Our merry crew -- the returned soldierHarvey,the mysterious and glamorousDickand Daphne Ridpath,the local sculptress and café ownerEnid, and the British musician Derek Squitters-- have all decided to head out to the reservation and take part in a peyote ceremony with the Native American medicine manPaco...
(Click here to read our previous episode.Go hereto return to the beginning of Larry Winchester’s sprawling epic. "Makes Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian look like Bridget Jones's Diary." -- Harold Bloom, on Oprah.)
What happened was that Enid wound up driving out to Paco’s with Daphne beside her in the cab and Derek and Dick and Harvey in the back, and as the boys bounced up and down in the bed they put away a fat Thai stick that Dick pulled out and they washed it down with a couple of cans of Falstaff apiece.
Derek opened up his guitar case and took out his old Gibson sunburst and bumpily sang some Jim Reeves and Jim Ed Brown songs in his nasal and whiny but somehow lovely cockney voice.
Harvey had put on his army field jacket for the cool night air (he’d cleaned and reloaded Mr. Johnstone’s revolver and stuck it in the right side pocket, and he had two loaded speedloaders in the left pocket).
Paco’s house turned out to be a small tarnished Quonset hut on the outskirts of the local Mescalero reservation. A 1955 Plymouth wood-paneled station wagon was parked next to the hut, and the wheelless hulks of several other automobiles sat here and there nearby in the moonlight.
Enid knocked on the door. They could hear the sound of a television. She knocked again and called out Paco’s name, and finally Paco opened the door. He was wearing a faded and torn green-and-white University of Hawaii t-shirt and a pair of striped boxer shorts.
“Hey, Chief,” said Derek. He had his guitar at his side with the strap across his shoulder.
“Derek,” said Enid.
Paco looked from Derek to Enid to Dick and Harvey and Daphne.
“Look, Paco,” said Enid, “this is Derek. He’s the guy I told you about.”
To tell the truth Paco had completely forgotten about the whole deal.
“Got the loot, too,” said Derek, and he took a wad of bills out of his PVC trousers pocket.
“And, Paco,” continued Enid, “this is my friend Daphne.” She reached past Derek and pulled the gorgeous Daphne to the fore.
Daphne flashed her most winning smile as Paco looked her up and down.
(Be it noted that Paco had a wife and five children, but they lived in another Quonset hut about five hundred yards down the road.)
“And this is Daphne’s husband Dick, and you remember Harvey? He just got back from the army.”
Dick and Harvey both raised their hands in tentative salutation and quickly lowered them.
Enid had made the proposition to Paco a few days ago at the little roadside stand where he sold local Indian artifacts which he bought direct from a factory down in Juarez. When Enid promptly accepted his jocular but deadpan price of five hundred dollars he just as promptly closed up shop and proceeded to tie a terrific load on. This particular evening he had been sitting on his couch watchingMannixand nursing a world-class hangover and wondering why he had gotten so damn drunk when Enid knocked.“’Ere ya go, mate,” said Derek, and he proffered the wad of bills to Paco.
Paco didn’t take the money but continued to look from one to the other of the white people.
“Daphne was wondering if she could take part in the peyote ceremony too,” said Enid, as if she were reading an unfamiliar cue card.
“She got money,” said Paco. He had a disconcerting way about him of asking questions in the form of statements.
“Paco,” said Enid, “Derek’s already giving you five hundred bucks. You can spare Daphne a few buttons.”
It was true, he did have a decent supply of peyote on hand, having recently gotten a good deal from the Motorpsychos.
“’Ere, Chief,” said Derek, “take the bread, man.”
But Paco still wouldn’t take it. He was staring at Dick.
“And you the lady who dances,” said Paco, looking at Daphne.
“On the bartop with no shirt.”
“Oh.” Now she remembered. At least she had kept her bra on. She was pretty sure she had kept her bra on. “And how areyou,Paco?”
“You all want to meet Peyotito,” said Paco.
“Who the fuck’s Peyotito,” said Derek.
“Derek,” said Enid, “put a lid on it. Peyotito is the spirit of peyote. Right, Paco?”
“Yeah,” he said. He was still gazing at Daphne.
“Cool,” said Derek. “Let’s go meet the geezer then.”
“Yeah, sure,” said Paco, “come on in, we all meet Peyotito.”
“Uh, wait, Chief, I mean Paco,” said Dick. “I should say that Harvey and I are just along for the ride here. We’d like to watch if we may, but --”
“No watch. If you stay, you meet Peyotito.”
“Oh,” said Dick. “Well -- maybe we should just sort of camp out in the truck then --”
“No camp out. If you outside your spirits interfere. You come in, meet Peyotito.”
Paco took the money out of Derek’s hand and turned back into the little house, leaving the door open.
Dick looked up at the starry sky for a moment. Stars. Billions of them. Ten billion species of sentient beings. Each creature with millions of moments of life. When he looked back down the others were all looking at him, as if waiting for him, as if he were in charge.