It was outside of Elko when things began to fall apart.
Ernie’s beady eyes were glazed over the steering wheel with his foot pushing the accelerator to the floor. LBJ and Walt were still passed out in the backseat, sawing logs with Walt’s occasional sleep apnea uncorking a cannonball of spit and phlegm as he went back to his drug-induced sleep. I sat in the front, nursing the tequila bottle and thinking whether or not there will be any ball next year.
I doubt it—it got too weird over the last three days to have baseball.
With the Cadillac roaring along I-80, I could see to the south whispers of mushroom clouds lining the horizon and static electrical thunderbolts shooting into the night sky. The thick glaze of hash tar lining my teeth tasted bitter as I pointed the chaos out to Ernie. He just grunted and said relax, we’ll be in Reno shortly.
I was numb.
I’m not much of a heavy drinker but when you shake hands with the devil, it’s hard not to need something to take the edge off. I’m usually more of a beer guy, but Walt and Lyndon gave me too much grief about beer being for breakfast. I didn’t know what to think anymore. I guess when you hear about Detroit being leveled by knife-wielding sandmen who consume men’s souls before eating their bodies, you’re bound to get a little confused.
I wonder where the Tigers are going to play next year?
The sign up ahead said, “Welcome to Elko, the Heart of Northeast Nevada.” It was riddled with bullets and the sole streetlight illuminating the billboard had two men swinging (presumably) dead in hangman knots.
“You think Elko is the heart of northeast Nevada, Ernest?”
“I would have said Jackpot, but what do I know?” he said pulling a Kool from his shirt pocket and lighting it with the miniature butane torch he flicked absent-mindlessly. “Take a special type of person to live in Nevada. I, for one, could never stand the heat. Too dry, too angry.”
“You think we’re gonna be okay? I’m having serious doubts I’m ever going to see my family again.”
“Knock it off, Killebrew. You’re giving me bad juju. Get back to your tequila and you’re moping. I ain’t got time to listen to you belly ache about your family,” Ernest growled at me, taking his eyes off the road and breathing cigarette smoke through his nose. “You keep acting like a sniveling coward, you’re going to end up like that pole-smoker John Wayne back in Lubbock. I’ve never seen a man torn to shreds by a pack of wild dogs before—still haunts me.”
It must have been bad—Ernie wasn’t the kind of guy to be haunted by anything. I wonder how a pack of dogs decides to eat a man. It’s probably pretty loud and messy.
Elko danced like a dream in the distance as we drove past abandoned cars and the hundreds of bodies crucified on the side of the road. Ernie remarked that there had to be crews of demons working overtime to both build and mount good Christian souls to the crosses. He was certain they were independent contractors because union workers could never get that kind of efficiency. Ernest slowed the Cadillac to around 85 and rolled down the windows. Monkey-butting his Kool, he pointed to a wall of bulldozers blocking the road, forcing us to take Idaho Street exit.
Barely tapping the brakes, Ernest screamed down the onramp and blazed into the heart of the town. Elko felt more than abandoned—it was cold and dead without a soul to be felt or seen.
“Do me a favor, Harmon, hand me my Harrah’s players card. I want to stop to take a leak and maybe roll some craps.”
“You think we have time for gambling?”
“There’s always time for dice.”
As if he had been to Elko a hundred times, Ernie piloted the car to the Stockmen’s Casino on Commercial Street. He pulled into the valet spot but when nobody can to fetch our car, he angrily muttered about lack of service in the new millennium and unloaded his Colt .45 into the air, empting the barrel.
“What the fuck are you doing, you fucking communist?” Walt roared from the backseat. “I’m trying to sleep.”
“Piss break, Walt.”
“You could have left us in the car while you diddled the Mormon, Hemingway.”
“Watch you tone, fudge-packer. We got a lot of miles before dawn and I don’t appreciate any lip from some pederass with a Crayon jammed up his twat.”
I held my breath. I was fully expecting the two of them to shoot each other dead.
“Hehe. You’re all right, Hemingway. I like you. You’re much better than that Fitzgerald fellow. Let’s go see if there’s any action in this dump,” Disney said.
Getting out of the car, Walt ran a pocket comb through his hair and straightened his necktie. There were still blotches of blood stained through his dress shirt from the needle, but he quickly put himself together with a sports coat and a fresh Chesterfield.
“Lemme buy you a drink, Ernie.”
I reluctantly followed the two of them into the casino. I had a 12-guage shotgun slung across my back and carried a 38-ounce Louisville Slugger. The only thing else I had was a sense of dread and a hunger from prime rib.
The casino was no worse for the wear considering what was happening around the globe. With the exception of a row of nickel slot machines vandalized with hammers and screwdrivers, the Stockmen’s looked normal—well, as normal as a casino can look with nobody in it. The machines taunted us with bright lights and chiming noises, and the prerecorded announcements of the loosest slots in Elko County still came over the loud speakers. There were unfinished games of blackjack left undisturbed with complimentary drinks untouched and burnt out cigarettes resting in ashtrays. We stepped over a couple of corpses bleeding out across the cheap, worn carpet that looked like they were killed by either crowbars or rigid 1-inch EMT. Walt and Ernie made a beeline to the Cowpoke Saloon.
Kicking open the swinging doors, we were a bit surprised to see a customer sitting quietly at the counter-top video poker machine, nursing a soda.
“Jesus, what a lonely son of a bitch,” Walt said taking a seat next to the shadowy figure. “How long have you been here?”
The stranger didn’t look up from his game. He kept hitting the “Max Bet” button and watched his supply of credits dwindle chasing the four-of-a-kind bonus prize.
“He asked you a question,” Ernie said hopping over the bar. Pouring mugs of beer, Hemingway cracked eggs and added a little bit of bloody Mary mix into each beer. “Don’t make Walt ask you again.”
“I’m busy. Why don’t you go harassing somebody else,” the Stranger said as he discreetly filled his lower lip with snuff. Grabbing a ceramic coffee mug, he spit a golf ball-sized mouth of saliva and wiped his mouth his shirtsleeve. “Unless you want to make something of it.”
The stranger’s cowboy hat hung low, shielding his face. His broad shoulders radiated tension as Walt and Ernest smiled at each other bemused.
“Looks like we got a tough guy, Walt. You know what I like do with a tough guy, Walt?” Ernest asked taking a deep pull off his Red Eye. “I like to break ‘em. Break ‘em hard, so that when I am done, they ain’t so tough.”
Spitting again into the coffee cup, the stranger asked if that was so.
“Oh, it’s so, tough guy.”
I hung back by the swinging doors making sure that there wasn’t any of those Shivers or casino workers that might sneak up on us. I was way out of the Stranger’s eyesight but I figured he knew I was there. Seems like I’m the only one that doesn’t know what is going on.
Walt Disney kicked the stranger’s bar stool. Pushing back from the bar, the stranger stood up and towered over Walt. Pulling out a Bowie knife, Walt lunged at the stranger but his hand was caught and redirected by the stranger straight through Disney’s eye. Hemingway tried to jump over the bar, but he lost his footing, landing flat on the bar as the stranger grabbed his head and smashed it repeatedly into the video poker machine. Shards of glass and metal mixed in with Ernie’s brain and eyeballs as he quivered involuntarily until he was dead, dead, dead.
“I always hated Mickey Mouse and who said you were a Lost Generation? Seems a little pretentious if you ask me,” the stranger said, as I stood flatfooted by the swinging doors. “Who are you?”
“Harmon KIllebrew,” I stuttered quietly. I didn’t even think of raising my bat or unshouldering my shotgun.
“#3? Killer? Hammerin’ Harmon?” the stranger said with the first amount of glee I’ve heard in days. “Well, I’ll be a monkey’s uncle, Harm. I’m your biggest fan.”
Removing his hat, he walked forward with his hand extended. There was a genuine smile from ear-to-ear on his face as he pumped my hand.
“I can’t believe I’d run into you, in Elko of all places. Man alive, 13 All-Star appearances, the MVP in ’69, you’re the real deal—a real Hall of Famer. Man, it’s nice to meet you.”
I stood there dumbfounded but quickly got my feet underneath me. He kept shaking my hand, and patting me on the shoulder. It was starting to get embarrassing.
“My name is Chet Baker,” Chet said. “Darn nice to meet you.”
I said thank you and asked if maybe he’d like to go with me and Lyndon to Reno. He said that was a hoot of an idea. I kind of lost my appetite for prime rib after watching Walt Disney getting his head split open like a melon and Ernest Hemingway getting bludgeoned to death on a bar top. He seemed like a real nice guy and wanted to hear all about coming up with the Washington Senators. We headed back through the casino to the car when I saw something that made me a little nervous.
The backseat of the Cadillac was filled with Shivers and they were tearing LBJ to shreds. I don’t know how but the car seemed to actually be filled to the brim with blood and body parts of the 36th President. I wanted to sneak away and find another way to Reno, but Chet Baker felt like he should help Lyndon and opened the car door. He probably didn’t think a wave of blood would flood out, but he got caught in the mini-tsunami and got knocked to the ground. I tried to pick him up but Shivers bounced on him and torn his throat open. I saw his eyes turn black and eventually succumbed to the mortal wounds and get consumed by the Shivers.
I just snuck away, alone, a little tipsy and really confused why Walt Disney wanted to pick a fight. I saw that the Silver Dollar Lounge had it’s neon lights gleaming and I decided to head over there. I was hoping to find some sort of vehicle with the keys in it and continue driving to Reno. I didn’t have anything against Elko—they had a fine cowboy poetry festival and I heard that Basque food is real tasty, but it seemed a little too weird with all of the undead slaves of Satan slaughtering innocent people and those safe from the Devil’s touch haphazardly killing one another for me to hang out in Elko for much longer.
I was in luck. I found an old step-side pickup truck with the keys resting in the visor and full tank of gas in the parking lot. I had to pull out mummified corpse from the driver’s seat and mop up the liquefied remains of the passenger from the bench seat, but a little elbow grease and some paper towels made the 1975 Chevy as good as new. With three on the tree, I pushed in the clutch and said goodbye to Elko. I was still craving something to eat, but there was a bag of sunflower seeds on the dashboard that I ate and spit as I got back on I-80. I figured I should make it to Reno by morning.
That was until I decided to pick up a hitchhiker outside of Winnemucca.