A Glibertarians Exclusive – The Deal, Part I

April 1937 – McAlester, Oklahoma

Ad Wolgast stood at the gate.  He was wearing a new cheap blue suit, new yellow leather shoes and a new white straw fedora.  The sun was hot; it had been a warm spring.  He was a tall, thin man, with black hair and black eyes, legacy of his Choctaw mother, and a long-jawed, equine face, courtesy of his Scots-Irish-German father.

In front of him, Assistant Warden Mike Baker was running through his release checklist.  “All right.  Adolphe James Wolgast.  Have you had your personal effects returned to you?”

“Yes,” Ad replied.  He could feel the sweat on his forehead already soaking the band in his new hat.  He held up his cheap cardboard suitcase and rattled it.  “Got all my stuff.”

“I see you have your new clothes, too.  Good.”  The assistant warden checked another box on the paper attached to his clipboard.  “Did you collect your back pay from the prison garage?”

“All six bucks of it,” Ad agreed.

“All right.  Dukes, open the gate.  Baker looked at Ad, evidently wondering if he was worth a word or two.  He must have passed the test because the officer went on.  “Got any prospects of a job?”

“My Pa is still farming down around Sallisaw.  Might could head that way.”  He intended something else altogether, but the terms of his parole said he couldn’t leave Oklahoma, so he wasn’t about to admit that.

“All right.  Just remember, any time before you step into the grave, you can change your own path.  Remember that.  And try not to end up in one of them Hoovervilles.”

“I will.  Thanks.”

“Well, Ad, good luck.  Hope to never see you again.”

They shook hands.  “Same,” Ad said.  The gate swung open, and Adolphe James Wolgast walked out of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, a free man.  The last six years had been like a drunkard’s walk through a bewildering, dark place, but at least now he was free – free at last.  At least, he told himself, I learned a thing or two from it.  Roughly a third of McAlester’s prison population consisted of hardened repeat offenders, and Ad rarely passed up a chance to listen to the hardcases talk; he learned a lot that way.

Ad walked east on Stonewall Avenue.  The highway was about half a mile east.  There was a service station, Jet’s Service, on the highway.  Ad headed that way.  That was where Penny was to pick him up.

Ad had known Penny Fredricks for three years before he landed in McAlester on an armed robbery charge in 1931.  He knew that ‘Penny Fredricks’ wasn’t her real name but had no idea what her real name was.  He suspected that she had chosen the first name due to her hair, as bright as a new copper penny, but he didn’t know.  All he knew was that she had been driving the car when Ad went into that high-interest bank west of Oklahoma City, and that she had fled when the deal went south – and he couldn’t blame her.  He would have done the same.  Neither of them was averse to suddenly growing feathers if a job went south.

Now he was paroled.  In his last letter to Penny, he had told her when he was getting out.  She wrote back, saying where she’d meet him.  He wondered if she would show.

The new shoes pinched.  Ad stopped, sat on the curb, and removed the stiff new shoes.  He took off the cheap cotton socks they had issued him and stuffed them in his jacket pocket.  Then, he picked up the suitcase holding his few personal effects – two shirts, a pair of dungarees, and a battered pair of boots, a pocketknife, and a Ronson lighter – in one hand.  With his shoes in the other hand, he walked on.  He grunted the relief of the air on his bare feet, hardened by a youth on the farm.

I’m sure as hell not going back to that.  Six years in the can, and not one letter from anyone back home.  Pa was so Goddamn mad when I got sent up for that stupid high-interest bank, said never to come back, so reckon I won’t.

Then, he was there, at the service station.  A yellow Ford convertible sat to the side of the lonely building made of used pine planks.  Ad saw the shining red hair, tied back with a bottle-green cloth.

He walked over to the car.  “Hey, Penny.”

“Hey, yourself.  How you doing?”

Ad climbed into the Ford.  Penny leaned over and held her face up for a kiss, so Ad obliged, kissing her long and hard.  “Better now,” he managed when he had to stop to take a breath.

He regarded Penny.  She was clearly a few years older, but still looked good; green eyes, that copper-colored mop of curly hair, the scattering of freckles on her nose, the green blouse unbuttoned down far enough to show the soft inner curves of her breasts.  She wore men’s denim dungarees over black sling-pumps; she always did have a flair for the unconventional.

“You look great,” Ad said.  “Even greater, being that I spent a year staring at that last damn stir-bug of a cellmate I had.  Fella named Joad, was in for bustin’ a guy on the head with a shovel.  Tells the story about ever’ ten minutes.  Ugly son of a bitch.”

“Well,” Penny said, “you sure got something better to look at now.”  Self-confidence was never an issue for her.  “So, ready to take a trip?”

“Where to?”


“Got something in mind?”

“You might say that.”  She started the Ford up and pulled out onto the highway, headed north.

They stopped for the night in a cheap roadside motel just west of Kansas City, registering as Mr. and Mrs. Albert Sydney Johnston.  The clerk scowled when he read the registry, but Penny handed over cash to cover the room along with a little extra for his silence, and so he said nothing.

“Want to get something to eat?” Ad asked as they walked over to the Ford to get his suitcase and Penny’s travel bag.  There was what looked to be a cheap greasy spoon across the road.

“Not unless you’re starving.”  They had stopped for a bowl of soup and a sandwich at a diner a couple of hours before.  Penny put her arm around Ad’s waist.  “It’s been a long time, honey.”

“It has at that.”  He draped a long arm around Penny’s shoulder and grinned.

Ad awoke sometime after midnight.  He sat up.  In the faint light shining in the window from the bare bulb outside the door, he could see Penny, sprawled naked across the bed, a satisfied smile on her sleeping face.  Good to know I’ve still got it, I guess.

Penny had brought with her a small, flat bottle of whiskey.  Ad, knowing he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep, got up.  He picked up the bottle, pulled the cork, and took a long pull.  “Damn,” he muttered.  “Can sure tell that’s factory liquor.  It tastes good.”

He looked around.  Penny was sleeping soundly, and he didn’t want to wake her.  He pulled on his dungarees, picked up a pack of cigarettes and his lighter, and went outside.  There was an old bus bench set outside the door.  Ad sat down, lit a cigarette, and pondered what was likely to happen next.

If Grandma was still around, if she knew what I’ve been up to, what I’m about to get up to, man alive, she’d be a-prayin’ over me like to beat the band.  She’d be figuring on getting Jesus hovering over me like a big raincloud, try to keep me outta trouble.  Well, Jesus ain’t never done nothing for me, not so I could tell.

Hell, Penny ain’t even told me what she’s got in mind yet.  I’m sure it’s some of the same sorta job that landed me in McAlester.  Guess I’ll find out tomorrow.  Or the day after.  Seems like it’s always another tomorrow bringing another load of trouble.  Reckon it’ll be that way until I die.

Ad’s cigarette had burned down to a stub.  He shook another out of the pack, lit it from the coal of the old one, and flipped the butt into the parking lot.

Back with Penny, anyway, he thought.  We always did get on real well, even if she does have an eye for trouble.  But then, I’m no different. 

Guess I’ll stick with her again in this job.  See what kind of a deal it ends up being.


In the still of the night, in the world’s ancient light

Where wisdom grows up in strife

My bewildered brain, tolls in vain

Through the darkness on the pathways of life

Each invisible prayer is like a cloud in the air

Tomorrow keeps turning around

We live and we die, we know not why

But I’ll be with you when the deal goes down

See Bob Dylan’s original video, featuring a young and rather delectable Scarlett Johannsen, here.