The Indian looked at the picture again for a while, then he
folded the post card carefully and placed it back in his pocket. The man had finished hitting the golf balls, and he was now standing with the seven-iron hanging along his leg, looking out into the desert. He was tall, and his blond hair was cut short.
He had a broad back, but his posture was poor. “Would not sit a horse well, I'd say, and he doesn't look like a golfer,” the Indian thought. The man stood there for a while, just looking, and then he turned away and put the club back into the bag with the others. The sun was now well behind him, and the man's shadow was longer and almost in front of him. The day birds had changed places with the evening birds, who were here a little early. There were no more morning birds around. The man turned to the Indian sitting on the rock.
“Okay,” he said. And the Indian got up, lifted the limp gunny sack, and walked out into the desert.
When he entered the room again he had been gone for over two hours. Melinda was covered with the blanket, huddled near the edge of the bed, and sleeping.
THERE WERE NO LIGHTS ON THE SIDE OF THE ROAD, AND only a few houses, set back, with lights in them. There was a bright halfmoon that gave light to the shapes of the cactuses, and occasionally they would pass a lit truck stop with a few low, dark buildings to either side of it. A few trailing clouds seemed blue in the half-moon light, and the dash lights, faintly blue also, lit the knees of the Indian in the seat beside him, over close to the far door. He could see the corner of her shoulder behind him in the rearview mirror. She was not stirring and seemed asleep. Bob White's hands were at rest in his lap. His head bobbed on his chest; he was sleeping also. A marker came up in the window:
Tucson â 46 miles
. He was thinking of when he had given her the Laetrile in the motel a few hours ago, before they left. And this trailed him back to Richard and the two women.
In the shadows of the vacant lot next to the house he approached were three young Chicanos smoking marijuana, leaning against the side of a gutted Ford Falcon, making inaudible sounds in the still warm air of the late June evening. One of them was a girl, and he could make out the shape of one long leg, naked below shorts, tucked against the thigh and buttocks of one of the boys. The boy was pressing her against the car. The other one leaned beside them, the glow of a joint where he must have been holding it in his mouth.
“Git off it, Manny,” he could hear the girl whine as he got
closer, and then, seeing him over the boy's shoulder, “Hey, meester, help me, help me, huh?”
“Yeah, yeah, meester, come help thees leetle girl, yeah, yeah,” Manny crooned, “oh yeah, oh yeah.” And the three laughed, and the one with the joint removed it from his mouth and spat in the dust.
The house was located in West Los Angeles, the Chicano section, on a numbered street. It was surrounded by a new cyclone fence, the gate well oiled; it had made no sound when he had opened it. Like most of the houses there, it was small and boxy, flat-roofed and stuccoed, and had a wooden porch running the width of its front. On this porch, to the left of the door, was a wicker chair with a large empty clay planter beside it, and next to the planter, its tank and seat covered with a small tarp, was a black, evil-looking, Harley 600. He could see the shine of its lacquered fender and the hard chrome emblem on its transmission cover. Its wheels were silver. Its spokes shone in the dusk like needles.
He reached the porch still feeling the intimidation of the three kids. They ignored him. He glanced over his shoulder, catching a glimpse of the car he had driven there. The screen door rattled a little when he rapped it. The inner door was open, and he could see into the dim light of a small foyer, and then Gerry entered the space and came up to the door, squinting.
“Yeah?” she said.
He had not seen Gerry in over ten years, and he had not expected to see her there. She looked like a ghost. She had always been small and thin, but now she looked totally wasted, much older than the woman in her early thirties he figured her to be. She did not recognize him.
“Richard called me,” he said. “I'm Allen, remember?”
“Sure,” she said, remembering nothing. “Hey, Richard, there's a dude named Allen here,” she called over her shoulder, and let him in.
When he saw Richard, sitting in an easy chair in the living
room of the house, he began to realize why he had come there. It was not only for the Laetrile; though that held its desperation, he could have gotten it without much trouble elsewhere. He had not seen Richard in over ten years, and yet there was a feeling of unfinished business between them. He was not sure how he knew this. The chair was orange and cheap. There were no curtains on the windows, and some of the Venetian blind slats were broken loose. There was an old threadbare, Oriental rug on the floor.
“Hey, Allen, still fucking those school kids up?” Richard said, and then “Sit down, man, we'll rap.”
He took a seat on the couch across from him. Gerry left the room. Richard was dressed in much the same way he had when they had known each other in the past. He wore jeans, sandals, and an expensive print shirt. There was a thick gold chain with a heavy medallion at the end of it around his neck. His dark hair was still cut in a shag style that looked a little womanish, but his face and body had changed. Though his face was still sharklike, angular Roman nose and narrow chin, it was harder than Allen had remembered. The large change was in his body. He had remembered him as being lean but smooth, having a swimmer's body; now he was much thicker. He had obviously been lifting weights over the years. His arms strained at the sleeves of his shirt. He was smoking a cigarette, and he was looking at Allen in a way that seemed to give recognition to the sense of reunion that he was experiencing, but he seemed to want to refuse to talk about old times or the distance they had both traveled since they had last seen each other. Allen stiffened his body, fearing that he might look too much older than he was. He reached up and touched the side of his face. He had a feeling that there would come a time when he would have to fight Richard. He was big, and he felt he kept himself in pretty good shape, but he wondered if he would have any chance against him.
“So, what's the story?” he said, the words coming out tougher than he had expected, and waited for Richard to talk. Gerry
came back into the room with a tray of beers and another woman. She handed them each a can. She looked at Allen's eyes as their hands touched, but he could see nothing in hers. The other woman was a little heavier than Gerry, a little less wasted, and younger, about twenty-five. Her hair was long and dark and a little ragged. She had what looked like numerous small freckles on her arms, tiny scabs. She took her beer and sat on the floor beside Richard's orange chair. Gerry sat on the couch, at the far end of it, away from Allen. The new woman picked absently at her arm, cocked her head to the side, and stared between Allen and Gerry at the wall behind the couch. Allen was tempted to turn and look at the wall, but he figured there was nothing there.
“You remember Gerry, right? She was gone a long time, but she came back. This here is Wendy.” He touched the head of the woman on the floor beside him. “I call her âhot and juicy' sometimes, but I don't do it very often, and nobody else does it.”
HE FIGURED HE COULD NOT ASK WHERE GERRY HAD BEEN. He saw in the hardness of Richard's look that the point was that she had come back because he had wanted her there.
“I dig you need the Laetrile, man, and I got it. It was easy, but that's because I been at it a while, right? Now here is the bitâ¦”
As Richard talked, Allen listened to the way he chose his words. His language was odd, theatrical, and a little old-fashioned. He figured it for a mix of Chicano inflection and, probably, words and phrases picked up from Gerry. It struck him that Gerry had been in prison while she was away. He remembered her use of heroin from the beginning. That would account for the dated quality of Richard's speech. What had not changed was the sharpness of Richard's intelligence; even through the jargon Allen could hear his wit and intensity. Though he had gotten his language from outside of himself, he was in charge of those who he had gotten it from. Still, there was this room in this house and the two women. Regardless of his power and ability, his situations always seemed seedy and smalltime. And he often got
caught at what he did. Allen remembered two drug busts early on when they were still in college. He suspected it was the strangeness of some deep and hidden moral sense in Richard that caused him to put himself in situations where he would fail.
He suspected also that it was this moral sense that was the link between them. Coming from similar backgrounds, connecting in the Medical Corps in the Navy, attending college together, they could have become each other easily. Even after the added covering often years, he could sense it â this accident of their dir â ections â and he felt tenderly about it. It was clear from Richard's composure that he owned Gerry, probably the other woman as well.
“â¦ So you drop one of the boxes in Tombstone, the other off in K .C. The bread goes to my mother's house in Detroit. You can cop the Laetrile and the works now, or you can wait till later. It's an easy gig. So that's it for business. Wanna snort a line?”
The sex had more power for him when it came back in memory. The little plastic moon only became apparent when Gerry had dropped the Venetians and dimmed the lights. The one behind him was Gerry, though he had wanted her in front. It had not been appropriate to indicate this, because he had given over all control. He had at first felt the fact of Richard's watching in a tender way. He had seemed, for the first time in their long acquaintance, relaxed and centered. He had not seemed vulnerable, but he had seemed in tune. But that had changed after a while, and Allen began to be aware of something dark and a little uncomfortable in the watching. The rest of it was a kind of intense activity, practiced to some rules that he was unaware of but was guided through. He recalled he had avoided the touch of Wendy's arms, had not wanted to call her by that other name, and that Gerry had kept her face hidden along his flanks.
THEY CAME THROUGH A CUT IN THE LOW HILLS AND started their slow descent into Tucson. The moon was still to their left. Much of the city was dark, but there were flickers of light enough to define its shape in the shallow cup of its valley.
Fingers of lights trailed off from it up into the foothills, and closer to them, where the valley emptied into the lower hills and the desert, the broadest finger, the rows of motels and neon shopping plazas of the city's haphazard expansion, reached toward them. “Tucson,” Bob White whispered, his fingers opening and flexing in his lap, his palms running slowly back and forth over his knees. She stirred at the sound of the spoken word, shifted her position slightly in the corner of the backseat behind him; he caught an edge of her shoulder in the rearview mirror. He noticed his left hand clenched tight to the wheel, his white fingers. He relaxed it slightly and shifted his body in the seat. Bob White handed him a lit cigarette. He took it across the space between them, looked over and nodded. Bob White settled back against the door, his hands now at rest on his thighs. Allen adjusted the vent to keep the smoke from filling the car. He slowed down a little.
SHE SAT IN THE CHAIR IN THE MOTEL ROOM FACING HIM, her head propped up on a pillow, five little drops of sweat symmetrical on her forehead, the ends of her hair still wet, but beginning to curl, where they had touched the water of her bath. Small in his terrycloth robe, which seemed darker in shadows alongside the light, adjusted to bathe her right arm from the wrist to the biceps: the arm bent, the palm open on her knee, the crook at the front of her elbow in half-shadow, as if blood gathered there and she was in post-mortem lividity.
“Squeeze,” he said, and her fingers came up and gathered around the red ball he had placed in her palm, pressing it so that her thin biceps flexed and the rubber hose around it tightened. The ball was the one he used to improve his grip strength; he could squeeze it flat in his hand. He could see she could not make a dent in it. Sweating more profusely now, drops in the outside corners of her eyes, one on the bridge of her nose, she turned her head slightly, away from the spot touched more by the light, now that he took her wrist and extended her arm a little. He slapped her with two fingers, sharply, and the vein rose and the artery that
crossed it, the pattern as particular as her palm lines, shallow streams around the ball in her hand running with perspiration. He lifted the needle, the syringe attached to it; he took a cotton swab damp with alcohol and brushed it over the vein. Outside, on the cave of the breezeway, a mockingbird was singing other people's songs. He placed the needle along her forearm in line with the vein, the bevel up. With a quick jab he inserted it.
Her flinch was almost imperceptible, a small intake of breath only. The bird quit singing, a car ground on the gravel in the distance, some Spanish was being spoken. The slight surge of her blood pushed back on the plunger against his thumb; he let a little of it into the syringe. She opened her hand slowly when he told her to. The red ball sat wet on her palm. He snapped the tourniquet from her biceps; the pressure against his thumb diminished.
When he detached the syringe from the needle, a few drops of blood fell out on her arm. He attached the thin clear hose connect-ed to the glass bottle hanging from the lamp and opened the clamp. Blood entered the hose, then the clear liquid from the bottle cleared it. He stood up from where he was kneeling before her. He adjusted the clamp so that a slow regular dropping of the liquid entered the hose near the neck of the bottle. He taped the needle to her arm. He wiped up the few drops of blood with a tissue, which he folded and then wiped her brow with it. She turned back and smiled at him. For a moment he had felt a release of intensity when the act was finished; he had felt suddenly very tired. When she smiled at him, he surged again.