He was dead, for sure. I put one of my thumbs right there at the back of his jaw and there was nothing, nothing at all. Then I had to go back into the shitty little can and try to get some water to wash away the blood from near my thumb and all. I took my time and washed up a bit more, getting more blood from my arms and all I’d missed earlier. Then I figured it was just good enough and time to get my ass out of this crummy little chink hotel up here near the Chinese border where whatever these chinks is doing ain’t no good. Chinks is up to no good everywhere I hear and worst of all around borders like here in Lao I learned among the things I been learning since I got out of the slammer and broke parole.
See it’s like this old lady of mine went nuts again like she was always used to doing after a couple of good months of behaving herself. Mostly she was good for a happy stretch of time playing the good wife and then whamo just fucking lost it. Funny thing about it all is that was around the time I had enough I was trying extra hard to please her and keep the temperature in the room down there where you don’t get fires going. But shit happens, you know, it sure does. Like it comes out of nowhere on a day when the sparrows and robins are singing and it ain’t raining and I’m not thinking about too much more than my afternoon of beer and smiling at the old lady and remembering all that I like about her. But it happens all the time, even when you’re trying hard to make it not happen and like I was saying the birds want you to sing along with them cause it’s another sunny day and why not they’re thinking same as you’re thinking. I know the kind of bad shit I’m referring to happens all the time cause I hear the stories, mostly when doing another stretch in the smaller and there ain’t fuck all to do but listen even if you heard it all a thousand times.
One time on another day with nothing happening and we’re in the yard sitting in some shade this old fuck with half his teeth gone got to telling me how what it was like with his nice good looking old lady before he done her in cause he had to. It was like everything was going okay and smooth for maybe a week or two like it does for me with the old lady and my friends and acquaintances and then she’d come up with this idea she had to go back to her white powder habit knowing what that meant she’d have to be doing. Robbing the neighbour and the couple next to the neighbour and doing a little whoring too, that kind of shit that ain’t no good for no one. As I remember him telling me this was going down for more years than he could remember and it finally all got to the fire hot boiling point where he had no choice but to take the old lady out to the local wrecking yard for a picnic one night. Something different we ain’t done before is the way he put to her he told me. Like she could nohow imagine what I had in mind cause the time had come, he put it also. That was it, no more craziness and white powder and whoring about after that, not when he got finished. Just whamo a couple of times with a big plumber’s wrench on the side of the head. Then he goes and sticks her in the trunk of a car they was going to make into a small metal square or something like that. Trouble is things never go like they supposed to like he reminded me, and it was a couple of days or something before they got around to making the metal something or other out of the car. Then it turns out some dickhead got to sniffing like a dog and before you know’d it the boys with the badges was doing this and doing that and they come around and next thing you know this old fuck with not too many teeth left was back in the slammer and looking at life. I forgot to say he told me this story just matter of fact, like it was someone else’s story but it wasn’t.
You got to wonder where people get their thinking equipment when you do them a good turn, you sure do. That’s pretty much what happened here in Meung Sing. I met this young packer with a too big bag and he had knotty reggae hair and he seemed okay and needed a little hand. So I offered him a little hand by way of saying he could stay in whatever low-end piss hole I might find myself in as we was going north in Lao. He took me up on it right away, seeing he could save a few dollars and keep doing what he’d been doing for I don’t know how long. You know, just going from one place to the next like these packer sorts do not knowing where they’re going far as I can tell. Pretty much me doing the same thing of late I been doing, not much else to do since I got out of the slammer for trying to teach the old lady a lesson or two she deserved to know.
So after this ride in the old bus that was all dust and rattle we come in this little northern town Meung something or other and I tell this guy with the name of Bud follow me and we’ll get a place to stay for the night. We look around and there’s ain’t much by way of possibilities, and what we wound up with out of my money was a cheap little piss hole that cost four dollars. Couldn’t complain much on the cost angle but that was all when I got to thinking a little about what the four dollars bought. Wasn’t but one ratty towel in the room and no soap I could find and I figured I was going to have a hard time taking a shit with the paper that the no good chink owners had put there. Cheap bastards like every other chink I’ve known. But truth is I seen worse and figured what the hell it was only for the night like it is on just about all these nights, moving on maybe now over toward the Nam border I’m imagining. Best thing to do, for sure with the way things turned out.
I figured the bed was going to be bigger than it was but I’d already told Bud he could sleep to one side if he didn’t pull no queer shit on me and my words is always good, for sure. I let him know if he was that kind of queer dude he was to get himself a room elsewhere. He understood and that part went okay cause I was out good when I hit the bed only getting up once to take a leak and only had to push one of his legs so I could get a little more room when I got back in. That was after I’d been out on my own for some needed drinks to wash away the rattle I felt after we got off the bus and I didn’t even have enough of the right kind of energy right off to want to shower or get my face cleaned up.
I need to say again it wasn’t long after we got the room and I did a few small things and before I finished saw Bud all out on the bed and crowding my side more than I liked. But I didn’t pay it too much attention figuring that when I got back like I did I’d just push his ass over to the side of the bed I gave him freely and then that would be it. I remember clear as the sun makes a day saying to Bud since he wasn’t leaving the room and there’s not much of a lock on the door just watch my little stuff okay. I saw him sort of raise his head and nod and I figured that would be the end of it and there was no more to be said. I mean you got to trust another man or woman sometimes in this life, that’s for sure. I always lived by this, it’s one of my life commandments.
I don’t right off remember how much I had to drink but it was more than a few beers cause that was necessary what with how I was feeling after than long pretty cramped and coughing all the time bus ride from the south. When I got back to the room Bud was still hogging my side of the bed so I gave him a gentleman’s push and got in and was out until I woke on toward nine or so. I figured I ought to get going and see the market in town I’d heard about and then maybe catch a bus or one of those little Toyota pickups full of fat women and roosters that would take me closer to the Chinese border. Who knows what more I might see or like or take my mind off the slammer and the old lady I don’t much like giving too much thought to anymore. Right off I didn’t see any reason to stir Bud and I got a shower and then checked by bags and looked over the cash money I had left, figuring that anywhere I was headed I wasn’t going to find no ATM machines and was going to have to make use of my hidden dollar reserves.
Now what I discovered takes a little bit of explaining first off. I carry with me dollars to make sure I don’t get myself in a pinch I can’t deal with. I’ve always got a few bills that don’t amount to a whole lot in the pockets in my pants but the money that counts I keep in a pair of rolled socks near the bottom of the one bag I carry. Long ago I had it in mind that if someone went hungry mouse hunting through my bag they wasn’t about to start pulling rolled socks apart to look for the fifty and one hundred dollar bills I have folded and keep inside. Which brings me to another little matter that might strike some folks as a little peculiar, but then being peculiar ain’t nothing special I’ve discovered. You spend even one week in the slammer and you come to understand everyone is peculiar, lots of them playing loony tunes in their heads all day long nothing better to do. Anyways, sometime in the past when I found myself doing a little moving about I got into this habit to marking the big bills I was carrying for emergencies with an ink triangle on the back side, the kind of thing no one might give any thought to if they got to thinking what is mine is theirs and why not.
So I’m fixing to leave and going through my things like I’m accustomed to doing and putting on some clean socks after taking a shower and I had a mind to check my reserve bills. I knew right off something was funny cause I was missing two fifties of the four I knew I had and there also was two of the hundreds of the seven I had that weren’t there. Well, it didn’t take me but about a couple of minutes to put two and two to make four and know that Bud had been up to no good, helping himself to more than I gave him with the generosity I have. Maybe he figured cause I’m a little smaller and a lot older that he could just do this kind of shit on me and I wouldn’t figure till too late that he’d taken what didn’t belong to him.
I got all ready to leave and put my bag against the door on the floor and took out a dippy novel I’d been reading and thought about what I was going have to do when Bud woke to the world and I said a few words about something of mine doing a mysterious disappearing act. I didn’t know peanuts about this big farm kid from Kansas and I didn’t much care but that didn’t mean he was going to fleece me on a hay ride of whatever way he might put it. I hadn’t told him that I was an ex con and jumped parole and was officially on the run and in no hurry to get back in the slammer, and I suppose maybe it wouldn’t have mattered much if I had. Who can know what a Kansas farm boy who maybe turned the wrong corner and fled home had on his mind? Truth is I didn’t much give a shit about any of this one way or the other in the end. It was now all about me getting my money back I figured he had to have. Maybe he was going to get smart real fast and cough it up when I put it to him. Maybe he was going be not so smart and have to deal with the issue on my terms. He might think this is going to be on his terms but this can be what happens when you don’t understand what marches in Kansas don’t mean it’s going to march in Florida and the Everglades near where I once lived.
I got all ready in case things didn’t go right, learning long time ago to be ready when it don’t go as you planned. In the shitty little can there was a broken towel holder that was sort of like a metal bar and I broke it off the wall figuring it might come in handy if Bud didn’t get smart and tried something funny.
When he wakes up and shakes his head a bit and looks over at me sitting on the floor blocking the door he don’t say much, nothing at all come to think of it. He goes into the shitty old can with too low a ceiling and no toilet seat and then after a while he’s out and all dressed and mutters something about going on his own now. He’s leaving, he says. No problem I say to him, I’m thinking the same thing. Then I said maybe we ought to look across the street for some breakfast food and talk about a few important things before we go our different ways.
Nothing to talk about, he says. I’m going.
Sit down, I say. We got something important to talk about.
Seems I’m missing some money. Know what I mean?
Don’t know what you mean, he says shaking his head and not looking too innocent to my eyes. Your business is your business, he also says and doesn’t shake his head this time.
Okay, look Bud, I have to say. I’m going to ask you a small favour you going to want to do for me.
What’s that? he says, and I can see he’s getting a little nervous. I don’t know if he saw the long rusty towel bar from the bathroom I’ve got my hand on. Could be he did, don’t know and now it don’t matter and never will.
I says, I’m going to ask you nice and polite to return my money that you got a little light fingered about, know what I mean?
I don’t know what you’re talking about, he says trying to be real innocent but not doing a very job to an ex-con eye.
I now tell him, Pretty soon I’m not going to be asking you polite like, know what I mean?
He grabs his bag and stands and I get a good grip on the bathroom towel bar, and my back crawls up the door as I get on my haunches. I’m going and fuck you, he says.
Okay if you like it that way, I say to him.
He comes toward me and I inch up more on the door and say, Bud, you being real stupid. Now back the fuck up or you ain’t going to be looking too pretty cause I’m going to have you going down a road you don’t want to go down. You understand?
The dumb fuck lets go of his bag and I see a hand turn into a fighting knot and he moves a couple of steps closer and before he can get his mind rearranged for what I got in mind, I smash him a good one on one of his knees. He drops hard like a rock from the sky and he yells and comes out with some nasty fucking words and is now on the floor not far away holding his knee. He’s got this mean fucking look on his pretty young face and spits coming out his mouth and I’m guessing he’s trying to decide what to do and all.
I sort of sit back down on my bag and think maybe Bud can see where this is going because I’ve got the iron stick and I’m the only way out of this little four dollar shit hole that sparrows would never sing about I know that. There’s maybe a pretty long silence and he’s still thinking, and I say, Bud, you down to about your last chance to get out of here in one piece. All you got to do is be smart and put those fifties and hundreds on the corner of that bed and then let me know you going to get the fuck out of here quiet like, no more shit, understand?
He didn’t understand, just like my nice old lady never understood and never got all my important messages and just like the old lady of the old fuck with not many teeth didn’t understand the right things either. That’s how it is with people all the time. You try to tell them in good understand ding words and they somehow don’t hear you. They don’t think of consequences, they sure don’t.
I only saw it at the last minute or half a minute but I saw it. While I was waiting for him to get smart he was inching one of his big hands to one side of his bag where he had a knife I had asked him about on the bus trip and if he thought it was a good idea having it there so obvious for everyone to see. I concluded he didn’t understand what I was trying to tell him, that Lao was Lao but Lao too could get unfriendly if you were showing things like this knife he had all visible there. He had his own ideas, maybe Kansas farm boy ideas you call them, I don’t know.
He got hold of it all right, and he made his move, and he might’ve thought I was just another old fuck couldn’t move faster than a worm in winter. He didn’t know I was the working out all the time type in the slammer. He didn’t know I’m like every man only has so much patience and then that word just isn’t about.
I don’t need to say too much more. He missed with his good one shot, not by a whole lot but he missed and then that was close to the end of the story for Bud. I knew what to do with the rusty towel rod and you can’t be much wrong with a couple of good head shots. That’s all it took and then Bud found himself on a quick walk down Exit Road. That’s what they call the end of the road in the slammer.
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