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Lester L. Weil
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faintofheart.jpg
Art by John Lunar Richey 2017

The Faint of Heart Work for a Living

 

by Lester L Weil

 

 

It has been a hard day. I've been working on old telephone wiring in the downtown area. All the new feeds are underground, but there are a lot of older buildings that have to be upgraded. I stopped for a couple beers after dropping off the work van but they have only added to my fatigue, and done nothing about my depression. I'm feeling old and my knees hurt, and I slept wrong last night and can hardly turn my stiff, aching neck.

 

I didn't have the energy or will to fix dinner, so stopped at Rosie's, the little diner up the block from the company garage. Sitting, eating a chicken potpie, my eyes and my mind stray across the street to Johnny's Bar.

 

I see it all again in my mind.

 

I'm in the back room of Johnny's Bar, trying to fix their screwed up phone system, so they can get on with running their real business—they are the largest bookie joint in town. The building is ancient, and the interior doors still have transom windows above them. From my perch on a stepladder where I'm trying to fish a new wire into the wall, I can see through the transom into the small office across the hall.

Johnny is in there, counting the money that his runners dropped off, and I wonder again if he is the original Johnny, or just another “Johnny-come-lately.” He finishes counting and banding the stacks of cash, and pushes the desk to the side. Behind it is a safe with a keypad. He punches in numbers at the four corners and opens the safe. I quickly translate the four corners into 1, 3, 7, 9.

Inside the safe is more money than I make in five years.

I sigh and finish my potpie, pay the bill, and head toward my crummy apartment. The dirty streets seem dirtier than usual, and this adds to my general funk. I'd like to retire and move somewhere warm, Florida or Arizona—not California, costs too much to live there.

1, 3, 7, 9 goes through my mind. 1, 3, 7, 9. More money than I'd ever see in one place. 1, 3, 7, 9. Added to my puny pension, it would be enough to retire on. 1, 3, 7, 9—1, 3, 7, 9—1, 3, 7, 9. It was like a mantra, my feet moving in rhythm with it.

My mind goes back to Johnny's.

Before Johnny could turn around, I got off the stepladder and moved to the  other side of the room. 1, 3, 7, 9 soaked into my brain. I could hardly concentrate on my work for the rest of the day, thinking of the safe full of cash. I made the decision that night.

The next day when upgrading the feed wire to the alarm, I wired a cut-off switch. Now I can turn off the alarm without knowing the code and I know the combination to the safe. What could be easier. Three minutes in and out. I just need one more thing.

* * *

It is six months later, and I again sit in Rosie's and eat one of her potpies. Johnny's Bar is still across the street. Johnny still runs his bookie joint and must have made a killing on this year's Super Bowl game. And I'm still working, my knees still ache, and I'm more depressed than ever.

I still lack the one thing needed to rob the safe and retire to Florida. And that's a backbone. I cannot seem to work up the nerve to just do it. I've set out to do it several times, but I always turn back and fail to take the final plunge.

I have this vision of myself. I'm 80 years old, bent, and hobbling along with a cane on my way to work at some miserable job. All because I just didn't have to heart to just do it.

The faint of heart have to work for a living.

 

 

standoff.jpg
Art by Steve Cartwright 2017

Standoff


 Lester L. Weil


 


Sheriff Mason Dixon was patrolling the eastern edge of Watton County, enjoying being out of the office and driving through the countryside in the department's new acquisition, a 4X4 diesel pickup. Mason liked the backwoods people of this pineywood area: resourceful, strong, and independent. And they mostly liked him, as he was fair and knew what to worry about and what to ignore.


 Rounding a bend in the road, Mason saw the rambling buildings of Sam's Country Store and pulled up in front.


 If you wanted a dozen eggs from uncaged chickens or a lamb chop, Sam had it. If you needed a x 3 SAE bolt, Sam had it. He also had hay for your horse, or a new saddle—and even Blue Bonnet ice cream for your sweet tooth. If you needed it, Sam more than likely had it.


 Mason went in and got some coffee from the coffee machine—Columbian dark roast—and headed to the counter.


 Damn, Sam. You're out of maple bars, you just have glazed left.”


 Mase, you old dog. If I knew there'd be a cop in the neighborhood, I'd made a double order. How's life? Haven't seen you in a coon's age. This a friendly visit or is someone around here in trouble.”


 Hell, there's always someone around here in trouble. But I'm just out joyriding, trying out our new truck.”


 Sam craned his neck and looked out the window. “Hey, pretty snazzy. But are you sure you got enough lights on it.”


 They both laughed. “Well, we wanted the full package. And you can't even see the lights on the back from here. They'll blind you.” Mason sipped his coffee while he and Sam shot the shit for awhile. “Anything going on around here I should know about?”


 Sam knew that Mason was asking if anyone was in trouble and in need of help, such as a wife getting beat on or a child being abused, or someone suffering some other misfortune within his purview. “No, I don't think so. Everything's been pretty quiet lately.”


 Well then, I'm going to be off. See ya, Sam. Say hi to the missus.”


 Take 'er easy, Mase. See ya next time.”


 Mason cranked the big diesel engine and headed west. He hadn't gone a mile when he heard Dolly, the dispatcher, call over the radio: “Sheriff, you better get over to the Joe Pedersen place out on 23. Pedersen's boy Joey is in the barn with his 4-10 shotgun. His dad called the vet to put down his dog and Joey took the dog and his 4-10 into the barn and says he'll shoot anyone who tries to kill his dog. Someone called that new kid from the State Police sub-station and he's on his way over. You're our closest, but you'd better get a move on.”


 Mason flicked on the lights and put his foot down and the powerful pickup leapt forward. Earl, the new statie didn't have much experience with the locals. Mason thought he was a little too gung-ho, and was afraid he might do something stupid. 


 When Mason pulled up, the State Police SUV cruiser was sitting in the barnyard with all its lights flashing. It actually had more lights than the pickup. He pulled in behind the vet's truck and killed his lights, then walked over to the cruiser and killed those. No sense adding visual chaos.


 As he walked toward the barn the young state trooper rushed up.


 Sheriff. I've got everything under control. The perp is in the barn and that's the only door,” pointing to the big sliding door on the barn. “He has a shotgun, so I put in a call to SWAT and they're on their way.” Mason thought he seemed real proud of himself.


 Well,” said Mason, “get on the horn and cancel them.”


 But Sheriff, there's an armed perp—with a shotgun.”


 Cancel them! For one thing, that not a 'perp' in there. He's an eleven year old boy with his little single shot 4-10 shotgun with #8 shot quail loads, not some hardened criminal with a 12 gauge riot gun and 00 buckshot. For another, the last thing we need here is a bunch of guys high on adrenalin, dressed and armed for war, thinking—and hoping—they've got a war zone.”


 But Sheriff, someone could get shot.”


 Earl.” Mason summoned his sternest and deadliest tone of voice. “Cancel them. Or by God, you won't have to worry about the boy. I'll shoot you myself. Do it. NOW!”


 Mason turned and walked over to Joe Pedersen. He didn't know Pedersen all that well, not as well as he knew Joey.


 Mr. Pedersen, could you tell me what's going on.”


 Well, it's Joey and his dog, Buster.” He went on to tell how Buster, the little fox terrier was now fifteen years old—deaf, blind in one eye and losing sight in the other, and in constant pain. They tried pain medicine but that just made him so dopey he wasn't Buster anymore. Now he couldn't get on his feet by himself. It was just time to end it and put the poor dog out of his misery. Joey finally agreed and they called the vet.


 But when Joey saw the vet, he took Buster and his 4-10 into the barn and said he'd shoot anyone who tried to come in. Sally, our other dog who we've had a couple years, went in with him. Sally is big and looks ferocious, but she's a sweetheart. But she is protective of Joey, and Buster. I was just going to leave him alone a while to let him get himself together, but the vet's assistant called 911 and that state guy showed up. I'm glad you're here.”


 Mason shook his head sadly. “I'll go talk to him.”


 As Mason walked toward the barn he passed the vet, who looked like he was going to leave. “Hey, Everett, could you stick around for a little. I think you might be needed.”


 Sure, Mase. Whatever you want,” a little embarrassed that his new assistant had caused this ruckus.


 Mason moved to the barn door and called out, “Heyya, Joey. It's Sheriff Dixon. You remember me from little league when you broke your arm, and me taking you to the hospital. Remember I said you can call me Mase, like my friends do. I'm going to open the door and come in and talk a bit. Don't shoot me now. I promised my wife I'd not get shot again this year, and she can get powerful angry at me if I do something I said I wouldn't. Here I come.”


 Mason opened the door slowly. Joey was sitting on one end of a bale of hay by the horse stall and Buster was seemingly asleep beside him. Sally was sitting by Joey's feet, but stood when the door opened.


 Sit, Sally, it's ok. Good girl,” Joey said quietly, touching her head.


 Mason could see that Joey had been crying, but now sat quietly stroking Buster softly. His 4-10 leaned against the stall. As Mason approached he saw a milkstool and used it to sit, facing the unhappy boy at a distance of six feet. They sat in silence and Mason could hear the soft panting of Buster in the barn quiet. Sally finally lay down, partly on Joey's foot, and eyed Mason.


 I'm sorry,” Joey finally said. “I didn't mean to cause trouble. I just…” his voice trailed off.


 I know. It's hard to lose a dog. You know, it's also hard for a dog to lose a human. I remember when old Orrin Schmidt died. Kally, his dog, just laid on his grave and would hardly eat when we took food by. I finally took her and introduced her to a family with a bunch of kids, but she kept coming back to the grave. I had my deputies get her every time they drove by the cemetery and take her back. Finally after about a month, she finally adopted those kids. She seems happy enough now but… I wonder if she still misses old Orrin. Old Orrin wasn't much for people, but he surely loved Kally.” Mason kept talking in a quiet conversational voice about dogs and people. Joey cried quietly and softly stroked Buster.


 After fifteen minutes of talking, Mason said, “Do you think you're ready to do this? I think Buster is.”


 Joey nodded and sniffed.


 I'll go get the vet and you can stay here with Buster.” Mason left the barn and told the vet to get ready. After giving Joey another couple minutes, he and the vet entered. Mason knelt and gently blew into the face of the deaf dog to wake him. Mason didn't want him to be startled out of his sleep. After the vet gave Buster the tranquilizer and then the fatal shot they left Joey alone with him.


 Mason stood with Joe Pedersen and his wife Martha as they waited, giving Joey a little more time. Martha held a blue blanket to wrap Buster in and Joe had already dug the grave under the big oak on the little knoll above the farm house. Before entering the barn, Joe turned to Mason.


 You know, Buster is older than Joey. He's been there for Joey's whole life. Joey has spent more time with Buster than he has with either of us.”


 Mason watched them enter the barn, turned and walked over to Earl. “What's going into your report?”


 I haven't written it yet,” said Earl.


 Mason looked him in the eye. “It had better read 'false alarm', because if you write this up as a stand-off with a shotgun, you will ruin that kid's life.”


 How can I write it up false alarm? I called in SWAT. I'll look foolish.”


 Better you look a little foolish than having that on the kid's record the rest of his life. You need to do what's right, Earl.” Mason started past him toward his truck, then paused and turned. “And if you don't, and I see Joey's name anywhere, you are going to have a very short unhappy childhood.”


 Sheriff Dixon continued walking, got in and cranked the big diesel to life and headed toward the station. He'd had enough for one day.


—--—


Lester L Weil is an ex-professional bassoonist, ex-professor, ex-custom furniture builder, ex-house builder. He is retired in Arizona near the Mexico border. He has fifty-odd stories published in various magazines and anthologies, both online and print. A previous story about Sheriff Dixon was published by Dark City Mystery Magazine.

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