Chapter Twelve- Two Fingers and Screaming Eagle
It was too dark to make out facial expressions, or see our adversaries in anyway other way than the two shadowy figures now taking cover by the roadside. They clung to the protection of the extended doors of the pickup like it was a suit of armour. The rifles however, were very evident and there would be no attempt on our part to make a run for it.
“What’s going on here?!” The man on the driver’s side demanded.
Doc spoke. “You know, that’s a funny story . . . ” He started to stand up.
“Slowly! You too! The one in the yellow!” Both Doc and Wally complied by moving reluctantly to their feet. The same man spoke again. “Why don’t you start by telling us why you have a fire going in a restricted area?”
“And who are you, might I ask?” Boy, Doc had some balls on him tonight.
“We’re Park Rangers, and you are not in a position to be asking the questions. Now what’s going on?”
Great! Citations and fines are surly headed our way. That’s all we need. This weekend to hell just keeps getting better and better.
“What’s in the bag?”
“A chicken.” Doc replied. Wally kicked the bag. Baaauk “See.”
The one Ranger who had not spoken, said to the other, “Looks like we busted into the middle of a satanic ritual. Look at the fire. It’s inside a pentagram of some sort. They’re probably sacrificing chickens or worse.” He motioned toward me with his firearm as I stood in my underwear and my shit-covered shirt. “I’d say by the state of things, we're too late. We didn't get here before that one had sex with the chicken. Look it shit all over him.”
“Are you men into some sort of cult? Is that what’s going on here? Devil worship?”
“No it’s not what it seems I assure you,” I answered. I was more worried about the bestiality comment than being labeled, in league with Lucifer.
“You sure do smell Boy.” The other Ranger said.
“Oh yeah," Doc chuckled. "You see Sparky. . . ” and he began relating the story of our night. The forgotten map, the wrong turn, the old man and how we came in possession of the ancient poultry. It ended with our need to stay warm while we waited, and the outhouse debacle.
The Rangers started to ease up and the guns lowered. The spotlight was turned off and the two approached cautiously, joining us in the glow of the truck’s headlights. We could now see the facial features. Both were dressed in uniforms of forest green with yellow stripes down the pant legs and official looking patches on their shoulders. They had the burnt umber complexion of Native Americans. The one who had asked most of the questions had his hair braided into a long ponytail hanging down the center of his back.
“Let’s see some I.D.”
Doc and Wally fished out their wallets and I flung my grungy caked bill fold next to theirs. The Ranger with the ponytail studied the information with a flashlight. He poked mine open with the barrel of his gun like someone who won’t shake the hand of a homosexual for fear of catching gay. He let it lay on the ground as he tossed the remaining identification to the other Ranger, who quickly retreated to the truck to call it in. The one with the ponytail questioned us further with numerous queries before he finally said, “So let me get this straight. You were on your way to Faith Sound Studios and took a wrong turn? Is that your story?”
“Just pass the sign that said we were, Entering Ernie’s Bay. Yes.”
“There’s your mistake gentlemen. You should have continued past the sign to the next major intersection before turning. It’s the third dirt road on the left after that.”
“Je-sus! What did I say about you and your directions Sparky. You were wrong. Admit it.”
“I’m paying for it Doc. Just look at me . . . or smell me.”
“I’d rather not. Thank you very much.”
Actually I was somewhat relieved it was my fault. I was starting to buy into the conspiracy that Griffin Alexander and his henchman lawyer friend were behind this whole chain of events somehow.”
The other Ranger finished his inspection and returned from the truck. “Reginald Barlow?”
“Call me Doc.”
The Ranger handed his information back to him. “And Randy Wallace?”
Wally held out his palm for his belongings.
The Ranger peered down at my wallet still lying open on the ground. “And . . . ”
“John Malveen,” I said in my relief.
“Come get you wallet. You guys are lucky Old Man Thompson didn’t do something worse.”
“I’d hardly say we were lucky,” I said, still flicking more dried fecal matter from my shirt as I collected my billfold.
“He’s a cantankerous old coot. He doesn’t take kindly to people trespassing on his property. He’d just as soon shoot you, then ask questions.”
“Yes, we nearly found out.”
The two Rangers spoke briefly out of earshot before the one with the ponytail turned to us. “Under the circumstances, we’ll let you off with a warning for the fire,” he said. “You can get in the back of the truck and we’ll take you to your vehicle.”
Doc was overjoyed. “That would be excellent!”
Wally was less so. “No offense Sparky but I don’t want you riding in the cab smelling like that. I’ll never get it out and Mr. Gristle will kill me if I bring the Honey wagon back reeking of you. He’s very particular about his trucks. By rights, I shouldn’t have brought it this weekend.”
“Fuck Wally, it’s a sanitation truck for Christ’s sake. It smells like shit now. How could I possibly make it worse?”
“Can you take us to the Faith Sound instead?” Wally asked.
“If that’s where you want to go. Sure. It’s close enough and you can make arrangements to get your truck in the morning since you say it’s out of the way.”
“That would be great. We’re long overdue as it is.”
The other Ranger grabbed a bag of sand from the back of the truck and dumped it on the fire. He spread it out with a shovel and then sifted through the ashes until he was convinced the embers had been extinguished. We collected our chicken and gave it to the Rangers in a weak attempt to say thanks. The three of us jumped in the back of the truck, with Doc and Wally still keeping their distance. The Rangers u-turned and we rumbled off to the studio, finally.
It was ten minutes past twelve- nine hours of ordeal from a drive that should have taken two. The Rangers had been right. The road to Faith Sound had been close and we were turning onto it only ten minutes from where we had been extracted.
We passed through a metal gate of horizontal bars standing ajar. It was fastened to an inner wooden post by a clasp. Along the dirt road were wire fences slowly disintegrating into the ground, surrendering to choking ivy and purple violet, as we neared a sharp turn. My spirits were not lifted when the studio appeared over the next horizon as if it had sprung up suddenly from the ground. It was a chalet-like, two-story structure with a long, ranch-like wing and a separate semidetached, guest house. Several vehicles from different eras, condemned with age, winked with the moonlight out of the shadows. The expansive lawn stretched out in front of the studio like a massive putting green. It was littered with what appeared to be minuscule headstones. They were all lit up like Christmas in June. The second-story windows were alive with light dripping into a lower foyer by the entranceway. There appeared to be a carport that housed a tractor with a tail of tilling rotors. Another structure— a barn— rose up like a shadow and peered menacingly at us from the cavernous black of its dark, loft eye.
“Doesn’t exactly give you a warm feeling in your nut-sack does it?” Doc yelled. The wind whipped his curly locks across his face as he straddled the cab of the pickup like a conquering general returning from victorious battle.
The truck drew us closer and the headstones began to take shape. The configuration of various religious artifacts encased in rectangular receptacles of wood, iron and plexiglass, all lit from below, starred unblinking as we passed. There was The Virgin Mary, The baby Jesus and the big guy upstairs, God himself pointing down threateningly at the lawn. Perhaps the grass was infested with chinch bugs? There were the Three Wise Men frozen in their walk to the house’s beacon of light, passing three nativity scenes in their wake. This was followed by rows upon rows of religious garden gnomes and plastic figurines of the Apostles lined up alphabetically along the driveway. Each had its own personal flood lamp, from St. Andrew, St. Bartholomew, right on through to St. Thomas.
The Rangers halted the truck by the doorstep and we climbed out. In front of the door a determined Noah led a parade, extremely short of all species, to an Arc near a small garden of tomato plants and green beans. The entourage consisted of a couple of giraffes, pink hippopotami and some confused looking apes.
The Rangers ground the truck to a halt and we reluctantly climbed out of the back. “Here you go guys. Stay out of trouble.”
“Thanks once again for the ride.”
With a three-point turn they were thundering back down the driveway leaving us in their dust, next to a praying Jesus. He had a bed of flowers shooting up from his head through the ring of a thorny crown.
“What is that supposed to be? A Chia-pet Jesus?” I inquired, through chattering teeth.
Doc surveyed the little city of religious icons. “Will you look at all this. Welcome to bible camp. Does the frickin’ Pope record here?”
Wally danced anxiously about. “Can we get inside,” he moaned. “I still have to go number two.”
Doc teased. “We’re all grown men, Wally. You can say poo.”
“Hey maybe we should have made the Rangers stay until someone answered the door. What if there’s no one here?”
“The lights are on Wally.”
“A lot of good that did us last time.”
“Let’s find out.” I rang the doorbell. With my second ring a shadow grew on the other side of the stained-glass decorating the door in a cross configuration.
A concerned Doc mused. “I hope they’re not expecting us to play Christian Rock Fag music?”
The door swung open but no one was there. “Hello,” A voice said. We looked down. A smallish man— almost a dwarf in nature— stood looking up at us from the comfort of baggy track pants beneath a black and white checked shirt. He was in his socked feet and one of his big toes peeked out through a hole like a curious worm.
“Oh— sorry. Johnny Malveen, these are my companions, Randy Wallace and Reg Barlow. We’re with The Oral Blondes. We’re here to record.” I said.
“You boys are late. We were expecting you six hours ago.” The little man seemed somewhat perturbed.
“We were delayed. We’ll tell you about it in the morning. Right now, I think I speak for everyone. We just want to be somewhere warm for the rest of the night.”
Wally continued his Lord of the Dance. “Bathroom!”
“My friend needs your facilities.”
“Down the hall to the left.” The dwarf said. Wally raced past the little guy to complete his porcelain quest. The small man studied us closely with steely blue eyes. “Good Lord! Where are your pants and shoes?” He flared his nostrils. “And what is that smell?”
“Perhaps you could also direct me to the closest shower.” I said. The cold was starting to get to me bone deep and the shivering was rolling to the surface in convulsive waves. Soon I would be at the point where you just can’t stop shaking and feel the circulation will never return.
“Let me get you something to put on first. You can’t come in here like that.”
He turned and rushed off. The back of his head was feathered grey with specks of black and stood out from his head like he was facing gale-force winds. It looked very much like the plume of some fuzzy, molting bird.
After a hot shower I put on the robe I had been given. I joined Doc, Wally and the little man who had introduced him self as Suds Drayburn, for some makeshift sandwiches and hot coffee. I didn’t drink mine so much as worshiped it between my thawing hands. In our famished state it didn’t take long to decimate the food. As we did, Suds told us he engineered all the sessions here at Faith and lived on the premises. In fact, he was just about to turn in for the night when we rang the bell.
“So where is all your stuff?” He asked.
Doc handled the details. “It’s still in our vehicle about fifteen minutes down the road. Can you give Wally a lift in the morning?”
“Not a problem. I can take you there. — So, how’d you get here. Walk?”
“No. Two Rangers picked us up and gave us a lift.”
“That would be Johnny Two Fingers and Phil Screaming Eagle . . . nice guys. They work for Parks and Recreation but they also do time as guides in the summer and on the occasional weekend they work at the Casino on the reservation as security guards.”
“Johnny Two Fingers? Is that the guy with the ponytail?” I inquired.
“It looked like he had all five fingers to me.”
“He does. He just thought it sounded cool. You know, for the tourists.”
“So what about you? You choose Suds because it sounded cool too?”
“Nope,” He said. “That’s my real name. My mother was a big baseball fan.”
I thought long and hard but couldn’t remember ever hearing of a major leaguer named Suds.
Suds continued. “Ernie’s Bay has an inter-county team called the Sudsers and she never missed a game. I was born during the seventh inning stretch during the pennant drive.”
“Quite a story that.”
“Yes it is. We came back and won that game in the bottom of the ninth.”
The room I was given was the master bedroom at the end of a long hallway. It was nestled in a womb behind a small office and en-suite giving me a feeling of safety and protection. The bed was warm and inviting. The pillows were soft and surrounded my head in a fortress of comfort. The ceiling was covered with glow-in-the-dark stars reaching out to me in the darkness from the extinguished light. After my initial chuckle, I felt as if I were back in a crib, ageless with the innocence of youth. My uneasiness had suddenly been stripped from me, extracted like a rotten tooth under heavy sedation. No cares, no worries, no distress.
That night I slept like a rock, from the fatigue of the day’s experience, both mental and physical. I’d say I deserved the rest. Perhaps more than I knew. Tomorrow, would be here soon enough, and bring with it a whole slew of new dead-ends and headaches. The roller coaster had reached the pinnacle and would soon be screaming in a rapid descent.