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Igms issue 15, p.15

IGMS - Issue 15, page 15

 

IGMS - Issue 15
 


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  There was no answer. Deaver leaned over the desk and saw Toolie sitting down, filling out the forms. Deaver understood why Toolie was doing it, all right -- giving in to get along. This was how the secretary proved he was in charge. This was how he made sure the show gypsies knew they didn't belong here, that they had no rights here. So Toolie would fill out the forms, and as soon as he was gone the secretary would call up the business database, verify their license, and throw out the forms. Or maybe he'd go through the forms line by line, looking for some contradiction, some mistake, so he could have grounds to throw the pageant wagon out of Hatchville. And it wasn't right. The Aal family had natural troubles all their own, they didn't need some short-haired overwashed flunky in the mayor's office adding to their trouble supply.

  For a moment, pure rage flowed through Deaver, just like this morning when Marshall put his arm around him and called him son. His arms trembled, his toes pumped up and down, like he was getting ready to dance or wrestle -- or punch some power-hungry bastard right in the face and break his nose and cover him with his own blood, mat it in his hair, all over his clothes, so even when he didn't hurt so bad, there'd be stains in his shirt to remind him that people can only be pushed so far and then one day they bust out and do something about it, show you what all your power's good for --

  And then Deaver got it under control, calmed himself down. There was no shortage of volunteer self-trained sons-of-bitches in the world, and this secretary wasn't the worst of them, not close. Toolie was doing the right thing, bowing down and letting the man feel important. Letting him have the victory now, so that the family would have the greater victory later. Cause when they left this town, the Aals would still be themselves, still be a family, while this secretary, he wouldn't have a speck of power over them. That was freedom, the power to leave whenever you wanted to. Deaver understood that kind of power. It was the only kind he'd ever had or ever wanted.

  He finally got an operator and told him who he was and who he needed to talk to and why. It took the operator forever to check the computer and verify that Deaver was indeed a range rider and that he was therefore authorized to make an unlimited number of calls to regional headquarters in Moab. At last he got through. It was Meech, the regular dispatcher.

  "Got the scrapings?" asked Meech.

  "Yeah."

  "Fine, then. Come on in."

  "Quick?"

  "Not quick enough to pay money for. Just catch a ride. No hurry."

  "Two, three days all right?"

  "No rush. Except I got approval here for you to apply to Royal's Riders."

  "Why the hell didn't you say so, dickhead!" cried Deaver into the phone. He'd been on that waiting list for three years.

  "I didn't want you to wet your pants right off, that's why," said Meech. "Please note that this is just permission to apply."

  How could Deaver tell him that he never expected to get permission even for that? He figured that was the way they'd freeze non-Mormons out, by keeping them from applying for the job in the first place.

  "And I got about five guys, Teague, asking if you'll transfer your right to apply. They're pretty eager."

  It was legal to sign over your spot to somebody farther down the list -- it just wasn't legal to accept money for it. Still, the outrider waiting list was long, and there were bound to be some men on it who never meant to apply, who signed up just to make a little money selling their spot when it came along. Deaver knew that if he said yes and Meech gave him the names of those eager applicants, he'd start getting promises and favors. What he wouldn't get, though, was another chance to apply. "No thanks, Meech."

  The secretary appeared in the doorway, glowering. "Just a second," Deaver said, and put his hand over the phone. "What is it?"

  "Are you aware of the public decency laws?" asked the secretary.

  It took a second for Deaver to figure out what he was talking about. Had the secretary heard Meech hint about selling the right to apply? No -- it was the public decency laws the secretary was talking about. Deaver thought back over his phone conversation. He must have said hell too loud. And even though dickhead wasn't on the statutory list, it fit quite easily under "other crude or lascivious expressions or gestures."

  "Sorry," he said.

  "I hope you're very sorry."

  "I am." He did his best to imitate the humble way Toolie'd been talking before. It was especially hard because he was suddenly in the mood to start laughing out loud -- they were going to let him apply to the outriders! -- and he figured the secretary wouldn't like it if Deaver suddenly laughed. "Very sorry, sir." He picked up that sir bit from Toolie, too.

  "Because in Hatchville we don't wink at sin."

  In Hatchville you probably don't piss, either, you just hold it all inside until you die. But Deaver didn't say it, just looked right at the secretary as calmly as he could until the man finally took his unbearable burden of righteousness back to his desk.

  That's all Deaver needed, a misdemeanor arrest right when he was about to apply to be an outrider. "You still hanging on there, Meech?"

  "By my fingernails."

  "I'll be there in two days. I've got my saddle."

  "Ain't you cool."

  "Am too."

  "Are not."

  "See you, Meech."

  "Give your erosion reports to the reporter there, OK?"

  "Got it," said Deaver. He hung up.

  The secretary grudgingly told him where the reporter's office was. Of course the reporter wasn't transmitting -- that was done at night, over the same precious phone lines used for voice calls during the day. But he'd enter it into the computer today, and he didn't look thrilled at getting even Deaver's relatively slim notebook.

  "All these coordinates," said the reporter.

  "It's my job to write them down," said Deaver.

  "You're very good at it," said the reporter. "Yesterday's desert, today's grass, tomorrow's farm." It was the slogan of the new lands. It meant the conversation was over.

  When Deaver got back, Toolie wasn't in the secretary's office anymore. He was in the mayor's office, and because the door was partly open, Deaver could hear pretty well, especially since the mayor wasn't trying very hard to talk softly.

  "I don't have to give you a permit, Mr. Aal, so don't start flashing your license from Zarahemla. And don't think I'm impressed because your name is Aal. There's no laws says a hero's kinfolk got to be worth shit, do you understand me?"

  Shit was definitely on the statutory list. Deaver looked at the secretary, but the secretary just moved more papers around. "Just don't wink," said Deaver quietly.

  "What?" asked the secretary.

  If he could hear Deaver's comment, he could sure hear the mayor. But Deaver decided not to make a big deal about it. "Nothing," he said. No reason for him to provoke the secretary any further. Since he came into town with the pageant wagon, anything he did to annoy people would put the Aal family in a bad light, and it sounded like they had enough trouble already.

  "Young girls see you in those lights and costumes, they think you really are the Prophet Joseph or Jesus Christ or Alma or Neil Armstrong, and so they're suckers for any unscrupulous bastard who doesn't care what he does to a girl."

  Finally Toolie raised his voice, dropping the humility act just for a moment. Deaver was relieved to know Toolie had a breaking point. "If you have an accusation --"

  "The Aal Pageant and Theatrical Association is implicated in a lot of these, do I make myself clear? No warrants, but we'll be watching. Just cause you call yourselves Sweetwater's Miracle Pageant these days doesn't mean we don't know the kind of people you are. You tell everybody in your company, we're watching you."

  Toolie's answer was too mild to hear.

  "It will not happen in Hatchville. You will not ruin some girl and then disappear with your commission from the Prophet."

  So somebody did believe all those stories about show gypsies. Maybe Deaver used to believe them, too. But once you know pe
ople like the Aals, those stories sound pretty stupid. Except in Hatchville, of course, where they don't wink at sin.

  Toolie was real quiet when he came out of the mayor's office, but he had the permit and the requisition form for the bishop's storehouse -- both signed by the same man, of course, since the mayor was the bishop.

  Deaver didn't talk about what he heard. Instead he told Toolie all about his getting permission to apply for a job change, which meant he at least had a shot at getting into the outriders.

  "What do you want to do that for?" asked Toolie. "It's a terrible life. You travel thousands of miles on horseback, tired all the time, people looking to kill you if they get a chance, out in the bad weather every day, and for what?"

  It was a crazy question. Every kid in Deseret knew why you wanted to be one of Royal's Riders. "Save people's lives. Bring them here."

  "The outriders mostly deliver mail from one settled area to another. And make maps. It isn't that much more exciting than the work you're doing now."

  So Toolie had looked into the work his uncle Royal was doing. How would Marshall feel about that?

  "You ever think of joining?" asked Deaver.

  "Not me," said Toolie.

  "Come on," said Deaver.

  "Never since I grew up enough to make intelligent choices." No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Toolie must have realized what he'd said. "I don't say it isn't an intelligent choice for you, Deaver. It's just -- if one of us leaves, the family show is pretty dead. Who'd do my parts? Dusty? Grandpa Parley? We'd have to hire somebody from outside the family -- but how long would somebody like that work for nothing but food and shelter, like we do? If anybody leaves the show, then it's over for everybody. What would Dad and Mom do for a living? So how could I go off and join the outriders?"

  There was something in Toolie's tone of voice, something in his manner that said, This is real. This is something I'm really afraid of -- the family breaking up, the pageant wagon going out of business. And also: This is why I'm trapped. Why I can't have any dreams of my own, like you do. And because he was speaking true, like Deaver was somebody he trusted, Deaver answered the same way, saying stuff he never said out loud to anybody, or not lately, anyway.

  "Being an outrider, it's got a name to it. A range rider -- what do they call us? Rabbit-stompers. Grass-herders."

  "I've heard worse," said Toolie. "Something about getting personal with cows. You rangers have almost as low a name as we do."

  "At least you're somebody every town you go into."

  "Oh, yes, they roll out the red carpet for us."

  "I mean you're Noah or Neil Armstrong or whatever."

  "That's what we play. That's not who we are."

  "That's who you are to them."

  "To the children," said Toolie. "To the grown-ups all a person is is what he does here in town. You're the bishop or the mayor --"

  "The bishop and the mayor."

  "Or the sheriff or the Sunday school teacher or a farmer or whatever. You're somebody regular. We come in and we don't fit."

  "At least some of them are glad to see you."

  "Sure," said Toolie. "I'm not saying we don't have it better than you, some ways. A gentile in a place like this."

  "Oh. Katie told you." So it had mattered to her he wasn't Mormon, enough to tell her brother. Mormons always cared when somebody wasn't one of them. In a way, though, it made it so the way Toolie talked to him, like a friend -- it meant even more, because he knew Deaver was a gentile all along.

  And Toolie had the grace to act a little embarrassed about knowing something Deaver only told to Katie. "I wondered, so I asked her to find out."

  Deaver tried to put him at ease about it. "I'm circumcised, though."

  Toolie laughed. "Well, too bad it isn't Israel where you live. You'd fit right in."

  Some trucker'd told him when he was about sixteen that Mormons were so damned righteous because they couldn't help it -- after you get your dick cut all the way around, the sap can't flow anymore. Deaver knew the part about sap flowing wasn't true, but not till this moment did he realize that the trucker was also putting him on about circumcision being part of the Mormon religion. Once again Deaver had said something stupid and offensive without meaning to. "Sorry. I thought you Mormons --"

  But Toolie was just laughing. "See? The ignorance is thick on every side." He clapped his hand onto Deaver's shoulder and left it there for a minute as they walked along the street of Hatchville. And this time it didn't make Deaver mad. This time it felt right to have Toolie's hand on him. They got to the storehouse and arranged for a cart to deliver their supplies that afternoon.

  "Soldiers of the United States! We could march on Philadelphia and -- we could march --"

  "March under arms and grind Philadelphia beneath our boots."

  "Soldiers of the United States! We could march under arms and boot Phila --"

  "Grind Philadel --"

  "Grind Philadelphia beneath our boots, and what then could --"

  "What Congress then could --"

  "What Congress then could deny our rightful claim upon the treasury of this blood which we created by --"

  "Nation which we created --"

  "I'll start over, I'm just confused a little, Janie, let me start over."

  Old Parley had gone over George Washington's speech to his troops so many times that Deaver could have recited it word perfect, just from hearing it while he worked on bypassing a relay to the heater fan. With his head buried deep in the truck's engine, one leg holding him in place by hooking across the fender, the sound of Parley memorizing echoed loud. Sweat dripped off Deaver's forehead into his eyes and stung him a little. Nasty work, but as long as the fan kept blowing they'd remember him.

  Got it. Now all he had to do was climb out, start up the truck, and try it to see if the fan motor actually worked.

  "I've got it now, Janie," said Parley. "But are we now, for the sake of money, to deny the very principles of freedom for which we fought, and for which so many of our comrades fell? Help me here, Janie, just a word."

  "I."

  "I what?"

  "I say."

  "Got it! I say thee, Nay!"

  "I say that in America, soldiers are subject to the lawful government, even when the lawful government acts unjustly against them."

  "Don't read me the whole speech!"

  "I thought if you heard it once, Grandpa, you could --"

  "You are my prompter, not my understudy!"

  "I'm sorry, but we've been over it and --"

  Deaver started the truck engine. It drowned out the sound of Parley Aal unfairly blaming Janie for his collapsing memory. The fan worked. Deaver turned off the motor.

  "-- suddenly starting up! I can't work on these lines under these circumstances, I'm not a miracle worker, nobody could hold these long speeches in their heads with --"

  It wasn't Janie's voice that answered him now -- it was Marshall's. "The motor's off now, so go ahead now."

  Parley sounded more petulant. Weaker. "I say the words so often they don't mean anything to me anymore."

  "They don't have to mean anything, you just have to say them."

  "It's too long!"

  "We've cut it down to the bare bones. Washington tells them they could seize Philadelphia and break Congress, but then all their fighting would be in vain, so be patient and let democracy work its sluggish will."

  "Why can't I say that? It's shorter."

  "It's also not at all what Washington would say. Dad, we can't have a Glory of America pageant without George Washington."

  "Then you do it! I just can't do these things anymore! Nobody could remember all those long speeches!"

  "You've done them a thousand times before!"

  "I'm too old! Do I have to say it that plain, Marshall?" Then, more softly, almost pleading. "I want to go home."

  "To Royal." The name was like acid sizzling on wood.

  "To home."

  "Home is under
water."

  "You should be doing Washington's speech, and you know it. You've got the voice, and Toolie's ready to play Jefferson."

  "Is he ready to play Noah?" Marshall spoke scornfully, as if the idea was crazy.

  "You were his age when you started playing Noah, Marshall."

  "Toolie isn't mature enough!"

  "Yes he is, and you should be doing my parts, and Donna and I should be home. For the love of heaven, Marsh, I'm seventy-two and my world is gone and I want to have some peace before I die." Parley's speech ended with a ragged whisper. It was the perfect dramatic touch. Deaver sat in the cab, imagining the scene he couldn't see: Old Parley staring at his son for a long moment, then turning slowly and walking with weary dignity back to the tent. Every argument in this family is played out in set speeches.

  The silence lasted long enough that Deaver felt free to open the door and leave the cab. He immediately looked back to where Janie and Parley had been practicing. Both gone. Marshall too.

  Under the kitchen awning sat Donna, Parley's wife. She was old and frail, much older-seeming than Parley himself. Once they brought down her rocking chair early in the morning, she just sat there in the shade, sometimes sleeping, sometimes not. She wasn't senile, really; she fed herself, she talked. It was like she wanted to sit in her chair, close her eyes, and pretend she was somewhere else.

  Now, though, she was here. As soon as she saw that Deaver was looking at her, she beckoned to him. He came over.

  He figured she had in mind to tell him he ought to be more careful. "I'm sorry for starting the truck right then."

  "Oh, no, the truck was nothing." She patted a stool sitting in the grass next to her. "Parley's just an old man who wants to quit his job."

  "I know the feeling," said Deaver.

  She smiled sadly, as if to say that there wasn't a chance in the world he knew that feeling. She looked at him, studying his face. He waited. After all, she had called him over. Finally she said what was on her mind. "Why are you here, Deaver Teague?"

  He took it as a challenge. "Returning a favor."

  "No, no. I mean why are you here?"

  "I needed a ride."

 
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