Chester hit him anyway. Baxter was Shirley Anne (formerly) Honeyacre’s divorce lawyer and so Chester punched him once in theforehead with his big fist and Baxter flew backwards and smacked
the back of his head on the pine booth and then fell forward, his forehead thudding into the table like a stone. The little man might have been dead except for the gasping noise that escapedfrom a mouth that seemed suctioned to the table like some kind of suckerfish. Chester looked around quickly and noticed that no one had even seen the incident. The game on the TV had reached some
pinnacle of terror and joy for the spectators.
“YES! YES!” the guys at the bar screamed. “NO! NO! YES!” they shouted.
Something was going very right or wrong for the Midden Ravens. Backs were to him, the tavern woman’s gaze was fixed raptly on the TV. The beer was paid for. Quietly, Chester stood up and left the place and no one even saw him. He got into his car and for once started it up without racing the engine and he just drove away, his hand hurting like hell, the whole incident seeming to have come in one breath, one smooth moment like the moment of breathing in and half-breathing out and squeezing off the trigger and knowing the bullet had struck the target without even looking, so that one might have time to glance ahead for the next enemy with breath to spare. He drove.
Nothing happened to him.
He drove toward Midden, although he knew he didn’t have to. If the plan that was beginning to form in his mind was to be effective, it would be best if not one of the parade officials in Midden had any clue as to what would be going on. But he felt free and drunk and committed to some kind of action, however foolish. He decided to negotiate his way slowly through the back roads to his favorite Midden bar and restaurant, the sort of place where hard liquor might be obtained. Clouded, foreign beer had made him violent, he had decided. If he was going to be arrested for murder, he should at least be calm.
High above in the now cloudless night, the huge cone of Stick Mountain towered in moonlight. It was thirty some crow-miles away, but it was so large that, at times, it seemed to hover over the two towns like a ghost, especially in winter, when it was white from top to bottom. Tonight, in full moonlight, it made the picture postcard presentation of itself the area boosters liked most. They did not, however, want to be reminded that this was a volcano, still seething and burbling boiling mud.
He saw the lights on at the warehouse where they were building one of the biggest floats for the parade and he abruptly turned in. He sat in the darkened little car for a moment and no lights but those of the innocent flashed by on the road. After awhile, he got out and went inside the cavernous metal building. Inside, the float they were building featured, of course, Bunky the Beaverteeth Beaver, but portrayed in a disconcerting fashion. Bunky’s normally mammalian body had been transformed into that of a huge dinosaur with a Triceratops-like sail on its back. Over two stories tall, the thing stood high above its motorized platform in skeletal and chicken-wire form. Under the harsh flourescent worklights, people worked at the wiring together and welding of the understructure. He could make out Bunky’s big old teeth, sure enough. His hand might be swelling now, he realized, so he put it in the pocket of his jacket.
“Hi, Chester,” said Lorene Supplemeir when she saw him. “Gee, I just love that car of yours.” She had a bandanna around her head and she looked great in jeans and a nylon jacket that said “Midden Ravens” on it. She kissed him on the lips, stretching up on her tiptoes to do it. He wanted to kiss her more and for a moment he felt her back arch and her big chest melt into him and he wanted to pick her up with his good arm and kiss her, but he didn’t. They didn’t have that kind of a relationship in public. They actually didn’t have much of a relationship at all.
“Roaming around?” she asked.
“At loose ends, you know me,” he said.
“Bunky,” she said, looking up at the float under construction. Affection flooded her voice. “He’s going to be so cute.”
“Yeah.” He looked up. “Cute.”
” I guess so . See, he’s a dinosaur like in your brother’s movie? You know?”
“He’s going to be called Bunky the Beavosaurus, isn’t that funny? It’s cute. It’s ecological, too.”
“Cute’s the word for it. That’s our Bunky. Ecological to a fault.”
She looked at him for a moment and a hurt look passed across her eyes. She said nothing, though, because she liked Chester, although she had been going out with another guy lately whom she liked a whole lot better. Why not just have fun with life, she asked herself? Why did Chester have to be cynical about things? It worried her in a man. It was like the way Chester never had any kids with Shirley Anne. Lorene loved kids to distraction, much as she loved Chester’s little Drifta.
Chester noticed that no one here had heard any bad parade news. He made some small talk with some of the volunteers, a lot of them eager-beaver Petersunn middle-management types hopeful of advancement in the company, dressed in suspenders and big, white Nike shoes. There was a chicken-wire banner salutation along the side of the float that would read:
“Bunky the Beavosaur might be extinct today! Petersunn Industries; Logging for the Eco-Future!”
Someone had supplied a case of Jackalope Lite beer and the radio was playing bad modern country music and the workers had that whimsical camaraderie of voluntary labor when it gets to stay up for nights on end in order to complete something of a virtuous nature. After awhile, Chester left. He didn’t even hint at the bad news. He felt confirmed, though, in his initial reaction, that his only possible course was to somehow save the parade. It would be an heroic thing to do. The road was gone, the distinctions between Beaverteeth and Midden were becoming blurred. He must do something to make things distinct. He must separate himself from Shirley Anne. He must distinguish between things. He drove to Midden carefully, obeying every law, even some he made up.
He wondered if he had killed the lawyer, Baxter, and if he had, what horrible arm of the law would be set upon him soon. And if the little guy was stilll alive, he was still a Middenite, for all his Beaverteeth talk, and Middenites were, he knew, deadly in their manipulations of the law.
In the older part of Midden, between the hills of the old commercial district and the great docks of the harbor, down on the shore, perched the Ebb Tide Restaurant. It was an old place, part of the core city for the people of Midden who really mattered. It was the chief watering hole of the kind of people who populated the Midden Yacht Club, men who, for the most part, ran the town from their offices and department stores and grocery stores and warehouses up on the seven hills above the harbor. Pictures of these men and their wives studded the little cloak-hallway lined with cigarette machines at the Ebb Tide, black-and-white pictures of guys who were still young in the Fifties standing on the decks of their Chris-Crafts with their wire-lined salmon trolling rigs and huge fish suspended proudly between their flat-topped and pony-tailed kids, the trophies of a time when Washington had three people in it and you could catch big salmon over the phone. The Ebb Tide was built out over the waters of Anvil Bay on one of many old wooden docks that poke out into the Sound. The reassuring weight of the shore atmosphere enveloped Chester. It was dark and little shimmering lights squeezed through the rain. Small waves slapped at the pilings. Far off, he heard the moan of a foghorn. Why, he thought, with everything going so badly, did he feel so full of fire? Had he missed something? It had already been quite a day; an hallucinatory, probably brain-damaging attack of severe mental illness, way too much liquor already, a volcanic eruption, the loss of the only real way he had of making a living, a probably broken right hand and an unprovoked attack on someone whom he had so much reason to hate that any jury or judge would be more than happy to say that he should go to jail for premeditated assault, if not murder. Premeditation. This made him laugh. He didn’t know what he would do next, much less what he would do tomorrow.
He squeezed into his usual booth, seated by his usual waitress, and saw nobody he knew, for the which he thanked a God in whom he did not believe in the least, and he stared out through the dark blue-tinted windows of the bar and saw the black, slanted and crooked pilings of an abandoned dock leading out to sea and he sipped a vodkarocks with his left hand to cleanse his system of the evil beer and began to make such a
mental list as Alexander must have made upon determining his course was East. In short, he was suddenly feeling much better.
In fact, an idea had begun to form. He thought that at least he still had the short end of the parade and until tomorrow – when the news was sure to come out – no one would know that he did not have the whole thing. These two thoughts were probably short-sighted and stupid, he felt, but they were better than nothing.
Across the room at the bar, a Friday night crowd was assembled, a bunch of sport devotees, the kind of people who could be counted on to have their way with the place on a night when a game was important enough to carry with it its own kind of moral hammer, allowing the true believer to lord it over the meeker inhabitants of the darkened drinking places of the town. The sportsters stared up at the TV, they hopped up and down, they yelled and screamed, the men pounded on each other and the women shouted across the din.
Looked like the Ravens were back on top, thought Chester, who didn’t care. He noticed that there were several interesting looking girls cozied up to the big old bar and that there was a comfortable feeling of the night being young that made their shouting voices friendly and warm and their bodies more alluring than not. Ok, he thought, all is well. His list was still short and his glass nearly empty when one big man at the bar turned toward him, basking in the attention of two only adequately attractive yet minimally clothed babes, the kind who had perfected the very high-heeled, very short-skirted, lots of hair, Girls-Who-Just-Plain-Want-To-Do-It look. This man caught Chester’s eye and beamed his big smile across the room like a beacon of invitation to share in some great good fortune.
Chester thought he recognized the man. For a minute he thought his head was going to swell up again and he wondered if he should see a doctor but the feeling of falling into the abyss of Annie Bob left him, his head did not swell and he knew that he knew the big man to be an Indian. Even if he were not the Indian Chester wanted him to be, he was definitely an Indian and so Chester made a mental note to walk softly and know where the exits were. He smiled broadly and waved a wave of appreciation for life and Friday nights in general. He quickly asked his waitress if he was right and she confirmed it. The man was Jim Rook.
“He’s famous,” she said in a way that made Chester wonder if she knew personally everything he was supposed to be famous for.
“He took us all the way to the Ultra-Super,” she said innocently enough and sailed away with her tray of drinks.
Smiling conspiratorially, Chester lifted his second vodkarocks and saluted the giant at the bar.
“Here’s to you, big guy,” he mouthed, making sure his lips could be read across a room filling up with customers and noise. Chester could see Jim Rook’s lips smile in return.
“Go fuck yourself, pal,” said Rookís lips and they laughed. The two girls nearly fell to the floor giggling. Chester’s thinking was clear and calm and slow. He plastered a confident smile across his face and grabbed his drink and pulled himself up to his full six-foot-almost-two and sauntered toward Jim Rook unafraid and filled with alcohol and what had better be the idea of his life.
He looked down into the battered face of a man he knew to be bigger and tougher, but not necessarily smarter, than himself.
“Jim Rook,” he said. “You don’t know who I am, but you’re going to be very happy you met me. I’m here to offer you the opportunity to be the Grand Marshall of the Pioneer Parade this year and if you don’t believe it then my name isn’t Chester Honeyacre and I’m not who I seem to be.” Then they stared at each other, right in the eyes.
There was something in Jim Rook’s eyes that Chester had never seen before, had not counted on, and that might, to say the least, earn him at minimum a painful trip to the hospital. Jim Rook’s eyes were the eyes of everything about the world we do not want to know. Jim Rook’s eyes were a place of accident and random disregard. Jim Rook’s eyes were a deep pit and it was best not to totter too near that edge, he saw. And then, to make it worse, Jim Rook’s eyes suddenly widened for a moment, widened like an owl’s, so quickly and so fiercely that Chester saw that the man was mad. He would not have been surprised if the head behind the eyes were to suddenly swivel completely around. It was here and it was gone, the madness in the eyes, but Chester suddenly felt fear way down in a place even he had forgotten was afraid.
“Yeah?” Jim Rook said quietly. “Well.” He thought for a long second. “Go fuck yourself, pal.”
Chester held on, thinking fast, smiling pleasantly, a little sort of apologetic smile, as if he didn’t think that was the cleverest thing to say, although he fully understood its horrible implications.
“I understand your sense of humor and I appreciate it,” said Chester. “But you have to see that your presence in the Beaverteeth-to-Midden Pioneer Parade will entail practically a spiritual commitment from you, Jim. And so, I can see why you might not want to accept my offer.”
“Oh, I see,” said Jim Rook carefully, not loosing his gaze. “I’m not spiritual enough to be in the fucking parade. There’s a winning argument.”
“I just mean that there’s no money in it, Jim. It’s a ceremonial thing and God knows you’ve had enough public attention in your life that it would have to seem pretty small-time to you, I know.” He tried to beam toward Jim Rook that he was not so much pitifully drunk as he was full of the fullness of life – like Jim Rook himself – and therefore not worthy of being beaten to a pulp.
“What’s spiritual about that stupid parade? I was in it when I was a kid. I pissed on the crocuses. I threw firecrackers at the floats. Haw. haw. Fuck the parade. They hate Indians in fucking Beaverteeth. It’s a fucked place, Beaverteeth. Haw. Haw.”
He said the last words tonelessly. Haw. Haw.
Chester, drunk though he was, recognized that Jim Rook was more than a little drunk himself, that in fact he was on the edge of deep drunk and this was a state wherin trouble lay for the average Native American or Irishman. He was afraid but he didn’t want to stop talking.
“You have to save the town by being in the parade,” he said, deciding to rely on Rook’s reputed intelligence and sporting spirit.
“Fuck Beaverteeth,” said Rook. “I used to lie on my back and watch the clouds and be happy as you could be in Beaverteeth, so I know what I’m talking about, Honeyacre. Go long, Honeyacre. Get under it.” This was luck. Jim Rook had evidently recognized him. Chester was a big man himself, but most importantly, a college football player in his own days at Beaverteeth University College where he was, in fact, a predecessor of Rook’s. Jim Rook did not care.
“I hate the fucking Honeyacres most of all of all the things I fucking hate about fucking Beaverteeth. Honeyacres are white trash,” he concluded quietly. The bar around him was still. His eyes were malevolent now and Chester sensed some awful movement in them.
The other people at the bar were frozen suddenly and big trouble was in the air.
Indeed, the whole room had fallen silent except for the noise from the game on TV. The girls were no longer giggling. Men looked apprehensive. A beefy blonde guy with a mustache tentatively tried to ease the tension.
“Yo, Jim,” the guy said, trying to get Rook to look up at the TV screen and not deep into Chester’s eyes. “How about that? Just like you in that Omaha game in ’88, remember?” And at that moment, up on the TV, the Ravens scored.
“That’s gonna go for six!” shouted the announcer. “Oh, my, yes, that’s IN THERE!” And the crowd went wild. Music swelled up and commercials featuring young girls in cut-off jeans who liked guys who drank lite beer began to roll and the bar erupted in high-fives and Jim Rook lazily stopped looking at Chester and let his gaze wander over to the beefy blonde guy.
“There’s nothing like me now,” he said, but he said it with a smile.
“You got that right, Jim!” shouted Chester above the crowings of the crowd. Jim Rook looked back at him, but this time with pleasure, or so it seemed to Chester. Rook, for his part, could not believe that this balding white guy was still there, and then he seemed to realize that this was not a challenge to him. He perhaps saw in Chester something that he liked, some madness perhaps. He knew what he was like, did Jim Rook, and perhaps he recognized – for a moment, dimly – a fellow sufferer.
“I am not going to be in any goddamn parade,” he said with a small smile.
“Yes, you are,” said Chester. “You deserve it. We’re all real proud of you in Beaverteeth.”
“I had a dream about you, Honeyacre, ” said Rook.
“What?” Chester’s heart dropped.
“Yeah. You had your head right up your own ass.”
The two blondes finally felt better and laughed to beat the band. So did Chester. It was funny, actually.
Someone got the courage to edge up for an autograph and asked, “What do you do these days, Jim?”
Jim Rook paused and a sweet look came into his eyes as he neatly signed “Go Long, Jim Rook” on the proferred menu.
“Oh, these days” he said quietly, “I’m in the Indian business, mostly.”