“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Fourteen: interlude on the road, or, Big Jake’s a big coward
It’s still Harvey’s first day back home from Vietnam, or rather the night of that first day, and Harvey and the mysterious Mrs. Daphne Smith have been waylaid by a vicious motorcycle gang called the Motorpsychos. Fortunately Daphne’s husband Dick pulls up in the rancher Big Jake Johnstone’s 1969 red Cadillac Coupe de Ville convertible, and, while Big Jake pretends to be drunkenly passed out, Dick saves the day, in the process shooting one of the Motorpsychos dead.
Before all hell can completely break out Sheriff Dooley arrives on the scene like a bonus god from a machine and sends the Motorpsychos packing with their dead comrade...
(Go here to read our previous exciting episode, or, if you must, click here to return to the first chapter of this epic novel of which George Will has said, "I read a chapter every morning without fail whilst sitting at stool.")
With a hellish cacophony of mechanical vomitous noise that was only to be expected from their like, the Motorpsychos roared off toward the hills, and finally Big Jake heaved himself up from the floor space of the Cadillac. He made a great show of rubbing his eyes and shaking his head, and then he shoved his bulk out of the passenger side and walked around to where Dick and the sheriff stood with Harvey and Daphne as the dust and exhaust settled down all around them.
The sheriff had holstered his own gun and was now examining Dick’s small revolver. Dick, Daphne and Harvey were all smoking cigarettes.
“Whoo-ee!” cried Big Jake, “Was I passed out! What’d I miss?”
“Not bad for a small piece,” said the sheriff to Dick, ignoring Big Jake.
“Military & Police Airweight,” said Dick. “Only weighs like eleven-and-a-half ounces unloaded.”
The sheriff spun the cylinder of the little gun, then aimed the pistol out at the darkness, squinting.
“Shrouded hammer,” said the sheriff. “So it don’t catch up on your pocket.”
“That’s true,” said Dick.
If only things would stop vibrating. Ever since he shot that guy it was like a movie where somebody was rocking the projector back and forth. Never shoot a man on acid again, he thought. Never.
“Whoah! What happened here?” said Big Jake, stepping around the enormous pool of blood where Crackle’s body had lain.
“Mr. Smith here shot one of them Motorpsychos in the eyeball.”
“No kiddin’! Why’d ya shoot him, Dick?”
“He was annoying us,” said Daphne.
“Hah!” said Jake. “Annoyin’ ya!”
“Yes, while you were, what was it, sleeping?” she said.
“Passed out! Just passed plum out! Why, Dick, you shoulda woke me up! I coulda helped ya out with this here shootin’ iron!”
He pulled out his Colt six-shooter.
“Put that thing away, Jake,” said the sheriff.
“Sure thing, Sheriff! Just sayin’,‘s’all.” He holstered the gun. “Coulda helped out.”
The sheriff handed the little revolver back to Dick.
“Well, sir, I think you’ve shown that even a little weapon like this can be efficacious in the right circumstances.”
“That’s correct, Sheriff,” said Dick, putting the gun back into his shorts pocket.
“Smith & Wesson man my own self,” said the sheriff.
“So I saw,” said Dick. He was so tripped out, it was an effort to pronounce each and every word, but somehow the words came out. “I’ll tell ya something, when I was in the service, try as they would to get me to carry the standard-issue .45 -- and I think that’s an excellent weapon -- my sidearm of choice was the Smith .44 Magnum, just like yourself.”
This was untrue. Through most of his years in the service he had carried the same trusty Browning Hi-Power, which he had won in a poker game with a British marine lieutenant back in Korea. However, he had learned a long time ago that no matter what country you were in it didn’t hurt to make friendly with the local law.
“Yep.” The sheriff patted his holster. “The old Model Six Two Nine does give one a certain feeling of -- how shall I put it -- serenity."
"Nice looking vehicle you've got there, too, Sheriff." Dick felt his mind lurching from side to side as he said this.
"Thank ya," said the sheriff. "Got what they call the Police Pursuit Package. 440 V-8 engine. Hurst Shifter. It takes me where I wanta go, but let me just ask ya, somethin’, Mr., uh, Smith --”
“Yes, sir,” said Dick.
“Next time you got some big fat old boy comin’ at ya with a sap -- and I ain’t sayin’ what you did was wrong or uncalled for -- but next time, why’nt you think of maybe some other way of stoppin’ him short of puttin’ a .38 slug in his eye.”
“I will, Sheriff.”
“I ‘spect you can handle yourself.”
“Well, I try, sir.”
“Just think about it’s all I’m sayin’. Less paperwork for me and all.”
“Hell, Sheriff,” said Jake, “you gonna do paperwork on a dead one of them Motorpsycho scum?”
“Well, no, Jake,” said the sheriff, “in point of fact I don’t guess I will. But as you say, I’m just sayin’, s’all. How you doin’?”
“Doin’ fine, Sheriff, just fine.”
“After your little nap.”
“Heh heh, yep,” said Jake. “So! I guess we’d best be gettin’ on our way if that’s okay with you, Sheriff.”
“’S’okay with me,” said the Sheriff. “Y’all drive careful now.”
“That we will,” said Jake. “Come on, Dick, let’s go. I’m okay to drive now.”
And Big Jake turned and lumbered quickly back to the Cadillac.
The sheriff turned to Dick and said low but clear:
“Jake Johnstone always was a chicken shit. You be careful with him, mister.”
“I will, Sheriff.”
“You friends with him?”
“No, sir, we’re just here on vacation, staying at his ranch.”
“Stayin’ at his ranch.”
The sheriff looked from Dick to Daphne and Harvey, who were both leaning back against the Thunderbird, still smoking their cigarettes in that dry desert air that had dropped about forty degrees Fahrenheit since that afternoon.
“Did I say welcome back, Harvey?” said the sheriff.
“Don’t remember, Sheriff,” said Harvey.
“Well, welcome back, then, son.”
The sheriff tipped his hat to Daphne.
“Thanks ever so much, Sheriff,” said Daphne. “You’ve really been a tremendous darling.”
The sheriff paused, then turned and headed back toward his Plymouth Fury.
And then the ranch began to loom up toward them out of the desert under the stars, it looked like a movie with its stables and corrals and enormous barn, and plumb in the middle this great big wooden Victorian house with gables and dormers and towers.
And their room, the brass bed, that enormous cool crisp bed and above it the queer little painting of the World War I soldier returning to the little country cottage, and then sleep at last.