Category Archives: William Wallace

Long Black Veil

Every midnight Katharine Lee Jackson appears like a ghost in the live oak and ceanothus scrub on the hillside above the Azimuth County Jail.
+++++Speaking to no one, she drifts silently out of the darkness, a widow’s veil concealing her pale face. Sometimes the moon shows her clearly; when the weather is foul and rain soaks her mourning clothes, she is barely visible.
+++++Each time she visits, she reminds me of the woman in the song by Lefty Frizzell:

She walks these hills in a long black veil She visits my grave when the night winds wail Nobody knows, nobody sees Nobody knows but me

I watch for her because I dressed her in those widow’s weeds when I turned her husband into worm food.
+++++But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.
+++++My name is Johnny Ray Deets and I’m a chain rigger, tree faller and straw-boss for the Daugherty Lumber Company. At least I used to be.
+++++I fell in love with Katharine Lee Jackson the first time I laid eyes on her, a couple of years before I quit school in the eleventh grade to take my old man’s place in the woods.
+++++I still love her today, but the real world got in between us and we took different paths.
+++++When I spotted her in the corridor at Horace Greeley High School, I thought she was the prettiest girl in the world.
+++++I’d heard her father was the new manager of the local bank. That didn’t mean anything to me. In my family we respected anyone who worked hard, regardless of whether they wore a suit or a hard hat.
+++++Most of the kids had dads who worked in the woods like mine. Many barely scraped by and had a low opinion of people higher in the pecking order.
+++++Their kids picked up the attitude like valley fever. They viewed the new girl with suspicion.
+++++One day as I looked for a place to eat my brown bag, I saw her in tears surrounded by three boys jawing at her about how her old man’s bank was bleeding their parents dry on the loans they’d taken to make it through rough patches. As I walked up, one of them spat on her and called her a “rich bitch.”
+++++I was pretty big as a kid—already six feet tall in the ninth grade and beefy enough that I got tagged to play varsity football in what should have been my redshirt year. I wasn’t just bigger than most of my classmates; I was faster and a hell of a lot stronger.
+++++Maybe because of my size my old man raised me to hate bullies and I’d jump into a fight with anybody picking on somebody smaller or weaker. Hurting a girl or calling her names were probably the most awful crimes I could imagine.
+++++Particularly a girl as pretty as Katharine Lee.
+++++I grabbed the kid who’d been running her down, swung him to face me and drove a left hand into his chin. As he fell back, I followed with a right cross, just like my pa had shown me. The bigmouth wound up coldcocked on the blacktop.
+++++“Learn some manners, you ignorant asshole!” I growled as his chums dragged him away.
+++++When they left, I turned and stared at Katharine Lee like an idiot. “C-can I sit next to you?” I asked, my face suddenly blood red.
+++++She wiped her tears away. Patting the bench next to her, she smiled and said, “Why not? Nobody else will.”
+++++We ate lunch together each day for the rest of the year.
+++++From that day forward, the teasing stopped. I was Katharine Lee’s protector, her champion.
+++++We dated at homecoming through my junior year. She had me over to her house twice for dinner with her family (her old man was delighted she had snagged a first-string football player who had decent table manners). When the Junior Prom rolled around, I even used the money I made summers pumping gas to buy her a corsage of gardenias and a decent suit from the Monkey Ward Catalog so she wouldn’t be embarrassed to be seen with me.
+++++Afterwards when I took her home in my pa’s pickup she kissed me at her front door. Her lips were the sweetest thing I ever tasted.
+++++But that same year, things went sour. My old man was helping to rig a turn for the cold deck when a bum tie-down gave way and one of the big-assed logs rolled up on him. His legs were pulped right up through the hip. He died a week later.
+++++We couldn’t live without pa’s paychecks. I was nineteen and big enough to fall lumber, so I grabbed my old man’s calks, helmet and beat-up McCulloch 3-25 and plugged into the Daugherty operation, working six shifts a week plus overtime during good weather.
+++++I was a perfect fit. I didn’t even have to change the name on the hard hat.
+++++Ma never got over pa’s death. A year later, she passed on herself.
+++++Clarence Daugherty, the company’s founder, ran Azimuth County like a cotton plantation in Mississippi. He was a tyrant and his word was law, but he was a lumberman to the core with sawdust in his veins. He took a shine to me because there was hardly a job in the woods I couldn’t do, usually faster and better than the men who’d been working there for years.
+++++“Johnny Ray is the best hand in Azimuth,” he’d say. “I’m proud to have him on my push!”
+++++When he died of a stroke two years ago his son Richard took his place in just about everything, including the day-to-day of running the company.
+++++Richard was about my age but never had a job that made him sweat. He didn’t care for the lumber business. He stopped producing finished lumber for homes and businesses and went to cutting Japanese Squares – unfinished logs for shipment overseas. He brought in suits from Los Angeles to make most of the show mechanical and he started going through the payroll and getting rid of older hands with real timber skills.
+++++Pretty soon nothing was left but a skeleton crew to operate the machinery and cable cut entire hillsides. All the old timers ended up at home, staying drunk on rocking chair money. When their unemployment ran out, they either lived off food stamps or starved.
+++++Eventually Richard Daugherty sold what was left of his old man’s company to some big outfit in Asia. The only thing they kept was the company’s name.
+++++Daugherty Lumber was pretty near the only show in town and most folks for a hundred miles in each direction depended on it for their living. Times fell hard in Azimuth County.
+++++I was one of the last to get the ax. That’s a joke, friend.
+++++Daugherty didn’t have the courtesy to tell me in person. I found out from the pink slip in my pay envelope. I’d gone from being one of the highest paid guys in the woods to living off unemployment like everybody else.
+++++I was trying to figure out what to do, but my options weren’t attractive. There was always working as a gyppo, but the work was irregular as hell and there weren’t enough indy logging operations to get steady income.
+++++I could always poach trees off private property but most of the good stands were gone leaving nothing but snags. Pirating firewood was another non-starter: there was no cash in beaver bait and blow downs, even when you hawked it to suburbanites.
+++++So I went on unemployment for two years.
+++++The bank in town is where I cashed my last go-to-hell check. There, sitting behind a desk in a little glass office, was where I spoke with Katharine Lee Jackson for the last time—only now the little black plastic plate on her desk said she was Katharine Lee Daugherty, Vice President.
+++++I watched her talking on the phone while I waited for a teller. She still was a stunner, the most beautiful woman in town, but she had a bruise around her left eye that was starting to fade from brown to green and her free arm was in a sling. Under it you could see a plaster cast that ran from her fingers to the bend of her elbow.
+++++She spotted me taking my cash and getting ready to leave when she was hanging up.
+++++“Johnny! Johnny Ray Deets!” she said as she got up and left her little office. She was walking with a slight limp and I noticed an elastic bandage around her knee. “Wait, Johnny! It’s me, Katharine!”
+++++She stopped in front of me, smiling through her pain at the effort. “Do you remember me at all?”
+++++It felt so good to see her and hear her voice I couldn’t help but smile back. “Hell, how could I forget you?” I said gruffly. “You’re the only girl I ever kissed. You were the love of my life.”
+++++She looked surprised. “Then why’d you quit school? I heard you’d gone to work as a lumberman.” She shook her head sadly. “I never understood it. You were all-state in football—had a chance to go to the University on full scholarship. But one day you were just gone. You never even said goodbye.”
+++++“I didn’t have much choice, Katharine Lee,” I said. “My pa got crushed on the job. I had to support my mother. That meant getting a job, and the only thing I knew was working the woods. I knew all the logging jobs ‘cause I’d been watching my pa do ‘em all my life.”
+++++I gestured to the sign on her desk. “Lest you forget, the Daugherty’s have this county sewed up. You want to make a real living, you best lug a saw or drive a log truck. Everything else is barely subsistence wages.”
+++++“I can see you did okay for yourself, though,” I said, a note of bitterness creeping into my voice. “It must be nice having a banker dad and a millionaire husband. Glad one of us grabbed the brass ring.”
+++++She blushed. “I started as a teller and worked my way up,” she said. “Had to take a test and pass an interview to get my foot in the door—with no short cuts. My dad died of a heart attack three years ago when I was still working the loan desk. Bank headquarters liked my work and made me his replacement.”
+++++“As for Dick, I married him because he was the only guy in town who showed an interest in me besides you,” she said. In a voice so low he could barely hear her, she added: “Believe me, having a millionaire husband hasn’t been a bed of roses.”
+++++“How do you mean?”
+++++She bit her lip. “He goes off at the slightest provocation. I think under all the money and fancy cars, he feels inadequate and tends to take it out on those around him. He’s wretchedly jealous. Every time another man looks at me, he thinks we’re having an affair.”
+++++I looked at her eyes. They looked haunted.
+++++“I thought he only treated us working stiffs like dirt,” I said, my voice softening. “Did he give you that shiner and break your arm?”
+++++She hesitated with tears welling in her eyes. “No, uh—I fell down a flight of stairs at the house.”
+++++She was obviously lying. I squeezed her uninjured hand gently. She didn’t pull away.
+++++“Come on Katharine Lee,” I said. “Tell the truth. Did he abuse you?”
+++++She leaned onto my chest, trembling and beginning to shed those tears.
+++++“Yes,” she whispered. “More than once. But for God’s sake don’t say anything to anybody about it. When he broke my arm two weeks ago, he said he’d kill me if I reported it to the sheriff. He said he’d know because Creed Moreland and his deputies have been in the Daugherty family’s pocket for years.”
+++++“The rotten son of a bitch,” I said, biting off my words through clenched teeth.
+++++Moreland had been sheriff forever. I knew when the elder Daugherty was alive, most every Saturday Creed played poker with him and Azimuth’s mayor, Carny Davies. My pa told me the only time he knew the old man to bug out of the game was the night Richard got drunk and ran his Corvette into a logger’s station wagon, killing the driver and critically injuring his wife and kids.
+++++Clarence stepped out “to make a couple calls,” my pa told me. Not only did Richard get off without so much as a traffic ticket, but there wasn’t a word about the accident in the local paper.
+++++By sheer bad luck, Daugherty Junior walked into the bank at that moment. He saw us with our heads together, holding hands. I could tell from the blank look he flicked my way he had no idea I was a former employee.
+++++“What the hell is this all about?” he demanded of Katharine Lee. “You shameless cunt! Are you hooking up with your fucking lovers in your damned bank now?”
+++++Snake quick, he grabbed her by her broken arm and pulled her away from me. Showing his teeth, he slapped her across the face and backhanded her on the return.
+++++I jerked him away from her and she fell to the floor with a cry of pain, a ribbon of blood trickling from her nose. I drew back my fist to pound Daugherty senseless but he was holding a snub-nosed pistol pointed at my middle.
+++++“Stand back, cowboy,” he said. “This is just between me and my so-called wife. I’m going to let you walk out of here intact. Just edge out that door. If you don’t, I’ll either shoot you myself or have the sheriff arrest you and charge you with something that puts you away for decades.”
+++++I’d grown three inches taller during my first couple of years working as a faller. A decade of wrangling logs, dragging chains and toting a McCulloch with a 30-inch bar had made me stronger and more limber than when I was playing free safety in high school.
+++++But I was shocked at how fast Daugherty moved. Only an idiot takes on a man who has a gun aimed at his belly so, fuming with rage, I half raised my hands and backed slowly out of the bank.
+++++Once I was outside my anger took over completely. I wanted to kill the son of a bitch, no matter what the cost. I could reach my pa’s red International Harvester with just a few steps. The Ruger carbine I use to hunt deer was locked in a rack behind its seat.
+++++But when I got to the truck, the coil of hooked log chain in the bed gave me a better idea. I pulled it out and wrapped enough around my hand to leave four feet of steel hanging and slouched back in the doorway of a boarded-up shop to watch the bank’s entrance.
+++++Daugherty came out a few minutes later and turned my direction as I ducked out of sight. I waited until he drew alongside and said quietly, “hey, asshole!”
+++++He turned, pulling out his snubbie and I wrapped the chain around his wrist with a single quick swing. The gun slipped from his shattered forearm and went off when it hit, telling me it had been loaded and cocked.
+++++He yelped like a kicked hound and staggered back, grabbing his arm as the chain unwound. I stepped up and chain-whipped his shoulders with a sound like a sledge hammer crushing a pile of walnuts.
+++++As he went to his knees, I wrapped the chain around his head with a final vicious lash. The pulpy crunch stifled his screams of agony permanently.
+++++Sprawling on the sidewalk, the cracks in Richard deformed skull oozed blood and a gray and pink goop that looked like cottage cheese. His eyes bulged between the loops of iron that seemed to be the only thing holding his head together.
+++++I let the rest of the chain unwind from my hand into a pile next to him. It seemed unlikely I would ever get a chance to use it again.
+++++It made no sense to run; I had nowhere to go. I figured wherever I ended up, I wouldn’t be there long, anyway. Count on it: murdering a millionaire gets you the needle these days.
+++++Sheriff’s patrol officers quickly arrived, followed by an ambulance and two paramedics. While the cops put me in handcuffs and stuck me in their black and white, the sawbones declared Daugherty dead where he fell.
+++++As the cops drove me away, I saw Katharine Lee watching through the bank’s front window. She was crying and she pressed her uninjured hand against the plate glass. Once again, I had been her champion and protector.
+++++I wanted to keep Katharine Lee from sitting through a painful trial that probably would have required her testimony so I pleaded guilty to murder one and was sentenced to die. No big loss. I would have been convicted anyway, what with Daugherty’s kin and hot-shot cronies in the driver’s seat.
+++++My only regret is that there isn’t a vacant cell in Death Row and I’ll be stuck in the county jail until the state is ready to stick me. I guess it makes sense: I spent my whole life in Azimuth and I’ll be here until they take me to San Quentin.
+++++That’s why I see Katharine Lee walking the hills in mourning clothes. Each night she appears on the pine-topped bluff that shields the jail from the Northwest wind. Sometimes I seem to hear the breeze carry her quiet weeping across the gulch near the razor wire fence. Or maybe I just imagine it. I can’t be certain.
+++++I am sure she knows I’m watching. After all, she isn’t there to grieve the man I killed. Her tears are just for me.

Blackout

Listen instead
Listen instead

Shelby Winters, DDS, writhed on his sweat-soaked bed and groaned in his sleep. He turned onto his stomach triggering nausea and barely made it to the toilet before vomit spurted up his throat and out through his mouth and nose.
+++++He’d managed to get blackout drunk again. Winters couldn’t recall anything that happened during the party at the country club after eight p.m., the last time he looked at his wristwatch. He’d had two similar incidents in the last month. That scared him. Driving blotto was one thing; not remembering anything about it was something else.
+++++With some juice and coffee inside him, he felt well enough to go get breakfast. But as he backed gingerly out of his garage, the left front tire on his Porsche felt flat. He decided he’d have to take it to the dealership. Thank God they were open Saturdays.

* * *

Morty his mechanic waved as Winters pulled into the service bay and switched off the engine. “What the fuck did you run over?” he asked.
+++++The dentist gave him a puzzled look.
+++++Morty escorted him to the front of the car and pointed to the fender. The headlamp was shattered and pushed back, the swell of the wheel fairing was badly dented and several large chips of red paint were gone, exposing the gray undercoat on the metal.
+++++“Looks like you gave something a pretty good whack,” Morty said. “It probably caused the break in your tire’s shoulder.”
+++++The dentist stooped to look at the damage. There was a spatter of dark brown along the bottom of the light bezel and something was hanging from the broken glass of the lamp. He pulled it loose and peered at it closely. It was a hank of light-colored hair.
+++++“Damn,” he said standing and brushing off his hands. “I must have hit some animal coming back from the party last night.”
+++++“You don’t remember doing it?’ Morty asked incredulously.
+++++Winters shook his head, wincing as the movement sent a throb of pain through his skull.
+++++“A little too much vino, eh?” Morty said, miming someone taking a drink.
+++++The dentist grimaced. “Actually, I think wine was the only thing I didn’t drink last night.”
+++++The mechanic wiped his hands. “Well, what do you want done?” he asked.
+++++“Replace the tire and repair the damage,” Winters said. “You guys do body and fender work, don’t you?”
+++++Morty shook his head. “Not on something like this,” he said. “You’re going to need a new front clip from another dealership. We can paint it to look the same but it’ll take a week or so to repair. You’ll have to drive a courtesy car home.”

* * *

Heading back in the loaner, Winters saw police a quarter mile from the security gate. Among them was his patient, Sergeant Jack Cordrey.
+++++“Hey, Jack,” he said, pulling over and parking. “What’s up?”
+++++“Hi, Doc!” Cordrey said, surprised to see his dentist at a crime scene. “Stay over on that side of the yellow tape, would you? What you doing in these parts?”
+++++“I live in Windermere Oaks,” Winters said. “It’s just down the road. What brings you to my neighborhood?”
+++++“A vehicular manslaughter,” Cordrey said. “Somebody killed a girl here last night.”
+++++“Who?” Winters asked.
+++++“Debbie Peterson, the nurseryman’s daughter,” Cordrey said. “We’re looking for anything that might tell us who killed her.”
+++++Winters recalled an athletic-looking young blond he’d met when her father was planting trees near his condo.
+++++“Find anything yet?” Winters asked.
+++++Cordrey pointed to some black marks on the pavement. “We have a good set of tire tracks. Broken glass. Big-assed chips of paint from the car. We’ll find the sonofabitch, that’s for sure.”
+++++Winters frowned. “Was this a rear-ender or a head-on collision?”
+++++Cordrey shook his head. “It wasn’t a car-versus-car,” he said. “Peterson was hit while jogging down the side of the road. The evidence we’ve found was from whoever hit her.”
+++++“I saw the body before the coroner picked it up,” the sergeant added. “She was hamburger. The car that hit her split her skull and broke her neck. Apparently she got dragged, too, because she was covered with abrasions and part of her blue and gold Cal sweatshirt was ripped off her back.”
+++++Winters remembered the hair caught in the shards of his Porsche’s headlight. It had been blond.
+++++“You say there were paint chips, too?” he asked.
+++++Cordrey nodded. “Yeah, kind of an unusual shade of red. These car outfits all have unique paint. When I get back to the office we may already have heard back from the people who made it.”
+++++The sergeant suddenly realized he was sharing too much sensitive information about the case. “Keep that to yourself, would you?” he said. “We don’t want to tip the perp about anything that might cause him to flee before we arrest him.”
+++++One of the detectives in the high grass signaled Cordrey to join him. “Sorry, Doc,” he told Winters. “I gotta get back to work. Don’t worry. We’ll nail this bastard and send him away. It’s three years in the state pen for hit-run, alone. If the driver was drunk, he could get thirteen years in the slam.”
+++++Winters returned to his car. He had no sooner sat down behind the wheel than his cell phone rang.
+++++“Hey, Doc. Morty here,” his mechanic said. “We put your Boxster on the rack to pull the wheel and take off the smashed fender and we found something weird: there was a piece of cloth hung up on the undercarriage. It might have been covering whatever it was that you hit.”
+++++“Yeah?” Winters said, his nausea returning. “What was it?”
+++++“This was a piece of dark blue material,” Morty said. “There was some yellow trim on part of it. Does that ring a bell? You remember hitting something covered with blue and yellow cloth?”
+++++Winters realized his heart was beating like a small animal trapped inside his ribcage.
+++++“No,” he answered slowly. “I don’t remember hitting anything at all.”
+++++“Okay,” the mechanic said. “Sorry to have bothered you.”
+++++The sun slanting through the windshield was high and hot. Even so, Winters was trembling, chilled to the bone. The dentist rested his aching head on the steering wheel.
+++++For the first time in many months, he actually needed a drink.

 

Stand By Your Man

Ike Stanton climbed into his F-250 and sneezed out the clots Jerry Miller’s fist had made when it broke the cartilage and capillaries in his nose. Fresh blood spattered the front of his shirt as he dabbed with his handkerchief. He looked up when the hiss of the Wurlitzer cut across the silence of the parking lot and Tammy Wynette began to sing:

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man
You’ll have bad times, and he’ll have good times
Doin’ things you don’t understand.

Ike examined his swollen, twisted nose in the rearview mirror. Dark circles were already starting to form under his eyes. He’d have two prize shiners when he got to the steel mill the next day.
+++++If he went; he didn’t feel much like it at the moment.
+++++Miller had kicked Stanton’s ass, pure and simple. But unlike Tammy, Ike’s girlfriend Leona hadn’t stood by him.
+++++That made a certain kind of sense: Ike had been secretly banging Leona for the last six months; unfortunately, she was married to Jerry.

***

Stanton first met Leona at Kelly’s Tavern after a wicked storm knocked out power in the southern part of the county and Jerry, a lineman for the electric company, was on call all night. She spotted Ike knocking back Maker’s at the far end of the plank and asked him to join her for a drink.
+++++One thing led to another, the way they sometimes do when a man’s looking to get laid and a woman wants to feel him inside her. Eventually Leona invited Ike to follow her home.
+++++He did and ended up spending the night in the one story ranch-styler she shared with her missing husband.
+++++“Mwhhhh,” Ike said, probing the inside of her mouth with his tongue as she fished her keys out of her purse and opened the door. Inside, he pressed her to the wall and wedged his knee up against her vulva as he continued his exploration.
+++++“Oooo, baby!” she said, putting his hands in places only her gynecologist had explored up until then. “Baby, baby, baby! You turn me on soooooo much!”
+++++Her lips were soft and she didn’t mind sharing them. As she did, he moved his hands under the hem of her tank top and gave her breasts a little massage, enjoying their warm roundness.
+++++Afterward it was Katy bar the door.
+++++They tore each other’s clothes off on the way to her bed and spent the next two and a half hours screwing each other like they’d never had a taste before. The next day, Ike realized he’d lost a button off his blue chambray work shirt in his rush to get undressed.
+++++Leona didn’t lose anything but her cherry – and it’d been gone for years.
+++++“Oh my fuckin’ God!” he groaned the first time he came. The orgasm seemed to last several minutes. She slid down under the covers and took him in her mouth, sucking him until he could barely breathe.
+++++“Uhhhn!” he moaned as she worked his Johnson over. He gritted his teeth as she maneuvered him onto his back, climbed aboard and began to rock forward and backward on his rock-hard dick.
+++++“Oh, honey!” she groaned, her voice climbing higher as she pumped with increasing urgency. “Ohhoneyohhoneyohhoneyohhoney, uhhhhnn!”
+++++He soon climaxed for the second time, but not the last.
+++++By the time the sun was peeking over the pine trees, she had him too worn out to go to work. She ran her tongue halfway down his throat to his liver when they kissed goodbye and told him they would get together again the next time her old man did an overnighter.
+++++Her word was good. And her technique between the sheets was even better.

***

Ike had heard stories about Leona: how she was a tease who had banged practically everybody in town with a dick that still worked. Her husband was ridiculously jealous and had thrown down on half a dozen guys he thought had screwed her. He wasn’t far off: five of them actually had.
+++++That gave Ike the jitters, but when it came to good-looking women, he tended to think with his glands, not his brain.
+++++She gave him plenty to keep those glands busy. In bed, Leona stroked Ike’s belly and purred about how she couldn’t live without him. She told him she was going to divorce Jerry so she and Ike could spend the rest of their lives together. He believed her: like most men, he was dumb enough to think he was irresistible to women.
+++++Every time they got a chance to be alone together, the two of them fucked like rabbits.
+++++“I been married to that man for eight years,” she said after one session, resting her head against her hand while twirling Ike’s chest hair with her finger. “All the times we fucked put together weren’t as good as ten minutes in the sack with you, honey.”
+++++Ike ate up every word. That wasn’t the only thing he ate, either: if he didn’t have his whang tucked into her pussy, his tongue was up there in its place. She’d put her hands on the back of his head while she ground away at his face, sighing and whispering encouragement.
+++++Leona got him on her hook and played him like a twelve-inch trout.

***

It was on one of those nights that she first raised the idea of dumping Jerry and taking off with Ike.
+++++“Swear to God, for two bucks I’d do it,” she told him, carefully removing the Marlboro from his mouth and taking a big drag. “I’d do it in a New York minute, swear to God.”
+++++She blew a stream of smoke into the corner of the room and looked at him challengingly.
+++++Ike smiled. “You know I’m crazy ‘bout you, honey, but I disbelieve you,” he said, taking the cigarette back and tapping ash into the tray on the bedstand. “I think you’re just shittin’ me. You’re never gonna leave that dumb motherfucker.”
+++++She gave him a wicked grin. “Oh, yeah? Just watch me.”
+++++They must have gone over the same ground a hundred times during the half year they spent banging each other.
+++++“Swear to God,” she’d say. “For two bucks I’d leave him in a heartbeat.”
+++++It had been the same thing the week before, only that time Ike swung his legs over the side of the bed, reached down on the floor and picked up his pants.
+++++“Where you goin’?” she asked in surprise. “I’m not nearly done with you tonight, honey.”
+++++He pulled out his wallet and turned to her.
+++++“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “Just getting’ my billfold.”
+++++“What for?” she said, giving him a puzzled look.
+++++He fished out a pair of Washingtons and tossed them down on the bed next to her.
+++++“I’m givin’ you a chance to make good on what you said,” he told her. “There’s two bucks. Let’s see you leave the son-of-a-bitch.”
+++++For a moment she looked like she was going to give him a ration. Then she smiled, slyly.
+++++“OK, smart ass,” she said, widening the smile into a full-bore grin. “I’ll do it.”

***

She was supposed to give Jerry the news at Kelly’s that night. It was a good time for it because nobody else was in the place but Lou Meadows the bartender.
+++++But as the evening wore on, she said nothing. Finally, Ike raised the issue himself.
+++++“Leona has something to tell you Jerry,” Ike said.
+++++“Yeah?” Jerry said, looking at his wife. “What’s that, honey?”
+++++She gave him a blank look and shook her head. “Nothin’,” she said. “Nothin’ at all.”
+++++“Come on, Leona,” Ike said. “Tell him. Remember my two bucks?”
+++++She looked at Ike as if she had no idea what he was talking about.
+++++Ike licked his lips and looked at her husband.
+++++“We want to be together,” he told Jerry. “We’re in love.”

***

Jerry looked at him with a frown, putting out danger signals like a Geiger counter in a room full of radium.
+++++“Is that true, Leona?”
+++++She blushed. “I have no idea what Ike’s talkin’ about,” she said, putting her hand on the side of Jerry’s face. “You know you’re the only man for me, honey.”
+++++The two men were hardly a match. Jerry was six inches taller than Ike, weighed forty pounds more and had played football in school. Five days a week he spent climbing electrical power poles like a marmoset swinging through a rain forest. Ike, a cat skinner and butt rigger for the Michigan-California lumber company, exercised only by setting chain for logs, running a D-8 Caterpillar and banging Leona in Jerry’s broken-down bed.
+++++“I think you’d better leave, Stanton,” Miller said, the cords in his neck rigid with anger. “If I see you in here again, I’m going to beat the shit out of you.”
+++++Ike licked his lips. “No, Jerry,” he said. “It’s true, I swear it. She said. . .”
+++++Jerry tagged Ike’s nose with a short straight left that spread it flat, followed by a right uppercut that snapped his teeth together like a bear trap. Ike went down spitting chips, one foot tangled in his stool.
+++++Jerry leaned against the bar, holding himself up by the counter as he kicked Ike in the sides and stomach. Then he jerked him off the floor, frog-marched him to the entrance and threw him onto the gravel of the empty parking lot.
+++++As Ike landed, he saw Leona’s mouth twist in a malicious smile.
+++++You bitch, he thought as his face scraped the ground.
+++++“Stay away unless you want me to really hurt you,” Miller rasped. Then he turned and went inside without looking back. Leona, wearing her nasty grin, held his arm like a trophy.
+++++Stanton sprawled on the ground for a few moments before slowly climbing into his pickup and driving away.

***

“That son-of-a-bitch had some nerve, saying bull shit like that with you sitting right here next to me,” said Miller, who was still steamed a half hour later. “I wonder what the fuck got into him with that story about the two of you hooking up together?”
+++++“Crazy talk, that’s what it was,” Leona said, shaking her head as she sipped 7 & 7. She put her arm around his neck and gave him a demure kiss on the cheek. “He must be smoking them funny cigarettes. I don’t think I said hello to him more than one or two times since he started coming in here. Hell, I don’t even know what his last name is!”
+++++Meadows, polishing a glass at the other end of the bar, looked at Leona and rolled his eyes with a sigh.
+++++The sound of wheels on parking lot gravel came to their ears. “Looks like you’re finally gonna have some other customers, Lou,” Jerry said as a pair of headlights raked the windows.
+++++Lou looked up from the glass he was polishing. “He seems to be coming awfully fast,” he said with a frown.
+++++There was a crash and the road house rocked as a Ford pickup took out the double doors, part of the wall and the tables and chairs at the front of the room. The truck smashed almost two-thirds of the way inside the building, knocking down the stools at the bar and throwing Leona and Jerry to the floor.
+++++Jerry was stunned but he got to his feet first, bending to help Leona whose face was blank with surprise. As he pulled her up, he heard a voice near the truck behind him:
+++++“Hey!”
+++++He half turned and saw Ike step from behind the door of his F-250 holding his duck gun, a ten-gauge Mossberg pump. The shotgun’s blast was as loud as a cannon inside the tavern and at full choke, the double-O buck slammed Jerry against the bar like a mule’s kick. Ike jacked another shell into the receiver and fired at Leona. The shot nearly cut her in two.
+++++Lou spread out against the back bar, trying to melt into it, hands held nipple high as if he wasn’t quite sure what to do with them.
+++++“You can relax,” Ike told him, laying the smoking Mossberg on the counter. “I’m done shooting for now. Give me Maker’s Mark, straight up.”
+++++The bartender, hands trembling, put a glass in front of Ike and filled it, a little of the whisky running over the side and making a pool underneath. As Ike lifted it to take a sip, he hesitated.
+++++“Better call the sheriff, too,” he added before slamming back the whiskey like a tumbler of spring water.
+++++He went to the juke box, put in some change and punched a selection:
+++++Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman, giving all your love to just one man, Tammy warbled.
+++++He put his forefinger inside his mouth and felt the ragged top of a broken bicuspid before spitting blood on the floor.
+++++Maybe so, he thought. But it’s a hell of a lot safer than trying to split it between two of them.