Dallas Hudgens Drive Like Hell: A Novel

ISBN 13: 9780743261814

Drive Like Hell: A Novel

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9780743261814: Drive Like Hell: A Novel
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Wanting desperately to be behind the wheel, Luke Fulmer counts down the days to his sixteenth birthday, when he can finally get his license. Unfortunately, the first thing he does with it is "borrow" his neighbor's car. When he is pulled over and found in possession of an air pistol, a ski mask, a stolen TV, and a bag of pot, the unforgiving local magistrate takes scissors to his license and vows to lock him up if he ever stands in front of her again. So with an absent father and a mother descending into alcoholism, he moves in with his older brother, Nick, an easygoing ex-con who wants to steer Luke onto the straight and narrow. In the summer that follows, Luke contends with a kleptomaniac girlfriend, a duffel bag full of cocaine, and the realization that he must save his family from themselves, even as he plots to beat a path out of town.

In his hilarious, unforgettable debut -- with everything from stock car racing to drug dealing -- Dallas Hudgens brilliantly evokes Southern culture in a tale that is raucous and wrenching, funny and wise.

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About the Author:

Dallas Hudgens is a native of Georgia. He is the author of the novel Drive Like Hell and has contributed to The Washington Post and online at FANZINE (www.thefanzine.com). He lives in Virginia with his wife and two sons. For more information, visit www.drivelikehell.com

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Prologue

I may not have spent much time with Lyndell Fulmer, or have known him the way that some people think a son ought to know a father, but I understood him.

"If you remember anything," he said, "let it be this. A real man eats pussy and drives a stick shift."

He told me this when I was ten years old. He was drinking Lem Motlow as we skimmed along a blacktop outside of town in his '66 Chevelle Super Sport. Three in the morning.

I was the one behind the wheel, perched up at the edge of the seat so I could reach the gas and the clutch, edging up to 50 in a 45. Lyndell was riding shotgun and doing his talking, most of it about driving, like how to downshift and work your heel and toe on the brakes and the accelerator at the same time.

He was lean and dark, with kick-ass sideburns and a junior Porter Wagoner pompadour. A Kool snagged in his teeth and the pint of Motlow between his legs, he fiddled with the radio dial, trying to find something worth listening to, all the while letting me drive as if I were Cale Yarborough.

He pointed to an oak tree up ahead of us, sitting off a bend in the road. "That's your entry point, right there," he said. "When you get to that tree, squeeze the brakes and cut the wheel. Don't jump on the gas again until you start to unwind."

"Unwind what?"

"The steering wheel," he said. "What else?"

"Well, what if I start spinning?"

"You ain't gonna spin. Jesus Christ, don't be so goddamn negative."

He leaned back and mulled over the situation. "Of course, if you do spin, remember to turn into it, not against it."

"Got it."

"All right. Good."

He dialed in a Charlie Rich song on the radio and turned it up nice and loud, so he could hear it over the screaming engine. The Silver Fox was singing about what goes on behind closed doors. Lyndell closed his eyes and started playing the dashboard like it was a baby grand. He didn't appear concerned in the least that I might wreck his car. I pointed the high beams right at the oak tree and prepared myself to brake and downshift.

My baby makes me proud, Lord don't she make me proud. She never makes a scene by hanging all over me in a crowd.

Claudia, my mother, was disappointed in Charlie Rich. She thought he'd sold out and forsaken the hard-core, gut-bucket country shit that she really loved. Claudia stood firmly in the corner of folks like Hank and Lefty and Lester Flatt, Faron Young, Webb Pierce, and Hank Thompson. She liked the twang and the heartbreak and people talking about killing their lovers. Sounding too smooth never sat well with her. She never had much good to say about "Gentleman" Jim Reeves or Eddie Arnold. "There's no place more boring than the middle of the road," she'd say.

She and Lyndell had the radio playing in the kitchen one night. They were smoking and fretting over my older brother, Nick, who was in the midst of a twelve-month prison term on account of marijuana trafficking. They'd been to see him that afternoon, and they were talking about his lawyer and his upcoming parole hearing. That's when Charlie Rich came on the radio. He was singing about the most beautiful girl in the world, prompting Claudia to forget all about Nick.

"He used to be good," she said, "back when he sang real country music."

I was eating a bowl of Pet vanilla ice cream, and Lyndell was tapping out the beat to the music with his Zippo. He shrugged and frowned. "It's only a song, Claudia. Why can't you just relax and enjoy it?"

"Because," she said, "the more you listen to that stuff, the more of it they're gonna make."

She looked down at me. "Do you like this song?"

I shook my head. "I don't like any of that country stuff. They all sound like a bunch of hicks."

Claudia could always get sidetracked by music. It might have even meant more to her than cars meant to Lyndell. They each had their Saturday-night destinations. Lyndell's was the dirt track, where he'd change the tires on the Chevelle, slap a pair of magnetized number 7's to the doors, and race in the hobby stock class. Meanwhile, Claudia would be working over at the fish camp, dishing out hush puppies and slaw in the serving line until the house band called her onstage to sing her two songs: "I Can't Help It If I'm Still in Love With You" and "Just Someone I Used to Know."

She'd be wearing her Wranglers and straw cowboy hat, her thin, blonde hair pouring out the sides of it. She always waited for some fellow from the dance floor to give her a boost onto the stage, and then she'd drop her apron and take her spot behind the mike, calling out "one, two, three" in an unsure voice, like she wasn't going to pull it off. Then the Green Lake Gang would start up with their playing, and her voice would suddenly grow strong and run like cool water atop all of their twanging and banging. The men standing down front would stare up at her until their partners grabbed their shoulders and turned them back around to dance.

Claudia and Lyndell could have been one of those couples in a country duet, maybe something by Dolly and Porter, or Conway and Loretta. Verse one would have covered the early years, Claudia sixteen and living with a second cousin, just a quiet girl who'd been abandoned by her mother. Then Lyndell comes along, a good bit older, already been through one marriage and a stint in Korea, nursing a constant hangover while he fixes transmissions at a garage. He's got a glow that's not all whiskey, and Claudia falls for him. She turns up pregnant, they get married, and Nick is born. Life's sunnier than July.

Verse two would have to introduce the heartbreak; Lyndell drifting and drinking and fighting his demons, finally leaving and getting married to another woman. Claudia's all alone again, except for the kid. It ain't July anymore.

Verse three would provide the reconciliation, with Dolly doing the singing:

And then, eight years later, he called me out of the blue. He said, "Honey, I'm with this other woman, but I've been thinking of you." He said, "I'm the water and you're the moon, and if I can't see you soon, then I do believe my heart will turn to dust."

That would have been a good ending right there, Dolly taking him back and then fading things out with a nice refrain about lovers under the moon. But Lyndell and Claudia's story still had a few more verses to go, and they really weren't all that song-worthy. Of course, I still had to be born. And then Lyndell would run back to his wife, who'd eventually find out about the fling that produced me. She'd shit a brick, divorce Lyndell, settle up for possession of his GTO, and then burn it right in front of his eyes for spite. Lyndell would drift for several years, until he heard about Nick being locked up. And that would bring him back again. He was no longer the dashingly drunk paramour. He was just a man who needed a place to stay. And so Claudia offered him the sofa.

I met Lyndell at two o'clock in the morning, when he slipped into my bedroom smelling of sweet liquor and cigarette smoke. I didn't know who he was. I only heard the floorboards creaking in the darkness, so I reached under the bed for my Rico Carty baseball bat. As soon as the tall, dark figure stepped into the strike zone, I took his ass to right field.

All the air rushed out of his body. He groaned, dropped to his knees, and fell onto his side. He looked like a wrestler who'd just been thrown from the ring. "My kidney," he whimpered. "Oh, God. I think my kidney's ruptured."

The hallway light came on and Claudia swept into the room, still tying her blue bathrobe. I was standing on the bed with the bat cocked behind my ear, and Lyndell was lying on his back with his hands covering the top of his head.

Claudia rushed over and grabbed the barrel of the bat. "Holy shit, Luke. Don't kill him. That's Lyndell. That's your father."

My heart slowed to a trot. I pulled the bat off my shoulder and tilted my head to get a better look. My body felt warm and tight all of the sudden, like someone had rolled me up inside a big, heavy rug.

Ever so slowly, Lyndell's hands parted. When he realized I had no intention of smacking him again, he swiped his hand across his chest. "That's the take sign," he said.

I dropped the bat on the bed. "You oughta try knocking. I thought somebody was breaking in."

Claudia helped him sit up. He groaned and touched his fingers to his side.

"Jesus, boy. You swing like Willie McCovey."

I hopped off the bed, dressed in my skivvies and socks. That's what Nick slept in, at least before he went to prison. He'd told me the socks were more important than pants -- they took longer to put on in case you had to make a fast getaway.

"You're lucky I was choking up," I said.

Lyndell pushed himself to his feet. He was wearing his Wranglers, a blue T-shirt, and a gray Amoco jacket with his name stitched over the heart.

Claudia couldn't help but smile a little as Lyndell leaned against the wall, still hurting and doubled over from the blow. "So what's the word?" she asked. "Are you gonna live?"

"I think so." He laid his hand on his side again. "I might be pissing blood for a few days, but otherwise..."

"Well, what were you thinking, sneaking in here like that?" she asked.

He pointed my way. "I was gonna see if he wanted to take a ride."

"At this time of night?"

"Well, yeah. It's the best time. No cops. No traffic."

"Oh, Lord." She was smiling, though, and Lyndell was looking over her shoulder. He was smiling, too. He even gave me a wink.

The next night, I was ready to make a fast getaway, wearing my Keds and my Toughskins under the covers. Lyndell was careful to knock. He stuck his head in the door and waved his hand for me to follow him.

We padded out of the house and climbed into the white Chevelle. It was long and low-slung, with a twin-bulge hood, a Muncie four-speed, and mag wheels. The front fenders were embossed with crossed flags and the words "Turbo Jet." I'd never been impressed much with cars before then, but this one got my attention. It ...

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