[Originally appeared in The Denver Quarterly]
T H E R E are people who are afraid to draw. This is a known fact among arts educators and something that I, as a newly appointed chair of an art department at a small liberal arts college, was asked to address by my studio arts faculty. If we could only get students to overcome their fear of drawing, our dwindling enrollment numbers would be greatly improved. I very publicly agreed and assured them that it was something I would address during my tenure. The fact was, however, that I myself had somehow, over the last twenty years, developed my own fear of drawing.
Of course, I kept this a secret from my faculty. This wasn’t difficult given that my design practice involved digital work. I rarely had to illustrate and, when it was called for, used the pen tool in Illustrator to draw with a mouse, tugging out shapes with Bezier curves. Yet there was a time in my life when I did nothing but draw by hand, and I drew well. As a child, I built up my skills by constantly drawing birds from field guides, imitating Audubon and Roger Tory Peterson. In middle school I garnered some degree of lunch hall popularity for altering yearbook photos by drawing small cartoon bodies and legs below the headshots on the bottom row of each page—rendering a tutu and ballerina legs beneath a popular jock, for example. Kids paid me to do this.
In high school, my drawing skills continued to be a key aspect of my identity. At that time, I drew more serious portraits of people I knew and certain rock icons. I mastered the face. I had long held the belief that a portrait I did of Pete Townshend—the peasant-faced guitarist and songwriter for The Who—was my strongest and in my mind, as the years went on, it became a kind of gold standard that I would never again reach. My paralysis increased, becoming even more pronounced when I was promoted to chair of the art department, and stoked my already inflamed imposter syndrome. I often suspected I wasn’t really an artist, just someone with artistic competencies and a persuasive way with people.
The summer before I was to assume my new leadership role, I dedicated myself to having a breakthrough with the graphite or charcoal but, after a fruitless residency in the Berkshires, I finally confessed my fear of drawing to my wife, Lana, as she lay reading on the remote western border of our bed. Things had been strained between us and she received this disclosure as though it were further evidence of my uselessness. “Drawing is action,” she said with a shrug. As if it all made sense.
“That’s interesting. Some say drawing is thought,” I offered.
She glared at me from behind her book, then returned to her reading. I waited a beat thinking the conversation was over, but she sighed and rattled off some suggestions, as though she was advising one her hopeless students. Being a writer, she immediately equated it to writer’s block. Just free draw, she advised. Doodle with no expectations. Deliberately set out to make a bad drawing. “I don’t know, Jeff, just do something for fuck’s sake!”
I sat down in my office, behind a locked door, and made an attempt to follow her suggestions. I squared off with the page but, still, the paper emerged unscathed.* * *
A S the summer days ticked away and my frustration mounted, I devised my own ridiculous solution: I would track down the Pete Townshend drawing and it would either validate my currently hibernating abilities, or prove to be, in fact, a poor drawing. I grew convinced that either of these outcomes would help me break through, though I wasn’t sure why. Something had gone asleep inside me and I was now determined to wake it up. That drawing, by a younger, more hopeful me, could maybe do it.
With this plan in mind, I booked a ticket for Southern California, where I grew up. Thirty years ago, I had given the Pete Townshend drawing to my childhood friend and neighbor, Jerry, and it was my hope that he still had it in his possession. It was birthday gift from one Who fan to another, given as stand-in for the new—and final—Who album, which neither of us had the money to buy.
It had been over five years since the last time I saw Jerry. Back then he was enduring the feast-or-famine cadence of commercial real estate. That’s where he had landed after cycling through a number of ill-fitting occupations: security guard, restaurant manager, truck driver, drug dealer, stockbroker. On the phone, he invited me to his home in the High Desert, where he would show me his latest endeavor as the owner of a medical marijuana dispensary. It was, he assured me, a booming business. And with states going legal on the recreational issue, it was only a matter of time before he found himself sitting in the sweet spot of a massive new industry.
After a weekend with my parents in the L.A. suburbs, I borrowed their car and headed out to the desert to see Jerry, who thought he still might have the Pete Townshend drawing somewhere in storage. Traffic was stalled in the pass through the mountains—high winds had pushed an 18-wheeler on its side—and, by the time I made it through, Jerry had redirected me to his shop instead of his home. I found it on a strip of used car lots, laundry mats and dollar stores: a small, rundown grey structure with barred windows. I parked in the neighboring dirt lot, texted Jerry that I had arrived, then waited. Only minutes later, Jerry appeared in a large pickup truck that was pulling a horse carrier.
I stepped out of the car, into the oven heat, and we man-hugged. He heartily thumped my back with his fist and stood back. “Dude!” he said.
He had filled out and his face was pretty creased. His hair was longish and stringy, his forehead high, eyes still a glacial blue. He was wearing jeans and a black t-shirt and his once-sculpted arms had softened and were smudged with faded tattoos.
I said, “Do you have horses?”
I nodded at the trailer.
“Oh! It’s filled with pot,” he said with a dismissive wave. He laughed a hearty, almost unhinged bellow. I laughed, too.
He led me into the small shop through the back door, after giving the security door a single loud punch. A huge man with a dragon tattooed to the side of his face let us in. He wore a can of mace strapped to his belt. “This is Fetu,” Jerry said. “Also known as The Samoan Smash.” They knocked fists.
The showroom was a skunky, low-ceilinged space with glass cases. Inside the cases were different kinds of weed and some baked goods. There was a poster on the wall that showed you how to roll many different kinds of joints. The pictures of the various styles of spliffs and fatties were nicely illustrated. They were strong line drawings, I noted, with calligraphic flourishes reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley—the English Nouveau dandy whose eerie, occult work was embraced decades later, in the 1960’s, by the psychedelic scene.
Jerry had several brief business-related discussions with his employees, mostly regarding, it seemed to me, whether or not they should make a delivery to a certain buyer, or a certain area. It wasn’t clear. Jerry said that it would send the wrong message if they didn’t, and that “nothing was going to fucking happen.” That seemed to settle it.
Then we left. He asked me if I could drive around with him.
I said sure, not really knowing what that meant. He seemed to have forgotten the purpose of my visit. “Did you manage to find the drawing?” I asked.
“The drawing? Yeah, no. I think I know where it might be,” he said. “Let’s go by my house.”
As we drove, he mentioned that three guys attempted to rob the shop around Thanksgiving. He said he wasn’t even supposed to be there that day, but they were open for business and his employees were running the front of the store. He was in the back in his slippers, trying to get something working on the computer. He heard shouting and one of his employees screaming. On the surveillance monitor, he saw that there were three masked robbers in the shop wielding machetes. But Jerry was so overcome with rage that he charged at them, screaming he was going to take their weapons from them and fucking kill them. The intruders turned and fled. Jerry chased after them and tackled one of the guys. A gun went flying off into the dirt and Jerry backed off, letting them escape.
“Holy fuck,” I said, truly horrified.
“Pretty sure they were just kids,” Jerry said. “It was stupid to chase them though. I could’ve been so easily dead.”
I recalled that, about twice a season during our youth soccer years, Jerry would have a similar fit of rage on the field and have to be restrained and talked down.
“Those kids didn’t know they were messing with the Red Hulk,” I said. This was the name we had given his psychotic alter ego.
He smiled at the nickname, then his face assumed a stony seriousness I had never seen before.
“I won’t let anyone hurt my people or take my shit,” he said. “Fuckers are always trying to rob me because they know the cops won’t help. We have to be our own enforcers out here.”
* * *
W E drove on, pulling the plant-filled horse trailer and chatting about our lives, how it seemed like only yesterday that we were serving Mass as altar boys or stealing Hustlers from Thrifty’s, stashing them in oleander hedges for later use. He told me some stories about his kids and said they were a bit hard to control, especially his son. He said that he took some of the blame, because of his line of work and because the kid tried to take after him. He explained that there were rumors about him—that he had become kind of a larger than life figure in the area—and that his son seemed to believe the rumors, even though most of them were nonsense. He had embraced Jerry’s outlaw reputation, adopting it as his own way of conducting himself. Jerry said this was the biggest downside of the choices he had made. But, he added, he really had no choice, since the real estate business basically went belly-up in 2009 and he needed to feed his family.
Then we turned to my life. Jerry had only met Lana a few times, and our son, Reed, only once, because I had relocated to the east coast before starting family life. But he dutifully inquired after them, his manners still where his strict father—a union welder and church usher—had forcibly installed them. I said everything at home was fine. I did not tell him about Reed’s weight issues and how he was bullied so badly he refused to go to school and once, it seemed, had tried to kill himself. Nor did I mention how Lana, so disgusted by my inability to take any sort of action on our son’s behalf, would no longer be intimate with me. What was I supposed to do, threaten other people’s kids with violence? I left all this for another conversation. Instead, I told him about my sloth-like climb to department chairperson, my pre-academic forays into advertising and design, and then tried, with some effort, to explain my fear of drawing.
“That’s freaky. You used to draw all the time,” he said. “And you fucking rocked it. That Pete Townshend drawing was the shit.”
“I stopped at some point, and now I can’t start again.”
“I don’t know. It’s almost like I’m so indecisive about where to put the marks that I’m paralyzed.”
He drove down a long street of strip malls and restaurants. So much sprawl out in the middle of no where. It was hard to fathom people choosing to live out here.
Jerry said, “There’s a ton of things to fear. The Mexican Mafia for one thing. But drawing?”
“It’s more like a block, I guess. A phobia. It’s pretty irrational, I know.” I realized how I lame I must have sounded to him. I had that effete feeling I get when I’m around the Plant Operations guys at campus. Small and cerebral, bloodless.
“You should try smoking more weed.”
“Weed’s good for that?”
“Weed’s good for everything.”
* * *
W E were weaving through an upscale neighborhood along the foothills of the low valley. The ever-increasing sizes of the houses and the comments about his reputation started cluing me in on the fact that Jerry had definitely transcended our modest, middle-middle class beginnings, at least in terms of income. He was most certainly banking more than my professor salary, though that wasn’t saying much. Still, this was an interesting turn, since I had gone to college, earning a Masters degree, and he had opted to find his own vocational path to an income.
We parked beside a sprawling, Spanish-style mansion that was piled against a steep desert hill. There was a large iron gate with ornate, leafy curvilinear grill work, which read as a kind of postmodern nod to William Morris. Jerry had some trouble locating the parking brake under the dash and commented that the truck he was driving was not his. I did not understand why he was driving it, but decided to see if the riddle would solve itself.
He led me inside and it was clear that he was proud of the space. The house was ridiculously large. Probably five times the size of our identical childhood homes. Lots of pillars and marble, glossy floors. Spanish-flavored, something like a cross between a cathedral and a casino. The mansion had multiple levels and incredible views of the valley. He led me around like a weed king Willy Wonka, showing me the wonders of the space—the band room full of music gear, the arcade, the indoor spa. In his office area, he opened a built-in safe box and withdrew a large freezer bag full of weed. It looked like small throw pillow stuffed with large fuzzy green pellets. He led me through the master bedroom and out to the patio. The view was pretty impressive. The prickly valley sprawl and, beyond, the stony backside of the mountains we grew up under, warping in the folds of heated air.
“I don’t think the Pete drawing’s here,” he said, after standing motionless for a moment at the railing. “I think it’s in a storage space I use. We can swing by there later.”
Right now though, he explained, we had to go see some people, adding that they were “pretty strange”.
I said, “Not dangerous strange.”
He said, “No, just weird strange.”
He told me he was showing them how to start their own growing efforts as a favor to his oldest daughter, who worked at the dispensary. She had asked him to help out a friend’s family. Something really bad had recently happened to them and they were having trouble paying the mortgage. We got back in the truck with the big bag of weed, which he set out in the open between us, and started driving. It made me nervous to have it just sitting there. I asked if he would get busted if we were to get pulled over with that much weed.
“Maybe they’d take it,” he said. “But I would get it back.”
We drove for about fifteen minutes to the outskirts, and then down a dirt road, past a horse farm. We pulled up in front of a small, low house on a large patch of scrubby land. A kid—a boy about fourteen-years-old, just a couple years younger than my son—came out of the house and told Jerry to drive around to the back of the house.
Before we did so, Jerry handed me the bag of weed and a set of keys. He asked me to put the bag in a white truck that was parked off to the side. As I walked to the truck, I considered his comfort with delegating tasks, even to a visiting friend. He had acquired a certain degree of command and was at home on his perch at the top of the local pecking order. I set the bag on the smoldering seat, knowing now that this was Jerry’s truck. They had swapped, apparently, so he could use the trailer. The day’s small mysteries were gradually being resolved, though the Pete Townshend drawing had yet to materialize.
I followed Jerry to the rear of the house where a shipping container sat like a large metal room in the dirt. “Where’s Josh?” Jerry asked the kid.
“He’s working over in Victorville. On a construction job.”
Jerry glared at the boy. “He was supposed to be here to help with this. I need to show him what to do.”
The boy offered an apologetic shrug but Jerry wouldn’t let it go at that. “You tell your brother not to waste my time. Now I’m going to have to come back out here and that’s fucked up. I’ve got a business to run.”
“I’ll tell him,” the boy said. He looked uneasy, even scared.
“Someone does you a favor, you best fucking show up for it.”
“I’ll tell him.”
Jerry wiped his face off with a bandana, frowning at the boy. He seemed to be on the verge of scrapping the entire venture and storming off. For a minute, I thought maybe the Red Hulk was about to make an appearance. Instead, he stuffed the bandana in his back pocket and nodded at the trailer. “Help me unload,” he ordered.
The boy and Jerry started transferring the contents of the trailer—plastic painter buckets with plants growing in them—to the shipping container. It had been fitted with lights for growing inside. I didn’t want to get in the way, so I stood off to the side where there was a smallish, chestnut-colored horse standing in a dirt corral. The horse came towards me and I held out my hand, which it sniffed. It was an unusually shaggy horse, its surface dull with unkempt fur. I slowly tried to reach out and pet its face, but it did a remarkable job of staying just out of reach. I kept trying, wondering if I could draw this horse—the bulging muscle along the jaw, the long skull and omniscient eyes.
The boy came over and told me that the horse’s name was Lemmy, because of the odd protrusions on its forehead and cheek. “Like Lemmy from Motorhead,” the kid said. “That’s my mom’s favorite band.”
I nodded, studying the thinly furred bumps.
“He’s a wild horse,” the kid told me.
I kept trying to pet the horse’s face, but never came close to touching it. The animal knew how to stay just out of reach, weaving like a boxer.
A gaunt woman—the boy’s mother—came over and watched me with the horse. She had a Band-Aid on her face and I tried not to stare at it. She said, “Keep working with him. You’re helping me by doing that.” Hanks of greying hair were pinned back behind her ears and she was rail thin, the veins in her hands protruding like little snakes just under the skin. “I’m Alice, by the way.”
I introduced myself as Jerry’s oldest friend. She had no response to this. Instead, she said, “My oldest boy, Josh, is the one who wanted all this. He thinks it could get us out of a real mess we’re in. He’s friends with Jerry’s Katie.”
A little later, when business was concluding, Alice explained that wild horses were herded and the young ones were separated out. The others were sent to Nevada where it was legal to slaughter horses for the meat. A friend had acquired four of the young ones and she took one of them. She would work with him and eventually ride him. Then, out of the blue, she told me that her husband had died in April. He was texting her while driving. “He smashed into the semi the exact moment he hit send,” she said. Her frown stretched the Band-Aid on her cheek. “He was dead instantly, just two days after he got out of rehab.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. This was undoubtedly the “something really bad” that Jerry had alluded to earlier. Though her delivery was more matter-of-fact than sorrowful, I sensed the desperation of the situation. I felt the desert closing in around this terrible homestead and these broken-hearted people, along with their sweet hairy horse, would be smothered under the hot, unforgiving sands and stones. I was sorry for it all.
“I’m glad Jerry’s lending a hand,” was all I could come up with to say.
We both looked over at Jerry, who was sitting in his truck, engaged in an intense-looking discussion on his phone. When he saw us watching, he ended the call and waved me over. He rolled down the window, “Time to go!”
I waved bye to Alice and jumped in the cab. Jerry was already rolling, the truck bouncing on the ruts.
“Some motherfucker jacked one of my guys again!” he said, punching the dash.
* * *
I N addition to the attempted Thanksgiving weekend heist, Jerry revealed that someone had been holding up his delivery people at gunpoint. Probably the same scumbag, Jerry told me as he gunned the truck down the broad, stark streets. The sun flared overhead and thin mirages shimmered over the road ahead. I held onto the dashboard handgrip as we screeched around corners, and slalomed slow-moving cars that clustered around intersections. Just regular people driving to work or the supermarket to pick up some diet drinks and frozen chicken parts.
“This cocksucker somehow knows just when and where we will be. Shows up in broad daylight with a Glock and walks off with cash and goods.”
“I hope no one got hurt,” I said.
“My boy Casper put up a fight this time, but everyone’s okay. Good news is that he got the fucker’s mask off. Got a good look at his face.”
I asked what would normally be asked, had the police had been notified? Of course, given what I had seen that day, I suspected that this was something that couldn’t be reported. Jerry confirmed this, explaining as he drove that the delivery aspect of his business was something “off the books”.
“Some things are still done the old way,” he said—a reference to his earlier days as a dealer, maybe. Or maybe it alluded to an even “older way,” maybe the way of the Old West, when territories were carved out by more brutal means. I wondered about my own well-being then, thinking maybe his world had gotten too far out on the fringe for someone like me—a man worried about holding his modest academic position, a man with esoteric anxieties, a fear of drawing, of all things. Were we in danger of being ambushed by a rival? Maybe the Mexican Mafia he mentioned earlier? Even a lame citizen like me knew of their ruthlessness, their penchant for decapitation and mutilation. The worst question of all came to me then: Was Jerry himself in over his head?
“This is not good,” Jerry said darkly. He repeated this a few times and each utterance made the situation decidedly worse.
We drove directly to the dispensary. His bulky guard, Fetu, was waiting in the lot. He flicked a cigarette into the dirt as we pulled up.
Jerry jumped out and I followed, not sure where I should be in all this. My parents’ car was sitting where I had parked it earlier, in the neighboring lot—a magic chariot back to all that is safe and smoothed over, disguised as a Toyota Camry. Maybe it was time to cut out. Jerry seemed to sense my desire to flee and said, “Come on.”
There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room in his tone. I surprised myself and followed them in. Fetu said, “Casper’s inside. Asshole tried to pistol whip him. Caught him near the temple.”
Inside the dispensary office, a young man in a muscle shirt was sitting at the table, wincing as one of the shop girls help some ice to his head. Jerry wanted details and Casper told what happened. He had gone to the address they had been nervous about earlier, given that it was close to the site of another gunpoint heist that occurred only a couple weeks ago. It was an apartment complex near the freeway. A guy in a ski mask approached him when Casper came out of the apartment and forced him into the car, where he took all the money Casper had collected that afternoon and what was left of the weed. He tried to take Casper’s car. They scuffled on pavement, and the guy succeeded in clipping Casper’s temple with the gun. But Casper managed to rip off the mask and the guy bolted.
“So you saw what he looked like? You got a good look?” Jerry asked.
“Yeah. Pretty good.”
“White guy, you say?”
“Yeah. Young. Probably early twenties, maybe. Around there.”
“You’re lucky he didn’t cap your ass,” Fetu said.
“I don’t think the gun was even loaded,” Casper said. “He used it more like knucks than a gun.”
“This fucker has taken a few thousand off us now,” Jerry said. “It’s got to stop. Describe him.”
Casper shrugged. “I don’t know. A white kid, like a said. Looked pretty clean, actually. Short hair, athletic? I don’t know. Just normal.”
“You got to do better than that,” Jerry said. “Or I’m going to start thinking you were in on it.” It was still surprising for me to see Jerry pressing so hard on people, though he’d been doing it all day.
“Are you fucking kidding me, Jerry?”
“He was robbed, dad,” the shop girl said. Apparently she was one of Jerry’s daughters. Yes, I recognized her now—his oldest, Katie.
“I said I might start thinking that if you don’t tell us what this fucker looked like.”
“I just did!”
“You described every white boy in the state.”
“Put him in a line up and I’ll point him out,” Casper said. “But describe him? It’s not like he had a birthmark on his face or something. He was just regular.”
The room went quiet and I thought again that this might be a good time to head back to the other side of the mountains. But when I looked up, Jerry was staring at me and, consequently, so was everyone else.
* * *
O F course Jerry had hit upon the idea of me doing a drawing, like a police sketch, of the unmasked gunman. No matter how much I tried to beg off, he wouldn’t let up. He led me outside, away from the others, when I first tried to laugh off the suggestion as a joke. Then he proceeded with his barrage of arguments: that I was a great artist, that I used to be able to do this kind of stuff in my sleep, that it would really help him out. His livelihood was at stake, after all.
“I think I should probably just head out,” I said.
“Why would you do that? This is your chance to fix things for both of us.”
“I can’t do it, Jerry,” I said. “Really. I mean, this is all kind of crazy.”
He studied my face with distaste, his eyes going cold and dead for a beat. “I’m going to help you out,” he said, shoving his hand into his pocket. I heard a metallic ringing sound as he snapped out the blade of a butterfly knife.
“What the fuck, Jerry?”
He turned and strode over to my parents’ car. Leaning over, resting one hand on the fender, he punched the blade into the left rear tire. The air rushed out with an angry hiss. I could see the car getting lower to the ground, sitting at a slight tilt.
“You’re insane,” I said, nodding in agreement with myself. This did nothing to dissuade him from slashing the front tire, too. “God dammit, Jerry!”
“Draw the fucking picture, man! By the time you’re done, my guys will have new tires on this thing. If not, it’s a long walk back.” He grinned.
* * *
B A C K inside, Jerry cleared the back room and told Katie to bring in some blank paper from the office printer, and any pens or pencils she could find. Casper came back from the bathroom, where he had been dabbing at his head wound with a wash cloth. He flopped down in the seat before me. “What are you, an artist or something?”
“How’s this work?”
“I’ll ask you a bunch of questions and draw your answers.”
“Okay, but like I already said a million fucking times, he was just some regular human person.”
I selected a pencil from the cup of writing utensils Katie had placed before me. Then turned to the stack of paper, sliding off the first sheet of whiteness. It sat there, bright and open, unclaimed and undefined, an avatar for possibilities. That was thing. The possibilities, the potential, diminished as soon as an attempt is made—a single dot annihilating the infinite. Who was I to claim that power? My hands started shaking. It occurred to me, at that moment, that I was enduring a mid-life crisis.
“Come on, Jeff,” Jerry said. “Get it together.”
I was frozen. “I’m not sure I can.”
“What do you want me to do, move your hand for you?”
This was similar to one of Lana’s refrains: I shouldn’t have to do this. So similar that it sparked me, a heat spread through me. I put down the pencil and stood up. I started for the door then turned suddenly and sat back down, angry at my impulse to leave. I pushed against it and, looking Jerry in the face, began scribbling wildly on the page. Everyone watched me do it. It sounded like the desperate scratching of a small, trapped animal. I filled the page with one long angry line, winding around, looping back on itself, snaking into every negative space and suffocating all possible beginnings. Leaving the page covered in endings.
“The fuck?” Casper said.
But Jerry smiled and nodded. He pulled the covered page away and slid a clean one in front of me. “More,” he said.
I covered the page again with my unending mark. This time faster, harder, jabbing through in places. I kept at it until it was covered with an unresolvable knot of lines. Jerry swapped it with a clean page and I went at it again, feeling a rush, a cellular satisfaction. Jerry arranged the covered sheets before me like a display on the meeting table, until the table itself was covered and he started placing sheets on every available surface. I paused and took it in. All this line, unspooling from my hand that scrawled and etched wildly, a tangle unloosed. Until, probably three dozen sheets later, it tapered off.
“You done?” Jerry asked.
I nodded, emptied and loose. I rubbed my hand and closed my eyes, resetting. Then I set a clean page before myself and turned to Casper. “Would you say his face was roundish or more long?”
* * *
I G O T into it and before an hour had passed, we had a picture. Casper saw it develop, making suggestions as we went—thinner nose, harder jaw, less eyebrow—so he wasn’t blown away by the reveal. I shook off the eraser dust and held it up. He only nodded and said, “That’s the dude. That’s the motherfucker right there.”
Jerry back came in with the others. Casper said, “That’s the guy.”
I held up the drawing, not knowing what the reaction would be. But I knew immediately that the picture was a success because I could see from Jerry’s sigh that he recognized the face. So did Katie, who gasped and held her both hands over her mouth, looking like she had just witnessed a terrible accident. It was an incredibly satisfying reaction and I think I actually smiled. I had done it, broken through, and sat there humming with elation, feeling remote and detached from the darkness that was now filling the room. Jerry took the picture from me and studied it closely. “Victorville my motherfucking ass,” he said, and redirected his gaze at his daughter.
“I didn’t know, dad,” Katie said. “I swear to God.”
Jerry ignored her. I could see that he was holding back his rage. The Red Hulk was just under the surface. He turned to Fetu and said, “Meet me at JJ’s. Bring Django and Spider.”
Fetu nodded grimly and left.
“You better come with me,” Jerry said to me.
“What’s going on?” I asked. I was only now surfacing from the spell of creation.
“Let’s go,” he said.
As we started for the door, Katie tried to stop her father, grabbing him by the arm.
“Dad,” she said, imploringly, to do what, exactly, I wasn’t sure.
He shook her off.
“He’s just a kid!” she called after him. I put it all together then. The person I had drawn, had outed, was the missing brother of the boy with the horse, the son of gaunt, weathered Alice. Josh. He had been playing Jerry for a fool.
Now he inhabited that old familiar rage—yet still controlled, moving with precision to his truck, nodding me into the passenger seat, jaw clenched, eyes pulsing as though he was being bludgeoned from the inside by the coursing of his own blood. It was late afternoon now, the roads still smoldering from the heat like a brand on the desert’s rough hide. The light had tilted, shadows were long. He drove the labyrinth of streets, breaking the silence only once to say, “Never do anyone any favors.”
It was clear he wasn’t talking to me. Or was he?
“Where we going, Jerry?” I said. I wondered if he was somehow angry with me, if I had, by overcoming by fear of drawing, inadvertently done something very wrong. How else to read his seething energy, this dark, clenched brood behind the wheel?
“That storage space,” he said.
So he was finally going to give me the Pete Townshend drawing? If that was the case, I really didn’t need to see it at this point. The drawing of the thief had done something to restore my faith in my abilities. I felt the presence of my hands, as though returned from a winter migration. Gesture awakened inside me and now all expressive action seemed possible. I wanted him to recognize my breakthrough more directly, and even thank him for it, but all that was lost to the rush of action.
It was clear that he had mobilized against Josh, and that some ugly scene was ahead. All because of my particular arrangement of lines, a telling web. Did that make me somehow inextricably involved? I tried once more to draw something out of him, a forecast of the immediate future as we raced along the sunbaked streets.
“Tell me what’s going on, Jerry,” I demanded.
A mile or two of silence.
Jerry pulled off the road, onto the drive of a rundown storage facility, the units in long rows, like crypts—a mausoleum for middle-class junk and what? Maybe something worse. He said, “The more you’re in the dark, the better.”