Cyclone rumble, p.1
Cyclone Rumble, p.1J.P. Voss
By J.P. Voss
Copyright 2011 J.P. Voss
The Scorched Iguana Bar was a sandblasted adobe shack at the base of the Black Mountains in Northern Arizona. A couple of dimly lit pool tables placed end-to-end filled one side. Opposite the pool tables, a bar made of hand-hewn Apache Pine rested on fifty-gallon whisky barrels. A dozen assorted stools lined the bar, and a weathered old woman with end of the road eyes stood behind it. Hank Williams cried from the jukebox.
I ordered a beer and flopped on a bench in a dark corner behind the pool tables. I slouched in my seat, tilted my head back, and flipped the long neck Tecate straight up and dropped it between my lips, like the jug on a water cooler. Cool suds ran down my throat until foam oozed from the side of my mouth. I turned the bottle up, choked the last refreshing mouthful down my gullet, then tapped my sun-blistered lips against the sleeve of my white cotton t-shirt. Rolling the cold bottle against my swollen cheek I thought—I can’t believe Harper split on me.
Jukebox went quiet and the only sound was the hypnotic drone of a wall mounted A/C unit. I’m tired of all the bullshit. I slumped toward the floor, my chin touched my chest, and I slowly closed my eyes.
The bottom of my beer was still cool when the muffled thunder of iron horses rustled me from my nod. I blinked a couple of times, until the room came into focus, and kept my eye on the door as two mean looking hombres rumbled in like modern day saddle tramps. They stomped their boots, knocking the dust off their worn leathers, then stepped to the bar and ordered a beer.
Full patch members of the outlaw motorcycle club, Son’s of the Serpent, they both displayed their club colors proudly. Their top rockers had the word Serpent embroidered in black gothic lettering. The infamous patch was a wicked looking winged cobra. Behind the serpent was a jagged thunderbolt. Below it written in script, “The Devil Fell From Heaven Like Lightning.” Because the Serpents claimed no territory, the bottom rocker was the same for all members. It read simply—Purgatory.
I shut my eyes tight and took a shallow breath. This is going to be ugly. I started to stand up. I froze. T-bone was pissed.
T-bone was a burly ex con with a pug face and volatile eyes. His real name was Earl Tison. Some guy flipped him off one time, so T-bone beat the shit out of the guy and bit off his middle finger. When one of the Serpents asked him how it tasted—he said—‘Just like a T-bone steak'. That’s when they started calling him T-bone. He was pretty burnt about something, so I held back.
The other Serpent was J.T. Lawson. A.K.A. “The Law”, he was the uncontested leader of the Serpents. Over six foot and rawboned, he had gunmetal gray eyes and a scruffy salt and pepper beard that made him look like a war weary Tecumseh Sherman. He was quick with his fists, and he had a hair trigger temper. Nobody messed with Lawson.
Lawson was a Marine buddy of my older brother, Morgan Allison. I first met Lawson about eight months earlier. My mom passed away in December of ’67. Two weeks later, New Years Eve, Lawson showed up at our place in San Pedro with a bottle of Wild Turkey in each hand. My brother Morgan, who’s kind of a jarhead, made a big deal out of how they were in the 3rd Marine Division together. They spent New Years Eve getting drunk and talking about how they kicked ass on the NVA in some shit hole called Dong Ha. Actually, I was glad he’d shown up. Lawson helped snap my brother out of a pretty deep depression.
Lawson drank his beer and didn’t say much while T-bone blew off steam. T-bone stopped talking, puffed up like a man who’d made his point, and tossed back a shot of tequila. Lawson signaled for another round, then shifted his attention toward me.
“Duff Allison,” he called out. “Why you sittin’ back there all alone in the dark?”
His winning drawl, with its commanding undertones, drew me reluctantly out of my dark corner toward the bar.
“Come on over here Duff—have a seat—we have things to talk about.”
We may have things to talk about, but you aren’t going to like what I have to say.
I leaned sideways against the bar, looking at Lawson’s profile. T-bone was on the other side of Lawson, standing against the bar. The front door was at my back, twenty feet away. I felt better being closest to the door. At 5’10”, a hundred forty five pounds, I didn’t stand a chance if these two clowns started throwing punches. But I could definitely outrun them.
“You were supposed to be here two days ago,” Lawson said.
“I told that lawyer you got me. I told him to let you know I needed a couple of days.” I slapped the bar like I was flabbergasted. “I told him Lawson. I told that lawyer. Make sure you tell Lawson I’ll meet him at the Iguana on the 4th of July at four in the afternoon.”
Lawson scratched his chin whiskers while T-bone drank tequila out of a paper cup.
“I didn’t get out of county lockup until almost midnight Tuesday. The cops were supposed to release me in the morning, but when they realized it was my eighteenth birthday, they held me until just before midnight. Sons of bitches thought it was funny. Cops working the jail can be real pricks.”
“Why in the fuck weren’t you here yesterday,” T-bone barked. His head shook like he was having a spasm, and the fat cheeks on his pock marked face quivered, while his greasy hair and a mangled beard hardly moved. He threw his arm over Lawson’s shoulder, pulling him close and mauling him as he blubbered in his ear, “I don’t trust this punk. This whole thing could be a set up—he smells like a rat.”
Lawson leaned in close and listened to his road dog. It was a little disheartening when Lawson nodded his head like he agreed.
“You known me," I said, holding my hands flat against my chest, doing my best to look offended. “I’m no rat.” I tried to play it off. “Like I told you, I got out Tuesday night at midnight. I tried to hitch a ride, but it was too late, so I nodded out under the freeway overpass. When the sun came up, I hitchhiked back to San Pedro to get my truck. Shit man—I got here as soon as I could. What do you want—blood?”
T-bone slammed his fist against the pine bar. I locked eyes with T-bone. He had primitive black eyes, set wide like a sharks. And he smelled blood.
“I didn’t ask to get involved in this shit,” I said defensively, with just the right amount of resentment. “You guys aren’t doing me any favors.”
T-bone stepped back from the bar, grabbed his crotch, and announced he was going to take a piss.
With T-bone out of earshot, I leaned close to Lawson and told him in my most reassuring tone, “I’ve got it handled Law. I just need to talk to Morgan.”
Lawson spun his head and looked me straight in the eye for the first time. His gray eyes flushed black and his mouth tightened. “Fuck Morgan. I don’t give a rat’s ass about any of this bullshit. Right now, I only want one thing from you.”
Shit Lawson, I thought as I jerked back. You don’t have to be a dick about it.
“Do you understand me?”
I don’t have it.
Lawson gave a nod to the old broad standing behind the bar, and she quietly disappeared. He pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes from his jacket pocket and tapped out a smoke. He had hands as big as a King Crab. They made the cigarette look like a toothpick. He lit up, inhaled deeply, and casually blew out the smoke like he didn’t have a care in the world. For a second, it was like I wasn’t even there. Like none of this shit was even happening. And I was just watching Lawson in a dream.
Turning from Lawson I dropped my eyes and stared at the name of some drunk carved in the solid pine bar. What the hell is going on?
T-bone slammed the bathroom door on his way out. I looked up and watched him wiping his pug nose with the sleeve of his filthy jacket. He stopped to hock a loogie, and then launched the snot-green wad into th
“What the hell is going on?”
T-bone smacked his right fist into his left palm, like a fighter warming up. He smiled, rhythmically punching his hand progressively harder, while his mad eyes got wider.
I turned to Lawson, hoping for a little understanding, and T-bone clutched my upper arm. I struggled to break away, and the Neanderthal clamped down with a death grip. He got his free hand around my neck, and hooked his thumb under my jaw. T-bone lifted me a couple of feet in the air and slammed me on the bar. He held my head against the bar while Lawson leaned over and poked his beak in my face.
“Do we understand each other,” Lawson said, smoke unfurling from his mouth and burning my eyes.
“Yeah—yeah, we understand each other.”
T-bone held my face flat against the bar with one hand, lifted my t-shirt, and probed along the waistband of my boxers. He let go of my head, but kept a firm hand planted in the middle of my back. He gave me a thorough pat down and checked the cuff of my Levis.
“He’s clean.” T-bone released the pressure off my back, but didn’t back away.
“Now that we understand each other,” Lawson said. “It’s time to take care of business.”
“What the hell was that all about?”
“Checking for a wire little man,” T-bone replied.
“Goddamn it Lawson. I told you—I’m no rat.” I pointed a backhanded thumb toward T-bone. “Tell this mug to back off.”
T-bone slapped the back of my head. “Shut the fuck up.”
“Where’s the backpack?” Lawson commanded.
“I’m not stupid enough to have it with me. I can get it tomorrow.”
T-bone leaned on me, squeezing me against the bar.
“I’ve got it covered. I just can’t get it today. Shit guys—it’s the Fourth of July. Don’t worry, it’s safe.”
T-bone threw his arm around my neck like he was throwing a right hook and locked me in a fatal chokehold.
Lawson reach down and pulled a coffin-handled Bowie knife out of his black engineer boot. “You ever see an ‘Arkansas Toothpick’ Duff?” Over a foot long, with a long curved top blade, damn thing could gut a grizzly bear. Lawson ran his thumb along the blade. “Good looking boy like you—it would be a shame if I had to cut that pretty face.” Lifting the knife, he pushed the tip just inside my nose. Quick as a lick, he slipped the Bowie knife back in his boot and stared straight ahead like nothing had happened.
T-bone clutched the scruff of my neck and pulled me close, nearly kissing my ear. “Remember—we can get to your brother in jail, so keep your Goddamn mouth shut.”
I threw out my arms, like I was adjusting my cuffs, and shook it off. I ran my fingers through my shaggy blond mop and thought, I need a haircut—and a bath—and about three days sleep. I shut my eyes tight, and rubbed my knuckles against my eyelids until they started to burn. When I shook my eyes open, Grandma Moses was back behind the bar setting up another round of ice cold Tecate.
A car door slammed out in the parking lot, and the old broad dropped a beer bottle. Glass smashed against bare concrete and the front door flew open. I turned. Blinding light, and a blast of hot air rushing in off the burning sand hit me in the face. A silhouette slowly filled the open doorway, like a full eclipse of the sun. Shards of light surrounded the massive hulk as it moved forward. The door closed behind it, and the silhouette took shape.
Shit. It’s a cop.
The cop stepped to the bar. I spun in my seat and acted like I hadn’t seen a thing. Nobody said a word. Bartender filled a paper cup with Safeway tequila and stepped to the far end of the bar, by the front door. She handed it to the cop, without taking cash, without saying a word, like it was expected.
I could sense the cop scoping me out. Seven or eight bar stools separated us, and I could still feel him breathing down my neck.
“Grab me a cold one honey.” The cop took a couple slow steps toward me. He leaned against the bar and tossed back his shot. He crushed the empty Dixie Cup, and threw it indifferently toward a trashcan behind the bar, missing it completely.
The bartender set a beer in front of the Sheriff.
He said, “I know I’m on duty, but it’s mighty hot out there, and everyone breaks the rules now and again.” The cop tipped his beer toward us, almost like a toast, “You boys look like you’ve done some rule breaking in your day.”
T-bone nodded his head, while Lawson lifted his beer in mock salute. I swallowed a silent guffaw.
“Don’t I know you?” He asked. The big deputy moved to where only two barstools separated us. I could feel his shadow.
I half turned and glanced in his direction. “You talking to me?”
A hulk of man gone to seed wearing a threadbare uniform held a Tecate to his lips. Looking down the bottle, like the sights of a gun, he studied me with curious eyes. “You know what it is—you look a little like that movie star—you know—Steve McQueen.”
I checked my crumpled t-shirt and stuck a finger in my holy Levis. I stomped the dust off my second hand work boots and thought, Yeah—I feel like a movie star.
“No—too skinny.” He leaned a little closer. “I know I’ve seen that face before—I just can’t place it.”
“Never been here before officer; just stopped in for a beer.”
“You boys all together?” He sipped his beer, rubbed his swollen belly like a hillbilly Buddha, and contemplated the three of us.
Nobody said a word.
“What you boys doing up here?” He turned toward the bartender, lifted his eyebrows and smirked. “You know—we don’t get many tourists up around here.”
I’m not talking.
“You boys are awfully quite?” the cop asked, like we needed a reason to be quite.
“What’s your fucking problem cop,” T-bone blurted out.
I spun towards Lawson. No reaction. I didn’t look at T-bone. The deputy slammed his beer bottle on the bar. When I turned, the sheriff’s pudgy fingers were dancing on the handle of his Colt Commando.
“I want you two to keep your hands on the bar,” the deputy said, pointing at Lawson and me. “And I want you,” he commanded, pulling his .38 revolver and taking a bead on T-bone. “I want you to step away from the bar, turn around, put your hands in the air, and lean against that back wall over there.”
T-bone did it like it was the most natural thing in the world. Lawson kept his hands on the bar and stared straight ahead, completely unfazed.
My eyes darted from T-bone to Lawson, and back to the hair trigger deputy.
Deputy kept his gun on T-bone. He turned to me and said, “I saw two motorcycles and pickup truck outside. You ain’t wearing one of those leather jackets—so my guess is—you don’t belong with these two highway hooligans.”
Deputy nodded his head toward the door, and I jumped up.
“Yes sir officer—that’s my pickup outside—I just stopped in for a beer.”
I stepped toward the door. The sheriff put his hand flat against my chest and stopped me.
“You watch yourself young man.” He waved his pistol toward the two Serpents. “These two are a couple of rotten apples—don’t get too close, or the rot will rub off on you.” Deputy Sheriff gave me a look that reminded me of my high school counselor. “You got the rest of your life ahead of you son—don’t screw it up.”
I slipped past the deputy and grabbed for the front door. It was like opening a blast furnace. I held the door open about six inches and looked back at Lawson. He was out of his seat. He took one step. Deputy sheriff stuck the muzzle of his Colt against Lawson’s forehead, square in the middle. Lawson took a half step. Sheriff cocked the revolver. Lawson froze.
“You owe me Duff,” Lawson demanded, standing perfectly still. “Anybody owes me—pays up.”
“I’ll be in Barstow at the Wonderland Ballroom tomorrow night after n
I bolted from the Iguana and cut hard right toward my ’41 Studebaker. Slipping in the gravel as I rounded the truck, I gripped the bed rail with my right hand and lunged for the door handle with my left. I threw open the door, jumped in, and started the truck before the door closed behind me. I jammed the shifter into second and stomped on the throttle. The rear wheels spun wildly, and I kept the throttle pegged, driving sideways through the parking lot.
I skidded to a stop at the main highway, and the hot metallic taste of burnt clutch filled the cab. While the cloud of dust settled in my rearview mirror, I scanned the highway northbound. The road to Vegas was empty. I watched my rearview for a couple of minutes, saw that no one was following me, then hung a right and headed south toward Kingman.
Evening sun held steady above the rust-colored hills as I passed through Kingman and turned west. When I got to Topock, I pulled off down by the Colorado River and ate the last of my chocolate chip cookies. While I watched the river flow south along the California-Arizona border, I could only think of one thing, I’ve got to find Harper.
I set the brake and hopped out of the truck. I shadowed the bank of the river, through some grass plumes, back up to the highway. I took a long hard look to my left and watched the night creeping in from the east. I looked toward California, and the sun dropped behind the Bristol Mountains, turning the sky above Devils Playground incandescent burnt orange. Even this hellhole can be beautiful.
I hustled back to my truck, hurried across the border into California, and found a secluded spot down by the river. It was best not to spend too much time in Arizona. I was out on a conditional release, and I wasn’t supposed to leave the state. I thought about the deputy sheriff back at the Scorched Iguana Bar. He sure saved my bacon. Maybe all cops aren’t so bad.
I unfurled my sleeping bag and curled up on the bench seat in my pickup truck. I closed my eyes and thought about the river, the way it rambled south without a care in the world. I felt sick to my stomach. A couple of weeks earlier, I had been just like that river. I had been cruising along without a care in the world. That was before I got myself—and Harper O’Neal—mixed up in the largest armored car robbery in the history of San Bernardino County.
If I had listened to Morgan, I wouldn’t have gotten mixed up in this mess. I’ll never admit it, but I really should have done what my big brother told me.
Cyclone Rumble by J.P. Voss / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on38 votes