Wednesday, November 3, 2010

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode 48: Who are you?





















(a rare photo of Dick Ridpath, c. 1969)


September, 1969, and good old boy Big Jake Johnstone has decided to throw a good old-fashioned barbecue at his ranch, in the vain hope that someone, somebody, will not think him the pathetic phony cowardly blowhard he is.


On hand this evening, besides good old Jake himself:

Harvey: the young returning soldier.

Dick and Daphne Ridpath (AKA “Smith”): that mysterious and glamorous couple.

Hans Grupler and his companion “Marlene” (probably not her real name, no one knows her real name): international assassins and all-round ne’er-do-wells.

Derek Squitters: dissolute Cockney rock star, in the area to study Native American religious practices.

Doc Goldwasser: the town general practitioner; addicted to morphine as the result of a war wound.

Hope Johnstone: Big Jake’s lovely but mentally unstable daughter.

Mr. Philips and Mr. Adams: supposedly geologists working for the government.

Chad and Phyllis Baxter: a "nice" young couple, ostensibly on vacation.

Various Lords, Ladies, and Attendants.

(Go here for the previous chapter; the idly curious may go here to return to the beginning of our Jackie Collins Award-winning serialization of Larry Winchester's A Town Called Disdain.)



Daphne hadn’t come down yet. Dick got a bottle of Heineken out of an old bathtub filled with beer and ice and stood drinking and looking around.

He wore his one good dark grey suit from Hawkes of Saville Row. Desert boots, from Abercrombie. An embroidered Mexican shirt he had bought in Hong Kong. An ascot which was actually a golden silk scarf of Daphne’s.

The sky had cleared, the stars were out, and the air was redolent of burning mesquite and scorched beef and searing barbecue sauce.

Picnic tables were loaded up with bowls of potato salad and baskets of steaming rolls and biscuits and tortillas covered with checked cloths, big painted wooden bowls of rutabaga salad, plates of hominy cakes and collards and tuna-stuffed baked potatoes and bowls of black beans-and-dirty rice and great stacks of corn roasted in the husk.

It all made Dick’s mouth water but he felt there was some business he should attend to before chowing down...

Big Jake was taking some new young couple around. They seemed familiar in a vague way, but Dick figured that was probably only because they looked like a million other boring young couples of the sort he had spent his life avoiding like the plague. Or so he hoped.

Hans and Marlene were shaking hands with the young couple and chatting amiably, Hans in a houndstooth hunting jacket and matching cape, Marlene in a minidress made of what looked like Klee-influenced shower-curtain material, slightly translucent so that you could see her black bikini underwear. Hans wore a tweed alpine hat with a dashing peacock feather. Marlene wore a plastic pillbox hat decorated with small rubber poppies.

The Englishman Squitters, sombreroed and ponchoed and black-PVC-trousered, stood staring at the mariachi band, holding a glass of yellow tequila in his one hand and a bottle of Michelob in the other.

The drunken guitarist sang a sad and beautiful song:
Donde ira, veloz y fatigada
la golondrina que de aqui se va
a donde ira?
Dr. Goldwasser sat at a table smoking a cigarette and staring at the ground.

Hope stood quietly near the fire, gnawing a bone and staring at the flames, wearing a long gauzy flowery dress with a black silk mantilla over her shoulders.

Harvey was squatting with another young fellow among a group of other ranch-hand types off to one side, just on the edge of the wavering light from colored paper lanterns hung from clotheslines strung from the house to a few scraggly pinyon trees and scrub oaks.

Dick raised his bottle to Harvey, and Harvey raised his in return.

Lots of other people about, the local gentry Dick supposed, or what passed for the local gentry.

And there stood the Messers. Philips and Adams, in their little windbreakers, holding bottles of TaB, watching.

Dick finished his beer, put the empty into a cardboard beer box on the ground, and then reached into the ice-tub and got out a fresh one. He popped the top off with the bottle opener that had a handle made from a bull’s horn, laid the opener back onto the table, and walked over to Philips and Adams.

They were clean-cut wiry young fellows. One was blond, the other one had dark hair.

“Hi,” said Dick.

“Hello,” said the dark-haired one. Dick was pretty sure this was Philips.

“Hi,” said Adams.

Philips took a nervous pull on his bottle of TaB. He had horn-rimmed glasses and a tanning-cream complexion. His face and head reminded Dick of a hostile wet seal.

“You gotta try some of that barbecue, Mr. uh Smith,” said Adams. “It’s terrific.”

“Oh, I will. But first, I’m afraid I’ve got another sort of bone to pick with you fellas.”

“Us?” said Philips.

Dick said nothing for a moment. The other one, Adams, held onto a stiff smile. He had a bulbous forehead and the sort of curly blond hair that means the boyishly good looking guy of twenty-eight will be stone bald at thirty-eight. A pug-nosed, bright-eyed, healthily sunburnt, shining-toothed eager-beaver of a professional regular guy.

Dick reached out and touched the hard place under the arm of Philips's windbreaker where his pistol was, and Philips flinched backwards.

Dick looked from one to the other, smiling.

Philips and Adams were not smiling.

Dick pointed a finger at Adams.

“You were trying to get into my room. Why?”

“It -- was a mistake -- I thought it was our --”

“Uh-huh. What are you guys? CIA? FBI? Something else? Something I’m not supposed to know about?”

Philips and Adams looked at each other, but neither said anything.

“Okay,” said Dick, “be like that. But listen. I’m an American citizen and a retired naval officer. I’ve done my bit for this country and now I just want to be left alone. You dig? Whatever you’re sniffing for, forget it. My life and my current interests have nothing to do with you.”

“Sir --” said Philips.

“Yeah,” said Dick.

“May I ask you -- just who are you, anyway?”

“What do you mean?”

“Who are you?”

“You don’t know?”

“That’s why he asked,” said Adams. “We gather that your name is not really Smith.”

Dick took a drink of beer.

“Christ,” he said. “You guys really don’t know. I hope to hell you’re not Q Section.”

“Q Section?” said Adams.

“What’s Q Section,” asked Philips.

“Oh, nothing,” said Dick. “So why are you here? Is it Big Jake, or is it --”

He was going to say Grupler and Marlene, but quickly cut himself off.

“Why should we be here?” asked Philips.

“Oh, forget it,” said Dick. He looked at them. “CIA, right? You don’t quite have that official J. Edgar poker-up-the-ass demeanor. Plus this --” He pulled open the top part of Adams’s windbreaker, revealing the holstered handgun under his arm. “That’s what -- a Smith & Wesson nine-millimeter? J. Edgar would never let a common agent carry a cool gun like that.” He closed the jacket. “So you’re CIA, right?”

“Wise guy,” said Adams.

“Yeah,” said Dick. “Oh, and you,” he said to Philips. “I’d like my radio back, please.”

“What radio,” said Philips.

“The one with the bullet-hole through it that’s in your right hip pocket.”

“It’s mine,” said Philips.

“No,” said Dick. “That radio happens to belong to my wife. She’s very attached to it. Had it since college. Unfortunately she had a fit of pique and tossed it out the window. Now I would like it back.”

The radio began to speak, somewhat muffled by the cloth of Philips’s jacket.

“What the fuck is that?” said Adams.

“I don’t know,” said Philips.

He took out the shot transistor radio and stared at it.

It was speaking in that odd metallic Australo-Basque dialect again.

“What the fuck,” said Philips.

Dick reached out and took the radio from Philips’s hand and Philips let him take it.

Dick looked at the radio and then at Philips and Adams.

“It’s a damn good radio. Works even with a bullet hole through it.”

“Wh-what is that language?” stammered Adams.

“You don’t know?”

“No, he doesn’t fucking know,” said Philips. “What is it?”

“Aztec,” said Dick. “It’s picking up an Aztec station from south of the border.”

“Aztec?” said Adams.

“No one fucking speaks Aztec,” said Philips.

“You’re so ignorant,” said Dick.

The voice stopped.

Dick put the radio in his left side jacket pocket. His little .38 was in the reinforced right pocket.

“Well, he said, smiling, “I’m gonna try some of that barbecue! See you guys later.”

He headed off toward the the fire and that slowly rotating side of beef.



(Relentlessly continued here. Coming soon from Ha! Karate Multimedia: Lipstick and Tears, Vol. 1, a boxed DVD set of Larry Winchester’s so-called “Women’s Picture” period, comprising Possibly Not {Susan Hayward, Dan Duryea; 1949}, No Tears For Tomorrow {Gloria Grahame, Rory Calhoun; 1949}, My Husband’s Brother {Bette Davis, Paul Henreid; 1950}, and the long-lost Two Nights in a Desperate Town {Marion Davies, Steve Cochran; 1950}.)

3 comments:

Old 333 said...

Aztec radio! Awesome. I also liked "His face and head reminded Dick of a hostile wet seal" quite a bit. Enjoyed this, and thanks for putting it out here.
PG

Dan Leo said...

Damn, 333, now I feel uneducated -- just looked up Chandler Brossard and now I'll have to add him to my ever-growing "check for 'em at the library" list. I was recently tagged by one of those "10 fave authors" lists, and I have about twenty names I should look up...

kathleenmaher said...

When people used to say "the good old days" (I haven't heard that in years), this is what I'd imagine except better.