Patricia Grant is a writer and avid recycler! She enjoys stomping on boxes and milk cartons so they will fit more economically into the bin!...read more Her hobbies include slapping
people, graffiti and pretending to be the host of a cooking show.
Twenty miles west over the blond plains, in the shadow of the blue mountains, trucks moved silently along the new interstate into the cold drawbridge city. Like the old detective as of late, the old outlaw Lefty camped in his car, parked alongside an abandoned motel set back from the abandoned highway. The motel was a shell of defaced cement, stripped already and shrinking, but here the old outlaw lingered, for reasons, the old detective thought, more nostalgic than practical.
So, too, the old detective lingered, his car obscured by the structural components of a railway bridge. With him, in the passenger seat, was a rabble-rouser called Dirk. Dirk was a cousin and a criminal, but he had an enthusiasm for the job at hand that could not be matched by a more appropriate partner. Dirk got a wide-eyed look at the mention of Lefty. It was not the look of great reason, but, the old detective thought Lefty deserved a look like that - a wild, wide eyed look.
Dirk was young and could see with un-enhanced eyes what the old detective could not see at all without the help of two eyepieces: his glasses and his standard issue binoculars. When Dirk hooted suddenly, the old detective roused from his doze behind the steering wheel, took each device from the dash and, in a slow-coming, fumbling way, held them aloft to sort out their proper order of usefulness. It was a lengthy and frustrating ordeal to see what Dirk could see by simply opening his eyes.
“Well, Christ!” he grumbled. “What do you see, Dirk?”
“He’s shitting,” Dirk announced. “He’s shitting in the weeds.”
His eyepieces arranged, the old detective put his palm against the window to deflect the morning sun’s glare and scanned the open, littered grass across the highway. The old outlaw was squatting with his pants around his ankles, his fundamental functions on open display.
“You ever been on the run, Dirk?” asked the old detective, though he already knew the answer.
“Yeah, I been on the run,” said Dirk.
“Forty-eight hours. They got me with the tire shredders.”
“Where’d you shit when you was on the run?” asked the old detective.
“Where’d I shit?” Dirk hooted. “I shit in the Burger King bathroom! I don’t shit in no weeds like this dirty old vaquero!”
The old detective watched the old outlaw shitting and thought about his own shitting, which was a far touchier affair than it used to be. His shitting would no longer tolerate the hard conditions the old outlaw still shat in with ease. The old detective’s shitting would not even tolerate the hard conditions of the Burger King bathroom.
Through his binoculars, he watched the old outlaw shitting until a squeak of upholstery redirected his attention to his more immediate range. Dirk, deftly, was hanging halfway out the passenger side window with a battered hunting rifle leveled at the squatting outlaw. This was the second appearance of the weapon Dirk called his “varmint gun.” Indeed, a ring-tailed cat on the sloped overhang of a truck stop bay prompted its first appearance, but the implication that Dirk made wide use of the word “varmint” was an obvious one.
The old detective grabbed the back of Dirk’s dirty, bristly neck and pulled him into the car through the window, then slapped him hard until the boy curled around his gun, slumped up against the car door. The authority to deal real punitive measures on rabble-rousers such as Dirk was no longer with him, but the voltaic impulse still was. When the assault was finished, he shook from the effort, his swollen hands tingling. He said,
“I’ll tell you what, boy! You won’t point that gun at nobody again unless I give you the go-ahead, you hear me?”
Dirk straightened from his recoil and regarded the old detective, coolly. Punitive measures did not take on Dirk and never had.
“That’s what you got me out here to do, ain’t it?” said Dirk. “To kill him? That’s what you want to see, ain’t it?”
“There’s a protocol to these things, Dirk. We ain’t even sure it’s him.”
“Liar!” hollered Dirk. “You know it’s him in your gut and I ain’t blind!”
“He got his pants around his ankles, for Christ’s sake! That ain’t no way to take down a bandit like that.”
“Bandit!” Dirk hooted. “He ain’t a bandit. Pancho was a bandit. Lefty’s just a dirty old vaquero. He ain’t nothing.”
The old detective returned to his eyepieces. His hands were still stunned from the censure and would not hold the binoculars steady, but he could see that the old outlaw was no longer squatting in the weeds.
“He’s right here! Right in front of your face!” Dirk hollered.
“Where?” The old detective passed his wobbly far-flung sight back and forth over the length of the broadly set camp.
“The rocks, you blind asshole! Sunning himself like a lizard,” said Dirk.
With this clue, the old detective had the old outlaw centered in his binocular’s frame. He was laying across a grouping of strayed cement ruins in high weeds.
The position of his repose, his chin titled into the sun, brought to the old detective’s mind the position he himself sometimes took in his reclining armchair in the afternoons when a triangle of orange light came in through the window. Save for the outlaw’s long, ratty grey hair that splayed out from his head, save for his hands clutching the barrel of a shotgun that lay across his chest, it was the same position of repose. It was a similarity that struck the old detective in a morbid way.
The binoculars slipped from his fat fingers, tumbling between his knees and under the steering wheel to where his reach was limited by angle and darkness. He caught the binoculars under the rubber tread of his boots to drag them closer, but stopped when his myopic gaze lifted and he saw that the passenger seat was empty, the car door open.
“Dirk!” he hissed.
He flung himself out of the car, bounding back to reach for his own gun behind the driver side seat, but it was not there. He came around the car then ran ahead to the railway bridge where Dirk was halfway up the service ladder, with his varmint gun tucked under his chin.
“Dirk, get down here, boy!”
The cold steel ladder rungs, slick with the spring ice that formed where the sun did not shine, extended dizzyingly over the old detective’s head as he climbed after Dirk. In one glance, Dirk was there, a dark silhouette of surefooted limbs against the pale blue sky and in the next glance, he was gone and a dusting of gravel rained down into the old detective’s mouth and eyes.
The remaining rungs of the ladder brought his head level with the summit into the open, brisk air where he slowed to exercise caution on the narrow trestle. The railway track was fragmentary now and mostly gone, its parts rusted orange and mislaid.
Dirk lay flat across the tracks with his rifle propped against the short guardrail, aligned for his target. The distance was too great for an accurate shot, the old detective thought, and he meant to interrupt the fool’s errand.
“Dirk, you’ll only rile him up!” said the old detective.
The sparse remains of track ballast cut into his hands and knees as he crawled towards the boy. When he was near, he reached for the flesh of his skinny exposed ankles, but in that instant Dirk swung around and struck at him with the heavy butt of his rifle.
The old detective turned, deflecting the blow with the broad part of his shoulder, then gained a hold on the unwieldy gun and pulled Dirk towards him. Dirk stumbled and fired a shot into the road below.
The old detective dropped back, stunned. The gun had discharged near his head and now a dense, radiating silence filled the space around him. At the center of the silence was a rustling sound, lively, persistent and clear, like a large beetle was nesting in his head.
Dirk raised the heavy part of his gun again, spitting angry, slurring words that the old detective could not hear. Rising up, a point of force caught Dirk under the ribs and jerked him sideways. He folded over and his varmint gun somersaulted away.
The old detective lay back and regarded the expanse of sky above him, a deeper blue now. He shifted slowly to make his every sinew flat on the high bald trestle, recasting himself as imperceptibly as the sky had recast its color. He could hear nothing, but he could feel Dirk writhing near his side. Then the writhing stopped. The old detective sat up on the trestle just enough to see a trail of dust rising high over the blond plains in the wake of Pancho’s fleeing partner.