Cold in july, p.18
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       Cold in July, p.18

           Joe R. Lansdale
 
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  “Whose place is it? The law? They won’t touch him. Not unless he gets totally out of hand, and even then as long as it’s Mexicans they won’t bother. They want to keep their reputation intact.”

  “Then let Jim Bob and Russel do it. They want to do it and they know how. You’re not a gunfighter.”

  “I can’t just let them do something like that and pretend I’m not part of it because I didn’t pull the trigger. I’ve got to go in there with them, back their play.”

  “Back their play. Jesus, will you listen to yourself, Richard. Back their play. That’s gangster talk.”

  “Westerns.”

  “I don’t give a damn. It’s childish. It’s vigilante.”

  “There’s nothing childish about it, unless you want to include the little whore he killed. She was childish. About fifteen, I think. Maybe younger. That’s a good age for him. He can trick them easier, less experience. Even if they are whores. And I don’t give a fuck if it’s vigilante. I’d be glad to let the law do it, but they don’t want to.”

  “Richard. I love you. But I’m not going to sit around here and wonder if you’re dead in some ditch somewhere. You come home now, or don’t come home. When it’s over, if you’re okay you tell me, but you don’t come home. Ever.”

  “Ann—”

  She hung up.

  · · ·

  I drove back to Jim Bob’s, my stomach feeling like an empty pot. Maybe, like Russel, there was a hole in me and my soul was oozing out.

  But I knew any attempt to talk myself out of what I was planning to do would be useless. This sense of honor I carried was a blind thing. It didn’t deal in common sense. It was made up of something I heard my dad say once, one of the few things I truly remembered about him. He said, you do what’s right because it’s right and you don’t need a reason.

  Man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

  I wondered if dad was thinking that way when he put the gun in his mouth.

  Man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

  I got back to Jim Bob’s feeling small enough to walk under a snail’s belly on stilts, and when I went inside, Jim Bob said, “Your wife’s on the phone. She sounds a little distressed. She’s been holding for you till you got back.”

  “Thanks,” I said. I started for the phone. Jim Bob reached out and took me by the shoulder.

  “Dane, you got a problem at home, you go home and take care of it. This ain’t your business. Not really. You’re a frame builder from LaBorde, Texas, not a shootist.”

  “That’s what Ann says.”

  I picked up the phone. “Hello.”

  “Richard,” Ann said, “I think you’re a big, dumb, foolish sonofabitch that’s seen too many John Wayne movies and read too many cowboy books, but I’ll be waiting. You do what you got to do, damnit. And please, please, be careful and don’t get yourself killed. Jordan and I love you.”

  “Love you too,” I said.

  When I hung up, I turned to Russel and Jim Bob. “I’m going to need a gun too,” I said. “I’m in. All the way.”

  40

  “Barring some unforeseen circumstance,” Jim Bob said, “I’m willing to bet Freddy’s routine stays pretty much the same, day in and day out. Off to work at six-thirty-five, back from work just before eight. Except maybe the weekends. But we’re not going to wait that long. We’re going to do it tomorrow.”

  It was later that night and we were sitting at Jim Bob’s table drinking coffee and eating cookies. He’d had them all along, they were just well hidden.

  “I want to give you one more chance to get out, Dane,” Jim Bob said.

  “Take it,” Russel said. “You got what I wish I’d kept. A wife and a son and you’re a good father.”

  “I’m not so sure about the good father part,” I said. “I always feel like I’m fucking up.”

  “Comparing yourself to me,” he said, “you’re as good a father as they come.”

  “You had nothing to do with Freddy turning out to be a monster,” I said.

  “Once he was a little kid playing in the floor with a toy truck,” Russel said. “He was like any other kid then. There was no monster in him.”

  “It’s all moot now,” Jim Bob said. “You in or out, Dane? Now’s the time to put your cards on the table. Be sure.”

  “I said I was in, and I’m in.”

  “All right. We keep it simple. No hiding out. That would just give us time to be seen by someone. We’ll take the truck. I’ll put the camper on it, and I’ve got some putty that looks like mud. I can dab that over the license plates so they can’t be made by some alert citizen. I’ve also got some light blue tape striping, and we’ll put that down the sides of the truck. And we’ll put a big hood ornament on it. When we get finished, after we do the job, I mean, we’ll come back here and get rid of the tape and the putty and the ornament, and we’ll take the camper off.”

  “I know we’re going to kill them,” I said, “but what’s the plan? Do we drive by in the truck and start firing at them?”

  “No. That ain’t certain enough,” Jim Bob said. “When they slow down to go up the little hump that leads into Freddy’s driveway, “we’ll be in motion. We’ll pull up at the curb and jump out and shoot at them through the windows. They won’t be in a good position to do much fighting back. It’s the perfect time.”

  “And if the windows are rolled up?” I asked.

  “Shoot through the windows, Dane,” Russel said. “Bullets break glass.”

  “Oh.” Some killer I was. That hadn’t occurred to me.

  “Thing for us to do now,” Jim Bob said, “is go to bed, sleep late, fix up the truck tomorrow and drive over there and wait. And then do it.”

  · · ·

  That night I dreamed I was standing at one end of a dusty street wearing Roy Rogers garb, lots of fringe and a white hat, and a two-holstered gun belt sporting pearl-handled revolvers. At the other end of the street was Freddy. He was wearing the suit he’d been wearing at the video store. He didn’t have a gun belt. The Mexican was off to the side holding his horse for him. The horse was the color of the Chevy Nova. Both Freddy and the Mexican were smiling. I started walking. Freddy started walking, and the closer he got to me the taller he got, until he was way up there with his head in the clouds. I pulled my revolvers, quick as the wind, as they say in Western movies, and I lifted them up and started blasting away, and Freddy leaned down from the clouds and his face came closer and closer to the ground and my bullets speckled his flesh like peppercorns, but it wasn’t bothering him. He was smiling. And his eyes were as cold as the arctic wastelands. He reached out with his hands, which had become gigantic, and took me in them and began to wad me into a ball. Great gouts of blood shot out from between his fingers.

  I sat up sweating. I put my back against the baseboard and wished I smoked.

  The bedroom door opened. It was Russel.

  “You screamed,” he said.

  “I did?”

  “Yeah. You okay?”

  “Fine. Nightmare.”

  “I have a lot of them.”

  “And after tomorrow?”

  “I’ll have a lot more, I guess. You sure you’re okay?”

  “Yeah. I’m all right.”

  “Well, goodnight, son,” Russel said and went out.

  I almost said, “Goodnight, Dad.”

  41

  I awoke about eleven to find Russel and Jim Bob out in the garage applying putty to the license plates of the truck. The camper and hood ornament and stripes were already on it.

  “What a day I’ve had,” I said.

  “Yes sir,” Jim Bob said, “worked your little fingers right down to the bone. We’re gonna grab a sandwich in a minute.”

  “Anything I can do?”

  “Not now,” Russel said, and he smiled at me.

  After we ate our sandwiches, Jim Bob opened a drawer in the kitchen and took out the guns he and Russel had chosen. He put them on the kitchen table and went out
to the Bitch and got the sawed-off and the little ankle holster with the revolver in it. He went upstairs then and came back down with the Ithaca 12-gauge, a .45 automatic and a Western style .44. He also brought down a gun cleaning kit and several boxes of ammunition.

  “Okay,” Jim Bob said to me, “I’m gonna suggest you take the Ithaca. You’re not used to shooting guns, and this one is very light and you can hit what you’re shooting at without being a good shot. Just in case you need a backup, take one of the handguns.”

  I picked up the .44. Guess Ann was right, too many John Wayne movies and cowboys books. It was in a sleek, black holster, but it didn’t have a belt and tie-down straps; the holster had a clip that fastened to your belt or waistband.

  “Good choice,” Jim Bob said. “Revolvers don’t jam.”

  “This is a lot of artillery to kill two guys by surprise with, isn’t it?” I said.

  “The rules here are that there are no rules. We’re gonna do it quick and fast and get out. But things can happen. As the Boy Scouts say, Be Prepared. Since we’re gonna be doing this in the open, I’m gonna have us some disguises. Simple stuff. Just so we can’t be recognized easy, and with the truck worked over, well, we just might get away with it. The key is to do it quick and to move on.”

  “We’re really going to do this, aren’t we?” I said.

  “Damn tooth,” Jim Bob said.

  · · ·

  After five o’clock we started over to Freddy’s part of town. All three of us in the cab of the truck. Jim Bob driving, Russel in the middle, me on the passenger side. We had the revolvers and the sawed-off in a tow sack behind the seat. The sack was tied with a rope, and one end of the rope was fastened to the gun rack behind us. In the rack, in plain view, was the Ithaca. The guns had been cleaned and loaded and the glove box was full of extra ammunition, just in case we had to fight the Marines.

  · · ·

  We got to Freddy’s side of town too early because the traffic chose to be unusually moderate. We drove a few miles past Freddy’s and stopped at a McDonald’s for coffee. Russel hadn’t said a word since we left Jim Bob’s house. But he looked different. Tough again. Committed. As if during the night he had conjured up enough will to chase Old Age out of his skin. He was hard-faced, clear-eyed and level of shoulders. He looked like an old soldier about to go into battle.

  At about seven-thirty, I excused myself from the McDonald’s booth and went into the bathroom and threw up my coffee in the toilet. That was getting to be a habit, throwing up. If it wasn’t killing somebody caused it, it was the heat or planning to kill someone. I washed my face and rinsed my mouth out by cupping water in my hand. I studied my face in the mirror. It was like after I had killed the burglar, just the same. No sign of anything on it. Just good old Richard Dane, husband and father, would-be vigilante.

  I wondered if there would be much blood when we did the killing, and I wondered if they would scream. I wondered if Russel really would be able to make Freddy understand he was his father, and if it really mattered in the long run. I guess it mattered to Russel.

  I rinsed my mouth again and went back and sat down next to Jim Bob and tore up my paper coffee cup, and at seven-thirty we left and headed back to Freddy’s part of town.

  It wasn’t dark when we got there. The sky was showing gray and there was a haze of light, but the days were getting longer and they had a way of dying slowly. There was still plenty of light to see by, to shoot by, to be shot by. I felt as if we were waving a flag with Identify Us written on it.

  We cruised some streets near the subdivision where Freddy lived, killing time, thinking about what we were about to do, checking our watches.

  Jim Bob reached some things from under his part of the seat and tossed them into Russel’s lap. “The disguises I promised.”

  One item was a cap with hair attached to it. The hair looked like the stuff Raggedy Ann and Andy have on top of their heads, the same carroty orange. Jim Bob took off his cowboy hat and hung it on the gun rack and reached for the cap from Russel and put it on. The orange hair hung down over his ears and almost in his eyes. He got a pair of sunglasses off the dashboard and put them on. All he needed was a red, round nose and some floppy shoes.

  Russel handed me a black wig and took a blond one for himself. There was a can of blacking there too, and Jim Bob said, “Make a mustache or something with that stuff.”

  Russel put on the wig and opened the can of blacking, rubbed a little on his upper lip and put a dab on his chin, passed the can to me. I put on my wig and made myself a thick mustache with the blacking, assumed I looked like Groucho Marx in a Beatle wig.

  I put the blacking in the glove box and checked my watch.

  Nine minutes to eight.

  As we turned down the street that led to Freddy’s house, Russel took hold of the rope that was attached to the bag full of guns and pulled it up.

  “Careful,” Jim Bob said, “them sumbitches are loaded.”

  “I know that, goddamnit,” Russel said.

  The brave assassins get jumpy. I realized I was breathing through my mouth and that I felt a touch light-headed.

  Russel put the bag in his lap and opened it. He took out the sawed-off shotgun and the .38 and put them in Jim Bob’s lap. Jim Bob clipped the .38’s holster to his belt with one hand and held grimly to the wheel with the other. Beads of sweat were running out from under the carroty hair and down his face thick as condensation on an ice tea glass.

  I took the .44 and clipped it to my belt and reached the Ithaca down from the rack and pointed the barrel at the floorboard, started counting from one hundred backwards, trying to calm myself. My hands were moist and slippery against the shotgun.

  Russel had strapped Jim Bob’s little ankle holster and revolver to his leg before we left the house. He had only the .357 to mess with. He put it on his knee and put one massive hand over it like a lid over a pot about to boil.

  We were armed and dangerous.

  We came even with Freddy’s house and took a right onto a street that led up a slight hill. We went over the hill and dipped down between a sprinkling of houses and went all the way to the end of the street and turned around slowly and started back up the hill. When we topped it and were just about to go down, the Nova showed itself. It was five minutes until eight.

  Jim Bob said, “We’ll go down now,” and he lifted his foot to stomp the gas as the Nova started to make its careful turn into the driveway. But before Jim Bob could do what he meant to do, a green Dodge van came along behind the Nova and pulled up next to the curb just before the driveway. The Nova went on into the drive and we coasted over to the curb and stopped.

  The garage door came open and the Nova coasted inside and the Mexican and Freddy got out. The driver of the van got out, went over and shook hands with the Mexican and Freddy. A man got out of the back of the van then and went over to stand in the drive and face the street, watching. We eased down in the seat and Jim Bob killed the engine. After a moment Jim Bob pulled off his cap and wig and eased his head up for a look.

  “The Mex is in the house,” he said. “Freddy and the other two are smoking cigarettes. The one in the drive is looking this way but he ain’t acting like he sees anything. The man on the passenger side of the van is looking this way too, but he’s just looking. Now he’s looking to the van’s front.”

  “Guess this is one of those unforeseen circumstances you were talking about,” I said.

  “That’s the size of it,” Jim Bob said. “The Mex is coming out and he’s got some bags over his shoulders and he’s carrying something. It might be a shotgun or rifle. Freddy is using the garage device, lowering the door… No, that’s not a gun the Mex has, it’s a tripod. I think he’s got video equipment there.”

  “I don’t like the sound of that,” Russel said.

  “I should have thought that this being Friday they might have something planned for the weekend besides TV,” Jim Bob said. “We should have waited until Monday.”

&nb
sp; “What’s happening now?” Russel asked.

  Jim Bob eased his head slightly higher. “The Mex is putting the bags and the tripod in the back of the van and the other guy that got out of the back is getting back inside. Freddy’s getting in there with them. The driver is getting behind the wheel. They’re turning around in the drive… heading back up the street.”

  We raised up.

  “What do we do now?” I asked. “Wait until Monday?”

  “Let’s follow them a bit,” Russel said. “They got in mind what I think they’ve got in mind, I think we should be there before they do it.”

  “It ain’t just two fellas now,” Jim Bob said. “We’re talking two up front and three in the back. And that’s all I saw. There might be more in the back.”

  “Follow them anyway,” Russel said. “Hurry.”

  Jim Bob cranked the pickup and we went down the street briskly and made a left even more briskly. Russel and I took off our wigs and gathered them up along with Jim Bob’s cap and hair and stuck them under the seat For a killing job, they might have been all right disguises, but for tailing a car they were a little silly and obvious. Hard not to take note of Raggedy Andy, a French painter type and Groucho Marx wearing a Beatle wig.

  Russel and me took turns wiping the blacking off our faces with the tow sack, wrapped the guns in it again and lowered them behind the seat. I put the Ithaca in the shotgun rack and Jim Bob put his hat on.

  We saw the green van take a right onto the highway, and we gave it a few seconds before we gunned up to the intersection and went after it, managing to keep a car or two between us at all times. The van driver drove slowly and cautiously until we wound our way out of the city and out onto Highway 59 North. At that point, he picked up speed and became harder to follow. We had been after him almost an hour.

  Houses fell by the wayside and great pine trees appeared in their places and shadows gathered between them like bats. There was plenty of traffic, but all that motorized activity didn’t make me feel less creeped. I guess I was thinking about that young whore I had seen on the tape, or whoever she was. Just some kid, fucked and killed for Freddy’s and the Mexican’s entertainment.

 
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