1When I got over to Leonard's Christmas Eve night, he had the Kentucky Headhunters turned way up over at his place, and they were singing "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," and Leonard, in a kind of Christmas celebration, was once again setting fire to the house next door.I wished he'd quit doing that. I'd helped him the first time, he'd done it the second time on his own, and now here I was third time out, driving up. It was going to look damn suspicious when the cops got here. Someone had already called in. Most likely the assholes in the house. I knew that because I could hear sirens.Leonard's boyfriend, Raul, was on the front porch of Leonard's house, his hands in his coat pockets, looking over at the burning and the ass-whipping that was taking place, and he was frantic, like a visiting Methodist preacher who'd just realized the head of the household had scooped up the last fried chicken leg.I pulled my pickup into Leonard's drive, got out, went over and stood on the porch with Raul. It was cold out and our breath was frosty white. "What got this started?" I asked."Oh, hell, Hap, I don't know. You got to stop him before they haul his black ass to the calaboose.""It's too late for that, they got him. Those sirens aren't for jaywalkers.""Shit, shit, shit," Raul said. "I shouldn't never come to live with a macho queer. I should have stayed in Houston."Raul was normally a pretty good-looking kid, but out here in the night, the house fire flickering orange lights across his face, he looked desiccated, like the victim of a giant spider. He was sort of wobbling back and forth, like a bowling pin that hadn't quite got nailed solid enough by the ball, watching Leonard drag a big black guy out of the burning house and onto the front porch over there. The guy's shirt and pants were on fire, and Leonard was kicking him off the porch and across the front yard.I recognized the guy. Mohawk they called him, 'cause of his haircut, though, after this night, they might just call him Smoky. Mohawk and a friend of his had once jumped on me and Leonard and we'd whipped their asses. I still dreamed about it at nights when I needed something to cheer me up.Other folks were coming our of the house through the windows and the back door, scrambling for the woods out back. None of them seemed securely on fire, but a few had been touched by flames. A short stocky woman was in the lead. She wore only a brown bathrobe and some floppy house shoes and had a wig in her right hand. Her short legs flashed when she ran and the house coat moved and her breath went out and whiffed back in cool, white bursts. The wig was slightly on fire. She and her smoking hair hat and flopping bathrobe disappeared into the woods at a run and the others followed suit, melting into the timber with her, leaving in their wake a trail of scorched clothing smoke. A moment later they had vanished as handily as a covey of quail gone to nest.The fire truck screamed into sight, and damn near hit Mohawk after Leonard swiveled a hip into him and twisted and tossed him into the street. The fella rolled on across, banged the curbing on the other side, and the fire truck swerved and ran up on the lawn of the burning house, and Leonard had to jump for it.One good thing, though, all that rolling had put Mohawk's fire our. You know how it goes, that old advice the fire department gives you, "stop, drop, and roll," and that's what Mohawk was doing. Thanks to Leonard.If you took the rose-colored view, you might say Leonard was doing nothing more than saving Mohawk's worthless life.'Course now, Leonard had gone back into the house and a short black guy with his hair on fire came out on the end of Leonard's foot, and when he hit the lawn he got up running toward Leonard's house, Leonard yelling at his back, "Run, you goddamn little nigger."I tell you, Leonard standing on the front porch, smoke boiling out behind him, fire licking out the windows, the roof peaked with a hat of flame, it caused Leonard's face to appear as if it had been chipped from obsidian. He was like some kind of backwoods honky nightmare vision of the Devil--a nigger with a bad attitude and the power of fire. Come to think of it, the black folks in that house probably saw him as pretty devilish as well. Leonard can be irritating to most anybody when he wants to be.I left Raul standing on the porch about the time the little guy came out on the end of Leonard's foot, walked over and into the yard where Leonard was practicing arson and ass-whipping, put my leg out and tripped the little guy as he ran by.He got up and I slapped him down with the side of my hand and put my foot on the back of his neck and reached down and scooped up some loose dirt in the driveway and dumped it on top of his head.It put the fire out, except for the patch of hair burning low on the back of his head, like a spark in steel wool. The rest of his skull was smoking like a dry cabbage with a cinder in it. His body gave off quite a bit of heat, and he was wiggling as if he were being cooked alive. He was making a kind of bothersome noise that was so shrill it made my buttocks crawl up my back."I'm burning here," he said. "I'm burning.""It's okay," I said. "There's not much hair left."The cops got there then. Couple of cruisers and Sergeant Charlie Blank in his unmarked job. Charlie--wearing some of Kmart's finest, including high-gloss, black genuine plastic shoes that shone brightly in the light of the house fire--got out slowly, like his pants might rip.He paused long enough to watch one of the blue-suit cops nab Mohawk, cuff him, and slam him in the back of a cruiser, after "accidentally" bumping his head into the car door while helping him inside.Charlie came over to me, gave me a sad look, sighed, pulled out a cigarette, stooped, lit it off the little guy's head, and said, "I'm fucking tired of this, Hap. Leonard's giving me gray hairs. What with the Chief in cahoots with the bad guys and Lieutenant Hanson acting like he's got a weight tied to his dick all the time, I can't think straight. Get your foot off that fucker's neck."I did, and the little guy, who hadn't yet stopped whimpering, came up on his knees and slapped at the back of his neck with a yell. The fire had already gone out, giving itself up to Charlie's cigarette, but I think the slapping bit made that dude feel better.Charlie looked at him, said, "Lay down, buddy, and stay there."The guy lay down. His head was smoking a lot less now."You know I got to run Leonard in?" Charlie said."I know. I thought you didn't smoke?""I started. I start two or three times a year. I like to quit so I can really enjoy it when I start back. I got to run you in too.""I didn't do anything. I was just puttin' this guy out. I threw dirt on his head.""You got a point. The dirt could make things all right." He said to the guy on the ground, "You think he was putting the fire out sir?""Shit, man, that motherfucker tripped my black ass and knocked the dog shit out of me. I'm gonna file on his ass. I'm gonna file on everygoddamnbody.""See there, Hap, got to run you in.""Would it make any difference if I said when I hit him it hurt my hand?""I'll put that in my notes. You know, being this close to the fire, it's kinda warm. Toasty even. Very Christmas-like.""That's Leonard," I said. "Always festive.""The Ballad of Davy Crockett" was long gone and the Kentucky Headhunters were singing "Big Mexican Dinner.""I keep trying to figure that song is offensive to Hispanics or not," Charlie said, "way the guy does that corny Meskin accent. You think it's offensive?""I don't know, ask Leonard's boyfriend, Raul. He could tell you. He's Mexican. But I can let you in on this, Leonard was using some bad language a while ago.""Uh oh. I'll put that in my notes too.""He called the young man on the ground here the N word.""That's right," said the young man on the ground. "And in the house, he called me a motherfucker too.""Wait a minute," Charlie said. "I got a problem here. Being how Leonard's black, is that racist? I mean, me or you said it, it's racist, but it's okay a black guy uses the N word, ain't it?""Changing times," I said. "It's hard to keep up. If it's not racist, I think it may be politically incorrect.""There you are," Charlie said. "That's it. Politically incorrect. I think there's some kind of fine for that.""Man, this is some shit," said the guy on the ground. "Let me up. Someone sees me layin' here, it ain't gonna look good.""You think we got you out here to style?" Charlie said. "Shut the fuck up." Then to me: "Think Leonard's finished?""Well, the house is lit up good."And it was. The fire peaked and popped and rose up into the night sky like a red demon, roiled and licked around the blackened frame of the house. Lumber screeched and sagged. The heat was not quite as pleasant as before. I said, "It was nice of you to stand here and wait.""Hey," Charlie said, his face popping sweat in the firelight, "Christmas Eve."Charlie looked at the firemen who were standing by with their hoses, and gave them a wave. They didn't exactly rush, but they went over to wash the place down, get it ready for the dozer to come in and push the burnt lumber around, make room for the dopers to bring in a new crack house.And they would. Rumor was, the Police Chief had friends who had connections to the LaBorde dope traffic, and he liked to help them out for a little slice of the pie. Rumors like that could make a man cynical, even one of my naive and trusting nature.When I was growing up, guy with a badge was just assumed to be honest, and the Lone Ranger didn't shoot bad guys in the head either. These days, Jesus would carry a gun, and the disciples would hold down and corn-hole their enemies."You think Leonard will do time for this one?" I asked."So far he hasn't, and I'll do what I can. A night in jail, maybe. But I keep him out of bad stuff this time, you got to make him understand he needs a new hobby. I know a hobby has done wonders for me. I used to be tense, then I got a hobby. You know, I don't get Leonard. I thought queers were into passive stuff. Like knitting and bridge.""Don't even let him hear you say that," 1 said. "The passive part, I mean.""You can bet I won't.""I'll tell him," said the guy on the ground."You do," Charlie said, "And I'll stomp a mud hole in your head.""I'm cool," said the guy on the ground.Leonard strolled over to us then. He looked a little bushed."Charlie," he said."Howdy," Charlie said. "Okay, Leonard, you and Hap get in the cruiser . . . wait a minute. I'm gonna handcuff you together.""Come on, Charlie," I said, "I didn't do anything, really.""You hit this young gentleman. Put your hands out, both of you. Supposed to handcuff you with separate handcuffs, behind your back, but like I said, it's fuckin' Christmas Eve."We were about to be handcuffed when Raul came over and took Leonard by the arm and started to cry. "Don't," Leonard said. "I can't stand all that cryin'. You're always cryin'.""I'm fucking emotional," Raul said."Well, cut that cryin' shit. It makes me nervous.""I'm crying, not you, so what are you embarrassed about?""It's got nothing to do with embarrassment.""Hell," Raul said, and he tugged on Leonard's arm, but Leonard wouldn't look at him."Sorry, Raul," Charlie said. "You got to let him go. You want to see him, come down to the station. We got special times for asshole viewing.""No," Raul said, letting go of Leonard's arm. "I won't be here when you get back, Leonard.""Don't let the screen door hit you in the ass on the way out," Leonard said."You could ask me not to leave.""I didn't ask you to leave in the first place."Raul looked at Leonard for a moment, pushed his dark hair out of his eyes, turned and walked back to Leonard's house. He moved as if he were carrying a piano on his back."Shit, Leonard," I said, "Raul is just worried about you."Yeah, Leonard," Charlie said, "you don't always got to be an asshole.""Man, you are one cold dude," said the guy on the ground. "I wouldn't talk to my woman that way, and she's stupid as a stick. You homos, man, y'all are chill motherfuckers.""Shut up," said Charlie. "This ain't your business.""Man," said the guy on the ground, "Merry fucking Christmas.""Here," Charlie said, "hold out a hand."He handcuffed me and Leonard together and sent us over to the unmarked. Part of the neighborhood was standing out on the curb watching the crack house burn. One old man, Mr. Trotter, stood there with his arms crossed inside a coat a grizzly bear might have worn. He was smoking a cigar. He said, "Of them three fires, this one's the best, Leonard.""Thanks," Leonard said. "It's the practice makes the difference."We got in the unmarked. We watched through the window as Charlie got the little guy off the ground and into an armlock and walked him toward a blue suit who came over and put the guy in handcuffs and shoved him into the back of the cruiser with Mohawk.A handful of blue suits were combing the woods out back, and we could see one cop coming out with the bathrobed woman in tow. She was cuffed and had on her wig, which was giving off a faint trail of light gray smoke in the moonlight. She was cussing a blue streak. We could hear her with the windows rolled up. She was good at including "you fuckin' pale-dicked ass licker" into all her sentences without it sounding strained or overworked.
Excerpted from The Two-Bear Mambo by Joe R. Lansdale. Copyright © 2009 by Joe R. Lansdale. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.