June arrived back at the Bend less than four days after leaving for Vegas. She went to work the next day as if nothing had happened, and didn’t tell Claudette a thing about her real father. She hadn’t heard from Ray since he’d been in the office shortly before she’d left for Vegas, but she knew he was working the rebuild and that was what he usually would be doing. He’d get his money all saved up, and come back to west Texas, and they’d all meet at Fat Eddies for fish and talk about all that they had seen and done. She couldn’t wait to see Ray because suddenly she’d realized that “Real Daddy” wore an old floppy cowboy hat and talked west Texas slang.
June began to realize a great love for this little man whom the town had pushed off to the side until they needed his talent to build their precious Bend. Claudette’s husband may have been the official builder of the homes there, but Ray was certainly the knowledge behind the venture, and had it not been for him the Bend would have been a sight longer becoming a reality.
The week progressed and June was actually getting the hang of the job. It was easy to work with Claudette, for all of her reputation, and the money was very good. June was paid a good salary, and never had to really spend any money because she lived with Claudette and everything was always paid for. There was a maid, a driver if she needed one, and any little request she made was quickly catered to. Then, Tommy burst into the real estate office with startling news.
“Some nut shot up a café in Killeen!”
June was alarmed and said, “That’s were Ray is.” Then she thought for a moment, and asked, “Did you get the name of the place?”
“Luby’s. It’s a cafeteria. You know, one of them places that serve you like they did in school, but you get to eat what you want and a whole lot more of it.”
June relaxed a little bit. Ray would go to a burger barn, or a greasy spoon like Fat Eddie’s, but he almost never went out to a cafeteria to eat. Most likely, he was sitting in one of the apartments eating his potted meat and crackers, and drinking a beer for lunch, and was just as alarmed by the events at Luby’s as she had been just now.
The rest of the day droned on and she tried to forget the event, but the news kept playing the films repeatedly. She watched as the tape of the countless white hearses carried the bodies away. She noticed the Army helicopter in the road made it ass seem like a war zone. She felt a little uneasy not hearing from her mother telling her that Ray hadn’t made his usual phone call, but passed it off, and went to bed.
The next morning June got up and put on her black jeans, with a matching black shirt and her favorite baseball cap, with her long blonde ponytail running through the back of it. Then she opened the office with Claudette. The broker told her that she was going to get them breakfast over at Fat Eddie’s. Claudette was fond of getting breakfast burritos with egg and sausage. June began to tidy up the rooms a bit and watched the small T. V. in the break room, which was still running film on the Luby’s shooting. She heard the little bell ring in the front and went to get the sack from Claudette, but this time there was no sack.
“June, let’s go back to the break room, ok?”
June retreated to her favorite “freeze” raising her chin up and saying, “Ok.”
Claudette turned and locked the door in the front of the real estate office. June heard the bolt click shut. She knew that something must be up. Claudette came back to the break room behind June and sat in one of the chairs. June sat down and faced her.
“What is it?”
Claudette looked down, and then back up at June. “Just saw Deputy Dog over to Fat Eddie’s. He’s got reports from Killeen, June.”
June started shaking and tears fell from her eyes. In a shaky voice she asked, “W…what?”
Claudette began to form tears in her eyes, too, but she composed herself and said in a slightly shaky voice, “Ray’s dead. That man shot him in the back of the head, and he’s dead.”
June jumped up and ran to the front of the building, but couldn’t remember how to open the door. She fumbled with the lock, but it wouldn’t turn, and she couldn’t for the life of her get the door opened. Claudette came from the break room and stood at the rear of the office away from her. June began to pound the glass, and Claudette was afraid the glass would break, but then the girl fell to the floor and began pounding the floor.
“Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!”
She was reduced to a series of sobs and Claudette went to her and knelt, putting her arms around the broken little girl.
“Why?” June’s bright blue eyes were filled with tears.
“I don’t know why, little sister. I don’t know why. These things happen. The police killed the man. I just hope he suffered. A man like that needs to suffer. I can’t tell you why hon. I just can’t.”
Then they both heard a tap on the glass. Looking up they saw the deputy standing there with his hat in his hands. Claudette rose and unlocked the door to let him into the room. June couldn’t understand why she hadn’t been able to open the door a moment before, and wondered just where she’d intended to go if it had opened. The man looked at June.
“Cat, I had to go out and tell Barbara and your grandmother first, but I was coming here next. Still, I think it’s better if you heard it from Claudette, though.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. It was him. Ray was going to lunch with a couple of ladies. The man killed the one, and shot the other. I’ll never know why, but Ray jumped on top of the lady who was wounded and took the bullet for her. Your daddy was a hero.”
Upon hearing the deputy refer to Ray as her “daddy,” June began to cry all over again, and the deputy knelt down beside her. “I went to high school with your dad, but you know that, don’t you?”
June nodded. The deputy went on, “He wanted to be a teacher. I never will forget how he wanted to be just like Mr. Hornbuckle, our homeroom teacher. I went on to become what I am, and Ray, well he went on to be Ray.”
June sobbed and raised her tear-streaked face to Deputy Dog. “You are wrong about one thing Deputy.”
“What’s that, hon?”
“My daddy wasn’t just a hero at the end. He was a hero to me every day of his life. He raised me, and took me and my ma in. He worked hard every day, and he helped his momma cook brisket. My daddy was as big a hero as those men at the Alamo!”
“Yes, he was. I suppose he was.” The deputy rose and nodded to Claudette and left.
“We need to call your momma, June.” Claudette stood off from her, and let her get control of herself.
The girl was wiping her face with her hand, “Yeah, yeah, I suppose we do. I’ll do it. Claudette, can we just go home for a while. Can I just go back to the house for a few minutes?”
“You can stay in your room for as long as you want, hon. This is gonna be a trying event for you. We’ll get you through it, ok?”
June stood up and started to walk out of the door, but then she stopped for the longest time and stared at the very spot where Ray had last spoke to her. It was only then that she realized that the last visit was a testimonial. It was almost as if he knew. He knew. He would never be coming home again. He’d never spoke to her like he did on that day, and now she knew that he never would speak to her again. It was as if a large weight was setting on her right now.
They drove back to the Bend, and June didn’t go to her room. Right now, she just couldn’t stomach looking at Mike. Instead, she walked around the area for a while, finally ending up on the golf course, and sitting on a bench at the fourth green. She stared at the green for the longest time. The grief would come and go in waves over her. One minute she’d be racked with sobs, and the next with a numbness that would amaze her. After about an hour she walked back to the big house. Claudette was on the phone when she came in. As she hung up, she motioned June to the back porch. The maid brought some strawberry wine and poured a glass for June, but she refused.
“You drink it. You’re gonna need it child,”
Claudette said. “Just got some stuff in. When Ray get’s back here we’re gonna have to make some arrangements. Your momma don’t have no insurance and we are gonna have to handle the funeral.”
“When’s he gonna get here?”
“They gotta do the autopsy first, and then they’ll send him out here.”
June was incensed, “Autopsy? What the hell do they need an autopsy for? He was shot in his head! Can’t they see that? I want my daddy home!”
“Now, now, they always have to do them things when a murder takes place. It’s the law. I know it don’t sound nice, but the state has to do it.”
June looked out at the greens on the golf course, “Where was the state when Ray was taking that bullet? They were quick to judge him; send him to prison, but where were they when he was being killed?”
Claudette put her arms around June. “Deputy Dog said that he had some inside information that the police dragged that man in the restroom and killed him. He said he died begging.”
June looked up, “Good. I hope it took him a long time to die!”
Four days later Ray’s body arrived at the little funeral home in town. Claudette went to pick up Barbara and together they went to the home to make arrangements. The funeral director met them and led them into the office.
“Ya’ll this is gonna have to be a closed casket funeral. Ya’ll know that, right?”
“Is it that bad?” Claudette was hoping that they could view Ray.
“The bullet went in through the back of the skull. Blew away a part of the left side of his face. You don’t wanna see nothing like that.”
Barbara started to sob. Claudette had never seen the fat woman so emotional. Still she knew Barbara for what she was, and didn’t believe for a moment that she was really that upset. She was just wondering where the dollars were in all of this. “Ok. Fine. You fix him up. Let her pick out a casket. Send the bill to my office and we’ll write the check, ok?”
The funeral director nodded and then led Barbara into the casket room to see various boxes. Barbara looked up and down, and then picked out a simple wood casket. Claudette came in and told her, “Get what you want, Barbara. I’ll take care of it.”
“This is what I want. This is what Ray would want. He told me never to waste money on fancy boxes. Just put him down in whatever is needed.” She looked at the funeral director, “Now don’t you laugh, and don’t you lie to me. I want his boots on him, ok?”
“Sure. I’ll do it. I’ll open the end of the casket and let you see if you want.”
“No, I’ll trust you. Ray wanted to be buried with his boots on. Do that for me, ok?”
As they went to the car Barbara asked, “Did you arrange for Ray’s equipment?”
Claudette looked surprised, “His equipment?”
“You know, his stuff. The things he bought before he left.”
“Oh, the reconstruction equipment.”
“Yeah. I want it put over at his mother’s house until we figure out what to do with it.”
Claudette felt her rage rise. “Well, Barbara, I have a lien on that equipment. It goes to my pen to be held in lieu of payment of the fifty thousand dollars Ray owes me.”
“Ray said he could pay it as he saw fit.”
“Yeah, but Ray is dead, so the equipment stays with me.”
Barbara stared at her. Claudette continued, “Ok, let’s get this all straight. Your little white trash con has run out. Now, you go ahead and parade yourself all over town like a bereaved widow if you like, but you are still just the trashy little bitch who shacked up with old man Stillwell when you thought you’d get the ranch, and that’s all you’ll ever be. Well, you didn’t get the ranch and you’re not getting the Bend either! That little man lying in there was far more than you ever deserved. I’ll never know why he put up with you and lived in that shack. Now you know how I feel. And, oh yes, I was raised on a sand bar in the Mississippi. I know your little threat of how you’ll ‘jump on’ anyone at the drop of the hat. Well, the hat’s dropped so if you want to jump on me now you won’t be getting no cherry, bitch, ‘cause I been jumped on before. I don’t think we have any more to say, do we Barbara?”
As if she were looking at Claudette for the first time, and taking note that she was a tall Tennessee woman, the fat woman just stood there with her bluff called.
When they left, Claudette drove to the Bend and had the maid fix Barbara a sandwich and a cup of coffee. The conversation outside the funeral home was put on the back burner as if it never happened. June came in and held her mother for the longest time. She drew a cup of coffee and sat at the table. Claudette’s husband came in and got a cup.
“Well, here we all are,” Barbara said.
“Yeah, here we all are,” Claudette answered.
“Has anyone called Dish Bob?”
“He’ll be over here in an hour or so.”
Barbara said, “He came out to the house the first
night and prayed with me. He said he’d be there to console me if I needed it, but that he wouldn’t bother me unless I called.”
“He hasn’t been by to see me yet,” June added.
Claudette placed her hand on June’s arm, “Do you need to see him, hon?”
June shook her head and looked out through the window. “He can’t bring Ray back. I just hope he don’t pray for that guy that killed him.”
Barbara turned to June, “Now, June, that ain’t no way to be. That man was sick. He wasn’t in his right mind. We need to pray for that man. He didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t know your daddy. He was just in a rage. I just wish I knew what pushed him to that end.”
June turned to Barbara, “I wish I’d killed him! I wish I’d pulled the trigger and seen him die! God I hate him! I hate his momma. If he has a dog, I hate his dog! How can you sit there and say we should pray for him? Pray for him to burn in hell for the rest of time, that’s what I’ll pray for. I wish that I could burn right beside him so I could kick his worthless ass every day for the rest of history. Don’t say nothing like that to me momma. Don’t you ever say that to me!”
Everyone was startled that June was so bitter. She got up and walked to the porch. Sitting on a chair, she stared at the golf course as the maid came out.
“Would you like anything, Ma’am?”
“No, no thank you. Maybe some wine. Some wine.”
As she was sipping the strawberry wine Barbara came out. “I’m going to the house. If you want you can come over.”
“I wanna go to Maw Maw’s.”
“She’s all upset June.”
“I know that, but I wanna see Maw, Maw.”
“Ok. Ok. I’ll have Claudette.”
“No, I’ll have the man get the car. You go on
without me momma. I’ll be along directly.”