When they approached Jack about their plan, he put them to work. People had begun to trickle in for the Busk, and Jo saw a lot of familiar faces. When you live in the middle of nowhere, you take advantage of every opportunity to earn a little cash, and so it was that when Jack started up the annual celebration, just about everyone in town came forward with some kind of hobby or skill they’d try to hawk. Some were more legitimate than others, but for Jack it was more important to bring everyone together than it was to shoot down someone’s chance to trick a tourist out of their paycheck. In addition to Dex who, hoping to attract a few tourists before the Busk even began, had grabbed a choice spot by the Border Run! gift shop, there was Sunshine with his astrology booth, June, who’d somehow taught her two retarded brothers to give astonishingly good massages, and Del and Mel Funk setting up their bone wind chimes. Throughout the year the Funks could be found prowling around the desert outside of town, picking up bones. A year before Jo left, they’d become part of a criminal investigation when it was discovered that a chime they’d sold to a collector from Phoenix was over half human. They maintained that they hadn’t known, and were apparently able to convince the State of this, but when your business is bones, Jo felt, shouldn’t you know the difference between them? Mel saw Jo across the parking lot, and waved. Jo smiled, but fortunately had a box in her arms and couldn’t wave back.
Jack had sent Jo over to help Marci. Marci was a busy woman, whose quick, nervous movements had always seemed at odds with her overweight frame. She was more of a collector than an entrepreneur, and she brought something different to the Busk each year. This year she’d stolen hundreds of bits and half-burnt pieces of Desmonda’s place, and was aiming to sell them as souvenirs. It seemed in bad taste to Jo, but she was in no position to judge. The women worked together, pulling the pieces from four large boxes and arranging them following some very particular yet obscure aesthetic system Jo couldn’t figure out. She found the best way to help was to pull each piece out and stand over the long table, pretending to scan for the right spot, until Marci would point and say “there.”
“Careful,” said Marci, nodding at one of the boxes, “the pieces in there are sooty.”
Jo looked at her hands, which were already covered in black powder. The pieces which had somehow escaped the direct flames were, after being placed on the tables, home to more than a few little black finger prints.
“Did Desmonda let you have all this?”
“Nah. I just went over there at night and helped myself. What does Desie want with it? She’s got herself a nice new FEMA trailier, from what I hear. She was just going to abandon the place, but I thought, hey, everyone has at least one or two good memories about that Inn. So I turned trash into souvenirs.”
Jo nodded. Across the lot, Micah was helping Hoot erect a large façade that he’d painted. It said Hoot’s Boot Farm Annex, and there was a circle around the A, making it an anarchy symbol.
“So Hoot’s an anarchist now?” Jo asked.
Marci squinted across the parking lot, and chuckled. “Yeah, right. Hoot probably don’t even know what that sign means. His kid probably did it, the little fucker.”
“Kid’s a little off, if you ask me. Him and the Mayor’s kid, Bean.”
“Ben, you mean.”
“Growth spurt. Kids call him Bean now.” She pointed, “There.”
Jo put a large shard beside two smaller ones, and for a moment saw the perfection of this arrangement.
“Course, they probably won’t after tomorrow. What with Jack giving the bastard a Busk name.”
Jo stopped short. She’d suggested he do this after having learned about how his father had given him the name Lightning, but she wasn’t quite prepared for it now. She felt a surge of guilt, and stood still while it flowed through her body in waves. Thinking of Alex, she imagined her guilt as a kind of immune defense response, her soul attacking its own wrong doing with judgment. With this understanding, it was a good thing, her guilt, and she welcomed it, welcomed its punishment. She knew she’d be okay so long as she had this response.
“Remember the first Busk?” Jo asked.
“Heh, well,” Marci chuckled, “no one knew what to make of it, that’s for sure.”
“Jack wasn’t even sure himself.”
“No, I reckon he wasn’t. Didn’t stop him from winning folks over, though.”
“Doesn’t take much convincing if you have enough booze,” Jo said, remembering the long night.
It had started out forced and awkward, with Jack standing up at a microphone and making shy announcements about the facility being built. It would bring prosperity to the town, he’d told a deeply skeptical crowd. Jack had patched together a few details he’d heard from his father about a Seminole tradition called the Busk, but at root, they just figured food, drink, and dancing was universal.
“That’ll do it,” Marci agreed.
They’d gone through three of the four boxes, and they were running out of room on the table. Jo looked around. The lot had become cluttered with incoming booths, and Micah had moved on from Hoot to help Desmonda, for whom he was assembling a picnic table with Desmonda’s son, Prince. Prince was a drug dealer, among other things, and Jo wondered if Micah would care if he knew. Prince was a short man, but strong, and the two labored together under the punishing sun without speaking.
Then someone spoke right into Jo’s ear. “I’d say he’s getting along well with the natives.”
Startled, she spun around and knocked a few large adobe shards off the table. It was Jack.
Marci gasped. “Those better not be broken,” she said, dropping quickly to her knees and gathering them up.
“Shit, Jack,” said Jo.
Jack looked at the table, puzzled, then looked down at Marci. “They were already broken,” he said.