The Stateline Bar was jumping tonight, the sprawling parking area nearly full. Holly watched her man turn off the ignition and accepted the keys from his hand but couldn’t resist a wee complaint. “I’d really rather go with you, Hersch.” He’d used the Herschel Ware persona for so long, the name came out automatically.
“Love to have you, honey.” Baskin Eldin Yarmouth III checked in the rear view mirror to make sure his prized head of hair had every strand in its proper place. Not for the sake of vanity, but because this meeting was not going to go well…and because staring at his own crown’s reflection in the mirror helped him from being clobbered by his wife’s puppy dog gaze. “But things could get ugly, the place is full of dancing drunks and cranky wallflowers, and if you went in there this fine upstanding Post Falls Saturday night, some Idaho yahoo would make a move on you for sure. I’ve got to focus, okay?”
“Aw-w-w. I make you lose your focus?”
“You make me focus on what I’d like to be doing instead of on what I need to do. Hang in there, keep your head low and the Derringer handy in case. Okay?”
Her voice went small. “Okay.” She wasn’t sure she could shoot anybody even if the circumstances warranted, but okay.
Inside, the crowd seemed to be full of beer, hard liquor, and dance floor enjoyment. The sound was deafening; Stateline had a live band on the weekends, and this one was pumping out Eastbound and Down at the moment. Jerry Reed’s hit, the theme from Smokey and the Bandit.
Fitting, he thought as he made his way toward the table in the far right hand corner, chanting the HU silently, moving through the crowd. Mahanta, he thought, I know you’ve got my back as always. Baraka bashad. It helped, knowing that, but it did not relieve him of one iota of personal responsibility.
Two men sat at the smallish table, one nursing a Bud Light, the other sipping a vodka drink that was probably club soda. No, plentiful curses and a whole lot of fiddle-faddle, his nose put to the lie to that.
Not good. Really, really not good.
He pulled up a chair and sat down directly across from the vodka drinker, which put the big bruiser to his left. The drinker’s eyes were already bloodshot when he raised his gaze to stare malevolently at the younger man. “Took you long enough.”
“Car broke down three times, just getting out of Montana,” he replied calmly. “Fuel pump, then fifty miles later the serpentine belt, and right on top of the pass, blew a radiator hose. I’m lucky I’m here at all.”
Baskin Eldon Yarmouth, Jr., snorted derisively. “If you were any true son of mine, you’d have jacked something decent and been here yesterday.”
Any true son of mine? A slur on his dead mother’s good name? It wouldn’t be the first time. Still, now was not the time, though the other man at the table did shift, just slightly. “About that. In the spiritual sense, I’m definitely not any sort of son of yours, father. Told you the Rodeo Iron con was the last job I’d do with you, but you’re the one who wouldn’t listen. You insisted on me telling you face to face. Near as I can calculate, Mr. Yarmouth, you believed I’d never have the nerve to stand up to you mano a mano. Well, guess what? I’m here, and I’m saying it, and when I walk out of here, you’re right, you no longer have a son.”
Drunk as he was, the older man looked at his biological offspring as if he’d grown horns and fangs. And maybe claws to boot. A bit bleary eyed, but trying to comprehend the nature of this young, determined stranger. After a bit, he got it. Then came a moment, merely a flash-and-gone in his alcohol-raddled eyes, that might have been hurt…followed by swiftly rising rage. “To me? You dare say that to me? I brought you into this world and by the three horns of the Devil, I’ll take you back out again!”
The giant at his side had gone completely still. He knew his boss, probably better than anyone else in the world.
But B III wasn’t quite finished. He leaned forward until he was nearly nose-to-nose with the man he’d called Dad, no more than a few inches between them. “You. Didn’t. Bring. Me. Into. This. World. Mom birthed me in the back of an open bed pickup in subfreezing weather while you were off rolling in the hay with a wealthy widow, taking the old woman for every penny she had. You weren’t even there when I was born. You’re an accidental sperm donor at best, big whoop. And if you think you can take me out of this world, give it your best shot, old man.”
Eye to eye like that, it wasn’t hard to tell when the elder Yarmouth made the decision to go for the .22 caliber Saturday night special he always carried in his waistband. The younger man’s blade was halfway across the table, striking for the throat, when he heard the formerly silent giant speak one word.
It wasn’t yelled, that one word. Not even snapped. He just…said it, barely loud enough to be heard over the band and the lively conversation throughout the oversized bar. Both Yarmouth men froze, though the extreme effort it had taken for Herschel to stop his knife in mid-strike left his entire arm trembling like a Parkinson’s victim.
“Baskin, cool down.” Still that same quiet tone of command.
The enraged father didn’t change expression immediately; he was too far gone. But he wasn’t gone far enough to challenge Teddy Jenkins. Not by a long shot, he wasn’t.
“Kid,” the big man continued, “I feel you, okay? And I couldn’t blame you if you did, but this ain’t the time or the place, and it would haunt you for the rest of your life.”
Still nobody moved. Teddy went on. “Baskin, you know I’ll back you on any other play. Think about it, man. He’s my dead sister’s son. I’m your man no matter what else you decide to do, but this is the one exception. The kid here is my nephew, my own blood. You aren’t. You so much as get that pea shooter into your fist and I’ll blow six .44 caliber holes right through you. And you know it.”
Then, and only then, the Yarmouth men settled back slowly in their seats. From the corner of his eye, Herschel could see the truth of the matter; Big Ted held his monster .44 Magnum under the table, aimed at his brother in law’s gut. The Super Redhawk, stainless steel, 7 1/2 inch barrel. When had he slipped that out of his shoulder holster?
He decided it was time to lay all his cards on the table. “As I told you, Dad,” he said, sarcasm dripping from the D-word, “I’m out. I’ll be changing my name legally; B III will officially cease to exist.”
“This is about that towel-head hussy, ennit?” Junior’s rage had dropped his language skills back to his native early redneck level.
“Leave my woman out of it,” Herschel snapped, “or I’ll slice you to jerky sized ribbons right here and now, consequences be damned.”
“Ah.” The sperm donor rubbed his chin, a sly gleam entering his eye. “How ’bout that phony religion thing, then?”
That jolted Herschel. Uh-oh. In the heat of father-son confrontation, he’d completely forgotten about his vow to clean up his act. “Eckankar? It’s not phony no matter what you believe, but yes, my spiritual studies have everything to do with it.”
“Knew it!” The suddenly triumphant father, master of mercurial moods, picked up his nearly full glass of vodka on the rocks and drained it by more than half in one gulp. “Them religions got them some good cons, kiddo. You go on, then. Leave yer pore old pa in the lurch, why doncha? But you owe me.”
“Figured you’d see it that way.”
“Yep, you owe me. That Rodeo Iron shoulda gone down slick an’ easy, easy peasy as punkin pie on a platter, but there you were in the middle of ’em fer months an’ ya didn’t help out one fr-fr-freaking bit. So you owe me.”
Herschel resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “I owe you, all right. Owe you a smack in the schnozz, maybe.”
“No, no, you owe me at least a li’l infoma–information on that ole Rodeo Iron.”
“How much you been drinking, old man?” The band chose that moment to go on a break. The drop in decibel level was practically deafening in itself, in a reverse sort of way. They dropped their voices automatically to compensate; this battle between them might be in public, but it was still personal business. It suddenly dawned on him how fortunate they’d been; no one else in the place seemed to have noticed his half-lunge with the knife.
“Ain’t been drinkin’ near ’nuff. Awrighty, you go on and leave a pore helpless ole man, why doncha, but ‘fore ya go, tell me all you know about that there Rodeo Iron.”
Suddenly alarmed, Herschel’s eyes narrowed. “For what purpose? You still plan on going after them? I’d advise against it, Daddy dearest. Those folks put us up when they didn’t have to, treated me and Holly like family–like a functional family, not the Yarmouth family. Besides, Treemin Jackson’s mother not only played hostess to us for better than five months, she’s an ex-cop who doesn’t miss a thing. So–”
“Whoa, Dolly!” Wheels started to turn behind the con man’s eyes. “You mean the couple you stayed with, off by yourselves in the country there, the woman is Jackson’s mother? I can use that….”
“Not a good idea, Junior. There’s nothing I can pin down right now, but every instinct I’ve got tells me Rodeo Iron is one nut you’re not going to crack. I’m done here.” He rose, heading for the door without further ado, trusting Teddy to keep him from getting shot in the back.
Outside, headed for the car at a brisk pace, he was surprised to hear Teddy Jenkins call out, “Hold up a minute, Crock!”
Crock. Huh. He hadn’t been called that in a while. Herschel stopped, pivoted, and waited for the bigger man to steam up to him. “Junior’s going to go after Rodeo Iron again, isn’t he?”
“It’s worse than that, kid.” Out here in the mostly dark, alone except for an amorous couple making out against a car door a good fifty feet away, Jenkins could let his guard down, showing his true face to his nephew. Lots of conflicting emotions there. “You know what your Mom said to me on her deathbed, take care of him, she said, and I will. I’ll never know why she fell so hard in love for that man and never fell out, but I couldn’t refuse her dying request.”
“Of course not, Ted.” He patted the big man’s shoulder, nearly having to stand on tiptoe to do it.
“Yeah. So I’ll be with him till he dies or I do, whichever comes first. But here’s the thing. You saw his wheels start turning when he heard Louella Bowles was Jackson’s mother, right?”
“Sure did. I really messed up there.”
“Water under the bridge. You couldn’t have known.”
Sure I could. Baskin Junior was in get-even mode, which meant utterly destroying those who had balked him at the last turn. Anybody who knew him at all knew he was only a traditional con man until somebody beat him, especially a mark, and then his truly evil side came out. “Still–”
“Wait. I gotta get this off my chest, then I gotta get back in there. Yesterday we met with a guy, and he’s due to meet him again any minute now. Every bone in my Shrek-sized body screamed danger around this dude, who for whatever reason seems to want to wipe Rodeo Iron clean off the face of the map. I tell you, he’s going to try, too; I could smell it. And your Dad–sorry, Junior, he’s all for that idea, and he’s not caring right now who he gets in bed with. Told the guy everything we knew about Jackson’s operation, his family, you name it. And when you let slip that Bowles is Jackson’s mother–”
“He’s going to target Mrs. Bowles as the supposed weak link in the Rodeo Iron chain.”
“Exactly. We both saw it, in there just now.”
“So–” The guilt was crushing Herschel Ware; he couldn’t think.
“So all I’m really saying is, do what you said, take Holly and run as far as you can as fast as you can. Jupiter would be good. No matter how this ends up, it’s going to be ugly.”
It hit him then. “You’re saying goodbye.”
“Maybe. If I don’t make it–”
“You’ll make it, Ted!”
“If I don’t, you tell Holly for me, I think she’s the most wonderful thing that could’ve ever happened to you. If I was thirty years younger and a whole lot less ugly, I’d have give you a run for your money. That’s one helluva woman.”
Uncle Ted had a thing for younger chicks? Or maybe just this one? “I’ll tell her. And Ted?”
“If you do get clear, when it’s over, you look us up. We’ll be Herschel and Holly Ware, Somewhere, USA.”
“Vaya con dios, Theodore Jenkins.” Both men turned, going their separate ways. Crock, Herschel chuckled inwardly. He hadn’t been called that since high school. The name had attached itself to him at the age of eight when he’d been a complaining, whiny little monster. “This homework is a crock!” Or, “I can’t go fishing today? That’s a crock!” He’d applied the term to anything he didn’t like, and back then there were a lot of things he didn’t like. His Mom and Ted had started calling him Crock and it stuck.
Thank goodness they’d moved just as he was shifting from middle school to high school. One of his new friends had asked if he had a nickname. Without thinking, he’d said, “Crock”–but the other boy took it as “Croc,” as in “Crocodile.” Croc was a much cooler nickname, for sure, but to his mother’s side of his family it was still Crock.
When he got back to the car, Holly unlocked the door and handed him the keys. Neither of them said a word as he fired the beater up and eased out of the parking lot, hitting the freeway toward Spokane. He’d fill her in as soon as he could, but first he had some decisions to make.
Mahanta, he thought forlornly, I’m working on getting my life right, but it’s not easy, is it?
Clear as a bell, he heard the Living Eck Master’s sympathetic reply: “It never is.”
Jack Hill and I were deep in conversation, boots propped up on spare chairs in his kitchen, sipping coffee and shooting the breeze. We hadn’t found time to just sit and talk like this for many months. Multiple years worth of months. Diamond Paws, our basketball-headed alien digger friend, sat on the floor against the south wall, gnawing contentedly on a stick of firewood, sounding a bit like a spastic beaver. I flicked a glance at the wall clock, ticking away above Diamond’s head. 1:38 a.m. Man, it felt good to just kick back and waste an entire night.
The others had all gone to bed, figuring us for insane. Either that, or just too boring for words. Sissy and Judi had turned out the lights across the driveway, leaving the entry light on for me but likely figuring I might not even need it, should daylight come around again before the two of us gave up our gabfest. Back down the hallway in Jack’s place, Wayne Bruce and Carolyn West had likewise sought their rooms and crashed for the night.
As for us, it was amazing how many tales the two of us could still tell each other without repeating ourselves. Well…not so amazing for Jack, I guess, seeing as he how he’d been around since before the Civil War. That does provide time enough to experience a whole lot of different adventures, whether a fellow is looking for excitement or not. Maybe especially if he’s not. And that reminded me….
“Jack, you’ve mentioned immortalizing your body, which I don’t doubt for a second, but I don’t seem to recall you saying exactly how you accomplished that. Was it attitude, or process, or what?”
“Hunh.” Hill didn’t answer immediately. Instead, he got up from his chair, stepped over to the kitchen cabinets, did something with his fingers, and a drawer that shouldn’t have been there opened like it was on springs. Which it probably was. He returned to the table, handing me a piece of age-yellowed paper. Laminated, or it would have disintegrated a long time ago. “Process,” the ancient Wizard said, holding up an index finger. “Attitude, certainly. A man–or a woman, for that matter, Soul anyway–has to know the immortalization can be done, and be determined to get it done.” He held up two fingers. Process and attitude. “Neither process nor attitude is worth a hill of beans, though, unless you’ve got…I guess the right spiritual unfoldment is about as close as I know how to say it.” Three fingers. “Even though the killing I’ve had to do over the years, before and since, does kind of test that part. I’ve read about some who manage to master Time without the right spiritual mindset, doing it for personal power instead of service. Don’t reckon their long term karma worked out real well for them. Hoping I don’t find out someday I fell into that category without knowing it.”
Watching my friend and listening closely to what he had to say, I hadn’t looked at the laminated paper yet. Not closely enough to read it, anyway. “So, this paper was your process?”
“Made my intention clear and precise, yes. I’d been beat up some by the years, Tree. One day, I came to the realization that I could do this thing, but I was going to have to let Spirit know what I needed. Not wanted, you understand. Needed. Needed in order to stay around on this planet for an indefinite period of time, doing whatever Spirit directed me to do. I couldn’t just say, “Okay, God, fix me!” His eyes rolled comically when he said that; I had to stifle a laugh. Wouldn’t want to wake Wayne or Carolyn.
Diamond Paws spoke up, using his John Wayne voice. “So did ya figure it out, pilgrim?”
“Looks like he did.” I studied the document for a long moment. “This is what you asked for?”
“First phase, yeah.” Hill took a sip of his coffee, thinking. “There were other phases later, after that one had time to settle in. But that’s what started it all.”
“Hm.” It was a pretty precise list.
(Body Immortalization Project)
Priority 1: Massive immune system upgrade, capable of rejecting all flu/cold type attacks and more (infection rejection).
Priority 2. Circulatory restoration, clean blood vessels, including heart upgrade.
Priority 3. Urinary tract restoration including bladder.
Priority 4. Muscle restoration including hernia repair.
Priority 5. Hearing restoration.
Priority 6. Sight/vision restoration.
Priority 7. Skin restoration to age 35 condition including removal of under-eye bags.
Priority 8. Removal of B-ST.
Priority 9. Complete cyst removal.
Priority 10. Complete parasite removal.
Priority 11. “Bonus Priority” GI tract upgrade.
Priority 12. “Bonus Priority” perpetual package maintenance.
Priority 13. “Baker’s dozen Bonus Priority” full bone restoration incl. MDB.
“Wow. You were pretty far gone, weren’t you, old timer?”
“Normal for my age, I guess. Or maybe a bit better than normal. I didn’t realize how much work needed done till I made that list.”
“So, what’s B-ST, number 8?”
“Private, Tree. Ain’t sharing that.”
“Okay. Same for MDB?”
“All right. What did you do with the list, then? Just write it down and believe in it and it magically happened, or what?”
Jack started to answer when the company radio came to life. Philip Phreeb’s voice. “Jack, Sissy said Tree was over at your place. Is he–”
I was up and over to the wall mounted radio in a flash. “Here, Philip. Whazzup? You’re supposed to be off duty, right?”
“I was, sleeping like a log, believe it or not. Red Hanks was on duty; he rousted me out. Tree, you’ve got a call from the man we knew as Herschel Ware.”
This couldn’t be good.
“Patch him through.”
A few seconds passed, then the young con man’s voice hit hard, the tension in his voice so palpable my eardrum said ouch. “Mr. Jackson?”
“Yeah, Herschel. Whazzup?”
“Please don’t hang up, okay?”
“I’m listening. Spit it out.” I tapped the button to put the radio on Speaker. It might wake up the whole house, but Jack very likely needed to hear this. Maybe Diamond Paws did, too.
“I–uh, oh hell, here’s the deal. I’m out of the picture, but I had a run-in with my father. Told him I was done, but he’s out to get you, Tree. You and all of Rodeo Iron. And, uh…I’m pretty sure he’s targeting Lou.”
“My mother?” My voice was quiet, cold. Ice.
“Yeah. I messed up, Treemin. I don’t think he knew the couple Holly and I stayed with were your Mom and stepdad, but he does now, and there was a glint in his eye–”
I cut him off. “Anything else?”
“Yeah. There is. My uncle warned me about some guy the old man was meeting with, somebody who has it in for you even worse than Dad does. So I drove off with Holly–they were at the Stateline Bar in Post Falls–intending to get to Spokane at least before the car broke down again, but I couldn’t let it go. Turned around, slipped back into the far edge of the parking lot. Slipped back into the bar. Couldn’t get too close or they’d have spotted me, and the light in there sucked, but I snapped a couple of pictures with my phone. I’m hoping maybe you can at least identify this guy who’s coming after you.”
Huh. “That took guts, Herschel. But I have to ask, why?”
“Why did I do it?”
“Yeah. You’re a con man to the core; why are you telling me this now?”
The silence went on long enough that I thought he wasn’t going to answer, but he did. “I owed it to Sim and Lou, even more than I owed it to you. If harm came to your Mom because I failed to act, I’m not sure I could live with myself. And…well, believe it or not, and I don’t expect you to, but I’m trying to clean up my act. Go straight.”
“Okay. I can understand that.” Believe it? Not yet. But I could understand it. “You have the pictures now?”
“Can you email them?”
“Sure can, if you’ll tell me the best email address to use.”
“RodeoIronCit@RodeoIron.com.” I spelled it out.
“Got it. I’ll get those sent, and then we really are disappearing for a while.”
“You do that. And Hersch?”
He was gone.
“On it, Tree. Ware’s not wasting any time. I’d already given him that same email address and the pictures are here now. Guess he had to hear it again from you to believe it was the right one to use, maybe because he never met me.”
“Can you clean up the images enough to ID this enemy of ours?”
“I think so. The new facial recognition software should help. At least if he’s in any major database out there, including ours. Say, come on over to the Citadel after breakfast? It’s not like I’ll be doing a lot of sleeping between now and then.”
“Neither will the rest of us,” I pointed out. “After breakfast it is.”
This chapter is a reflection of my own spiritual understandings and is not intended
to speak for any spiritual path, teacher, or religion. In this chapter I have made
occasional use of certain terms (Eckankar, ECK, and Mahanta) that
are trademarks of Eckankar. This does not imply any endorsement or
sponsorship by Eckankar. I have intended only to make a “fair use” of such
terms, recognizing that the rights to their trademark usage belong entirely to