End of the Line
© 2004/2015 by Sean Michael
All rights reserved. No part of this eBook may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Sean Michael, 2515 Bank St., P.O. Box 40001, Ottawa, ON, K1V 0W8.
Printed in Canada.
Previously published by Torquere Press electronic editions / 2004-2007-2013
4th Edition / July 2015
End of the Line
by Sean Michael
Sam got off the bus, giving the driver a nod of thanks.
His duffle was heavy on his shoulder, reminding him he was tired and needed to stop for awhile, settle somewhere long enough to let his bones stop aching.
They’d told him in Bastrop that the feed store at the edge of town was hiring and the bus driver’d been good enough to give him a lift out for a fiver. Feed store. He figured that was about right -- lifting and hefting and moving shit. He could do that.
He crossed the road, a little bell going off as he opened the door. A bunch of guys looked over -- two old men playing checkers on a card table, a couple of folks at the counter and a tall, tall man looming over the till, eyes bright and blue, even in the half-light. “Howdy, stranger. What can I do you for?”
He gave the man a nod. “I was told you were hiring.”
“Yessir. You got any experience on a farm or with critters?”
Did he what? “I meant the feed store.”
The tall guy nodded. “Yeah, I hear you. I just didn’t know if you were familiar with this shit, you know? We got a lot of folks moving in from Austin, looking at their critters as a tax break, don’t know their asses from a bag of sweet feed. They tend to ask a lot of questions. Here’s an application, go on and fill ‘er out and we’ll see what happens.”
Well shit, he really didn’t want to keep wandering on. He was getting too old for this homeless shit. He took the application form, said ‘thank you’ and took it out onto the stoop to fill it out.
Wasn’t long before the tall guy wandered out, handed him a bottle of water. “Damned hot day. Name’s Chance.”
“Thanks, Chance. I’m Sam.” He put the bottle on the ground and held out his hand. “Good to meet you.”
“Pleased.” Chance had a great grin, the corner of those eyes wrinkling right up. “You’re not from around here, what on earth brings you to the Hill Country?”
“Looking for work somewhere warm enough my bones don’t ache.” No reason not to be honest. He just wanted to work. To be left alone.
“Lord knows you’ll get no end of heat here, sir.” Chance held out his hand for the application, looked it over. “Veteran, are you? Well, we like to see that. My granddaddy, daddy and twin brother were all in the service.”
“They all see action?” he asked. Here he was comfortable.
“Lucky -- that was my twin -- he was killed over in Desert Storm. Daddy was in during Korea. Pappy? World War Two.” Chance gave him a wry grin. “And before you ask, no, I didn’t. I’m diabetic and they wouldn’t take me.”
“Dessert Storm was my gig, too. I’m sorry to hear about your brother.” He came from a line of army dogs himself.
“It’s okay. He died doing what he loved.” Chance finished reading the application. “Look, I can offer you forty hours a week, nine dollars an hour, one paid sick a month, paid holidays on the days the store’s closed and one paid week vacation a year. It ain’t much, but if you work out good, we’ll talk more money in ninety days.”
He nodded. “Sounds fair, Chance. I appreciate you taking me on despite my lack of farming knowledge.” He reached out to shake on it. “I don’t suppose you could recommend a place close by taking in boarders?”
“Hmm...” Chance tilted his head. “It’s fixin’ to be Memorial Day and, if you’re carless? You’ll not even do well at the Motel 6. Shit. I guess... Well, I’ve got some extra room, at least for the weekend, you can stay there. It’s cool and there’s running water.”
“You sure?” He didn’t want to horn in on the man’s holiday. He’d slept in the street before, it was warm enough he could do it comfortably again.
“Well, we’re working Saturday and I’m planning on grilling out and fishing and watching bad movies Sunday and Monday. Nothing that can’t be shared.”
“Well if I’m not in the way, I’d be more than happy to accept the offer, Chance.” It was a lucky name. Lucky for him, it seemed.
“Cool. Come on in. I’ll show you around, introduce you to Daddy, it’s his store, get your paperwork started.” One brown, square hand was offered over. “Welcome aboard, Mister Sam.”
“It’s just Sam. Thank you very much.” He stood and shook the man’s hand and then followed him into the store.
He was introduced to Mr. Callahan, Chance’s father, and a Jim Marchand, a Hershell Walker and a Mr. Gentry, all regulars. Then he was shown to a little table in the back and given his tax forms to fill out.
His stomach growled, but he ignored it; coffee just didn’t cut it as breakfast most days. Chance arched an eyebrow, then wandered off. In a few minutes two foil-wrapped tubes were set before him, along with a Dr. Pepper. “Breakfast tacos. They’re left over. Bacon, egg and potato.”
He was embarrassed as fuck, but knew better than to turn down free food. He ducked his head. “Thanks.”
“Hey, we’ve all been there, man. Holler when you’re done and I’ll get you to help me unload the last delivery while Daddy watches the front.”
“Won’t be long -- I’m almost done here.”
He finished filling out the forms, wolfing down the tacos like he hadn’t eaten in... well since yesterday morning. Once he was done, he headed back into the store and handed the paperwork over to Chance.
“Great. Thanks. You can store your bag in the office, if you want.” He got another crinkle-eyed smile.
He smiled back. There was something warm about Chance. “Thanks.”
They headed out into the feed yard where bag after bag after bag of feed was stacked. “Okay, the truck dumped off there and we have to sort and carry.”
“Just point out where you want what.”
Chance pointed. “Chicken feed, there. Sweet feed. Corn. Pellets. Dog food. I’ll sort of point out where each bag goes. Make sure to leave one or two by themselves down low, in case Daddy’s here by himself, yeah?”
“Got it.” This he could do; this he understood.
He shouldered a bag, decided he could do two and picked up another one, leaving them both in the chicken feed pile, down low so he wouldn’t forget to leave a couple there. The work was mindless, but it felt good in his muscles, felt good to work with someone else. It was good to work and see the pile needing moving grow smaller.
Soon enough they were done.
“Oh, that went easy.” Chance checked his watch. “And ten minutes to close. I’m going to get the cash counted. You want to lock up? Make sure things are nice and tight?”
“You’re the boss.” That was a lot of trust in someone who’d only just started working for the man.
“Nah. That’s Daddy. I’m just the manager. I’ll check stuff on our way out.”
“Sure thing.” He made his way around the store, closing up cupboards and locking this case and that, the back and side doors were next before he returned to the counter with the cash, duffle slung over his shoulder.
The little card table was put away, the older men gone. Chance putting something in the safe and handing him a twenty. “You’ll go on the books tomorrow, this’ll count for today. You ready?”
He nodded, pocketing the twenty. “Ready, steady.”
“Cool. I’ve got the blue Ford. She’s unlocked. I gotta grab a bag of feed for my beasts. Just hop in.”
He tossed his bag in the truck bed and climbed on into the passenger seat, leaning back against the seat. He could relax now, knowing he had a job, a place to stay for awhile; he had a hunch Chance would let him stay until he had his first paycheck and could pay for a room somewhere. It was easy to see the man was good people.
He got to watch the long-legged man move across the parking lot, feed bag over his shoulders. Lean and tan, Chance moseyed, boots kicking up random dust. Been awhile since he could sit back and enjoy the view of a man and he had a couple of days of it to enjoy it. And what a view. Long and lean, muscles moving easily...
He shook his head and told himself to behave. He was too old to be checking guys out like a horny kid. And it wouldn’t do to be checking out the boss in a redneck little cowboy town. That was a good way to lose his job and earn himself a hell of an ass-kicking.
The truck rocked as the bag was thrown in and then those legs hopped in. “Damn, but I’m thinking it’s gonna be a scorcher this year. Where you from, not the south?”
“Washington originally. Haven’t really settled anywhere in particular since I left the service though.”
“Washington state? Oh, I’ve heard nice things about there. Don’t think I’d like the rain, though. We’re used to the dry.”
He nodded. “I’ve been back a couple times, but it’s hell on my bones. Not that I’m ancient, but injuries act up in the damp, you know.”
“Yeah, I reckon.” Chance headed down the highway at a decent clip, country music buzzing through the speakers. The truck was meticulously clean, a pair of dog tags hanging from the rear view mirror.
“Those Lucky’s?” he asked. His own were still around his neck. They were a part of him.
“Yeah. Daddy figured Bubba’d want me to have ‘em. I keep them here so I can see them everyday.”
“Chance and Lucky your actual names, or nicknames?” He hoped he wasn’t being too forward, but hell, they were going to spend the next two days together, if the man was going to get touchy about questions, he’d best know that right off the start so he could keep to himself. He was pretty damned good at that.
“Our names, believe it or not. Momma had a sense of humor.” Chance laughed, winked. “She used to say they took a chance having babies and she was lucky enough to get two for one.”
He chuckled. “I take it she’s passed on?”
“Yes, sir. She had a heart attack a few years back. Went fast.”
“I’m sorry.” There wasn’t much else to say but that. He didn’t go in for fake sympathy.
“Oh, she’s in a better place. I think Daddy’s actually considering dating Missy Gardener. She’s a sweet old bird, cooks a great cobbler.”
“Your father live with you?” He didn’t know what had gotten into him, asking all these questions, except maybe as Chance was being pretty damned good to him, he didn’t feel right not being polite and making conversation. Which sure as hell wasn’t his strong suit.
“Oh, good Lord, no!” Chance shook his head. “Daddy lives about fifteen minutes away on the old farm. He doesn’t work the land much now. I lease the back 200 from him to raise hay. I have a little ranch house, been there damned near ten years -- just me and the dogs and the stock.”
“No little woman to cook for you?” he asked, surprised that a good looking, hard-working and obviously doing well enough for himself man like Chance was alone.
“Nope. I make a fine brisket all on my own.”
“Sounds nice and peaceful.”
Chance nodded, turning down a farm-to-market road, picking up speed. “I can’t complain, really. I have the basics and a few frills.”
“Ever get lonely?”
“Well, sure. I... I go into Austin every few weeks, hang out, play pool.” Chance pinked a little, eyes on the road.
“Somebody special up that way?” Surprised him less than hearing that the man was all on his own.
“Nah. Just some guys that I know.” They pulled down a long dirt road, bumping along.
It made him wonder a bit, but he’d never had a good ‘gaydar’ and there was still the boss/small town thing, so he just let it go. “I guess there’s not much to do in Bastrop, eh? There a VFW?”
They usually had free get-togethers for cards, something sweet with coffee, decent company for warhorses, old and younger.
“There’s a VFW and an American Legion, both. Daddy can introduce you around, I reckon. I haven’t been in either since I was a kid.” Chance pulled up before a big fence and threw the truck in park. “I sorta don’t fit in there.”
He nodded. He could see how the man wouldn’t, never having served -- didn’t matter whether it was his choice or not, fact remained he wasn’t a vet.
Sam went to open his door and hop down when he remembered Chance saying something about dogs. “I gonna get eaten if you don’t introduce me?”
“By Genie and Yoda? Nah. They’re good hounds. You’re here with me.” Chance grinned as two huge hound dogs came loping up, ears flapping, howling to beat the band.
He chuckled. “Well I’ll trust you on that, seeing as you just hired me up to help at the store and probably need me not eaten, but they do make an impression on a man.”
Chance whistled, the sound fierce and shrill and both dogs stopped short, panting. “Good girls. Stay. This here’s Sammy. Y’all be nice.”
“Thank you.” He got out and went around to grab his duffle before giving the dogs a grunt. “Genie, Yoda. Hey.”
Two tails started wagging, beating the ground. Chance went over petting and stroking, murmuring to the hounds. He’d had a dog growing up. A mixed mutt who he’d loved hard. His unit had adopted a stray, too. Big old black lab who’d been beaten a time or two, but who was sweet as could be if you were good to him. He wandered over to Chance and the hound dogs.