They had always called him the boy. Lanny Johnson, one of the old man’s premier pot farmers, was his daddy. But he didn’t have much to do with that. Oh sure he’d help out if need be but he didn’t have the touch for it. Mostly he ran errands; gambling slips and winnings, any messages that had to get around the county. At sixteen he took his drivers license test in a truck he’d bought himself. There was a gun rack in the back but it wasn’t like anyone gave him any grief. After all, they hurt hit the old man would rain down hellfire and brimstone. He did all right in school, took to math like a worm to dirt and graduated near the top of his class without much trouble. Went away after that but not to college like most thought. And with some, hoped. No, he went after a different type of learning and joined up in the Marines. And came back six years later. He looked leaner and more muscled than he had at 18, the rest of the baby fat melted away. His eyes held a certain hardness to them and he never would say anything about what he had done while he was in.
The old man looked much the same, still holding court in the pool hall next to his house. People came and went, business transactions, requests for help. Neighbouring children even ran through the place, grabbing pop and chips and microwave sausage biscuits. The old man wasn’t a very big man, about average height and skinny but there was something to him. Seemed bigger than his size. He stood up when he saw the boy step in “Goddamn boy its good to see you. Come on back here. Lilly, bring us some beers.”
She dropped two beers off, eyes on the boy before walking back up to the counter, extra sway in her hips. “Watch her boy,” the old man said. “She’s got marrying in her mind.”
“It looks like it,” the boy said. “So how are things?”
“Same old shit different day. What about you? You look like you’ve been through a time or two.”
“Yeah. Wondering if you have a job for me?”
“Shit, a smart guy like you? Why would you want to work for me?”
The boy shrugged. “I’ve seen a few cities. It ain’t so special. I ain’t exactly suited to a nine to five gig. And it ain’t like a man can make a living hunting.”
The old man took a long pull from his beer. “Depends on what you hunt. But then I reckon you know about that. I’ve heard mention of what you might have been up to in the Marines. You want to do more of that?”
“So long as I can say no if I don’t like the job.”
The old man nodded. “Fair enough. Not like I’m going to want women and children killed. Gets everybody too riled up. What about guard duty?”
“Yeah. There’s some big city boys want to move in on me. Might get a little rough. I’m probably safe enough here but when I’m on the move…”
“It ain’t too hard to take a vehicle out. Sure I can do that.”
“Well all right then. How are you for money, guns?”
“I’m all right. But if you feel like giving an advance I ain’t never turned down cash yet.”
The old man laughed and turned in his chair, opening a safe on the floor next to him. He grabbed some bills and slammed the door shut and spun the wheel. “There you go. So how do you want to do this? Pay you every week or job by job.”
The boy picked up the cash, folding the five hundreds and tucking them into his wallet. The old man could see the butt of a pistol as the boy slid the wallet back into an inner jacket pocket. “Got anybody after you?”
“No sir. Just got used to having one at hand.”
“Well, if you haven’t yet, you might want to get a concealed carry license. No need to give the cops a reason to pick you up.”
The boy nodded, fingers tapping on the table. It was around lunch time and there were a few people came in and. A road crew took over a couple tables and even some of the near by families. “Place is a bit different,” the boy said.
“Yeah. All we did is get one of those big grills and a deep fryer. Thought about changing the name to Foreman’s Bar and Grill.”
“Don’t know why you ain’t on the Tonight Show with jokes like that.” He leaned back, eyes constantly moving around, watching everyone and everything.
“I thought about it but it doesn’t pay enough. Besides, do I look like the LA type?”
“Not unless you were playing Jed Clampett.”
“Oh now look who thinks he’s a comedian.” The old man frowned as the boy suddenly drew his pistol, holding it out of sight under the table. “What the hell, boy?”
He nodded toward a group that had just entered, four men, dressed much like everybody else in the area. “They got trouble in mind.”
The old man looked them over, watching as they said a few words to the girl at the counter then looked back at their table. “How can you tell?”
“The way they are looking around, how stiff they are moving, the way they keep looking to each other.”
“Maybe. The guy in the Carhart jacket is Don Fredericks. Still owes me money and sent my guy back without any. Probably wants an extension or something.”
It took them a couple beers but they finally approached the table, all in a group. Frederick’s hands were shoved in his pockets and he took a step past his buddies. He looked closer at the boy, eyes squinting. “Hey, your’re Lanny’s boy aren’t you?” The boy nodded. “Nice to see you made it back Say hi to your daddy for me. And Billy, how are you?”
“Well enough, Don. Got my money?”
“Well about that. We’ve been talking and we think you are just going to forget about that. Not like you can complain to the cops about illegal debts anyway. Just tell Bobby to take us off his list when he makes his rounds to collect.”
“Now, Don, if I do that everybody will think I should clear off what they owe. And where does that leave me?”
“Shit, you got enough going on. Could probably buy this whole fucking county. Ain’t like we’ll tell anybody, Billy.”
“What if I say no?”
“We ain’t paying no more. We’d prefer if we didn’t have to hurt you but there it is.”
The boy stood up, one hand behind his back. “Y’all go on home now. Come back this time tomorrow with your payment and we’ll forget all about this.”
A couple of the men snorted. “Boy, I used to work with your daddy. So I’m going to forget you sticking your nose in. I know you used to run deliveries and all that for the old man here but this ain’t none of your business. Just run on home.”
He looked at Frederick, head tilted slightly to the side. “You sure about that?”
One of the others finally spoke up. “He said it, didn’t he. Get your ass outta here, boy or you’ll get the same as this old fucker.”
“Boy? You’d be shitting yourself at what I’ve seen.” His hand shot out from behind his back, slamming the big automatic against the side of the man’s head. Pivoting with the turn, the barrel was against Frederick’s head before his buddy even hit the ground.
“Uh B Billy,” Frederick said, eyes wide.
“The boy here…”
“I’d watch it, Don. I don’t think it’s a boy that’s got you almost pissing yourself.”
Eyes empty, the boy spoke softly. “The name is Calum Johnson. I expect you to remember that. Nuh uh don’t speak, just listen. Pick up your friend and go home. Then come back with your money tomorrow.” He stepped back, the .45 lowered to waist level, pointing to no one in particular. They quickly picked up their fallen friend and left, while everyone else pointedly looked everywhere else. He sit back down and drained his beer, feeling a light chill now that the moment had passed.
“Well, boy, that story is sure as hell going to make the rounds.”
Calum shrugged. “Oh well. Maybe it’ll save me some bullshit.”
“Or piss some of em off.”