INTRODUCTION + HAAG'S BIO
To Havana on the phone: "What's your opinion of Beaudeauin?"
"What do you mean, what's my opinion of Beaudeauin?"
"Did you know Buck had tapes?"
"Yeah, one of them is me.
"One of them is Johnnie Beaudeauin."
"The Sextet?" P>
"Johnnie's talking about the Sextet?"
"No." I thought I just better plunge right in: "Appletoncroft says he was one of them."
"The Appletoncroft." Her voice didn't sound half as shocked as I expected it to sound.
"Did you know?"
Finally, "I think there's someone at my door," Havana said. I could hear the phone knock against the table as she laid it down. I could hear her walking away.
I took a bite of the chocolate chip cookie that Sagalen had placed on the saucer beside my cup of coffee. I knew I was in the middle of a faux pas, I was making the big gaffe. I better hang up and say, think, believe that we were disconnected. Contain my curiosity, eat another six cookies. I shouldn't be talking on the phone. Havana had said a long time ago to Buck, to me listening from where I sat at the computer: "Phones are for calling the vet. And, if you really have to, getting a price on next year's hay."
Her opinion of the mail was the same. "Choice jobs down in the P.O., bettern' the Yucca Valley paper. You notice sometime -- the Postperson, she'll commiserate with you long before you even know your Auntie Jane is dead." Havana came back on the line. "Guess it was just the paper," she said.
"Can you come visit me?" I pleaded.
"Hell, no." Right between the eyes. Thanks Havana.
"If I come visiting, can I stay with you?"
"Where else did you figure they'd put up with you?"
"You won't even recognize me, I've gained weight."
"Well, honey, we'll slim you down. I got me a new pony. He's got a great big rump and nothing to do. I'm not plowing the back forty these days." And she laughed -- her high-pitched girlish laugh -- fit to be tied.
"I'll come tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" Her voice was a bit startled. "You better try Saturday."
"Will Johnnie be home?"
"Honey, I don't know. How'm I going to know? Where do any of us go except out to wish it was time for the flowers to bloom in Joshua Tree?"
"Saturday," I confirmed. "I'll rent a car in Ontario."
"See you soon."
I hung up, finished my cookies and my coffee. Would I ever bring myself to believe that the phone lines really were tapped? It made me feel as if my arms were locked against my sides, as if my whole body was wound around by rope -- like the pre-butterfly caterpiller must feel, even though he has done it to himself.
Now I had to decide if I was going to watch the other tapes before Saturday. Day after tomorrow. I looked at their titles:
JULY 31ST MEETING
And one that simply said: AFTER INJUNCTION
Well, I'd been at the JULY 31ST MEETING, and the VICTORY DINNER. NORQUIST would make me vomit if I had to look at him, and AFTER THE INJUNCTION Buck had fought as hard and as hopelessly as he ever had in his life.
Two weeks later he was dead.
For all I knew the injunction was still on the books. I'd have to ask Havana. The DT had closed down. I just let it collapse when Buck disappeared. Johnnie promised to store the camera equipment and the computers. I told him to sell it. "Sell all of it." I stayed with Havana -- she said she was going to continue to fight the injunction on her own. For me, she said, but what, I cried, would I do with The Desert Eye?
AFTER INJUNCTION -- it would be Buck giving me instruction on how to run The Desert Truth and The Desert Eye if anything happened to him. We had talked about it. He never understood it was his passion, not mine. How was he to know I would turn out to be such a coward? How was he to know that I would be so devastated by his death that I would never never never want to, even for one minute, try being a newswoman, a TV producer? Two years. I thought I would get over it someday. But the thought of looking at Buck's image again, right now, still paralyzed me.
Had Johnnie sold the equipment, I wondered? I didn't know, I had never asked. I assumed I still owned the shed and the house and the acre of ground. God, I wondered if I still did.
"Sagalen," I called as I went down to the kitchen. "What'd Buck do with the No Palms property?"
She looked at me strangely as I came into the warmth and good smells of her domain. "You haven't done anything with it." And she added, "I've been paying the taxes."
"I'm going to No Palms on Saturday."
"Oh no," I shook my head in alarm. "I wouldn't do that."
I left the kitchen just as abruptly as I had come in. I found a terrible startling fear had gripped my heart. I wouldn't take Adam near No Palms. I wouldn't do that. But maybe, if my guess was right, if my trust proved to be in the right place, maybe I would bring his papa home, here, for a visit at least. Maybe.
I began to smile.
I took out a suitcase, I threw in a pair of jeans. I still had two days.
I spent one more night not watching the tapes, a night in which I worked late stitching on my needlepoint, watching my reflection in the black night window. As I sat beside the lamp in the rocking chair near my bed, moths came battering their wings against the glass, desperate to get in. A huge green one, he must have been six inches across, batted at the window continuously. Though he was less agitated than the others, still in two places his wings were torn.
". . .who'll
come next, fluttering as moths on the mountain."
He must have had troubles in his life, too, I thought, and kept stitching.
On Friday morning, up early, I put on my jeans and running shoes and went around knocking on everyone's door: JJ's and Adams's and Sagalen's, and I said, "You all be ready in twenty minutes. We're going on a little excursion today. We're going to Hamilton Pool."
"We got school," shouted Adam which I knew was shouted not so much for the love of learning, but for the extra hour and a half of sleep.
I said, "You don't get to go to school today. It's dark out and we're leaving soon."
"What the hell is Hamilton Pool?" said JJ, disgruntled, but already wrapped around with blankets in the car when I got there.
"It's one of the most beautiful places in the world. Right Sagalen?" I asked as she climbed into the front seat.
"I haven't been there in twenty-five years, maybe fifty years."
"It's public now," I said. "Buck took me there once."
"When was that, Honey?" Sagalen asked.
I could feel Pop Brawley's laughter rising in me. "Why it was down among those cypress I lost my virginity!" I whooped to Sagalen. And she laughed. It was old Pop Brawley's laughter rising in her, too. JJ giggled.
Adam was the last to climb into the dark interior of the station wagon.
"You want me to drive?" he asked.
"I'll drive there," I said. "That way I don't have to tell you how to get there, which I don't remember."
Sagalen said: "We'll get there."
I could hear small sounds from the back seat of blankets being pulled this way and that as JJ and Adam cocooned themselves into warm spineless mounds. Nobody talked. We headed off toward Austin.
You have to see Hamilton Pool to believe it. Buck had told me a bit about its history the first time he took me there. The first time he ever made love to me. It used to be private property, but by 1986 the Travis County Park Department had bought it. "Thank God," he said, for it had gone through several phases. It became very trashy in the hippy era, not the true hippy era, but the drug-hippy era. Now it was Preserved, with a capital P, for its exotic flora. I don't know if the ferns that grew there grew no place else in Texas, but even it they did, Buck had said: "This place is known as the prettiest three acres in Texas." And it was.
Hamilton Pool was a place where a stream fell into a pool. Maybe the stream didn't even have a name because, by the time I knew it and maybe for a long time before, it was almost a dry steam bed. I suppose it ran when it rained. Anyway, it came to the edge of a cliff and fell off. I mean, the river bed just came up to the end of the cliff and sheared off. I suppose once upon a time it had been a big waterfall -- about eighty feet high, Buck said. But somehow the main part of the river went someplace else, or just dried up. Not completely, for the roof of the great cavern that was scooped out of the cliff below the river bed, near the pool was moist, cool, wet all the time, dripping water, forming a show case of ferns like a terrarium.
We arrived early before the sun came up, but with enough light to read the signs that told us we weren't supposed to be there that early. But we were quiet and we didn't care. Sagalen said there would be a stairway, an iron stairway, she had been down it many times. And some place, too, there was supposed to be a gadget to lower your picnic basket. But the way I knew and the way the signs pointed was down a path. You climbed down and down and down, and finally you came to the lower stream where the cypress kept their feet wet. Pool Creek, Sagalen called it. It came from the spring that fed the big pool, she said, and she thought it ran down to join the Pedernales.
As I caught my first glimpse of the pool, I put my hand against one of the giant toed trunks to support myself. In one minute, I thought, I will collapse weeping. I'll just collapse and slither down this tree like a water moccasin, cold and poisonous to man. For in truth I had never been back after that one time with Buck.
"Reimers always owned this place," Sagalen said. "Friends of Pop Brawley. We used to come swimming here in the summer. Maybe the summers of '31, '32, '33. Buck and Houston -- Pop. Houston'd remember. A pity we didn't bring him. The rest of the country was in a depression," she added, "but we had a good time." Then she said she was going to take a walk, look for the iron stairway.
Now, seeing the pool in the winter, it was all different. The upper creek was flowing. It pounded in cascades of white water down past the arch of the cave, over rocks, tumbling into the limpid blue-green pool. All around the trees were brown and leafless, but the great rock to the left was a vertical moss garden, almost reaching the roof of the cave. Individual rivulets dripped into the pool. Following their flow from the cave's roof were more ferns. At the back of the cave, where huge slabs of the fallen dome edged the water, was a world so calm and so peaceful, so delicatedly ferned and amazingly lighted in that early dawn that a kind of reverence and silence came upon us. Caves do that to people. Especially open caves, shaped as this one was, like a drawn bow. It may have been fifty feet to its back wall, and it was huge, One didn't realize how big until you stood against that back wall, beyond the boulders, beyond the ferns.
"You get to craving to live in a cave," said JJ, "if you want peace and you want silence."
I let Adam and JJ explore while I sat for a long time under the little stand of bare trees on the half-moon of beach looking across the pool's mirrored surface. Each single thing was reflected in it in the dawn and pearly light. I sat breathing. Breathing slow and heavy.
Which brought up the tapes again. Habitual Dispenzia. A habit to be dispensed with, I thought, having had a dream to that effect in the night. I was sitting and breathing on the edge of the pool that formed in front of the open cave. Adam and JJ were still walking along the roped path within the cave. Sagalen had gone for a walk down stream among the cypress, dreaming what dreams I would never know.
I looked at the brochure I had picked up at the gate. The stream, it said (the brochure called it Hamilton Creek) had eroded the inside of the dome and the whole thing had collapsed thousands of years ago. I could see now as I looked around that the whole formation around the pool was indeed a dome. So the creek had disappeared, flowed into the limestone, for how many thousands, millions of years, until everything was gutted, and then it fell -- forming a landscape unbelieveably beautiful. It created a pool and re-emerged as a pure blue stream.
"I think this is the Balcones Escarpment," said JJ, laughing, pulling Adam out of the cave. "We read about it in school. It's like the Continental Divide of Texas. East meets West." She jostled Adam until he stepped into the frigid waters of the pool.
I wondered if she was right. Was this on the same line that the Brawley Ranch was? Somehow I doubted it. The brochure didn't mention the escarpment. It seemed to me Hamilton Pool would be a little north of where the fault was, and west.
Sagalen never did find the stairway she was looking for.
We didn't stay too much longer. We'd already been up four or five hours and we hadn't brought anything to eat, so we drove down to Lockhart, got a cup of coffee and were just in time to get the first of the open pit barbecue at Kreuz's, just coming hot off the fire, before the lunch crowd began. By the roaring fires, hellishly hot and smoking, we got our meat and our white bread served on pink butcher paper and went into the long bare eating room where, to this day, there were knives chained to the tables. We were ravenous. Taking great mouthfuls, pulling the meat with our teeth, we ate like hounds. You'd think we were gearing up to chop down a forest, or kill -- like the Kashatriyas, the warrior class of India. Buck had brought me here, too, the day before he had turned vegetarian at my insistence.
Saturday I left at noon and I arrived in Ontario at noon. Since Havana had said she'd be home only after four, I went straight to Johnnie's shop. Amazingly enough, on a Saturday afternoon, he was there.
I felt hard and I felt tough as I walked through the door. I smiled at Johnnie and stuck out my hand and shook his.
"What do you know about the Sextet?" I fired right between the eyes.
He looked startled, but mostly his face was haggard, his blue eyes tired looking and darkly ringed. He led me to the small bare patio in back of the shop.
"I got a tape that says you're one of them." I said, feeling like the bull in the China shop, but I didn't know how else to approach a subject that filled me with such horror, that stressed me to the point where I could have eaten plates and plates of chile rellenos and rare lamb.
"When they shot Applentoncroft?"
"Yes, that one."
"I still don't know who killed Buck," Johnnie said. "I got a lot of invitations to the Sextet's. . ." he searched for a word but didn't find it,". . .but I didn't get an invitation to that one, or, for that matter, to Appletoncroft's execution either. I don't know for sure who was there."
"Where'd they bury Hez."
"Probably the same place they buried Buck."
"You never heard?"
He shook his head.
"Why'd you get any invitations?"
"Buck asked me to."
"He asked you to? What do you mean?"
"He wanted to clean up No Palms, the desert."
"That's not exactly news, Johnnie."
"To clean up and stay clean you have to know who's tracking in the dirt."
"That was your job?"
"Nobody was going to tell Buck anything."
"If they had told him nothing at all, he'd still be alive."
"Or dead sooner." It was the first brutal thing Johnnie ever said to me. "He wasn't exactly super-sleuth. Nor was he invisible like mist on a pre-dawn lake." Johnnie smiled his sweet smile. "He was one of the few men in my life I ever really liked. But he was a little heavy handed even for the California desert."
"How did you think you could help?"
"My mom's family, years and years ago, used to own the original twenty-nine palms. I have a lot of relatives. God, they've been shit kicking out here for generations. I'd also," he added, "been mucking about, trying to piece things together. I was trying to compile a picture of where the corruption flowed from. When Buck arrived, he encourage me to join in, work from the inside, not be his friend."
His voice sank to a hoarse self-accusing whisper. "I've taken part in some pretty awful things trying to find out just what is going on, just who is responsible."
"My guess is that our local monsters were just entertaining themselves with Buck. I think that his execution was ordered by someone else. Someone who wasn't as entertained by him, who didn't like newspapers and videos piling up. I don't even think Buck was that dangerous to them. Because I don't think he ever really found out what was going on."
"What do you think was going on?"
"I think there was/is a tremendous kick-back going on from the $32,000,000. And..."
"That's what I'm trying to find out, and. . ."
"I don't really know who killed Buck and Hez. . ."
"Don't you, Johnnie? Don't you? You've seen the Hez tape. You know who's on that."
"I think so, but you could never prove a thing."
"Giorno sent me a tape."
Johnnie turned his head, silently listening.
"Richardson is telling how they killed Buck. I know it's his voice."
Johnnie shut his eyes. I had the feeling I didn't have to tell him the details.
"You weren't there?" I had to ask. I had to know.
"No. But I've heard talk."
"What if I call the FBI and turn the tapes over to them? What if you and Havana and Marilou, and... and... whoever. . . come to Texas where you'd be out of danger."
"I don't think so, Gloria. I think it's bigger than you think. More dangerous."
"And you're going to do what?" I was almost out of ammunition.
"Keep digging. You take care of the tapes. We'll need them when we find who or what we're looking for."
"Leave it at that. We're trying." He rubbed his eyes. Drew his finger tips down along his cheeks. "I'm weary of it, weary."
"Then why go on?"
"So far I've accomplished nothing."
"'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.'" I took careful aim. "What about Adam's foot?" It was my last bullet.
A look of such pain came into his face, I would have committed sepaku right there, if I could have, for becoming this sharp-shooter, this sumo wrestler who was going to fight, who was going to gouge out The Truth.
"After '89 money kept coming out of the sky at me. What was I to think? What was I to do? $10,000 would just appear in my bank account every now and then. The bank couldn't tell me who it was. They can't do that. But you know, it's not a Swiss bank account either, so they did tell me it came from Texas, the money came from some place in Texas. So when Buck turns up in my shop and he's from Texas, this zealot Truth Teller -- what am I to think? I try not to think. But still I think. . . But I never do find the connection."
"So you never do lack for money?"
"Never noticed if I did. I gave most of it to the hospice and the homeless, some of it to the College, and. . ."
"Adam's foot?" I demanded.
"It was too late to turn back."
"The boy is maimed for life."
"Have you ever seen it? His foot is gone only up to the arch."
"Johnnie!" I was totally aghast if I understood his reasoning.
"I could report a shooting over a few pounds of heroin, or I could agree to an amputation after an accident."
"For what? For what?" I cried, still pushing at The Truth with both hands.
"The Texas account paid $20,000 surgery on Adam's foot."
"I can't get any clear picture of what you're talking about."
"I don't want you to, Glory. Not yet, not yet." Then after a long minute he added; "Yo! Hallalujah." He shoved himself from the low wicker chair and lunged into his shop. Just as he disappeared I heard an explosion of shattering glass. I jumped up, ran in in time to see the whole plate glass of the front of the shop slide down and spatter on the floor like a waterfall. Having found a home in stillness, in silence, a few more small pieces fell with muffled sounds, almost like water falling into a pool.
Johnnie had dropped to one knee, his hand over his head on the customer side of the check-out desk.
"Johnnie!" I cried.
He waved his hand for me to get down. I put both knees on the floor. I looked around. Through the glassless window frame there was nothing except the dusty, wide street of Twentynine Palms with the other shops all closed on a Saturday afternoon, blinds pulled down, and in any case, a long way away. What had been tossed through the window were two short ironwood posts linked together with four huge three-inch links of chain. It had caught the top of a computer which now lay on its side on the floor, its shell, at least, undamaged.
"Who was it?"
"You know the list as well as I."
"Because I'm here?"
"The pipeline is being challenged."
"More so than before?"
"It's in court." He helped me to my feet.
"Havana knows that?"
"The suit's in Havana's name."
"She's paying for it?"
"My checks keep coming from Texas."
I looked at him amazed. He had said it almost with a smile. As if I were going to respond to something I knew nothing about. "I have nothing to do with that Johnnie, I don't know anything about checks coming from Texas."
"I better call Nick Martinez." He picked up the computer out of the sea of glass. "He's a glazier."
"You got an extra broom?"
Johnnie shook his head. "I think my colleagues prefer me to do my own house cleaning."
I looked at him, the tears starting up in my eyes. But I could see he meant what he said. I turned and went out to the little patio to get my sweater and my purse. What more could I do? "You'll call me if I can help?"
"I will," he said with a weary sigh. His face almost at peace again, inscrutable.
I think I knew at that moment it was the last time I would see Johnnie Beaudeauin. He must have sensed it too, for he came across the shop, and stood in that little, almost-hall, almost-room between the shop and the patio. As I came in from the patio he put his arm, first around my shoulder, then he swung me in against him, holding me close for a moment. "Thanks for taking care of Adam," he said. "Sheila got a scholarship to Yale."
"She's getting fat just like you are."
"What's that supposed to mean."
"Some people eat when they get nervous."
"Does she want to come visit Adam?"
"I'll let you know."
He hugged me tighter for a moment, then let me go. I knew now that I could wait.Whatever Johnnie Beaudeauin was, inside or outside the Sextet, he was someone Buck had trusted, and I knew I could trust him, too. He was doing what he had to do.
Back at Havana's in the evening:
"Who's behind the pipeline, the drugs?"
"If I knew, honey . . ."
"That Sunday when Buck left. He walked out -- he was whistling. It was such a gorgeous morning. So sunny. He was whistling. It meant he was on the track of something, someone. Who?"
"I still can't connect it."
"Scott, Scott and Jacob?"
"I've done my damnest to check it out. But who am I? I ask questions, I get no answers."
"What about the FBI?"
"Sure. While they're moving in, I'll collect my fire insurance."
"Come to the ranch."
She sighed deeply and closed her eyes. "I will kid, I will. But first. . ."
When I got back home, Houston came over that first night for dinner and he wanted to tell me about Austin's death. I guess it was the anniversary or something. I always find it peculiar, particularly when I am dead tired, that people have to talk about something they have never talked about before and you simply can't see any connection to you in why they have to talk about that, especially now.
Austin, it seemed, was an inordinate admirer of Buck. ". . .Buck was like a father to him, which seems only normal when considering that Buck was thirty-three years old when Austin was born -- I mean it really was a case of his dad was like his granddad and his brother was like a father. Same seed, essentially, after all, just different generations. I suppose there might even have been the rumour that Austin was Buck's son. But then Pop was only, let me see, 1896 -- and he got married again as a kind of celebration at the end of the Second War -- fifty-five -- and Sylvia-Louise absolutely doted on Pop Brawley. I mean it happens quite often that a young woman, a very young woman, loves an old man, or a woman loves a man a lot older than she is. I think it happens quite often." He paused a moment, to take a big mouthful of batter-fried turnip, one of Sagalen's vegetarian specialties. "And that's what happened with Pop and Sylvia-Louise. She was a small wisp of a woman somewhat like the steam from a cooking pot." That's what Houston said.
And Austin was a bit like that, too, indeed if anything he resembled Baby Brother, as I remembered, more than the buffalo that Pop Brawley was, or the big ugly that Buck was. Austin was tall and lean, and inclined to stoop a bit.
Houston said: "In his teen years the kid played basket ball, and had that athlete's stoop, and he seemed vigorous enough in team sports, but after he got out of high school, and college, he just didn't seem to have much gumption, not just a lot of git up and go, if you know what I mean."
Sagalen excused herself, and cleared the table. She must have heard all this before, I thought. I mean, I didn't want to be unsympathetic to Houston, but I was just so tired.
"He tried everything. He was particularly keen on trying out for me as foreman, but even though he was my own flesh and blood, I must say, he weren't much good with a rope. Not too much good overseeing the men. I just really kind of kept him under my wing, and tried to make the best of it, but mostly he was just in the way. I hated to tell Buck or Pop that, and I'm not real sure they ever did know the truth. Not that I tried to hide it. But you also don't want to tattle on your Real Baby Brother.
"But he kept trying real hard, and that's how he finally broke his neck. I mean he was out doing a bit of wrangling he should have known better than to do. I mean a man in his thirties should know his limits and not be out there being foolish. But that's exactly what he was doing, being foolish. Even Peter Good told me he was acting bigger than his britches and shouldn't be allowed -- not out there in that ring. I mean it was just an in-house rodeo, but the guys were good. Supposed to be fun, not turn into tragedy."
"But it did." I said, weary and wondering why I had to listen to this now, tonight. To relieve Houston's conscience?
"But sometimes men are just foolish, even grown men, older men. . ."
"Houston, honey," I was so doggone tired that I finally just said to him: "Why are you telling me this. Today?"
"Why Glory, maybe you know all this."
"Even if I didn't. . ." I excused myself, I really did have to go to the john. I peed and peed and sat there wondering if I could live through even one more minute, one more word of a man trying to figure out his personal tragedies -- was it? or ego? So instead of going back to the dining room, I paused in Sagalen's kitchen where she was just spooning out desert."
"Sagalen, honey," I said, my hand rather heavily resting on her shoulder. She seemed a little pale herself. "I think I'm too tired, and too fat," I laughed, "to eat any desert. Will you give my excuses to Houston. I think I'm going right to bed."
"Why, honey, he's just trying to propose to you."
"Oh! Oh. Oh. Oh." Even to myself I sounded like one of those little old locomotives trying to start up. It was half laugh, half cry; half despair, half wanting to kiss old Houston for the sweetness of his soul. "Oh, tell him I fainted from exhaustion." I turned and feeling my way, I crept up the back staircase about four steps in the dark. Then I crept back down. Sagalen was sitting with her head in her hands at the kitchen table. She looked up quickly as I re-entered the kitchen.
"Oh you poor, good woman, you must be exhausted, too." I said. Then I laughed a little and I said, "Tell him, O Sagalen, do tell him to marry JJ. She's still capable of reproducing."
Sagalen shrugged. "He may not be interested in reproducing."
"I've loved one too many Brawleys already."
As I turned back to the stairs again, I might have heard her say: "Two."
"Besides she's more bio-diverse than I am," I shouted back down the dark stairwell. "It'll strengthen the stock."
I, too, like Dingbat, as I wheezed up the stairs, wondered what the hell love is.
Jan Haag may be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Former Website address was: http://weber.u.washington.edu/~jhaag
Complete novel, approximately 80,000 words
Jan Haag is a novelist, poet, painter, textile artist, and former Director of National Production Programs for the American Film Institute.
INTRODUCTION + HAAG'S BIO