Two Men in a Pickup
OK, so far so good. I'm guessing Kirk is with Frank, wherever they are, and the Lazy J sounds like the place to look for them. What the hell Kirk is doing with this guy I'm not so sure. I'm just remembering how easily charmed he is by any bit of friendly attention from an older man. He's wanted a father so bad for so long, all it takes is a wink and a grin, and his eyes fill with stars.
And so far, I'm not really worried. Frank's probably romanced him out of his wranglers by now, but the worst he'll get from it is homesick -- and maybe a case of crabs.
Don and I order up something to eat and a couple beers before hitting the road again. A man the size of a Kelvinator talks up the plateful of macaroni and cheese he's consuming, but we go for the chicken fried steak and gravy, with an eye on a homemade apple pie we can see on the pass-through from the kitchen. We climb onto stools at the bar.
The bartender looks at me funny, and then decides not to bother asking for ID. Don leans against me for a moment to say in my ear, "Thought there for a minute we might have to use our fists to get out of here."
Only because his shoulder is pressing against mine, I touch my bottle to his before taking a mouthful. "You're talking to a guy with glasses," I say. "I only know how to run like hell." The beers are cold and good.
Several workmen in scuffed, white hardhats file through the door. It's a road crew we passed several miles back. One of them comes to the bar, and I recognize him as the guy with the SLOW sign, who gave us a big smile, one thumb tucked into the pocket of his jeans and his fingers pointing toward his fly. He has long silver thermoses and waits for them to get filled with coffee, making small talk with anybody willing to listen.
He's about the same age as me, several days' growth of dark beard on his face, dark aviator glasses. His feet in heavy work boots, he cocks one toe across the other and leans into the bar, elbows wide, almost touching mine. With one thumb, he fingers a nipple through the white tee shirt he's wearing.
The other men are crowding around a table, pulling off their hardhats and running fingers through sweaty hair. They start calling out orders.
"One at a time," the bartender says, writing them down with a stubby pencil on a little note pad.
"What about my coffee, Lavern?" the guy beside me pleads.
"Hold your horses," the bartender says.
I take a drink of my beer, put the bottle back on the bar, and step down from the stool, headed for the john.
There's a hand-lettered sign "Gents" on the door, and I push through. Against one wall is a long metal trough, draining at one end. I step up to it, pulling open my fly buttons and digging in my jockeys for my dick. Before you can say "let 'er rip," the door behind me swings open, and in comes my friend with the aviators.
He takes a position beside me, kind of wiggling around in his jeans as he unzips and pulls out his cock. I'm using my side vision and getting a look at a nice long one curving out from his fly and nodding as he holds it between two fingers, waiting for the action.
I've got a good stream going now, and it's working its way along the bottom of the trough right in front of him. He hits it with a splash and grins, like he's been aiming for it. Then I sense his gaze drifting over to my dick, and his fingers lightly stroking down on his own. It expands in his hand, stretching down farther. He shifts his work boot so it touches mine.
"Hey, cowboy," he says under his breath. "Show me what you got."
"You're looking at it," I say.
"No, I mean hard."
With that the door swings open, and somebody else comes in. My eyes go front and center and I concentrate on finishing my job. The new guy steps to the other side of my friend in the aviators, and I hear the sound of a zipper coming down firmly. I glance over and recognize Don, with his long legs and high belt buckle.
In that same glance, I see the guy next to me, who's shifted his attention to the strip of white underwear showing in Don's fly. I have to say I'm half curious myself. I've only seen Don in his boxers, briefly (if I can use those two words together without a groan from the back row), the morning after sleeping off his night of distress at Mike's. I remember that as he walks, there's a lot of movement between his legs, swinging this way and that against the give and pull of the fabric.
His dick, when it emerges from his fly, does not disappoint. It's fat and long, a nice slab of foreskin making the tip look even chunkier. Now I can feel the guy between us gravitate in that direction. His own dick, as he shakes off some drops, pulls away from him, lifting, pointing stiffly ahead like a setter spotting game.
Don, I sense, is trying not to notice. Poor guy.
I take a step back, stuffing my dick into my underwear and buttoning my fly. I can see their backsides in their jeans, the muscles in Don's butt flexing. Legs spread wide, he seems to be balancing on his toes. From the angle of his hat, it looks like he's staring straight down at his dick.
I'm all done and pull open the door, heading back to my stool at the bar. There are plastic bowls of iceberg lettuce for Don and me, and a bottle of ranch dressing. When Don comes back he doesn't say anything for a long time, just drinks his beer and spears chunks of salad into his mouth with a fork.
After a while, the other guy comes out of the john. I'm guessing if you went back there now and checked the stall, you'd find warm cum running down the inside of the door. When the bartender sets down his full thermoses on the bar, he walks over to get them. Out of the corner of my eye, I see his rough hands scooping them up. He turns to me, holding them, and says, "You guys ever get up to Valentine?"
I look up at him, and he's got his aviators pushed up on his forehead. For the first time I can see his dark brown eyes, kind of laughing back at me. He's cute, dammit.
"Can't say that we do," I say.
"Well, if you're in town, lookin' for fun on a Saturday night, drop by the Windmill," he says. "Whatcher names anyway?" he wants to know.
I tell him, and he tells me his. He hugs the thermoses to his chest and sticks out his free hand. When I shake it, it's still warm and damp from beating off in the toilet. Don puts down his fork long enough to shake hands, too.
"Friendly guy," I say to Don, when he's gone.
Don just says, "No shit."
It's early afternoon. Our bellies are full, and there's the aftertaste of home-made apple pie between my teeth. We're headed north again on another two-lane stretch of road. I stick one arm out the window, wishing Don's truck had a radio. Then looking at the rolling hills of pastureland, I'm wondering if there are any radio signals out there. It could be slim pickings.
"What is it with you anyway?" Don finally says. "You attract queer boys like some kinda magnet."
"That guy at the bar?" I ask.
"The guy in the can," he says, "with the hard-on."
"Hell, Don, he was more interested in you than me."
"Bull shit," he says.
"Don't gimme that," I say. "Look at you. Tall, well-built, good looks. The way you move around, real slow and easy like you do, you're like a big cat in those wranglers. You oughtta get a look at yourself sometime walking the other way."
"Bull shit," he says again.
"Even your dick is good looking."
He has no comeback for that, of course.
"Me, I'm just Joe Ordinary," I say. "You can call me J. O. for short."
"It was you he talked to."
"Only because I was sitting there with you, and you were like a bump on a log."
He says nothing again.
"I'm right," I say. "And I think you know it."
"No you're not," he says. "And you're not ordinary. I can see why Mike likes you."
I look over at him, curious. One hand gripping the wheel, the other with knuckles curled under on his thigh, his long legs spread wide. He's looking straight ahead at the road from under the brim of his hat.
"You're always thinking," he says.
I say something dumb like "Isn't everybody?"
"You're smart," he says. "Mike was always smarter than me in school. I think he even liked school."
And he goes on to tell me how Mike was so good in math. Even took an advanced algebra class because he liked the teacher. Left Don to fend for himself in study hall.
"Mr. Jackson," Don says. "He was the math teacher. Wore glasses like yours. Friendly guy if he liked you. He didn't think much of me."
Now I'm the one not sure what to say.
"I wish..." he starts to say, but doesn't finish the sentence.
"Wish what?" I finally ask.
"Aw, nothin'." He pats his shirt pocket for his cigarettes.
Way off in the distance, in a big field beside the road, I can see two horses running, manes and tails flying.
At the Brownlee turn-off, there's a row of three mailboxes and a tall sign with the names of a dozen or more ranches in block letters and the distance to each. The sign is on my side of the road, and Don leans across the seat, ducking down to see out my window.
"47 Ranch...Box T...Brush Creek...I don't see it," he's saying.
"On the bottom," I say. "Lazy J Ranch, 11 miles west, 5 south."
Out across the open rolling rangeland, the bright air is alive with the sound of birds. Don settles back behind the steering wheel, shifts into low gear, and we start heading west down a dirt road, kicking up a thin cloud of dust as we pick up speed.
Brownlee is a sleepy village with a post office and no sign of life anywhere. Don keeps on driving.
"Used to be Negroes living out here," he says. "Didja know that?"
This is not the kind of information I expect from Don. He turns and looks at me for a second, checking for my reaction.
"Homesteaders," he says. "Can you believe it?" He shakes his head.
"It's possible, I suppose," I say, and I'm thinking he must have read this in a book, something I have trouble picturing. Do they cover it in Nebraska history class? I missed it if they do. "Where'd you find out about this?"
"Mike told me," he says. "We used to fish up this way. There's lakes of all kinds around here." He waves one arm toward the hills. "He showed me a graveyard once, somewhere back off the road. They're buried there, a lot of them."
"What happened to them?" I say.
"Died, I guess," he says.
I rephrase the question. "The ones our age. Are any of them still around?"
"Mike didn't say," he says.
I find myself imagining conversations between the two of them, Mike patiently explaining things, Don nodding and trying to stay interested. Maybe Don is thinking the same thing.
The road is rough, with stretches of washboard that rattle my teeth. Don doesn't slow down much, and we just bang over them. The tires kick up stones that rattle in the wheel wells.
Every couple of miles we pass the entrance to another ranch, a wide opening in the barbed wire fence and a cattle grid. Each is marked by a weathered wooden sign or ironwork hanging from a metal frame. In the distance, at the end of a long winding driveway, there's a cluster of low buildings and sheds with a few trees.
The sky above is streaked with wisps of clouds like brush strokes. Here and there growing out of sloughs are clumps of cottonwoods, some broken up by storms and winter winds, but most everything else is hilly grassland, bright with sunlight. Miles of it, broken only by the occasional windmill and a few cows.
"Bullheads," Don says finally. "That was about all we ever caught up here." Now I know what he's been thinking about.
And I think of Mike, sixteen or seventeen, riding along like this with him, getting horny and wanting to reach over and put his hand inside Don's thigh. Or stopping in a cemetery overgrown with prairie grasses, wanting to lie down with him under the open sky, and make love to the sound of birdsong on the wind.
Finally, we come to a cross roads. Don checks the odometer. "This is it," he says, and turns left. The road more or less follows the slow meanderings of a nearly dry stream and after crossing a narrow iron bridge strikes off over the hills.
Cresting one of them, it feels like we're being lifted into the sky, and then at the top, we can see miles of empty road stretching out straight before us, into the distance. I realize that since we left the highway, we have not met a single truck or car.
Long before we get to it, we can see up ahead the entrance to the Lazy J. There's a cross beam over the gate, with a rough plank hanging from it by chains at either end. The letters of the ranch's name have been punched out of the wood, and the J is tilted cock-eyed, kind of rocking back on its heels.
Don slows and pulls in, the tires making a thrumming sound over the cattle grid, and I can feel the vibrations in the seat of my pants. My dick gives a stir between my legs. The road into the ranch is rutted where rain water has stood. The surface is still soft in places, and there are hoof marks of cattle.
The road swings around a massive stack of hay bales and widens out over a hard dirt area with barns, sheds, and corrals on one side. Farther on, there's a big old ranch house with a screened-in porch.
I'm looking for a sign of the Fairlane, but the only vehicle in sight is a pickup with its tailgate down, pulled up by the open door of one of the sheds. Two horses in one of the corrals come to the fence and watch us, interested, as Don pulls up beside the pickup and cuts the engine.
I'm puzzled. I was sure we'd find Kirk here, and now I don't know why I was so sure. There's no sign of Frank's camper either, but that could be anywhere and out of sight.
There is a radio playing inside the shed. Sounds like Sons of the Pioneers, "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds."
"Somebody's home," Don says, and we get out. The back of my shirt is wet from sweat, and in the soft breath of a breeze, I feel my skin start to cool in the dry air.
Following Don, I'm watching the way he ambles in his boots up to the shed door and then ducks inside. As he lifts one long leg to step over the sill and onto a concrete floor, I'm aware of his broad shoulders -- and his wallet in one rear pocket snug against his butt. I think again of Mike and how often he must have held back the urge to reach out and touch him.
The shed is a shop, with a long work bench and tools. Harnesses hang along the walls, and there is a saddle astride a saw horse in one corner. A ladder leads up to a loft and there is a doorway into another room.
On the work bench, gripped tight in a vise, there's a long hay mower bar, a ball-peen hammer and chisel, and a box of replacement blades. Another bar, blades all sharpened and shiny, rests upright against the bench.
"Anybody here?" Don shouts.
After a minute, a man sticks his head out from the back room. He's short and lean. Stove pipe jeans and cracked old boots, rumpled white shirt unsnapped half way down the front. Reaches up with one hand to touch the brim of his cowboy hat, a nice old fashioned one with a high crown. Skin like leather, and an overgrown moustache drooping down to his chin.
"Howdy," he's saying, all smiles, like he's glad to have company. And maybe he is.
"Howdy," Don says, sounding all cowboy and don't-fence-me-in. I realize how much at home he seems out here -- or wants to be.
"What can I do for ya?" the man says.
"Lookin' for somebody," Don says and turns to me. "You tell 'im."
The man's eyes shift to me, killer blue. "We're looking for a boy," I say. "And a man named Frank. Someone said they might be here."
And at that moment someone else steps from the back room. It's a boy, and he's got one helluva shiner. His arm is in a cast, from knuckles to elbow. But it's not Kirk, and it's not Frank.
"Don't know any Frank," the guy says. "Do you, Tommy?" he says to the boy.
"Can't say as I do," says the boy. He's wearing a work shirt with one sleeve torn open and flapping around the cast. His hat seems far too big for his head, and he's got on a pair of levi's with a rodeo buckle. I can't help noticing that his fly is open.
"What happened to you, boy?" says Don.
"Aw, nothin'," says the boy, looking away.
"Found a phone pole with his name on it," says the guy, chuckling. "Totaled his dad's car." Then he turns his blue eyes to the boy and says kindly, "Darn lucky to be alive, if ya ask me."
The boy pulls himself together, trying to look unconcerned.
"Been a real man about it, though," says the guy. "Does just about everything with that cast on, ride a horse, use a pitch fork -- except for one thing he can't quite get the hang of."
"What's that?" Don says, as if it isn't obvious.
"Kinda needs a helping hand to get his fly buttoned," the guy says and chuckles again. He squats down on one knee and works the boy's buttons, one at a time, into the button holes. I'm watching his fingers brush softly over the boy's crotch, then kind of pat it down smooth when he's done.
Don gives me a quick look -- like, what the fuck?
"I've known this young pup since he was knee high to a grasshopper," the guy says.
The boy is eager to leave, too embarrassed to be polite. Anyway, there's someone waiting for a sharpened mower bar out in the meadow. The two of them carry it outside to the pickup and lay it down carefully in the back.
"Careful, don't cut your fingers," he says to the boy. "You need all of 'em you got."
The kid jumps into the cab and revs the engine, determined to get himself away from three grown men who know when he takes a piss, he can't do his own fly.
"Like I said," the guy says, coming back into the shop. "Don't know any Frank." He stands with his weight on one leg, scratching his head. "Unless you're talking about a big man worked here a couple summers back. Kind of a talker. Said he was a bareback rider."
"Could be him," I say.
"Well," says the guy. "Hard tellin' where he is. Could be anywhere, I reckon."
Don has been standing with his thumbs in his pockets, kind of staring at the floor, "Any rodeos around here this time of year?" he says.
"Yeah, coming up at Crawford," the man says.
"Where's that?" I ask.
"Oh, that's way out west of Valentine," he says.
"Out in the panhandle," Don says.
Now for the first time, I'm wondering if I should be getting worried. We're headed back to the highway, it's been a long day, and the sun is hanging in the sky behind us.
"What time do you think it is?" I ask Don.
He looks out the windshield toward the sky. "Hell if I know."
"I'm thinking we should call Mike," I say. "Maybe he's heard something." I'm also wondering what Mike would think about calling the police. Tell them we got a missing person. "Can you report a car stolen if you let somebody take your car in the first place?"
"Sure you want to involve the police?" Don says. "They're usually more trouble than they're worth."
"Guess I'll let Mike decide," I say.
"Tell you what," Don says. "I figure we got a couple more hours of good daylight. We can easily make Valentine for the night."
I'm surprised he's been thinking ahead. But then he's driving.
"Or we could go back home," I say.
"What for? Ain't you havin' fun?" Don says, grinning.
I haven't thought of this as anything but doing Mike a favor. For Don, I realize, it's become an adventure. Maybe it was for him all along.