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49

Friday night in New Jersey. The Stan Murch/Tiny Bulcher crime spree against the Garden State was getting into high gear. Having borrowed a different cara Chrysler van, to give Tiny his roominess againthey had headed across the George Washington Bridge, to begin their outrages in the northern part of the state.

Between 9:00 P.M . and midnight, moving steadily southward toward the neighborhood of Big Wheel Motor Homes, doing each of their incursions in a different county to lessen the likelihood that the authorities would connect them all, they broke into a plumbing supply company and removed a pipe cutter, entered a major new buildings construction site to collect the Kentucky license plates from front and rear of an office trailer there, and forced illegal entry into a drugstore to collect a lot of high-potency sleeping pills. The hamburger they bought.

A little later that night, in the comforting darkness of a half-full parking lot behind a movie house half a mile from Big Wheel Motor Homes, waiting for the dobermans to go to sleep, luxuriating in the roominess of the van, and watching the rare police car pass with the occasional traffic, Tiny said, I went out west once.

Oh, yeah?

Tiny nodded. Guy from prison owed me some money, from a poker game. Supposed to pay up when he got out. Instead, I heard, he went out west, worked in one of those places, whada they call it, uh, rodeo.

Rodeo, Stan echoed. With the horses and all?

Lots of animals, Tiny said. Mostly what they do, they throw ropes on animals. People go out, pay good money, sit in the bleachers, youd think theyre gonna see something, but no. Its just some guys in dumb hats throwing ropes on animals, and then these people in the bleachers get up and cheer. Itd be like youd go out to a football game, and the players come out, but then, instead of all the running and passing and tackling and plays and all that, they just stood around and threw ropes on each other.

Doesnt sound that exciting.

Tiny shook his head. Even the animals were bored, he said. Except the bulls. They were pissed off. Minding their own business, they have to deal with some simpleton with a rope. Every once in a while, one of those bulls, they get fed up, they put a horn into one of those guys, give him a toss. Thats when I stand up and cheer.

Stan said, What about your friend?

He wasnt exactly my friend, Tiny said, and moved his shoulders around in reminiscence. When he moved like that, the joints down deep inside there made crackle sounds, which he seemed to enjoy. They have all these extra guys there, he told Stan, to open the gates and close the gates and chase the animals around, and this guy was one of them. I went over, I said Id like my money now, you know, polite, I dont ever have to be anything but polite

Thats true, Stan said.

So he said, Tiny went on, gambling debts from prison were too old to worry about, and besides, he had all these friends out here with sidearms. So I could see he didnt intend to honor his debt.

Stan looked at Tinys dimly seen face in the darkness here inside the van, and there didnt seem to be much expression in it. Stan said, So what happened?

Tiny chuckled deep in his chest, a sound like thunder in the Pacific Ocean, one island away. He said, Well, I threw a rope around him, tied the other end to a horse, stuck the horse back by the tail with the bowie knife I took off the guyDid I mention I had to take a bowie knife off him?

No, you didnt mention that.

Well, I did, and stuck the horse with it. Tiny made that distant-thunder chuckle again. Theyre probably both still running, he said. Well, the horse, anyway. Then he rolled his shoulders some more, made that crackle sound, and said, Lets go see how the dogs are doing.

The dogs were doing fine, dreaming of rabbits. Tiny and the borrowed pipe cutter opened the main gate, and Stan went in with his new key and climbed up into the Invidia, which he liked just as much by night as he had during the day. He steered the big machine around the sleeping dogs, letting them lie, and then paused out on the street while Tiny shut the gate behind him so police patrols would not be alerted prematurely.

Tiny climbed aboard, looked around at the interior of the Invidia, and said, Not bad, Murch, not bad.

We call it home, Stan said, and drove away from there.


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