Meanwhile, back up in Tennessee, Mike was causing as much trouble for his father as he could. The fat man’s wits were already failing him. Unknown to him diabetes was creeping into his blood and in a few short years he’d be in the nursing home instead of working there. He had never wanted the responsibility of children and Mike was a well-grown child now! Mike made sure that he kept him up after he got home from school at three in the afternoon. Over the period of weeks, the loss of sleep began to tell on the man. He was used to sleeping until he decided to get out of bed.
If he slept all day and had to rush to work in the early evening, so be it. There was no problem there at all. He could always raid the kitchen at the nursing home. He ate one big meal a day, and if that meal was at the home that was perfectly fine with him. Mike threw a wrench into this life style. The constant care needed to provide him his needs wore the older man down and soon he was eagerly waiting for any reason to get him back to Texas, if for no other reason other than to get a good night’s sleep.
Now, enter into this mix June’s stepfather, Ray. He was genuinely upset when he heard what had been going on. In a life of low means and rough times, June had been the one ray of sunshine that had shone on this man his whole life. He’d married Barbara just five months after June was born. He’d lived with her in the shack that she ended up in after she and old man Stillwell had their little falling out. June had never known any other man as her father, and he lavished on her more than he did his own daughter by Barbara of some years later. June was his angel, and Mike had defiled her! Never mind the fact that June had initiated the meetings all by herself. Forget about all the Saturday nights at the SPJST! He didn’t want to hear that, and he wouldn’t hear about any “marriage!” Still, Huntsville prison had taken its toll on the little man. He’d been hurt there, and he was determined never to go back again. Deep in his heart he knew that he’d never do anything to cause his old school chum, deputy Dawg, to have to arrest him again.
Ray had been a good man up until he found drugs. The drugs led him down a road to stealing and worse and it all ended one night when he ran out of money for the white powder the marijuana had led him to. In a fit he ran into a gas station and tried to grab money from the till. The man behind the counter had hit him with a ready baseball bat and Ray, dazed, stumbled back to his truck. He hadn’t driven very far when the deputy pulled him over. By this time Ray was “all in.”
“I gotta take you in, Ray,” the deputy had said.
All Ray could reply was, “Johnny, I think you really should.”
He got six years, and did them without parole. When he came out and drifted back to west Texas he’d left his pride in Huntsville. He hung out at his mother’s ranch for a while, meeting with Juan in the barn as often as he could. Then he met Barbara, and as bad as she was, she was a tad better than what he’d left behind. She’d been carrying on with the old man, and there was a rumor about her and some drifter who had come through town right before Ray got back. Some people could remember the drifter, and some did not. In point of fact, he was only in town for a few days, ran into trouble at one of the private poker games that flourished in the area, and left quietly before he got hurt. They began to sneak around and before long Barbara was with Ray and they were both in the shack behind Fat Eddie’s. Then, in a short while she had June. A few years later the little sister came along, and this one was Ray’s, but the lovely June was always his favorite. For everything sour in his life, his little June was the sugar in his day. He did indeed want the best for June!
By this time, Mike was rolling full tilt to get back to Texas. The more he thought about June the more control the memory had on him. He began daily phone
calls to his mother, and nightly calls to June. Soon all hope was abandoned and he was on his way home again! His father drove him down and was more than just a little vocal about this whole mess.
“Just wants to be somewhere he’s not!”
“He thinks he’s in love,” his mother said.
“Well, we’ll see just how in love he is in a year or
two. Hope he graduates high school!”
Claudette walked out to his truck as he was
“Uh, Claudette, You got a fifty you can spot me ‘till I get back to Memphis?”
“Yeah, that kid tapped me out on the way down.”
As she reached in her jeans to retrieve the money she said, “You’ve been tapped out all your life, Ed!”
He looked at the big house and then he looked back at Claudette. Her teeth were fixed, her hair was done, and her weight was under control. It was to him as if he were looking at a stranger. He wondered if she were actually the same woman who left Tennessee so many years ago.
“I wish we could have worked it out.”
Claudette stared in amazement at Ed. “Worked it out? Are you insane? Do you remember how you spent the money I saved to get pavement on our driveway just so we could get propane to that little trailer you put me in? You bought a horse Ed! I froze out there while you rode that silly-ass horse.”
“Good! You probably ate him!”
“You sure have a sharp tongue now.”
“Yeah, but at least I didn’t call you retarded while your brother was laying there dying, now did I?”
“He was gonna die anyway. You know that.”
She shook her head, “Just take your fifty dollars and go.”
Mike knew better than to try to see June right off the bat. Her stepfather was waiting and he wasn’t being very diplomatic about it either. Ray’s reputation would keep Mike away for a while. Actually Ray was dodging Mike, hoping that there would be no incident, but it all came to a head one day at Fat Eddie’s.
Mike, and his stepfather were having breakfast at a table when Ray came in to have coffee before he went to his construction site. Right away Mike saw him and fear rushed through his body. He froze and looked down at his plate. Bill saw the man come in also, but made no note of it. Slowly he walked past them, and then turned. Looking Mike dead in the eye he said, “If I ever catch you talking to my daughter again I’ll stomp your guts out!” It was threat enough to scare Mike, and it had all that Texas flair that made Ray look like an offended father.
He then went and sat at a table. When he took off his cap, Bill couldn’t help but notice that he was bald! Then he looked at the general build of the man. Small, yes, and wiry, but small nonetheless! He went over to sit at the table. Ray seemed to have shrunk since he’d been building homes in the Bend. Bill knew that he couldn’t let this slight go unanswered, but he didn’t want a big incident.
“You better just move along,” the bald mam said.
“Well, what if I just don’t feel like moving along. You see, I want to know why you said that while I was eating my breakfast.”
Ray looked at him. He’d never had anyone sit at his table, look him in the face, and question him like that. But this man wasn’t backing off one little bit! He decided to give an answer.
“After what he did to her, I don’t want him talking to her anymore.”
“What did he do?”
“I said I don’t want to talk about it!”
And I asked what he did!” Leaning forward, he said in a quiet voice, “I don’t care about your little record, I want to know why you just disrupted my breakfast! If you ever do that again I’ll personally see to it that you never drive another nail in this county, convict! Ray, we don’t need this kind of trouble.” Bill was suddenly ashamed that he’d been so hard on Ray. Ray was only mad at Mike for being Mike, the very same thing Bill was mad at Mike for. He couldn’t blame him for that.
Ray got up, put his hat on his little bald head, and left. Bill went back to his table and told Mike, “I strongly suggest you dodge him. He is the kind of guy who will hurt you!”
“Why didn’t he hurt you?”
“He’s not mad at me, he’s mad at you Stay away from him. I don’t feel that Ray really wants any trouble, but if you push him you won’t be able to take the ass-beating he’ll give you.”
They ate their eggs in silence and left.
On the way home Bill talked to Mike. “What do you plan to do about that little girl?”
“Well, I wanna marry her.”
“Don’t you think at seventeen you’re just a bit too young to marry anyone? You need to graduate first.”
Mike stared out of the window and didn’t say a word. That was his way of ignoring the situation. He wanted to marry June, and he wanted to marry her this afternoon if he could. Or get a new truck! This problem would involve more than one breakfast at Fat Eddie’s. It would involve a meeting of the minds.
Bill looked at him staring out the window, “You gonna answer me?”
Mike just continued to stare. Bill reached over and took him by the hair on the back of his head and drove his face into the glass he’d been staring through.
As his head came bounding back Mike yelled, “What the hell’d you do that for?”
“Cause you didn’t answer me. And don’t think that running to your mom crying will help. You’re about to ruin that little girl’s life and for what? So you can get laid!”
“I told you I love her.”
“You don’t love anybody kid. You love yourself. Forget it. You spoiled little bastard. You got your mind made up. I couldn’t stop it all these years, what makes me think I can stop it now.”
They rode the rest of the way to the Bend in silence. When they got home Mike ran back to his room.
“What’s wrong with him?” Claudette asked.
“We saw Ray down at Fat Eddie’s.”
“What did he say?”
Bill looked at her surprised, “What the hell do you think he said? He told Mike to stay away from his sixteen year old daughter.”
“Did you take up for Mike?”
“Hell yes! I embarrassed that poor beat up little ex con in front of all his friends. Now, are you happy?”
“No. I’ve been on the phone to Barbara. She wants to meet next week sometime. I think she’s going to make the big push to get us to let June marry Mike.”
“Surely she’s not that crass.”
“Why hell yeah she is. Oh, she’ll be all offended, but the main thing is to get her trashy ass back on this property.”
“Like I said, a whole town full of trash.”
“I don’t even want to start that conversation again. Let’s just worry about one thing at a time.”
Bill went and sat on the back porch, looking at the greens. He’d built this with his ability, bare hands and guts. It only goes to follow that there would always be someone out there that would want to try and horn in on it. The “tracks” are not a barrier so much as an invitation. The tracks were an invitation to every one of those mother’s sons out there who wanted a piece of the good life. West Texas had always been the hardest part of a very hard state. Bill expected them to come, but he wasn’t going to just sit there and hand it all over. Not by a damn sight! Still, he would wait and see what the meeting of the mothers brought. He wouldn’t step in just yet.The Butcher Shop