Having decided what to do, all we had left was to decide how to do it. Which involved an entirely different mental process, since we were out of beer. Poor old Barbie had begun to sound raspy, her batteries worn down from an afternoon of talking without saying anything of merit. My batteries were pretty drained as well. But I steadfastly refused The Boomer’s offer to get more beer—I wasn’t going to spend another night drinking and end up having to sweet-talk Jimbo Bond at anything less than 100%.
I mean, Jimbo Bond was spooky. Up to that point in my life—never having encountered the FBI before—he was the most humorless, deadly-serious, hopelessly-straight person that I’d ever met. Take his hair, just for example. We were a little past the days when hair length was a social crisis, but how you wore it still said something about who you were. The hippie hold-outs still grew it shoulder length and greasy to say that they didn’t give a shit about their hair. The punk look was just starting, with outrageous styles proclaiming, “Hey, it’s my hair, I can do what I want with it.”But Jimbo Bond not only had a crew cut, he had a crew cut that was never more than a week old. A wordless affirmation that the moral decay of America balanced on the length of your hair. And furthermore, no matter how far the communist-inspired trend toward permissiveness has gotten, he for one would never allow a hair more than a half inch to undermine the principles of his head.
But Jimbo Bond was worse than just a paranoid, militant, short-haired freak: he was a paranoid, militant, short-haired freak with a pistol. I’m serious. This person had walked around campus, gone to class, and studied—and no doubt did whatever he was doing after graduation—with a device whose sole purpose was to kill people.
(Mild Tangent, for all you NRA members before you call your congresspersons and tell them if they don’t pass a resolution declaring this book dangerous and un-American and pornographic you’re going to send your campaign contributions to their opponents. I know that pistols can also be used to shoot at targets and decorate den walls and to hold down papers and that sort of thing. But Jimbo Bond didn’t have any papers under his jacket where he carried his shootin’ iron, much less a den wall. And when he shot at targets, which he did most weekends, he pretended that the silhouettes were Puerto Rican muggers and big mean black rapists and godless commies. So don’t give me any crap.)
Seriously. What did he think was going to happen? A communist conspiracy to take over the ROTC armory, steal the obsolete M-14s, and hand them out the dissidents would be in progress just as he walked past? And he could mow down all the bad guys and save the country while only being winged in the arm himself? The guy had obviously OD’d on communion grape juice and John Wayne movies.
But wait, there’s more. Not only was Jimbo Bond a paranoid, militant short-haired freak with a pistol, he was a paranoid, militant short-haired freak with a pistol and a conspiracy fetish. He was incapable of believing that bad things just happen, like good things. In his neat and well ordered view of Life and the Universe, all things had purpose and were planned. He gets a case of the runs, either God is punishing him for having a lustful thought or some sinister enemy has loaded his food with bacterial agents. Somebody dials his number by mistake, he sits up all night pointing his ‘big gun’ at the door, hoping and praying that the wrong number was some scumbag calling to see if Jimbo Bond was in so he could come over and murder him. He was no more capable of believing that Oswald acted alone than he was of gargling with peanut butter.
I’d met Jimbo Bond freshman year when I lived in the dorm. He invited me to drop by his room to see his ‘big gun,’ and I was too wet behind the ears to know better. His ‘big gun’ had a hole in the barrel the size of your finger, and was loaded with bullets that he’s modified himself, cutting crosses deep into the ends so they’d make even bigger holes. The pistol he carried around had the advantage of being portable, but you couldn’t stick your hand through the hole it would blow through someone, so it was strictly for emergencies. After that I took special care to avoid Jimbo Bond. But if you need a spook, you’ve got to associate with spooks—or at least spooky people.
Eventually the absence of beer reminded me of church, and we decided that would be where we made our approach. If nothing else, it was a hell of a lot safer than going to his place; you never knew when he might have gotten a wrong number and was sitting there waiting to blow you away.
So well before noon the next day, The Boomer and I were sitting outside of Main Street Baptist Church, waiting to intercept Jimbo Bond on his way home. I was in the driver’s seat of The Boomer’s car with the window rolled down, wearing a raincoat and sunglasses and an old floppy cap pulled down low over my eyes, while The Boomer sat in the back with his collar turned up and a newspaper up in front of his face.
‘Witness as a way of life; never again fear death! Reverend James Forsythe presiding’ proclaimed the sign out front. The Boomer wondered out loud if Jimbo Bond would emerge so changed by the sermon that he would give up carrying a pistol, but decided that he didn’t fear death now, what he was afraid of was moral impurity and the un-American way.
After a while church let out and there was a lot a handshaking and stuff out front, and then Jimbo Bond came sidling down the sidewalk, taking it cautious, making sure there were no communists lurking in the bushes (his dark blue spring church suit didn’t make him look one bit less like a weasel). We stood out like marijuana in a soybean field and he spotted us almost immediately. The shock stopped him cold. Here it was, the conspiracy that he had carried his pistol all of these years to stop. He reached under his jacket—drawing comfort just from touching it, I guess, since he didn’t actually pull it—and then slowly walked toward the car.
He cased us pretty thoroughly as he approached, but when he walked past he pretended not to notice. Then he stopped and faked looking across the street just as he was beside the window. As his eyes flashed across mine I said, “Schuster, DEA, Mr. Herman. We need your help. Could you get in the car for a minute?”
Well, of course he got in. That was like throwing a handful of Peanut M&M’s in the middle of exercise class the third day on the fat farm. I’m sure he was disappointed that he wouldn’t get to blow us away right then and would have to wait for a different target, but here was a chance to serve his country, so it was OK.
I shook his hand, carefully and painfully concealing my revulsion at all that purity. “Mr. Herman, my name is Bradley Schuster. You may remember me. My associate here is Richard King. We’re working undercover for the Drug Enforcement Agency and we’ve run across something bigger than we can handle by ourselves. I’ve called for backup agents, but it will be a few days before they get here, and our controller told us to recruit local help if we could. We’ve had our eye on you for some time and knew that you were capable and reliable. Will you help?”
“You can count on me, Mr. Schuster,” Jimbo Bond replied, forcing his voice deep and looking deadly earnest, or at least earnestly deadly.
“I’ll make this quick, then; we don’t want to be seen together. We’ve been working on getting inside a drug ring that is selling cheap marijuana on the streets of Houston. All along we’ve assumed that it was strictly for profit—corner the market, make addicts out of half the college kids, then raise the price—that sort of thing. But now we’ve discovered a link with the SDS, who as you know is financed by Russia as part of a nefarious communist conspiracy to destroy America.
“Two enemy agents were using a metal goblet in Erma’s on Westheimer as a message drop. Then yesterday the goblet was purchased by a previously unidentified agent, a woman whom we will refer to henceforth as Agent X-41, and removed from Erma’s. We believe that this is a signal for stepping up activities, so time has now become our enemy as well.
“Agent X-41 is sixty to sixty-five years old, with grey hair worn in a bun. She always wears a shapeless one-piece print dress below the knee, white socks, and tennis shoes. She has been seen frequenting Erma’s on Saturdays, but it is unknown at this time if she is there during the week at all.
“We need for you to stake out Erma’s, make a positive ID on Agent X-41, and then follow her to determine where her hideout is. When you have that piece of information, call this number from a public telephone and give this message, word for word: ‘This is Johnson’s Rare Books. We have located the volume that you have requested. If you will come by (here give the address) sometime today, we can discuss price. ‘
“Do you think you can do it?”
“Sir, consider it done,” Jimbo Bond replied with a salute.
“The code name for this mission will be Operation Retribution. You will be Lash. Mr. King and I will be Purge and Scourge respectively. Got that?”
Jimbo Bond nodded smartly.
The Boomer piped up from the back seat.”Lash, are you carrying?”
“Of course, sir. I always carry.”
“Good, good, we like agents who are prepared. Since this assignment could become extremely dangerous, we think that you should be prepared for the worst. However, I want to emphasize that you may use force only in self defense and only in a dire emergency. And no matter what, Agent X-41 is not to be harmed in any way. It is hard for trainees to accept this, but she is more valuable than you are at this point in the operation.”
“I understand, Purge. I won’t make a mistake.”
“We trust you, Lash. Don’t let us down.”
“One other thing, Lash,” I broke in.”Are you fully prepared to die to save your country from communism?”
“I am,” Jimbo Bond replied without hesitation.”With God as my witness, I am.”
The Boomer nodded as if he expected nothing else.”We’ll be in touch.”
Our new recruit quickly got out of the car and began walking down the street without looking back. And it was a good thing, because that last line had sucked my reservoir of straight-faceness as dry as a mummy’s mouth. I started the car to cover the sound of us laughing, a wonderful laugh that lasted long past the time it took to get back to The Boomer’s with a fresh supply of beer. Barbie the Slut Doll, freshened up with a new set of batteries, kept repeating, “With God as my witness, I am” (she never had a problem keeping a straight face), and we’d start laughing all over again. It definitely killed the afternoon.