Jack moved like a minnow through the churning crowd of people. They rushed across the lot in excited schools, and spun off small groups into eddies before every booth. The bus had caused a small commotion for momentarily ruining the flow of foot traffic, but also for its promise of money; it had sent all the vendors back to their stations to stock and arrange their wares. Jack passed Marci, who had sold almost half her shards, and she looked up but did not smile.
Jesse hadn’t given Jack time to respond to her statement. She’d hurried her son off stage as though hiding him, protecting him, and in the explosion of activity caused by the bus he’d lost sight of them. So now he was headed to the Funk’s. He seemed to remember that Del had been one of those to speak up about the night at Double Barrel, the night Ben was conceived. He could hear the hollow clicking of bones from Del and Mel’s chimes, and they sent a shiver through him but he walked on.
Halfway across the lot, his path was intercepted by the tall hippie who ran the dunk tank.
“Your booth is fine,” Jack said without stopping. “I told your wife.”
“I have something you might be interested to know.”
Jack was barely able to contain his disgust. He knew this type well; he’d encountered them all over Los Angeles: seemingly good natured people, warm and welcoming, who were nothing but schemers underneath. Always looking for an angle. He didn’t know what he was scheming, but knew he wanted no part in it.
“I don’t have time right now.”
He pushed past him, and the hippie cursed loudly, proving Jack’s suspicions.
“I’ll be at my tank when you change your mind!”
When he got to the booth, Jack pulled Del away from a customer, and led him behind their cart. Bones were fastened with wire along the cart’s railing in a playful, undulating pattern: a bleached-white ribbon of death. Mel came around and looked at the men with a worried face, but Del waved her off.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Jack just has a couple questions.”
“You don’t look surprised,” said Jack after Mel had gone.
“I seen it coming,” said the man. Del had the eyes of a man who’s spent too much time alone.
“I came here,” Jack said, “because you were one of the men who said they were at the Double Barrel that night with Jesse.”
Del nodded. “Yep,” he said. “Sure enough I said that. But my guess is you know now that I wasn’t.”
Jack spat. “I’m waiting.”
Del turned and looked westward, into nothing. “You spend enough time in the desert and you start to feel things. You can hear the land. The rocks. You can hear the cactus. You ever listen to cactus?”
“When your daddy went and snuck up on me I thought I was dead. No man can sneak up me like that. I thought he come to kill me. He held out a satchel, though, and told me to look inside. It was filled with cat bones. Three, maybe four cats.
So I says, ‘What do you want for these?’
‘Tell folks you had relations with the Mayor at the Double Barrel last night,’ he says. I look at him, and he’s lookin’ at me serious as a fever.
‘Mel knows I ain’t been to the Barrel in months,’ I says to him. ‘Sides, I ain’t lied to her in all our years.’
But your daddy won’t hear it. ‘I ain’t askin’ you to lie to Mel,’ he says.
‘Who you want me to lie to then?’
‘Just say what I told you,’ he says.”
Jack looked at this man, feeling a mixture of anger and pity. A bag of bones, he thought.
“Now cat bones,” Del said, as if he’d been in Jack’s head, “are special. Light. Good for chimes. And ain’t many cats around here, or else I might not have.”
“So you said it.”
“I said it, sure. Next time I was in town. Course, by then not a man in town who wasn’t saying it. On account of your daddy been handing things out.”
Jack nodded, spat. His father’s parting words shot through his head for the umpteenth time, now imbued with new meaning. Were they diabolical or just desperate? Perhaps there isn’t much difference between the two. Jack thought of the cold coffee he’d been handed that morning—the old man had been up for a long time, perhaps all night. Surely enough time to suss out the facts. Enough time to make the rounds. To form a plan. The tourists were slowly climbing out of the bus, and Jack still had to find Angel before the show. He saw Archie standing beside the Visitor center, awkward and hot in his unfamiliar clothes. Then Larry appeared from inside, and gave the kid a cup of water.
Had this place changed since his father’s time? Or had it never really been what his father had imagined? Of course, the only way to truly judge his father’s actions would be to know the answer.
Jack thanked Del for being straight with him. All the anger had left him, and he felt light and airy. He’d never know what his father was protecting him against, and yet he was surprisingly at peace. He went over to the side of the Border Run! play field and spoke to the drivers, reserving one of the Jeeps for his own use. He hadn’t driven in the show for years, and they looked at him approvingly, as though he was returning to his roots.
Angel was filling in some potholes at the Jeep entry points, and when Jack walked up he stuck his spade down into the earth.
“This earth doesn’t want to stay put,” he said with a short laugh. “She’s got a mind of her own.”
“Angel, I have a son.”
“Yes,” Angel nodded. “Congratulations.”
“I reckon this is something you knew, and I just want you to know that I know, and that I don’t have any hard feelings.” As he said this, Jack realized that it was true. Just as the anger he’d felt initially had vanished, replaced by emptiness, this emptiness had turned into elation. Jack suddenly reached out and embraced Angel. The man went rigid inside his arms, and Jack immediately let go, feeling a little foolish.
“Congratulations,” Angel said again.
Jack dumbly grinned. The wind was stiffer now, with worrisome southerly gusts, and he squinted against it, seeing dust rise in the air on the far side of the Wall.
He left Angel with one thought on his mind: he needed to tell Jo. He dove back into the Busk with the intention of having a private moment with her before the show, but he was diverted by a loud disruption by Marci’s tables. She was shouting and carrying on, and some people had gathered, bemused looks on their faces, wanting to watch the fuss. When Jack broke through the circle he found, amazingly, the blue-suited man who’d come with Paco two days before. He tried to recall the man’s name, but remembered he’d never been introduced. The man was standing before Marci with a shit-eating grin on his face, and beside him were Micah and Jo. Micah seemed to be involved, somehow, but Jo simply stood by shaking her head.
“Jesus Christ,” she said. “Just give the damn thing back.”
“I didn’t take anything,” said the man.
“That’s a lie!” screamed Marci. “I saw it with my own eyes! It’s in his pockets. Check his pockets!”
Jack stood in front of Jo and held her shoulders in his hands. She was looking downward, and he tried to lift her face with his eyes.
“Micah,” he said, still cradling Jo, “what’s going on here?”
Micah shrugged. “I’m not sure, exactly,” he said. “We were just walking by ourselves, but it seems as though this woman is accusing this guy of stealing something.”
The man remained silent, as though hoping the issue would be solved for him. He was sweating profusely, and Jack couldn’t help but assume his guilt. But his first priority was to see the issue settled, so he could give Jo the good news. He massaged her shoulders slightly, but felt them tense.
Micah pointed at Marci accusingly. “What makes you think this man took something?”
Marci began to cower.
Jack tried to defuse the situation. “C’mon, Marci, didn’t you just steal them in the first place?”
Marci looked around at the people watching her. Her mouth was open, but she didn’t seem to have a good answer. Jack was about to reach into his own pocket to cover the cost of the missing piece when a familiar voice intervened. It was Paco.
“Where and how Marci came by her things,” he said, “is irrelevant.”
He slithered from between two large men, entering the circle with a white ten gallon hat in his hands.
“Besides,” he said, “even if she did steal them, that’s for the law to deal with. Stealing something stolen’s still stealing.”
The man looked at Paco with disgust, and Jack dropped his arms, his attention now completely taken over by the exchange.
“Would you mind emptying out your pockets, sir, so Marci here can see that you didn’t take what you didn’t pay for?”
The suit stood motionless for a full minute before pushing his big hands down into the pockets of his slacks and slowly, deliberately pulling them inside out. A dull grey shard fell to the ground at his feet, and without a word, he stepped over it, walked straight toward Paco and, nudging him aside, pushed through the crowd. Paco put his hat on, tipped it to Jack, then turned around himself the way he’d come.
“I told you!” Marci shouted. “I told you! I want him arrested! I want him—”
Jack raised his hand, shushing her. “Maybe you should just be happy you got it back,” he said.
When Jo began to walk away, Jack grabbed her arm but she violently shook herself free—flustered, he felt, by the incident, and perhaps by Micah’s admittedly surprising sympathy for the man. He couldn’t have known he was from ImPass, of course, but Jack marveled at the tiny irony. Anyway, the moment was not right to tell her about Ben. He’d have to talk to her after the show. He’d tell her when he turned Che over. He’d tell her then, before she left again.
“I didn’t steal them,” Marci said, almost to herself. She began to rearrange the remaining shards on the table. “They weren’t nobody’s to begin with.”