Never mind the fact that the mercury still hovered near 90, even though the sun had sunk, Hooter and the gang had a bonfire blazing that would have made Smokey the Bear shudder.
“Should I throw some more Pearl in there or anything else?” asked Lonnie Johnson, in a hushed voice.
“How would I know?” said Hooter quietly. “Me and him never spent a lot of time dwelling on the hereafter. He only talked about this particular ceremony a couple of times.”
The sparks popped off the Mesquite and danced in the smoke like some ethereal foxfire.
“Doesn't matter anyways,” said Hooter with a chuckle and slapping his knee. “I always said that old Injun could track a shadow in the middle of a blizzard. He'll find us. He knows this is for him.”
This wasn't a wake, exactly, nor was it a memorial service, or really anything any of them had ever been a part of before. They didn't really know what to do, but it seemed fitting somehow to do something to honor a life that was, the life that was a proud and respected Indian by the name of Pockets Geronimo.
So, here they were, gathered around the roaring blaze, some sitting, others standing or kneeling, every one of them cradling a cold bottle of Pearl the way they remembered Pockets doing on social occasions.
Delmar Jacobs rose to unsteady feet and shuffled toward the fire. He raised his bottle to the North Star and proclaimed: “(hiccup) Long live Quanah Parker!”
“Now, ain't the time for jokes,” hissed Hooter. “This is supposed to be a solemn occasion of sorts, a chance to pay tribute to ol' Pockets and let him know we're thinking of him.”
Delmar tottered slowly from side to side. “ (hiccup) I know that, Hooter. (hiccup) I was just trying to break the (hiccup) ice. Wasn't nobody that ever enjoyed a joke more than ol' Pockets.”
“Now, that's a plain fact,” said cousin Charlie tossing some leaves into the flames. “That old Indian could be sitting there looking cold as chiseled granite one second, then if something tickled him he'd just melt like Gumby at a wiener roast.”
“Yeah,” said Izzy Franklin. “You remember the time that lawyer came out to see him from Washington. Found ol' Pockets sitting on the edge of his porch with a blanket wrapped around him. Peetie you were there. You tell the story.”
Peetie Womac leaned in from the shadows. “Yeah, I was there alright,” he said. “That lawyer tells Pockets that he's filing a class action suit on behalf of all Indians, and he'll get them back what is rightfully theirs. Tells Pockets just to sign on the dotted line and he can be part of it.
“Ol' Pockets looks at that lawyer, never even blinks and says, ‘The last time we did that we ended up on the wrong side of the Red River. Besides, I don't know what tribe you're from, mister, but I'm from the American tribe.'
“Well, this lawyer isn't going to take no for an answer. He keeps going on about this and that, and Pockets just stares straight ahead. Then, while the lawyer is talking, Pockets gets up, goes over to that old wheel, picks up his hatchet and starts grinding away on it.”
Hiccuuuup! “I can see this coming,” said Delmar excitedly.
“Hush!” said the group.
“Well sir, that Lawyer is in full cry, standing there by the door to the tack room, and just like that, Pockets sizzles that hatchet past the lawyer's ear like a Nolan Ryan heater and sticks it in the door. I tell you boys that lawyer's eyes were so big I thought we'd have to go fishing for his wingtips. He had suddenly lost the ability to speak.
“Pockets shambles toward the tack door and on his way by the lawyer he says, ‘Mister, you ever hear of an Apache buzzcut?' That lawyer is just speechless, he can't move. Pockets unsticks his hatchet, throws open the door and says, We find it useful for folks who don't understand that NO means NO in every language.'”
By now, everyone was leaning closer and closer to Peetie, anticipating the inevitable.
“Well sir, tacked to the back of that door were clumps of every color of horse hair you can dream of. You know how Pockets was always braiden' on somethin'? I'm ready to bust a gut and I hear a thud. That lawyer had fainted dead away, and Pockets is laughing so hard he drops into a heap. He just about got himself pulled together, looks at me and says, ‘White man go boom,” and falls apart all over again.”
Amid the collective chuckles, Hooter said, “Yep, that was Pockets alright.”
“Hey, Hooter,” said Izzy, “You spent more time with him than all of the rest of us put together. How'd he ever get to be called Pockets, anyhow?”
Lonnie interrupted. “Well, now, that's obvious ain't it? Ever since I can remember him he always wore those old bib overalls that seemed like they had an extra set of pockets and every one of them was always stuffed plumb full of something.” The boys couldn't help but notice that Lonnie seemed to have his thumbs hooked in his own bibs with an extra bit of pride.
“You lose,” said Hooter.
“Huh?” came the question in unison.
“You lose,” said Hooter. “I never did know his real name, but he told me one time, and told me never to tell while he was alive, how he got his nickname. They called him Pockets because once upon a time he was the biggest pool hustler this side of the Mississippi.”
“You're kiddin',” said Peetie. “I never saw him with a cue stick a day in his life.”
“Didn't need to,” said Hooter. “By the time all of us got to know him, those days were long-gone memories. See, when he got out of the service, he didn't much like the idea of going back to the reservation in Oklahoma and it was danged tough to get a decent job if your skin wasn't lily-white. This was back in the forties, remember? Never mind the fact that he came home a decorated soldier for defending his country. I guess he got bored one night and went to a pool hall. Lo and behold he finds out real quick that he's a natural born stroker. So, he started hustling and never quit until he had enough cows and enough cash to start piecing this place together.”
The boys looked like a grasshopper that has just been introduced to the grill of a pickup going the other way. “Well, (hiccup), I'll be (hiccup) jiggered,” said Delmar. “I never (hiccup) knew that about him.”
“Well, now you do,” said Hooter, poking at the fire with a stick.
“Hey,” said Izzy. “Remember that ol' mutt dog Pockets used to have. You never saw pockets that you didn't see that dog. Whatever happened to him, anyway?”
“That he was a she,” said Hooter quietly, “And, I had her.” The gang turned toward Hooter as he reached into his front pocket for his sunglasses, even though the moon continued its climb.
“That was ol' Snooks,” said Hooter. “Started out that dog was Pocket's sisters', but she took a liking to Pockets. When his sister passed on a few years back, Pockets shows up at my door one day and tells me Snooks is getting too old to be left alone for long. Tells me Snooks has always liked me, which was true. Then you know what that stony-faced old man tells me? Says if I want to take Snooks that's fine, if not, he reckons it's time to send her to the Happy Hunting Ground.
“Well sir, I liked ol' Snooks and I figured Pockets was just depressed about his sister and would change his mind, so I took her. But, do you know that old man never asked me about her again, and ol' Snooks seemed happy enough.”
“So, you've still got her?” asked Peetie.
“I did have,” said Hooter, turning away from the circle and rubbing his temples. “You know she was ancient when I got her, but ounce for ounce a gamer like you never saw. She did fine at first, but her hearing was about shot. Then about the time Pockets took that first ambulance ride to Lubbock, ol' Snooks got cataracts bad and fast, couldn't hardly see anything. Then her teeth got infected. I tell you, if it wasn't one thing with that mange bag it was five others. Seemed like she lost ground at about the same pace as Pockets.”
“So, she passed on, then?” said Peetie, gently, as he began to understand the score.
“I reckon so,” said Hooter, turning back into the circle, cheeks flushed and glistening. “You know how that nurse in Lubbock said that Pockets went flat-line and when she came back with the doctor, Pockets was just gone? Well, it's the strangest thing. That very afternoon, before I'd ever heard about Pockets, ol' Snooks just went to sleep. It was a blessing, really. I went to get a box and when I came back, she'd disappeared. I hunted everywhere and couldn't find hide nor hair.”
Hooter turned back away. But no one had the heart to look him in the eye anyway.
“Hiccup,” went Delmar, hoisting his Pearl to the sky. “Here's to Pockets Geronimo. May his tomahawk fly across the heavens, forever!”
“And, to ol' Snooks,” said Charlie raising his bottle. “May she chase rabbits and Pockets once again.”
Hooter raised his bottle, head bowed, “It hurts like thunder, boys, but they're finally back home now. Can't ask more than that.”