I opened the door expecting trouble; instead I saw a tall skinny boy of indeterminate age with a bushy carrot top hairdo and a face full of freckles.
“Are you folks alright?” He asked craning his neck to look around Beaver.
“Yep,” I said, waggling my fingers behind my back, motioning Porter to follow me. Pushing past the boy out onto the porch I said, “We heard a commotion out here and were just coming out to have a look see.” The boy continued to look through the doorway anxiously until Porter pushed past him onto the porch pulling the door to behind him.
“You have any idea what’s going on?” I asked, making a show of looking at the police cars and the neighbors who were fairly gawking at us.
“Well…” said the boy, drawing out the word, “I thought you might know, I mean, it seemed like a bomb went off like, you know, right here.”
“Right where?” I asked innocently casting my eyes around. I took in the boys too short jeans, his thin tee shirt and the high top sneakers and pegged him at around sixteen or seventeen.
“Uh, well, right here, or you know…” his voice trailed off.
I held out my hand and the boy took it automatically, pumping it hard as I said “I’m Beaver, Mandi’s Grandfather. Does it look like a bomb went off right here?” I gestured around at the porch.
“I’m Justin” he said continuing to pump my hand rapidly. Justin from two doors down?” He ended the statement as a question in that irritating way that kids had nowadays.
“You not sure where you come from boy?” Porter, who had been straightening the porch and resetting the chairs spoke for the first time.
“Uh no” the boy began and Porter spoke again.
“Sir!” Porter said.
“What?” He asked looking confused.
“No sir!” said Porter. “You’re talking to a MAN son, and when you talk to a MAN you call him SIR!”
Justin looked completely confused. “Now!” said Porter with a dangerous edge to his voice.
“Sir.” Justin mumbled as he lowered his eyes toward his shoes. Looking up, he straightened a bit and holding out his hand he said “I’m Justin.” Porter looked at the hand coldly.
“I heard.” Fixing his gunslinger eyes on the boys wide eyes he sank back into the papa sahn chair and put his feet up on a stool. I sighed. That sure was a comfortable chair. A minute passed while Justin stared into Porters eyes the way a bird might look into a snake’s eyes before the snake struck.
“Well?” Porter asked, ”you planning on staying for supper or something? G’wan now, hyuh, hyuh now, go on out there and fetch us some news about what’s going on out there.”
The boy looked dubiously at the missing porch rail and the damage to the outside wall. Turning to go he paused and looked back at me. “The girl who lives here…the one who’s, umm, like you,” he began.
“You mean Injun?” The boy winced, but didn’t look back. “Mandi is my granddaughter.” I said gently, “She’s fine. She’s inside getting dressed. She was taking a bath when whatever made that noise happened. I’m sure she will be out shortly.”
The back of the boys neck reddened. “Yes…sir.” He cast a quick glance backward at Porter who nodded his approval.
“It ain’t the early bird that gets the worm son, it’s the smart one. You remember that.” He called to Justin’s retreating back. I looked unlovingly at the the straight backed chair that remained, and sat down in it. Porter was shaking his head and looking at a crack in a floorboard as if it had wronged him in some inexplicable way.
“Look, Porter,” I began.
Holding up his hand and continuing to stare at the cracked board as if it had bitten him without reason he said, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” Staring fixedly at the porch the gunslinger went on. “When I was hired to keep the peace up in Salt Lake, I spent a surprising amount of time seeing to the safety of
communities, and that meant looking over emergency plans and the things folks need in case of emergency.
” I nodded even though Porter was not looking at me. “So there was this time once in Layton when the local fire chief was showing me around, and a couple of boys came by walking beside a little wagon being pulled by a dog and a cat. The wagon was full of buckets of water, and they had painted the words ‘Fire Department’ on both sides.”
The noise had dimmed noticeably around, but when I looked up what I saw increasing activity. I was about to point this out to Porter when I looked back and saw him looking at me challengingly. “Those boys,” he said “had put a collar on the dog, but instead of a collar and harness, they had just tied a rope from the cat’s tail to the wagon.” Porter’s eyes held mine, and I did not break the gaze.
” I explained to those boys that the wagon would go faster if they harnessed the cat the same way as the dog.” Porter shook his head and looked away. After a second or so he resumed.
“I was squatting down beside the animals showing them this when one of those boys gave that rope a pretty fair yank. Right then that cat gave out a yowl that loosened my good teeth, and I went over on my hindquarters like a damned fool. The dog jumped like Jehoshaphat, lighting out for who knows where. Last I saw of them boys they was a-chasing that wagon.”
The youngest of the two looked back at me and grinned; I heard him say over the barking of the dog and the yowling of the cat, ‘But then we would not have no siren.’ You see, Beaver, I feel like I may be in the wrong joke.” I was aware of the door opening as Mandi walked out onto the porch.
Behind her I heard Mosi growl “Very funny, oh yes very funny.”
As Mandi pulled the door shut, Zina must have been on the other side speaking with her voice raised. “Most of the time he tells that one the rope is around the cat’s testicles!” Mosi made a sound of inarticulate disgust. Porter turned managed to look embarrassed and outraged at the same time. Mandi took in the shimmering air that surrounded the porch and registered the sound dampening effect. She looked at me questioningly, and I shrugged. Stepping through the gate, approaching the porch officers Hargrove and Chambliss looked somehow worse than their last appearance. Quickly Mandi related that Zina and Mosi were going into “stealth mode”, whatever that meant. I looked at her inquiringly; she shrugged in return. Outside the shimmering barrier officer Hargrove reached out a finger to touch the nearly invisible curtain.
The Butcher Shop