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Igms issue 15, p.20

IGMS - Issue 15, page 20


IGMS - Issue 15

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  "Your daddy's looking for you," Deaver said.

  She made her mouth into a pout. To her it was a game, and it didn't matter that much to lose a round.

  "Do you think we care?" said Ollie.

  "Her daddy is the judge of this district, Ollie. Did she tell you that?"

  It was plain she hadn't.

  "And I just got through talking to the sherif. He's looking for you, Ollie. So I think it's time for Nancy to get her clothes back on."

  Still pouting, she got up and started pulling her dress on over her head.

  "Better put on your underwear," said Deaver. He didn't want any evidence lying around.

  "She didn't wear any," said Ollie. "I wasn't exactly corrupting the innocent."

  She had her arms through the sleeves, and now she poked her head through the neck of her bunched-up dress and flashed a smile at Deaver. Her hips moved just a little, just enough to draw Deaver's eyes there. Then she shimmied her dress down to cover her.

  "Like I told you," said Ollie. "We men are just pumps with handles on them."

  Deaver ignored him. "Get on home, Nancy. You need your rest -- you've got a long career ahead of you."

  "Are you calling me a whore?" she demanded.

  "Not while you're still giving it away free," said Deaver. "And if you have any idea about crying rape, remember that there's a witness who saw you taking down his zipper and laughing while you did it."

  "As if Papa would believe you and not me!" But she turned and walked off into the trees. No doubt she knew all the paths home from this place.

  Ollie was standing there, making no move to put on his shirt or his shoes. "This was none of your business, Deaver." It was light enough to see that Ollie was making fists. "You got no right to push me around."

  "Come on, Ollie, let's get back to the camp before the judge gets there with a warrant."

  "Maybe I don't want to."

  Deaver didn't want to argue about it. "Let's go."

  "Try and make me."

  Deaver shook his head. Didn't Ollie realize his fighting words were straight out of third-grade recess?

  "Come on, Deaver," Ollie taunted. "You said you were going to protect the family from nasty little Ollie, so do it. Break all my ribs. Cut me up in little pieces and carry me home. Don't you carry a knife in your big old ranger boots? Isn't that how big tough strong guys like you get other people to do whatever you say?"

  Deaver was fed up. "Act like a man, Ollie. Or don't you have enough of the family talent to fake decency?"

  Ollie lost his cockiness and his swagger all at once. He charged at Deaver, flailing both arms in blind rage. It was plain he meant to do a lot of damage. It was also plain he had no idea how to go about doing it. Deaver caught him by one arm and flung him aside. Ollie sprawled on the ground. Poor kid, thought Deaver. Traveling with his pageant wagon all his life, he never even learned how to land a punch.

  But Ollie wasn't done. He got up and charged again, and this time a couple of blows did connect. Nothing bad, but it hurt, and Deaver threw him down harder. Ollie landed wrong on his wrist and cried out with pain. But he was so angry he still got up again, this time striking out with only his right hand, and when he got in close he swung his head from side to side trying to butt Deaver in the face, and when Deaver got hold of his arms Ollie kicked him, tried to knee him in the groin, until finally Deaver had to let go of him and punch him hard in the stomach. Ollie collapsed to his knees and threw up.

  The whole time, Deaver never got mad. He couldn't think why -- rage had been close to the surface all day, and yet now, when he was really fighting somebody, there was nothing. Just a cold desire to get through with the fighting and get Ollie home.

  Maybe it was because he'd already used up his anger on Katie. Maybe that was it.

  Ollie was finished vomiting. He picked up his shirt and wiped off his mouth.

  "Come on back to camp now," said Deaver.

  "No," said Ollie.

  "Ollie, I don't want to fight you anymore."

  "Then go away and leave me alone."

  Deaver bent over to help him to his feet. Ollie jabbed an elbow into Deaver's thigh. It hurt. Deaver was pretty sure Ollie meant to get him in the crotch. This boy didn't seem to know when he was beat.

  "I'm not going back!" said Ollie. "And even if you knock me out and carry me back, I'll tell the sheriff all about the judge's daughter, I'll tell him I balled her brains out!"

  That was about the stupidest, meanest thing Deaver ever heard. For a second he wanted to kick Ollie in the head, just to bounce things around a little inside. But he was sick of hurting Ollie, so he just stood there and asked, "Why?"

  "Because you were right, Deaver, I thought about it and you were right, I do want to get away from my family. But I don't want you to take my place. I don't want anybody to take my place. I don't want anybody to have a place. I want the whole show closed down. I want Father to be a dirt farmer instead of bossing people around all the time. I want perfect little Toolie up to his armpits in pigshit. You understand me, Deaver?"

  Deaver looked at him kneeling there, a puddle of puke in front of him in the grass, holding his hurt wrist like a little boy, telling Deaver that he wanted to destroy his own family. "You're the kind of son who doesn't deserve to have parents."

  Ollie was crying now, his face twisted up and his voice high-pitched and breaking, but that didn't stop him from answering. "That's right, Deaver, O great judge of the earth! I sure as hell don't deserve these parents. Mommy who keeps telling me I'm 'just like Royal' till I want to reach down her throat and tear her heart out. And Daddy who decided I didn't have enough talent so I was the one who had to do all the technical work for the show while Toolie got to learn all the parts so someday he'd take Daddy's place and run the company and tell me what to do every day of my life until I die! Well, the joke's on Toolie, isn't it? Cause Daddy's never going to give up his place in the company, he's never going to take over the old man parts and let Grandpa retire, because then Toolie would be the leading actor and Toolie would run the company and poor Daddy wouldn't be boss of the universe anymore. So Toolie's going to keep on playing the juvenile parts until he's eighty and Daddy's a hundred and ten because Daddy won't ever step aside, he won't even die, he'll just keep on running everybody like puppets until finally somebody gets up the guts to kill him or quit. So don't give me any shit about what I deserve, Deaver."

  A lot of things were suddenly making sense now. Why Marshall wouldn't let Parley retire. Why Marshall came down so hard on Toolie, kept telling him that he wasn't ready to make decisions. Because Ollie was right. Their places in the show set the order of the family. Whoever had the leading role was head of the company and therefore head of the family. Marshall couldn't give it up.

  "I never realized how bad I wanted to get out of this family till you said what you said tonight, Deaver, but then I knew that getting out isn't enough. Because they'd just find somebody to take my place. Maybe you. Or maybe Dusty. Somebody, anyway, and the pageant wagon would go on and on and I want it to stop. Take away Father's license, that's the only way to stop him. Or no, I've got a better way. I'll go shoot my Uncle Royal. I'll take a shotgun and blast his head off and then Daddy can retire. That's the only reason he can't let go of anything, because Royal's in charge of the outriders, Royal's the biggest hero in Deseret, so Daddy can't bear to let himself shrink even the teensiest bit, even if it wrecks everybody's life because my father is just as selfish and rotten as Uncle Royal ever was."

  Deaver didn't know what to say. It all sounded true, and yet at the core of it, it wasn't true at all. "No he isn't," Deaver said.

  "How would you know! You've never had to live with him. You don't know what it's like being a nothing in this family while he's always sitting in judgment on you and you can never measure up, you're never good enough."

  "At least he didn't leave you," said Deaver.

  "I wish he had!"

  "No you don't," said Deaver.

/>   "Yes I do!"

  "I'm telling you, Ollie," Deaver said softly. "I've seen how your father is and how your mother is and they look pretty good to me, compared."

  "Compared to what," said Ollie scornfully.

  "Compared to nothing."

  The words hung there in the air, or so it felt to Deaver. Like he could see his own words, could hear them in his own ears as if somebody else said them. He wasn't talking to Ollie now, he was talking to himself. Ollie really did need to get free. His parents really were terrible for him, Ollie hated his place in the family and it wasn't right to force him to stay in it. But Deaver wasn't a son in this family. He never was, he never would be. So he could do Ollie's job and never feel the same kind of hurt at not being the chosen son. The bad things in the family would never touch him, not the way they touched Ollie -- but the good things, Deaver could still have some of those. Being part of a company that needed him. Helping put on shows that changed people. Living with people that you knew would be there tomorrow and the next day, even if all the rest of the world changed around you.

  What Deaver realized then was that he really did want Ollie to leave, not so Deaver could take Ollie's place, but so he could have a chance to make his own place among the Aals. Not so he could have Katie, he realized now, or at least not so he could have Katie in particular. He wanted to have them all. Father and mother, grandfather and grandmother, brothers and sisters. Someday children. To be part of that vast web reaching back into the past farther than anybody could remember and down into the future farther than anybody could dream. Ollie had grown up in it, so all he wanted to do was get away -- but he'd find out soon enough that he could never get away, not really. Just like Royal, he'd find that the web held firm, for good or ill. Even if you try to hurt them, even if you cut them to the heart, your own people never stop being your own people. They still care about you more than anyone else, you still matter to them more, the web still holds you, so that Royal might have a million people adoring him, but none of them knew him as well, none of them cared about him as much as his brother Marshall, his sister-in-law Scarlett, his old parents Parley and Donna.

  Deaver knew what he had to do. It was so plain he wondered why he never saw it before.

  "Ollie, come back to camp tonight, and spend tomorrow teaching me everything you can about your job. Then when we get to Moab, I'll take you in and transfer my outrider application rights to you."

  Ollie laughed. "I've never ridden a horse in my life."

  "Maybe not," said Deaver. "But Royal Aal is your uncle, and he owes the life of his wife and children to your father. Maybe there's too much bad blood between them for them ever to talk to each other again, but if Royal Aal is any kind of man at all, he'll feel a debt."

  "I don't want anybody taking me on because they owe my father something."

  "Hell, Ollie, do you think somebody's going to take you on cause you look so good? Try it out. See if you like being away from the pageant wagon. If you want to come back, fine. If you want to go on somewhere else, fine. I'm giving you a chance."


  "Because you're giving me a chance."

  "Do you think Father would ever let you be part of the company, if you helped me sneak away?"

  "I'm not talking about sneaking away. I'm talking about walking away, standing up, no hard feelings. You doing no harm to the company cause I'm there to do your jobs. Them doing no harm to you because you're still family even if you aren't part of the show anymore. That's what I think is wrong with all of you. You can't tell where the show leaves off and the family begins."

  Ollie stood up, slowly. "You'd do that for me?"

  "Sure," said Deaver. "Beat you up, give you application rights, whatever you want. Just come on back to camp, Ollie. We can talk it over with your father tomorrow."

  "No," said Ollie. "I want his answer tonight. Now."

  Only now, with Ollie standing up, could Deaver see his eyes clearly enough to realize that he wasn't looking at Deaver at all. He was looking past him, looking at something behind him. Deaver turned. Marshall Aal was standing there, maybe fifteen yards back, mostly in the shadow of the trees. Now that Deaver had seen him, Marshall stepped out into the moonlight. His face was terrible, a mix of grief and rage and love that about tore Deaver's heart out with pity even though it also made him afraid.

  "I knew you were there, Father," said Ollie. "I knew it the whole time. I wanted you to hear it all."

  Well then what the hell was I doing here, thought Deaver. What difference did I make, if Ollie was really talking to his father all along? All I was good for was talking sense to the sheriff and punching Ollie in the belly so he'd puke his guts out. Well, glad to oblige.

  They didn't pay any attention to him. They just stood there, looked at each other, till Deaver figured that it wasn't any of his business anymore. What was going on now wasn't about Deaver Teague, it was about Marshall and Ollie, and Deaver wasn't part of the family. Not yet, anyway.

  Deaver walked on back into the orchard and kept walking till he got to the truck. The sheriff was standing there alone, leaning on the hood.

  "Where you been, Teague?"

  "Judge still coming?"

  "He's come and gone. I've got the warrant."

  "I'm sorry to hear that," said Deaver.

  "The girl's home safe," said the sheriff. "But she's sure pissed off at you."

  Deaver's heart sank. She told. Probably lies.

  "She says she was just doing a little hugging and kissing, and along you come and make her go home."

  Well, she lied, all right, but it was a decent kind of lie, one that wouldn't get anybody in trouble. "Yeah, that's it," said Deaver. "Ollie, though, he didn't appreciate my help. His father's out there now, talking him into coming home."

  "Right," said the sheriff. "Well, the way it looks to me, there's no harm done, and the judge isn't calling for blood either, since he believes whatever his sweet little girl tells them. So I don't plan to use this warrant tonight. And if everybody behaves themselves tomorrow then these show gypsies can do their pageant and move on down the road."

  "No bad report on them?" said Deaver.

  "Nothing to report," said the sheriff. Then he sort of smiled. "Heck, you were right, Teague. They're just a family with the same kind of problems we got here in Hatchville. Sure talk funny, though, don't they?"

  "Thanks, Sheriff."

  "Good night, range rider." The sheriff walked away.

  Moments later, Scarlett and Katie and Toolie were out of their tents, standing beside Deaver, watching the sheriff get in his car and drive off.

  "Thank you," whispered Scarlett.

  "You were terrific," said Toolie.

  "Yeah," said Deaver. "Where do I sleep?"

  "It's a warm night," said Toolie. "I'm sleeping on the truck, if that's all right with you."

  "Better than lying on the ground," said Deaver.

  As he was getting ready for bed, Marshall and Ollie came back to the camp. Scarlett came out of her tent and made a big to-do about his hurt wrist, putting a sling on his arm and all. Deaver just sort of stayed back out of the way, not even watching, just laying out his bedroll and then standing there leaning on the audience side of the truck, listening to the scraps of conversation he could hear. Which actually was quite a lot, since Marshall and Scarlett hardly knew how to talk without making the sound carry across an open field. Nobody said much about how Ollie's wrist came to be hurt.

  One thing, though, that maybe changed everything. It was when Marshall said, "I think I'd better play Washington the next time we do Glory of America. You know how to do Toolie's parts, don't you, Ollie? As long as Deaver's with us, he can run lights and you can fill a spot on stage. Let Papa go home and retire."

  Deaver couldn't hear what Ollie said.

  "There's no rush to decide these things," said Marshall. "But if you do decide to join the outriders, I don't think you need to use Deaver's right to apply. I think I could write a letter to
Royal that would get you a fair chance."

  Again, Ollie's answer was too quiet to hear.

  "I just don't think it's right to take away one of Deaver's choices if we don't have to. It's about time I wrote to Royal anyway."

  This time it was Scarlett who answered, so Deaver could hear just fine. "You can write to Royal all you like Marsh, but the only way Parley and Donna can retire is if Ollie comes on stage, and the only way he can do that is if Deaver runs the lights and sound."

  "Well, sometime before we get to Moab, I'll ask Deaver if he'd like to stay," said Marshall. "Since he can probably hear us talking right now, that'll give him plenty of time to decide on his answer."

  Deaver smiled and shook his head. Of course they knew he was listening -- these show people always know when there's an audience. Right at the moment Deaver figured he'd probably say yes. Sure, it'd be sticky for a while with Ollie, partly because of beating him up tonight, but mostly because Ollie had some bad habits with local girls and he wasn't going to cure them overnight. Ollie still might end up needing to get away and join the outriders. Deaver could teach him to ride, just in case. And if Ollie left, then Dusty'd have to move up to doing some more grown-up parts. It wouldn't be long till his voice changed, judging from the height he was getting.

  Or things might not work out between Deaver and Katie, in which case it was a good thing the right to apply was good for a year. All kinds of things might change. But it'd all work out. The most important change was the one Marshall made tonight, to take some of the old-man parts and give the leads to Toolie. It meant real change in the way the company ran, and changes like that wouldn't be undone no matter what else happened. No way to guess the future, but it was a sure thing the past would never come back again.

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