The moment I pulled up to the gas pump, looked over and saw the chicken sitting by the opened passenger door of the sixty-nine Camino with a off color tailgate parked in front the store I knew that Dealie Reed was back in town. I tried to get my gas pumped so I could get out of there before he saw me, but there I was in the process of screwing on the gas cap when he burst out the store, popped the top on a tall can of Coors, took a big-assed swallow and saw me. His long brownish blonde hair hung down to his shoulders and he was shirtless, red from the sun, and wearing a pair of cut-off jeans and a pair of muddy neon-green Crocs. From where I was, I could see some of the skin on his shoulders was peeling.
"Damn it to hell! If it ain't Leon Freakin Davis his own damn self! Get your ass over here, Boy!"
I waited for my receipt, calmly shut my door and walked over to the front of the store. Dealie jumped down off the curb, bounded toward me, and grabbed me in a big assed bear hug.
"You bout the last person I expected to see in Concord today, Dealie! I thought they run you off for good. What the hell brings you back here?"
"Run me off! Shit, boy, you know me better than that. They tell me not to go someplace, and I'll guarantee ya, that's the one place I'll be." He took a big drink from his beer, "I know you heard bout Aunt Lucy breaking her hip. She said I could stay in that room behind her garage if I helped out till she got back on her feet." He released me, and we stepped back a foot or two and gave each other the once over. "I know you was probably tryna get back in the car and get away from here before I saw you."
I laughed, "I ain't going to lie to you. Soon as I saw that dead chicken by the door, I knew it was you."
"That chicken ain't dead, Lee. She thinks she's a possum. Started fussing with me, so I told her to get the hell out the car. She just over there sulking." When he said that, the chicken stirred as if she'd heard her name. "That's right you moody little bitch. We talking about you!"
"Dealie, you do know if Jesse knew I was sitting here talking to you, she'd be throwing my shit out on the yard and changing the locks on the doors."
He laughed, "Damn, I never seen no one hold a grudge like that girl. She flipped me the bird at Mama's funeral. You know that?"
"Told me she did it. She also swears that you shot Barlow on purpose."
"I did shoot that fat ass on purpose. He was trying to kill me at the time. I just wanted to scare him a little. Try to get him out of my mama's house."
"Jesse can't get past the fact you took the gun over there in the first place."
"I'll admit to the fact that I went over there to beat up on him a little. I don't dispute that. Man was six foot three inches tall though. It was a lot harder than I figured. Hell, we must have wrestled and beat on each other for thirty minutes before he grabbed that pick-axe. I pulled that gun to try to scare him into not using that pick on me. I only shot after he stuck that pick in my shoulder. You know that Mansfield DA had it in for me ever since that first go round."
The DA in Mansfield County was an arrogant prick. He had once tried Dealie, me, and one of our friends named Tubby Rollins for murdering Lucky Roberts, another friend of ours who was the son of a wealthy car dealer. Problem was, there wasn't no murder. The three of us had gone to party back in the woods with some girls that Lucky introduced us to that night. Dealie, Tubby, and me woke up on the floor of this cabin in the morning with blood all over the place and a pinky finger wearing Lucky's ring sitting on the kitchen table, no girls, no shoes, no Lucky. We were examining that pinky finger when Sheriff Butch Johns and his Deputy Stupid Johnny Jones walked right in the kitchen.
Deputy Jones was a twin, and his brother was always called Smart Johnny mainly because he hightailed it out of Concord soon as he graduated from high school. Stupid Johnny didn't just land on his name by default though, he was more than just genuinely stupid. The patrons of the King Tut Bar and Grill were always getting in arguments, sometimes even fist fights, over who was dumber, Deputy Stupid Johnny Jones or Dumbass Lester Monroe, the dishwasher at the Tut. Local legend had it that Lester flunked first grade three times.
We deduced that we had no memory of that night because them girls had drugged us and stolen our money. Yet, the Mansfield DA was full of ambition, and Lucky's Dad was very pissed off, apparently because he had just bought Lucky that pinky ring for his birthday. Sheriff Johns had an life-long hatred for Dealie's deceased daddy, Pepper Jack. I had always heard that old Pepper had stolen the sheriff's fiancé right before the wedding. That fiancé was Dealie's mom Lu who also happened to be my mother-in-law as I had married Dealie's sister Jesse, or the Divine Jesse Reed as people called her around here. I never put much stock in that story because I couldn't see what someone as classy as Lu would ever see in Sheriff Johns, but then again, I couldn't ever figure what she ever saw in Pepper either. And saying that, there was no way any of us could ever figure why she up and married some one as universally despised as Jake Barlow.
Anyways, the three of them got together and concocted a crime without a body and without much in the way of evidence or witnesses. The Mansfield DA handpicked the jury and went to ranting and raving while waving around that pinky finger in the plastic bag. Most of them jury members had never seen a gold ring on a pinky finger in plastic bag and they were pretty freaking impressed. That DA was making a lot of noise and shit, but none of it made any sense if you cared to listen in on what he was saying which I guess I must have been the only one doing. Hell, Dealie was sleeping through the whole ordeal and all Tubby did was giggle and turn to jury to make sure they knew that Dealie was snoring. It was more than a little bit surreal even for a low rent place like Concord, and things didn't look real good for our chances. Hell, one time, while I was supposed to be sleeping, I heard Sheriff Johns lecturing Stupid Johnny on the benefits of using an electric chair instead of the gas chamber.
"Hell, we'd have to import that gas shit from somewhere else; we don't manufacture that stuff round here. We do got plenty electricity though." He nodded his head like he was an expert and passed it over to Stupid Johnny.
"My Granny says we got more'n nuff tricity to do the job. There's only three of 'em. She did says we might as well fry them Haskell boys while we got the chair out."
The sheriff would spit his juice in spittoon, wipe his chin off, and agree. He liked it whenever someone agreed with him," Your Granny's a right smart women. And I do agree with her about them Haskell boys."
My dad spent a whole bunch of his life's savings to hire a private investigator who finally succeeded in digging Lucky Roberts out of crackhouse in East St. Louis. So, Lucky came waltzing into the courthouse on the last day of the trial waving that little stub pinky at the jury, so they had to let us go. They weren't real happy about it. Most of them, jury and all, were really looking forward to a first class capital punishment display. Paper said that they hadn't hung nobody in our town since the 1870s when they strung up a German guy supposedly for horse theft but really more because he fought on the wrong side at Vicksburg. I guess people round here thought that that was an awful long time to go without an execution.
For some reason, I suspect because most the respectable people in town didn't care for Pepper Jack anymore than the sheriff did, that the Mansfield DA came out of the ordeal looking like a hero of sorts, and he got elected mayor of Mansfield after running on a law and order ticket.
I can't remember his real name. I was more than a little bit nervous at the time, and we got so used to calling him DA Sumbitch that became the appellation that I remember. When he ran for a second term as mayor, Dealie and his friends went all over the county crossing his name out on his posters and writing in DA Sumbitch. On election night, he got more votes under that monicker than he did his own.
As them memories of the trial were flooding through my head, Dealie had finished his beer, crushed the can and tossed it in the trash can by the front door, then gone over to his car and told that chicken to get in. The hen stirred and walked over and jumped into the passenger side as if it were obeying. Dealie then walked over closed the door behind it like he was locking in a prom date. Next, he started the Camino up and pulled over to where I was standing and rolled down the window.
"Lee, you gotta tell Jesse to forgive me."
It got real quiet for a minute. The conversation had come to the edge of things. Forward movement in any direction was bound to cause some serious repercussions.
"Dealie, I think she'd forgive you shooting that fool. It was you burning down your mama's house that pushed her over the ledge. Ever thing your mama owned was in that house."
"She gotta understand that I couldn't take that fat ass living in my mama's house. Thought I'd give him a Viking funeral."
"He wasn't dead yet, Dealie."
Dealie chuckled, "After I got out of jail for the shooting, I paid Tubby's brother ten dollars to get that fool drunk. I figured he'd go home and pass out. I nailed every door shut but clean forgot about the basement."
He looked over at me to see how I'd take that information. I din't want my eyes to betray the fact that I never really bought into the idea that Dealie really ever meant to kill Barlow. I knew him well enough to know that if that door to the basement was unlocked, it was because Dealie had left it wide open for Barlow to escape from. Trick worked though, Barlow left town right after Dealie's arson trial. Dealie got sent upstream for a while.The judge was kind of lenient though, most people round here didn't much the idea of a worthless piece of crap living with someone as loved and respected as Lu Reed was. Jesse and I were raising Dealie's boy Rowdy with our own two girls.
He stopped talking for a minute then looked up at me, "That ain't why she's mad at me anyway."
I thought about not asking but took the bait, "Then why's she so angry, Dealie?"
"You and her were the only two people in this town who ever thought I could rise above being born Pepper Jack's boy. She's mad at me because I let her down, same as you."
"Me! I ain't never said shit to you, Dealie, about nothing. In all the years I knowed you, I ain't said shit about anything you've ever done!"
"You tried to warn us, Lee, about them girls that night. Kept saying it was a mistake for us to go out in them woods."
"I coulda got out the car when we stopped to get beer. Carl offered me a ride home, you remember."
"I saw your face when you first woke up and saw Lucky's finger sitting on that table. You looked over at me."
"You don't always need words to cast judgement, Lee."
He rolled up his window slowly, mouthed the words 'tell her', and nodded at me before taking off through the gravel parking lot. I swear as he pulled away I saw that chicken jump up in the rear window and look at me like I was dumber than Stupid Johnny and Dumbass Lester put together.