When I woke up, I was propped up in an armchair in our front room with Burney Bush holding ice cubes wrapped in a towel on the bump at the back of my head.
Thurman was on one knee in front of me and Mr. Jenks was standing behind him. Martha, the new bride, was making coffee in the kitchen. Jeannie was there too, anxiously standing outside on the porch looking through the screen door.
"Who was it that did this to you?" Thurman asked me.
I was still a little groggy but answered, "I don't know who hit me, but it happened after I caught Colton and Burney's brothers going through our stuff. They were wearing masks, but I could tell it was them. They steal much?"
"They made a big mess of things and got my pistol and some of Mama's jewelry. They stole Mr. Jenks's savings too, and some silver candlesticks, and a gold frame off a picture of his first wife. I'm glad I took the truck to move those tables, or they would have got my tools. Uncle Billy's looking for Colton right now, said they got some money off of him too and some of Aunt Lou's jewelry."
I looked up and Martha when she handed a cup of coffee and said, "Martha, I sure am sorry that they ruined your big night."
She just laughed, "You just shush. That's only money they took. They ain't no way they could ruin this night for me. It's the greatest night of my whole damn life." When she finished talking, she went and stood beside her new husband, and he put his arm around her.
Mr. Jenks said, "That goes double for me. I had myself a ball tonight. I was going to buy Martha a new car with that money though."
Thurman stood up, "Well, don't you all fret about that money. We'll get in back for you."
Burney motioned for Jeannie to come in, and when she shyly entered into the room, she avoided looking at me as she walked by. Burney handed her the ice cubes and told her, "Make yourself useful, honey. I'm gonna go enlist my daddy's help in dealing with my two idiot brothers. Oogie's had this one hiding place since he was ten. He don't seem to grasp that everybody knows where the hell it is. I'll bet it's where they stashed the loot."
Thurman spoke next, "I'll drive you over there. Then I'm gonna go talk to a fella I know that might know where Colton's hiding out." They left.
Martha and Jenks were the next to go, but not before she had collected all the coffee cups and washed them and put them back in the cupboard.
"Honey, you keep a real good eye on him, and if he starts acting strange come get us, and Robert will drive him to the hospital in Hartford."
Mr. Jenks came over and shook my hand. "I didn't get a chance to tell Thurman and Burney how grateful we are for their help in making this a very special night. You boys are like family to me." He started tearing up.
My head hurt too bad for me to be handling the image of Mr. Jenks crying, so I made a joke, "Now, now, don't go crying on me. Save your energy. It's your honeymoon night. You might need it." He laughed.
Martha echoed his sentiment, "That goes for me too, Billy John. Thank you guys so much."
They walked out and the screen door shut behind them. I could hear them laughing as they made their way across the path to their home.
That left me alone with Jeannie who hadn't said a word the whole time. She stood behind me and held the ice in place though. Neither one of us said a thing for a long while until she finally spoke almost in a whisper, "You kind of scare me little, Billy. I don't know what to make of it."
I turned a little and looked over my shoulder at her. It hurt my head, but I didn't care. I mean to tell you, she was simply beautiful. Guinnie was also a very pretty girl, but hers was a fresh faced, innocent kind of beauty. She could go out in public with no make-up on and put most girls to shame. Jeannie was a different animal altogether.
There was touch of innocence mixed up in it, but also a lot of defiance and knowing, but mainly behind them green eyes was a look of curiosity, a look that plainly said, 'I don't claim to know what all there is to know, but I'm gonna work hard to find out as much as I can bout ever thing.'
Her beauty too lived on another level. It was sensual, desirable, and frightening all at the same time. I looked up into her eyes and told her "Well, maybe you scare me a little too."
It made her laugh, "I scare you? You have said more rude things to me than any other boy I've ever known. All the rest of them act like lovesick puppies when they come around. And don't you think I don't know what they after."
"Well, if I talked to you like they do, you wouldn't give the time of day. I ain't got no fancy car like Sammie Ames, nor fancy clothes neither. When you came walking in there on his arm, it made me madder than..... Well, let's just say, it made me angry enough to pop a vein."
She started to get a little mad in self defense but thought better about it. "Sammie's a good time and all, but he comes off like a shiny little lizard compared to you."
Them words both surprised me and softened my heart, "You never did say how come I scare you?"
"I don't know. You just do. There's something behind your eyes like a dark cloud or something. Don't take it the wrong way. I mean you are the funniest person I ever met, but that cloud's there. I could see it even when you're smiling."
I waited a bit before I answered, "It must have followed me out from Oklahoma. It was a dark and gloomy day, the day we left."
She asked, "Can I ask you question, and you not get mad?" I nodded, so she went on, "How did you feel when your wife and boy died?"
For a moment, I felt like saying, "How the hell you think I felt?" But I didn't. It would have made her feel stupid, and I wasn't mad anyway. Instead, I said, "Couldn't rightly answer. I couldn't say I felt anything. I was dead as I could be on the inside. I just wanted to lay down beside their graves and moulder. I thought that if I didn't move for a while, that maybe the universe would forget all about me and quit trying to torture me for my sins. I didn't much give a damn if the coyotes or the worms ate me and shit me out."
"You thought that God was punishing you?"
"I certainly thought so at the time."
"Why? What were you doing that was so wrong?"
It only took a little while to come up with an answer, " I stole a mule, I hated my daddy, and I lusted after my brother's girlfriend. I know it don't sound like enough to require the sacrifice of your wife and child, but all three of them broke commandments. I realize now that I never did close to anything that would deserve such treatment. Mainly, I figure that I was just guilty of being young and naive in a world that punishes the young and naive."
"Why'd you come out here?"
"I was trying to save Thurman, and it seemed like the only thing I could think of that any kind of hope to it. You know, like, "Each morning at dawning, birds sing an' ev'rything, a sunkissed maid said, 'Don't be late!" That's why I can hardly wait, Open up that Golden Gate. California here I come!'"
"Now you're just being silly and making fun of me." She slapped at my shoulder with her right hand."
I turned completely around to face her causing her to lose her grip on the towel with the ice cubes. Melted ice and cold water ran down my back causing me to shiver.
"You really want to know what I think?" She nodded. "I think that you are very pretty and that you ask way too many questions." I reached up with both hands and softly grabbed her face and pulled it to me.
About the same time that I was kissing Jeannie Lazarus, Thurman was walking into the Old Town Bar. Anyways, that's the name that was on the roof in neon, but everybody knew it as The Pit. It was a narrow, dimly lit little barroom a little past the southern edge of town. Ordinary people avoided it if they could because one never knew what would happen there on any given night. You could get your ass cut to pieces in the place as easily as you could get double shot of whisky.
People who were more serious about drinking than socializing were prone to frequent the place, as well as heathens, ex-cons, ex-wives, and probationary felons. People who didn't work well with others were liable to drink there. It was a good place to get real good and drunk, and an even better place to picked up a bored housewife, or to get your ass whipped by a mad husband or a pissed off criminal.
Thurman later told me that he went there that night because he knew someone who lived somewhat on the border line of our world and that world where Colton and people like him inhabited, and that person was in that bar. Jesse Leon was his name, and he worked with Thurman as a mechanic. Thurman said that Jesse was a pretty good guy and wasn't a criminal, but he came from a family of criminals and didn't particularly like people who put on social airs, and to Jesse that was pretty much everybody north of Thurman.
Jesse, a very handsome and powerful built young man, was in the bar almost by himself with only the bartender keeping him company. He was still in his work clothes, so he must have came and started drinking right after work. Thurman explained the situation to him. Jesse swallowed half of his beer down in a single gulp and motioned Thurman to follow him outside.
Once outside, Jesse unbuttoned his trousers and went and pissed on the dark side of the building. The restroom inside the bar was where the bar got its nickname. People just stepped outside if they could help it. He looked back over his shoulder as he spoke to Thurman, "Damn it. Thurman Wilson, it ain't that I don't want to help you, but if you go busting in on Colton after being seen talking to me, people gonna put two and two together and think that I'm a snitch."
"Listen, Jesse, you know what they did to Mr. Jenks and Martha on their wedding night went way past the line of civilized behavior. Besides that bartender in there is Martha's nephew by her half-brother August Green. If he knew anything himself, he'd be the one pissing on the wall and telling me where Colton was. And then there's the fact that Oogie was involved in the mess. Don't tell me you forgot what he done to Maria?"
Jesse looked around warily and thought about it before answering, "Awright, But make sure nobody knows where you got this from. You can tell Billy John, but nobody else, not even Burney."
Jesse proceeded to tell him about a dingy, rundown motel called the The Rebel Yell about thirty miles east of Visalia where one river diverged into three rivers before running down the hills and unto the valley floor. A small village was located where a single bridge crossed the river and the motel was about five miles up from that bridge. He said there was a Confederate battle flag painted on the side of the office building and that you couldn't miss it if you wanted to. People like Colton, who needed a place to hide out for time until things cooled down stayed there. Jesse told Thurman that he could probably find Colton's car parked at the side of one of the bungalows.
As Thurman walked away from the bar, Jesse called out to him, "I could loan you a gun if you need one, Thurman. I hate to see you get shot. I'd have to overhaul that engine by myself tomorrow."
"Thanks anyway, Jesse. You been a big help."
"Yeah. I ain't going out there to shoot this nobody."
"All the more reason to have a gun."