A DRINK WITH THE DEACON.
We left the church cemetery in the old T model truck. The top had long since turned from simply leaky to almost non existent, the ride was cold and miserable because of it. That ride and my mood were a perfect match for one another.
Bobby pulled the T model into the dirt yard of the homeplace. The family home was no more than an unpainted shack. It must have been painted once since there were still white bits clinging inside the grain here and there. I couldn't for the life of me remember anything, but weathered grey boards.
I followed Bobby and Lucy into the house. We silently found seats around the stove in the living room. The fire was still burning, it had been built that morning before the funeral. Bobby added another split piece of firewood before anyone did anything.
We sat about in our own thoughts for a while. In my case, the thoughts were of my mother, who we had just laid to rest, and my relationship to her. The term, laid to rest, made me choke back tears. It would be the first rest she had ever known. Momma had worked right up till the stroke took her.
No matter what Bobby said, he and Lucy had not taken care of momma those last years. I knew for a fact that she had helped around the place right till the last moment. I expected to hear their version at any moment though. It would have to do with what would happen to the dirt. That is what my daddy had called it when he was alive. The dirt that his father had bought with his ill gotten gain. If daddy had gotten all of it, we would have been rich. It was too bad that Grand Pappy Deacon had been so prolific. The old man had nine head of children and all of them save one were boys. Grand pappy hadn't much liked any of his kids, so they shared the place equally.
"So Eddie what you gonna do now?" Bobby tried to make it a light question but under the circumstances it came out differently. He wanted to know what I was going to do about my share of the dirt. The farm had barely supported one family, half of it would never support a family.
"Well Bobby, I don't know what I am going to do right now." I wanted to leave my options open. Farming wasn't one of them though. I could have told him that and eased his mind. It was pure perversity that stopped me.
"Well Eddie, we need to know something about the farm. Bobby and I took care of your mother these last two years while you was gone." It was Lucy who spoke. I had expected it to come from her.
"Lucy there is two things wrong with that. That is, if you are trying to make me feel guilty. First of all, I was not on vacation, I was in the Army. Second, some of that time I was out there with some other poor soldier, in a different color coat, trying to shoot my ass off so don't even try to make me feel guilty. As for Ma, it is my understanding she ran this house while you were working at the diner. So, I don't think there was all that much taking care of her." Lucy looked as though she wanted to argue, but Bobby caught her eye and shook his head.
"So, I guess you want your share of the place?" Bobby asked it with his eyes on the stove.
"Bobby, I want what I am entitled to. Yow you just got paid for this year's tobacco crop. I will sign the farm over to you for the old T model in the yard. I also want three acres of land at the corner where our road meets the country road. I want that stand of trees there, and that Bobby is all I want."
"You can't expect us to give you the car?" It was Lucy. Lucy had turned into a real shrew.
"Shut up Lucy," Bobby said it nice and quiet. "Eddie you got a lot more coming you worked this place just like me."
"I know Bobby, but I never liked farming. I want to know I got a place to come home to, otherwise you could have it all."
"It is a reasonable amount brother." With those words, Bobby went into the kitchen to get a piece of paper. The paper came from a writing tablet Ma kept there. Bobby wrote the agreement, and I signed it. I just about half expected Lucy to ask me to leave at that moment.
"So how long you gonna be staying?" Since it was Bobby who asked, I took it as just that a harmless question.
"I got to go back to Fort Dix to get my discharge then I will be through with the army. I have to be back there Friday. If I am gonna' drive the T, I should get started first thing tomorrow.
"You got any money for the trip back?" I saw Lucy glare at her husband.
"I am fine Bobby. There is lots of pay I didn't spend in France." I really didn't need his money even thought it was half mine. Lucy couldn't get that through her head. She felt as though Bobby had offered me their money.
"You know that old T is worn slap out? You could buy a new one?" Bobby asked it still looking at the fire in the stove.
"Well you need a new car Bobby, and you got a little money now so get one. I can make the T get me back to New Jersey."
"That's five hundred miles Eddie That car ain't never gonna' make it there let alone back here again."
"It only has to make it there Bobby. I won't be coming back here for a while." I figured he had already guessed it. He probably just wanted me to confirm it for him.
"You know you are always welcome here Eddie?" I wondered if he really believed that.
"This is not the best day, but I am going to head into town to get some parts to tune up the T." I left the two of them talking as I drove from the yard. I was sure they were celebrating and deciding what kind of car they would buy with my share of the harvest money. Didn't matter none to me, I sure as hell didn't want to be no damn farmer.
I had been gone longer than Lucy claimed she took care of Ma. I had been gone since I was seventeen. I went into the Army just in time for the last year of the war in France. For some reason known only to the U.S. Army I got held in France for two more years. Most of the troops got home in 1918, I got home in 1920. I got home on leave one time before Ma died. I should have gotten home more, but it was a long miserable trip by bus.
On the drive into town I gave some more thought to signing over one more time, but decided against it. I might as well get back out into the cold cruel world again. It was going to be very cold and very cruel without a home or family as a safety net.
"Eddie, I saw you at the funeral this morning, I wanted to speak but I didn't know what to say." The woman who spoke was attractive enough in that country-girl kind of way. I have always associated freckles with the country.
"Thanks Missy, it is okay I wouldn't have known what to say either. So how you doing?" I hadn't thought of Missy in ages.
"I am good Eddie. You surely are handsome in your soldier suit." She blurted it out before she lost her courage I suppose.
"Thank you, I should let you wear it then." I grinned at her.
"Are you gonna' stay around?" She looked away. Missy was still as shy as ever.
"No Missy, I am leaving tomorrow. I have to get back."
"Well Eddie, I was sorry about your Ma. She was a wonderful woman."
"Thanks Missy," I didn't know what else to say. Obviously She didn't either because she turned, then walked away. She did manage a confused goodbye as she turned her back on me.
Inside the store I picked up the turn up kit for the T. I also found a canvas tarp and a can of wax. I didn't have to stand in line to pay. I was in fact the only customer in the place.
"So Eddie, I was real sorry about your Ma." The man behind the counter spoke softly. I don't suppose it would do for anyone to know he had feelings. The might, try to take advantage of it.
"I see you still got the highest prices in the county Mr. Williams." I smiled but he must have known how I felt about him gouging my family.
"Yes my prices are high Eddie, but I give credit when most folks won't." It all evens out.
"Not hardly it don't, I sure hope Bobby never loses our place to you. I surely would take it personal."
"That will be two dollars and fifty cents." Williams did not want a scene even though it was just me and him in the store. More likely he just didn't want me to kick his ass.
I put the correct change on the counter then walked through the door. When I was outside, I realized that I should have bought a case of oil from him. The T would go through most of a case before getting to the post. Didn't matter none, I figured Bobby had some oil around the place I could use it to get to the next town anyway.
In the barn the next morning I put in the plugs and the distributor parts before I cleaned the truck up. Even if I bundled up, I knew I was going to be cold for the next few days. The roads weren't much good so the drive was going to be long and arduous.
In preparation for the trip, I took one of Grandma's old quilts into the barn. I rolled it with the canvas tarp. I hoped that I could use them both along with my great coat to stay warm and dry during the trip. I figured if it rained I would just stop the truck until it ended. I expected I had more to fear from snow than rain.
I slept poorly the night before I left home for that last time. It had a lot to do with disliking the idea of not having a safe harbor. I felt my new found orphan status deeply. The Army could be my new home, but I just didn't see me ever again in the order taking mood. It was time to move on, but to what I didn't know. I expect that 'unknown' also had a hand in my sleepless night.
I awoke before sun up with a strong desire to be on the road. If the lights on the T had been any good at all, I might have started the trip by slipping onto the county road then onto highway 1 headed north. Instead I dressed quietly then moved off to the T. I drove it out to the country road then into town. The main street through town was highway 1 but I pulled onto a smaller street one block off main. I parked in the dirt lot of the only caf\'82 in town.
I ate as large a breakfast as I could, since I hoped to make a lot of miles before I stopped again. I hoped to get at least into Maryland by nightfall. It would take a lot of driving to make it I knew. Not only were the roads treacherous but the car was not all that reliable. It was a gamble but I expected the Ford to make it all the way to New Jersey.
"Eddie what brings you in so early?" the waitress asked as she cleared away my plate after refilling my coffee cup.
"Going back to the post," I replied.
"Not much here for the boys who were in France. Tommy Smith is the only one who went to France that came back here to live. Most of them moved to Richmond or Washington."
"Well, I don't think I will be headed to Washington to live. I passed through it on the train. It is pretty dirty up there. Don't seem to be much clean air to breath."
"So you gonna stay in the Army hon?" The waitress wasn't too much older than me.
"I don't think so. I thought I might try my luck in Ohio. I got a buddy from Cincinnati. He offered me a job up there working with him."
"So what you gonna be doing?" The woman had really bad teeth I noticed them when she smiled at me.
"He and his dad own a construction company. I might give that a try for a while."
"Eddie, you headed back up north?" The voice belonged to Everett Phips.
"Yep Ev, just as soon as I finish this here coffee."
Without asking Everett took a seat across from me. I knew him because he and my Dad have been friends.
"Did I ever tell you I knowed your grandpappy?" He looked as though he actually wanted an answer.
"No, but I figured you did. You and my dad were friends since you was kids."
"Yep, we played together most all our lives. Your grandpapy Deacon had the biggest farm in the county. He also had a pasel of kids."
"Yeah nine, that we know of. Not sure if there are any more or not. Deacon was a rounder."
"Yep, he was that. You grandma never even tried to control him."
"Well Ev, I really would like to stay and talk but the sun is up now and I need to be on the move." I really wanted to get away from him.
"Did you ever read your grandpappy's book?" He wasn't going to let me go.
"What book?" I had no idea what he was talking about.
"I didn't think so. Your aunt Ruth has it. You ought to read it before you leave town."
"I don't have time now Ev. I will read it the next time I get home."
"I expect Ruth will let you take it with you. Why don't you stop by her place. It is on the way out of town."
"Why you so hot for me to read his book Ev?" I asked it suspiciously.
"Cause, wasn't none of his boys man enough to be like him. I expect you are though. Heard about the medals you won in France. You really should read that book."
"Okay, you got me curious I will stop by for it." I said it as I stood to leave. I couldn't believe food was so much less expensive in Blacksboro Virginia. The same bacon and eggs outside the base in New Jersey would have been a quarter. The better meal at home was only fifteen cents. I left Ev and my money at the table. I also left the warm caf\'82 to re-enter the cold morning
As Ev had said I had to pass Aunt Ruth's house on the way out of town. I actually passed the house before I noticed the kitchen light. I almost didn't turn around. I did only because I knew the book would haunt me. Grandpappy had always been a fierce figure in my mind. I still wondered what Ev had meant by his cryptic remarks.
Aunt Ruth lived in a grey house. The house wasn't painted grey it had weathered that color. I parked the T in the front yard then walked to the rear. I knocked on the rear door. I tried to keep the knock down so as not to wake everyone who might be visiting.
"Eddie, what you a doing here?" Aunt Ruth asked in her unique voice. The voice was a mixture of southern drawl and honey.
"I am leaving town to day. Have to get back." I said it hoping she would overlook the fact that I hadn't been around to see her.
"You want to come in? I got some grits on the stove." She looked hopeful. I don't guess she got much company.
"Sure," I said walking through the old door. "I ate at the diner though." I seated myself at her metal kitchen table. The top of the table was covered with linoleum
"So Eddie, you gonna' make a career of the Army?" she asked it smiling at me. Aunt Ruth had been one of the prettiest women in town, or so my father had said once. She looked that morning as though she might have been at that. Even without her usual make up she had a pleasant enough matronly look. She had never married but according to town lore she slept with almost every man in town. It was whispered that there might have been a woman or two in the mix.
"No ma'am, I am going to resign my commission when I get back. I should be out in a couple of weeks. The Army wants to shrink its officer staff, so I should be out very soon."
"Good, then you will be coming home?" I could see there was a light in her eyes even at her age. Forty seemed old to me at that time. By forty my mother and father were both dead. Of course it was just bad luck I was told.
"It is a shame about your Ma Eddie. Following so close after your dad. Seems this generation is dying off way too fast. When Daddy died, seems like everyone of the boys just followed along. I expect we are paying for the old man's sins." Far from looking sad or angry Aunt Ruth looked whimsical.
"I don't know about that,, but it does seem odd the number of accidents in this family. You are the only one of his nine children still alive." I smiled sadly at her.
"Hell, I wouldn't count on me dying anytime soon. I am the most like daddy. I expect I will live forever, or damn close to it."
"I'll drink to that." I raised my cup of coffee in a toast.
"If it wasn't so early, I would give you a real drink. I got a little hooch." She grinned at the thought of her corn liquor resting safely in a canning jar in the cabinet.
"It is a little early even for me." I looked at the table. I was enjoying the conversation. I actually hated to leave, but I knew I had to be on the road. It was going to be a long trip.
"So Eddie, what really brings you here at 7A.M.?" Aunt Ruth had not been fooled. I could imagine it had been a long time since any man had fooled her.
"Frankly Aunt Ruth, I came to see if you would let me borrow Grand Daddy's book." I expected I was going to have to explain how I knew about it.
"Sure, you have to promise to return it one day. If not in person at least mail it back. Daddy insisted I keep it." Aunt Ruth left the warm kitchen. I was pretty sure the remainder of her house was cold.
When she walked through the door upon her return, I noticed her body. I had known as a teenager that she possessed a very nice body. Thin where a woman should be thin, thick where a woman should be thick. I was glad to see that at forty she still had the body. I noticed her breasts seemed to hang down, instead of pointing out, otherwise her body was exactly as I remembered it.
In her hand she held a leather bound book. It wasn't the size of a book exactly. It was more the size of a ledger. "So this is it." I flipped the book open carefully. It began, "My job on the cattle drive was simple." I wanted to read more, but I knew I needed to be on the road. "Aunt Ruth, I will get this back to you in a week or two."
"See that you do Eddie." She had gotten deadly serious. "I am the keeper of that book."
I nodded as I stood to leave. When I got to the door, I turned to say goodbye. Aunt Ruth was standing close to me. She pulled me to her then kissed me. It was not the kiss an aunt would ordinarily give to her nephew. Aunt Ruth earned her colorful reputation it seemed.
"Just so you remember your Aunt." She said it with a giggle.
Even though she was at least twice my age, I was tempted to stay. Hell, I would have stayed had she not pushed me out the door. I cranked up the old T then started off down the road, but only after I had carefully wrapped the Deacon's book. I had never thought of him as grandfather. I finally realized that he had always been the Deacon to me. I wondered about that as I drove along the road out of town.
The drive took on a boring feel within an hour. There were lots of things to see, but it was going to be a long slow trip. I hoped to average twenty-five to thirty miles per hour. That would make it a two or two and a half day trip. I did not plan to drive all night. The T had terrible headlights.
I stopped later in the morning to purchase a loaf of un sliced bread along with a small baloney. I used my trench knife to slice both. The drive occupied my body but not my mind. I spend most of the time working on one plan after another. I just couldn't get enthused over any of them.
That first day passed with about three hundred miles behind me. Those miles carried me through many small towns. A few of the towns were large enough to have stop lights. Most were no more than a few frame buildings on a slightly better than dirt road.
I pulled into a small Maryland town just before dark. I stopped at what appeared to be the Town Hall. It turned out to be the county courthouse, and included in it were two jail cells.
"Hello there Deputy, My name is Edward Burke. I am in route to Fort Dix New Jersey." I paused to allow him to speak.
"Well Capitan Burke, what can I do for you?" He evidently had either been in the Army or know something about it. He at least got the rank right.
"Frankly deputy, I am looking for a place to sleep tonight. I have a T model truck and a blanket roll. I just need a spot that won't get me shot by a farmer." I said it with a grin.
"Well, if you got a blanket roll, you could sleep in one of the cells. That is if we don't have to lock nobody up. We don't usually, so you would be pretty comfortable I expect.
"Are you sure?" I asked it because I hadn't expected such hospitality.
"Well, just keep reminding me to leave the door open." He grinned showing me a space where his front two teeth should have been.
"In that case how about I go get us some coffee. Is there a caf\'82 around here?" I asked it pretty sure there would be one somewhere. I figured, if the place could support a jail, it would surely be able to support a caf\'82
"No need I got a pot on the stove in the back. Course if you need food, there is the Dixie on the next street over."
"Truth is I have had enough of the baloney I bought a while back. I could sure use some real food."
"Then just turn right at the next corner. You can't miss the Dixie it has a big confederate flag in the window."
"Can I get you anything deputy?" I asked it trying to act like I didn't mind. A quarter worth of food would be a fair trade for a bed that didn't belong to him.
"Well captain they do have mighty good pie there. You don't have to mind you, but I wouldn't mind a piece of their pecan pie."
"You got it deputy." I tossed my bed roll and bag into one of the cells before I headed off to the Dixie. I had been in the truck all day so I walked to the caf\'82.
"Howdy Soldier boy, what can I get for you?" It was a truly red redhead who asked. The menu was all over the walls in small signs advertising this and that.
"How about your stew?" I asked it as I looked to the wall behind the counter.
"All sold out honey, it is kind of late you know." She maintained that smile of hers.
"Okay, so what do you have left?" I thought it a reasonable question.
"Most everything," she replied.
"Miss," I started to remind her of the stew but decided not to bother. Do you have any beans and franks?"
"Afraid not," she said. She looked about to go on but I stopped her.
I held up my hand. "I know sold out, it is late." I gave her a great big smile to let her know I was kidding. "Tell you what why don't you just surprise me. I can eat almost anything."
"Don't want to do that honey." She was serious I could tell.
"Okay, any soup?" I asked.
"Bean with bacon,": she advised me.
"Good, how about that with a couple of biscuits?"
"Comes with crackers hon," she said as she turned to the rear of the counter. Through the hole she said in a loud voice. "One soup."
"I got some pretty good bacon you want a sandwich?" She asked that as she stood starring down at me.
"I think that would be a bit too much bacon,' I replied. The soup was thick. It was also in some kind of red sauce. The crackers turned out to be very thin biscuit dough cooked crisp. It was quite a good combination. I was almost finished when the waitress took my bowl away. I was about to complain until I noticed her pass it back through the window. "More Horace," she demanded.
She turned to me with the bowl. "Gettin' late nobody else gonna be in here tonight."
I smiled up as I went about eating the soup with the thick soft crackers. When I finished the second bowl I asked, "Could I get a piece of pecan pie to go? It is for the Deputy I informed her."
"Oh?" It was obviously a question.
"Yes, I am spending the night in jail." I grinned at her.
"Too bad, you could have gotten a better offer I am sure. You are a good looking guy in that uniform and all."
"Me, good looking." I laughed as I placed the twenty cents on the counter."Is that enough?" I asked it because there were no prices on the walls just names of dishes served.
"Yes it is, and enough for a tip too."
"Good, I wouldn't want to go without leaving a tip."
I left the caf\'82 for the short walk to the jail. I didn't pass another person during the walk. When I arrived at the jail, I asked the deputy. "Where is everybody? The town is empty."
"Home I expect Captain. Ain't no reason for anyone to be here. Only thing open is the caf\'82 and it will be closed in about half an hour. They just stay open for the occasionally traveler like you. Won't hardly be nobody on the roads this late."
"Well, I think I will follow their lead. Enjoy your pie, I am going to read myself to sleep."
"You do that. I am going to go on up stairs I think. I will lock the front door before I go. The bolt is on the inside in case you need to get out." He must have had the same thought I did. I wanted a way out in case of fire.
He took his pie along with a cup of the jail house coffee with him. I knew for a fact that the fire would go out early. He hadn't bothered to bank it. That meant I was going to need the bed roll. I opened it on the small cot in the back of the cell. I placed a shoe in the cell door. Just to make sure it didn't accidentally swing shut on me.
After I was pretty well set, I began reading the Deacon's journal. Five hours later I had finished it. I was absolutely amazed that Deacon had done so many things. I knew he was a fierce old man, but I had no idea he had been a killer. I was more than a little surprised to find that he had written those things down during is lifetime. I didn't suppose, with his daughter holding the book, there was any chance it would ever see the light of day.
I fell into a troubled sleep around two in the morning. I awoke at five when the deputy entered the room. At the time I was wrapped in the quilt, great coat, and canvas cloth.
"Damn Captain it is cold in here. I would have thought you would keep the fire going last night."
"Sorry Deputy, I thought there might be a fuel ration, so I just wrapped up good."
"Don't matter none it will be warm soon enough." He said it as he worked on the stove. He shoveled out the cold ashes, then added new wood to the fire. He didn't bother with kindling, instead he went to a small can of kerosene. He poured a few ounces in a tin can, once used for beans I expected. After he had emptied the can onto the split logs, he threw in a match.
"Wont be long Captain." He was smiling when he said it. The door opened for a man in the same uniform but with the badge of a sheriff.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked of me.
"Name is Burke Sheriff, your deputy let me camp in the cell over night."
The sheriff looked to the deputy who nodded. "Okay Burke, it is morning now. The caf\'82 is open so go on down and get breakfast. You from around here?"
"No Sheriff, I am headed back to Fort Dix. Was down to Blackwater Virginia for a funeral, I am just passing through."
"Is that your old truck outside?"
"It is," I replied. I was getting tired of him already.
"Well Captain, I don't think you can make it to New Jersey in that thing." He smiled as if he had told me a joke.
"You could be right. If it breaks down, it will belong to somebody else."
"Well like I said, the caf\'82 is open. Me, and Deputy Sykes got things to do this morning, have a good trip Captain."
"Thanks for the Cot." I said it disguising my anger. They both nodded as I left the jail.
I didn't stop for breakfast until I was out of that county. I didn't want the sheriff to come looking for me. I had a feeling something was not quite right with him. I found a caf\'82 in the downtown section of a small place a few miles away. The Caf\'82 was not any better than the one from the night before.
At lunch I again stopped at a small grocery for a chunk of processed meat. I hated corned beef ever since the war but it was easy to find in the small grocery stores. I got lucky, in that store there was also a jar of pickled eggs.
The afternoon drive was long and boring punctuated only by the need to buy gasoline. The last stop of the day was for Gasoline. When I returned to the T, I was just too tired to go on. I went back inside the store.
"Mister, I need a safe place to park the truck for the night. Do you know anywhere around here?"
"I think, if I wanted to park somewhere safe, I would park in the church parking lot. The first Baptist Church is right down the street about two blocks on the left." The old man didn't seem to be very interested in where I slept. He looked at a newspaper as he spoke. I felt he should have at least have looked up.
I took a quick tour of the town before I parked beside the church. The town consisted of a half dozen brick building plus a few houses. It was a small town, the name of which I didn't bother to take note.
The church was frame and might seat fifty or so people. I parked beside it so as to be visible from the road. I didn't want anyone to think I had anything to hide. I would have enjoyed a nice fire inside a nice building for the night. I had slept in many worse places though. I unrolled the quilt and canvas bed roll. The rear bed of the T was not smooth. I was expecting a very uncomfortable night's sleep.
The two days of travel had so exhausted me, enough so that I slept surprisingly well. I found a small caf\'82 for breakfast then was on my way again.
I arrived in Fort Dix at 2:10 P.M. After making my presence known to the company first sargent I walked to the dining hall. I was late for lunch but I hoped the cook might get past his hatred of officers. He did to the extent of a corned beef sandwich. It, and the hot coffee were more than enough to win him a couple of points in heaven.
After lunch I began the arduous paperwork required to resign my commission. Leaving the safety of the Army was a bit frightening, but I had no desire to remain.
The Army had made several hints about my future should I stay. They all seemed to be similar. If I chose to stay until my term of enlistment ended, I would most likely not be allowed to re-enlist. Too many battlefield commissions of younger men frightened the older career officers.
The young officers, up from the ranks, were not part of the good old boy network. We had no one to help us. The trenches of France just couldn't compare to West Point somehow. It really didn't matter, I was eager to seek my fortune somewhere else.
I had the complete day off since almost all the men of my command were in the field. Hell, they didn't need me to sleep in the cold with them. Besides, the Sargent ran the platoon anyway all I did was to pass down the orders. The platoon leaders were even more junior officers passing down orders. It was the Sargents who led the men into battle. They were the ones whom the men trusted anyway.
I knocked on the door of the company commander. Might as well get it over with. "Come in," the voice of Major Phillips replied.
I saluted like a good little tin soldier.
"Good morning Burke, I see you made it back."
"Yes I did major. Sir, I have been thinking about the word going around." No sense beating around the bush.
"Which word would that be Captain?" The disdain for me and my breed of officers was in his voice. Phillips was a Point man.
"The one concerning the future of the remaining mustang officers." Might as well get it out in the open, I thought. He didn't even try to deny that it was a serious rumor.
"And what exactly brings you here?" Phillips was being his usual abrupt self that morning.
"I came to being in the paperwork to resign my commission." I said it without a hint of regret.
"Very well, thank you for telling me before you began the process Burke. A lot you didn't bother. If there is nothing else, it is a busy morning around here."
"No sir, that pretty much does it." I saluted again, turned, then walked out the door.
"First Sargent, I need the forms to resign my commission," I said after I had left the Major's office.
"Captain, are you sure you want to do this. The men tell me you are a damned good officer."
"Yes Top, I am sure." I wasn't sure at that moment at all. I had very little money and no job. It might yet prove to have been a mistake to burn all my bridges.
I had the papers completed before the men returned from the field. I called a meeting of the squad leaders to inform them of my actions. It was lucky they made it in on that third day since I was my last one in the Army.
Even though I was going to be a civilian at midnight, I planned to sleep on post, and in my own cot that night. I would be leaving the next morning at first light anyway. It was the way things were done even in 1920.
I ate in the dining hall with my men for the last time. I didn't sit at the officer's table I sat with the men who had fought along side me. I am sure the Major was pissed since he insisted on no fraternization. I frankly did not give a damn.
The T held my two duffel bags and bed roll as I left the base. Inside the duffel bags in addition to my army gear rested several souvenir weapons. If worse came to worst, I could sell them for a few bucks. I might have been an officer but I was not above taking a few things which had once belonged to the enemy or even the army. Hell, at times the Army was the enemy.
I stopped at the post office just outside the base to mail Grandpa's book back to Aunt Ruth. I had no idea where I was headed next. I gave New York City some thought then decided against it. I had mentioned a friend in Ohio to my family and friends. I could go try to find Jim. Even if I didn't find him, one place was as good as another. I sure didn't want to start my new life in New York.
The drive toward the small town outside of Cincinnati was a nightmare. It began to snow shortly after I left Fort Dix. I drove for seven hours just to make it one hundred miles.
The snow varied from mile to mile thank god. There were enough places with only a few inches to make the places with several inches bearable. When the T got stranded just outside a small town I muscled it off the road. I hooked the duffel bags one on each shoulder then went looking for help. I walked down the closest farm road.
When I reached the mostly unpainted farm house, I was worn out and more than a little frozen. It hurt to even knock on the door. The woman who came to the door must have been forty but she looked sixty. It appeared that farm life in Pennsylvania was hard on women.
"Ma'am, I am sorry to bother you but my car ran off the road a couple of miles from here. I was headed for Ohio. I am just about froze up. Could I come in and warm myself by your fire?"
"Well Mister, you can't come in my man is off to town. You can use the barn to get out of the snow though. I think there is a barrel up there, my husband builds a fire in it now and again. You can use it, if you find it."
I was not happy but it beat sleeping in the open back of the T with no heat at all. "Thank you ma'am I appreciate it." I tried to sound grateful. I really was but the warm air coming out the door made me envious.
I was surprised to find no animals in the barn. Surely they were not in the fields in the dead of winter, I thought. Since it was none of my business, I began looking for the barrel. I found a tank which had been cut in half. One of the halves contained ashes from a previous fire.
I took a look at the size of the barn and the size of the barrel. "The fire is going to be almost useless three fee away from the barrel." I said it aloud.
I was too cold to think about a real fire so I built a quick fire from the old straw on the floor. I knew it wouldn't last long. I hoped I would at least get my fingers thawed before it died. As I warmed my fingers I looked about the place. I noted with some interest that the hay loft was empty. Since there were no animals in the barn and no food for any I guessed that the farm wasn't really being worked. The next guess was that the husband had taken a job in town. He had probably been snowed in for a while, I thought. I could imagine that he would be along soon but traveling on foot.
I checked out the wood pile and found it small. There would not be much more than the house would burn during the snow. The man of the place would need to cut more upon his return.
I was still far too cold to be of much use to anyone at all. I looked about trying to decide what my next move should be. I needed firewood for the barrel there was no doubt of it. My best chance seemed to be a small patch of woods across a small field.
It was going to be a bitch to carry wood across that snow-covered field by hand. I knew I had no other choice.
The work gathering the wood actually warmed me. My hands were taking a beating, but the rest of me was fairly warm since the great coat contained the heat.
My first load was an arm load of tried branches. They would not burn long but should be enough to get my hands thawed at least. The fire burned for several minutes with just the first small filling of the tub. Even though the smoke was bad, it warmed my fingers. There was some pain as they began to re heat but it wasn't too bad since I had worn my gloves. I had obviously not gotten frostbite. I knew what that was like I had seen it in France.
I made several trips to the woods that afternoon. I increased my wood reserve with every load. It was almost dark when I decided I might have enough to last the night. I knew for a fact I did not want to walk to the woods in the dark. If I stepped in a hole, I doubted the woman in the house would help me. She seemed to be a bit afraid of me, and it didn't matter to me that much. If she had been more attractive, it might have.
The duffel bag contained cigarettes and the remains of the day's bread and cheese. I wouldn't starve but it was not my idea of supper either. I had no water. Even if I did, I would have had no way to drink it. I hadn't stolen my field gear.
The lack of water wasn't really a problem as there was snow everywhere. The problem was going to be in finding a container to melt it. Eating it as snow was a good way to get the cold sickness. I had seen men go into shock from the cold. Once they passed out it was less than fifty-fifty that they would come back.
It wasn't quite dark when I saw the old woman leave the house. She walked toward the barn with a bundle in her hand. I knew that she had to be coming to the barn so I went to meet her. I helped her to battle the wind until we were both inside.
"Oh Lord, I had forgotten how bad this place leaked air. I am sorry mister, but it really is the best I can do. My man would have a fit if you slept in the house."
"I understand," I said it even though I didn't really.
"Look I brought you some things. Maybe they will make it a little better for you up here."
I opened the bundle she handed me. Inside I found some bread and cheese. I would have laughed if I hadn't recognized it as a friendship gesture. The one thing she brought that I could use was a metal cup. It wasn't very large but it would do for melting the snow.
"I thank you for the food, but you should keep it. I have a little with me. But I did need the cup badly." She didn't seem to be in a hurry to leave so I went outside to pack it with snow.
The snow melted quickly as the cup sat by the fire. I drank the water before it got too warm. It was so good, I repeated the whole thing as the woman watched in silence. She wasn't much of a talker, I decided. She simply stood by the fire watching me.
"I hope it stops snowing tomorrow," she said. It seemed to be her attempt to start a conversation.
"Even if it stops, I am not sure that the roads will be passable. You could be cut off here a few more days." I didn't have any idea why I said it.
"I suppose so, will you be able to get your car out?" She didn't really seem interested. She just seemed to want to pass the time.
"I don't have any idea. I suppose I will try, if the snow stops." I got it off the road so it won't be blocking anything that can make it through."
"I am surprised you had trouble, the snow isn't axle deep, is it?" she asked.
"No I was still rolling as I slid into the ditch. Once I backed up far enough I got her out then onto the entrance of a farmer's field wagon road. The road went into a field, so I don't expect to be in anybody's way."
"No I expect you are fine. Only a complete fool would be out in this." She smiled at me. Her worn wrinkled face softened some.
"Well, I had no idea it was coming. Even if I had, I probably would have tried it."
"Makes no difference why, you are here now." She stood close to the fire for a few more moments the added. "My name is Judith." She kept her eyes on the fire.
"Mine is Edward everybody calls me Eddie." I was standing across the fire from her so I was saved from having to make any kind of gesture. She simply smiled as she continued to stare into the fire.
"Edward, I am going to have soup for dinner. If you would like, I can arrange some for you?" I noticed her eyes were still on the fire.
"That would be very nice. I don't think I have had real soup in the past five years." I looked at her when I smiled. She looked up, caught my eye, then looked back into the fire.
She seemed almost embarrassed as turned to walk to the house. After she had gone I melted snow several more times before I quenched my thirst.
It was after dark, when I saw the figure with the lantern approach the barn. I opened the door for her. When the woman removed the scarf from her face, she appeared to be much younger but with the same features. It took me a few seconds to realize that the figure standing before me was not the woman but her daughter. I took the pail of soup from her before either of us spoke.
"Hello, who might you be?" I asked it holding the soup pail between us.
"Rachel, Mom sent you the soup. She said your name was Eddie?" she made it a question.
"Yes Rachel, my name is Eddie." I had no idea what else I could say to the young woman. I took a really good look at her. Well, as much as I could from the outside of the heavy coat she wore. She was young, I could tell that much from her face.
I took the soup and the spoon she offered me. "You don't mind if I eat this while it is warm, do you?" I asked of the girl.
"Not at all," she replied. "I see you are a soldier. Were you in the War?"
"Yes, lately I haven't been doing much of anything though. I just got discharged. I haven't even had time to buy any clothes."
"You probably shouldn't, you are very handsome in your soldier suit." She flashed a smile at me that belonged to an older woman.
She seemed to be in her teens. Late teens, I would hope with that wicked smile she flashed from time to time. If I hadn't been enjoying her mother's hospitality, I might have made a pass at her. As it was, I had to fight not only myself but the obvious hints from her as well. It was a unique position I found myself in. If I did make love to the teenager, I might find myself literally out in the cold. There just didn't seem to be anyway to have the cake and eat it too.
"That is nice of you to say. Won't your mom be missing you if you stay too long?" I asked it looking toward the house to see if the middle-aged woman was looking out the window. I could see not light escaping from any of the windows. Every window seemed to have its winter curtain covers intact.
"It's okay, mom likes you." Then after another moment of looking into the fire. "She knows how bored I get in the winter. Now with the snow it can only get worse."
She looked up from the fire and I knew. It was her way of paying for an escape from the farm. For just a second I toyed with the idea of taking her up on it. Instead, I decided to talk it out with her. "So don't you have any family or friends you could stay with till spring? You seem to be old enough to go to work in the city."
"I don't have no famil, and no friends who would put me up. I just got Ma and my sister Jolene."
"God, I am sorry I didn't even ask what is your name?" I felt awful I had been running carnal thoughts through my mind without even knowing her name.
"Rachel," she replied. "Mom told me your name Edward."
"Yes Eddie to my friends." I said it looking into the open fire.
"I hope I can be one of your friends?" Rachel said it looking shyly up at me.
"Rachel honey, what is it you really want from me." I asked giving her a hard look.
"Why nothing Eddie," she replied. When she noted the continuing question in my eyes, she went on. "Well, I guess I want to get away from here."
"Well sweetie, I ain't going no place at the moment."
"Will you take me with you when it stops snowing? That is what I really want."
"Honey, I don't have a job. I can't take care of you." I was trying to be honest and discourage her all at the same time.
She was a quick thinker I will give her that. "I don't need no taking care of. I can work and take care of you." She smiled before she continued. "Waitress jobs are easy to come by."
"What would you momma say about your taking off with a stranger?" I was curious as well as trying to give her excuses.
"Momma won't care, she is going to have enough problems this year just taking care of her and Jolene."
"What about your Pa?" I had a feeling I knew the answer.
"Pa ran off in the spring. This old farm ain't much good. Pa just dropped his plow in the field, got in the car and drove away."
"He didn't even say goodbye?" I asked.
"Nope, just drove off. I must have asked Ma a thousand times, if she knew he was going."
"Well, did she know?" I asked it looking at her with the question in my eyes as well.
"She said, she had no idea. He just up and left. I don't much believe her." All of it was said as she stared into the fire. I was pretty sure she was reliving it.
"Don't your Ma need you to help out?" I asked it trying to convince her to stay. I didn't need a kid tagging along, but I was weakening.
"Eddie, I am just another mouth to feed. I can't farm this place, and I don't know how to do nothing else either."
"How about that waitress thing. You could move into town and send her money."
"This town is too small. There ain't no jobs. I was kinda hopin' you would at least take me to a larger place."
"But how would you live when you did get somewhere? I mean, till you got a job." I didn't plan to get stuck taking care of anyone else.
"Eddie, I got a plan. I know it is going to sound a little crazy to you, but it will work."
"Oh what kind of plan?" I asked it because I was sure a farm girl would have a plan that wouldn't work. I expected it to be a simple girl's dream.
"My daddy has a friend who runs a bootleg club in Cincinnati Ohio. He will pay good money for white liquor."
"Yes, I Expect he would. Any kind of liquor is hard to come by these days." I said it still convinced she was a little touched.
"Well daddy had people in Kentucky who make it. I am pretty sure that is what he took off to do."
"If he did? Why do you reckon he never sent you or your mama any money? Hell, or come back for that matter?"
"I don't know Eddie, but we can make a few dollars doing it I know. If we do that, then you will have a stake and so will I." She stopped talking. The only sound was the crackling of the fire. The space was so large we were forced to stand over it to stay even a little warm. We were also forced to change positions often to avoid freezing on one side.
"So do you have any money to pay for the liquor?" I asked it expecting more or less the answer I got.
"No, but my kin might let me have it on credit till I can sell it." She looked as though even she knew it was a pipe dream.
"Now Rachel, listen to me carefully. I am not somebody you want to lie too. Do you know how to find these relatives who make the liquor?" I asked it not knowing exactly why I wanted to know.
"We visited my dad's family every fall after the crops were in. We did it for years. I know how to find them. Everybody in that one horse town knows my Uncle Luther." She had her eyes on the fire.
I gave some thought to walking around the fire barrel to see if I could kiss the girl but decided against it. She seemed young standing in the heavy coat. I had no idea of her age, she could have been anywhere from fourteen to twenty dressed as she was. Her nose was red so her face was distorted. The cold seemed to have her hiding inside the over sized coat.
"Well Rachel, I ain't goin' nowhere tonight, so I got time to think it over. Why don't we both just sleep on it?"
"Well Eddie, I'll sleep on it. You give some thought to having enough money so as not to have to try driving in this kind of weather." It was her parting remark. She didn't make me any other offers. I had to laugh as she walked into the cold. I noted that the snow had stopped as I watched her trudge through the foot deep mess.
I figured I might as well get comfortable. The T did not have enough power to get through the foot deep powder. It was far enough off the road so that any newer cars might pass. With that knowledge I laid out my blankets as close to the fire as I dared. I rolled them over me then lay awake thinking about the young woman. The offer was secondary. In my fantasy, she had the body of a goddess and her stringy had was transposed into long curls down her back. The red nose was gone replaced by a woman of the world's make up. It was no wonder I slept poorly.
I replaced my boots the next morning before I ventured into the snow.
It was cold in the barn making the wood gathering trip necessary. I pulled down dead branches since they would burn the easiest. The snow had stopped after depositing enough to reach the top of my foot high boots. I knew once it melted the wet wool pants were going to be very uncomfortable.
The fire did little to heat the open barn. I shouldn't have complained since the openness of the place kept me from choking on the smoke. Not long after the fire was going, Rachel paid me another visit. She brought a small metal pail with her. The pail contained oatmeal. The only good thing about it was that it was hot. It also was filling, so I did not complain about the bland taste of it. At home in Virginia it would have been grits, an equally bland breakfast.
I changed into dry clothing, before I spent the day in the barn looking outside. Rachel arrived that evening with her little pail of beans with a slice of bacon on top. I ate the food as I listened to Rachel.
"So Eddie, what do you think? You want to take me along and get rich or leave me and live hand to mouth?" She was grinning like a wolf when she asked.
"I been giving it some thought and the idea does have some appeal. I don't hardly think we gonna' get rich. We might make a few bucks for us to use till we can get situated though. You could just tell me how to find your kin. I would send you a share of the profit."
"No way, the only reason I am going to share with you is that you got a truck. At least you say you got a truck."
I realized, at that moment, that the girl was pretty worldly to be a kid. "Just how old are you Rachel?"
"Practically an old maid, I am eighteen." She was at least smiling a warm smile. Her smile could change to suit her mood. I wasn't quite sure about it. If it held, I could read her mood easily enough.
"Old Maid, do you mean you have never been with a man. If so, that is okay you know." I said it with a little disappointment. She might be eighteen but she looked younger. The red hair and freckles did that.
"No, I ain't never been with a man." She looked at me smiling. The smile was defiant. I wasn't sure if it was some kind of invitation or not. I decided not to press it. I might have except that I had become interested in her deal.
After a full day of bright sunshine I thought the roads might be in better shape. I returned to the T after the sun had a chance to get high in the sky. There was no sense waiting for all the snow to melt. If I did that, I might be stuck in that barn for months.
As I began my walk down the snow-covered farm road, Rachel emerged from the house running after me. When she got close enough, I waited for her to close the short distance left.
"You aren't trying to leave me are you?" she asked.
"Not hardly, I am going to go dig the T out. Then I am going to come back for my things. You wouldn't happen to know how to drive would you?"
"Sure I can drive. At least I can drive a little." Rachel seemed a little too tentative. She could probably do what I needed done though. It was at least my thinking at the time.
. I had imagined the distance to be farther than it actually was. I expect that it was because the first time I made the trip I had been loaded down with two heavy duffel bags. I found the T within sight of the farm road. It was another thing which I had not realized. It seemed as though I hadn't looked back during my walk to the farmhouse.
Digging the car out was simple though exhausting. I set the interior controls then said, "Rachel, don't touch anything. I am going to start the car." I used my stern voice as I did not want her to run over me. Her answer was no more than a nod. It struck me then that Rachel has spoken hardly a word to me. I didn't have time at that moment to ponder it.
I turned the crank. I was extra careful since my footing was not secure. The cold ford caught on the first try. It was a combination of setting the ignition very high and the new plugs I had installed.
I hurried back to readjust the controls. I adjusted them several more times before I gave Rachel very detailed instructions. With her steering the T and me pushing it finally began to inch its way back onto the road. The engine revved and the tires spun but it did make progress.
"Stop," I screamed as the car shot back onto the road. Fortunately there was little traffic as Rachel had a bit of a problem applying the brake in time. She almost ran off the road on the far side.
I reached into the car's open interior to set the controls. I set them so that Rachel could slide over while I took her place on the bench seat. I carefully moved the car around the snow-covered road. I managed to back far enough down the road so that I could pull down the farm road.
I loaded my duffel bags while Rachel walked to the house. I wasn't sure what I should do next. The night before Rachel had expressed a desire to leave with me. She had not mentioned it during our work on the T.
I had my little bundle wrapped in the canvas tarp sitting deep in the extended bed of the T. My brother and I had helped Daddy remove the original bed from the T then construct the six foot bed needed to carry things on the farm. That bed was the reason I had wanted the T. It made sleeping in the truck possible. What other things might be possible I was beginning to wonder.
I walked through the snow to the farm house. Rachel's mother came in response to my knock. "Ma'am I will be leaving now. I do appreciate the use of your barn. Is there anything I can do as payment?" I asked it meaning work or money.
"No Captain, there is nothing." She seemed at least peeved, if not angry. "I expect you to take care of Rachel though. If I were a man, I would horse whip you." With those words she slammed the door.
I knew instantly that Rachel had told her something. What I had no idea. I was tempted to knock again to ask. Then it occurred to me that I just didn't care at all. I didn't expect to be passing through again, so let her think what she wanted. It was how I justified it in my mind. I found that it still bothered me. Ego, I thought as I began maneuvering the T around the snow-covered yard. I knew I would have to work on my Ego problem. It was either that or an ulcer.
I wasn't really waiting for Rachel. At least I didn't think I was. Still, when she rushed from the house with a cardboard box, I was pleased. I guessed she had her belongings in the box. She threw it into the snow-covered bed of the truck.
"Get the hell out of here Eddie," she said it as I put the truck into gear. I drove from the yard. If her mother had objected, I might have stopped. Especially since I wasn't exactly sure of Rachel's age. I knew there was no law against it, but I still respected a mother's love for her child. Without her objections I continued to inch out of the yard. Getting to the highway proved to be no more than following my own ruts in the snow.
"So Eddie, where are we going first?" Rachel asked it as thought the conversation in the barn had never taken place.
"We are going to Kentucky to buy liquor." I said it taking my attention from the road. I wanted to see her face when she responded.
"Then I guess we need to ask somebody how to get to Lexington Kentucky."
"Is that were the family is?" I asked glancing at her as she answered.
"Small town east of there actually," she replied.
"Okay, but let me tell you something Rachel. If this is your way of getting a ride to you ken folks, I am going to be pissed. Believe me little girl, you will not like me when I am pissed."
"You think I want to run away from one hick town to go to another. Give me some credit Eddie." From her, the sound of my name made me seem like a school kid. The child calling me by my first name did something to me. It made it seem as though I were play acting.
"Listen you might as well call me Deacon." Now why I took my grandfather's name I had no idea. It seemed as though the name fit my new profession.
"Did they call you Deacon in the army?" Rachel asked it seriously.
"Yes," I didn't mind lying to the child. She seemed to believe it without any reservations.
"Then call me Red." As she spoke, she removed the navy watch cap that had hidden her hair. Her hair was cut man short and very red.. I noticed for the first time how pale her skin was. Only after all that did I notice her eyes. Those eyes were as green as the jewels the women in Paris had worn. I wondered to myself how I had missed it all earlier. Maybe in the dark barn I could understand, but when we worked to free the truck I should have noticed.
"All right, Red it is. So Red, I am going to drive a while before dark. When it starts getting dark, we need to find a place to stop for the night.
"That won't be too much longer. It gets dark by five. I think it is probably around two now.
"Well Red, we might make twenty miles this afternoon. I sure can't make much time in this snow. You got any idea what might be up ahead?"
"The only hotel would be in Harrisburg but we ain't gonna make it there tonight. There will be some small towns between here and there. But none with anything like a hotel."
"Well Red, I didn't figure on a hotel. I plan to save every penny I can to buy liquor. I don't expect your ken folks will trust us without paying for it."
"Well Deacon, I am freezing already. I don't know if I can sleep in the truck."
"It is the wind blowing on you that is making you cold. Take that scarf and put it over your face. It will help."
"How about you," she asked it as she covered her face.
"I have a scarf in the pocket of this horse blanket they call a coat. I will use it when it gets too bad." It was already too bad, but I planned to hold out at least a little while longer. I didn't want to seem soft to her. I have no idea why I cared in the least.
We were probably doing ten miles an hour or less. Still, we were moving steadily onward. My eyes burned from the glare and my fingers and toes were numb. I planed on stopping in the next town, finding a hot meal, and a warm room to eat it in.
The only thing in the town of Priestly of any interest to us was the general store. The store also served as a post office. I parked the truck by the gas pump. I didn't figure we would be blocking it long anyway.
When we entered the front door, I was hit by the hot air inside. Somebody had the old wood stove roaring. It was hard for me to believe the store owner would burn so much wood. Still, I had no plan to complain. Red and I stood by the fire shivering like a couple of wet dogs. I decided that I didn't know how cold I was until I came into a warm building.
"Howdy, I said to the proprietor after I warmed up a little." I shivered as I spoke even then.
"How are you?" he asked without really expecting an answer to the question.
"Cold," I replied trying to smile through chattering teeth. "I need some gas and probably some oil. Most of all we need some hot food. Is there a place we can get some around here?"
"I got gas and oil. I even got as little hot soup, if you want? There is no caf\'82 in town. And none close by either. You surely are not planning to travel after dark are you?"
"No Sir, we are looking for food first then a place to stay." Red suddenly joined the conversation.
"Well girly, if we don't have a caf\'82, we surely don't have a hotel."
"Then sir we will take your gas and Oil. Also some of the soup and anything else you might have around to go with it." I shot a hard look at Red. I figured she had a few words to say about that Girly remark.
"Sure, if you got the money?"
"I'll tell you what friend. You figure about how much five gallons of gas. a quart of oil and two bowl of soup and a wedge of that cheese will cost and I will check." I reached into my pocket. I pulled out the roll of bills that was my mustering out pay.
"Sorry Captain, the girl is pretty young and people steal from me all the time." The man was pulling on a heavy wool coat as he spoke.
He was out the door when I said to Red. "I ain't never stole nothing, but it would be a pleasure to steal from him."
"Why don't we then?" she asked.
I ran it around in my mind. I thought she was kidding at first. After I got past that, I thought about it quickly. "Because we couldn't get away with it." I smiled at her as I spoke. At that moment she smiled back. Her smile told me I had just made a pact with a she-devil. Red walked around the store. I assumed she was looking for things to steal.
"Could I help you?" the voice belonged to a woman. She was talking to me, but looking at Red.
"As a matter of fact you can. The gentleman outside said there was soup. We could sure use it. I think both of us are froze to the bone." I smiled my disarming smile.
"Sure, have a seat by the fire and I will bring it." She looked at Red when she spoke that time. She was just as distrustful as her husband.
"Ya'll don't like strangers much do you?" I asked it only after I had the soup in my hand. The woman didn't answer she looked away.
"I don't suppose you have some bread and cheese ma'am" I was surprised at the sweet voice coming from Rachel. I had not heard that voice since we left her mother's farm.
The smile the woman gave Rachel was not motherly at all. There were challenges in each one's glare. Well there goes the warm place to sleep I thought.
"I put the five gallons in the truck and half a quart of oil. I see ma got you the soup." The man said it upon his return. Not only were Red and I eating the soup we were eating the cheese and bread.
"Yes and mighty good soup it is." I said it hoping to revive our chance of sleeping in a building. Red glared at me. I didn't expect that she knew what I was doing. Never slap a man you need. One of the first things my Sargent taught me.
"Thank you captain the wife is a good cook all right."
"Well, we appreciate the fire. I suppose we better be looking for a place to sleep tonight."
"You ain't gonna find much Captain. Nothing around here and nothing before you get to Harrisburg and that is thirty more miles." It was the woman who I assumed was the storekeeper's wife.
"We have a blanket roll, we will just have to sleep in the truck. I can probably find a church to park beside. Cut the wind I expect."
The storekeeper looked at his wife who shook her head. Any hope we had of staying with them was gone. "Tell you what Captain, you ain't likely to find anything around here but I noticed you got rails on that truck of yours. I got a tarp that will fit over it pretty good. It should keep the wind out."
"Actually I need a big tarp. I got a small one but it is not much bigger than a ground cloth. You want to sell the tarp." I asked it knowing he did.
"Well it is new. I keep them for the farmers to cover up hay in the summer. Don't sell none this time of year, so I can make you a good deal in it."
"I know this ain't gonna sound grateful, but how much is a good deal." I smiled to let him know I was not offended.
"Well, let me see. Five gallons of gas is twenty-five cents. The oil is five cents. Another dime for the two bowls of soup that comes to forty cents. How about a dollar and a half for it all including the tarp. I generally get two dollars for the tarp."
"Well it sounds reasonable enough." I lingered by the fire a moment more before I peeled off the bill then found the coins in my pocket.
"Captain, you ought to be careful with that money. There are people around who would kill you for a lot less." He looked like he was talking to a farmer.
"Thank you for the advice." Since he wasn't offering us a place to sleep, I didn't have to be nice anymore. I opened the heavy overcoat, then the officers service jacket. When I put the roll away it was in my shirt pocket. I gave him a good look at the .45 automatic pistol. Might as well get any thoughts of sending a thug for me out of his mind, I thought..
"Don't suppose you would want to sell that pistol?" I was glad he asked. It left no doubt that he had seen it.
"No thanks, it is kind of like an old friend. Used it in France." Now that should leave no doubt in his mind. I waited just a minute to let it all sink in then I asked, "Do you have any idea where I can park this think tonight. I don't much want to get it stuck up."
"Well you headed toward Harrisburg?" I nodded as he took a breath. "Then about a mile down the road is a ball field on the right. The parking lot is covered in coal cinders. Everybody in town as been dumping them there for as long as anybody remembers. You won't get stuck on them.
Since it was the best offer I was likely to get I nodded. I figured if I had gotten the chill off, Red would also have been ready to move. I ushered her outside then into the waiting truck.
The drive to the town's baseball field was a short one. Preparing the truck for the night was more difficult. The cold fingers made it almost impossible to tie the ropes holding the canvas to the truck. It seemed amazing to me how fast my fingers stiffened once the gloves were removed. It was just as hard to tie a knot with the two heavy layers of gloves. The inner wool glove for warmth and the outer leather one to cut the wind. If you didn't have to tie a knot or pull a trigger the gloves were just fine.
I laid out the bed roll in the back of the truck. The canvas tarp from home was large enough to cover the bottom of the truck and fold over us to help conserve our body heat. Since we would be sleeping in our clothes, a bottom blanket would be unnecessary. I would have slept on half the quilt had I been alone. My heavy wool overcoat I placed over the quilt before I folded the tarp over the top of us.
Red's body heat added to my own managed to keep us from being too uncomfortable. Even so I slept poorly. It had to do with the need to hold Red close so that the bed roll covered us both. When the sun came up we took turns in the privy set up for the games.
The privy seemed to have been recently moved. That and the terrible cold accounted for the lack of a smell while I used it. I was thankful. I had always found the privy smell nauseating first thing in the morning. We began to drive without breakfast or coffee. I took only time to roll up the blankets and canvas.
The tarp from the farm was almost pure white while the one from the store was green. The one from the store was probably Army surplus. Must of the equipment from 'The war to end all wars' had made it to the civilian sector. The green tarp also still had its waterproofing it seemed. The one I brought from home had long since become simply a heavy piece of canvas.
With all the trappings of a camping expedition put away, we began out drive west. We made it to Harrisburg shortly after lunch. We found a Caf\'82 just off the main road.
The lunch took almost an hour. Most of the time was spent getting warm. The open truck in the dead of winter was terrible.
When we reached the Ohio river, we turned south. Just outside Harrisburg we spent another cold and miserable night in the rear of the truck.
There had been no further snow fall so we were able to get farther each day than the day before.We followed along the Ohio river for two days then drove due south into Kentucky.
Lexington being the Capitol of Kentucky, was a large town even then. Since it was a large town with several hotels, it was especially hard for us to sleep in the back of the truck that night.
We arrived at a crossroad with the name catnip tacked to a post. From that point the drive to Rachel's father's family home was only a few miles. She could not remember the exact house, so we stopped for directions along the way. The first place we stopped was of no use, the people obviously did not recognize Rachel. We got close enough to the family's house so that someone recognized her father's name.
When we arrived at the unpainted house, Rachel learned that the grandmother she had visited had passed away. We did get to meet the new lady friend of Rachel's father. The father was up on the mountain it seemed. According to the wife he was hunting I was pretty sure that Rachel had been right about the whiskey making.
"Deacon, I had no idea daddy was here. I don't want to see him." Rachel's eyes were dancing.
"Okay Red, I will go talk to him. Let's take you somewhere safe." She looked grateful, though she said not a word. The safe spot turned out to be an aunt and uncle's house. The Uncle was sitting by the fire with his radio blaring. Rachel explained it all to him. Not only could Rachel stay with his wife but he agreed to take me to the still. He seemed genuinely interested in Rachel's welfare.
"Since the kid is a partner in this, I am going to see you get treated fair." He said it after we were on our way up the mountain. "My brother owes her."
He didn't explain and I didn't ask. We parked at the base of the mountain then walked up. "How, the hell, do they get it out of here?" I asked it not believing that anything could move on the steep trail.
"Mule drawn skid," he replied. "They load the corn on it going up and the liquor coming down. We could wait with the car but I expect you want to get moving."
"Yes, I expect it would be best. I had thought we could stay a few days to rest but Rachel has a really bad fear of her father."
"Well her daddy is my brother so I ain't gonna say nuthin' agin him, but we will get your liquor then you can take her away from here."
"Well my problem is what if I want to buy more?" I asked it of his back as we climbed the steep trail.
"Then we will arrange a place for us to meet. I just need to show them you ain't the law. Then you can come here and I will have them bring it to you."
I was so out of breath that I didn't have anything much to say until we were in clearing. Inside the clearing sat several wooden barrels and a copper still. I had never seen one before so it was an interesting sight. I wanted to ask questions, but I didn't want to appear stupid.
"John," the uncles said in greeting to one of the older men. "This here is Deacon Burke. He came to buy some whiskey. He is a friend of the family, I came along to make sure you did him right."
"And to keep him alive I 'spect." The man stepped forward to take my hand. The two things I noticed were that his hand was rough and calloused and that he smelled even worse than me. I had been on the road for several days. I had no idea, what his excuse might be.
"Could be Jess, either way I brought him and he wants to buy some bug juice." The man smiled at his own joke.
"Don't sell much to the Army," he replied.
"Sir, I ain't in the army no more. I am looking for a way to make a few dollars so I can buy some clothes." I smiled. I made a joke of the fact that I still wore my uniform. What I had told him was the truth. I hadn't had the need for civies, up until a week before.
"You want to buy it here and resell it somewhere else?" he asked.
"I do," I replied.
The old man with the white beard shook his head. Well son, if you know what you getting into, you got balls. If you don't, you should ask before you do this."
I looked him in the eye. "So, what am I getting into?"
"Well son, you buy and their ain't no refunds. If the cops stop you, you go to jail and lose the liquor and your money. It you try to sell it in the big towns the gangs stop you and you are dead. If you try in the little towns, it means a couple of gallons here and there. The longer you have it the better the chances somebody will catch you. So your odds on winding up in jail or dead are about the same as you making any money doing this."
"Do you tell everybody this or just family friends?" I said it with a big smile.
"Well captain, I don't want you bringing them to me. Matter of fact I hope you can't find me again. If you survive this one, I will bring the liquor to you down the mountain."
"I don't particularly want to make this walk again." I didn't look around any farther. I wanted to buy the liquor and get the hell out of there. "So, how much a gallon?"
"Dollar a gallon," the old man said.
"Ain't that a bit much?" The speaks are selling it a nickel a shot. Speaks can't be paying much more than that for it.
"They will pay you two dollars a gallon easy for it," the old man countered.
"Yeah but that ain't much profit after I take out the expenses. I don't think with the risks you mentioned it is worth it. Sorry I took up your time."
"How many gallons can you take?" he asked.
I thought quickly about my mustering out pay. I had about a hundred dollars to spare.
"A hundred gallons at fifty cents a gallon." I said it with a serious look.
"You come a long way just to leave empty handed." The old man was a trader for sure.
"Well, I didn't have anywhere else to go." I was determined to stare him down.
"Split the difference, seventy-five cents a gallon?"
"Done," I said extending my hand to him.
An hour later Rachel's uncle and I unloaded a sled of cardboard boxes. We moved the boxes to the rear of my truck. We had settled on forty gallons. The liquor came packaged in one quart mason jars. Then they were packed twelve jars to a case. The 13 boxes took up just enough room to make sleep in the rear of the truck impossible.
That night Rachel and I slept in her uncle's barn. I was surprised that her father did not come to visit. After supper Rachel and her Uncle made a list of speakeasies and bootleggers to visit. They made the list twice as long as they thought I would need. None however was closer than fifty miles. It seems they sold that close to home themselves. The next morning Rachel and I left after a breakfast of biscuits sausage gravy and eggs. It was filling, as farm breakfasts usually are. Rachel's aunt filled a cloth sack with biscuits and a small jar of jam for us to take on the road.
Even with a stop for lunch we made it to just outside Covington by night fall. I was surprised that Rachel knew how to find the speak. A young and very largeman met us at the door which opened to a hallway.
"What you want?" he asked.
"Got some hooch for sale," I replied.
"What would I want with hooch?" He asked almost convincingly.
"Well they said down in Catnip that you would want it. But if you don't we can move on." I was ready to go when Rachel spoke.
"Uncle Milton said you would want this white liquor," Rachel was trying to be sexy. The heavy coat she wore didn't allow it. I had seen her in her shift dress, she wouldn't have done much better without the coat. She just didn't have a really sexy body. The poor thing's body was as straight as a stick. I had yet to see it of course but there couldn't be much to it. In the little shift dress farm girls wore, she was flat chested and had no hips at all. I guessed her age at seventeen possibly. She could have been younger or even a little older. The pale white skin with no make up was deceptive. She could have been fourteen or nineteen. It was just impossible to tell.
"Why didn't you just say you were from Milton? Come around back and we will make the deal." He turned his back on me. I didn't care for the man before after that move I hated him.
When we were outside I said, "I don't trust this man." I took the .45 from under my arm then slipped it into the heavy overcoat's pocket. I pulled the T into the alley. I left it running because the whole thing seemed wrong.
He met us at the back door. "So how much you got. I might just take it all." He looked shifty as he spoke.
I followed his eyes to the shadows behind the building. I made a move as thought to show him what was under the tarp. I managed to put him between me and the shadows. Rachel was pretty much on her own. I was having combat reactions. I knew the man in the shadows would be in a quandary. He wouldn't know what to do. Soon I expected him to show himself. Figuring the gun, he no doubt carried, would freeze me in place.
"Okay you two this is a stick up." The voice came from a man older than me, but not too much older.
I put the .45 to the head of the speak's owner. "Tell you what. Let's both rob him. If you don't drop that gun, I am going to kill him then you." I wasn't sure he would believe me but if he hadn't, it was my intention to shoot them both.
To her credit Rachel had enough good sense to drop to the ground and out of the line of fire. The man, from the shadows, looked hard at me. I was applying pressure to the trigger of the Colt. It looked as though I was going to have to clean brains off my liquor boxes.
"Back off Seth," the speak's owner said.
"Drop the gun Seth, but don't you even think about leaving." I was pretty sure if I let him go he would be back. "Now the price for the liquor is three dollars a gallon. How much do you want?"
"I don't want none." The speakeasy owner didn't seem to understand.
"You just tried to rob me and maybe even kill me. I think you want to buy as much as you can afford. It might just save your sorry ass." Somewhere during the statement he understood.
"Take out your money. You do the same Seth." Rachel collected it.
"Between they the got about twenty bucks," Rachel informed me.
"Okay Seth, take off two of those boxes. Rachel, give them two dollars back. Unlike you Slick, I ain't no thief."
I forced Seth to start the truck. Rachel backed it out of the alley after handing me Seth rusty old .38 Smith revolver. I backed out of the alley to the running T. Rachel drove off with me hanging on to the door open cab of the T, while covering the Speakeasy owner and his thug.
"I am not sure I am going to like the liquor business after all." I said that seriously but somehow I giggled. Rachel did the same.
"Would you really have shot him?" She asked it with awe in her voice.
"I hope we don't ever have to find out." After a long pause I asked. "So, where do we go next?"
"There is a drugstore, and a hotel on the list. After that it is a couple of bootleggers."
"Let's see if we can do the drugstore and the hotel first. The bootleggers will be open late.
It was getting dark when I approached the drug store owner. He again met me at the rear. He bought two gallons at four bucks a gallon.
I walked into the downtown hotel ten minutes later. "Hello, is the manager in?" I asked it with what I hoped was a pleasant enough smile.
Without being called a middle-aged man appeared from behind the counter. "Sir, I have a delivery for you from Catnip Kentucky." I smiled at him across the counter.
I see. It has been a long time since I heard from my friend down there. He looked a little concerned.
"Well, if you don't want it, I will return it to him." I began retracing my steps.
"Just one moment sir. Michael find these two a room in the rear. They look as though they could use a good night's sleep." He turned his attention to me. He could tell I was about to object. "There will, of course, be no charge for the rooms. It is the least I can do for the friend of a friend. Why don't you two park your car in our parking lot?"
"To tell you the truth I am a little concerned about the package." I looked him in the eye.
"Let me assure you sir. Nothing has ever been taken from our parking lot. There is a fence and a watchman."
"Very well let me park the truck while Rachel goes to the room." I parked the truck then tool the two duffle bags with me into the hotel. I left them in the lobby while I went into the office of the manager.
"So Mr.?" He made it a question.
"Burke, Deacon Burke," I replied.
"So how much hootch do you have?"
"Right at forty gallons," I admitted.
"That is a great deal of whiskey. It is going to take you at least a couple of weeks to sell it all." He looked like a man with a plan.
"Yes it is going to be a bit of a bother. I suppose you have a better plan."
"I have indeed. Since our mutual friend stopped selling his products up here, I have begun to buy from another source. His product is inferior to our friend's product. I suggest you supply directly to him."
"Why doesn't he just go down and get his own?" I asked it because I figured they would want to buy it for peanuts."
"The man is a local distributor of beer and wine. He has little or no interest in whisky. He would be doing the deal just to have a reliable source of good liquor."
"I will listen to his offer. If it sounds reasonable, we can deal."
"Good, why don't you go to your room clean up? Hell, come have dinner on me. I will call the room when Thomas arrives."
I didn't know on the third floor room. I used the second key to unlock it. I found Rachel stretched out on the bed. She wasn't asleep, she was just there. I went into the small room on the left. I found it to be a bathroom complete with a tub. While the water ran in the tub, I shaved the five-day growth of beard. I made a few more adjustments in the water temperature then lowered myself into the tub.
I washed the dirt and the smell from my body, it took only a few mintues to accomplish. I should have hurried to be ready for the manager's call, but I did not. Instead I leaned back in the hot water to enjoy the feeling. My eyes closed. I suppose I was on the edge of sleep when she spoke.
"Come on Deacon make room for me. No sense wasting the water." I looked up to see her standing naked over the tub.
Rachel was a natural redhead. I had never doubted it. She was also the owner of a body far from perfect. Her breasts were too small. Her hips were slightly too large and her tummy wasn't at all flat but he was till very attractive. Her skin was as pale as chalk with stark red spots here and there. Her hair, her lips, her nipples, her pubic hair and a birthmark on her hip. The birthmark I noticed when she turned her back to me as she climbed into the tub.
She was actually quite safe in the tub since her back was to me. I could not have assaulted her even if I had wanted. The maneuver would have been impossible for a normal man. Maybe a midget, but I somehow doubted Rachel would have been in the tub with a midget.
I sat with my body push hard against the rear of the tub. In that position she had barely enough room to wash herself. It was so tight in the tub she asked, "Would you help me?" With those words she handed me the wash cloth.
I first washed her back. Then the cloth slipped around to the front. I washed her breast. The soapy cloth glided over her nipples. Rachel responded with a moan. The cloth moved farther down her body while she continued to breath hard. We were both being lulled into a fog. The fog was created as much by lack of sleep as by sexual desire.
The phone saved one of us or maybe both of us. I left Rachel soaking in the tub while I went to answer. "Hello," I said it into the mouth piece while I held the earpiece against my head.
"Mr. Burke, I have the meeting set. Mr. Severs will be in the dinning room in fifteen minutes." I recognized the manager's voice.
"Fair enough, I assume you will be there?" It was a question that needed asking.
"Of course," he replied simply.
"Red, get a move on we need to get downstairs right now." I suddenly heard the words of the old man at the still ringing in my ear. The cops will lock you up, and the gangs will kill you.
I dressed quickly while Red did the same. I got to watch her slip into the cotton drawers she wore. The petticoat looked worn but clean. Over it all she slipped a shift dress just like the one she had taken off.
"You know anything about guns?" I asked it not expecting much.
"I done some hunting with my dad before he run off." She didn't seem anything but curious.
"In that case you get this." From the duffle bag I had not previously opened I removed an ugly little automatic pistol. It was a Mauser with an eight shot magazine. I stripped a clip into the piece then handed it to her. I quickly showed her where the safety was located.
"What is wrong Deacon?" Rachel asked it with a frightened look on her face.
"I think we are about to be highjacked and maybe killed. We are going down first to move the truck. Then we are going to that meeting, but we are going to be ready for a fight. All you have to do is make noise. You don't have to hit anything. You can point it at the ceiling for all I care. Just get behind something and make some noise.
We slipped down the three flights of stairs at the rear of the building. Once on the street I found my way back to the parking lot. The guard didn't seem concerned at all when I drove the truck away. I parked the truck two blocks from the hotel, then we walked.
The dining room was more or less empty. The one other couple seemed to be finished. They sat quietly smoking while drinking coffee. The manager sat with a man a few years older than either of us. They both kept an eye on the door. It was not a good sign, I decided. Rachel and I crossed the room to sit with them.
I removed the .45 from my belt while Red diverted their attention. The pistol was hidden from view by the long tablecloth. The two men waited until the waiter had come and gone before Severs spoke.
"So Deacon," he seemed very confident. He might not have been so confident had he known the .45 was aimed at his belly. "Thomas here tells me you have 50 gallons of whiskey for sale. He also tells me you can get more."
"Let's take care of this 50 gallons first," I suggested. I could tell he didn't like the idea of me trying to steer the conversation. Nobody spoke again until the waiter deposited our food onto the white table cloth.
Rachael followed my lead as we tore into the roast beef. We both ate it and the mashed potatoes while we watched Severs and the empty dining room.
"You seem hungry," the manager said.
"Well we haven't had all that many good meals lately. By the way this is excellent." I said it as I reached for the coffee cup.
"Glad you like it. Now about that whiskey." Severs was beginning to tire of the game. I knew we were about to find out how the play would go down.
"What about it?" I asked.
"How much for the whiskey?" Severs asked.
"How much of it do you want?" I asked.
"All of it of course," he replied.
"Two hundred bucks and I will throw in the extra two cases." I was fully prepared for what happened next.
"I don't think so," he suggested.
"Well then, I will just be forced to sell it myself." I smiled at him.
"I can't let you do that. I distribute all the alcohol in this area."
"Well, it is only fifty cases, I expect the buyers will be back buying from you within a week."
"You don't understand. I can't let you do that."
"Then buy the whiskey for the two hundred bucks." I watched as his eyes got hard.
The man who walked up behind me didn't count on Rachel. She had the gun pointed at him before he could get his up. I had mine on Severs. I expected the others were across the street trying to find the hootch.
"If you force me to do it, I will kill you all. I have no qualms about it whatsoever. I killed a hell of a lot more men in France. So, have your man put down the pistol."
I give Severs one thing he was cool under pressure. "Maybe you can, but how about the woman."
"Do anything, other than what I say, and you will never find out. You will be dead before the man behind has time to make a move."
"Put the gun away Mike," he ordered.
"Not good enough, I want the pistol on that table. Then I want him on the other side of it. Do it now."
"Do it mike." I noted with satisfaction that some of the cool was leaving him.
"I figure you are stealing my booze while we sit here. So here is the deal I want two hundred bucks for it now."
"You are nuts," Severs said.
"Two hundred or I am going to splatter your brains all over the wall." I gave him a wicked smile. "Go in your pocket and come out slow." I kept my eyes on the doors behind Severs. If there had been more, they must have been waiting for a signal of some kind. It was never sent. Severs decided to go along and live. What would happen after he was safe was another thing all together.
From his pocket he removed his wallet. "Count out two hundred," I demanded.
For a big time crime boss I was surprised he carried so little money. "One hundred and five dollars is all I have."
"Pretty damn sad for a man in your position. Thomas cough it up. You can get it back from your friend when he sells the booze.
Thomas of course emptied his walled he carried only twenty-five dollars which was a lot of money for a man to carry in those days. Probably his days skim from the hotel.
"You," I said to the man standing across a table from me. "Bring me your wallet and empty it on the table." Severs nodded. From the wallet he removed five dollars.
"Damn for big-time gangsters, you surely don't have much money. You are still seventy bucks short." Since you didn't take it all, I am going to have to raise the price to five dollars a gallon. You get twenty-six gallons of hootch for your money. Now Thomas, I want you to walk to the door of the dinning room call the bellboy have him pack my duffle bags then bring them here.
The wait seemed longer than it was. When I had the bags, I forced Sever's goon to heft them. I stayed far enough away so that he could not use the bags as weapons. He had no idea of the fire power hidden safely inside one of the bag. He did know it was heavy as hell because he huffed and puffed as we quick stepped to the truck. He, Severs, and Thomas led the way.
When we arrived, I demanded that the three of them take off nine boxes. It was the amount of hootch they had paid four plus one extra gallon. It didn't seem like a good idea to stand on the street while they removed the extra gallon.
Gentlemen, it has been a pleasure. As I said it, I checked Severs for a weapon. Since nobody had one, I forced the goon to start the truck. As before Rachel drove the truck while I covered them through the open door. They were so far from their cars we had a good head start on them. Rachel drove very well for a novice. After several bad turns she finally found the signs to the highway, such as it was. We headed off back towards West Virginia.
"You know Deacon the liquor business is a lot more work than I thought, not to mention the danger." Rachel made the observation as we drove into the Kentucky night.
"Well. it ain't as dangerous as trying to empty a German trench, but it ain't a picnic in the park either." I looked to my right at her then smiled.
"You are enjoying this aren't you?" She didn't just chuckle the laugh was the release of tension.
"I suppose so, I hear some people never get over the feel of combat." I was enjoying her obvious release of tension.
"Well, I could get used to this. Why don't we just drop the liquor end of the business and rob these goons?" Rachel suggested.
"Sorry, I am not really a thief. I do have some morals you know." I was serious until she broke into laughter. I had to join in, it did sound ridiculous in light of what had just happened.
In every town large enough to have a drug store we sold the liquor. The druggist would make his purchase from the back door. We sold it almost in bootlegger sized lots. Just a couple of quarts at a time. The profit was more but the miles in between were greater. By the time we reached Huntington West Virginia, we were down to only half a gallon. The sale of the last two quarts went to a druggist there.
Rachael and I sat in a caf\'82 to divide the money. I removed all the expenses from the trip before I made the split. Even so there was over a hundred dollars to divide.
"Well Rachael that will hold you for a few months." I said it since I didn't know what was in her mind.
"Yes it will, what do you plan now Deacon?" She asked it in a tone I could not read. I am going to drive to that hotel in the center of town. I plan to check in so that I can sleep for a week. I have been cold and tired too long. She should have recognized the red eyes, if not my stumbling walk.
"Would you mind some company? I mean we are, kind of, partners in all this."
"We were partners in one deal dear. That deal is over."
"Well, we could be partners again, couldn't we?" The look on her face told me she wasn't nearly as independent as she thought. She simply did not want to be alone in the world.
"Tell you what Rachel I will give it some thought. In the meantime I need a bath and to sleep for a week."
"We could share a tub and a bed." She had a hopeful look on her young face. She really did not want to be alone. I couldn't say that I blamed her much. The world didn't really have all that much for a woman. I nodded as I stood to leave that table. The hotel was across from the docks but it wasn't a dive. It was in fact a very nice family kind of place. I guess it looked to the staff as though I had stolen someone's daughter. The clerk who sat behind the desk and in front of the open manager's door spoke first,
"Yes Captain, may I help you?" He looked a lot like a man with a dirty mind. The sneer on his face should have sent me quietly on my way without a word.
"We need a room for a couple of days," I replied.
"Ah, you and your wife?" It was a question. He wasn't trying to be helpful.
"Sure why not," I replied smiling. I was hoping I could bluff it out.
"Surely, that will be two dollars a day. I just need to see your marriage license." He made no move to turn the register to me.
"I see, well you know we don't travel with that in hand." I looked him in the eye but I knew it wasn't going to do any good.
"I am sorry Captain, it is hotel policy for me to see the license before I rent to couples." He had stopped the phony smile even.
"I see," I decided not to give him hell. It would only have made him angry. I also decided not to pay him the extra two bucks for a second room. What I did do was to lug my two duffel bags out the door.
I said to Rachel "You wait here with the bags." I left the two bags beside the door as I turned toward the truck.
"Hey Captain," the voice came from a little man in a uniform of sorts. I knew he was the bell captain. Rachel just looked frightened.
"Yes, what can I do for you?" I asked.
"Nothing for me, but I might be able to do something for you. There is a hotel to blocks down. It is down nearer the river. It is smaller but it is clean. Since there ain't so much river traffic no more, it is kind of quiet now. If you like, I can call the desk clerk. You won't have any trouble there."
"Sure why not? We just need a place to sleep for a couple of days." He gave me directions to the hotel in exchange for a nickel tip.
The Clerk was happy to see us when we arrived. He greeted me with a pen and the register. The Dollar Fifty I paid him might have been a bit more than an older couple would have paid, but I didn't mind at all.
There were bathrooms as either end of the hallway. Each pair of bathrooms serviced ten rooms. It would have been a good ratio except maybe early in the morning on a day when the rooms were filled. On the day we moved into the hotel, the rooms were almost all empty. We pretty much had the bathrooms to ourselves.
I bathed in one room and Rachel in the other. I soaked a little longer than I needed but I was comfortable and warm for the first time in weeks. For some reason I had the .45 on a chair by the tub. I supposed that the couple of days of danger had me shook. Until I began the trip, it had been a while since anyone had pointed a gun at me.
When I returned to the room, Rachel was already in the bed. The one bed was a double so there was room for me. I slipped off my pants then moved the covers. What I saw made me removed my underwear as well. Rachel lay naked under the covers. Even her less than perfect body felt wonderful to me. It had been a long time since I lay in bed holding a female body against me. The things that one would expect happened. Rachel did not protest at all. In fact she encouraged me by both word and deed.
I absolutely hated the idea of leaving the bed again that day. Somewhere after dark Rachel woke me by saying she was hungry. She shook me until I dragged myself from the bed. I slipped on my wool trousers then went to the bathroom. Rachel slipped on her shift with no underwear. While I used one bathroom, she used the other. The whole floor must have been empty.
Unlike the fancy hotel, the Admiral where we stayed did not have a restaurant. However there was one a few doors down. The food was good and probably half the price of the Hotel's restaurant. After dinner we returned to the Hotel to again fall asleep in each others arms. The night passed quickly since it was a series of sex episodes followed by sleep cycles.
The next morning after breakfast Rachel and I went shopping. New clothes for both of us seemed to be a necessity. I bought two pairs of rough wool work pants. Three heavy weight cotton work shirts. Those along with wool underwear completed my purchases. I had plenty of shoes and boots left from the army.
Rachel bought long straight skirts with sweaters to go along. She also bought wool underwear. I suppose she planned to go along with me, on whatever my next venture might be. My purchases came to just over ten dollars while Rachel's came to about thirteen.
I looked at myself in the mirror when we were back in the hotel. I looked strange even to me, the colors seemed to be all wrong. The soft wool coat wasn't right it had the wrong cut about it. Not only that, it was tweed for god's sake. Rachel laughed at my ranting. I actually laughed with her but I couldn't stop. The new hat felt light on my head. It was one of those soft things that sailors wore on cold nights. Not the white dress hat mind you, but the watch cap. The one I bought was green not blue. It was plenty long enough to cover my ears. The ears had been the reason for the choice. Nothing like a couple of hours in the open truck to convince me that my ears needed protecting.
"Okay Deacon, we have made love, slept, and bought new clothes. So what are we going to do next?" Rachel asked it after she laughed at my new look.
"Well we made a few bucks with the liquor thing. Do you want to give that another try?"
"We almost got killed trying to sell it. If we could sell it safely, and all at once, I would go for it. Or if they came to us to order in advance, then I would do it. The selling of it is the risky part."
"We could sell to that distributor I guess," Rachel suggested.
"We really should just take over the liquor business. He can have the beer and wine business, if he wants it. Otherwise, we just put him out of business." I was thinking out loud.
"He has a gang Deacon. He will kill you," Rachel seemed concerned. She probably didn't want to be alone. It was just a thought. I didn't have much faith in her or anyone else.
"Well his gang probably never saw a war. It is one thing to shoot a man in the back of the head. It is quite another to walk into this." While I spoke, I removed the contents of the second duffel bag. The ugly looking chunk of steel was called a Lewis machine gun. The round magazine sat on top of the gun. The round it fired was larger and heavier than the Thompson gun.
"Those guys think the Tommy gun is hot stuff. This Lewis will shoot through walls. I expect they never even heard of this thing."
"Deacon, what do you have in mind?" Rachel looked nervous.
"Well, I think I am about to decide not to freeze my ass off, just to make a hundred bucks." I looked at her with a stupid grin on my face.
"Deacon, if you are planning to fight the gang up there in Cincinatti, I am going to take my share and find a job working in a caf\'82. You will be very dead, if you mess with them."
"I don't think I will be dead. I think if I kill that slimy bastard that tried to rip us off, the others will fall in line. I might have to kill a few of his people, but it should end there."
"It will be never ending, they will keep on coming for you. You will never be able to enjoy the money. Deacon, it is foolish to even think of that." Rachel seemed a lot older while she spoke.
"How do you know so much about it?" I asked it seriously.
"My dad has been involved in this business for years. He ran liquor up from Kentucky since 1918. Some of the liquor men tried to sell direct like we did. Most of them got killed."
I filed the information away before I spoke. "You are probably right." I spent a few minutes cleaning and oiling the Lewis. I cleaned and oiled all the weapons while I listened to her.
Rachel honey, I don't mind risking my ass for money. I think, I would feel better risking it for a lot more money. " I saw the tiny smile cross her lips. I seemed to read her mind. "Yes, I have risked it for a lot less than we made by selling the liquor."
She nodded as if understanding that I had read her mind. "Well Deacon honey, I don't know much about anything except farming and the liquor business. If you do anything else, I will just have to trust you." Somehow I didn't like the idea of losing her money on some far out ventrue. I liked the idea of losing my own even less. Running liquor though dangerous was also a safe capital investment. As long as I could protect the product, there was a market for it. The logistics of it all seemed to be the basic problem.
Rachel and I began venturing out again on the second day. I had a plan but didn't know enough to even think about making any positive moves. The first part of my plan called for learning about the river. A river front bar frequented by the sailors seemed a good place to start. I left Rachel home while I did the research. I figured with Rachel in tow I would spend more time defending her than learning.
I found a place across from the wharf called the river rat. Not too surprisingly the bar was empty at ten A.M. The bartender was a wealth of information though. The river boats made stops up and down the river moving from Pittsburg to New Orleans. The boats stayed anywhere from and hour, to overnight. The river boats did not travel at night because the river was filled with floating logs. The logs could take the bottoms out of most of the old boats. Some of the newer steel hulled boats would risk night time travel. They usually towed metal barges behind or pushed them ahead.
It pretty much looked like the river idea, which I had been fermenting was going to prove a bust. I finished the beer then walked out of the place after leaving a dime on the bar. I stood on the dock in the cold air looking at the boats tied up at the wharf. There weren't many standing idle even on the winter's day. I stood for a few minutes hoping to catch sight of a boat on the river. I just didn't see anything moving.
I did see a boat of about thirty feet tied up to the wharf. The boat looked run down to my untrained eye. It was dirty and in need of a paint job for sure. The small wooden shack on the end of the pier bore the sign 'Harbor Master'. I wanted to laugh but new better. The small dock could in no way could ever be mistaken for a harbor. It had to be somebody's idea of a joke.
The shack held one desk. On the disk resided a giant ledger and a candlestick telephone. The man sitting in the wooden chair with rollers had to be fifty or more. "What can I do for you, young man?"
"Looking for some information about river shipping. Just general stuff," I replied.
"Well I will do what I can but I am not a representative for the shipping companies. I simply control the flow from the boats to the dock then get them safely on their way again."
"I see. Well, what I want to know is so general you can probably help." For the next thirty minutes I asked him questions. He was a wealth of information. I learned first of all that I could not depend on the established shippers to carry the liquor from town to town. The boats were not at the docks long enough for me to find buyers. I almost left after I got that information.
"If you are willing to pay a little more? There is always the small pack boats. One of those you could hire for yourself. They can be hired by the day." The harbor master was trying to help. I had a feeling I would take a beating in the cost if I did that.
"Could I just buy one?" I asked.
"Yes you could, but then you would likely find it and your cargo on the bottom of the river. You see this old river is filled with snags, floating logs and moving sandbars just to name a few boat killers. Your money would be better spent hiring a small boat. Preferably one with a first class captain. You might also want to consider insurance."
As I left, I thanked the older man. I walked back to the hotel thinking through it all. I had all the arguments down when I arrived. I just hadn't made any decision. Rachel was waiting for me in the room. She had been sleeping when I left. I found her dressed for the day when I returned.
"So are you hungry?" I asked it as I moved about the room.
"Sit down Deacon. I promise I won't bite you while you talk to me." Rachel was smiling that grown up woman's smile. The one she borrowed from some other person.
"Sure," I replied as I fell into a chair. "What you want to talk about?"
"Do you have any idea what we are going to do next?"
"I thought a late lunch might be nice, then maybe a movie."
"Come on Deacon, you know what I mean." Once in a while she looked right through me. It was one of those occasions.
"Rachel, yesterday we were freezing our ass off selling liquor from the back of an old truck. You think you might be able to just take it easy a whole day?" I smiled at her as though she were a child.
"Deacon, where have you been? Have you been taking it easy?"
She had me and I knew it. "No I have been down to the docks."
"And why have you been down to the docks?" She asked the question seemingly a little miffed.
"I was trying to get some information." I couldn't keep the idiot smile up much longer. I was about to tell her to back off.
"So?" It was the last straw. She looked at me as if I were trying to steel from her.
"Listen to me Rachel, if I put another deal together, you can buy in, if you want. Until then, I will tell you what I want, when I want." I expected her to fly off the handle.
"Get this straight Deacon. If the deal includes liquor, you need me. If it don't, then I still got some money to put into the deal."
"The money has value Rachel, but don't become a pain in the ass. It might outweigh your money." I snapped it at her.
"Why you prick, you wouldn't even know the deal was available without me. You were headed off to be a carpenter."
"Well carpenters don't get shot at." I said it smiling at her.
"They also don't stay in hotels with pretty women." She smiled back. "Deacon honey," She had changed her tone. "You know it ain't just the money."
"What is it then? You surely don't expect me to believe it is love. You wanted off that farm, and I was your ticket. You slept with me to pay the fare."
"In that case, I won't be sleeping with you again." She was huffy even while sitting on the bed. "I am sure the fare is paid by now."
"When the ride ends, the fare is paid." Not even I knew what that meant.
"You mean, if I stay your partner I have to do it with you." She was angry.
"No, I don't mean that at all. If you are willing to pay your own expenses then the ride ends. It is just a business thing. If you don't want to sleep alone, then it isn't a partnership."
"There are plenty of empty rooms in this hotel. I don't have to stay in yours you know." She was down right huffy about it.
"I do think that might be a good idea. When I put together a deal, I will offer you a chance to buy in."
"What if I am the one to put the deal together?" she asked.
"If you are, then let me know." I tried very hard not to flash the condescending smile, but I knew I had failed miserably.
The deal I had in mind required a lot of little pieces and one large one. Before I went for the large one I needed to know the small ones were available. The broad strokes of the plan were simple. Rent a boat, fill it with white liquor then peddle the liquor from town to town along the river.
The river on first viewing seemed like a stupid idea. With a little more thought it made sense. My number one concern, after that first venture, was security. Protecting the truck was a royal pain. I had seen that during our stay in the fancy hotel. Protecting the boat would be easier while traveling, and easier while docked. I had a lot more firepower than the bad guys. I figured I could quickly ruin any wood be highjacker's day.
I didn't think that finding a boat would be especially difficult. The other parts of the plan just had to be worked out. After lunch I took a not so thrilled Rachel on a tour of bicycle shops. In the second one I found a heavy framed bicycle. The bike was used, and was also covered in surface rust. The shop owner cleaned a spot for me. He used a very fine steel wool for the task. Almost all bicycle shops of the day sold small helper engines for the bicycles. The helper engine was small, noisy and not very powerful.
When the owner of the shop proudly explained that the power bike would do five miles an hour, I lost any interest I might have had previously. I knew that five miles an hour just wouldn't do. He could probably tell from the way I shook my head that I was no longer interested.
"The reason the bike is so slow," he began. "Is that the drive is friction on the wheel. In order to get any real speed it has to drive the chain. When you get to that point you are past the Bicycle and into motorcycles."
"So where do I go to see a motorcycle?" I asked.
"I have a used one in the shop. Fellow brought it in for repairs then couldn't pay for it. Want to take a look?"
"Sure," I replied. I had seen dispatch motorcycles in the army. They were large heavy bikes that could fly over the roughest roads. The motorbike he showed me was much lighter with smaller tires. The engine looked no bigger than the helper engine in the shop's display case.
"How fast will it go?" I asked.
"It will probably do fifty miles and hour top speed, if you were foolish enough to do it. It will cruise at thirty for sure. The damn thing gets about a hundred miles on a tank of gasoline. The tank, don't hold a gallon even."
"Could I ride it?" I asked it while looking the little bike over.
"Well, I don't know you mister. It would be mighty easy for you just to ride off with it."
"Yes it would. How about I leave you the price of the bike. That way if I don't come back then we are even." The man smiled ear to ear.
"Fair enough, I want one hundred dollars for it." He looked wolfishly at me. He obviously would take less but there was no sense arguing with him till I tried the bike out. He wrote me a receipt for the money before I would give it up.
"I rode the bike around town. I even took it out to ride up and down the hills a bit. Like everything else of its time, it lost a lot of power going up the hills. Still, the performance was satisfactory. The number one problem was the cold. The rushing wind would absolutely freeze your ass off. If the owner hadn't given me a pair of riding goggles I would have been blind from the cold wind.
"Well," I said upon my return. "I think if it wasn't the dead of winter I would be interested. As it is, the thing is just too much for me."
"To tell you the truth mister you are right. I don't expect I will sell that bike till spring. I need the money right now. Would you take it for ninety bucks."
He had my hundred bucks and he didn't want to turn it loose. "I still don't think I could ride it until spring and I really need something to get around on now."
"There is a couple of things you can do to ride it now. But if the cold is too much for you I guess it is too much." He said it but didn't make a move to return my money. I could tell he had at least one more trick up his sleeve. "Tell you what Mister I really need to get rid of that thing. You give me seventy-five dollars for it and it is yours."
"Well it is a fair price but I still couldn't use it." I tried to look like I was going to walk just to see if he had another offer for me.
"Well it is the best I can do but I can tell you how you can ride it this winter, if that will help?'"
"Oh, I would like to hear that," I said it expecting about what he said.
"You buy yourself a second larger pair of long johns to wear over your regular ones. Then you buy yourself a heavy railroad worker's coveralls."
"Yeah that might work," I replied.
"Then get you one of those wool knit caps the sailors wear and a canvas hat with a strap to cut the wind. Wear all that and you will be fine. Course, you won't be dressed for the ball." He seemed to enjoy the image he had created in his own mind.
"All right, you got yourself a deal." He must have known I wanted the bike. He had stayed with the sale even past the point at which I would have given up.
It was a handful but I did manage to get it into the bed of the truck alone. The chain and padlock had been purchased from the bike seller. I might have insisted he give me one but I felt sorry for him. Not that he hadn't made a profit on the bike but he did have to work hard for it. I covered the bike with a tarp before I returned to the hotel.
When I entered my room, I found Rachel had gone. Where she was, I had no idea. I expected she was in a room nearby. I wasn't especially worried. I remembered how to find her uncle's farm. I lay down on the bed to rest. I wasn't tired but I did need to think.
I had a pretty good idea about the boat so everything seemed to be set. My final problem of the day was that I just didn't like the way the liquor was packaged. Quart-sized glass mason jars did not seem to be a good way to move it. It was a minor problem at best.
I didn't see Rachel again until the next morning. She seemed to be avoiding me. I suppose she felt it would tend to improve my disposition. If it that was her intent, it was a waste of time. Rachel was a bit of a bother while I was making plans, but then anyone else would have been as well.
Rachel stopped by before I was ready. She stayed in my room while I did my morning bathroom thing. When I returned, we went to breakfast at the small caf\'82 near the hotel.
Afterward, we braved the cold to walk the two blocks to the wharf. The small dirty steam driven river boat was tied up where it had been the day before. Since the boat had no cabin, it was clear that she stood empty. I wouldn't have expected anyone to be sitting in the open boat as cold as it was. I made my way back to the Harbor Master's office so that I might inquire as to the owner of the open boat.
"Hello," I said to the man behind the desk who was busy with a coffee cup as I entered. Judging from the broken veins on his cheeks and nose it was my guess that it contained more Canadian then Columbian. I had a good feeling about him and the bootlegging business. "Could you tell me who captains that boat?" I said it pointing to the old boat tied up at the end of the pier.
His window was low and it overlooked the dock. He needed to do nothing more than glance to where I pointed. "Captain, I hardly think so. The man who operates that particular piece of junk wouldn't make a good seaman on a river boat." He looked disgusted as he took a sip of his 'coffee'.
"Really, how did he come to own a boat then?" I was trying to figure out if the Harbor Master hated the captain or if his was a fair evaluation.
"His father died." The Harbor Master seemed to think that was explanation enough.
"You mean he has no experience with boats?" I asked it trying to remember exactly why he had said I should not buy a boat.
"Oh he worked on the boat with his dad for a few years, but that does not make you a captain young man." He looked as though he wished to dismiss me. I was a bit thicker skinned than he would have imagined.
"Yesterday you assured me an inexperienced operator would surely sink his boat, so is this man capable of getting me around on this river or not?" I asked it looking at the man as if I expected him to lie.
"The man accompanied his father up and down the river for years. His father hardly made a living with the craft. He is not even doing that much." The Harbor Master was again sure I had been dismissed.
"Well, just for the hell of it, where could I find the man?"
"If he is not at the River Rat, he might be swelling homebrew at the Pit." The Harbor Master said it not bothering to look up.
"Who should I ask for?" I demanded.
"Skip Evers," the Harbor Master said shortly. I had lost my good feelings about the man.
As I left, I was debated whether or not another drunk on the team would be advisable. Actually there was no team, so it was all simple conjecture.
From my last little adventure in the whiskey business, I knew that a safe distribution system was vital, if I planned to continue. Losing my money was not an option which I took lightly. Killing people to keep what was mine was no more than Grand daddy Deacon had done, when he hired on to kill for money. In my case it would be killing for my own money.
I walked to the River Rat but found it almost empty. "Hi," I said in greeting to the over painted middle-aged woman behind the counter.
"What can I get you?" she asked.
"Black coffee please," I replied. When she returned with the heavy cup I asked, "Either of those guys Skip Evers?"
"No, Skip aint been around last couple of days."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Got in a fight."
"Did he break up the place?" I asked it looking about. I didn't see any apparent damage.
"Not really, just got his self beat a little. Had to leave with his tail between his legs."
"I see." I sat over my coffee thinking about that. I wasn't sure that I wanted to partner up with a loser. Then again, I needed his boat not his muscle. He didn't have to fight for my booze, but I couldn't be looking out for him either. In the end I decided I needed his boat bad enough to overlook the fight business. "So, where might I find Skip?"
"If he ain't messin' with his daddy's boat, you might try the Pit. He goes there when he owes us too much money to come here."
"Thanks," I said it putting the nickel on the counter for the coffee. I put a second one down for the information. People who sat at the counter did not ordinarily tip waitresses.
The pit was even dirtier than the Rat, if that was possible. It appeared to have a shroud of coal smoke hanging in the room. That was in addition to the fog of cigarette smoke.
The man behind the counter was a fat, ugly, mean looking son of a bitch. The pit seemed to be one of those places where they hired the employees for their ability to toss a drunken river boat sailor out the door.
I decided that being nice to him was a total waste of my time. "Skip Evers?" My tone made it a question.
He was about to open his mouth, which would probably have caused a problem. I had taken an instant dislike to him, even thought he was bigger and probably badder than me. I had the .45 hung under my arm so I wasn't worried.. There were not many men who could keep coming after getting hit with a slug from one of those monsters. I didn't expect there to be very much of a cry, if I killed the man with the tattoos.
"I'm Skip." The voice came from behind me. The thug at the counter kept a close eye on me as I half turned to skip. I only half turned so as not to give my back to the tattooed heavy weight behind the low counter.
"Need to talk to you about your boat, but not here," I was acting a lot more confident than I felt at that moment.
"Come on, we will go down to her." It was a good suggestion.
I nodded my agreement. Once he stood, I could guessed how he got his ass whipped. The man was probably in his thirties, but he was small. I mean real small. He was probably five two and that was giving him the push. Worst of all he was light in the ass. Even in the heavy wool coat he looked like a stick drawing of a man.
When we cleared the door of the pit, a cold wind slapped me around. I decided the boat might not be a good choice after all. "Let's go a couple of blocks to the caf\'82 down the street." It wasn't as much a suggestion as an order.
"Look, unless you are going to make me a serious offer, I would just as soon go back into the pit." Skip seemed to be a hard ass, even if he was tiny. It might even have been because he was tiny.
I stopped even in the cold wind. "Look skip, I don't think I want to talk business with a bunch of thugs listening. So, if you don't want to go some place where I can feel comfortable, to hell with you and your tub." I needed him but I also needed to be in control.
He backed down as I expected him to do. "I guess I can understand about the others in there. It isn't my first choice either. I would ordinarily be in the River Rat up the street. I got in a fight there. They told me not to come back for a while." He sounded proud of the fight.
It was the moment of truth when I asked, "So, how did you make out?"
"Got my ass whipped," he said proudly. "But it took two of them."
I had a choice, so I chose to see what he was made of. "Well getting your ass whipped even by two still makes you a loser." I waited to see what he would do.
He stepped back giving himself room to maneuver. "Tell you what friend if you want to see what this loser can do, just bring it on."
I laughed but I did not relax. "Maybe you will do after all." I laughed again but I kept my eye on him.
His anger dropped as quickly as it had risen. "Do for what?" he asked.
I didn't answer him. I simply nodded toward the diner which was close at hand. I found a corner table away from everyone. I took a seat against the wall. I noted Skip took the other wall seat.
"Now what business is it you have with me. By the way, I don't do business with people whose name I don't know." It was a clear statement of fact.
"Burke, Deacon Burke I replied." I didn't offer him my hand and neither did he.
"So what illegal venture do you want to use the 'Lazy Susan' for?"
"Why do you think it has to be illegal?" I asked.
"Well, if it isn't there probably isn't enough in it to pay off the loan. If I can't pay off the loan, you can buy her at the sheriff's boat auction.
"Have they foreclosed on you yet?" I asked it concerned, since it would be much harder to deal with a bank.
"No, the bank gave me thirty days to catch up the payments, or else. They might as well not have bothered. I owe more in back payments than I could earn if I ran her night and day."
"Why didn't you do that before you got behind?" I knew there had to be a reason. Skip didn't seem lazy.
"Deacon, you don't know the river shippers. All of them know the captains they do business with. They all knew my dad and he barely made it. They still see me as a boy tagging along behind my dad. Don't help none that I am short."
"How much do you need to catch the boat up?" I asked it so I would know whether to enter into a deal with him. A deal on a boat for a month would not be a good one.
"I could catch it up for a hundred bucks. The pay off is almost five hundred." He looked distastefully at the coffee cup. I looked hard but did not see the hand tremor of a drunk.
"You a drinker?" I asked it off handedly, but he understood.
"Yeah when I get depressed, which is about all the time right now." He looked away. He was telling met the truth but he didn't much like it.
"Okay, let me explain then. I can buy liquor from the maker about a hundred miles from here. Last time I tried to distribute it, I pretty much had to fight my way out of town." I didn't bother to tell him it had been more than once. "I am looking for a safer way to distribute."
"Just sell it to the gangs. That is the safest way."
"If I do that, I might as well be working for wages. No, I want to make enough money to make the risks worthwhile."
"Well since I am not gonna work free, it still won't be cheap," he looked at me smiling. "Plus I have to think about the boat getting shot full of holes."
"If the boat gets shot full of holes, you probably won't have a thing to worry about. I expect you will be what they are shooting at."
"Good point, plus I expect I won't have the boat if I don't do something like this."
I simply nodded my agreement.
"So how much you gonna pay me?" he asked.
"Well, I haven't decided yet just what I need you to do. You might be able to help me with that."
"You are talking about white liquor aren't you?" he asked.
"Yes I am," I replied.
"Deacon, there ain't as much money in white as there is in some of the others. That stuff that comes in from Canada gets the best prices."
"Well I can't get your boat to Canada and I don't know anyone in Canada." The smile he flashed me should have worried me.
"Deacon, do you know what medical alcohol is?" I saw the smile fade when I shook my head.
"It is grain alcohol with no flavor at all. It is a lot like white liquor."
"Okay so what?"
"You finished that coffee?" he asked.
"Sure, wasn't much good anyway." I tossed a dime on the table as I stood to follow Skip.
The two block walk to the drug store was cold. It was made even colder by the fact that I thought Skip might be wasting my time.
"Martin, how you doing?" he asked a youngish man in a white jacket. The man smiled then nodded. "Martin, this is the Deacon. Deacon, Martin here is a chemist of sorts. His dad owns this place."
"Nice to meet you," I said with a smile.
"Martin could I have a bottle of your special cough medicine." The look on Skips face was quite content. Since we were the only customers, Skip opened the bottle then said, "After you Deacon."
I took a mouthfull of the mixture. The taste was very good and it burned just like the alcohol that had to be in it. "Damn," was all I could say.
Skip, took the bottle, then finished it off in one pull. "Martin, you do make great cough syrup."
"So Martin, you getting rich making this stuff?" I asked it as I handed him the dime in payment.
"No sir, Daddy wont let me sell it when he is around. He is afraid the cops will take his store away."
"That seems a legitimate fear Martin." It was what came to mind first.
"I know Deacon," he replied.
"Martin, what time do you go to lunch. I think we might need to have a little talk." I was smiling broadly as I said it. Martin added a new dynamic to the plan. He looked like a school boy, but he was already in the liquor business. That being the case I didn't feel that I was going to corrupt him. I had known all along that a lot of the liquor in speaks was home made. It had never occurred to me that some of it was made my chemists.
"Well Skip?" I asked once we were seated in the caf\'82. "Have you given any thought to how much you want to travel up and down the river?"
"Do you mean how many trips I want to make or how much I am going to charge per trip?" Skip asked it but he knew what I meant.
"Per trip Skip?" I asked.
"Traveling both ways and helping to protect the cargo should be worth thirty bucks a trip." He said it with a straight face.
"You are crazy. Hell I could just wait and buy the tub at auction. I could get a skipper for her for a few bucks."
"True but not one with ten years experience, and one who will fight for you cargo. No thirty is cheap."
"You won't have to fight the first time. Nobody is going to know what the cargo is on that first trip. After that one you might be right. Okay thirty a trip but guaranteed not to go up, even if you have to pull a trigger."
"Good, now you are going to make sure I don't lose the boat?" He was grinning while he said it.
"Well, I sure as hell don't want it, but I will talk to the bank for you." I made no move to leave the table.
"Deacon they are really on my ass. I said thirty days, but I am not sure they will wait that long."
"After I talk to Martin, I will talk to the bank. Take it easy Skip, I need that boat. I will make damn sure it doesn't get away from us." I saw a look on his face I didn't like, I figured it was time to get everything straight.
"Skip, I need to say this just so you know. I don't want you to take offense, but you need to hear it. If you try to pull anything on me, I will kill you. I might be younger than you, but I damn sure killed more men."
"Deacon, are you threatening me?" he asked.
"That is a fair characterization of it. If you try to steal from me, or you try to cut me out, I will kill you. This is your only warning."
"Okay, I give you my word. You save my boat and I will not try to screw you. If you don't, I will do whatever it takes to save her."
"You had no chance to save her till I came along. Skip, don't let your mouth overload your ass." He looked as though he wanted to say something but decided against it. It was a good thing since the pissing contest could have escalated into something more dangerous.
Not too much later Martin arrived. I made sure no one could hear me. "Martin would you be interested in doing a little job for me now and again?"
You mean making the cough syrup. I can get enough alcohol to make it in volume. Tell me could you get enough ingredients to treat a hundred gallons of alkie?"
"That is a lot of booze but yeah sure. I can buy most of it in the grocery store. It's the proportions that are tough not the stuff in it." He smiled knowing he had a secret.
"Now Martin here is your problem. If you ruin a hundred gallons of hootch, I am not going to be a happy man. With all that in mind, how much to change the booze into something special.
"You buy the ingredients and I will work on the formula. I should get twenty dollars for it." He sounded a little tentative.
"Only if you can get me some bottles and labels. You know all the right people, I don't." I looked at him hard while he gave it some thought.
"Sure, I can do that." He looked at me with the confidence of youth.
"Kid, if you can't deliver, don't promise me you can." I gave him a dangerous look.
"I can deliver all right." He smiled the wise assed smile again.
I nodded since my last tough guy look had not accomplished what I had hoped. "Do you happen to know of a place where we can make the stuff?"
"I do," Skip said. "There is large storage building behind my place. I can empty it for you."
"Maybe, how long does it take to change the stuff?" I asked it of Martin.
"Once I have the formula right, a few hours to a few days depending on how much change you want. It kind of mellows the longer it sits."
"Well kid the longer it sits around the more chance of us losing it all. Jail would be the best we could hope for." I could still remember the gunmen from my last trip.
Not much more was said. Martin rushed off to his father's store. Skip took me to see his banker.
"James Lawrence," the man said. He didn't seem to be impressed with me. I supposed it was my work clothes as much as anything else.
"Mr. Lawrence, I need to find out the status on Mr. Ever's boat."
"I can look it up if you like sir. Would you tell me your interest in the matter?"
"Skip is about to enter into a business arrangement with me. Part of that arrangement is the use of his boat. I wish to be quite sure the boat is available."
"Skip, you sure you don't mind me talking to this gentleman?"
"No, if he don't hire me, I am gonna lose the Lazy Susan and daddy is gonna roll over in his grave."
"All right, Skip borrowed five hundred dollars on the boat. I made the loan against my better judgement. I probably would not have but Skip borrowed it to pay off his dad's estate debts. I hoped he could make the boat pay. He hasn't made a single payment. We have gone along almost a year without a payment. I would have foreclosed before except that the boat isn't worth five hundred dollars."
"Okay, let me ask you a couple of questions. First of all I need to know you won't foreclose for a month. What can I do to keep that from happening?" I kept my eyes on his.
"Well we really haven't decided what to do with Skip. If I could show that skip had made a couple of payments, and promised to continue then we might do something."
I handed the man twenty dollars. "I would like a receipt for that please." It was Skip who said it.
We were outside when I said, "Now you make that run, or I am gonna take that twenty out of your ass instead of your pay."
"Deacon, I plan to make this run. I also plan to keep on making them until you either, get tired of it or killed. Then I think I might just take over for you."
"I might get tired, but I wouldn't count on me getting killed."
"I won't," Skip said.
With the money for the bike gone and skips bank payment I was felling the pinch. I could do the liquor thing but if I had car trouble it was going to be touch and go. I parted company with Skip outside the bank. Once back in the hotel I knocked on Rachel's door. There was no answer. I had no idea where she might be so I pulled the railroad watch from my pocket. I hadn't realized how long all the waiting had taken. It wasn't quite time for dinner but it was close. I left my door open while I sat down with the paper.
"Hey Deacon," the voice belonged to Rachel.
"Hi, I was waiting for you."
"Good, let's go eat I am starved. The movie was great you should have come along."
"Well, I wasn't invited." I smiled to let her know it was a joke.
"How could I invite you? I never know where you are." She wasn't smiling.
"Okay the preparations are over. Let's go eat and I will fill you in." Over dinner I gave her all the information.
When I had finished, she asked, "So you think this fancy liquor will bring us more money?"
"Yes I do. Even more important I think it will be easier to sell it."
"And you think we need the boat thing?" she asked it still not sure.
"Yes, I think it will be easier to defend than the T."
"After that last trip I guess it is a good idea at that. So when do we go back to Kentucky."
"I think in the morning. Might as well get started."
"Suits me," she replied. "If we leave early, we can get there in one days travel."
The drive was long and uneventful. Rachel's uncle's barn was cold. We loaded one hundred gallons of hooch. I didn't think we would ever get back with it. The T struggled up the hills. It seemed at times that I could have pushed it up faster. We did not arrive back at the hotel until sunup the next day. I left the truck outside the diner with strict instructions for Rachel to keep an eye on it. I found Skip at the rat.
"Skip, come on out I need to use that storage shed of yours." To his credit Skip got it right away. He followed me outside. When we made it back to the diner, I let him stare at Rachel a moment before I said, "Rachel this is Skip. Skip this is Rachel she is a partner."
Skip, had a hard time talking but he finally got a hello out. He squeezed in beside Rachel as he directed me to his house. The three of us made short work of the boxes. Skip had gone into the house to bring Rachel a glass of water when she asked, "Do you trust him with all this liquor?"
"Not really, do you want to stay here with it until it is on the boat."
"You mean, in the shed?" she asked.
"No, I think we can get you into the house."
"Where are you going to be?" she asked.
"I am going to have to get our chemist and his supplies. I want you to keep an eye on Skip. I don't want him making any visits to anyone. Just go with him if he tries to leave." As I spoke I removed the .38 Webley pistol. I got it from a British pilot who wanted a German luger I happened to have. The luger was one of three I came by in a poker game.
"I don't know much about guns," Rachel informed me.
"Point it at him. He will get the message. If he don't, keep it pointed at him while you pull the trigger."
"I could never shoot anyone," she said.
"Well Rachel, imagine being back on that farm cause that is where you are going to be if we lose that liquor." Rachel nodded her understanding.
I drove to the pharmacy to drag Martin from behind the counter if necessary. It wasn't, he took one look at me then said a few woods to his father who shook his bead. Martin and I left together. Martin took me shopping all over town. As we went, I explained the situation with the liquor.
"So you want all two hundred gallons doctored?" he asked.
"No Marty, I want a hundred doctored. I am going to leave with skip and one hundred gallons in a day or so. The other hundred you can doctor but do it on a quart first I want to know what you are up to before you screw up the whole hundred gallons."
"Sure, I have to get a test batch anyway. It usually is less than a quart. A cup is plenty."
"Good," We arrived at Skip's house with a truck whose bed was littered with small boxes of one thing and another. I sat Marty up in the kitchen of skips house with a quart of white liquor and all his boxes.
Skip wasn't real happy with us using his kitchen until I reminded him that he was making almost as much as me and Rachel. Rachel went to sleep on Skip's sofa while I stood watch over the two of them. Marty was boiling hell out of acorns when Rachel awoke. Once she was on guard I slept for several hours.
It was well after dark when Skip and I loaded thirty cases of liquor onto the truck. At the very front of the truck bed my motorcycle was tied. It was still dark and cold when we loaded the liquor and bike on board the Lazy Susan.
Skip and I agreed that leaving before sunup was foolish and dangerous. The liquor took up most of the cargo area but only because we did not stack it very high. No sense risking it with such a small load. Skip and I shared a bedroll on the boat. The control area of the boat was too small for us to stretch out so we rearranged boxes of liquor. I didn't feel the need to heavily arm myself since only the four of us involved knew what the cargo of the Lazy Susan was.
Leaving Rachel and the kid alone was a calculated risk. They were close to the same age and might fall madly in love. Not likely, but it was possible that I would return to an empty storeroom and missing T.
Skip and I got only an hour or so of sleep before he was up starting a fire in the boiler. The boiler was open to the elements which caused some rust around the rivets. Skip saw me looking critically at it.
"Don't worry Deacon that is just surface rust. I checked the boiler over thoroughly just a few weeks ago."
"Shouldn't you paint it or something?" I asked.
"The heat would pop it off. I should scrape it though. I just kind of let the LS go to hell when it looked like I was gonna lose her. If we can make this work, I am gonna clean her up."
"Skip this ain't no career. We can do this probably long enough to make some money, but it is gonna end one day. Either the government will admit prohibition is stupid or the gangs will run us out of business. Hell, they will probably kill us anyway, so not much sense in worrying." Skip's smile probably matched my own. He looked kind of resigned to whatever might be coming.
The river was barely visible when we left the dock. I soon discovered that I was a terrible sailor. Even the gentle river made me queasy after a while.
The day settled into a routine. Every hour or so Skip pulled the LS into a dock. Most of them were across the street from the only building in a town. I would walk into town with a musette bag containing a quart jar of liquor. The store keeper would taste it then make me an offer on as much as he thought he could sell before he expected me to return. It was usually no more than a gallon. I usually got seventy-five cents a quart for it sold in such small lots.
Once in a while we would hit on a town in which the store was not the only outlet. On more than one occasion I fired up the motorcycle to find the local bootlegger. On the three occasions I was able to convince them to drive to the docks to pick up their liquor.
Skip anchored in the mouth of a creek. He kept a fire in the boiler so we didn't freeze. Instead of trying to sleep on the cold deck, we huddled in the blankets by the warm boiler. I propped myself up and slept.
The next morning I found we had sold only ten gallons the first day. The mark up was good, but the sales were going slowly. Skip and I continued the small town sales until three. It was still an hour or so until dark when skip asked, "Deacon, we are going to be pulling into Plymouth if we go on. Plymouth is a larger town. I am pretty sure it is a tough town." He didn't need to draw me a picture. Plymouth was likely to be a trouble spot. "So Deacon, do we do it tonight or wait for daylight."
"Slip in, drop me and the bike off, then take the boat somewhere safe for the night. Come back in the morning and we will try to get unloaded as quick as possible." I carried my sample to three gin joints that night. I made arrangements for the owners to pick up their booze the next morning early. While Skip waited for them to come, I visited a few of the drugstores and general stores in the area. I even sold a couple of quarts to the caf\'82 owner.
We sold as much in Plymouth as we had sold all the day before. Skip piloted us across the river to Cincinnati. We did pretty much the same things there staying on the dock all day selling to anyone who would buy. I couldn't get anyone at the speakeasies but the bootleggers and drugstores bought plenty. I gave in to the temptation to spend the night. I visited the local speakeasies. I agreed to have the booze on the docks at nine A.M. Those who wanted to make a purchase needed to be there at that time.
When Skip pulled into the dock, I found my duffle bag mixed with the booze. I had no idea if Skip had looked inside or not. From the bag I removed a Luger and long thin canvas bag. The bag contained a Winchester pump shotgun. It had been cut down to trench length. Meaning it would scatter after ten yards. The shotgun had a shoulder strap for easy carrying on a march.
"Skip, here is where you earn you money." I said it after I handed him the trench gun. You stand up front. Take their money and give them the liquor. The shotgun stays on the deck out of sight. We are just doing a friendly business.
"I didn't sell to any gangsters, so if a car full of men show up go for the gun. Then get back here and get us the hell away and gone. The shotgun wont do much more than keep them off the boat so keep the steam up on this tub."
"What are you going to do during this time?" he asked it not sure what my reaction might be. I lifted the heavy Lewis machine gun. I am going to be trying like hell to kill every god damned one of them."
Skip smiled but made no comment. The end of that day found us in a small town somewhere in Indiana. We had one case and two quarts left when we began our return voyage.We stopped in a couple of smaller towns along the way back. Towns my ass, they were country stores sitting on the river bank. It was two or three quarts at a time until it was all gone. Dead heading it back from the last stop was much faster. We stopped only once to buy twenty-five pounds bags of coal. I made a note to deduct the money I had spent for coal during the trip. Three twenty-five pound bags at five cents each. It wasn't much but it was something.
I had expected to have trouble with Skip being around that much booze but he didn't seem to have taken a single drink. We docked at Huntington before Skip said a word. When he did, it was to lift an unopened quart of liquor. "Take this off my pay." he said opening the bottle. He took a long drink then sat down beside the warm boiler. I packed way the firearms and the money from the trip home. I got Skip to help me load the bike onto the waiting truck before he was to drunk to stand. I did all I could to secure the boat before I drove the wobbly Skip home.
Skip and I were so tired I refused to allow the others to speak to us. I fell onto the sofa. I sort of remember Rachel putting a blanket over me. The mid afternoon faded from my eyes as I passed into sleep. The sun was just starting to rise when I awoke the next day. Since I seemed to be alone, I wandered into the bedroom. To my very great surprise I found the three of them in bed together. Skip I was sure had passed out drunk. The other two wore contented smiles on their faces.
I went into the kitchen where I started a fire in the coal stove. The smell of coffee brought Skip out first. He looked at me with what could only be shame in his eyes. I wondered if it was the booze or Rachel. While we drank coffee without saying a single word, I counted out nine dollars then added all the change I had in my pocket. I watched as skip counted it. He started to say something but I stopped him by raising my hand. I was not a happy man that morning. He seemed to sense it.
I put thirty dollars aside for Rachel. Since she was not risking here ass in the distribution her cut shrank. She still had money at risk but not her life. The coffee was ready before I finished the books. Skip looked at the wad of cash. "Skip, it ain't near as much as it looks." I smiled at him.
"Well it looks like a bunch to me." Skip didn't look all that happy at the moment.
I suppose our puttering around in the kitchen woke up the kids. I thought that as Rachel slipped into the kitchen. She wouldn't look me in the eye. Skip looked at her with the question in his eyes.
"Here is your share of the take. I still have your seventy-five bucks you can have it back anytime you want." I suggested it calmly.
"No thanks I live on the profit." She said that walking to the coffee pot. "Deacon, I can explain."
"You don't need to explain anything." I said that as I turned my attention to Marty as he stumbled into the kitchen. I gave him a questioning look. He hung his head.
"Marty, have you finished the samples?" I was giving them both a chance to get past what had happened.
"Yes sir Deacon, they are in the cabinet." With those words he brought them out. There were six medicine bottles of about three ounces each. I sipped each then went back to two for a second sip. I poured all three into glasses. When I had judged the color, I said, "These two."
"I liked those myself."
"Before I made a final decision let Skip try them." I said it handing the two bottles to Skip.
"This one is too sweet," he said of one. "This one is not bad though."
"I thought it was a little coarse but better than the others." Skip nodded his agreement on the coarse. He tasted the others before he agreed with me.
"Okay professor, make me one gallon of each and lets see how that goes. But keep them separate until I can get some labels made up."
For three days we worked on the fancy liquor as it became known. At the end of that time we had over a hundred gallons of it made up. Seventy odd gallons were in the heavy coarse liquor, and thirty or so was in the sweeter one.
Skip and I took the Lazy Susan out for another run. The professor and Rachel were on their own. The run proved to be uneventful other than we made a killing selling the liquor. I started out in the small towns with the new pint sized bottles. They were covered with the labels that Rachel had designed. Plain black and white labels described the whiskey as Rye.
We sold the pints for fifty cents each. The sweet ones we sold for sixty cents, but only because we figured they would be popular with the whores. It seems they were also popular with the black trade. On our third run,, a week later we ran out of both before we reached Indiana.
The liquor business was good. I had to keep reminding myself that it was dangerous. The cops never bothered us because we were small potatoes I expect. The gangsters never knew when we were going to show up and there was no organization for them to attack in their towns. Who exactly had the responsibility for Huntington seemed to be a mystery. The money began to pile up by summer. It had been cold and miserable work in the winter but come summer everybody wanted to take the boat trips. Rachel fell in love with the motorbike and the teenaged professor.
Skip refused to allow them to take the boat out alone, so the three of them decided to do the delivery runs. I was relegated to picking up the liquor. They carried firearms but never had to use them, at least not during the winter or even most of the summer.
Skip was beginning to complain about the professor and Rachel screwing on deck. Since there was no down below, they had no other place to do it. The two of them went from place to place taking orders for the hootch. They either walked or rode the bike. I didn't mind the drives up from Kentucky at all, so I also didn't mind them taking over the river run. I was a little shaky about the kid though. He was too young to be in the liquor business. Hell both of them were too young.
When the three of them were out together, I spent a lot of time at the River Rat. I liked being close to the dock even when it was empty. I would have known it was summer even without the children hanging around all over town. Most of them played in the town square while their mother's shopped, but some helped out in the stores.
The child who came into the Rat looked to be about twelve. "Mr. Deacon sir, they want you down to the dock." I stood up without a word. I tossed a nickel on the counter for the coffee then hurried out the door.
I remember that it was hot even at six in the afternoon. I saw the Lazy Susan almost immediately. There was no crowd around her but she was still the center of two men's attention. Who the two were, I had no idea. They looked like cops but I doubted it. The Susan was back too early for it to have been empty. It should still be on the river. Something had brought her home early and the men had something to do with it.
I pushed past them. I saw the damage to her immediately. Large chunks of the sides were chewed up. The only thing I could think of to account for the sporadic damage was gunfire.
"Where is everyone?" I asked of the bystanders.
"Over at Doc Smalls. They left word for you, if you are the Deacon.
"I am who are you?"
"Revenue agents," the larger of the two replied.
"You do this?" I asked looking at the boat.
"Not us, we got a tip that it was going to happen, but didn't know who to contact to stop it."
"What happened," I asked it because I was afraid to ask about my friends.
"Some local muscle stopped your shipment. Must be a turf thing," the smaller of them said.
"I don't know what you are talking about." I had already noticed all the boxes were gone. I broke down finally. "Who is hurt?"
"Everybody some," the big one replied. "None look too bad though. Course we ain't Doctors."
Doctor stone had a practice in his home. I knew where it was because I had taken the professor there with a really bad burn. He was making some kind of syrup for mixing with liquor when he spilled the thick boiling goo on himself.
"Well, if you want to talk come with me. If not, get out of my way." I said that as I ran up the hill.
"I'm Deacon Burke. You have some of my friends in here." I said it to the nurse who greeted me.
"Go on back Mr. Burke the doctor is expecting you." I went down the small hall into what should have been a parlor. Inside the room I found Skip sitting with his hand bandaged. Rachel was under a sheet. I thought she might be dead.
"Martin? Rachel?" he knew what I was asking.
"She is under some drug. He is back getting something dug out of his ass."
"Ass," I asked it with a smile that I should not have been wearing.
"Yeah, a chunk of the boat got him." Skip didn't seem to be too anxious to tell me what had happened."
"Skip, let's have it. What happened out there?"
"Three guys were waiting for us in Plymouth. We got there in the morning. It looked like these goons were out of place so I put the boat back on power and tried to skip the stop. I tried to do just what you told me. They emptied their pistols at us before we got out of range. It was truly a mess Deacon. I took a hit in the wrist. It hurt like hell. I stuck a towel on it like you always said then brought the boat back here. The professor was crouched behind the liquor when he took a chunk of wood in the ass."
"How about Rachel?" I was looking at her unconscious body at the time.
"Rachel was the only one who shot back at them. That shot gun of yours ain't worth a damn when you are as far away as we were. It did stop them shootin' at us."
"Why is she under drugs?" I asked it to get him moving.
"Doc had to dig a slug out of her chest. It went through a case of liquor first so it didn't kill her. Just lodged between a couple of her ribs. Anything worse and she would have died."
"She's gonna be okay then?" It was a question and Skip recognized it as such.
"Yeah, Doc said we all should be, if we don't get any infections. Deke, we was lucky, you know. They weren't trying to hijack us, they was trying to kill us."
"How did you know to dump the liquor?" I asked.
"We didn't dump nothing, it was all on the boat when we came in." Skip looked at me in disbelief. Wasn't more than ten cases left we had already been to Cinci."
"Well they got gone before I could get to the boat. What were the revenuers doing down there?" I asked it still trying to figure it all out.
"Don't know nothing about no revenuers. Wasn't nobody on the dock when we landed. I sent the kid to the house looking for you."
"I was in the Rat when he found me. How long you been in?" I began getting some ideas about it all.
"Maybe an hour," he replied.
"Skip you want me to hang out here and drive you home."
"Might not hurt Deacon," he suggested.
"Okay, we need to be careful though. I am going to get the truck then go check out the boat. Don't leave till I come back for you."
I walked the four blocks back to the truck with my hand very close to the opening in my pants to the pocket with the small .38 resided. Being a gun collector had its advantages. The .38 was about as small a pistol as you were likely to find. It was the short barrel version of the webley pilot's pistol. It had been the personal weapon of a code breaker in London. After the war he had no use for it. He was fascinated by the Austrian Sword I had managed to trade for a luger.
I noticed that the two men in suits were gone when I arrived at the Rat for the truck. I was curious, but had no time for them at that moment. I drove immediately back to the Doc's place.
Stone met me in the hall on the way back to the treatment room. "Burke, your people have some injuries fortunately none are too severe. The Girl looks the worst but she really ain't all that bad. Most likely, if they keep them clean and eat good they should be okay. You need somebody for a few days to look after them."
"Doc, I don't know nobody. All of us but Martin are alone." I hoped he understood that I wasn't going to be worth a tinker's damn to them."
"That's what I thought. Well I ain't gonna clutter up my hospital with them. I will send a visiting nurse over to look in on them. She can change the bandages good as me. Ain't much else to do really. Find somebody to come cook for you. Deacon, I am serious they need good food."\\
"Okay Doc, you made your point." I looked at him.
"Well you want to make some payment arrangements?" He asked it looking me dead in the eye.
"One of them had a chunk of money Doc. Take it from that?"
"Deacon, everybody knows what business you are in. I had hoped we could barter the payment."
"Doc, we don't sell nothing in this town. If you know the business, you know that."
"Your business does not interest me. I would like to get some liquor. I understand you have a very nice sweet liquor. I also seem to have heard you have a decent rye. I would like a half gallon of each. That seems to be a fair price for this."
"That gonna cover this nurse too?" I asked it knowing the Doc would try to milk all he could from me.
"You have to make your own deal with her Deacon. You can take the two men. I want the girl to stay here tonight. She isn't hurt that bad, I just want to make sure she wakes up all right. That won't be for several hours."
"Fair enough doc," I said it as I motioned for Skip to follow me. "Where is the professor?"
"He is out in the backyard. He is pretty worried about Rachel."
"Ah, young love," I said.
"Deacon, you wasn't there. I think you should just shut up."
"Well you people better learn to shoot back. You each had a weapon, how many of you fired them?"
Skip hung his head. "Just Rachel, would you have been able to shoot at them?"
"Skip, I don't think I have forgotten how."
Martin was walking around when we found him. I did no more than motion him to follow me. In the car I asked, "Martin, what you want to do. Do you want to go home?" Martin had been more or less hanging out to be around Rachel. I never considered him one of us.
"I want to stay with Rachel. My folks don't really care anymore. They kinda gave up on me."
"Okay, first think I have to do is get you guys fed. Doc Stone was on my ass about that. So we gonna go to the dinner on the way home. I don't care what you think about it, I want you to eat." None of us had ever paid much attention to what we ate.
Burt was behind the counter when we went in. I am not sure the three of us had ever been in together before. There was a young waitress working but she was busy with the tables. The food was on the counter before I asked. "Burt, do you know where I can get a housekeeper for a couple of weeks."
"No, I don't Deacon. Why you decide to clean Skips place up." Burt was grinning I suppose the whole town knew what we doing at the house.
"Something like that." Skip did pretty well with the bandaged hand. Martin on the other hand was very uncomfortable. Skip hurried so Martin could get off the stool.
I put the two of them in one of the bedrooms while I began to clean the kitchen. We had been using it to re-manufacture the liquor so it was a wreck. Just the fact that three men and a teenaged girl lived in the place was enough to make it a pigsty.
Since we weren't going to be using the liquor making equipment for a while, I filled the pantry with it. The kitchen I thought was pretty good. I was dead tired and resting when the knock came on the door.
"Deacon, you don't know me, but I know you. My daughter Callie just started work at the diner. She heard you and Burt talking about a housekeeper. You hire anyone yet?"
"No Ma'am, we just started looking. I have to warn you, it wont be for more than a couple of weeks."
"Well she said that. We need the money Mr. Deacon and I don't know how to do much else." I studied her a few seconds even though I knew she had the job. I didn't care what her qualifications, so long as she could cook.
"Well mostly it is to cook for us. There was an accident and the others are hurt. Doc Stone says they got to eat good to get their strength back. I don't know from nothing about cooking, healthy or otherwise."
"I see, well I do. I raised three kids Mr. Deacon. I can take care of them for you."
"I am not Mr. Deacon ma'am, I am Deacon Burke. What is your name?"
"Mrs. Sellers, I guess now I am the Widow Sellers." Her eyes misted up as she spoke. It was obvious that she was a new widow.
"I am sorry to hear that Mrs. Sellers. I have no idea what the pay should be do you know what a housekeeper usually gets."
"No Deacon, I don't know what a housekeeper gets."
"Could you do it for five dollars a week?" I asked it hoping she would say yes, but I was willing to go more for a few days."
"I think that would be generous of you?" she replied.
"All right, I will try to get the place a little clean for you. But I need you to start cooking tomorrow. Could you do that?" I asked it with what I hoped was a charming smile.
"What time would you like me to start tomorrow?" she asked.
"We can eat a late breakfast. Most of us sleep late anyway." I was trying to make it easy on her for some reason.
"Then I will be here at seven. Once I get Callie off, I can straighten up my own house then come on over."
"That would be fine," I replied. I watched her walk away. The Widow Sellers was in her forties at least. She was reasonably attractive but had a worn-down look about her. Tiny lines around her mouth betrayed her age. She also had deep furrows in her brow. The Widow Sellers seemed to have had a worrisome life. She was a tall woman with a thin frame. She was not especially attractive in any part. Her best features were her red hair and green eyes.
I took a deep sigh after she left. Having gotten a housekeeper so quickly was a miracle. I closed the door then went back to cleaning the place. I fell into bed around nine exhausted from my work. My bed was the sofa since each of the others had one of the only two bedrooms.
The Widow Sellers arrived right on time. Her knocking caught me in my underwear. I quickly slipped into the cotton work pants then opened the door for her.
She took one look around then smiled. "Well I expected worse," she said.
"Believe me it was worse yesterday," I replied.
"I guess I will cook breakfast then make a list."
"List?" I asked.
"I doubt that you have any food in the house. At least none that Doc. Stone would consider healthy.
"Probably not," I admitted.
"What food there is, will be in the pantry. The food is up front. The stuff in the rear is not food." I had followed her into the kitchen as we spoke.
She glanced at the liquor doctoring equipment but said nothing. She looked through the tins and bags. "Okay Deacon, give me half an hour. I will tell you when to wake the others. And Deacon, open all the windows this place needs a good airing."
Breakfast that first morning was oatmeal with brown sugar. That along with coffee was all she could find. She was kind enough to wait till after breakfast to chastise us all. The house was filthy and smelled bad. If we ate at all, it had to be the wrong food since we took all our meals at the diner.
"Not all," I informed her.
"Deacon, who cooked here before me?" It was a question without a good answer.
"Well, no one really did any real cooking." I replied.
"Well, if I am going to take care of these two, we need to do some real work you and I."
I didn't like the sound of that, but I smiled as best I could. The wash pot had not been used much before Mrs. Sellers arrived. That first day she had me boiling sheets while she scrubbed floors. The two injured men, she ordered out of her way. They could either sit outside or find a place away from her. Like any man with even minimal intelligence they chose the porch.
I was pressed into service to repair the clothesline. It had long ago collapsed. When the sheets hung upon the line, I realized they were never going to be white again. I almost laughed. I was sleeping on a sofa with no sheets what the hell did I care.
Somehow that morning, she found time to send me to the market. She gave me a note to the owner of the produce stand.
"I got something for you," I told him as I handed the note over. He didn't say a word to me until he had the bags filled with fresh produce.
"Twenty-two cents," was his share of our total conversation.
I made a stop at the butcher shop on the way home. I was told to buy a chicken. Mrs. Sellers demanded that it be plump and alive. I didn't have a coop, so the butcher put the hen in an old flour sack for me. The chicken was another twenty cents. The flower sack was much smaller than the newspaper wrapped bundles from the produce stand.
I stopped by to check on Rachel. Sure enough the doctor had her ready to go.
"Now Deacon ,you take it easy on the drive. She don't need too much shaken around."
"Doc. it ain't all that far," She said.
"Deacon, do you have something for me?" The doc asked it seriously.
"In the truck you want to come get it?" I asked it even though I knew better.
"No just bring it to the back porch. You can leave it inside the door." He grinned at me. I wasn't sure what the grin was for, but I knew I didn't like it. Still, he had taken care of the others.
We were in the truck when Rachel said to me. "Deacon, I had me some time to think up there."
It sounded ominous so I helped her out. "Yeah, you had a good reason to think too. That bullet could have done you in, sweetie."
"Yeah I know. When me and Martin are well, I think I am gonna try to get him to leave with me. He can find a job somewhere he is smart."
"I am sure he can honey. He will do just fine I am sure."
"Deacon, what I am trying to say is I want my share of the operating money."
"Of course," I replied. "I am gonna need to do some book work. Half the operating cash is yours less the loss of the liquor. It is gonna be something under a hundred bucks."
"I know but we ain't been spending nothing so we got plenty." She looked at me. She had a curious look. "You gonna stay in the business."
"I ain't real sure honey. I might or I might not, just depends."
"Depends on what Deacon?"
"On what I do about the men in Plymouth."
"Deacon, those men were the law." She said it looking at me curiously. "Didn't the others tell you?"
"No, they didn't tell me the shooters were police. How do you know?"
"There was a sheriff's car parked behind the loading shed. Surely the others saw it."
"Nobody told me anything about it. Was it a Plymouth cop or a Sheriff?"
"Sheriff's car, Deacon I ain't wrong I see that scene in my head over and over."
"Oh I believe you. Our hooch was taken by revenuers. I just for the life of me don't understand it."
"Why don't you drive up and talk to Dutch. He hates the cops and the gangs, he is likely to know what happened."
Dutch was a negro who bootlegged and ran a house. The house had a bar on the bottom and ladies on the top. There might not have been much money in the negro section, but I think Dutch got all the free money there was down there. He was also a good customer who had never tried to stiff me.
"Well I am gonna spend a few days making sure you kids are okay. Afterwards I think I will do just that."
"Good, when you find out there is nothing you can do, why don't you find a less dangerous way to make a living." She was smiling at me.
"You have something in mind don't you Rachel?" I smiled down at her.
"Maybe, but I don't feel up to talking now."
Since we were at the house, I agreed. No sense letting everyone in on it unless she wanted it that way. I doubted that I would be going into business with kids again, but you never knew.
"Deacon, a nurse was here earlier. She changed the bandages on those two. Said she would be back tomorrow about the same time. She also said you better be here." The widow Sellers said it while looking at Rachel. She didn't approve of Rachel that was evident.
I might have tried to sort it all out, if Skip hadn't cornered me. "Deacon, you got to help me."
"Interesting concept, but hardly true Skip. I do not 'got' to help you. Tell me what you need. I will try to help you."
"It's the boat. I just realized, if it rains those holes in her might fall below the water line. If they do she will sink."
"Skip it is sunny and hot as hell today."
"I know Deacon, but I didn't sleep at all last night. I finally got her paid for. I can't let her sink now."
"So what is it that you want me to do, stop the rain?" I smiled at him.
"No Deacon, I want you to plug the holes in her. It is kinda your fault." He didn't seem to mind saying that at all.
"Skip you son of a bitch, they were about to foreclose on that tub when I came along. If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't be worried about the holes at all."
"Well I earned the boat Deacon. You are the one who got her shot up."
"You sure got a lousy way of asking for help. If you want to play it that way, hire somebody with all that money you earned. You can consider this a lesson in economics as well as manners. You can also pay the nurse and the housekeeper. I don't need either one." My temper seemed to be on a short fuse.
I went into the house where I began throwing things into my duffle bags. I had slept in the back of the truck in the freezing winter, I could, sure as hell, do it in the summer. After I tossed the bags into the rear of the truck, I loaded the whiskey doctoring equipment.
"What are you doing Deacon?" Rachel asked.
"Ask Skip, I am moving the operation somewhere else. I will get a place and get back to you."
"What about my money?" she asked.
"Jesus is that all I am to you people?" I peeled off ninety dollars. "That is more than your share but take it." I almost gave it to her before it dawned on me at that moment that skip or Rachel one had the proceeds of the sales.
"Who has the money from the last trip?" I asked her.
"Skip," she replied.
I had all the weapons in the bag so I wasn't too worried. I cornered Skip in the kitchen. "You have something of mine," I said threateningly.
"I don't see it that way." Skip had a death wish suddenly. He pushed Mrs. Sellers out of the way. Then he reached for a butcher knife with his good hand. I grabbed his hand before he got to the knife. Before he knew what was happening he was looking down the short barrel of the Webley .38.
"Don't make me kill you Skip. Just cause you been shot, don't make you a hard man. I will kill you and bury you out back." He must not have cared for what he heard or saw in me. He suddenly went limp. I looked up to see Mrs. Sellers peering at me from inside the pantry door.
"Everything is fine Mrs. Sellers the excitement is over. Skip here is just going to give me my money, then I am going to settle with them all and leave. I am also going to pay you for today after that this crew can decide what they wish to do." I saw Mrs. Seller's eyes dart across the room. I swung the pistol in that direction expecting to see Martin. Instead I saw Rachel with cast iron frying pan. She seemed to be in pain from the lifting of it.
"Rachel honey, you are about to pull a stitch. Not to mention, get yourself killed. Put the pan down and have a seat."
"Now skip, lets have it," I demanded. He went into his pocket, from it he removed a wad of cash. I counted out ninty bucks for Rachel. Rachel you can have the liquor that is still working in the shed. Course you got to pay Skip for whatever he thinks I owe him from it. Martin has a few bucks coming too.
"Skip and Martin both heard what the Doc had to say, so listen to them. Me I am leaving. I done had a belly full of you all." I stood and without turning my back on them I handed Mrs. Sellers two dollars. I hope they decide to keep you they need the help. As for you guys, you have a bill with the nurse, if you don't want to die from infection."
"Deacon," the voice belonged to the widow Sellers.
"Yes Ma'am?" I asked.
"Would you give me a ride home? I don't feel safe here anymore."
"Certainly," I said it as I backed to the door. Mrs. Sellers sat in the cab of the T while I cranked it. I kept the pistol in my belt as I turned the engine over. The engine rattled and shook until I adjusted the spark. I drove off without looking back. Mrs. Sellers did that enough for us both.
"You are going to have to give me directions, I don't have any idea where you live." I hoped I didn't sound too uncaring since I had offered to pick her up earlier.
The twisting and turning led me across town on a very difficult route to follow. I supposed that it was more to keep me lost than any other reason. It would not do for me to know where she lived. After fifteen minutes of driving I found myself in a neighborhood of frame houses. The houses were small on the ground but each was either two or three stories tall. Her home was in slightly better shape than the others. It had a fresh coat of paint at least.
"Deacon, where will you go?" the older woman asked.
"I'm not real sure but I will find a place. I don't know that it will be in town though. I am just not real sure of anything right now. I am going to go find a cup of coffee and a quiet place to think."
"I don't know how quiet it is around here, but I can find you a cup of coffee. If you would like to come in?" Coffee was the only invitation in her eyes. I almost begged off. I would have, except that I didn't want to be found that afternoon.
"The coffee would be fine. I do hate to put you to any bother." I said it as I turned the T off. I obviously didn't hate it too much. I sat on her front porch while the coffee brewed. I wasn't sure, but she looked relieved when I sat down in the oak rocker.
It seemed to be a long time before she returned to the porch with two coffee cups. I sipped my coffee as I again looked at the woman. She hadn't gotten one damn bit prettier with the quick change of clothes. Her body still remained too tall and too thin. Her face still wore no makeup. Every worry line was etched deep around her mouth and eyes.
At first my mind was occupied with my own problems. After several minutes of not being able to decide on my next move I noticed the woman looking at me. She was waiting for me to make some kind of gesture to her it seemed. "The coffee is very good, thank you."
She nodded about the coffee then asked, "Any idea where you are going to stay tonight?"
"I suppose, in the back of my truck. I could go to the hotel but they will be expecting me to do that. I am not sure what the three of them have cooked up. People who have been in a gunfight tend to have strange thoughts."
"I was going to invite you to stay here, but if that is the case I can't endanger Callie," she said.
"You are absolutely right. I also can not endanger you. Neither of you is part of this." I looked out into the yard as I spoke. The grass was brown even though it was july. I couldn't even remember the last time it had rained. With my luck the first rain in months would come while I slept in the back of the truck.
"Deacon, I know a place you can stay while you decide what you want to do. It ain't much but you are welcome to it. I don't even know if it is still standing or not." She wasn't looking at me.
"What kind of place?" I wondered about a place that might not be standing.
"I come from a place up the road a few miles. My Ma and Pa lived there up till a few years ago. They are both gone now so it has been empty for years. It might have fallen down by now."
"Well, I ain't all that particular." I said it as I turned my eyes to her. She was still looking into the yard.
"Deacon, it weren't much when I lived there. I am sure it is all to hell now." She seemed to have changed her mind about me staying in the place.
"Well, whatever you say Mrs. Sellers." I said it looking away from her. She must have undersood from my tone.
"Deacon, you are welcome to the place. If it is still standing you can use it as long as you like. If you want, I am sure the family will sell it to you cheap."
"Frankly Mrs. Sellers, I don't plan to stay in West Virginia. I might be gone in a week or a year I just dont know. I do need a place to sleep for a couple of days at least."
"Let me get my purse then I will show you where it is." She slipped silently into the house. She must have written a note while she was gone because she said, "Wanted to let Callie know where I am. Just in case we are late getting back."
"Maybe you should just give me directions," I suggested.
"You would never find it. The house is pretty far off the main road. Ma and Pa were farmers." It was all the explanation she offered. I accepted it without another word.
"Can you drive one of these things?" I asked as I cranked the T's engine into life.
"Sure, my husband and I used to have one like it. Well not the bed on the back, but we did have a T model." She smiled then switched to a curious look.
"Could you find a use for this thing for a few days maybe a couple of weeks?"
"I suppose so, why?"
"I think I need to lie low for a couple of weeks. I won't be needing it at all. I have the motor bike. I can come down for the truck when I am ready to use it again."
"If that is what you want Deacon. I can find a use for the truck I am sure. There are lots of things around the house that need hauling away. First though we better see the home place."
It took an hour to get to the wagon track. The drive down it was worry some since the weeds and bushes had begun to claim the wagon track. The bushes were stout but not so much as to require the use of the short axe. Fortunately daddy had always kept it under the seat of the T. It rested there alongside a shovel. Over the years he had used both to free the T.
The house was still standing even though it was almost overgrown with weeds. All the doors and windows were closed so the interior was not damged.
"Mrs. Sellers, would you like to take the T back to town while I cut these bushes?" I said it because I knew I was going to be busy for a while."
"Deacon, you are going to need things from town. Why don't I wait for you then we can decide what you need to buy. We can make one more trip before Dark."
"That is a good idea. I can clear just enough to get to the door. You don't mind waiting?" I asked it smiling up at her since she had not moved from the truck.
"You get a path cleared then I will join you." She looked only a little apprehensive. She seemed a little frightened as to what she might find inside the house.
The axe wasn't especially sharp but it was sharp enough. The brush and saplings gave way to the swinging axe easily. I was surprised that so little time passed before there was a clear path to the porch.
The porch sagged a little, but appeared to be solid enough. I forced the door but only because the hinges were rusty. There was no lock of any kind on it. I had not expected one. People in the country didn't much bother with them since they were almost always home. Also like my dad said," There just ain't nothing on this place worthy of the stealing." That was especially true of the house. There wasn't a stick of furniture or a single thing other than dust in the small house.
"My God they place shrank," Mrs. Sellers said.
"They tend to do that," I replied. I remembered my first glimpse of the farm after I returned from France. I had exactly the same reaction though I didn't express it. "I can still see Daddy sitting by this fireplace. There was so little room. If he worked on anything in the winter, he did it by this fireplace." She moved about the small dusty room. Her mind was obviously on another time. "There is a sleeping loft up that ladder." As she spoke, she pointed to a ladder leading almost straight up the wall. The finish on the ladder was the body oil from a thousand trips up it by family members.
"Ma and Pa slept up there. Us kids slept in this room by the fire." She actually shook herself to clear away the past. She smiled her first wicked smile at me. "I learned what little I know about love from listening to them as a child."
I shared the wicked smile then asked, "You never looked."
"No of course not, but my brother did." Her laughter sounded almost like a tinkling bell. "Pa would have killed him."
"Well, if he saw anything it had to have been summer. In the Winter this place would have been too cold for much of anything." I smiled, letting her know I was ready to change the subject.
"It was," she said with a bold smile.
"Too bad nobody left any of those beds. Looks like a bedroom on the floor for me." I tried to look put upon.
"Deacon, I saw your bedroll. You will survive this. Besides I will feel better knowing you are going to be hard to find."
"Oh why is that?" I really didn't know how much she understood.
"I am a widow Deacon not stupid. I know what you are up too. I knew it before I showed up at your place. If I hadn't known before, Callie made sure I knew." The twinkle was back in her eye. "I don't expect you need to worry about Skip or the kids, but it sounds like the others you might."
"Others?" I asked.
"The ones who shot up the kids. Best I can tell from eavesdropping, they are law or have the law in their pockets."
"The law up in Plymouth maybe. They don't have it here that is why they didn't shoot me on the dock yesterday." My God, I thought, had it been only one day.
"Either way those are the men you should worry about." She had a strange look even when talking about danger. Hell looking back, it might have been because of the danger.
Why it happened at that moment is a total mystery even to this day. The sound in the sleeping loft seemed to put a period to her words. It was a thumping then a heavy movement sound. I jerked as did Mrs. Sellers. I quickly found the short barreled Webly as I moved to place my body between Mrs. Sellers and the ladder. I tensed and waited for whoever or whatever was moving above us to show itself. I waited only a second longer before I moved to the ladder.
Mrs. Sellers touched me, the look in her eyes told me to be careful. I nodded. Mrs. Sellers it seemed had very expressive eyes. I climbed the ladder with pistol in hand. My heart pounded far more than the exertion demanded. I could see nothing when I first raised my head above the rafters. It took a moment for the light from the cracks to show the dangerous intruder. The intruder appeared to be a domestic cat gone wild. The cat would be especially dangerous as she was protecting her brood of kittens. I knew it from the pile of fur inside a nest of shredded paper. The pile of fur moved and made high pitched demanding sounds.
I put the pistol away before I descended the ladder. I was on the first floor again in only a few steps. I kept my serious look for a moment then smile. I noticed my smile caused a long held breath to slip from her lips.
"It appears I am going to have a roommate," I said. "Take a look." I backed away so that she could climb the ladder. I smiled as I watched her thin body move to the ladder, then easily climb to a height which allowed her to see the small furry family.
There was a very different look in her eye when she turned from the ladder to me. It was a look reserved for a lover upon sharing a secret moment. The look was disconcerting, I didn't know what to make of it. I moved to her without making a conscious decision to do so. She somehow without moving an inch closed the gap between us.
Mrs. Sellers was almost as tall as me. When I moved to kiss her, it was slightly awkward. Still even though it was clumsy, it seemed right. Her body was hard from years of work. If she had not been so thin the muscles might have been hidden. Instead there was no doubt she was a physically strong woman.
There was also no doubt that she was caught up in the same passion that seemed to pull me along. She kissed me so hard and with such passion that it was painful. Her hands ran down my back to my hips. She was strong enough to pull herself hard against me. Or maybe she pulled me hard against her. I had no way to know exactly because I was lost completely. A gentle thick grey fog clouded my mind.
The kiss seemed to go on forever. Her lips moved against mine. It was a totally new sensation to feel a woman who from the very first seemed to be fighting me for control. I tried to slowly stroke her back. Her response was to grind her hips against me.
I tried to gently slide her blouse from the skirt she wore. She ripped my shirt from my trousers. I moved my hands over her back. She dug her nails into mine, then painfully moved them down.
I tried to pull away from the pain but she pulled me even closer. The kiss had gone on long enough so that I was gasping for air. I was light headed when I finally managed to break the kiss. Even in my oxygen starved state I tried to open her blouse. She did the most remarkable thing. She pulled the blouse and shirtwaist she wore over her head. In one move she was naked to the waist.
Before I could get a good look at her body, she closed the gap between us She somehow pulled my shirt and undershirt from my body just as she had done her own. When I was also half naked, she again closed the gap between us. She gasped at the feel of my naked skin on hers, or maybe the gasp was mine. I was never sure what happened inside the fog. Somehow my body moved without any plan. I had not more control over what happened that afternoon than I did over the river we used to transport liquor.
We ripped and tore at each other's clothes until we were naked. I pushed her against a wall or maybe she pulled me against it. Either way I tried to get inside her with little success. Somehow we found ourselves on the dust-covered floor. I again tried to enter her but failed miserably. I had no idea what was going on. I was about to give up completely when she rolled me over. Suddenly I was not trying to do anything but survive.
She changed her position, then somehow she had engulfed me. I can't say I lay still and just let it happen because I was in constant motion as she rocked back and forth on me. Mrs. Sellers never raised her body at all. She simply moved it on me. While she was moving lost in her own world, she continued to dig her nails into me. The pain mixed with the primordial sexual urges made me absolutely crazy. They also delayed the inevitable for sometime. She seemed to sense when it ended for me because seconds later she collapsed onto me. I held her as she shivered in the 90-degree heat.
We were both embarrassed once we could breath normally again. She tried to turn away but I pulled her back. I kissed her tenderly. "Now Mrs. Sellers, exactly what do you call that?" I smiled broadly at her.
"Deacon, I have no idea what got into me. Please I am not like that at all."
"Well, let's start with your given name Mrs. Sellers." She could tell that I was just as shook as she was.
"Thelma," she said lowering her eyes.
"Well Thelma, I think we should get dressed. No telling how many years worth of dust we are laying in." I smiled so she would know I wasn't brushing her off.
She nodded without a word until I stood to find my clothes. "My God, did I do that?" she asked.
"Your back is covered with blood. Jesus did I scratch you. I don't even remember."
I remembered again the painful moments that had added so much to the intensity of the orgasm. "If it wasn't you, then we had better check out that cat upstairs again." I smiled to show I didn't really mind.
"Get me the water bottle from the car and a cloth. Do you have any antiseptic?"
"Thelma, I am in the liquor business of course I have alcohol." The smile of mine must have been infections because she dropped the horrified look. She replaced it with a grin. "I am not sure how I feel about being a tiger in bed. It must be you because I never cut a man before."
"Well I have one thing to say. If you break it, you have to fix it. Let me get the water and the liquor."
Once she cleaned off the blood she decided it wasn't as bad as she at first thought. I was pronounced healed after only a few screams. Alcohol and open cuts make for very unsexy thoughts. However after the burn was gone I turned to kissed her passionately. Without warning the world went all pink and fuzzy as it began again.
Again there was an oxygen shortage, a pounding of my heart, a warm wet feeling I simply fell into, and there was slight pain. At the time the pain didn't bother me at all. Afterwards I asked myself if I had enough skin on my back to survive another encounter with the Widow Sellers. The answer of course was who cares.
She and I drove to the hardware store just in time to make the necessary purchases before it closed. She dropped me and the packages at my house as she rushed off home. I didn't bother to unpack the boxes. I gathered dry firewood instead. It was fortunate that the nights were mild. The fireplace would consume huge amounts of the dry wood.
It was far too late to cut any real wood. The fire that night ate up the dry branches as I cooked a meager meal. My dinner consisted of, canned beans, thick bacon strips and a loaf of pan bread. The pan bread was no more than flour, water, and baking soda. The blob was cooking in the cast iron frying pan with the lid on. After about ten minutes I turned the loaf over so it would cook from both sides reasonably evenly.
The bread was hard but good. The beans were canned but hot. The bacon was cooked so it all seemed about as good as I was ever going to do alone. If Thelma had cooked it, I am sure there would have been more vegetables. She seemed to love leafy green things.
I should have been feeling guilty or at least enamored with Thelma. I probably would have been, if she hadn't set the tone. On the drive back from the hardware store she had said, "Deacon, you are awfully quiet. Are you feeling guilty about what happened at momma's?"
I nodded. I was afraid to speak. I figured I was in deep enough by that time.
"Well hon listen, it was an accident. I was a fun accident but an accident nonetheless. You are only a few years older than my daughter. It would be scandalous if we were to become a couple. She deserves better than a whore for a mother."
I felt even worse. I was about to object when she went on.
"Now like I said it was an accident, but I expect there will be other accidents. So unless you want something different, leave it be."
"Is the last an invitation to make this more serious or a warning not too?" The question was fair I thought.
"A warning hon, I was serious. This can't be anything but an accident. If you want more than that, then it will never happen again. If you can live with the fact that we just accidentally fall into each other's arms now and again, then I will come back to cook for you one night soon."
"Well, I am a lousy cook." I smiled across at her wickedly.
"I had hoped you were hon." She seemed to be lost in her own thoughts even as she dropped me at the house.
During the long boring days I sweltered, then shivered through the chilly nights. I made the decision to wait a month before doing anything at all. It had to do with letting everything just die down. The bad guys probably never expected a liquor runner to make any trouble. After a month they would be sure of it. Somebody should have warned them that I was not your ordinary liquor runner. Grand Pappy Deacon would be proud of what I had planned.
The days passed slowly. I took the motorbike out almost daily. Trips to the store were more social than necessary. I became quite a good maker of soups and stews. Thelma came once or twice a week. She brought leafy green things I allowed her to cook for me. I suffered them for the sex frankly.
She had finally stopped cutting me up every time we made love. I wasn't sure how I felt about that, but it would have made no difference. Getting sliced in the throws of passion was quite different from her cutting me up without it. I hadn't gotten that sick.
The days kind of slipped by without being recorded. One day it just seemed like the right time to get on with my plan. There was nothing to lock, the door was almost off the hinges, and had no key anyway. The ride into Huntington took about fifteen minutes longer on the bike. I had to be more careful of the holes in the road. The T took them pretty well, the bike would have dumped me on my ass.
The T and I returned to the house for my bags and camp equipment. I didn't even leave Thelma a note on the way out. She would realize what had happened. I didn't know what to say anyway. With all the equipment loaded I left Huntington for what I expected to be the last time.
That first night I parked behind a country church. It would probably get me a seat on the first trolley to hell, since I spent the evening loading drums for the Lewis machine gun. I finally finished all my chores then climbed into the rear of the T. I slept soundly until the dawn. After I used the church's outhouse, I moved the truck to a spot in an open field. I started a fire then cooked oatmeal with bacon chunks.
Portsmouth Kentucky was a small town with not much more than a dock. The town itself was no more than a housing area with the three buildings needed to service it. It had only one thing of interest to me. It had a whorehouse set outside of town. How Dutch came to open a whorehouse and liquor bar in such a small place is a mystery even to this day.
Of course, it wasn't much of a whorehouse either. No more than two whores worked there at any given time. If the truth be known, Dutch was the only one making any money. I expect when the whores left, they were as poor as when they had arrived. There were rumors that Dutch also did a little kitchen table abortion business during the daylight hours. I don't know what else he did, but he knew who had attacked my people and why. If it happened in Plymouth and it was dirty, he either had a hand in it or he knew who did. In this case I expected that he knew who tried to run me out of business.
The T sat in his parking lot while I tried to decide the best approach to use. I should have thought it out during the long drive. A great deal of my thought had been on it, but I just couldn't make a decision on the road. I did no better in his parking lot. I decided just to go in and be myself.
As I pushed open the rear door, I was met by a very large very black man who was no gentleman.
"What you wan't?" he asked. Then to soften the words I guess he went on. "We ain't open till dark."
"Don't blame you. The night will hide some of this dirt. I came to see Dutch."
"Who are you? I will tell him you are here." The man never took his eyes off me.
"Why don't you just take me to him?
He will recognize me." I wasn't sure but I thought the man had already recognized me.
"If you want tell me who you are, you gonna have to leave."
"Look friend, let's just go see Dutch. I really don't want no trouble with you." He had taken a blocking position. His size must have always been enough to discourage even drunks. It should have done so with me as well. Should have, being the key there.
What I did was not an honorable thing at all. I am truly ashamed of it too. I shrugged so that he was sure I had decided to give up. Then I kicked him in the testicles just as hard as I could. As sometimes happens, he began to vomit as his eyes rolled back into his head. I turned his face down to make sure he didn't drown in it then I walked past him to the stairs.
"What the hell," the words came from Dutch who stood at the top of the stairs in his underwear. Before he could turn away, I pulled the heavy .45 from my cotton pants.
"Don't you move an inch." I think Dutch knew I was serious. I stood looking up at him trying to decide on my next move. I was way to open standing on the stairs. If I went up them, I would just have to somehow come down them later. I decided to just kidnap Dutch.
"Now Dutch, you come down the stairs nice and slow. If you don"t, I am going to kill you."
"Why you do'in this Deacon?" he asked.
"You and me gonna' talk about that Dutch. We just ain't gonna talk about it here and now. So get down here or I am gonna shoot you in the ass. I can't kill you yet, but I can blow a nice big hole in your ass. They tell me, that is a mighty painful place to lose a chunk of meat." I didn't think he was moving fast enough so I thumbed back the hammer on the pistol.
Starting the T was a pain in the ass, but I had Dutch to do it. I expected to be shot any moment. Dutch's bodyguard should have come around by that time. I stayed close to Dutch just in case. As we drove away with Dutch at the wheel I remarked, "You really should teach your bodyguard some manners. We could have avoided all this."
"What you want from me Deacon?" He had gotten calm and I didn't like that at all.
"Turn down that wagon road on the left." I said it with a smile. It was my intention to scare the hell out of Dutch. The move off the main road had a sobering effect on him but he was still trying to tough it out.
"Stop the car right here," I said once we were out of sight of the road. "Now take the shovel from under the seat when you get out."
"What I need a shovel for?" He was nervous again.
"To dig a grave of course," I replied. I watched as his knees got weak.
"If you gonna kill me, you dig the grave." He tried to be heroic but he was shaking.
I made a big show of thumbing back the hammer. "Your choice."
"Wait Deacon, I had nothing to do with the shootout."
"Dig while you talk or die where you stand." I hadn't known it before but I was serious.
"Dammit Deacon," his voice broke as he spoke.
"What part did you play in it?..... Dig dammit."
He turned earth before he answered. "I didn't do nothing. They came from Cincinatti to see my liquor. I told them I bought most of my liquor from you. That was all."
"Not quite," I replied.
"I told them you brought it in by boat. That is all I swear."
"Did you tell them when the boat came in that night?" I asked it not putting any significance into it. If he set them up, I intended to fill the hole.
"No, they had a boy on the dock watching. He ran to tell them. They been stayin in town a few days waiting."
"Were they really cops?" I asked it even thought it made no difference to me at all.
"No Deacon, they just got a car that has the Sheriffs seal on it. The Sheriff, he don't bother them none for using it."
"Now Dutch stop digging. I am going to talk to these men before I kill them. It they tell if different, I am gonna kill your black ass. You do know that?"
"I knows," Dutch said it looking pretty worried. He did not have the panicked look of a man under a death sentence. I figured he had pretty much told the truth.
"Now Dutch, where do I find these men and their boss?"
"They will kill me," he said miserably.
"Then start digging again." I stood behind him while he moved dirt and thought. After two spadefuls he had decided.
"They hang out in a social club over in Cincinnati. The ones who shot up your boat will be there."
"How about the man they work for?" I asked it knowing he didn't really know the boss.
"I don't know Mr. Deacon," I had finally broke him.
"The name of the club?" I asked it with a finality that told him the meeting was about to end. He just didn't know his fate.
"Place is called Alfredo's. They say half the hoodlum in Cincinnati are there at any given time." I figured he enjoyed telling me how hard it was going to be. So I enjoyed the next part.
"Start the T," I demanded. He had a look of relief as he turned the crank on the truck.
"You gonna take me home ain't you Deacon." Since he had gotten comfortable again. I decided to make him suffer just a little more.
"Dutch, you know they were looking for us, but you didn't warn me or my people. Get your ass in that hole."
"No Deacon, they woulda killed me."
"Guess what Dutch, you picked the wrong side. Get back in that hole and you got a chance. If you don't, I am for sure going to shoot you where you stand." He reluctantly stepped into the hole. I was tempted to smack him in the head with the Colt but I knew better. For one thing the damn thing might go off on me. Which would blow out somebody's ear drum. Secondly it might kill him. That was always a possibility with a blow to the head. The other and more likely was that it would do no more than piss him off.. Which wouldn't be good with the pistol close to his grasp.
"Now Dutch you lay facedown until you can not longer hear the T's engine. If I look back and see you above ground I am gonna empty this thing at you. By the way I have a marksman ribbon for this thing. If you want to risk it, be my guest." I walked back to the car.
I turned back and shouted. "Dutch, you ain't got no dog in this here fight. Don't be pickin' one now."
I drove away leaving him in his underwear. It wasn't much of a walk back to his place but enough to cause him a great deal of embarrassment. Dutch was going to lose a lot of face. One day that might come back to haunt me but I doubted it. My plans called for a sudden departure from the area. That was, if I survived the next couple of days.
The big advantage I had was simple. I wanted nothing from the guys who shot up my people. Nothing but their lives that is. I would get my revenge just because I knew that I was an evil bastard and needed the revenge to close that chapter and move on.
It was like a quick trench raid. You didn't try to occupy the ground. You just wanted to create a little havoc. Kill a few Germans just to make sleeping a little harder for them. That was what I had planned. A visit just to make sleeping a little harder for the bad guys.
I drove directly back to Covington. I wanted to stay in the downtown hotel that night but felt it was just too risky. I was more than a little concerned that Dutch had called whoever was responsible for the shooting of my people.
I slept in the truck which I parked behind a country church. It seemed that I was spending a whole lot of time at church. I probably should have tried it when there was a service. I rode over the Ohio river on my motor bike. The large bridge looked sturdy but I never did like bridges. No place to go if the oncoming driver fell asleep, or some such thing. The bridge dumped me into a paved street leading into the downtown. Before reaching the downtown I was forced to pass through and open air market and lots of small building. The buildings seemed to be a mix between retail stores of one kind or another and apartments. Even a few attached houses were sprinkled through the neighborhood.
Across the street from the Itallian social club sat a German market. Inside the market along with the meats and vegetable were a couple of tables with ice cream parlor chairs. I took one by the window.
The first words from the heavy waitress with a body similar in build to a kitchen appliance were in German. I shook my head then shrugged my shoulder in an exaggerated manner. I hoped it would pass for a universal gesture of ignorance.
"What can I get you?" she asked in thickly accented English. Even with the accent it was obvious that she was proficient in English. Her voice did not falter nor did she edit the sentence.
"Coffee and a roll of some kind, if you have one?" I asked.
"Ja," she replied returning to the counter.
While she was gone, I checked out the Itallian social club across the narrow street. It was open since men came and went through the door. I have no idea what I expected to see, but I kept watch anyway. I drank two cups of coffee before the man arrived. I knew he was the man from the fancy car he rode in. And the fact that two other men opened doors for him. The two also kept their eyes on the building and street as he passed into the club.
I had known all along that I could do little on that first visit. What I had done was to bring along a German hand grenade. One I had brought back from France. After my coffee, I started the bike and rode to the end of the street. I searched a vacant lot until I found a piece of concrete about the right size.
I rode the bike to a spot in front of the club. At that time there was no outside security at the door. I had a feeling that was about to change. I tossed, first the concrete slab through the window, then I followed it quickly with the smoking grenade. I rode rapidly away, even so the blast caught me. It almost toppled the bike.
I had no idea how much damage that I had done. I also had no idea how many people I killed. I also didn't care. If you hang out with killers, you took your chances just like them. I rode the bike across the river bridge before the shock wore off. Once in Covington Kentucky I lost myself quickly.
I packed the bike into the back of the truck, then drove carefully out of town but only after covering it with a tarp. I made into Huntington slightly after dark. I spent the night in the old house outside of town.
Early the next morning I parked the truck two blocks from Thelma's house. Actually, I parked it in a church parking lot. There seemed to be a church on every other corner in Huntington. I rode the bike to Thelma's house.
"Good morning," I said to Thelma when she answered the door.
"So you are back. Does this mean it is over?"
"It does, if they let it go. I don't much think they will though. I'm going to wait a few days. If I hear nothing from them, I am going to disappear."
"So are you back at the old homeplace?" I couldn't tell much from her expression. She might have been glad to see me back, I certainly hoped so. Thelma was a most enthusiastic lover.
"Well, you probably should continue to lay low just in case," Thelma suggested.
"I agree. I think two weeks should be enough time."
"Well not enough, but it will have to do." There was no longer any doubt as to what Thelma thought.
We were in the kitchen by that time. I was sitting at her enamel-covered metal table, with the one black nick at the corner, drinking coffee. Thelma moved to stand behind me. She placed her hands on my shoulders then said, "I have missed you."
"I have missed you too Thelma. I hope you know that." I turned to her. From the sleepy look in her eyes it was obvious how she had missed me.. Callie must have been at work. Thelma had the invitation in her eyes.
I turned sideways in the chair as I pulled her around to stand between my spread legs. I rested my head on her tummy. Her heavy breasts rested on my head. It was a very peacefull possition. She stood easily for a long time so she must have thought so as well. She finally stepped back. She took my hand, pulled me up, then led me into the bedroom. I wasn't a bit surprised to find the bed made even at such an early hour.
For the next hour Telma and I worked on destroying the bed. It not only had sheets everywhere, but it seemed a little more noisy when I left that morning. I left on the bike after explaining to Thelma where the truck was hidden. I made sure she knew not to leave it parked at her home. It was possible that Dutch had passed along the truck's description to the bad guys.
I reluctantly rode the bike to Skip's house. Martin answered the knock on the door.
"What the hell do you want?" Martin seemed to be in less than a good mood.
I pushed past him. The others came into the living room at the sound of the commotion from Martin. "Kid, I don't want anything. I just came to give all of you a warning. I took a little revenge on the men who shot you up. They might be able to put it together. If they can and they can somehow trace the boat they are going to show up here. So keep an eye out for strangers around town asking questions. If you need me, Thelma knows how to find me."
"We ain't gonna need you Deacon." The voice belonged to Rachel.
"Good, then I am going to forget all about the lollipop gang." I said it as I turned from the door.
"You should know, my uncle ain't gonna sell you no more liquor. I talked to him and he knows we are quits."
I ignored her. I did speak to Skip. "Watch yourself Skip. You are the odd man out here." With those words I left the room. I felt a little antsy as I started the bike. I wasn't sure, but I had a feeling Rachel would have just as soon kill me as say goodbye. It was a strange feeling coming from someone I had once slept with. I hoped it was just a feeling and meant nothing.
I should have just slipped away after the bombing of the Italian social club called Alfredo's. I suppose there was some reason in the back of my mind for not doing so. Maybe it was Thelma. She might have been the reason I stayed. For whatever reason. I determined I would stay at least through the end of July.
I should have stuck to that plan. August found me bathed in sweat during the daylight hours. It was especially true on the days when Thelma would come to visit. If I could have broken my addiction to Thelma and her painful sexual encounters, I would have been gone when they came.
My truck was filled with people when it pulled into the yard of the almost abandoned house. Thelma was at the wheel that mid August day. I had been looking forward to her visit for a couple of days. The others killed any expectations I might have had concerning sex with Mrs. Sellers.
"God dammit Deacon," the statement came from the mouth of Martin. "They came to town looking for us."
"I slipped down to the pier while they were in town. I moved the Lazy Susan to the mouth of a creek farther down the river. Deacon, you are going to get us all killed." Skip was not a happy sailor.
"Well my little band of cut throats, it is like this, you can let them shoot you up and cower if you want, I on the other hand, plan to keep them busy." I turned my attention from them to Thelma. "Thelma, have they been looking at you?"
"Deacon, you don't think I want anyone to know about us do you? There is no way they could trace any of you to me."
"Good for you," I replied.
"I wish I could say the same." The opinion was voiced by Martin, but it must have been the same for all of them.
"You guys amaze me. You wanted the big money of a criminal enterprise. You all knew there were risks. So now that the goons are here, you want to blame me. Well gang, you can either hang out here or run. If you take off, nobody will come looking for you. You guys are small fish just like me. Besides, you can explain that you didn't try to kill the leader of their gang. When you are looking down the barrel of their guns, just tell them it was me. I am sure it will make a difference."
"Deacon, is right. He didn't start this they did. If we want to stay in this business, we are going to have to fight for it. If not, then what difference does it make where we hide?" We can get in skip's boat. He can take us to some other town." It was Rachael who spoke.
"Well, I for one don't want to die over a few bucks. I want to stay right here with my boat." Skip was determined to have everything handed to him. I had known that about him from the start.
"Well Skip, you can stay here with your boat, if you figure out a way to survive. You are the easiest one of us to find."
"Deacon, I can go back and give you to them. I expect that will get me off the hook. Me and anybody else who wants to come along."
"Skip, it is my Christian duty to point out one thing to you before you go getting yourself and these others killed. They tried to kill you before they even knew who you were. These people are killers. Now if you still want to get yourself killed be my guest."
"How about me and Callie? Deacon, will they bother us?" Thelma was extremely concerned. It was more in her eyes than in her voice.
"Not, if these three don't go talking too much about whose place this is. I don't suppose you are going to find it necessary to bring Thelma and Callie into it are you?"
I had already decided. If Skip gave any indication that he planned to tell everything he knew, he would not be leaving the farm. I could afford to let the gang kill Skip, and the others, unless it meant Thelma was compromised. I planned to be either far away, or waiting for the Cincinnati killers. I hadn't decided exactly which when I spoke with Skip.
"I don't expect it would help us any to bring them into this." Skip looked a little shaky. He probably didn't see me reach for the pistol. He was a heartbeat from hell when he spoke again.
"No, there is no reason to mention them."
"Well Skip, if you want to go to those guys, it is up to you. As for me, I am staying with the Deacon." Rachel smiled at me as she spoke. I didn't get it. I also didn't give it much thought.
"I don't think they know who I am. I could just disappear for a while I expect." It was Martin who interjected that. It looked as though the fling had ended. I didn't have a comment about it at all.
"If you want to disappear Martin that's fine, but you can't lay low here. I am at war with those guys, and this place is not going to be safe. The house is pretty much useless to Thelma, so I don't think she is going to mind the holes in it. I expect they will eventually find this place. When they do, it is going to be ugly."
"What about my place?" Skip asked it with a new look of understanding on his face.
"Yours is going to be the first one they check Skip. You are the most stable and therefore the easiest to find."
"Then they are going to tear up my place?"
"They will at least search it none too gently. If you are there, they will kill you. I don't know if they have the patience to torture you or not."
"Dammit Deacon, what have you gotten me into?" Skip was pretty upset. I gripped the handle of the Colt tighter.
"Skip, you came to it willingly. I didn't hold a gun on you." I had about had it with his whining.
I glanced at Rachel just to try to read everyone's reactions. She looked very pale. I saw her eyes begin to dance.
"Rachel," I said as I reached for her before she fell. I led her into the house. I laid her on the blankets.
"Get away Deacon, I will take care of her." It was Thelma who spoke. I backed out of the doorway. Rachel just did not look good to me at all. I had seen men go into shock never to recover. She had the pale sweaty look of someone on the verge of it.
I walked back into the yard my blood boiling. "Listen up you two, I don't give a happy damn what you do, just do it and stop whining. That child in there has more courage than both of you put together. If you want to run, then damn it run. If you want to fight, then we can fight. We might even win."
"You know better, they will kill us." Skip said it for both of them.
"Then you need to leave right now. If you stay here, you are going to have to fight. If you fight, you might die. That is the most basic understanding of every soldier."
"I am not a soldier Deacon. I am just a kid." Martin said it quietly.
"Ah well, Martin, I am not going to try to influence you either way. Stay or go, it is totally your decision. That goes for you to Skip."
"There are only three of them. We might could take them," Skip didn't look as though he believed it. I was forced at that moment to make my decision. Did I want them to stay or go? If I lied, they might stay. If I told them the truth, they would probably run like hell.
"Actually there are probably going to be twenty or more of them. You see Skip, they will come in force, if they find us here. The three men might try it, but I doubt it. More likely it will be everybody or at least a force larger than three. They have the numbers and I expect them to use them."
"Deacon, why are you smiling?" Thelma asked.
"No reason at all," I replied. I was smiling because I could see the wheels turning inside their heads. I didn't think either of them would stay. I had given them no reason to stay.
"Why are you going to stay Deacon?" Martin asked.
"Because I don't have anywhere to go." It was at least an honest answer. I was not sure, if they would understand. Their understanding wasn't really important to me. If it had been, I would have said more.
"I got family in Tennessee," Martin replied. "I can go stay with them till this cools down."
"That sounds like a good idea Martin. I would plan on a year at least."
"Why so long Deacon?" he asked.
"Well they are going to be looking for you three for a long time. Especially after I finish with them. If I win, you can come on home. It is more likely that I will lose. In which case you need to stay away until this is forgotten. Truth is though, it may never be."
"Why don't you and Rachel just move on? You aren't from here." Skip was again trying to piss me off.
"I am staying because this is where the fight is. Skip, get it in your mind now. I am not leaving. You are wasting your time if you are trying to convince me to go. Even if I did, your life would not go back to normal. You can run, or you can fight. You just can't go back. It just isn't an option any longer."
"Not since you blew up their place," Skip suggested.
"That is right. You can lie on the floor and whimper like a dog, if that is what you want. I chose not to do that. It was my choice to make Skip and I made it."
"We didn't even have a say in it?" It was a question and everybody knew it.
"No, you didn't. It was not a democratic decision to make. I made the decision for me. You have to make your own decision now."
"I think I am going to go to Tennessee." Martin had already made up his mind. I suppose he came just to tell me. I couldn't understand why he had bothered.
"Then if I were to stay Deacon, it would be just you and me. Like you said, there would most likely be twenty of them. Staying sounds like a death sentence to me. I think that I will take my boat and go. I can sail her on down the river. Maybe try to get some work on the Mississippi." Skip looked away while he said it.
"Well sounds like you all have a plan. I want you to understand one thing. You need to go tonight. Those men are in town. They are here to get information . They will probably try to take you out one at a time. Don't go home, go back to your boat skip."
I turned my attention to Martin. "You should go with Skip, at least as far as another town. You can get a bus from Covington or Plymouth."
"Thelma, I am going to ride back with you. I need to take the T away from you. It is too dangerous someone may recognize it. I don't want you to risk coming here again."
Thelma nodded. She did not look happy about it. While Skip and Martin went into the house to say their good-byes, Thelma walked away from me. It appeared as though she wanted to move away from the others to talk. I followed after her.
"Is there something you wanted to say Thelma?" I asked it as I touched her shoulder.
"Yes Deacon there is. That girl in there is weak. She needs some taking care of."
"I know Thelma, what did you have in mind?"
"If you let me keep the T, I can come in to see after her."
"I know you could, Thelma, but it is too dangerous for you. If those guys from down the river find that truck, you could be in terrible danger. Not just you, Callie could be too."
"How long you gonna stay here?" Thelma asked.
"Till Rachel is strong enough to travel," I replied looking away.
"Then I am going to take her home."
"I don't think she wants to go back," Thelma replied.
"Well then I will send her somewhere else. I need about a month to let them think it is over before I do anything else."
"After the month, what are you going to do?"
"When everyone is out of here safe, I am going to settle with the Cincinnati people."
"If you are going to make a deal, you can do it now?" It was a question that she asked.
"There is no deal to make. They want to kill me."
"Then you are going to fight them?" Thelma had a way of stating the obvious. It was fight or run and everyone knew it.
"I hope it isn't as much fight them, as it is kill them. If I can kill enough, they might want to make a deal. I am not sure that they would even then. They might fight to the last man."
"They will kill you. You do know that?" Thelma had tears in here eye.
"They will try. That is why you mustn't come back here. I don't want you here, if they come. I also don't want you followed home from here."
"How did they find you here? Nobody knows you are in town."
"Skip's boat," I replied. "Then they will find Skip again."
Thelma didn't look all that Surprised by it. Even she knew Skip was going to turn on me. If they put their hands on Skip, he was going to open up like a rotten pumpkin.
"Deacon, after they are gone, you should move somewhere else."
"Thelma surely you aren't ordering me to leave?"
"You know better, those two will try to make a deal to save themselves. The Cincinnati people will find you easy enough."
"I am counting on it. If we stay here, we have a chance to prepare for them. If they catch us on the road, they have the numbers to kill us easily."
"Deacon, I think you should run. Just like the others take off."
"Why Thelma, if I did that, I would never see you again. Is that what you want?" I smiled to let her know I was joking.
"If it is the only way to keep you alive, yes." She was wearing a serious look.
"Believe me I want to stay alive honey. This is just my way to do it."
"You could take the Ford, and then drive south. You have family there." Thelma seemed determined that I run. I couldn't blame her it looked like certain death, if I stayed.
"Well honey, my back is not my best feature. I don't like to show it to people."
"Your back is fine Deacon," she said with a smile. "You are right, it is definitely not your best feature."
"Deacon, we need to get going, if we are going to make it down the river by night fall. I don't like being out after dark, too many logs floating out there." Skip was trying to keep the conversation away from his deserting me and Rachel.
I wanted to say a few things to him, but I held my tongue. Since he would only be a liability in a firefight, I was glad to see him gone. The same was true of Martin. Trying to keep me and Rachel alive was going to be hard enough. I would be glad when she was well enough to ship somewhere else.
I walked into the dark house. Even with all the opening in the walls it was still hot and muggy in the house. I looked around at the room. Fortunately for Rachel Thelma had insisted on sweeping most of the dirt from the one room. Even the bedroll had been washed recently. The addition of the sheet atop the pile of blankets was her doing.
"Rachel when was that bandage changed last?"
"Deacon, I am not using it. The nurse said to leave it air. The cut has scabbed over, it's okay. I don't have any sign of infection. I am just weak. I can't seem to get my strength back."
"Honey, how much help are you going to need?" I couldn't see me dressing her, or holding her hand while she used the privy.
"I just need to rest a lot. I can pretty much take care of myself." Rachel looked a little embarrassed.
"Okay, I am going to take the others to the boat. I will be back in a bit."
"Deacon, be careful. I don't think you should trust Skip and Martin." I hated to tell her that the warning wasn't necessary. I hated that they knew where I was holed up. It was far too late to be upset about that. It was already done by the time I knew it was going to happen.
"Don't you worry Rachel, it is going to work out just fine."
"I know I am safer with you than either of them. They don't seem to get it do they?"
"No, I think they expect to make a deal with the men from Cincinnati." I watched her shake her head.
"Honest Deke, I tried to tell them. They just could never figure out that they had brought this on themselves. They are looking for someone to blame. I am afraid it is us."
"I got them in the business as sure as you did. They think they would have been fine, if it weren't for us. They don't remember how they lived before. Men have very short memories." I didn't bother mentioning here memory length.
"Well, let me get them away. I have lots of work to do after they are gone." I took the trench gun and the Colt with me. I wedged the trench gun into the opening by the seat. The colt I carried in my waist band.
The guns proved unnecessary. The trip to the boat was no more than a Sunday drive. Dropping Thelma off should have been the same. She made it more difficult by insisting I come into her house for a proper goodbye. The goodbye took a sweaty half hour.
I pulled into the parking lot of the hardware store just minutes before their closing time. The owner stayed open for me since I bought several expensive items from him. He even helped me load them onto the truck.
I found Rachel sitting on the bench under the sagging porch roof. The sag wasn't very bad, just enough to notice. Since the floor sagged as much, I figured it was safe enough. I sat there often myself. Rachel was still pale but no longer appeared on the verge of fainting.
"What? Are we planning to stay here? You seem to have enough boxes on there to set up house keeping." Rachel tried to smile.
"No just getting a couple of surprises ready for any company we might have." She began her attempt to stand. "You stay right where you are, I can handle this stuff."
"I am glad of that. I don't think I could lift much."
"Well for the next few days your job is to rest up. I want you in shape to travel within a week."
"Why a week?" she asked.
"I figure that is about all the time we are going to have. After a week, if they are going to find Skip, they will. If he makes it longer, he has a good chance to avoid them all together. Truth is, I expect him to come home after a week."
"Yeah, I know. Skip won't be very good on the run, he will miss all his friends."
"What friends?" I smiled as I asked her.
"Me," she replied. "He and Martin think it was all sex, but they are wrong. I held their hand and told them how wonderful they were. They are going to miss that."
Rachel confirmed what I had suspected all along. She was sleeping with both of them. I was determined not to ask the details. I was curious, sure but a part of me also didn't want to know.
I started a fire in the little stone oven I had built. I wasn't much of a cook, but I had watched Thelma and even my mother before her. I was able to fry meat of course since there was nothing to it. I had learned how to cook some vegetables though there was few I liked. Most difficult of all I had learned to bake bread from Thelma. Mom had always had a cook stove, so I didn't know how to cook it. Thelma showed me how to cook it in a frying pan. She had explained how to cook it in a camp oven. One of my purchases that day had been an iron camp oven.
The oven was no more than a large iron pan with a flat lid. It got filled with anything to be baked, then buried in the fire. It baked bread and cake fairly even. It could also cook potatoes and other vegetable. I knew enough to know that Rachel needed those things as well as meat.
After supper that night I began working on my surprise for the Cincinnati thugs. The simplest containers I could find were brown paper bags. I put a couple of inches of dirt in the bottom of them. Then I stood a stick of dynamite up in the dirt. I filled the bag with a mixture of roofing nails and dried grass. The bag got tied with the end of the dynamite sticking out the top. I fixed six bags all the same.
I also created four three-stick bundles. I used a sticky black tape to hold them together. It was tape made from cloth, then coated with a gum of some kind. I was what electricians had begun to use. I carried the small bag of blasting caps with me as I went up the drive. I inserted a cap into each of the bundles only as I slipped it into the hole I dug in the drive. I spaced them ten yards apart. I connected all three to a single wire run from the house.
I hung the paper bags from the old fence posts that still held rusty barbed wire. The fence ran just across a drainage ditch on either side of the drive. I guessed that the fields the wire surrounded at one time had been pasture. The wire could have been to keep the plentiful deer away from the fields I suppose. I had my doubts as to how effective that would have been. The fences appeared to have been only slight more than waist high.
For almost a week I fed Rachel. She gained strength daily. From the way she ate and slept it appeared no one had been caring of her. I didn't ask how she had been living since the shooting episode. I simply did what I could to get her healed.
After two days in the morning dew the bags fell apart. I was forced to return to the hardware store for a better container. The paper bags holding the anti-personnel explosives got damp. The weight of the soil and other items inside caused them to disintegrate. My second choice was a basket of glass mason jars..
Working with the dynamite was dangerous since it already had the blasting cap inside. I managed to rebuild the mines without too much trouble. The drive was long, so I used a long wire from the detonator to the dynamite. I wanted to be out of range of the shotguns. I planted the explosives so that their Thompsons would be almost useless. It wasn't really much of a long range weapon. The Lewis gun however was a long range machine gun. I could sit inside the house while destroying them with the more powerful machine gun.
The trap was laid and I waited. I waited for two weeks. During that time absolutely nothing happened. Rachel did get strong enough to do some of the cooking. She was in bed less than her usual sixteen hours a day. By the end of the two weeks she napped only a couple of hours during the daylight hours.
Halfway through the third week Rachel and I were sitting on the porch when I heard the motor. It was a high pitched tinny sound like my motorbike. Rachel and I went into the house. I didn't know how many there would be. The motorbike came down the drive moving slowly. The rider wore a leather flyer's helmet and goggles. I thought I recognized the body so I didn't shoot him off the bike. I did keep an eye on him and the drive behind him.
I walked out onto the porch again with the .45 in my hand. "Hello Martin, what brings you here?"
"Deacon, I came for Rachel." He was trying to control his shaking body.
"If she wants to leave with you, she is free to do so." I said it without any change in my expression. I was looking at him coldly. "Rachel," I called in a loud voice.
"I am here Deacon," she replied form behind me. "You heard?"
"I heard. Deacon, I hope you understand. I love Martin. I want to go with him."
"I don't have any objections. I hope you two will be very happy. The only thing I suggest is that you go far away from here. The people who are looking for you have long memories."
"I know Deacon, thanks to you we have to leave here." Martin just wouldn't leave it alone.
"Martin, get on your damn bike and get the hell out away from me. You are a punk kid and you make me want to puke."
"I ought to kick your ass," Martin said. I knew it was for Rachel. I almost let it go. I probably would have, if I hadn't remembered all the crap that they gave me before they dumped Rachel on me.
"If you have a death wish Martin please give it your best shot." I stood back with my hands open for him. What he didn't know was that I had a trench knife in my boot. If I could whip the teenager fine, if not, I planned to gut him like a fish.
Martin was in the process of learning that life was not very pretty. He could back down or die. He put himself in the position, so it was up to him to get out of it. Since he was being so timid about a shadow enemy, I didn't think he had the courage to try someone standing in front of him. Unless of course I was foolish enough to turn my back on him.
"Come on Rachel let's go," he said. He found his way out. He intended to ignore me. It was a very good plan.
At that exact moment I heard the car engines. I knew then that Martin had rolled over on me. He had made some kind of deal to get Rachel out first I expected. From the expression on his face it seems the Cincinnati boys didn't play fair.
I left them standing on the porch as I dashed into the house. I barely had time to wire the road mines before they reached the final point. When I blew them the car lifted off the ground. It settled back on the road. When it did land it could only be discribed as a scene from hell. Men were on fire. The car had been atop the mine closest to the house. It wasn't necessary to set off the anti-personnel mines.
When I turned my attention from the car, to Martin he was backing away. "Martin, you are a dead man." I raised the Colt. Just as I began to pull the trigger Rachel spoke.
"Please don't kill him Deacon." She had real tears in her eyes. "I will do anything, if you won't kill him."
It was a safe thing for her to say since our time had passed. I looked over at her with what I knew was a look filled with anger and death.
"What makes you think, I didn't plan to kill you both?" She didn't have an answer.
"Martin, you are a snake. I really am going to regret not killing you both. Get out of here both of you." Martin reached for his motorbike. "Oh no Martin, you leave without your thirteen pieces of silver. You are lucky to be leaving here alive. If I ever see your face again, I am going to kill you and no amount of begging will save you."
I made sure the fire was out and that the two of them were long gone before I cleared the road. Once I had pushed the burned out hulk from the road I removed the detonators from the anti-personnel mines. Then I loaded all my possessions onto the T. It was time to abandon Thelma's home place.
I had no where to go, and no plan whatsoever. That being the case, I headed for Cincinnati. If they were looking for me in Huntington, Cincinnati seemed the place to be.
All along the way I divested myself of vehicles. First to go was my motorbike. I sold it to a young man outside a general store in a small town. I managed to get half what it was worth, but it was all that I had paid for the bike.
I slept one night in the rear of the T, then sold it the next day in Covington Kentucky, it brought very little. I wasn't surprised since I had pretty much driven all the good out of it. I expected that the engine needed a complete overhaul. Not only that, the brakes made an awful racket. With it gone, I had no use for the camp gear and bedroll. I gave those to the farmer who purchased the T. In exchange for them he agreed to store my duffle bags until I returned for them.
I slipped into Cincinnati on Martin's bike. I stayed in a hotel two blocks from the river. The area had been flooded many times over the years. I suppose it was the reason that the hotel was so shabby. It wasn't so much old as just poorly cared for.
The room I was given faced the street. The heat forced me to open the window. Opening the window allowed an invasion of street noise. I tried to take a nap since sleeping in the rear of the T was very uncomfortable. The heat was too oppressive. I walked to the bathroom at the end of the hall. I found a tub which was not in use during the middle of the day. I took a long bath. It was possible since the hotel would be empty until night fall.
It looked to me as though most of the guests would be coming from the river front bars. That meant passengers putting in for the night, or sailors who were looking for a place to lay a whore. I didn't expect to get much sleep. Sleep wasn't really an issue. I wanted to do something to end the war. I didn't care much for the idea of being chased around by a bunch of second rate hoods.
The night was beginning late since it was summer. I slipped from the hotel just before the sun went down. I walked several blocks to the Deli from which I had watched the Italian social club before I bombed it. I didn't have a plan at all. I just sat drinking coffee while I watched the club yet again.
Hard men came and went from the club all evening. It must have also served liquor since the crowd contained some well dressed men and women along with the hard men. The noise from the club did not make it across the street. At that point I thought it must be a dinner club, not a night club. The thought came as much from the length of time the guests stayed, as the lack of noise.
No one from the gang saw my face that night. I was equally sure no one had seen my face from the bombing either. I was tempted to go over to the club for dinner. I decided to wait one more day at least.
I walked the short distance back to my hotel. After waiting outside the bathroom a bit, I did the things I do before bed, then I found my way back down the hall to my room. I slept well that night, I was not at all concerned that I might have been spotted.
I was quite sure that Martin and Rachel did not want to deal with the gang again. Even Martin had to know the car full of hoodlums intended to kill us all. I had allowed Rachel to leave with her money so that she could take care of them for a while.
The next morning I returned to the Deli. I expected that the gang had a deal worked out with the Deli people. Since it was the obvious observation post, I tried to defuse my visit from the day before.
"Hello," I said to the woman behind the counter. "I am new in town and looking for work. You wouldn't happen to know where there is a job would you?
The woman spoke English with a heavy German Accent. It seemed the little area of open fronted stores was a melting pot for the town. She said something that sounded like nine. I knew that it meant she meant she knew of no jobs.
I left the Deli, turned right, then went from store to store asking the same question. I received the same answer everywhere. The answers were not only the same the accent was almost always the same as well. I worked the street slowly up one side of the block and down the other. When I came to the Itallian social club, I expected the same results. I wasn't disappointed. The woman behind the bar had a slightly sweeter voice as she told me no in her Italian accented voice.
By the time I left the club I had a pretty good idea of its layout. I also noted the subtle damage my grenade had left to the club. The obviously newer chairs here and there as well as tables with nicks on them from the shrapnel gave a pretty fair picture of the damage that I had inflicted
Two doors up from the social club, I caught a break. The man who ran a produce stand asked in his German accent whether or not I could drive a truck. I nodded to him since he seemed to have a problem understanding my English.
Without another word he walked back into the interior of the small storefront. The sidewalk where I waited was covered with boxes of produce. He had little diversity going since he also had boxes of fruit. Inside the tiny store were grocery items with mostly German labels. A scant six years before I was killing people with that same accent. It didn't seem right somehow to be asking them for work. I was going to feel awfully foolish, if I wasn't supposed to wait.
"You can drive a truck?" the woman who appeared from inside the store asked. Her accent was as thick but she seemed to find the words easier.
"Yes Ma'am, I often drove one in the army." I figured it was best to get that bit of information on the table. I wanted a job so that I could keep an eye on the club, but it didn't have to be that job.
She stopped to compose the sentence in her head before she continued. "It is late today. Tomorrow early we go out?" She waved her hand toward the east.
"What time?" I asked.
She tilted her head. It was obvious that she did not understand. I pointed to the clock on the street in front of a jewelry store.
"Time? What time do I come back?" I am afraid I raised my voice. She seemed to cringe. She held up five fingers.
"You want me here at Five in the morning?" I asked it in almost disbelief. I had been up and around that early in the Army but it had been a while. Since she nodded, I nodded back. The language barrier was so great that I didn't even bother to ask about the pay.
I left immediately since I had been hanging around the neighborhood a couple of hours. I took the bike across the bridge to Covington Kentucky. From Covington it was a short three hours to Plymouth. In Plymouth I went directly to the house belonging to Dutch.
He didn't exactly greet me with open arms, but he also didn't seem to hold any grudges either. I didn't need either the Colt or the Webley, even though I continued to keep them within easy reach. I sat at his kitchen table while I pumped him for information. He could probably sell information about me to the gang, if he wanted to. I had a feeling that he liked them a whole lot less than me.
It was almost dark when I returned to the fenced in parking lot belonging to the hotel. The fence added little protection from theft but it did make me feel better. It also helped that I had stolen the bike myself. I actually expected it to be stolen by someone else. Stealing it would be extremely simple. The two wires that went to the switch were clearly visible along the frame of the bike. I had the key Martin had left in the bike but it would be totally unnecessary. Bypassing the switch would be far from difficult.
Since I had stopped at the bakery on the way home the night before, I had, almost, fresh rolls for breakfast in my room. I would have liked coffee, but I realized that I wasn't home. With the rolls tucked safely away in my stomach, I walked the nearly three blocks to the store. I peered through the store window. I wasn't sure if the light in the rear was a night light or meant the family had arrived for work so I went looking for an alley to the rear. I found the opening three doors down.
I knocked gently on the door at the rear of the building. The woman from the day before shouted down from the fire escape. Her words were unintelligible but I understood the instructions anyway. I understood mostly from the hand she held up like a policeman. I knew that I was to wait where I stood.
As she walked down the metal fire escape, I could see up her dress. I tried not to look but I couldn't help myself. I noted immediately that she had thick thighs. Her hair was the color of a deer. It was longer and it was curly and her eyes were a cold blue. I had seen that color often enough in Europe. The woman was not really fat but she had that blocky body I had also seen often in European women. Her breasts, even in the house dress, were impressive. Heavy is the word that comes to mind to describe them.
"You are ready?" she asked as she stepped from the last step.
I nodded since it was the one thing I knew she would understand. She led the way without another word. The truck seemed to be an old T model ambulance from the war. How it happened to wind up behind a German grocery store was anybody's guess. We did not communicate well enough for me to ask.
After I cranked the Ford to life, she gave me directions to our first destination. She and I spent the morning going from one local farm to another. We even found our way to a market where the farmer sold their goods to people directly. It was in the small downtown of a neighboring village.
We were back in the rear of the produce stand and grocery by two p.m. While I unloaded the truck I noticed cars drive into the alley. The cars discharged men who slipped into the rear of the Italian social club. I kept and eye on them as I unloaded the truck. When I finished, I walked to the front of the store where I leaned against the wall as I munched on a pear. The pear was green and on the hard side but it was sweet.
Out of the blue I grasped why some of the men entered the club through the front and others through the rear. Those who used the front door were members of the gang or neighborhood residents who ate at the club.
Those using the rear, did business with the gang. They seemed to prefer no one to know their connection. I expected that even a few of them worked for the gang. It appeared that for some reason someone wanted them to be kept quiet.
The moves began in a method I would not have planned. As I stood with the pear almost gone, one of the hoodlums walked from the club two doors down. He sorted through the basket of apples which I had brought from the small village market. He found one to his liking then turned to leave.
"You gonna pay for that?" I heard my own voice ask the question.
The man turned to look at me. He had an amused smile on his face as he said, "Mind your own business or I might just teach you some manners."
"I don't think my momma would approve of me taking lessons from a thief," I replied. I was in it before I knew what was happening.
The man was way to close to me to reach for the shoulder holster. Those things were about concealment not a speedy removal of a pistol. He did not expect me to do anything but to stand on the sidewalk terrified while he pulled the pistol on me. Instead I pushed him while he was making the move. He was off balance as he stumbled back against the wall. He had his hand on the pistol as the trench knife nicked his throat. His eye went wide in terror. He understood immediately that he was a heartbeat from death.
I heard the footsteps behind me, and I knew it was his friend. "One more step and he is a dead man."
"You gotta' know, if you cut him you gonna die." The voice belonged to a man only slightly smaller than me.
"Don't matter much whether you kill me or this punk does. I do get the satisfaction of sending him to hell ahead of me."
"You let him go, we forget all this," the voice behind me said.
"You know better. I let him go and you kill me. Hell he ain't worth much, let me just kill him and go on my way."
The laughter filled the street around us. It came from a different voice. "Let him go and you can walk away friend."
"Oh really, why should I believe you?" I turned the punk so that I could see the man.
"Because, I give you my word." I knew that I was in a no win position so I pushed the hoodlum to them. The hoodlum acted as though he was going for the pistol. The man who had spoken last stopped him with a look.
"You not from here are you?"
"No down south, just passing through."
He nodded his head. "What is this all about?"
"The man was stealing an apple." I smiled at the man who was obviously some kind of boss.
"So what is that to you?"
"I went out this morning and brought those apples here. I got paid a fair wage for my work. I expect the people who paid me to get paid for their work. It is as simple as that."
"Gino, give the man his money." The hoodlum didn't look as though he wanted to do it. He finally tossed the money on the sidewalk.
"You didn't get the apple off the sidewalk," I said with a smile. I decided to see how far I could push them.
"There are three of us friend," the boss pointed out.
"I know," I replied with a much more confident smile than the situation called for.
"I will say one thing friend, you got balls. Pick it up Gino, and hand it to the man."
"Hand it to the lady instead Gino." I wanted my hand free to at least try for the Webley.
The leader smiled as he turned away. Gino gave the money to the woman who had ridden with me all morning. Then he cast an evil look in my direction as he walked away.
After they entered the club, I walked to the rear of the market by going down the alley a couple of buildings away. When I arrived at the rear, I sat down hard on a packing case. I tried to hold onto my pear. It was threatening to reappear at any second. The only reason I could figure that I was still alive was the witness problem. Too many people in the neighborhood would recognize the men. If the incident had taken place in some other neighborhood, I figured I would be very dead at that moment.
"They will kill you."
I looked up at the woman who had been my companion. He held a few coins in here outstretched hand. It was the payment for my day's work. Not even enough to pay the hotel bill for a day. I definitely could not afford the job long. The next thing she said did not surprise me at all.
"We will not be needing you again."
"I didn't think you would." I tried to fake a smile but I don't think I was able to pull it off.
"You should go," she suggested.
"I don't think they will bother you because I am sitting on a box." I again tried to smile.
"No, I mean you should leave this place." She flung here arms to encompass the whole town.
"Oh you mean, run away, I don't think I will be doing that. I do thank you for your concern though." She returned to the store while shaking her head. I continued to sit on the box with her coins in my hand. As I sat there, more cars came and went from the rear of the building.
After an hour or so my knees felt sufficiently strengthened to walk away. I stopped by to have a sandwich at the deli then picked up the bike. I rode it down the two streets by the river. The buildings along those two streets were no more than thrown together warehouses. It was typical since someday a spring flood would destroy anything built in the lower area of town. The floods happened many years apart but most everyone remembered them.
The warehouse was built more like a barn. It also appeared ready to fall down. It was structurally sound but badly in need of paint. The neglect of being abandoned was threatening it. The warehouse was perfect not only because it was abandoned but also because it was a short distance from the others along the river front. Even the gates were open making it ideal to slip into and out of.
Except for the small office area, the inside was open studs and rafters. Not much sense in finishing the inside, when it was intended for nothing more than temporary storage. The office area was totally empty. There was not even a broken chair in the place.
It was fortunate that I needed so few things to prepare the place for my guest. I could carry them on the motorbike. When everything was ready, I stood in the door debating when to begin. I tried to find a reason to put it off for a few days. Nothing came to mind so I rode the bike back into town. I left it parked several blocks from the social club. I left the key in the ignition. The only thing more I could have done was leave a sign that said steal me.
It was dead dark when the Oldsmobile used for carrying the big wheels pulled into the alley. I didn't recognize the driver which I regretted. I had hoped that it would be Gino. I chalked that one up to you can't have everything.
The driver dropped off his black suited passenger at the rear of the building. Once the passenger slipped into the rear door, the car pulled to a parking space a few feet away. He moved to clear the alley in case of a fire I supposed. It was called a fire alley after all.
The Colt was harder to hide, but much more impressive when sticking in your mouth. In the driver's mouth is where the Colt found itself that evening. He would have spoken if the Colt hadn't been so big. He could only mumble which was just as well.
"Get out of the car." I used my best menacing voice when I spoke. He got out slowly just the way I wanted. I disarmed him, then quickly put him into the trunk of the car. Once he was safely tucked away, I drove off to the sound of his muffled cries. I should have bashed his skull I thought as I quickly drove to the warehouse. I was fortunate not only was the traffic light, there was not a cop in sight.
I had warned him about the noise, so when he came out I slapped him across the jaw with the Colt. I am sure it hurt but it did something more. It got his attention in a way that said this is not a game. I tied his hands behind his back with the long rope, then I threw it over a rafter. I pulled it tight before I tied it to a nail someone had thoughtfully driven into a stud. The thug had to be uncomfortable standing on his tiptoes like that.
"What's your name?" I asked it simply to have a starting place.
"Tomasino, and I am going to kill you for this." His bravado was touching.
"I am going to give you that chance after we have had our little talk. But first I want to know about the men you drive around."
He spat at me. I wiped it off the front of my shirt then wiped it on his. At that point just for the pure hell of it I slapped him across the mouth with the Colt. I knew I had broken several of his teeth. He began spitting blood but not at me.
"Those teeth can be fixed. Some things can't be repaired so let's not have any more of the foolish heroics. There is no one here to be impressed and no one is going to know what you tell me. You can tell your boss you told me nothing, it is all the same to me."
"I ain't tellin' you nothing," he said.
"Thomas, I can call you Thomas?" He didn't respond at all. "Thomas, you are going to tell me everything you know. When you run out of things, you are going to make some up. Because you are going to want to live, but even more you are going to want the pain to stop." I walked behind him. I quickly broke one of his fingers. His screams did not give me any pleasure. The whole thing was strictly business. I was doing it all to stay alive. Okay, I did plan to profit from it, but it was not done for pleasure.
"Now Thomas, the things I am asking you are of no importance. These things are the things I could easily find out by following you. I simply do not have the time for that. So you are suffering to protect something that is not even a secret. So, let us begin with who you dropped at the club tonight?"
He did not appear to be moving toward and answer so I broke another finger. I did it because it wasn't enough that he answered. He had to answer without editing his remarks. It had to come off the very top of his head.
"Again, who was the man you dropped at the club?"
"His name is Simmons. I pick him up after work once a week. I drop him at the club then a couple of hours later I drive him home."
"Who does he come to see?"
"He comes to see the boss."
"And what is the name of his company?"
"The sign over his office says Hong Kong imports." I had no idea what that meant nor did I care.
"Who else do you take to the club?"
"Guy named Robert Lawrence. He is some kind of banker."
"Is he the only banker type?"
"Yes," he didn't seem to be very enthusiastic with his answers. I was debating moving on to even more fingers but decided not to bother. For the next thirty minutes he gave me names and addresses of men with whom his boss did business. None of them meant anything to me. I was sure that the country sheriff was on his payroll but he didn't visit the boss at his club.
"Well Thomas, you did fine. I am going to tie you up and leave you here. I will be back tonight to turn you loose. Just take it easy and try to rest." I moved him from the open bay to the partitioned office space. I tied him to a support post in the office. He might bring the whole barn down but it would be the only way he was going to get out of the knots. The broken fingers assured me of that. I drove his car across the river to Covington. I found an all night diner. I drank coffee there until the sun came up.
With daylight came respectability, I used it to drive the stolen car to the farmer who was storing my duffle bags. I drove from the farmer directly to the bank. Getting in to see the manager required flashing some of the liquor money about. It seemed that I didn't look like a millionaire. Since the bank dealt with criminals, they were not at all shocked to seem me flashing so much cash about.
The secretary dumped me into the office of the bank manager. I stood a moment while he finished a paper he was readin, I had the feeling that it was for show. Lawrence was a heavy set man trying to hide it behind an expensive desk. When he stood, I noted his suit probably cost all the money I made from a day's liquor sales.
"Ah Mr. Amos is it?" he asked extending his hand to me.
"Yes it is Mr. Lawrence." I smiled even as I removed the Webley from my pocket.
"Mr. Lawrence, we have what is usually called a bank robbery here." He didn't appear to look overly concerned. I expected that he though his connection with the gang would save him. It was time to disillusion him.
"Don't make a sound because frankly I would have no problem killing you. I really don't like bankers much." I smiled as though we were discussing his car.
"And if I don't co-operate?"
"I kill you on the spot then I pick up that phone and call my partner. He is at the moment holding a woman and child. They live at 442 Green Valley Drive." That one took the wind out of his sails. "If I don't call him in exactly twelve minutes, he kills them all. Even if you alert your guards, they can't stop it now."
"What do you want?" he asked.
"I don't want you do anything too far out of the ordinary. I don't want you to go from window to window filling a bag. I don't even want you to go empty the vault. What I want you to do is to walk into the vault and bring me the two black suitcases you have stored there."
"I can't do that, they will kill me."
"They might, but if you don't, I am going to kill you, your wife, and your little girl. I don't think you have a choice but to deal with one threat at a time. Now get me the bags." I followed him outside. I stood across the rail from him as he went into the vault. Since I was not in the vault, no one paid any attention to me. I had a good view to make sure he didn't pull anything. Lawrence removed the bags from a lock box inside the vault. He brought them out to me.
"What about my family?" I had to admit he really did look worried. Since the job had gone off so easily I gave him a break.
"Walk out with me," I demanded. Once outside the door I started the Oldsmobile. I looked up and said. "Go immediately into you office. Call your house when the man answers say the word MORTON. It is the code to release your family." I drove off. I managed not to laugh until I was at the warehouse. I loaded Tomas into the car still trussed up like a chicken. I drove across the bridge and into Kentucky.
I opened the trunk on the outskirts of Covington. I cut the ropes on Tomas's hands. He was standing on wobbly legs when I said, "Well Tomas, I hope you fare better with the boss." I knew he was in trouble, even if he didn't. From the general store, just outside town, I got the name of a farmer who had a sharecropper house for rent.
"Yes Deacon, I have a house out there for rent but it ain't much. I don't expect, a man like you would be interested."
"Well brother Ennis, it don't take much for me to be satisfied. I need it only for a few weeks in any event. The tent meeting folks will be here in October just before the cold. I cleaned the Olds up then parked it on a used car dealer's lot late the next night. I had no idea what he would do with it. Call the cops maybe.
I spent about five hours sitting on a park bench in the town square. I chose one in the dark so as not to attract any attention. When the sun was peeking over the horizon, I found a caf\'82 for breakfast. The food was good and the waitress was old but friendly. As was often the case in diners, there was a bulletin board. On the bulletin board were a number of things for sale. Among them were two T models. From the smiling waitress I received directions to the ladies ready to wear store. The manager of the store had one of the Ts for sale.
The car was parked outside the store to make viewing it easier. She wanted to get rid of it because she had bought a newer Chevrolet. The Chevrolet had a bigger engine according to her. It did have a more powerful engine. It was also much faster. If I had planned to be chased the newer Chevrolet would be the car of choice.
The T which she was trying to sell was an older family touring thing. It had the rear seat for the kids as well as a tattered cloth top. She didn't much want me to start it. When I finally got it started, I knew why. The engine had not been cared for. It smoked badly. It was my guess that the whole car was in bad mechanical shape. If it ran at all, it would do for my purpose.
After a quick test drive which convinced me that it would survive a while longer, I began negotiations with her. Even when the price reached fifty dollars I knew I was over paying for it. She wouldn't budge. I kicked myself even as I counted out the money.
From her I got directions to the office of a coal speculator. The woman was happy to explain to me what the man actually did. He bought coal from the mines in huge lots then resold it in smaller quantities. He arranged the shipments to the buyers by barge.
Mr. Sheffield's office sat just outside the rail yard. When I entered his female secretary asked my business immediately. "Mr. Sheffield has no time for salesmen," she informed me.
I explained again that I was present to see about the car he had for sale. I waited while he made two more phone calls. When he finished, he spoke to me.
"The car isn't here it is at my home. The address is 321 North Elm Street. It is the blue one. The price is $350 I do not negotiate." He obviously did not expect me to buy a car so expensive. "I also do not take time payments."
"First of all Mr. Sheffield that is a lot of money for a Ford. Secondly, if I bought it, you certainly would not need to take payments on it."
"Good," he said. He didn't seem to doubt my word, but he also did not seem to think he would see me again. "If you want it, pay my wife she has the bill of sale ready. She will just have to fill in your name." The son of a bitch lifted the phone to dial. The prick had just dismissed me. I left with a smile on my face.
The two suitcases probably held enough money to buy his ass. I hadn't counted the money but I knew it was a lot. I neither knew, nor cared why the gang had kept so much cash in the vault. Just the fact that I had it was enough for me. The trick would be to get away with it while staying alive.
I don't know what I expected to find at the house on Elm Street, but what I did find was a five-year-old T model Ford Speedster. It was a fast two seater built on a European body design. It looked like a race car because it was supposed to look that way. Sheffield obviously didn't drive it often. It had very little wear on it so the price for the car was actually low. I would have expected it to be at least five hundred dollars.
"Can I help you?" The woman who asked it was just a few years older than Sheffield. She was too young to be his mother.
"I came to look at the car Ma'am. I spoke to Mr. Sheffield at the office."
"He did tell you that we will accept cash only?" Like her husband she was putting me in my place.
"Ma'am, I am getting awfully tired of that. I came to town to buy a car. I brought the money with me to buy a car."
"I am sorry young man but you just don't look as though you have that much money." I nodded. I removed the roll of bills from my pocket.
"Would you like to count to make sure there is enough here before I ask to start it?" I had intended to make her feel bad. She didn't seem to notice.
"No, I think not," I looked at her for about two seconds just to size her up. She was a woman with features as sharp as her tongue.
"If the car runs, you have it priced right to sell," I suggested.
"The car runs quite well I believe. Our son drove it during college. He moved to California, so we bought him a new car out there."
"I see. I would like to start it, if you don't mind," she nodded her head. Starting the car was not as easy as T models usually are. It took some fiddling with the ignition to get it started. I allowed it to run while I checked out the engine. To find the engine so obviously in need of cleaning was surprising in so expensive a car. It was possibly why the car was priced so low.
After it warmed up, I asked, "I would like to drive it around the block a couple of times. How do you want to work that? You don't seem to be very trusting." I smiled to lessen the impact of the words.
"I certainly don't think leaving your car would do." She smiled at me but not to lessen the impact of her words. The smile was friendly for a change.
"If I can't drive it, I won't buy it." I lowered and latched the side engine cover.
"Well I suppose I shall have to ride with you." She smiled again as she climbed into the car. Since it was an open topped roadster, she had no fear of being seen with the young stranger. I was probably close to her son's age.
As I drove around the block a few times, I made the decision to buy the car. I had plans for it. Even though the kid had abused the car it would do for what I wanted. I pulled onto the Elm street after my test drive.
"Could we drive just a little longer?" The voice belonged to Mrs. Sheffield.
"Of course, is there anywhere you would like to go?"
"Actually there is. Just go back to the main road then turn left out of town." She looked boldly into my eyes.
It was well after midday when she handed me the bill of sale for the car. She even agreed to follow me home to deliver it. The thirty minute errand took quit a bit longer. After she left, I got busy because I knew my time was running short. In the waning light I set up the ambush. After the ambush was set, I moved the older more abused T to the rear of the property. The speedster sat in the drive just the thing you would expect from a man with new found wealth.
It took them two more days to find me. I was a little surprised that it took so long. I had left a wide enough trail for them. When they came, it was in three cars. I was never sure exactly how many men came for me, I had hoped it would be the whole gang including the boss. I continued in that hope until the end.
Firefights don't really last all that long. As was the case the last time they came for me, the road was mines. After my first encounter with the gang, I was surprised they rode right into it. The mines in the road got only the lead car. I had spaced them wrong. A dozen men tried to climb down from the other two cars.
I laid 300 rounds from the Lewis heavy machine gun on them. It was a slaughter only two of the men were still alive after the pan on top of The Lewis was empty. I had practiced changing the pan so often that I had a full pan on The Lewis before they reached the woods. I suppose shooting them in the back wasn't very sporting, but it was safe.
I waited until The Lewis cooled, before I went to check the bodies. Once I was sure they were all dead, I returned to the house. I tossed a few hundred bucks from the suitcases into the house then walked away. When I got to the older family T, I hit the detonator. The house when up in a fire ball as the two gallons of gasoline added its fuel to the dynamite explosion.
I tugged on the wire to get all that was left of it out of sight. I tossed all the evidence of the explosion into the old smoking T model Ford family touring car. I drove the high clearance T through the field until I was past all the destruction. Once I was clear of it all, I began my drive South.
I dumped the car in the first town I came to with a railroad. I bought a ticket to Florida. I got off the train in Tennessee. I bought a car from an old lady whose husband had died two months before.
I spent six months laying false trails. When the six months that I had allotted myself for the subterfuge ended, I began thinking about starting a new life. How I wound up back on the farm is still a mystery to me. I guess I stayed because my brother, his wife, and their five kids had moved to Greensboro to work in the mills there. I settled in to raise kids. And no, Thelma wasn't the mother of them. A local girl got that honor.
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