Three days after Josh’s return the West Coast Old School Rod and Bike Show is being held down south at the L.A. Fairgrounds. And Josh decides to act on Skinny Pete’s claim that his wife attends all the sub-culture events.
Naturally, Billy Joe is not about to let his brother go it alone. So he and Kathy tail the Willys in their ’69 Charger, a Petty’s rebel classic. And they drop a dime to Skinny Pete for a Rat Pack crew muster, though they have no idea if it did any good. All they can do is leave a message.
The biggest change the brothers see as they pay the fare and cruise the grounds is the sheer volume. In the six year hiatus since their last attendance here, the large corporations have bought their way in, hell bent to profit off the growing craze. They are strictly business, as usual, and totally callous to the reality that their very presence violates the original sub-culture beliefs.
I doubt a third of this mob even knows what beliefs this culture was founded on, Josh thought, while exiting the Willys and keying the alarm.
Billy Joe and Kathy quickly rally up with him.
“Kathy is wondering if you feel like the old black hat gunslinger walking into a church barbeque.”
“I might’ve,” Josh said, “but nobody here knows what the inside of a church looks like.”
The trio eases along with the sea of similar looking, if not likeminded, humanity, and Josh has to admit it is good to be back. The sight of row upon row of custom and garage builds reignites the old spark that has lain dormant for the past half-dozen years. And, except for the oversized franchise tents that dwarf the small independent vendors, he even enjoys browsing the abundant fare dedicated to the old school culture. There are parts, service, and design specialists. There are jewelry, leather goods, t-shirts, hats, and every other kind of apparel and accessories proudly displayed and hawked. And the cartoonists, photographers, and tattoo artists appear to only have one challenge, how to stave off carpal tunnel syndrome while trying to handle the onslaught of customers.
Likewise, there is no lack of variety of concessions on the Midway. However, with the rising temperature, the lines for libation, especially the beer wagons and wine cooler coaches, outnumber the basic catering trucks three to one; though Kathy, a health food nut, calls them “grease fried choke and pukes.”
In addition, no old school event would be complete without the various eye candy specialties and gawker events. The standard T&A tents with a stream of Bettie’s and Veronica’s trying on the latest nylons, silks, and satins unabashed and unashamed before the oogling eyes and stretching flies of the congregating adolescents. Or the more mature — though not much more — events, like burlesque reviews, follies, wet t-shirts, foxy boxers, or the ever messy mud or suds wrestling.
Josh, and his kin, prefers to take in the actual rod and bike shows, the burnouts and drags, and then catch the jammin’ rockabilly concerts.
As the day wears on, the initial reason for the trip takes a backseat to the enjoyment the brothers find in reconnecting with each other and their roots. Kathy even unpuckers, as the underlying tension appears to evaporate, and she begins to enjoy each moment. That is, until a couple of peach fuzz Romeo’s display their latest poster acquisitions to a youthful group of likeminded wannabes within sight of Josh.
Both posters are of the same model, striking different poses by different old school customs. However, it is not the rods being promoted, but rather the sexy, almost non-existent, lingerie. And the model, under contract with the old school apparel franchise called Lucky Seven is Sue Dell, though she is now promoting herself as Suzy-D, one of the Lucky Seven vamps.
Josh had seen the Lucky Seven tent when the trio was walking around the fairgrounds earlier, but they adhered to the unspoken rule of never patronizing any corporate establishment. However, entering a corporate domain for purely personal reasons, like a search for answers, is understandably an exception to the rule.
“Oh shit!” Kathy said, watching Josh head out of the concert area, closely shadowed by her husband. And she quickly pulls out her cell.
The franchises don’t need to convert the hardcore old schoolers. Approximately two-thirds of the event patrons are wannabes or weekend hobbyists, and they flock to the main brand names, as Josh says, “ like turd flies on a fresh dump.”
Ten o’clock at night and crowds are still pouring in and out of the Lucky Seven tent as Josh steps through the entrance. He quickly notices the cashiers are by the exits, which means the only other line, near a back corner, has to be the autograph table.
Billy Joe arrives as Josh begins to circumvent the crowded lines.
“You realize we’re in enemy territory?”
“Got a plan?”
“Improvise, adapt, and overcome.”
Billy Joe chooses not to reply as the autograph table comes into view. Sue is sitting behind the table wearing another Lucky Seven “fuck me” lingerie outfit, similar to those on the poster she is signing, but with the addition of a cape draped over her shoulders. And standing just behind her is Conrad Rydell, an old acquaintance of the approaching brothers, a perfect yin to Josh’s yang within the sub-culture.
Rydell’s presence tells the brothers that the six other goons blocking the sides of the table, preventing any overzealous fans from getting close enough to cop a feel, are Rumble Punks, the club Conrad began after Josh unceremoniously sent him scurrying out of the Rat Pack.
“Fuck!” one of the Rumble Punks said, then turns to Conrad. “Hey Radman, it’s the Reaper!”
Even from about 30 feet away and peering passed some autograph seekers, Josh and Billy Joe catch a brief look of panic before Conrad is able to compose himself. He gained confidence in the fact they out-number them seven to two, and have dozens more around the fairgrounds.
Sue, on the other hand, surprises the brothers — though they don’t make the mistake of showing it — when she casually turns, maintains eye contact, and grins like the Cheshire Cat.
“Well, well, if it isn’t the Legend himself,” Conrad began. “Thought you were in for four more years.”
“Cunt Rag Rydell,” Josh said, staring him down with his Reaper like gaze. “Shut the fuck up. This has nothing to do with you, or these other Rumpled Pantywaists.”
The crowd of autograph seekers turned looky loos silence themselves in anticipation of this unexpected entertainment.
Josh doesn’t stop until he is practically nose-to-nose with Conrad. And Conrad’s face shows both the fear of Josh, as well as the anger at his paid bodyguards for letting his enemy waltz right through. And yet, he realizes in an instant that caution is indeed the better part of valor — so he steps back without further delay.
Josh, satisfied that the immediate threat has been nullified, finally looks down at Sue.
“You got something to tell me, Baby?”
Sue has been taught by the best. She knows when to hold, when to fold, and when to lay it all on the line.
“Things changed, so I had to improvise, adapt, and overcome, like you taught me,” she said while matching her husband’s unwavering gaze. “And that fucking Mexican hellhole you were in kept stamping my letters ‘return to sender.’ But everything’s on the square, Daddy-O.”
This revelation surprises everyone present, except Josh, who now has the puzzle pieces in place. So when Sue pops out of the seat, throws her arms around his neck, and kisses him passionately, he returns it with equal passion.
“Don’t you love it when a plan comes together?” Sue Dell whispers to her man.
Billy Joe begins to realize what is going on, and the crowd, who has no idea, still let out a raucous cheer.
“What the fuck’s going on?” Conrad yells above the ovation.
Josh maintains eye contact with Sue. “He’s not too bright, is he?”
Sue smiles and kisses him again.
Fear or no fear, Conrad reaches around and draws a 9-mm semi-auto Glock from beneath his jacket and swings it around, intent on using it.
However, before he is able to bring it up to face level, as planned, two barrels are roughly introduced to each side of his head.
“Do you think this is a good day to die?” Skinny Pete said as he cocks the .44-magnum pressed against Conrad’s temple from behind. Wet Willie, another Rat Packer, copies the move on the other side, and Conrad quickly gives in and gives up his piece.
The less courageous onlookers begin to exit the area, opening up enough room for Kathy to finally side up to her husband, and wonder why Josh is allowing Sue to embrace him.
“I’ll tell you later,” Billy Joe said, after seeing his lady’s curious look. And they continue to view the proceedings together.
“You ready to go home, Daddy-O?”
“I was just waiting for you to ask,” Josh said, starting to turn.
“He doesn’t have a home,” Conrad said, relishing the fact. “You’ve been living with me, bitch — and even that ends right now!”
Sue glances at Josh. “Would you like the honors?”
“Go for it, Baby.”
She then stares down Conrad with nearly the same intensity as her husband and mentor.
“Perhaps this would be a good time for you to remember that the money for everything you think you own came from selling Reaper’s house. And, if you recall, it’s all in my name.”
The gravity of the situation finally sinks in and Conrad slumps into the nearby chair.
“You didn’t really think we’d never find out who sent those Tijuana Locos after us, did you?” Josh said. And all the blood seems to drain from Conrad’s face. “So we put together a little plan to get even.”
“And you didn’t really think I’d betray the man who killed those three bastards who tried to rape me, did you?” Sue said, while stepping closer to the wretched form slumped in the chair. “He lost six years of his life protecting me from scum you hired. The least I could do was make sure you worked your ass off, with his money, to have him set for life when he got out.”
Sweat begins to roll down Conrad’s cheeks and his whimpering mannerism over shadows any pretense of manhood.
“But — but — you made love to me?”
“No bitch, I didn’t,” Sue said while wrapping her arm around Josh’s waist. “Reaper said you would never catch on. The only man I’ve ever loved and made love to has finally come back to me. You — I just fucked.”
As the brothers, their ladies, and a dozen Rat Pack Rodders begin to muster together before heading out, Josh looks back at Conrad.
“Even a pussy like you should’ve known an old schooler would never let a wannabe win.”