Danny tried to rush the door but Butch held her back. “What kind of trouble?” he growled.
Cindy Brewster said breathlessly, “Danny, that man you got into a tussle with last night … he got caught red-handed killing the undertaker. And a vigilante mob stole him out of the prison and hauled him off and strung him up ‘til he’s dead! You gotta get out here, you’re missing everything!”
Butch had some choice words to say. On the other hand Danny said nothing except to tell Cindy calmly, “We’ll be there shortly. Does Mrs. Maddox have everything covered?”
“Yeah but you know she won’t turn you away if you come. They can’t serve hard liquor with it being Sunday without setting off them Decency Committee people but Ol’ Maddox has already had to crack the third keg of beer and it isn’t even noon yet. C’mon will ya?!”
Danny put on her business face though it was a hard thing to do and extract herself from the bed and Butch at the same time. “I have to go,” she told him.
“I’m coming with you.”
Danny’s head came up. “Butch …”
“I told you already Daniella and I mean to show you. Let ‘em talk if they have to suck wind. I know what it means to need a job and I won’t interfere. I ain’t happy with all the looking they’ll likely do but I’ll hold my tongue unless they try and do more than that.”
Danny was already envisioning all sorts of trouble and warned Butch, “The customers flirt, especially after a drink or two. Or they get a smart mouth and put it in overdrive just to get a reaction. Madre de Dios, you’ve seen it yourself. I do not need any trouble.”
“Fine … but any guy grabs you and …”
“Any guy grabs me and he is going to pull back a nub. The regulars know that and the passing through types usually figure out who will tolerate what. Most of them just want cold drinks, hot food, and a good time. We have enough families coming through that the real jerks have started taking their business to Buzzy’s Place.”
Butch shook his head. Buzzy’s Place was a bar, but the bar was mostly for cover. Rumor – and Danny had the proof but that was for a different reason – was that Buzzy was pimping a stable of girls out and paying off someone so they’d look the other way. Problem was that Buzzy liked to run his mouth about who he knew and what. Hunter and Butch had been after the office that covered that area to shut him down for almost three years but nothing ever came of it. And now Danny wondered if that wasn’t part of what was going on too.
Butch moved, but not with the same vigor he normally had. Danny didn’t bother trying to talk him out of it, it would have just been a waste of time. But she wasn’t going to just waltz in through the front doors dragging him along either. She went in the back and told Butch to sit down before he fell down. “I’ll see if someone won’t come out and tell us what is what.”
Mrs. Maddox must have seen them coming because she stepped out and said, “What’s what is that we have a mess. Danny I know it is your day off but …”
“Of course,” Danny said with a nod. “Let me grab an apron out of the laundry. Kitchen or bar?”
“Bar. People are more interested in quenching their thirst along with their curiosity than they are with eating a full meal. Some are ordering sandwiches and nibble plates but I can manage that with the help I have. Rhonda can already run circles around the other girls. I’m so glad you talked us into taking her on.”
Danny glanced at Butch as he tried to stand up and then sighed as he almost fell. “Oh for … Butch!”
“I’m sitting in the bar,” Butch said stubbornly.
With both Danny and Mrs. Maddox silently fussing and sharing unspoken words of irritation over pig headed men they got him installed in an out of the way table where he could sit with his back to the wall and observe without getting trampled by all the traffic. It didn’t take long before people started trying to pump him for information.
The crowd grew and grew and eventually spilled out into the tavern yard. Danny muttered, “What do they think this is? Fourth of July? They want drinks then they can come in and order them at the bar … and pay for them at the same time.”
Mr. Maddox grinned. “That’s my girl. Give ‘em what for.”
Danny snorted. “And if one more of them tries to bribe me to slip him some of the hard stuff I’m gonna cut him off. Do we look like we want trouble with the law? That’s all the Decency Committee would need to push through making this a dry county on Sunday … or all week long like they are working on.” Turning to the next customer she answered in response to his question if they had something besides beer, “Got ale. Got different kinds of mead – dry or sweet. Got enough melomels that you need to read up what is opened on that board behind me. Got a lot of wines that you’ll find listed on the same board that are Sunday allowed. When you get it figured out what you want I’ll …”
“What’s a melomel? That some kind of Mexi drink?” the man asked looking her up and down.
His rowdy companion snickered and Danny shook her head. “Are you sure you want service at this bar? Questions like that might get you forgotten about.”
Another man further down laughed and said, “You tell ‘em Danny.” To the two newcomers he said, “Boys, this little lady will treat you right and never cheat you of your drink. Never have to worry she waters anything down either. As for that melomel stuff … it’s like a fruited mead kind of thing. If you don’t like fruit wines though I’d stick with the house ale or plain mead if you don’t want a beer. Up to you though.”
The two men turned to her and gave her a considering look. “I want something with a good head on it, not a glass full of foam.”
“We’ve got a stout that the railroad men like when they come out this way. I pull it straight from the keg by the mug. Do the same for the ales we have. If you prefer a glass I’d go with the house lager.”
“Give us a mug of the railroad stout.”
Danny pulled the stout and then went on to the next customer. Thirty minutes later the man was back and said, “’S good. Give us a glass of the lager this time.”
Since his scrip was real she did just that. The man kept coming back, trying different things on the board until she said, “Mister? I’m surprised you’re still standing much less walking around but don’t you think you’ve had enough for a bit? Why don’t you get a bite to eat, let you stomach catch up and then see how you feel?”
The man belched and scratched his chin. “Watcha got to eat.”
“Nothing here at the bar but if you let me get you a table Mrs. Maddox, the proprietor’s wife, will see you have something in your belly that don’t slosh.”
The man laughed like Danny had said the funniest thing he’d heard in a long time. Danny got the man situated and then came back to the bar. Mr. Maddox laughed and said, “I was just about to cut him off myself. And he ain’t the only one either. These boys ain’t locals. Where are they coming from? And what has your tail feathers lit? Not like you to let a boozer get to you so easy.”
“It wasn’t him. Butch said to tell you that he’s gotten word that Buzzy’s got burnt down by a different set of vigilantes than the one that did the hanging.”
Maddox whistled in concern. “Reckon the Decency Committee people are getting ..?”
“Not sure. Butch says he’ll listen ‘round but there’s nothing he can do about it right now. He ain’t fit for duty yet so isn’t on the roster.”
An oily voice from the end of the bar said, “That ain’t why he’s on the roster.”
What was said and the way it was said had people way too interested. Danny looked at the man and saw he was one of the ones that had been with the guy that had wound up getting hung for the undertaker’s murder. “If you know more then you should take the information to the militia office. As it is they’ll probably want your deposition on where your friend is from and why he murdered the undertaker. In fact, I’d get over there right now before some of those vigilantes decide you had something to do with that murder … or maybe you burned down Buzzy’s for revenge.”
The man found he was suddenly on the receiving end of a lot of curiosity and slowly backed away from the bar and out into the yard. Danny always wondered why people thought they were going to get away with yakking their heads off without some retribution along the way for their foolishness. She also wondered about the man’s boldness. Had someone she’d just been palling around with gotten caught red-handed doing a murder and then gotten hauled off and hung for it, she sure wouldn’t be walking around like she hadn’t a care in the world. The man was either an idiot or he was so connected that he didn’t think he had anything to worry about … or both; it was too hard to tell and Danny needed to have her full attention to take care of the customers that seemed to have a never ending thirst.
It wasn’t until the bugs came out and the lamps laced with citronella were lit that the people’s tongues started to slow down and their thirst finally started to slacken. There were many that had to be put on the drunk wagon and taken to the other side of the ramp to sleep it off in the way station. There were a few that opted for a room at the Tavern but Mr. Maddox made sure to get payment up front and a drunken signature on the guest and receipt books first.
“Oh my Lord,” Mrs. Maddox said as she tried to stretch the fatigue from her body. “Now I like my profit as well as the next woman but I hope to not have another Sunday like this for at least a month or two.”
Danny shook her head. Part of her agreed but at the same time her tip purse was the heaviest it had been in a long time and she tried to appreciate the unexpected blessings when they came as the unexpected ones were on the rare side. Normally she had too much of a hand in things not to be able to expect some return. The problem was she wondered if she didn’t have a hand in this as well.
Mrs. Maddox patted Danny’s shoulder as she went by to put the last bar rag into the scalding pot. “Let’s call this finished. Monday morning is already on its way and I’d like to get a few hours sleep anyway.” Then she pointed over to where Butch leaned against the wall trying to stay awake with little success then beckoned Danny over for a little private chat.
Before she could start in on her Danny said, “I know. There’s no future in it. He’s just got some stray hair of gratitude and is being stubborn.”
“Actually Dear I think the two of you would be a good match. I’ve thought so for a while. And don’t tell me you have no inclination because you’ve got better sense than that. I was just going to suggest that you keep it quiet so you two don’t have to deal with so much grief from people trying to tell you what is in your future.”
Danny, still shocked that Mrs. Maddox wasn’t telling her all the loss she saw in her future if she stayed with Butch said, “That will happen no matter what we do … and we haven’t done anything.”
“Yet. So just be careful Dear. I know even if no one else does how wrong people have always gotten it when it comes to your … er … personal life. Certainly Mr. Maddox and I would know if you had regular visitors with you living so close to the Tavern. And the rest of what people think they see and what they think they know is just assumption … in other words they’re out to make an ass out of themselves. Now run along … and take Butch with you before he becomes a permanent fixture to the wall.”
Danny knew a dismissal when she heard one and this one she was eager to take. “Butch?”
“Huh?” he said jumping. “You done?”
“And then some.”
Butch was leaning on Danny by the time they got back to the RV, and it was less than a treat for him to get up the steps, but finally they were back inside. Danny poured Butch into bed and helped him off with his boots but when she turned to go to her normal sleeping space he grabbed her. “Where you going?”
“Butch,” she said sighing.
Danny just shook her head. “Gotta count out the tips and enter it into my book.” That caused an interested look to pop up in Butch’s tired eyes. “Oh no you don’t. Not even Tito got in my business about this.”
“I’m not your little brother. And I don’t want to be in your business, I ain’t after you for your money woman and be glad I am choosing to exercise restraint and not be offended.”
Danny snorted. “Stop trying to sound like a school room teacher. Exercise restraint. What will you think of next?”
“Next? I’m barely surviving what I’m thinking about right now.”
Danny glanced at him and then nearly lost her breath at the look on his face. “Butch …”
“I know dammit. And then there’s the fact I’m not in any shape to do it right … yet. But I’ll be damned if I’ll be denied the pleasure of at least thinking about it … even if it does make me feel like I’m one of the damned.”
Danny shook her head. “You’ll be damned all right if you don’t stop cursing like that. Now go to sleep.”
“No. Not until you do.”
“Now who’s cursing?”
“You’d drive a saint to curse Butch Pinder,” she said but it was more out of exasperated humor than anger. “I’ve got work to do. And so do you, it’s just different kind of work. Mine is paperwork and yours is working on healing up.”
“What kind of paperwork?”
Danny shook her head. “You’d find it boring.”
“But you don’t.”
Danny shrugged. “It’s a means to an end.”
“But if you can remember everything why write anything down?”
Danny opened her mouth on a smart aleck reply but realized he was serious so changed what she had been going to say. “Habit I suppose but … look, this is going to sound …”
“Just spit it out Daniella.”
Danny shook her head in frustration. “Not only would you drive a saint to curse, you’d drive one to drink as well. Because what I do isn’t just about me. If something happens to me Tito needs to know where to go to get what he and Joey need to keep going.”
“Dammit. That's a heal of a thing for you to be thinking about.”
“Yeah, I know how it sounds. But when … when my parents died they took all of the addresses and phone numbers of our relatives with them. Not even Eddie knew what they were. I knew the sound the phone made as the numbers were keyed in but do you know how many combinations of numbers that is? We’d never needed to know the numbers because our parents knew or they were plugged into the speed dial buttons. Then Flare Day … and they still didn’t write anything down because I guess they just never thought about it. When they died … it was a mess and one of the reasons why Eddie had to play at being older than he was. He started working and Delia started working and I started working … I knew what I made and what they said they made but I wasn’t always around when money got spent. My memory is eidetic but I’m not a mind reader, all I knew is that it seemed that money went out a lot faster than it should have. That wound up being Eddie taking money out to get in trouble with and then taking money out to run away with. Delia and I started writing stuff down but even Delia did her share of taking stuff out without telling and then she left. Tito and I kept better records. I had to, not because of my memory, but so that I could show Tito and eventually Joey where it came in and where it went out. Now if something happens to me Tito and Joey still need to know and who to do to to collect what I'm owed in a few places or who to contact if they want to try and keep the business up.”
Butch sat quietly and didn’t say anything so Danny moved to start her paperwork. Eventually Butch asked, “Does Tito know about all of your side business?”
Carefully Danny answered, “He knows about some because he helped with some. The wine and mead, the soda, some of the food stuffs … and he might suspect other things but he never said anything outright. Tito knows now to keep his mouth shut.”
“So it seems.”
“Wait, you ain’t gonna hold this against Tito …”
“No. He might actually be better prepared for his chosen profession than I thought.”
“Well just so you know, none of this is illegal … exactly.”
“The decency committee idiots would have had fun if they had caught me at it before I turned eighteen. Even at eighteen they could have caused me problems by threatening to take away the kids … even Tito. They certainly would have made it nearly impossible for me to make the money that Tito and Joey need to stay where they are at. And even if they couldn’t outright stop me now, they could make it difficult for me to set up business arrangements. You might be surprised at who I have contracts with.”
“Maybe not as surprised as you think. And no, I’m not holding this against you or the boys. Tito is going to have to be careful but he’s also going to be expected to develop his own connections that he is also going to be responsible for protecting if need be. That’s how it works.”
“Is that what you’re doing with me? Protecting a connection?”
“Hell no. And watch that mouth before I come over there and kiss it shut and get you and your paperwork off track.”
“Your threats don’t work with me Butch.”
“Wasn’t a threat Daniella,” he said huskily. “It is a promise. Don’t push me. In shape or not, I want you so bad … you and those incredible legs.”
Danny just rolled her eyes and went back to her paperwork. A girl needed priorities and right now she still had her brothers to take care of … and apparently now she had to worry about protecting Butch from whatever craziness he imagined himself in.
Not long afterwards she heard Butch’s breathing settle down into the deep even breaths that said he was asleep and going to stay that way. Danny quickly finished tallying the night’s receipts, hid the tips, put in order her morning chores and then was forced to settle for the night herself. It wasn’t easy. She had to fight climbing into bed with Butch but Heaven only knew where it might lead or the ideas it might give the crazy man. Thank goodness it was unlikely that she was going to need to be up at the crack of dawn as all they had staying at the Tavern were a few of the drunks that had the money to sleep over and they’d more than likely sleep fairly late. Danny said her nightly prayers and one of the things she asked for was a quiet Monday. Everyone needed it and she needed time to think about the possible implications of what had happened … between her and Butch and the situation they found hanging over their heads.