A corpse that was blocking the front door so Bobby would need to hide it from customers before he could open the feed store always meant Angus was close by. It was funny, Bobby could see that, but it made him nervous too. Some help from Angus to move the damn thing would be nice, and suppose he didn’t show in time? Suppose he’d decided he had time to shoot into Marion for coffee from the Crooked Door but then his old F-150 broke down and he couldn’t make it back at all?

But playing his little trick on Bobby was something Angus didn’t often do. Most of the time the road kill he’d bring to the feed store would be already butchered and in more or less manageable amounts: pounds and pounds of deer or bear. Bobby would ask who was going to eat all that meat and Angus would ask if Bobby was turning into a pussy plant-eater. Angus would say he was going to keep doing it because he’d seen too much death, all of it a waste. If he scooped an animal off the road for eating, though, that was a death not wasted.

But thinking about the war would get Angus agitated. That would get him talking like he did and Bobby would have to try to get him to think about something else.

“Remember skinny dipping in the reservoir back when the dam was new?” Bobby might say. “Remember the fuss about how this new project couldn’t go to hell because it was built with federal dollars and we might want Congressman Jessup to bring home more?”

Bobby would think Got to remember.

“You weren’t supposed to swim in the reservoir, naked or not,” Bobby would continue, “so Sheriff Taylor would keep watch. To see the high school girls, the suspicion was.”

Bobby would look closer at Angus.

“Remember Violet Simmons?” Bobby’d say. “Remember Danielle Herbert?”

Violet waitressing in Asheville now, he’d think. Divorced, two kids, but still beautiful. Danielle in. . . Florida?

“Saw us more than once too.”

What Bobby meant was “Saw me.” Angus had been a skinny thing, not like now—that was the only good thing the Army’d done for him, Bobby thought—but Bobby was a running back on the football team.

“Sheriff would see us and Violet and Danielle could of done cartwheels in front of him, didn’t matter.”

The images of Violet Simmons and Danielle Herbert would pass in front of Bobby’s eyes. But Angus wanted to talk about his lawyer.

“You think he should be talking about his ‘Jew lawyer’ like that?” Bobby’s girlfriend Carol would say.

She’d only heard Angus talk that way once, when she came into the feed store after dropping Bobby there going to her own job. Bobby said Angus was there every morning and she wouldn’t come in anymore.

“It’s just his way of talking,” Bobby would say. “Doesn’t mean anything by it.”

Which had more to do with making peace with Carol for still being Angus’s friend than with Bobby’s real thoughts. Bobby had a hard time remembering when Angus had good things to say about people. You’d hear somebody talk about liking animals better, but it was mostly something to say if you were in a bad mood. But Angus really did like animals better.

Bobby would go in and out the feed store the back way while he got ready to open. That’s when Angus would come in. Best he came early, Bobby thought, so he wouldn’t talk like he did with other customers around.

Bobby’s going in and out might break the chain of Angus’s thought, so he’d stop talking. He’d move cage to cage, one by one picking up the guinea pigs and rabbits and hedgehogs to stroke. Like he was a mother with her babies, so every sound and movement was gentle. Bobby would feel the blood pressure that he’d thought was going to blow him open when Angus was talking about Jews and so on ease up.

Bobby would want to cry because he remembered when Angus was different, from when they were boys right up until he went off to the war. Bobby would recall Angus saying The President says it was Saddam and him saying So the President never lies? A look would come into Angus’s eyes and Bobby would say We read about Nixon in school, you think George W. couldn’t lie too? Angus would say Sometimes you have to decide before all the facts are in.

Then Angus would say But that’s not your style, Bobby. Because Bobby had maybe always been too slow to make up his mind and Angus maybe always too quick. But for sure Angus had been too quick to decide to go off to the war.

*

The way Angus had decided his worst enemies were the Jews instead of the Mexicans had been quick, too. Especially, Bobby thought, because after hiring Jerry Davidson, at first Angus had nothing but good words for Jews. He’d decided on a city lawyer. So he drove the thirty miles to Asheville, which he hated—said the hippies had taken over—on a day when he didn’t even have to go to the VA hospital. Then suddenly he had a new idea: just any city lawyer wouldn’t do.

“Jew lawyers are the smartest,” Angus told Bobby.

That’s how he came to hire Jerry Davidson to sue both the State of North Carolina and the company it had hired to build a highway east of Asheville: the State for poor oversight of the company Angus said had hired unqualified Mexicans to operate heavy machinery, the company for negligence in hiring men who didn’t know how to do anything except trip over their dicks. Hiring Mexicans had caused the accident that gave Angus his back injury. It had stopped him working and would cause him pain the rest of his life.

Angus had started talking about what he’d do with the money Davidson would win for him. He’d set his sights on Idaho. Around Lake Coeur d’Alene and Hayden Lake, people with money were moving in or just going on vacation. All the boating and fishing in the world there.

“Buying myself a nice spread, but people got to do things at night,” Angus winked. “Going to run the best strip club in all of Idaho.”

He’d be done taking orders from Army captains who put their men in danger—he wouldn’t say what had happened in Iraq, which is how Bobby knew it was bad—and from contractors who hired Mexicans to run big machines. He’d be rich.

Bobby had gotten used to hearing about Angus’s smart Jew lawyer. He got used to hearing about how lucky Angus was to have found Jerry Davidson because to see him he didn’t have to drive all the way to Asheville when being in the truck that long hurt his back.

“Doesn’t mind if before dinner I stop in at his place between Black Mountain and Ridgecrest. Long as I make it quick.”

“Fancy lawyer lets you come to his place?” Bobby said. “What’s it like?”

“Plays at farming. Couple horses, some chickens, grows peanuts and sweet potatoes. Wife grows them. Horses are hers.”

“What’s she like?”

“Stays out of my way,” Angus shrugged.

He looked thoughtful.

“Pretty,” he said.

Things had gone on like this for a while. But at some point Bobby realized that Angus was saying different things about Jerry Davidson, talking about how he was a liar and a cheat.

There was the hair, too. After his discharge Angus had grown it long and wavy like when he was in high school. But around the time he started saying different things about the lawyer he cut it off. Now he had a head like a bullet.

“Don’t want people thinking I’m one of those Asheville hippies,” he’d told Bobby. “Yoga and ‘Can’t eat that, I’m vegan.’ Fuck, I’m a soldier—a trained rifleman—and I’d as soon shoot an organic vegetable out of your hand as eat one.”

Which to Bobby seemed strange since as far as he could tell Angus had not one good memory of the Army.

Bobby also wondered if the accident had really been some Mexican’s fault. Accidents happen.

So Bobby in his cautious way started thinking maybe he should get Angus some help. He thought maybe he should ask Carol what she thought since she had a good head on her shoulders. But he knew Angus scared her. He thought he’d just keep his eye on Angus and wait and see.

*

The morning Angus didn’t come into the feed store first thing, Bobby wasn’t there first thing either. He almost didn’t open on time. But there was old Mr. Vaught pounding on the door like a hungry horse couldn’t wait one minute for Bobby to get the till set up. So he opened anyway, knowing that old Vaught always paid exact in cash.

Seeing Angus not there made Bobby worry that if he was in trouble, it would be on him. He’d already started to worry like that out loud at the house when Carol had kept him late because she was headed to Atlanta for a week to see her sister so she wanted a proper goodbye.

“You’re talking crazy,” Carol with her level head on her fine shoulders had said. “You’ve known for a long time Angus is going to get in trouble and he doesn’t need you for it.”

She was right. So he’d put Angus out of his mind for a little bit. But soon as Carol had gone he left not showering or shaving, only brushing his teeth, thinking about that word “crazy” that Carol had used. Because even though she hadn’t used it on Angus, out of the blue she’d said something else to show she was thinking it.

“Should go to the VA hospital for his head instead of his back.”

With Angus not at the feed store, “crazy” rattled around in Bobby’s head.

He thought too about the time he’d told Carol maybe Angus just needed a good woman. She’d said “Not going to set any of my girlfriends up with a man wants to run a strip club.” After that he’d stopped telling her about the strip club. He thought maybe it said something about how worried he was about Angus that he couldn’t say certain things about him to Carol, who was easy to talk to about most things.

He was thinking that when Angus finally came into the store, out of breath but also grinning like Bobby hadn’t seen him do in a while. Not since his opinion of Jerry Davidson had changed, Bobby thought.

“Good news about your case?”

“Don’t have a case anymore,” Angus said, his grin spreading wider.

Before Bobby could get a word out, Angus said the evening before he hadn’t bothered to collect his mail from the box at the top of his road.

Bobby could see that, top of the road being a quarter-mile, all uphill, from Angus’s little hardscrabble place west of West Marion that his mother had left him. Another thing Carol didn’t like, saying to Bobby “Get me out of here” the one time he’d taken her by. He’d said “He’s just poor” and she’d said “No Bobby, that’s something else.”

“So I collected it this morning,” Angus continued. “A letter from Mr. Bigshot Jew Lawyer starting out with something about ‘certain challenging developments in your case.’ Knew I wasn’t going to like how it ended.”

“Said he’d drop your case?”

“Better than that,” Angus said, starting to pace. “Reckoned he hadn’t squeezed the tit dry, so wanted another two thousand dollars to keep on.”

Angus grinned again.

“Two thousand I figured I’d shove up his flabby ass.”

Bobby saw the Widow Haney’s car out the front. Always shuffled bin to bin, scooping out a little for the chickens, a little for the wild birds, biscuits for a dog would come visit her. Could be left on her own.

“Let’s have a smoke,” Bobby said, starting for the back door.

“Army captain, that foreman made me work with Mexicans,” Angus said as Bobby shut the door behind them. “Done being fucked, Bobby.”

Bobby fished the pack out of his Wranglers.

“Ruger’s always in the pickup,” Angus said. “Didn’t think about it when I left.”

Bobby started shaking.

“Then remembered I took down a buck yesterday,” Angus laughed. “Last shot and never reloaded. Went after that lawyer with an empty rifle.”

Bobby couldn’t manage to light his Marlboro.

“Turn off the highway onto Ridgeview to find his place,” Angus said. “Unloaded, but kept driving for no good reason.”

He tilted his head back and blew the smoke skyward.

“Well, reason was to catch him before he headed to Asheville.”

The back door swung open and Bobby said, “Be right there, Mrs. Haney.”

“You got other customers,” she said and shut the door.

“Then here he comes the other way,” Angus continued, “straight at me—you know Ridgeview’s narrow—knowing I’ll move because he owns the road in his little Beemer.”

Mrs. Haney opened the door to give Bobby a stare-down.

“Angus, I got a business to run” Bobby said, and Angus said “But didn’t move, did I?”

Mrs. Haney disappeared behind the closed door as Bobby reached for the knob looking over his shoulder at Angus who said “Funny what an F-150 can do to a Beemer.”

*

Later, Bobby would think that the customers Mrs. Haney had told him about couldn’t have taken ten minutes to help. Long enough, though, to decide it was time to help Angus.

But should he help him run from the law? Or tell him to turn himself in? Maybe then they’d go easy and get him the kind of help a man needed who wasn’t a criminal but who was, like Carol had said about Angus’s little hardscrabble place, something else.

But ten minutes had been long enough for Angus to decide for himself what to do if he hadn’t already decided when Bobby went back in the store. Bobby would understand that in the afternoon, when a customer said he’d heard on the radio that the man suspected of killing an Asheville lawyer had rammed a State Trooper’s car with his pickup and pointed a hunting rifle at the Trooper, who shot the killer dead. The customer thought the crazy son of a bitch had deserved that even though it turned out the rifle wasn’t loaded.

 

***

 

Don Stoll‘s fiction is forthcoming in THE BROADKILL REVIEW, XAVIER REVIEW, THE MAIN STREET RAG, WILD VIOLET, COFFIN BELL, BETWEEN THESE SHORES (twice), PULP MODERN, YELLOW MAMA (three times), and FRONTIER TALES, and recently appeared in THE GALWAY REVIEW (tinyurl.com/y6nxt9nv), GREEN HILLS LITERARY LANTERN (tinyurl.com/y2lfxysm), CLOSE TO THE BONE (tinyurl.com/y38ac6jv), HORLA (tinyurl.com/y3k6eewx), DARK DOSSIER (twice), THE HELIX, SARASVATI, and ECLECTICA (tinyurl.com/y73wnmgq. In 2008, Don and his wife founded their nonprofit (karimufoundation.org) to bring new schools, clean water, and clinics emphasizing women’s and children’s health to three contiguous Tanzanian villages.

 

 

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