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One Good Deed - Chapter 3

HE FOUND IT only a short distance from the hotel. Not on the main drag of Poca City, but down a side street that was only half the length of the one he’d left – but it was far more interesting, at least to Archer’s mind.

If the main street was for checker playing and marble musical babies, this
was where the adults got their jollies. And Archer had always been a fan of
the underdog with weaknesses of the flesh, considering how often he fell on
that side of the ledger.

The marquee was neon blue and green with a smattering of sputtering
red. He hadn’t seen the likes of such since New York City, where it had
been ubiquitous. Yet he hadn’t expected a smidge of it in Poca City.


That’s what the neon spelled out along with the outline of a feline in full,
luxurious stretch that seemed erotic in nature. To Archer, Poca City was
getting more interesting by the minute.

He pushed open the red door and walked in.

The first thing he noted was the floor. Planked and nailed and slimed
with the slop of what they’d been serving here since the place opened, he
reckoned. His one shoe stuck a bit, and then so did the other. Archer
compensated by picking up the force of his steps.

The next thing of note was the crowd, or the size of it anyway. He didn’t
know the population of the town, but if it had any more people than were in
here, it might qualify as a metropolis.

The bar nearly ran the length of one wall. And like on the bows of old
ships, sculpted into the corner support posts of the bar were the heads and
exposed bosoms of women – he supposed loose ones. And every stool had a
butt firmly planted on it. Against one wall fiddle and guitar players plucked
and strummed, while one gal was singing for all she was worth. She had red
curly hair, a pink, freckled face, and slim hips with stiff dungarees on over
them. Her notes seemed to hit the ceiling so hard they ricocheted off with
the force of combat shrapnel.

Behind the bar was a wall of shelves holding every type of bottled liquor
Archer had ever seen and then some, by a considerable margin. He
reckoned a man could live his whole life here and never grow thirsty, so
long as the coin of the realm kept up.

Indeed, happening on this place after being behind bars this morning and
enduring a long, dusty bus ride and encountering less than friendly citizens
hereabouts, Archer considered he might be in a dream. With three years of
probation to endure, he felt like a large fish with a hook in its mouth. He
could be yanked back at any moment, and that lent force to a man’s whims.
Thus, he decided to take full advantage while he could.

Sidling up to the bar, he wedged in between what seemed a colossus of a
farmer with a rowdy beard and hands the width of Archer’s head, and a
short, thick, late-fifties-something, slick-haired banker type in a creamy
white three-piece suit far nicer than Archer’s. He also had a knotted blueand-white-striped tie, with reptile leather two-tone shoes on his feet, a fully
realized smirk in his eye, and a woman less than half his age on his arm.
Resting on the bar in front of the man was a flat-crowned Panama hat with a
yellow band of silk.

Archer caught the bartender’s attention and held up two horizontally
stacked fingers and tacked on the words “Bourbon, straight up.”

The gent, old, spent, and thin as a strand of rope, nodded, retrieved the
liquor from the vast stacks, poured it neat into a short glass, and held it out
with one hand, while the other presented itself palm up for payment. It was
a practiced motion that a man like Archer could appreciate.

“How much you charging for that?” he asked.

“Fifty cents for two fingers, take it or leave it, son.”

“What’s the bourbon again, pops?”

“Only one bourbon in these parts, young feller. Rebel Yell. Wheat, not
rye. You don’t like Rebel, you best pick another type of alcohol or another
part of the state. Give me an answer, ’cause I ain’t getting any younger and
I got thirsty folks with folding money want my attention.”

“Rebel sounds fine to me.”

He passed over the two quarters and settled his elbows on the bar with
the short glass cupped in both hands. He hadn’t had a drink in a while. He’d
banged one back the day before prison, just for good luck, so he reckoned it
was a certain symmetry to have one the day he left prison. He was into
balance if nothing else these days. And moderation, too, until it proved
inconvenient, which it very often did to a man like him.

The banker eyed Archer, while his lady ran her tongue over full lips
painted as warm a red as a sky hosting a setting sun.

“You’re not from here,” said the banker. His silver hair was cut, combed,
and styled with the precision available only to a man who had the dollars
and leisure time for such tasks. His face was as flabby as the rest of him,
and also tanned and creased with lines in a way that women might or might
not find attractive. For such a man, the thickness of his wallet and not the
fitness of his torso was his main and perhaps only aphrodisiac for the ladies.

“I know I’m not,” replied Archer, sipping the Rebel and letting it go
down slow, the only way to drink bourbon, or so his granddad had informed
him. And not only informed but demonstrated on more than one occasion.
He tipped his hat back, turned around, bony elbows on the bar, his long
torso angled off it, and studied the banker, then flitted his gaze to the lady.

The banker’s smirk broadened – he was reading Archer’s mind, no doubt.

“I like this town,” said the banker. “And everything in it.”

He patted the lady’s behind and then his hand remained perched there.
She seemed not to mind or else had grown accustomed to this fondling, or both. As the man’s fingers stroked her, she took a moment to powder her
nose while looking in a mirror attached to a shiny compact. The lady next
shook out a tube of lipstick from her clutch purse and repainted her mouth
before once more taking up what looked to be a murky martini with three
fat olives lurking mostly below the surface, like gators in a bog.

“Been in Poca City long, have you?” inquired Archer.

“Long enough to see what’s good and what needs changing. And then
changing it.”

He closed his mouth and eyed Archer from under tilted tufts of eyebrow.

“You gonna keep me in suspense?” said Archer finally.

The banker laughed and swallowed some of his whiskey. His eyes
flickered just a bit as the drink went down, like wobbly lights in a storm.

Archer’s mouth eased into a smile at this weakness, but the man didn’t
seem to notice. Or care.

“Poca’s growing. This used to be just cattle land. And farming. Now
that’s changing. Business and money coming in. Not too much riffraff.”

“How do you decide about riffraff? See, I might fall into that category
and then where do we go with this happy conversation?”

The lady laughed at this, but the banker did not. She shut her mouth and
sipped her bog.

The banker intoned, “Fact is, a man can make money here if he’s willing
to work. With the war over, we have winners and losers. I aim to make
certain Poca falls on the winner’s side of the ledger. See, I was here before
the war, trying to make things work. Place was an armpit then. Now the
country is rebuilding, hell, we’re putting the bricks and glass back up all
over Europe, too. Had that damn Berlin Airlift feeding all them folks.
Commies taking over in China. That Stalin fella getting half o’ Europe
under his iron thumb and testing them damn nuclear bombs. Now, Truman
said we’d all be getting a fair deal here, but I don’t take no man’s word for
that, president or not. Folks are heading west again, making their way to
new lives, new fortunes. And in Poca, we’re sort of at the crossroads of all
that. Betwixt old America where most now still live and new America that
lies west of here. People pass through. Some stay. Most keep going because
we can’t compete with the likes of Los Angeles and Frisco and that
gambling haven in Las Vegas. But opportunities still abound here. And I’m
well positioned to take advantage of every one of them. And I am, by God.”

Archer listened to all this, nodding, his mouth twitching back and forth as
he processed the man’s many words.

He said, “Saw the fountain with the babies, and the geezers playing
checkers. Kinda odd sight.”

The man laughed. “Old and the new. Before long there won’t be time for
people to be sitting around playing checkers.”

“No water coming out the fountain though.”

“We’ve had a drought,” the man said. “For a long time now.”

“People gonna come to a place where there’s no water?”

“Not if your livelihood depends on raising cattle and crops. That’s why
we’re changing our ways. We use the water for drinking and bathing and
such and not cattle and crops, we’ll be fine. You know how damn much a
cow drinks?” He laughed.

Archer nodded and took another sip of the Rebel and let it slide down his
throat like lava over fresh dirt. “I guess I can see that,” he replied.

“Look, where you coming in from?”

“A seven-hour slow, dusty bus ride from the east.”

The banker squinted as he calculated. “That’s a fair stretch of road,

“I figure you for a banker type, but I’d like to be sure.”

“Why, you looking to rob me?”

They all three had a laugh at that, but Archer’s died out before the other
two had finished guffawing.

Archer glanced at the woman, who was doing the tongue-on-lip thing
again. She was in her late twenties with silky, dark hair in a Veronica Lake
peekaboo. The sheet of hair fell off the side of her head like a waterfall at
night, which contrasted sharply with her pale complexion. Archer could
smell her scent across the span of the banker’s cologne. It was spicy and
warm and tapped something in him that prison had never inspired. She had
on a tight, late-day, thunder-blue dress with a wide, deep neckline that
revealed things she evidently wanted to reveal, and a black dog leash belt
encircling her small waist. She had on white wrist-length gloves, and a
matching narrow-brimmed hat with a small bow. Her heels were high
enough to muscle her calves. She wore a small necklace with a rock of
diamond in the center. She kept fingering it like she wanted to make sure it
was still there.

Archer slowly drew his gaze away from her. “So you came here all those
years ago and the town starts to make something of itself at the same time.
Am I to imply a connection?”

The other man chuckled. “I like you. I like how you handle yourself.”

“Man favors a compliment same as a woman,” said Archer, tipping his
hat at the lady.

“Fact is, I’ve been instrumental in putting Poca City on the map. Got my
finger in all the pies worth anything. Saw its potential, you could say. And
now that potential is being realized.”

The man ran his gaze over Archer’s long, broad-shouldered, muscular

“You look like you can handle yourself just fine. Bet you were in the

“I did my bit. About three years without ever seeing America once.

“A strong and brave man, then, who knows how to survive difficult
circumstances. Which means you’re just the hombre for me.” He took out a
wad of cash as big as any fist Archer had ever made in prison or seen
coming his way.

The man trimmed five twenties off the pile and laid the bills on the bar
within easy reach.

Archer made no move to pick them up.

“Well?” said the man.

“Fellow hands out cash like that, something’s expected. I’m just waiting
on details.”

The man guffawed again and slapped Archer on the shoulder a bit harder
than was necessary. He immediately grimaced and shook out his hand.
“Damn, you made of rock or what, soldier?”

“Or what,” said Archer.

“I like to pay for potential. And I trust my instincts. Maybe we can do
some business.”

Archer still did not pick up the money. He finished the last finger of his
drink and set it down. He said nothing and neither did the man, for a bit.

All around them gazes flitted to this little group and then away. Maybe it
was the money in plain sight. Maybe it was something of a visceral nature
between the two men, with the woman hanging on as the lovely sidekick to
whatever was going on here.

The man took his time removing a cigar from his pocket, efficiently
slitting the cellophane band with a switchblade, trimmed the end with the
same tool, put the knife away, dropped the cellophane on the bar – the
bartender swept it up – and then he lit the cigar with a platinum lighter. He
puffed luxuriously on the stogie a couple times until it was drawing
properly, put the lighter away, and eyed Archer, who’d been watching the
deliberateness of the man’s actions with fascination.

The man held up the smoke and said, “This here’s from Cuba. Finest in
the world. I like all my things that way.”

Archer glanced once more at the woman. “I can see that.”

“Now to business. You can do a job for me. That money there will be
your payment.”

“I’m listening.”

“A man owes me something. I’d like you to collect it for me.”

“What man and what something?’

“His name is Lucas Tuttle. Lives down the road a ways. And the
something is his Cadillac.”

“Why does he owe that to you?”

“I made him a loan and he failed to repay it. The Caddy’s the collateral.”
“Maybe he forgot. These things happen.”

The man pointed to the cash. “Hundred dollars. Take it or leave it.”

He tapped his ash free right on the wood grain of the bar. The skinny
bartender once more swooped in and cleared the mess with a cloth.

Archer snagged an ashtray from in front of the big farmer who was
draining highballs at an alarming rate. He placed it right under the fellow’s
stogie, drawing a sneer from the banker man.

Archer said, “I have to know some more. Like, how do I know he owes
you anything? I go there and take his car, that’s stealing. You go to the joint
for that in a heartbeat. You understand me? So I need to know if you’re
giving me a bum steer or what.”

The man nodded appreciatively. “I like a man who’s cautious. I’m one
myself.” He glanced at his lady. “Am I not cautious, Jackie?” He gave her
right buttock a hard squeeze that made her wince a bit and then removed his

The creature named Jackie glanced at Archer, maybe to show she still
counted for something here, and then dutifully turned her attention to her
man before saying, “Cautious as a young woman with a drunken man in close proximity.” Her voice was surprisingly husky and assured. It starkly
emboldened every fantasy of her Archer was holding.

The man perched his cigar on the ashtray and pulled something from his
pocket. It was a mess of wrinkled papers. He unfolded and straightened
them out, placing them on the bar. On the pages was a swath of tiny, printed

“This is a promissory note. For five thousand dollars. See, this is the
amount I loaned Tuttle. In good faith and everything. Man needed the
money and he came to me. I loaned him the cash from my own pocket. You
can see the amount here and his signature there. Now, on this page.” He
flipped through to a second one. “This is the security that I required for the
loan and which he provided. You read your way right down there.” He
paused. “Hold on, you can read, can’t you? Things might not work out
between us if you can’t.”

“I can read,” said Archer, with a touch of impatience because he was
feeling it. “Even did two years of college before the war came calling.”

He caught the woman’s eye on this. She seemed to be calculating him in
a new and maybe more favorable light.

He ran his eye over the paper.

“Nineteen forty-seven Cadillac Series 62 sedan painted dark green. And
the license plate number is listed.”

The man pointed to the page. “That’s right. That’s the collateral for the
loan that was not repaid. That’s what I want you to get for me.”

Archer scratched his chin. “Okay, got a question.”


“Nothing personal, but how do I know he didn’t repay you?”

“Now you’re thinking. I like that. Well, here’s how. If the man had paid
the loan, this note would be returned to him. Fact that I still got it shows
that never happened. Tuttle’s a smart man and he’d never have let his
money go without getting this in return. See, this is same as cash money,
mister. Same as those five twenties right there. And you see the date the
loan was due.” He shuffled back to the first page and stabbed at a line with
his finger. “Right there. You read that. Go on.”

Archer did so, doing the numbers in his head. “That date’s exactly two
months ago yesterday.”

“That’s right.”

“Got me another question.”

“You like your questions,” said the man, and Jackie giggled.

“How come it’s two months past due, and you don’t have the money or
the Caddy yet? You don’t strike me as a man overly full of generosity.”

The man looked at Jackie. “This gent is a keeper, Jackie, I’m telling

Jackie commenced shooting admiring glances Archer’s way and giggled
once more.

“She your wife?” asked Archer, though he saw no ring on her.

“I got me a wife, but she ain’t it,” said the man offhandedly.

Jackie’s giggle died in her throat as she glanced, embarrassed, at Archer.
She took a sip of her gator bog drink and said, “There’s no need to be like

The man glanced at her, a look on his mug that Archer had seen many
times before on gents, especially in bars, and one he had never once liked.

“Did I ask for your opinion, sweet cheeks?”

“Well, no, but –”

His hand shot out, gripped her wrist, and squeezed. “Then keep it to your
goddamn self, you hear me?”

Archer tensed and was about to jerk the man’s hand off her, when he
caught a look from Jackie that silently pleaded with him to do no such
thing. Archer relaxed back against the bar as the fellow gave Jackie’s wrist
one more grind and then flung her hand away as he drilled her with a look
of quiet satisfaction. “Just so we understand each other, honey.” He turned
back to Archer like nothing had just happened.

“So?” asked Archer expectantly, masking his anger.

“The truth is I’ve tried to collect on this debt, only Mr. Tuttle is not
amenable to honoring the debt.”

“And how many men have you paid a hundred dollars to try for you?”

“Well, I will concede that you are not the first. The exact number I prefer
to keep private. But I will say that Lucas Tuttle is not a man you want to

“And suppose I try and fail? Do I keep the money?”

“Depends on the effort expended. I mean, you can’t just waltz on down
the road and make a feeble attempt at obtaining my collateral and then
expect to get the cash, now can you?”

“I don’t expect so, no. Then, you would be the judge of that?”

“I would be, but I’m a reasonable man. Wouldn’t be in business for long
if I weren’t.”

“And if I failed your expectations, I’d have to give this back?”

“Well, the fact of the matter is, soldier, till you deliver me the car or show
me the efforts you undertook to my reasonable satisfaction, you don’t walk
out of here with that money. I just put it there as what they call an

“Supposing I have expenses in gaining back your collateral? How am I to
pay for them with nothing up front? You see my problem?”

“What sort of expenses?”

“Till I see the lay of the land and this Mr. Tuttle in particular, how should
I know?”

The man looked warily at Archer, then at the money, and then back at

“You’re the first one to lay out that issue.”

“Well, I’m looking ahead. Maybe I get this done for you, there’s more
opportunity for me in Poca City, like you said.”

“How much front money are we talking about then?” asked the man

“I’d say two Jacksons would do amply.”

The man picked up a pair of bills and handed them to him. “I’m placing
my faith in you. Now, see here, what’s your name, soldier?”

“Aloysius Archer.”

“That’s a heckuva name. You go by your Christian name, son?”

Archer shook his head. “Too hard to spell and most folks can’t pronounce
it. I go by Archer.”

The man put out his hand. “I’m Hank, Hank Pittleman.”

“Well, Mr. Pittleman, let me see what I can do. Now, if I get the car for
you, doesn’t that mean he gets that paper you showed me marked paid? So,
do I need to take that with me?”

Pittleman smiled, took a long puff on his stogie, and shook his head. “Oh,
no. That’s not how this works, Archer.”

Squinting through the man’s wispy curtain of cigar smoke, Archer said,
“Well, tell me how it does work then.”

“Like your expenses, how can I know what I’m gonna get for a 1947
Cadillac? I might get five thousand for it, though I sure as hell doubt it. I
was crazy in the head for not asking for more collateral.” He glanced here at Jackie. “Maybe my heart is just too soft. The point is, Archer, even if a
miracle happened and I got some poor sucker to fork over five grand for the
Caddy, the debt still isn’t paid in full because there’s interest on top. I got to
make a profit on my money. You see that, don’t you? Money neither is nor
should be free.”

“I always like to make a profit off my money too.” He rubbed his fingers
over the twenties.

“Say I sell the Caddy for three thousand, then Tuttle still owes me
another two thousand plus interest, plus my incidental costs of collection.”

He tapped the pile of twenties. “Like this. Adds up.”

“Mr. Tuttle has dug himself one deep hole.”

A smile creased Pittleman’s face. “Hell, I didn’t make him take my
money, did I?”

“You have his address, and directions there? I don’t know the area.”
Pittleman took out a thick pencil and wrote something down on a bar
napkin and slid it over to Archer. “When do you expect to do this then?” he
asked, pocketing the pencil.


“What does soon mean?”

“Pretty soon.”

He put the twenties in his jacket pocket.

Pittleman watched this move. “Now, so you know, I have technically just
made a loan to you. Though not a scrap of paper has passed between us to
legally memorialize that arrangement. But my money has long strings
attached. Same as Tuttle’s. And I demand honesty and integrity in my
associates. Expect the same of myself.”

“Well, I aim to deliver both, Mr. Pittleman.”

In response, Pittleman drew the switchblade from his coat pocket once
more, sprung it open, and speared the remaining twenties lying there,
pinning them to the wood of the bar. The knife quivered there like a pine
tree in the wind.

“I’ll hold you to that.”

Archer didn’t even look at the blade or the stabbed twenties. “Now,
where can I reach you most times?”

“Right here at this time will do, every day except Saturday and the

“And then you’ll be at worship?”

“No, then I’ll be with my dear, beloved wife.”

Pittleman suddenly clutched his head and grimaced in pain.

“Hey, you okay?” asked Archer, gripping him by the shoulder.

“Must be all this cheap hooch.”

Recovered, Pittleman unpinned his knife and thrust it back inside his
pocket after closing it. “I trust I will hear good news from you, Archer.”

Archer tipped his hat first to Jackie and then to Pittleman.

“I will do my best.”

“For me you will, you mean?”

“Well, can you see it any other way?”

Archer headed to the door while most of those at the bar, and Pittleman
and Jackie in particular, watched him go.

He was no longer shuffling. He was walking upright, springy and brisk,
like any free man with serious folding money in his pocket would.