Cooper navigated residential streets until he hit the main artery and headed 165 South. He went by all the new restaurants and the fringes of the college--sporting clothes stores and bars constructed with such aged-looking materials to suggest they had cradled generations of suds sippers. Cooper was jealous of the large screen TVs he knew to be within.
The Bomb shuddered across the new overpass, and he muttered "Jungle-land," mainly to hear the sardonic tone of his voice, to try it out. Past Martin Luther King Drive. "Where the jungle-bunnies jump," he would have said to Mac if he were along. "Moon-crickets. Welfare sucks." But it was better not to have him along on this episode. He talked too damn much.
Mac was funny as hell about going out of the city limits, anyway. Cooper never saw anything like it.
Still Cooper wished Mac was there. To have someone see him, what he was doing. Sylvia didn't give a shit anymore. And he didn't give a shit that she didn't. The times before they were married he'd drive her out to the dirt roads of the southwest part of the parish and show her where he and some buds had run down moon-crickets out walking the damn road. Her face watching his, in awe. Made them both horny as hell.
That was then.
The Bomb rolled past the last ratty convenience stores and laundrymats and boarded-up supermarkets into the desertlike flatness of the countryside to the south of the city. Where you could smell the land wanting to grow things. Cooper flicked the switch and rolled all the windows down and sucked it in: the delta.
Wide and flat, it expanded forever. If you could get low enough no one would ever find you out here. He drove on, watching the headlights approach and taillights fade for what seemed an hour.
It felt whiter and whiter to him the deeper he went.
There was a town down here where a former governor of the state lived and the longtime rumor and fact both was you never saw a spook inside the city limits.
But he turned off before that, looking forward and backward to see if anyone saw. It was a gravel road, straight as an arrow, running through sheared fields that grew cotton. After several miles of uneventfulness ithe gravel played out into dirt. The Bomb rocked from side to side, like a speedboat on unruly waves. Coop knew he was going too fast, but hell, it was fun. Besides, it was Mac's car.
For some time he saw a dark horizon approaching. Hazy, vague, slowly growing. This, even at night. Then he was slowing down for a wide line of black trees. The bumpy tractor-path he was on came to an anomalous high-tech concrete bridge over a low bayou to another dirt road on the other side. Here the delta turned into black forest, shaped by waterways and cypresses. Where it was night even in daylight. Paths led confusingly in several directions, and though Cooper had been here before, he was aware that each turn might actually be wrong.
Finally he saw the ancient Sinclair Oil sign with the green dinosaur, tall, encased in vinery. He pulled into a small cavity in the jungle there and parked the Bomb. Outside, he was wary of snakes. He pictured them being the size of firehoses here.
He stepped forward; the ground was mushy--river bottom and soggy leaves. Tree limbs hung low, like no one had ever walked through here in history. He came to a broad plain of water that nevertheless moved slowly beneath its sky-mirroring surface. There was the canoe, turned upside down --what cajuns would call a bateau.
Cooper found himself paddling, hugging the right bank, avoiding the thick brush where the snakes would just drop unto the damn boat.
The sound of the paddle cutting water. And frogs as big as houses. The drum of his heart inside his ears.
He saw a light--two or three of them, changing as he moved around the bends of the waterway. At first they seemed near, but as he followed the crazy curves they separated out into two or three places. Then, to his relief, there was the trailer--the one he'd been to before, with a bud of his. Right there on the edge of the water, about to fall in. With the damn snakes all around. It made Coop shiver.
But hell, you had to hide on the edge of nowhere, in this kind of business. You couldn't count on the government to be on your side. Hell you had to watch out they weren't specifically against you cause of your skin color.
Coop guided the bateau into the bank beside the trailer, hearing a muffled stereo inside turned up loud. He got out, automatically looking around for vehicles. But of course there weren't any on a damn island, except for skiffs and John boats.
He couldn't hear himself walking, beause of the squishy ground and the stereo. Up the steps, knock on the door. Knock again, louder. His heart jumped when the stereo shut off.
After a very distinct space of time the door opened.
Hey It's me.
Who do you think I am.
Cooper swallowed. It's Billy. Aint it.
Hell yeah it is. Come on in.
He stepped into the trailer. It was jammed full of items. House stuff, but lots of stuff like radios and loudspeakers and amplifiers.
It was a veritable musuem of confederate flags as well.
Uh, I think you been told what I come for.
Yep, I have, I believe. Billy was a guy a lot like Cooper himself was--ball cap, bushy mustache and chin stubble.
What was that shit I heard?
What, that music? That's music, is what it was. Nice thing about being all the way out here. Play it as loud as you want to.
A woman's voice, off somewhere. Babe?
Cooper's ears alerted.
'Sall right Babe. Just a friend. It aint no trouble. You just stay on back there, OK babe? He faced Cooper: She aint dressed right for company, if you know what I mean. Wouldnt want to stir nothin' up.
Sniggers between them. Come on back this a way. Cooper followed through the kitchen past the remnants of days-back homemade chili pie to a narrow hall and sharply to the right to a very small room.
Which was filled with books and posters and pamphlets and stacks of loose paper, most of which had prices affixed. There was a postage meter and scales and a rough-handed sign on the wall with a PO Box number.
True Facts About Public Assistance Programs. Genome Characteristics of the Non-Caucasoid Races. Aryan Army Corps.
Damn. Veeter told true about how much shit ya got.
Veeter's all right.
Even a copy machine. Damn. Where all do you hear from, wantin to buy this shit?
Bud, let me tell you. All over the damn world. Places you wouldn't believe. Places you aint never heard of.
Cooper saw what he thought was a TV in the corner only it had a row of flashing red lights across the bottom.
It's a computer, bud. With that thing we can communicate with anybody in the world that's got one and not spend a dime in postage. Spread the message, and for free.
Cooper was a little in the dark about how that worked, but felt faith that it did. "Well, hell, bud. Aint that somethin."
He gazed around, taking it all in, but something kept buzzing at him and soon he was thinking about the voice of the hidden woman. It stuck with him, sexy, but kind of thick too.
Hey, what the hell's that?
That picture there. Coop pointed to a record album jacket on the floor, propped up against the wall.
I don't see what you're getting at.
That moon-cricket there. Something damn funny about you listening to moon-cricket music.
Oh. That's Marvin Gaye. You, uh, might call that research, Coop. Personally, now listen close to me, it makes me sick to hear it.
You were listening to it when I come up.
No, to be correct, I wasn't. It might have been something similar, but I don't believe I was listening to Marvin Gaye.
What the hell's going on?
Now think about it. Think about the business we're in here. And look at that picture on the wall.
A confederate guy on a horse charging, the flag up behind him and a thousand other guys.
Stonewall Jackson hisself said you got to know the flanking moves, Coop. You got to know what the enemy's doing. And the only way to know that is to put a lid on the vomit reflex and go behind the lines into enemy territory, into the rank smells of their unwashed armpits and pussies. So you could say, what I'm doing when I listen to shit like that, is pretty damn brave. Couldn't you?
Coop thought a minute. Well. I guess that's a way to look at it.
Would you like to have to do it?
Well then. Just consider yourself lucky.
They went back to the kitchen and shared a brew. Still no sign of the woman. Coop lingered, hoping for a glimpse. Billy gave him a little impulse by handing over the heavy paper sack of pamphlets. Now, don't charge anybody for these even though they got that price printed on 'em. A friend with deep pockets has already got it covered. It's only important to get them out, and tell Veeter that. Just get out on the damn street and hand 'em to whoever the hell'll take them.
You got it, bud, Cooper said. Billy walked him to the door and held it open. Take care, man.
Cooper went, kind of slowly, trying for a last glance at the back of the trailer. He thought he could hear a TV on low and the woman laughing softly. Dressed in damn near nothing, probably. He paddled back through the damn snakes and found Mac's Bomb.
It dug at him that he didn't get to know more about the woman. Something funny about it. Her voice. The moon-cricket music.
He bet the bitch was black!
He drove on, disgusted. And, after a while, excited.
And disgusted by his own excitement. Shit. He had to get back to Mac.