Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Learning to Breathe, Part III

Read Part II here.

In this episode, Doherty and Weaver wonder about the motives of the three cowboys hanging around outside of the train depot. 

Three cowboys stood across the street, eyeing Doherty and Weaver. They spoke to each other briefly, and then set off toward the truck.
“Might want to get out that billy club,” said Doherty.
“You get the tire iron.” Weaver nodded.
It had come to that, more than once, in their journey from New York into Wyoming. Sometimes it was fists. Sometimes billy clubs and tire irons. They knew where their weapons were stashed and moved toward them. Doherty and Weaver were not harbingers of peace but of war. They brought sad tidings to the heartland.
Two of the cowboys looked like brothers – tall and thin, youngsters. The third cowboy was older, short and stout, with a dark beard and mustache. They all wore dungarees and battered cowboy hats. They didn’t say anything, not at first.
“Hello,” said Doherty.
“Howdy,” said the older cowboy. “What ya got here?”
“Hailie Selassie, Lion of Judah.”
“He’s putting up a fight against those fuckin’ fascists, the Italians. They’re using poison gas.” He tapped his chest with a calloused hand. “I got gassed in France by the Huns.”
“We’ve both been gassed,” said Doherty.
The older cowboy looked him up and down. “You been in the fight, ain’t ya?”
Doherty nodded.
“You too,” said the older cowboy to Weaver. “You got iron in your face.” He turned his head to spit a stream of tobacco into the dusty street. “These two boys,” he said nodding first at one of his companions and then the other. “They ain’t been in the fight. You’ll be good hands when the next war comes, won’t you boys?”
They both nodded.
“They don’t say much,” said the older cowboy. “What you got planned for that pansy-ass Lindbergh?”
Doherty gestured at the statue and then the banner. “That’s our message,” said Doherty. “It’s aimed at Lindbergh and his appeasement pals. We usually get some pushback from crowds. We always get other people who know we are facing a mess and have to do something about it.”
The cowboy reached over and grasped Doherty’s left hand. “Fights?”
“This black fella,” he said, nodding at Weaver. “He can hold his own?”
“Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek,” Weaver said. “Sometimes you run out of cheeks.”
The cowboy laughed. “True enough.”
“He’s also one hell of an artist,” Doherty said.
“He do that statue?”
“Made from spent Italian artillery shells.”
“No shit?” He walked over to the truck bed and ran his hand along the statue. He peered closer and looked over at Weaver. “I see numbers from the shell casings. That is something. Come over here, boys.”
The young men joined the older cowboy. All three of them eased their way around the truck bed, looking at the statue. When they rejoined Weaver and Doherty, the older cowboy asked: “How can we help?”
“Well,” said Weaver. “We want Lindy out here where he can see our message.”
“He coming out?”
“We don’t know,” said Doherty. “We just knew he was coming into the station for a stop on his speaking tour.”
“Let’s see if we can get him out,” said the older cowboy.
“I can go into the depot and yell fire,” said one of the younger cowboys.
“No, boy, we’d have a stampede then. The cops will come and the first to be arrested will be our Negro friend here.” The cowboy pointed at Weaver.
“I’m not a Negro anymore,” said Weaver. “I’m Rastafari.”
“Jamaican,” Doherty said. “It’s a religion they have down there.”
The cowboy nodded, but Doherty could tell that he didn’t understand.
After a moment of silence, the cowboy asked, “So how are we going to get Lucky Lindy out here?”
One of the young cowboys said, “Maybe somebody could go in and ask Mr. Lindbergh nicely to come outside.” He gave a tentative grin.
Everyone stared at him. The older cowboy sighed. “These boys are still wet behind the ears. You going to ask those Nazi dive bombers to nicely stop bombing you when the war starts?”
“No,” said the young cowboy.
The older cowboy spat a stream of tobacco juice into the street. 
“What if we go inside and announce that there’s an air show?” That was the other young cowboy. He smiled.
“Sure, why not,” said the older cowboy. “Lindbergh flew into our airfield when I was a kid. Didn’t get to meet him but saw his plane. I bet he loves air shows.”
Doherty looked at Weaver. “What do you think?”
“Might work. Lindy is an airplane guy.”
“He is that,” said the older cowboy. “That’s a fine, idea, Bobby. You surprise the hell out of me sometimes.”
Bobby beamed. His brother looked down, scuffed his right boot against the pavement.
But Lindy didn’t have to be lured outside. That’s where the cameras were, and Lindy liked the cameras. The sun pushed back the dust cloud, brightening up the day. 
Doherty surveyed his impromptu group. The future was a dangerous place, He would walk into it with a black sculptor from Detroit and an odd trio of cowboys. So many of them, all over the world, regular folks tired of being stepped on. Bullies like Lindy and Hitler and Mussolini and Franco and the bosses of industry. Their time was done. He had witnessed their deeds in Madrid and San Sebastian. Doherty was angry. He often was up nights, awakened by visions of shell bursts and open wounds. He was surprised to be 28 and alive. He’d been a paid soldier for the capitalists and a piss-poor mercenary in Spain. He had to laugh at that. Yes, he had a satchel filled with his book of poems. He gave one to each person who put two bits or more into the collection box. It was his cry for justice, no matter how small. All he knew was that the world’s bullies needed a shellacking and he was here to start the payback.
To be continued...
Read Learning to Breathe, Part IV, on Friday, Jan. 27. Next week, the author talks about the background of this story. 

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