THE INFORMATION #823
“First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald
WHEN THIS WORLD CATCHES FIRE
BOOK THREE: SAVAGE NOXTOWN
CHAPTER TEN: PART FIVE: KINGDOM COME
Judge Sniffle breezes out through the door trailing broken hacks and coughsicles, and even as he does, in walks a not-so-familiar figure–a notorious Abbey Lubber previously known mostly to the ex-circus goons who made Smash Conklin their Aaron, but missing from Noxtown for over a year.
“Jim Whitey!” hollered old Musky Dan from his corner. “What in Hell are YOU doing here? We all thunk you done abscotchalated!”
“I’se been laying low for awhile, yes. But I’m reformed, I am. I’m a new man.,”said Jim Whitey, standing at the bar at the Seven Stars, I noticed he seemed somewhat crestfallen; he didn’t have his big fierce dog with him; “Had to sell ‘im” was his terse explanation.
I used to be scared of Jim Whitey, who was a Skillo talker with the Red and Black Carnival and, before that, a Whiteface Joey with the Circus; but recently he had fallen on hard times, and he revisited the Seven Stars looking for some companionship and maybe a bit of sympathy. He found neither. You took one cold look at his scaly pink cheeks and his tufts of red hear and you were immediately reminded of the red-headed stepchild whose destiny was to be beaten. And who, in his own turn, took it all out on those weaklings who were unlucky enough to cross his path.
“How so? Ack! No, I don’t go to church, Yob. I only worship at The Tabernacle of the Swami, now. Did I ever tell yuh? I first met the Swami in ‘03. He only appears about every 14 years or so. Says he needs to keep a low profile. Yah, lately though, f’r about the past year I been hanging my hat in Hickory Hollow. It’s a big step back in time there, Yob. Everybody knows everybody else. They keep the colored folk out. Big sign at the town limits. Says ‘Go Away’. Says ‘Colored People Will Be Shot and then Shot Again.’ Only it doesn’t say colored people on the sign. I got no brief agin ’em. Most of them are all right. It’s only when they start talking loud and drawing attention to themselves that they get my goat. They hanged a few, back in the day. I’m suspecting they couldn’t read. Sign is pretty clear. All of ‘em down to the Hollow tote some pretty mean-looking rifles. Even the babes in arms pack pistols, or so I’se been given to understand. It’s a grand and a glorious place. They liked me there because I could sell iceboxes to Eskimoes. My Boss, Mr. Honest Joe Kludd, at the Kountry Store, he said I was the best he’s ever seen. Said I put his other two clerks in the shade. ‘Won’t you take some of this corn flour, Madam?’ I says, and I tip my hat. ‘Would you like to try some of this scourin’ cleanser? Like a charm, it works.’ All you gotta do is talk ’em up faster than they can understand you, and you got it made. It’s as easy as cheating the suckers on the Skillo. Easier. They’re Hill Folk. You get ‘em so they’s got no choice but to buy; or else they feel guilty about wasting your time, and then they’re obliged to you. And that’s one thing they won’t stand–to be obliged to any man. Not like around here, where the wise Gees are allus on the earie for a glib talker. It was like shootin’ fish in a bar’l. Even the stingy old mountain men and their women-folk. If I couldn’t sell ‘em a full sack of flour, I’d sell ‘em the empty sack. Used to be we would give ‘em away. And them Mountain Gals are easy. Yahoo! Lover’s Lane, here I come. They’d pucker up for nearly any snazzy Joe with a line of snappy patter. You Yellofs may approach the gals holding your head cocked to one side like an inquisitive spaniel. My approach is more full-on. An invulnerable grin, saying ‘Mine for Me.’ Course, you needed to be ware of the long rifles their pappies like to tote around. Hell, some of them gals, if’n they ain’t married up by the time they’re seventeen, why, they was considered old maids. I was always very careful to get spoony only with the ones as knowed to keep their mouth shut. No, not the little girls. I don’t know who’s been spreadin’ those lies around, but they ain’t so.
“I’ll tell you something—the land out there is wild, and rocky, and foreboding. You look out the windows of their tarpaper shacks, and all you see is the twisted branches of gnarly old trees that have been there since God Himself was a pup. It’s a wonder that I lasted there was long as I did.
“Why did I leave the Holler? I’m getting’ to that. I was mighty good at selling threads, and needles, and notions. I put in a hard ten hours a day standing on my feet caterin’ to the needs and whims of them dyed-in-the-wool Reubens. And I could tell you everything you ever need to know about the way them people do business. Their word is their bond, and all that. Makes them painfully easy to sell. Just give them some lousy gimcrack for free gratis and they’ll be duty bound to buy from you. Even if it’s some cheap peace of slum like a plastic comb. They’ll jump through hoops to pay you back. They ain’t fixin’ to be bound to no man for no favors or nuthin’.
“Course, you had to watch your step in those parts. The Sheriff is a mean cuss. People tend to do what he tells ‘em. He won’t take no back talk. I steered clear of him. His name was Troop. Sheriff Troop—ain’t that a laugh. But he warn’t no Trouper. Real slackjawed moron, he was, or so he’d have you think, always workin’ on a chaw. Comes up to me one time. ‘Whut’s your bidness around here anyway, Boy?’ says he. What can you say to that? I misdirected him nicely, though. Said I was a Jack-leg preacher man looking for a new line of work because I was losin’ my faith in the goodness of man. Said I wanted to spend time away from the big city and live among the simple ordinary law-abidin’ folk like I used to know down south. He warn’t fooled though. “Watch your step,” says he. ‘I got my eye on you.’ Sure enough, his little black piggy eyes was glistering like a mud puddle on a rainy day. He had my number all-rightie, and that’s no Harvard lie. Why, if looks could kill I would have been six feet under before you could bury a dog. ‘We don’t like no troublemakers around here,’ said he. ‘If you don’t intend to abide by the law, you better quit and get on out. We’re a God-fearin’ bunch in this community, and we don’t cotton to no slick-talking flatlanders fixin’ to swindle honest folk. I told him it was the furthest thing from my mind. But it was no use. He could tell I was lying. He may have been a low-grade moron, but he was a mighty shrewd man. I figured I had picked the wrong place to hole up and that I had better pack up my bags.
“But then, after he Sheriff left, I got in to thinking. I says to myself, I says, ‘God damn his God damned soul to hell, and God damn his kinfolk, and God damn his wife and kiddies, and good God damn, God damn HIM. I didn’t work the Skillo all them years to be druve away by some crossraods clown of a Shurf. So then I went in my suitcase and brought out a deck of cards and a bottle of rotgut, and I made my plans.”
Jim Whitey continued the tale of his stay in Hickory Hollow. “The Sheriff was a mean man, all right, a Yellof as had seen too much and had nobody to tell it to. I could see that he would queer my pitch unless something was done, so one night, as I recall, I invited him up to my room over the store for a frank man to man chat. It was a Monday night, and he was nothing averse. I asked him straight out if he minded I had a drink and he said that it was a dry county but I could please myself. Said if he had to haul in every drinker in the county, wouldn’t any work get done. Said he hardly ever touched the stuff hisself, and that’s when I knew I had him. I made a big moan about how it ain’t right neighborly to let a man drink all by hisself but that I supposed that he was on duty and was afraid to have a wee dram. He roars back that he would be the judge of that, and he takes the bottle of redeye and pours himself a goodly snort. Ahh, he says, that burns. And then the creases in his face sort of rounded out and his eyes started to tear ever so slightly and I knowed my guess was right.
3744 James Road
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- RICHARD SMOLEY: THE DEAL