Indian summer 1986 had arrived at Montgomery College, and I was sitting outside Science West, basking in the unseasonable November warmth, happy to be getting one last look at legs, when Deandra rushed up behind me and took ten years off my life. “Dude!” she yelled into my left ear. This was our little pet greeting for each other. It wasn’t always shouted, but we typically tried to put as much urgency and alarm into it as we possibly could. Of course, this was easier when we came upon one another outdoors, and the element of complete surprise was a bonus Deandra adored. She gave me a moment to recover my bottle of “New Coke,” which was rolling away, embarrassed, as quickly as it could. I gave her my best look of wounded terror and held up my bottle of caramel-colored foam.
“I love you!” she chirped.
“So you say,” I muttered. “What’s up? You ready to get this Psyche quiz over with?”
“No. But listen – when I said ‘DUDE,’ I really meant it. Dude, you are SO not going to believe what I just heard!”
“There’s a bomb threat in Science West and our quiz is canceled?” I asked hopefully.
“What a crock. I called one in! Are you sure?”
“I’m sure. Guess again.”
“You’re not going to give me a hard time about calling in a bomb threat?”
“No. I know you didn’t. Guess again.”
“Woman, I have no idea. You’re pregnant!” Dee punched me. Hard. She was exceptionally strong. I don’t know why I could never remember that before I’d say something punch-worthy. I was just glad she never hit me in the face.
“Okay, what’s your favorite place in the world?” she prompted.
She reared back with another fist of fury, then paused and tilted her head at me. “You’ve never been in my bedroom.”
“That doesn’t mean it can’t be my favorite place.” I cupped my hand over her raised fist and held my free arm over my face, just in case.
“Focus, jerk! What’s our favorite place on Earth, even though we’ve never been there together? Think tropical…” She was patient enough to be my buddy but we’d have certainly killed each other if we had ever tried actually dating.
“Virgin Islands?” I knew I was right.
“Yes! And are you familiar with the Plaid Pirate pontoon party raft?”
“Yeah. Haven’t been on it yet, but I’ve heard it’s pretty cool. I’ve seen it a few times. What happened? Did it sink or something?”
“Better! Too bad you took so long guessing – we have to go take our stupid quiz now. I’ll have to tell you after class.” She was clearly disappointed to have to hold on to her news for another hour.
“I’m gonna spend the whole hour wondering what the hell you’re talking about. Can you just give me the short version?” I asked, following her into Science West.
“No. What does Gestalt mean?”
“Dude – the whole quiz is about Gestalt theory! Did you even read the chapter?” I scolded.
“Not really. What’s it mean?”
“Uh, I’m not sure. Something about patterns or something.”
She put her head on my shoulder as we entered the classroom. “We’re so screwed.”
“Do you still love me?” I asked.
Psychology 101 was not a terribly difficult class, but Deandra and I made it tougher than it needed to be by chatting too much. We had hit it off on the first day, when somehow we ended up learning that each of us had recently been dumped by someone who had gone away to school. We also had both just returned from separate vacations in the Virgin Islands, plus we both worked part-time at video rental stores. We had lots of common ground. At first I think we had both seen our relationship as a potential romantic rebound, but that sense dissolved into a comfortable platonic friendship before a single date could be proposed. Now we were buddies, sharing our romance woes (and all sorts of other woes) like a couple of chatty girls. My knack for turning potential romances into this kind of friendship was beginning to deeply annoy me. But Deandra and I had fun just hanging out together, drinking and dancing platonically at “our bar” The Wreck Room and occasionally pretending to be way more of a couple than we really were. We usually acted “couple-ish” when some unsavory male person was hitting on Dee, although on several occasions I think she did it just to torment me.
After our quiz we decided to blow off the rest of the day’s classes and sit in the amphitheatre over by the Humanities building so that Deandra could tell her story. All the way across campus I tried to get her to start talking.
“It was hijacked by Libyans?” I asked.
“No. Just wait.”
“You won a free trip for two to St. Thomas, including airfare, ground transportation, hotel accommodations and complimentary passes for the Plaid Pirate, and you’re taking me with you?”
“The Pirate called, and they want you to return that stolen grass skirt?”
“No. Wait for it.”
“They’ve banned alcohol on the Pirate, and now no one wants to go on it?” I pressed.
“That’s stupid. Just wait a minute.”
“I know – that was a little far-fetched. I got it – they’ve offered you a waitressing job, and you want me to move there with you so you’ll have someone around to pretend to be your boyfriend when unruly Eurotrash tourists hit on you?”
“Dammit, you guessed it!” she answered sarcastically.
“Yep, and let me just go on record as saying that I will base my decision as to whether or not to accept your invitation solely on the length of the grass skirt you’ll be wearing.”
“Grass skirt? They said all their girls have to wear bikini bottoms and tied-off wet t-shirts. Good enough?” she teased.
“Hmm. Well, yes. I suppose that will do. Is the water cold?” We finally reached a vacant spot in the amphitheatre and Deandra turned around with her “time to get serious” look. She dropped her books on the bench, grabbed my shoulder and pulled me down next to her.
“The owner of the Pirate has a price on Jimmy’s head.” she said with all the humor of a tax auditor.
“What? Jimmy from my Erol’s? Jimmy, who just last Saturday at The Wreck Room you told I haven’t hit on you because I’ve discovered I’m gay? That Jimmy?”
“Yes. They want to kill him!”
“What the hell for? I know he was in the Islands last spring, but he didn’t even mention the Plaid Pirate, let alone making anyone want to kill him!” I was stunned. Jimmy was a big teddy bear, very easygoing – downright placid.
“I’m not exactly sure. Apparently he caused some major incident on the boat when there were all sorts of celebrities and dignitaries aboard and some old football player is suing the owners for like a million bucks or something. Jimmy’s been living in the back of The Wreck Room for weeks.”
“That hardly seems like something to murder him over. I don’t think lawsuits against bars – floating or otherwise – tend to get very far.” I said.
“Well, supposedly he got video of the whole thing that would be really damaging to just about every big shot who was there, should it ever get played for the public. These people are seriously pissed off.”
“I don’t get it. Why bother killing Jimmy? Shouldn’t it be the tape they’re after?”
“That’s just it – the tape was in Jimmy’s rented Erol’s Betacam, which he returned to the Wheaton Erol’s with the tape still inside! By the time the Pirate people got in touch with him, the camcorder had been rented out again, but the manager at the Wheaton store said the tape was making its way around to a bunch of the store managers. There’s even a rumor that some copies have been made.”
“Whoa. Wait a minute – where did you hear all this?” I suddenly had the feeling that I was either listening to a very gullible girl or totally being had.
“Curtis told me.” she said with a slightly defensive air.
“Oh great – Curtis, the BARTENDER at The Wreck Room? Hardly a reliable source, Dee.”
“You can ask Jimmy. He says it should all be worked out within the next couple of days. Has he been calling in sick at Erol’s?”
“Yeah, but he was there on Sunday. He did leave through the back door, though… Well I’ll be damned. Big Jim, caught up in a big ugly incident with the rich and famous. We’re both scheduled to work tonight. I’ll give him the third degree. I can’t believe he would tell Curtis and not me.”
“Okay. You have to tell me everything tomorrow.” Deandra squeezed my arm, the playful urgency returning to her voice, “Take notes or something.”
“Okay, but then you have to tell Jimmy that I’m totally not gay and that the reason you and I stopped having sex was because it was becoming too time-consuming and affecting our grades.”
“We’ve never had sex.”
“Maybe in your mind we haven’t.” I said.
“If that’s what you want, you’re really not helping your cause right now, buddy.”
“I know, I know. I’ll get the scoop on Jimmy and the bad guys and call you tomorrow. Think about that waitressing gig, though. I think it could be very beneficial to both of us.”
“I’m sure it would, dude. Later.” She kissed my cheek, got up and crunched away through the dried leaves that covered the path. I watched her, mentally counting down the six seconds it would take for her to look back and catch me watching her walk away. Right on schedule, she peeked over her shoulder, smiled the smile of a girl about to blush and continued on her way.
“DUDE? Deandra? If you’re there, pick up. Pick up! Damn. Here’s the deal – some new Erol’s manager – Dan something – got Jimmy his tape back, plus like 4 copies of it. Swears that’s all of them. Jimmy handed them over to some goons who came into the store tonight. The lawsuit will supposedly be dropped, and Jimmy’s gonna live. They said as long as no other copies of the tape turn up, he’s cool. He’s not convinced, though, so he’s gonna move away and won’t say where. He said to say goodbye to you and Curtis and everybody at The Wreck Room. But first, he told me more about what happened on the Pirate, and it is seriously messed up. Call me, dude. Later.”