Chapter 27: Tracing his Finger through the Dirt
Rice sat in a deer stand with Pat. The stand was old, rotting, and made up of planks of wood that were nailed with rust to an aging tree. There was barely room enough for the two of them on the platform in the woods. Pat’s legs had to hang off of one side, and Rice’s off of the other. They were back to back, searching. Hunting. Rice missed hunting. Living in Manhattan for so long, there weren’t many opportunities to track large game. Nothing larger than ants, anyways.
Pat was telling Rice a story. Or at least, that’s what it seemed to be. Rice tried to listen. He tried to follow Pat’s train of thought, but Rice’s mind was elsewhere. Rice’s mind was on the rifles.
This was the most recent time Rice had held a gun: Ruben had handed one to him, and one to Pat, and told them to go make trouble. The first time Rice held a gun was when he was young, very young, and his dad took him out to go shoot targets. But there was a middle time. A time in his twenties when he held a gun. Not fired it, but held it, and all of the weight of the shots that had been discharged from that evil barrel.
Rice tried to pay attention to Pat’s story, but his mind was wandering. His mind wandered back to his own story—back to the story of Punks and anarchy and music. Back to that middle time when he had held a firearm.
There was a protest, started by his own band, Johnny Hick and the Fuckwits. The protest turned into a riot, and Rice found himself in jail, along with the members of what would turn out to be a much more successful band, Flashpoint Zero. That was always Rice’s claim to fame, when he needed to impress: “I once shared a cell block with all four members of Flashpoint Zero. Let me tell you about it.” It sounded impressive, saying it the way he did, but he was careful of when to use it. He didn’t use it around anyone who really knew their music history. He didn’t use it around anyone who knew the truth of what he was saying: “I was once an accomplice to genocide. I once listened, from the inside of a police station, as the singer of my own band committed murder after murder on the street just outside of my cell, until they weren’t murders anymore, until it was a massacre. I listened to my best friend in the world sniping cops from a rooftop. I listened to him as he tried to murder Punk Rock. Let me tell you about it.”
Rice tried to pay attention to Pat’s story. It was a fine story. Really.
But he couldn’t listen to it. Rice was thinking about what happened after the massacre: after he got out of jail, and after his band had broken up, and after the fourth member of his band had become the fourth member of Flashpoint Zero. After that. Rice was thinking about the massacre gun.
Johnny Hick had never left town. He had stayed, tucked away in the shadows, crashing on the bedroom floors of the Punk Rockers who hadn’t heard the news yet, or worse, of those who had. He moved from host to host. And when he had burned La Meseta to the ground behind him, he met Rice on the outskirts, at an abandoned gas station in the desert, to deliver one last farewell to a genre. He had given Rice the gun. He had told him, “You carry this now. I’m done for a while. But you carry this.”
Johnny Hick gave Punk Rock to Rice. Rice took it, and slung it over his shoulder, and saluted Johnny Hick. Johnny saluted back, and when they lowered their hands, it still wasn’t quite time for Johnny to leave yet. The two sat down, Indian style, between the two rows of gas pumps.
“Where are you going after this?” Rice asked.
“Away,” Johnny said. “Underground. You won’t hear from me for a while.” His voice was tired.
Rice nodded. He would miss Johnny’s company, and that was why he didn’t shoot the singer dead on the spot. Rice did want Johnny Hick to die: he’d never wanted to kill anyone more before in his life, and he would never have a better chance: the man was sitting in front of him, in the middle of nowhere, and he had handed him the weapon. Rice fiddled with the rifle, until it opened, and inside was a shiny brass round. He looked back up at Johnny and asked, straight up: “Do you want me to kill you?”
Johnny laughed, and looked down at the ground. Tracing his finger through the dirt, Johnny said, “No, Rice O’. I don’t want you to kill me.”
Rice had been Rice O’ back then. They had all used different names. Joseph Epstein became Joey Low Action, and when it was all said and done and La Meseta was left in ashes, Joey became Joseph once more. Nathaniel Todd, upon becoming a Punk, had turned into Yote. That name never changed back. He stayed Yote; he would always stay Yote, until his deathbed, whether it was with Johnny Hick and the Fuckwits, or Flashpoint Zero, or some other band that Rice had never heard of. And Johnny Hick… Johnny Hick was always Johnny Hick. He’d never been anything else but Johnny Hick, nor could he ever be. He wasn’t born, and he would never die, unless Rice shot him then and there at the gas station outside of La Meseta. And he wasn’t going to do it. Not a chance. He was going to walk back into town with the rifle slung over his shoulder, and he was going to bury the rifle in his yard, like a seed, and then he was going to leave La Meseta too. Because once the seed was planted, he wouldn’t need to do a thing at all; Johnny Hick had done all of the work already. He had moved from host to host, fertilizing the ideas in their heads—the idea of Revolution; the idea of him; the idea of a punk named Johnny Hick, who could never die, because nobody in the world had ever believed for a second that the Legend could be human.
Rice glared over at The Immortal.
“Tell me your name,” Rice said.
Johnny Hick smiled, looked down at the ground, and shook his head.
Rice O’ stood up, and he pumped the chamber closed, and the firing pin sat ready to punch a hole clean through Johnny Hick’s skull. “Tell me your goddamn name!”
The Immortal frowned. He was sad, because once again, it was time for him to leave. He stood up. He put his back to Rice, and then he walked off, into the desert. Rice never saw him again. Ever.
In the deer stand, Pat had finished telling his story, and was waiting for input from Rice.
He’d said it under his breath: his first swear in months. Pat didn’t hear him, and didn’t ask what he had said, and moved on to saying something else. But Rice had swore, because he was no longer Rice Henderson: he had never been Rice fucking Henderson. He was Rice O’, and he was going to start living like it again: he was going to buy an electric guitar. He was going to shave his head on the sides, and spike it up down the center. He was going to get a face tattoo. And when everything was wrapped up with Ruben and Terry and the house in the woods, Rice was going to go back to La Meseta, and he was going to dig up a rifle. He was going to find Johnny Hick, if he could, and he was going to put an end to The Immortal: he was going to learn the secret of Johnny Hick’s real name.