(Please read the first installment, immediately preceding this one—makes no sense, if you don't, and there's a point coming, promise)
Phillip originally came from some swamp-parish in Louisiana, though I believe his mother grew up in Texas City. His father was some kind of lawman there, and it was common knowledge that he'd been shot to death on the job, though he rarely mentioned it. He and his mother had been on their own after that, no help offered or given by the parish, or anyone else. Eventually, his mother made some choices that he held against her; during all the time I knew him, he did not speak to or of her.
There were, though, two things he loved passionately, one being his two-toned (green and white) Mercury Cougar, and the other being his girl-friend, Cherie.
The car was a major pain-in-the-ass. Seemed like there was always something wrong with the damn thing, usually relating to the transmission. Can't count the number of times I came by to see him, and he'd be underneath it, sometimes balancing the transmission on his chest (he was so strong he could remove it and replace it alone, without using a jack).
Cherie was nice, and very pretty, but she seemed older than us—she was Phillip's age, I think, but she seemed like a lady, not a girl, and her attitude towards us was a little condescending—Oh, aren't you too too cute—though we rarely saw her. She lived in La Marque, where she was secretary to the president of the bank she worked at. Phillip had left school after he and his mother fell out, and took jobs working where he could. At Cherie's insistence, though, he went back after Christmas that year. Since he could no longer work full-time, he moved in with the Titus's, a terrific family who lived down the block from me.
Scott and Mike Titus were both really good friends of mine. Scott was my age, and spent most of his time working on cars. He owned two El Caminos and a Dodge Charger, all of which he had bought cheap and restored. He was solid and conservative, and though he often went out with us, he rarely stayed out long, because he tended to be an early riser (he required every hour of daylight to tinker with his vehicles).
Mike was probably opposite as a brother can be. He was Phillip's age, and basically unambitious, satisfied filling his days with sleeping and his nights cruising and drinking beer. His vehicle was one of the most famous in town—a 1954 deep-blue GMC Pickup...Truck. He'd bought it from some Jesus-Freaks for $100, covered with rust and painted-on Jesus-Freak symbols and sayings, a blown head-gasket, a ripped up floorboard, and busted out windows. He'd spent the better part of two years fixing it up by the time I knew him, patiently sanding away all the rust, bondoing where he had to, tracking down glass, dropping a reconditioned 286 engine into it, somehow managing to save the original upholstery and dash. After getting it painted, buying new rims, and installing a new white bed-cover, it looked pretty sweet, and Mike began what was basically a 2 year vacation.
David's girl-friend—his fiance, excuse me—lived in LaPorte, about 20 miles up Galveston Bay. Consequently, he was often away, hanging out with her, and he worked in his family's plumbing business during the day. He'd show up now and again, and we'd hit the bars or cruise and pick up some races, but after the first of the year we saw him less and less.
I saw Phillip every day, though, and he was out with us most every night, after Cherie went to sleep.
Being his friend could be complicated. He was always broke, between fixing that damn money-pit car of his, entertaining Cherie in the style to which she was accustomed, and staying in school (she said she wouldn't marry him until he earned his diploma). You'd be in a store with him, and if he needed oil, he would put a quart beneath his jacket under each armpit, and walk out like he didn't have a care in the world. Once, after his car-battery fried, he asked me to drive him in my Impala to get another one. I thought we were driving to the auto parts store, but when we passed Jack Lane's car-lot (the evil bastard who sold him the Cougar), he told me to pull over. It was about 7 in the evening, so no one was there. Phillip walked over to the newest looking vehicle he could find, popped the lock, and the hood. Then, producing wire-cutters from his pocket, he severed the wires connecting the battery, lifted it out, shut the hood, and placed it on the floorboard in the backseat of my car. Redepositing himself in the passenger seat, he looked over at me casually, and said, "Okay, I'm good."
He was a hell of a good friend to have, though, funny and engaging, and always up for a good time (he did not countenance cheating, though—he never ever cheated on Cherie, or put himself in a situation where he might cheat on her. He chewed me out, more than once, because of my ways). His reputation could be valuable, too, for his friends. Can't count the number of times I've seen tense situations diffused just because Phillip showed up—he didn't have to do anything. "What's goin' on over here?" he'd say. "Ever'buddy doin' alright?" He would be smiling, and his eyes gleaming, garrulous and happy and ready to strike. Previously hostile personages would suddenly be unable to make eye-contact. Previous appointments would be remembered, regrets offered.
Once, though, after some freshman kid we knew had the hell kicked out of him by 3 or 4 guys from Santa Fe, he beat one of them so bad I was afraid he would kill him. The kid had talked to someone's girlfriend, and they jumped him when no one was around. We saw the kid for a few minutes, before someone drove him to the hospital. His face was bloody, eyes swollen shut, and he was doubled over, in pain, from what were probably broken ribs. When Phillip saw him, he didn't say anything, but his face tightened up, and he became very grim.
There was an argument going on about how to handle the situation, when one of the guys pulled up in his car, across the parking lot. I heard someone say There he is, and several people pointed in the direction of a hopped-up Mustang. The guy had his window rolled down, and was talking and laughing with a couple of rednecks I didn't know.
Phillip was there quickly. Smiling, he ignored the guy's salutation, grabbed him by the collar using his right arm, and with one tremendous jerk, pulled him out of the car through that opened window. He held him in the air, seeming amused for a moment, while the guy thrashed and cussed and kicked, before slamming him hard onto the Mustang's hood, with a crash that could be heard for blocks. Then, he began banging his head repeatedly, and slapping him, visciously, with the front and back of his opened hand. The guy's mouth started bleeding, and once the blood touched Phillip's skin, he picked him up again, and holding him upright, tried to shake the blood off, before wiping it on the guy's shirt. "Goddamn it, boy. You got blood on me," Phillip said, almost merrily, before hauling off and hitting him in the nose. The impact sent the guy sideways, onto the hood of another car, and the guy's nose sort of exploded blood. Phillip took a step toward him, and it was then that me and a couple of other guys intervened. I grabbed Phillip's right arm, and someone else grabbed his left. "C'mon, Coon Ass," I said, trying to settle him down (he really liked it when we called him that). He jerked free, but stopped walking. He was kind of teetering there, and I could hear him breathing heavily. There was a little smile on his face, so I wasn't sure if the danger had passed. Looking over at the Santa Fe guys, who were gathering their friend together, I hissed, "Get him the fuck out of here!", which they did, with dispatch.
When the excitement died down, and it was only Mike and Phillip and I sitting on the tailgate of Mike's pick-up sipping beer, I caught his eye, and said, "Goddamn it, Phillip. That was scary."
He looked embarrassed, and looked down at his shredded knuckles, and at the bloodstains on his shirt. "Boys, sometimes I scare myself. And that's a fact."
(part three tomorrow, i reckon)