“What’s the matter with you?” asked Jesse.
“My eye. I keep getting something in it. Burns like hell, too.”
“Let me see,” Jesse looked at Johnny’s eye and said, “No wonder. The paint’s peeling off the bandage. You got flakes all in your eye. It’s as red as a cut tomato.”
Johnny reached up and pulled off the bandage, exposing his half-raw eyebrow and forehead. Jesse said, “That burn’s got a lot of black in it, too.”
“It ain’t scabbed over?”
“About half, around the edges. The inside’s still wet looking.” Jesse glanced down the loose gravel-and-caliche road they were on and saw a young boy, maybe ten years old, working on his bicycle. “Pull over by that kid,” he said, “I got an idea.”
Johnny stopped their car a short distance from the boy and both men got out. Jesse went to the boy and watched him. The boy glanced at them. He had his bicycle upside down, with the front wheel off. The black rubber inner tube draped across the rear wheel like a deflated snake.
Jesse walked to the boy and said, “Hey there, little guy.” The boy looked at him. Jesse smiled and continued, “I need to borrow that inner tube there to doctor up my friend.”
The boy said, “You can have it for twenty dollars.”
“Twenty? How about I don’t spank your ass and you let me have it for nothing.”
“Why don’t you go buy one if you need one?”
“We’re in a hurry,” Jesse wasn’t used to questions from kids. He took the inner tube from the bike and tossed a dollar on the ground. The boy started to protest and Jesse growled at him. The boy ran away crying. Jesse went to his brother and said, “Hold still.” He pulled a handkerchief out of his back pocket and placed it on Johnny’s eyebrow and forehead. “Put your finger on it.”
Johnny held it to his head and said, “It feels greasy.”
“That’s the medicine,” Jesse lied as he took out a pocketknife and cut the inner tube. He got behind his brother and put the tube over the handkerchief and around Johnny’s skull like a headband. He stretched it tight and tied it with a square knot. Jesse hadn’t thought about the valve stem before he cut, and it stuck out at Johnny’s temple like the point of an arrow. “There,” Jesse said.
Johnny bent down to look at his face in the s
ide mirror. He didn’t mind the valve stem and thought the black rubber band across his forehead looked good. Two corners of the handkerchief poked out a little, but he didn’t think people would notice. He straightened as Jesse said in a low voice, “Trouble.”
A man strode toward them holding the little boy’s hand. He left the boy at the bike and stopped in front of them. Jesse backed to their car, leaving Johnny to face the man.
The man was smaller than Johnny by a good six inches and a hundred pounds, but he was pissed. “What do you mean, stealing my boy’s tire?”
“We didn’t steal his tire,” said Johnny, confused. He pointed over the man’s shoulder toward the bike, “its right there.”
“The inner tube. You know what I mean.”
“We needed it,” said Johnny. He watched Jesse out of the corner of his eye as Jesse circled their car and leaned in, getting something.
“Why didn’t you go buy your own?” said the man, “Instead of thieving from my boy? I think I’ll call the cops on you two.”
Jesse stepped close behind him. He held a foot-long piece of heavy chain wrapped end-to-end in black electrical tape. Jesse swung it in a short arc using a lot of wrist and the chain thocked into the side of the man’s head, dropping him to the gravel road. His body went rigid and his legs and arms quivered as they stuck up in the air.
“Good shot,” Johnny said.
“He wanted trouble, he got it,” Jesse said.
Johnny was about to speak again, when something hard thwacked into his ear. It felt like the biggest hornet on the planet. Johnny swatted his ear three times as fast as he could, trying to knock it away. Another thwack hit him flush on the nose and his eyes blinked shut from the incredible pain. He grabbed his nose with both hands as his eyes watered.
“Hey kid, stop that!” Jesse yelled as the boy picked up another rock and cocked his arm. He brought it from way back like a big-league pitcher and let it fly. The white stone plunked into Jesse’s forehead and staggered the big man back against the car.
Jesse put a palm to his head and squawled, “Gawd, let’s get outta here!” He staggered to the passenger door and hustled inside, yelling, “Get in!”
Johnny’s eyes watered so badly he had to feel his way along the car like a blind man. Another stone ricocheted off the top of his head and felt like a red-hot knife scraping across his scalp. He reached the car door and jerked it open, falling and scrambling into the driver’s seat.
Jesse yelled, “GoGoGo!”