The boys always liked Country Mike, even before he did Spider’s tats. Mike was in his thirties, just like Boogie, and at 5’10” he was about the same height, only a little more muscular and with blond hair. There was something about his eagerness to disregard the authorities, or what normal people considered the right thing to do, that endeared him to the boys. They were also impressed with Mike’s lack of remorse for his dozens of jail terms. To people like Mike, Boogie, and Julian, jail was almost like a summer camp. They’d say things like, “My life still goes on in jail. I’m alive. It just puts a damper on my mobility.”
He was an odd match for Buddha’s Mom. Ms. Janet Jenkins wasn’t a homely woman. She had a motherly beauty. Her dark eyes and dark hair gave her a unique look that bordered dangerously on plain. Country Mike’s years in prison with nothing to do but lift weights had made him a very attractive man, in contrast to Janet’s plump figure. She was a very caring Mom, with no vices, nor addictions. The only decision she ever made in her life that defied the norms of society was her love of the bad boy, Country Mike. She didn’t care if the gods themselves forbid it, she loved Michael Maples. So, when Mike was in jail, which was frequently, Ms. Janet would go see him every other weekend, no matter where he was locked up. That in and of itself was a testament to her affection because he had done nine months at Catahoula and that was a five hour trip. Plus, every Friday she put fifty dollars on his books which allowed him to live good in jail. Father Lucius had once said, “If you didn’t make it so comfortable, maybe he’d stop going.” To which she replied, “I go to work every day to take care of my son. Any extra money I want to spend on my man is my own business. It don’t cost you anything.” That was Father Lucius’ cue to butt out.
In her defense, her relationship was flawless. Country Mike adored Janet. He treated her slightly overweight figure like it was Venus De Milo come to life. She heard a hundred times a day how beautiful he thought she was. Also, even the though the tattoo shop received a steady stream of precocious girls baring all parts of their bodies flirtatiously to him, he was completely faithful. Never even for a second would he look at another girl. The women of the neighborhood always said it was because Mike knew for a fact that unless the government disbanded and the United States were thrown into a lawless state of anarchy, he was one hundred percent guaranteed to end up in jail again. When that happened, he would depend upon Janet emotionally and financially. But the truth was, he just loved her.
Mike treated the boys like they were co-conspirators, fellow cons. That’s why they looked up to him, Bobby, Julian, and the Prince. To those adults, the boys weren’t less, they were just younger.
As the boys loaded their bikes into the bed of his truck, Brandon Crayton, who was saying his good-byes and giving his congratulations, suddenly yelled, “Keep thwat dawmn thwing away fwom me!”
Spider chucked, “Buddha, why’d you bring your cat?” The boys cracked up, while Brandon stepped back away from the feline. The cat jumped up into the cab of the truck.
Buddha shook his head and said to himself, “It ain’t my cat.”
Buddha, George, and the cat rode up front in the cab. Tex and Spider rode in the back with the bikes and gear. Country Mike’s rickety ‘71 Ford bounced and creaked over the the road.
Country Mike handed George a folded map from the dash. “Check this out. I highlighted the route I think ya’ll should take. Highway 61 goes the entire way.”
“Yeah, that’s what we thought, too,” Buddha agreed. His stomach fluttered a bit with butterflies as he spied the exit sign for the highway.
Country Mike pulled over at the crossroads with the highway. He pointed to the map across George’s lap. “Here’s the only problem I think you will have. Highway 61 stops here at west Memphis. Then it starts again 3 miles ahead over here in Arkansas.”
“What about this big road?” George pointed.
“See, it’s against the law to bike next to the Interstate, but they might let ya make it.”
Buddha began to feel worried again. Tex and Spider had joined them at the map.
“Hey, ya’ll know the significance of these crossroads?”
The boys looked around at the deserted intersection and shrugged.
“This is the crossroads the famous guitar player Robert Johnson came to at midnight to sell his soul to the Devil.”
“I think we’ll be gone by midnight,” Spider smiled.
“I’d love to stay and visit, but I’m only on work release. I have to be back at the jail in an hour. Look, if ya’ll need an adult to pull off a scam or something, text me what to say. I’ll call back and be the shill. Oh, and text me every day, so if the hens find out you’ve flown the coop I can come up with something. And I rented ya’ll a room at the Horseshoe motel in Sparta nineteen miles away. It’s under the name Aaron Zweiner.”
The boys cracked up and mounted their bikes, turning them to the north bound shoulder of Highway 61. He waved as they pushed on their pedals and started off.
“Hey Spidey,” Mike called, “What kind of special did that big bag of muscles order back camp?”
Spider sat up and rode with no hands. He punched the air and yelled, “Two-piece extra spicy!”
Mike drove away smiling.