By William S. Hubbartt -
“So what did you do this time?”
I smiled, with that innocent subtle shrug, my mind evaluating the alternatives, weighing one response over another. My thoughts came a bit slower when I had a hangover. Sure, it was a delaying tactic, but when you’ve got natural dimples, tousled hair and roguish good looks, you learn quickly to use whatever is in your arsenal to get the other one to see your side, to believe in you, to get what you want. It had worked before, so many times, so it just came naturally this time. The first time I remember was when I was six or seven; little brother Mikey and me were sneaking cookies, and we both grabbed for the last one and the cookie jar fell and broke. Well, Mom come in and I just smiled, but Mikey, he looked guilty and he got the spanking.
“Well, answer me!” Pop knew all the angles, I guess he’d been there before.
“Uh, it was nothing, really.” I met his gaze this time, my hands turned up, open.
“Wipe that smirk off you face! You’re in deep shit, ya know? Spill it.”
“It was a quiet Saturday night. Boring, you know how it is in Paradise. Me and Tommy and Bonner just hanging out, drinkin’, smokin’, throwing rocks at the empty beer cans. So Tommy says he knows about this rocking honkey tonk in the city. Sounded like a good idea and we piled into my 150 and hit the road.”
Pop nodded, “And…?”
“Wull, half way there we’re getting dry, cause Bonner didn’t think to bring the beer we was drinkin’. So’s I stop at filling station, put a couple bucks in the tank, and out comes Tommy, big shit eating grin, and says let’s go. So we went, divvied up the beer and all’s good.” I smiled, thinking about that night.
“There’s more, keep going.”
“‘Bout a mile down the road a Smokey goes flying by all lit up. And Tommy’s laughin’, and says turn up here, take this cut-off down towards the river. Why, I ask, and Tommy laughs and says “I boosted the beer. Likely they’re looking for a red pick-up.” So I step on it and we’re sliding this way and that on that gravel road down to the river. And then we saw a red strobe coming our way and I’m thinking, I didn’t do nothing wrong, I just stopped for gas and paid my five dollars. So I pull behind this barn, and the bull flies by. Then we hit the black top down by the Trinity, and were moving, and pretty soon were coming into the Metroplex and I think we got it made.”
“The honky tonk?” Pop just won’t let it go. “Tell me about the honky tonk, all of it!”
I smiled again, couldn’t help it. “It was a fun place, rocking, lotsa purty lil fillies, drinking and two-steppin, tight jeans, short skirts, and cowboy boots. And entertainment, too. There was this young lankey guy, good sound, singing a song about “shoulda been a cowboy.”
“Toby Kieth?” All of a sudden Pop seemed interested. “You saw Toby Kieth?”
“I don’t know, don’t remember his name, I was kinda wasted. But he sounded good, got the girls going. Bonner, he hit it off with one lil filly, pink tank top, really stacked, nice ass.”
“And you? What did you do? Bet you were sloppy drunk by then, probably made an ass of yourself.” Pop could always read me like a book.
“Naw, I was dancin’ too.” I had to defend myself. “You know they can’t resist my smile. Lotta fish in that pond, Tommy was dancin’ too.”
“But you went and did something stupid, didn’t ya?” Pop knows chapter two of that book, knows how to push my buttons.
“Wull, this cute bar girl comes around with a tray of shots, you know, in those lil boot shaped shot glasses.” I held up my thumb and forefinger to show the size. “Tommy bought us all a round of Jack.”
“You never could hold your liquor.” Pop was always so judgmental, knew it all, I never could measure up.
“I didn’t start nothin’, honest.” My hands were up, palms open, trying to convince the old man. He stared, hard. I kept going. “So this guy comes back by our spot on the bar, carrying two beers, and he sees Bonner dancing with pink tank top. Big guy, like a wide receiver or tight end for the Cowboys, and he drops those beers and has a hand on Bonner so fast, pulling him away from the girl and landing right cross to Bonner’s jaw.”
“And you had to do something about that didn’t you?” Damn. It’s like Pop was there or something. I’m thinking why don’t he just tell the story?
“Wull, he was gonna kick Bonner’s ass, so I’m all over his back and trying to pull him off, and he turns and we’re getting in some jabs. I know I knocked his tooth loose, a one-two, like you taught me Pop, you’da been proud.” He was proud, I could see it in his eyes, he didn’t crack a smile or nothing though. “I done like you said. I didn’t start nothing, but I didn’t walk away either.”
Pop shook his head, like I did something wrong. It was like I never could please the man. “Don’t do that, do this” Whatever I did, seems I done wrong, took the strap to me more than once. Well, I felt like I did the right thing. I didn’t start no fight, I stuck up for my friend.
“But it didn’t end there, did it? Gimme the rest.” I knew Pop had been in few bar fights in his time. He’d never talk about it, but I remember a time or two, he’d come back with a black eye.
“So the bouncer, threw us out, a big bull neck son of a bitch.”
“And—” Pop was spinning his hand, like get on with it already.
“So Tommy just fell into the back bed and I think he’s passed out already. And I’m helping Bonner into the truck, when the tight end gets into my face, cussing up a storm and swinging those mile long arms and I’m ducking, and finally I pushed the truck door into him and sent him flying. I jumped in the 150, cranked it up and pulled out burning rubber.”
“But you hit him… with the truck. You too drunk to remember?”
“Meee?” It came out high pitched, I was shaking my head.
“Yeh, you ran him over, jackass.” Pop looked pissed this time.
“But he was all right, right?” I didn’t really remember that part. “He got up, right, I mean, you know how drunks are, they don’t get hurt or nothing.”
“You ran him over, jackass. No, he didn’t get up.” Pop was really pissed, I could tell. “There was witnesses, you idiot. You run him over and took off.”
I smiled again, hands up in demonstration of my innocence. I was trying real hard to remember this part. “But he’s ok, right? I didn’t mean no harm.”
Pop just stared at me hard, pissed as all get out, didn’t say nothing. The silence was killing me, one minute, two minutes, three.
“So, when do I get outta here? You paid my bail right?” I knew he’d bust my balls in the morning, that’s what happened last time he paid my bail. I had to work overtime for two months to pay him back.
Pop shook his head slowly, his eyes going down to the table in front of him. Finally he spoke. “Obviously, you weren’t thinking!”
It was low and hard. I had to strain to hear him through the glass window between us. “You gotta learn the hard way. There is no bail. You’re not getting out of here. You idiot, you killed a man! There is no bail for a manslaughter charge!”
William S. Hubbartt is the author of non-fiction and fiction materials: Drawing a Line: A look inside the corporate response to sexual harassment, Lawman’s Justice, Justice for Abraham, Six Bullet Justice, Blazing Guns on the Santa Fe Trail (Amazon 2020), and non-fiction books including: Achieving Performance Results (Amazon Digital Services 2019). Short story fiction includes placements in Zimbell House No Trace Anthology (2018) and the Ghost Stories Anthology (2017), Storyteller Anthology Magazine, Mondays are Murder, Heater – Fiction Magazine and Wilderness House Literary Review. Author of the forthcoming novel Melton’s Mettle.