Eidetic Sunshine

Eidetic Sunshine

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Chapter 6


“Leave me alone.” 

Ignoring the pain-filled petulance in Butch’s voice Danny told him, “You sound like a two year old.  Now shut up.  I don’t have time for whatever nonsense you’re thinking.  If you’re too afraid for your lily white reputation I’ll see if someone will take you to the church and you can sleep on a pew until Sunday service in the morning.  The new preacher will like that.  He’s even worse than you when it comes to bar maids and I quote ‘other females of ill repute.’” 

Trying to wrench away from her with absolutely no success Butch growled, “Oh no you won’t.” 

Completely disregarding his wishes Danny told him, “Give me problems and watch me.” 

It wasn’t easy but eventually Danny got Butch up the RV steps and draped him over Tito’s bed.  

“I’ll help you get your boots off because if I don’t you’re just likely to go head first onto the floor and I’ll trip over you coming in.” 

In a slightly different voice Butch said, “Daniella …” 

Unwilling to listen to whatever Butch was about to say Danny said, “Give it a rest already.  If I see Mr. Hunter – or one of his runners - I’ll let him know where you are.  Maybe he’ll have a better idea where you can stay if this still doesn’t suit you.”  And with that Danny turned and left Butch staring at a closed door. 

Heading to the tavern she stopped, realizing that Butch’s horse was still tied to the rail.  She untied the reins and led the animal to the stable to be taken care of by Ronnie.  “And tend him well,” she told the boy.  “The horse is a good one, part Spanish pony and they’re expensive and if you don’t know that you should.  Plus I have no idea how long Mr. Pinder has had him on the road.  And if I find out you’ve shirked …” 

“No.  Never Danny.  I’ll look after him the way I do the puppies.  I swear I will.” 

“You’d better.  Because if you don’t …” 

Ronnie swallowed hard knowing that getting on the wrong side of Danny might mean being sent back to the orphanage and he’d never go back there if he could help it.  Besides, she wasn’t wrong … just grouchy.  But being on Danny’s good side could make all the difference in the world.  A boy got fed around here and Danny would call him off of a chore to make sure he got to lick the beaters when she was making cakes.  She fed him out of her own garden on Sundays.  There were full apprentices making pay that didn’t get treated half so well.  She also helped him with his homework so he could pass his school tests even if he was up working late the night before.  And the other good thing about Sundays is that she always made sure that he got time off to play just like the other boys even if it meant having to take up some extra work on herself.  Yeah, Danny was grouchy, but she was all right; the people that ran the orphanage were a lot grouchier.  He turned and started taking care of the militiaman’s horse and thought, “Besides, Danny might be scary when she got a mad on but that Pinder fella could be a lot scarier.”  Ronnie had seen him find the man that had roughed Danny up and had tore into him from one end to the other.  He didn’t think Danny knew about it and he wasn’t stupid enough to get in the middle of whatever trouble there was between her and Pinder.  He liked his place now that he’d found one and he liked licking the batter from the beaters and having Sundays off.  Why upset the orange cart? 

For her part Danny had a longer than usual night.  The extra lawmen in town made some of the regular customers nervous.  Made some of the travelers even more nervous.  People were so snippy and a few left early taking their tips with them.  Rather than watch a potentially good night go to rubbish Danny told Cindy to get her butt up to the small dais in the dining room and do a little singing to see if it wouldn’t calm people down. 

“I can’t sing!” 

“Bull.  Just sing a little and then we’ll switch off.” 

“You can sing?!  Then you do it.  I need the tips.” 

Danny needed the tips too because there was another payment coming to keep Joey in school and she didn’t want to use all of her savings to do it … but there wouldn’t be any tips if she couldn’t figure a way to change the mood.   So she grabbed the old acoustic guitar that Tito and Joey had sometimes played for customers on slow nights and showed everyone who had taught her brothers to play.  Danny had learned from her Poppy and they were still some of her best memories. 

Mostly she played but she did sing a few songs in her deep, sultry voice.  She didn’t sing often because it made her sound like a different woman than she was.  And because men tended to act silly towards her afterwards.  The music she played was a combination of slow and mellow to fast and upbeat, some romantic, some fun, some patriotic, and some a little on the naughty side later in the evening after the families had left.  From traditional American folk music to the music of her father’s heritage to regional favorites to acoustic versions of old rock songs that she remembered.  It had been several years since she had played even half that long and by the time the last customer left she had blisters on almost every finger. 

“You saved the night Danny!” Mr. Maddox whooped as he was counting up the night’s receipts. 

Mrs. Maddox smiled and nodded but said, “Hush or you’ll wake the guests Dear.  Cindy, Nancy it is too late for you two to be out on the road, someone from the decency committee might stop you and create problems.  Get a couple of pallets from the closet and you can stay in Ronnie’s room.  The boy is already asleep in the kitchen.  Danny …” 

Danny had a few things left to do before she could call it a night and said, “I’d better go check on the patient.  Mr. Hunter said he would check in but I don’t know if he hauled him off to the quack’s office or left him for me to bury.” 

Mr. Maddox asked, “What’s this?  What patient?” 

“I’ll explain in a bit Dear.”  To Danny she said, “I want you to take everything in that tip jar with you … and don’t you dare spend any of it on Ronnie, you already spoil him close to rotten.  As for the patient, you just remember what I said and keep a skillet handy and stay out of his reach until he is fully awake.  For all I like Butch Pinder, there have been mornings I would have been just as happy to have pushed him down the stairs he’s so foul.” 

Agreeing to be cautious Danny gratefully stuffed the tips from the jar into her pocket and then made her way over to the RV to find a guard stationed outside the door.  “What on earth?!  Lonny Ralston what is going on?  Did he actually go and die and you’re holding the wake?” 

A growl from inside let Danny know that someone was not in a happy mood.   

“Lovely,” she muttered.  “Just what I need after a long night on my feet.  Yo, Prince Charming … can I at least get my things so I can sleep in the kitchen?” 

Mr. Hunter opened the door and said, “Actually I’d prefer if you’d stay with him Danny.  Sit on him – or bash his head in if need be.  He is somehow under the misapprehension that he is going to be in the posse tomorrow.” 

“Oh, so I get to babysit Godzilla.  Thanks ever so much.” 

More growling from inside made Danny roll her eyes.  Mr. Hunter looked momentarily concerned until she winked at him.  “My hide is thicker than his is.  Go ahead and take Lonny off with you please.  Butch I will tolerate to honor my mother … but I’m not having any other man snoop around my place.” 

Mr. Hunter was too tired and knew Danny and knew better than to waste time arguing when she was in a certain mood.  Besides he was no different from anyone else and assumed she had plenty of experience with men in all their glory, just she was more circumspect about it than Cindy was. 

After she had watched Mr. Hunter and Lonny ride off Danny entered the RV.  “What?  You aren’t asleep yet?  Want something to knock you out?  You’ve got the choice of chamomile tea, warm milk, or getting your head bashed in further with a skillet.  Which will it be?” 

In a far from gracious voice Butch snarled, “You know what they’ll think.” 

“The same thing that everyone thinks, including you.  That I’m no better than the whores that walk the road after dark.  Whether I stay in the RV tonight or not won’t change anyone’s mind because they are already made up.” 

“Daniella …” 

“Butch, I’m not in the mood.  I’m doing this in Eddie and Momma’s memory.  For them.  Not for you.  Not for me.  So shut up and just accept it if you can’t appreciate it because I am too tired to argue.  You make me argue and I guarantee you’ll regret it.  I have to be up early in case Donna doesn’t show up.  She’s been doing that a lot lately … not showing up.  And with the way my luck runs she’ll do it again in the morning or she’ll run off in the middle of the breakfast crowd though with tomorrow being Sunday all there will be is a brunch buffet table where people serve themselves.  However, the food still has to be cooked and the tables still have to be cleaned and the dishes still have to be washed.  So which is it going to be?” 

Butch sighed.  “You really don’t care do you?” 

“About what people think?  No, I really don’t.  Caring what people thought never gained me a single thing and usually just caused me nothing but grief.  I never had to worry about Tito or Joey so much, just Nita and now that she’s taken care of …”  Danny stopped with a shrug.  “Now that it’s just me and I figured out that despite me trying so hard and working so hard people decided they could paint me the way they want to regardless … well now I just don’t care even the smallest fraction.  It makes things easier.” 

“Not even the people at church?” 

“Who them?  They’re the worst … or I suppose,” she hesitated before saying more honestly.  “It isn’t all of them because there are some good people amongst them; but the worst of them seem to come from there.  I know most of them are just worried for me and don’t really know what to think.  I tried to prove to them but that new guy … Brother Jack … he’s bound and determined to think I’m some kind of what he calls a harlot, like those in the Bible.  His face went all pruny every time I came to service and it was causing too much friction in the church so I just stopped going.  People should be able to go to church and not have to have the kids constantly being bombarded with sex talk from the pulpit.  Makes me wish I had fewer scruples and would tell people exactly why Brother Jack had to find a new parish.” 

“And that is?” 

“None of your business.  Wasn’t any of mine when I heard it either so I’m not going to spread gossip that I can’t prove.” 

“But you believe whatever you heard.  Why?” 

“Because of who told me and under what circumstances.  Now drop it.  I’m done with that line of work.” 

“Really?” Butch asked cynically. 

“Yeah.  Just like I don’t care what people think of me anymore I’m not going to try and better anyone else’s lives by holding back trouble unless it somehow betters mine significantly at the same time.  I’m done with it all.  And for tonight I’m done with you.  You need to rest and I need to sleep what I can.” 

“Daniella …” 

“Are you deaf?  Leave me alone.  You should be happy.  I’ve finally listened to all of your lovely lectures and now you won’t have to deal with me anymore for anything.  Just show a bit of appreciation for that by not doing anything stupid and getting me in hot water with Hunter.  I don’t need the kind of trouble he can cause me.” 

“Hunter would never …” 

Danny interrupted Butch with an unladylike snort.  “He’s human isn’t he?  And a male human at that.  Never trust anyone not to cause trouble.” 

She went forward and sharply drew the curtain to her sleeping area.  She’d tried sleeping in Tito’s bed and even in the bed that Delia and Nita had once slept on but she couldn’t get any rest so it was back to the old captain’s chairs.  It was almost like sleeping sitting up but she’d done it that way for so many years she decided it was too much work to change bad habits. 

Danny’s eyes popped open before the rooster crowed.  The sun wasn’t up but the sky wasn’t as dark as it was when she’d finally fallen asleep which told her sun up wasn’t that far away.  She’d slept fully clothed so all she had to do was grab a wash cloth and try and creep out. 

Her hand was on the door knob when Butch muttered, “What time is it?” 

“Just before dawn.  Go back to sleep.” 

“Can’t.” 

“Need to see a quack?” 

“F*** off.” 

Danny sighed and only by sheer will did she not kick the man in the head.  “Butch, you are treading on thin ground.  If you need something for the pain just say yes … or no.  Don’t give me attitude.  Don’t give me mouth or whatever your morning routine is with everyone else.  I really don’t care.  I do not care how injured you are.  I am not a great person in the morning either.  You push me one more time and I will flay you and I promise I am a lot better at it than you are … you’re mean, I’m vicious.  So, do you need something for the pain?” 

After a few moments a reluctant yes slipped passed Butch’s lips. 

“Fine.  Give me a few minutes and I’ll fix you a tray.  I’ll have Ronnie bring it over before he catches the Sunday School wagon.  If you upset him I’ll borrow a horse and drag you into the forest and teach you exactly how pissy mean I can be.  Ronnie has a part in the program at church today and he does not need to start his Sabbath day off with the likes of your foulness.  Understand?” 

“Fine.  Whatever.” 

Danny would have still liked to kick him in the head but as she was trying to be a better person even if she had told Butch she didn’t give a rip anymore she left the RV.  She didn’t even slam the door which was almost a miracle in and of itself.  She didn’t even poison his breakfast … just doctored up not only his tea but his juice as she suspected he would ditch the tea and try and pretend he’d let her dose him.   

After making sure that Mrs. Maddox could manage with the help that showed up she went back to the RV and smiled grimly when she found Butch snoring.  There is more than one way to skin a cat.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Chapter 5


Delia asked, “Do you have to work tonight Daniella?” 

“No.  It’s my night off.  Cindy Brewster is on; you won’t know who she is as she’s only been in the area a few months.  I’m just on call in case there is an unexpected crowd or some extra travelers to stop in.  Been pretty quiet though so they shouldn’t need me.” 

Emery nodded and said, “That Pinder guy made it seem like there’s been trouble.  But Tito just shrugged it off and said there’s always trouble.” 

“Yes and no.  Trouble isn’t unusual here at the crossroads but this has been a busier month than usual.  The militia, military, and a couple of other agencies got wind of … I guess some group thought they’d set up a sort of … well … it sounds really stupid but basically someone thought they were king and was going to do what they wanted to do … and what he wanted to do was run an illegal smuggling ring.  He was bringing in drugs and other stuff down in Miami and transporting it up into Georgia where he apparently had contacts that would feed it out into other regions.  I really don’t think it was the drugs that got him though … no one really cares these days if you want to pollute your mind so long as they don’t have to pay for your upkeep and any dopers that become a nuisance get assigned to work crews outside of their home area.  The warrior king wannabe got on the radar because he was into human trafficking … bringing in girls from Central and South America … and the islands so I heard … and selling them as slaves.  Taking white girls and selling them to overseas buyers.  The thing that was the final straw was he brought in some girls that were carrying some kind of virus and there was a bad outbreak in Daytona as a result; about a hundred people ended up dying and maybe more as they are still trying to comb the ‘Glades where the girls were packed off to.  We can’t afford to let other countries think they can just swarm our shores with their cast-offs or excess population or reclamation project.  We’ve barely got the infrastructure for the people already here.” 

Emery sighed.  “It didn’t look that bad around here.  Maybe I should …” 

“If you are going to try and talk to someone about me or convince me to go live like a lady someplace else you can forget it.  This is my home and until I have to find a different place to live this is where I will stay.  Like I said, I’m not the kid I was when Delia left to marry you.  And I’m a lot tougher than I look.  But I’ll never forget that you cared.  Just because I won’t do what you want doesn’t mean that it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the effort or thought.” 

Then the boys came back before more of a fuss could be made and from that point onward time went so fast Danny could hardly believe it. 

Before she knew it the boys had left for Gainesville, Delia and her family had left to return to their home near Pensacola taking Nita with them, and with the blink of an eye it was a month and then six months later.  She didn’t hear from anyone as often as she wished but sending things by mail wasn’t cheap or very fast.  Those areas that got their mail off the train had better service but it took forever and a blue moon for the mail to get from Leesburg to Wildwood and there was no pushing it faster with complaints or it was liable to take even longer.  

Danny filled her days and nights with as much work as would fit.  She’d never been alone before … felt alone yes, been alone no … and it was a feeling difficult to deal with constructively.  Earning money to keep Joey in school and to give the others something to start off their lives with became her only reason for getting out of bed or for going to sleep; if she’d had her wish she would have lived on toast and yerba mate tea but she knew she couldn’t if she was going to still help her siblings.   

Her garden was her one luxury and one pleasure but even it was a source of income.  Her mother had been an accredited master gardener and taught classes at the community college and for the extension program.  Danny was the only child that had inherited her love of growing things and after her mother’s death it was almost a shrine to the memory of the family to continue what her mother had started.   

Then there were tips and she’d managed to invest a little and start her own line of sodas that she sold at Danner’s under an assumed name to keep people from saying their kids wouldn’t be drinking anything that a barmaid produced.  Finding bottles was the most expensive part, and getting them back was even harder so she had to add a deposit to the price of each bottle.  Danner agreed to take bottles in good condition in trade and since he made a little on the mark up when he resold them to Danny it hadn’t taken that much arm twisting to set the deal up.   

It was during all of this wheeling and dealing that Danny discovered she had another talent and she began to dream of one day having a small wholesaler business where she could play middle man between those that had something and those that were looking for something … even if that something was merely information. 

Danny still kept her ears open and heard things.  She’d filter what she heard through Butch Pinder who only paid her in lectures until he was filled in by Mr. Hunter who, surprise-surprise, had always known where Father Brannigan had gotten his information from.  They’d finally come to an understanding though Butch still didn’t like having a female as a paid informant.  More than once he said that people that had to be paid to give information likely weren’t trustworthy.  The third time he said it she stopped volunteering information.  Eventually Butch had to come to her over something and she told him to shove it sideways.  It took Mr. Hunter to sort it out and afterwards Danny and Butch were even testier with each other, so much so it became a bit of a running joke with the tavern crowd. 

Mrs. Maddox tried to take the sting out of the way that Butch acted but Danny told her, “There’s just no changing the way things are Mrs. Maddox though I appreciate you trying.  Butch respects you and Mr. Maddox, I know he does, but he doesn’t respect us girls; never has, never will.  He paints us all with the same brush he paints the whores that come out after the sun goes down, at least the ones the decency committees haven’t been able to run off.  Butch is just … just …” 

“Thick headed?” the older woman asked with an arched brow.  “A bit of a hypocrite considering what he has to do in his line of work?  Too proud for good sense?” 

Danny sighed and shook her head but she also gave a small smile.  “And I’m just as bad for caring what he thinks.  It doesn’t matter either way in the long run.  He got to choose his life; mine was handed to me.  We both are making of our lives what we can.  If he can’t at least respect me for that then that is his problem.” 

“There’s my girl.  You show him.  You’re doing a mother’s work on a sister’s pay which means you will do whatever it takes to keep the boys in school without getting the cards and flowers in return.  How are they by the way?” 

And the conversation turned and Danny told what she knew and tried to let the unreasonable hurt she always felt at Butch’s attitude fall off of her like water off of a duck’s back.  It didn’t always work.  In fact there were a lot of times it didn’t work.  Just recently he’d accused her of flirting with a customer when it was actually the customer who had cornered her out in the dark yard when she’d gone to the smoke house to bring in another ham.  She was nearly raped and still Butch made it out to be her fault.  She’d slapped him and promptly burst into tears, something she never did which only made her more furious so she kicked him in the shin and ran back to the kitchen and refused to speak to him afterwards.  Not even Mr. Hunter’s coaxing could make her speak to him and then he left for some deposition in Tallahassee and all she could hiss was “good riddance” when people tried to kid her about it.  They finally realized that Butch had somehow stepped over some line and if they wished their drinks served cold and their food warm they would lay off the teasing. 

Lunch time about a month after Butch left Danny was doing sheets, a never ending task at the tavern, when shots rang out and she heard Mrs. Maddox and Cindy Brewster both scream.  Not knowing what was happening Danny ran to the back of the tavern and into the kitchen and looked out into what was called the tap room.   

The first thing she saw was an overturned table and poker chips littering the floor.  Then she saw three men stood in there all of them with guns drawn.  Other men in the tavern also had their guns out.  It should have been at worst a draw but two of the three baddies had Cindy and Mrs. Maddox in a death grip and though they insisted on sounding like something out of an old west cowboy movie, it was obvious to everyone they were deadly serious. 

“Nobody make a move or these two get it.  We’re leaving.  As soon as we get far enough away we’ll let ‘em go … but not if anyone follows us.” 

The men started backing towards the kitchen door and that was to be their last mistake.  Danny grabbed the meat cleaver from the butcher’s block and as the first man came through she struck from behind … literally.  The cleaver was so sharp and Danny so strong from all the years of washing sheets and wringing them out, from all the years of carrying heavy trays of drinks, that with one chop she severed his spinal column and he dropped like a rock releasing Mrs. Maddox who promptly grabbed the meat fork that matched the cleaver and stabbed the next man through the door in the temple.  Danny’s loud “safe” whistle startled the last man and he hesitated just long enough to get riddled with bullets from over a dozen guns. 

“Hellooooo … don’t forget we’re still in here.  If you are going to shoot the fool at least make sure your bullets hit him will you?!” 

Mr. Maddox rushed in and took his wife of nearly 40 years in his arms and Cindy and Danny looked at each other then walked out of the kitchen to give them a moment of privacy.  Cindy leaned over and whispered, “Whatever it is that Ol’ Maddox has, I hope I find me one a little younger to keep for my own one of these days.” 

Danny snorted and thought to herself that Cindy had about every flavor of man as often as she wanted now, she’d probably ran across the Maddox type at least three times but hadn’t even noticed she was so busy rushing onto the next one. 

When Danny got a good look at the mess in the tap room she growled, “Well the least you could do is pick up your chairs and set them right.  Honestly.  And kick that broken one off to the side before someone trips over it.  Ronnie!” 

A young boy about ten years old came running like he was scared not to.  Danny told him, “Run and fetch someone from across the ramp … preferably someone with a badge.  And tell them they better hurry or they’ll miss taking enough depositions to fill up their report and they’ll wind up having to make it up as they go. And also tell them we need three bodies carted off and if they aren’t quick about it I’m going to drag all three outside in the heat so they can draw flies out there and get nice and squishy.  Now move it.” 

Men looked like they were starting to leave.  Danny asked them, “Where are you lot going?  You helped save Mrs. Maddox.  There’s a cold pint in that and surely on a hot day like today you’ll enjoy it.” 

They looked at each other and then a few smiles started to show as Cindy and Danny refilled the chip and popcorn bowls and even added jars of pickles and salsa that normally didn’t come out until the dinner crowd.  Enjoying their cold beverage and snacks the men sat back down to await the law.  And unwittingly wound up buying more drinks after all of the salty snakes had been consumed. 

A few hours later the evening crowd started arriving and none of them would have even guessed that there’d been an incident earlier in the day.  Oh Mrs. Maddox still looked a bit flustered and Cindy had some bruises but that wasn’t unusual.  Mrs. Maddox always seemed a bit flustered and Cindy’s usual taste in men meant the occasional bruising.  It was Danny who was a bit off.  Mr. Maddox put it down to reaction from having to kill a man.  Mrs. Maddox assumed she was worried about how it would affect the tavern and her place in it if one day there would be one too many instances and Mr. Maddox decided to retire.  Cindy thought she might be on her period as Danny could be death on wheels a couple of days out of the month if you weren’t careful to step lightly.  The truth was it was none of those things. 

Danny had been forced to do as threatened and drag the three corpses out into the back lot so that the kitchen could be sanitized when the undertaker balked at taking corpses when he didn’t know who was going to pay for their burial; and on top of it, had refused to arrive until he got an official form that the district would pay to put them in the pauper’s yard if relatives didn’t claim them within a couple of days.  While she had been dragging them she realized she recognized two of them – Claudio Ocampo and Johnny Bryan - both used to have family in the area six or seven years ago though she didn’t know where they were these days.  She’d also stripped the corpses of all valuables because she knew the local undertaker and he considered anything left on a corpse as found gain never bothering to report it.  She knew for a fact he saved it up and then took it to Ocala to pawn it or sell it in his brother’s store.  And after what she found in these men’s pockets she decided he might be able to heave off to someplace else and she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction, the disgusting rat.  He rarely tipped and when he did it was so small it was insulting.   

As a result she had taken three burlap bags and put the belongings in them and placed them in the laundry shed.  She’d missed her chance to tell the lawman that had come and was wondering how to catch the attention of another so she could explain before she got into trouble. 

Danny stepped outside to throw out a bucket of dirty water when she stopped.  “Your angel must have to work overtime to keep you amongst the living.  I ought to skewer you.  Butch, out of the shadows.  This is no time for … Madre de Dios!” 

“Not so loud.  Just tell me, is the tavern full up tonight?” 

“To overflowing.  They’re doubled and tripled up.  Have you at least seen a quack?!” 

“Yeah.  Give me a boost to get up on my horse, looks like I’ll be sleeping at the offices.” 

With a sigh Danny told him, “Not tonight you won’t.  That place is packed too.  We had an incident and there is also a crap ton of lawmen in town for some kind of meeting or convention or something.  You’d likely have to pick your way across the floor to avoid sleeping bodies and you know someone with plenty of stripes will already have commandeered the sofa in the office.” 

“Dammit.” 

“Don’t curse,” Danny said although she was tempted to do it herself.  “Look, I’ll make those bruises ten times worse than they already are if you make a single thing out of this.” 

“Out of what?” 

Reluctantly despite being sure it was the right thing Danny growled, “C’mon.  I’ll pour you onto Tito’s bed, you won’t hang off much.  I’ll be working most of the night anyway.  I’ll tell Mrs. Maddox and if she really wants to give me grief over it I’ll sleep in the kitchen.” 

Butch’s next statement could have been mistaken for a squawk.  “Now just wait …” 

Still growling Danny told him, “Shut up Butch, I’m not in the mood for an argument.  It’s been a long day and looks to be a longer night.  And besides, you’re handy and I can dump off that stuff in your lap and lighten my load.” 

“You realize nothing you said made a bit of sense.” 

“Butch … oh …”  Danny nearly stamped her foot in frustration as Butch Pinder slowly did a face plant in the mud from the bucket of what she’d just thrown out.  “Conyo … I should leave you there,” she snapped at his unconscious form. 

Instead she marched into the kitchen, had a quick conference with Mrs. Maddox who agreed that men – in particular hard headed men that only seemed to want to create more work for the women around them – sometimes appeared to have so little sense as to be a danger to themselves and others. 

“Just be careful.  Butch does not wake up a sunshiny personality.” 

“That makes two of us.  If he growls I’ll cut his tongue out of his head then nail it to the wall for target practice.”  Danny shook her head in irritation.  “I can hear the gossips now.” 

“Then why do it Dear?  We can roll him up in a corner some place.” 

“Because despite everything Butch is, I pay my debts.  I owe him for helping Eddie get … get Momma out.” 

“As I remember they didn’t do her no favors.” 

Fatalistically Danny nodded and said, “Hindsight that might be true but … but at the time we needed to be able to say goodbye and she said it for both her and Poppy.  And since it’s already happened there’s nothing more to be said.  Are you sure you can spare me?  I’ll be back as soon as I can.” 

“Oh go on.  Cindy and that new girl Nancy need to carry more of their own load instead of expecting you to constantly pick up tables they drop or forget about.  Time for them to learn.  There’s lots more girls where they came from if they can’t.  And Cindy needs to keep her eyes on her work and off all the pretty men and Nancy to keep her fingers out of the chip bowls.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

Chapter 4


“Danny!” 

Danny winced and said a quick prayer.  “Dios I haven’t asked for too many promises but I’m asking for one now.  They leave tomorrow.  No trouble.  No hiccups.  Just let Tito and Joey go off to school and let it be good for them.  Help me to be able to pay for it and keep them there so they can have a real life.  Really, that’s all I’m asking.  Let me be able to give them this chance.” 

“Danny!” 

Danny hurried from behind the RV where she had her garden and fruit grove.  “Don’t shout Joey.  It’s vulgar and you’ll disturb the guests.  Now what is so …” 

She stopped and stared at a young woman that Nita was hugging like a lifeline.  The woman looked up and said, “Aren’t you even going to say hello?” 

Danny’s world swam and she reached out to grab a fence post to keep her balance.  She would have fallen anyway if Butch Pinder hadn’t come around the corner to take his horse to the corral and grabbed her arm when her knees started to buckle. 

Butch turned and then did a double take as he recognized the woman as well.  “Delia?  Delia Trespalacios?” 

In an overly polite voice the young woman said, “Hello Mr. Pinder.  And please, it’s Dunkirk now.  May I introduce my husband Mr. Emery Dunkirk?” 

The two men sized each other up.  Butch nodded before looking back at Delia.  “There’s not going to be any trouble.  There’s been enough of it.” 

“Of course not,” she said.  “I came once I got Daniella’s letter.” 

Butch looked the question at Danny and she answered, “I sent a letter a month ago.  I just … I didn’t expect an answer.”  Realizing that Butch still held her upright she straightened her spine and shook off his help but did manage to whisper a shame-filled, “Thank you.” 

He nodded and turned to say, “Tito, nothing late.  We head out at four in the morning and I’m going to need you awake and aware so you can help Joey.  Got it?” 

“You’re going to be there?” Tito asked with surprise. 

“I have depositions to take to the Leesburg prosecutor’s office.  They asked me to ride in with your crew.  You’ll board the train there and ride it the rest of the way to Gainesville.” 

Tito nodded and even if she wouldn’t admit it aloud, a weight fell from Danny’s heart.  Then she looked at Delia and said, “You came just in time.  The boys are heading off to school tomorrow first thing.” 

“Actually I just came for Nita.” 

“What?” 

“You asked in your letter and this is my answer.  Yes, I’ll take Nita.  Mr. Dunkirk’s sister runs a school for girls.  We live right next door.  And when she isn’t in school she can help me with the baby.” 

“What baby?” 

“Why my baby of course.” 

“When?  I never heard about a baby.” 

“I sent word when he was born.” 

“I … I never got a letter about a baby.  The last letter we got was the card for Joey’s birthday.” 

“There was a letter in the card.  A nice long one.  It hurt my feelings when you didn’t … well …” 

Danny put her hands on her hips and snapped, “Those blasted postal inspectors.  I wondered why you had the extra postage on it.  I figured maybe they’d jipped you for the cookies.  I’ll ring their tails.  Madre de Dios … should you even be traveling?  What are you doing just standing there?  Tito!  Joey!  Get a chair for your sister.  Now!  Nita, stop squashing her.  Move.  Delia sit down right this instance.  And you there … brother in law … what will you drink?  I’ll fetch …” 

Delia started laughing.  “God Danny … you’re still the same.  Bossy as ever.  You’d never …” 

Then she looked away trying not to appear guilty.  Danny though knew Delia.  It’s why she only mentioned Nita in the letter.  “Yes I’m bossy.  It gets things done around here.  And if you take Nita and make sure she gets some training she’ll be better off for it.  We butt heads too much.  She needs different handling than I can afford to give her … and if I’m honest that I’ve got the patience to give her.  Still … let me get everyone something to drink.  Mr. Maddox will allow me that.  Especially if I tell Mrs. Maddox who it’s for, you know you were always her favorite … and a baby … she’ll have a fit if I don’t tell her right away.” 

An hour later Delia said she needed to go lie down with the baby as she’d been up most of the night and Danny needed to finish cooking corn cakes and some other things for Tito and Joey to take with them on their trip and to get them through the first week of their new living arrangements.  She put Nita in charge of helping Delia mind the baby if he woke up – might as well start her the way things were likely to go – and she left “Mr. Dunkirk” to Tito and Joey to entertain. 

She walked over to the laundry area to find that the boys’ clothes were dry and ready to be ironed and folded so she pulled them off the line, set them to the side and then restarted the laundry fire to heat up the cast iron skillet that had belonged to her mother and grandmother before her.  She had things well in hand when Tito called, “Danny?” 

“Yeah?” she said as she looked up.  “Oh.  Hello.  I’m sorry, did … did you need something?” she asked addressing her brother in law that had accompanied the boys. 

Tito looked at her and said, “Mr. Gifford stopped by and … well … he’s offered to take Joey and me across the ramp and buy us both belts from Danner’s store.  As like a going away present.  And we’re to take one for Thomas too … he sent home that he was on the last notch of his.” 

Danny’s pride briefly prickled but she knew that Mr. Gifford had always been good to the boys, letting them work in trade and after they had proven to be hard workers, in scrip some of the time.  Danny nodded, “I don’t need to tell you to say thank you but make sure that Joey does.  Belts with real metal buckles aren’t cheap.  And make sure there is plenty of growing room with extra notches.” 

Tito grinned.  “Mrs. Gifford already told him the same thing.  We won’t be too long.” 

“Just mind what Pinder said.  You’ve got an early day tomorrow.” 

Tito looked at his brother in law, unsure what to say when the man surprised them all by smiling and saying, “You better git while the gitting is good.  My sisters always made me wait forever before I could take off.  Still do when they get the chance.” 

Tito grinned in relief and nodded for Joey to follow him.  Danny was left uncomfortably alone with a man she didn’t know.  She looked over to the tavern kitchen and saw Mrs. Maddox give a nod letting her know that she’d keep an eye on things. 

“You can call me Emery … or Em if you like … prefer Emery though.” 

“All right … Emery.  Can I get you something to drink?” 

“Naw, I’m practically floating now.  You can do something else for me though.” 

“And that … would be?” 

“Explain things.  Tried asking Tito but I got the feeling he was afraid of saying something he shouldn’t.  You don’t need to worry about making things hard for Delia.  I figured right quick what she’s like but that’s ok.  I got sisters that make her look like an angel.  Was a little rough for both of us at first but turns out we suit each other just fine.” 

“Hmm.” 

“And furthermore, in case you ain’t figured it … about the only kinda speaking I can do is the plain kind.” 

Danny snorted and before she could stop herself she said, “That must have gone over well with Delia.” 

Emery gave a small grin and said, “Like I said, was a little rough at first for both of us.” 

“If you have Delia figured out and things are ok what do you need explained?” 

“The whole of it.  Delly … I gave up trying to get it out of her.  She … she just …” 

Danny nodded understanding the unspoken need that so many people seemed to have to know where the other person was when the flare happened and how they survived afterwards.  “She can’t or won’t tell it … the days leading up to and after the flare.” 

Emery was relieved that his sister in law seemed to be plain spoken as well.  “Right.  That.  Something … nags at me.  Like I won’t ever understand her all the way until I get that last part of the puzzle.” 

Danny sighed.  “Well if you don’t mind me working while I talk you can sit on that bench and I’ll see if I can untangle whatever it is that Delia has left out.” 

So Danny told it … 

“Our family was heading out on our annual camping trip up to Georgia.  I have … had … don’t know which for sure these days … an uncle up there that owned a hunting track.  He was my mother’s brother and usually there was a big family reunion and from what I remember of them they were … fun.  We worked but the reunions were just fun, the whole family thought so.  My dad’s job at the time was in Riverview … you know where that is?” 

“Yeah.” 

“Well Nita was two and had just gotten over being really sick so instead of driving up and camping like we normally did Dad rented an RV … the very one Delia is resting in now … and we attached a trailer with most of the stuff the movers didn’t take.  Oh, forgot to mention that we were supposed to move to Georgia to be nearer my mother’s mother as she had started to … slip mentally is the way Momma said it.” 

“Is the trailer here just like the RV?” 

“No.  We’ve still got some things from the trailer but only some of what was in it.  Let me explain.  There were six of us, plus Poppy and Momma.  Eddie was 13, Delia was 11, I was 8, Tito was almost 6, Joey was 3, and Nita was the baby and was 2.  Though … Momma was going to have another baby.  That was another reason why we were moving.  That day we pulled off here in Wildwood at the truck stop … what’s now the tavern.  We gassed up and then pulled around back so that Dad could check all the fluids and take a look at a tire that looked like it was getting low.” 

“I didn’t know … about another baby.” 

“Yeah well, probably because Delia had nightmares about it for a long time afterwards.  You remember what it was like that day?  Everything worked and then nearly everything didn’t.  And then a lot of people stopped working … the people that had pacemakers and medicine pumps that kept them going.  That happened pretty fast.  Then came the people that depended on medicines that needed refrigeration … like insulin.  That’s what happened to our father.  He had what they used to call Type I Diabetes – he’d had it since he was a very young boy - but it was under good control because Mom made sure that no kind of food came into the house that might tempt Dad to take a walk on the wild side and mess up his sugar.  But he was still insulin dependent and the kind that came in a pill didn’t work for him.  So Dad just kept getting sicker and sicker no matter what we did.  Then he fell into a coma.  Momma was …”  Danny stopped and thought about it. 

“Momma was a strong woman and I think if there had been time she would have been ok.  But there wasn’t time.  Everyone remembers the chaos that followed the flare.  It wasn’t nearly as bad here as it was in places like New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Dallas, Kansas City.  There it must have seemed like the whole world was coming apart at the seams.  Here the flare hadn’t been quite as bad … I don’t know why.  Some things stopped working, some people stopped working, but small devices that hadn’t been connected to anything still worked.  We had a wind up emergency radio, it still worked.  The problem was that there weren’t a whole lot of places still broadcasting.  But the news we did hear was terrible.  People were just plain crazy all over the world, even the parts that hadn’t taken the full brunt of the flare.  But even for those places it was like dominoes falling.  Cities and towns were going quiet, then states; around the world whole countries were going quiet.  But we were sort of ok in this little part of it.”
 
“But then something happened?” 

“Yeah, just like something happened in lots of places.  People going crazy, that was only the start of it.  Florida was able to get a hold of things before they got impossible.  It was really bad, but not impossible; plus the state still had an agricultural base to fall back on and we didn’t have the really bad first winter like they did up north that killed so many people.  Georgia survived too except for the part they gave up around Atlanta and let burn.  Miami burned too for a little while until people finally got it through their heads that no one was coming to fix things.  But then the people from those places that were used to other people taking care of them and enforcing the rules used up everything in their area and started branching out.” 

Danny thought, now comes the hard part. 

“Momma was … she was really big and pregnant.  Poppy … that’s what we called our father when we were little … Poppy was really fading and Momma was with him in this little building that stood right there,” Danny said pointing to an empty place that was little more than crumbled concrete filled with scrubby weeds.  “It’s where they had what they were calling the terminal people.  Us kids, we stayed in the RV.  Eddie was big for his age and for a long time we let on that he was our uncle and 18 so that they wouldn’t try and ‘do’ something about us kids.” 

“But what happened to your parents?” 

“I told you people left the cities looking for more.  More food, more drugs, more drinking water, more anything you can think of.  A lot of them were looking for leaders who promised them whatever they wanted.  And some of them found them.  They said some people weren’t being fair, they had more than they should; or, they’d say things like survival of the fittest, we take what we want.  They justified it a lot of different ways but the end result was always the same … people got hurt and people died.  And that’s really what happened to Momma and Poppy.  Poppy would have died in a day or two more without the insulin but Momma … she would have been ok except …” 

“Except?” 

“Well you see the Interstate … or what’s left of it.  They just came plowing through here and … and they … they took and destroyed so much.  There was this one group … they didn’t even wait to see if you would fight or surrender.  Their strategy was that they’d come through and soften places up.  The truck stop … it was a hard nut to crack.  They thought that must mean that there was good stuff here.  There wasn’t, we just had good people here.  Truckers are tough and a lot of the people that were here had guns even though they were tourists and stuff like that.  Well … they … they softened us up by setting fire to the terminal building even though it had a big Red Cross symbol on it to protect it and by blowing up a few things on both sides of the ramp.”   

Danny paused only a moment before continuing.  “It was the middle of the night and … and things were crazy.  Eddie … some people helped Eddie get Momma out but …”  Danny stopped and closed her eyes briefly before continuing.  “She was badly burnt and started miscarrying.  The baby didn’t survive.  It … it took a long time and the pain was so bad at first that she was out of her head.  But it was worse when the pain went away … at least for us … because … because that’s when she became lucid and started … started explaining how things were going to be.  She made Delia write down a bunch of instructions on how to do things … how she expected her to be the new mother.  And she expected Eddie to be the new father … the new Poppy.  And I love my parents and would never desecrate their memories but … but it was … it was too much to ask.  They tried but it was just too much to ask of them at the age they were.  They weren’t … equipped … to handle it.  We’d had such an easy life up to that point.” 

“You talk … different than I expected.  Delly sometimes acts like she’s from different than what she came from but mostly she … she forgets except when company is around that she wants to impress.  You talk … like you are, like it isn’t an act … like the way you are with the blokes in tavern, that’s the act.”


Danny chuckled.  “Oh I can be a shrew … and worse.  Ask anyone around.  But even after I had to quit school after Delia left there was a man here that was always on my case.  Father Brannigan.” 

“The one that delivered the letter?” 

“Well, he did then.  I thought he might send a Nun or someone else to do it.  Father Brannigan … well …” 

“Yeah, I got the feeling he didn’t approve too much of how Delly had left things.” 

“Oh, don’t let it bother her.  I’m not mad at her … not any more.  Might not have said that too long ago but having the boys settled, that’s more important than holding a stupid, worthless grudge about something that can’t be changed.  Delia is Delia.  She’s always been Delia even when Momma tried to force her to be something different.  She’s family.  Besides, I have a feeling she’ll get it back with Nita.” 

Emery blinked and then said carefully, “Now ain’t that a wicked sorta grin.  That’s all I need.  My sisters are all wishing my son turns out to be just like me so I get some back too.  You wanna curse us both?” 

Danny was surprised to see that Emery was actually laughing about it.  She smiled and said, “OK, maybe not … you seem like a nice sort of man.  Different but still nice.” 

Suddenly Emery was serious and said, “You don’t know anything about me.” 

“No … and yes.  I’ve been a barmaid here since I was fifteen and helped around the place and in the kitchen before that.  Just to stay out of trouble you learn to read men.  You’re capable of being a rascal, may have even been one at one time, but you’re older now.  You don’t need to be a rascal as much as you used to be.  Probably the same for Delia … she was … what she was for a long time and now she’s something different.  But not completely different.  There’s still enough of the old Delia in there that she and I can’t live together so stop looking like you are trying to figure out how to change Delia’s mind.  It wouldn’t work and I’ve no interest in it.” 

Emery crossed his arms and leaned back in the bench.  “She said you’d say that.  Apparently she knows you.” 

“She knows who I used to be and there’s still enough of that girl left in me that my opinions on that subject are the same.  But she doesn’t know who I am now and even if I could live with her she wouldn’t be able to live with me.  Trust me on this.” 

“What’ll you do?  My sister Lauren will expect an explanation and I’d like to have a nice easy answer for her.  Preferably with words of one syllable so she can’t use it to trip me up or make Delia miserable.” 

“Whoa, that type is she?  Well tell Sister Lauren that I intend to keep working until the boys are set up in work of some type.  If Joey needs something more than military school, or if he gets to the end of it and decides that’s not the life for him, I want to have enough saved to get him going.  Same for Tito though he’s old enough to know his mind and if it isn’t the militia for him it could be that he comes back to Mr. Gifford.  Mr. and Mrs. Gifford have always had a soft spot for Tito and Joey.  They almost adopted them except Eddie …” 

“Whatever happened to the brother named Eddie?  Delly says she doesn’t know … and doesn’t seem to be interested in finding out.” 

“That last part is probably not true.  She and Eddie were real close when we were all younger.  Close like Tito and I are close now or Tito and Joey.  When Eddie left … like I said people thought he was 18 when the flare happened but he was only 13.  He grew up way too fast and it … did something to him.  He got wild.  Bad wild.  He was still the head of the house and still tried to be the Poppy but away from us he was … different.  Only we didn’t know about it because Eddie was very careful and very protective … he shielded us from a lot.  If he had really been 18 maybe … but he wasn’t, people didn’t know, and he … lived the life of a man when he was still just a boy.  Four years ago it all got to be too much for him.  This older woman was chasing him, expecting him to … to be older like he said he was.  She wasn’t a nice woman and she got him involved in with people … well there was trouble.  Eddie wasn’t a part of it but he could have been.  Butch Pinder … you sorta met him today …” 

“Yeah.  Seemed kinda familiar with Delly.” 

“No need to be jealous if that’s what you’re thinking.  Butch … let’s just say girls like Delia and me aren’t his type.  Butch … he’s been here as long as we have.  And by here I mean here … at the tavern when it was still a truck stop.  Mr. and Mrs. Maddox keep a room ready for him when he is around which isn’t always all that often lately.  He was traveling with a bunch of friends the day of the flare when their car died and they walked to the truck stop on their way home … only eventually Butch was the only one left because Butch found out he didn’t have a home anymore … he was from near Miami.  But see Butch really was about the age that Eddie was only playing at being.  And somehow or other he figured it out and tried to look after him, keep him out of trouble, but Eddie is … was … as hard headed as Delia has ever been and was just as determined to go his own way.  After the trouble, even though Eddie could prove absolutely he didn’t have anything to do with it, he was going to be named as a … co-conspirator or something like that.  Butch told Eddie and Eddie chose to leave.  He’d been making noise about it for a while and … and he left.  And a part of Delia probably hates him for it.” 

“She ain’t let on she’s got too many fond memories of him that’s for sure.” 

Danny snorted.  “I imagine not.  Imagine being seventeen and then barely eighteen and suddenly being the only one responsible for four younger siblings.  She and I already butted heads, it got to be really bad and then … then suddenly we didn’t.  I didn’t realize it at the time but she was … she was preparing me to take her place.  Then she sat me down and explained how things were going to be … in a way it was like what Momma did to her.  No ifs, no ands, no buts … she was going away, she’d accepted a position as a mail order bride.  There was no discussing it, that’s just the way things were going to work out.” 

“You left out the part where she was going to send for you when she got settled.” 

Danny looked at him in surprise and Emery said, “Yeah, it came up when I read your letter asking for Delly to take Nita.  Can’t say I was happy about it.  Oh not you asking if she’d take Nita, but that Delly had made a promise and broken it.  We’ll have to work it out between us.  She was just going to send a ticket to put Nita on the train but I wasn’t having none of it.  My sisters can be rough as an old corncob but they’re still family, if one of them needed me … really needed me and wasn’t just yanking my chain … the hounds of hell wouldn’t stop me from helping them.  Delly … she needs to get passed whatever this block is she has.  My sister Clarice said she has abandonment issues or some sort of rot like that.  Clarice was a child psychologist before the flare and is the biggest pain in the backside you ever want to meet … but she means well and is right more often than not which just makes it all worse.” 

The look on Emery’s face made Danny laugh out loud despite the subject under discussion.  “You are just so perfect for Delia.  You are exactly what she needs.” 

Emery nodded.  “And she’s what I need.  She makes me feel like a man … and treats me like one which is something my sisters never can seem to manage.  Which is why I … she doesn’t ask for much.  She’s careful like that.  The only absolute she’s ever given me is that she was going to send presents to you bunch at Christmas and a card on your birthdays.  It’s even in our marriage papers.” 

Danny looked momentarily surprised and then supposed she shouldn’t have been.  “Delia … it’s Delia’s way.  Makes her feel better about leaving … and it was stuff that I never could have afforded.  And before I forget I want to say thank you as Delia had said that you always picked out the boys’ gifts, they were always well-received and very useful.  They both still have the pocket knives you sent and wouldn’t put their pants on without them.” 

Emery seemed very pleased to find it out and that’s when Delia showed up.