The Little Rednecks is about the difficulties that physically challenged children face. It highlights the problem with stereotypes and shows bullying at its worst. It is a story about heart and dedication, and the friendship, dreams, and hopes of four physically challenged kids who prove that they really are like every other kid their age.
T. Denise Robinson
Ten years ago, Joee Alexander’s grandfather used magic to hide a mysterious silver case inside the #7 Coal Mine. The events of that fateful day will be revealed on her thirteenth birthday and there is nothing he can do to stop it. Joee and her three best friends, Stump, Wheels, and Sarah are physically challenged but that’s not all they have in common. They’re bullied on a daily basis and they each possess magic abilities they don’t know they have. When they find an old map that shows underground tunnels leading to the #7 Coal Mine, they join forces to find what they believe is hidden treasure. Their adventure uncovers the truth about the mysterious case and their magical powers. It’s a set destiny that will pit them against a town full of bullies, a corrupt banker who isn’t what he seems, and Maulick, a man so evil, he cannot possibly be from their world.
The Little Rednecks
and a Town Full of Bullies
T. Denise Robinson
You may find words in this novel that are consistently misspelled – It was intentional on my part.
Although The Little Rednecks is a work of fiction, the inspiration that brought about the idea for it is not. I am fortunate to have people and animals in my life that provide so many great storylines. I want to thank them now by dedicating this book to each of them.
For every child in the world who is physically challenged or has an impairment – I wrote this book specifically for you and I hope that you enjoy and love the characters I created, as much I loved writing about them.
Table of contents
Prologue: #7 Coal Mine – Ten Years Ago
Chapter 1: Southpaw’s Workshop
Chapter 2: Barton Fink
Chapter 3: Hocking County Children’s Home
Chapter 4: The Bullies
Chapter 5: Making Plans
Chapter 6: Fink’s Goons
Chapter 7: Joee’s House
Chapter 8: Cody Versus Lenny
Chapter 9: Southpaw and Lenny
Chapter 10: Wheels Got Game
Chapter 11: Secret Passages
Chapter 12: Wheels’ House
Chapter 13: Southpaw’s Birthday Surprise
Chapter 14: Crossing Over
Chapter 15: Fink and the Snivelys
Chapter 16: The Secret Shipment
Chapter 17: The Chief Council
Chapter 18: The Secret Passage
Chapter 19: Grounded For Life
Chapter 20: The Ride of Their Lives
Chapter 21: The Vormounds
Chapter 22: The Case
Chapter 23: The Prophecy is Fulfilled
A History Lesson
Special Edition – Photos
Special Edition – Why I Wrote This Book
Sneak peak – The Little Rednecks and a Whole New World
A Note from the Author
# 7 Coal Mine – Ten Years Ago
It was nearing the twenty-four hour mark since the deadly showdown. By the time the battle was over, seventeen people had sacrificed their lives, defending the very thing that had brought Arthur Southpaw Alexander to the #7 Coal Mine.
Dressed in a pair of dirty blue and white striped coveralls, he stood with his back facing the mine’s entrance. His eyes methodically searched the large bushes and tall grass that separated the gravel parking lot from the nearby woods. With a trembling hand, he checked his pocket for the umpteenth time.
“I gotta protect yer life, Joee. That’s all that matters now,” he said, flipping on the lamp switch fixed to his hard hat. He entered the mine and set off down the eerily quiet passageway. With each step, his steel-toed boots sloshed through the mud and grime on the cave floor. His pace quickened as he continued to go downward, deeper and deeper into the central part of the mine.
A few minutes later, the ground leveled out. He continued along the path until he reached the area where the main tunnel branched off in opposite directions. Without hesitation, he chose the one on his left. He followed the tunnel around a sharp curve, and with careful precision, slowly made his way down a
small incline and through the open doorway that led into a large chamber. As he looked to his left, the headlamp illuminated several offshoot tunnels on the far side of the room.
He glanced down at the large hole recessed into the cave floor and the narrow ledge, which surrounded it. His fear of heights made sweat break out on his forehead but he had no choice. The ledge was his only option if he wanted to reach the tunnel on the other side of the room.
With his back against the wall, he said a silent prayer and carefully stepped sideways. He heard the crunching sound before he felt the ground crumble. “Ah shissa,” he yelled as his feet flew out from beneath him. His arms flailed wildly in the air as he twisted his body around. He reached out blindly and miraculously, his fingers wrapped around a large root protruding from the wall. A guttural groan escaped from his throat as his body came to a bone-jarring stop. Using sheer will power and all the strength he could muster, he pulled himself up onto the ledge and rolled over onto his back. Taking a deep breath, he lay motionless for several minutes to calm his nerves before scrambling to his feet. He didn’t waste another second and left the ledge.
His pace steadily increased as he bypassed the first two tunnels, slowing just long enough to turn into the third.
“Almost there,” he whispered as he followed a sharp curve that veered off to his right and then he saw what he was looking for. He came to an abrupt stop in front of the entrance that led to a small cavern.
Using the back of his sleeve, he wiped sweat from his forehead and entered the room. He hurried to the back wall and with a trembling hand, reached inside his front pocket and pulled out the small metal case.
“Hope I’m doin’ the right thing,” he said, kneeling down in front of the wall. He raised his left arm in the air and with a wave of his hand, the ground rumbled and the walls shook. The cave roof ignited into an aerial show of lights as lightning bolts hissed and ricocheted off the walls. With a loud crack, the back wall began to shift and then it separated, revealing a twelve-inch opening.
A lump formed in his throat as he looked at the small white ornamental column floating inside the hole.
“Ya should be safe’n here ‘til the day m’grand-daughter’s ready,” he said, placing the small case on top of the column. With a wave of his hand, he sealed the opening.
He climbed to his feet and brushed the coal dust off his pants. Using the back of his sleeve, he wiped away the tears running down his cheeks. “I’m so sorry, Tess. I shoulda been there fer ya. Please fergive me.”
Southpaw’s Workshop – Present Day
April 27 – 3:30 P.M.
To your everyday person, Arthur Southpaw Alexander’s large two-story red barn looked like every other barn—only it wasn’t. Things happened inside the building that, well … they just weren’t normal, at least not in the true sense of the word.
Most of the residents in Murray City, Ohio had no idea what went on behind the closed doors and those who did have suspicions, kept quiet about them.
Outside the barn, hanging just above the door was a large sign that proudly announced in big red letters that this was Southpaw’s Workshop. It had been a gift from Joee, his twelve-year-old granddaughter.
The inside was ordinary enough. Made from large wood timbers, the two-story building measured forty-feet wide with covered windows spaced every six-feet. Farm tools of various shapes and sizes hung from hooks on the back wall. On the left side of the barn, a John Deere tractor sat next to a wheel barrel, Rota tiller and a misshapen lump covered with a blue tarp. In the middle of the room, a fifteen-foot tall wooden ladder provided the only way up to the overhead loft. On the opposite side, just inside the front door was
Southpaw hummed to himself while he tinkered with a printed circuit board. He was sixty-two years old now and looked quite different than he did ten years ago when he had made his last trip to the old mine. Time, along with a lot of worrying, had aged him. Thick, black framed glasses sat on top of his nearly bald head and a fully buttoned white lab coat over bibbed overalls created the perfect image of a Mad Scientist.
Having lived here most of his life, his strong southern style of speaking English was as thick as mud and it caused more than one head to turn. For some reason, he just didn’t pronounce his vowels like ordinary people who spoke English did.
He tried to keep his mind focused on the circuit board and was failing miserably. A glance at the wall calendar told him that today was April 27. In less than five days, his granddaughter’s life, as well as that of her friends, would be turned upside down.
He pushed the circuit board off to the side and picked up an odd shaped gray box. Just as he was about to take out one of the screws, a buzzing sound near the loft broke his concentration, and he laid the screwdriver down on the workbench. “Gosh dang it, Orville,” he muttered under his breath.
Orville Wilbur Wright was smartly dressed in his aviator bomber jacket and a dark brown barnstorming cap. The ornery nineteen-year-old expertly maneuvered the 12-inch red biplane through the hangar door. He stopped the plane on the short runway, which ran parallel with the wooden planks
that made up the barn loft floor in the workshop. The little pilot reached up with both hands and pulled the goggles firmly down over his eyes. His lips curved into a cheesy smile as he pushed the throttle forward. “Yee haw,” he yelled as the little plane shot down the runway and then went airborne inside the barn.
Joee Alexander pushed the front door open and stepped out onto the front porch of the house she shared with her grandfather. She loved this time of year. It was summer and she had only two more days of school left until summer break. She stepped off the porch and headed toward the barn.
She spotted Stump coming up the driveway and smiled. His normally short red hair was getting long and looked raggedly. He needs a haircut and some new jeans, she thought as he came rambling toward her.
Stump’s real name was William Warner and he and Joee were the same age and had been best friends since kindergarten. They weren’t like most kids and their physical differences were just the beginning. Stump was born without a right hand and Joee was born with one blue eye and one brown eye as well as a two-inch shocking small white patch of hair at the front of her head, just above the left eyebrow. If she had been blonde it wouldn’t have been so bad, but her Native American ancestry along with her black hair made the white patch hard to miss.
Fellow classmates, Henrietta Smoot, her best
friend Veronica Fink and Veronica’s boyfriend Conrad were the worst when it came to tormenting Joee and Stump. Conrad’s favorite comment was, ‘Hey Stump, betcha can’t clap your hands’ and then Veronica would say, ‘Hey Joee, why don’t you grow him a new hand with your x-ray vision’ and they would all laugh.
“Hey Joee, how’s it going?” Stump asked with a grin.
Joee stood with her legs apart and her hands on her hips. “What took you so long?”
Stump ignored the question and looked her up and down. “Do you ever wear anything other than that jersey?”
Joee looked down at her black and orange Cincinnati Bengals shirt. Although a little tattered, it still had some wear left. “I love Carson Palmer and like you have room to talk,” she said and nodded at the white number fifty-eight jersey he was wearing. She had given it to him for his twelfth birthday and had one just like it.
“Rey Maualuga is a beast. He rocks and you know it. I need to get me a number eleven. Maybe add it to my Christmas list along with a Brandon Phillips jersey,” he grinned.
“Yeah, Brandon is so past awesome and Jordan Shipley is too. I think he’s better than the Patriots’ Wes Welker.”
Stump nodded in agreement. “So, is Southpaw in his workshop?”
“Probably,” Joee answered as the two of them set off across the gravel driveway toward the barn.
Stump jumped in front of her and opened the
door. “Ladies first,” he said and moved to the side to let her enter.
“Look out,” Southpaw yelled as they stepped through the doorway.
Southpaw, with a monstrous sized butterfly net in his hands, was running around the barn like a crazy person. He swiped through the air several times and came up empty. Joee was about to ask what he was doing and then she heard the buzzing sound. She looked up toward the loft and saw the object he was trying desperately to catch.
The red biplane plunged downward and headed straight at the kids. In shock, and unable to move, Joee and Stump stared at the little plane racing toward them. With the plane less than six-inches away from her face, Joee grabbed Stump by the shirt and jerked him down. The plane sped past, pulled up, and then went into several acrobatic barrel rolls.
Stump turned and looked at Joee. “Uh, Joee, um, I think I just saw the pilot in that plane stick out his tongue and shake his fist at us.”
Southpaw swung the netted pole wildly at the plane and narrowly missed, which caused cackles of laughter to come from inside the cockpit as the plane raced up toward the top of the barn. Only inches from hitting the roof, the plane stalled, dropped into a free fall dive, turned, and headed straight back down toward the kids.
“Watch yer heads,” Southpaw cried, as he raced toward them with his net swinging violently back and forth. The little plane shot up toward the roof and then made several laps around the barn.
“Gosh dang it, Orville, ya promised ya’d behave yerself if’n I let ya test out that there new prop,” he yelled at the top of his lungs. He threw the net down on the floor in frustration and ran over to his workbench.
He frantically searched through a large pile of items, tossing them in every direction. “Dadburn … nothin’ good … smarty pants … where’s …,” he muttered as he picked up and heaved a large boot in Stumps direction. The boot barely missed hitting Stump in the head before slamming into the side of a trash can with a bang.
Southpaw slung several rags off to the side and turned his attention to a bunch of cardboard boxes. Once again, Stump ducked as a cardboard box zipped over his head and landed against the door with a loud thud.
Up in the tiny cockpit, Orville laughed hysterically as he watched Southpaw. The little pilot turned his attention back to the kids, who were now huddling down next to an oil drum. He circled the barn so that he would be facing them and dropped the plane into a dive. He located the kids through the cross hairs and pulled the black trigger on his steering yoke, firing in rapid succession.
Several red Swedish Fish shot out of the plane’s nose, hitting Joee and Stump directly in the middle of their forehead.
Stunned, Joee turned to look at Stump. He reached up, pulled a piece of the sticky candy off his forehead, and dangled it by the tail, swinging it back and forth. Unable to contain themselves, he and Joee burst out laughing. Stump smiled and tossed the candy into his mouth.
Joee looked at him in disbelief.
“Why are you lookin’ at me like that? I love Swedish Fish,” Stump said, tossing another piece in his mouth.
“That is so past gross. You don’t know where that candy’s been.”
Stump shrugged. “Five second rule.”
“Five second rule only counts when it falls on the floor.” Sometimes she seriously wondered about him.
Stump held out his hand and smiled. “Give me yours if you aren’t gonna eat ‘em.”
Joee jumped to her feet, handed him the candy and walked over to the workbench.
Southpaw glanced down at her with a look of surprise on his face. “Oh dear, I completely fergot ‘bout you’ens,” he said as he ran his fingers through the little tufts of hair over his ears, causing the prickly white fuzz to stick out sideways. He looked at Joee first then Stump. “I’m sorry. You’ens is no worse fer wear, I’m hope’n,” he said.
Stump fought hard to keep from laughing. He cleared his throat. “What are you lookin’ for?” he asked.
“The remote cont—aha … got it,” Southpaw answered and proudly held the remote control in the air.
He turned to look for the plane. “Oh shissa!” he yelled and pushed the kids down on the floor.
The plane swooped down. As Orville pulled back on the yoke, the right landing gear wheel nicked the
corner of Southpaw’s glasses and cracked the lens.
Southpaw jumped up from the floor and shook his fist at the retreating plane. “I swear Orville; this’s the last time yer flyin’ that plane or any other fer that matter. The last straw, I’m tellin’ ya. Yer grounded an I’m strippin’ yer license. Hope ya packed’a chute, cause yer gonna need it.” He placed his hands on the kids’ back and ushered them out the door.
Safely outside, Southpaw leaned back through the doorway, pressed a button on the remote, and shut the door behind him. Within seconds, they heard a crash inside the barn.
“You think he’s okay?” Joee asked, her brows furrowing into a frown.
Southpaw held his hand up in front of his eyes to shield them from the sun. “Ah, I reckon he’s fine, punkin. No worse fer wear an more lives’n cat that boy has, I’m thinkin’.”
Stump looked at Joee. She shrugged. Neither one of them had the faintest idea what Southpaw just said or what it meant. That happened a lot when they were around Joee’s grandfather and most of the time they just nodded in agreement. The downside to doing that meant one of these days they were going to agree to something that they didn’t want to agree to.
Southpaw took off his glasses and looked at the cracked lens. “Gertie’s gonna kill me. Third dang pair this month,” he said with a nervous laugh.
“Who’s Gertie?” Stump asked.
“The nice young lady doctor over’n Lancaster who makes m’glasses,” Southpaw answered.
“Third pair?” Stump asked and when Southpaw
nodded, he said, “Yep, you’re toast.”
Joee playfully shoved Stump. “Way to cheer him up,” she teased.
The expression on Southpaw’s face turned serious. He knelt down on his knee in front of the kids. “Ya young’ens remember m’secret dont’cha an how important it is that you’ens don’t talk ‘bout m’workshop?”
Joee and Stump nodded although they both wanted to know about the little pilot who had been flying a plane around Southpaw’s workshop.
“Good,” he said, getting to his feet. He wrapped his arm around Joee’s shoulders.
“I don’t think anyone would believe us anyway,” Joee said, looking up at Southpaw’s face.
“Oh, punkin, ya’d be surprised at what some folks’re willin’ ta believe when given’a choice.” He glanced down at his wristwatch. “I ‘spect yer ready ta go?” he asked.
Joee smiled. “Yes, yes, yes. I didn’t think today was ever gonna come.”
Southpaw motioned at the old beat up crew cab truck sitting in the driveway. “Then I reckon we best be goin’ then.”
Southpaw waited for Joee and Stump to get in and close the door. He looked at Joee. “You realize that’a pet’s alotta work. You have ta take good care’a it, feed it, and bathe it, all sorts’a things.”
“I know and I’ll take good care of her. I promise,” Joee said and made a crisscross pattern over her heart with her finger for emphasis.
Southpaw chuckled. “How ya know you’re gettin’a
Joee shrugged. “I just do.”
Stumped frowned. “Man, I wish I could have a dog. I’ll never get one as long as I live at that old home.”
Joee nudged Stump with her elbow. “I’ll share mine with you till you get your own.”
“Not the same,” Stump said, pretending to pout.
Southpaw put the truck in gear and headed down the driveway. He waited for a car to pass and turned right onto Job Street. The old truck sputtered and backfired as he made a quick left onto Main Street and headed south. They continued through the countryside, passing houses and farms. Joee noticed that Stump intentionally looked away as they drove by the Children’s Home but she didn’t say anything.
When Southpaw turned into the Hocking County Animal Shelter’s parking lot, Joee felt her heart skip a beat. The small red brick building looked like an oversized square shed. It was hard to believe that it also served as the local veterinary hospital.
Southpaw hardly had time to pull into the parking spot before Stump flung the door open. He and Joee jumped out and ran up to the door, disappearing inside. Southpaw chuckled as he shut off the engine and climbed out of the cab.
Joee and Stump were standing at the counter when he walked through the door. Joee, giddy with excitement, bounced up and down on the balls of her feet.
Stump glanced around the room. “Man, this place is small,” he said.
Not only was the room small, it was painfully plain, with walls made of stark white cinderblocks. Along the back wall was a row of mismatched plastic chairs with metal arms. In the corner, sitting on a table was a small black and white screened TV with a make- shift antenna made from pieces of aluminum foil sticking out the top of it.
The door located to the right of the counter opened. A tall and gangly, freckled faced boy of seventeen walked behind the counter. He smiled a toothy grin at Southpaw. “Howdy, Mr. Alexander.”
“How ya doin’, Carl, how’s the folks?” Southpaw asked.
“Just peachy, sir. Thanks for asking. Now what can I do you for?”
Southpaw put his arm around Joee’s shoulders. “M’granddaughter has’er heart set on’a new black lab pup.”
Carl scratched his head. He looked at Joee and frowned. “Sorry Joee, but I don’t have no pups right now. All I have, um, is a couple old male mutts brought in two days ago by the warden.”
“Can I see them anyway, please?” she asked.
“Sure can.” Carl walked over to the same door he had come through only moments ago and motioned for them with a nod of his head. “They’re back here,” he said, opening the door.
They followed him into a room that was similar to the one they just came out of except there was no TV and no chairs and two of the walls were stacked with three rows of cages. Carl led them back to a large cage in the corner.
He pointed at the two scraggly looking dogs. “Here they are.”
The dogs, seeing Joee, wagged their tails and got to their feet. Joee and Stump knelt down in front of the cage and stuck their fingers through the wires. “They are so cute,” Joee said and then laughed as the dogs took turns licking her fingers.
Southpaw eyed the dogs with suspicion. “What’s their breedin’?” he asked.
Carl shook his head. “Not really sure but the Warden thinks that black and tan one Joee’s pettin’ might be Shepherd mixed with some Coyote.”
“Ya don’t say, Coyote huh?”
Carl looked at the dog. “Yeah, I think he’s got the markin’s for sure.”
Stump pointed at the larger of the two dogs. “What about this chunky one?”
Carl shrugged. “Best guess on the big brown one’s Labrador mixed with Bloodhound. Maybe some Chow cause he’s got himself a black tongue.”
“I think he’s wickedly sweet,” Stump said as he scratched the dogs head.
“Where’d ya say they come from?” Southpaw asked, still eyeing the dogs with suspicion.
“Warden found ‘em not far from your place a couple days ago over on Job Street, back near the old mine. Doc Bahns saw ‘em yesterday. She’s figurin’ they might be ‘round a year-old give or take a couple.”
Joee turned to Carl. “Can you let ‘em out, please?”
“Sure can.” Carl walked over to the cage, raised the latch, and pulled the door open.
The two dogs stepped out of the cage, walked up
to Joee, and began licking her face and then did the same thing to Stump. To everyone’s surprise, both dogs sat down on the floor, and held up their left front paw to shake hands with the kids.
“Well would’ya look at that,” Southpaw said in surprise.
Joee looked at Southpaw. “Can I have them both? Please, Southpaw. I know I’m supposed to only get one but it wouldn’t be fair to take one and not the other.”
“Couple old mutts if you ask me,” Carl snorted.
Joee shot Carl a disapproving look. “Shhh, don’t say that. You’ll hurt their feelings.”
Southpaw sighed. He tapped his foot on the floor as he pretended to think about. “I guess so, but ya have ta take good care of ‘em,” he said, much to Joee’s delight.
Joee jumped to her feet. She ran over to him, wrapped her arms around his waist, and hugged him.
Carl motioned toward the large dog. “That brown one looks like a linebacker.”
Joee looked at the dog and smiled. She shook her head. “Nah, he’s a running back and I’m gonna name him Cory Dillon and since the other one looks like a Coyote, I think I’ll name him Cody Carson.”
Southpaw smiled and shook his head. Joee and her Cincinnati Bengals. Everything that breathed, Joee somehow managed to name after the football team. She had a fish named Boomer Esiason, a bird named Chris Henry, and a frog named Ickey Woods.
Carl grabbed two blue leashes hanging from a hook on the wall. He placed them around each dog’s
neck, and handed the leash ends to Joee.
Southpaw pulled out his wallet. “How much I owe ya, son?” he asked.
“That’ll be twenty bucks each, sir.”
Southpaw’s left eyebrow shot up. “That much, huh?”
Carl nodded. “Yes sir. That covers shots and license.”
“Here ya go,” Southpaw said and handed the crisp bills to Carl.
“Thank you, sir,” Carl said and then added, “Doc Bahns says they both need neuterin’ too.”
Stump frowned. “What’s that?”
Carl made a slicing gesture across his neck with his hand. “Gotta get their na—.”
Southpaw’s left eyebrow rose upward, the look on his face stopped Carl before he could finish his sentence.
“Um ... um, their,” Carl stuttered as he pointed at the dogs’ butt.
Stump’s eyebrows pinched together in a frown as he figured out what Carl meant. “Oh, yikes.”
As if under-standing what Carl said, both dogs whined and dropped to the floor.
A sheer look of fright crossed Stumps face as he realized just what Carl meant.
Southpaw glanced at his watch and then Stump. “Best be gettin’ ya home, I’m thinkin’.”
“Guess so,” Stump muttered.
April 27th – 4:40 P.M.
Downtown Murray City was thriving with activity. It was five o’clock and the sidewalks along Main Street were crawling with people. Some were out having an early dinner; others were out for an evening stroll.
Barton Fink strutted down the sidewalk in his two-thousand dollar, three-piece suit. His oversized bald head, beading with sweat, glistened in the hot sun. Severely overweight, Fink, stood five-foot tall and with each step, the stitches in his clothing strained almost to the breaking point.
He stopped in front of Millie’s Mercantile and looked at the graying wood on the front of the building. He felt his blood pressure rise. He was still angry that Millie wouldn’t sell him the store and he couldn’t understand why she had refused, given that he had offered her twice what it was worth.
Since moving to Murray City two years ago, he had slowly bought up several businesses including the property that the old mine sat on. He owned the bank and the candy store but like most greedy businessmen, he always wanted more.
He took out his hanky and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He hated summer and everything that came with it, the heat, the bugs, and the crowds of
people, but more importantly, he hated all the loud obnoxious kids that would soon be hanging out on the corners when school let out for summer break.
He looked at his reflection in the storefront window and smiled. With perfectly manicured fingers, he brushed his hands down the front of his suit jacket, turned and headed up the sidewalk toward the bank.
“Well, howdy do, Mr. Fink.”
He cringed at the sound of the high-pitched voice coming from Loretta Evans. A few years under forty and twenty years of smoking cigarettes had taken their toll on the woman. She was a ghastly sight and if you had never met her before, the first meeting would have been shocking. The skin around her mouth and eyes were shriveled. She wore too much makeup and her clothing was excessively tight for someone her age and to her credit, or maybe not, she was probably the only person in town who liked Barton Fink.
He slowly turned to look at the warmly smiling woman and the frown on his face, instantly transformed into a broad smile. He took her hand in his and brought it to his thick lips.
Loretta batted her eyes as he kissed it.”Ooh, that tickles,” she cooed as his black bushy moustache brushed the back of her hand. She reached up to cover his hand with hers and as she did, a one-dollar bill, partially hanging out of the side of her purse fell out, and floated to the ground.
“I swear, Miss Evans, you get prettier and prettier every time I see you,” he said without taking his eyes off the money.
“And you’re just a charmer, Mr. Fink,” she
laughed a little too loud.
As he released her hand, he stepped sideways and covered the money with his shoe. “It was good to see you, Loretta, but I have a meeting to attend,” he said and nodded over his shoulder toward the bank.
“Maybe you can come by later for some tea,” she suggested in a seductive voice, once again batting her eyes at him.
“I’ll do that,” he said, although he didn’t intend to do so. After she had turned and headed down the sidewalk, he waited to make sure no one was watching and moved his foot. He bent down and picked the money up off the ground. He held it up in front of his face, kissed it, and shoved it into his pocket and, with a smile on his face, turned and went into the bank. He strode across the thick plush covered carpet in the lobby with a purpose and kept his head down so he wouldn’t have to stop and talk with anyone. He pushed the door to his office open and stepped inside.
His mood instantly changed as he moved around the large desk and pulled out his chair. He sat down, leaned back in the chair, and laced his stubby fingers together over his head. He glared at the two men sitting across from him.
Leonard Ludwicki, who was in the process of trying to slink back into his chair, said nothing. Nick-named Lenny by his former partners up in New York, Lenny had moved to Murray City not long after Fink had arrived. He wasn’t an attractive looking man; too tall, too skinny, bald, and always in need of a good shave. He was a catastrophic mess to look at and the wrinkled gray suit he wore everyday needed to take a
long trip through the washing machine.
Fink leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk. “Because of you two’s screw up, our last shipment didn’t arrive on time and I got docked twenty grand!” he yelled.
Morty opened his mouth to speak and then thought better of it. Mortimer Hackly was as tall as he was wide. Like Lenny, he tried to slink back into his chair but couldn’t. Morty was also from New York and had come to Murray City along with Lenny. Just like Lenny, Morty wore the same gray colored suit every day. The two men worked for Fink. They were the ones who did the dirty work.
Lenny reached into his inside jacket pocket, pulled out a cigar, and lit it. He tilted his head back and blew a smoke ring into the air. “It wasn’t our fault boss, some of the locals—”
“Locals, yokels. You mean to tell me that a bunch of ignorant redneck hicks is smarter than the two of you. Is that what you’re telling me?” Fink rudely interrupted before Lenny could finish the sentence.
“Uh ... uh, Boss. Uh, some of ‘em aren’t so dumb,” Morty stammered.
Fink jumped up from his chair and slammed his fist down on the desk. “You better make sure the new shipment coming in tomorrow gets to that old mine or else,” he snarled. He pointed at the door with his finger. “Now get out before I lose the rest of my temper.”
The two men stood up and turned toward the door.
They turned to look at Fink.
“Have you found the case?” Fink growled when Lenny shook his head. “I have to have it within forty-eight hours. Keep looking. I know it’s there.”
“If we’re … if we’re after the case, uh, why … why do we have to do the other stuff?” Morty asked. His voice was slightly above a whisper.
Fink looked as if his head were going to pop off. His face turned crimson red as the blood traveled up from his neck to his forehead. “Don’t ever question what I tell you to do,” he snarled through clenched teeth. “Now get out!”
Hocking County Children’s Home
April 27th – 6:00 P.M.
Southpaw steered the truck around the large circular driveway. He stopped in front of an enormous set of grey concrete steps and a white two-story building that looked more frightening on the outside than it did on the inside.
“I’ll be right back,” Joee said to Southpaw as she climbed out of the truck. She followed Stump up the steps. Stump reached for the doorknob just as the door flung open with a bang.
Standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips was Deloras Snively. Unattractive and equally unfriendly, she was the matron of the Hocking County Children’s Home. She thrust her unusually long neck forward. Her blue eyes bulged out and were on the brink of exploding out of her head. She glared at Stump. “Do you have any idea what time it is, Warner?”
Stumps shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry, ma’am. Won’t happen again,” he mumbled.
“You’re darn straight it won’t.” She reached out, grabbed Stump by the ear, and jerked him through the open doorway. “If it weren’t for me having to look at your pitiful, sorry looking face, I’d ground you for a month,” she sneered. She looked back at Joee as if she was just seeing her for the first time. “Is there something I can help you with deary?” she asked sweetly.
“No,” Joee answered.
“Then get off of my doorstep!” she shouted and slammed the door in Joee’s face.
Joee muttered to herself as she skipped back down the steps. Deloras was one of the most hateful people she had ever met. If she didn’t know better, she would have sworn that Veronica Fink was Deloras’s daughter. She frowned as she climbed up into the truck and shut the door. She let out a heavy sigh as she buckled her seat belt.
Southpaw put the truck in gear and turned out of the driveway. He glanced over at her.
“Why the unhappy face, punkin?”
“I hate that place and I wish Stump didn’t have to live there. That old Deloras is so past mean to him.”
Southpaw chuckled. “I know what ya mean. I ran inta that husband’a hers at Millie’s the other day. Smart alecky if’n ya ask me.”
“I wish Stump could live with us.”
“I know ya do but if’n he lived with us, he mightin’ not find’a family fer himself.”
Joee jabbed her finger at the windshield.
“Southpaw, lookout,” she screamed.
Southpaw slammed on the brakes, bringing the truck to a screeching, rubber-burning stop. Before he could say anything, Joee jumped out and ran in front of the truck. He watched her bend down and pick something small up off the ground. When she came back around the side of the truck, she was holding a black and white dog in her arms. She put the dog on the seat and climbed back in.
Cody and Cory instantly wagged their tails. They stood up on their back legs and leaned over the front seat to get a better look.
“Now where’d that lil thing come from? Pert near road kill, I’m thinkin’,” Southpaw said, shaking his head.
“I think something’s wrong with its eyes,” Joee said.
Southpaw pinched his nose holes together. “It’s not smellin’ none too good either,” he said and reached out to grab the dog’s snout. He turned the dogs head so he could look at its eyes. They were bright blue with a white tint. “I’ll be dang. I’d say the lil feller’s blind,” he said and put the truck in gear.
Joee looked under the dog’s stomach. “It’s a girl. Um, can I keep her?” she asked shyly.
Southpaw shook his head. “Two dogs’re ‘nough, I’m thinkin’.”
“But she’s homeless and I’ll take good care of her. Please,” Joee begged.
Southpaw shook his head and sighed. “I must be outta m’mind but I reckon, an ya best take good care of ‘em, an I mean all of ‘em.”
“I will. I promise.” Joee grinned. She had the best grandfather in the world.
Southpaw put on his turn signal, waited for a car to pass, and turned into their driveway. He pulled the truck up in front of the barn and shut off the engine.
Joee took the leash off Cody, slipped it over the black dogs head, and helped her down out of the
truck. “Come on boys,” she said to the other two dogs. She waited for them to jump over the seat and climb down out of the truck before slamming the door shut. With Cody and Cory following close behind, she carefully led the blind dog up to the house.
Southpaw opened the back door. He reached inside, flipped on the kitchen light, and stepped back to allow Joee and her pack of dogs to go inside before closing the door. He sighed as he laid his keys down on the counter. He looked at the sink full of dirty dishes and shook his head, thinking that he needed to install a dishwasher.
“She needs a bath,” Joee said, looking at the little black dog.
“Not ta’night cause ya need to be headin’ off ta bed. Got yer schoolin’ in the mornin’,” he said, glancing at the little dog.
Southpaw motioned toward the hallway. “Ya go on now an get yer jammies on. I’ll get these new pets of yers somethin’ ta eat an tomorrah, I’ll go ta town an get ‘em some proper food.”
He waited for Joee to leave the room and then walked over to the dogs. He knelt down in front of them and looked directly at Cody. “You’ens aren’t foolin’ me,” he said, shaking his finger at them. “I know who you’ens are an I know why yer here, an ya better not let one hair on m’granddaughter’s head come ta harm.”
The dogs stared at him for several seconds and then whined.
Southpaw went over to the fridge, jerked the door open, and pulled out a slab of ham. He laid it on the
table. He grabbed three saucers, a bowl, and a knife out of the dish drainer. He filled the bowl with water and sat it on the floor next to the stove. He went back to the table, picked up the ham, cut it into chunks, divided it between the saucers, and placed a plate of food in front of each dog. He chuckled as the dogs devoured the meat as if they hadn’t eaten in days.
He looked at the dogs and sighed. He knew the Vormounds would show up eventually but he had hoped it would be later. It was wishful thinking on his part and he knew it. Their time was just about up and it made his heart hurt. He thought about the Council and knew that he was only putting off the inevitable. He needed to see them and he needed to do it soon.
Joee, dressed in black and orange pajamas walked into the kitchen. She pulled out one of the chairs and sat down. All three dogs came over to her. She reached down and scratched their heads.
“What’re ya gonna name’er?” Southpaw asked, nodding toward the black dog. He still couldn’t believe he was letting Joee keep her, but if his suspicions were right and the dogs were the Vormounds, he had no choice in the matter. Even if they weren’t, there was no way he would have said no to his granddaughter. She’d had more pain in her young life than most had in a lifetime and he would do anything to put a smile on her face. If having three dogs is what that took, then so be it.
“What do you think?” Joee asked, pulling him from his thoughts.
“I’m sorry, punkin. What’d ya say?”
Joee placed both hands on her hips and frowned.
“Kateri. What do you think about Kateri for her name?”
“A good name, I’m thinkin’. Strong and Cherokee.” He looked at her for a moment. “Are ya sure yer okay with it?” Kateri in Cherokee meant Catherine and Catherine had been Joee’s mother’s middle name.
“Yeah, but do you think mom would be okay with it?”
He nodded his head and smiled. “Yer mama’d be real proud that ya named somethin’ ya love after’er, I’m thinkin’.”
Joee’s expression turned serious. “Can I ask you something, Southpaw?”
“Ya sure can.”
“I miss mom real bad sometimes, but how can I miss someone I’ve never met?”
Southpaw felt as if his heart was going to break. He knelt down in front of Joee and took her hands in his. “Cause shes’a part of ya an ya always hav’er right here,” he said and tapped his finger on her chest.
“I kinda thought that might be why too,” she smiled.
His right eyebrow shot up. “Any more questions?”
Joee shook her head.
“How ‘bout ya give me some sugars, then it’s off ta bed with ya.”
Joee wrapped her arms around his neck and planted a kiss firmly on his cheek. “Good night, Southpaw. Love you.”
“Night, punkin. Love ya back.” He swallowed a lump that had formed in his throat. He shook his head
to clear away the tears that were threatening to spill down his cheeks. His heart filled with pride as he watched Joee head off to bed with her new dogs trotting along behind her.
Old lady Jessup’s house was just a stone’s throw away and sat just over the hill behind the Alexander property. In the downstairs window, a lone light burned. Behind the raggedy curtains, several shadows moved steadily around the room.
With overgrown weeds, windows partially boarded up and shutters in disarray, the large house was disturbingly menacing looking, and the modern wheelchair ramp attached to the front porch looked strangely out of place. At the back of the house, a door slammed shut and the wooden boards on the porch squeaked and moaned under the weight of two sets of footsteps.