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The Gypsy's Address

“No sir! We thought this building was empty. One can’t be too careful in polar bear country,” attempting to explain the Punc’s pistol. “If you like we’ll just use the building yonder.” She and the Punc had noticed a rundown building across a shallow valley while they were walking from their trucks to the ancient shack.

 

“That dump over there ain’t empty and there ain’t no polar bears this high. You can both turn around now, slowly.”

 

“Hick. Since when did you cracker heads move to the Rockies?” thought the Punc upon getting an eyeful of the man only ten feet before him, standing atop a cord of wood. He was holding an old Winchester 30-30 aimed dead-ringer at the Punc’s forehead. The Punc had dealt with every unpleasant variety from mafias to mercenaries, including this sort of yokel, who might not be as dumb as his accent and bumpkin appearance might lead one to think. He stood barefoot, as if snow were beach sand, wearing blue jean suspender overalls like Makin’s tan ones, though much more faded and worn. They’d been sheared off halfway to the knee to make getting dressed easier. The man might have been Tommy Lee Jones with a vague memory of what were a comb, razor and toothbrush.

 

“What’s the name of your pet, here,” the man asked Makin’.

 

“They call him the Punctuator.”

 

“You’re lyin’,” now aiming his Winchester at Makin’s forehead.

 

“Am I? Stand a little higher and look at his Freightliner over there,” nodding her head in its direction.

 

The man carefully stepped up  two logs to look to his left up the hill. “Well, I’ll be a pail of slime if my words don’t rhyme! I wrote a song about the Punc on my banjo! And you, compliment of a girl, are Makin’ Wind. Is it true you lit a cigar in that bill collector’s butt, then leashed her to a lamppost and made her bark like a mutt?”

 

“The day before justice bled life from her strut.”

 

The peakbilly stepped down from his stance above, walked up to Makin’ and offered his hand: “Forgive me, ma’am, if your sensibilities I’ve disturbed. Did a rock stub your toe with that rock I’d be perturbed.”

 

Makin’ blushed at the words of this gentleman who failed not to notice the strength of her grip. He then stepped over to the Punc in bare feet, as nimble and sure-footed as a bighorn sheep:

 

“And you, sir,” the peakbilly addressed, holding out his hand, “it’s such an honor that my head’s a little blurred. I’d thought ever the chance to meet you too absurd.” The Punc tolerated shaking the man’s hand, after which the billy reached into the barrel beside the porch, retrieved the Punctuator’s .45 and handed it to him: “Who don’t know my name, well, their brain cells don’t glow. I’m Hatfield, which this Winchester makes so.”

 

“Yeah, I’ve heard of you,” the Punc replied, unimpressed by any legends but his own.

 

“I’ll be damned!” Hatfield suddenly cursed, noticing logs missing from his cord. Then all three heard a shot ring out from the other side of the narrow valley: “That’s another one! He’s up to somethin’!” Hatfield rushed around to the side of his shack, took position behind a rock just below, then began firing his rifle across the valley.

 

“Stop right there and spread your arms,” Strange and Penny heard, shortly before Makin’ and the Punc had found parking near Hatfield’s shack. It seemed a command to not leave undermanned – they froze in their steps and waited, until a figure emerged from near the snowbound shanty. As he approached, Penny noted his jeans pulled up with suspenders so high that their cuffs exposed his shins above his old boots. Their beltline rose well above the man’s navel. The cold was clearly nothing to him, as he wore but a thin blue work shirt beneath his faded red suspenders. He might have passed for Anthony Hopkins with a debilitating moonshine hangover. No doubt he thought brushing his hair meant standing in a breeze, the same as Hatfield. Razors were likely for Sunday church he hadn’t seen in a while. Toothbrushes were clearly an inconvenience. Yet he stepped up to Penny and Strange as quietly as a lynx, with the same lever-action Winchester as Hatfield’s laxly trained from his torso toward Penny’s abdomen:

 

“What you’ve come for ain’t here.”

 

Penny and Strange remained respectfully quiet. Strange guessed that if this peakbilly played fiddle it was for the rare bird up that high, not square dances where humans would have to be endured. The man meanwhile noted Something’s old cowboy hat, then the longhorn on Penny’s stained baseball cap:

 

“You be flatland rednecks you’ll find me Goddamn mean. The last I walked off that ledge is at the bottom seen,” nodding his head to his right to indicate a rock platform too far off to be seen. Thus, though its drop was sheer, it gave Penny’s eyes no meaning. He took the man for his word, though, guessing landing had been demeaning to that flatlander.

 

“Speak up!” the peakbilly now told Penny. “Whach you doin’ here where you’ve digressed? . . You’ve got to the count of three before I put you to rest . .  One . . . Two . . .”

 

His arms yet in the air, Penny’s tongue fast found thereness: “Well, sir, we were hoping you owned awareness of where we can get something to eat.”

 

“You ain’t one of the world’s brightest splendors to go dining out up here,” snapping his suspenders. “How ‘bout you? You got brains, or like him, brains pretenders?” turning to Strange.

 

“I’ve got only one and my guess is it’s small. Had I two I’d not know which to use at all.”

 

The billy released ever so slight a smile at the corner of his mouth: “What’s your name? This other one here can’t rhyme for fear.”

 

“I’m called Something Strange.”

 

“. . . Well?” the man waiting to hear her name. “What is it?”

 

“What is what?”

 

“You’re name. What are you’re called that’s so strange?”

 

“Something Strange.”

 

“If it’s so strange you dare not say it, then spell it. ‘Less you think by that sniffing I’ll be able to smell it.”

 

“That’s her name, Something Strange,” Penny attempted to explain. The billy slowly turned his head to Penny, less than pleased.

 

“I know that. We’ve been discussing it for an hour or better. Let’s hear you spell it out, letter by letter,” raising his rifle to aim it at Penny’s forehead.

 

“S . . . O . . . M . . . E . . .”

 

The billy suddenly fired, flipping Penny’s ball cap from his head. Then, very cool and calm: ”Her name, fool. Let’s hear something strange.”

 

You could tell by Penny’s blinking that one thought to the next he was linking as fast as he could: “Brass . . . Ass.”

 

Something Strange, her arms yet in the air like Penny’s, gave him a frown of indignation.

 

“That’s strange, all right,” the billy agreed. “And what, Brass Ass, is your partner’s name? Be quick, before I waste a shell the same.”

 

“Cooked Goose,” giving Penny a look as if to add “Crisp”.

 

“Do you know who I am? . . My name’s McCoy. I’ve been blamed in my time for a little misconduct. But never for starving an ass or a goose. I’ve got a couple fowls that need plucked. If you’ve got ten dollars to make it worth the use.”

 

Of a sudden McCoy heard rifle fire from across the valley: “That numbskull’s killin’ my marmots again!” He ran to the other side of his shanty, hid behind a boulder and began returning fire. Penny and Strange listened for a couple of minutes as Hatfield and McCoy volleyed bullets at each other, perhaps a hundred yards apart. To make an ally of Hatfield the Punc joined him behind his rock and emptied his pistol at McCoy, shattering a cabin window above his head. Strange had packed her .38 in her parka pocket. She took cover beside McCoy and sent bullets into the air, not to injure someone she didn’t know, but to make a friend by her ruse.

 

“That man’s been a nuisance since our first meeting! We do this day after day repeating!” Hatfield shouted at the Punc before dodging shattering rock behind his head, then rising to answer the same.

 

“That twit ain’t got one bone that’s sensitive! Not one day passes I ain’t ammo dispensative!” McCoy explained to Strange, ducking a whizzing bullet. He finished reloading his Winchester, whirled about and sent Hatfield his reply.

 

“He pilfers water and wood from me, his good neighbor! Lies around all day like a hound dog to lazy to do his own labor!” Hatfield told the Punc, a bullet whistling past.

 

“He shoots my marmots, for your information! So every pleasant day we have this same conversation!” said McCoy to Brass Ass. A marmot poked its head out of a cranny thirty feet away, tucking back in just in time to avoid rock-bursting lead.

 

“That’s enough for today,” Hatfield presently estimated. Amidst McCoy’s fire striking all about him, he stood and stepped up the rocks to his cabin.

 

McCoy, observing Hatfield quitting the fight, ceased fire. “Dinner time,” he told Strange, then rose to make his way up to his shack. But he just couldn’t help it. He revolved about and delivered one last shot to the wall of Hatfield’s shanty, missing Hatfield by a foot as he was about to step onto the stairs to his back door. Now more at peace, McCoy continued on his way. Until Hatfield calmly turned about and sent a bullet into a bucket beneath the floor of McCoy’s cabin.

 

“Always gotta have the last word, don’t you!” McCoy turned to shout. Makin’ meanwhile observed Strange following McCoy up the hill, even as Penny watched Hatfield lead Makin’ and the Punc into his humble house.

 

“I cooked the best part for you,” Hatfield told Makin’ later that evening, using a spatula to move two sizzling insoles from an iron skillet onto the plate before her. He put a nice hot tongue from a leather boot on the plate before the Punc, topped his own plate with a similar flap, then returned the skillet to the stove before sitting down to eat.

 

“You shouldn’t have gone to such production!” Makin’ genuinely remarked. “What a nice introduction to the main course!”

 

“This is the main course,” Hatfield informed. “I saved the best for last. . . You’ll need that good sharp knife, there. . . The old boots this meal came from lasted all week.” Which Makin’ was not a little disappointed to hear, as she was starved.

 

So was the Punc, sitting atop a wood crate atop his chair. But he didn’t share the same tastes as Hatfield and Makin’ who were warming up to each other:

 

“You know,” he politely began, looking at the delicious leather flap on the plate before him, “it was just this that was missing on my shopping list. May I box this fine selection? Though it’s fried to perfection, upon a moment’s reflection I’m compelled by circumspection to add this tongue to the section of my emergency rations which require just this correction to add to my protection in the event of future famine.” Hatfield suddenly grabbed a tool with which to pound the table, which tool was a large wood mallet:

 

“Damn! This is good to the palate!” hammering the tabletop, shouting rudely with his mouth full, chewing on a morsel of leather as savory to him as sappy tree bark. Which crude behavior left the Punc, more urbane, nonplussed.

 

Makin’ more politely stifled a burp with her fist, then winked at the Punc as she began to tease Hatfield: “We know where to grab a little piggy for your pot.”

 

This raised Hatfield’s curiosity as warmly as the glow of an ancient outdoor lantern hanging from a rusty railroad spike driven into a  wall: “A pig? When it comes to hunger impeders hogs and sows are among the leaders. So where’s this swine?”

 

“With your philosophy I couldn’t more agree,” Makin’ replied. “I have a spare pair of boots I’ll give you if you help us nab it.”

 

“In pork we’ll frolic insane,” tempted the Punc, not without sarcasm.

 

“And other revelries profane,” Makin’ added in a low voice, leaning closer to Hatfield, hiding her words from the Punc with her hand.

 

Hatfield gave this a moment’s consideration, then smiled, “That pig I’ll claim or Hatfield ain’t my name!” pounding the table with his mallet again.

 

McCoy meanwhile cleaned his teeth with a toothpick. He observed Alias and Cuddly lying on an old mattress beyond the table where he sat with Penny and Strange. To estimate, by bits of bones left on their plates which were wee, they hadn’t eaten much. Presently said he:

 

“I ain’t never seen a pig one can’t eat. Every pig I’ve et was good from snout to feet.”

 

McCoy didn’t trust Something’s explanation that Cuddly was inedible: “reticent loudmouth disease” seemed too incredible. Cuddly gave a quiet grunt in the shadow beyond the reach of the lanterns in McCoy’s one-room shanty built of wood and sheet metal. As for you and I, we whistled through the moonlit sky.

 

“You know,” McCoy continued, “I wrote a song about the Punc on my harmonica.”

 

“I’d love to hear it,” Brass Ass replied.

 

“Can’t.”

 

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