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“Yes, ma’am,” he sings, so charming she never notices the gun stuck in his pants. This eats up a second or so and Bub catches up, and as a twosome they enter. The store is strangely dark and vast; Bub thinks of a church. At six counters six women are plunkety-plunkety-plunking over cash registers, feeding items one at a time to baggers as they click up the tote on the machine. It’s the biggest grocery store Bub has ever seen! He has an impression of giant spaces, aisle leading to aisle, stacks of goods and foods. It’s an America he’s never seen. Something about the order of such a place, the hugeness and careful planning with which it’s laid out, scares him. He feels as if he’s about to defile a shrine. A small voice begins to whimper. His knees are pounding. He yearns for the courage to scream No! No! Jimmy, no! But up ahead Jimmy is so completely sure of himself that Bub’s got no chance and no nerve to confront him. Besides, it’s happening already, so fast.
Jimmy has reached a kind of office beyond the last register, a high, walled structure with a door in the center of all that space, with a counter around it and a pleasant, red-haired woman standing there talking to a Negro lady. “Virginia,” it says on her blouse, “Assistant Manager.”
She looks at Jimmy, responds as everyone does to his charm and looks, and a broad smile begins to beam until she recognizes that what he lifts to her face is a gun and her face melts into fear. Jimmy shoves the colored lady to the ground and puts the gun right into Virginia’s face and is screaming, “Git into that office and git that safe open.”
Gulping poison air like a fish dying on a pier, Virginia rings a buzzer and the door up to the office opens and a young man leans out. Bub isn’t sure what happens next. There’s a crack that he can’t identify from anywhere, that seems to make no sense, that is uncalled-for, and the young man is on his knees and then on the floor. He’s wet. Something wet is coming out of him and going all over the place. Bub hears screaming, shouts, yelps. He gets his own gun out slowly, and in a second they’re up in the office but Jimmy is pushing him back, screaming “You cover from outside.” So Bub stands guard and doesn’t see or know what’s going on in the little office, but that there’s a terrible commotion.
It sounds again, and Bub flinches in fear. He doesn’t like the sound a bit. He knows it’s a gunshot and he hopes Jimmy is shooting into the air or the ground to scare them but from the utter terror of the screaming he’s begun to catch on to the idea that Jimmy is actually shooting people. Why would he do that? Why would Jimmy shoot anyone? If you ever saw Jimmy run with a football, escape tacklers, move sideways, break into the open and pump away in long, graceful strides to the roar of a crowd, you’d never, ever think such a boy could shoot people.
Bub begins to cry. He doesn’t like this at all. It scares him sick. He is supposed to be on a bus with Jimmy on his way back to Blue Eye. Jimmy is going to live with Edie and work in a sawmill in Nunley for Mike Logan. Mr. Earl had said! Mr. Earl said it would happen! Why hadn’t it happened? Why wasn’t he on the bus?
Someone comes at Bub, some big Negro man, and has Bub down against the counter, holding his arms in. He hits Bub a hard blow in the mouth and the world bangs out of focus. Why? Why did he hit Bub? Bub launches forward with his shoulder and the man slips down. Bub points the gun at him.
“Why?” he says.
Jimmy is next to him.
“Do it,” he commands. “Do it!”
I can’t, he thought. Don’t make me.
But the Negro man arises from the floor and comes at him and the gun goes off. He hasn’t wanted it to. He doesn’t mean to! It isn’t his idea! It isn’t his fault! It’s the nigger’s fault!
“Hoooieee, that’s the boy,” screams Jimmy, engorged with delight. “Come on, let’s git out.” Jimmy, pulling a big bag with him, leads him out. He stops once, turns, and screams, “Run, y’all!” and fires his gun five fast times over the heads of the people cowering behind the registers. They fall backwards over themselves to get away, screaming.
Suddenly it’s bright. They’re outside on a deserted Midland Boulevard, though Bub has the impression of people hiding behind parked cars and in shop doorways. He sort of likes this, all of a sudden. It’s exciting. He feels important.
“Come on, Bub, let’s am-scray the fuck outta here!”
Jimmy is pulling him across the street when a black and white police car, its siren wailing, appears far down the street and drives straight at them so fast it seems to go from small to big in but a second.
Bub is so scared. They’re going to be hit. But very calmly, Jimmy takes careful aim and starts shooting.
He fires fast and Bub watches as his bullets hit and splatter the windshield of the police car, which veers suddenly to the left and slams into a parked car. The noise is terrific! Broken glass flies everywhere.
“Bull’s-eye!” shouts Jimmy with a hoot. “Come on, Bub, we gotta git outta here. It’s going to get hot!”
They roared along the street, then cut down an alley, spun left through Colored Town and watched as the Negroes fled. Sirens rose behind them.
“I kilt a man,” said Bub.
“You didn’t kill nobody,” said Jimmy. “Swear to God. You gave that old boy the thrill of his life. He’ll be telling his grandchildren about it for years to come.”
“Of course I’m sure, goddammit. I didn’t put no real bullets in the guns. Those folks just lay down because they thought they was shot. It’s a big joke. In an hour they’ll be laughing up a goddamned storm. Now, I’m hungry. How’s about some hamburgers?”
Bub just swallowed. He wasn’t sure he believed Jimmy. He remembered stuff pouring out of the boy that fell out of the office. He hadn’t seen nothing on the black man he’d shot, but it was so jangled it was all mixed in his mind. He did know the police car had crashed and that its windshield had broken.
“Here we are,” said Jimmy. “You got any money? I’m flat busted.”
He pulled into a giant chrome and glass structure that had a Buck Rogers look to it, where a fleet of cars was already parked at oblique angles to the central building.
Bub read the sign, his lips forming each syllable: Tastee-Freez.
“Heard this place has the finest damned burgers in the world. Let’s see what they got.”
“Uh, Jimmy, y-y-y-y—”
“Spit it out, boy.”
“—y-you think this is a very good idea? I mean, won’t the polices be looking for this car?”
“Well now, they ain’t never going to think we’d stop for no burgers now, would they?”
And indeed a couple of black-and-whites, their sirens zinging, their flashers flashing, rushed on by.
“See, what I’m doing is something new,” Jimmy explained. “It’s called cool. I’m being a real cool cat.”
“A cat?” said Bub. He didn’t get it.
“Yeah. A cool cat is your slick customer. He don’t sweat nor git excited. He’s always got a laugh on his face. And he a rebel. He rebels against things, ’cause he knows things is fucked against him. But he always stays cool. Nothing gets him hot.”
Bub contemplated this novel idea. Suddenly a carhop appeared.
“What’s the ruckus, honey gal?” Jimmy asked her.
“Some old boys robbed the IGA,” she said. “They done killed some people and a nigger too.”
“Oh, you just wait,” said Jimmy, giving Bub a big wink, “bet that changes real soon and you find out nobody’s been shot for real.”
“I don’t know,” said the girl.
“What’s your best burger here?”
“We got all kinds. They sell a lot of the Bacon Supreme. You got your bacon and your cheese and your lettuce and tomato. They got to hold it together with toothpicks. They put a little flag on it. It’s really cute.”
“Sound good to you, Bub?”
Bub nodded. He was hungry.
“Yeah,” said Jimmy, “two of them Bacon Su-premes, two orders of the fries, and you got a good milk shake? I mean, now, made out of real ice cream and milk, mixed up superthick on one of them beater things?”
“Yes sir. Best shakes in the town.”
“You bring us two. Chocolate.”
“Strawberry,” said Bub.
“One choc, one straw,” said the girl.
Jimmy sat back. He lit another Lucky, inhaled deeply, then looked at his watch. He seemed like a man without a worry in his mind.
“You just re-lax now,” he crooned. “It’s all going to be all right. It’s going to be cool. We are the coolest cats around.”
The girl brought the hamburgers and it was the best hamburger Bub had ever had. In Blue Eye, a place named Check’s Check-Out offered hamburgers, but they was greasy wads of overcooked beef on a tough little bun, nothing like this. Heaven: the meat was so damn tender, the cheese tangy, but that bacon really made the thing sing. Who’d ever think of putting a piece of bacon on a burger?
“Damn,” Bub said, “ain’t that a damn burger?”
“That’s a king burger,” said Jimmy. “The king of all burgers. Okay, now, you just come with me.” He got out of the car, taking the bag that said IGA with him ever so casually, and just began to amble along, easy as can be.
“By now, they got our car ID’d,” he said. “We wouldn’t get two damn blocks with it. So we’ll git another car right where I got the last one. See, this is working out just fine.”
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