Take the Money & Run
They were on the road and listening to Steve Miller. It was a sweet fall day. The leaves were a Technicolor explosion. Crimson skies. Mountains loomed in the distance. The windows were down in their silver ’77 El Camino. Isabelle’s fingers were curled around a cigarette as she laughed and giggled while her white dress billowed in the wind. Jimmy had two hands on the wheel, still reeling from what she had just told him.
The engine rumbled and the tires slapped the pavement, on the road to nowhere in particular. They had a suitcase between them, stuffed with shirts and underwear and fashion magazines. The tank was nearly empty, and they barely had enough money to make it to the coast. They were young and ready for anything.
“We should rob a bank,” she said.
Jimmy gave her a sideways glance.
“Come on! It’ll be fun.”
“You sure got an interestin’ definition of fun, hon.”
She made a pouty face and kicked a foot up on the dash. “Don’t be such a snooze, Jimmy Cotton. Don’t you want your runaway bride to have the very best?”
“We ain’t married yet.”
“Don’t you know it,” she said with a hint of rue.
Jim snuck a hand over onto her shoulder and squeezed. “You’re just the cutest.”
“Some say even cuter.”
Jimmy thought Isabelle was awfully smart in high school, but now she had him second-guessing himself.
“Rob a bank? That’s nuts. We’d get caught!”
“You don’t know that for sure. Besides,” she rolled up the window, “isn’t a thrill to wonder whether or not we’d get away with it?”
“That don’t bother me none. I don’t wanna get shot!”
“You’re bulletproof, baby doll.” She reached across and placed a hand against his flannel-shirted chest. He had a bushy brown hair and a hairline that was starting to go to hell, even though he was only twenty-one. Isabelle had just turned nineteen. Pretty enough, he thought, to be Prom Queen. He had no idea what she ever saw in him, except he was kind and had a good weed hookup.
She used to be engaged to Lyle Bishop, who was older, slimier, and running for city council. Jimmy considered himself firmly in the friend zone until she appeared at his door one recent Sunday afternoon, kissed him, and asked if he would like to elope. Stunned, he had to remember to put on pants and find his keys. The bowl of cereal on the TV tray was left untouched.
They checked into a motel at the foot of the mountains in a sleepy town called Fowler Meadows. Jimmy could imagine settling in there for the winter. Isabelle wanted to reach the coast. It was the place, she said, where dreams were made. Jimmy didn’t have the heart to correct her.
His sister Julie Cotton had run off at fifteen when Jimmy was eleven. His parents figured she joined up with all the other lost souls swirling around Haight. In dozens of backwater Midwest town such as theirs, runaways became an epidemic. It was easier to imagine her healthy and happy, married with two kids, the dog chasing deer in the backyard.
The motel room was cold and the TV didn’t work. Jimmy and Isabelle snuggled under the covers and talked. The bedside lamp gave her face a holy glow. Jimmy peered into her hazel eyes as she rolled on top of him. She was normally very ticklish, but this time she didn’t budge. It was a look he’d seen the first time they made love, a seriousness that wouldn’t respond to tickles and jokes.
“I have a gun,” she said.
“What? How?” Jimmy tried to sit up, but she shifted her weight forward onto his chest so he couldn’t move.
“I sold that crummy engagement ring that Lyle bought me.”
“Oh,” Jimmy said, his head a cloud of doubt and relief.
“We can do this.” She cradled her hand against his face.
“Do you have a plan?”
She brought a finger to his lips and whispered “shh.”
To be continued…