Duncan Delaney and the Cadillac of Doom

BOOK: Duncan Delaney and the Cadillac of Doom
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Duncan Delaney
and the
Cadillac of Doom

by

A. L. Haskett

Copyright © 2000 by A. L. Haskett 

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 00-100697

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the author or publisher, except for brief quotations in a review.

 

Published in the United States by

JonLin Books

PO Box 1283

Sierra Madre, CA 91025

 

www.jonlinbooks.com
email us at [email protected]

 

This is a work of fiction. All names and characters are invented or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Cover photograph © 2000 by JonLin Books.

 

One

 

On the clear blue Saturday of Duncan Delaney’s twenty first birthday, not long before he had first seen the Cadillac of Doom, his mother, Fiona Delaney, saddled her horse and rode out to deliver an ultimatum to her son. At the time Duncan still thought himself an artist.

Which was what Fiona wanted to speak to him about.

She was a trim widow of forty with apple red hair, eyes blue as summer glaciers, and an accent green as her native Ireland. Fiona stood a head shorter than Duncan, but they shared strong Irish bones and fair skin. She had searched for her son well into the afternoon over most of the Circle D’s ten thousand grassy acres, and by the time she tied her horse to a post outside the bunkhouse, her patience was lagging. She walked to the rear of the old splintered building and stopped cold.

“Sweet Jesus preserve us!”
she screamed.

Duncan’s best friend, a lean, full-blooded Arapaho answering to the name Benjamin Lonetree, knelt in the dirt above the bloody body of Woody McCune, the Circle D’s foreman and Fiona’s covert lover.  Benjamin was naked except for stained moccasins and a ragged loincloth which just about covered his privates. His long hair fell in black braids along sienna painted cheeks. He gripped Woody’s shirt in one hand and a Bowie knife in the other. He looked up at Fiona and, grinning an evil grin, ran the blade across Woody’s throat. The foreman fell to earth in a dusty cloud, his eyes surprised and terrified. Benjamin held his bright wet knife to the sky and howled an Arapaho war cry.

Fiona fainted.

Woody sat up and anxiously shook his head. “I sure wish you hadn’t done that, Benjamin.”

Duncan stepped out of bunkhouse shadows away from his easel and set his brush and palette on an old redwood picnic table. He was tall and thin with trusting green eyes, an easy smile full of straight white teeth, mostly clear skin, and a mane of hair red as Fiona’s falling about his shoulders. He knelt beside his mother and cradled her head in his lap.

“And you wonder why she doesn’t like you,” he said.

“I know why.” Benjamin wiped the phony blood from his knife and sheathed it. “She’s a damn bigot.”

“You watch your mouth,” Woody said as he rose from the dirt.

Woody was tall and lanky, with a permanent squint and scorched leather for skin. More than one traveler had mistaken him for the Marlboro Man. He helped Duncan lift Fiona and set her on the picnic table bench. Duncan softly slapped his mother.

“Mom,” he cooed, “hey, mom.”

Fiona opened her eyes and looked about. Woody nervously wiped fake blood from his neck and brow with a handkerchief.

“Hi, Fiona,” Benjamin said when her gaze fell upon him. He winked. “How’s the girl?”

Fiona stood and picked up an axe that lay in golden leaves beside a woodpile.

“Uh oh,” Benjamin said.

He backed away as Fiona advanced. He stumbled into Woody and they fell together in a nervous heap. Woody scrambled away like a crab. Duncan grabbed Fiona from behind as she hefted the axe above her head.

“Woody,” he yelled, “get him out of here!”

“Come on, you moron.” Woody dragged Benjamin into the bunkhouse while Fiona struggled in Duncan’s grip.

“Go suck a potato, Fiona!” Benjamin shouted as he vanished inside.

“Let me go!” Fiona commanded.

Duncan released her and jumped back. Fiona paced the grass by the picnic table, her face flushed and nostrils wide, the fury in her eyes as sharp as the axe in her hands. Duncan kept a wary eye on her. He did not think she would come after him with the axe but he wanted to be sure. Fiona was unpredictable and dangerous when her temper flared. The night before, when she could not find one of a pair of silver earrings Duncan’s father had given her long before, she had thrown a crystal perfume bottle through her bedroom window. Woody spent the morning replacing the glass and now the confused roses in the garden beneath her room reeked of violets. Fiona buried the axe in the picnic table with a loud
thunk
. She turned and glared at Duncan.

“I hope I didn’t disturb you,” she said.

“No ma’am.” Duncan pried the axe from the table. “We were just finishing.”

He sidled over to the bunkhouse door where a hand reached out and took the axe. Keeping his eye on Fiona, Duncan removed the painting from his easel and leaned it against the wall. The canvas depicted Benjamin murdering Woody in front of a burning covered wagon, all on black velvet. Fiona regarded the picture and shuddered.

“It’s time you got a real job,” she declared.

“I’m a painter,” Duncan said. “I don’t know how to do anything else.”

This was not strictly true. Duncan could ride and brand and castrate cattle and do random jobs about the Circle D. But when it came to business he was without a clue. He did not even own a bank account. He kept his share of the money he and Benjamin earned peddling Duncan’s cowboy and Indian paintings to tourists in a shoe box beneath his bed.

Fiona sighed and gazed across her ranch. The Delaney house stood on a green hill above a creek that ran the length of the Circle D to the highway. There was a white picket fence around the house, and a barn and stable near it, all big and well built with a fresh coat of white paint applied each spring.

“You can’t eat canvas,” Fiona said. “When you marry Tiffy and take over the Circle D, you’ll be glad you heeded me.”

Duncan thought back to that sky blue afternoon when they were both fourteen and Tiffy Bradshaw took him behind the stable to prove, she said,
that the universe was truly expanding
. Roughly fifteen seconds was all it took to convince him. Tiffy was blond and beautiful with breasts the size of softballs, though much softer and not as white.

Duncan was pretty sure he was in love with her.

“I don’t want the Circle D,” he said. “I want to be an artist.”

“Horse shit!” Fiona cried.

Duncan had not heard Fiona curse since his father’s funeral, when she wept over Sean Delaney’s casket, repeating
you asshole
like a litany. She did not stop swearing until Father Fay wrested her from the coffin and the pall bearers conveyed what remained of Sean Delaney away from the tears and the flowers into a hearse whose tail fins sliced through the air like twin black sharks. Now, like then, Fiona’s face was scarlet and her fists were clenched. Duncan thought she might smack him a good one across the jaw.

“It’s time to quit playing cowboys and Indians and grow up!” Fiona hissed. “I’m going to Denver for the weekend.” She pulled her gloves on. “When I return Monday, you will either have a job or you will be living on the street.” She flipped a thick red lock from her eyes and fixed Duncan with cold, sapphire orbs. “And tell your stinking friend to call me
Mrs. Delaney!”

She mounted her horse and galloped away. Benjamin and Woody came out of the bunkhouse. They had washed and put on clean blue jeans and cotton shirts. Woody had shaved and put on a silver and turquoise bolo tie and a quart of cologne. He calibrated his Stetson and sketched a circle in the dirt with the toe of a lizard skin boot.

“Sounds serious this time.” Woody’s voice twanged like a bass guitar. “She set a date. She never done that before.”

“I know.”

Duncan filled a mason jar with turpentine and cleaned his brushes. He spread newspaper on the picnic bench and laid the brushes out to dry.

“Fuck her and fuck her threats,” Benjamin proclaimed.

“Benjamin,” Woody said, “I told you to watch your mouth.”

“Fuck you too, Woody.”

Benjamin was twenty-two, five foot six on a typical day and one hundred thirty pounds of bone and muscle and fierce shadow eyes beneath long raven hair. He could fight like a mountain lion when provoked, a faculty which earned him two weeks in jail, to be served on alternate weekends, for beating the bejesus out of two drunken cowboys outside the Cheyenne Club the month previous. Benjamin stuffed his gear into a leather gym bag with the words
CUSTER HAD IT COMING
stenciled in white on the side.

“Let her kick you out,” he said. “You can stay with me on the reservation. We’ll paint your face red and dye your hair black and stick an eagle’s feather in it. We’ll paint all day and fornicate all night. Not with each other or domestic animals, of course. With women I mean.”

“Why not just try a job?” Woody asked. “Make her happy.”

“Still banging her, eh Woody?”

“Benjamin,” Woody said, “one day I’m going to take a tire iron to the back of your head and see if that doesn’t cure your foul mouth.”

Woody stalked off. Duncan frowned.

“Well, he is you know,” Benjamin said.

“I don’t care. I like Woody and what he and Fiona do is their business.”

Benjamin studied the finished canvas. “Not bad. I bet we get a hundred for it.”

He put the painting in the cab of his forty-nine Ford. The truck was a pile of dents and rust held together by primer and bondo, but it had a four hundred horsepower V-8, a four-speed Hurst transmission, and fat tires. Duncan had seen it take a Corvette through a quarter mile. They called it the Purgatory Truck, because Benjamin did not believe in Hell.

Duncan picked up another canvas. “How about this one?”

He had painted it from a photo Benjamin’s mother took years before on a family trip to Yellowstone. Their car had broken down and they were obliged to camp by the highway, while hundreds of more affluent families motored by, staring straight and uncaringly ahead. In the picture Benjamin’s father toiled beneath the hood of his battered sixty-three Chevy wagon. Benjamin’s grandfather sat in the dirt next to the car, a frayed and faded cavalry hat on his head and a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels in his hand, staring at the camera with a despair as long as the continental divide, wrinkles like dusty rivers running down his withered face, a cigar wedged between cracked, tired lips. If hope were gold, the old man’s eyes were as bereft of it as were the mountains behind them, and the only one who did not know it was Benjamin. Seven years old, he sat with his hands on the wheel, grinning like hell as he pretended to drive. The sun behind him painted the clouds above the Tetons in pastels of orange and violet. Benjamin’s grandfather had complained of vertigo after the sun set. Benjamin’s father, thinking him drunk, ignored him. Benjamin fell asleep in his grandfather’s arms. When help arrived with the dawn, the old man was cold as the Chevy’s engine, and they were required to pry his stiff arms from the crying boy with a crow bar in order to set him free.

“It won’t sell,” Benjamin said. “The white man likes his savages, not unlike his women, on black velvet. This is too depressing.”

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Benjamin sighed and tossed the painting in the truck bed. He got in behind the wheel, rolled his window down, and leaned out.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said as he pulled away. “But don’t get your hopes up. And happy damn birthday!”

Duncan sat on the redwood bench and looked west at the shriveling sun. A tender wind pushed the grass towards him in waves across the range, touching his face with a wet green smell of cattle. The sun scattered a deep red through atmospheric dust until it was too dark to see anything but stars like distant candles above Wyoming and headlights on the highway. He waited there in the dark until he saw Fiona’s Lincoln head down the drive and pass through the gate. He collected his paints and brushes and folded his easel. He headed for home, wondering as he walked what he would tell Fiona come Monday.

     

Duncan found a box wrapped in gold paper on his bed when he went to his room to put his easel and paints away. An envelope was slipped beneath the ribbon
. Waited until two,
the card inside read,
Happy Birthday, Tiffy
. He had forgotten that she was coming over. He picked up the phone and dialed. After seven rings he hung up and opened the box. The boots inside were soft and well tooled and smelled of olives. The tags said
Made in Italy
. Duncan laughed. Leave it to Tiffy to buy Italian cowboy boots. He took off his old boots and dropped them in the trash. The new boots fit his feet like twin Lamborghinis. Duncan had never been in a Lamborghini, but he imagined it would fit something like the boots. He took his new footwear on a test walk to the kitchen. He grabbed a cold beer and settled at the table.

BOOK: Duncan Delaney and the Cadillac of Doom
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