Back to the World
by James Shaffer
Table of Contents|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
Johnnie Rae Piper is born in a tarpaper house outside Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, in 1950. His mom raises and home-schools Johnnie while his father, Tom, is off fighting in the Korean War. When Tom comes home, he’s changed: he has drinking and gambling addictions.
In 1969, an unlucky number in the draft lottery sends Johnnie to Vietnam. When he returns home, a year and half later, he finds he has exchanged one set of problems for another. A local loan shark is putting the muscle on Tom, and the criminal organization is widespread. Johnnie tries to help his father, with the aid of three cowgirls: Darlene, Jamie Sue and Kelly Jo. All of them are in for a wild ride.
I fished in my jeans pocket for my room key, found it, inserted it in the lock, opened the door and stepped into another dark room. As I edged past the doorway, large, hard hands grabbed me from behind and threw me to the floor. A knee with some weight behind it landed in the middle of my back. It knocked the air out of me.
A foot kicked me in the side of the face. It didn’t knock me out, but I saw stars. A light flashed on. I closed my eyes against the harsh burst of light and then squinted to observe the situation. The guy with the heavy knee was binding my hands with duct tape.
“That duct tape sure is strong.”
I looked up to see where the voice was coming from. It was Ed Wills sitting on a corner of the bed, staring down at me, smiling.
“My boys thought they’d found you, just from your description they gave the desk clerk. I stopped by your house and got a picture of you from Vietnam and hurried over here. That did it. She was very forthcoming. Nice girl that desk clerk. Well, at least she was until Bryan got through with her.”
The goon who’d been holding me down pulled me to my feet. I turned and recognized Bryan. Stretched out on the bed behind Ed was Jamie Sue. On the other side of the room, sitting on the other bed was Tom Piper, my daddy.
Ed looked back over his shoulder. “Oh, yeah. Sorry about the girl. Sweet thing. I think she was looking for you, lover boy. Seemed that way. She tried to scream when we grabbed her.” He shook his head from side to side. “Pity. Her screaming days are done.”
I jumped toward Ed, but Bryan held me back. I looked over at my daddy. He looked at me. “Sorry, Johnnie. I screwed up,” was all he said.
Ed turned to him and yelled, “You are a screw-up, Tom! You’ve always been a screw-up!” Gems of wisdom spat from Ed’s mouth like gutter water. He turned to me. “Now, Johnnie boy, I want my money.”
I stared back at Ed defiantly. “I don’t have it.” He was a piece of trash for killing Jamie Sue. Maybe he saw something hard in my look that made him decide.
Ed stared back at me. “Bob,” was all he said. The silenced gun spat a bullet, and Bob shot my daddy in the head. Blood splattered the bedspread and the wall. He fell sideways across the bed then rolled slowly to the floor, dead and silent.
My daddy was gone. All my ties with the past were finally and permanently cut. I stood in stunned silence. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen a man killed right in front of me, but none of them had been my daddy.
“Now you know we’re serious.” Ed’s cold stare bounced between us. There was a knock on the door.
“Ya’ll call for room service?” cried a muffled female voice on the other side of the door.
Bryan pulled me off to one side. Ed spoke to the guy who'd kicked me in the head: “Tell her to go away.”
The guy stepped to the door, opened it a crack, and peered out with one eye. A loud gunshot took out his eye and the back of his head.
I slammed Bryan back against the wall as the door burst open.
Bob was the only one holding a gun. He expected the shooter to be standing. He shot high. Kelly Jo was crouching against the door jamb. She took him out easily.
Ed hadn’t moved from the corner of the bed. Answering a certain kind of justice, Kelly Jo drilled Ed through the heart with his own gun. When she stepped into the room and pointed the gun in Bryan’s direction, I twisted free and fell out of the way. Kelly Jo shot him between the eyes. He slid down the wall and sat, staring at nothing. It was all over in about fifteen seconds.
“I heard voices,” said Kelly Jo.
“You did good, Kelly Jo,” I answered.
The room was a mess of blood, smoke and stank of gunpowder. Kelly Jo tore the tape from my wrists, all the time staring at Jamie Sue’s lifeless body stretched out on the bed.
“She was looking for me,” I said in explanation. I walked over to my daddy and turned him over. “Kelly Jo. Meet my daddy, a drunk and a gambler, but he loved my mama, and I loved him. He started all this. I guess we finished it.”
She looked down at my daddy then turned to me. “Most girls meet the parents while they’re still breathing. You sure know how to show a girl a good time, Jake.”
“Yeah. My timing’s a bit off.” I turned from my daddy’s body. “You sure shoot straight, Kelly Jo.”
I found my knapsack on the floor beyond the beds. They’d rummaged through it but found nothing.
Kelly Jo was nervous. She had to talk. “I told you I spent my evenings on the shooting range. Mama died when I was little. My daddy raised me on his own on this cattle ranch we had. He worked hard on the ranch but, on the side, he was a fixer. People came to him. He solved their problems. He was a good listener.”
I could listen, too. “Keep talking. We gotta get moving.” Knapsack in hand, I went into the bathroom. Kelly Jo turned out the lights, closed and locked the door and then followed me into the bathroom. I saw the radiator cover had already been removed. Ed had done a search, but he would not have asked about the money if he had found it.
Kelly Jo filled the silence with her story. “He taught me to shoot when I was fifteen. He was afraid what he did would blow back on us somehow. Somebody would get mad and come after both of us.”
I reached up behind the wall. I laughed while I scooped out my treasure. She was watching me. I threw the money and accounting ledger into the knapsack and replaced the radiator cover. I looked at her. She’d retreated into the past. Her eyes were distant, empty.
“And did they? Did they come after you?” I asked.
“Not me. Trouble found him. An irate husband. He’d beat up his wife. She came to my daddy for help. When my daddy wasn’t looking, the husband put two bullets in his chest. Good shots. Clustered close, the cops said.”
She had gone past the story in her head. The distance in her eyes snapped to a hard focus. She was back with me. She still held the gun; she clearly felt safer with it now that she had done her part. In a very short time, I’d brought a whole lot of trouble into her life. I could tell she was weighing that fact.
“I sold the ranch and financed this trip to the West Coast for us three girls.” She thought about it for a moment. “I hope Darlene marries that rancher. I truly do.”
I lifted up the knapsack in front of her inviting her to drop the gun inside. It was her decision.
“Okay, tell me your story,” she said.
I looked at her. It was time to bargain. “I will. Let’s get out of here first.”
She looked back at me for a second and then dropped the gun into the bag.
Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer