mack cobb 1 again


Chapter 1

The Arroyo of the Sombra of Death

        The lanky fellow stands upon the makeshift porch which is a plank of plywood supported by two sawhorses at the front entrance of his house trailer.  He watches the distant rooster tail of dust from the car which winds slowly up the rough dirt road toward his hilltop.

        Mack Cobb wears rumpled onto his frame a red plaid shirt, jeans, and slung around his frame is an engraved leather gun belt with a big shiny revolver.  His head is the post for a small cowboy hat which barely shades his sun-engraved face and his feet are bare and brown and discolored with calluses.

        Mack Cobb draws on his anisette-flavored cheroot and then he exhales a recollection of passages from Faulkner’s Light in August:

Though the mules plod in a steady and unflagging hypnosis, the vehicle does not seem to progress. It seems to hang suspended in the middle distance forever and forever, so infinitesimal is its progress…

         This is Mack’s land for miles around hilly with a pelt of golden dry grass and with trees erupting here and there and scrambling for the sky.

        A Red-tailed Hawk krees and krees circling high above Mack’s hat.

        In the Toyota SUV hopping up the dirt road are Saddleback College History Undergraduate Scott Wolcott and his young Filipina wife Carolyn who pleads in a wobbly voice, “Sc-ott, slo-ow do-own, please!”

        Scott announces, “It’s li-ike we e are i-in a mo-otor bo-at in chop-py seas!”

        Carolyn begs, “Ple-ea-ea-se, Sco-ott.”

        Scott hunches forward holding the steering wheel like a praying mantis and he says, “We-e won’t ever get the-ere if I go-o an-y slo-ower.”

        Carolyn tries to speak in husband language, saying, “Wh-at will ne-ew sh-ock ab-sorb-ers cost yo-ou?”

        Scott then relents and slows their progress to a rolling see-saw, saying, “I could have taken the college’s Jeep, remember?”

        Carolyn makes a sour face, replying, “And ride the freeway in an open Jeep?”

        Scott smiles, saying, “Your Highness, the Mercedes was still in the shop.”

        Carolyn says, “Hey, Professor, I agreed to come with you to this dust bowl didn’t I?”

        Scott teases, saying, “I could have gotten Amanda to come along and help.”

        Carolyn says coolly, “But isn’t this the day she shaves her legs and her armpits?  And her face?”

        Scott and Carolyn finally arrive before the raised platform of the makeshift porch.  The house trailer is anchored three feet above the ground.  Mack Cobb is still standing there above casually eyeing the couple as he draws on his anisette-flavored cheroot.  He nods the barest of acknowledgement as Scott exits the SUV and raises his hand in greeting saying, “I’m the one you called.  I’m Scott from the college, this is my wife Carolyn.”

        Mack replies, “Well, howdy, Scott from the college and his wife Carolyn.  Thirsty?  Come around back so you don’t have to climb up on this porch.”

        Around back of the house trailer the hill is no longer steep but a tiny plateau and there is a rough hewn wooden stairway with a cast iron railing that ascends to the back door of the trailer.  The staircase contains many faintly askew angles that are charming like a child’s drawing or a modern art sculpture.  When Mack appears opening the back door Scott and Carolyn tip-toe up the creaking stairs and shed the cape of bright summer sun from their backs to enter the surprisingly cool shade inside the house trailer.

        Mack is going to the kitchen area of the oblong house trailer and as Scott’s eyes grow accustomed to the dimness he discerns upon the wall opposite himself the big bleached skull of a horse with several vertebrae yet attached.  And then he realizes that mounted all around the horse skull on that wall is a filigree of skulls of other creatures: coyotes, rats, lizards, birds.  Carolyn takes Scott’s hand and Scott nonchalantly inquires of Mack, saying, “Are you a zoologist?”

        Mack does not look up and he answers, saying, “A physicist.  Once upon a time.”

        Mack raises two cups and Scott and Carolyn approach the little kitchen area as Mack says, “Ice tea.  The water is from my well and it takes some getting used to so I’m giving you ice tea.  Water’s good to drink, but it smells a little like this whole area does.”

        Scott and Carolyn were aware of the sweet, pungent and dusty aromas in the breezes that wafted through the house trailer’s window frames and seams.

        Scott sips his tea and makes conversation, asking, “A physicist, eh?”

        Mack replies, “Yup.  I was a physics teacher for a few years at the University of Dallas.”

        Scott says involuntarily, “Really.”

        Mack grins, saying comically, “Hard to believe, ain’t it?”

        Carolyn charges the breech, saying, “Scott wants to become a full History Professor at Saddleback College.”

        Mack says, “No shit?  Uh, sorry, Ma’am.”

        Scott asks boldly, “Why would you ever leave a job like that?”

        Mack glances down and replies, saying, “My wife died.  The fucking doctors – sorry Ma’am – the God damned fucking doctors misdiagnosed her.  They said she had a food allergy.  Suddenly a food allergy?  What she had was colon cancer.  And when it was too late to do anything they finally figured it out.”

        Carolyn says, “I am so sorry.”

        Scott puts his arm around Carolyn and agrees, saying, “I am really sorry.  I don’t know what I’d do.”

        Mack says, “Well, I know what I did.  I couldn’t care anymore and I was pissed at God and you can’t be pissed at God at a Catholic college.  So I was ‘resigned’ by my peers”.

        Carolyn asks brightly with hope, “Do you have any children?”

        Mack replies, “Naw.  My wife and I had a horse we loved.  That was all we could afford back then,” and Mack laughed and shook his head, saying, “But a horse is just a kid that you don’t send to college.  Horses cost yuh just like a kid costs yuh.  She was our ‘child’ for sure.  My wife’s child mostly.  My wife named her Lenore.”

        Carolyn asks hesitantly, “Do you still have Lenore?”

        Mack points to the wall of skulls, saying, “That’s Lenore.  One day months after my wife died I bought Lenore hay that had a bunch of Silver Nightshade in the middle of it.  Lenore died.  The veterinarian cut her head off to have her brain chemically analyzed.  That’s how they found out it was Nightshade poisoning.”

        Carolyn says, “Oh, my God.”

        Mack continues, saying, “Oh, yes, your God is a funny bastard.  I told the vet I wanted Lenore’s head back.  He thought I was nuts.”

        Mack is contemplative for a few moments then he says, “You ain’t heard the funniest part.  I tried to sue the doctors who misdiagnosed my wife but it was too much money and it was taking too long and the lawyers were no different than the doctors,” Mack suddenly snickers and says, “That’s when I bought Tonto here,” and Mack slaps the big silver revolver and then he continues, “But the big ol’ company that sold me the hay gave me a ton of money to just be quiet and go away.  Ain’t God a clown?  I had enough money to come out to California and buy this God-forsaken land.”

        Scott moves the conversation to the present, saying, “Those belt buckles you found are an amazing find.”

        Mack enjoins, asking, “The real deal, eh?”

        Scott nods replying, “Mexican Army around 1876.”

        Mack asks, “What were they doin’ up here?”

        Scott replies, “Good question.  I’d like to go to the area where you found them if it’s OK with you.”

        Mack shrugs and says, “Sure.  You bring a shovel or somethin’?”

        Scott replies, “I requisitioned a state-of-the-art metal-detector.”

        Carolyn spoke up, saying, “And I will record the data and mark the locations of any finds for our computer landscape.”

        Mack grins, “Computer landscape?  How hard is that to mow?”

        Scott rolls his eyes and then picks up the conversation, saying, “It gives a rotatable 3-D image.  It is really cool.  Are you familiar with the work of Richard Allan Fox, Jr., the Director of the Archaeology Laboratory at the University of South Dakota?  His forensic anthropology at the site of Custer’s ‘last stand’ was what inspired me to become an Historian.  He looked at the unique marks on bullet casings and followed individuals, soldiers and Indians, uh, Native Americans, on the battlefield at the Little Bighorn.  He showed it was a panic massacre.  There was no heroic ‘last stand’.  Just individual heroism, I suppose.  It was mind-blowing.  And still controversial.”

        Mack considers all this and then says, “So where were you before Custer?”

        Scott hesitates and Carolyn hugs his arm and laughs, “Scott was a Security Guard at rock concerts.”

        Mack nods approvingly, saying, “Well, where we’re going there is a concert of rocks alright.”

        Scott states for the record, “The Sombra Arroyo, right?”

        Mack intones in mock melodrama, “The Arroyo of the Sombra of Death.”






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But, the most ancient scrolls are kept on: THE TABLE OF MALCONTENTS



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