Elmore Leonard

The Big Bounce

THEY WERE WATCHING Ryan beat up the Mexican crew leader on 16mm Commercial Ektachrome. Three of them in the basement room of the Holden County courthouse: the assistant county prosecutor, who had brought the film; a uniformed officer from the sheriff’s department operating the projector; and Mr. Walter Majestyk, the justice of the peace from Geneva Beach.

Right now they were watching Ryan holding the softball bat, bringing it up to his shoulder and not taking his eyes from Luis Camacho, who was beyond him on the screen, crouched and edging to the side but gradually, it seemed, closing in on Ryan.

“The guy’s doing a movie on migrant workers,” the assistant prosecutor said. “He happens to be there, he gets the whole thing.”

“There was a picture in the paper,” Mr. Majestyk said.

“The same guy. He ran out of movie film and started shooting with his Rollei.”

On the screen Ryan was moving with Camacho, following him closely; he seemed about to swing, starting to come through with it. Camacho lunged and pulled back; Ryan checked his swing and chopped, and the assistant prosecutor said, “Hold it there.”

The sheriff’s patrolman flicked a switch on the projector and the action on the screen stopped, slightly out of focus.

“Do you see a knife?”

“He’s behind him,” Mr. Majestyk said. “You can’t tell.”

The action continued, coming into focus: Camacho still edging, holding his left arm tight to his side, and Ryan moving with him. Ryan was raising the bat again, his hands coming back to his shoulder, and the assistant prosecutor said, “Right there. The one that broke his jaw.”

The stopped-action on the screen showed Ryan coming through with the bat, stepping with the swing, body twisting and arm muscles tight and straight and wrists turning as he laid the bat against the side of Luis Camacho’s face. The face did not resemble a human face but a wood-carved face, an Aztec doll face without eyes or before the eyes were painted in. Camacho’s wraparound hell-cat sunglasses were hanging in space but still hooked to one ear, and though the framing of the picture did not show his lower legs, Camacho seemed to be off the ground hunch- shouldered, suspended in air.

“Larry,” the assistant prosecutor said to the sheriff’s patrolman, “keep that but give me some light. Walter, I want to read you Luis Camacho’s statement.”

The overhead fluorescent light washed the sharpness and detail from the figures on the screen, but the action remained clear. Mr. Majestyk, the justice of the peace from Geneva Beach, blinked twice as the light came to full brightness but kept his eyes on Jack Ryan.

“He gives his name,” the assistant prosecutor began, “and when it happened, July twenty-sixth, about seven P.M., and then Officer J. R. Coleman says: ‘Tell us in your own words what happened.’ Walter, you listening?”

“Sure, go on.”

“Camacho: ‘After supper I went out to the bus and waited, as Ryan had promised to do some repair work on it for me. When he did not appear, I looked for him and found him in the field where some of the men and kids were playing baseball. The men had some beer and most of them were playing baseball. Ryan was with them, though he wasn’t playing. There were some girls there Ryan was talking to. I asked him why he was not fixing the bus and he said something back that is unprintable. I reminded him that servicing the bus was part of his job, but he told me again to do the unprintable thing. One reason-”

“Excuse me,” Mr. Majestyk said. “Larry, are those the words the guy used?”

The sheriff’s officer hesitated. “They’re, you know, writing words, the way you write it in a report.”

“What’d Ryan tell him?”

“To go bag his ass.”

“What’s unprintable about that?”

“Walter-” The assistant prosecutor was looking at Mr. Majestyk, marking his place with the tip of his ballpoint pen. “Camacho goes on to say: ‘One reason I allowed him to join my crew in San Antonio was because he said he was a mechanic and could fix the bus if it broke down. I hired him but was suspicious because I believed all he wanted was a free trip as far as Detroit-”

“He’s from Detroit?” Mr. Majestyk seemed surprised.

“From Highland Park,” the assistant prosecutor said. “The same thing. So then Camacho says: ‘When I asked him again to fix the bus, he picked up the bat and told me to get out of there or he would knock my head off. I told him to put down the bat and we would settle this, but he came at me with it. Before I could defend myself or disarm him, he struck me in the arm and in the face.’ “ The assistant prosecutor paused. “That’s the part, Walter. Listen. ‘Before I could defend myself or disarm him-‘ “

“He got flattened,” Mr. Majestyk said.

“ ‘-he struck me in the arm and in the face. I fell to the ground but was not unconscious. I remember many of the people there looking down at me. When the police came, they called an ambulance and I was taken to the hospital at Holden, Michigan.’ “ The assistant prosecutor went on, reading it faster. “ ‘This statement is sworn to before witnesses and bears my signature that all facts related are true and took place as I have described them.’ “ The assistant prosecutor straightened, looking at the Geneva Beach justice of the peace. “Walter, what do you think?”

Mr. Majestyk nodded, looking at the washed-out image on the screen. “I think he’s got a level swing, but maybe he pulls too much.”

Bob Rogers Jr. didn’t bring Ryan’s pay envelope until almost half past eleven Sunday morning. He told J. R. Coleman, the sheriff’s officer on duty, what it was and who it was for and Coleman said he thought it was supposed to have been dropped off yesterday; they were waiting to get rid of this guy Ryan. Bob Jr. said he was busy yesterday and that another day in jail wasn’t going to hurt Ryan any. He left the envelope on the counter and went out adjusting his curled-brim straw cowboy hat, loosening it on his head and setting it straight as he walked down the courthouse steps and across the street to the dark green pickup truck. He’d have about fifteen minutes to wait, so he U-turned and drove up Holden’s main street to Rexall’s and bought a pack of cigarettes and the big Sunday edition of the Detroit Free Press. By the time Bob Jr. got back to the courthouse, U- turning north again and pulling up in the no parking zone, he figured they’d be just about now giving Ryan his shoelaces and telling him to take off.

“Sign it at the bottom,” J. R. Coleman said. He waited until Ryan had signed the form before he took Ryan’s wallet, belt, and pay envelope out of a wire basket and laid them on the counter.

When Ryan opened the wallet and began counting the three one-dollar bills inside, J. R. Coleman gave him a no-expression look and kept staring while Ryan worked his belt through the loops of his khaki pants and buckled it and shoved the wallet into his back pocket. Ryan picked up the pay envelope then and looked at it.

“That’s from the company. They dropped it off,” J. R. Coleman told him.

“It isn’t sealed.”

“It wasn’t sealed when they brought it.”

Ryan read the pay period and the amount typed on the envelope. He pulled out the bills and counted fifty- seven dollars.

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