Nov. 24, 2007
That Which Must Be Done
Ed Stanton wanted to say he was after some kind of singularity of purpose as he walked out of a roadside diner off that old 66 bypass. But it would take too much effort to explain that to Mabel, who was only looking to sell another slice of pie. And how do you clarify what’s coming to somebody like that when all she’ll be able to see come of it is the loss of his horses, his wife’s exodus from the county and the lonely deaths of his long separated mother and father on opposite sides of the town?
‘Well what kind of purpose are you being singular about?’ she would say. ‘Ain’t been drug-running through this part of Arizona in thirty years.’ Or so might she go on, Ed thought.
And he didn’t want to think about that anyway, he knew. Not one whiff of cocaine in thirty years. Nothing to make the occasional dusted roadside encounter anything more than just a pleasant distraction.
“Ain’t no cowboy ever made an honest friend past the age of thirty anyhow,” he said to himself, absently eying his cargo. “Nothing to look for but what I got to do.” He passed a mother in a mini-van broken down on the shoulder with two young children and drove on without a second glance. After that there was nothing but coyotes and fences for another eighty-eight miles of worn Arizona road, and he knew so.
The truck sputtered down to its last slurp of gas as he pulled into that field across from Tuco’s tin shack where everything had gone so goddamn wrong months ago last Fall. Ed didn’t even know whether or not the contents of the package he carried was still any good. He’d taken a taste off the top back in May, just for curiosity. But now he meant to return it to its rightful owner, come what may.
He wasn’t surprised that a pair of guard dogs trotted toward him to rip his trespassing throat out. The double-crack of his pistol was just like a knock on the door and the slow lope of Tuco’s shadow against the wood-panel inside assured Ed of the regularity of this situation.
“I hope you brought your dog money,” Tuco shouted over a stretch of dead widow weed. “Not everybody understands that is part of the toll for all my visitors.” Tuco could see the package put a strain on Ed’s shoulder. “Let me help you with that,” he said and jogged across the field, moonlit dust puffing up around his boots. “That old wound, it just gets stiffer with age.”
“Yes it does, my friend.”
Now they stood face to face. Ed could see a wasteland of abandoned trucks reaching out away from Tuco’s shack over a nearby hill. Coyotes played near the blood or rust stained wheel well of a burned out Chevy duster.
“Not a gas pump in a hundred miles,” Tuco said and lit up a stale cigarillo. “And we are not friends, senor.” Then he offered the cigarillo to Ed, who took it despite the shine of saliva on the butt. “My friends do not wake me at this time of night.”
“Well, I do apologize for that, Tuco. It’s just that-”
“Come inside. I will pour you a drink.”
Ed took on a shaky understanding of the function of Tuco’s home on entry as he noticed that only the wall across from the front window had been decorated in any way.
“Have a seat,” Tuco said, left the room for a moment and returned with a revolver tucked into his pants and two drinks, one small and thin, one tall and stiff.
Ed put himself into the smaller of two ragged lawn chairs, removed his hat and tried to imagine his wife, Imogene, driving east at sunrise to Louisiana where she could find a new life. One that made sense to her.
Then he re-lit the cigarillo, let himself settle back and took a long accepting look down the barrel of Tuco’s revolver.