From my award winning novel ‘Dead End’.
In this excerpt Carson and his associate Lilly Longstreet have traveled to Arkansas searching for the bad guys. Their search has brought them to an old country store where they tangle with some ‘good ole’ boys’ from Arkansas. Enjoy.
Lilly beat me to the front door, but I was directly behind her when she shoved it open and stepped into the Cache River Amagon Country Store. Brushing her aside, I calmly closed it and walked up to the long counter – Lilly was right behind me.
Four men dressed in work clothes were sitting around the wood stove and sharing a bottle of Jack Daniel’s – passing it back and forth. They looked up briefly when we entered, then went back to their conversation. My guess was they were all drunk, or headed that way. I saw no one else in the store until the same big bearded man stood up from behind the counter.
“Hello,” he said in a deep Arkansas accent, but with a friendly tone. “How can I help you?”
“Remember me?” I said sitting down on a stool.
He stared at me for a moment and then turned that stare toward Lilly before responding. “Yeah I do, did you ever collect that RE ward?” The big guy wasn’t looking at me.
“Give me a beer,” Lilly said roughly before I could respond. “And one for my friend – Budweiser if you have it.”
He turned, retrieved two beers from the cooler next to the wall and sat them in front of us – unopened. Then he put both of his big hands on the counter and resumed his stare at Lilly.
“Hey idiot,” Lilly said after picking up her beer and then sitting it back on the counter. “Ain’t you going to open these for us?”
“I think he wants to be paid first,” I smiled, pulling a dollar out of my pocket and laying it on the counter.
The big guy produced an opener from somewhere, opened our beers, picked up my dollar and disappeared back behind the counter.
“Hey,” Lilly shouted. “My name is Lilly Longstreet; do you have a message here for me?”
He reappeared and walked slowly back to where we were sitting. “You’re who?” he growled, returning his stare at her.
“I’m Lilly Longstreet. Do you have a message…a message for me? Someone was supposed to leave a message for me here. Can I have it?”
“Lady…I got no message for you – sorry.” He glanced at me briefly before walking away again.
Looking up at the large Coca/Cola clock on the wall behind the counter – it read 5:15. Turning toward Lilly, I saw her glance at the clock before looking at me. Neither of us spoke.
After taking a large swallow from her beer, Lilly sat it down hard on the counter and shouted at the big guy again. “Where can a person get a drink of whiskey around here?”
Without being seen, he answered from wherever he was; which was somewhere behind the cash register, shotgun shells and potato chips that sat on the far end of the counter. “Beats me lady, we don’t sell whiskey here.”
“Humph,” Lilly mumbled, before looking at me and then again at the clock. “What do you think?” she asked taking another swallow of beer.
“I think we wait; have another beer and wait. It could be the weather or…”
“Or what?” Lilly snapped.
“A trap. It could be a trap,” I said shaking my head.
‘Humph,” Lilly mumbled again. “Let’s give it a half-hour and see what happens.”
I nodded agreement without speaking.
“Hey lady!” One of the drunken rednecks sitting around the stove shouted, slurring his words. “Did I hear you say you wanted some whiskey? You want some whiskey? I got some whiskey.”
All four of them found that real funny, and they had a big laugh, slapping their legs and pointing at each other. Then, the one who had been doing the talking picked up the half-full bottle of Jack Daniel’s sitting next to his chair and waved it at Lilly – she gave him the finger!
“Hey lady,” he shouted again, before standing up and walking in our direction. “That wasn’t nice. You give me a kiss, and I’ll give you some of my whiskey. That a deal?”
Waving the bottle in the air, and having some difficulty maintaining his balance, he somehow managed to reach the end of the counter without falling. Within a second, he was standing next to Lilly with a huge smile on his dirty, ugly face.
“Sure,” Lilly said turning on her stool and grabbing the bottle from his hand. His grin got bigger as Lilly took a very lengthy swig of the Jack Daniel’s.
She lowered the bottle, smiled and then slowly drank another healthy portion before handing him what was left. His grin got bigger, if possible, as he puckered his lips and leaned toward Lilly – she put her foot into his large belly and shoved him back toward the stove! Unfortunately, she didn’t shove hard enough. Stumbling backward, the drunk somehow managed to avoid falling into the stove before one of his friends caught him.
Straightening himself, he looked at Lilly and then came rushing back at her – bottle still in hand. This time his smile was gone.
“Damn you bitch,” he said just before reaching her…and just before stopping dead in his tracks!
Lilly pulled her little .32 and pointed it at his head. Then she cocked it!
“You can kiss the lips of that bottle and be satisfied. That’s as close as you’ll get to mine. Do we understand each other?”
His eyes were the size of saucers, and he took several steps backwards, before retreating to his chair next to the stove. A gun pointed at your nose can sober a person up pretty quick. No more words were exchanged.
“Well, I guess you got your drink,” I smiled.
The big guy behind the bar stood up with all the noise, and then sat back down when the excitement was over. Guess we were the entertainment for the evening!
We finished our beer without further interruption and without conversation. The drunks at the stove continued to work on what was left of their Jack Daniel’s, and finally the big guy walked back up from behind the counter and asked if we wanted another beer.
“I think not,” I said without looking at Lilly. “But, do you have a public phone? I need to make a call.”
“Speak for yourself, I’ll have another.” Lilly said shoving her empty bottle at him.
“We ain’t got no phone, public or otherwise,” the big guy said before sitting another unopened beer in front of Lilly.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, dropping another dollar on the counter and watching him open her beer.
“We going somewhere?” Lilly said taking a sip.
“Back to Memphis,” I whispered. “If the kidnapper really wants to trade, then he’ll make contact again – this isn’t working.”
“Why?” she said louder than necessary.
“Because this place has no phone,” I whispered again. “How’s he going to leave a message – in person? I don’t think so. There’s no message here and there’s not going to be one. Let’s go, I’m not comfortable with the way this is going down,” I said grabbing her shoulder.
Lilly resisted, but finally sat her beer on the counter and stood up. She started a slow walk toward the front of the grocery, but stopped in the middle of the floor, then turned in the direction of the four drunks sitting next to the stove.
“What are you doing?” I reached for her arm, but she had already started toward the stove; the drunks stopped their conversation and looked up at Lilly. The guy she had pushed across the floor, and then pointed her pistol at, was holding the almost empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s – she walked directly up to him.
Straightening his posture, he leaned back in his wooden chair, trying to stay as far away from Lilly as possible without standing up. She definitely had his attention.
Without saying anything, she reached for the bottle; he reluctantly handed it to her. Removing the lid, she tossed it across the room before downing the few remaining swallows of Jack Daniel’s, and then handing him the empty bottle.
“Thanks,” she giggled. “I left you another kiss.”
I already had my hand on my .38 when she turned and walked back in my direction. Unbelievably, they watched her actions without movement or comment, and were still staring at Lilly Longstreet when she reached where I was standing.
“I’m ready to go now,” Lilly announced, turning the rusty door handle.
I walked behind her and did everything but push her through the open door, out into the snow and to the car. She’d certainly left a lasting impression with the folks at the Cache River Amagon Country Store, and we probably didn’t need to stick around for another show.
“What was that all about?” I asked when Lilly slid behind the wheel.
“Just giving the fellow another kiss, he looked like he could use it.”
Without comment, I stared at Lilly and shook my head – she was definitely ‘one of a kind’!