The next morning Mike rose early and got dressed. Walking into the living area of the big house he noticed Buddy sleeping on the couch with only his boots off. After catfish he’d gone to a local bar and closed it down with friends, drinking lots of beer and shooting pool and making conversation with the bar maid, Sabrina, whom he’d gone to high school with. Mike went to the kitchen where his stepfather was already having coffee. He wasn’t going to drive his new truck to the ranch so he asked Bill to drive him there.

    “Where you wanna go?”

    “June’s grand maw’s house. Remember, Barbara said they wanted me to start coming out to see June there?”

    The older man eyed Mike for a minute, “You better watch out about going out there. Ray’ll drag you out to the hills and skin you!”

    “No, I think It’s gonna be ok. He’s gonna like me in the end.”

    His stepfather chuckled, “You’re just hot on the trail of that little girl.”

    Mike got all defensive and half yelled, “She’s not a little girl, and I don’t like you saying that!”

    His stepfather was not taken aback by this outburst. He just figured it was Mike’s time to “jump” because that’s what all the other boys had already done. They had all tried out the old man except the youngest who was too fat and slow to jump on anyone, or anything but a pork chop.

    “Oh, you a man now? How’s your head feeling?”

    Realizing he was setting the stage for a major altercation, which he wasn’t ready for, at least not just yet, Mike backed off and said, “I’m just nervous about going out there, dad, and I let it get to me.”

    “Why don’t you just date that girl you been seeing across town? The one you been sneaking in the back window on?”

    Mike went at least two shades paler. “What are you talking about?”

    “Deputy Dog’s ugly little girl. You know, the one with the big ears.”

    “That was Anna dad!”

    “Oh, yeah, your mother reminded me of that, too. Anyway, you have been sneaking in her window every night when the Deputy’s on patrol. Why don’t you marry her?”


    Mike was starting to grit his teeth, but he controlled himself because he could tell that his stepfather was fishing for a fight, and his head was still sore. The old man really had a laugh out of all this, but then it was getting on his nerves too. About that time Buddy roused and walked into the kitchen.

    “Dad, is there coffee?”

    “Right over there,” the older man pointed to the pot sitting about half full.

    Buddy got a cup and poured it and began to drink without any sugar or cream. “You screwing Anna, Mike?”

    “I may see her from time to time but it’s not serious.” Mike didn’t dare show any anger at Buddy, who was obviously working off the night before. He couldn’t lie to him both because Mike’s roaming was the talk of the night at Sabrina’s bar among people their age and Buddy had been completely filled in on all the details. He also had been filled in on all the details about June the Cat, too, but he didn’t bring it up because he didn’t want his dad to jump in the middle of that kind of argument so early in the morning.

    “Dad, do I get the ride or not?”

    “Sure, I’ll take you, but you tell Ray not to shoot until I get my truck off the property!”

    Ray was working in his mother’s barn with the little truck rolled up. He was a wiry man who constantly wore a floppy felt cowboy hat, even in the summer when everyone else wore straw. He never wore a baseball cap, or any other, just one hat that he’d apparently had since he was very young. He had a thinning beard and those crazy eyes you see on movies about hillbillies hiding in the woods making bar-b-cue out of tourists.

    He walked out of the barn with an axe over his shoulder. He walked slowly to the truck and looked at Mike. Mike sat straight up and slowly began to sweat. Talking back to Ray at Fat Eddie’s was one thing, but he was out in the desert now and Ray could just about get away with anything out here. But, that’s what made him civilized, too. He had control now.

    “Well, just get out! You can’t see her if you’re a sitting in a truck. I ain’t gonna kill you right out.”

    Mike let out two lungs and a half of air. He opened the door and stepped out onto the sandy soil that Ray
    called his drive way. The man with the axe looked at Mike’s stepfather and, without Mike seeing, winked, and said, “Where you want me to send the body?”

    “You can just keep it out here if you want.”

    They both laughed and Ray put his arm around Mike and led him toward the house. Bill backed the truck into a field and drove off the land. Ray’s mother owned eighty acres of land about ten miles from the little town. Now, if one understands that the town itself was in the “middle of nowhere” then it can really be understood that the farm was really nowhere. She’d inherited it from her dead husband’s estate. Land isn’t very valuable in Texas unless it’s in Dallas, or Houston, or somewhere like that. Other than that, it is generally “dirt” cheap. The farm had produced nothing but Ray. They ran a few cows on it, and some goats, but it actually did not sustain life of any kind as far as making any produce for market, but that was typical for this part of the country. The ownership of land was a pride thing, and not an economic thing. There was a vague “value” to the ownership of the land. Something you really couldn’t put your finger on, but it was real nonetheless. This ownership put Ray’s mother in a slot of society that was peculiar to Texas. Sheriff’s would even step lightly before driving out into the desert to arrest such a person, and the law didn’t always stand on the side of the deputy who transgressed this understanding. You must really ask yourself, did the Branch Davidians really break the “law” or were they just shooting some Yankee trespassers who came onto their land?

    Ray lived, and had lived in the shack behind Fat Eddie’s for quite some time now, but he would still come out and help his mother keep the place up that had been his father’s. His mother had never approved of Barbara, and tolerated her only on occasion, never allowing herself to be given a daily dose of being around her son’s wife. She’d accepted June with the same affection as she granted June’s little sister who was, after all, her maternal grand daughter. She’s given the young lady tips down through the years, but she never had approved of Barbara’s raising of the child. She knew full well the secrets that the foundations of the Bend sat on top of, and she didn’t like what Barbara had done in her past.

    Yet, with all of this Ray really wanted to have his little stepdaughter live in town at the “Bend” with “quality” people. June was the apple of his eye. With his having growing up in west Texas, he understood the way things really were, and he didn’t want her to end up looking like his mother at fifty years old. He wanted her to look like Claudette. He wanted her to have all those things he saw in the homes he put sheet rock and roofs on when he worked his day job in construction. His show of force back at Fat Eddie’s place wasn’t so much that he didn’t want Mike to ever be with June, as he wanted to seal the relationship in stone. If he had to scare this wimpy kid to get his little girl into the Bend then that’s what he’d have to do. Mike was in no real danger. Ray would never hit, or harm a man, or boy, who wasn’t trying to hit or harm him first. He wasn’t an animal. He loved to read. He read Stephen King’s works all the time, and he liked western novels. He’d been in construction for a number of years, to the point of getting a master plumber’s license. He’d do a little light plumbing here and there, but sheet rock was the work he really loved. And, he was good at his trade. People take for granted the craftsmen who build their fancy homes. The molding, the pipes, and all that goes with a beautiful home always comes from the hands of a man like Ray. He was beginning a contracting business that would take him around the state rebuilding apartment complexes. This was one more reason he didn’t want to make enemies in the Bend. A lot of his initial funding may just very well come from Claudette herself! The Bend was filled up, all but the one house that Juan Sanchez had been building. Politics were rumbling over on that deal; politics that Ray didn’t understand, nor did he care to understand. All the good construction money the Bend had generated was long spent. He was a hard working man who genuinely tried to treat everyone fairly, and all he wanted out of Mike was to move his little girl into the Bend; the place that his own hands had built!

    Juan would make occasional visits to the ranch to see Ray, and they’d go out to the barn to talk, and sample what Juan had brought back from the “valley” down on the Rio Grande. Juan generally kept all in the area that were so inclined supplied with the Bend, and Ray had warned him that it may be an uphill drive for him to finish it.

    They walked into the house. The home was the usual Texas ranch style home with the moderate living room and a big kitchen. (Cause that’s where everyone stays anyway!) There were stairs going up to rooms in the attic, and a “Florida” room on the back for hot summer days. Ray’s mother was in the kitchen making lunch when the two walked into the home. Mike looked around for June, but didn’t see her.

    “She went into town with her mom,” Ray said without having to be asked.

    Mike rolled his eyes. He had an obnoxious way of rolling them where they ended up looking down and to the right. Ray picked up on this at once and told him, “You wanna see June you gotta play by my rules. She had to go into town with her Ma to get some things. She’ll be back. You ain’t getting her alone out here anyway, so you might as well relax. Turning to his mother he said, “Mom, we’re goin’ back to the barn, ok?”

    The small, white-haired woman turned and said, “I’ll yell out the door at ya when it’s done.”

    Ray nodded to her and pointed toward the door for Mike to lead. Mike eased out the door and started walking for the barn. He began to get scared. Sure, Ray was nice while his step dad was here, but how nice would he be now that he was out here alone. Behind him Ray was enjoying seeing him sweat. He didn’t mean the lad any harm, and figured that it would be good for him to get to know the boy.

    They entered the barn through the big double doors at one end. There was hay on the floor, but none in the loft. This barn wasn’t used for that.

    “C’mere,” Ray called as he walked to the back of the building. He reached behind a bale of hay and pulled out a King Edward cigar box. It was held together with an old rubber bank. Removing the rubber band, and opening the top so that Mike could not see the contents of the box, he drew out a sandwich bag of marijuana and some rolling papers. “Old Juan gets me this stuff whenever he’s down near Mexico. Say’s it’s special! Big medicine! He’s an Indian you know. At least he claims he is. Hell, all them ‘Meskins’ say they’re Indians, I don’t know.” He laughed, and sat on an old wooden chair and began to roll a cigarette. Mike stood there and looked nervous. When he finished rolling he stuck it into his mouth all the way and sealed it. Then he lit it, took a hit and handed it to Mike. “Here.”

    The boy looked edgy. Ray looked at him and said, “You can sneak around with a sixteen year old girl over in City Park, but you can’t smoke a joint with her dad, huh? Listen, the next time you’re jacking off and thinking about my little girl just reach around and put your thumb up your ass. I can tell you, if you like that feeling you’re heading for a place where they’ll make you feel like that all the time. Now, take this joint!”

    Nervously Mike took the cigarette. He put it to his lips and drew some of the smoke into his mouth. Then he let it out, but didn’t inhale. He started to hand it back to Ray when he heard a car in the drive. Turning he saw Barbara and June coming down the lane. The car rolled up and June got out with her mother. They both started walking into the house, but Ray called out, “June, come out here, hon. The barn!”

    She turned and ran for the barn. She was dressed in nice jeans and a pretty flannel top. She came into the barn and walked over to where they were. Mike looked at Ray as if to ask if he were going to get rid of the joint. Ray smiled, handed it to June and said, “Why don’t you show this idiot how to hit a joint, hon?”

    June took the cigarette and put it to her lips. She perfectly inhaled the smoke right down into her lungs, and held it there. After a second or two she let out little puffs, one at a time, and then all of the smoke. Smiling, she gave it to Mike. He took the smoke and put it to his lips. June said, “Just draw it right down. C’mon, it won’t make you crazy, just suck it.” She winked.

    He did as she asked and felt the smoke come into his mouth, and then down to his lungs. His lungs began to feel “fuzzy” as the smoke rested there, but before the first half second he coughed violently and all of it came out.

    “It’s ok, here, try again,” Ray said. He took a second puff, and this time it went down better and he held a bit longer. He let it out. The drug began to take hold, but not in a strong way. It felt light, easy, not harsh. Then he began to get sick. Ray noticed this and told him, “Don’t puke in the barn, go ‘round there and puke.”

    Mike went outside and threw up against the wall. When he came back inside the barn Ray told him, “It don’t make you sick, it just makes you feel that way.”

    He and June both laughed at the statement. June took the joint and took another hit from it. She closed her bright blue eyes and smiled as the smoke drifted between her perfect teeth. Ray took another hit and killed the joint. He put the remainder back into the cigar box, replaced the rubber band and hid it back behind the hay. He looked at June and said, “You two wanna take a walk over by the cattle tank it’s ok, but don’t be outta sight too long, ok?” Looking at Mike with a half grin, “I’d have to kill you!”

    The Butcher Shop
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