Vanilla Ride, page 14
“But after Jimmy run off, the meanness that was divided on me and Jimmy all turned on me. Even the nuns got worse. I think maybe they thought they could beat the evil out of me, and one of the worst was a younger nun who I always thought was looking me up, trying to think if she could figure some way to get her a little of what I was toting between the legs. It could have just been my thinking, ’cause I always did want to fuck a nun. Anyway, I don’t know that for a fact, but it could have been true, and she maybe thought about it so much and got so much a feeling of being a sinner that she took it out on me with that ruler. One day I took it away from her and broke it and threatened to stick it up her ass and break it off again. I was a pretty big boy then, even if I was young, and it scared her. I got sent home for a few days, but when I went back she never did hit me with that ruler no more. But it didn’t change the way the kids talked, especially this one fella, Danny Sonier. He wouldn’t let it go, and he went around saying I was fucking my mother. Well, she wasn’t my mother. She was my stepmother, and I don’t even think she and Daddy were married. I think she was just some whore he brought home from Shreveport.
“Anyway, one day this Sonier boy followed me home with a couple of his buddies, and as they got closer to my house, walking behind me, calling me names, saying things, I finally got fed up and stopped in the middle of the road, grabbed up some rocks and threw them. They bolted. But when I got to the house, which wasn’t much of a house, by the way, I was going up on the porch and turned around and there was Danny Sonier, standing in the yard. His buddies were gone. It was just him.
“He was calling me names and acting all tough, and I came off that porch like a rocket. We went together hard at it, fists flying, and all I remember was everything turned red, and when it wasn’t red anymore, I was looking down at Danny and his head was like a big squash that had dried out and been broken open, only it was leaking blood, and I had a big stone in my hand. I had pulled it out of the ground and beat him like a snake, and I didn’t even remember it. He was dead. I dragged his body off out to the swamp, where I knew there were alligators, and I dropped him in. I sat there on the bank the rest of the day and the body floated. It didn’t sink like I thought it would. It floated. And it was just about night when a big old gator came up and grabbed the body by its mashed head and took it down. Happened so sudden it made me jump to my feet. And when I did, I heard a scuttling, and behind me was two more gators. I made a run for it, but they went straight into the water. I saw this when I got to a tree and went up in it. Those gators went in the water where the other gator had taken Danny down and there was all kind of rolling around in the water, a flashing of gator tails, a glimpse of big teeth, and it went on like that for some time. And then just when I was fixin’ to come down from that tree, I see that an old bull gator had crawled up under it, this old cypress, and he was just waiting there, his head lifted, and his mouth open, like he was expectin’ me to drop into it.
“Well, I stayed up there in the tree, and fell asleep between two limbs. When I woke up and looked down the next mornin’, the gator was gone. I climbed down and went home. When I was able to go back to school, I did, but with Jimmy gone they sent out some social workers and discovered the stepmom was gone too, and I got put in foster care for a while, but I didn’t get along with nobody, so ended up in an orphanage until I run off at sixteen.
“Course, before that, Danny was missed and he was looked for, and his buddies said he followed me home. I told the nuns and the cops I had thrown rocks at them, and they had run off, and that was the last I had seen of Danny. They didn’t believe me, but that was my story and I stuck the fuck to it. In time they gave up on me, and that’s when I went to those foster homes, and then the orphanage, and then I run off. They brought me back twice, but finally I was old enough to get emancipated, and that’s what I did. Then, one night, in Houston, in a bar, I was sitting on a stool, minding my own business, which was drinking a beer and chattin’ up a good-looking brunette with a set of titties you could use as a water float, when in comes this fellow all pissed off. I had just put my hand on her thigh, and she was wearing a dress so short, when she moved, her skimpy underpants looked like something crawling. This fellow, he had a knife and he meant to use it, and did. He cut my arm with a slash, and then I took it away from him, and in the commotion the girl ran off and the guy ended up with the blade in his throat, and when it was over, I looked up and the bar was empty except for the bartender and four guys in Hawaiian shirts, and one of them, a big guy with a nose that spread over his face like it was some kind of animal, says to me: ‘That was pretty nifty, Injun. You want a job?’
“And so they cleaned up the place and threw away that dead guy like he was trash, and when the cops came I was gone and no one left there remembered a thing, ’cause they all worked for the big man who had spoken to me and this made their memories bad. Well, there was the bartender. But he said he hadn’t seen a thing either, and all them other people had run off, including the good-looking brunette with the good tits and the crawling undies. I found out all this from the flat-nosed guy, ’cause I made a deal to meet him somewhere and go to work for him, and the work was to my liking. I killed people for money.”
Tonto paused and opened a can of beer and drank a big sip. “And I been at it ever since, except for a time when I was an investment banker.”
“That’s a joke, right?” I said.
“Big-time,” he said.
“You don’t mind my asking,” I said, “how come you owe Marvin a favor? Why are you here?”
“Simple thing,” he said. “I ended up with this gal who was better for me than I was for her, and she didn’t have any idea the job I had. She thought I was an insurance salesman. We had this boy. Good-lookin’ kid, and I loved him, and I thought I might go straight. Planned on it. Just couldn’t quite get out of the business. Like a drunk looking for the next drink, you know. Wantin’ to quit, but getting too much out of it.
“So when my boy, Kevin, was twelve a guy talked him into a car and did things to him, and my boy, he didn’t live. They found his body beside the road, and my wife, she cut her wrists, and if there was any chance of me being the Christian I thought I’d grow up to be, be anything like the nuns said I ought to be, that was it, it was over. I was already fucked, but this was the big fuck. I believe, and I’m loyal to the faith in my heart, but in my hands and in my mind and in my deeds I’m not. But the guy did it, he got caught and he was tried, and they couldn’t prove it. And when he got loose he got drunk and admitted he did it, and the guy he told at a bar, he told the papers, and then it was all over the place, and this guy, he said, ‘Yeah, I did it, but there’s no second bite at the apple.’
“Even child molesters usually have enough sense to know what they do shouldn’t be admitted to, but not this guy. He was proud, and it was his philosophy, the whole man/boy love bit. This guy lived for little pink boy butt holes. So I wait a few months, and I go over to his house and I kick in the back door and I find him in bed with a bunch of lit candles and some child pornography, and he’s naked and probably pulling his rope, but he won’t never pull it again, ’cause I get hold of him and twisted his neck so far around ain’t nobody could sneak up on him from behind, provided he hadn’t died from it.
“So, Marvin Hanson, he’s a cop in Houston, and he figures it’s me right away. He didn’t have nothing on me, but he knew who I was and what I did, and he had a pretty good idea I’d do just what I done. So they found some fingerprints there, and though I had been careful, I was so mad, when I got hold of that fucker’s head and twisted it, the gloves I was wearing ripped, and I left a fingerprint on his neck. Can you believe that? On his fuckin’ neck?
“Lieutenant Hanson, he came to me at my house, and he has the evidence with him, and he says something like, ‘I don’t cotton to what you’re doin’, Tonto, and if this was some other thing, some other murder, I’d crawl so far up your ass every time you took a shit my life would play before your eyes instead of yours.’
We all sat silently for a while.
Jim Bob said, “So, Tonto, you’ve had a fairly uneventful life, have you not?”
Tonto slowly grinned.
I was in my bed and Leonard was coming out of the bathroom buttoning up his pajama top. It was an ugly set of pajamas. White cloth with anchors on it; matching shirt and pants. No footsies.
“So,” I said, “where did the pajamas come from?”
“Were they a gag gift?”
“He think you’re a sailor?”
“No. He thought they were cute.”
“Trust me,” I said. “They aren’t cute.”
“I have a little red teddy I could wear, you prefer.”
“Most definitely not… you don’t, do you?”
“Now what do you think?”
“I don’t know what to think about much of anything anymore. I was actually thinking about Brett. And I was thinking about that story Tonto told us.”
“You believe it?”
“Me too. Do you think he can bend a tire iron?”
“Yeah, me too.”
“He scares you a little, doesn’t he, Leonard?”
“Me? Hell no.”
“He scares me.”
“Well, all right. He scares me a little. I think he made me pee-pee some in my pants.”
“Is that fear or sexuality?”
“I do kind of find him attractive,” Leonard said, “but, alas, he’s not my type. He’s heterosexual. That always puts a damper on things. And another thing—he’s a killer.”
“So are we.”
“Not for money. Not for any reason that isn’t self-defense or the defense of someone else.”
“So we’re noble?”
“Nope,” Leonard said. “We’re two guys trying to be like heroes, and the problem is, we’re just two guys. Though I, of course, am highly attractive and hung like an elephant and have nifty pajamas and smooth black skin.”
“I have bunny shoes.”
“Yep, but you didn’t bring them.”
“There is that…. How about John? How’s things? Have you called home since we been on the road?”
“I have. He told me to eat shit.”
“Nope. Not good. These days he doesn’t find me that attractive, which is something I can’t quite wrap my mind around. I look in the mirror, I’m pretty satisfied.”
“So what did he say?”
“He said don’t call anymore, he has things to work out.”
“He thinks Jesus is pulling his ear, trying to get him over there on the good side with the straights. Thinks suddenly he’s gonna lose interest in the rod and go to the hole punch.”
“Maybe it’s the devil pulling his ear.”
“Whatever it is, I don’t like it. We had a good thing going.”
“He used to suck, and I liked it. Now he doesn’t suck. I don’t like being without him, Hap. I don’t like someone’s mythology getting in the way of my romance.”
“It’s like you being without Brett.”
“I know that too. And I miss her.”
“We should really give up on the adventures and stay home.”
“Yep. But we didn’t really have a choice here.”
“We could have gone to trial. I think we’d have been no-billed. It was self-defense.”
“But it was nasty self-defense.”
“This is Texas,” Leonard said.
“There is that. Let’s go to sleep.”
“Will you tell me a story?”
“All right. There were four bears.”
“This is my story. There were four bears. Two of them were not as smart as the other two because they were really at heart nicer bears, and they kept getting themselves into rotten situations, and eventually two of the bears, the ones that weren’t so smart but were nicer, they got themselves killed.”
“Those two dead bears? That us?”
“Yep,” I said.
“I don’t like that story.”
“Me either. You want to hear a joke?”
“Hell no. Not one of your jokes. Go to sleep.”
“Spoilsport. … There was this dog—”
“I said I didn’t want to hear it.”
“—and he came limping into this Western town—”
“You’ve told this one.”
“And he held up his injured foot, said, ‘I’m here to get the man who shot my paw’ … get it?”
“I get it. You tell this to me at least once a month.”
“You see, paw and pa, like the old Westerns. Guy comes into town—”
“Hap. I get it. It stinks. It stunk the first time and it stinks this time.”
“I don’t believe that. You’re lying. You made that up. I’ll call her.”
“There’s no need to call her.”
“Well. She smiled.”
“She was embarrassed.”
“Good night, Hap.”
“Good night, Leonard.”
Lake O’ the Pines is a big lake, man-made, like all the lakes in Texas except Caddo Lake. It was made a long time ago and on this cold morning the water was looking blue as a Patsy Cline song. I thought that by midday, we didn’t get any cloud cover, the cold could burn off a little and it might be a fairly warm day. But if the clouds came in, it could turn damn cold damn quick because a wind was starting up, and as we drove by the lake, I could see through the trees along the bank that the water was rippling the way coffee will ripple when you blow on it to cool it.
We drove around, trying to follow the directions Hirem gave us, but there were a lot of little cabins. Finally, about lunchtime we came out from around the lake and stopped at a gas station and mini-mart and got some gas. There was a couple there with a break-down cage that you could put up easy and dismantle easy and haul away, and in the cage was a bear. It was a pretty good-sized bear. They had a deal where you could get your picture taken with the bear, Cindy. Of course, Leonard had to do it and I had to do it with him. When we went inside the cage and were introduced to Cindy, she was sitting on a stool like a human being, as if on break. I half expected her to be smoking a cigar
Jim Bob and Tonto, being smarter, didn’t have their picture taken. They stood outside the cage and looked at us as if they soon expected to see us eaten. When the photo was taken, Cindy moved her arms and went back and sat on her stool. It was a double cage, two rooms if you will, and part of it had photographs of Cindy the Bear swimming in her pond on her owner’s property. They told us all about it. The bear was a Russian bear.
“Is she a vodka-drinking commie?” Leonard asked.
“The Soviet Union is no more,” said the lady owner. She was a blond woman with a nice build and the attitude of someone who had never met a sense of humor. Her old man was skinny and he grinned. I don’t know if he thought what Leonard said was funny. I think he just grinned a lot.
We got our photograph of us with the bear, which they put between two pieces of cardboard, and then we went inside the station. As we did, Jim Bob said, “You guys are pretty weird, you know.”
The station had a little stove and grill, and there was a glass cover where you could see what they had cooked. There was some fried chicken on greasy white paper and hot links and there was a place where you could get some slices of bread and put mustard and relish on it if you wanted, make a sandwich with the links. There were also a few sides, like some suspicious-looking baked potatoes and a Crock-Pot of red beans in a congealed soup that looked as if you might need a pickax to crack the surface.
We got a little of this and a little of that, picking potato chips and some candy bars and sodas to go with the chicken and links, and went to the back of the place, where there were a few tables, and had our lunch. There was enough grease in the chicken to lube up a whorehouse on a sailor’s Saturday night, but it tasted really good and so did the links. We ate not only because we were hungry but because we were bored. Where I was sitting I could look out the big window at the pumps, and I could see the van parked up front near the door. And I could also see something else. A brown Ford. It slowed out on the highway, and as it did, I stuck an elbow in Leonard and he turned to look.
JOE R. LANSDALE SERIES:
Other author's books:
- The Elephant of SurpriseFreezer BurnThe Big Book of Hap and LeonardDead in the WestCold in JulyCaptains OutrageousTight Little Stitches in a Dead Man's BackAll the Earth, Thrown to the Sky
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