Steve Parker and the Mystery of the Spanish Doubloon
Truth is now.
“What? What are you talking about? Where did you put the compass? I need the compass. I need it.”
Beauty is now.
“Goddamn. Did you put it in the bag I keep my binoculars in?” Egg asked. His thin face suddenly appeared from behind a green and red bush.
Og, the person he was talking to, was standing beneath a mesquite tree. His blue eyes stared vacantly out of a pair of cracked glasses.
“Now,” he whispered.
Egg suddenly held up an elongated leather bag – as if he were holding the tail of a snake.
“Damnit,” he said. “You put them in the same bag. They both have glass facings, you know. And if they are scratched, we are lost, sir. Lost in the middle of nowhere.”
“We’ll find him tomorrow,” Og said mildly.
“Tomorrow,” Egg echoed. “Tomorrow.”
The two dined on roast rabbit and a pot of parched corn as the red sun descended on a land of brush and thistle. They slept a few feet apart – without a fire – that night five or so hundred years ago. Egg slept soundly as Og indulged himself in the one great past-time for nearly half an hour. Then he slept soundly also.
In the morning, as the orange sun first rose, Og, freshly shaved, stood over his fellow hunter.
He said “Tomorrow is today.”
Common knowledge it was that Bill Jr. owner and proprietor of Stealall’s Feed & Grocery never got out of bed before ten in the morning and it was assumed but never stated that Bill Jr. worked late into the night and even into the early hours of morning prowling local taverns in pursuit of certain area women whose names were best left unmentioned. Veda, the store’s morning clerk, a heavy-set lady in her forties who chewed and smacked gum constantly, didn’t say good morning to Bill Jr. when he lumbered into the store at a few minutes past eleven that July morning.
She said “I didn’t see him steal anything.”
Bill muttered. “Who?”
Already it was close to a hundred degrees outside.
“That Parker boy,” she said. “The oldest one. The fat one.”
“That little bastard’s already been in here?” Bill Jr. ran a large hand across his sagging face. “What all did he steal?”
“Well,” Veda chimed, “of course every old rooster in Shiloh was here before five o’clock this morning. Old man Schwartz was claiming there were ants in the sugar bowl so I told him that – ”
“Goddamnit,” Bill Jr. cursed. “I’m putting it right on his mama’s charge account.”
“I didn’t see him steal anything,” Veda said immediately. “Old man Long said he saw him over in the plumbing section sticking washers in his pockets.”
Of course she didn’t see him steal anything, Bill Jr. thought to himself; she was too busy sticking things in her own purse.
“And old man Pasemann told me he thought he saw him stealing fuses over in the automotive section but he said he couldn’t swear to it.”
“That son-of-a-bitch,” Bill Jr. grumbled.
“Who?” Veda asked. “Pasemann or that Parker boy?”
“Both of them!”
Veda was gone five minutes later. (She didn’t like being in the store with Bill Jr. for very long considering his depraved reputation.) No sooner had she left than little Steve Parker, the devil himself, ran into the store in bare feet and positioned himself in the corner of the store where he couldn’t be seen. Bill Jr. was on him like a bear on a comb of honey.
Bill stood at the end of a long aisle of expired packets of seeds, a towering darkness, and thundered “What are you doing down there, boy? Stealing something?”
Steve Parker shook his head.
“No sir. I can’t figure out what I want. I’ve been looking all morning and I still can’t figure out what I want,” he said.
“Well I know what you want,” Bill Jr. said, “and it don’t cost no more than a quarter. And don’t think I’m not gonna check your pockets before you leave here either.”
“I’ve got more than a quarter,” Steve Parker beamed. “I’ve got a twenty-dollar bill!”
“What? Give it here.”
Bill Jr. closely examined the bill under the lamp next to his cash register while Steve Parker grinned and uncontrollably hopped up and down off the floor. Bill Jr. suspected that the bill was either counterfeit or stolen – considering its current owner. After rubbing it, smelling it, holding it up to the lamp, folding it and then unfolding it, Bill concluded that it was stolen.
“What do you want for it?” he asked the Parker boy.
“What do you got in here that’s worth twenty dollars?” Steve asked.
“Well,” Bill Jr. muttered. “Let me see.”
He disappeared into a back room and then came back with a gold coin in the palm of his hand.
“What is it?” Steve Parker exclaimed, hopping up and down uncontrollably.
“Look,” Bill Jr. said. “Have you ever seen one of these?”
“What is it? Is that real gold? What is it?”
Bill Jr. had found it a week earlier on the dirty floor of an H.E.B. store. The front of the coin displayed a dull, laughing face and the flip-side read: SIX FLAGS.
“You’ve never seen one, boy?” Bill said. “They used to be buried all around here. They’re worth a hell of a lot more than twenty dollars.”
“What is it? Is that real gold? What is it?” Steve Parker hopped off the floor uncontrollably.
“It’s a Spanish doubloon, son. It used to be owned by a pirate. Now, as a favor to your poor mother, I’m going to sell it to you for twenty dollars.”
“Goddamn!” exclaimed Steve Parker.
“Quit cussing in here,” Bill Jr. said, “and get your ass out of here and don’t come back for the rest of the day, you hear me?”
He flipped the coin toward Steve Parker and slid the twenty-dollar bill deep into his own pocket.
As Steve Parker exited the store with a sort of war-whoop, Bill Jr. called after him: “Don’t tell anybody you’ve got a Spanish doubloon, boy! A pirate will come after you. He’ll kill you dead, boy.”
Nancy Parker woke promptly an hour or so after twelve o’clock noon and smoked several cigarettes and watched One Life To Live and then she brushed her hair, put on eye shadow, painted her eye-lashes, rouged her cheeks, applied lip-stick. Then she checked her purse to see if her son Steve Parker had stolen anything out of it. She was thunder-struck. A twenty-dollar bill was missing.
It was going to be another bad day. Only the previous afternoon, Nancy had been humiliated at a doctor’s office in Green Chappell when it had taken the doctor, the nurse, the receptionist, herself, and an old man in the waiting-room to hold Steve Parker down to give him a tetanus shot. Afterwards, Nancy had taken him home and beaten him with a hair-brush.
Nancy Parker now picked up the same hair-brush and headed for her son’s room. He was hiding underneath the bed.
“Get out from underneath the bed, Steve,” Nancy said in as calm a voice as a Texas prison warden before a state execution.
“I was playing Army,” Steve Parker said, popping out from under the bed.
“Uh-huh,” said his mother. “I’m going to give you three seconds to tell me what you did with that twenty dollars you stole out of my purse and then I’m going to beat your ass black and blue.”
“Twenty dollars!” Steve exclaimed. “What twenty dollars?”
There was a slight whoosh as the hair-brush sliced through the air and then cracked across Steve Parker’s ass.
“Ow!” he yelled, tears forming in his eyes. “Jimmy stole it! I saw him – ”
“Maybe Aunt Vickie took it! Remember when she – ”
Crack. There was a pause.
“On the news this guy he’s been breaking in people’s houses he probably – ”
Two hair-brushes were broken that afternoon before Steve Parker finally made a full confession.
Harry Clark came in from farming and ranching – or whatever he was doing – late in the afternoon and headed straight for his mother’s kitchen. She was right on his tail.
“Harry,” she said, “you haven’t seen any of my pots and pans around anywhere, have you?”
“Nope,” he said. “I saw Nancy Parker though. Over at Stealall’s. Buying cigarettes.”
Harry stood over the stove, his arms smeared with tractor-grease, and lifted the lid to a large pot. Steam and the thick smell of greens floated up in a small cloud.
“Stay out of that,” Annie said. “I don’t want to hear that girl’s name mentioned. I gave her twenty dollars to take me grocery-shopping two days ago and I haven’t seen her since.”
“Twenty dollars?” Harry smiled at his mother. “You should have given that to me. Nancy’s rich. You won’t be able to buy her with twenty dollars anymore.”
“Yep,” Harry said. “Said her boy Steve found a gold doubloon down by the river worth about five-thousand dollars. Must have come from one of those old Spanish missions.”
Harry lifted the lid to another pot and took a deep whiff. Sweat rolled down his nose and into the pot.
“Stay out of that,” Annie said. One of her eyes was missing and she couldn’t see too well – which was a good thing for her. “It wouldn’t matter if that girl had a whole bag of gold doubloons worth five-hundred-thousand dollars. She’d spend it all the first day she had it. What’d you do with my pots and pans, Harry? Give ‘em to that Mexican girl?”
“No, I did not. I wonder if that coin is really made of gold. It couldn’t be. Of course, she wouldn’t show it to me. What’s in here?”
Harry lifted the lid to another pot. A hog’s head, both its eyes still intact, looked back at him. He dropped the lid.
“Now Harry, I want my pots and pans back. If you want to give Samona some pots and pans, you go get ‘em from your wife. She doesn’t need them anyway.”
“I told you I didn’t take them,” Harry said. He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. His mother watched him.
“Harry,” she said.
He didn’t answer.
“I’ll bring them back tomorrow.”
Harry Clark was fifty-five years old.
The sky was dark purple. A bad storm was coming. It was in the air. Electrified.
He came out of a bush.
“Here’s your damn binoculars,” he said.
“Put them in the bag, please. Carefully,” Egg said. He was sitting on the ground, propped against a sycamore, making tiny notes in a black leather book. “Did you see yon loping varlet?”
“Yes. And about three hundred Indians with him. They’re all over the river.”
“Nasty creatures,” said Egg. “Were they cutting his tongue out? Roasting one of his arms while he was still attached to it? Eating off his toes? Applying ants to his genitals?”
“I don’t know,” Og said.
“He doesn’t know,” said Egg.
In between One Life to Live and As The World Turns, Annie was on the phone with her demented cousin Zelma. Annie was smoking a long Tareyton cigarette, spilling ashes on her dress. There were already several holes in her dress.
“You can’t trust that girl,” Zelma was saying. Zelma weighed about ninety pounds, wore a black dress everyday, and lived in a small, unpainted house which looked like it might fall down at any moment. All the boys and girls in the area, and several adults also, considered her to be a witch. “What were you thinking, dear, giving her twenty dollars?” Zelma went on. “That girl is not right in the head. She’d rather climb up a tree and lie to you than to tell the truth.”
“Uh-huh,” Annie said. That makes two of you, she thought to herself.
“She put her own mother, my poor cousin, into her grave about forty years too early.”
“Was Winnie kin to you on your father’s side, or Bunny’s side?”
“My father’s side,” snorted Zelma. She was apparently offended that Annie didn’t know this plain fact, as if everything about Zelma Clark should be as well-known and clear as the words in the Bible. She went on: “I remember when poor cousin Winnie got sick. We thought she was pretending to be sick like she always did. We didn’t know she was eat up with cancer. Now who but a fool would have left ten-year-old Nancy Parker to take care of her. I wouldn’t trust Nancy Parker to take care of a dead cat. I’ll tell you this. I was standing outside their kitchen window one night and I saw Nancy Parker blow her nose right into her mama’s coffee cup.”
“Oh my goodness,” Annie said wondering who in their right mind would be standing in someone’s yard at night looking through their window unless they were crazy themselves.
That same evening Harry Clark’s wife wondered where he was. Something was definitely wrong if he was not home at six-thirty in the evening demanding to have sex and then sound asleep in his bed by seven. As time crept by, wonder turned to sickening certainty. Harry was, of course, in bed with Samona. Every summer, the same disgusting charade was played out. Harry drove to the border and picked up Samona and her husband to work as field-hands. Samona, as Harry’s wife knew, had never touched a bulb of cotton in her life. Her three boys all looked like miniature, Mexican Harrys. Samona’s husband might be too drunk to know what was going on, but Harry’s wife knew.
Five miles away, down by the river, Harry Clark was digging into the earth by the light of a tremendous bon-fire. People driving down the road in their cars and beaten-up old trucks wondered if the river-bottom was on fire that night. Harry looked like some mad, red devil pitching dirt here and there, hopping from one hole to another.
Back at his house, his wife was inspecting the six bullets she had just loaded into a pistol.
“Did you see that turd coming out of his ass-hole?” Steve Parker asked his cousin.
“No. Thank God,” Terry Young said. He had turned his back to the Parker brothers just in time. The three of them were standing beside a county highway while Steve Parker watched as his brother little Jimmy defecated in the ditch in broad daylight.
“Did anybody drive by?” Jimmy asked, twisting around and pulling up his pants quickly without wiping himself.
“Hell yeah,” Steve Parker said. “Everybody in the whole damn county including the preacher and his whole family. They were holding their hands over their eyes and screaming. You didn’t hear them?”
“You told me to do it!” little Jimmy wailed.
“I can’t help it if you’re a stupid little prick,” Steve said. “What if I told you to jump off of a bridge, dumb-ass?”
The three boys were on a mission that afternoon – to go to the river they had been told several thousand times not to go to, and to bury a pint of whiskey that Steve had stolen from one of his mother’s inebriated boyfriends.
The cotton fields and corn fields along the highway were dead brown. A solitary gust of hot wind blew up a small tornado of dust as the boys trekked down the highway and down beneath the river bridge. It was cool there, air-conditioned almost, and the boys thought of this slanted, concrete spot beneath the bridge as something of a club-house.
“Just think,” Steve Parker said, wiping sweat from his dirty face, “right here where we stand, Jimmy sucked everybody’s dick. Right here where we stand.”
“You told me to do it!” little Jimmy wailed.
Terry Young, the only one of the boys who could sort of read, stood before a concrete column, studying a section of newly printed graffiti. He couldn’t understand it though. It seemed to be an alien language written in mysterious, deathly symbols.
Jimmy Parker followed his gaze.
“What’s it say?” he asked. “Something dirty?”
Terry paused for a moment – in deep concentration. He didn’t want the Parker brothers to know that he was just as unlearned as they were.
“Well, it says that in one year’s time this whole world is gonna come to an end,” he at last pronounced.
“What?” Steve Parker said. “Who wrote that?”
“I don’t know,” Terry said gravely. “There’s no telling who’s been under here at night.”
“Maybe an Indian wrote it,” little Jimmy said.
“An Indian!” Steve Parker exclaimed. “Every time you see something, you think an Indian done it. First it was vampires, now it’s Indians. Number one, there ain’t no Indians. Number two, Indians can’t spell. Number three, you’re a stupid butt-hole.”
“You can’t spell neither,” little Jimmy pointed out. “Mama said you’re probably going to spend the rest of your life trying to get out of third grade,” he said right before his brother kicked him and he started crying.
Away from the bridge and fifty yards or so down the river, the boys waded through johnson-grass and other miscellaneous weeds into a pecan bottom. They stopped at the foot of one of the tallest pecan trees and Steve tried to carve an X into its bark with a cracked rock.
“We’ll bury my whiskey here,” he said. “A hundred years from now, we’ll come back to drink it. Wait. Maybe we should drink it now.”
“I think so,” Terry Young said.
“I think so,” little Jimmy said.
After each of the boys had taken a sip of the whiskey and gagged, Steve Parker began digging a small hole. His brother, an expert, bent down and helped him.
Off in the distance, Harry Clark sat on top of a red tractor and watched closely. He shielded his eyes from the sun.
“Don’t get too close to me,” Steve Parker told his brother. “I don’t want to smell your nasty breath.”
“Shut up,” Jimmy said.
“You know what this fool did?” Steve asked his cousin Terry.
“No,” Terry said. “There’s no telling.”
“Shut up,” Jimmy said.
“He went around for a whole week with a string of beads in his nasty mouth.”
“Rosary beads?” Terry asked.
“Shut up,” little Jimmy said desperately. He stopped digging.
“They wasn’t no rosary beads,” Steve Parker said. “They were my Aunt Vickie’s beads. She stayed with us last week. She laughed so hard when she saw them in Jimmy’s mouth, we thought she was gonna die. My mama asked her what was so funny and she said those were the beads she uses to stick up guy’s assholes right before they shoot their load.”
He shielded his eyes from the sun. On the ground at his feet was a pair of binoculars. Already the lens were so scratched one could barely see out of them.
“They’re all gods now,” he said.
“Who?” Egg asked. He was scratching strange symbols into a little black book. “De Vaca?”
“Every one of them,” Og replied. “Every black-guard and gutter-snipe who crawled off the ship and found his way out here to nowhere-land.”
“Hmm,” Egg murmured. He was not really paying attention to anything that Og said – a common practice.
The sky was bright blue. Heat seeped through the trees.
“One of them asked me in a dream last night why we were chasing him,” Og said.
Egg looked up from his book suddenly. He blinked his myopic eyes.
“That’s a good question,” he said.
The sun’s rays had just barely peered over the edge of the earth and already the farmers were talking. Veda chewed gum and watched them through her thick glasses. She listened as old man Pasemann told old man Lane and old man Schwartz a frightening tale. The previous evening, he said, his daughter and his son-in-law were coming back from bingo late at night and they beheld a small group of people in the woods down by the river dancing around a fire. They were wearing robes and chanting Satan’s name. Satan. Lucifer. Pazuzu.
Veda chewed gum and watched old man Pasemann closely through her glasses. She watched as his jaws began moving slower and slower and his words came out like mud.
In the distance, a telephone line stretched over the road between two old poles and voices crackled through the air.
“That’s right,” Zelma Clark said triumphantly. “He just got out of prison.”
“I was afraid of that,” Annie said. “That’s exactly what I was afraid of.”
“They’re back,” Zelma said.
“Who?” Annie said. “Who’s back?”
“You know who they are,” Zelma said. “They’re gathering at the river again. Wearing robes.”
“The Ku Klux Klan,” said Zelma.
The Florida bartender looked over at Steve Parker in the corner of the dark tavern and grimaced.
“Fat ass. He looks like he just got out of the pen,” the bartender said to the man across the counter.
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know,” the bartender said. “He told me he came from Texas. Asshole. He’s been over there talking to himself for half an hour.”
“Why don’t you throw him out, James?”
“He’s still got twenty dollars,” the bartender said.
Steve Parker took a big gulp of beer and looked down at his belly which nearly touched the table. On one of his arms was tattooed a scorpion and on the other just plain old-fashioned <>em>666.
“You don’t actually believe that, do you?” Og asked him.
“Yes, I believe that,” Steve Parker said. “I was four or five years old back then, like I said, and you couldn’t dig more than five inches without coming across one of them. They were everywhere.”
“You don’t really believe that, do you?” Og said in a dull, laughless voice.
“Why do you even bother with these six-flag creatures?” Egg hissed from the other end of the table.
“Yes, I believe that,” Steve Parker said angrily, “and I’m still gonna believe it when I come across this table and start kicking your ass!”
Beer dribbled down his bearded chin. He rose, as if to strike, but then sat back down. His eyes flared for a moment. Then they cooled, sank back into his skull like two defeated suns.
The bartender watched from across the room and picked up the telephone.
“Assholes,” Steve Parker muttered, closing his eyes.
“Why do you bother?” Egg said again and, not even pretending to listen to the reply, he swung in his seat and looked out a distant window.
“I don’t know,” Og said. “That’s a good question.”
Outside, the sky was wild and dark purple.