Richfield, Utah, is about 200 miles from the southwest corner of the state, where I-15 cuts across the edge of Arizona before dipping down into Nevada and on to Las Vegas.
We left the car in Richfield, mostly because it was demolished, and trying to take it anywhere after that would have been pointless. Besides, if I needed a reminder, I still had the gash on my forehead, the wrenched back and the seatbelt bruises that saved my new bride’s life all over her stomach.
As we waited to board the Greyhound to Vegas, I snuck furtive glances at the other riders, which included some Mexicans, a crack whore who smelled like cheese that had been steeping in sweat for a week, a young, heavy blonde girl with two young children who didn’t appear to have any shoes, and an elderly Indian couple. I paid little mind to these people, as I fixed my gaze on a group of men who kicked some dirt and stretched while waiting for the crack whore to finish whatever it was she was doing in the bathroom. One of them was an angry looking bi-racial 20-something with a strong build and piercing blue eyes. He talked to a white kid about the same age, but a little bigger in the chest, and an older, leaner black man who wore a Kangol and was picking his teeth. Yep, they were the ones I’d have to look out for.
The Greyhound that rumbles through Richfield, Utah twice a day is the long hauler from New York City to Los Angeles. Most of these folks had been riding this bus for several days, now. It was a weary group of dusty travelers, and not a grin among the lot.
As Amy and I boarded, I looked around for a seat close to the driver, because the fellas I’d seen looking so motley before were seated in back. There wasn’t one, and in fact, we ended up in the second to last row on the left side of the bus, right in front of the black guy and the bi-racial guy. The bigger white guy was on our right, seated next to a pretty blonde I hadn’t seen before.
Amy started talking to the bi-racial guy before the bus even left first gear. I squeezed her knee, and whispered to her to cut it out-I could handle one of these guys, but definitely not two, especially if one of the two is the big white guy. Amy had a way of ignoring me then, and she was probably still good and steamed up about the wreck, so she paid me no mind.
I tried to sleep-the last 10 hours had been some of the worst in my life, which started with a rollover on I-70. Actually, the prior 10 hours to that were far more entertaining, because they had started with fifth row KISS tickets. It’s funny how quickly you can go from watching Gene Simmons spit up blood in Denver to spitting up blood yourself in a soft dirt patch off the shoulder of a highway in the middle of nowhere, UtahÃ?Â¯Ã?Â¿Ã?Â½
But by the grace of God Himself, most of the real bruises were superficial, and now I was seated a foot away from what I was convinced were a trio of felons on the lam from Rikers.
Amy was soon regaling the entire group with the story of how we came to be on this bus at Richfield (“No, we’re not Mormons, we were just passing through, and, yes, they are quite nice people, actually, especially at the Howard Johnson’s”). The group was entranced by the story of our near-tragedy, and I started to relax a bit. Turns out these guys weren’t so bad after all.
“You ever been to Vegas before?” The black guy asked. I looked at him and nodded. He held out his hand.
“Name’s Fremont,” he said. “Just like Downtown.”
“Dave,” I said, shaking his hand over my seat.
“I’m on my way to L.A. myself, but whenever I come through, I do a stop overnight in Vegas and play some craps. I liked the D.I., but since they’re closed, I go over to Caesar’s. Where you stayin’?”
I lied and said I couldn’t remember the name of the place.
“It’s okay.” Fremont grinned, revealing a gold tooth for his upper right canine. “I wouldn’t trust no one I’d just met on a bus, neither.” I winked at him and smiled.
“I’m not stayin’ in town tonight anyway,” he said. “I’m heading straight through this time.”
“What brings you to L.A., anyway?” I asked.
“My baby girl. She’s only 11 years old. She lives out here with her mother. I try to fly her back out to New York at least once a year, if I can scrounge up the dough. Her momma will let her come, but won’t help out with the ticket none. I come out about twice a year on the bus. It ain’t so bad. I like driving through Colorado, cause the mountains are so pretty. This trip’s not a good one, though.”
I humored him. “Why’s that?”
“My baby girl got raped last week. I got on this bus to come to L.A. and kill the man who did it.”
He said it matter-of-factly, as he might have said, “I’m going to the store to buy some milk.” There was no trace of anger or fear, just simply that he was on his way to kill a man, the way another man might be on his way to the post office to mail a letter.
“Yeah,” he continued. “I left New York three days ago to come out to L.A. and kill a man I ain’t never met. I’ve never killed anyone before, but I’m sure I’ll have no problem doing it. I’d look right into his eyes and cut his throat.” I just looked at him, fixed in his gaze.
“But I’m not going to kill him now.” He turned and looked out the window, as the day waned and the mud-colored horizon seemed to blend into the mud-colored dusk. “I’m just going to pick up my baby girl and get her the hell outta there.”
“What changed your mind?” I asked.
“We did,” the bi-racial guy chimed in. I looked at him, and he gestured at the people around him.
“That’s right,” Fremont said, flashing that gold-capped canine. “These are good folks here. They convinced me that the only thing worse then getting raped is losing your daddy, and if I killed the man who done it, then she’d lose me, too. Even if I’d never get caught, I know you can’t kill a man without it changing you some. Besides, he was white, and they always catch a black man who kills a white man. I’d go to prison for life, and then where would my baby girl be? Nope. I’m just going to take her away from all this bullshit her mama’s gotten into, and all these bad people she’s around, and bring her back home.”
“For what it’s worth, I think you made the right decision,” I said.
I leaned back and drifted off for a while, until we stopped in Cedar City, where Amy and I ate Chicken Fried steak at a truck stop that also sold collectible spoons and bandanas. I gave $5 to the crack whore so she could eat something. When we got back on the bus, the girl with the kids was gone, but there were some more Mexicans who got on and chatted with the other ones from before in Spanish.
We talked some more with the “back row boys,” as they came to be in my memory. It turned out that the bi-racial guy was on his way home from NYU, where he was a film student. The bigger white guy was going with his girlfriend to her grandmother’s funeral. She had died of old age, living on her own all the way until the last couple of weeks.
We talked well into the night, and drifted off only about an hour before we hit Vegas. Everyone got off at Vegas.
“If you need anything, my brother’s a dealer at Caesar’s. Ask for Wendell.” I shook his hand and thanked him. I asked him where he was headed.
“I’ve got 15 minutes. I’m going to go try a couple of throws on the craps table,” he grinned. “Good luck, Dave.”
I smiled and waved to him as we walked out of the bus garage to flag a cab.