. The fire slackens, but they aren't stupid. There are always a couple of them shooting while the rest advance.
"Alright," I shout, "we've gotta move now. I'll cover you this time."
Morrison nods, his expression pained, and he braces to launch himself into the road. Just as I'm about to start shooting again a rusted minivan roars up the road from the direction of the detour. With a clatter of gravel it skids to a halt.
The driver of the van is a Mexican with a goatee and he wastes no time in declaring his allegiance. A long burst from his AK rips into the shack between me and Morrison.
We're completely exposed to them. We're fucking done.
Are you concerned that you may be a character trapped in a Tom Waits song? Be smart and learn the warning signs before it's too late. Also, it's too late. It has always been too late.
I'm haunted by a recurring vision of a skeleton flipping me off. To avoid seeing this terrifying image in bumper sticker form, I pay someone with a blank bumper to drive in front of me at all times.
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