Two Men in a Pickup
OK, it's coming up on 4th of July weekend, and Mike says he's taking Kirk for camping and fishing over at Johnson Lake, is that OK with me. I say, sure. In fact, it's just fine. Kirk's been dying to have some time with his uncle, and anyway I'm easy.
The pool's been full for a while and is by now 5-10 degrees above nut freezing. And I can do with two days of absolutely nothing, with a cold six-pack in the shade, a copy of "Tropic of Cancer" by good old Henry Miller (I'm getting to the good parts), and taking a dip as the heat and humidity climb. Anything, just so it's not cultivating corn, greasing up machinery, or replacing broken tines in the hay rake. A well-earned rest for the hired hand.
This is the plan anyway until a scratched up, mud-streaked, dented, and otherwise distressed Chevy truck with cracked windshield, Oklahoma plates, and a big oversize camper on back pulls onto the place.
"Who the hell is that?" I ask Mike.
We're out in the barn, taking the cool of the evening and giving Mike's horse Ranger some company. Mike is cleaning up his stall with a pitchfork. Barn swallows flit and dip outside across the open sky. Kirk is around somewhere with Rusty the dog, probably out where the trees are thick in the shelterbelt, beating off.
"I'll be damned," Mike says, peering out the barn door.
Turns out to be Frank, someone from Mike's roaring days that he met at a rodeo. In fact, it's Frank and another guy, Pete, who we have yet to meet.
Just now the pickup doors are swinging open, one with a grinding squawk that's begging for WD-40, empty beer cans clattering to the ground, and the two of them emerge -- Frank, a big man in a cowboy hat, unbending stiffly as he puts his boots down and gradually stretches up to full height, digging in his crotch with one hand. And Pete, the smaller of the two, tumbling out and landing on both feet. They're looking around for a sign of life, and Mike hasn't moved yet.
"Aren't we going to say hello?" I ask him.
"I reckon," Mike says, not taking his eyes from the truck and the two men, and he walks out of the barn.
Mike's greeting is hearty. "You old sonofabitch," he says to Frank, and Frank grabs him in a bear hug and claps him on the back hard enough to knock the wind out of him. Then his eyes turn to me, and I smile when I'm introduced. He touches the brim of his hat politely and takes my hand in an iron grip. I try not to wince.
"This here's Pete," he says and gestures toward the other guy, who's got his hands stuffed in the front pockets of his levi's and barely nods hello. His hat is pulled down to his eyebrows, and there's not a flicker of interest in his face for either of us, the farm, or anything. I'm wondering if his ears make him self-conscious; they stick straight out from his head, right where his thick neck comes up behind his jaw.
"On our way up to Valentine," Frank says, and I can smell the beer on his breath. "Thought we'd swing by here and pay an old buddy a visit."
Mike, bless him, is quick to say that Frank and Pete are welcome to stay as long as they like (those are his exact words and should be in quotes), but he's got plans and tells Frank what they are. Frank indicates not the slightest disappointment. Makes apologies for showing up out of the blue.
And while I'm expecting him to say they'll be moving on come morning, Frank's intentions seem to be quite the opposite. Pete, of course, is still silent as a fence post. Frank, who seems to make decisions for both of them, has come to stay for a while. Fuck, I'm thinking, there goes my weekend. And go it does.
There's more beer drinking as night falls, Ballantine's, and Frank pulls steaks out of an icebox in the camper to throw on the grill. Which we eat with a jug of steak sauce, a giant bag of potato chips, roasted sweet corn, baked beans, and peach pie from Piggly Wiggly. No one goes hungry tonight, not even Rusty the dog. All of us are crowded around the kitchen table, the mosquitoes being too thick in the backyard. The two of them, cowboy-style, never take off their hats.
Kirk, when he meets them, is wide-eyed in his juvenile way, and we have to keep him from chugging down every beer Frank puts in front of him. I'm glad, in fact, that Kirk will be away for what I hope is the rest of their stay. Both of them regard him with what I take to be hungry looks. Once Frank kind of traps him against the kitchen wall with his beefy body, and I can see by the expression on Kirk's face that he doesn't have the sense to know when he's looking at trouble.
"Hey," Mike says, trying to sound angry. "That's my nephew."
I glance at Pete, who's sitting at the table watching and kind of glaring from under the brim of his hat.
Frank gives a beery grin and says, "Hey, we're just gettin' acquainted." And he looks down at Kirk. "Ain't we," he says sweetly. Kirk nods up at him.
As night draws in, someone goes to the camper for a bottle of Jack Daniels, and there's talk of fireworks. Frank has picked up a box of them, passing through Kansas, where so-called "illegal" explosives are freely available along the roadsides for all intent on risking life and limb in observance of the holiday. When Frank declares midnight as show time for his arsenal, Mike puts his foot down. Ranger gets jumpy if you pop gum anywhere near him; there'll be no fireworks. "A quiet sparkler will be about the limit," he says.
"You have a horse?" Frank wants to know.
"Out in the barn," Mike says. "In fact, he belongs to a buddy of mine."
Some time later, Frank sets off a cherry bomb anyway, just for the hell of it.
Somewhere around 2 a.m., things kind of wind down. Frank and Pete head out to the camper, and Mike sets the alarm for the crack of dawn, so he and Kirk can be on the road and gone while it's still early. The truck is already packed.
I'm taking a last wizz in the bathroom, and out the window I can hear racket from the camper -- someone kicking at the walls from the sound of it, growling noises, mumbling, and more laughter. The struts under the truck get to squeaking. Far, far off, maybe on some back road or down by the river where high school kids like to park and toss rubbers in the weeds, I can hear a string of firecrackers sputtering. Rusty at the back door barks once, and then blessed silence descends. A cricket starts up in the grass, and another joins in.
When I get back to bed, I expect Mike to be asleep, but he reaches over to me as soon as my head hits the pillow. "What the fuck were you doing?" he says. "I've been waiting and waiting."
And he pulls me to him. There's the familiar feel of his hairy chest against my skin, his leg swinging over my thigh, and his toes curling against the back of my knees. I can feel his dick getting stiff against mine.
"I want to be sure you don't forget me while I'm gone," he says.
In a while he's between my legs, sucking me off, and while he's doing it, his fingers are pressing into my crack and doing nifty circles around my ass. I know what he's got in mind and just lie back and relax, my head swimming with beer and Jack Daniels.
When I've just about come, he's reaching for the K-Y and getting my knees up. There's the slippery smoothness of his fingers stroking me back and forth, his knuckles bumping the backside of my balls. Then I feel him slowly pressing into me, and there's the thickness of his cock gliding, gliding, gliding, as if there's no end to it. I push against him, until he's all the way in, and we're getting wet with each other's sweat, and I'm amazed that when I reach up to touch his arms and his chest, the feeling filling the inside of me is him, too. (Fuck, how lame that sounds; there's no putting this stuff into words.)
He rocks slowly and easily against me, setting up a rhythm in the waterbed that lulls me like a liquid lullaby (dumb metaphor, I know), and when he comes, he lets out a big sigh and then bends down to give me a long, whiskery kiss. I'm feeling his dick gliding out of me, and then he's heading back to my cock to finish what he started there -- which takes all of about two seconds. I'm now laid out limp as a soaking wet towel on a locker room floor.
"Don't worry," I say.
"About what?" he says, putting his head on his pillow, his hand still moist with K-Y, sweat, and cum pressed against my chest.
"I won't forget that."
Mike laughs softly and is quiet for a while. Then he tells me he's glad I'll be around to keep an eye on things, including Frank. "He's a nut-case," he says, yawning mightily. "Oh, and another thing. The guy's always got crabs, so don't let him fuck you."
I'm surprised he'd even think of this, and then I want to ask him how he knows about Frank's crabs anyway, but he's already asleep.
Come morning I wake up in the heat of the rising day -- Independence Day, 1964. There's a dim memory of Mike's alarm buzzing in the darkness, of Kirk complaining "it's too early" from his room, of lights switching on and off. Now the two of them are long gone, and I'm fishing a pair of my jockeys out of the sheets at the foot of the bed. A little wobbly stepping into them, I'll be looking for the Bufferin in the bathroom cabinet when I get there.
I'm on a second cup of coffee, still in my underwear, and washing up the dishes piled in the kitchen sink when I see Frank emerge from the camper and head for the house. All he's wearing is an old dirt-gray jockstrap, with a full pouch that looks like he's packing a stalk of broccoli. The sun is on his shoulders, and without his hat I see he's losing some of his hair. He's barefoot and stepping lightly on the dirt and gravel.
The screen door bangs open, and with a "morning, pardner" as he crosses the kitchen, he goes straight to the bathroom. I hear him pissing loud and long into the toilet. Then out he comes and he's got one big arm in the refrigerator reaching for a beer.
He pops the top and comes over to stand beside me, leaning with his butt against the drain board, drinking and scratching himself. This close I can see the scrapes and scars on his body.
"You rodeo?" I ask him. And he's just been waiting for an opening. He points out every mark on his body, with the story -- names, dates, places -- that goes with each one. This includes a detailed account of surgery on one knee.
"And some of this is just your normal wear and tear," he says and points to the inside of his thigh. "Goddam German Shepherd bit me there. Just sunk his teeth right in." He laughs like he still can't believe it.
He seems only sorry he doesn't have more to show me. I'm aware that all I have for show-and-tell is a bridge in my mouth from losing my front teeth in fifth grade, a history of broken glasses from various sports accidents and scuffles, and a pock mark on my shoulder from a B-B gun, shot by another 12-year-old who was aiming for my head.
"Look at you," Frank says, putting down his beer and stroking my back with a cold hand. "Smooth as a baby's bottom." Then his arms slip around me from behind, and he's stroking my chest and pinching my nipples. "Hey, cut that out," I say, but next thing I know, he's got me pinned in a corner of the countertop and is going for my underwear.
"These are history," he's saying, and slipping the fingers of both hands into the fly, he rips the front wide open. There's a brief rush of air on naked skin, and then he's got his mouth all over my dick, making munching and slurping sounds, his tongue still cold from the beer.
This isn't the first time someone takes advantage of me, to use an old-fashioned phrase (and remind me sometime to tell you that story), but the reason I'm telling you this at all is that while Frank is going to town on me, the screen door swings open, and in walks Pete, who takes it all in without missing a beat and walks right past us to the bathroom.
I'm totally hard by now, mostly from surprise, and I feel Frank's big, rough hands squeeze between my butt and the silverware drawer. The tendons in his wrists tighten as he takes a good grip and rips open the back of my jockeys, too, then spreads his fingers all over both cheeks. I'm horny (I'm always horny); ready or not, it takes me no time to come.
When I'm done, Frank lets my dick drop from his mouth and reaches for his beer to wash down the cum. He empties the can and crushes it in his hand. "Breakfast of champions," he laughs, spreading his knees and digging in his crotch again.
I hear the toilet flush and the water pipes singing, and Pete reappears in the kitchen. "You about done in here?" he says to Frank. And the two of them head back out to the camper, Frank giving me a sly wink as he goes. I'm standing there -- shaken, would be the word -- my hands still damp from dishwater.
Later, I'm out behind the garage, throwing trash and what's left of my underwear into the 50-gallon drum we use for an incinerator. And I see them walking around the barn, looking out over the cornfield (knee high by the 4th of July). Frank is pointing at something in the distance, with one arm over Pete's shoulders. I'm thinking, there's one odd couple.
Now the cat's away and the mice will play, you're thinking, and you may be expecting this story to end up by nightfall with a drunken three-some in the camper. You may have forgotten about Frank's crabs. I haven't.
When I've swept and mopped the kitchen floor (cripe, cowboys can make a mess), I declare clean-up over and head out to Mike's above-ground pool in the backyard. I get naked and hop into the big old innertube floating on the surface. The sun is beating down, and I feel a nap coming on.
I wake up a while later, feeling a little sunburned, and I look over to see Pete, with his elbows on the edge of the pool looking back at me. He's in a white tee-shirt, with his hat on.
"Come on in," I say.
He shakes his head. "I don't swim," he says.
Since the pool is all of four and a half feet deep, I figure he's referring to something besides fear of drowning. "Suit yourself," I say.
"If you're wondering where Frank is, he's out in the barn," Pete says.
I wasn't wondering. "What's he doing?" I ask.
"Nothing. I tied him up," Pete says, flipping his hat up for a second and readjusting it on his head. It's sweat-soaked around the headband, and I'm wondering why in this heat he doesn't just take the damn thing off.
"Tied him up, did you say?"
"Yeah, with rope. He gets a big kick outta that," Pete says. "I learned to tie knots real good when I was working with a moving company."
Considering Pete and I haven't said more than five words to each other until this very moment, I suppose what he's saying makes about as much sense as anything.
"I give him a couple hours," he says. "He'll either work himself free, or he won't."
I'm now completely revising my idea of what these two guys have in common. And I'm still not coming up with much.
"You know this morning," I say, meaning when he found Frank and me in the kitchen. "That was all his idea."
"Oh, that's his one trick," Pete says without cracking a smile. "It's the only one he knows."
I consider this. "I suppose you go through a lot of underwear."
"He doesn't fuck worth shit," Pete says.
This is really not my business, so I change the subject a little. "How did you two hook up anyway?"
He stares off into the trees for a while before answering. "Me and my buddy Roy were at a bar one night in Tulsa, minding our own business, and he started buying us rounds. Took us out to his camper when the place closed, for some fun he said, and the next morning my buddy had took off." All that remained of Roy, I learn, is a flannel-lined denim jacket he left behind.
There's now a tone of regret in Pete's voice. "Broke my heart," he says, and his eyes shift back to me.
The story, as it gradually emerges, is one of love found, love lost, and lots of high spirits in between. He and Roy meet one cold night at a barn dance in Idaho, sleeping in the hay after everyone goes home, along with some other young cowboys, who get to fooling around as the fire in the stove dies down and they crawl into a bunch to keep warm.
Instead of going home the next day, he and Roy light out in Roy's truck to look for ranch work in New Mexico. There's more than your usual share of horseplay, and after finding that fucking one another is just about the best thing since home cooking, they take a detour through the desert, parking every night under a cactus and the starry sky (that's my picture of it anyway), and wear out the inside of a sleeping bag.
"Once," Pete says, the beginning of a smile creeping across his face, "I'll never forget this. I climb over and get on his lap while he's driving. I steer and shift, and he works the pedals."
"How'd you stay on the road?"
"OK," he says, "until we tried it with his dick up my butt."
If you're reading this for the sex scenes, you can pretty much skip ahead now, because this is the last one for a while. It doesn't particularly matter that I'm starting to look at Pete with tenderness. That I'm no longer noticing the way his ears stick out. Or that I'm about to somehow coax him out of his clothes and into the pool. Because at that point, I'm looking over his shoulder and seeing Ranger out of the barn and trotting around the place.
"How did Ranger get out?" I say, sliding from the innertube and onto my feet.
Pete turns around with his usual lack of urgency and says, "Shit."
Throwing this narrative into fast forward a bit, I'll just say that a trip out to the barn reveals two things, (a) Frank has escaped, and (b) he's made his escape on horseback. There's about 50 foot of rope tied together and looping around a pair of posts supporting the hayloft, where Pete left him, trussed up with mover's knots.
And the wire gate at the far end of Ranger's corral is down. So I figure it's a good bet Frank rode out that way, taking the lane that goes along the cornfield toward the river. Until horse and rider got separated, apparently.
"But his clothes are still here," I say, pointing to Frank's wranglers and boots on the floor, and his jockstrap kicked against the wall. And I learn from Pete that Frank not only prefers getting tied up buck naked ("he likes to feel the rope burn"). He also likes riding bareback buck naked. I don't know why all this should surprise me. The one thing left to learn is (c) what the hell happened to him.
I get the Fairlane out of the machine shed, and we follow Ranger's tracks for a half mile or more until the lane makes a sharp turn around a slough bend, and there sitting under a clump of willow branches we find Frank, covered with dust, cussing a blue streak, and holding his shoulder like it's broken.
He's looking pathetic and is determined to tough it out. But once we've got him in the backseat, I keep driving until we get to the ER at the hospital in town. There's a little puzzlement over his appearance with nothing but a cowboy hat over his privates, but not all that much (ER's must see damn near everything), and a nurse manages to persuade him into a hospital gown.
There are X-rays, and while the doctor marvels over the display of old fractures and mended bones, he finds that Frank has done no further damage to himself. He is sent home with his arm in a sling and prescriptions for heavy-duty painkillers -- and a remedy for body lice. As evening falls, he is totally zoned out and flat on his back in the camper.
Pete and I rummage in the refrigerator for leftovers and more beer. I put some Ray Charles LPs on the stereo, and we venture outside to pull up a couple aluminum lawn chairs where we can watch the fireworks show over at the county fairgrounds. Pete's gone silent again, and after another beer I'm getting in the love-the-one-you're-with mood.
When the fireworks are over, I nudge Pete's knee with mine, but he doesn't nudge back. Then I put my hand inside his thigh and run my fingers up the inseam to his crotch, where I can feel his balls soft and warm. This maneuver always sends me, but Pete doesn't flinch. Good old Ray is singing, "I can't stop loving you. . ."
"I know what you're thinking," Pete says to me. "But I just want to be with my cowboy tonight." Somehow I know he doesn't mean Frank. I take my hand back.
"Another beer?" I say, after a suitable pause.
"Naw. I'm gonna turn in," he says, getting up from his chair.
I offer him the couch, but he says no thanks. If it's OK with me, he wants to sleep in the barn. And while the night's still young to my way of thinking, I'm watching him walk to the gate in the glow from the porch light, the back pockets of his levi's jogging up and down with each step. He stops at the camper for something, a blanket I figure, and then disappears in the darkness, headed for the barn.
A couple hours later, I'm reading Henry Miller and starting to get the yawns. I decide to look for Mike's long-handled flashlight and go check on the guests. Rusty gets up and follows me. In the camper, Frank is snoring away on a bedroll; he hasn't moved since we put him there.
I walk out to the barn. I check in all the empty stalls and then climb up the ladder to the hay loft. There in a little pile of the slough grass Ranger loves, Pete lies sound asleep, so relaxed his mouth is hanging open. His hat is tilted over one ear, but still on his head. As I move the flashlight beam over him, I see his levi's are unbuttoned. With one hand, he's still holding his dick. In the other hand, hugged to his chest, is a flannel-lined denim jacket.
My god, I think, love hurts.
The next day, the two of them are off before noon, heading for Valentine. Pete is driving; Frank who's been popping painkillers is riding shotgun, grinning, his eyes a little out of focus.
"Enough of this shit," Pete says to me, through his window. "Once I get him to Valentine, I'm hitchin' back home to Idaho."
"Maybe your buddy will show up," I say.
"Anything can happen," Pete says and drives off without looking back.
It's now down to me, Rusty, and Ranger. And the day, a Sunday, crawls sleepily through the steamy afternoon hours and toward evening. So much peace and quiet, I'm beginning to get bored with myself. Long about sundown, Mike and Kirk arrive home from fishing.
"They leave?" Mike wants to know.
"They're gone," I answer, and Kirk is punching me in the shoulder, happy to see me, I guess.
When Mike gets into bed that night, he reaches one hand around to my butt and pulls his crotch up to mine.
"I missed you," he says. "Did you miss me?"
"You have no idea," I tell him. "No idea."