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One Good Deed - Chapter 5

POCA CITY HAD A REASONABLE NUMBER of distractions fraught with legal and other peril; however, Archer managed to avoid them all that day. He wasn’t sure about the next day, though. His natural defenses did have their limits. And when he was presented squarely with choices of right and wrong, Archer could be reasonably counted on to miss the angel’s cue about 20 percent of the time
on a good day. But then again, he had been truthful with Ernestine Crabtree
– he did not want to return to prison.

He mostly walked the pavements, halting to eat a ham and cheese
sandwich for his lunch outside while sitting on a turned-over box, and later
an ice cream cone bought from a uniformed Good Humor man perched in
his blue-and-white truck. They jawed about matters both important and
frivolous. He looked for but never saw Miss Ernestine Crabtree with the murderous father, though he kept a constant sight line on the court building.
He thought she might come out to enjoy the sunshine and perhaps smoke
one or two, but that never happened. He didn’t know why he wanted this.
He was not going to have anything other than a professional relationship
with the woman, but the note he’d found and the lawman’s leer and Dill’s
telling him about the woman’s violent past made him curious about her.

His spending spree had cost him all of fifty cents, with the twin Jacksons
lying in the depths of his pocket undiminished. He managed to scrounge a
cigarette off a passing stranger, and he sat on a bench near the town square
taking his time whittling it down and watching all who passed by in front of
him. There was prosperity in the air, comingling with those clearly in
economic despair. But those on that woeful side of the equation would no
doubt work hard to get to the “other side” with all due speed, rising to the
mountaintop to look down on others scrambling madly for their piece of the
pie. And that, to Archer, was the fledgling American dream in a nutshell,
particularly after a war that had knocked the stuffing out of just about

Archer had good reason to soak in as much of Poca City as he possibly
could. This would be his home, at least for the foreseeable future, and he
had made friendly with as many folks as he could on his walking tour, at the
same time foraging for information to the extent he could without raising
their suspicions. He had learned that some had short fuses, and he was not
looking to make enemies of any sort.

Like Dill, many had heard of Mr. Hank Pittleman, though the opinions of
these folks varied greatly. He was either a devil or a benefactor, with not
one commentator occupying the middle ground. Archer took in all this with
a grain of salt and let it marinate as he smoked. Many had also heard of
Lucas Tuttle. He was described as a farmer of fierce devotion to the soil and
a provocateur of skilled debate. He was also a seasoned hunter, as
comfortable with firearms as he was skewering, with his impressive
vocabulary and agile wits, those who did not align with his points of view
on myriad subjects. These ranged from local crop rotation theories to the
efficacy of the Marshall Plan to the question of the gold standard versus all
other benchmarks.

A curious combination and perhaps the earmarks of a formidable person
from whom to collect a debt. This was possibly why all efforts heretofore employed by Mr. Pittleman had suffered failure in their execution, with
perhaps the stark execution of the poor debt collector having followed.

On this very point, Archer said to one man, wearing an aged Hoover
collar, a greasy felt hat, and an intense expression, “Tell me something, has
this man Tuttle ever killed anybody in a dispute?”

“Well,” said the fellow, his teeth gnawing at his top lip. “If he has, it
never reached a court of law. And that’s a fact. For I am a member of the
local bar and would be in a position to know of such.”

“Would you reasonably expect that it would have reached a court of
law?” Archer had persisted.

“I would expect that in Poca City, all results are possible, except for
consistent rain and politicians who keep their promises. And a man with
influence can achieve things unavailable to the rabble. I trust you recognize
the both of us as part of that unfortunate clan, mister.”

Archer could not doubt that the man spoke the bold truth.

After his smoke, Archer flicked a shard of tobacco off his tongue, made a
decision, rose, and set out to the west at a steady pace, his long legs
energetically eating up distance. He wanted to explore new territory. It was
in his blood.

After he’d gotten out of the Army, someone had asked him if he was
good, bad, or indifferent to having once been a person fighting a world war
now consigned to a normal existence. Archer had answered that he was all
of those things, or could be, depending on the opportunity.

“You mean the circumstance,” the man had corrected.

“No, I think I got it right the first time,” Archer had re-corrected.

And his thinking in Poca City had not been changed by recent events.

It led him to march out to the road he’d taken the prison stop bus in on
and lift his thumb to the sky. In the Army, he’d often served as a scout,
going ahead to see where the enemy might be and what sort of killing assets
they might have. It was rough going and dangerous because he often found
himself behind enemy lines outnumbered forty to one. But in his opinion, it
was always better to know than not know. Which was why he was standing
on a dusty road with a cloudless sky overhead and his thumb pointed to
Heaven. Or at least in the kingdom’s vicinity. Archer never seemed to know
the exact location of God, because the fellow never seemed to stay still long
enough to allow Archer to make his acquaintance.

The beanpole, ginger-haired farmer in the truck who stopped to pick him
up made no inquiries other than to ask where Archer was headed. He told
him, the man nodded, pointed to the rear, shifted his gears, and they set off.
Archer rode in the back with a bale of hay and a baby goat curled up asleep
on a pile of rags.

The air remained intensely dry. Archer had it on good authority from at
least a half-dozen folks in town that Poca City saw rain about as often as
one viewed a rich man in a soup line.

“You telling me it never rains here?” he’d asked one bright-eyed citizen.

“No, it does. But if you’re asleep when it commences, there might not be
any evidence of it remaining the next morning when you wake up and make

“But don’t they grow crops here?”

“Absolutely,” the same gent had volunteered. “But just the kind that
fertilizes itself on wind and dust, of which we have an abundance.”

The ride took nearly an hour, and as soon as he bid the farmer, the hay
bale, and the still-sleeping baby goat adieu, Archer wondered how he was
going to get back. But like most things, he decided he would tackle that
when the time came and not before. He was a man who lived each moment
as though it would surely be his last. War just did that to you. And prison
had piled on that notion, forcing it bone deep into Archer. He figured he
would never be free of it now.

He eyed the name on the mailbox that leaned toward the road, like it was
giving an edge to the postman coming.


The farm stretched as far as Archer could see. He didn’t know if that
qualified it as a big farm or not; he was not versed in such matters. He’d
grown up far from here, in a home of glass, brick, and vertical quality.
Grass had not been included in the deal. There was not a cow that he knew
of within twenty miles of his birthplace. Here, though, the bovines were
everywhere, dotting the land like a foraging army bivouacked for a stretch
till the time for fighting would come along.

He saw the gravel road that led out of sight and figured the home of L.
Tuttle would be just along that way. He eyed the sky, and the sun told him it
was now nearer to four than three. He checked his watch, although he
trusted the sky more than he did his windup.

He saw dust kicking up in the distance: either a tornado, or a tractor
working away. As he squinted, Archer could make out it was the latter. He took off his hat, slapped it against his pants leg to dispel the dust that clung
to every bit of him, and headed up the road.

He’d been right; the one road branched off, like the sweep of a river, to
three o’clock, and a quarter mile down this fork he saw the house and the

It occurred to him that Tuttle was a prosperous man, which made the
matter of the debt more problematic, at least in his mind. But a promissory
note signed, with collateral laid against it, was a serious thing, he was
finding. While perhaps some would see it as a small issue, the fact was, if
debts remained unpaid, whatever followed would genuinely be the collapse
of civilization as any of them would know it, Archer included. And he and
millions of others had just fought a world war to ensure that neither anarchy
nor fascism nor anything else would replace the reasonable screwing over
of people without money by those who possessed damn near all of it.

Archer had come back from the war feeling lucky to be alive. He had not
come back to seek a fortune. He wanted his share, to be sure, but it
constituted a small ambition, and would not move mountains or deprive
others of theirs. He had undertaken a years-long, small detour due to a
profound lack of judgment over a concern that he had no sooner deemed of
little importance, when it rose up and smote him with the power of a king
and his legions crossing the Rubicon. And that mistake had caused his ass
to be dragged right to Carderock Prison.

His two years of college had included readings in ancient history. He
didn’t know that material would have applied so readily to him in the year

He picked up his pace as he went in search of Lucas Tuttle. He had a
plan. Whether it would work or not was anyone’s guess. But something
tickled at the back of his head, same as when he was a scout looking first
for Italians and later for Germans. He had found the Italians the far easier of
the pair. They didn’t really want to fight, he reckoned, because every time
he’d run into some, they were either drunk or eating their dinner. He wasn’t
surprised they’d turned on Mussolini and stuck his head up on a pike. They
probably wanted to simply get back to their pasta and bottles of wine and
their women. The Germans, on the other hand, seemed to like killing about
as much as Dickie Dill liked strangling folks or smashing hogs in the head
just so till they died. Archer had never ventured to the Pacific Theater, but
he’d heard the Japanese were worse than the Germans.

As he drew closer, he saw that the house was a large, neat, one-story
made of stained plank siding, with quarry stone chimneys, plenty of
windows, and a wide porch on which sat two rocking chairs. The thing
looked well built, trim and tight as a drum. He supposed there was no dust

He rapped on the single door with his knuckles. He could hear the
footsteps coming. Something was about to happen. And you couldn’t ask
more from life than that.