Category Archives: Jim Farren

Road To Nowhere

Don’t you hate it when you rent a car and the damned thing breaks down on the side of the road?
+++++There I sat with the engine ticking as it cooled, although the Southwest sun beat down so hot that ‘cool’ was a relative term. The engine wouldn’t turn over, but I keyed the battery and found enough juice to lower the windows. There was a hint of breeze that didn’t keep my shirt from sticking to my back or sweat from beading on my forehead. I drummed my fingers on the steering wheel and wished I had the Hertz clerk in front of me so I could punch him in the nose. Fifty miles from nowhere, three hundred miles from my destination, on the shoulder of a deserted, sand-swept two-lane that disappeared in both directions between occasional cacti and rolling tumbleweeds.
+++++I’d burned a new set of identity papers getting the rental—driver’s license, social security card, birth certificate, credit cards; bogus, of course, but excellent forgeries that would withstand all but the most meticulous examination. Now I’d have to use my last set to get me home. I hadn’t foreseen needing the last set, but I hadn’t foreseen breaking down alongside the road in a brand-new rental car, either.
+++++I know what you’re thinking, why not call Hertz or AAA or a tow truck? All good ideas if I’m you. But I’m not you, I’m me, and I’ve got three hundred thousand dollars beside me on the seat and a body in the trunk.
+++++I checked my watch. I needed to call Carlson about the change in plans, but that could wait. Normally I would stay with the rental until help came along, but the body in the trunk nixed that idea. I wiped down the Caddy’s interior then got out and slung the knapsack of money over my shoulder. At least I was dressed for the part; jeans, pullover shirt, hiking boots, and a straw cowboy hat. I crossed the blacktop and set off on foot in the direction from whence I’d come. I’d passed through a crossroads town about thirty miles back and started hiking it.
+++++After a couple of hundred yards I stepped down into a shallow arroyo and dug a hole in the sand so I could bury my old identity then load the new one into my wallet and resumed walking. Two more miles of hot, sweaty hoofing and I managed a ride with a Mexican family in a battered pickup truck older than I was. Senor had a gold tooth in front and his overweight senora had a toddler on her lap. I rode in back with three nut-brown ninos, two goats, and a potbellied pig. I dug a pack of gum out of the knapsack and offered sticks to the kids. They grinned their thanks and the four of us chewed away until the truck squealed to a stop in the town square and I got off.
+++++It wasn’t much of a town—Taylorville—just a collection of a couple of dozen houses and an assortment of small businesses; a two-pump gas station, hardware store, feed and grain, a run-down strip mall, and a place called Ma’s Diner. I thought about my uncle’s admonishment to never eat breakfast at a place called Ma’s, never play pool with a guy named Pops, and never go to bed with a woman whose troubles are greater than your own. Over time I’d done the last two, so I went for the trifecta.
+++++Worn linoleum, cracked leatherette stools, mismatched tables, and a window air-conditioner that lowered the temperature from broil to merely bake. I sat at the counter and studied the menu while the middle-aged waitress brought me coffee and silverware. She had carrot-orange hair, matching lipstick, and a pencil behind one ear. She was thin in a stringy, desiccated way, so skinny that when she stood sideways she looked like a zipper. She had a nametag with Mabel lettered on it. I ordered the lunch special which I suspected was last night’s supper smothered in today’s gravy. While I waited on the food, I mulled over what to do next.
+++++I’d seen a used car lot at the edge of town, but that was out. A stranger paying cash for a decent vehicle would raise eyebrows. Besides, I didn’t want to use my new identity until I had to. The corpse in the Caddy wasn’t a problem—there was no ID on it and if/when they ran the prints they’d find out he was a loan shark and fence. They’d also find he’d died of a coronary. I knew because I’d sat and watched him clutch his chest until his heart stopped. As for the money, it wouldn’t come up missing since I’d found it in a cardboard box in his garage. I’ve always been lucky; a stash of cash and a dead man I didn’t have to kill after all.
+++++My meal arrived just as an SUV pulled up out front. It had a light bar on top and a star on the door with the words Basque County Sheriff wrapped around it. Out stepped a tall, lanky, past-middle-age character complete with snakeskin boots, kahki uniform, smokey hat, and a badge the size of a pie plate. His utility belt held an assortment of equipment, not the least of which was a .44 magnum revolver with staghorn grips. He took a stool two down from me, ordered coffee to go, then turned and put his elbow on the counter.
+++++“I’m Sheriff Kershaw,” he said conversationally. “You new in town, or just passing through?”
+++++I am an excellent liar. I spun him a tale about having been on a construction job east of Taylorville until the work ran out, how I was now waiting to take a southbound bus home. He asked where home was and I told him.
+++++“That’s right on the border,” he noted. Y’all have trouble with illegals down your way?”
+++++“They’re thicker than flies on roadkill.”
+++++“Same here, and more all the time. Got a shanty town out past the gypsum works. Ten, twelve to a shack. Living on cabrito, beans, and tortillas. Cheap labor for the mine owners and farmers. Money makes the world go ‘round and the less you pay, the more you keep. By the way, the bus station is just across the street. The next one going south will come thru in an hour or so.”
+++++Mabel brought him a styrofoam cup with a plastic lid. He stood and said, “Put this fella’s meal on my tab.” When I protested, he said, “Don’t be proud, son. We’ve all been down on our luck at one time or another. The county’s pleased to do it.”
+++++The bus station was a long, narrow affair attached to the side of the hardware store. I bought a ticket going south and saw I had forty minutes to spare. There was a wooden pay phone booth in one back corner. I dug out a handful of change, closed the door, and called Carlson. When I explained about the broken Caddy, he was pissed. “I wanted to see the fucker in person,” he said. “Wanted to look into his cold, dead eyes and spit in his face.” I told him he’d have to settle for a couple of cell phone pictures instead. In true form, his last words before I hung up were, “The least you could do is bring me the bastard’s head in a gunny sack.” I let his anger drain off of me then called Annie, making it short because she was at work and old man Boatwright didn’t take kindly to personal business while you were on the clock. I told her when I’d be back and added, “We’re in high cotton, baby. Pack your suitcase, I’m taking you home.” She squealed her pleasure, “Do you mean it, honey? Home as in back to Carolina?” I said yes and let her coo in my ear until I heard Boatwright bitching in the background.
+++++The bus pulled out on schedule and I had a seat to myself. The other passengers were few and kept to themselves. Thirty miles down the two-lane I held my breath when the busted Cadillac came into sight. There were two squad cars and the Sheriff’s SUV parked behind it. The car’s trunk was open and county cops milled around it. I saw Sheriff Kershaw hunkered over looking at something on the ground. I slipped down on the seat and watched as we went past. I looked back nervously until the scene was out of sight.
+++++Actually, there was nothing to worry about. They couldn’t tie the body to me or me to the Caddy. Come to that, the guy in the trunk hadn’t even been killed—not as in murdered. He managed to croak before we got to that part. What’s the worst they could charge me with, transporting a body across state lines? Still . . . After a time, I leaned my head back and drifted off to sleep. The hum of tires on the blacktop made for a comforting lullaby.
+++++The fat driver shook my shoulder to wake me. He pulled his pants up over his gut and said, “Thirty-minute rest break.” I looked out to see we were in the gravel parking lot of a roadside restaurant. Everyone else had debarked to stretch their legs or go in for a meal. I wasn’t hungry so I crossed my arms and closed my eyes again.
+++++I heard the seat beside me squeak and opened my eyes to see Sheriff Kershaw sitting there with a smile on his face.
+++++“Howdy, son,” he said pleasantly.
+++++My belly tightened and a foreboding finger of fear ran up my spine. “Uh . . . hello. What’re you doing here, Sheriff?”
+++++Kershaw took off his Stetson long enough to mop his forehead with a patterned bandana the size of a dish towel.
+++++“It’s a good thing I’m the law, I broke six kinds of speed limits to beat you here.”
+++++A foreboding finger of fear poked me in the spine and I straightened up in the seat.
+++++“Why the hurry, Sheriff?”
+++++“Well, sir. There’s a chunk missing out of the back of your left bootheel. It makes a little vee-shaped notch in it. I noticed it back at Ma’s place, but it didn’t mean anything then.”
+++++I lifted my foot enough to looked down and there it was big as life. “Well fuck me to tears,” I said under my breath.
+++++“Later, out at the Cadillac, I saw it again—boot marks in the dirt—around the car and across the road where you started walking back to town. Seeing those prints got me to wondering what you have in that knapsack you’re carrying.”
+++++“My knapsack? Just personal stuff,” I lied, feeling a bead of sweat trickle down my temple.
+++++“Is that right? Well, son, let me tell you something. I’ve been Basque County Sheriff fourteen years and a deputy ten years before that. I plan to retire at the end of this term and don’t look forward to living on social security and a piss-poor pension.”
+++++I sighed, shrugged my shoulders, made a sour face. “So, what happens now?”
+++++“Well, if all you’ve got in there are dirty clothes, I reckon I’ll arrest you and take you back to the calabozo. On the other hand, if it’s money I’ll just sort of relieve you of the burden and let you go on home.”
+++++I blinked and swallowed hard. I knew he could read my face like a book. “It’s a lot of money,” I said honestly.
+++++“Even better,” Kershaw said.
+++++I cleared my throat. “We could split it?” I offered hopefully.
+++++“I like a man with a sense of humor. You’re young yet. Plenty of time to make another score. Me? I’m getting older every day. I always wanted to see the Mexican Riviera, lay on the beach watching the senoritas and drinking cerveza. I speak the lingo pretty good. I can see a brighter future already.”
+++++He held out his hand and I reluctantly passed him the knapsack. He smiled at the heft then slung it over his shoulder.
+++++“You sure you can’t leave me some of that?” I asked morosely.
+++++“Can, but won’t,” Kershaw said. “Don’t beg, it’s unseemly in a fella your age.” With that he tipped his hat, flashed me another smile, and said, “Adios, pardner. Oh, and if I was you I’d steer clear of Basque County from now on.”
+++++Long after Kershaw was gone, long after the rest break ended, long after we got back on the road, I sat there going over everything in my mind. I couldn’t see where I’d fouled up—except for my bootheel, of course. Who would have ever thought?”
+++++I checked my watch and saw I had another five hours before I reached the border. Carlson would be fine, I had cell phone pictures for him. Not as good as the dead guy’s head in a sack, but enough to satisfy the contract.
+++++No, Carlson wasn’t the problem. Finding more work wasn’t the problem, either. I had a reputation, word got around. I was known for leaving no loose ends. Satisfaction guaranteed. But Christ, three hundred thousand dollars. Found money, untraceable, enough to get out of the business entirely. Enough to settle down and become a civilian, a regular joe. Pfffft.
+++++No, Carlson wasn’t the problem. The problem was figuring out how to tell Annie I wasn’t taking her home to Carolina.

Slippery When Wet

I killed my husband by pushing him out the haymow door.  He didn’t have no idea I was gonna do it.  He was up there straightening the hay bales left over from winter.  It was a fine spring morning the day I done it.  I was downstairs in the barn sweeping out the feedway and the idea just come over me.  I climbed up the ladder to the loft and pushed him right out.  He landed on a pile of rocks we was saving to fix the foundation with.  The fall broke his neck and crinkled his head pretty good.  I climbed back down and finished my sweeping.  Then I fed the chickens, gathered my eggs, and started dinner for the chil’ren.  They only had half a day of school that day and when they come home I sent them out to fetch their pa to eat.  George is the one who found him.  George is the oldest, after Henry.  George come running into the house screaming that his pa was dead.  I sent Jenny around the road to use the neighbor’s telephone to call the doctor.  The doctor said their pa broke his neck and crinkled his head pretty good.  No one ever suspected I was the one who done it.  We buried him with a fine Christian service and that was that.  I’d have liked it better if he’d had some insurance, though.

Agnes Hazlowe is seventy-four years old.  She dips snuff and is bald from a childhood bout with typhus.  She wears a nightcap, even on Sundays when she dresses for church.  She does not sleep well and__when looked in on at night__is often found awake and staring up at the ceiling.  Her eyes are the size, shape, and color of ripe blueberries.

Jenny!  You stay away from that springhouse before you fall in and drown.  That’s what I used to yell at her.  If I yelled it at her once that summer I yelled it at her a hunderd times.  Stay away from that spring, I’d holler.  But Jenny didn’t listen.  She was out there looking at herself in the water.  She thought I didn’t know what she was doing, but I did.  Mothers have a way of knowing things.  I knew she was looking to see what that new boy from around the road saw.  I knew she snuck off to see him on the sly, too.  Letting him put his hands on her and her liking it.  I knew.  I could see it in her eyes.  The girl had no modesty.  No sense of shame.  Between times with that boy she’d sit in the springhouse looking at herself in the water.  Making herself pretty.  She’d fall in and drown one day, I told her.  But Jenny never listened.  She did fall in, too.  One Saturday.  And I held her under with a mop handle until there weren’t no more bubbles.  Henry and George had gone to the store for me.  When they come back I sent them out to look for their sister.  George is the one who found her.  George is the oldest, after Henry.  George come running into the house screaming Jenny was dead.  I sent Henry around the road to that new boy’s house to use the telephone and call the doctor.  The doctor said she must have hit her head on something and drowned.  They never once thought I helped.  We had a very nice funeral.  That new boy from around the road cried and cried and cried.  But I knew it was only because he missed touching Jenny.

Agnes Hazlowe drools from one corner of her mouth.  Cataracts have formed in her left eye, giving it a milky look and causing her to squint.  She sits most days with a Bible clutched in her lap.  When left unattended she fingers a tattered, velvet-ribbon bookmark imprinted with the words Jesus Loves Me.

Henry was too much like his pa.  That was the problem.  He begun to bossing George and me around like things had become his responsibility of a sudden.  He prob’ly did it because he was the oldest.  He started to cussing sometimes, too, and he was all the time after me about frittering away my egg money.  That’s what he called it whenever I walked down to the store.  Frittering away my egg money, he’d say.  I told Henry he was getting to be just like his pa.  He thought I meant it as a compliment.  That’s why I burned him up.  I told him and I told him he was getting more like his pa every day.  But Henry didn’t listen.  So I finally burned him up.  He was out to the barn currying his horse.  We was in the middle of a hot, dry summer that year.  It was the driest summer anybody could remember.  Fires was very common.  I went out to the barn and hit him over the head with a chunk of firewood.  Then I closed up all the doors and piled loose straw against one wall.  I thew a lit match in the straw and the barn went up like you’d soaked it with kerosene.  Woof, and just like that it was all flames.  The fire roared so loud it hurt my ears.  I never even once heard Henry scream.  I went back to the house and laid down for my nap. George is the one saw the barn burning.  George was the oldest, after Henry.  He come running into my bedroom yelling that the barn was on fire.  I sent him around the road to telephone for help.  Volunteer firemen come and used water from the well to wet down everything in sight, but they was too late to save the barn.  They didn’t know Henry was in there till they poked around in the ashes.  Everybody knew how Henry smoked cigarettes.  They never once thought the fire was set.  I used some of my egg money to buy him a nice headstone.

Agnes Hazlowe has all the infirmities of her age and sex.  Her medication is measured and constant, dosed with and between her meals.  Her speech is monotonous, but not slurred, and she speaks as if from a prepared text.  While she talks she unconsciously plucks at the bodice of her dress with arthritic, grapevine-knotted fingers.

George is a good son.  He’s the oldest, after Henry.  He always minded me and still does.  He pays all my bills so I don’t have to fret over them.  I have a little money of my own, but George won’t take it.  He makes me spend it on myself.  He’s not a bit like his pa.  George is a good child.  Not like Jenny and Henry.  He’s got a daughter, though, and she’s been a trial to him.  Her name is Susan.  She’s real snotty and has a smart mouth.  George makes her come visit me sometimes, but I can tell she hates it.  Susan doesn’t like to visit her granny.  She doesn’t wear any underclothes, either.  She says she does, but I know better.  She wears tight pants and puts her hair in pigtails.  She wears makeup, too, and her only thirteen.  She always has a lollipop stuck in her mouth.  Slurping on it and talking around it in that snotty voice of hers.  When George makes her come visit she sits in that chair and stares at me like I’m a fly on the wall.  Just sits and stares with that lollipop sticking out her mouth.  Susan, I tell her, Susan, you’re indecent.  Put some underclothes on.  Don’t look so trashy.  She just laughs at me.  Susan, I tell her, one of these days you’re gonna fall down with that sucker in your mouth.  Fall and choke to death.  That thing’ll get shoved down your throat and you’ll strangle, girl.  It’ll be the best thing for your parents, too.  Save them a lot of trouble when you get older.  You’re gonna cause your pa heartache, Susan, and don’t I know it.  That’s what you’ll do, cause him heartache.  Unless you choke to death first.  When I tell her that she just laughs at me.  She won’t get it shoved down her throat, she says.  She says she knows better.  I know better, too, but she won’t listen to me.  She don’t believe her granny.

Agnes Hazlowe picks at her food.  She talks to whoever is nearby, seeming not to care whether they listen.  She fantasizes, the doctors say, and is unable to differentiate reality.  She is often recalcitrant, almost childish.  She suffers from progressive senility, the doctors say.  Recalcitrance and senility, though, are standard diagnoses for the aged.  Although difficult to manage at times Agnes is__the doctors assure us__otherwise well mannered and harmless.

Do me a favor, won’t you please?  On your way out tell that cleaning lady I need my floor waxed again.  Tell her she’s got to wax it every single day like I told her.  The slick wears off so quick when she don’t wax it every day.  Tell her I want it waxed every single day between now and Friday.  Friday’s the last day Susan is coming to visit her granny.  And thank you for stopping by.  You be real careful on your way out, hear?  That floor gets slippery as sin when it’s been waxed and I wouldn’t want you to fall and hurt yourself.

That Damned Ol’ Hog

When Clayce Talcott and Luther Twoshoes entered the ramshackle shack at the edge of town they found Dickey Bub McClung on the kitchen floor and Jocko Fayette at the table.  Dickey Bub had a butcher knife in his cold, dead hand while Jocko had a jelly glass of corn likker in his live one.  The table was littered with dirty dishes, the floor with empty beer bottles. The air smelled of cordite.
+++++“What happened here?” Clayce asked from the doorway.
+++++“I kilt the sonuvabitch is what happened,” Jocko said.  “He come at me with a knife so I shot him.” He nodded toward the revolver on the table next to the Mason jar of moonshine.
+++++“Why did he come at you?”
+++++“It was that damned ol’ hog again is why.”
+++++“Uh huh.  Two year ago his hogs got loose and I found one rooting in my garden.  I kilt it and cured it for bacon.  Dickey Bub didn’t much like that.  Ever’time we got to drinking he’d bring it up again.”
+++++Clayce moved into the room and took the revolver from the table.  Opening the cylinder he checked the loads then put the gun in his jacket pocket.  Luther followed Clayce into the kitchen, his dark eyes taking in the details.
+++++“Look around while I talk to Mr. Fay-ette,” Clayce said, then waited to take a chair until Luther slipped thru the doorway into the rest of the shack.
+++++Jocko slapped the table top with the flat of his hand and raised his voice. “Twoshoes, my woman’s back there somewheres, and she’s nekkid.  You don’t be taking no free looks, y’hear?”
+++++“Free looks?” Clayce arched an eyebrow.
+++++Jocko leered and reached for the Mason jar. “Ain’t nothing free in this world, mister Chief of Po-lice.” He took a drink of moonshine before adding, “If the price is right I’ll rent her to you for a bit.” Then, after belching loudly, “I don’t like yer pet injun snooping around my place.”
+++++“Too bad,” Clayce said mildly.  “I didn’t know you had a woman.”
+++++“Neither did I ’til a couple of weeks ago.”
+++++“Where did she come from?”
+++++“She got tired of being married to Dickey Bub.”
+++++“That’s Dickey Bub’s gun in yer pocket, too.  She brought it along with a cardboard suitcase and two quarts of likker.”
+++++“A makeshift dowry as it were,” Clayce said without humor.
+++++“A what?”
+++++“Forget it. How did Dickey Bub feel about her moving in here?”
+++++“About like you’d expect, I reckon, but he had to know she wadn’t gonna stay with him.”
+++++“Why not?”
+++++“She was on the prowl is why not.  Sometimes us boys played cards over to their place on Friday nights.  She was all the time running around half-dressed and Dickey Bub mad if he caught you looking.  I never once saw her in a full set of clothes.  Now that she’s living here, I just keep her naked. It’s easier that way.  She’s one of them, uh, what’a’ya call it when a woman wants is all the time?”
+++++“A nymphomaniac?”
+++++“Yeah, what you said—nymphomaniac.”
+++++“So, tell me what happened tonight.”
+++++“Ain’t much to tell.  We been drinking since supper and Dickey Bub got onto that damned ol’ hog again. That and Arvetta moving in here after cleaning out the bank account and stealing his gun to boot. He bitched about me not shutting the windows at night. Said he could hear the two of us going at it, what with Arvetta being kinda loud when she gets wound up. Then he allowed as how his life had basically gone to crap the last couple of years, which took him right back to that damned ol’ hog.  Next thing I know, he grabbed a butcher knife off the drainboard and come at me with murder in his eye.  It was self-defense, plain to see.”
+++++“So you grabbed his gun and shot him?”
+++++“No, I grabbed my gun and shot him.”
+++++“You just said the gun is his.”
+++++“Truth is, I misspoke.  It maybe was his ’til Arvetta brought it with her.  What’s that they say about having something being nine-tenths of the law?”
+++++“Possession?” Clayce provided.
+++++“Yeah, what you said—possession.”
+++++Luther reappeared in the kitchen doorway and leaned a shoulder against the jamb.  Both Jocko and Clayce looked to him, but Luther looked only to Clayce.
+++++“Arvetta McClung’s in the bedroom naked as a jaybird, hoss.  She’s got a black eye and bruised ribs and swears she fell down the stairs.”
+++++“What stairs?”
+++++“That’s what I asked, but she didn’t have an answer.”
+++++“Does she want to press charges?”
+++++“I asked that, too, but she said how do you arrest a flight of steps?”
+++++“Anything else back there?”
+++++“Nothing illegal if that’s what you’re asking?
+++++“So, what do you think, Luther?
+++++“About what, Arvetta?  I think Jocko smacks her around for whatever reason or maybe no reason at all.”
+++++“And Dickey Bub?”
+++++“Oh, Jocko murdered him alright, hoss.  No doubt about that.”
+++++“What?!” Jocko barked as he sat up straight.  “You’re fucking crazy. I tole you it was self-defense, didn’t I?”
+++++Ignoring Fayette, Luther said to Clayce, “You remember a year or so back when Dickey Bub and Ross Fugate went at each other in that juke joint parking lot out on Route 60?”
+++++“I do,” Clayce said.  “Cut each other up pretty good as I recall.”
+++++“They did,” Luther nodded.  “Had what we call a two-quart-of-blood fight.   By the time we broke it up it looked like they’d been butchering beef.  Anyway, hoss, Dickey Bub was a blade man.” Nodding at the corpse on the floor, he added, “Look at the way he’s holding that butcher knife.”
+++++Both Clayce and Jocko looked down at the dead Dickey Bub.
+++++“No knife man worth his salt holds it that way, with the cutting edge down like you’re gonna slice meat or chop carrots.  A knife man comes at you with the cutting edge up so he can gut you like a carp.  I figure Jocko put that knife in Dickey Bub’s hand after he shot him.”
+++++“That’s a lie!” Jocko spat. Then with a sly look, “And even if it ain’t, you can’t prove different.”
+++++Clayce pulled out a pair of handcuffs and tossed them to Luther who snatched them in mid-air like a camp dog catching a biscuit.
+++++“I don’t have to prove it, Jocko,” Clayce said mildly, “that’s the prosecutor’s job.  You’re under arrest.”
+++++“Well, I’ll be go to hell,” Jocko snarled as his right hand dropped into his lap under the table.
+++++“Don’t,” Clayce warned.  Dickey Bub’s revolver had somehow appeared in his hand, the muzzle leveled at Jocko’s belly.  “Maybe you have a gun under there, maybe not, but we already know this one works, don’t we?  Put your hands up.”
+++++Jocko’s empty hand reappeared. He grabbed the Mason jar and guzzled the last half-inch of moonshine before offering his bony wrists to Luther. Looking through the open doorway, he yelled, “Arvetta!  Put some clothes on and get your ass out here.  Call my daddy, tell ‘im I’m gonna need a lawyer and bail money.”
+++++There was the padding sound of bare feet on hardwood floor somewhere back in the shack.
+++++Rattling his shackles like Marley’s chains, Jocko hawked up a wad of phlegm and spat it between Luther’s boots. “Fucking injun,” he said as if commenting on the weather. Giving Clayce a look that would freeze water he said, “If I’d knowed you was gonna arrest me, I’d’ve shot you crossing the yard.”
+++++“Not likely.” Clayce waggled the gun barrel. “Get on your feet.”
+++++“I still say it was self defense,” Jocko grunted as he rose. “Hell, me and Dickey Bub’d still be swapping ends with Arvetta if it hadn’t been for that damned ol’hog.”