January 24, 2013
Neither one of us saw it coming.
I was just reaching for the door of the Pontiac when uncle B.J.’s ’36 Hudson topped the rise. After he pulled into the driveway, parked, and got out–all six feet, eight inches of him–we locked eyes for a moment, then headed into the house.
The letter clutched in his huge fist, half crumpled, looked the mirror image of the paper in mine, except that mine was folded neatly and consisted of three sheets to his one.
My morning coffee was still hot. Tania had gotten the Farber percolater loaded and ready to go before leaving her lengthy note on the table and heading out to spend the night with her mother.
Except she hadn’t. Mama Quichona Overgood had left my uncle a similar missive before coming to spend the night with her daughter. Except she hadn’t, either. Or rather, yeah, they’d spent the night together, all right, but not in the mountains. Instead, they’d been rolling out of the high country and down the highway in the little Ford I’d bought Tania as a Christmas present.
That’s me. Santa Claus Treemin No-Good-Deed-Goes-Unpunished Jackson.
We men had been super-dog tired from a long-hours week in the welding shop. They’d gambled neither of us would wake up before the alarm clocks went off, wouldn’t realize their sides of the beds were cold, wouldn’t find the kiss-off memos till 6:00 a.m. at the earliest…and they’d called it right.
They knew us well. Too well, apparently.
B.J. accepted the mug of high-powered Yuban I poured for him, plenty of cream, no sugar, absorbing the heat of the thing, both of us painfully conscious of the new situation we’d best get used to in a hurry. Winter in Montana, next thing to the North Pole. There’d be no body warmth in our beds now, except for our own and maybe a stray cat or dog.
Not the same. Not the same at all.
It was me who finally broke the silence. “They should be hitting Billings about now.”
He nodded, his face betraying nothng of the hurt inside. Sure, he’d taken that woman from her husband, but she’d been plenty ready to leave. No guilt. Different when it’s your ox getting gored, though.
“Billings,” my uncle agreed, “unless they were lying. You know. To put us off the trail, just in case they thought we’d come after them.”
My eyebrows climbed into my hair. “You think they’d think that?”
He shrugged. “Hard to say. We ain’t like that, neither one of us, but when a woman leaves a man on the run, and that man is the sort who’d talk it out any time you asked, it’s obvious she’s not reading the signs right. Hell, Tree, you and I and Jack and Sam have wound up in some pretty deep manure here, what with those wolf-mutating buggers and maybe half the county, state, and federal authorites for enemies. It’s the best thing they coulda done to ensure their own safety. A little paranoia might be a good thing.”
“Unh.” I took a sip of my coffee, burned my tongue, and ignored it. That letter burned a lot hotter, anyway. “I’ll read you mine if you’ll read me yours.”
“Go.” He reached one long arm over to the stove for the coffee pot, poured himself another cup. His tongue had to be made of bullhide or something.
I smoothed the papers out on the table and began.
“It’s not you; it’s me.”
For a moment, I paused there, grinning wryly at my second best friend in the world, second after old Jack Hill and a close second at that. “It’s not you; it’s me. Cliche much, or what?”
“She’s young.” He grinned back.
I snorted, then went on.
“It’s not you; it’s me. You’ve never done anything but save my life and put your own at risk to do it. I love you for that. I always will. And you’re hot in bed, and I’ll miss that, my first love I’ll never forget.
“And I hate that I can’t just sit down and talk to you about it, but I just can’t. I’m afraid you’d look at me with those big cow eyes you get [* B.J. snorted at that.*] and I’d give in, and I’m feeling all guilty and stuff already. So I’m running out, and I’m a bi*ch for doing it.
“But I’m scared, and I’m lonely, and I figured out I’m not made for the country life after all. Mom and I are headed where we can see some city lights, hear the sounds of people around us, maybe go out and do stuff sometimes, and not have to drive a hundred miles or more round trip just to get a load of groceries.
“The scared part, I think you can guess. The bad guys haven’t made any moves for months now, but you and your uncle and Jack Hill and Sam Trace and his men are all working every spare minute, fixing up that cave like you think World War Whatever is coming, and I can’t take it. I don’t want to get shot at, and I surely don’t want to live in no freaking cave with bats and rats and sh*t and never see the sun.
“Last but not least, oh Tree, this is hard, but I got to say it. I think you’re maybe going crazy or something. I’ve woke up a bunch of times, seen you staring out that window, and when I’d get you to tell me why, you say you’re seeing imaginary people out there. Or something.
“I just can’t deal with that. It’s just too weird.
There was silence in the kitchen for most of a minute, nothing audible but the click of cooling stove metal as the propane heater cycled between burns. This time, it was my uncle who broke the silence.
“Tree,” he heaved a great sigh, “I gotta say, we are two good looking black men that really know how to pick ’em. Not that I can blame them. Much. Quichona, though, she got her piece said a lot quicker.”
“You’re a good man. For many a year, I’ve pretended to be a good woman. I’m not. You and Tree rescued Tania from a deadly situation in Connecticut. I’ll never forget that.
“Call Sam. Tell him to check the safe.
“Uh-oh.” I set my mug down slowly. “Check the safe?”
“And she cleaned out Sam’s safe.”
“Twelve thousand, three hundred and seventy-two dollars. And eight cents.”
I took a deep breath, let it out slowly. “Take us a while to replace that.”
“It would,” B.J. agreed, “if Sam would let us repay him. He says it’s a bargain, that if the girls were going to bail on us like this, it’s cheaper, even with the cash they stole, to get them out of the picture now instead of later.” He saw the protest on my face and raised a hand to forestall me. “We cut a deal. Sam says that was all money belonging to Rodeo Iron, so he’s willing to split the loss according to our shares. He and I each take 40% of the hit, you take 20%.”
“O-o-kay. I guess that makes sense.” It certainly made it easier. Twenty percent of twelve grand–yeah. I had more than that in savings…the savings that Tania could not have reached, because it was stashed in a cache up in the woods, where she’d never venture in a million jillion years. Perhaps I’d known at some level, known enough that I never told her about my mad money.
What, I wondered briefly, would the thieving little darlings do with their ill-gotten gains? We weren’t talking Thelma and Louise here. Mother-daughter ripoff team, Tania and Quichona. T&Q. Not the same as Thelma and Louise at all. Although they did both start with T….
“Earth to Treemin!”
“Ungh. I’m back. Guess I’d best give Mom a call, let her know what’s up. She’ll likely hurt for the both of us over this.”
“Maybe.” My uncle’s voice was dry. “But don’t underestimate your Mama. Not ever. We all had a great time out there in Idaho over Christmas, and she liked them two well enough when she met ’em, but–something you don’t know–she told me, ‘Heads up, big brother. There’s something off with your ladies.’ She told me that. She did.”
I thought about that for a bit. “Mom knew they’d quit on us?”
“She knew something wasn’t right about them. Couldn’t put her finger on it exactly, but when she gets a wrong vibe from somebody–especially from a female; she don’t always pick up on men as well–I listen. She’s been like that, able to do that, since she was a little girl.”
“Well.” The calendar said January 24, 2013. Maybe the Overgood women had left us because they’d lied to us about voting Republican and went for Obama instead…which Tania had admitted one night when we were pillow talking. Could be they figured the wolf-mutators had the right of it, big government was the way to go, and us rugged individualist remote Montana types with the cowboy hats were just too old school.
We never saw them again. Never saw them, never heard from them, never came across one snippet of information about them. Neither woman called, wrote, sent up a smoke signal, or even got in touch with anyone we knew back in Connecticut.
It was like they’d dropped off the face of the Earth.
Oh, we could have tracked them down easy enough. Heck, any one of Jack Hill’s computer hacking contacts could have pinned ’em to the wall in a few minutes of online work, once they quit running and settled in someplace.
All I would’ve had to do was ask for Jack’s help.
But neither B.J. nor I was that torn up about it. Truth be told, I felt a bunch of weight lift off my shoulders, knowing I didn’t need to cover Tania’s awesome butt for the foreseeable future, and my uncle admitted feeling the same way about his Quichona.
Well. Not his Quichona. Not any more.
Besides, there were some powerful reasons to leave it alone. I made a list of them, one time, then memorized it before burning the thing.
Reasons To Pretend the Overgood Women Never Existed
1. It’s pretty clear they’d prefer it that way. Duh.
I did have to think about that one a bit. There are women out there with twisted psyches, females who want you chase after them if they run. Makes them feel desired or something. But no, that really didn’t fit these two. And I’d never heard of no Mama-Daughter team working it like that.
2. We wouldn’t want them thinking we were stalking them. People can make really big mistakes when they get scared. Don’t matter if the threat is real or not, as long as they believe it’s real.
3. We didn’t dare understimate the enemy. If the opposition found us making contact with them–or watched them to see if we tried–then they, the bad guys, might decide the way to get to us was to get to the girls. And they’d be right, though they’d not likely relish the consequences.
4. There really was a storm coming, the kind of heavy stuff that could give either of them a nervous breakdown or, worst case scenario, a death sentence. They were right about that, the girls were. Yay them.
So we let it go, got Sam paid back, threw our energies into setting the cave up right and getting ahead a bit on the welding jobs. Some of those were custom orders, of course, but the stock panels and Rodeo Iron toys were all capable of being stockpiled for our big sales push come spring.
Yeah, we let it go. I did my work, shot the breeze with the crew during lunch breaks as usual, and B.J. did the same. We’d each catch a bleak look in the other’s eye every now and then, but so what?
Jack Hill offered me the use of one of his women, should I ever be so inclined. I passed on that–for now, anyway–but made sure he understood I appreciated the offer. It meant a lot to me. For one thing, it meant the girls were willing, which meant they gave a damn, and that held me together through many a long winter night as we moved into February.
Obama put forward his attack on the Second Amendment, going after every bit of gun legislation he could think up. Joe Biden surprised everybody, not by backing the proposed assault weapons ban, which he of course did, but by telling folks to buy double barreled shotguns with which to blow away home invaders.
Nobody saw that one coming, either.