Tumult at the Coney Island. The regulars in the past week have missed no opportunity to regale Ret concerning Glasseye's erratic behavior, and are silent now only in the wake of a new incident. Ret has already been in and out twice tonight and they expect him to return--this time designs are to calm him down.
The information was stood in solemnity; Glasseye had beaten his (and Ret's) grandmother, and some money was missing. The eighty-year-old widow's arm was broken at the shoulder.
Ret's anger, though predictable, was a never observed phenomenon until now. Each visit he stood breathless, asking if anyone had seen his cousin, then disappeared on a bicycle no one had ever seen him with before.
Activity at the Coney Island is increased otherwise also. Vito, Paletello's son-in-law, stands in high profile tonight. Jeans and western boots and belt buckle, with thick country-cut black hair--no one would take him for a second-generation Italian-American, but rather a rural boy grown from the gumbo earth itself. He purports to work for a grain-selling concern in one of the delta parishes, commuting each day while Sophia, Paletello's daughter, remains at home in the city.
Numerous friends of Vito mill about in like attire, pronouncing his name to rhyme with "skeeter," unsure what precisely there is to do besides eat a hot dog. Those here have largely never visited the Coney Isle, returning the regulars' sullen glances with like sentiments. Word is, a country cousin of one of the printroomers is to arrive any moment with interesting cargo to display.
Fairly hopping with customers, Paletello has pressed Annie--who was only passing through--into service. Mac is less than usually jovial with her, an unnoticed fact as he consorts with Martin over recent developments in the friction between State Police and the local sheriff's department. The police radio is attended by Veeter, the agent of planning for this gathering, glancing significantly each time there's a location on a patrol car.
Paletello, aside from gratitude for the business, looks irritated by the air of things. Traffic on DeSiard even seems substantial. There's a run on Budweiser longnecks. Something approximating a din escapes through the perpetually open front door.
"Hellbuds," Martin says sotto voce to Mac, "all of them." Mac: a puzzled look. "You know--the standard greeting whenever two of them meet up; "Well hell, bud!" Guffaws from Mac. True; this is what they do.
The promised emissary finally arrives with leaky muffler and a crowd forms upon the sidewalk. The cousin, a young hellbud from a rural central parish, eyes each participant closely, including Martin and Mac, as though for signs of plainclothes disguise. Then, hatching the trunk of a sixties-era Toronado, he holds forth on the various types of weapons he carries.
The hardware lies loose within the trunk, no cartons, no boxes. Hopefully uninitialized. His spiel lasts a good ten minutes without interruptions. More than just a sales convention, the affair is a tacit announcement of an organization in the chalk hills for which the AR 15s and assorted supplements are bound. The hellbud, in an obligatory drawl, disperses details of the necessary drop-in parts which convert the AR 15 to an automatic weapon, as well as reciting inflammatory (but carefully non-racial, in deference to Paletello's occasional clientele) implications about the Federal Government. He receives questions from those with interest on both fronts, and soon Martin drops out, followed by Mac.
They resume occupancy of their original stools and stand fresh cups from Paletello. "They're getting out of Oklahoma and Arkansas because of the heat," Martin explains to Mac.
"It's hotter there than here? This is like, further south. And the humidity," Mac says.
Martin's look is patient. He describes with authority but labored interest the white paramilitary Christian groups obtaining land in the less than populated hills to establish a domain of Aryans awaiting the ultimate destruction of all other groups. No governing authorities are recognized and casualties often occur in surprise confrontations.
Cooper arrives late, interjecting loud comments on the sidewalk. "Hey, Coop! Coop!" Mac is beside himself waving, always fascinated by unexpected encounters. Cooper glances at Mac, grimaces, then turns back to the spiel.
Boom-boom, boom-SHSHHHHHHHHHHHH. The gathering tenses; the trunk lid lower is lowered. A low-rider is coming down DeSiard toward them. A Monte Carlo? All participants edge a little closer, more erect. Taking forever, the Eldorado with wide whitewalls slides by, the dark faces within barely discernable. "Hell," is the shared sentiment. "They're scoping us." "Just let 'em get a whiff of what's in the trunk." "Shit. Ain't a Eldorado front-wheel drive?" "Hell."
Martin, thinking out loud to Mac, fathoms hell-buddhism as a discipline. "Is Cooper one?" "Cooper is the very definition of one," Martin says. Mac finds that hilarious. When the clamor dies down a little Mac turns his cup in the saucer, a repeated, annoying behavior.
"Hey, uh, Martin."
"This might, uh sound a little, I don't know, weird or something."
"Shoot. Cough it up." "Do you know, anybody who sells that dope?"
"I guess so. I mean, it's not what you might think. I don't want any, or anything."
Martin waits a polite time, seeming to give the ludicrosity some weight. "I thought beer and Annie were the extent of your vices." Mac appears embarrassed but presses until Martin names a prospect; "I don't know, either really, first hand I mean. But kind of. Donovan 8. You know him, don't you? Supposed to be a student at the college. Hangs at Habeeb's. Constantly with that weenie, Lance. Always talking about the movies he's going to make."
Mac is surprised. "He's that guy that's Ricky's friend? Ricky plays the guitar?" Mac feels mildly as if there has been a conspiracy to keep him from knowing this, an old recurrent sensation. Outside the hellbud-slash-weapons-barker closes the trunk.
The Toronado's engine has a surprisingly deep, sickish sound. The following disperses, late for duties at the newspaper plant and elsewhere. Veeter strolls around the premises like he has a stake in the business. The Coney Island is nearly vacant again. Annie hollers for Paletello. "Hey! Pay me! I got to go."
"Got that line down, dontcha."
"Very funny, Pally-tallywhacker."
He opens the register, selects an amount, hands it over. Annie slides a hand over Mac's chin as she leaves, smirking, but not without humor. Mac goes red and tells Martin quickly "I saw Kelly talking to some guy." Martin dumps his cigarette butt into an almost empty coffee cup. "Where?"
"Out in that parking lot in front of the Holiday Inn. Louisville."
"How'd she look? Intense? Flirty? Was she being held up?"
"Naw!" Mac grins. "She was just asking this guy stuff."
"Oh. An interview."
"Yeah. The camera was on, like it was going to be on TV."
"Probably a visiting speaker on crime the mayor's asked to come in, give a pep talk to the Chamber of Commerce. She's trying to get something going about the murder rate."
"Well? You trying to tell me anything about my sister Mac?"
"Huh? Oh, no. Just I saw her, that's all. Just telling you. Honest." Martin begins to speak, stops. A total lack of irony: that's Mac.
They resume their earlier discussion about the territory dispute between authorities about a new dead body found near Swartz School road. "That's out the city for sure," Mac says. Martin's bottom lip pushes in and out, and he stares at the rim of his coffee cup as if it were about to mutate into something else. "Well, which is it."
"The man who elects to kill. Who concedes to take the existence of another, whose life he had no part in creating. Does he believe there is a world after death?"
"Hmm." Mac in cogitation, unintentionally comic.
"Is he sending the victim to another place for better or worse? Or is the crime simply a supreme punishment, total extinction in the black, silent grave. The ultimate deprivation. Stealing life? Well?"
Mac smiles, managing a meager shrug. Martin on a tear again. Outside, someone lingers at the corner of the building; they pause to watch. The figure moves away. Not the expected, not Ret.
Martin whispers, for emphasis: "Or is it something else altogether? It's possible we make all this into something else entirely from what it really is. We search, probe; pray for our own destiny among all of it. But is the truth of the killer less than that? Less than zero? Could it be that none of this ever even crosses his mind? That there is simply nothing behind it. No reason." Sips the coffee. "Like a bumper sticker: Death happens."
They look up; the figure's back. Jimmy Lee, with his torn nostril, rattles the door frame entering. Nodding slightly, they become quiet and pursue the train of conversation no further. Jimmy Lee walks past to occupy a back stool, his usual.