Folk wisdom teaches that when there is nothing memorable going on, time drags while you are living it but seems in retrospect to have flown because you have nothing to mark its going. Thus the bored housewife looks up from her ironing to discover that it’s only five minutes later than the last time she looked—something she should have known since no commercials have interrupted As Our Lives Turn, which she ‘isn’t really watching’ but can tell you every wrinkle in every subplot, which is more than you can say for the shirt—but before she knows it there are only nine more shopping days until Christmas and the forty pounds that she resolved to shed last January are still there, safe as a dead bug in a room full of hungry toads. (If you slept through the biology class where they mentioned the fact that a toad will starve to death before eating a dead bug, you are hereby enlightened.) Unfortunately, knowing the theory didn’t help me one iota. Never once did I look up at the calendar and say, “Gee, where has the week gone?” The hours dragged, the days dragged, the whole damned week dragged.
Nonetheless, the time eventually passed. I spent a couple dozen largely-unproductive hours with Louis XIV½—guess that would be Louis XIV.V—carefully cataloging his political upbringing and military training and wondering how I could possibly have been so stupid as to get stuck spending years of my life with such a twit. I went to both my classes, just like nothing more important was going on. I presided over a history tutorial that was a complete waste of time because the half of the freshmen that went to class already knew the material, while the half that stayed up nights drinking and slept through their eight o’clock history class generally skipped the tutorial as well. Mostly I hung around The Boomer’s, since we had given his number to Jimbo Bond, waiting to see if he would call.
The fact that I hadn’t heard from him by Tuesday confirmed my suspicion that The Vulture didn’t haunt Erma’s except on Saturday. Maybe Erma’s wasn’t even open during the week. Hell, for all I knew, the entire street of Westheimer was teleported to Oz during the week, and only reappeared back in Houston just before dawn on Saturday.
By Thursday I was convinced that Erma’s really had been teleported to Oz, taking Jimbo Bond with it. There he had mistaken Glinda for The Vulture and gunned her down, then had to marry Dorothy because the Wiz was so pissed he wasn’t giving out any magic ruby slippers. But somehow I resisted the temptation to go check.
That night I had the kind of dream delirium that you normally don’t fall into unless you have a fever or a hopeless test the next day. In this dream there really was a communist plot to sell drugs, and The Vulture was the kingpin. She turned Jimbo Bond, who kidnapped me with his ‘big gun’ and took me to The Vulture’s house, which ended up being one of those huge mansions on Bissonnet near the Art Museum. They cuffed me to a stainless steel autopsy table and left me in the clutches of their torturer, who turned out to be the girl in Havana Joe’s painting only eighty pounds heavier instead of just thirty. Every time she leaned over to demand that I tell her everything I knew about Louis XIV.V, a fat boob would swing out through her open fatigue shirt and whap me in the face. Then laughing demonically, she forced my mouth open and began pouring water into it from the goblet which was magical and never needed to be refilled.
Finally around four I woke up enough to realize that I had to get up if I wanted to escape from this ogress. So I dressed and rode my bike down a silent, sleeping Westheimer. There was Erma’s, dark but right where it was supposed to be. I kept riding around until long past dawn, weaving in and out the side streets, not really even hoping to see The Vulture but looking nevertheless.
Saturday was the toughest. I knew it was make-or-break day if we were going to catch The Vulture. I remembered all the things I could have told Jimbo Bond to prep him—for example, not to pick up anything or Erma would be all over him and The Vulture would be stalking him instead of the other way around. But I knew better than to go there. I would end up spending the rest of the day with Jimbo Bond, and before it was over I would get sarcastic and blow the whole thing. Besides, Erma would almost certainly remember me, even if all round-eyes look the same to her, and there would be a scene, and it might even spook The Vulture into changing her habitat to some sidewalk sale ten blocks away. So I stayed away.
When Judy Blue Eyes called to see if I wanted to go back and finish the junking expedition that I’d so rudely interrupted last week (those are not her words; she is as gracious as her father is an asshole), I talked my way out of it by saying that it was too pretty a day (Spring wasn’t kissing the Earth or anything like that, but it was nice enough and I wasn’t hung over and that made it seem even that much better) and we needed to get out of the city. How about a drive up to Lake Conroe, or a romantic picnic at the San Jacinto Battlegrounds, or a walk on the beach at Galveston? She chose the picnic, sucked in by the word ‘romantic’ (which I’d actually used quite intentionally to get her to make the choice that would take the least driving time).
Actually, getting away turned out to be a good thing. We laughed at the phallic imagery of the big guns on the USS Texas, tossed pebbles at grackles, and ate herring in sour cream. Then she dumped a cup of ice down my back in retribution from some barb and I chased her around the monument. When I caught her I threw her over my shoulder and went around to all of the other picnickers shouting out, “Wench for sale. Special today only. Untrained in any of the arts of homemaking, something of a shrew, but a comely and lusty lass, wouldn’t you agree, suitable to grace the bed of lord or peasant. No sir, I’m sorry, I couldn’t possibly accept so low a price as ten dollars. Would you consider twenty?” while she kicked her legs and squealed and pounded me on the back with her fists. All in all it was a grand day. By afternoon Spring did actually nibble on Earth’s ear a little. And I didn’t even think of the goblet and The Vulture and Jimbo Bond and Erma’s more than, oh, twenty or thirty times the whole day.
We got home around dusk and I raced to The Boomer’s. The Boomer and I drank a Bud or two and watched an old Tarzan movie but what I was really doing was passing time, waiting for the phone to ring.
Finally it did. I grabbed it and said, “Yes?”
“This is Johnson’s Rare Books,” said a garbled voice on the other end of the line; Jimbo Bond must have been talking through a handkerchief.”We have located that volume that you have requested. If you will come by 114 Winchester sometime this weekend, we can discuss price, sir.”
I gave The Boomer the thumbs up sign.”That’s great, Mr. Lash. I’m sure I can get over there early this evening.”
“Roger, out” replied Jimbo Bond. I’m sure that had our phone been bugged, an enemy agent would have been completely fooled by a conversation that ended in ‘Roger, out,’ but I wasn’t too concerned about commies listening in so I just hung up without issuing a rebuke.
The Boomer already has his map out and located the address. “Well, that worked out better than I would have suspected. What do you want to do now?”
We eventually agreed that it would look most natural if I walked by the house, letting Jimbo Bond make contact if he chose. The Boomer would drop me off on the side street, wait a few minutes, drive by so he could look for himself, then pick me up around the next corner. We would then come back to the apartment and make a plan.
Believe it or not, it went just like we had planned. I walked down the sidewalk opposite 114 Winchester wearing my raincoat and hat, paused right across from the door, and lit a cigarette (from a pack we had bought from a friendly Seven-Eleven on the way over to add color). The house was a frame two-story that looked like it had been built by General Sam Houston right after his victory over Santana (or Santa Anna or whoever it was; I can’t ever keep the general, the historian, the musician, and the California wind separate) and last painted while Truman was still in office. There were no lights except from a streetlight three houses down.
As I finished lighting my cigarette and concluding my quick inspection I heard a hiss from the hedge on the left side of the house, but I ignored it and started strolling on down the block. Not long after I turned the corner, Jimbo Bond caught up with me. He was wearing a raincoat exactly like mine, obviously new, and was wearing a hat low over his face as well. He’d probably worn sunglasses until it got so dark he’d walked into a tree.
“Agent X-41 didn’t come in until today, Mr. Scourge,” he reported in a low, gruff voice.” I spotted her right away; your description was perfect.” Jimbo Bond was not one to pass on a suck-up if he could avoid it. “She bought a vase at 10:38 and a mug at 2:54, but didn’t leave until closing time. After that, she came straight here and hasn’t left again.”
“Great work, Lash. Why don’t you knock off for the night? I’ll meet you at the One’s-a-Meal in the village tomorrow morning at eleven (perversely choosing a time that would prevent him from going to church; he’d have to find an early service or be doomed to hell) and tell you what the next step is.”
Just about that time The Boomer came driving down the street. I continued walking as if nothing had happened, but at the first sound of the car coming toward the corner Jimbo Bond dove headfirst through some bushes near the sidewalk and rolled into a shallow ditch. When he caught back up with me he smelled faintly of dog shit. He probably would have broken a rib if he’d landed on his pistol, but I’ve always had trouble mustering up sympathy over self-inflicted injury. Anyway, he didn’t complain but took up the conversation where we had left off.
“I think I’ll stay here for a couple more hours, sir,” Jimbo Bond said, flexing his martyr complex.” I’m not too tired and there’ll be time to catch up on sleep after this is all over. If I find out anything else, I’ll call right away.”
“Good man. I knew we could count on you.”
Jimbo Bond looked around carefully to make sure that we weren’t being watched, then gave me a snappy salute and took off at a jog back to his vulture blind opposite 114 Winchester. I strolled back to my rendezvous with The Boomer, somehow keeping my snickers low all the way around the next corner.