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Igms issue 15, p.19

IGMS - Issue 15, page 19

 

IGMS - Issue 15
 


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  "In the tents, changing. I stay out here to make sure nothing walks away from the truck. Ollie watches out front."

  Deaver didn't believe anyone would steal from the people who brought them such a show as this. But he didn't say so. "I can keep watch," he said. "Go in and change."

  "Thanks," Toolie said. He immediately closed the box, shut the cab door, and jogged off to the tent.

  Deaver walked out into the space between the tents and the truck. Because he was supposed to be keeping watch, he faced the truck, scanning across it. But his mind was on the people in the tents behind him. He could hear them talking, sometimes laughing. Did they know what they had done to him?

  I was on both sides of this tonight, thought Deaver. I saw it, I was in the audience. But I also raised the flag the first time, made it wave. I was part of it. Part of every part. I'm one of you. For one hour tonight I'm one of you.

  Katie came out of the girls' tent, looked around, walked over to Deaver. "Silly, wasn't it?"

  It took a second before Deaver realized that she was talking about the show.

  "Of course the history in it is pure nonsense," said Katie, "and there isn't a genuine character in the whole thing. It isn't like real acting. Watching that show, you wouldn't think any of us had any talent at all." She sounded angry, bitter. Hadn't she heard the crowd? Didn't she understand what the show had done to them? To him?

  She was looking at him, and now she finally realized that his silence didn't mean he agreed with her at all. "Why, you liked it, didn't you," she said.

  "Yes," he answered.

  She took a little step backward. "I'm sorry. I forgot that you -- I guess you haven't seen many shows."

  "It wasn't silly."

  "Well, it is, you know. When you've done it over and over again like we have. It's like saying the same word again and again until it doesn't mean anything anymore."

  "It meant something."

  "Not to me."

  "Yes it did. There at the end. When you said --"

  "When I said my lines. They were memorized speeches. Father wrote them, and I said them, but it wasn't me saying it. It was Betsy Ross. Deaver, I'm glad you liked the show, and I'm sorry I disillusioned you. I'm not used to having audience backstage." She turned away.

  "No," Deaver said.

  She stopped, waited for him to say more. But he didn't know what to say. Just that she was wrong.

  She turned around. "Well?"

  He thought of how she was this morning, coming so close to him, holding on to him. How she went back and forth between real and fake, so smooth he could hardly tell the difference. But there was a difference. Talking about Katherine Hepburn, saying how she loved that movie, that was real. Flirting with him, that was fake. And tonight, talking about the show being silly, that was phony, that was just an attitude she was putting on. But her anger, that was real.

  "Why are you mad at me?"

  "I'm not."

  "All I did was like the show," said Deaver. "What was so wrong about that?"

  "Nothing."

  He just stood there, not taking the lie for an answer. His silence was too demanding a question for her to ignore.

  "I guess I was the one who was disillusioned," said Katie. "I thought you were too smart to be taken in by the show. I thought you'd see it for what it really is."

  "I did."

  "You saw Betsy Ross and George Washington and Neil Armstrong and --"

  "Didn't you?"

  "I saw a stage and actors and makeup and set pieces and costumes and special effects. I saw lines getting dropped and a flag that went up a little bit too late. And I heard speeches that no real human being would ever say, a bunch of high-flown words that mean nothing at all. In other words, Deaver, I saw the truth, and not the illusion."

  "Bullshit."

  The word stung her. Her face set hard, and she turned to go.

  Deaver reached out and caught her arm, pulled her back. "I said bullshit, Katie, and you know it."

  She tried to wrench her arm away.

  "I saw all those things too, you know," said Deaver. "The screwed-up lines and the costumes and all that. I was backstage too. But I guess I saw something you didn't see."

  "It's the first show you ever watched, Deaver, and you saw something I didn't?"

  "I saw you take an audience and turn them into one person, with one soul."

  "These townies are all alike anyway."

  "Me too? I'm just like them? Is that what you're saying? Then why've you been trying so hard to make me fall in love with you? If you think I'm one of them and you think this show isn't worth doing, then why have you been trying so hard to get me to stay?"

  Her eyes widened in surprise, and then a grin spread across her face. "Why, Deaver Teague, you're smarter than I thought. And dumber, too. I wasn't trying to get you to stay. I was trying to get you to take me with you when you left."

  Partly he was angry because she was laughing at him. Partly he was angry because he didn't want it to be true that she was just using him, that she wasn't attracted to him at all. Partly he was angry because the show had moved him and she despised him for it. Mostly, though, he was so full of emotion that it had to spill out somehow, and anger would do.

  "Then what?" he demanded. He talked low, so that the others wouldn't hear him in the tents. "Suppose I fell in love with you and took you with me, then what? Did you plan to marry me and be a range rider's wife and have my babies? Not you, Katie. No, you were going to get me hooked on you and then you were going to find some theatre somewhere so you could play all those Shakespeare parts you wanted, and if that meant me giving up my dream of being an outrider, why, that was fine with you, wasn't it, because it doesn't matter to you what I sacrificed, as long as you got what you wanted."

  "Shut up," she whispered.

  "And what about your family? What kind of show can they do if you walk out? You think Janie can step in and do your parts? Is the old lady going to come back on stage so you can run away?"

  To his surprise, she was crying. "What about me, then? Doing these stupid little backwater shows all my life -- am I supposed to be trapped here forever just because they need me? Don't I get to need anything? Can't I ever do anything with my life that's worth doing?"

  "But this show is worth doing."

  "This show is worthless!"

  "You know who goes to plays in Zarahemla? All the big shots, the people who work in clean shirts all day. Is that who you want to do plays for? What difference is your acting going to make in their lives? But these people here, what is their life except rain and mud and lousy little problems and jobs always needing to get done and not enough people to do them. And then they come here and see your show, and they think -- hey, I'm part of something bigger than this place, bigger than Hatchville, bigger than the whole fringe. I know they're thinking that, because I was thinking that, do you understand me, Katie? Riding the range and checking the grass, all by myself out there, I thought I was worthless to everybody, but tonight it went through my head -- just for a minute, it came to my mind that I was part of something, and that whatever it was I was part of, it was pretty fine. Now maybe that's worthless to you, maybe that's silly. But I think it's worth a hell of a lot more than going to Zarahemla and play-acting the part of Titanic."

  "Titania," she whispered. "The Titanic was a boat that sank."

  He was shaking, he was so angry and frustrated. This was why he gave up years ago trying to talk about anything important to people -- they never listened, never understood a thing he said. "You don't know what's real and you don't know what matters."

  "And you do?"

  "Better than you."

  She slapped his face. Good and sharp and hard, and it stung like hell. "That was real," she said.

  He grabbed her shoulders, meaning to shake her, but instead his fingers got tangled up in her hair and he found himself holding onto her and pulling her close and then he did what he really wanted to do, what he'd been wanting to
do ever since he woke up and found her sitting beside him in the cab of the truck. He kissed her, hard and long, holding her so close he could feel every part of her body pressed against his own. And then he was done kissing her. He relaxed his hold on her and she slipped down and away from him a little, so he could look down and see her face right there in front of him. "That was real," he said.

  "Everything always comes down to sex and violence," she murmured.

  She was making a joke about it. It made him feel sick. He let go of her, took his hands off her completely. "It was real to me. It mattered to me. But you've been faking it all day, it didn't matter to you a bit, and I think that stinks. I think that makes you a liar. And you know what else? You don't deserve to be in this show. You aren't good enough."

  He didn't want to hear her answer. He didn't want anything more to do with her. He felt ashamed of having shown her how he felt about her, about the show, about anything. So many years he'd kept to himself, never getting close to anybody, never talking about anything he really cared about, and now when he finally blurted out something that mattered to him, it was to her.

  He turned his back on her and walked away, heading around the truck. Now that he wasn't so close to her, paying so much attention, he realized that there were other people talking. Sound carried pretty good tonight in the clear dry air. Probably everybody in the tents heard their whole conversation. Probably they were all peeking out to watch. No humiliation was complete without witnesses.

  Some of the talking, though, got louder as he rounded the back of the truck. It was Marshall and somebody else out by the light and sound control panel. Ollie? No, a stranger. Deaver walked on over, even though he didn't feel like talking to anybody, because he had a feeling that whatever was going on, it wasn't good.

  "I can be back with a warrant in ten minutes and then I'll find out whether she's here or not," said the man, "but the judge won't like having to make one out this time of night, and he might not be so easy on you."

  It was the sheriff. It didn't take Deaver long to guess that Ollie'd got himself caught doing something stupid. But no, that couldn't be, or the sheriff wouldn't need a warrant. A warrant meant searching for something. Or somebody. Whatever was happening, it meant Deaver hadn't stayed on Ollie tight enough. Hadn't the girl said something about meeting him after the show, even if she had to sneak out of her window to do it? He should have remembered before. He shouldn't have let his eyes off Ollie. It was all Deaver's fault.

  "Who you looking for, Sheriff?" Deaver asked.

  "None of your problem, Deaver," said Marshall.

  "This your son?" asked the sheriff.

  "He's a range rider," said Marshall. "We gave him a ride and he's been helping out a little."

  "You seen a girl around here?" asked the sheriff. "About this high, name of Nancy Pulley. She was seen talking to your light man after the show."

  "I saw a girl talking to Ollie," said Deaver. "Right after the show, but it looked to me like her father pulled her away."

  "Yeah, well, could be, but she isn't home right now and we're pretty sure she meant to come back here and meet somebody."

  Marshall stepped in between Deaver and the sheriff. "All our people are here, and there aren't many outsiders."

  "Then why don't you just let me go in and check, if you got nothing to hide?"

  Of course Deaver knew why. Ollie must be missing. It was too late to go find him before trouble started.

  "We have a right to be protected against unreasonable searches, sir," said Marshall. He would've gone on, no doubt, but Deaver cut him off by asking the sheriff a question.

  "Sheriff, the show's only been over about fifteen minutes," said Deaver. "How do you know she isn't off with some girlfriends or something? Have you checked their houses?"

  "Look, smart boy," said the sheriff, "I don't need you telling me my business."

  "Well, I guess not. I think you know your business real good," said Deaver. "In fact, I think you know your business so good that you know this girl wouldn't be off with a girlfriend. I bet this girl has caused you a lot of trouble before."

  "That's none of your business, range rider."

  "I'm just saying that --"

  But now Marshall had caught the drift of what Deaver was doing, and he took over. "I am alarmed, sir, that there might be a chance that this girl from your town is corrupting one of my sons. My sons have little opportunity to associate with young people outside our family, and it may be that an experienced girl might lead one of them astray."

  "Real smart," said the sheriff, glaring at Marshall and then at Deaver and then at Marshall again. "But it isn't going to work."

  "I don't know what you mean," said Marshall. "I only know that you were aware that this girl was prone to illicit involvement with members of the opposite sex, and yet you made no effort to protect guests in your town from getting involved with her."

  "You can just forget that as a line of defense in court," said the sheriff.

  "And why is that?" asked Marshall.

  "Because her father's the judge, Mr. Aal. You start talking like that, and you've lost your license in a hot second. You might get it back on appeal, but with Judge Pulley fighting you every step of the way, you aren't going to be working for months."

  Deaver couldn't think of anything to say. To Deaver's surprise, neither could Marshall.

  "So I'm coming back in ten minutes with a warrant, and you better have all your boys here in camp, and no girls with them, or your days of spreading corruption through the fringe are over."

  The sheriff walked a few paces toward the road, then turned back and said, "I'm going to call the judge on my radio, and then I'll be sitting right here in my car watching your camp till the judge gets here with the warrant. I don't want to miss a thing."

  "Of course not, you officious cretin," said Marshall. But he said it real quiet, and Deaver was the only one who heard him.

  It was plain what the sheriff planned. He was hoping to catch Nancy Pulley running away from the camp, or Ollie sneaking back.

  "Marshall," said Deaver, as quiet as he could, "I saw Ollie with that girl in the orchard before the show."

  "I'm not surprised," said Marshall.

  "I take it Ollie isn't in camp."

  "I haven't checked," said Marshall.

  "But you figure he's gone."

  Marshall didn't say anything. Wasn't about to admit anything to an outsider, Deaver figured. Well, that was proper. When the family's in trouble, you got to be careful about trusting strangers.

  "I'll do what I can," said Deaver.

  "Thanks," said Marshall. It was more than Deaver expected him to say. Maybe Marshall understood that things were bigger than Marshall could handle just by telling people off.

  Deaver walked along after the sheriff, and came up to him just as he was setting down his radio mouthpiece. The sheriff looked up at him, already looking for a quarrel. "What is it, range rider?"

  "My name's Deaver Teague, Sheriff, and I've only been with the Aals since this morning, when they picked me up. But that was long enough to get to know them a little, and I got to tell you, I think they're pretty good people."

  "They're all actors, son. That means they can seem to be anything they want."

  "Yeah, they're pretty good actors, aren't they. That was some show, wasn't it."

  The sheriff smiled. "I never said they weren't good actors."

  Deaver smiled back. "They are good. I helped them set up today. They work real hard to put on that show. Did you ever try to lift a generator? Or put up those lights? Getting from a loaded truck to a show tonight -- they put in an honest day's work."

  "Are you getting somewhere with this?" asked the sheriff.

  "I'm just telling you, they may not do farm work like most folks here in town, but it's still real work. And it's a good kind of work, I think. Didn't you see the faces of those kids tonight, watching the show? You think they didn't go home proud?"

  "Shoot, boy
, I know they did. But these show people think they can come in here and screw around with the local girls and . . ." His voice trailed off. Deaver made sure not to interrupt him.

  "That man you talked to, Sheriff, this isn't just his business, it's his family, too. He's got his wife and parents with him, and his sons and daughters. You got any children, Sheriff?"

  "Yes I do, but I don't let them go off any which way like some people do."

  "But sometimes kids do things their parents taught them not to do. Sometimes kids do something really bad, and it breaks their parents' hearts. Not your kids, but maybe the Aals have a kid like that, and maybe Judge Pulley does too. And maybe when their kids are getting in trouble, people like the Aals and the Pulleys, they do anything they can to keep their kids out of trouble. Maybe they even pretend like anything their kid does, it was somebody else's fault."

  The sheriff nodded. "I see what you're getting at, Mr. Teague. But that doesn't change my job."

  "Well what is your job, Sheriff? Is it putting good people out of work because they got a grown-up son they can't handle? Is it causing Judge Pulley's daughter to get her name dragged through the mud?"

  The sheriff sighed. "I don't know why I started listening to you, Teague. I always heard you range riders never talked much."

  "We save it all up for times like this."

  "You got a plan, Teague? Cause I can't just drive off and forget about this."

  "You just go on and do what you got to do, Sheriff. But if it so happens that Nancy Pulley gets home safe and sound, then I hope you won't do anything to hurt either one of these good families."

  "So why didn't that actor talk good sense like you instead of getting all hoity-toity with me?"

  Deaver just grinned. No use saying what he was thinking -- that Marshall wouldn't have gotten hoity-toity if the sheriff hadn't treated him like he was already guilty of a dozen filthy crimes. It was good enough that the sheriff was seeing them more like ordinary folks. So Deaver patted the door of the car and walked on up the road toward the orchard. Now all Deaver had to do was find Ollie.

  It wasn't hard. It was like they wanted to be found. They were in tall grass on the far side of the orchard. She was laughing. They didn't hear Deaver coming, not till he was only about ten feet away. She was naked, lying on her dress spread out like a blanket under her. But Ollie still had his pants on, zipped tight. Deaver doubted the girl was a virgin, but at least it wasn't Ollie's fault. She was playing with his zipper when she happened to look up and see Deaver watching. She screeched and sat up, but she didn't even try to cover herself. Ollie, though, he picked up his shirt and tried to cover her.

 
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