Let me tell you about Placid. From the moment I saw her, me in that pitiful pit of self-pity, me the craven weakling, the very sight of her sent my soul catapulting into a fresh realm. Yes, I think realm is a fitting term. Kingly. Royal. We’re a kingdom of sorts. Not a huge kingdom. Just the 10 acres. The 10 acres, and the two of us with a love that is a universe unto itself.
To think I ever even considered the highfalutin’ Alexis: chilled, enameled. Her kind may seem unique. But really, a dimestore item. As was whiny Sheri. Was I a fool? Or just lonely? Weak and lonely. A man needs a woman. A man needs someone to serve him some good grub, keep the house in order, to reward him when he's right. And give him a slap when he's out of line. That's the way God planned it.
Placid is rooted, steady, on the beam. Cute as a button. Perky. And one darn good cook! Learned all she knows from her mom, Marjorie.
I was thinking of Placid and how I’d do anything to protect her, while headed to a rendezvous with justice, riding through the night in silence. I was one of five men with a job to do. We didn't ask for this to happen, but to ignore it would’ve been remiss. Looking to the stars, I was profoundly grateful for my rebirth and for this golden opportunity to prove my mettle to my town. My town! Yep, Prentice is where I live and where I will die.
Earlier, relaxing with Zeke in his study, he explained tonight's mission to me.
"Pete Duchamp is a stain on our community, always has been. A womanizer and a boozehound extraordinaire. And a braggart. A loose devil-may-care sort. Oh, he's a charmer, a likable fellow to some, but he's used up the last of his rope, cast his fate to the wind. Always been immoral and boastful, as was his pap. And his pap before him. Pete thinks he's smart, brazenly cavorting with this new hussy. Anyhoo, tonight we'll see how smart he is." Zeke opened a desk drawer and produced a Colt .45, gave the cylinder a twirl. I liked the sound of that well-oiled machine. Quiet, yet solid. No mistaking that sound for anything else. Like a rattler.
"Anyhoo, don't fret none. It's loaded with blanks. All bark, no bite. Course, they won't know that. Heh! That bark will put a fear of God in the sinners, make 'em consider the big picture. Y'see, Roger, God has a plan for us, each and every one of us. If'n we abide by His rules, all will be hunky-dory for eternity. If'n we don't, we burn for eternity. Now think about that for a bit. You've been burned by fire. Your immediate response is to pull away from it. Immediate. It hurts like the dickens! Now imagine that feeling all over! Now try, just try, to imagine that for eternity. You cannot! Our itsy-bitsy brains cannot even begin to fathom such pain for all of eternity. We think a century is a long time. Well, listen here! Listen! A century is nothing. Listen! A billion years isn't even a surface scratch on eternity. Let that settle in, boy. Now some namby-pamby might mewl that what we're going to do to Pete and his floozy is cruel. Tain't so, boy! Listen! As Christians we are supposed to love our neighbor as we love our own self. Well, if'n I were teetering on the precipice of burning for eternity I would sure want some good soul to grab me by the back of my collar and yank me back to grace, give me a second chance, a chance to repent, to reform. We are all redeemable, even a louse like Pete Duchamp."
"What about a cold-blooded murder? Would he be redeemable?"
"Yes siree, bub! If'n he's genuinely sorry and has made his peace with God, if'n he has accepted Christ as his savior. It’s as if you pulled a nail out of the wall, plastered the hole, sanded the plaster nice and smooth, and painted over the area with a fresh coat of matching paint. Good as new! Now, that doesn't mean the murderer gets off the hook with society. To society he stills owes a debt. We are still obliged to hang the cuss. But after he's hung, zing! Straight to the pearly gates. To tell you the truth, as much as Pete Duchamp gets under my skin, I hope to see him on the other shore in the sweet bye and bye. I hope tonight points him to that destination. He is in my prayers, yes siree, bub."
Zeke looked down. I could read the solemnity on his face.
I paused to think. What if I hadn't encountered Rev. Kane? What if I'd still been on my merry self-centered way, headed straight to damnation? I got to thinking that if it hadn't been for Landon Bailey and Alexis Prentice, I never would've bumped into Placid, and then met her dad, and then, well, you can see where this is going. Suddenly, my attitude to Landon and Alexis softened. I owed them a huge debt, even if inadvertently. I would include them in my prayers, pray that they find their way, too.
My eyes wandered to a framed photo of Zeke with Marjorie and Placid. The photo must be about five years old, Placid appears to be 14 or so. I would've been 25. Big difference in age, I'll grant you that, but we are like two peas in a pod. You know how a cat can sense what you're going to do before you do it? It's like that with us. Often, we finish a sentence for the other. Harmony. And that gal's got a head on her shoulders. Graduated from Didymus Prentice High with honors, went right to work at Prentice Hill stable. That's done now, of course. Plenty to do making a home, especially with the little one on its way. One thing I've noticed about horse gals: they're good gals. That's because they've assumed a huge responsibility, a horse. It's a lot of heavy lifting, requires loving care. It brings out the best in a female. Horse gals don't chew gum or moon over movie stars.
Zeke and I were dressed for tonight's assignment, regulation Silver Knight Rider: olive drab uniforms, pants bloused into shiny black combat boots. And when the time came, we'd don masks like the Lone Ranger wears.
As a soon-to-be father, heck, as a citizen of Prentice, I'd feel negligent if I didn't take part in tonight's venture. No one wants filth in their den. Not even an animal wants that.
"Besides the joy in setting a soul right, these forays can be a lot of fun, Roger. I wish you'd been with us last year when we busted up that moonshine operation! Swept down on those varmints, chopped up their still with axes! You should've seen them buzzards, boy! Hopping mad! We hogtied 'em, blindfolded 'em, dropped 'em off deep in the middle of the woods, poured stink juice all over 'em! Big bad gangsters were whimpering like little girls before we were through with 'em!"
Zeke was laughing so hard he had to pause and dab at his eyes with a hanky. I couldn't help but laugh, as well.
"Anyhoo, tonight will be fun, too. Amy told me about this boarder, told me she was selling back alley champagne out of a suitcase. And she's got a shaved head! Wears a wig!" Zeke cleared his throat and continued, jogging his head left to right, "Big city woman, thinks she can waltz in here, peddle poison, and do the do with Pete Duchamp? Well, she's got another think coming!" Glancing at his watch he said, "Getting to be that time. Let's roll. Better a little early than late." One thing I learned about Zeke: he's never late. Usually about five minutes early, keeps you on your toes. He stood, ramrod straight, holstered the revolver, grabbed a whip, and headed to the door, me in his wake.
He doused the headlights about a half-mile before we got to Lookout Ridge, rolled along another quarter mile or so, parked. The five of us got out and snuck up on Duchamp and the tramp, surrounded the Buick convertible, its top down. Invisible to the lovebirds, we had a clear view, Romeo's pants at his knees, a hand up her skirt, getting ready to make his move. She was moaning like a beast. Disgusting. Then Zeke fired his Colt in the air and cracked the whip. Man alive, did they jump! Zeke was like a lion tamer at the circus, firing the pistol, cracking the whip, skipping about! It was a sight! I almost burst out laughing, then thought back to Korea and the little guy I shot to pieces, stifled the laugh in a wink.
Zeke bellowed, "Out of that car of sin! Now! Out! Now! Strip down to your skivvies!" Crack! Pow! Crack! They panicked like a couple of horned toads tossed onto a red-hot frying pan! Pete tripped out and fell on his face, what with his pants down. Zeke was correct in his prediction: Duchamp wasn't looking too smart!
Once they were down to their bare necessities, Zeke ordered them to lie facing the ground. "Because that is what you are! Dirt!" We poured a few gallons of red paint and epoxy all over them, then sliced open a couple of pillows and covered the lovebirds, fittingly, with feathers. Their clothes were tossed into a pile and set afire, burned down to nothing but ash. "Mend your ways, or you'll wind up like that!" Crack! Crack! Pow! "Learn some shame!"
Zeke reached into the Buick, yanked the keys out of the ignition and sailed them arcing down the ravine.
"Have a nice walk back to town. And if'n we see your face again, Little Miss Bo Peep, you’ll be sorry. Best you skedaddle before noon." I had to admire Zeke. Even in this time of passion, he refrained from coarse language. A gentleman. And a scholar. His education didn't grind to a halt when he received his degree. His bookshelves are crammed with serious books on Christianity, history, philosophy. He can emphasize a point by quoting a sonnet or a Greek or scripture.
Pow! Crack! Crack! They were lying there, face down covered with paint and glue and feathers. Pete took it like a man, she was sobbing. We trotted back to the DeSoto, hit the road, hooting and hollering. At one point Zeke had to pull over, he was laughing so hard. We all were. He managed to choke out, "Oh, what I wouldn't pay... to see Pete Duchamp... and that whore... dragging their sorry rear ends... into town, right about dawn! Oh, some early birds... are going to behold a sight! And we have a lot of... early birds in Prentice!" We roared! From the back seat, Dane Schriber added, "I can... just see it... Pete in nothing but his briefs and wingtips, all... covered in red paint... and feathers! Staggering into town... Her in bra and... panties... wobbling on... high heels!" We roared again. It must've taken five or 10 minutes before we were composed enough to carry on. We'd calm down, then someone would say "feathers" or "high heels" and we'd be blind with laughter all over again. My sides hurt so bad!
Before I left, Zeke he took me aside as the other three were driving away, and said, "Another thing about Pete Duchamp: he drives a Buick. Those portholes on the sides of a Buick? Phony, just for show. A Buick owner is a sham, trying to impress with something bogus, a man of weak character."
On the drive home, I was still chuckling. I tried to recall when I'd laughed so hard for so long, and I couldn’t. Closest was at Scout camp, some of the practical jokes we pulled, stuff with cherry bombs or maple syrup.
"How'd it go, honey?" Placid sat up in bed, didn't turn on the lamp, but in the moonlight I could see her brushing blonde locks from sleepy eyes. Undressing, I replied, my voice sounding distant, I was still a little dizzy from the experience, "Great! Prentice is better today than it was yesterday. Cleaner."
"Your very first Knight Ride! I'm so proud of you, mister!" She hugged me.
"Y'know, false modesty aside, me too. And it was fun! If I'd known that being good could be so much fun, I would've been good a long time ago."
"Awww! That's my guy, that's my husband!"
We overslept, almost an hour, then hit the new day with gusto.