05 Mar The Beetle Man
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"The Beetle Man"Written by
Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Some background information:
This happened way back in 1983, the year after I graduated high school. I’d hitchhiked south to Florida with the goal of becoming a beach bum-ette until I got tired of it. Anyway, I had shacked up with several guys until I ended up with BJ. BJ was in his thirties, was drunk all the time, and was a huge asshole. He would constantly try to start fights with people and it followed the exact same progression each time:
1) He’d piss off someone by generally being a drunk asshole.
2) If the person stood up to him, he’d bait them by calling them some variation of “
3) He’d tell them they didn’t want to get hurt and/or they didn’t know who they were messing with.
4) He’d call their penis a “little wee-wee.”
He did this literally every day I was with him, sometimes more than once. No one ever rose to his bait, though. They all just walked away from him without a word, except some of them would call him out for being a drunk. I guess he thought he was intimidating even though he was only about five-foot-seven and didn’t have big muscles or look tough in any way. He just looked like a guy who was drunk all the time. He also hadn’t been in the military or anything that I knew of to get training or experience, so I never knew why he thought he could win any of the fights he tried to start.
You might be asking why I had ever hooked up with this guy. Well, looking back, I don’t know. He was nice at first until he “had” me, then he showed his true colors. I could have left then, so why didn’t I? All I can figure is that he let me stay at his house and gave me alcohol, so that was good enough. I guess I was too naive at the time to realize how bad of a situation I was in. And maybe, well, maybe I was arrogant. Maybe I needed to prove to myself that a man like that couldn’t get the better of me. Maybe I was just a stupid teenager.
Now that you know the particulars of my situation, this is the story:
After a while, I decided I was tired of Florida and it was time to go home. BJ wanted to drive me. I told him no because I didn’t want him to know where I was from. All that he knew was that I was from Knoxville, Tennessee and I thought even that was too much. I was going to take a bus, and had managed to scrape up and hide just enough money for a ticket. BJ didn’t like that but what could he do? Well, turns out he knew where I was hiding the money and had stolen it. He pulled it out of his wallet and waved it in my face, laughing. He left to go buy booze with my money and I just laid on the couch, crying. He got back late in the evening with several cases of beer and some bottles of Jack for the “road trip”.
Feeling like I didn’t have a choice now, I let BJ drive us in his old Nova. It actually did have cool paint with one of those flame-jobs people used to do all the time. He talked about the thing like it was some awesome muscle car but it wasn’t. I’m not even sure it was a V8, I remember it didn’t sound like one. I know for sure the power steering didn’t work because he told me it ran out of fluid and he was so drunk when he tried to fix it, he filled the reservoir with beer and ruined the whole steering system. BJ thought that was hilarious.
Anyway, we left a little before dark and he drank non-stop from the moment we left his house. He’d finish a beer, toss the bottle out the window, and tell me to grab him another one from one of the cases in the back. Sparingly at first, then before long in-between every beer, he gulped from one of the whiskey bottles. It was pretty heavy drinking, even for him. After a couple of hours, he was so drunk his eyeballs weren’t even both pointing in the same direction. Keep in mind the bastard was driving, and fast! I begged him to pull over or he was going to kill us. He told me no, the only way he’d stop was if I agreed to go back to his house, otherwise he was going non-stop to my parents’ front door. He couldn’t wait to meet my parents and show them just what kind of man their little girl was with.
It was too much for me. I couldn’t believe I’d ever taken up with this man and gotten myself in this situation. It was late, I was tired, I was scared and crying, and I generally felt like a little girl who was lost and needed her Mommy and Daddy. It was too much for me and I fell asleep, I guess because I couldn’t cope with it any other way.
I woke up when he wrecked. I remember getting that falling feeling like you sometimes get when you’re about to fall asleep, then there was a lot of noise and I hit my head hard. I don’t think I blacked out but I can’t really be sure. All I remember was that my vision was too blurry for me to even think about trying to do anything for a few seconds. Once my head cleared, I saw that I was face-down in a puddle of blood on the dash. The windshield in front of me was cracked all to hell from where my head hit it and it was a wonder I hadn’t been flung through it. My nose was bleeding.
I opened the door and kind of fell out. I saw two things: the Nova was nose-down in a deep ditch and we were in the middle of nowhere. I’m talking a long, straight road lined with trees on both sides as far as I could see in the dark. BJ was already out of the car, sitting on the side of the road. More like, he had fallen on his ass because he was too drunk to stand up straight.
I asked him where we were and he said he didn’t know, maybe somewhere in Alabama. If you don’t know, unless you start from the panhandle, there is no reason to get anywhere near Alabama to go from Florida to East Tennessee. He said he got confused and thought we were going to Memphis to see Graceland. It was his idea of a joke, I think.
We ended up just walking down the road, hoping to get picked up by someone. BJ made sure to retrieve a bottle of Jack from the car before we set off, of course. I was actually kind of relieved at him having wrecked. Now that I wasn’t being held prisoner in his car, I could probably split from him. Maybe we could stop at a motel or a gas station and I could get a ride from someone while BJ was in the bathroom, or paying for a room, or something. BJ was mostly quiet, trying to keep walking straight, occasionally taking sips from his precious bottle when he was in danger of getting a little sober.
After what seemed like a long time, so long that I was afraid we really were nowhere and nobody would ever come along, we heard a car, coming up behind us. I told BJ to hide his bottle while I tried to flag down the driver. It was a VW Beetle. The driver was a pudgy little man, older, with glasses. There was a necklace of Christ on the cross hung from the rearview mirror. The man with his Jesus necklace and little car looked about as harmless as a kitten. He let me in the back seat and BJ took the passenger seat. The Beetle man told us he would take us to an all-night gas station up the road where we could call for a wrecker. I thanked him so much. I planned, once BJ got out to call for the wrecker, that I would ask the friendly man to leave him behind and take me somewhere else.
That never happened, because after a few minutes, BJ decided it would be a good time to pick a fight.
“You’re a fat motherfucker, ain’t ya?”
My jaw just about dropped off. I could not believe he was doing that. We had been walking for at least an hour, and we hadn’t been in the car but five or ten minutes, and he was going to get us thrown right back out on the road.
“What?” the Beetle man asked.
BJ leaned over right into his face and shouted, “I said you’re a fat motherfucker!”
The Beetle man calmly pulled over to the side of the road and turned off the car.
“You’re a drunk,” he said. “I saw your car in the ditch. Figured you were a drunk.”
BJ didn’t respond, he just pulled the bottle of Jack out of his pants. He shook it in the man’s face and laughed before he took a big sip.
“I don’t like drunks,” the Beetle man said, suddenly not sounding so friendly.
“This is not the time to be messing with me, little man” BJ said.
“Stop it!” I said, smacking BJ upside the head.
“This fat motherfucker thinks he’s somebody,” BJ said. “He doesn’t know who he’s messing with. I’ll show him who’s somebody.”
“BJ, shut up!” I said, more forcefully. “I’m sorry, mister, there’s no excuse for this,” I said to the Beetle man. “BJ, get out. We’ll walk.”
“I’m not walking anywhere. This piece of shit can drive,” BJ said. A dumb, drunk grin was all over his face.
“Let me show you what I do with drunks,” the Beetle man said.
Right when he said that, I almost got sick to my stomach. There was going to be violence. It was unavoidable, now. I just put up my hands to signal I was out of it and leaned as far back in the seat as I could.
“Man, I don’t give a shit!” BJ shouted. “You don’t want to get hurt tonight, so you better shut up and drive.”
The man took the keys out of the ignition and got out. A Beetle has a pocket on the door panel for storing things and I saw him reach into it as he stood up. I thought he was putting the keys in it. He walked around to BJ’s side.
“Oh, it’s on!” BJ said, more excited than I’d ever seen him.
He fumbled the door open and stood up, still holding the bottle. I was hoping he was so drunk he wouldn’t be able to fight. I didn’t think BJ was very tough but the Beetle man was a little shorter, fatter, and older, so I was afraid he would get hurt. BJ would probably club him with the bottle.
Instead of fighting, the Beetle man pointed a gun right at BJ. That must have been what he reached into the door pocket for. I don’t know anything about guns, so all I can say was that it was a big revolver. It looked huge to me at that moment. BJ was startled but, unbelievably, kept trying to play it tough.
“Man, you better put that away before you shoot off your little wee-wee,” he said.
“Get on the ground!” the man shouted.
BJ just laughed and started to lift the bottle to his lips. The Beetle man fired off a shot. It was incredibly loud. BJ’s bottle exploded and he fell back against the car. I couldn’t really see his face but, from his body language, I could tell he was scared shitless.
“Get on the ground or I’ll kill you!” the Beetle man shouted.
BJ clumsily got to his knees and put his hands behind his head.
“You better be glad you’ve got that gun, or I’d –“ BJ started.
The man stepped forward and I thought that was it, he was going to put his gun to BJ’s head and blow his brains out. Instead, Beetle the man raised the gun high and slammed it against BJ’s temple, so hard BJ’s head bounced off the car body, then he fell. The Beetle man climbed on top of him and started bashing his head with the revolver, over and over. I didn’t really see much because I somehow got myself scrunched up into the tiny floor space between the front seats and the back seat. All I saw was the gun raising up and going back down, and I heard the impacts. I thought BJ must be dead but I heard him making noise. I think he was trying to say “please stop” or something. Then I heard two more gunshots, then an awful noise like halfway between someone choking and snoring.
The Beetle man came back around to the drive’s side, opened the door, flipped his seat forward, and dragged me out of the floor. You might think I was screaming my head off but I wasn’t. I only made little sounds, almost like dog whimpers. I read somewhere once that in life-or-death situations, some people just shut down. That’s what I was doing then, or maybe I was afraid if I made noise it would enrage the man further and he’d kill me. I don’t know. He shoved his gun barrel almost up my nose.
“If I didn’t have Jesus with me tonight, I’d have killed you both! God-damn drunks!”
He threw me to the ground, got in his car, and drove off. I looked up to watch him go. All I could focus on was that Jesus necklace on his mirror, swinging back and forth.
After a minute, it occurred to me that I should check on BJ. He was on his stomach, still breathing. There was a big hole in the dirt next to his head, which I guess was where the man had fired those two shots. I rolled him over and about screamed. His face wasn’t really a face anymore. If you looked hard enough, you could tell it used to be a face. Nothing looked like it was in the right place and his eyes were so swelled they looked like eggplants growing on his head.
I left him. That’s right, I just got up, started walking, and left him.
It took me a while but I finally got to that gas station the Beetle man had told us about. I hitched a ride with an old lady who was on her way to Chattanooga, luckily enough. She was a nice lady, said she used to get in “trouble” when she was young, too. Once we got to Chattanooga, she gave me a little money for food and told me to take care of myself. I called my parents from a bus station. They wired me some money for a ticket and, a few hours later, I was home.
So, that’s the scariest thing that ever happened to me. There was nothing paranormal, no ghosts or monsters, just a young girl getting caught between a stupid, drunk asshole and a half-crazed guy with a gun in the middle of nowhere.
I never found out if BJ lived or died and, frankly, I don’t care. As for the Beetle man, I’d almost have thanked him. But, he said he would have killed me and I didn’t do a thing to him. If you’re ever broken down or wrecked on a lonely road in Alabama, and a little man in an old Beetle stops to give you a ride, check his rearview mirror and make sure Jesus is with him before you get in.