Back to the World
by James Shaffer
Table of Contents|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
Johnnie Rae Piper is born in a tarpaper house outside Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, in 1950. His mom raises and home-schools Johnnie while his father, Tom, is off fighting in the Korean War. When Tom comes home, he’s changed: he has drinking and gambling addictions.
In 1969, an unlucky number in the draft lottery sends Johnnie to Vietnam. When he returns home, a year and half later, he finds he has exchanged one set of problems for another. A local loan shark is putting the muscle on Tom, and the criminal organization is widespread. Johnnie tries to help his father, with the aid of three cowgirls: Darlene, Jamie Sue and Kelly Jo. All of them are in for a wild ride.
When the Texas loan shark, Ed Wills, came to see my daddy the next morning to collect on the overdue vig, he brought his muscle with him. Most of the time people went to see Ed to pay their due. Ed took their willingness to pay as a good sign. It kept the books balanced and his debtors in his good graces. A bad sign was when Ed came calling and brought some help along.
When they pounded on the door, I told my daddy to open it. I grabbed the Louisville Slugger we kept by the front door and eased out of sight into a side room. As the door opened, Eddie’s muscle man kicked it in and slapped a blackjack across my daddy’s nose, then followed him to the floor to deliver another blow.
Eddie stepped in behind him. I bounced the bat off the back of the muscle’s head. He slumped to the side. Eddie was trying to pull his gun when I delivered a back swing to his jaw. He bounced off the wall and broke my mama’s best hall mirror; then he slid down and sat on the floor. I hit him again just for breaking the mirror. When the muscle moaned, I hit him a second blow. He stopped moaning.
For eighteen months in the jungle, I had taken no prisoners. Back in the world, West Texas was just another jungle. I pulled the gun out of Ed’s pocket and checked the muscle for a weapon. He was a confident bastard. The blackjack was all he had on him.
Daddy was trying to stand. I helped him into the kitchen, sat him in a chair and broke a tray of ice cubes into a dish towel. He held the cold towel on the bridge of his nose. I took a beer from the fridge, popped the cap and leaned a hip on the edge of the sink. As I took a long swallow from the bottle, I watched him snort blood into the towel.
“You’re gonna have to go up to Kansas now. See Aunt Peg. You can’t be here when these boys wake up. I see a lot of Dust Bowl farming in your future, Daddy.”
He peered at me over the edge of the towel then shifted his eyes past me out the kitchen window, staring into the distant past. “Hell, it’s all I ever knew. Should have stuck with it. Huh?” Given the pros and cons, I couldn’t agree or disagree.
“Do I have to say it? No more bookies, Daddy. Low profile all the way. These guys will keep looking. Don’t give them a target.”
He looked back at me and nodded. For some, a bloodied nose has a way of putting things into perspective. I wasn’t convinced he’d listen, but I’d had my say.
I finished the beer then grabbed the bat from the kitchen counter where I’d left it and stepped into the hallway. The two tough guys were still out cold. Hickory wood is hard. I turned back to my daddy.
“Can you walk?” He nodded. “Then go pack a bag.” I went to my room, grabbed my backpack and threw in a few changes of clothes. I folded my new western shirt and laid it on top of the rest. I hoped I had at least one more dance card to fill.
When I came out of my room, the muscle was coming around. He raised his head off the floor and tried to focus on me. He lifted it just enough so I could give it another good wack with the bat. He was going to have a hell of a headache when he woke up. I knew they’d come after us. Ed had a reputation to protect and an organization to answer to.
I went into the kitchen, opened the utility drawer and pulled out a roll of duct tape. I laid it on the counter then went over to the knife block and used the slits in the block to snap off the blades on each knife right where they met the handle. I took the paring knives out the silverware drawer and did the same. Ed would have to chew off the duct tape or use a butter knife. Of course, he could use the knife blades, but with his hands and arms tied behind his back, it would be a chore. That thought made me smile. Ed should work for his money for a change, I thought.
Old Ed wasn’t one of my favourite people. I liked his muscle even less. I knew I could kill them, but I wasn’t ready to take that step. Getting your head wrapped around killing changed your whole perspective on things. I knew that perspective well. But it also changed your status in the eyes of the law. I wanted to stay off their radar. This way it was just between Ed and us. Ed would settle his own score the way I’d settled ours with him: with no help from the law. That suited me. I was sure when Ed woke up and his head cleared, it would suit him too.
Daddy came down the stairs, bag in hand, just as I was finishing trussing up the away team. They hadn’t done too well today. I figured the tape would at least slow them down some and increase our margin for escape. Daddy stared at both of them stretched out on the floor.
“You take no prisoners, do ya? You gonna just leave them?” He was asking the obvious.
“Well I ain’t bringing them with us, if that’s what you mean,” I answered smartly and hefted the backpack on my shoulder. “Let’s go.”
We stepped out on the porch. I pulled a hatchet from a stump of wood on one side of the porch where Daddy chopped kindling.
“Take this around the side of the house and cut the phone line. We ain’t coming back. Give me your bag.” We exchanged a bag for a hatchet and stepped down off the porch together.
Daddy headed around the side of the house while I started for Ed’s car. I checked. The keys were in the ignition. In a minute Daddy reappeared beside me. I looked at him. “You still leave the keys in the pick-up?”
“Yeah. Old habit,” he said sheepishly.
I wasn’t in the mood to be critical. “Go get ’em. And while you’re at it, take off the distributor cap, lift out the rotor and put it in your pocket along with the keys.”
If Ed didn’t have the keys, he might try to hot-wire the pick-up. That would be a waste of time with the rotor gone. I wanted to slow Ed down as much as possible, tied up with no phone and no transport. The closest house with a phone was about four miles away. I was just buying time. It’s all we had.
I popped open the trunk and dropped my backpack and Daddy’s bag inside. A briefcase sat off to one side. I opened it. The bottom of the case was stacked with bundled cash. On top of the cash were Ed’s accounts book.
I opened the book and scanned the columns. At first glance it appeared Ed was just an accountant trying to balance his books at the end of the day — an accountant with a gun, some muscle and a bundle of cash.
I closed the briefcase and yanked it from the trunk when Daddy returned from the truck. I slammed closed the trunk lid and went around the driver’s side.
“Get in,” I said. We both got into Ed’s shiny, new Cadillac. I handed Daddy the briefcase. “Count the cash.” I turned the car around and headed west out on to the county road. I planned to drop Daddy off at the bus station in Amarillo then ditch the car. They’d be watching for the car. Ed was connected. The organization had eyes and ears everywhere.
Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer