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3


He was just bringing the chow over to the couch when he heard feet stamping on the stone outside the door. A moment later the door opened and Beaver came in. Snow swirled around his legs in a dancing mist.

Jesus-Christ-bananas, the Beav said. Pete had once made a list of Beav-isms, and Jesus-Christ-bananas was high on it, along with such standbys as doodlyfuck and Kiss my bender. They were exclamations both Zen and profane. I thought I was gonna end up spendin the night out there, then I saw the light. Beav raised his hands roofward, fingers spread. Seen de light, lawd, yessir, praise Je- His glasses started to unfog then, and he saw the stranger on the couch. He lowered his hands, slowly, then smiled. That was one of the reasons Jonesy had loved him ever since grade-school, although the Beav could be tiresome and wasnt the brightest bulb in the chandelier, by any means: his first reaction to the unplanned and unexpected wasnt a frown but a smile.

Hi, he said. Im Joe Clarendon. Whore you?

Rick McCarthy, he said, and got to his feet. The comforter tumbled off him and Jonesy saw he had a pretty good potbelly pooching out the front of his sweater. Well, he thought, nothing strange, about that, at least, its the middle-aged mans disease, and its going to kill us in our millions during the next twenty years or so.

McCarthy stuck out his hand, started to step forward, and almost tripped over the fallen comforter. If Jonesy hadnt reached out and grabbed his shoulder, steadying him, McCarthy probably would have fallen forward, very likely cleaning out the coffee-table on which the food was now set. Again Jonesy was struck by the mans queer ungainliness-it made him think of himself a little that past spring, as he had learned to walk all over again. He got a closer look at the patch on the guys cheek, and sort of wished he hadnt. It wasnt frostbite at all. It looked like a skin-tumor of some kind, or perhaps a portwine stain with stubble growing out of it.

Who, whoa, shake it but dont break it, Beaver said, springing forward. He grabbed McCarthys hand and pumped it until Jonesy thought McCarthy would end up swan-diving into the coffee-table after all. He was glad when the Beav-all five-feet-six of him, with snow still melting into all that long black hippie hair-stepped back. The Beav was still smiling, more broadly than ever. With the shoulder-length hair and the thick glasses, he looked like either a math genius or a serial killer. In fact, he was a carpenter.

Rick heres had a time of it, Jonesy said. Got lost yesterday and spent last night in the woods.

Beavers smile stayed on but became concerned. Jonesy had an idea what was coming next and willed Beaver not to say it he had gotten the impression that McCarthy was a fairly religious man who might not care much for profanity-but of course asking Beaver to clean up his mouth was like asking the wind not to blow.

Bitch-in-a-buzzsaw! he cried now. Thats fuckin terrible! Sit down! Eat! You too, Jonesy.

Nah, Jonesy said, you go on and eat that. Youre the one who just came in out of the snow.

You sure?

I am. Ill just scramble myself some eggs. Rick can catch you up on his story. Maybe itll make more sense to you than it does to me, he thought.

Okay. Beaver took off his Jacket (red) and his vest (orange, of course). He started to toss them on the woodpile, then thought better of it. Wait, wait, got something you might want. He stuck his hand deep into one of the pockets of his down jacket, rummaged, and came out with a paperback book, considerably bent but seemingly none the worse for wear otherwise. Little devils with pitchforks danced across the cover-Small Vices, by Robert Parker. It was the book Jonesy had been reading in the stand.

The Beav held it out to him, smiling. I left your sleeping-bag, but I figured you wouldnt be able to sleep tonight unless you knew who the fuck done it.

You shouldnt have gone up there, Jonesy said, but he was touched in a way only Beaver could touch him. The Beav had come back through the blowing snow and hadnt been able to make out if Jonesy was up in the tree-stand or not, not for sure. He could have called, but for the Beav, calling wasnt enough, only seeing was believing.

Not a problem, Beaver said, and sat down next to McCarthy, who was looking at him as a person might look at a new and rather exotic kind of small animal. Well, thanks, Jonesy said. You get around that sandwich. Im going to do eggs. He started away, then stopped. What about Pete and Henry? You think theyll make it back okay?'he Beav opened his mouth, but before he could answer the wind gasped around the cabin again, making the walls creak and rising to a grim whistle in the eaves. Aw, this is just a cap of snow, Beaver said when the gust died away.

Theyll make it back. Getting out again if there comes a real norther, that might be a different story. He began to gobble the grilled cheese sandwich. Jonesy went over to the kitchen to scramble some eggs and heat up another can of soup. He felt better about McCarthy now that Beaver was here. The truth was he always felt better when the Beav was around. Crazy but true.



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