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The Monkey Wrench Gang
The Monkey Wrench Gang 43
Here their story would happily have ended, except for a single and posthumous (out of the earth) detail.
It happens during the second year of probation. Five people sit around a hand-made pinewood table in the first-class salon of a large and comfortable custom-designed houseboat. The time is eleven o’clock at night. Illumination of the tables comes from two clear-burning, silent, shaded, kerosene-burning Aladdin lamps which dangle from iron hooks in the ceiling beam. The lamps swing a little, from time to time, as the houseboat rocks gently on the waves of the river. The table is covered by a green blanket. There are poker chips (sad to relate) in the center of the blanket and the game (dealer’s choice) is five-card stud. The five players are Dr. and Mrs. Sarvis, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and their communal probation officer, a young fellow named Greenspan, who is a relative newcomer to the state of Utah. (Newcomers are always welcome in the Beehive State but are advised to set their watches back fifty years when entering.) The conversation is mostly of a limited, practical nature:
“Pot’s right. Here we go. Ten, no help. Seven, possible. Pair of deuces! Queen, no help, and—well, would you look at that, a pair of cowboys.”
“How do you do that, Doc?”
“Control, friends, control.”
“I mean, so often?”
“Nephi guides my hand. Make it ten on the kings.”
“No game for us shoe clerks but I guess I’ll stay.”
Pause. “And you?” says Doc.
“We only get one hole card in this game?”
“That is correct, my love.”
“And nothing’s wild?”
“What a crooked, boring game.”
Smith looks up from the table, hearing something. Doc hears it too. Not the wind coming up the river. Not the quiet creaking of the boat. Something else. He listens.
“All right, all right, I’m in, deal ’em. What’re you gaping at?”
“Of course. In a moment. Seldom?”
“I’m out, pardners.” Smith folds, not watching the game.
“Okay. Pot’s right and here we go again.” Doc deals the cards, laying them out one at a time, face up, the old old story. “Four, no help. Bonnie’s deuce, sorry. Trey, no help. Ace, not much help. Kings bet ten more.”
He listens, as the others call, fold, call. He hears the sound of—hoofbeats? Heartbeats? No, it really is the sound of a horse. Or maybe of two horses. Somebody or someone, riding up the dusty lane between the fields, under the glittering summer stars, toward the river, toward the houseboat. Not fast but easily, at a walking pace. The sound carries well in the stillness.
The game goes on. Doc rakes in the pot. The deal passes to Greenspan. He shuffles the deck. Doc glances at Bonnie, who is staring glumly at the table. Something is bothering that girl. Maybe it’s her condition. Have to talk to her tonight. This game has gone on for four hours and we’re only six dollars ahead. And Greenspan has to leave in half an hour. Can’t make an honest living like this. He glances at her again; maybe it’s something else. Must give her my ear tonight. Although there are some things, or there is one thing, which he and Bonnie never talk about.
The steady hoofbeats coming closer as Greenspan deals. Doc looks at Seldom, who is looking at him. Seldom shrugs. In a moment now they will hear the clumping and clattering of steel shoes on the old planks of the landing pier.
Greenspan looks at his watch. He has to drive all the way back to Price tonight. Seventy miles. Rather a dude, the young probation officer is wearing his new buckskin vest, the one with the mountain-man fringes and the silver conchos. “I’ll open,” he says. “Two beans.” Pushing two white chips into the middle of the blanket, where the ante lays.
Susan Smith is next. “I’ll stay.”
Bonnie’s turn. “Raise you two,” she says, staring with wonder at her hand. Good girl.
The houseboat rocks on the water, the lamps sway a bit. Wind coming up the river against the steady brown flow from Desolation Canyon. Little waves lap at the waterline outside, slapping against the Fiberglas-coated marine-plywood hull. (Doc had wanted an adobe houseboat, with projecting vigas of yellow pine on which to hang garlands of red chili peppers à la New Mexico. Not available, at any price. Even the Mexican navy, they say, has given up on adobe water-craft, except for submarines.)
The horses have stopped. Instead of shod hoofs he hears human feet in boots, with jingling spurs, step onto the planking. Doc stands up, letting his cards lie. He withdraws his cigar.
“What’s wrong?” says Mrs. Smith.
“We have a visitor, I think.” Doc feels a strong need to meet that visitor outside the door. Even before the knocking begins he has stepped away from the table. “Excuse me.”
He goes to the door and opens it, barring the way with his bulk. At first he sees no one. Peering harder, he can make out a tall, thin figure backed off out of the lamplight.
“Yes?” says Doc. “Who is it?”
“You Doc Sarvis?”
“Got a friend of yours out here.” The stranger’s voice is soft and low but full of a practiced menace. “He needs some doctoring.”
“A friend of mine?”
Doc hesitates. His friends are all inside, around the table, looking at him. Facing them Doc says, “It’s all right, I’ll just be a few minutes. You go on without me.”
He closes the door at his back and follows the stranger, who has retreated across the landing to the riverbank. A horse stands there, reins trailing on the ground. As his eyes adjust to the starlight Doc confirms his first impression of a tall but very skinny man, a total stranger, dressed in dusty Levi’s, wearing a black hat, a bandanna over the nose and mouth. The man stares at him with one dark eye. The other, Doc notices, the left eye, is gone.
“Who the hell are you?” Doc says. He puffs on his cigar, making the red coal glow in the dark. The hex sign.
“You don’t really want to know that, Doc. But”—a faint movement behind the mask, as of a smile—“some folks used to call me Kemosabe. Come on.”
“Wait a minute.” Doc has halted. “Where is this alleged friend of mine? Where’s the patient?”
A pause. The wind sighs on the river.
The stranger says, “You believe in ghosts, Doc?”
The doctor thinks. “I believe in the ghosts that haunt the human mind.”
“This one ain’t that kind.”
“He’s real. He’s come a long way.”
“Well,” says Doc, a trifle shakily, “let’s see him. Let’s see this phenomenon. Where is he?”
Another moment of silence. The stranger nods toward the pathway on top of the riverbank.
“I’m right up here, Doc,” says a familiar voice.
Doc feels the skin crawl on the back of his neck. He stares up through the darkness toward the voice and sees a second horseman silhouetted against the Milky Way, a stocky wide-shouldered brawny man with sombrero and a grin that shines even by starlight. He is mounted on a horse that must be seventeen hands high.
Good God, Doc thinks. And then realizes that he is not really surprised, that he has been expecting this apparition for two years. He sighs. Here we go again.
“Is that you, George?”
“Fuck yes. Who the hell else?”
Doc sighs again. “They shot you to pieces at Lizard Rock.”
“Not me. Rudolf.”
“A scarecrow. A fucking dummy.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well invite us in, for chrissake. I’ll tell you all about it. It’s a long story.”
Doc looks back toward the houseboat. Through the light of the curtained window he sees Greenspan and the others at the table, cards in motion under the lamplight.
“George … our probation officer is in there.”
“Oh. Well, shit, we’ll get out of here. Get out of your hair.”
“No, hold on a minute. He’s a nice guy and I don’t want to put him in a difficult position. You understand. He’ll be leaving in half an hour. Why don’t you and your friend here turn your horses out in the pasture and wait for us in Seldom’s house? There’s nobody there. You know where his house is?”
“We were there five minutes ago.”
They stare at each other through the starlight. Doc is not quite convinced.
“George … is that really you?”
“No, it’s Ichabod Ignatz. Come on up here and feel the wounds.”
“I’m going to do that.” Doc climbs the embankment.
The horse stirs nervously. “Whoa, you ignorant sombitch. Yeah. Give me some skin, Doc.” Hayduke is smiling like a little boy.
They shake. They squeeze flesh. The apparition feels like the same smelly solid Hayduke of old. No improvement at all.
“My God…. It really is.” The doctor finds himself blinking back tears. “Are you all right?”
“Fine. Got some old wounds acting up, that’s all. And my friend here wanted to meet you. How’s Seldom?”
“He’s the same as ever. Still working on the dam plan.”
“That’s good.” The horse stamps his feet. “Hold still, goddammit.” A long pause. “How’s Bonnie?”
“So I heard. How is she?”
“Four months pregnant.”
“No shit.” Pause. “Well I’ll be fucked. Bonnie, knocked up. I’ll be screwed, blued and tattooed. I didn’t think it could be done.”
“What’s she going to do about it?”
“She’s going to become a mother.”
“I’ll be goddamned.” George smiles sadly and happily and foolishly, all at once, like a liberated lion. “You horny old fart. Doc, I want to see her.”
“You will, you will.”
“My name is Fred Goodsell now. I have a whole new ID.” Hayduke’s smile grows wider. “And I got a job too. I start work as a night watchman next week. I’m going to be a regular fucking citizen, Doc, just like you and Seldom and Bonnie. For a while.”
Doc looks back again at the houseboat. The front door is opening. Bonnie stands in the light, trying to see outside. “I’d better get back in there. You wait for us. I want to have a good look at you, and those wounds. So will Bonnie. And Seldom. Don’t go away.”
“Shit, Doc, we’re tired and we’re hungry. We ain’t going nowheres tonight.”
Bonnie calls. “Doc … are you out there?”
“Be right down,” he answers. “In a minute.”
Hayduke chuckles. “Good old Doc. Say, that was a nice job you and Seldom did on that bridge.”
“What are you talking about?”
“No? I mean the Glen Canyon bridge.”
“That wasn’t us. We were right here that day. We have witnesses to prove it.” (Thank God.)
“Well I’ll be fucked again,” says Hayduke. Bemused, shaking his head, he ponders this information. “You hear that?” he says to his masked partner. The partner, who has remounted, nods. “Doc,” says Hayduke, “You better get back to your spouse before she chews your ass off. Only there’s one thing you got to ask me first.”
“What?” Doc chews on the stub of his cigar, which has gone out. “What’s that?”
“Aren’t you going to ask me where my night watchman job is?” Hayduke is grinning at him again.
Now it is Doc’s turn to ponder. Briefly. “No, George, I think I’d rather not know that.”
Hayduke laughs and turns to his partner. “What’d I tell you?” To Doc he says, “You’re right again. But you can guess, can’t you?”
“Oh yes. I can guess.”
“Seldom would like to know.”
“You can tell him yourself.”
“Right, you’re the doctor. Okay, we’ll be waiting for you. Let’s go.” Hayduke turns his giant horse away from Doc, touches it with his heels. The horse lunges forward, snorting with delight. “But don’t keep us waiting too long,” Hayduke yells, fading away.
The two riders vanish down the shadowy lane, loping off toward the pasture. Doc stares after them for a moment, then stumbles down the bank, regains his stability and walks nonchalantly into his floating home, puffing vigorously on a dead cigar. “What’s the game?” he roars.
“Who was out there?” Bonnie asks.
“Nobody. Who’s dealing?”
“This is the last hand,” Greenspan says, shuffling the cards. “You in, Doc?”
“Deal me in.” Doc winks at Bonnie and Seldom. “And don’t forget to cut the fucking deck.”
Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang
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