Friday, August 12, 2016

Thumbing to Morristown by Tom Ray

An old man's fishing is interrupted by a young itinerant, but is he being too trusting when he offers to help? By Tom Ray.

Wayne sat in the folding metal chair on the riverbank, holding the fishing rod and staring at the line. The sun was high in the sky and he checked his watch. He didn't want to open a beer before noon.

He heard someone coming up behind him, and stayed quiet, not letting on that he knew anybody was there. It was Sunday morning, and not a lot of people would be out at this county park. If somebody wanted to rob him he wouldn't have any help. That was OK, because he had a baseball bat and a brick next to his chair.

A young male voice, speaking low, said, "Are you awake, dude?"

"Come on around here so I can see you. Don't be sneakin' up on me like that." He sounded harsh and loud on purpose, to intimidate the stranger.

The young man came around beside Wayne, laughing. "I wasn't sneakin' up on you, old timer. I just didn't want to scare you awake or anything." He was a little shorter than average, and skinny. His greasy, brown hair was shaggy, but not shoulder length. He looked like he hadn't shaved for a few days. He wore ragged jeans worn through in spots, a faded red tee shirt, and a denim jacket. His work boots had probably been brown at some point, but were now a grimy gray.

"Don't worry, I'm awake."

"Good for you. I wouldn't want to disturb a man's sleep."

They both were silent for a moment, then the younger man said, "Catchin' anything?"

"No. With the sun up like this they aren't biting. I'm just wetting my line now."

The boy snickered. "I'd like to wet my line."

"I don't think you can do that in the river the way you mean."

Another snicker. "You got anything to eat in that cooler?"

"I have Vienna sausage and some chips in there." He nodded to a plastic grocery bag knotted around one handle of the cooler.

"I don't reckon you'd share those, would you?"

"I might." Still holding the fishing rod, the old man awkwardly untied the grocery bag and pulled out a small bag of Lay's potato chips and a can of Vienna sausages.

"Much obliged, brother." The boy pulled the lid off of the Vienna sausages. Wayne started to tell him there was a plastic fork in the bag he could use to pry the tightly packed sausages out of the can, but the boy had already tortured one out with grimy, shaking fingers. "Got anything to drink?" He put three more sausages in his mouth and ripped open the bag of chips.

"How about a Pepsi? I've got beer in the cooler, too, but I'm saving that for later in the day. It's a little early for beer yet, isn't it?"

"Me and my papaw like to drink a little beer first thing in the morning sometimes to settle our stomachs."

"How old were you when you started that?"

"Twelve or thirteen, I guess. I was in middle school."

"I bet your mamaw and papaw raised you, didn't they?"

"Yeah. Same old story. You gonna give me a beer?"

"All right. I guess if Papaw could give you one early in the morning, I can let you have one at eleven o'clock. Help yourself." He still didn't trust the boy, but he felt the well-fed's guilt toward the starving.

"Thanks, dude." He opened the cooler and took out a can of Budweiser.

"Where is your papaw?"

"He's home in Georgia." He pulled the tab of the beer can, which gave a satisfying pfft pop sound.

"Is that where you live?"

"I don't live no place right now."

"Where're you headed?"

The boy took a long pull on the beer. "Morristown, Tennessee. My cousin's got a construction job there. He said he'd hire me on if I could get there."

"How'd you come to be in this park?"

"There was a guy picked me up down Highway 411 a ways, and he dropped me off on this road a couple of miles from here, when he turned off to get to his house. I started thumbin' from there, and nobody stopped to give me a ride. I got to this park, and saw a couple of cars in the parkin' lot, so I thought I'd check it out."

"Where're you coming from in Georgia?"

"Chatsworth."

"You've made pretty good progress. You're almost to Morristown now. What's your name?"

"Cody."

"Hi, Cody. I'm Wayne." He shifted the fishing rod to his left hand, and extended his right hand. They shook, and Wayne wiped the grease from Cody's fingers onto his pants. He'd hoped the handshake would tell him something about Cody's trustworthiness, but it didn't. It was just a handshake, neither limp nor firm.

"Howdy, Wayne, pleased to meet you. Hey, I hope it's all right to ask this, but you reckon you could give me a ride to Morristown?"

"Damn, boy, I already gave you my morning snack and one of my afternoon beers, and now you ask me for a ride."

"I'm sorry. My cousin said if I could get there by tomorrow morning he'd give me a job for sure, but any later than that he'd hire somebody else."

"I don't know; let me think about that. When did you leave Chatsworth?"

"About a week ago."

"A week to get from Chatsworth to Knoxville? Maybe you haven't been making as good a progress as I thought. When's the last time you had a shower?"

"Before I left Chatsworth."

He was beginning to feel some sympathy for the boy. He was pleasant, and his laughter sounded more good-natured than menacing. Besides, Wayne had size over the boy, if not the age advantage, should it come down to a fight. "All right. Here's what I'll do. I'll take you to my place. You can shower, and maybe wash your clothes, and I'll get you something better to eat. I'll see if we can find a way to get you to Morristown tonight."

"Thanks, mister."

They grabbed Wayne's gear, and then a gym bag that Cody had stashed under a bush a little way back from the riverbank. They got in Wayne's car and drove a couple of miles to the modest suburb where he lived.

Once inside the house, Wayne liked the fact that Cody didn't seem to be looking over the place for something to steal. He did take an interest in a computer desk in a corner of the living room, but only to look at a picture of a woman on the desk.

"Who's that?" Cody asked in a derisive tone as he approached the computer table.

"My wife."

"Where's she? Gone to church?"

"She died a couple of years ago."

"Oh. Sorry. Nice lookin' lady." He sounded contrite.

"You'd probably have liked her looks more when she was younger. That picture's from a little while before she died." He knew Cody's compliment was just an attempt to recover from the disrespectful tone of his initial comment, but he appreciated the effort.

There was an awkward silence before Wayne said, "The bathroom's that way. Towels are in there. If you'll throw out your clothes after you empty your pockets I'll put 'em in the washer. That's the extra bedroom there. You can lay down and nap if you want to after your shower. I'll put your clothes on the bed when they're dry, and you can get dressed and come on out whenever you're ready."

From the bathroom Cody threw out the clothes from his gym bag along with the clothes he had been wearing. The underwear, tee shirts and socks were all rank with sweat. There was only one pair of jeans. Wayne put the clothes in the washer and went to the computer to research bus service to Morristown. He'd already put the wet clothes in the dryer, and had heard Cody come out of the bathroom and go into the spare bedroom, when he had to answer the doorbell.

"Hi, Dad. You OK?"

"Hi, Scott. Yeah, I'm fine. What's up?" He led Scott into the living room.

"Lisa's been trying to call you. Is your phone turned off?"

"I went fishing, and forgot and left it home." Actually, he had the phone with him all morning, but hadn't answered it when he saw it was his daughter Lisa calling. He knew she'd be asking him if he wanted to join her, Scott, and their two sons at church. Failing that, she'd ask if he cared to join them for lunch at Marco's Pizza. He didn't feel like discussing her invitations, since she already knew his answer.

"Oh. OK. She asked if you'd care to join us for lunch at Marco's?"

"Shouldn't you be in church?" He sat in his easy chair, and motioned to the sofa for Scott to sit.

"Well, Lisa got concerned when you didn't answer your phone, so she sent me to check on you while she and the boys went on in to church."

"Tell her I appreciate it."

"Speaking of church, though, there's a new member there, who says she knows you. Says she went to high school with you and Mom."

"Who is it?"

"Diane Brewster. I forget her maiden name. She was married to a lawyer from a big law firm in Atlanta. He passed away recently, and she's moved back here. She's very attractive--"

He cut Scott off with a curt, "Doesn't ring a bell."

He was interrupted by Cody, who came in from the bedroom with a towel wrapped around him.

"Excuse me. Hey, Wayne, are those clothes done yet?"

"They need another half hour, Cody. Just go in and bag some more z's. I'll bring them to you when they're dry."

"Bag some what?"

"Just get some sleep. I'll tell you when your clothes are ready."

"I don't want to be any trouble, if you need to have lunch with your family or somethin'."

"You're fine, Cody. No problem. Just get some rest."

After the boy left the room Scott whispered, "Is everything all right, Dad?"

"Everything's fine. This kid's got to report to a job in Morristown tomorrow. I'm just giving him a hand."

Scott was giving Wayne a furrowed-brow stare. Finally Wayne said, "Lighten up, Scott. Everything's fine. Tell Lisa to give me a call next Sunday. I may go to lunch with you all then. Today I've got to give that boy a ride to Morristown. Go on back to church and pick Lisa and the boys up."

"All right. She's not going to like this. I hope you can answer the phone the next time she calls." Lisa would definitely be calling when she heard his report.

A few minutes after Scott left the dryer buzzer went off. Wayne took Cody's clothes from the dryer, shook them out, and laid them on the bed where Cody was still sleeping under the covers.

"Hey, boy, you want to get to Morristown or not?"

Cody started and looked around the way people do when they've awakened in a strange place. His eyes settled on Wayne, kicking the foot of the bed. Then he looked at the clothes spread out on the comforter.

"Thanks, man. I appreciate it."

"Just throw that towel on the bathroom floor." Wayne went into the kitchen while Cody dressed. He made a ham sandwich and poured a can of Campbell's tomato soup into a bowl, which he placed in the microwave. When Cody came into the kitchen Wayne pointed to the sandwich and turned the microwave on.

Setting the warm soup in front of the boy, he said, "This'll keep you going a little better than Vienna sausage and potato chips. You want a Pepsi or a glass of milk? I don't have any more beer to spare."

"A Pepsi'd go great, man. Thanks. I'm sorry I messed up your plans for Sunday dinner."

"They weren't my plans. Don't worry about it."

"I borrowed your razor and shaving cream. I hope that's OK."

"Not much I can do about it if it's not. You look cleaner without that hair on your face, anyway." He took a chicken casserole out of the refrigerator and spooned some of it into a bowl, which he warmed in the microwave.

Cody had eaten half of the sandwich in three bites, and drank half of the soup straight from the bowl. "That boy of yours must take after his momma." He was smiling.

"What do you mean?"

"He sure ain't built up like you. Hell, he ain't much bigger'n me."

"Oh, you mean Scott. No, he's not my son, he's my son-in-law. He takes after his parents. They're both real thin."

"Does your daughter take after you? If she does, they'd make a funny couple. A little old Barney Fife lookin' guy and a big, strong girl."

"Don't worry about my daughter's looks." He tried to sound stern, but he thought it was kind of funny. Lisa was, in fact, a little taller than Scott, and more substantially built. It wasn't that she was so fat, but that he was so skinny.

"That was a nice suit and tie he had on, like a lawyer or somethin'. He was checking me out through them big old eyeglasses, like I was in a freak show. I bet he thinks I'm some kind of a perv, walkin' around your house in a towel."

"He knows me better than that. Of course, him and my daughter ought to know me better than to keep asking me to go to church or go eat pizza with 'em."

"And he's tryin' to fix you up with that woman Diane."

"Were you listening at the goddamn keyhole?"

"The bedroom door was open. That doorbell woke me up. I figured you'd called the cops on me, so I had to listen to make sure I didn't need to jump out a window and start runnin'."

"You wouldn't have got far wrapped in a towel. Anyway, yeah, my daughter thinks I need some companionship since her mother died. She probably thought that woman might interest me."

"Sounds like she might be rich. It wouldn't hurt to get hold of some real money, would it? By the way, you got any more of that stuff you're eatin'?" Cody had finished the sandwich and soup.

"It's chicken casserole. I didn't think you'd like leftovers. I'll warm you some up."

After he'd set a plate of warm casserole in front of Cody, Wayne said, "Are you bullshitting about having a job waiting in Morristown?"

"No. My cousin's daddy was my mother's big brother, my uncle you might say. Uncle Bud learned construction from Papaw. I learned a lot of it from Papaw myself. Anyhow, Uncle Bud hated my mom, and wouldn't hire me for nothin'. But his boy, my cousin Varnie, always liked me. Varnie started his own business, and has been workin' all over Georgia and Tennessee. He won the bid on this shopping center in Morristown. He told Papaw he'd take me on, if I could make my way up there. He'll give me a chance, just to spite Uncle Bud. But he said he don't want me screwin' up like I used to on a lot of stuff, and if I ain't got the balls to get up there on time, he wouldn't have me."

He wondered about Cody's mother, but didn't want to ask about her. Whatever the story was, it had to be a sad one. "Couldn't Papaw have given you money for a bus ticket?"

"No. He's all stove up, from when he fell off a roof on a job a while back. He couldn't work so good and lost his business, a lot of it because of Uncle Bud. Bud wouldn't do shit for his own daddy. Papaw hardly gets by now." Cody shoveled casserole into his mouth.

"Drinking beer for breakfast probably didn't help your papaw hold on to his business. I'll tell you what. Finish your casserole and let me finish mine, and I'll drive you to Morristown right now."

"No shit? Thanks, Wayne. Man, you are a lifesaver."

"Are you going to stay with your cousin?"

"I don't know right now. Varnie's got a trailer, and he's got his wife and kid living in that with him. I'll figure somethin' out. I've been sleepin' under bridges between here and Georgia. They got bridges in Morristown, ain't they?"

"I guess. I hope you can work something out better than that. Can you call him before we leave, and find out exactly where I can drop you?"

"Yeah."

After lunch he loaned Cody his phone.

"Hi. It's me." A pause. "I've got a ride from Knoxville. Where can they drop me off?" He listened, then recited an address that Wayne wrote down.

In a few minutes they were driving out Interstate 40 in Wayne's Toyota. He tuned the radio to bluegrass music from the university public station in Johnson City. Cody complained mildly about the music being old-timey, then let it drop. The trip lasted a little over an hour, with very little conversation due to Cody's napping. Off of the interstate, the GPS led Wayne to a back road off US Route 11E. He expected to see a trailer park, or a lot with a trailer on it. Instead, they arrived at a neighborhood with single-family houses strung irregularly along the side of the country road, with no mobile homes in sight.

The number on the mailbox that matched the address Cody had repeated was for a small clapboard house with a green roof and a neatly trimmed crabgrass lawn and shrubbery. "I'll wait here while you check to make sure it's the right address. This doesn't look like the trailer your cousin lives in."

"Oh, I'm just meetin' him here, this ain't his place." He jumped out of the car, the gym bag in his hand, and ran to the house. When he knocked at the door it was opened by a young woman, about the same age as Cody, barefooted and in shorts and a sleeveless blouse. Her brown hair was long, with bangs almost reaching her eyebrows. She was a little heavy, but still pretty. She immediately threw her arms around Cody's neck and gave him a long kiss. When they finally broke their embrace Cody turned his face toward Wayne's car, waved his hand and nodded his head as if to say, "This is it."

Wayne said, "Lyin' little shit," to himself, made a U turn, and headed back to the Interstate. He was mad at himself for believing the lie, rather than at the boy for telling it.

He was half an hour on the way back home when his cell phone rang. It was his daughter.

"Hi, Lisa."

"Dad? Are you on speaker phone?"

"Yeah. I'm driving, so I'm yelling at you on the speaker so I don't have to hold the phone in my hand. I'm on the interstate. Let me call you back when I get home."

"Are you alone?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Are you sure?"

"What the hell are you talking about? Of course I'm sure. Let me call you back in half an hour." He hung up.

Back home he popped open a cold beer and sat in the easy chair in the living room. He called Lisa.

"Dad? Are you still alone?"

"Yes. What's up?"

"Scott said there was some man there with you."

"Yeah. Cody. He's a kid I met down on the river."

"Scott said he was walking around your house naked."

"I let him take a shower here. He came out with a towel wrapped around him."

"Scott said he came out of your bedroom."

"He came out of the spare bedroom. He was taking a nap while his clothes were in the dryer. What are you getting at?"

"This worries me. Why would you have a naked man in the house?"

"I just told you. He was hitchhiking to Morristown to start a job. He'd been on the road a while and needed a shower and to wash his clothes. I was coming back from taking him to Morristown when you called me before."

She lowered her voice. "Are you sure he's not there now? If he's listening to you now, just say 'yes.' "

"Hell, no, he's not here. What's the matter with you?"

"I'm worried about this. You let a stranger into your home like that? He might have knocked you in the head and robbed you, or killed you."

"I could tell he wasn't a threat. He was just a kid who needed a little help. If he'd been a thug I wouldn't have let him in. I'm not crazy. I know a no-good when I see one."

"I don't understand why he was in your bedroom naked. Is there something you want to tell me? What was going on there?"

"I told you. He wasn't in my bedroom, he was in the spare bedroom. He'd just taken a shower and was waiting for his clothes to dry."

"You shouldn't let strangers into your house like that."

"I know that. Stop asking me these stupid questions. You're starting to piss me off."

"You don't need to raise your voice at me. I'm trying to look out for you."

He hung up and turned his cell phone off.

Later he warmed up more chicken casserole, and ate in the living room, channel surfing until he found something to watch on TV. He finished the beer he'd started earlier and opened another one. He found a movie on TV, and watched that and then another one as he drank more beer.

He woke up to a loud knocking at his front door. The clock on the wall said it was ten minutes until midnight. Groggy from sleep and the beer, he stumbled to the door as he heard someone call, "Wayne Helton!" He looked through the peephole to see two uniformed police officers.

Opening the door, he said, "What's up, boys?"

"Mr. Helton?"

"Yessir."

"I'm Officer Gillem and this is Officer Wilmouth. Are you all right?"

"Yessir."

"We got a call from your daughter, who was concerned you might be in some trouble."

"No, I'm not in any trouble that I know of. What kind of trouble did she say I was in?"

"She was concerned that you had some kind of intruder here who may have been causing you some trouble."

"No, hell, no. Sorry she bothered you guys. She gets a little paranoid sometimes."

"Is anybody here with you?" The officer peered into the living room over Wayne's shoulder. He was in his late twenties or early thirties, and was so intensely sincere that Wayne almost felt bad for not having any trouble.

"No."

"Do you mind if we have a look around?"

Wayne minded, but decided it was easier not to object. "No, come on in. You all want some coffee or anything?"

"No thank you, sir. Can I talk with you a minute longer while Officer Wilmouth looks around?"

"Sure." He sat down in the easy chair, which was so comfortable that he felt a sadness for his sleep having been disturbed. "Have a seat."

"Thanks. This fellow who was here before, where do you know him from?"

"He came up on me while I was fishing this morning at Forbes Park."

"Did he give you any trouble?"

"No. He was a little down on his luck is all. I gave him something to eat, and let him shower here and do his laundry."

"Have you seen the news today?"

"No. I been watching movies all evening."

"Your daughter called us because of a story on the ten o'clock news about a robbery and home invasion early this morning. A man robbed a convenience store, then we think the same man broke into a home, robbed the couple who owned the house, and tried to steal their car. A neighbor heard the noise, observed the suspicious activity, and called 911. When the police car showed up the guy ran out the backdoor of the house. This was three or four miles from here, close to the river. He might have made his way along the river to where you were fishing. The timing would be about right." As he finished speaking he glanced at his partner returning from the bedroom.

Wilmouth said, "All clear," and Gillem looked back at Wayne.

"So where did this fellow go?"

"I gave him a ride to Morristown."

Gillem leaned toward Wayne with a surprised look on his face. "Gave him a ride?"

"Yeah. He's trying to get there for a job he has lined up."

"Could you describe him for me?" Gillem took out a small notebook, opened it, and brought out a pen. Wayne described Cody. Gillem hadn't been writing as Wayne spoke. "How old would you say he was?"

"Early twenties."

Officer Gillem put away his pen and notebook. "The suspect we're looking for was about six feet tall, around two hundred and fifty pounds, estimated forty-five to fifty-five years old, shaved head. Your daughter thought the guy who was with you might have been the suspect she saw the news story about."

Wayne thought about telling the policemen that his son-in-law had seen Cody, and that Lisa must have known what he looked like. That might have caused problems for her, though, and he decided against getting her into trouble, although she deserved it.

"She should have asked me what the guy looked like. She was afraid to ask me questions over the phone because she thought he was eavesdropping. Like I said, a little paranoid. You know how women are sometimes."

"Yes sir." Gillem smiled, then turned serious. "She has good reason to be concerned, though. You took a risk letting that guy into your house."

"Maybe. I think I can judge punks pretty well, though. If I thought he was the type to rob me I would've gotten rid of him one way or another down by the river."

"Yessir. Just please be careful." Gillem's earnest concern was starting to wear thin, but Wayne didn't say anything about it.

"Thanks. You boys want some coffee or beer or something?"

Wilmouth started with, "Well, a cup of," but Gillem cut him off.

"It's tempting, sir, but we're on duty, so beer's out of the question, and we wouldn't want to trouble you for coffee. We'll be on our way."

It was past midnight, and he thought about calling Lisa to tell her he was OK, and to express his thanks for her concern. If the officers hadn't come to his door he would have slept through most of the night in the easy chair, until he had to get up and pee in the early morning. As it was, he would have a hard time getting back to sleep, and would probably toss and turn until four in the morning, and then wake up a couple of hours later to stay zombie for the rest of the day. Still, he thought of himself as too good a dad to bother Lisa in the wee hours like that, with her having to get up to go to work in the morning.

Instead, he called her at five after ten in the morning, knowing that she would be in class teaching, and unable to answer her phone. He didn't leave voice mail. She called him at ten fifty-one, immediately after the end of class. He didn't answer as the phone rang multiple times until eleven o'clock, when she had to start another class. She called again at what he knew was the beginning of her lunch, and he finally answered.

"Dad? Did you call me earlier?"

"Yes. I just wanted to let you know I'm all right."

"Oh. I thought it might be an emergency. You called when I was in class."

"Gosh, I'm sorry. I didn't think about that."

"So that's all you wanted to tell me?"

"Yes. I thought I should, after you called the police and all."

"Did they come out?"

"Yes. They woke me up at midnight."

"I'm sorry. I was just so worried about you. Did that man ever leave?"

"I told you yesterday, I drove him to Morristown. I was driving back from there when you called me on the phone. I told you that." He was raising his voice again. "The cops said you thought that guy was the robber-home invader guy they were looking for."

"Well, I thought he might have something to do with it."

"Scott saw the boy. He didn't look anything like the guy the cops were looking for. You caused the cops a lot of trouble. Hell, you filed a false report."

"I was worried about you. It's not healthy for you to have some little pervert running around your house naked. You need to find friends, mix with people. You can't just sit by the river pretending to fish all the time."

Wayne was slightly amused that Cody had accurately predicted that Scott, or at least Lisa, would characterize him as a pervert. Mostly, though, he was angry. "I'm not pretending, I do catch fish. And I do go out, two or three nights a week."

"Going to a beer joint to hang out with a bunch of drunks doesn't count." She'd lowered her voice to a whisper. He guessed she was in the teacher's lounge, and there was somebody else there who she didn't want hearing about her dad's drinking buddies.

"Why not?"

"You know why. Anyway, another subject, Scott probably didn't explain to you very well, but this new lady at church, Diane Brewster would really like to see you again. You probably remember her as Diane McClellan." She paused, apparently waiting for a reply. When he remained silent she went on. "Wouldn't it be nice to see her again?"

"That name doesn't mean anything to me."

"She acted like you were good friends at one time."

"That's odd."

She was silent, again seeming to wait for him to say more. When he didn't, she gave up. "It'd be nice if you'd come to church next week and meet her. You'd get a kick out of it."

"I have no interest in meeting that woman. I told Scott to tell you I might go to lunch with you all Sunday, but I'm not going to church."

"You'll go to lunch with us?"

"I said maybe."

"Please say you will for sure." She was pleading, and he felt himself weakening.

"All right, I'll meet you at Marco's."

"We'll pick you up."

"No. I'll meet you there, and that Diane Brewster had better not be there. If she is, I'm leaving before anybody can sit down."

"We'll see you at Marco's." She hung up.



Four months later on a cool Sunday afternoon Wayne was packing up at his fishing spot. Along with his rod, tackle box, thermos, and the remains of a bag of snacks, he carried a stringer with four smallmouth bass on it. In the parking lot he opened the trunk of his car and removed a large, black plastic garbage bag, placed the fish in it, and stowed everything. He'd just closed the trunk when he heard an automobile engine behind him. He turned to get in the car when he heard, "Hey, old timer, you wouldn't have any vienner sausage a man could have would you?"

He thought he recognized the voice, but couldn't quite place it. Turning around he saw an old pickup truck with a young man at the wheel, and a young woman in the passenger seat. The truck was stopped, headed down the row, blocking Wayne's car.

"What was that?" He was intentionally gruff, to show he wasn't to be messed with.

"You don't recognize me, do you?" The young man had turned off the engine and climbed out of the cab of the truck, smiling as he spoke.

Wayne couldn't remember the young man's name, but now realized that he was the boy he'd given a ride to Morristown. "No, I didn't. You got a haircut. Nice lookin' shirt, and look at that windbreaker, and real work boots. You put on some weight, too."

The girl laughed, and yelled across the man to Wayne. "Cody was skin and bones when he moved up here. I had to fatten him up a little." Wayne was glad she called the man's name, which he still hadn't remembered.

"Shut up, dumbass." Cody said it in a lighthearted way, and she didn't seem to take offense.

He recognized the girl as the one who'd greeted Cody at the door of the house when Wayne dropped him off in Morristown. She wore a sweater now, but he recognized the long hair and bangs. "You must be Cody's cousin." They both looked puzzled, so Wayne went on. "You told me to drop you off at your cousin's, and this is the one that met you at the door."

Cody laughed. "I forgot about that. Hell no, she ain't my cousin. She's my cousin's wife's sister."

"Who?"

"I told you my Cousin Varnie was married. His wife Sherry's from Morristown. And this here is Crystal, Sherry's sister."

"Nice to meet you, Crystal." He waved at the girl. "So, you ever get a job, Cody?"

"Hell yeah, I told you I just had to get up there and Varnie'd take care of me."

"When I saw you and Crystal in Morristown, I assumed you were just going up there to visit your girlfriend."

"That was part of it. I met Crystal back home when she came down to visit Sherry. When Varnie got that contract in Morristown, it just all seemed to fit."

Crystal said, "I got Sherry to get Varnie to hire him for that job."

He turned his head back toward the truck. "That's a damn lie." Turning back to Wayne, he said, "Varnie woulda hired me anyway. I can do carpentry, and operate machinery, and everything you need on a construction site except plumbing and electric."

"Whatever. I'm glad it worked out for you, Cody. For the both of you." Wayne looked past Cody at Crystal, and she smiled.

"Speakin' of workin' out, did you hook up with that rich woman?"

"Who?"

"That rich lawyer's widow your son-in-law told you about."

"You got a good memory, boy. I'd forgotten about her. No, I took a pass on that."

"Why? That sounded like a good thing to me."

"I knew her from before."

"I figured you was lyin' to your son-in-law about not knowin' that woman." Cody smiled, pleased with himself.

"How'd you know that?"

"The way you answered him. 'She don't ring a bell.' Real fast, and kind of hateful. You was too anxious to tell him 'no.'"

"I don't remember that conversation in detail the way you do. But, yeah, I knew her. And her husband, too, before they moved to Atlanta."

"And I bet she's butt ugly. A big old fat girl with bumps on her face. Or one of them skinny girls, with buck teeth and eyeglasses."

"Back in the day she was gorgeous. I don't know about now. She's probably still pretty good lookin', or Scott wouldn't have said so."

"Why don't you hook up with her, if she's still good-lookin'?"

"I dated her fifty years ago. We weren't a good fit."

"If it was me, and some rich old woman was lookin' for a man, I'd make it fit. Wouldn't you like to move into a big old house, instead of that little old two-bedroom job you're livin' in?"

"You found my place pretty comfortable when you were passing through here before. I've got a warm place to sleep, close to my fishing hole, and I have enough money to buy all the beer I can drink, without the aggravation of a rich, bossy wife."

"Oh, yeah, speakin' of beer, hand me that thing, Crystal." She reached down to the floor of the truck and brought up a six-pack of Budweiser tall boys. She slid across the seat and out of the truck. He took the beer from her and handed it to Wayne. "Here you go, dude, I owed you one."

Wayne took the six-pack, but said, "You didn't have to do that. That's more than one."

"That's not just for the beer, but for the food, and the gas to run me to Morristown."

"Since you put it like that, OK. Come on up to the house and I'll fry up those fish, and we'll drink up these beers."

"I'd like to, buddy, but we gotta get back."

"We have to go to church tonight." Crystal put her arm through Cody's.

"Church. Did you go this morning?"

"Yeah." Cody was sheepish.

"And now the Sunday night service, too." Wayne looked at Crystal in amazement. "This girl is good for you Cody." She smiled, looking embarrassed.

"She'll do 'til one of them rich gals like you know comes along." He was grinning, and Crystal slapped him playfully on the shoulder with a pop.

"Take my word for it, Crystal's better for you than any rich girl you'll ever know." The old man was frowning. Then he loosened up and said, "Well, come on down any time. I can't always promise you fish, but I'll always have beer."

6 comments:

  1. I loved this story - a real 'feel good' tale. It was great that Wayne's instincts were right. Great depiction of characters and family dynamics - both Lisa and Cody walked off the page. Thank you very much for a satisfying read,
    Ceinwen

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  2. I was wondering if anything was going to happen, I´m glad it didn´t. This is a well written story about well defined and convincing characters. A real life story.
    Well done

    Mike McC

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  3. This is my kind of story. Nothing flashy, just well written with interesting characters in an ordinary situation. Really good.

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  4. I'm glad this story had a happy ending. The characters seemed to fit the setting. I'm from that area.

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  5. The story seems so wonderfully familiar - honest descriptions and circumstances, real characters, a satisfying ending without any annoying twist. A story the way I enjoy them. Thank you.

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  6. wow. it got scary a couple times, when I had the feeling that Something had to happen, and I'm sort of glad it didn't. just a slice of life.

    it was a good read. i'm not sure what snagged me so much, but...i wanted to read it all as soon as i started.

    also, the first time I've seen someone named Wayne not being the bad guy.

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