Now and Around Here
Static, the clink of glass, and a whispering voice: "While the moon is still sky high, just after Mr. Blacksheep has shut his café, after he's walked down the street past the front steps of the courthouse and West County Bank, just past the last lightpost, that's when I'll come out of the bushes and put the quincunx on top of the mailbox where it will shine bright and true like the spotlight of a Chinook that hovers in the dark, over the shadow of its enemy."
More static. I look up to Turner from the crackling speaker of the player that lies white on the gray-speckled formica. Another voice from the player: "Jimmy, you talk so crazy, I got no idea what you're talkin' about, now do I?"
Jimmy clears his throat. "Sam, I don't talk crazy. It's the world that talks crazy."
Turner turns off the player.
"That's it? That all we got?" I say.
"No. Just wanted to let you know Sam's one of ours."
"I kinda guessed that. Who is he?"
"Local farmer, angling for a green-line farm. Dumb as bricks," Turner laughed -- hard to know what else to call it. He turns the player back on.
"Anyway, Jimmy, whatever it is you're talkin' about, I don't wanna hear it."
"Put your hands down, Sam. I'm gonna to tell you anyway."
A few seconds' silence, and then Sam's voice: "Go on then, shoot."
"The quincunx on the mailbox ... "
"Hold on, Jimmy. I don't know what no squint skunks are."
"It's the signal we're on."
"You're still talkin' crazy, Jimmy."
Jimmy's infectious laugh broke out sudden and then trailed away. He continued serious: "You know those trucks going through town? The ones with the crushed cars on 'em?"
"Sure. Every night. They wake the dogs."
"You know what's on 'em?"
"Crushed cars. Like you said."
"No. That's just what they want you to believe. They’ve got the computers, the cameras, the players, all the stuff you can't get any more. And it's the food the green-line farms produce, the ones you complain get all the water and fertilizer. It's how the belters get fresh eggs and meat, too." A dishy clatter and a burst of static: "Not this ersatz beef crap that tastes like string. You know what I mean?" A long silence. "I see you do. It's there in your eyes."
"No! There ain’t nothin'! Ain’t nothin' in my eyes!" The fear that's so strong around here shines out clear over the crackle of the speaker.
"OK, Sam. OK." Jimmy's voice went low, and soft. "There's nothin' in your eyes. Nothin'." Silence. Again. For a long time. I turn to Turner across the table but he just stares at the static.
"Anyway," it was Jimmy’s voice, still soft and real slow, "if ... you're interested ... look for the golden coin ... on the mailbox ..."
"... under the moonlight."
"Sure, Jimmy, sure. Of course. I'll be watchin'."
"Good." said Jimmy.
"Gotta go." said Sam.
"Yeah," said Jimmy and after a door slammed shut, he whispered "good," though not like he believed in it at all.
"So," I say to Turner. "We wait. For the golden coin."
Turner looks away, wriggles a fat, pale finger out the window. "That's it, right there." The red mailbox stands on a four-by-four across the road, not 30 feet away. "But no, we don't wait," he says, pale, cold eyes turn back to me. "We don't wait."
"Why not?" I look down and pick at the er-steak that hints of ancient apple.
"It's already taken care of."
"What do you mean?" I say.
"It's taken care of it."
"Jimmy was popped."
"You mean ... shot. Killed?"
I miss the static in the silence that follows.
In the end, I have to ask: "Where'd you pop him?" My voice tries to be matter-of-fact. "Out by the old factory?"
"No. Right there," he pushes his chins toward the window, "by the mailbox. Right after he put out his stupid coin, which, by the way, I got right here." The coin hits the table with a crack after Turner flips it into the air. It traces a lopsided spiral with its spin.
"Jimmy took it right there, under his moonlight." Turner smacked his hand down on the coin. "I wanted a Chinook to do it. A nice machine gun blast. Kinda like poetic justice," he winks.
My mouth is dry. "Did you do it?"
"Nah, I was busy." He waves his hand as if it didn't matter to him. "Danny Treehorn did it."
"But why? Shouldn't you have waited until we knew who he was working with?"
"No need." Turner licks his upper lip. "We got 'em. All of 'em."
I lick my lip. "That was fast work."
"Yeah, in case you're wondering, we got you, too." The smile is big above his shiny chins and the gun he points at me.
Not the time to take a chance, I squeeze the trigger of the gun I hold under the table. It's uncomfortable to watch Turner's face squeeze into a grimace that he wrestles into a weak smile. "Good job, amigo." He grunts. "Never saw it coming." His smile fades. "God bless." His head falls to the table and cracks open the old plastic of the player with his skull.
I stare at the broken plastic until Hank Blacksheep comes out of the kitchen. "Gotta get him outta here," he says.
We do. When no one else is looking, we bury him in the dark on the westbank of the river, just past the last lightpost.
There are no dreams in my sleep and no rest. I wake in the dark, still in the middle of my life. This is the way things are now and around here.