Sacred Shirts (2)
We come to where the smoke’s rising – and ain’t this just as cute as you like. This guy’s got a tepee here, all set, fire going, chairs out, dock with a row boat tied up, fishing poles, nets. The real ticket. Native America, welcome home. He steps on the dock and pulls a sack out of the lake, takes out two cans, puts it back. He gives one to me. He sits. So do I.
“You live here?”
“Nine years? ”
He pulls his tab and takes back a stomach-full.
“Sure. It’s good living. I got a permit from the landowner. Some Indian blood in there, I think. Or guilt. I ain’t sure which. I got all I need.”
He takes out a pouch and rolls himself a cigarette, though I can’t say what with. Dried shit and leaves, I think.
“Don’t suppose you got a phone I could use?”
He lights his cigarette, pulls it down like he’s sucking in life-blood, blows out a jet-trail.
“There’s a place just over the lake. They’ve got a payphone. I’ll take you over.”
Then he passes me that little stogie of his.
“Draw deep, like I did.”
I do as he says. I hold it down. My lungs feel like they’ve been sprayed with acid. My brain starts to melt.
He takes it back. “Good, huh? It’s my own mixture. Tobacco, herbs, a few other things. My ancestors called it k’nick k’neck. Except they used to smoke it in a pipe, and pipes always make me puke.”
I take a swig of beer to wash my insides down again. Nick nack. Too much of that and you wouldn’t give a fuck if someone was shooting at you or not. You could bend around the bullets. You could levitate out of the way. You could become Batman.
A breeze comes in off the lake, and with that and the beer and the blow and the fact I took a soaking and got shot at and had to run, I realise for the first time that I’m pretty cold. George crawls into the tepee and comes out a minute later with jeans and a shirt on. He has another shirt, too, exactly like his. He hands it to me.
“You can have it. I got dozens in there. I make them for the tourist shop out on the freeway.”
Man, this is some shirt. It’s the colour of the blue sky with a flying eagle on the back, a star on the left shoulder, and a rainbow across the chest and around the neck. It looks like something they wore at Woodstock.
“It’s a copy of the sacred shirt worn by Black Elk at Wounded Knee in 1890. He wore it when he rode down into Battle Creek. The cavalrymen were shooting at him all the time, but he never got hit. He said the shirt protected him.”
He finishes his can and stares out over the lake. His face looks like it’s been carved from the side of a mountain.
“Shame the women and children didn’t have them, too.”
I slip the shirt on. It fits like it was made for me.
“Hey, thanks, man. You sure?”
He looks at me. “You’re the one getting shot at.”
I finish up my beer and we go down and get in the boat. As George starts off rowing across, we hear a rifle shot way over – so far it could just be the wind, but I still duck my head. George just spits in the water.
“He’s almost in the next county now. Still trailing that fucking deer or whatever.”
He rows strongly, his muscles and veins like electric cables. Around a bend, half a mile off, I see a few buildings in the trees, bar lights, boats, a jetty. George is still looking closely at me.
“So… what did you think of Alyssa?”
I play it through again in my head. “I tell you, when she slipped her stuff off and slid in that pool, I coulda wished I was someone else. How’d she ever get tied up with that piece of shit?”
“He’s got a bulge in his pocket, and I don’t mean his dick.”
“Pays the bills, huh?”
George nods. I can see there’s something in it, too, the way his eyes glint.
“That’s right. He pays the bills. That’s all she wants him for. She gets her other accounts settled elsewhere.”
He gives me a sideways look.
“Just being a good neighbor, you understand.”
I laugh so much at that some beer comes back and I spit it out over the side. I can just see the two of them, the tepee shaking like a volcano building up for the blow.
“Ain’t you afraid he’ll find out?”
He eases up on the oars as we come to the jetty.
“I’ll be ready for him if he does.”
He fastens the boat and we clamber up onto the boards.
“I wouldn’t mind being around for that one. I know where my money’d go.”
George isn’t even sweating.
“You wouldn’t get very good odds.”
At the end of the jetty is a log shack strung with coloured lights. Above the door, the sign says ‘Candy’s’. Inside – gloomy, a horse-shoe bar, tables around, Aerosmith playing, one or two faces alone with their drinks, a bar-keep propped behind there so old in his beard and hat he could be dead. And across the other side, a window overlooking a shit-dirt car lot, a black Camaro Trans Am parked up there. I’m about through that door for another swim, when Alyssa comes up from a corner and grabs my wrist.
“Thank God you’re okay. I’ve been scared shitless.”
She pulls me and George down to her table. She’s got one of George’s shirts on, too. Quite a fashion he’s starting. Jesus, it looks good on her.
“You saved my life. I didn’t say thank you.”
I wonder what she’s prepared to do to express it.
“You didn’t get much of a chance.”
“That’s how he is. He won’t calm down until something’s dead.”
Well, there’s a comfort.
“What about my truck?”
She lights a cigarette.
“We need to do something before he gets back. Otherwise he’ll wreck it.”
“He may be back already.”
George shakes his head. “He’s at least an hour away. More like two. What’s up with it?”
“It boiled up. Radiator or something.”
“I can probably fix that up for you,” he says.
“I’ll drive you around,” says Alyssa. “We’ll be there in ten minutes.”
George grins. “What is it, Sunday?”
“Five,” she says.
I love this guy. Her, too.
“You folks drinkin’ or takin’ up space?” calls Moses from his perch. Candy my ass.
“Three to go,” George says, getting up.
I look around and see the payphone in the corner.
“I just better do this first.”
I drop the coin. I dial up the number. Straight in this time.
“Depot Foreman, please. Ted Hopper.”
“Ah… he’s waiting for you.”
I’ll just fucking bet he is.
It’s Red again. Different tune, though
I like drivin' trucks and I make my livin' this way, well
I'm a truck drivin' fool and that's how I'm a gonna stay
I see George get the bottles and go back to Alyssa, and they stand by the door in those shirts, looking at me, ready. The Trans Am’s waiting out there, too. And I’m suddenly thinking fuck the truck. I want to run off with both of them in that car. With our shirts on we’re well protected, the three of us. We could do things. We could have parties. We could rob banks. We could have crazy sex and smoke nick nack all day. Life could be interesting again.
“You’re through now.”
You’re right, lady. I guess I am.
He comes on.
“Hopper? You mind telling me what the fuck you’ve been doing all day?”
Well… how can I put this?