Chapter I

Deposition, Rodney L. Deuce, made of his own free will, this 10th day of July, 1980.

Look, I know people are dead, you don't have to remind me. More maybe than you know. That woman, what did you say her name was? Anyway, I never heard the name. I just knew her by her looks, is all, if she is the one they found up in the valley. I never had anything to do with her, and if Mr. Quick was here, he could tell you.

As for that rancher out in the Badlands, nobody got killed in that. Besides, it wasn't my idea, and the only thing I did there was to drive the getaway vehicle, the way you call it. And that was just to save my hide.

The fact of it was, none of it was my idea. The mistake I made was only going along with it, because I couldn't see another way. But I tell you one thing, it wasn't all bad. There were times when it was nothing but pleasure, even on the res, at Deadwood, up in the Hills, down at Golden West. We got around all right. And it wasn't all murder and mayhem, like the newspaper says.

Maybe the easiest thing is just to tell you how it started. You know how it ended. I wish to God it hadn't ended like it did, but nothing can be done about that. It was in the cards, as old Mr. Quick would say. I heard him say that many times.

I want to make clear this is not a confession. The lawyer made that plain. She says I have done nothing that I have to be put in jail for. But now you want me to tell it start to finish. Just bear in mind I don't have to give this to you. And anybody that had anything to hide wouldn't give you anything at all. So that alone ought to count for something.

If I hadn't been late that day in March, I might not've got to know the old guy like I did and maybe nothing would've happened. The night before I was out with my friends Harold Joli and Lymon Twobows, and we had a sip or two to drink. Lymon doesn't like to drink all that much, really, so mostly it was Harold and Me. Lymon is Lakota. I've know him since I was a kid in grade school. We always got along pretty good, and we worked together, but he always drew the line at drinking with me. At first I thought, well, he is Indian and he's afraid of getting like those you always hear about . But he told me once he doesn't drink mostly because he doesn't want people to see him and get to thinking that he is an Indian and so he's a drunk. I didn't get it at the time, but I think I see now what he meant. It's a matter of pride, as far as I can see. He is what he is, and he can't do a thing about that, but what other people think he is, that he can do something about. Myself, I guess I never had the spine for that kind of thinking. When you are a poor bastard like me, I guess you just go along being what you are and let the people point and say, "Look at that poor bastard."

The funny thing is, I never even knew I was poor or a bastard until I was almost out of high school. My mother always managed to keep me fed, and she told me my father was a soldier and that he died in Viet Nam. She went by his last name of Deuce and that was the name that was on my birth certificate and later on my Social Security card. But I finally got out of her that they hadn't been legally married and that as a matter of fact he wasn't even dead, but had run off with another woman when I was five. He was a soldier, though, so that much was true. He'd been stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base.

About the only thing I remember about him is him pushing me up in a tire swing. He pushed me higher and higher, until I almost got scared. I was thinking I would go flying off into the sky. It's funny what you remember and what you don't.

When you're a kid, I guess you don't think rich or poor, and only realize it when you think back later on and see how your mother had to scrape and how you had to mow lawns and have paper routes and bag groceries and everything else, just to get a little spending money. And then you get out of high school, and just about everybody else is talking about going to this college or that university, and you just don't have the money for it. And you see that you have been poor all the time and didn't know it. And you have been a bastard all your life and didn't know that either. And your almost best friend, who you used to play cowboys and Indians with in the trailer park where you lived, really is an Indian.

So there I was in Rapid City, at the Hillview Home for the Elderly, rolling old farts in wheelchairs around and emptying bedpans and stuff. Not to mention taking all kinds of crap from Ef-ef-Freddy Fitz. But it's a job anyway. It was hard enough to get, so I'm not going to badmouth it too much. In fact, it was Lymon who put in a good word and got me hired there. But when I woke up that morning after going out drinking and looked at the clock and it was already eight-thirty and I was already an hour late, I thought I was in big trouble. I felt sick. So I thought about it and I made up my mind that I was sick. How else do you know you're sick? So I called in sick.

The supervisor, Miss Frank, she's a tough old girl."Rodney," she said, "get your butt over here."

"I'm sick," I told her again. And I coughed a little on the phone just to show how sick I was.

"Don't pull that stuff with me," she said. "Where are you calling from?"

"The booth on the corner by Domino's." It was the closest phone to where I lived, in this kind of rooming house. Lymon and Harold lived there too.

"If you were really sick, you would not be able to get to the phone," Miss Frank said.

I hadn't thought of that before, so I coughed again.

"Cut out that phony cough," she said.

"I'm late already," I said.

"Just get over here," she said. "They're getting out of hand here. Everyone is going crazy. We need help."

"I'll be right over." To tell the truth, I didn't feel sick any more.

When I got to the home, there was a pretty big uproar going on. Nurses were running up and down the hall. Ef-ef-Freddy was wrestling a guy down the corridor in an arm lock, but he couldn't help stopping to take a pot-shot at me. He hauled up and rattled off something like, "I s-s-see you g-g-got here at l-l-long l-last." Too bad for Ef-ef-Freddy that the old guy he had hold of took advantage of the long pause caused by the delivery of the snappy line to break loose and take off in a kind of limping run, like a chimpanzee. Ef-ef-Freddy threw me one of his Terrible Stares before jogging off to collar the old joker again. A Terrible Stare is what Freddy makes do for a nasty remark, because even "up yours" can turn into a long conversation where he is concerned. What this particular Terrible Stare meant is that he blamed me for letting the old guy get away and that he would get on my case good when he got the time. Somebody forgot to tell Ef-ef-Freddy that people who stutter are supposed to be shy and retiring and sensitive and not bullies. Maybe he just didn't watch enough television.

The residents, which is what they call the old farts who live there, were mostly standing or sitting in wheelchairs in the doorways to their rooms looking dumb with their mouths open or giggling or even clapping like they were at a show and getting a big kick out of what was going on. They sure knew more about it than I did.

I grabbed a nurse running by who turned out to be none other than Miss Goody Twoboobs herself, Karen Stephenson. To tell the truth, I'd been wanting to grab her for a long time. It was plain to see she did not believe in harnessing her team, even under that stiff white uniform. And when I saw who it was I had my arms around, I forgot why I stopped her. It was childish, I realize now. I guess I've been through some changes in the last few months. But back then the female body tended to turn me into a complete idiot. I was just standing there with her bustling around trying to get loose, and get to looking at her, I suppose, with some kind of silly-ass grin on my face such as I tended to get at such time, and I couldn't think of a thing to say.

"Damn it, Rod," she said, "let me go. All hell's breaking loose in the recreation room."

And it came back to me what I stopped her to ask about. "What's going on?"

"A fight," she said. "A free-for-all. It started over checkers or something. And pretty soon everybody was in there swinging." She pushed away from me. "We're trying to get everybody calmed down," she said, and she started off again. The team was pretty good, I was thinking, but the wagon is a bitch. That's the way I thought at the time.

"Rodney," somebody said behind me. It was Miss Frank. I turned around. She is a little bit of a lady but tough and sharp as a splinter of flint. "It's about time you showed up," she said. "We need you down on the south wing."

"But I'm on north," I said.

"We've got Lymon on north. And he's got his hands full. So get down to south, room 107." She talks real fast, Miss Frank. She's got this real gray hair on her that's cut real short and a skinny body and a face all grooved with grin and squint lines, and this funny knuckle of a nose. But she hired me for this job, and you always knew where you stood with her.

So I went down on south which was not familiar to me. And when I got close to 107, I heard a great commotion in there, something smashing down on the floor and a string of language which I'd never heard before in real life, it was so raw. So I slowed down and kind of peeked around the door into the room and that was my first sight of Mr. Quick.

He was an old fart, but not so old as some of the others, as near as I could see. He had a full head of hair, for one thing, with still some dark in it, and he had some fullness in his face yet, not so bony and sunk in like others. But he had a short body on him and a stomach sticking out over his belt that looked like maybe was at one time cinched up a whole lot tighter.

There are some individuals you can see right away how they could've looked when they were younger. I was willing to bet that he'd been a scrappy character that could take care of himself pretty good. And he was right then not doing too bad in that respect. He was standing beside the bed and had got the bed tray between himself and the nurse who was standing there holding a hypo needle pointed up to the ceiling like a gun that she was afraid might go off. The nurse was none other than hers truly Karen Stephenson. She had her back to the door, but I had not long before given that particular view some study.

"Mr. Quick," Karen Stephenson said, "this will make you feel a whole lot better."

"Shit it will," said the old fart. And he pushed the tray cart toward her with both hands, the way a person would jab a stick toward the face of a dog that is growling at them.

Nurse Stephenson backed up a step. I slipped in behind her and moved over to the side where she could see me. The old fart, he saw me too, of course, and edged around behind the cart to show me he could just as well shove the tray at me.

"Reinforcements," he said. "It's Wild Bill and the McCanles gang all over again."

"You'll have to hold him for me." Karen Stephenson was talking to me in the kind of voice a person uses to talk about a baby they think can't understand them.

But of course the old fart could understand. "Let him try it," he said, "and I'll take his head off for him."

I started to edge around the side of the room to get some space between Nurse Stephenson and me so that he would have to divide his attention between us.

"Get the wagons in a circle," the old fart yelled, and turned the cart around until he was behind it and between the window and the bed.

Under my feet I felt the crackle of a glass or something that had broken. Nurse Stephenson saw what I was trying to do, and she started moving to the other side of the room, still holding the hypo up like a six-shooter with the safety off.

"You can't give me medication against my will," the old fart said, and for the first time I saw something in those steel-blue eyes besides orneriness. What I saw was strange, kind of a sadness, but deeper than that. I have seen that look in the eyes of other gentlemen in the home, like they are going to yell or cry or something. It is my personal opinion that it is the way individuals get to looking when they see that they have not got charge of the situation any more like they used to.

"Give us your permission,then," Karen Stephenson said. "It will only take a second and you'll feel a lot better afterwards."

"I feel fine now," he said. "Stick it in your own ass, if it feels so good."

I was kind of embarrassed to hear the old fart talking to Nurse Stephenson in that fashion, so I said, "That's no way to talk to a lady."

And the old gentleman, he looked at me kind of surprised to hear me speak and said, "I know that line. You stole that line from the Duke. Which one was it? Stagecoach? Rio Bravo?"

"It's my own line," I said. I was trying not to look at Nurse Stephenson, who was coming up behind him now on the other side of the bed.

"It's not either your line," he said. "It's John Wayne's. I can hear him saying it plain as anything. Dammit, I can't think which picture. True Grit don't sound right either. I've seen so many of them I can't keep them straight any more." He started to shake his head, then he saw Karen Stephenson diving for him across the bed with that hypo aimed for his rear end. He shoved the tray at me and jumped out from behind it and headed for the door between us. I caught the corner of the tray under my ribs, but I managed to push it away and sidestep over to get ahold of him. To be truthful, what I got ahold of was a handful of his shirttail. But it jerked him around and kind of got him off balance.

"No holds barred," he yelled. "Fight like a man." And he spun and put up his fists like a prize fighter on television. He got into a kind of crouch and held his fists up to his face and his elbows down. It was a good imitation.

"If you want my opinion," I said, "you're putting up an awful big fuss over a little hypo shot." I didn't want to hit the old fart.

"Screw your opinion," he said, and he kicked me in the shin.

I've often thought that a person can be thinking something and something will happen that makes them do the exact opposite of what they were thinking. And that is what that kick did for me. I was thinking it was such a shame to punch an old gentleman like that, and then he kicked me and I just kind of reached over and swatted him on the jaw with my fist where I saw him drop his guard. And he went down like a tree cut down, if you've ever seen that, a little shiver first and then swaying so slow you can't hardly see at first, and then just picking up weight in the falling until it seems like it will just drive right into the ground.

I was afraid I had killed the old fart. I bent over and rolled him over to see if he was hurt bad, but he pulled his eyeballs back from somewhere up in his head, rolling them in my directions but with a far-off look to them so I didn't think he really saw me, and he said, "Shit," kind of weak. I was glad to see that he wasn't dead, anyway.

I got him under the arms and got him over to the bed and kind of draped him over the side and got his pants down. Surprise, he had on some of them old fashioned long underpants. I had to unbutton the flap and drop it before Karen Stephenson could get the needle in his behind. Then I buttoned him up and pulled up his pants and laid him out in the bed. All the time he was kind of moaning and talking weak, all kinds of raw words, starting with the ones everyone knows and going on to some he must've made up. But he was pretty tame outside of his language.

If you have ever hit someone in the jaw, you know that it can hurt as bad as anything. I was of the opinion that my hand was busted from where I hit the old fart, and after I got him taken care of, I started rubbing my knuckles and looking at them and I saw that I had actually banged them up pretty good.

Karen Stephenson saw that I was looking at my hand and she took it and looked at it herself. I suppose she couldn't help it, being a nurse. "It's not bad," she said. "I don't think you broke it."

While she was looking at my hand, I was naturally looking at her. All the diving across the bed and wrestling the old fart and everything had got her kind of mussed up. Her cute little cap had come off and her hair was spilling down over one eye. And I think she had popped at least two buttons on her uniform, and her team looked like they were going to bust out of the barn. She looked up and saw me looking at her and all the concern seemed to run right out of her.

Who can understand a woman, I sometimes had to wonder. A person would think that where she saw a person looking at her with the kind of admiration I was feeling that she would at least take it as a compliment the way it was intended and give that person at least a smile of thanks. But that person would not know hers truly Karen Stephenson.

She was just looking at me in the coldest kind of way, and she let my hand drop and said, "I've got to get back to the station. You'd better stay here a while to see he doesn't do any more damage before the hypo takes hold. And clean up some of this mess."

And she looked around and saw the glass broke over on the side of the room and went to pick it up. She bent over and put a great strain on the seams of that uniform, which had already seen a great deal of wear and tear. And it kind of rode up behind on her and presented a very scenic overlook all the way from the Badlands to the Black Hills almost. It was a special effort for me not to reach out and grab something like I did with the old guy--only not just a shirttail--so taken up with such things as I was then. She paid no more attention to me than a fly on the wall, but went about picking up the glass and the little pieces very careful and then went on out of the room with me looking after her.

It is hard to say what goes through a person's mind when such a thing as that happens. According to my way of thinking, it is not far away from the feeling a person gets when he is watching somebody do something like play basketball, where a person kind of leans and rolls with the motion that the other individual is making so that just by looking a person can kind of feel the motion themselves. Is this maybe what a person means to say when they say they are moved? Anyway, in the state of mind I was in then, I was sure moved watching the motion of Karen Stephenson receding out of the room.

"I would give a quarter for one of those," I heard the old gentleman say. I looked and saw him eyeing my crotch. "You ought to pull her into a closet and take some of the starch out of her spine."

"I'm not much of a one for pulling women into closets," I said. "That could get me fired, not to mention twenty years in the pen in Sioux Falls."

"Then you better brace for a long, lonely life. Because they ain't gonna be too much attracted to a skinny, ugly bastard like you." He started rubbing his jaw. "You got a great right cross though. If you ever want to go into the fight game, I'll manage you."

"I'm sorry I give you such a hit," I said. "It was a reflex."

"Well, you got damn good reflexes, then."

"How's your jaw?"

"Not that bad. I've taken worse punches. But it shook me up some. How is your hand?"

"I believe it is almost broken."

"Good," he said. "I'm glad to see I did some damage to you anyway."

"You skinned up my leg too, with your boot," I said. "And my stomach is feeling none too good where you caught it with the tray."

He laughed at that, a flat, mean laugh. I could see I was wasting my time if I expected any sympathy from the old fart. I made up my mind to change the subject. "What happened in the rec room? The nurse said there was some kind of ruckus."

And he laughed again, even meaner than before. "Teach them to cheat," he said.

"Teach who to cheat?"

"The bastards who do all the cheating. The senile sons-of-bitches must think I'm blind, moving pieces with their elbows, nudging my color right off the board. That's the only way they could beat me though. I was checker champ of West River before I was seventeen."

"Checkers?" I hadn't believed the nurse before when she mentioned it. "You started a ruckus over checkers?"

"It's not the money that was laid--"

"You were playing for money?" The old fart was full of surprises.

"Five dollars, two games out of three. But it wasn't the money, much as I could use it. It was principle, pure and simple." He was lying there knocked out and weak on the bed, but he got a stubborn look, holding his chin up so you can see he meant business.

"What's your name, kid?"

"Rodney Deuce."

He put out his hand to shake. "Daniel O. Quick," he said. "I don't think I've seen you around here before."

"I'm usually up on north," I said, and grabbed his hand. "What does the O stand for, Mr. Quick?"

"Ought," he said. "Zero. Nothing. I gave it to myself when I saw my mother forgot to give me a middle initial and everybody else had one. If anyone complains, I am prepared to show I have added nothing to the name I was born with." He yawned. I figured the hypo was starting to work on him. "How old do you think I am, Rodney Deuce?"

"Old enough to be in here, I guess."

"Eighty," he said. "Just as old as this century. And that's not the reason I'm in here either. I got the body and the brains of a fifty-year-old. I'm here because I tried to lay the Meals-On-Wheels lady." He yawned again, and laughed at the same time, that evil cackle. "Meals-On-Wheels," he said, laughing. His steel-blue eyes were looking pretty sleepy.

"That sounds like quite a story," I said, meaning that it sounded like an out-and-out lie.

"I'll tell you all about it sometime," he said. And he closed his eyes.

I started to pick up the room and straighten it up. It was a packrat's nest, like a lot of these old farts' rooms, but it did have some interesting things. Like the window sill was loaded with books all the same colors, but different names on them, and all written by the same individual, one Zane Grey. I had heard of this writer before, and I picked up one of the books and looked at the first few pages and it looked not too bad. This individual who had a bone to pick with someone was setting off down a river, is the way I remember it. I was thinking that I might like to borrow it and read it all the way through sometime.

And another thing was that his desk, which every room in the Hillview Home for the Elderly has got, was loaded down in this particular case with the strangest bunch of stuff I'd ever seen in real life. There were plastic bags of feathers of every size and description and furs and hair and string of all colors and thread and silver tools that had jobs I would hate to guess at. I was beginning to think that he was some kind of medicine man of the kind Lymon talks about having on the reservation. And I was beginning to conclude that he was about the most peculiar old fart I had ever laid my eyes on and that I would like to find out what all that stuff is for and what he sees in all those books, not to mention the rest of the Meals-On-Wheels story in the first place.

If I'd known what a bunch of trouble this gentleman would get me into, I would've backed out of that room right then and not put a foot in it again ever. But live and learn.

I looked over to where Daniel O-for-nothing Quick was snoring like a chainsaw cutting through hardwood, mouth open, and I saw that I was going to have to wait a while for any explanation of the feathers or the books or the Meals-On-Wheels. In plain fact, I might have to wait forever if Ef-ef-Freddy came down too hard on me.

Copyright © 1996 by Ron Robinson. All rights reserved.
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