Jack took a long drink of water. “There’s going to be a change to the show tonight,” he said. Everyone was hung over, and the activity outside was clearly a distraction. “But it’s not going to require anyone to do anything different. At least, no one but Archie.”
At this, the kid stood up straight.
“First off,” Jack said, “I want to thank Senora for the idea. For tonight’s show, Archie will be playing a visitor in from California, and he’ll be trying to drum up participation during the run.”
Senora lifted her veil and nodded approvingly at Archie, then reached out and gave his shoulder a squeeze. “My Stanley would be proud,” she said.
Larry looked at Jack quizzically, eyes wide. Normally Jack would have discussed a decision like this with him, but he hadn’t had time.
“One thing we still need is clothes. Do any of you have anything classy for Archie to wear? We need a shirt, pants, and shoes.”
Senora spoke up again, saying she had some of Stanley’s old clothes stored away, but that he wasn’t a thin man, and that Archie might look strange in them. Jack told her to do what she could, and said that he’d approach the Mayor for a pair of her son’s pants. As Jack went through the remaining banalities of the meeting, he sensed an excitement growing in the room. Could it be, he wondered, that even such a small change as he’d made would prompt such enthusiasm? Was change really so scarce?
When at last Jack called an end to the meeting, his employees shot out the door as if they’d been wound up. He watched them hit the lot and splatter out, slowing as they grew tangled in the crowd, and in his premature nostalgia, he didn’t notice Larry had remained in the room until he heard the water cooler burp. He turned to see Larry filling a cup, and sipping at it slowly, deliberately, like a taste test.
“Are you doing alright?” Larry said.
Jack thought about this.
“I mean, because you seem distracted. Do you know I had to explain that what you said during the Q&A was part of the act, that it was meant to keep people vigilant?”
“Aw, crap. I’m sorry about that, Larry.”
“It’s just not like you… And then this Archie thing. I mean, it’s a good idea. I said as much before. But I would have thought there’d be a least a little training. He’s just a boy, Jack. He’s unpredictable!”
Jack wondered if he would in fact ever be able to tell Larry the truth about today. Would he ever be able to tell anyone? Only, he supposed, if the revolution happened, and it became a point of pride to have helped.
“I’m sorry,” Larry was offended, “is something funny?”
“No, no, you’re right. He’s a bit unpredictable, but he’s a good kid. What can go wrong? Worst case scenario, he offends a few tourists, right?”
“This is because of Jo, isn’t it.”
“Everything, Jack.” Larry pressed trash down into a metal bin. “Your mood.” Jack looked Larry in the face. “Brings back memories, doesn’t she? We’ve come a long way.”
“And we did it one day at a time, by making sure things went according to plan.” Larry would never understand Che.
“Believe me, Larry, I’m trying. After tonight, you’ll have much more involvement with the decision making.”
This was an unplanned promise, but Larry didn’t protest. He finished his water and slowly went for the door.
“I’ve got to go round up my performers,” he said. “Believe it or not, I’ve got more than one diva on my hands.”
When Larry opened the door, Jo was standing outside. He looked her up and down, shook his head, and disappeared outside.
“Trouble with Larry?” Jo closed the door behind her.
“He’s an organized man,” said Jack. “Sometimes he gets a little flustered when I make decisions without him.”
“If he only knew,” Jo said.
At that moment, the secret felt like something they shared. Something they owned. It drew them together. They stood at the window, watching the crowd a while. A group had formed around Gramps’ stun gun range, and June was eyeing it warily. Her brothers stood beside her, smiling, uninterested in what danger the spectacle might represent. Jack felt Jo’s hand close around his own, and he looked down and saw their union, his dark paw spread on the window sill and hers over it, a white band across the back.
“I’m glad you came,” he said.
“And what you’re doing… I think it’s—”
“I know it’s a stupid idea,” Jo said.
“No. Jo, I think it’s right.”
There was again silence between them. Jack wondered if Jo believed him. He wasn’t sure he believed himself. He’d made more unintended confessions in the last two days than he’d confessed in years, and there was a lightness to it, an elation that he didn’t trust, but which he found intoxicating. He’d experienced this only a few times before; once when lying alone in his own room for the first time as a boy, again when leaving home, and again when sitting in the ACHP lobby, waiting for the man called Wolf. There was no direct connection between this feeling and good outcomes.
He grabbed the hand grabbing his and pulled Jo between his body and the glass, where he pressed himself into her, kissing her urgently. He felt her body grow tense and then relax, as if he were absorbing her strength.
When he pulled back Jo held him there, her hand between them. She was breathing quickly, and she recited his name a few times as she wriggled out of his grasp. Strangely, it didn’t feel like rejection. It felt like affirmation.
He took her lead, changing their tack.
“Micah is looking,” he said, “for you.” He was breathing heavily too. “And I have plans. I’ve made changes.”
“You have, have you?”
“Paco was just outside of Arivaca this morning, and he had a couple of goons with him. I think we need to make this a little more secure.”
“Are you kidding? Paco? Christ.”
“Basically, I just don’t think he should be seen walking from the show. I think we need to make sure Che ends up in one of the Jeeps. Now, the Jeeps come out of the field and cycle around to the side of the parking lot, and you’d be able to wait there for him.”
“How are you going to get him into the truck?”
Jo seemed to have cooled, and Jack suddenly felt self-conscious.
“Okay, two things. First of all, I’m going to have someone in the tower to direct the Jeeps to Che. And that’s it. I guess it’s one thing.”
Jo stared out the window toward the center of the lot. She didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular. Just staring. Jack could see Larry speaking with the Mayor, and he made a mental note to ask her for Ben’s clothes.
“Who’s driving?” she said finally.
The feeling of a moment ago had completely left them. It was as though it hadn’t happened. Jack groped for it, and stared hard into Jo’s eye, trying to remind her.
“What if it was me?” He should have thought of this before. Why hadn’t he thought of this before? “I’ll drive the Jeep,” he said.
“I think I should talk to Micah.”
“Of course. I was going to say we should just—”
“No, Jack, I mean alone.”
“It’s just that Micah’s plans are, you know. His.”
Jack felt a swell of anger. “I don’t give a shit about Micah’s plans,” he said sharply, and his voice only grew louder. “This is my land, my neck, and we’re doing this my way!”
He’d shouted at Jo, he realized, and hadn’t meant to. Not exactly. But he didn’t feel bad about it.
“Tell him however you want,” said Jack, his voice again low and steady, “but tell him the plans have changed.”
With that, Jack left Jo standing by the window, and left the Visitor center. His decision to drive the truck almost obviated the need for a mole, he thought, but he was going to honor his word and get Archie those pants.