Tuesday, December 22, 2009

“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Two: in which young Harvey meets Mr. and Mrs. "Smith"

(Click here for our previous thrilling episode.)

“Oh, Lord,” said Doris.

“Sheeit,” said the Sheriff and he wiggled his forefinger in his ear.

Harvey stood there still holding the gun outstretched, as heavy as that fucking thing was he could barely feel it, in fact he could barely feel anything except his own heart pounding, and then he lowered the pistol, tried to twirl it, nearly dropped it, and handed it to the Sheriff butt-first.

“That was damn good shootin’, Harve, right through the ticker, and I ain’t sayin’ he didn’t have it comin’ but I got me a buzzin’ in this ear like a yellajacket stuck in a moonshine tequila jar.”

Harvey was just damn glad he hadn’t actually been aiming for Bull’s heart in which case it’d be him and the Sheriff both dead, but, well, that was karma for you.

The young woman in the doorway pinched out a bit of the fabric of her shirt, which was splattered with Bull’s blood.

“Fabulous,” she said.

The man, who was somewhat less liberally blood-splattered, took a silvery cigarette case out of his shorts pocket, clicked it open and offered it to the woman.

“Thank you, Dick.”

Harvey turned around. Standing in the doorway outside the men’s room was Mr. Big Jake Johnstone the rancher. He had a bottle of Pabst in one hand and his beautiful hand-engraved Colt New Service in the other. He’d been sitting on the toilet for the past half hour or so, having himself a good one and reading the paper when he heard the Sheriff’s first shot, and knowing the way things could go in Burt’s he had prudently taken his time finishing his business and then had gotten up without flushing the toilet. After washing his hands thoroughly and drying them, he cracked open the door and peeked out just in time to see Harvey shoot Bull. Only then had he drawn his gun and come out, trying to look like John Wayne in El Dorado. He never did flush the damn toilet, and now he slid his gun into the shoulder holster under his fancy western jacket and looked at the new couple.

“And y’all must be Daphne and Dick. We spoke on the telephone. I’m Jake Johnstone. Welcome to Disdain.”


The back lounge was just a small room with the same brown paneling as the big bar-room, but it had a few Tiffany-style lamps hanging from the ceiling, and the tables had red-and-white checked oilcloths. Burt had moved the dartboard back here for reasons of general safety, and the walls were decorated with a series of steel-framed and glass-covered black-and-white photographs of nuclear explosions.

“A V.O. Manhattan for the lady, Boodles Martini for the gentleman, and a Pabst and a Jack Daniel’s for Mr. Johnstone.”

“Thank you kindly, Doris,” said Mr. Johnstone.

“Oh my just look at your lovely blouse, honey.”

The young woman took off her sunglasses and looked. She was smoking a cigarette in a shiny black holder. She’d taken off her pith helmet and her damp dark hair was cut very short. Her skin was only very lightly tanned and it was perfectly smooth.

“I know, isn’t it terrible? I just bought this shirt too at this marvelous little tailor’s in Saigon. I knew I should’ve simply bought a dozen.”

Her eyes were grey and she was the most beautiful woman Doris had ever seen in person.

“Why don’t you let me wash it out for you sweetheart? I mean if you wanta use the ladies and change into somethin’ else I can just wash it out in the sink and hang it up out in the sun and in this heat it’ll be dry in just no time.”

“Oh don’t bother darling all my clothes get stained sooner or later it seems.”

“Oh but it’s such a nice soft cotton.”

“Doris,” said Mr. Johnstone, “tell young Harvey I’d like to see him in a little while if he’s got nothing better to do.”

“He’s only just back to playin’ that ol’ pinball machine. I’ll make sure he comes back to see ya, Mr. Johnstone.”

“Thanks, honey.”

Doris clutched her tray to her bosom and looked longingly at the newcomers.

“You folks married?”

The young woman said nothing but made a physically indescribable but subtle and amusing face, almost as if it had not quite occurred to her for some time that yes they were in fact married, now that you mention it.

“Yes, we are,” said the man. He’d taken off his sunglasses and his hat and he was as handsome as the woman was beautiful. He was about forty, with an athletic build, wavy dark hair flecked with grey, and clear blue eyes.

“Ahh, ain’t that nice. Y’all here on vacation?”

The man and the woman looked at each other.

“Uh, yeah,” said the man.


After waiting long enough just to show he would come in when he was damn good and ready and not a moment sooner Harvey finally sidled back into the lounge.

“Well, Harvey boy I see you finally have decided to deign to grace us with your presence. C’mere, boy.”

Harvey came over. Mr. Johnstone had removed his western jacket and his shoulder holster and gun and draped them over the back of his chair, but he still had his big old Stetson on.

“Siddown, son, siddown.”

Mr. Johnstone grabbed Harvey’s thin arm with his big paw and pulled him down into a chair. A bottle of Dom Perignon stood up out of a bucket of ice on the table.

“Ya want some champagne, son?”

“Got me a cold beer, Mr. Johnstone.”

“How about a shot?”

“I’m doin’ fine, Mr. Johnstone.”

“Lemme order ya another beer.”

“I got me a full beer, thanks anyway.”

“Harvey, like you to meet some friends of mine. They’re gonna be spendin’ a little time with me out on the ranch. Harve, this is -- Mrs. -- uh --”

Mr. Johnstone hesitated a moment, looking questioningly at the woman and then at the man.

“Smith,” said the woman and she put her cigarette holder with the foreign-looking cigarette in it from her right hand to her left hand and she extended her right hand palm-downward across the table to Harvey.

“Pleased to meet you, soldier.”

Harvey had never had a woman’s hand presented to him in this way. Her hand was long with long dark red nails that matched her lipstick and the splotches of Bull’s blood on her shirt. Harvey hesitated a moment and then he put his hand in hers so that his fingertips were touching her palm and his thumb was on the knuckle of her middle finger. Her hand felt moist and still and cool and just as he was about to take his hand away she squeezed it in hers with surprising strength and her nails dug into his fingers and he looked into her deep pale grey eyes and he got a tingle in his penis.

She let go of his hand and smiled, and Harvey drew back his hand and then the man extended his hand.

“Dick, uh -- Smith. Pleased to meet ya, fella.”

His hand was tanned and strong-looking but the handshake was gentle and friendly. Weird thing was though he had this ugly scar tissue all around his fingernails on that hand.

No one said anything for a long moment. Mrs. Smith took a drag of her cigarette and continued to gaze at Harvey. Mr. Smith poured some champagne into his glass and, smiling, raised the glass to Harvey and drank. Mr. Johnstone just sat with his hands on his gut and a cigar in his mouth, beaming at Harvey.

“Why you call me in here, Mr. Johnstone?”

“Well, Harve, I wanta offer you a job.”

“What kinda job.”

“Workin’, out on the ranch.”

“I’m afraid my shit-shovelin’ days are over, sir.”

Harvey had worked a few summers in Big Jake’s stables.

“Got plenty o’ shit-shovelers already, Harve. Ain’t askin’ ya to be a shit-shoveler.”

“Then what you askin’ me?”

Mr. Johnstone took a big drag of his big cigar and then let it out slow.

“I liked the way you handled yourself out there, Harve. You were cool. Very cool. I could use a cool man like you.”

Harvey shook out a Tareyton. Mr. Smith picked up a scuffed silver lighter and as he leaned forward to give Harvey a light his shirttail rose up and Harvey caught a glimpse of what looked like a pistol grip sticking out of his shorts pocket. Harvey thought that Mr. Smith saw that he saw but Mr. Smith’s face remained smoothly affable as he flicked the lighter on. Harvey accepted the light, drew the smoke in and then let it out slowly.

“I ain’t lookin’ to be no hired pistolero, Mr. Johnstone.”

“I’m not askin’ you to be a pistolero, Harve. I’m just askin’ ya to -- uh -- to --”

“To be there,” said Mrs. Smith.

“That’s right, to be there,” said Mr. Johnstone. “Ya see. Mr. and Mrs. Smith are here on uh --”

“Vacation,” said Mr. Smith.

“Vacation,” said Mr. Johnstone. “And I promised to provide them with a good reliable man who knows the area, to -- to --”

“Show us around,” said Mrs. Smith.

“Show them around,” said Mr. Johnstone.

Harvey took a drink of his beer.

“For how long,” said Harvey.

“Well --” said Mr. Johnstone and he looked at Mr. Smith.

“Well, we’re not quite sure how long we’re staying, Harve. I hope I mean I think it wouldn’t be for too long. A week. Or two. You see it’s really by way of being a working vacation for me, I’m doing some, uh, research in the area and so it’s really hard for me to say.”

Harvey looked at each of them in turn, picked up his bottle of Rheingold and stood up.

“Mr. Johnstone, I appreciate the offer, but to tell ya the truth I just ain’t in the market for a job right now.”

“But, Harvey, like Mr. Smith here just said, this’d just be for a week or two.”

Harvey looked at his beer bottle for a moment before replying.

“Sir, right now one or two weeks is one or two weeks I don’t believe I got to spare.”

“Well, hell, just what you got to do that’s so important, boy?”

“Mr. Johnstone, past two years I been U.S. government property. What I got to do that’s so important now is to be my own property. But thanks for the offer. I’ll be seein’ ya all.”

He turned, and Mr. Johnstone said, “Fifty bucks a day, Harve. Under the table, free and clear, seven days a week.”

Harvey stopped but did not turn around.

“Your own private bungalow out on the ranch. All meals provided for.”

Harvey turned his head but kept his back to the table.

“Use of a car and any ridin’ horse in the stable.”

Harvey stood still.

“A free pass at the Photographic Arts Studio, Harve, for the length of your employment. Any girl in the stable, any time, free, gratis, and for nothing.”

Harvey turned around and looked at his beer bottle again.

“I dunno, sir. I just don’t think so.”

“God damn it boy, I like you. Hell, make it seventy-five bucks a day and that’s my final offer. I don’t pay my foreman that much but it’s just because Mr. and Mrs. Smith are such special guests of mine.”

Harvey took a deep breath but said nothing.

“One hundred,” said Mrs. Smith.

“What?” said Mr. Johnstone.

“A hundred a day,” said Mrs. Smith.

Mr. Johnstone looked at her with his mouth agape and she smiled softly at him, with the cigarette holder between her teeth.

“Yeah,” said Mr. Johnstone, somewhat weakly, “A hunnerd.”

Harvey thought it over for a few seconds, then came back over to the table and sat back down.

“When you want me to start, Mr. Johnstone?”

“How about right now,” said Mrs. Smith.

She was smiling at Harvey, still gripping the stem of the holder between her white teeth.

“Mrs., I just finished twenty-four months in the army, eight days in the San Francisco jail and the better part of two days in a damn Greyhound bus. I ain’t doin’ nothin’ tonight except gettin’ hornswoggled tonguewaggin’ sloppyassed drunk.”

“I’ll drink to that,” said Mrs. Smith.

(Continued here, and until every last cow comes home.)


rhoda said...

i can feel this freight train of a story picking up speed already

Dan Leo said...

I'll try not to let it run off the rails, Rhoda!

Jenny said...

Swell story, this.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Jenny!

Unknown said...

Classic Larry: six characters in this episode and except for maybe the sheriff, I'll recall all of them and their specific personalities in every other dream.

Anonymous said...
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Peter Greene said...

Back in the archives and enjoying the ride. Thanks for this.