Settings

The Monkey Wrench Gang 29


  Doc failed to reply.

  “You just think what we can do with that, Doc.”

  Doc thought. “I see. But let me tell you something, Seldom Seen Smith. The kind of houseboat you want would cost me at least forty-five thousand dollars. I went to the boat show last week.”

  “We need four. Four sixty-footers,” Smith said.

  “That’s only a hundred and eighty thousand,” Bonnie said. “Doc can afford that, can’t you, Doc?”

  Doc smiled, a thin smile, around his cigar.

  “Well, Doc,” Smith said, “I’m gonna save you about a hundred and seventy-nine thousand and six hundred dollars, right here and now.” He waited. No response. “We don’t have to buy any houseboats. We rent them at Wahweap Marina for a hundred a day. We take them up Wahweap Bay past Lone Rock, clear out all the cabin space and load ’em up with ammonium nitrate. That’s powerful fertilizer, Doc. I got all we need at the watermelon ranch. Then we pour on the diesel and seal the windows tight and our boy here … there … wherever he is, old George he fixes them up with a detonator charge and late at night we go down the bay and through the channel and cut that cable boom acrost the water and then we get that dam.”

  “I see,” Doc said. “I’m supposed to walk into the marina office and I’m supposed to say to the clerk, ‘Look here, lad, I want to hire four houseboats for the day; I’ll take those big ones over there, four of them please, that one, that one, that one and that one.’ That’s what I’m supposed to do?”

  Seldom smiled. “We’ll all go in with you, Doc, the four of us together, and you can say, ‘I need a houseboat for my friends here, one for the gal too, that’ll be sixty-footers, please.’ The man at the desk he’ll be kind of surprised but he’ll oblige. Them people’ll do anything for money. You’d be surprised. They ain’t like us, Doc. They’re Christians.”

  “You’re both insane,” Bonnie said.

  “Well,” Smith said, “we could go to four different marinas, Wahweap, Bullfrog, Rainbow Bridge and Hall’s Crossing. That’ll take a few days longer, but we could do it that way. Then we turn ’em around and head down the lake.”

  “Renting a forty-five-thousand-dollar houseboat is not quite as simple as renting a car,” Doc said.

  “And then,” Smith concluded, “we can take that vacation. We’ll go to Florida, see the alligators. My Susan always wanted to see what them scaly bastards look like. Stop in Atlanta on the way.” Seldom grinned. “We’ll plant some watermelon seeds on old Martin Luther King’s grave.”

  “Oh, mother,” Bonnie groaned, raising her head to the velvet sky, the lavender night, the first faint pinpoints of the stars. “What am I doing here?” She looked at her watch.

  “Try to relax,” said Doc. “Drink your Ovaltine and stop whining.”

  A pause.

  Bonnie stood up. “I’m taking a walk.”

  “Take a long walk,” Doc said.

  “I think I’ll do just that.” She left.

  Smith said, “The poor little gal’s in love, Doc. Worryin’ herself sick, that’s why she’s so touchy.”

  “Seldom, you are a penetrating observer of human nature. And why am I so touchy?”

  “You’re the doctor, Doc.”

  They stared at the fading fire. One small bed of dying coals, like the lights of a lonely desert town, after dark, lost in the wastes of the great Southwest. Doc thought of New Mexico, of his empty house. Smith thought of Green River, Utah.

  Change the subject, doctor.

  “First the bridgework,” he said, “then maybe the dam. Then we quit for a while. No matter what George says.”

  “You think we can get them houseboats lined up all right?”

  “All we need is to make one little crack in it, Doc. One crack in that dam and nature she’ll take care of the rest. Nature and God.”

  “Whose side is God on?”

  “That’s something I wanta find out.”

  Far away and below, down in the purple gloom, a pair of headlights made one convergent light in the dark, thin as a pencil flashlight’s beam—some late-arriving tourist, no doubt, searching for the campground. They watched the light move slowly on its curving track, vanish under the trees, reappear, vanish again, go out for good.

  Northeast and above, high on the slopes of North Woodenshoe Butte, a coyote barked at the fading sunset. The last bark, finely modulated, andante sostenuto, became a prolonged archaic and anarchic howl. The desert wolf, his serenade, his nocturne.

  Waiting.

  Doc removed the chewed-up stub of the stogie from his teeth. He looked at it. The Conestoga cigar, hand-rolled in the wagon seat, westward bound. He flipped it into the coals. “You think he’ll make it?”

  Smith mulled over the question before answering. After due consideration he said, “He’ll make it. Nothing can stop that boy but hisself.”

  “Precisely the difficulty,” Doc agreed.

  That’s the trouble, she thought. Something lacking in his instinct for self-preservation. Without me around to advise him he’s like a child. A hotheaded brain-damaged overemotional child. Hyperactive type. Subconsciously wants to obliterate himself and so forth, that old bit. I don’t believe in that Psychology Today schlock. Encounter groupies and Esalen oilers. Yes you do. No I don’t.

  She walked among the wind-ripped sun-bleached shacks. Uranium miners two decades before had lived here, somehow, on this waterless bench below the ridge, above the arboreal branchings of the canyons. Rusted oil drums stood against the canted walls. Mattresses the color of carnotite, urine, yellowcake, unstuffed by pack rats, raddled by rock squirrels and field mice, lay on the rotted floors. Sunken privies expired in the backyards. An old car tire hung by wire rope from the branch of a pinyon pine: children once played here. Garbage dumps like tailing heaps sprawled over the rimrock in a welter of metal, plastic, plywood, plasterboard, chicken wire, ketchup bottles, mundane shoes and eternal Clorox jugs, treadless and threadbare auto tires.

  Down the gullied surface of a truck road she walked, under the loading chutes, past storage bins, water tanks, fuel tanks. Smells of sulfur, diesel fuel, decaying wood, bat dung, oiled timbers, oxidizing iron. From the black mouths of the mineshaft adits issued cloudy wraiths of unknown gases—radon? carbon dioxide?—drooling forth like smoke but odorless, heavier than air, creeping with languid sloth over the ground. The Hidden Splendor. Lovely place you picked for a rendezvous, George Hay duke. Pig that you are. Reptile. Toad. Horned toad. (I may be horny, George replied, but I ain’t no toad.) She stepped cautiously around the foggy tongues, the slithering fingers of gas, and followed the rails that led, narrow-gauged, askew and rusty, out from the mine’s foul maw across the road to the tailings dump.

  She sat on the iron flange of an overturned mine car and gazed far out toward the south, through the veils of evening, for a hundred miles as thought can sail, over Owachomo Natural Bridge, over Grand Gulch, Muley Point and the gooseneck meanders of the San Juan River, past Organ Rock, Monument Valley, the volcanic hulk of Agáthalan, over the Monument Upwarp and beyond the rim of the visible world to Kayenta, the Holiday Inn, and the battered blue jeep still waiting there.

  24

  Escape of the Depredator

  Hayduke ate one can of Brazilian corned beef, sodium nitrite and all (those fascist bastards make good corned beef) and drank two whole cans of diced pineapple, including the dice, for dessert. He rested awhile, then packed the canned goods back into the storage locker and reburied the locker in the cache hole. He disassembled the chain saw, oiled all parts and packed them into the canvas duffel bag and stored the bag with the food. He covered the cache with dirt, rocks and sticks; by starlight at least it appeared well concealed. What remained went into his backpack, which he reshouldered.

  He put on his hat and looked at the stars. The Big Dipper lay upside down, from his point of view: about one o’clock in the morning. Hayduke moved down the talus slope below the rim and headed north straight across the country, toward the lights o
f Kayenta.

  He felt good. His load seemed very easy after the burdens of the last few days, his feet were in good shape, his heart and head replenished by the sweet pleasure of success.

  He made good time, despite the dogs that barked from every hogan clearing, and the anticipated police roadblock on the highway south of the Kayenta junction, forcing him to circle wide. In the pregnant hour between false and true dawn he reached the complex of motels, gas stations and curio shops at the junction itself. Stashing his pack in the bushes—for nothing looks more suspicious in the eyes of townsfolk, whether red-skinned or white, than a bearded man on foot with a pack on his back—he scouted the perimeter of the Holiday Inn parking lot.

  The jeep was still there, complete with hidden key and note.

  Sam, I waited for you three whole days. The Latter-Day Saint came and we went to pick up His Lordship at the Mexican Hat International Airport. Will meet you at the Plaza, as agreed. Please hurry as I don’t like to be kept waiting. No more monkey business. And help beautify America—take a bath. Your friend and legal counselor,

  Thelma

  Nobody around but a few aborigines passed out against a cinder-block wall, empty bottles nearby. Hayduke started his jeep, retrieved his pack and drove north through Kayenta to the San Juan River and the village of Mexican Hat. The sun was rising as he rattled over the bridge. Back in Utah, back in the crazy canyon country, he felt safer, better and very much at home. Good to be back in good old San Juan County.

  He noticed that the café was open and against his better judgment, knowing he had to get away from all towns and paved roads as soon as possible, he stopped. He suffered from a craving, irresistible, for a mug of coffee and a ham-and-eggs breakfast. Five days of nothing but raisins, nuts, sunflower seeds and chocolate chips, nothing but Granola and powdered milk, peanut butter and corned beef out of a can, did that to him.

  He parked his jeep two blocks from the café, behind the Frigid Queen Drive-In (closed till noon), walked back and took a stool at the feeding counter. A Ute Indian girl with acne but a facial structure like that of a Mongolian movie-star princess took his order. He went into the men’s room to splash some water on his face and attempt to wet down and smooth out his shaggy mane.

  Relieving, he read, as always, the writing on the wall, the voice of the people: Free love, they said, is priced right. There is no gravity; Earth sucks. Help Fern-Lib: Liberate A Woman Tonight. White man we gave you corn you give us clap. He followed one message up the wall and onto the ceiling, where it said: What’re you looking up here for stupid? You’re pissing on your shoes.

  Hayduke returned to the dining room and found two broad backs in tight cowboy shirts sitting adjacent to his ham and eggs, hash browns and coffee. Two silver-gray cowboy hats and two wide important rumps in gabardine. He spotted them instantly as the kind of men who wear bolo ties and shoot doves and eat Vienna sausages out of a can on fishing jaunts. The kind of folks that made America what it is today.

  “Morning,” Hayduke said, sitting down and facing his food. The wide tired brim of his sombrero would shield, he figured, the upper part of his face, the dangerous part. (Those red-rimmed eyeballs glaring at him wearily, like a lemur in a cave, from the cracked glass of the men’s room mirror.) The moment he sat down however he knew he had made a serious mistake. From one corner of his left eye he saw the bright yellow Blazer parked hard-nosed against the log outside, the big official decal on the driver’s door. He was tireder than he thought. The synapses in his brain, such as they were, had misfired or maybe never fired at all. His reflexes were not flexing. He knew he was tired but didn’t know—hadn’t known—he was too tired to see.

  What the fuck. Let’s eat anyhow and do something about it later.

  The muscular brown jaws next to his paused for a moment in their work. The leather-skinned face turned his way and the eyes, pale blue as juniper berries, radiating wrinkles from a lifetime of squinting into the desert glare, fixed on Hayduke’s hairy hostile face.

  “How’s my boy ol’ Seldom Seen?” the bishop said, staring hard.

  Dismayed but too worn out to care, Hayduke stared back, thinking, George, you ever look a horse’s ass in the face? Well here’s your chance. “Don’t know him,” he mumbled through a mouthful of breakfast.

  “Is that right?” The bishop’s huge red hands, bigger than Doc’s and not half so kind, resumed their feeding motions. “Well, he knows you, boy.”

  The man on the bishop’s right, who looked like Love’s younger brother, stopped eating for the moment, looking at his eggs, and waited for Hayduke’s response.

  Hayduke hesitated only slightly. “Don’t know anybody by that name.” Adding a lot more sugar to his coffee: quick energy.

  “You sure?”

  “Never heard of him.”

  All three resumed eating, steadily: Hayduke his ham and eggs, the Bishop of Blanding also ham and eggs, the younger Love, sausage (four links) and scrambled eggs. The munch and chomp of manly mastication. The Ute princess shuffled from kitchen to counter in her bobby-soxer saddle shoes. The screen door slammed again. Two Navajos with retreaded heads, looking like school administrators or tribal bureaucrats, sat down at a table near the door, setting their attaché cases on the floor. They too wore bolo ties. Hayduke began to get that crowded, confined sensation.

  Out of here!

  The bishop continued: “Well, boy, I seen you with him that day at Bridges. And I never forget a face. Specially a face like yours. There was you and him and that young gal with the voice that carries so good and that big bald-headed man with the salty-black beard. And we stopped to ask you about some depredations on the road project. Somebody leavin’ tracks with lug boots, size ten or eleven, all the way from Comb Wash to Hall’s Crossing Junction. If that wasn’t you that must of been your twin brother.” The bishop’s brother leaned back on his stool for a glance at Hayduke’s footgear.

  Hayduke’s toes curled inside his lug-soled mountain boots. “Must’ve been my twin brother,” he said, swabbing up the last of the yolk with the final slice of toast. Good, by God. He held up his mug toward the princess. “Coffee?”

  She filled it, giving him a shy smile that under ordinary circumstances would have haunted Hayduke’s memory for the next two months. Hope springs eternal in the male gonad.

  “You don’t remember nothin’ about that?”

  Hayduke poured more sugar in his coffee. “Nope,” he explained.

  “You are a liar, boy.”

  Hayduke took a sip, then another. He felt the sweat begin to trickle from the old pits and slide, drop by oily drop, down the ladder-way of his ribs. The shirt he’d been wearing for five days was stinking bad enough as was without this extra bouquet. Ah, what to do, what to do? The old question. Of course he had the .357 stuck in his belt, concealed by his jacket, but he could hardly get it out and throw down on these Love brothers—two of them, big fellas—in front of so many witnesses. Should he throw the hot coffee in the bishop’s face? Run for the door? Trouble like roses always seems to come in bunches.

  “You hear me, boy?”

  There’s an idea. Play deaf and dumb. “Sir?” he said, and to the waitress, with a smile, “Check, miss?”

  The girl took out her little green order pad. “Is this all on one?” she said, looking at Hayduke and the other two gentlemen. Their conversation had misled her.

  Hayduke thought of Our Lord’s words to the waiter at the Last Supper: “Separate checks, please.” God but she was lovely. Confused but lovely. Those cheekbones. Those Aztec eyes. But he had more important things to think about. “Separate,” he said. “I got to go.”

  “You ain’t goin’ nowhere,” the bishop said quietly. “Not yet you ain’t. We got some things to talk about.”

  “Sir?” Fumbling for his money. He fished it out.

  “Yessir. Like a bulldozer jumpin’ into Lake Powell all by itself. Like somebody rollin’ rocks down onto my other Blazer. Like the whereabouts of one Seldom Seen S
mith. Few little things like that, boy.”

  The bishop and his brother continued to scarf up their scoffings but kept their feet set back under their butts, ready to move, quickly. Their bleak and only faintly amused eyes did not leave Hayduke’s face, not for a moment.

  Still sitting at the counter, he paid his bill and a generous tip and was ready to depart. But how? He still hoped, somehow, to leave with dignity, with cool and grace. “Well, Dad,” he said, “you got me mixed up with somebody else, that’s all I can say.” He started to rise.

  The bishop reached out a heavy hand and yanked him back. “Sit down.”

  The bishop’s younger brother grinned at him. “We’ll all leave together,” he explained.

  A blue funk enveloped Hayduke’s head. He hated jails. They gave him claustrophobia. That trapped feeling. Sighing, he said, “Well in that case I guess I’ll need another cup of coffee.” He held out the big mug; the girl refilled it, steadying Hayduke’s wobbling hand with a touch of her own. “Thanks.”

  The steam spiraled up from the coffee in the shape, transient but clear, of a question mark. The question was not the practical one—Are they armed?—for if they carried weapons they kept them, like Hayduke’s, concealed. In Hayduke’s case, illegal; but the brothers doubtless held deputy sheriff commissions. The question was: Will the sphincter hold till I get out of here and free and clear? The riddle of the sphincter. That was the question.

  “What’s your name?” the bishop asked.

  “Herman Smith.”

  “You don’t look very American to me. Sure it ain’t Rudolf?”

  “Who?”

  “Rudolf the Red?”

  Hayduke threw his mugful of coffee into the bishop’s face and dashed for the doorway. Two Navajo attaché cases big as satchel charges obstructed his passage. He leaped over them, crashed through the screen door.