The Damned and Don Williams

Joe punched B24 on the juke box like he did years before and still received the warm bass and steel guitar that led into Don Williams “I Believe In You”. The memories flooded in and pushed thoughts away from the bullet in his side.

The few barflies cleared out. Only Tami, behind the bar, remained. “You got nerve coming back.”

“I wanted to hear our song once more.” He walked over and set his duffle bag on the bar, along with his gun. “Also like a bourbon on ice, best you got.”

“Can you afford it?”

Joe unzipped the bag.

Tami looked inside. “That’ll definitely get you Jack Daniels.”

“Keep the change.” Joe shoved it off to her side of the bar.

She grabbed the Jack. “Out for two days and you started trouble.”

“Only with Bercu.” He flipped the .38’s chamber out. “Might want to leave.”

“Maybe I’ll just sit in the corner and watch you die. That’s worth more than the money.”

Joe listened to Don Williams’ weathered baritone sing about how he didn’t believe in the price of gold, the certainty of growing old, and North and South getting along.

“You paid for the whole bottle.” Tami dropped the bottle and glass on the bar. “You can pour it yourself.”

She walked to the front of the bar. Joe slapped the chamber back in, set the pistol down, and listened to what Don did believe in; love, old folks, children, and the lady he was singing to. Joe pictured dancing with his love to it at the wedding that was supposed to be.

Tammi eyed the door. “Bet that psycho niece’ll be with him.”

Joe pointed to his bleeding side. “This was A.J.’s doing.”

“Hate the way she calls me beauty queen.”

“You were Miss Chester County.”

“And it got me all this.”

“Most folks have less.”

“Most folks are lucky enough not to live in Missouri.”

“Did we ever try to get out?”

“She did.” Joe took a sip.

Don Williams contemplated God in the next verse, singing that He’s down below and up above. Joe noticed the possible meaning for the first time. If God was below, maybe there was no Hell. Joe wondered if that’s what it meant.

Then the devil walked in.

Bercu, cadaver thin, receding white hair, always looked like Death coming at you. A.J., the psycho niece, stuck to his side. The homicidal energy ran through her like the hair trigger on the Glock in her hand. “Where’s our money, dipshit?”

Joe poured his Jack. “You think to check the back of my truck?”

Bercu bowed his head. “I thought you not using my name to get out of prison meant something.”

“I knew it would get me close to your money. “ Joe downed his drink.

Tami lit up a Capri.

A.J.’s eyes went to her. “Why you sticking around, Beauty Queen?”

“So no one steals the liquor.”

Bercu’s serpent head raised up. “Let’s go outside, Joe.”

“I’m comfortable here.” Joe set his glass down.

Next to his .38.

Bercu eyed the gun. “You had to steal from me.”

“Didn’t know you’d come out if I just killed A.J.”

A.J. glared daggers. “Screw you.”

Joe looked right into the old man. “You knew what she was to me”

“Not my fault your girl couldn’t handle her high.”

 “We were friends.”

“Can’t have friends in this business.”

“Don’t make it much of a business.”

“Study philosophy in prison?” Bercu reached into his jacket.

“Just coming to the end of things makes you think.”

Don sang how he didn’t believe Superman and Robin Hood were still alive in Hollywood. Joe’s pain got sharper.

He grabbed his pistol. A.J. raised hers.

Tammi yanked up a shotgun. “Hey, bitch.”

The blast blew A.J practically in half.

It distracted Bercu enough for Joe to put two bullets into him. Bercu’s gun hit the floor, followed by him.

Joe dropped to the barstool.

Tammi poured him another with a shaky hand. “Was serious about that ‘Beauty Queen’ shit.”

“Nothing to do with your sister?”

“Never knew what she saw in you.”

Tammi clinked the bottle with his glass. Joe faded out with the steel guitar.


Trouble: Chunked, Covered & Country

Miller savored a bite of his patty melt. Yankee comics mocked it, but they never understood The Waffle House’s context in southern culture. Also, for a simple fare, it tasted so fine, especially after a job.

He’d been two hours on the road after the split from taking down an Outfit owned Nashville record label. His boss went by a different name on each job – Porter, Walker, McClain- and loved hitting The Outfit. He used Miller for southern jobs. Probably because of his charming drawl or being a dead shot with a Colt .45 three inch. Anyway, the job went smooth and his cut was sweeter than Aunt Betty’s ice tea. Still, he was tired and hungry.

Then that yellow neon sign appeared out of the night, welcoming him like it always had; after football games and late-night partying in high school. The first meal he ate, back in the States from the Sand Box, and the first stop after a five-year stretch. It was his oasis and this night proved special, limited time blueberry waffles.

He thought about them for dessert as he plowed through his hash browns, chunked, covered, and country; diced cheese, ham, and gravy for the uninitiated. The boss always needed a woman after a job. All Miller asked for was plates covered with gravy and syrup.

He dined with the classic 3A.M. crowd. A Long-haul driver read his paper, four stools down, drinking his fifth cup of coffee. Some college buddies in the booth behind him sobered up over plates covering the entire table. A nurse worked a crossword puzzle in her booth, deflated from her shift. Then the quintessential lone traveler in battered cowboy hat and handlebar mustache. When you walked through the doors, you entered an Edward Hopper painting of a Johnny Cash song.

His waitress, Dawn, put his check down.

“I’m far from done.”

She graced him a working-class angel’s smile. “I’m here all night.”

“I might out last you.”

She noticed the full duffel bag on the stool next to him. “Always bring your laundry?”

“Just robbed a bank.”

“You think ladies will believe anything.”

The flirting and the vibe broke with two assholes storming in, one with a shotgun, the other swinging around a .38.

Miller sized them up. Both tightly wound, no aiming at anyone or asking for the manager. Amateur night. Surprised they weren’t sporting Born To Lose tattoos. Hell, they were robbing a Waffle House. Didn’t they know, no shirt, no shoes, no knuckle-heads?

Thirty-eight finally pointed the pistol at Dawn. “Register.”

She did as she was told, taking herself out of the line of fire. Miller read an energy in their eyes that told him they never flipped a trigger. The Three-inch strapped between his T-shirt and loose flannel one in a pancake holster practically tingled on his back.

Thirty-eight kept the gun on her. “Everybody else, hands on the table.”

Miller followed the order. “This going to take long?”

“Where do you have to be at this time of night?”

“Just trying to get back home.”

“Hand over that bag and maybe you can.”

Miller took his chance, kicking the bag onto the black and white tiles. Both robbers looked down at it. He tore out the Colt, grouping two shots into .38’s chest. He yelled at the college bros to get down as he dived into the booth behind them. Shotgun blasted off tearing into the seat. Miller popped up and blew away what little brains Shotgun had out the back of his head.

Only the ringing of spent bullets hummed through The Waffle House until one of the college kids peered up and said, “Cool.”

Miller got up, retrieved the bag, took out a stack of bills, put it next to his ticket, told Dawn to keep the change, and walked out.

Everything would be fine. The plates on the truck were switched and he could dump it in a Tupelo chop shop and pick up something else. Still, he felt bad.

Oh well, there was a Waffle House in Tupelo. He’d get his blueberry on there.


Vikings

The Blonde brought their beers and took their wing orders. Bob wished they had the brunette with the glasses. He eyed the babe with the red hair and mouth watering tits, but that Mexican gal had something you couldn’t put your hands on, as much as you wanted to put them on her. She looked quiet, but he bet when you got her alone with her hair down she was a screamer.

His young co-worker, Danny, checked the place out, especially the girls. “You come here a lot?”

It was hard for Bob to pay attention with the buffet of sexies around. “When I can’t beat rush hour. Hard to beat the view.”

Danny nodded, transfixed.

“I ask for this table cuz’ it’s near the drink station.” Bob pointed to the girls gathered around it. “They all have to stop by.”

Danny didn’t fidget or fake a smile when he told him. In fact, he casually eyed the girls at their watering hole. He nodded to Bob with a smirk. He could share with the kid.

Bob smiled back. “You got a favorite?”

Danny nodded toward a curly haired, strawberry blonde.

It was the first-time Bob noticed her. “Not much in the boob department.”

Danny pulled his head into his shoulders. “Breasts aren’t everything.”

Bob looked curly hair over. Petite, tight ass. That college girl look was the boy’s thing.

Their waitress, Tiana, stopped by, telling them the wings would be up shortly.

Danny watched her bounce away. “She’s nice.”

Bob shook his head. “Try getting the time of day from her outside this place.”

Danny looked down, nodding in agreement.

“They all know what they got. They know we can’t help ourselves; still they shake it like it’s out there for us to grab. Of course, they smack you when you do.” Bob looked around at all of them. “They do like their control.”

Danny nodded some more.

“You thinking about flowers and romance?”

Danny grinned. “Just some bad memories.”

“That’s what they are.” Bob chuckled. “Tits and bad memories.”

Danny joined in on the laughter. Bob pointed at him. “I know you know it’s true.”

Danny shrugged. “What are you gonna’ do?”

“Go back in time.”

Danny cocked his head. Bob believed this could work.

“Just go back to the caveman times.” Bob told his disciple. “Back to when you could club one, drag her into your cave, do what you want, then kick her out. Didn’t even have to buy her dinner back then.”

Danny laughed.

“You’re considering it.”

Danny bounced his head along with the idea. “How about Viking times. Same thing with better food, beer, and boats. Sack villages.”

“Rape and pillage.” He gave Danny a high five.

Danny was looking at the girls different now, like Bob did.  “How’s that time machine coming?”

“I need some help with it.”

Danny’s attention went back to him.

“You hear about what happened to one of these girls at the Austin place.”

Danny nodded. “That was rough.”

“You don’t think she had it coming like the rest of them?”

“I’m just saying it’s a little extreme.”

Bob lunged over his wings. “The pain they cause is extreme.”

Danny leaned back. He looked at the ladies. He nodded again.

Bob eyed the brunette. “Still haven’t caught the guy.”

Danny sat frozen.

“It probably came close though.” Bob tightened with the memory. “Somebody said they heard a scream. Probably the type he was looking for, a screamer. Wanted to see her loose that control. Got lucky and got her in the car quick enough.”

“Thing is you can’t rely on luck.” Bob put his full attention on Danny. “Guy does something like that, teach these little girls a lesson, he needs a partner. A friend.”

Danny trembled enough to make Bob nervous. The kid looked over at the drink station, became steady.

Tiana dropped off their wings and went to get two more Buds.

Bob chewed a wing. “So you want to be a Viking?”

Danny tore a hunk of chicken meat, looking over at the drink station. “Which one you think is a screamer?”


Two Steps Over the Line

A Model-T chugged into the shimmering horizon of Albert Hunsicker’s land. There was time to decide if he needed the Flat Top Colt .44 sitting next to the pitcher of lemonade on the small table. People on the border should know better than to come unannounced.

His Mexican, Ruiz, was putting up a picket fence on the side of the porch, whispering Spanish prayers to God.

“Do that in your head. I’m trying to relax.”

Ruiz looked up at him from his work, to take a small swallow from his canteen. Touches of perspiration salted his face. The sun seemed to have been burned into him at birth. “If I was working on the windmill, you wouldn’t have to hear me. Why don’t you let me work on this in the evening? It’s much closer.”

“You may not question The Lord, but you never have a problem questioning me.”

Ruiz’s brown eyes met his blue.  They both thought about the further discussion and what would come of it. Al topped off his glass of lemonade. Ruiz went back to the fence, his chant a shade louder.

A reddish brown bulldog huffed onto the porch, carrying one of Hunsicker’s work boots.

“Damn you, George!” Hunsicker yelled at the animal.

The dog dropped it on the edge of the porch and staggered away. A string of slobber stretched a foot from his mouth to the boot, before it broke.

Hunsicker rocked as far as he could, reaching out for the boot, trying to hide his wince. Ruiz climbed up on the porch, nabbed up the boot.  He tossed it back into the house, went back to the fence.

Hunsicker rubbed at the ache in his hip. He hated the pain more than any man he ever faced. It reminded him of his sixty-seven years. He hated having to use that Flat Top revolver instead of a more accurate rifle, just because it was easier to pick up. How many praying Mexicans would he need at seventy?

He tipped his hat over the remains of his white hair, watching the automobile trudge along.  A badge flashed from the driver. Local law still used horse. Must be rangers.

The bulldog trotted to the upturned ground. Ruiz brushed a hand away at the animal. “Get, Jorge.”

“His name’s George. Don’t want to have to speak Mex to get him to come to me.”

Al patted his leg. “C’mere.”

The beast looked at him for a moment. Al half expected a cuss word to come out of its ugly mouth.

“Vamanos Jorge.” Ruiz said.

The bulldog jumped onto the porch. He thought about kicking him. The round little bastard would probably bite him.

Al put the sweaty lemonade glass against his cheek, feeling like a small oasis on his body. Wouldn’t last much longer, his ice already melted into slivers.

A hiss erupted from the Model-T. Steam trailed out of the front as it slowed to a halt. Two men got out. The heat turned them into vague blurs, though Hunsicker could tell one had a rifle, the bulkier one a shotgun. At least his eyesight hadn’t gone yet.            Ruiz took more notice. “Maybe I should look at that windmill.”

“It’ll wait. Might need you here.”

The large ranger poured a jug of water in the car; they got back in, rambled forward.

Hunsicker rubbed against the back of his rocker. His shirt had stuck to him, causing a bit of an itch. Ruiz shook his head, then looked up to the sky with a prayer, no whisper to his voice.

“We’re not in Hell yet.” Hunsicker said, cutting the lemonade with some whiskey in his flask.

It looked like a geyser was going to pop the Model T’s hood off. It stopped 10 feet away from the porch. The husky one got out of the driver’s side with his shotgun. He looked like a buffalo hunter, that someone made a half assed attempt to civilize. His pinched eyes aimed toward Ruiz. Ruiz didn’t move an inch.

“Might want to show us your hands, boy.” The other ranger said, hopping out of the car. He was clean. White Stetson, tan uniform, polished cowboy boots, not a round edge on him.  “Price gets along a lot better with brown boys if he knows they’re not holding.”

Ruiz tilted his head his head a bit to glimpse his boss. Hunsicker gave a brief nod. Ruiz showed his hands.

Price still kept his eyes on Ruiz, finger near the trigger guard. Both rangers stayed behind their car doors.

The square ranger held up is left hand in greeting. His right held a 44-40 Winchester model 53 carbine. He looked back at the spot they were stuck in. “Don’t think Henry Ford ever lived in west Texas.”

“Never had any problem on this land with a horse.”

The ranger leaned over the passenger door. “You’re Albert Hunsicker, right? I heard tales about you, Sir. Cowboyed under Goodnight, saved Pershing when Villa went after him.”

He put the lemonade glass near the Colt.

“That pistol’s sure from the Wild West. You getting trouble from some of these rustlers from the other side, we could give you a hand, no problem.”

“Jack rabbits were getting near the garden.”

“Anything left of the thing after you shoot it?”

Hunsicker scratched George’s back with the heel of his boot, picked up the lemonade glass.

The ranger took off his Stetson in a cordial manner. It allowed him to wipe the sweat collecting at his temples.  “Guess Price and me are hunting our own rabbits. Looks like two Mexican Federals got lost.”

“This is the Texas side of my land.”

“Seems they were looking for one of those speech-making banditos that thought he was the next Pancho.” He squinted toward Ruiz; the sun was behind the Mexican. “Sounded like he may have headed in your direction.”

Hunsicker just took a long sip of his lemonade. “You boys take your orders from Austin or Juarez?”

The ranger studied Price and Ruiz. “They say the one they were after’s not some simple, smiling peasant. He killed a man.”

“Who hadn’t?”

The ranger put his hat back on, squared it on his head, blocking it from any sunbeams that might interfere with his sight. He nodded to Ruiz. “You know about any Federales, boy?”

“No comprende’.” Ruiz said, taking a step back. Hunsicker wondered if they noticed the knife tucked in his boot.

“He doesn’t speak English, how do you tell him what to do?”

“I speak Spanish like any smart man on the border. Don’t you?”

“Haven’t acquired that skill. Maybe you could ask him for me, Sir.”

Hunsicker swished his lemonade around. “I just know how to give orders.”

“I see you do.” The square ranger said, not keeping his eyes off him.

Price finally took a good look at Hunsicker with those pinched eyes Al took a gulp from his glass. They could all hear George pant.

The Ranger pointed to his flask on the table “See you enjoy spicing your lemonade.”

“Don’t like it too sweet.”

“You hear about this being a dry county?”

“Heard you need proof someone’s selling it. Course who knows with all the laws.”

“In case you didn’t know, there’s one about harboring fugitives.”

Ruiz took a quick glance at the Ranger, then back to Price and his shotgun. This was not the moment to do something stupid.

“Isn’t like you Rangers have been interested in the law much of late, son.”

“That was the past, Sir.”

“I’ve been around long enough to know not much changes

“I like to think the law means a little more.” The ranger said. He blinked the salt out of his eyes.

Al shook his head. “It’s just working for different people.” He licked some of the lemonade that remained on his lips. “And that pretty much stayed the same to folks out here.”

Price turned his attention to the two for movement. It gave Ruiz enough time to turn his heel and look down at his knife in his boot.

“We’re trying to help you out here.” The ranger explained. “You wouldn’t like bandits crossing your land.”

“That’s why I shoot them.” Hunsicker said. “It’s the Mexican Federals crossing the border that has my suspicion. You’d think your own law would do something about that.” He cooled off with another taste of lemonade. Damn, he hated talking.

“Now there’s a dangerous man out there. Maybe you can think of your neighbors.”

Hunsicker looked around his place, at the vast miles of nothing only blocked by his barn and their damn metal heap.

“Hell, he could be anywhere, now.” The Ranger said. He quit hanging over the passenger door, the black metal drawing in the South Texas heat.

“He’s probably dead.” Hunsicker said. “People out here didn’t get their land with a bouquet of blue bonnets and a serenade. Or waiting for the law.”

“I’m doing my best to respect your land, sir, you might try respecting our stars. We’re just doing what we can to help.”

“I’ve got a pistol.”

“Believe me, I know.” The ranger said. The conversation seemed to be getting him a bit agitated too.

Hunsicker poured more of his flask into his lemonade.

“Well, you can’t expect much from the law, unless you got some spread like the Kings. Think maybe those Federals are up there?”

The ranger turned away from him, picked the sweat from his cheek. “We just want to know if you’ve seen the Federals or just maybe you’ve seen a suspicious Mexican.”

Both rangers put their attention to Ruiz. Ruiz didn’t know whom to look at. He did look down at the knife.

Hunsicker slammed his lemonade next down to his Colt. Price noticed, then the square ranger. Ruiz lifted his heel. The square ranger raised up his rifle.

Al swiveled back, clamped both of his hands on each arm of the rocking chair. “No, I haven’t seen any of those Mexicans.”

Ruiz put down his foot. The Rangers hadn’t put down their guns.

“Now if we’re through here, you can get that rusting hunk of scrap off my property.”

The square ranger found a way to exhale and fume at the same time.  “Mind if we look around?”

“Got over 900 acres. I let some of the Comanches from the reservation come and hunt. Believe there’s some bad blood between you boys.”

“You could go along with us.”

“Too much for a man my age on a day like this. There’ anything else? This lemonade’s made me a bit sleepy.”

The square ranger looked like he wanted to shoot Al.  He then looked over at Ruiz again. “You sure you don’t speak English?”

Ruiz just stared at him.

“Lets get moving, Price. Maybe we’ll find someone helpful.”

Price took out the jug, opened the hood. Only a few drops dribbled out.

The square ranger turned back around, exhaling an uncomfortable breath. “You have any water?”

“That’s what people in Hell are always asking for.”

Ruiz tossed Price the canteen.

“We might be back with more men to look over those 900 of yours.” The square ranger said.

“If you think it’s worth the trouble.”

Price shook the remaining water of the canteen in the radiator, tossed it back to Ruiz.

“Want to make sure you’re safe.” He slid back into the car.

scottmontgomeryMainly known as a bookseller and critic as MysteryPeople, the mystery bookstore inside BookPeople, Texas’ largest independent, and co-editor of The MysteryPeople website, Scott Montgomery has been accepted on Slagdrop and their anthology America, You’re Welcome. He’s happy to have his first acceptance on The Big Adios, being a die hard western fan.

Price kept his focus on Ruiz until he got behind the wheel.

Ruiz didn’t relax until the car was a mile away. “I am starting to believe you belong in Hell.”

“Get to work on the windmill.”

Ruiz lumbered to the barn, muttering in Spanish. It definitely wasn’t prayers.

The bulldog was digging into the fresh dirt behind the fence. Al rocked himself out of his seat, ambled over, little less stove up than before. “Get out of there!”

He gave the dog a kick in the rump, hopped back on the porch before it could turn around with a bark or chomp. It just ended up looking at him like a grumpy old man.

“Get, Jorge.”

The animal trotted off. Nothing on this land agreed with him.

He looked over the work Ruiz had done so far on the fence. The lemonade was going through him. Didn’t want to take a walk to the outhouse in the heat. He unbuttoned his fly there on the side of his porch.

“You boys thirsty?”

His urine sprinkled across the two mounds behind half done picket fence.