Dish Bob pulled up and rang the doorbell of the big house. Claudette let him in and led him to her private office in the rear of the home.
“Sit. You need a drink?”
“You have some scotch?”
Claudette went to the bar in the office and opened a
bottle of Chavis. “Rocks?”
“Yeah. Been a long day. You see Ray’s body?”
“No. The undertaker said it was bad.”
“Blowed his head off like John F. Kennedy. Terrible!”
She put a few cubes of ice into two glasses and poured them full of Chavis Regal scotch. Giving one to the preacher, she sat behind her desk in her big leather chair.
He sipped and asked, “So what do you need?”
“A bit of soul searching.”
The minister rolled the whiskey around the glass
and glared at her, I wasn’t aware that you were in possession of a soul. What seems to be the problem?”
“Cut the humor. You are a preacher, not a comedian! I loaned Ray fifty thousand dollars.”
“Hope you had collateral. He’s dead!”
Claudette poured herself another scotch, “I know that. My problem is elsewhere. If I hadn’t loaned him the money, he’d be alive.”
Dish Bob saw the beginnings of real tears in her eyes. She was holding together well, but there was a real moment of crisis here. He set the crystal whiskey glass onto the heavy oak desk. “You didn’t kill him, Claudette,” he finally said.
“But if I’d not given him that money.”
“He’d have been there anyway. Destiny. Remember that word. Ray was going to find his way to Killeen no matter what. Personally, I happen to know that he was working on that contract long before he came to you. He’d have been there anyway.”
“Why’d he die, Bob?”
“He died because it was his time. No more, no less.”
She nodded. After a moment’s thought she asked, “Do you really think I don’t have a soul?”
The minister finished his drink, “Nah, you got one, but you keep it so darned insulated that it’s hard to see it sometimes. You leave bad trouble back in Memphis, Claudette?”
She looked up alarmed. “Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason. Just seems that you been running from Memphis ever since you come here to these parts. Just wondering.”
“I left a dead brother that died for no reason, and a white trash family. Does that answer your question?”
“Yeah. For now. Now if you’ll excuse me I have a funeral to prepare.” He finished the drink and stood. “The whiskey ain’t working today. You notice that?” He let himself out.
About an hour later the car pulled up and June got out at Ray’s mother’s ranch. She walked to the house and found the old woman sitting on her sofa in the living room looking at a family album.
The old lady looked up, “June? Oh, child, it’s so good to see you. Where’s your husband, hon?”
“He’s back at the house. He’s taking all this pretty hard. Harder than me I guess. How are you?”
“Oh, I’ll get by. Ray was my only son. He was a good boy. I knew he was a good boy even when he went to prison.” She looked at June, “You know he had to jump in front of that bullet, don’t you?”
“Ray always told me such a thing would be a sucker move. Was it the sucker move, Maw Maw.”
The old lady smiled, “No. No it weren’t. It was the ‘Alamo’ move. Ray always believed in heroes. He’d watch that damn movie with John Wayne, and he’d cry, and try to act like he was clearing his throat.
I’d laugh to myself. That was my Ray. He was the hero.”
June sat beside the lady and began to look through the photo album. Ray’s life unfolded before her. She noticed he had hair, and then slowly, through the years, he didn’t. Even though the stay in prison wasn’t noted in the book, she could tell right when he experienced it. Something was missing in the eyes. Then, almost like magic, the eyes came back a bit, and pictures of her, and her mother, and her little sister began to be sprinkled across the pages. The last picture was Ray in his suit at her wedding.
“Maw Maw, I gotta go to the barn for a few minutes, ok?”
The old woman put a hand on her arm, “Yeah, I think you should.”
June walked out of the ranch house and made her way across the yard to the barn. As she approached, her pace became quicker until she was almost running by the time she got to the barn doors. She entered through the big doors at the end of the building. It seemed so strange not to see Ray here. She stared at the end of the room and squinted her eyes as if by doing so she could somehow see him still there. Then she remembered something. She ran quickly over to the side of the barn, beneath the loft where the hay was still stacked. Getting on her knees, she reached behind the hay and fumbled for a few moments until her fingers found a familiar object. Though she had never retrieved the cigar box for Ray, she knew right where it was at from all the times she saw him reach for it. She sat back on her heals and removed the big rubber band from the outside of the old box that kept it from falling to pieces. Opening it up her eyes filled with tears, and she thought she’d loose her breath. Before her was the expected bag of marijuana, but in addition to that were other things. Ray had never let her look into the box as he rolled a joint, and now, at last she could see. A lock of blonde hair was there. There was a picture of her as a newborn baby, in black and white. A picture she’d drawn in the first grade of Ray with his floppy hat. The picture was in a little girl’s hand, and folded neatly. Among the items in the little cigar box was the garter from her wedding. June fell over and touched her forehead to the floor of the barn and cried.
“Oh, God! Oh God. How terrible can it be? Oh God!”
From beyond the veil Veronica beheld the scene before her and knelt right in front of June and cried with her. The memory of this moment flooded over her and the pain returned again as if it had happened all over again. Dream Walker stood behind her and let her release it all out.
“You gonna be alright, Veronica?”
“I’ll never get over him, Doctor Angel. I’ll never stop missing my daddy.”
The two cried together, June in one world, Veronica in the next. Though June could not see her, she cried with her blue eyes staring into the face of her own soul. It was like the two were mirror images of each other. In her grief June reached up and extended her hands to heaven. Simultaneously Veronica did the same, and for split moment the physical did touch eternity. A small glow formed between their hands and for the briefest of moments, June looked into Veronica’s face! June did not draw back at the sight,
but rather devoured it. She saw her! For a moment there was total understanding between the two. June and Veronica knew all history, all reason, and all expectations and results and then, as quickly as it came it went, and each were back in her own level of existence. Her companion was stunned at the power of June’s soul. He almost expected them to reach out at any moment and hold each other in consolation. He imagined that it was at times like this that the physical touched eternity.
“She saw you,” he said.
“Yeah, she saw me.”
“You’re so damn smart, you figure it out!”
Veronica rose and walked from the barn.The Butcher Shop