Levon Balmstone lived alone in a one room cabin
deep in the mountains
near Natural Bridge
. It took me two hours
to get there, hiking along the cliffs
before I smelt the hickory smoke from his cabin.
He was outside chopping wood when I met him, shirtless with old dungarees held up by stars and stripes suspenders. A gray-nosed bloodhound sat next to him, and the dog's head barely rose as I approached. Balmstone wiped the sweat from his grizzled brow, and sighed as I stepped into the clearing.
"I know why you're here," he said. "Only reason anybody ever comes here."
He tossed his axe on the woodpile, and grabbed up a few pieces of recently split cedar. "Might as well come in. I probably won't talk you out of it, but at least I have to try.”
The dog stood up and trotted inside ahead of him, to roll over and take a seat on a throw rug to the right of Balmstone's stove. He headed over to the stove, and lifted a dented coffee pot, pouring himself a mug. I shook my head when he offered some to me.
"So, you've come a long way just to talk to an old man. Why don't you tell me what this is all about."
"Cupid. It's about Cupid"
"You're talking about a killing aren't you."
I nodded yes. "I hear you gave it a good try."
"We didn't try, we did it. But it wasn't me who pulled the trigger. That was Solomon Case. He and I used to drink rye at the J&L back in the seventies. Then we fell in love, with the same cursed filly. Normally that causes to friends to fight, but we both ended up with her, only neither of us did, all because of that goddamned cherub. Made us fall in love with a nun.”
"Her name was sister Mary Katharine, and she was working with condemned prisoners. A liberal, a pacifist while Solomon and I both had crimson necks. But we both fell in love with her. We became respectable, went to church, and waited for her. We had such high hopes when she left the convent. But for goddamned Martina Navratilova?"
"And they say love is a blessing."
'"Try telling that to Billy Harkins. Shot him while the poor stiff was milking a goat. They stay the only thing he says now is baaa'. Even the electroshock couldn't get his mind off that animal."
"He done me the same way," I admitted. "Shot me when I was with a woman who’d been divorced two days. You know how that went. Shot me again when I was talking to a con artist. Took me ten years to pay off the bills. Shot me the last time when I was watching TV. The only thing Love has ever given me is drawer full of restraining orders."
Balmstone pulled open a can of Tops and a roll of papers, rolling up a big one. "Don't care much about cancer now, or tar on my teeth. Cigarette's about all I ever get to suck on."
"So how'd you do it?"
"How did we do it, you mean? It was Solomon who got the idea. He heard of this guy who raises and trains cherub hounds. Let me tell you, you don't catch nothing without the right hound."
"Ain't never seen a cherub hound before.”
"They're mighty rare, I tell you. Look sort of like a beagle, only with butterfly wings. Wierdest creatures you've ever seen, though they're good dogs. They can smell a cherub you know, smell the pixie dust that lets them fly."
My heart leaped when I thought this might be possible, that there was key to getting the little prick before he nailed me one more time. Weird was fine provided it freed me from Love. "You know where this guy lives?”
"I can tell you where to find him. But first you need to take out a second mortgage."
"That will be cheaper than the fourth time the little bastard shot me. I bought her two mink coats. Two!”
"Thing is, you ought to just stick with the hound, and give up the hunts. Cherubs don't like those hounds, they hear them barking and give them a wide birth. Just buy the hound and you won't ever have to worry about washing your underwear again."
I thought about this for a moment. I could just buy the dog and live a Meg Ryan-free life. But no, that wasn't enough. Someone had to pay for throwing out my high school t-shirts for pastel colored oxfords with matching dockers. For all those football games I'd missed and the sensible car I drive. I'd paid once, and I have the payment book now. Time for that bastard cherub to pay up. "Tell me where to get this dawg."
"You don’t want to do this boy. There's consequences.”
"Yes, I do.”
"Look, Solomon did it, shot him dead. But Solomon . . . well, he changed.”'
"I've made up my mind.”
Levon Balmstone sat back in the chair, and took a long drag from his cigarette. "If that's what it is, then that's what is is. I 'spect Solomon won't mind.” And he told me where to find Barberton Fats, breeder of canine/insect hybrids.
Fats was a lumpy old dude, with I high pitched voice and a worn out Steelers jersey. But I could tell right away he knew dogs. He sold me a fine happy dog that yapped constantly, but she took too me and flew around me in circles while I signed the bank papers. I named her Sondra, and loaded her into my white Chrysler Cirrus convertible with the red leather interior and optional vanity mirror and headed for Vegas. Vegas is the wedding capital of the world, the only place you can get Elvis to do the ceremony.
I figure Cupid had to be somewhere near anyone stupid enough to say 'I do' to an Elvis impersonator. But Sondra couldn't catch a scent, and I realize I'd had it all wrong. By the time they get to the chapel, it’s already too late. Too late at the jewelers where the diamond rings get picked out. Too late at the caterers. I had to go where real people fell in love. Where things happened, where hearts were really broken.
So I went to the titty bar. The name was Mabel's, a black building with a red light glowing out front. Sondra got excited and right away I realized I'd come to the right place. Cupid would be near, had to be. So I paid the bouncer cover for me and Sondra, and moseyed on inside.
The stale smoke of Marlboros and flat Budweiser filled the room, making me feel right at home. I took a seat in the back and ordered Sondra a bowl of bourbon. She lapped Jim Beam right in the face and came back for more, and I realized I had found a good dog, even if her wings needed regular waxing.
Up on the stage a bored graduate student in a spider woman costume danced to the lilting strains of Eminem, her bare butt cheeks wrapped around a slippery pole. Three middle aged men sat at the bar, their cheeks grizzled with two-day beards and tobacco burn. I noticed one the following the dancer closely, a hint of drool forming on his lower lip.
Above the din, I heard the arrow twang.
The grizzled old carpenter fell to his knees, and headed right to the ATM so he could buy her love. But Sondra was even quicker bounding after a tiny pink figure, with flapping wings and a golden bow.
Cupid fled fast and left little flakes of golden light in his wake, but he couldn't shake Sondra. I pulled my shotgun from the trunk and followed best I could, led by her barking and the fading golden trail.
I caught up after Sondra cornered Cupid in a dumpster behind a White Castle. He tried to bargain, even promised to shoot Paris Hilton for me. But it was too late, I'd endured too many of his arrows, and the pleadings of cherub meant nothing after so much pain and humiliation. Purposely I braced the stock against my shoulder, took careful aim, and let the buckshot fly. Cupid evaporated into a haze of red goo.
But at the same moment my body kicked like a Missouri Mule. My gut burned and went numb. And I saw myself on the ground, blood pouring from my body, Sondra circling overhead and howling to the moon.
I was dead. Somehow I'd shot myself instead of that damned cherub. I floated over the city, over the houses, watching the golden glow from windows and flashing pink neon. I flew onward over the town, a dull blue light below me, until Vegas dissolved into the distance.
I flew on I found myself outside the Library of Congress. Antonin Scalia sat at one wooden table, reading a book on rabbits. Nancy Pelosi set at an adjacent table, studying something about water pollution. They turned and glared at each other.
I felt something in my hand, a golden bow. It felt cool and right between my fingertips. The moment felt perfect. I nocked an arrow, pulled the string. As Scalia called Pelosi an air-headed bitch I let the arrow fly.