Chapter 1

It was almost five thirty in the morning on a cold December day. I was wrapping my ungloved hand around a plastic thermos cup as I shakily poured out another cup of the wonderful coffee that Ellen had gotten up to make for me. She was back home, in our bed, snoozing away once again, and I was sitting in my near freezing truck cab, waiting for Billy to load me up so that I could take my order over to Providence. I'd just turned thirty years old two weeks before, and I was getting damned tired of getting up every morning at three thirty or four and driving over to Billy's farm. I was especially tired of doing it in a surplus Army truck when the heater didn't work, and I'd have to freeze my ass off the whole day long. Billy was really pissing me off too, since he was out there in that sub freezing cold without even a pair of gloves on, driving his loader, and trying to act as if he were as comfortable as if it were Indian Summer out there, instead of about five degrees Fahrenheit. He was wearing that new thermal underwear, but I didn't spoil it for him by letting on that I knew about that. I was planning on getting several pair for myself as soon as I got the time, and an opportunity to do so. I was gratified, when Billy came over to the truck window and told me that I was loaded. Gratified that I could leave and get on the road, and even more gratified to see that his big, red nose was dripping, and looked close to being frost bitten, and that those bare hands of his were turning a little blue. Billy and I had played oneupmanship games for all of our lives together, and I was happy to see that one of his little psychological victories over me was costing him some discomfort at least. I knew he was dying for me to leave so that he could run back into his house, get warm at the stove, drink some of Theresa's hot coffee, and get himself a scarf, hat and his thick winter gloves. I stalled him for five more minutes, talking about nothing, and watching him trying not to squirm in discomfort. Somehow, when I left, I was feeling a little bit better.

As I was making a turn to get out to the road, my brother Ray pulls in with his empty truck, so I turn my truck off and hop out to shoot the breeze with him while he waits to be loaded. This had the added benefit of keeping Billy out in the freezing cold, and I'd get to sit in Ray's heated cab for awhile. I was enjoying the thought of Billy's extended misery right up until the moment I jumped into Ray's cab.His face was all red and covered with small cuts and scrapes. He had iodine on some of the cuts, and some swelling under the eye that I could see.

"What the hell happened to you Ray, Sandy finally catch you doing something you shouldn't have been doing?" Ray was a legend in his own mind, when it came to extra-marital hijinks. Ellen had told me that Sandy didn't care, but I can't say that I'd ever believed that was true. I figured she'd laid into him and that accounted for him being so marked up.

"No, it was Sam Crocker, that big asshole. I was only trying to do a favor for Bunny, and he went off on me before I knew he was serious.He threw me off his porch and I landed on my face in the ashes he'd spread on the pathway. I got cut by the cinders and my face is hurting and all raw." Sam was my cousin Jean's live in boyfriend. We had all called her Bunny since she was a little girl, but she preferred Jean or Jeannie, now that she was an adult. She was my Uncle Sonny's youngest kid, and since his death, she'd had a pretty tough time of it. Most of her trouble was of her own making, but she should have gotten more assistance and guidance from her brothers and sisters. Being the baby, everyone had spoiled her and let her do whatever she wanted to do. I'd met her boyfriend several times over the past year, and I didn't much care for him, or any of his buddies either. Sam and two of his brothers had a fishing boat that they worked, doing long hauls, and porting out of New London. He was usually out to sea for a week to ten days at a time, depending on the season, and where and how the fish were running. Sam was the oldest brother, and he ran the boat as it's nominal captain. The boat actually belonged to Sam's father, and the brothers all worked for shares of the catch.

"Well, what did you say or do to make him mad at you?"

"Nothing much that I can figure. I told him that Bunny asked me to pick up some of her things because she had decided to stay with Butch for a few weeks, and figure out where to go from there." Butch was Jean's brother, and lived in Groton with his wife and two kids. Jean and Sam had been having some relationship problems ever since Sam started worrying about what Jean might be getting up to while he was out fishing on his boat. Jean, to be fair to Sam, wasn't the kind of girl that liked to spend her time sitting at home by herself and watching the television. I hadn't heard anything about her getting up to something, but it wouldn't have been a shock to any of us because she did have a wild side. "Sam said to tell Bunny she could come over and get her stuff herself, and that he wasn't about to let any of the rest of us in to go through all his stuff. Right after he told me that, he opened the door all the way up, and came out and heaved me off the porch. By the time I got up and was ready to get a piece of him, he'd gone back inside and shut the door." Sam was my size, and the only way that Ray would have gone after him is with a machine gun, and a whole platoon behind him.

"Have you talked to Jean yet about what happened?"

"Yeah, last night when I got home. She says she'll take care of it." While we'd been talking, Billy had snuck on into his house and changed into a hooded, fur lined parka, and was wearing his gloves. I tried hard not to laugh when I climbed down from Ray's truck.

"Okay Ray, I'll talk to you later. Get your delivery done early and come over to the house after. Tell Nanook of the North over there to quit wasting time sitting by his stove and get some damn work done around here." Billy took his glove off long enough to flip me the bird, but I noticed that he hurried and put it right back on. His nose was still red and running, and I smiled as I hurried back to my truck.

I didn't get back from Providence until almost four that afternoon, and when I walked in the door, Butch and Jean were both sitting down at the kitchen table, talking to Ellen. Ray was nowhere around. "Hi Jean, hey Butch. You guys waiting for Ray?" I liked my two cousins, but we weren't very close. I had been closer to Uncle Sonny, but they were still family, and that meant a lot where I was brought up.

"We're waiting for you Jackie. You heard about Ray and Sam last night?" I nodded at Jeannie, letting her know that I had heard. ""Well today, Butch and I went over there and he wouldn't let me in to get my things either. He told Butch to get the hell away from his house, and threatened me if I ever come back there. All of my things are in his house Jackie. Everything I own. It isn't that much, but still, he's got no right to keep it from me. He's gotten so jealous and he's starting to believe everything he's thinking might happen. I can't take a pee without him coming to the door of the can and listening to see if anyone's in there with me. I can't live with that kind of crazy jealousy, I had to get out." Jean was about twenty or twenty one years old, only five one or so, and kept her blondish hair short and combed back. She was built pretty good, but she already drank too much, and didn't do much to keep up her looks. Even as young as she was, she was starting to look soft and out of shape. Her skin was pallid, and a little pasty. She didn't look healthy or wholesome, especially in the winters.

"So what's your take on all this Butch? What do you want to do?"

"Jean's staying with us Jackie, but she needs to work and pay her way too. She needs her stuff. How's she gonna get work if she doesn't have clothes and her stuff? Sam won't even let her have her cosmetology license and her certificates, she'd have to get all new replacements, plus all of her scissors and equipment. That could run into big dough which she doesn't have. We were hoping you could go talk to Sam and make him see what's right."

"Jean, what's the phone number over there?" I figured it wouldn't do much good, but I thought I'd call him and let him know that things would go smoother if he let Jean have her belongings. She gave me the number, but she didn't look like she had much confidence that I would succeed in talking Sam into changing his mind, especially over the telephone. I dialed the number and he answered after a couple of rings.

"Sam, hi, its Jackie, Jean's cousin. She's sitting here in my kitchen Sam, and she wanted me to call you and find out what would be a good time for us to come over and get all her things tomorrow."

"A good time? How about never Jackie? I'm through with that lying, two timing bitch, your cunt of a cousin. She better stay the fuck away from me, and my house, if she doesn't want more trouble than she can handle."

"Sam, she needs some of her things, at least enough to start a new job. How's she supposed to eat otherwise? Let her come over for fifteen minutes and clear out her things. You two might talk later and smooth over your differences. Sam, all she wants is her stuff, that's all."

"Why don't you come over here like your brother did, Jackie? I'll give you the same message I gave him. Yeah, you come on over and maybe you'll convince me to give you her things." I was listening to all his big talk, mostly thinking that he better not be thinking that he can push me around like he did with Ray and Butch. I hadn't matured fully, at least not to the point where I was turning away from those kind of challenges. I saw Ellen watching me closely. She could read my face like it was a second grade primer. she always told me that my face was like an open book to her. I knew she wasn't having any trouble reading what I was thinking right then.

"That'll be great Sam, I'm looking forward to it. What time do you want me there?"

"Suit yourself dick breath, I'll be here all morning."

"Will you be up and about by eight?"

"I can be if that's what you want."

"Good, I'll see you about eight then. Good night." I hung up the phone and told Jean that Sam was going to let me have some of her things. I asked her to make me a list of what she really needed to have. She spent about twenty minutes making her list. I had to go over it with her when she got done, since she spelled everything phonetically, and her penmanship was undecipherable. I walked Butch and Jean out to Butch's car and came back into the house.

"The phone call went well Jackie?"

"Sure hon, he's pissed at Jean, but he doesn't want it to get too ugly in case they reconcile someday."

"You can't lie to me Jackie, what did he really tell you?"

"He said that I should come over and we'd discuss it."

"I'm going with you then, and that's final."

"Okay Ellen. I'm leaving at four in the morning though because there's stuff I need to get settled with Billy before the driver's pick up their loads in the morning. You can visit with Theresa while he and I are talking."

"You taking Billy with you tomorrow morning when you go see Jean's boyfriend?"

""No, why would I? Besides Billy's too busy with other, important, stuff, and I can load Jean's things by myself. You going to shower tonight or in the morning?" She gave me her look, the "I see right through you" look and went back to fixing our supper.

"Dinner's in ten minutes Jackie. Go get cleaned up, and then come set the table. I'm going tomorrow Jackie, so don't think I'm going to want to sleep in." I went and got washed up, cursing myself for the ten thousandth time for ever being so dumb as to marry a woman smarter than me. We had Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and creamed corn. There was a savory wine flavored mushroom gravy for the meat and potatoes. I thanked myself for the twenty thousandth time for having the good sense to marry a woman who really knew how to cook. That night in bed, Ellen wanted to pretend that I was Sampson and she was Delilah. The significance of her choice wasn't totally lost on this Philistine. She didn't get the chance to cut off any of my hair, but I managed to chew a few of hers shorter. We both slept well until the alarm woke us at three. I jumped out of bed first, and used up all the hot water with a long shower. When I got out of the bathroom, proud of myself for having out thought Ellen, she was already dressed, telling me, very casually, that she'd gotten up after I fell asleep and had taken her shower. Ten thousand and one.

We pulled into Billy's yard about four thirty, and, in less than a minute, Billy came outside to greet us. Trying to get to his farm earlier than Billy got up was almost an impossible task. I managed it a few times, but only if he'd gotten plastered the night before, or when he was sick and Theresa wouldn't allow him to get out of bed. Billy was as healthy as a horse, and seldom got sick, even for a day. We used to joke that the only way to keep Billy from working was to shoot him. Billy could never see any humor in us saying that. Theresa and I thought it was hilarious though.

"Didn't expect you here this morning Jackie. Something up?"

"Hi Cuz, no I just need to ask you some questions about scheduling the deliveries for next week. I'm thinking of sleeping in a few days, and wanted to see if we couldn't double shift a couple loads so everything was covered."

"You bring your wife just in case I needed some help with the real work?"

"No, she wanted to come over so she could time Theresa in her new rapid fire pistol practice. She claims Theresa can draw and fire six shots in less time than it takes a man to turn and jump off a porch."

"Fuck you Jackie. Aren't you ever going to stop bringing that up to me?"

"All I was saying was why Ellen came over. Excuse me for not knowing how sensitive you've become." Ellen went into the house to look for Theresa, and Billy and I had a little conversation about Sam Crocker and the situation with Jean. Billy had already talked to Ray about what Sam had done, and I told Billy about my phone call with him. Billy wanted to go with me, but I told him that with Ellen insisting on coming along, nothing much would be happening anyway. I also told him that he had to get everyone loaded up and on the road. "Billy, if Sam continues being an asshole, which he probably can't avoid, it might come down to a few of us going over there and keeping him and his buddies at bay while Jean gets her things out of the house. Until then, let's not go asking for trouble okay?"

"Jackie, you're going to kick his ass today, with or without Ellen being there. You just don't want to admit it. You afraid I'd do something to spoil your fun? I can be all through here by eight thirty and the two of us could take a ride over there and leave Ellen with Theresa and the kids." I knew that Ellen wouldn't go for that deal, so I told him to just let it develop naturally. He didn't like it, but he went along anyway. He made it a point though to tell me that he wasn't going to call me either, the next time something came up, and that he'd go ahead and handle it alone. I just laughed, knowing that Billy was like a big disappointed kid who hadn't been allowed to ride on the big red firetruck. It really gnawed at him knowing that there might be some action and he was being left behind. It was all anti-climactic anyway, because when Ellen and I pulled up in front of Sam's old house, he had taken four big fifty five gallon leaf burning barrels, and burned all of Jean's clothes and possessions. It was all still smoldering when we got out of my truck. That mean spirited bastard was nowhere to be found, and I quit knocking on his door after ten minutes of constant pounding, and a little bit of kicking, after my hands started to get sore.

Ellen and I drove over to Butch's place and told Jean what Sam had done. She cussed him up one side and down the other, but after she cooled off a little, Ellen took her shopping for some new clothes and that seemed to cheer her up. Ellen took her over to a beauty supply house and Jean was able to get a real good deal on a whole set of used beauty operator gear. She told Ellen that it was better stuff than what she'd owned, so she was okay with the substitution. Why wouldn't she be? All told, it came to over three hundred dollars, and Ellen insisted that it was our present to Jean for starting her new life. I guess it was a new life warming present or something. I made a special note to myself to collect every cent of that money from Sam Crocker the next time I saw him.

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