The meeting with Junior was frustrating on several levels. Junior was pleased with my idea that was actually his. The odds of Junior letting me get out of the Public Relations position were getting worse. And what was that comment about when I am president? I didn’t want my present position let alone Charlie’s spot. Some days I wondered what Junior was smoking prior to coming to the bank.
And now I was supposed to go to Letty’s dad and offer him a job cleaning bat guano out of Junior’s attic. I knew that Letty’s dad was desperate but was cleaning bat shit a job anyone would take? Did I really want to lower myself to Junior’s level? Did I want to be involved in this? I liked being a lender and working with people on their loan requests. All of this management crap was beginning to weigh on me.
I didn’t need this on top of worrying about Judy and the crew. Who knew what that Kennedy bunch would stoop to? What if they went after TT or my folks? Well, as Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.” That is what I was going to do starting with Letty and her dad.
It was a school day so I figured Letty wouldn’t be around but maybe her dad would be. I headed to the trailer court but not before I stopped and picked up some doughnuts. I have always found it is best to bring a gift when calling on people. Whenever I call on the bank ranch customers, I always carry bank caps or some kind of promotional item to give them. I am seldom turned down when I offer something free.
The trailer looked worse than my last visit, if that was possible. The fall afternoon was brisk with a hint of winter in the air. I hated the thought of Letty trying to stay warm in that leaky icebox. I have to admit that little girl got under my emotional barrier. I sat in the pickup trying to make up my mind on how to approach the conversation. I wasn’t getting very far with that idea when some hollering from the other side of the street distracted me.
A ragged, tall, cadaverous man was yelling, “Take your rotten ass off my lawn.” He must have been referring to the slender quiet man standing in front of his trailer. “Can you hear you dumb bastard? I told you I don’t have your damn mail. Now get off my lawn and get away from me.”
The tall man looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place him. He started to slowly move toward the slender quiet guy. But the quiet man wasn’t moving or leaving. It looked like a fight coming for sure. As a diversion to my task, a fist fight was as good as anything else. I heaved my shoulder into my pickup door to pop it open. Sliding out I leaned against the fender to enjoy the show.
Just as the action appeared ready to start, I heard a voice yelling from the door of the trailer house, “Sheldon, dammit. Can’t you get along with anyone?” That was a familiar voice and it gave me the clue I needed to place the tall man.
Frank stepped out of the trailer, his long frame matching the one of his brother, Sheldon. Frank’s warning didn’t stop the drama in the yard. Sheldon made one last effort to shoo away the quiet man. “This is your last warning. You apologize for calling me a thief or I’ll clean your clock.” The quiet man stood unmoving and unafraid. “You had your chance.” With that, Sheldon took a swing at the quiet man.
I know what the result was but the movement was so fast I am still not sure what exactly happened. But the result was Sheldon laid out on the ground with his face in the dirt with the quiet man on top with a knee in his back and Sheldon’s arm twisted high between his shoulder blades.
Frank came off the trailer steps in two giant strides and stopped beside the two men. I could tell Frank’s first inclination was to jump in and help his brother but he stopped to consider the situation. Frank gave me a quick evil smile and looked back at his brother, Sheldon, and said, “Did you learn anything just now? I doubt it, your skull is too thick. Now I am going to hand this kind gentleman the envelope you took from his mailbox and he is going to let you up. If you have any brains in that bucket of cement you call a brain, you will settle down and behave.”
The quiet man slowly released Sheldon’s arm and eased off his back. Sheldon squirmed around flipping on to his back. Frank stretched out a long arm and offered the envelope to the quiet man who took it and headed back in my direction. He stuttered in his steps as he saw me apparently for the first time. He veered around my pickup and went to Letty’s trailer house. I could hear Frank in the background, “Sheldon, you are never going to learn. When you drink you get stupid and ornery. What were you doing with his envelope?”
Well, that was a good question. What had Sheldon planned to do with the envelope?
Now I had a visual of Letty’s dad. He stopped on the rickety landing in front of his door and gave me a cool, guarded, appraising look. Seeing him up close I realized he was of average height and slight of build. My first thought was that he looked kind of small for a Special Forces hero. His face had a haunted look that was not inviting. There was an edginess to his eyes of someone constantly on the lookout.
I was driving the old beater and was glad I was. Can you imagine this person’s reaction if I had driven up in a new expensive rig? I was invading his space as it was but had remembered to grab the sack of doughnuts.
As I stepped to the rickety landing, he made a move to guard the door. There was no welcoming smile, no movement of invite. He didn’t even speak. The first move was mine. “Hello.” Well that was a great start. I needed to do more. “You don’t know me. My name is Mitch Tobin. I work at the First National Bank here in town.” I started to say his daughter had contacted me and asked for a job for him. But that was not the way to approach this man. “Are you Bill Parsons?”
He nodded his head. No verbal response, just a continued guarded stare.
“Well I understand you may be looking for work. Is that right?”
Another nod of the head. I could start to see why he was having a hard time getting work.
I put on my best sales call smile and held the bag of doughnuts out in front of me and said, “How about you and I talk this over while we have a couple of these?” He finally moved from the door and made a motion for me to follow him into the trailer.
As I went up the steps, a tall thin shadow fell over me. Frank said, “I should meet my neighbor.”
When we moved inside the trailer, Bill motioned us to two rickety chairs beside a worn out steel table. It was the only furniture in sight. I took a chair and set the doughnuts on the table. Frank followed along and didn’t wait for an invite but opened the bag and smiled. “I see you got my favorites.”
Knowing Frank’s weakness I said, “All doughnuts are your favorite.”
“You’ve got that right.” With his mouthful Frank said, “Now how about introducing me.”
That was a little awkward setting in a man’s home on his only two chairs introducing him to the brother of his neighbor who had just tried to deck him. “Bill this is Frank. Frank this is Bill.” Instead of shaking hands Frank grabbed the doughnut sack and offered it to Bill.
That must have been the correct etiquette. Bill relaxed his guard enough to take the sack and select a doughnut. In an unexpectedly low, slow voice he said, “Thanks.” And there we sat for a minute while we each finished off our snack.
I broke the silence and asked, “What was so important in the envelope that you had to track it down?” Bill pulled the envelope out of his pocket and tore it open and read the contents. From the look on his face it was not good news. Instead of explaining it, he handed it to me. It was from Veterans Affairs. It politely in matter of fact language explained that his appeal for benefits was turned down.
From the looks of the trailer and the letter from Letty and now the one from Veterans Affairs, it appeared Bill was at the end of his rope. I figured what the heck, it couldn’t hurt. I then explained the job offer from Junior Dunbar.
Bill continued to be silent but not Frank. “You’ve got some paying work and you didn’t ask me first? I thought we were friends.”
I said, “Frank, consider what the job entails. Because I am your friend, I didn’t offer it to you.” My slow brain realized that was an unintended insult to Bill so I hurried on. “I thought you were going back to work on construction anyway.”
“I haven’t got around to that yet. And besides I might have burned a few bridges when I left my last carpentry job. I may have called my boss’ ancestry into question suggesting he might be a close relative to a sex deprived polecat with contagious disease pustules on his private parts, or something to that effect. He is probably a little prejudiced against me.”
Bill ignored Frank and asked me, “Did you say you have a paying job? And you are offering it to me?” I nodded my head. “I’ll take it.” I thought that was easy. He must be even more desperate then I knew. “Where is this place with the work and when do I start? Does this guy have his own equipment to haul the shit away? Does he have tools?”
Those were good questions but I didn’t have any idea of the answer. Frank smiled and said, “I know someone with a pickup to haul the shit and enough tools to build a house.”
Bill said, “Who?”