Click for larger view
View full resolution
My father was hooked on one brand, Ancient Age, always in pints, perhaps to stow snug in the glove box with the pearl-handled pistol, and likely to prove he was a moderate man, and he would tell stories of his partner Earl Thatcher, a devotee of excess, intolerance and wrath, who’d slip away from dinner to take a piss but slink back to the room, sneak a sip from my father’s bottle and add water to hide his habit, but Earl was a steady liar who never in his life solved a single crime, to hear my father tell it, an improvident [End Page 108] soul prone to nocturnal misdemeanors himself, a bald rascal who ran with underage women and ate Chinese straight from the white box with sticks, an imposter who didn’t know a six-cylinder from a V-eight. He shortcutted the Miranda recitation, might slap a suspect in private and believed the cuffs’ teeth were meant to maim. They both liked their evening drink, however, and would sit before the TV, sound down to a whisper and compare notes, plan the next day’s interviews and crime scene searches. It was arson they were hired to unravel, usually by half-wits eager for the insurance, and I’ve seen many pictures of the pair in charred ruins, their coveralls streaked with soot, remnants of an oily rag lifted on a stick or pointing at scorched remains of some poor fool who didn’t know his craft and chose the wrong accelerant or was overcome by smoke. They both smoked Camels, and Earl was portly, a smooth man who liked his sleep and told crude farmer’s daughter jokes when he wasn’t bragging, while my father held himself to one jigger’s worth an evening and stripped to his skivvies to enjoy his routine fifty push-ups before retiring. Earl got fired, of course, and my father laughed at the ways he tried to justify his misdeeds, especially in expense account matters, but years later Dad confessed he missed the game of jockeying to see who’d leave the tip or rush into a firebug’s house first, weapons at the ready, and then he would go back to the kitchen cabinet and pour a second dash of Ancient Age and prepare to reminisce until he’d circle back around to the ever-present pity that it was Earl who told me about the darker methods of law officers and who took me to the range with ample rounds to fire at human silhouettes until I could deliver a tight group in the kill zone, at which point I’d swear with all of Earl’s extravagant cursing art, praising the rascal who taught me how to breathe and squeeze the trigger and shoot for the heart. [End Page 109]
R. T. Smith is Writer-in-Residence at Washington and Lee University, where he edits Shenandoah. His most recent book of poems is Outlaw Style (Arkansas, 2008), and his new book of stories is Sherburne (Steven F. Austin Press, 2011). He has received three Pushcart Prizes, and his recent poems have appeared in Sewanee Review, Louisville Review, and Pleiades.