The Gypsy's Address
Brass took a sip that gave her a tremble, smiled, then took another in case one weren’t enough.
“Ah! Yes, it’s good, isn’t it?” McCoy then receiving the jug from Brass: “I see you can appreciate good brew,” upon which he took a swig himself. After a moment’s silence to savor, he clarified: “You’ll be on your way tomorrow mornin’, ‘less you care to leave tonight. With the road ahead of you, though, I’d want more than dim moonlight. ‘Sides, I ain’t yet been nothin’ as a host.”
That this man had no use for humans Brass and Cooked could understand. Still, but for Hatfield, he’d be the loneliest in the land. Both smiled with compassion as Cooked gestured with his hand to slide the jug his direction again.
Hillbillies and peakbillies aren’t the same. When a hillbilly runs out of liquor he’ll go ahead and swallow some wine. But peakbillies won’t endure nonsense that comes off a sweet grape vine. They make certain to never run out of shine, which they make from tumors of aspen and cones of pine. As you can well imagine it isn’t all that savory. Thus to drink it is something of a rite of bravery.
Nor are hillbillies quite so lazy as peakbillies. Though they often don’t tie their boots, because they just have to untie them again for their morning nap, hillbillies will go ahead and put gas in their pickup trucks so they can go somewhere. But Hatfield and McCoy liked the view right where they were. Their old pickup trucks, beneath a few feet of snow interred, hadn’t since cone season the year before stirred. The nearest town was eighty miles, too far to go and not much there to care. They had what food to hunting belonged, especially marmot, which McCoy claimed to own since they lived on his side of the valley the most. They had enough water to fill a sea, this as easy as naturally, though McCoy found mischief, for sake of something to do, in stealing or dumping what Hatfield melted.
Nor, as to ammunition, was there any lack. Each spent the winter months picking lead from the walls of his shack. ‘Till harvest came, being the single month when all the snow melted on their ridges, revealing glistening pockets of spent brass shells. Which Hatfield and McCoy then became industrious to collect, to make new bullets out of the old. They even melted, molded and polished their finished munitions. Hatfield had a sturdy worktable built into a wall, its main feature an oven with which he did the melting. Next to it were strewn various molds and a system for cooling, packing shells with powder, fitting them with new warheads. Beneath said table Hatfield kept large burlap sacks of pellets and shells with a large keg of gunpowder. McCoy had nigh the same system, but that he kept his new bullets in not a few tin five-gallon drums. Hatfield hid his in sacks beneath the floorboards, which brings up another difference between hillbillies and peakbillies:
It was to cold in those mountains to have hounds to laze around in the cool dirt beneath a porch, summoning enough energy to woof when someone approached, more in acknowledgement of a distant possibility of a brief massage than to protect the house. As for Saint Bernard’s, they hadn’t been bred in that cold world so mean that wolves were killed for food, pelts and parts, it not yet having occurred to anyone to cultivate alliances with canines.
The Punctuator was genuinely impressed with Hatfield’s system for producing ammunition. Hatfield’s Winchester might have been more than a century old but the way he kept it fed was fairly modern. Though having surpassed any ache or pain he might have been feeling, the Punc wasn’t yet sloshed from moonshine when he said, “That’s a thing I’ve not done. When low on ammo I’ve never thought to make it. Nigh anywhere I’m at its just as easy to take it.”
“Let’s make some,” Makin’ suggested.
“All right!” Hatfield agreed. “Now you’re talkin’!” He pushed a wood crate before his worktable for the Punc to stand on, placed the jug of shine thereat, then invited the Punc with a sweeping gesture of his hand: “Dear sir, if you’ve any curiosity, with forty sacks of ammo I’ve yet a paucity of lead with which to fill my neighbor’s head. If care to assist I might gladder, for sooner, see him dead.”
The Punc stepped up to the place made for him as Hatfield helped Makin’ stand to his right. Hatfield took his place before the oven to the Punc’s left, then began to pray: “Dear Lord, though sin you may find in my heart if long search, I pray the blessed load to blast McCoy from his perch. Amen.”
McCoy, meanwhile, had been hardly surpassed. He was, in fact, eleven new bullets ahead. Brass and Cooked had stepped up to the task on condition that McCoy remember the song he’d written about the Punc and play it on his fiddle. Which he well did. All three had a romping good time singing together, McCoy at his fiddle, Penny at the factory, Strange tossing new munitions clinking into McCoy’s tin cache with:
“Way up high where the clouds are cotton
Hatfield fluffed, whose heart was rotten
Look away! Look away! Look away! Spurn the man!
“You can always tell where a Hatfield’s dwelling
Your nose just quits, can’t breathe for smelling
Look away! Look away! Look away! Spurn the man!
“Then came the Punctuator!
To slay! To slay!
He bade farewell, uncapped a shell
Sent Hatfield off to Dixie!
Sent Hatfield off to Dixie!
Sent Hatfield off to Dixie! . .”
Cooked took a break in singing and bullet making to take another swig of juice of the pine, then handed the jug to Brass while McCoy continued stroking the strings on his fiddle. It wasn’t long before Hatfield was plucking at his banjo across the valley, he and his industrious guests singing a slightly altered version of the same tune:
“He sent McCoy to Dixie!
The Punc heard bluff, said ‘That’s enough’
Then sent him off to Dixie
He sent McCoy to Dixie!
He sent McCoy to Dixie! . .”
The musical genius of Hatfield, no less on a banjo than Bela Fleck, and McCoy, who could give Bisharat some string and bow heck, echoed throughout the icy peaks that stellar night. From cabins warmly lit, soon to waft odors of feasting, feet stomped the floors in rhythm. Yet McCoy could hear Hatfield’s picking across the way. He stopped to listen, then presently emitted:
“Well, I’ll be ‘Le Penseur’ constipated on a stump!” He placed his fiddle on the table, grabbed his Winchester and rushed outside.
Cooked and Brass silently inquired of one another with looks of wonder, then said, at the same time, “Rodin?”
Hatfield had heard McCoy’s fiddle the same: “Well, I’ll be a potato bust of Plato!” he danged, wearily leaned his banjo against a wall, lifted the Winchester beside it, then slowly walked out his back door. Makin’ and the Punc looked at one another with raised eyebrows, then shrugged. McCoy could see the faint glow across the steep valley as Hatfield opened his door and walked out. Hatfield could see McCoy’s vague contour against the snow lit by the open door to the side of his shanty. On a night so cold McCoy’s words would have been loud and crisp even but softly spoken:
“No wonder I couldn’t remember! You stole it!” He raised his rifle, then sent a bullet through Hatfield’s open door, shattering a glass lampshade.
“That’s my melody!” Hatfield retorted. “You owe me royalty!” Then he sent a bullet dinging off the head of an axe buried in a log on the splitting stump near McCoy, rending it down its core into finished firewood. Neither Hatfield nor McCoy could, or would – no one’s certain – hit their main target which was each other. But in shooting accidentally they often did so perfectly.
Hatfield waited for McCoy’s reply, but got none either fired or shouted. The light at the side of McCoy’s shack disappeared as he returned inside and shut the door. Hatfield did the same, and the noise of raucous enjoyment gradually arose again in each cabin. Cuddly kept quiet though wagged his tail quickly. Alias danced to the violin that McCoy played so hickly. As for you and I, we glide about in the full-moon sky. Both Penny and Strange found time amidst free behavior to consider the old worn texts in a shadowy corner of McCoy’s domain, several of which were among the most advanced intellectual endeavors ever written in that world, an anomaly seeming no small distance out of place. Then Penny considered intelligence, essential to which is sense of humor. Then Strange considered how different things might have been had they went up the other road. As to the Hatfield, of Hatfield and McCoy, Penny and Strange could gather but little of what he reflected, thus left wondering the rest to vanity.
McCoy came out in the bright sun, waving his rag. Hatfield likewise made his way down the rocks across the way to the gulley in the middle. He and McCoy glared at each other no small time before either would speak. Eventually Hatfield uttered:
“You owe me money. That’s my song.”
“Sure,” McCoy replied, cool: “With the value of money up here with money you can’t go wrong,” crunching spent shells beneath his step.
“You ain’t brought me that pig. Which is what your half requires.”
“For brains you ain’t got an ember to stoke until it fires. I’ve got a full pig now, on a spit. Which half is yours it’s too cooked to relate.”
“This is your last chance, McCoy, ‘fore I polish my hammer to nail the lid to your crate.” Hatfield pulled back his shoulders to stand a little taller as he squinted at McCoy, too defying his sense of being social.
“Either the art of listening you need to cultivate or the language I speak ain’t easy to translate,” replied McCoy.
Brass Ass, meanwhile, left McCoy three apples, four tubs of yogurt and a fish with not one fin. She added a six pack of beer to help him float his sin, then joined Cuddly and Alias waiting to whoop the road again, as trucking nomads do between one horizon leading and another receding. She and Penny pushed in their brakes and quietly slipped away.
Makin’, however was not unvigilant, sitting in her truck, watching the screen to her tracking device. Upon observing the target move she jumped from her Star into a bank of snow and ran to fetch the Punc, hiding behind a rock forty feet below, thinking as he aimed his .45 at McCoy:
“I’d like to put it where your blood would most quickly flow. ‘Cause that’s the best part of the show.”
“They’re on the fly!” Makin’ shouted.
Disappointed to not do what he so wanted out of love, the Punc lowered his weapon and climbed the rocks back above. Not long before he and Makin’ were off in the trucks that had been idling for the last two nights.
Hatfield shrugged, his pale rag of flag on a stick nearly touching the ground: “What sense you’ve got is so minutial you don’t see that finding some is, in your case, crucial. I’ve tried to deal with you fair, give you a bargain that’s rare.” He then turned and began to step up the large stones and boulders ascending to his cabin.
McCoy did the same. Then stopped and turned about, Hatfield forty feet across the way: “If all you said weren’t so tautologous you’d not need feel so apologous for being as dense as a rail.”
Penny and Strange took their time so as to make no noise that could echo. They were nigh blinded by the radiance of the snow as they looked out on the crags, peaks and valleys below. Makin’ and the Punc were compelled to move just a slow. Though much assisted by their chains chinking over the ice, the Punc remained patient to wait for conditions making for better pursuit. Makin’ took the front as usual, wearing her cap and ridiculous-looking cones which would enable them to chase down Cuddly should he suddenly disappear from a sphere that was one big snowball frontier in outer space.
Hatfield and McCoy had reached about halfway up to their shanties when Hatfield whipped about with a verbal missile: “Pig thief! Where I come from we lynch ‘em ‘fore we pot ‘em!”
McCoy stopped to respond, “From where you come describes an outhouse’s bottom of poo! To meet with the foul likes of you is a breathless rendezvous!”
Makin’ and Punctuator could see Penny leading Strange onto the highway where their separate roads met. They were but a quarter mile ahead. Something watched in her mirror as Makin’ and the Punc entered onto the highway the short distance behind:
“They’re onto us, Penny,” Something walkied. “If they haven’t planted a GPS onto one of our trucks they’re tracking by means of something a lot more sophisticated than anything I know.”
“Pull up beside me. We’ll put a blizzard between them and us.”
Old Penny and Strange, to the tune of Race With the Devil by the Stray Cats, were soon doing ninety along the highway packed with several inches of ice. Driving abreast as they’d done on the gravel road in Texas, they whipped up a cloud of snow that backed off Makin’ and Punc by a good mile. The Punc pulled up to Makin’s right and they pursued as hard as visibility allowed, they themselves raising a roiling storm, one crystal flake of which found its way into the Dalai Lama’s monastery to extinguish a candle. The great lake of which McCoy had spoken was now to the left, stretching out as far as the eye could see. The steep slope from the highway to its edge was a good half mile. Beyond that stretched three hundred feet of ice which shaped the boundaries of open water. To the right were the slopes which gradually rose to enormous overhanging embankments of snow half a mile into the freezing air.
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