Published on Friday, November 1, 2013
The Jehrico Collection
Jehrico and the Cockeyed Burro
By Tom Sheehan
Part 2 of a Serialized Novella
The townspeople of Bola City began laughing at Jehrico Taxico and his new cock-eyed burro just as he started into the town. He was returning to town from a junkie's jaunt and haunt as he might have called it. He heard the snickers, the titters, the sneaky laughter coming from, of all places, the slopped pen where pigs dug their ways through the day, then at the livery where a few poor folk of town labored for endless hours for measly nickels, and then at the side of Grunty's blacksmith shop where a midget Mexican carried coal and wood to keep the fire hot and managed, every now and then, to almost set the place on fire. For a nickel a day, Bib Grunty could put up with a fire possibly bigger than what he wanted. He didn't believe in insurance, which was a word he did not know.
The story of the burro ran ahead of Jehrico right to the heart of Bola City, from the initial encounter of a freighter and Jehrico way out on the town road.
Lagon Brick started it at Hagen's Saloon just as the beer spigot was opened for the first drink. "D'ja hear what Jehrico come up with this time? He's got himself a cock-eyed burro who can't see one way and the other way is blind as a bat." He laughed so hard the few customers got caught up in the news. "So dumb he is he don't know when a rock's put in the sack on his back. It's what Doc Fenton says is 'a dumb animal working the back end of forever.' Don't that say it better than none of us can say it ... 'the back end of forever.'" He leaned over the bar and laughed so hard he almost threw up his beer, but managed to hold on to it. He too knew the nickel side.
The barkeep, in a loud, tenor's voice, said, "Where'd he get a cock-eyed burro, Lag?"
"Some injun beat him at the junk game. Swapped him straight up for Jehrico's gun, 'cause I swear he knew Mildred was dead no more'n a week from that hunk of wire she ate straight out. He knew Jehrico was in the straits, and pressed for all he's worth."
He shook his head in disbelief. "'Magine losing an old maid like Mildred 'cause she ate a hunk of wire, and getting' a cock-eyed substitute? Life ain't no fun unless you look it straight in the eye." He ended up again over the bar and said, "You can't ask no cock-eyed burro to do that for you, can you?"
At that most appropriate moment, Jehrico Taxico walked into Hagen's Saloon.
His burro was with him, with big ears and the ugly eye.
The bad eye was indeed an ugly, engorged yellow-green thing that looked as if it had exploded within itself. One of the early ladies, standing at the foot of the stairs that lead to the rooms above, nearly fainted at the sight of the swollen green-yellow eye.
Hysteria ensued to a certain level until Jehrico raised his hand and said, "Look what my burro found for me." And he held up a sparkling diamond that looked as bright as the evening star. It indeed shone like the evening star all by itself in the western sky. It mesmerized a few of the men and all of the ladies, the shine so brilliant coming through the rough edges of a ruffian of the fold, a found beauty.
"Ain't that somethin',?" Jehrico said, as he wiped the stone on his shirt. "Right there in front of me it was and I didn't catch one glitter of it. Bessie here," and with that he patted the burro on the head, "she just kicked her foot into the ground and up it popped, as perty as a trout in the stream lookin' for that special worm a mine."
The barkeep said, "Let me look at that stone, Jehrico, see if I can tell what you might get if you was to sell it."
The silence came into the room like shadows move; no voices, no edges, no substance, just the eerie expectation of riches beyond dreams for one of them, for the junk collector, Jehrico Taxico and his cock-eyed burro he called Bessie.
The barkeep studied the stone for a long while, messages moving back and forth across his face like as though he was a signalman on the railroad. "Looks like the best I've ever seen, Jehrico. That's a real piece, man. I'd go hide it now case someone was thinkin'of stealin' it." He flashed his eyes in disbelief of the find and its value.
"No problem there, Nate," Jehrico said. "I believe Bessie got her eye on a whole field of them things, and it's the bad eye to boot." His laughter was joined by all in the room. "Ain't that somethin' for a half blind fool to find herself so rich she don't care who knows it."
From the back of the room a voice yelled out, "Where was you, Jehrico, when Bessie did her kickin'? You anywhere near that old Fuller mine that was diggin' for gold and found nothin'? Wouldn't that beat all?"
"How'd you know that, Jigger? You bin out there recently explorin' around?"
"Nah," said Jigger as he withdrew into his corner.
Jehrico took a carrot from his pocket and fed it to Bessie, letting her take a nibble at a time, her teeth like wide boards in a painted fence, the chewing as loud as pigs in a sty.
"Ole Bessie was right on goin' by when she changed her mind for somethin' or other, and it was dang good she done that. That there stone lit up like a lamp in the middle of the night, all flarin' and beautiful like it was talkin' to me. This is money, it was sayin', lots of money. I coulda choked on my goodness at that minute, choked myself to death. Easy as sayin' it, it was."
At the far end of the room, three men had already slipped out a side door and the hoof beats came back into the room like drum beats from a tattoo on a far hilltop.
Another fellow in the back of the room said, "You know where they're aheadin', don't you, Jehrico? They's lookin' for a head start on diamond findin', don't you know?"
"Oh, them fellas is goin' in the wrong direction. I didn't mean the Fuller place out on the Bola City road toward Lattimer, but the Fuller place where they's been buried all these years, and that ain't nowhere near Boot Hill either, as most all of you know, 'cept I suppose them fellas on the run now."
The barkeep winked at Jehrico Taxico and the whole place lit up as he rolled an apple down the bar for Bessie, Jehrico Taxico's new cock-eyed burro and salter of diamond fields.
Tom Sheehan served with 31st Infantry Regiment. Korea, 1951. Books are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, Press 53; A Collection of Friends and From the Quickening, Pocol Press. His work appears in Home of the Brave, Stories in Uniform and Milspeak Anthology, Warriors. He has 14 Pushcart nominations, Georges Simenon Fiction Award, included in Dzanc Best of the Web Anthology for 2009 and nominated for Best of the Web 2010 and 2011. Print issues include Rosebud (4) , Ocean Magazine (7) among others. Has published 3 novels (An Accountable Death, Vigilantes East, and Death for the Phantom Receiver) and 5 poetry collections.