The following evening, Pudge and Oscar decided to go out after the bear. Pudge took his big rifle and Oscar followed along with his old lever action 25-35. When they finally came back, tired and exasperated, they were empty handed.
Jimmy figured the bear had wised up and moved on—at least, that’s what he hoped—and after a day or two, the crew had pretty much forgotten about the shooting incident. And that’s the way things stood until they came back to camp on Thursday to discover the door of Squirt and Oscar’s cabin lying out in the parking lot with two wrenched iron hinges among some savagely bent wood screws.
It turned out Squirt had been rushing around that morning, hastily putting together a stack of ham sandwiches. “Clyde pulled around the corner in the crummy,” he said, “and I damn near panicked. I grabbed m’ corks, m’ tin hat, and a stack a’ them sandwiches, but I plum forgot about the ham sittin’ out on the counter.”
“A young bear like that can smell a ham in a clap-board cabin from three miles away,” Oscar proclaimed, throwing his tin hat down on the ground for added emphasis. And the rest of the crew, not knowing the real truth of the matter, let the statement stand unchallenged.
At that point, Jimmy began to worry that Pudge and Oscar might postpone the weekly trip to town in order to hunt for the bear again, but a few minutes later he saw Pudge out pulling the canvas cloth off the SS O’Leary. Then he began to worry that the crew—now being visibly miffed about him botching Pudge’s shot at the bear—might not ask him to go with them.
But after everyone had piled into the old weapons carrier, Pudge pulled up in front of Jimmy’s cabin and asked the question, “You comin’ kid?”
Not much had changed at Curly Jack’s. The broken furniture had been replaced, and the floors were clean and dry again, but the pictures under the pink lights on the big beam had been altered. The photograph of an older lady had gone away and the image of another girl had taken its place. The new girl looked very young to be working in a place like this, and for the first time Jimmy began to wonder—who is this Curly Jack, anyway?
It was shaping up to be a quieter evening than last time. Jimmy, feeling bold, bought a pitcher at the bar and took it to a table along the outside wall. Pudge found a pool game the minute he walked in. Ken and Andy slipped onto bar stools and Squirt and Oscar occupied their customary seats by the big, varnished, pine staircase. But there was no sign of big-hairy, bean-pole, or that chimpanzee character who had caused so much trouble the week before. Jimmy began to look around for Princess Spotted Elk.
Sitting alone, Jimmy became aware of the bar smells. The acrid stench of burning cigarettes overpowered the subtle odor of older smoke that had soaked into the wood, curtains, and upholstery. But all of those odors seemed less imposing than the reek of stale beer. It was a stench you could smell from the street when somebody went through the door, and it reminded Jimmy of something between laboratory chemicals and overripe silage. He figured it to be one of those aromas that would never go away.
As he contemplated smells, the tall lady bartender stepped around the counter and headed for the restroom. She wore a short skirt and a top that bounced along below the apex of her huge breasts, leaving a strip of bare flesh around the middle. In spite of her height, she wore heels to accentuate her long legs, and her hips seemed abnormally narrow for a woman. Her large hands swung easily along on the ends of her sinewy arms, reminding Jimmy of a middleweight boxer who’d been training for a welterweight fight.
Concluding that it was going to be a slow evening, Jimmy continued to look for the princess. And though he knew it was none of his business, it bothered him to think she might be upstairs with somebody else.
He continued to try to concentrate other things.
Then the atmosphere grew unusually silent and he heard a chainsaw start up in front of the building. A second saw joined in. Jimmy merged with a cluster of customers who’d gathered around a window, hoping to see something. But he’d only been there a minute, when the door burst open and one of the sawyers slithered in with his engine running. The man held his saw at arms length, like he was fending off imaginary snakes.
A second saw wielder stepped through the door and made a lunge at the first. One saw was yellow, the other one red. The loggers were engaged in a mechanical sword fight, using rapidly spinning, super sharp saw-teeth for weapons.
As the barroom filled with exhaust from the two-cycle engines, folks closest to the door scampered outside. But the group Jimmy’d been herded into was trapped in the back of the building. They could only watch as the battling loggers moved through the bar.
Jimmy recognized the guy with the yellow McCullough as the redheaded fellow Ken had sparred with a week earlier. The other participant, a tall angular man with a Homelite, was new to him.
The redhead made a thrust at the Homelite guy, who made a defensive move and then jerked the bar of his saw in an upward swish that cut off the corner of a table.
It was impossible to hear and getting hard to see, but Jimmy noticed the lady bartender making gestures with her head while her eyes were fixed on the dark end of the bar. A few seconds later the bouncer, Woody, snuck out and made his way along a row of the empty bar stools. He carried a leather blackjack in his right hand—one of the long, round kind that was fill with lead shot. His objective, the way Jimmy read it, was to sneak up behind Homelite and take him out with a smack to the head.
Pudge and the pool players were lined up along the wall behind the tables, and the saw-fighters started in their direction—first on offense, then on defense. The engines roared and more smoke was pumped into the room. Trying to keep a space between himself and the deadly saws, Pudge stuck out his pool cue, but McCullough came forward with a downward stroke and lopped off the end of it. The severed stub rattled across the wooden floor with that thunk-thunking sound peculiar to hardwood.
Pudge pulled his foreshortened pool cue back and stared briefly at the end of it. Then the two combatants moved quickly away.
When the belligerents were in the middle of the room, Woody made his move. He darted in with his blackjack trailing behind, like a javelin thrower ready to release a spear. His eyes were fixed on a spot right behind Homelite’s left ear. But just as he brought his weapon forward, Homelite pulled back to dodge a lunge from McCullough and his bar came around to lop off the end of the blackjack. Lead shot poured out onto the floor and Woody beat a retreat back to the bar stools.
Then Homelite made a lunge at McCullough and the two adversaries danced awkwardly in the direction of the big timbered staircase.
Woody, seeing his weapon had been rendered useless, picked up the severed end of Pudge’s pool cue and made another run at the back side of Homelite. But he’d only taken a few steps when he hit the lead shot on the floor and his feet took off in another direction. Woody leaned back, in an attempt to slow down, but that caused his feet to shoot skyward and they came up to a level about even with his eyes.
It seemed to Jimmy like the short, stocky bouncer hung there for a moment, suspended in air, about four feet off the floor. Then he slammed down onto the hard, wooden planking and let out a loud, “Haw,” like a man driving cows. He didn’t move after that. He just lay there with his eyes bugged open and his feet spread apart. His lips seemed to peel back away from his teeth and a little drip of blood oozed from one nostril.
McCullough made another stab at Homelite, forcing him to step back, and that caused him to trip over Woody’s motionless feet. Then he fell flat on his back.
At that point, the redheaded logger came in for the kill. But Homelite, though he was pretty much helpless, still had his saw out in front of him and it was running, and he poked it up in the direction of his opponent.
McCullough paused for a moment, and when he did, his saw sputtered. He desperately pumped the throttle. With the engine revved up again, he started forward. But just as he was about to perform La Estocada, his engine sputtered, and then it quit altogether. He was out of fuel. The only sound to be heard was the cackle and uneven idle of the Homelite.
The redheaded logger dropped his useless saw and scrambled for the staircase. The angular man leapt to his feet and gave chase. Within seconds, Jimmy heard shouts, screams and doors slamming upstairs. And all of that noise was transmitted over the high-pitched drone of the still running Homelite.
Then he heard the engine lug down, like the saw’s teeth had come in contact with an object. Probably cutting through a hastily locked door—Jimmy thought. Patrons and prostitutes began to pour down the staircase, fleeing the smoke and destruction.
Flowing Flovia led the way, frantically descending the steps in a bra and a half-slip. Her soft flesh bounced and shimmed as she pounded along. One breast became untethered. A gray haired logger was in chase, a man in his fifties, desperately trying to catch the lumbering lady, like he hadn’t quite finished with her.
When she reached the ground floor, Flovia headed for the safety of the bar. The old logger followed, but he went a little wide on the corner, stumbled over Woody, and then found himself ensnared by the shot from the blackjack.
Old-gray went into a kind of log rolling routine. First he ran forward in little short steps, until the momentum of his body overtook his feet. Then he ran backwards in little short steps, to let his feet catch up with his body. He might have obtained stability that way, if he hadn’t spied Flovia standing at the bar. She was drinking beer, sucking in huge gobs of oxygen and giggling.
Old-gray’s chances of staying on his feet vanished when he turned toward Flovia. The act of turning sent his feet sideways and they flew up in the air, pretty much like Woody’s had earlier. He didn’t stay suspended as long as the bouncer and he didn’t fly as high off the floor, but he landed just as hard and let out a mortifying groan of agony.
Other folks in various stages of undress scampered down the stairs, and then Jimmy noticed a dapper little fellow appear along the top railing. The guy peered down into the bar, like maybe he didn’t trust what was down there, as it whatever he might encounter on the first floor could be more dangerous than the peril he knew to exist on the second. Dressed in gray, starchily pressed slacks, he carried a blue blazer with brass buttons over his shoulder. Jimmy was reminded of the tourist from the week before.
The man’s hair was combed like James Dean’s—he wore oil in it—and when Princess Spotted Elk strolled up behind the dapper fellow, Jimmy figured it was him she’d been with. The princess prodded the short guy along, but he stopped to light a cigarette, like there wasn’t enough smoke in the place already.
Then the James Dean guy started down the stairs in a pair of penny-loafer shoes with tassels. Jimmy was tempted to stick a foot out to trip him as he strolled through the lobby, but the princess, seeming to anticipate this behavior, caught Jimmy’s attention with her eyes and shook her head at him.
Jimmy decided to mind his manners. But he didn’t feel like he could let this James Dean character walk out of the place completely unscathed, so he began to walk along beside him, crowding the little fellow out, a little to the east of Woody, who had now found a chair and was pulling himself up to sit on it.
The minute James Dean saw a clear path to the door, he made straight for it with long, swift strides. But that was the course Jimmy wanted him to take and it led him into the lead shot on the floor The little fellow was suddenly engaged in his own personal dance to stay upright.
There wasn’t a lively string band on hand to play “The Chicken Reel Stomp,” but Jimmy encouraged an older man, who must have been drinking all afternoon, to stamp his foot and clap his hands as the dapper dancer whirled. The dancing James Dean kicked one penny loafer off after the other, and needing to concentrate, he maintained a disconnected facial expression with narrow, squinty eyes—almost inhuman—kind of like Boris Karloff.
He landed differently than the others, on his back with his feet stretching skyward. Then he rolled over and crawled for the door, gathering his shoes and the cast away blazer as he went.
Jimmy turned back to see Princess Spotted Elk standing by the staircase with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.
She was glaring at him.