words by genghis
pictures by rhoda
"there you go, boys, i don't want to see you again until monday morning."
boss barlow had already changed out of his straw boss clothes and into a suit and tie. as he handed andy and conrad their pay packets he exhibited a smiling and friendly demeanor nowhere in evidence during the week. andy thought of asking him where he was headed in his finery, but decided not to.
the pay packets were heavy. conrad almost dropped his. he looked inside it and it contained only real money as promised, solid gold coins.
andy pocketed his without looking inside it.
"do we have to come back here tonight?" he asked boss barlow.
"your time is your own until monday morning. go or do anything you like, just be here at 5 am on monday." with a smile, boss barlow closed the pay window in their faces.
"guess we were the last ones to get paid," said conrad.
"some if the fellows don't get paid. they are in arrears."
"that's a big word," said conrad. "do you know what it means?"
"not too exactly."
they went outside and down the road a ways to wait for the bus.
andy and conrad had arrived at the camp by different routes.
andy was coming he knew not whence, going he knew not whither. conrad had had, until that week, a clearer path. he was scheduled to enter stanford in the fall, where he would study architecture and medicine, and compete on the cross country and baseball teams.
but just that week his grandfather and father had been exposed as intercontinental swindlers, involved in a scheme to build a nonexistent coast to coast highway with the savings of spanish-american and russo-japanese war widows.
as a result , the father, grandfather, an aunt and uncle and conrad's older brother and his wife had all fled to mongolia and taken refuge with the bolsheviks - the largest group from america on record to do so.
the story had made the san francisco chronicle and conrad had bought twenty-five copies and passed them out to all the fellows in the gang.
"when does this bus come?" conrad asked andy.
"when it comes, i guess." andy leaned back on the bench. andy was a little older than conrad, and had seen and done things too terrible to contemplate.
"what do you want to do when we get there?"
"i don't know, what do you want to do?"
conrad lowered his voice. "you know, boss barlow said we could do anything we liked. do you think he meant robbing banks and raising cain and stuff?"
"i don't know, i think sheriff john brown might have a few things to say about that."
"and mr j edgar hoover and the fbi too."
"so what do you want to do?"
andy looked down at his shoes. "you know what i like?"
"no, what ?"
"i like excitement."
"hey, that's what i like, too."
"well then it's settled. when we get to town ,we'll look for some excitement."
a gentleman in a flat straw hat spotted them when they got off the bus.
"evening, boys. in from the camp?"
andy looked him over. "are you the mayor?"
"but some folks call you the mayor."
"some might. some night not. anything i can help you with? this is friendly town, boys, with liberty hall on every corner."
"we're looking for - " conrad started but andy held up his hand to stop him.
"we'll just look around ourselves," andy told the man. "but you'll be here if we change our minds?"
"i surely will."
i didn't like his looks," andy said as they moved off.
"i didn't like that hat. it looked like he bought it in costa rica. or even belize."
an unlit sign above some stairs said "dance". they went up the stairs,
a man with a handlebar mustache sat behind a desk like a hotel clerk.
there was a large door behind him but no sign of a dance floor. some men were seated on a bench along a wall facing the desk. andy and conrad recognized some from the camp and nodded at them.
"having a dance tonight?" andy asked.
"we're trying. for the special introductory price of nine cents you can take a seat."
"expecting any women?" conrad asked the man.
"hard to say. this town's not as lively as it used to be." he shook his head. "can't make any promises."
"that's a good way to do business," andy told him.
"one of the recurring problems in this world, young man, is people making promises they can't keep."
"well if we was to leave and come back, chances are you'd still be here."
"the chances are very good indeed."
a faded sign in front of what looked like a rooming house said "show."
a man in a gray suit stood outside it. it was a good suit but he wasn't wearing a hat!
"we got a good show tonight boys. looking for some excitement?"
"that we were,"said andy. " i guess you are some kind of mindreading mastermind." " can i ask you a question?" conrad asked the man.
"go right ahead."
"how come you're not wearing a hat?"
"my head gets a little warm sometimes."
"so what's the show?" andy asked.
"the show - the show - is - a vampire sinking his teeth into a woman's neck. what do you think of that?"
"wow, that does sound exciting," andy agreed.
"a real live woman?," conrad asked.
"as alive as you or me."
"one thin dime."
"we don't have any thin dimes," conrad said. "all we have is gold coins."
"i can make change."
the show took place in the front parlor of the rooming house. the parlor was unlit.
there were three other spectators but their faces could not be made out in the darkness.
"i like these seats," conrad told the man as they sank into them.
"we have seances here sometimes. you have to have comfortable seats."
"people who go to seances insist on a nice comfortably upholstered seat."
suddenly a single lamp went on and the vampire and the woman appeared.
he sank his teeth into her neck. the lamp went out. it was over in thirty seconds.
"did you see that suit the vampire was wearing?" andy asked conrad. "you could feed a family of sixteen for three years for what that suit must have cost."
"were those pearls real?" conrad asked the man. "that the woman was wearing?"
the man turned on another, larger light, illuminating the room. the vampire and the woman and the other spectators were gone.
"i don't know," the man answered conrad. "pearls are not my road game. and it would be rude to ask."
"well boys, if you liked that show, i've got an even better one next week, same time, same place."
"and same price?" andy asked.
"the same reasonable price."
"and what might the show be?"
"st peter chasing judas across the desert."
"that sounds seriously exciting," andy agreed. "what kind of horse will he be chasing him on?"
"actually they will both be riding camels. i hope that's all right."
"i guess so. horses would be more exciting, but camels are ok."
"and then the week after that i've got the best show of all. the best show of all, for the same low price."
"don't keep us in suspense." conrad said. "what is it?"
"two weeks from today, right here in this parlor, you can see that dirty little coward bob ford shoot poor jesse james in the back. yes, sir."
"wow! " andy and conrad exclaimed together. "we'll be here!"
"wish that bus would get here," conrad said. "it's getting cold." they were the only ones waiting for the bus.
"it will be here."
conrad got up and started stamping his feet. he looked out at the deserted street. "i'd like to get out of here. see the world. go places, do things."
"i've gone places and done things," said andy. 'it ain't so much.'
johnny woke up. outside it was raining. he wasn't hungry but he got up and got dressed.
halfway down the stairs he had second thoughts.
he remembered the old days. were they really any good?
he looked up and saw fatman.
it all happened a long time ago.
johnny started to get hungry. he wanted a candy bar .
i don't hear you, johnny
it all started on a rainy day just like this one, in 1973
take that stuff back to wichita falls
you don't hear much about wichita falls any more
or east st louis either
maybe you don't but i hear about east st louis all the time
it was a long time ago. empires have fallen, mountains have crumbled, it's a new world now. can't you just forget it?
you said bad things about me. i can never forgive you.
remember the farmer in san diego, who tried to sell you his truck?
what about him?
nothing, i just wondered if you remembered him?
still eating those candy bars?
breakfast, lunch and dinner
it was nice talking to you. i'm sorry you can't see your way to let bygones be bygones
me and old jones we just don't get along
babe oh babe way down in polock town
police and snitchers they tore my playhouse down
take me to kirkwood and i'll make st louis all by myself